appreciated. He also hoped it would be a place where business and social clubs would flourish and help create a local landmark to proclaim to the world that Laguna Beach was now a destination, not just another stop along South Coast Highway. Laguna Beach citizens awoke on the morning of Friday, January 25, 1929 to a headline in the South Coast News: “Modern Hostelry for Laguna Beach – La Casa del Camino – Many Guests Expected at Riddell Hotel Opening.” The article featured a glorious photograph of the finished hotel. Rooms rented for $3 a night, and soon Hollywood celebrities would sip cocktails in the hotel bar and for the next 90 years, locals, artists, city officials and tourists would enjoy spectacular sunsets from the hotel’s rooftop lounge. It had been a few years since we visited The Rooftop Lounge with its spectacu- lar panoramic views and relaxing atmosphere. This time our visit included an overnight stay at the hotel’s Men’s Suite, which has awesome views of the Pacific Ocean and is decorated like a surfer’s paradise. Because the hotel was built almost a century ago, expect the layouts of the themed rooms to be quirky, but the views on the ocean-facing rooms are breathtaking. We couldn’t wait to make our way up to The Rooftop Lounge to catch the


sunset. I remember how excellent their menu of signature craft cocktails was curated by mixologist Billy Ray, including classic mojitos, margaritas and martinis, as well as other house specialties. The Rooftop has a fresh new management team consisting of Billy Rogers, Micaela McCann and Jean-Claude Boushh, all of whom said hello and checked on how our dining experience was going. It’s a routine they say they do with all of their guests.

a Casa del Camino was originally conceptualized by its builder, local artist and City Councilmember William W. Riddell, as a spectacular destination along a spectacular stretch of sand in the heart of Laguna Beach. In Riddell’s eyes, this would be a place not only for travelers to rest, but a place for the community to gather and a place for art to be

Our server arrived to take our drink order and I remembered how much I loved

their Mojito, so I ordered it again. The Mojito comes with a fresh sugar cane, which elevates the sexy presentation of this thirst-quenching classic. My partner ordered the Martin Ray Chardonnay with layers of Meyer lemon curd, ripe Bosc pear, subtle orange blossom and honey. It’s light and juicy with vibrant acidity, well-integrated oak and a touch of vanilla bean. The Rooftop Lounge has recently revamped the menu, crafted by Chef

Christophe Bonnegrace. He has won multiple awards and appeared on countless “Best” lists. His colorful culinary background includes experience as corporate food and beverage director for a couple of large corporations and he has been executive chef at Celebrity Cruises, Little Buddha Las Vegas, La Villette, Barawine, Sugar Factory, Yamashiro Hollywood/LA, and Wild and Out Miami before he unexpectedly landed on The Rooftop Lounge on July 2, 2020, just in time for the relaunch. Bonnegrace’s vision for the smart petite menu features eclectic California casual coastal-inspired fare and has something for everyone. When I asked chef how he would describe the cuisine, he said “it’s a fusion of French Rivera, with a touch of Sardinian, Italian, Spanish and Asian.” The fish is ultra-fresh. He received a call at 11:30 p.m. the day before we dined from one of his purveyors offering him a freshly caught 50-pound yellowtail. True dedication to go pick it up after a long day’s work. Chef insisted that we not order from the menu, but that he would take us on a

culinary journey of some of his classics as well as some specials that were not on the menu. So, when you visit, be sure to ask about the Chef Specials. He sent out appetizers and each one was so fresh and flavorful with brilliant flavor profiles. First up, Purple Peruvian Scallops with lychee, Yusuf white truffle oil, serrano pepper and wasabi tobiko. I could eat dozens of them! Next, the Crab Cake Lemon Pepper Aioli: Pan-fried coated panko adorned with tear-drop tomatoes and ceviche seabass, lime, pineapple, diced tomatoes, serrano pepper, Persian cucumber with a side of tortilla chips. Superb!

September 2020 | @theragemonthly 27

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