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Dining Guide for Families in Orange County

Save Room for the Second Annual Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival

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If the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival’s media preview event on July 30 was simply a “taste” of what’s in store for the actual Festival, then there’s never been such a jaw-droppingly satisfying appetizer!

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With thoroughly primed tastebuds, I’m already craving what’s to come at the Second Annual Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival. This three-day foodie adventure kicks off with a Launch Party & Charity Event on Friday, October 2 at Island Hotel’s Oak Grill & Aqua Lounge, to be followed by two action-packed days at the Newport Beach Civic Center featuring live cooking demos with celebrity and local chefs, tastings from 30 of Orange County’s best restaurants, wine panels led by Master Sommeliers, mixology courses, tastings from over 200 boutique, cult and world-renowned wines, and cocktail and beer tastings all set to the tune of live jazz to keep you swinging, sipping and sampling with style all day long.

If the Festival is anything like the preview event, attendees will be gracefully guided into an epicurean paradise. Walking through the doors of a private Corona del Mar home, guests of the preview event were promptly offered a seriously celebratory glass of a 2006 Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Nature, and greeted by a cool ocean breeze and the soothing sounds of pianist and composer Andrew Rodell, who was playing a classical rendition of John Legend’s “All of Me” at the time I was and led to the outdoor terrace.

Stepping outside was a sensory overload in the best possible way, inviting guests to indulge with abandon in all of the evening’s magical touches. These included stunning views of the Newport Beach harbor, a selection of signature cuisine from 15 of the Festival’s participating restaurants, a bar serving up creative craft cocktails, and a carefully curated batch of wow-worthy wines. From the comforting shaved steak sandwich to the absinthe cured steal head salmon crostini, there was truly something to please every palate and mine wanted it all! Here is a selection of highlights from a few of the chefs who will be serving up more delicacies at the Festival this fall:

Executive Chef Yvon Goetz of The Winery prepared seared rare yellow tuna over a mango and cucumber salad in a cilantro-orange vinaigrette. The zippy and refreshing flavors provided a perfect intro to the evening’s smorgasbord.

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Another light bite came from Slapfish Executive Chef, Andrew Gruel, who showcased a lobster BLTA with a summer corn sauce. Recently returning from the lobster roll heaven that is New England, I was thrilled to see that Gruel, a New Jersey native, is passionate about importing all of his fresh lobster from Maine. For the upcoming Festival he plans to serve, “Whimsical kind of twists on some American seafood classics with whatever’s in season at that time.”

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Sarah Daniels, Executive Chef of Del Frisco’s Grille, served up mouth-watering prime shaved steak sandwiches, which popped with zesty horseradish cream slathered on crusty French bread. Biting into this warm, juicy sandwich while watching the sun set over the harbor was like being tucked into a king-sized bed with silk sheets – pure luxury and comfort!

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Luke Turpin, Head Chef at Pelican Grill prepared a power-packed spoonful of cold smoked hamachi crudo with ginger chili coulis, hazelnuts, radish and Alegria Farms heirloom tomato with cilantro and olive oil. He smoked the fish between ice overnight to give it flavor and used a pastrami rub to accent the smokiness. Attendees of the festival can be prepared for more unique items from this creative chef as he told guests of the preview, “I like to do things that I call simple that actually are very complicated. That’s really what I’ll try to do for the festival as well…”

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I’ve always been impressed by the fresh and flavorful fare at Tommy Bahama’s Island Grille, and Executive Chef Jimmy Chang’s succulent chili brown sugar crusted cod with apple risotto and yucca chips was a perfect example of this, showcasing their attention to quality and detail.

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My favorite bite of the night was Five Crowns & Side Door Executive Chef, Steve Kling’s absinthe cured steal head salmon crostini, which was layered with local goat cheese from Drake family farms and fresh heirloom tomatoes. The flavors truly popped and put Side Door at the top of my happy hour to-do list!

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Dritwood Kitchen showcased a triple-threat of delicacies starting with Executive Chef Rainer Schwarz’s oney dashi marinated hamachi collar, yellow corn and piquillo pepper blini topped with Santa Barbara uni. Dave Anderson offered a unique take on my favorite summer drink, the whiskey sour, by serving up the Kentucky Sunrise, which elevated the classic cocktail by combining rye whiskey with peach bitters, apricot marmalade and fresh-squeezed lemon sour!

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Twists on the traditional continued with Pastry Chef Rene Baez’s Strawberry Tres Leches, which featured cake soaked in strawberry puree, with strawberry fluid gel, curd and meringue, covered with Chantilly whipped cream, and just in case the other forms of strawberry weren’t enough, it was also topped with freeze dried strawberries and accented with a hint of micro-basil. I will never look at strawberry shortcake or tres leches cake the same way after experiencing this heavenly hybrid.

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There were of course also plenty of drinks to go along with the tasty bites, including Absolute Elyx Cocktails from Aqua Lounge mixologists, Michael Kaczorowski and Justin Young. Their “Sun of a Peach” was a crafty concoction consisting of Absolut Elyx, lemon juice, agave nectar, peach puree, egg whites, Angostura orange bitters, a pinch of cinnamon, and garnished with a sprinkle of cinnamon, Tajin and sugar.

Keeping glasses full for the evening was the Festival’s leading MasterSommelier, Sur Lucero, who traveled from Napa to discuss the event’s sommelier panels. There are only 147 Master Sommeliers in the country, and the Festival will have five of them educating guests on everything from geographic regions to food pairings. Joining Lucero behind the bar was Stewart Prato, Certified Sommelier and Director of Maisons Marques & Domaines, California, who served up a selection of fine wines, including a crowd favorite, the 2010 Barbaresco Pio Cesare, while sharing his plentiful knowledge. Despite their prestige, both sommeliers approached the subject of wine with a friendly attitude and encouraged guests to ask questions, try a variety of wines, and most importantly have fun!

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The Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival will be an amazing opportunity to sample the best in Orange County food and wine, while mingling with the masterminds behind the cuisine. The Festival runs from Friday, October 2 through Sunday October 4. It will also feature live cooking demos from chefs featured in Bravo TV’s “Top Chef Masters,” including Rick Bayless and Hubert Keller. Guests will have the chance to cook alongside the greats in the Festival’s first ever “Top Chef Home Cook Challenge” where they will compete against other audience members for the title of “Home Cook Top Chef.” Tickets are available here. Proceeds from the event will go to support the Festival’s Charity partner Project Hope Alliance, which aims to end homelessness for 500 of Orange County’s kids this year.

Rebecca Horrigan has always loved writing and food. She found her niche in college writing for the food section of UC Santa Barbara’s newspaper. Since then, she’s been published in the Los Angeles Times and in OC Menus. She also worked in food public relations. She now resides in Santa Barbara where she’s working on inspiring a hunger for reading, writing and life-long learning in her students as an English teacher. She blogs at flavorandsubstance.wordpress.com.
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