This delicate state in between the peak of full bloom and eventual withering from season to season is quite spectacular. Perhaps, the beauty lies not in the permanence of one particular moment but in the idea that what once was makes what it is. And what it is now is necessary for what it will be.
Life is a constant cycle of birth, growth, learning, and renewal. I am teaching myself to focus on what is now and to embrace everything else as part of a remarkable journey.
It’s been a long hiatus, and I’m happy to start writing again. We all go through different stages in life, and this past year has been one that tested my will and strength. With every struggle comes an opportunity to learn and grow, and I am grateful for the lessons.
I’ve been feeling like the tree in the photo below, fragile and weathered, being pushed to the limits. Furthermore, an incident that just happened last night left me frightened and disheartened. Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt and no one else got hurt. It did, however, get me thinking about humanity on a whole other level. Perhaps, a different level that seems to bring more clarity than it had in recent years. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep and woke up feeling very tired this morning, but motivated. I am still tired while writing this, but not from the lack of sleep but probably from the constancy of allowing external things to control me internally.
The grass will not always be a happy green and the sky will not always be a serene blue. Seasons come, seasons go. What I will always have is my roots, my internal will and strength that help to keep me standing tall. Albeit a little crooked, I do think it adds character and makes for an interesting story. I cannot control what happens around me, but I can believe in myself that my internal roots are strong enough to weather any storm. Nature knows its way, and I fully embrace it.
On May 4th and 5th, Orange County celebrated its inaugural OC Tastefest, a two-day culinary festival at the OC Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa. General admission prices were $12 advance online purchase or $20 at the door, and additional taste coupons were sold in sheets of 10 for $5. Festival goers were able to sample culinary bites from participating restaurants, listen to live music from a variety of artists, and watch cooking demos at the celebrity chef challenge.
Being an inaugural event, the turnout was decent and not overly crowded, which made for some relatively short lines for food sampling. I love going to tasting festivals because it gives me an opportunity to try out food from some of my favorite participating restaurants and learn of new ones. I did not get to sample all the food there, but some notable ones I checked out are:
118 Degrees — living cuisine made with local organic ingredients.
Antonello Ristorante — old world authentic Italian cuisine.
Brasserie Pascal — traditional country French cuisine.
Maro Wood Grill — creative & sustainable farm to table cuisine.
Marrakesh — authentic Moroccan cuisine.
Port Restaurant & Bar — continental cuisine located in beautiful Corona del Mar.
Slater’s 50/50 — home of the 50% ground beef & 50% ground bacon burgers.
Spiced Bamboo — personal chef for all occasions.
Ten Asian Bistro — sushi and Asian fusion cuisine.
Villa Nova — waterfront fine dining Italian cuisine.
Wahoo’s — popular fish taco franchise originally inspired by Mexico surfing trips.
For a complete list of participating restaurants and sponsors, check out the OC Tastefest website.
To see more photos from the event, click here.
OC Fair & Event Center
88 Fair Drive (map)
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
The background voices heard from our table evoked a warm feeling of nostalgia for me. The chattering sounds from a group of Italian diners conversing in their native language – at times gentle, other times loud, but always full of laughter and enjoyment of life – had me yearning for a country that forever has a piece of my heart. I did a year study abroad program in Italy during college, and that is where I was first introduced to good authentic Italian food.
For our third Costa Mesa foodie visit, we decided to try out Nello Cucina to see how good of an Italian restaurant it is. Located in the atrium of Crystal Court at South Coast Plaza, the restaurant has an open dining area, kitchen, and bar. The restaurant’s website states, “Nello Cucina has an outdoor feeling of dining in a piazza in a small town in Italy.” I agree and think the openness provides a welcoming atmosphere for guests to enjoy.
Joining me for lunch were Kim Glen of Travel Costa Mesa and Bobby Navarro of 100Eats100Days, both major foodies in their own right. After a warm welcome and introduction from the staff, we were offered some pretty and tasty drinks. Nello Cucina has an impressive wine list and bar menu, especially perfect for the 3:00 – 7:00 pm weekday happy hour crowd.
Then came the food. Hands down, my favorite dish is the Gnocchi al Piacere, which are homemade potato dumplings with prosciutto cream sauce (as pictured above). Being a vegetarian, I had some with no prosciutto, while Kim and Bobby were happy to have my share of the much revered Italian ham for themselves. I’m not a professional food critic, but I do know good gnocchi when I eat them. These were the perfect little bites that melt in the mouth, light and savory in texture and consistency. I’ve had gnocchi at many other places where they’re not done right with the pasta usually being too firm and chewy. Nello Cucina’s gnocchi dish ranks in the top five best I’ve ever eaten. Below are some other dishes we shared.
(Left) Coffee Martini made with Kahlua, Bailey's, espresso coffee, and chocolate. (Right) The bar at Nello Cucina offers an extensive list of wine and bar menu.
