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foodshot.jpg20th Annual Taste of Newport
Fashion Island, Newport Beach, CA
September 19-21, 2008

Well, shit. I, your humble awesome Emperor, was going to write a lot about the Newport Food Festival, the sights (Tommy Bahama shirts and fake breasts), the sounds (STYX, MOTHERFUCKER!!!!) and the tastes (Free Tira Misu!? I ROCKED POMPODORO’S SPINNY WHEEL!!!), but really, other that how fucking epic The Grand Illusion was live, the lovely ladies I went with pretty much covered it. OK, I really want to hammer this home: The Taste of Newport nailed the live entertainment, and all the blame for the food and the prices lays with the restaurants, diners and sushi joints. So, with no further nonsense from me, I’ll let Caitlin give you the 411 on Saturday while Laura will handle the lo-down on Sunday.


Saturday

I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Taste of Newport was a let down, but my expectations were definitely not met. I’m not particularly familiar with food festivals, so I suppose my expectations could have been wildly out of proportion with reality, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so… expensive.

Silly me, what was I thinking? I was picturing loads of local restaurants and bakeries serving up little bits of food on toothpicks as samples or having mini cups of beverages and the like, perhaps selling regular-sized portions of their delicacies for a nominal fee. A food-lover’s day of delights! I mean, the price of a ticket was $25- that has to account for something, right?

Apparently not. Each miniature plate of food cost around five-seven bucks- money that poor college students don’t have. It was probably naïve of me to expect anything other than that in Newport Beach- at Fashion Island no less! We were swamped in a sea of J. Crew sweaters, sparkly sun dresses, and swanky folk snatching up snacks as fast as they could spend their money.

However, the good people of Newport granted the media folk some spending money, so the day was not without waste. Jonathan and I got to sample some delicious Bacon-Wrapped Filets from a Brazilian restaurant called Agora (my favorite of the day), plus we tasted some interesting fizzy nutritious drinks from a company called Nutrisoda (supplements for all- radiance, flexibility, immunities, focus, etc).

We even discovered a cooking demonstration put on by New York Food Company, a catering business. The cook answered the audience’s questions and taught us how to sear steaks and prepare sauces. Plus we discovered that if you sat in the right place, you got to sample a plate of what was cooking. We went back multiple times until we got to try the Veal Tenderloin Cutlets with Mushroom Ragu. [Emperor’s Note: This was the most delicious result of infanticide I’ve ever had.] Delicious! While not the most flavorful, it was certainly the most tender meat Jonathan and I had ever tasted.

[Emperor’s Note: Caitlin left out two bits of deliciousness, the Lobster Hand Roll from Kitayama and the down home comfort of Rudy’s Chocolate Shake and Fries The lobster roll was a bit of a disappointment as the lobster’s flavor was smothered in this cream sauce that overpowered for 5 minutes and then disappeared altogether. Shakes and Fries are always a solid choice. And Austin Spencer’s owes me a damned pickle spear!]

The highlights of our day were the concerts (surprise!: the highlight was not winning an Anaheim Ducks hat, though the vendor swore it would be)- a Journey tribute band called Lights and the legendary rock band STYX!

ocukuia3.jpgLights was a nearly perfect replica of Journey, and they had the crowd rocking to the hits. Young and old (well, it was mostly an older crowd) united to belt out “Don’t Stop Believin’.” No Lights, I will never stop believing.

The air ignited with excitement for Styx, complete with a couple of characters dancing and singing even before the band got out on stage. I’ve already admitted I’m naïve this review so I won’t say it again, but I will point out that I discovered that I know more Styx songs that I realize. The legendary gents were every bit as rocking and on point that I hoped they would be. The have a bit of flair left in them yet.

Styx, you can call me Lady anytime. And maybe the Emperor! too.

–Caitlin Elgin

Sunday – Because Tiny Food is Sexy!

If you ever wanted a sample of how the rich and stylish partied, The Taste of Newport Festival probably wouldn’t be the best place to go to experience it.

tommy_bahama_swordfish.jpgThe giddy thrill of eating in a tent next to slightly tipsy investment bankers in khaki shorts as you cut into a kiddie-sized steak with your plastic knife may sound glamorous, but ain’t worth the price of admission. At $25 a ticket to get in, it seems the festival may have out-priced itself to the point where you end up feeling pressured to have fun. No doubt the steep price is to keep out the riff-raf, but when you think about it those are probably the people who would have enjoyed this kind of event the most.

Most of the stands there featured chain restaurants, which was disappointing and left the festival feeling woefully lacking of a sense of local identity and flair. Chances are, if you actually live in Newport you have tasted all of it before. Overall, I wasn’t impressed with the variety of the selections of food to choose from. When you’re buying a mouthful at a time you want to make sure whatever you settle on gives your taste-buds a flavor lap-dance that’s worth what you are forking over.

Walking in I was excited, there seemed to be samplings for all sorts of exotic and delicious styles of cuisine to enjoy like Brazilian, Italian, Steak-House and Thai, but upon closer inspection of the actual menus many of the featured dishes repeated and started to blur together. Spotlighted at stand after stand were the same hip items and flavors popped up, garnished a different way. Some items were served in your choice of stylish alcoholic beverage glass, while the fusion-crowd excitedly repackaged old favorites by adding a slice of banana or dollop of salsa on the side. Sadly, in the end it felt like Steak-with-a-Hat, though admittedly a pretty fancy one.

Even the entertainment selections were slim pickings, patrons were offered nothing to do between mini-meals aside from the one big musical guest show a day. Perhaps they hoped you would just drink yourself to the point where things got fun. For me though, I was forced to make do with my overly conspicuous Oscar-sized bottled water that made me feel like I was drinking out of a shampoo container.

Final verdict? Taste of Newport feels like it’s less about being a celebration of flavor and more like just an excuse to get tanked outdoors one glass at a time and feel sexy about it.

Foods I ate – The score:

Ho Sum Chicken Salad- (Ho Sum Bistro)

Not the prettiest of the dishes on parade, just a bowl filled with what looked like moist pink shredded paper, but a nice sized portion and a light refreshing flavor that wasn’t too sweet and had lots of chicken slices. Yum!

Prime Fillet Medallion- Oscar Style, with Crab & Bearnaise Aioli- (Maestro’s Steakhouse)

Small portion, elegantly presented. Rich, tender and savory, but not a lot of distinct flavor. Salty, yet satisfying.

Scallop Hand-roll- (Kitayama)

lamb_chop_body_puppet.jpg

Delicious! A nice size roll with tasty rice and mouth-watering scallop in a creamy sauce. The people at the stand were friendly and nice, which was a welcome change of pace.

Yogurt Marinated New Zealand Lamb Chops with Tomatoes, Feta, and Salsa verde- (Palm Terrace Restaurant & Lounge, The Island Hotel)

A poor match up of flavors! The salsa they put on this was bitter and thin, and the wet texture didn’t go with the savory warm of the meat. The chops themselves were delicious however.

-Laura Gaddy