Sunday, October 30, 2016

Another Stellar Time at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival

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

If there's one food event that I look forward to, more than any other, it's this one. The Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival is in its third year, and getting better as each year passes. It's now a culinary wonderland, which encompasses four days of celebrity chefs, an out of this world wine tasting event, cooking demos, and of course infinite tastings from the best restaurants in and around Newport Beach.

What makes this festival so great? I love that it's all inclusive. Once I pay for my ticket, I don't have to pull out my wallet again or bother with food tickets. This is where most, "Taste of.... insert city name here," lose me. I don't mind paying more for an all you can eat and drink situation. It's like being on a cruise ship, but no fear of being marooned at sea, or getting seasick. I also love the exclusivity of this event. They limit the ticket sales, which not only helps with the crowds, but allows you to actually interact with the chefs, and if you've never talked with a chef, you are missing out. It's very true that food people are the best people. Lastly, the people watching here is some of the best you will see anywhere.

Of course, if you come to this event, your also doing something good for the community. The Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival benefits the great folks over at Project Hope Alliance, who are ending the cycle of childhood homelessness one child at a time. Since 2012, this great charity has ended homelessness for 700 children and their parents.

Great work, but I was ready to do some work on my own, by eating my way through the NBWFF. Unfortunately, we could not make it to day one of the festival, due to a scheduling conflict, but we made it to day two, which had an all new lineup of restaurants giving out signature tastes. Both Saturday and Sunday had 21 different restaurants handing out food, and of course, there was lots of wine. Wineries were pouring over 250 varietals of wine, and for those that are not too keen on wine, there was plenty of cocktails on hand from top shelf brands, as well as beer furnished by Stella Artois. As if all that was not enough, there was plenty of jazz music going on, so you could take a break from all that eating and drinking to soak up the atmosphere. I did, of course, partake in the beverages offered, but I'm more of a food guy, so that was my main focus. Let's check out the food lineup for the second day of the NBWFF.

Always a crowd favorite, just like when its namesake was skating around Honda Center, Selanne Steak Tavern always serves up quite a spread at this event, and this day was no exception. They started things out with a Bartlett Pear Salad, then got into the fall feel with a Maple Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, and then finished things off with a tender Kobe Beef with a Parsnip Foam. I could have sat here all day going back and forth between these three items, but there was still plenty to indulge in, but I did partake in one of their Adult Root Beer Floats, which totally hit the spot.

What else would you expect from Roy's? This Hawaiian-tinged restaurant offered Kahlua Pork Sliders to hungry festival goers, which were also topped with a lilikoi slaw and a clear barbecue sauce between the Hawaiian roll slider. Chef John Vega definitely does Kahlua pork correctly.

Gratitude opened earlier this year after making a name for themselves in LA, and this 100 percent organic plant based restaurant dazzled with their Liberated Salad, which was made up of kelp noodle pasta with pesto, olives, and heirloom cherry tomatoes. Not usually my scene of course, but the noodles and pesto were pretty tasty. Katie, of course, loved this salad and has made me promise to take her here soon.

No longer the new kid on the block, Sushi Roku has taken Fashion Island by storm, and really dazzled with their Hand Tuna Roll, which was filled with plenty of fresh, chopped tuna, wasabi root, and soy chili sauce. Easy to see why there were always people milling around this booth throughout our stay at the NBWFF. Sushi Roku has definitely become the go-to spot for sushi in the Newport area.

Another spot I could have made myself a nuisance at was Mastro's. They were giving out generous tastes of their Sirloin steak with Lobster Mashed Potatoes. Yes, this was as good as it sounds. I loved that the steak was a perfect medium-rare, and the mashed potatoes were decadent. This helped lessen the blow that they were not sampling their iconic butter cake. Maybe next year.

I must admit that I had never heard of Sweet Lady Jane before, but I know about them now after trying their Famous Brownies. These brownies were addictive, with their chocolate chewy innards, and then the sea salt topping that hits you with a sweet and salty combo that can't be beaten. I was also pretty excited by their Brown Sugar Delights, which are a shortbread covered with caramel, dark chocolate, almonds, and coconut. Addictive.

I've had Filomena's Italian Kitchen on my list of restaurants to hit up for awhile, and I've moved them near the top after trying their Italian Sausage Pasta made with their special Sunday Sauce. Really well-done pasta here, and the sausage was on point. It was great getting a chance to talk with Chef Linda Johnsen as well. We'll be in soon for sure.

The Montage had a whole multitude of tastes offered at this festival, which included some pretty innovative desserts. They had a Canned Dark Chocolate Screwdriver, which really packed a punch, and they had an ice your own Dark Chocolate Cookie with Sea Salt. As if that was not enough, they also had some pretty tasty macarons offered. On the more savory side, there was a Baja Octopus and Shrimp Ceviche. This fresh seafood dish was topped with peppers, onions, avocado, mango, and a spiced coconut rum foam. Pretty much everything good in one bite.

