Ethnic Twists Season Laguna’s New Dining Choices

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For a town already wealthy in dining options, Laguna Beach will soon get a little richer. Four new additions to the restaurant scene will further season local menus with the addition of empanadas, Italian seafood and spicy noodles.

Originally slated to open last December, newcomer Inkas Bistro opens its doors officially in the former home of Sundried Tomato restaurant, 631 Forest Ave., at 5 p.m. tonight, Friday, June 26.

The full menu offers an eclectic mix of Italian, Peruvian and French cuisine culled from four generations of family recipes, says Laguna local Anna Driggs, who co-owns the restaurant with her mother Ana Montoya. The menu will also offer empanadas, ceviche, salads and main courses such as Pescado a lo Macho, featuring bass, calamari, shrimp and octopus, entrees developed by chef Cupertonino Cantoran and George Ayala, of Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis Monarch Beach.

Driggs, Montoya and another family member opened Inkas in Irvine in 2000. The Laguna location will be more upscale but not overly expensive, Driggs said.

On the menu at Gu Ramen.
On the menu at Gu Ramen.

Farther south, Gu Ramen quietly replaced the short-lived Hearties at 907 South Coast Highway, which served organic juices, breakfast items and high-priced burgers.

Making a claim as the town’s only ramen house, Gu Ramen’s specialties include noodle soups at various levels of spiciness and tapas-style small plates that are authentically Japanese. Vegetarian diners will find umami broth ramen.

Its signature dish, of course, is a bowl of Gu Ramen, which comes in a rich and creamy, 18-hour pork broth with choice of pork belly, spicy pork or crispy chicken. The interior sports flat screen TV’s playing music videos, wooden booths and a huge chalkboard listing brews of the day and advises customers to save water by drinking beer. Yelpers compare Gu Ramen, which is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends, to Kiakata and Yamadaya in Costa Mesa.

The restaurant is a joint venture owned by Wicha Thossansin and Kiti Thongdetsakul. The partners also operate Kitajima Sushi and Thai in Tustin and Gu Thai Uptown of Whittier. The head chef is Nat Pispratuang, said Jennifer Duong, the restaurant’s publicist.

In downtown, the long empty and recently refurbished historic building at 222 Ocean Ave. will soon transform into 222 Ocean, Cucina Italiana, specializing in seafood, fresh pasta and pizza, said restaurant operator Alberto Lombardi, who through his Lombardi Family Concepts bought the building for $5.9 million with his 20-year business partner William L. Hutchinson.

A native of Italy and a Texas resident, Lombardi and Hutchinson own several restaurants mainly in the Dallas area.

Lombardi immigrated to the U.S. when dispatched to manage the Fairmont Hotel’s Venetian Room in San Francisco. A transfer to Dallas followed where he married and put down roots. “I became a Texan,” he said.

Even so, Lombardi remains connected to his native roots, one of the reasons he appreciates Laguna. “It feels just like a little village in Italy,” he said.

While Lombardi co-owns just under a dozen restaurants, he makes a point to differentiate his establishments from others. “The baby boomers, and I am one of them, are tired of going in these big restaurants, these chain restaurants. They want to go to … a neighborhood restaurant,” he told the Dallas Morning News in 2008.

Like many family-run establishments in Europe, 222 Ocean will make their own pastas, gelatos and desserts, Lombardi says.

Hutchinson in 1984 founded Dunhill Partners, which manages commercial property. Hutchinson, president of the real estate investment company based in Dallas, keeps a home in Laguna Beach.

Aware of the property’s historical significance, Lombardi hired local architect Todd Skendarian to finish the interior. Skendarian redesigned the building, which was sold in 2013 but whose owners failed to find a restaurant tenant.

 

Chase Bank is looking for locations in Laguna Beach, apparently considering spaces in the Aliso Shopping Center and in downtown.
The new location of 222 Ocean, Cucina Italiana in the former site of Laguna Federal Savings and Loan.

Lombardi plans to open 222 Ocean in October with 120 to 130 seats, including al fresco dining on the patio. The outdoor area is embellished by a historic tile mural uncovered in last year’s remodel and hints of the building’s origin as long defunct Laguna Federal Savings and Loan.

Lombardi’s hired a local chef and manager, who will both train in Dallas.

And after more than a year’s absence, Asada restaurant will return to Laguna Beach.

Owner Scott MacIntosh was forced to close the popular Mexican dining spot at 480 S. Coast Highway in October 2013 after the parent company filed for bankruptcy. A dispute with his landlords, who are part owners in the parent company, ended up in court, the OC Register reported in November 2013.

Mc Intosh, who also owns Reunion Kitchen+ Drink in Anaheim Hills, plans a November opening for Asada Tacos+Beer in the Boat Canyon shopping center, according to a permit application considered by the Planning Commission this week.

McIntosh is working with the property owner to finalize permits that will allow the sale of alcoholic beverages, a city report says.

In the same building, McIntosh will also open his second Reunion Kitchen in the former Umami Burger location by year’s end, the Register reported on June 15. Reunion will offer American classics.

 

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  1. […] Ethnic Twists Season Laguna’s New Dining Choices – Yelpers compare Gu Ramen, which is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends, to Kiakata and Yamadaya in Costa Mesa. The restaurant is a … fresh pasta and pizza, said restaurant operator Alberto Lombardi, who through his … […]

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