(Left) Blood Frankie Martini made with blood orange, triple sec, vodka, and simple syrup. (Right) Nello's Bellini made with Prosecco, Absolut Peach, blood orange and pineapple juice.
Bruschetta alla Paesana -- toasted homemade bread, fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, and parmigiano.
Margherita Pizza with mozzarella cheese, fresh tomato sauce, basil, and oregano. Bobby really liked the crust, but we thought it was a little salty overall.
Insalata di Primavera, an arugula salad with grilled zucchini, shiitake mushroom, feta cheese, and lemon vinaigrette. This was another favorite dish, light and refreshing in taste, perfect to offset the heavy carb overload in an Italian meal.
Trittico Adriatico -- thin spaghetti, clams, mussels, shrimp, and spicy tomato sauce. Kim and Bobby loved this dish. The pasta was perfectly cooked al dente and the sauce had the right amount of kick to complement the seafood.
Torta Della Nonna, a beautiful and delicious slice of heaven.
Kim and Bobby happily tweeting and facebooking our delicious food at Nello Cucina.
Thankfully, Nello Cucina did meet my expectations of good and authentic Italian food comparable to dishes I’ve had in Italy, especially with the Gnocchi al Piacere. And I must say, hearing the Italian diners in the background chattering away affirms the goodness of this restaurant. Because certainly, the Italians know where the best places to eat Italian, right? Thank you to Franco, Diana, and the friendly servers for a wonderful lunch.
To learn more and join in the conversation, check out Nello Cucina’s Facebook page.
3333 Bear Street (map)
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Disclosure: I was an invited guest of Travel Costa Mesa, but all opinions are my own. Join the Travel Costa Mesa Facebook page to learn more about other attractions in this city.
It’s like being invited to an exclusive club, where all the cool kids are the top chefs of the world. The club is Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza, a restaurant owned by celebrated master chef, Charlie Palmer. Fortunately, there is no air of exclusivity or secrecy here as the restaurant regularly has an offering of wine events, special dinners and cooking classes for the gastronomy-inspired guests wanting to learn techniques, tips and recipes from a name brand that has won many culinary praises and accolades throughout the years.
I was lucky enough to be an invited guest of Travel Costa Mesa to experience one of the restaurant’s classes on slow cooking. As a self-proclaimed, ahem, top chef of my own kitchen, there was no doubt that I would turn down an invitation to learn a cooking technique coveted by so many in the culinary world.
Executive Chef Seakyeong Kim
Located in Costa Mesa’s renowned shopping mall, Charlie Palmer is one of the city’s finest dining destinations in Orange County. The restaurant shares a space next to luxury retailer Bloomingdale’s, allowing guests to enjoy a unique shopping and dining experience. This partnership has enabled the restaurant to host classes and events utilizing the cooking demonstration area of Bloomingdale’s basement floor.
After a short ride down the escalator to the basement floor, I see Executive Chef Seakyeong Kim at the kitchen area prepping for the class. The chairs are lined in neat rows facing the kitchen with guests being served a specially selected wine pairing for the evening. As someone who appreciates service-oriented details in life, I was especially impressed with the 15-page color printed packet they provided for the guests, which included information on all the recipes and techniques for the class.
The next two hours were nothing short of a wonderful sensory overload — the sight of colorful and fresh ingredients, the mouth-watering smell of braised garlic kale, the sound of the sizzling short rib on the pan, the thought of can I do all this myself at home, and the feeling that good food makes me happy.
The happiness lingered for another couple of hours after the demonstrations were done and dinner was finally served. That last sensory overload of taste did not disappoint. The menu:
- First Course — East Coast Bass Escabeche
- Second Course — Slow Poached Seafood Salad
Bay scallops, shrimp, calamari, piquillo peppers, ambrosia apple, watercress, apple cider vinaigrette.
- Main Course — Red Wine Braised Short Rib
Creamy truffle polenta, braised tuscan kale, sautéed maitake mushrooms, baby turnips.
- Dessert — Passion Fruit Soufflé Tart
White chocolate cream, blackberry coulis, coconut meringue, champagne granita.
Yes, very happy indeed. While I did not get to personally taste most of these dishes since I’m a vegetarian, my fellow diners reported back with words of praise and complimentary salute to the chef. And Chef Kim was kind to create a couple of beautiful dishes for me to enjoy as well — an heirloom beet salad to start and vegetable pasta for the main course. Not only were they flavorful and unique, but the presentation made them almost too pretty to eat.
A special thank you to General Manager Aaron Murnighan, Chef Kim and their team for providing such an exquisite experience at Charlie Palmer. For updates on future events and classes, click here.
To see more photos and to read about happy hour at Charlie Palmer, click here:
Disclosure: I was an invited guest of Travel Costa Mesa, but all opinions are my own.