On Saturday, February 22, Orange County Restaurant Week had their annual Launch Party. The event featured many of Orange County's top restaurants, as well as several wineries, breweries and spirits vendors sampling their wares. The Orange County Restaurant Week, which officially began on February 23, will run through March 1. The participating restaurants have put together special menus for the week featuring $10 to $20 lunches and $20 to $40 dinners, designed to showcase their dining specialties. Besides using the meals as a showcase for the best food they can present, the Orange County Restaurant Week meals also offer a great value, with the Prix Fixe meals including not only regular menu items but also dishes created especially for Restaurant Week.
The sold out Launch Party had many food, drink and cocktail highlights. Long lines immediately formed for Casey's Cupcakes, Kabuki Japanese Restaurant, Slapfish and others. Many people chose to take advantage of the wine glasses that Celebrity Cruises provided, getting glasses of wine from Freemark Abbey, La Crema, Kenwood Vineyards and Caposoldo, or getting them filled with Celebrity's Signature Sangria. Others went and started their afternoon with Stella Artois beer, margaritas or shots from Partida Tequila, or Kean Coffee, who drip brewed fresh coffee to order. A very popular booth was Cocktails by Cointreau, serving up a Barbados Rum Punch with Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum, a Ruby Rickey and the most popular, a French Apple Old Fashioned made with Remy 1738. The Barbados Rum Punch and the French Apple Old Fashioned were both excellent, mixed in front of you.
All the food that the restaurants featured was delicious, but several items really stood out. Ten Asian Bistro in Newport Beach was serving a plate with a Filet Mignon Potsticker and an Albacore Ceviche on a tortilla chip. The tender meat in the posticker had just the right amount of spice, allowing the subtle flavor of the filet to come out. The Albacore Ceviche was well done, not overpowered by the citrus juice used. An added bonus was a nice slice of albacore sashimi on top of the ceviche, complementing the ceviche with the sushi quality albacore slice. Slapfish in Huntington Beach had what seemed to be the most popular bite at the Launch Party, an authentic New England Lobster Roll. The Lobster Roll was served in the best tradition of the Northeast, on a buttered bun with a lot of lobster and just enough celery and aioli to provide a bit of crunch and bind the succulent chunks of lobster together.
One of the most popular items at last year's Launch Party was Slater's 50/50 Burger, with their perfect mix of 50% ground beef and 50% bacon. This year, they again brought the bacon home, this time in a delicious Bacon Brownie. The combination of bacon and chocolate worked extremely well. Outside, with perfect weather, nearby the slater's table was Villa Roma of Laguna Hills. This restaurant, which successfully has been combining Italian and Argentine dishes on the same menu for years, was serving a choice of spinach or beef empanadas. The empanadas, an extremely popular hand food in not only Argentina but throughout South America and much or the Caribbean, had delicious fillings inside a crispy, flaky pastry dough. Other restaurants such as Paul Martin's, Lark Creek, SeaLegs Wine Bar and CUCINA enoteca had delicious samples of their cuisine.
Kabuki Japanese Restaurant in the Irvine Spectrum had a long line but everyone seemed to think it was worth it for their spicy tuna or crab hand rolls. Sadie Rose Baking Company was cutting up several types of their fresh baked bread and gave guests a ciabatta roll to take home. Finally, if you wanted to taste some of the best Scotch imported from Scotland, the Glenfiddich and The Balvenie Distilleries were sampling an excellent choice of that most hallowed of spirits, including Glenfiddich's 18 Year Old Single Malt and several of The Balvenie Scotches, including ones crafted in Caribbean oak rum barrels and Sherry Oak casks. Brian, representing both brands, took guests through tastings of the eight choices of Scotch, helping everyone to find the differences and see what their favorites were. Of course, the 18 Year Glenfiddich was very popular, but many tasters remarked on the smoothness of the 15 Year Single Malt. In smoothness, however, The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old was right there, with the subtle tastes of toffee and fruit blending nicely to make an unforgettable Scotch.
The Orange County Restaurant Week is running now until March 1. Their website lists not only the participating restaurants but also the menus for the meals that are specially prepared for the Orange County Restaurant Week diners. Everything from Lobster Mac and Cheese to Prince Edward Island Mussels, Thai Stir-fried Pork Belly on rice, Filet Mignon or Honey Chili Glazed Salmon and many more dishes are available on the lunches and dinners. It is an excellent way to try a new restaurant, a new dish, or simply go to a favorite restaurant and try a dish that will only be on the restaurant's menu this week. With over 125 restaurants participating, there are certainly options to satisfy everyone.
Orange County Restaurant Week
February 23 to March 1