The ‘Taste of Newport’ Tastes Delicious

Indulgence was the order of the day at the 17th annual Taste of Newport, which was held Sept. 16 to 18 at Newport Center Drive in Fashion Island. With 32 restaurants, numerous wineries and breweries, musical acts such as Macy Gray and a Police tribute band participating in this giant tapas fest, it was impossible for attendees to not have their senses aroused during the night.
The first Taste of Newport was held in a parking lot nearby the two city blocks of street which were closed for this year’s event. Since then, the event has grown along with the Newport Beach community.
The event’s entertainment has improved over the years from local acts like Sticks Hooper to the addition of more prominent and varied performers. Fallout, the Police tribute band, produced a lively set of Police hits without trying to duplicate Sting’s unmistakable voice. Macy Gray performed on Friday, as well, featuring many signature songs from older albums and complimenting Newport Beach residents on their sexiness.
A stereotypically trendy and aesthetically conscious Orange County audience filled the streets Friday evening as the conflicting aromas from various restaurants fought for my nose’s attention.
I planned for the event by skipping lunch and I found it especially difficult to resist the temptation of sampling a delicious dish from every booth. All 32 restaurants represented in the event offered fine fare to satisfy the gourmand in all of Taste of Newport’s 70,000 guests.
From sushi to ravioli, French dip to strawberries dipped in chocolate, the diversity of food was exceptional and can be seen as a reflection of the diversification of the community, since Taste of Newport began in 1989.
The food festival started as a means of promoting local restaurants.
‘Our job in the community is to help promote the local economy and make sure businesses are given an opportunity to do well here,’ said Richard Luehrs, president and CEO of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.
The Art Institute of California, Orange County used the Taste of Newport event as a way of attracting potential students to its culinary program. The Chef’s Pavilion, hosted by the college, was another source of entertainment for patrons able to sustain themselves without food until the end of the cooking demonstrations. The Art Institute chefs taught how to cook such dishes as cedar-planked salmon and le poulet avec homard marengo.
A significant number of nonfood-related sponsors were present at the event, as well. Demoss Chiropractic offered free spinal exams. Rolls Royce Motorcars of Newport Beach posed three stately Phantoms and displayed the umbrella which is cleverly designed to stow inside the rear door. The Newport Tanning Club was also present. Its owner, JoAnn Turner, noted that sharing a booth with 24-Hour Fitness helped offset the minimum sponsorship booth cost of $5,000.
However, the expense seems justified for sponsors and restaurants alike when one considers the exposure the event generated.
‘Most of the restaurants are here not so much to make a profit, but to get the exposure. They think it is a terrific opportunity to get in front of some potentially new customers,’ Luehrs said.
This was especially the case for the Melting Pot, which generously donated all profits from the event to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Royal Thai Cuisine, in addition to other restaurants, graciously utilized Taste of Newport to raise money for another good cause. One-hundred percent of its profits were donated to the Red Cross to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Luehrs explained that ‘portions of [the city of Newport Beach’s] profits will go to helping the relief efforts of Hurricane Katrina as well as a series of other local charities [which in the past have included] Serving People In Need and Share Our Selves.’
After enjoying the aural delights of Fallout (and consequently, the Police), I began my unique and expensive night with Soprano’s Pizza which served Italian food inspired by both New York and Southern Italy. A slice of the restaurant’s pepperoni pizza was juicy, had a thin crust and just the right amount of crunch for a reasonable $2.25.
Crab cakes were offered by more than one restaurant including Daily Grill. However, I had trouble relinquishing $5 for a crab cake with a diameter slightly less than the top of a tuna can.
At $3.25, small portion of cream of spinach was also served by Gulliver’s. The enjoyable dish thankfully did not have an overpowering amount of cream.
Maggiano’s Little Italy, one of many Italian restaurants at Taste of Newport, served spinach and artichoke al forno with crustinis to scoop the dip. The combination of the cheesy and crunchy crustini with the smooth spinach and artichoke flavors resulted in an ethereal experience not to be equaled until dessert.
I was brought down to earth by the Balboa Bay Club and Resort, which served me a cup of lobster bisque which was as salty as it was expensive.
Ho Sum Bistro cleared my sinuses with spicy minced lettuce wraps with chicken and thin, white crispy rice noodles of which I am very fond. This eye-opening meal rivals the similar dish at P.F. Chang’s and was a value at just $3 for the Taste of Newport-sized portion.
The highlight of my multicultural dinner was also the perfect transition meal into dessert. I had the privilege of eating the bastilla of Marrakesh, a Moroccan restaurant in Costa Mesa. Bastilla is a flavorful and sweet combination of chicken, eggs and almonds locked in phyllo dough pastry with sprinkled cinnamon.
A pistachio financier with ‘end of summer’ berries and roasted strawberry jus was as tasty and fruitfully delightful as the Reeses Cup-sized dessert sounds, and at only two dollars, was somewhat of a bargain.
My night of feasting ended deliciously. The Melting Pot prepared a dark chocolate fondue kabob of strawberries, bananas and brownies that practically melted in my mouth, but not before I had the pleasure of circulating the intense flavors around repeatedly. Contributing to charity never tasted so good.
The fondue marked the end of a nine-course meal which sampled Japanese, Moroccan and Italian dishes. Without alcohol, the total cost of my Taste of Newport experience hovered at almost $50, including the $20 admittance charge. This was a sizable sum which I felt was made slightly more reasonable with the fine entertainment provided. An international selection of food with nationally acclaimed musical entertainment. This is one local and annual indulgence I’ll miss until its return.