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All About Food: New wood grill in a sentimental spot

October 06, 2010|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Mariano and Patricia Molteni with their boys Sokka, 1, and Ziggy, 6, in front of Maro Wood Grill in Laguna Beach, which is set to open in November.
Mariano and Patricia Molteni with their boys Sokka, 1,… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

A La Carte has finally bitten the dust. The gourmet takeout restaurant and catering company that we lovingly created in 1986 from a fortune teller's apartment and sold seven years ago, passing through two subsequent owners, is now undergoing a complete transformation in the competent and experienced hands of the Molteni family. We watched with mixed emotions and curiosity because of our special attachment to this space and wanted to talk to them about their plans. Our concerns melted away when we met the engaging and enthusiastic Moltenis.

They intend to open Maro Wood Grill at 1915 S. Coast Hwy. in Laguna Beach, and it's all about family. Mariano is the chef, while his wife, Patricia, a professional design marketer and a graduate of Parson's, has done the designing and will work in the restaurant. Mariano's sister Fiorella, who has worked in many restaurants and owned her own in Chester, England, has been recruited to manage the front of the house. Their mother, Lilliana, has moved here from Buenos Aires to help them. She is an architect and drew up the plans. In addition, Mariano and Fiorella's brother, Martin, is a world-famous chef who has his own restaurant in Buenos Aires, the family's hometown. He is helping to create the menu and acting as a consultant.

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Mariano, or Maro, as he is known, has had restaurant management experience for many years in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. It was there that he met and fell in love with Patricia, who herself grew up in the fast food restaurant business in New York City, where her family owned several Blimpies shops. Maro and Patricia moved to New York and, with partners, opened a tapas bar. Maro, a man of many talents, then got into the antique business with friends and came out to California to expand it.

Two years ago, he left the world of antiques to his partners and moved to Laguna with his wife and oldest child, Ziggy, now age 6. Sokka, their youngest, is 1 year old. Moro began scouring the streets of Laguna for a location for his vision of a small, family-run restaurant. When he discovered the shuttered A La Carte, he knew he had found his new home.

Embarking on a complete remodel from floor to ceiling was a big undertaking. The Moltenis have redesigned the space to include an open kitchen with a nine-seat dining counter and wood-fired grill. The exterior patio with two tables will feature a fire pit as well as fountains in the planters.

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