Sunday, October 25, 2015

Another Stellar Year at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival

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

In only it's second year, the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival is the one event that I look forward to every year. This is like my Christmas morning. Eating, drinking, mingling with chefs, having a great time with my food writer friends, great people watching, and enjoying the beautiful Southern California sunshine. What could be better? The answer is, not much. This year was extra special as Katie and I bought our parents tickets to this premiere event to thank them for everything they have done for us this year.

Just like last years event, the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival returned to the beautiful grounds of the Newport Beach Civic Center. This two day event is not just about great food and wine, it's also about helping end the cycle of homelessness, one child at a time. Some of the proceeds from this wonderful event benefit Project Hope Alliance, a great organization that strives to provide housing, education, and most importantly, hope to Orange County's homeless population. So since you are doing something good for the community, there's an added bonus to enjoying yourself on a wonderful fall afternoon in one of the best cities in the United States.

Even though this is a two day event, due to craziness at my real job, I could only attend one day unfortunately, but that one day was enough to wear me out. I left this event full, and feeling pretty good. It might be pleasure overload if I attended both the Saturday and Sunday sessions. This year there were two different lineups of chefs under the two white tents of the Grand Tasting Pavilions. There are also chef demos with some pretty big names in the cooking world going on at this festival. Hubert Keller, Rick Bayless, Rick Moonen, and others made their way to Newport Beach to share some of their cooking secrets. There were more wineries pouring here than I could count, and they were sampling their best wines to festival goers. There was also wine seminars given by Master Sommelier's, which were both informative and fun. All of this was great, but I was here to eat as much as I wanted, and was really impressed with the fantastic lineup of restaurants on the second day of this event. Let's see what they had in store for us.

Before we get to the food, I had to try one of these Newport Swizzle Drinks from the good folks at Cruzan Rum. Checking out my Instagram feed from the first day of the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, these were a real hit with people that attended the first day. Using a half a watermelon as a glass, this cocktail included Cruzan white rum, lime, mint and bitters. Sweetened by the watermelon, this was a very refreshing drink, and brought to mind the kind of drink you might find on Gilligan's Island, complete with paper umbrella.

Our first food stop was at Andrea at Pelican Hill booth. I knew this afternoon was going to be a success with my parents when they were willing to try this Ricotta Cavatelli with Wild Boar Ragout and Porcini Mushrooms. My parents are pretty straight forward eaters, and not usually comfortable eating something they have never tried before, like boar. They not only ate this, but had an extra one. I knew after this, we were going to be in for a great day.

Roy's is one of those restaurants I never think about going to, even though I had a pretty great dinner there once. Chef Vega had Ahi Poke served on top of Yucca Chips for us. This poke was very fresh, and seasoned well. Not too surprised that a Hawaiian restaurant like Roy's knows how to do poke. Delicious.

Fig and Olive has been on my radar for awhile now, and this Fall Sea Scallop has nudged me into moving them higher on our list of restaurants to hit up. Scallops are one of my favorites, and this one had quite a lot going on with it. It was served with a wonderful cauliflower puree, a cauliflower semolina, lime juice, slivered almonds, parsley, cilantro, roasted almond oil, and citrus dressing. The scallop was done perfectly, not rubbery, tender, and the items on the side really enhanced the scallop. Really well done, and we can't wait to try this restaurant.

I was a little bummed that Del Frisco's was not sampling their famous ahi tacos, but they quickly made up for it with these offerings. Both the Pork Taco with jicama slaw and the Pulled Pork with Chips proves that Del Frisco's does swine very well. Their offerings were rounded out with a smooth and lighter than you'd expect Butterscotch Pudding.

The very talented Chef at Five Crowns, Steven Kling broke with tradition, when instead of serving their restaurant's signature prime rib, opting instead for this very well made Minced Duck. This was served on a crispy won ton, which kind of gave the impression of an upscale nacho. Duck is always a favorite of mine, and this was no exception. I came back here numerous times during my visit to snag more of these.

