Monday, September 2, 2013

Having a Great Time at the Live and Dine Event

To Live and Dine Event
South Coast Collection 
3303 Hyland Ave. 
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

I love food events a lot. I know, not exactly earth shattering news coming from me. I especially love food events when the admission price includes all you can eat samples. I don't want to have to worry about the admission price, plus dealing with food and drink tickets. I always feel ripped off by those kinds of events, like the now on hiatus Taste of Newport. You could easily spend close to $60, and still need to go out to dinner afterwards. The To Live and Dine Chef's Challenge definitely did not require dinner after this event, in fact I was still full even the next  morning.

To Live and Dine was put on by the great folks at Riviera Magazine. They assembled over twenty of the hottest restaurants in OC to participate in a chefs contest. Each person in attendance was given one coin, and told to place that coin in the restaurant's container that they liked best. With so many great restaurants, I knew it would be a hard choice for me to decide, but I was definitely up for the challenge. Not only was this going to be a great night of eating, but this was also a night of giving. A portion of the proceeds from the $20 admission went to a very worthy cause, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to watch over and advocate for neglected and abused children going through the overburdened court system or to prevent children from languishing in group homes or inappropriate foster homes. For a lot of these kids, this CASA volunteer is the only constant adult presence in their life. A very worth while charity to get behind.

This chef challenge was held appropriately at the South Coast Collection, which is also known as SOCO to us more hip people. Okay, I am not really hip, I just heard someone else call this place SOCO, so I wanted to try to be cool as well. If you have not been to SOCO, you need to head over there. They feature over 300,000 square feet of home decor, fashion, design, and culinary retails spaces for you to peruse. Of course being a food lover, I am of course drawn to the food more than the fashion side, (my wardrobe probably gives that away though). SOCO features OC's largest Farmer's Market, along with some of the most buzz worthy restaurants to hit Orange County in years. A good many of these restaurants are on our ever growing list of places we will eventually eat at. That is for another day though, because as soon as we entered, I made a beeline for the first restaurant I saw giving out what they hoped would be the winning entry in this chefs challenge. Let's check out the competitors.

Mastro's probably would have gotten my vote if they would have given out their Butter Cake, which is one of my all time favorite desserts. They settled on handing out this Smoked Salmon with a parsnip puree. Very tasty, the puree was done well, and the salmon was nice too. This would have paired nicely with the butter cake. Sorry, but I really do love that dessert.

Mare Culinary Lounge is located in Laguna Beach, so it is no surprise that they went with something from the sea to showcase. This Lobster Ravioli was full of lobster, made with a limoncello pasta, and topped with a sauce that I did not catch the name of. With this one sample, Mare Culinary Lounge has made it onto our must try list.

The sign says coming soon, but Taco Maria is now open at SOCO. This former food truck takes it turn becoming a brick and mortar restaurant, and all the foodies in OC could not be more excited. This was actually my first time having anything from Taco Maria. I am not a big food truck guy, so that explains why I have not tried them before this. They definitely made a favorable impression on me with this Soft Egg with chorizo and verde sauce. Not like anything I would expect from a Mexican restaurant, this whetted my appetite for more from them.

Nice hand modeling Katie. This is the restaurant that I lost my coin at. I voted for this to win the Live and Dine event, but of course, just like my sports teams, Brasserie Pascal did not win this contest either. It really could have though. This Oyster was topped with caviar and a very subtle cream sauce. It melted in my mouth. So good, and bonus points for bringing oysters to an outdoor event, where temperatures were not optimal.

Sandy's comes to us from Surf City, Huntington Beach and brought us their version of a layered seafood cocktail. This contained lots of my favorites, lobster, shrimp, avocado, and an orange chili sauce. This had a lot of things going on with it. The slight spiciness from the chili, the cool avocado, the rich lobster and the brininess from the shrimp, all worked wonderfully together.

Not only were restaurants here, but event planners, Posh Events was on hand with guest sushi chef, David Fernandez, and his Spicy Tuna Wonton Cups. These were topped with avocado and Dave's Jalapeno sauce. These really packed a punch. The tuna was fresh, and I liked the inclusion of the wonton cup instead of the traditional rice paper or seaweed.

