Butternut squash soup with bacon marshmallows. Lobster rolls piled high with fresh seafood. Endless choices of high-end wines coupled with cooking demonstrations from some of the most acclaimed chefs in the country. The Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival saw a successful year indeed. Hosted over the final week of September, the festival welcomed fall in gourmet style with a festive party in tow.
Two days of grand tastings at the Newport Beach Civic Center highlighted the weekend, whereby a collection of acclaimed chefs showcased their restaurants’ creative approaches to modern dining. Live music energized a fun-loving crowd that sipped to their hearts’ content [albeit maybe beyond their livers’], with perfect weather rounding out an OC-foodie’s dreamland.
Award-winning Chefs Hubert Keller, Richard Blais, Lorena Garcia, Melissa King and Brooke Williamson were among the many big names to showcase their skills live on stage. Highlighting the cooking demos, however, was the duo of Amar Santana and Katsuji Tanabe, two Top Chef alums whose humor and banter was almost as fantastic as their kitchen skill. On the wine side, four master sommeliers led tastings and wine education lessons. Given that there are less than 150 master sommeliers in the entire US, The Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival recruited one heck of a lineup.
Dozens of eateries came to play, and a few certainly stole the show. Nobu was an unsurprising standout with a steamed cod that melted in your mouth. Selanne Steak Tavern’s braised short rib with white polenta and bleu cheese foam was a huge crowd favorite, as was their butternut squash soup noted above. Broadway’s Lamb Confit and Driftwood Kitchen’s prime, farro and roasted corn griddle cakes continued the momentum, as did The Winery’s pork belly over risotto and Puesto’s tacos.
Wineries included Ancient Peaks Winery, Barlow Vineyards, Mondavi Family Wines, AIX, Duckhorn, Dearly Beloved, Navarro Vineyards and Roadhouse Winery among many others. Stella poured from three separate stations, ensuring everyone got their beer fix. Duke’s and Johnny Walker brought an interesting presence to the festival, as well as Blue Marble’s ‘ultra premium’ pre-mixed canned cocktails.
Dessert was surprisingly missing on day one, but made a beautiful appearance day two thanks to Mozza’s butterscotch gelato and Aven Table + Bar’s honey syrup doughnuts with pork belly. It was joined with plenty of sweet drinks, such as Bass Note Sangria and Tatratea, a Slovakian tea-based herbal liquer that packs a punch like you wouldn’t believe.
Numerous VIP events surrounded the grand tastings, such as a champagne and caviar tasting by Moet Hennesey and Petrossian. A panel of four master sommeliers, caviar expert Christopher Klapp and Chef Alan Greeley led guests through five pairings of labels such as Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot and Moet Chandon with some of Petrossian’s top caviars. Petrossian, for those who don’t know, is the Moet Hennesey of caviar.
More VIP events, private dinners and late-night parties allowed the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival to effectively take over Orange County’s restaurant scene for the weekend, adding a great spark to celebrate the region’s sprawling foodie presence.
Guests may spend the next year visiting the restaurants they sampled over the weekend, but before you know it the 2018 festival will be fast-approaching. For more information visit NewportWineAndFood.com
Within Huntington Beach’s Pacific City shopping mall lives Lot 579, a chic food hall that houses a slew of delectable eateries and drinkeries. These fast-casual concepts range from sandwiches to sushi, beer to root beer floats, but all share the common motif of fresh, creative, tasty and—wait for it—affordable.
Should you desire, a self-guided food tour is both welcomed and encouraged. From savory onto sweet with several drinks in between, the path below marks a foodie paradise, conveniently located right off the Huntington Beach Pier. Just be sure to bring your appetite.
Stop 1: Pie Not
For those unfamiliar with meat pies, they are to Australia as cheeseburgers are to the US, namely indulgent and delicious. Pie Not takes you straight down under with its array of meat and veggie combinations baked into flaky, buttery pastry. The Mary, made with lamb, cheese and bacon, and the spring a leek, with creamy chicken, stand out for being especially rich.
Pie Not bakes their pies fresh on a rolling basis, a process proudly displayed from their fishbowl-like kitchen visible from the Lot 579 thoroughfare. The place is run by an Aussie, so you know the recipes are authentic. Best to make the experience complete with a bottle of Bundaberg’s.
