The Media-O-Meter: Can a Balboa Bar save Orange Coast?

Categories: OC Media

Maybe—or at least help steer OC’s 34-year-old glossy monthly magazine away from what had been a frothy, puff-piece-packed publication that featured interviews and profiles with former owner Ruth Ko’s friends, and B- (sometimes C)-grade celebrities adorning its covers who often had nothing whatsoever to do with Orange County.

So by putting a close-up photo of a sweet, delicious Balboa Bar on the cover of their July “Best of Orange County” issue—the debut of a newly re-launched and revamped Orange Coast—returning editor Martin J. Smith is clearly making a statement: no more cover shots of celebs who’ve never even heard of the magazine.

Still, this transition into what I hope will become a regional magazine that’s rich with literary nonfiction and every bit as good as Texas Monthly or Los Angeles (the latter which also underwent a new-and-improved rejiggering a few years ago, also, like Orange Coast, after it was purchased by Indiana-based Emmis Communications) may be a slow one. There are still some remnants of the old Orange Coast that may or may not stick around—old standbys like party photos of rich folks grinning plasticized grins into the camera at various benefits, which pubs like the Register and the billionaire-loving Riviera already do. (How many Ed Arnold pictures can one person possibly stomach?) And there are still tons of ads for medical groups and jewelry stores, but we won’t begrudge Orange Coast for those—you gotta pay the rent somehow.

This issue also marks the launch of myriad new features, some which hit better than others. Chris Epting’s “OC Answer Man,” where Epting thinks up questions himself and then answers them for your alleged fun and amusement, could be more creative—howzabout an e-mail address to take missives from actual readers? Roy Rivenburg should actually make an effort at being funny with his “News From the Future,” because he doesn’t come close.

A real estate feature, “On the Market,” is just obscene, with photos and capsule descriptions of lavish OC properties, the cheapest one costing a mere $3.9 million. Jason Lee gets kinda-sorta profiled in “Ex-Pat,” a short piece highlighting an OC-er who’s made it big. Lee apparently wouldn’t talk to Orange Coast, though (hell, he wouldn’t talk to the Weekly either when we tried for an interview last year), so all Lee’s quotes are culled from other sources.

The old Orange Coast always left you feeling that it catered to the super-rich, and you won’t shake that feeling when you eyeball the $1,275 shoulder bag featured in the “OC Style” section, or the $895 Stella McCartney floral print blouse that looks like someone vomited up a fruit platter.

Then there’s the meat of the issue: “The Best of Orange County.” It’s not nearly as extensive as the Weekly’s Best Of issue, and not as eye-rollingly awful as the Register’s (will Olive Garden win Best Italian Restaurant again? Of course it will), with just seven or so blurbs for each category, but you know, when you’re reading Orange Coast in the waiting room of your dentist’s office, where the mag always winds up, sometimes you just want the quick rundown. And I’ll leave it to the Weekly’s food guys to argue if the Sapphire Pantry is indeed the county’s best cheese shop, or if 50 Forks is truly OC’s best dining value.

And, as part of its Best Of ish, there are profiles of what Orange Coast calls “Certified OC Originals,” one of whom is Register columnist Frank Mickadeit, who’s photographed with a rather constipated look on his face as he’s actually rolling up his sleeves. Because, y’know, Frank’s badass-tough, and he won’t take shit from anybody, and he gets out into the streets, etc. etc. Still, when I read the quote from former Mickadeit colleague Jean Pasco in the Martin J. Smith-penned piece—the one about Mickadeit “smoking stogies with GOP power couple Mike and Susan Schroeder,” it’s pretty hard not to also read that as, “I’ll never write anything bad about my cigar-sucking GOP power couple friends ever never never.”

Elsewhere: Patrick J. Kiger’s feature on a supposed surge of interest in Richard Nixon was fine, but the gardening feature on Nixon’s old La Casa Pacifica stomping grounds in San Clemente was a little too much Dick for me. Then there’s their restaurant guide: just one noteworthy joint in all of Aliso Viejo? The Weekly’s website lists 17. Just one in Cypress? We’ve got 10. Only 7 in Huntington Beach? We’ve got 45.

But like I said, change can be a slow-churning process . . .



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