I hesitate to call this a review. We headed down to the Taste of Newport last evening.
Entry was $25 each, which I thought was steep, but there were a LOT more booths than is typical at this sort of "Taste Of" business. (The last one I went to, Taste of Northampton [Mass.], was free to go in but had maybe 10 booths). Parking was free and easy -- just park in any of the lots around, and the corporate lots were also open.
The paper tickets so common at "Taste Of" events are finally gone -- you get a card and you load money on it. I ended up loading $25 each onto two cards, and you can "cash out" your card at any cash booth when you are done, so you don't have money sitting on a useless card. Cash and credit cards are taken both for entry and for the e-scrip cards.
There were a bunch of us, so we made a deal not to get more than two of any one item so that we could all taste, so I got to taste a lot more than I bought.
Agora Churrascaria: linguiça e frango, $4. Pork sausage, bacon-wrapped chicken, two pieces of pao de queijo (cheese bread), one piece of fried plantain. Good. Salty, salty, salty, but good.
Back Bay Cafe at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort: beef tenderloin "martini", $6. Good, great green sauce, but the presentation was a little uppity for me and the meat was just slightly overcooked for being eaten cold.
Bambú at the Fairmont Newport Beach: Asian flatiron steak with Thai potato salad, $4. I liked the lime-y taste (as opposed to the limey taste) of the steak, though my wife was just OK on it; we both really liked the Thai potato salad with sliced red potatoes in a tangy dressing.
Chronic Cantina Sports Bar: 2 potato tacos, $3. Tasty, but needed a bit of salt. They were generous with the salsa, sour cream and guacamole, and you could have whatever "normal" taco toppings you wanted. I'd totally eat this again.
Gelato Paradiso: small cup, mango sorbetto and chocolate-hazelnut gelato, $4.25. I liked the chocolate-hazelnut gelato -- creamy, rich, not too airy -- but the mango sorbetto was the winner. I'm not used to sorbetto being so creamy!
Ho Sum Bistro: Ho Sum chicken and shrimp dumplings with garlic-cilantro sauce, $3. Three dumplings, which weren't bad at all, covered in this totally addicting but SPICY garlic-cilantro sauce. We'd totally do this again.
Mama D's Italian Kitchen: Chicken ravioli, $3.50. They didn't stand up well to their holding tank -- they fell apart. It was tasty, just lost all structural integrity on the fork. Probably much, much better at the restaurant.
It's still on today, on Newport Centre Drive between Santa Rosa and San Miguel.
Marrakesh: Bastilla, $4.50. Bastilla is one of those dishes you either love or don't get. I love it; my wife doesn't get it. It's chicken and almonds in phyllo dough with cinnamon and powdered sugar, a "chicken dessert" if you will. I liked it but I'd have liked it a lot better if the chicken hadn't been ground into oblivion.
Panini Garden Bistro: Open-faced panini with goat cheese and red peppers, $3. It was fine -- the goat cheese was tangy, but the bread was soggy.
Pavilions: Rancher's Reserve tri tip beef sandwich, $4. A huge sandwich, the meat was tasty but would be better with better sauce.
Sabatino's Lido Shipyard Sausage Company: sausage and peppers, $6. Really, really, REALLY good sausage cooked over lump charcoal with pan-fried onions and peppers.
Sam and Harry's at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Spa: Jumbo lump crab cake, $5.50. A huge crabcake that was almost 100% crab, with great remoulade dressing. I wanted five of them. This was one of the two winners of the festival in both my book and my wife's. We would totally eat in a hotel restaurant to eat this.
Soprano's: slice of New York pizza, $2.25. I knew I was in trouble when I saw the Iowa Hawkeyes banner in the booth; after we finally were able to procure pizza (they kept not having any because they were reheating one pie at a time), it was most definitely NOT New York pizza. The quest continues...
Tapas Restaurant: churros and chocolate, $3.50. The churros were tasty, a little spicy from the cinnamon, very sweet. The chocolate was almost unsweetened (as is usually the case in Spain), but I wanted twice the chocolate for the three churros. Someone else got the paella and pronounced the rice good but the shrimp pointless.
Ten Asian Bistro: lobster hand roll, $7, and Kobe beef slider, $5. The lobster hand roll was good, but a bit boring -- not sure what I was expecting. The slider, though, was the other winner of the festival. The "Polynesian rolls" were, of course, King's Hawaiian Bread, but with sweet spicy mustard, caramelised onions, the aforementioned burgerlet, and cheddar or gorgonzola (we got cheddar, my wife being allergic to blue cheeses). It was really, really REALLY good. I would have liked the fries to be fresher, and the 11-spice mixture was really probably just seasoning shake from Cost Plus, but it was very, very good overall.
It was an expensive evening -- $100, which included a beer, a wine, two sodas and a water -- but perhaps Newport Beach isn't the chow wasteland I think of when I think of the 949. And Marrakesh has a branch in Studio City on Ventura...
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