Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Picture Perfect Day at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival

Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival
Newport Civic Center and Park
100 Civic Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660

I have tried to shy away from food festivals for awhile. When we first started this blog we tried to go to almost all of the, "Taste of... fill in the blank with your city of choice." For the most part, these kinds of food fests are all kind of the same. Whatever city you happen to be in, there will be some bad music being spun by a DJ, or a local band made up of teenagers getting their first gig. There will also be chain restaurants that you have grown tired of long ago, back when you were a teenager. By the end of the night, everything will start tasting the same, and you will leave the event in a food stupor. These are some of the reasons we have forgone these food festivals for awhile, that is until now.

After looking at the restaurant lineup, the quality of chef talent that were giving cooking demos, and the wonderful musical acts that were involved in the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, we were ready to end our food festival embargo, and accept an invite to what we would ultimately call a great food event.

The Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival was held recently on the beautiful and spacious grounds of the Newport Beach Civic Center. Yes, it was a little warm, but there was plenty of shade to be had. This event benefited two wonderful charities in our community. Project Hope Alliance is aiming to end the cycle of homelessness, by stabilizing working poor families and their children by providing them with the tools and opportunities to learn their way to a better tomorrow. Hoag Hospital Foundation's Circle 1000 is a volunteer group that brings hope in the fight against cancer. Two very worthy causes, plus all this great wine and food, made this a winning afternoon for everyone involved.

As I had mentioned earlier, there were some great chef demos going on at this event, with some of the best culinary talent from OC and beyond. We had a lot to see outside, but we did manage to catch Chef Craig Strong from Studio, which is located at the Montage. He made a New Caledonian Prawn Carpaccio, and yes we did get to sample it. It's so rare to watch these chefs work out in the open, that you definitely need to take advantage of the opportunity when you get the chance. They are so creative, and most chefs love showcasing their talents to their adoring public. I also snapped this quick picture of Chef Strong posing with the equally great, Chef Pascal. It's not just any food event where you can see two great chefs hanging out together.

After watching the chef demo, it definitely whetted our appetite for all of the great eats outside on the lawn. We started with a newcomer to the OC scene, Del Frisco's Grille, which recently opened at the Irvine Spectrum. They were serving up their Signature Ahi Tacos. These refreshing tacos were filled with plenty of ahi and avocado, and then topped with a spicy citrus mayo. After eating these we definitely made a mental note to give Del Frisco's a try very soon.

Definitely one of the most generous spreads given out by any of the restaurants at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival was from Chef Joshua Severson, and his team at Selanne Steak Tavern. They not only handed out four samplings, they also had a replica of the Stanley Cup on their table, which took every bit of decorum by myself, not to lift over my head and run around the tent. The Kobe Beef Short Rib with Point Reyes blue cheese foam also had me wanting to run around and show it off. So tender and good, I snagged one of these every time we walked by this booth. Really tasty. The Maine Lobster Salad was not to be missed either. It had a very nice black truffle dressing to go along with a very generous amount of lobster. Even though it was warm outside, the Butternut Squash Soup was a must eat. Floating inside of it was a maple-bacon marshmallow, which gave this a little unexpected twist. As if all of that was not enough, Selanne Steak Tavern also had Pumpkin Whoopie Pies for dessert. Nothing says Fall, like pumpkin flavored things.

Five Crowns was the next booth we hit up, and it would be blasphemous for them not to feature their famous prime rib in some form. Lucky for us, they had these Prime Rib Sliders. The prime rib here is some of the best in OC, as it was a perfect medium rare, which went really well on a sandwich. With a dab of their famous creamed horseradish, this was one of the top eats at the festival.

There's a lot going on at the Honda Center, and we are not just talking about hockey coming back. Wahoo's Fish Tacos is opening their first arena location at Honda Center, there are some new concessions opening up, including an Italian joint, a skewer spot, and a new restaurant called Standing O, which we definitely will be hitting up during the hockey season. Executive Chef Joseph "Jo-Jo" Doyle was very excited to share his vision for what he has planned at Honda Center, and we can't wait to see how it all comes out. On this afternoon he was showcasing a fusion item, called the El Pho. This Asian/Hispanic soup was filled with pork and beef albondigas, fideo noodles, bean sprouts, shrimp, radishes, cilantro, lime, and chickpeas. A very flavorful soup, that brought both styles of cuisine to the table. Loved the creativity of this.

If you have read this blog recently, you might have read about our visit to Tamarind of London in Newport Coast. We were excited that Chef Imran was here, as this is some of the best Indian food we have tasted. Even a week later, Katie is still going on about the Butter Chicken Masala that they were sampling. Really good, but slightly overshadowed by the Chocolate Samosa they were giving away. Kind of like a chocolate filled wonton, but lighter, and not as greasy. I loved this dessert, and went back for seconds and thirds.

The Island Hotel has really stepped up their game lately, and that could be attributed to their chef, Marc Johnson and the menu he has created at the hotel's restaurant, Oak Grill. They offered this nicely crusted ahi, with a yuzu charred bok choy and furikake aioli. Very well done ahi, and the components all worked well with each other here. A nice and light dish.

