15 Highlights From LA Times’ The Taste in Costa Mesa

Los Angeles Times’ The Taste made its second appearance in Costa Mesa on October 18-19, offering up a lively gastronomic event for Orange County denizens who didn’t make it to The Taste at Paramount Studios over Labor Day Weekend.

90 of the best food and beverage vendors from Orange County and LA shared their wares at The MET with 4000 attendees. I made it to two of the three events. Here are some of my food and drink highlights, in no particular order:

  1. Duck Fat Pretzel Bites paired with Oktoberfest ale from Karl Strauss Brewing Company. Though I’m not normally a pretzel fan, after nibbling these morsels, studded with rosemary and pecorino and dotted with truffle butter, I’m a believer.
  2. Tolucan Green Pork Chorizo Taco from The Chori-Man in San Pedro. The hype about the offerings from this chorizo expert, a fourth-generation chorizo maker who learned his craft from his family in Zacatecas, Mexico, is definitely warranted. Poblano chiles provide the vibrant, verdant color of this chorizo, which was dotted with cotija and pickled onions.
  3. Newport Beach eatery Louie’s by the Bay, a collaboration between two LA restaurant legends — Piero Selvaggio (Valentino) and Ron Salisbury (El Cholo)– served creamy risotto Parmigiano, perfectly counterbalanced with rich short rib.
  4. Sparkling Moscato from Honey Bubbles. Bearing honey, peach, and citrus notes, and with much less sugar than most Moscatos thanks to prolonged fermentation, Honey Bubbles’ delectable Sparkling Moscato is a revelation for sparkling wine lovers. I was happy to learn that  Honey Bubbles is looking out for the honeybees by helping to educate about Colony Collapse Disorder while supporting urban beekeeping around the country.
  5. Guava pastry from Habana Irvine. This Cuban restaurant had the longest lines of all the vendors while I was there. Fortunately, they eventually sent some servers out among the crowd to share the flaky pastries, which reminded me of times spent in Miami.
  6. No big surprise that Costa Mesa’s Shuck Oyster Bar is renowned for its oysters. Also highly noteworthy is their Smoked Salmon Mousse with dill pickle, roe, and yuzu.
  7. With a chef born and raised in Michoacan, Mexico who later trained at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, Descanso, A Modern Taqueria merges traditionality with modernity. I loved the Shrimp Alambre Taco, featuring a trio of cheeses grilled on a hand-made flour tortilla, then topped with grilled shrimp, bacon, serrano peppers, and avocado and chile salsa.
  8. The award-winning Revel Agave Spirit was delicious, as was a cocktail created with it: The Revelation, featuring Revel Avila Blanco, Thai basil, serrano syrup, lime, and pineapple.
  9. The LA Times new Wine Club. After filling out an online survey about your food and wine preferences, you’re presented with a list of wines, both locals and imports, that you’re likely to enjoy. If you decide to order from the club, your first shipment of 6 bottles is just $39.95, with free shipping. I enjoyed sampling my recommended sips, among them a Verdejo from Spain and a French Grenache, and plan to join the club.
  10. I  seriously savored the chicken sandwiches at Crack Shack during a visit to the superior chicken chainlet a while back, so I was happy to try another Crack Shack offering, the equally delicious pollo asado sandwich.
  11. NOBU Newport Beach also had some of the event’s longest lines thanks to their tasty cod with miso glaze.
  12. Billy’s at the Beach, a Hawaiian-themed eatery located in Newport Beach, harkened back to the islands with a well-composed mai tai and skewers of coconut shrimp.
  13. La Vegana Mexicana, a Santa Ana eatery, offers Mexican food that is vegan, gluten-free, and doesn’t use mock meats. They presented The Taste attendees with tamales stuffed with black beans, mole and sesame seeds.
  14. Newport Beach restaurant Olea, acclaimed for its wine country cuisine, served up decadent bacon, bourbon, and duck liver pate.
  15. Esquites from Gracias Madre in Newport Beach. This vegan eatery makes their esquites a little differently than most, with vegan cotija cheese made of almonds and truffle corn aioli topping the grilled corn.

Another standout moment at The Taste was watching the coq au vin demonstration by Michelin-starred chef Tony Esnault of Knife Pleat, an elegant new French restaurant in South Coast Plaza. This dish from the Michelin-starred Esnault, formerly of Spring and Church & State, was beloved by the late, great Jonathan Gold, who rhapsodized about it in the LA Times in 2014.

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