More ahi was in store when visiting the Stonehill Tavern at St. Regis Monarch Beach booth. Their version of ahi was served on a salted seaweed chip. This was my first time having a seaweed chip, and I have to admit that it was a great vessel for the tuna.

Not just because I'm a Ducks fan, but one of my favorite OC chefs is Jo Jo Doyle from the Honda Center. The two times I have met him, he's always been so personable, and answers all of my dorky questions. He also makes some awesome food as well, like this Espresso Beef Cheek. This little bite had a lot going on with it. Along with the coffee tinted beef there was some vanilla and a little bourbon flavor going on here, along with a sweet potato pudding. Very tasty. We are looking forward to eating many meals at honda Center during this hockey season.

No stranger to food festivals, Andrew Gruel's Slapfish was here with one of the longer lines for their Clobster Roll. This 50/50 mix of crab and lobster had people swinging back into line after they finished their first one. Seasoned simply to allow the true taste of the crab and lobster to shine through, this was my parents favorite bite of the event.

The guys over at Boathouse Collective were offering a cocktail to guests visiting their booth, the Good Eye Mighty. This citrus based beverage used lime and pineapple juice, along with vodka and yellow chartreuse. Equal parts sweet and sour, this was a very well balanced cocktail. For their food offering, Boathouse had a Japanese Potato Puree Cake. A very comforting bite of food.

The chefs at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival must have all been inspired by lemons, because we were not done having lemon based foods yet. Laguna Beach's own Montage Resort had a Meyer Lemon and Tangerine Meringue, and also some very tasty Lemon Macarons with olive oil and vanilla. I'm not much into lemon, but these macaroons were nice, with an outer crunch to them, and their trademark softer inside.

Not the best looking dish at the festival, but this Lemongrass and Maryland Crab Wonton had big time flavor. Not something I would normally associate with Anqi, which is located at South Coast Plaza, this had a very nice sauce to go along with it.

Studio, which is located at the Montage Resort in Laguna, had Octopus served atop eggplant and a cauliflower cacciatore. My parents shied away from this because of the octopus, but I love octopus, and loved this plate. Really tasty, and I liked the detail they used in presenting this.

Speaking of presentation, A and O Kitchen at the Balboa Bay Resort had boxes of bones that they used to plate their Bone Marrow with tomato confit and micro greens. Bone marrow is always a winner in my book, and this bone marrow cream was delicious. Also a little out of the box was their Foie Gras Cream Cones topped with Washington state huckleberries. I've never had foie in this form before, but this was the first of two times I would have it this way on this afternoon.

I saved my favorite booth for last, and what a production that was going on at Selanne Steak Tavern. Never one to take the easy route, Chef Joshua Severson offered four items for the festival attendees. Who says you can't have dessert first? Macaroons were big at this years event, and the two offered here were the Hazelnut Nougat and a Reese's Pieces Macaroon. No surprise to anyone, but I loved the Reese's version, and smuggled a few out in Katie's purse. Unfortunately they did not make it all the way home before I finished them off. No willpower. I also had no willpower when it came to the Brandt Beef Prime Short Rib braised in Cabernet and topped Crater Lake blue foam. I had this at last years event, and it just doesn't get old. They definitely do beef right at Selanne's. Not sure what was going on, but Selanne's had the exact same Foie Gras Cream Cone with huckleberry that was served at A and O Kitchen. Maybe one of them needed to borrow an item or something. Lastly, even though it has been so hot around these parts, I still enjoyed two helpings of this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with a hazelnut marshmallow. Real tasty with a touch of sweetness.

This year's Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival was even better than last years, and that's saying something. Even now, weeks past this event, my parents are still raving about it, and making plans to attend next years, which in case you were wondering is going to take place October 1st and 2nd, with the launch party happening on September 30th. I'll pass along more details as I get them, and I look forward to seeing how they are going to top themselves, if that's even possible. I really enjoyed that there were two lineups of restaurants per day, and even though the wine selection was phenomenal, they also featured plenty of cocktails and beer for us non-wine drinkers. My only wish is that I didn't have to wait another 11 months to do it all over again.

If you want to keep up with all of the happenings going on with the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, head over to their website here:

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