Photos by Ben Brown

Pacific Wine and Food Classic Takes Gourmet Waterfront Dining to a New Level

There’s something truly special about biting into a succulent lobster dumpling and sipping champagne while your toes wiggle in the warm sand. Looking out into the water, glimmering with a flawless summer sun, it’s about as perfect of a Southern California moment as you can get. And it’s moments like these that the Pacific Wine and Food Classic is all about. 

This annual event brought myriads of restaurants, wineries, breweries and libation purveyors right up to the water’s edge in Newport Beach, with booths literally on the sand and the shore just a few steps away in the backdrop. Eateries from across Orange Country stretched just about as far as the eye could see, interspersed with local wineries, regionally acclaimed breweries and the crowd favorite ‘bubble bar,’ which showcased a variety of champagnes. 

As far as food goes, chefs made sure to step up their game to match the festival’s dream-like environment. Taps Fish House and Brewery served up those incredible lobster dumplings, each sitting in a sip of lobster bisque. Ten Asian Bistro doled out Japanese dumplings with fresh ahi tuna, as well as colorful black rice rolls. Piccolino Ristorante’s lobster and crab cannelloni stole patrons’ hearts, as did the oh-so-rich gnocchi from Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse. 

The District at Tustin Legacy hosted ‘The District Lounge,’ which featured several of the venue’s dining destinations. Prego served a Mediterranean ceviche as well as conchiglie with vodka sauce. The Yellow Chili, dedicated to modern Indian cuisine, served up a tasty murgh angaar begdi, or clay oven chicken. Bar Louie was also there with their nachos in house-made cheese sauce. 

Nirvana Grill got creative with creamy chicken empanadas served alongside a dessert of goat cheese maple ice cream. The Country Club Helmsman’s braised bacon corn fritters were up there as well, along with Heirloom Farmhouse Kitchen’s roasted carrot puree garnished with pistachios and honey. Then there was The Waterfront Resort’s ahi cigars, coated in ‘onion ash’ to be a spectacular alternative to the real thing. 

Drinks were of course in complete abundance. Maker’s Mark alone hosted several stations, each of which featured a different application of their namesake whiskey, from cocktails to ice cream. Stella Artois was there with its classic pilsner, as well as an infused popsicle for the summer heat. 

Wineries present included John Anthony, King Estate, Starmont, Mercer Family Vineyard and Chateau St. Michelle among others. Champagnes at the bubble bar included Martini & Rossi, Gloria Ferrar, Wilson Creek and G.H. Mumm among others. Breweries included Unibroue, Lindemans and Towne Park among others. 

The festival’s ambiance was topped off with a silent DJ, as well as all beach games and of course some incredible people watching. For more information, visit PacificWineAndFood.com.

Black Tap: Burgers, Beer and Awe-Inspiring Milkshakes 

Designer burgers are in. Craft beer is in. Globally inspired sauces and flavor profiles are most definitely in. A birthday cake milkshake with a rainbow sprinkle-crusted rim, topped with a full-sized slice of funfetti cake and whipped cream? Yep, that’s in too. Foodie Instagrammers and American comfort food lovers come together quite happily within the broad reaches of Black Tap.

From its beginnings in New York in 2015, Black Tap has kept a keen focus on modern appeal among a mostly urban, trendy crowd. Their take on ‘upscale but not fussed up’ has certainly taken them places, with locations in Dubai, Singapore, Switzerland and the Las Vegas Strip to name a few. That same global allure resonates throughout the dining room, with loud yet tasteful décor setting the scene for a lively crowd, eyeballs darting this way and that to catch a glimpse of the next artful concoction that leaves the kitchen.

Crazyshakes are the ringleaders of Black Tap’s spectacular show, piled high with accouterments and made beautiful with rich color. The churro choco taco delivers a cinnamon toast crunch milkshake topped with two churros and an entire choco taco thrown into a mountain of whipped cream. Then there’s the cotton candy, a strawberry shake with bright pink and blue chocolate balls lining half the glass, covered with another mountain of whipped cream, two rock candy sticks, a whole lollipop and of course, finished with cotton candy. 