Another restaurant we had heard about, but have yet to visit is Wildfish Seafood Grille at the intersection of Bison and MacArthur in Newport. They were sampling a Yellowtail Crudo with Fresno relish and a ponzu reduction. I liked the slight heat from the fresno chilies, and the ponzu of course went well with the yellowtail.

If you are hungry near Bloomingdale's at South Coast Plaza, you should stop by AnQi Gourmet Bistro and Noodle Bar. This world renowned restaurants had two samples for us on this afternoon. The Naked Ramen had a lot going on with it. Squid ink Japanese noodles, with ponzu mignonette, Vietnamese pickled veggies, and it was topped with a tempura crunch. Lots of textures working with this one. More to my liking was the Crispy Rabbit Confit Dumplings with a Wasabi Dijon and edamame and fig relish. I always enjoy rabbit, and don't get to have it too often. I again liked the creativity of the plate, and the rabbit was done wonderfully.

Speaking of creativity, I've been to numerous food festivals, but I don't think I've seen anything like I saw and tasted at the Lark Creek booth. See if you could have come up with this. Compressed watermelon with a habanero orange marinade, then add goat cheese feta, a balsamic reduction, and top it with micro basil. Surprisingly this worked well. It was odd having the sweet, and then you got hit with the spice. Very good, just like their meat offering. With this one they used a filet mignon with a parsnip and bone marrow puree, a concord grape veal jus, and roasted white beech mushrooms. It seems Chef Ryan Pitt is kind of just picking things at random, and they all kind of mashed up well together. Lark Creek is now on our list of restaurants to go to for sure now.

We have been a fan of Scott Brandon back when he was at Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona Del Mar, and we were still fans when we went to his new place, Fireside Tavern, which is located at the Crowne Plaza Costa Mesa Hotel. For us on this afternoon they had a delicious Pork Belly Banh Mi. Pork belly anything is good, but then you put it in sandwich form, it gets even better. I loved the pickled vegetables and the jalapeno on top. So good.

Another favorite booth for me was the Driftwood Kitchen spot. My Facebook feed has been lit up by the ocean view from this Laguna Beach restaurant, but the food we had on this afternoon matches that fantastic view. The house Cured Scottish Salmon reminded me of a miniature eggs Benedict. The Scottish salmon was placed on top of a corn and collard greens cake, then layered with an avocado salad, dill lebni, and a lemon confit. I loved the different layers of flavors on this one. For dessert they had a Popcorn Panna Cotta, which had a great texture, but other than the piece of caramel corn that was placed on top, I did not really get much in the way of a popcorn feel from it. Still good though.

This Sweet Corn Panna Cotta from the Loft at the Montage really packed an unexpected punch in the way of heat. The texture from the chicken cracklings was the first thing I noticed, then the sweet from the corn panna cotta, then a good amount of spice from the pickled fresno chilies. I always like foods that surprise me with bursts of flavors. Very well done.

That was the last of restaurants located in the Grand Tasting Pavilion, but there was much more left to see starting with the Nothing Bundt Cakes booth. After all of that great food, I was definitely ready for some desserts. Nothing Bundt Cakes was sampling their Lemon Cake and a Chocolate version. I really liked the lemon cake the best, it went great with their signature butter cream frosting.

There were some really awesome vendors at this festival, including San Luis Sourdough. They were giving out slices of their slow baked sourdough bread with a very nice spinach dip on it. I found out it takes 30 hours for each loaf of sourdough to be made here. Now that's dedication to your craft.

How could I refuse a beverage from the Stella Artois Girls? Their taps were not working, so I tried their Cidre. This was probably one of the best cider drinks I have had. Very refreshing on this hot day, and not overly sweet. A very nice balance.

B Candy turned me into a fan on this afternoon with their Chocolate Chip Cookies and Mini Cupcakes. They had a Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cupcake and a Rollo Cupcake. Both were great, and were really representative of what they were supposed to taste like. We're going to be making a stop by their Corona Del Mar store soon to try their house made ice cream, which includes flavors such as; Frosted Flakes, Chocolate covered Potato Chips and Caramel, and Coffee Toffee. All of these sound like winners.

I've had dreams like this. An event where I could have all you can eat doughnuts from Sidecar Doughnuts. This was no dream though. We hung out in front of this booth while I devoured their famous Huckleberry and Cinnamon Crumb doughnuts. If you haven't already made your way to their Costa Mesa spot, head up there immediately.

You're probably asking yourself, "I thought this was a wine festival as well, so where's all the wine?" Yes, you are correct, but I'm not much of a wine guy. I like to save room for food instead. I did hear nothing but praise for the wines that were being offered at this festival though. The afternoon we were here, they had 32 wineries pouring for the attendees. They were not pouring cheap bottles at all. These are all the best wines, from some of the best wineries around. If you're a wine lover, you were in heaven at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival. 

Needless to say, we were blown away by this event. It's hard to believe this is their first one they have put on, and after this great time, I'm positive it won't be their last. I can easily see this festival becoming a yearly ritual for many food and wine lovers every year, including ourselves. Make sure to keep an eye out for the return dates of this great festival. We will hopefully be able to make both days next year. 

For more information, and updates on next years Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, click here:

1 comment:

  1. Hello dear, I am glad that you had fun there; even everything in this food festival is really looking delicious. Last month, my friend who is an event planner organized NY events like this and I also attended them and enjoyed the food.