The World is Your Oyster 4

Laguna Beach’s Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck give back 
to Orange County with its annual Sip & Shuck event.

On a recent afternoon, I found myself sitting at Driftwood Kitchen’s open-air dining room overlooking the blue Pacific Ocean. My companion on that blissfully warm day was my dear friend, Tae, who was visiting from New York. The two of us had first met in Manhattan as aspiring writers with a passion for the burgeoning epicurean world. Back then–nearly a decade ago–when we worked at Food & Wine magazine, the American food scene was quite different. The idea of today’s celebrity chef was in its infancy and TV shows such as “Top Chef” had just aired bringing the likes of Tom Colicchio and Anthony Bourdain to the masses. Over the years, my friend and I moved to different cities–he to Seoul and Bangkok before returning to New York, and I cooked for Michelin-starred chefs before making my home out west in some of California’s most food-centric locales. We acquired new jobs and new zip codes, but our passion for food and drink remained constant.

On this sublime weekday afternoon, Tae was craving fresh oysters and that’s how we found ourselves seated at Driftwood Kitchen. There’s something undeniably therapeutic about the ocean abutting Orange County’s shores, and the entrancing way the water laps onto the sand as it ebbs and flows. For an urban dweller like Tae, seeing Laguna’s pristine waters and inhaling the clean, salty air brought him much needed peace. It’s a sense of calm that us locals definitely take for granted. Tae and I both admitted to being thankful for our beautiful landscape that day.

Earlier we had walked from Laguna’s Main Beach and sauntered on the sand, following the coastline until we reached a concrete stairway that led us up to Sleepy Hollow Lane, the tiny alleyway that leads to Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck. It’s one of those spaces where you simultaneously want to tuck your cell phone away, while you can’t help but snap a ton of photos of the beautiful ocean view. A longtime seaman once said that the reason why surfers are so laid back is that they spend hours on end staring at the horizon. That relaxing view gives you an instant sense of place, he said. You’re connected but at the same time you realize you’re a small piece of a larger world. That thought washed over me as I sat on Driftwood’s patio. It’s also why the eatery and its sister restaurant, The Deck, are the ideal location for the annual Sip & Shuck soirée.

On November 13 from 2-6 p.m., Chef Rainer Schwarz and his team present an array of freshly shucked oysters and delectable small bites paired with sparkling wines and refreshing cocktails. The fourth annual Champagne and oyster fundraising event benefits Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Orange County. The non-profit organization provides a much-needed voice for adolescents in the child welfare system. By appointing supervised and trained court advocates, CASA hopes to ensure that these children in need have the tools to thrive by finding safe and permanent homes.

“In the past three years, Sip & Shuck has become one of the most popular events in Laguna Beach,” says Driftwood Kitchen’s Director of Operations John Nye. “With expectations set high, we are going to focus on sourcing an incredible array of fresh oysters, presenting lively entertainers, and pouring terrific wines and spirits. Guests can look forward to a few surprises along the way.” The charitable cause alone is reason to swing by the Sip & Shuck, but the bubbly free-flowing Veuve Clicquot, assortment of fine wines and refreshing cocktails mixed with Casamigos Tequila, Nolet’s and Tito’s vodka are reason to stay. Other local companies such as Laguna Beach Beer Company and Kean Coffee will also join the Sip & Shuck cause.

As the waves crash in the background and the cool ocean breeze kisses my face, I find myself lost in thought. I’m daydreaming about the past, the future and everything in between. But, the one thing I’m certain of is that come November 13, I will surely return to this cozy Laguna outpost.

Please note: Sip & Shuck is a 21-and-over event. General admission tickets are $120, but are available for pre-sale purchase for $95.