Restaurants in Laguna Beach incorporate sustainably sourced meat and produce to showcase eco-friendly fare on their menus.
By Ashley Probst
Global warming is a hot topic—pun intended—though climate change is a more accurate way to describe what is currently happening to our environment. Severe weather patterns are occurring all over the globe, which researchers have attributed to disruptions caused by human behavior. Though the true onus falls on large corporations, individual responsibility plays an important role, too.
With so many facets behind integrating a sustainable lifestyle, it can feel overwhelming to get started with making more environmentally friendly choices. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from the farming of crops and livestock. Though this is a minuscule amount compared to transportation and electricity generation equating to approximately 28% and 27%, respectively, there is something to be said in regard to being conscious about your food consumption.
Fortunately, various Laguna Beach restaurants have made it easy to enjoy quality meat and produce by sourcing these ingredients from eco-friendly farms and even their own gardens. From cocktails featuring house-grown herbs at Sapphire, Cellar-Craft-Cook to ethically raised meat and poultry at Selanne Steak Tavern, there’s no shortage of scrumptious, sustainable options at local eateries.
Sapphire, Cellar-Craft-Cook is the latest addition to restauranteur Russ Bendel’s lineup of wine country-inspired American restaurants, with locations throughout Orange County. One of those is Vine Restaurant & Bar in San Clemente, which is where executive chef and partner Jared Cook tends to an on-site garden that grows seasonal, organic produce and herbs—the latter of which are used extensively in cocktails at all four dining establishments.
One elixir to note is the Liquid Diet, which comprises gin, lime, basil and a splash of ginger beer. This creation by beverage director and partner Gabe Whorley is a fan favorite amid a strong cocktail program. Other herbs utilized, both muddled and as garnishes, include the likes of lavender, pineapple sage, thyme and lemon verbena.
Another local hot spot that features an on-site garden is The Ranch at Laguna Beach, which supplies the resort’s restaurants Harvest, located on the property, and Lost Pier Café at Aliso Beach Park. Executive Chef Kyle St. John prioritizes “sourcing with integrity” and says that the 2-acre organic garden—which uses no herbicides, pesticides or fungicides—was an element that deeply resonated with this ethos.
Additionally, all of the kitchen scraps go into an ongoing compost pile. “It kind of just completes that full circle of [how] items that are leaving the kitchen are being repurposed through compost to then enrich our soil that we’re using in the garden, which, in turn, I feel, creates much better produce,” says St. John, who acknowledges that this process is a lot of work, but the beautiful harvests are worth it.
Another sustainably sourced ingredient on the menus at The Ranch’s restaurants is the seafood, some of which is delivered straight to the kitchen’s backdoor. St. John has formed relationships with fishermen from Dana Point and the historic Dory Fleet Market in Newport Beach, who focus on single-line, rod-and-reel fishing and long-line fishing, respectively. “We’re so blessed and lucky to have this amazing ocean right in our backyard,” St. John says, noting that he receives all types of fish from king salmon to swordfish, yellowtail and rock cod.
His relationship with the fishermen has flourished to the point he can tell them, “Hey, whatever you guys are catching, I’ll take. I’ll give you a weight of what I’m looking for to utilize and whatever you’re catching, I’m gonna highlight. It’s my job to figure out how to utilize it and make it work … and share that story at our restaurant.”
One must-try menu item at Harvest—which has the accolade of being the first of now several Laguna members in the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, organized by the Surfrider Foundation in San Clemente—is the Market Fish Ceviche, which features the freshness of locally sourced fish. “We do a passion fruit aguachile with some amarillo chiles and then we fold it with some pico de gallo, some fanned avocado, some Tajín-spiced tortilla chips and really just complement the seafood and really let the fish be the [focus of the] dish,” St. John says, noting that he follows the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch criteria in his kitchen. Lost Pier Café serves a similar ceviche that incorporates pico de gallo, lime and cilantro.
Another local eatery that sources sustainable seafood is Selanne Steak Tavern. “Nordic Blu salmon is a sustainably sourced dish on our menu,” says Executive Chef Vince Terusa. “It was rated Green/Best Choice, by [the] Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program and received a score of 7.17, making it the highest-rated farmed Atlantic salmon in the world.” Nordic Blu salmon is marine net-pen farmed off the coast of Norway. The Selanne entree features the salmon served with lump blue crab salad and a marcona almond romesco sauce.
Seafood isn’t the only sustainable option on the Selanne Steak Tavern menu, which states that the kitchen solely sources ingredients from farms that practice humane as well as antibiotic-, steroid- and pesticide-free raising techniques with an emphasis on supporting local. “We want to provide our guests with the best ingredients, as well as not create a lot of waste—so we choose … partners that are like-minded,” Terusa says. “More and more consumers are educated and interested in sustainable farming practices, so they are searching for dishes with grass-fed beef and the like.”
One such farm that the restaurant partners with is Boise, Idaho-based Snake River Farms, which is renowned for its American wagyu beef. Though beef is responsible for more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by livestock, this business prides itself on being a pioneer in sustainable cattle farming.
“For over 50 years, we have been stewards of the land and our environment because it has always been the right thing to do,” says Jay Theiler, who is executive director of marketing and has been with the farm’s parent company, Agri Beef Co., for two decades. “At Snake River Farms, we are involved in every aspect of the beef life cycle from ranch to table.”
According to Theiler, some of the eco-friendly practices on the farm include reclaiming 96% of the water used during processing, composting cattle waste to create nutrient-rich fertilizer for area farmers, and utilizing a rotational grazing program to promote healthy rangelands and reduce the risk of wildfires.
So, if you must opt for beef, an excellent option is Selanne Steak Tavern’s 10-ounce wagyu filet mignon sourced from Snake River Farms.
If you prefer poultry, another dish at Selanne Steak Tavern that may pique your interest is Mary’s Chicken, which is served with a root vegetable melange and truffle jus poulet.
“Our organic poultry are raised on certified organic farms that have had no chemicals sprayed on them for at least three years,” says Mary Pitman, co-owner of Mary’s Chickens, Turkeys and Ducks in Sanger, California. “All of our poultry are fed non-GMO feed that we produce at our own feed mill. My youngest son, Ben, worked with the USDA for a year and we received the first non-GMO-verified logos in the U.S. for both nonorganic and organic chicken. What he wrote is now the standard for the U.S.”
Other certifications the company has under its belt include Certified Humane Raised & Handled, Animal Welfare Certified by the Global Animal Partnership, and the Better Chicken Commitment, all of which speak to the ethical operations on the farm. Other sustainable practices include repurposing the chicken manure, which is sold to be turned into fertilizer; using recyclable packaging; air chilling the chickens, which saves thousands of gallons of water each day; and electric vehicles are used by some of the employees who drive a lot to check the farms.
If you’re looking for a true comfort meal, another poultry dish is the fried chicken at Harley Laguna Beach. Chef and owner Greg Daniels sources all of the restaurant’s chicken and eggs from Riverside-based GoneStraw Farms, which he’s had a relationship with for about 10 years. “They have a humanely raised, pastured chicken program where they get to roam around in a natural environment,” Daniels explains. “I’ve witnessed their careful expansion and growth over the years, and I’m proud of having a part in supporting a small farm operation.”
No matter the ingredients you want to see on your plate, sustainable options abound in this seaside town.