Watertable is located Newport Beach adjacent, at the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach, and is well worth the trip. On this beautiful afternoon, they were featuring their excellent House Roasted California Almonds, and a Beet Stained Scallop Crudo, which was surrounded by a pomegranate mango relish, caviar, and a prickly pear gelee. A great muted sweetness here, that popped with flavor.

A&O  Kitchen + Bar probably brought us the oddest pairing of the afternoon, with their A&O Branded S'More's and Beef Tartar served on a Bone Marrow Cracker. The combo did not really work when I ate them one after the other, but separately they were wonderful. We're making plans to dine at this Balboa Bay Resort restaurant soon.

Nothing Bundt Cakes has grown to multiple locations throughout Southern California, and after trying some of their products, it's easy to see why. Super moist lemon and their pumpkin spice were clear winners on this day.

Sam and Harry's had the most unique bite of the event. They started with their Superb French Toast, and then added roast fig and pomegranate molasses, with a five spice caramel corn. I was not too into this, but Katie absolutely loved this different dish.

I was not expecting to see Nordstrom Cafe Bistro here at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, but they represented nicely with a trio of items. They started with Roasted Pickled Beets with a ricotta cheese and toasted pistachio. They then featured one of my favorite items on any menu, Pork Belly, which they paired nicely with a tart cherry and Asian pear. For a dessert taste, they went with a Warm White Bread Pudding, which was accented with a raspberry and white chocolate. Delicious, and not something you would expect from a department store restaurant.

Probably the most grown up offering here was from Cafe Beau Soleil. They had a Chicken Roulade filled with herbs and placed on top of forbidden rice and a rice cream sauce. Really a great dish, and very sophisticated.

With an assist from Katie's excellent hand modeling, we were quite smitten with B Candy's ice cream. I actually thought this was just a candy store, but they have some really good homemade ice cream here, with unique flavors. I was partial to their Cookie Monster flavor, while Katie enjoyed the Coffee Toffee ice cream cone. They rotate about 40 or so flavors, so we are going to be heading to Corona Del Mar soon to visit this sweet lovers paradise.

I had to look up where the Pasea Hotel and Resort is, which is home to Tanner's. It's a few blocks south of the Huntington Beach Pier, near the Hyatt Regency. They came up with a Cherry and Citrus Smoked Foie Gras Spread on house made focaccia. Very light, but full of rich flavor from the foie gras.

You would probably expect Five Crowns to just run out some of their legendary beef on this afternoon, but Chef Kling went the seafood route with this Shrimp, Crab, and Hatch Chile Gazpacho. He definitely gave notice that Five Crowns is not just about prime rib anymore.

I found myself visiting the Andrea booth over and over again for their Saffron Infused Gnocchetti with Truffle Sausage. This was my favorite bite at this event this year. The gnocchi was hand made right in front of us, and that sausage and norcina sauce were heavenly. I really wanted to dive into the pot and swim in it. Due to social taboos, we will instead be making reservations to head to Pelican Hill to dine at Andrea soon for their great Italian cuisine.

Another unexpected find at the NBWFF was the offering from Honda Center. Chef Jo Jo Doyle always raises the bar higher than you would expect from a sports arena. This year he made us a Korean Barbecue Meatball over rice and sauce. Very tender, and I definitely got the Asian flavor profile here. We're of course looking forward to sampling more of Chef Doyle's cuisine throughout the upcoming Duck's season at Honda Center.

One last roving spot I wanted to highlight was the Bite's On Trikes by legendary OC chef, Pascal. He maneuvered his motorized bicycle around the festival grounds, delivering his French goodies, like this out of this world pate on good sturdy French bread. Chef Pascal was also generous enough to spend time chatting with us, which was a real honor.

So there's our roundup of all the culinary delights that dazzled the guests at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival. Like I stated before, this is truly one of the best food events that come around every year in OC. We keep waiting for a drop-off from the year before, and after three of these events, we don't anticipate that happening anytime soon.

We would like to thank everyone at the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival for allowing us to cover this wonderful event. Special thanks definitely go out to our friend, and one of the co-founders of this festival, the always personable, Lindsey Henn. We look forward to seeing you again real soon Lindsey. We also would like to thank all of the chefs, wineries, and sponsors of this event, who graciously give their time and talent to make this event so great, and raise money for a great cause. If you are on the fence about going to this next year, definitely set a reminder to buy your tickets for next years festival before it sells out. You will not want to miss out.

To keep up to date with all things Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, visit their website here: