Our Laguna: City awash in glorious food and beverages

More than 800 folks wined and dined at the five major events of the inaugural Laguna Beach a la Carte, not to mention all the people who partook in prix-fixe menus and other specials at 28 local eateries.

Laguna Beach Visitors and Conference Bureau hosted the event, billed as a wine and food experience. It featured Laguna featured wine and food tastings at Laguna Culinary Arts, the Rooftop at Casa Del Camino and Splashes at the Surf & Sand; a lavish buffet luncheon served with champagne and jazz at Tivoli Too!; and a dinner at Montage's swank Studio restaurant

"We are thrilled at the success of this first event," said Karyn Philippsen, bureau president. "It lays the foundation for what we can look forward to in 2012 and beyond."

California wines were showcased at Culinary Arts on March 11, the opening night of the four-day affair. The wines included the bureau's privately labeled chardonnay, produced and bottled by Tres Sabores.

Executive chef Laurent Brazier cooked up tasty tidbits for guests to nibble while sipping and enjoying the music of Emilio.

The cost was $50 per person.

Sixty guests imbibed cocktails and wines and savored hors d'oeuvres on the Rooftop on Saturday night. The cost was $75 per person, but guests went home with the distinctive baby blue blankets provided by Chris Keller to ward off the evening chill, and warmed by the knowledge that $2,600 of the proceeds was donated to the American Red Cross.

Among the guests: Bonnie Hall, founder of OC Arts Foundation, online newsman Stu Saffer and Friends of the Laguna Beach Library and Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. President Martha Lydick.

The 200 guests at the Surf & Sand soiree were treated to mixologist/pastry chef Ryan Velilla's signature cocktails and hors d'oeuvres prepared by Chef Jeff Armstrong, served on the renovated pool deck.

Admission was free, but reservations were required.

The Laguna Board of Realtors hosted 120 food lovers for a brunch that included scrambled eggs, ham, fruit and cheese trays, a vegetarian frittata, Waldorf and green salads, strawberry crepes, hash browns and shrimp Newburg, all washed down with flutes of bubbly. For dessert: cookies, berry tort and brownies.

"I just wanted to do something special," said Bobby Fader, general manager of Tivoli Too! and bureau secretary.

Betty DeGeneres was the honorary hostess. She is a philanthropist, Laguna Beach Pet Parade judge and, oh yes, you might have heard of her daughter, Ellen.

Seated with DeGeneres were Realtor Caroline Haines, who founded the Pet Parade, Marsha Silady, Elizabeth Barden, Deborah Engle and Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson.

Pearson was showing off pictures of the rescued long-haired doxie recently added to her household. The pup is named Lucy because of its red hair — which runs in the family.

Lee Ferrell, formerly with the Righteous Brothers and Will Ferrell's father, popped in.

Also enjoying the feast: Peg and City Manager John Pietig, 2011 Citizens of the Year Al Roberts and Ken Jillson, Realtor Rick Hentzel, Fiori owner Bonnie Wolin, Laguna Beach Live! founder and producer Cindy Prewitt, a svelte Laguna Playhouse Managing Director Karen Wood, Gene Felder, Sandy Ohanesian and Lydick.

Also: Nadine Ashby, who produces "Woofstock", a fundraiser for animals; Ed Drollinger, who reminds Laguna Canyon Conservancy members of upcoming meetings; Rebecca and artist John Barber, owners of the Studio Gallery in the Old Pottery Place; John and Susan Hamil, whose bloodhound, Rita, recently won best of breed at the 2011 Westminster Dog Show — the Oscars of the canine world; the visitors bureau's Judy Bijlani and Ashley Johnson, and Karen Feller, who worked with them to get the restaurants to participate in Laguna a la Carte.

"This was bigger than our staff could handle by themselves," said Philippsen, who attended all of the events.

Tickets were $75, $25 of which was a tax-deductible donation to the animal shelter.

The brunch raised generated $7,500 for the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter, $5,000 of it from Mark Porterfield, whose PIMCO Foundation also funded the renovation and relocation of the children's' art exhibit at the Festival of Arts.

A la Carte closed with the dinner at the Studio, overlooking Treasure Island Park and the beach.

Chef Craig Strong prepared the four-course meal that was paired with wines by Villa Creek winery owner Chris Cherry.

The dinner may have been the last event, but it was the first one sold out. Tickets were $100.

Splashes and Tivoli Too! were also sold out.

For more information about Laguna's restaurants, with a variety of cuisines, visit http://www.LagunaBeachFoodies.com, which also features cooking demonstrations by local chefs and recipes for signature dishes. Restaurant offers can be downloaded.

The website is sponsored by the bureau, which staff operates from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily at 381 Forest Ave.


BIA Director feted

Laguna Beach resident Kristine Thalman was lauded for her exemplary leadership and charm as chief executive officer of the Orange County chapter of the Building Industries Assn. at a retirement party.

The party was held March 11, at the Irvine Co. headquarters in Newport Beach.

"To say that Kris did a good job is saying so little about her," said Dan Young, president of Irvine Company's Development.

Thalman served as the spokeswoman and manger of operations for the biggest chapter of the BIA in Southern California. The chapter represents more than 100,000 employees in the home building industries.

She took over the job in 2004 and led the chapter through the economic downturn.

"The industry was depressed; a lot of people lost their jobs, but thanks in part to Kris, we are going to get out of this," Young said.

Thalman had previously worked for KB Home and as Government Relations Manager for Anaheim.

Former Anaheim mayor and speaker of the state Assembly Curt Pringle was among those offering congratulations to Thalman.

"I was lobbied by Kris when I was in office," Pringle said. "She did a good job for Anaheim."

Thalman was also commended by the Orange County Board of Supervisors, in a presentation by Bill Campbell, who represents the first district.

She successfully lobbied him to get the county to collect fees at the end of building projects, rather than the beginning.

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey presented Thalman with a commendation signed by a host of Republican legislators.

"You are a lady to be admired," Harkey said.

Councilwoman Pearson met Thalman just after the Laguna Beach landslide in 2005, when Pearson was mayor and Thalman had just moved to Laguna.

"I called her and asked if the builders could help," Pearson said.

The better Pearson knew Thalman, the more she tried to rope her new-found friend into any group in which Pearson was involved, including the South Coast Medical Center Foundation board and the Laguna Beach Seniors Inc.

Thalman moved to Laguna in one of the most stressful times in her life.

Her husband, Chino Hills Councilman James Thalman, had died; she had new job and a new community. Thalman said her association with Pearson and with women to whom Pearson introduced her helped her through that dark time.

Among the guests at the party: former Mayors Kathleen Blackburn and Cheryl Kinsman, Lydick, Joan Gladstone and South Lagunan Ellen Harris, daughter of former Anaheim Councilman Irv Pickler, who also attended.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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