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
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.