Stop 2: The Dudes’ Brewing Company
More exotic beer flavors than you can imagine are made in-house and poured at Dudes. If you’re a traditionalist who favors a good lager, IPA or hefeweizen, Dudes has got you covered. If you’re looking for something new and different, however, Dudes is a novelty beer Mecca.
The ‘juicebox series’ presents particular appeal, with flavors such as blood orange, boysenberry and pumpkin. You’ve also got grandma’s pecan, cream soda and malt liquor. Perhaps the most outlandish, however, is mint. Yes, mint beer, green like you’d see on St. Patrick’s Day. Essentially every one of their labels tastes exactly as it sounds.
At lot 579, The Dudes welcomes patrons to bring food from any other eatery to their communal tables. They simply ask that you don’t bring in any outside alcohol. On your food tour, take advantage of The Dudes as a home base; you’ll want to order at least two flights to wash everything down anyway.
Stop 3: Burnt Crumbs
Burnt Crumbs does sandwiches, and does them well. Their small menu strays away from your typical cold cuts and instead focuses on select hot sandwiches that stretch across American favorites. Their Reuben is one for the books, with juicy, thick cut meat and heavenly Russian dressing. The fried chicken sandwich is another highlight, served atop a buttery biscuit with country gravy, garlic mashed potatoes and Sriracha honey.
Burnt crumbs also makes a darn good burger. They sandwich they’re best known for, though, is easily their most off-the-cuff: the spaghetti grilled cheese . If the thought of a spaghetti sandwich sounds good to you, you’ll love it. Otherwise, the choice is yours. In any case, everything Burnt Crumbs puts between bread is masterfully crafted.
Stop 4: Hans’ Homemade Ice Cream
Making your way through amazing meat pies, sandwiches, and beers is an enjoyable challenge, but you must save room for dessert at Hans’ Homemade. Each store churns its own ice cream on-premises, using some pretty interesting ingredients. Who would’ve thought that Twinkies and powdered donuts would make for prime ice cream flavors?
The brownie sundae is a great way to step up your dessert game, with chewy, chocolaty brownie chunks. It pairs well with cookie dough, for a baked/not-baked dynamic, as well as crunchy pecan praline. Nut and sprinkle-covered drumsticks, shakes, floats, cookie sandwiches and just good ol’ fashioned scoops are sure to please as well.
Each of these establishments embodies California comfort in its own distinct way. For most, touring all four at once is a stretch, but the flavor depth, creativity and execution at each establishment necessitate repeat visits to enjoy each establishment over and over. These are not just fast-casual eateries; these are just as much of a cultural experience as their full-service counterparts.
CEO Jed Sanford and Chef/COO Tin Vuong of Blackhouse Hospitality debut their flagship O.C.-based dining destination, Bluegold, in addition to their first restaurant-within-a-restaurant concept, LSXO, both situated at Pacific City in Huntington Beach, CA.
As the group’s ninth project in less than five years, the 8,800 square foot space is Blackhouse’s largest multi-dimensional dining concept to date. A modern interpretation of the classic California coastal eatery, Bluegold invites guests to relax and take in the sunset from one of 235 seats offering unobstructed views of the Pacific.
Bluegold’s ‘New American’ menu incorporates European/Mediterranean roots and integrates new and old world cooking elements and techniques—think raw bar, steam kettle counter, and brick oven. Lunch/dinner highlights include lamb rack frites, sea urchin risotto and A5 Miyazaki Striploin. Brunch/breakfast items include shakshouka and granola French toast among others.
Behind an unmarked door adjacent to the wine room, guests are transported to the 28-seat restaurant-within-a-restaurant, LSXO. LSXO is pays homage to the culture, heritage, and lineage of Vietnam with a refined expat feel. Menu highlights include Foie gras and pho spiced oxtail torchon, octopus terrine and bo ne’ Saigon steak & eggs.
Bluegold and LXSO are located on the top level of Pacific City at 21010 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA 92648. Bluegold is open Monday-Sunday for breakfast, lunch, “in between,” and dinner from 9 a.m. – close. LSXO is open Friday – Sunday for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner 9 a.m. – close. For more information please call (714) 374-0038 or visit dinebluegold.com.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.