There’s something truly special about biting into a succulent lobster dumpling and sipping champagne while your toes wiggle in the warm sand. Looking out into the water, glimmering with a flawless summer sun, it’s about as perfect of a Southern California moment as you can get. And it’s moments like these that the Pacific Wine and Food Classic is all about.
This annual event brought myriads of restaurants, wineries, breweries and libation purveyors right up to the water’s edge in Newport Beach, with booths literally on the sand and the shore just a few steps away in the backdrop. Eateries from across Orange Country stretched just about as far as the eye could see, interspersed with local wineries, regionally acclaimed breweries and the crowd favorite ‘bubble bar,’ which showcased a variety of champagnes.
As far as food goes, chefs made sure to step up their game to match the festival’s dream-like environment. Taps Fish House and Brewery served up those incredible lobster dumplings, each sitting in a sip of lobster bisque. Ten Asian Bistro doled out Japanese dumplings with fresh ahi tuna, as well as colorful black rice rolls. Piccolino Ristorante’s lobster and crab cannelloni stole patrons’ hearts, as did the oh-so-rich gnocchi from Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse.
The District at Tustin Legacy hosted ‘The District Lounge,’ which featured several of the venue’s dining destinations. Prego served a Mediterranean ceviche as well as conchiglie with vodka sauce. The Yellow Chili, dedicated to modern Indian cuisine, served up a tasty murgh angaar begdi, or clay oven chicken. Bar Louie was also there with their nachos in house-made cheese sauce.
Nirvana Grill got creative with creamy chicken empanadas served alongside a dessert of goat cheese maple ice cream. The Country Club Helmsman’s braised bacon corn fritters were up there as well, along with Heirloom Farmhouse Kitchen’s roasted carrot puree garnished with pistachios and honey. Then there was The Waterfront Resort’s ahi cigars, coated in ‘onion ash’ to be a spectacular alternative to the real thing.
Drinks were of course in complete abundance. Maker’s Mark alone hosted several stations, each of which featured a different application of their namesake whiskey, from cocktails to ice cream. Stella Artois was there with its classic pilsner, as well as an infused popsicle for the summer heat.
Wineries present included John Anthony, King Estate, Starmont, Mercer Family Vineyard and Chateau St. Michelle among others. Champagnes at the bubble bar included Martini & Rossi, Gloria Ferrar, Wilson Creek and G.H. Mumm among others. Breweries included Unibroue, Lindemans and Towne Park among others.
The festival’s ambiance was topped off with a silent DJ, as well as all beach games and of course some incredible people watching. For more information, visit PacificWineAndFood.com.
Elixir G founder Bill Tocantins has traveled the world in search of ingredients to craft the perfect ‘liquid ginger.’ Since stumbling onto the idea for fresh ginger syrup nearly 10 years ago, Tocantins has become a thriving entrepreneur, expanding Elixir G’s outreach to save restaurants millions in ingredient costs and give consumers the opportunity to make their very own ginger beer at home.
Tocantins took the time to discuss Elixir G’s development, as well as the peaks and valleys that come with launching a new product in the F&B world.
How did you come up with the idea for Elixir G?
“Some people I knew had an Indian restaurant and moved to a location with a liquor license. When I took over the bar program, they had this ginger [syrup] and I decided to make a margarita out of it. It was a big success. I had people getting up out of their seats to ask me ‘how did you make this?’”
“I knew that people were flocking to this stuff. I asked [the restaurant owners] if they wanted to bottle it, and they said no. They responded that ‘we’re in the restaurant business, and that’s not what we do.’ I saw the opportunity and decided to pursue it.”
What went into the product development process?
“There was an enormous amount of trial and error. I explored gingers from across the world. After some time I found that far and away the best ginger source is Hawaii…It’s amazing, I looked at nine competitors and only three of them are using fresh ginger.”
“Originally, Elixir G was called Gingerita. I took on a partner who had a marketing background. We went to three designers and gave them the description of what we were doing. After 15 – 20 different ideas, one designer eventually came up with Elixir G and that’s what stuck.”
“We started our first version of Elixir G in 2007. My partner was on board until 2011. Since then I’ve been CEO as well as a Chief Bottle Washing Officer [laughs].”
Who drinks Elixir G?
