At the Pacific Food and Wine Classic, which took place Saturday at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort along the Back Bay waters, I clomped through the sandy shoreline, trying as many creations as I could. (Hard assignment, I know.)
This award-winning event of food, wine and cocktails is a fan favorite, for good reason. Admission inside the grounds gets you food from dozens of Southern California restaurants, many based in Orange County.
Withmy stomach full of samples, and my shoes full of sand, I chose my personal top five. May these inspire you to visit the respective restaurants and discover more of what they have to offer.
1: Lobster dumplings from TAPS Fish House & Brewery (Irvine, Brea and Corona)
The woman working this booth proclaimed these would be the best thing I had at the festival. Maybe she placed an inherit bias on my taste buds, but she turned out to be right. These delightful concoctions are stuffed with lobster, topped with a white truffle foam and served inlobster bisque. And they were absolutely amazing.
2: Cadillac tacos from Solita (Huntington Beach)
Freshness made Solita’s Cadillac tacos (carne asada, cheese, chipotle garlic shrimp, avocado and salsa fresca) stand out. Food festival booths have limited heating, cooling and cooking abilities compared with what’s available in real kitchens. Solita made up for it, though, with a fantastic grill and superb tacos. If they’re this good from the festival booth, they must be even more amazing on site.
3: Lobster and shrimp cannelloni from Piccolino (Mission Viejo)
Maybe I was just in a seafood mood, but Piccolino’s lobster and shrimp cannelloni, which came in an excellent basil reduction sauce, stood out.
4: Duck confit macaroni and cheese from the Blind Rabbit (Anaheim)
This cavatappi pasta with truffled béchamel sauce, shaved parmesan and fried shallots is worth a trip to Anaheim. And while you’re there, note that the Blind Rabbit has an award-winning bar as well.
5: Tuna poke cigars from the Waterfront Beach Resort (Huntington Beach)
True to their name, these little bites looked like cigars. The crispy wonton shells were stuffed with ahi tuna poke and avocado, with dehydrated onion ash to make the ends look black like a smoked cigar. Turns out, these were specially made for the festival, but they’ll add them to the resort’s menu if enough people ask for them. Here’s hoping they do.
Honorable mention: Maker’s Mark ice cream
One taste of this stuff will make you wonder why ice cream spiked with Maker’s signature bourbon, ginger, lime, and bourbon whiskey on top isn’t available everywhere. It was, in a word, wow.