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From Canyon To Cove: Hush rides off into the sunset

September 02, 2010|By Cindy Frazier
  • Chef Ronnie Arnold of Hush restaurant.
Chef Ronnie Arnold of Hush restaurant. (Don Leach, Coastline…)

Nobody ever said it was easy running a restaurant, but the saga of hush, which closed suddenly three weeks ago, is really no piece of cake.

Belying its name, hush generated a lot of press almost from the beginning. The restaurant opened with a splash around Valentine's Day 2004 on South Coast Highway in a spot that had housed a much-admired Mark de Palma establishment. Hush had a lot to live up to, and it did.

Owner Chuck Rock, a veteran in the restaurant business from as far afield as Aspen, Colo. and Ocean City, M.D., and locally grown managing partner Daniel Reyes, spent a reported $1 million to improve the place, already one of the most elegant dining spots in Laguna.

Rock and Reyes, and founding co-partner Jonathan Pfluegar, apparently spared no expense in the year they spent revamping the restaurant, ending up with a 12,000-bottle wine collection to go with an elegant food selection that our reviewers raved about repeatedly over the next six years.

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"Sensational" was one word for hush, and "world-class" was another. The place had its own sommelier, or resident wine expert, unheard of for a relatively small establishment. Wine was priced from $32 to $9,500; an ounce of golden Oesetra caviar was $245. But for a time you could also get a gourmet three-course meal for less than $30.

The only complaint: the noise, generated by happy diners crowded into slick, hard-surfaced rooms.

Into this happy hostel of hog-heaven dining enter a now-deceased Newport Beach multi-millionaire financier named Danny Pang.

We don't know when Pang trained his sights on acquiring hush, we only know, from talking to Rock and Reyes, and reading court papers, that Pang became a frequent flyer at hush, and at some point prior to September, 2008, he offered Rock and Reyes a sum of money for it. They declined. Pang then acquired the building in which the restaurant is located, apparently figuring that owning the hush property would give him a leg up in becoming an upscale restaurateur. That didn't exactly work out.

As one might imagine in such a touchy landlord-tenant situation, things went from terrible to even worse. At one point, the restaurateurs claimed, Pang fenced off the restaurant's trash receptacles in an apparent attempt to get city officials to order it shuttered. That's playing hardball.

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