A wonderful new store in Laguna Beach — Laguna Wine, Coffee, & Specialty Foods — is an oenophile's paradise and a gourmet's delight. Even if you are neither, you will find the knowledgeable and friendly staff eager to help you make your choices.
The owner, Daniel Huang, a dentist, is a wine and food lover who has dreamed of opening a shop like this for many years. He tasted food, talked to people and researched for six months, then opened in June.
A coffee bar in the front of the shop serves award-winning Verve coffee from Santa Cruz, prepared in a filtered Chemex carafe, and espresso and lattes from an Italian La Marzocco espresso machine noted for its precise temperature control.
You can enjoy your coffee at a table in the bar area or buy a bag of one of the shop's specialty varieties to brew at home. The stores claims to have the best cup of coffee in town, and I have to agree. You will also find a nice selection of teas and all the accompanying accoutrements for these beverages.
Step further into this large, attractive, open and airy space, and you will find a glassed-in wine room on the right. Its cool atmosphere is designed to keep the wine at the appropriate temperature. Racks lining the wall hold a large selection of California wines as well as imports from around the world.
Cards in front of the wines tell briefly about each bottle and offer ratings from the many wine magazines. A selection of Japanese sakis can also be found in this room.
Across the aisle is another cooled, glassed-in room that contains more expensive estate-bottled wines. The prices range from $5 to $2,000.
Huang prides himself on his competitive pricing, equaling what you might find on the web. He is also offering discounts for volume even on purchases of three or more bottles.
Further back is yet another climate-controlled area with Champagnes, Proseccos, sparkling wines and beers. You will find beer from Ireland, Germany, England, France and other countries, as well as stouts, lagers, porters, pilsners, ales and special craft beers. The craft beers are from small microbreweries, which emphasize flavor and brewing technique.
You will also find lots of wine paraphernalia such as gift bags, glasses, openers, wine stain emergency kits and carafes. The store has numerous wine-flavored foods like chardonnay artichoke pesto, roasted garlic champagne mustard, garlic salsa with Zinfandel and more. It even carries wine candy.
In the rear of the store, you'll find a deli case with an array of prepackaged cheeses and salamis. Throughout the shop are a variety of crackers and chips, so you could put together a nice picnic for the park or the beach. A small number of breads from the Rustic Loaf as well as multigrain baguettes are available.
There are olive oils galore: everything from classic extra virgin, avocado and grapeseed to black truffle, white truffle, red pepper and garlic. Pasolivo oils from Paso Robles are really wonderful and are now being sold in eco-friendly tins with a tab opener that pulls up a spout. The tins also prevent light exposure, which can damage the oil.
A few items that are a bit esoteric appear here, like escargot shells and canned escargot. Former New Yorkers will be happy to know that they can find Fox's U-bet chocolate syrup, an essential ingredient for making egg creams.
Of course, the shop has an extensive line of sauces, including dressings, marinades, hot sauces and mustards. A vast array of sea salts includes the one I think is worth the price — fleur de sel, which consists of thin flakes that have a delicate saltiness and a subtle flowery taste.
You will also find jams, honeys and candies as well as chocolates of all sorts and so many other items. It's just a treat to walk around the store and explore.
Gift baskets are available as well.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
Laguna Wine, Coffee, & Specialty Foods
Where: 381 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach
When: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Information: (949) 494-4697 or lagunawinecafe.com