“Women, age 21 – 39. Women are the change-makers. Men will find what they want to drink and stick with it for 20 years. Women are always looking to try something new and see what’s out there. Women have always responded positively to our product...based on the length of time they spend with us, either on the phone when they’re ordering or at one of our booths during a fundraiser or expo."
How are you building Elixir G's customer base, and what have been some of your biggest challenges so far?
"Our first target is to go to the restaurants rather the retail stores. It’s one step easier. When we educate the restaurant, they can use it right away. The stores are tougher. First you have to convince the store to buy, then you have to convince the public how to use it.”
"Our biggest success recently has been Longhorn Steakhouse. We started in Yard House, where they used it for their Moscow Mule and saw so much success that they expanded to three cocktails. Then [Yard House] got bought by Darden Restaurants. Once we were in Darden’s system, we jumped to Longhorn’s 450 restaurants. They started cooking with it, making a ginger-flavored steak. They’ve had so much success with it in their drink program that they’re also offering three variations of Moscow Mules."
"We started to look into Amazon to retail directly to consumers. With a new product it’s very expensive to get off the ground. With some retailers, they will require a free case for every store to offset the risk for their selling the product. We’re looking to target those regional stores who will make room for the smaller labels like ours."
"The hardest piece of the puzzle is the distributor. Distributors usually won’t take a new product until it has a demand of more than 200 cases a month. That said, since we're a nonalcoholic product we’re lucky that we have two choices: liquor and food distributors."
What are the next steps for Elixir G?
"We're pursuing restaurant chains right now as hard as we can. For a restaurant chain that has 1,000 locations, we can save them $1.2 million a year. Eventually…we’ll target various areas for retail and come out with a plan to saturate the media and inform the public. We're also open to a liquor brand partnership several years.
The AltaMed Food & Wine Festival, known as ‘California’s prime Hispanic food and wine festival,’ celebrated with a weekend of south of the border flavor and fine wine that spanned across both LA and Orange County. The LA festival, held in downtown’s iconic LA Live, was a sight to see and be seen.
The otherwise-packed streets adjacent to the Staples Center and Microsoft Theater closed to traffic in order to make way for a seemingly endless path of tents doling our bottomless tastes and pours. The city lights shined down on a jovial crowd, with live music from the Spanish Harlem Orchestra igniting the mood.
The festival’s ‘East LA meets Napa’ theme was true to its word, with a smattering of Angelino culinary icons cooking up classic renditions and novel twists on Central and South American favorites. Likewise, an array of wineries ensured that a perfect pairing was always close by. Margaritas and sangrias were free flowing as well.
With a largely Latino focus, it’s safe to say there were no shortage of tacos at AltaMed. From King Taco’s signature al pastor to Maestro’s pork belly tacos, the festival had just about anything that could go into a squid ink, hatch green chile, or just plain ol’ corn tortilla. Tostadas from El Portal and Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria added to the mix, as did Chago’s tortas.
Pez Cantina went all in with a red argentine shrimp a la diablo with scallion slaw, dried shrimp and chili oil. Equally, Honduras’ Kitchen paid homage to its homeland favorites, such as baleadas with refried beans, cream and cheese, and San Pedro sula, or ground beef in fried plantains. La Fonda’s chicken mole and La Huasteca’s tamales, ceviche and chile en nogada were just a few more of the festival’s worldly items.
For a fun play on Latin fusion, Yamashiro and Bike Brewery each served up some great poke wonton nachos. The Chicken Koop’s (extremely) hot chicken easily matched any chile pepper of the evening, and Otium’s meatballs were melt-in-your-mouth. But of all the places to take the cake for most extravagant dish, the award goes to Sysco—yes, the food supplier—who wowed patrons with lobster claws covered in caviar and edible gold leaf.
Desserts were in full force and naturally picked up steam as the evening drew on. Sweet Flour’s tres leches cake, panna cotta and assorted cookies and Gourmeletas hand-dipped ice cream pops were among the festival’s sweet indulgences. Porto’s Bakery certainly came to play as well, with towers of oh-so-good pastries to be had.
Festival proceeds benefit AltaMed, a full-service medical provider to more than 300,000 people in Los Angeles and Orange County. Founded in 1969, AltaMed was established as a free clinic and remains committed to providing “quality care without exception.” 96 cents of every dollar raised go directly to AltaMed patient care. For more information on the AltaMed Food & Wine Festival, visit AltaMedFoodWine.org.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.