I sing the praises of The Ranch Restaurant every chance I get, so it is no surprise that this was one of my favorites from this night. The Ranch always outdoes themselves. On this night they were giving out samples of their Diver Scallop with a prosciutto wrapped fig. The scallop was wonderful, and the prosciutto and fig were nicely done as well. I liked the salty and sweet combo. For dessert they were giving out Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches. They had other flavors, but I am a sucker for mint. These were as good as they look. The Ranch won this event last year, but there would be no repeat in their future. Still a solid entry though.

Walking into the Live and Dine event, I would have been shocked to have seen a movie theater competing with some the best restaurants in OC. I would have been even more shocked by their decision to serve Crispy Pork Belly Sliders. Cinepolis is not your Mom and Dad's movie theater. They serve real food, instead of that hot dog that has probably been in the case since the premier of Star Wars in 1977. This slider was very good. It was a little too bready, but the crispy pork belly was right on point. I went back and had another one while Katie was busy talking.

Chef Seakyeong Kim at Charlie Palmer was really cooking at SOCO, and he had the smoke to prove it. I really enjoyed the playfulness of his Smoked Bulgogi Philly Sandwich. Very tasty, all it needed was Cheese Wiz to make it even more of a cheesesteak.

Wild Goose Tavern comes to us from Costa Mesa, at the same address that the Little Knight used to call home. This new, more hip bar has made our list of restaurants to go, for not only what they sampled at this event, but for the great personalities behind the food. We really enjoyed talking to them, and their Venison with back beans and a spicy salsa really got my taste buds roaring. Very good.

One of the more fancy presentations at the Live and Dine Event was the offering from Wildfish Seafood Grille. They were passing out jumbo scallops with a potato puree, a cilantro sauce, and seasoned popcorn on top of that. The scallop was really the star of this show. It was cooked very well, and the popcorn added a nice texture element. Instead of plastic plates, they were serving these on shells, which was a nice touch.

Newly opened at SOCO is the Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop. They had a pretty unique sample to hand out, Grilled Peach with burrata, prosciutto, and pecans. Even though I am averse to anything healthy for me, this was pretty darn good. Very mellow, but the highlight of this for me was the burrata, which was excellent.

By this time we were getting pretty full, but a lot of people were talking about the offering at ARC, which is also located at SOCO. They had something that was dubbed, Land, Air, and Sea. This one bite had all of these covered. Placed on top of a duck fat chip was some pork, a little quail egg, and some caviar. If I had not been so full, I could have eaten many more of these. This one bite got me excited to try ARC, which I hear has an awesome off the menu burger.

One last sample before we get to the big winner of the night. This was my first time having anything from the Iron Press. I was pretty excited to try them. This was a cross section of their chicken, waffle, bacon, and tater tot sandwich. It was also drizzled with Siracha ketchup. Very good, and it got me excited to come back and try other things on their menu.

Not to tease you anymore, but before I reveal the winning entry in the To Live and Dine Event, we took a break from the samples, and went inside the OC Mix Mart to see some of the merchants hawking their wares. Two that caught my camera lens were We Olive and Wine Bar, which is an olive oil merchant, and the great girls from Bread. We Olive had a great Jalapeno Olive Oil, which I was thinking up hundreds of uses for it after I sampled it. Really tasty. I can never pass up bread, and the people from Bread know the way to my heart is samples. This wholesale bakery gave away a bag of bread that barely made it out of the parking lot, as we could not stop eating it.

Now the moment we have all been waiting for, the winner of the To Live and Dine Event was this dish from Chapter One: The Modern Local. This Lamb Neck Ragu was not the most photogenic of samples, but the uniqueness of it was enough to give it the win. The lamb was placed on top of a potato gnocchi, curry granola, and crispy kale. This was the brainchild of Chef Chicken Wang, and the different flavors and textures were a great thing. I could have eaten a bunch more of this, but by the end of this event, we were stuffed. Congrats to everyone at Chapter One, we look forward to seeing what you come up with next year.

To be truthful, when we walked into SOCO on this night, I did not know what to expect. I left this event having experienced one of the better food events I have been to. What made this for me was the creativity of the chefs, and the great restaurants that they represented. I will definitely not miss this event next year. We would like to thank the great Jade Schuck from Kitchen Table PR for the invite to this great event. Thanks so much of thinking of us, and it was a real pleasure meeting you. We would also like to thank everyone at Riviera Magazine and the creative folks at SOCO for putting on this great party. You guys nailed this event.

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