The Secret’s Out

April 2010

Illustration by John Uelanded_notes

Published April 2010

My ability to keep a secret has been compared to a fishnet’s ability to hold water. I don’t deny this. After more than 30 years as a journalist, the impulse to tell everything I know, right now, is undeniable. A birthday surprise? Count on me to ruin it. Christmas presents? Hey kids, whatever you do, don’t look in Mom’s closet! God forbid anyone in our military entrust me with sensitive information. No waterboarding needed; my captors’ hands will cramp from taking notes.

That’s why this month’s cover story has been a special challenge. For the first time in the magazine’s 35-year history, we decided to keep our list of Orange County’s Top 10 restaurants—including our choice as restaurant of the year—a closely guarded secret. Only dining critic Gretchen Kurz and the six staffers editing and designing the pages had access to the list. Interns were sworn to secrecy. Blood oaths were administered, papers signed, penalties established.

This led to some awkwardness around Orange Coast HQ. Senior editors found themselves hustling to cover up proof pages whenever freelance writers visited their offices. The magazine’s ad sales staff seemed unusually gregarious, and we noticed how their eyes roamed our desktops whenever they stopped by the editorial wing to chat.

Clearly focused on the weakest link, Publisher Linda Goldstein casually invited me to discuss the contents of the April issue at a meeting of the advertising sales staff. I performed admirably during the 15-minute presentation, describing our choice for restaurant of the year as “Restaurant X” and only once referring to its chef using a gender-specific pronoun.

When I was done, Ed Estrada, one of our top account executives, spoke up. “That’s all pretty exciting,” he deadpanned. “So, who’s on the list?”

I opened my mouth to answer, every impulse directing me to share the shocking news that our top restaurant is in perhaps the unlikeliest city imaginable, miles and miles from the county’s restaurant riviera. My lips began to move, eager to explain how it’s possible that another of our top 10, a local steakhouse, is part of a chain, for God’s sake! What I needed more than anything, at that moment, was a stout roll of duct tape.

Against all odds, though, I just smiled. The effort nearly killed me. So, with great relief, I direct your attention to Page 72 of this issue, and unclench my jaw for the first time all month.

Martin J. Smith

Coming Up …

Our first-ever beach guide, pivotal events and weird coincidences that shaped modern Orange County, and the unlikely rebirth of Las Vegas’ most notorious femme fatale as a Laguna Beach gallery owner.

Illustration by John Ueland

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