Why Not in Laguna?

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A Laguna Beach Magazine editor proposes a progressive restaurant week where Laguna’s chefs showcase their culinary prowess and diners just show up to the table.

By Alli Tong

Prix fixe menus would be a thing of the past at Laguna’s innovative restaurant week.
Prix fixe menus would be a thing of the past at Laguna’s innovative restaurant week.

I don’t have many pastimes or hobbies, but I would say that if eating could be considered one, I’d have it down pat. Most of all, I love experiencing new restaurants, whether in Laguna Beach, Orange County, or another state or country.

Eating is meant to be a shared experience. And that’s why I think restaurant weeks make for great opportunities for shared experiences—not only for the diners, but also for the chefs. I know some of you may groan at these two words, as they likely bring to mind images of your favorite spot crowded with tourists (aka residents from neighboring cities). But restaurant weeks have the ability to offer more than foot traffic during slower months and exposure to restaurants not typically in the media limelight. For chefs, a restaurant week could be an opportune time to beta test new dishes or techniques, team up with other local chefs to build collaborative menus served exclusively during restaurant week, or just try something out-of-the-box for fun. For diners, such an event poses an opportunity to try something new other than the old standbys.

Now, I know there’s more than what meets the eye. Those in the business often loathe restaurant week for many reasons: high volumes of people that can’t be accommodated for, forced promotions that yield no returns and fees to local tourism bureaus or restaurant associations (Orange County Restaurant Association charges the more than 100 restaurants involved in the countywide event an average fee of $500 to cover its costs). And, since there are nearly 20 Laguna restaurants that participate in the OC Restaurant Week, including K’ya Bistro, Lumberyard, 230 Forest Avenue and more, why not just create our own?

But Laguna’s wouldn’t have to be that way—this city has never really liked to be a follower, anyway. Participating restaurants wouldn’t be obligated to offer promotional prices or prix fixe menus if they didn’t want to; they would just be obligated to create or do something that inspires them. And if the event were organized under an overarching nonprofit organization like the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, whose mission is to help local businesses grow, there would be no need for unclear “fees.” Other local businesses such as hotels and media companies (like Firebrand Media, which publishes Laguna Beach Magazine) could sponsor the restaurant week to help with marketing costs. Or, they could even sponsor specific restaurants to help a creative vision come to life for a week.

Local companies could sponsor a restaurant for a week to dream up dishes.
Local companies could sponsor a restaurant for a week to dream up dishes.

While similar foodie events in Laguna have gained traction, I think there’s room to improve. Visit Laguna Beach’s now-defunct Laguna a la Carte (resuscitated this year as Celebrate Good Taste), a four-day event filled with seminars, set menus and promotions around town, has drawn solid crowds in the past, yet it seems to be lacking staying power. Laguna’s more organic restaurant week would focus on the food and having a good time. No one likes to patronize local businesses more than Lagunans themselves, so come on, Laguna—we are a city of firsts. From electing the first openly gay mayor in the U.S. in 1982 to being the first OC city to ban plastic bags in 2013, we can start the first Laguna Beach Restaurant Week. I’m more than happy to be the guinea pig. LBM

Alli Tong is editor of Laguna Beach Magazine.

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