These shakes, in addition to being a sight to be seen, absolutely taste as good as they look. The cakeshake noted above uses a cake batter ice cream that tastes like you’re licking the spoon after making the dough. And that funfetti cake on top isn’t just there for decoration, but rather a genuinely good dessert in its own right. Their peanut butter shakes are so thick that they might actually use more peanut butter than ice cream. In any case, it’s clear that Black Tap backs up its looks by walking the walk.  

Black Tap’s burgers are a bit more down to earth, but certainly satisfy all the same. The Texan burger brings it with bacon, aged cheddar and a crispy onion ring for full richness and texture. Then there’s the Greg Norman, which boasts a ½-pound ‘wagyu’ patty, house-made buttermilk dill ranch, blue cheese and arugula. Thankfully, Black Tap does their burgers the right way by serving them with fries (as opposed to a la carte), and fries that are very well executed at that. Definitely worth trying out some of their special sauces as well, such as the truffle mayo or Black Tap’s special sauce, comparable to In ‘n’ Out’s spread.

A long list of salads should satisfy those looking for healthier options. And of course Black Tap lives up to the latter part of its name with an even longer list of beers on tap, as well as wines and an intriguing cocktail menu. For more information, visit BlackTap.com.

Terzo MdR Unveils Dynamic Italian in Marina Del Rey

Where the famed Settebello established the groundwork for killer Neopolitan pizza, Terzo MdR has launched as an alluring new concept and one of Settebello’s first expansions beyond pizza. Homemade pastas with rustic Italian additives and wildly creative Mediterranean antipasti highlight this case study in restaurant rebrands, along with a reinvented pizza menu that boasts Settebello’s tried-and-true crust. 

Located in Marina Del Rey’s Villa Marina Markeplace Mall, Terzo MdR (The MdR stands for Marina Del Rey, for those not in the know) sits just a short stroll from the ocean and the luxury hotel-esque apartment complexes that house some of LA’s finest. Each element of the restaurant plays to its native crowd, reflective of its namesake—‘Terzo’ comes from the Italian idea of having a ‘third place’ to spend one’s time (think Starbucks, but with delicious Italian fare). Bright, homey décor gives off an elegant feel, complemented by an open-air kitchen with the wood-burning stove inherited from Settebello as the centerpiece. The patio is lined with outdoor lounge furniture and a multitude of fireplaces. A quaint but very well stocked bar invites patrons to cozy up for some inventive drinks.

Executive Chef Brian Lavin, named one of Zagat National’s ‘30 under 30,’ moved from across the country to take the helm. Hailing from Baltimore, MD with extensive travel through the Mediterranean, Lavin created a menu that pays homage to his love for seafood, olives and sweet corn, as well as classic Mediterranean flavors with just the right amount of modern invigoration. Case in point with the seared sea scallops, timed to just about the second with a perfect sear and an addictive sweet corn puree. The roasted U-5 head-on shrimp (read: 5 shrimp per pound) are absolutely massive and do quite well in a chickpea puree complemented with shishito peppers and olive vinaigrette. And not only is Lavin’s chicken liver mousse creamy and indulgent, but it comes out in massive quantity.

Pastas integrate new-age creativity with age-old flavor, with nothing as surprisingly novel as the corn and ricotta cappelletti, or sombrero-shaped pasta cooked al dente to the point of popping in your mouth, releasing an eye-fluttering compilation of smooth ricotta and sweet corn essence. Close behind is the squid ink gnocchi, with tomato braised calamari and spicy breadcrumbs. The ricotta cavatelli boasts wild boar sausage and just a touch of Fresno chile for a bit of heat.

When it comes to great meat, however, Lavin’s ‘Nduja, a classic Italian sausage spread, takes the cake. It’s the star of the show alongside roasted corn and thyme cream to highlight Terzo’s pizza menu. 

For dessert, the ricotta doughnuts are a house favorite. What makes them so special though, is—wait for it—corn ice cream, bringing out that same addictive flavor that lines the savory menu with even more sweet woven in. 

The cocktail menu is equally creative. Try the royal 75, with gin, amaretto, lemon and prosecco, or Hemingway’s rare tale, with run, ancho chile, maraschino, grapefruit, lime and grenadine. A thoughtful wine and beer list rounds things out. For more information visit TerzoMdR.com