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Flavor 101: Cooking, Wine-Tasting Classes Are Sure to Be Good

<i> Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to the Times Orange County. Information for this column can be faxed to (714) 966-7790. Or phone (714) 966-7700. </i>

Vacation’s over, classes are back in session. And when it comes to food and wine, lectures and seminars really satisfy the hunger and thirst for knowledge.

The winter/spring semester at Robert Mondavi Wine & Food Center gets underway Tuesday with a seminar on basic wine-tasting skills (7 p.m., $25 includes a pasta reception and tasting of at least seven wines). It’s the first of dozens of classes and special events as diverse as an all-day “Taste Your Way Through Ethnic Los Angeles” trip Feb. 18 ($75) and a “History of Wine Vessels” class March 28 ($25). Cooking classes begin Jan. 19, when Golden Truffle owner-chef Alan Greeley shares his recipe for the perfect Super Bowl party.

Beginning Wednesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and continuing every other Wednesday, Pascal Epicerie hosts tastings priced at $12 and including six wines, hors d’oeuvres, tax and tip. The first focuses on “Unknown Bordeaux,” the next, Jan. 25, on “The Wines of Beaucastel.” Epicerie cellar master Sinead Ferramosca launches Pascal Wine School on Feb. 7 with a more formalized four-week “Preliminary Wine” course covering many subjects, including how to taste and evaluate wine; the course is $150 and is limited to eight participants.

Pascal Epicerie, 1000 Bristol St., Newport Beach. (714) 261-9041.

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Robert Mondavi Wine & Food Center, 1570 Scenic Ave., Costa Mesa. (714) 979-4510.

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Pascal Restaurant again topped the Zagat Survey (an annual review guide compiled from diners’ votes and comments) for best food among Orange County establishments, scoring 28 out of 30 possible points along with Gustaf Anders in Santa Ana and Antoine in Newport Beach. Top decor honors are shared by the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point, Antoine, JW’s in Anaheim and The Towers in Laguna Beach. Top service goes to Antoine, The Ritz in Newport Beach and JW’s.

Combining food, decor and service scores--which the editors don’t do but discerning readers might--shows Antoine (at 83 points) a full five points ahead of both Pascal and Gustaf Anders, and its nearest competitors to be JW’s (82), The Ritz (81) and the Ritz-Carlton (80).

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Ten top values: Taco Loco in Laguna Beach, the Ruby’s chain, Tlaquepaque in Placentia, McCharles House and Tea Room in Tustin, Mother’s Market and Kitchen in Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach, Stix in Laguna Niguel, Cafe Zinc in Laguna Beach, the Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant chain, Cafe El Cholo in La Habra and Angelo & Vinci’s in Fullerton.

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As of this week, by the way, Antoine is the fine dining room at Sutton Place Hotel, not Le Meridien. The name change came about when Le Meridien’s Hong Kong-based owner, Grande Group, decided to start its own operating company, Sutton Place Grande Hotels Group, to manage it and two other properties in Toronto and Vancouver. “Same owner, same staff,” said spokeswoman Barbara Eidson.

And same chef.

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During January, Jean Pierre Lemanissier offers an a-maizing special menu featuring corn in every course: sauteed duck liver with sweet corn and Sauternes sauce; steamed cod with Boston corn chowder sauce; saddle of lamb in corn-meal polenta crust and rosemary juice, baby corn salad with Gouda cheese and, for dessert, bittersweet chocolate sorbet with caramel popcorn. It’s $50 per person plus tax and tip.

Antoine, in the Sutton Place Hotel, 4500 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach. (714) 476-2001, ext. 2158.

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Also during January, The Cannery in Newport Beach offers free harbor cruises to its Sunday brunch customers. Brunch is ordered off the menu and starts at 10 a.m.; the cruise, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., is open to the first 60 customers who finish their meal.

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The Cannery, 3010 Lafayette Ave., Newport Beach. (714) 675-5777.


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