Irvine, California, is fast becoming an attractive destination for visitors who are looking for an exciting variety of leisure-time activities. Conveniently located in the heart of Orange County, Irvine has long been known as an easily accessible location for business meetings,
but it also offers visitors many other opportunities for fun with friends and family, including top-notch hotels, an endless variety of wonderful restaurant options, beautiful parks, and many cultural events and venues.
I was fortunate to be among a group of eight travel enthusiasts from the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association who recently experienced a sampling of Irvine’s many entertainment opportunities. We enjoyed the amenities of the luxurious, AAA four-diamond Hyatt Regency Irvine and also tasted, sipped, and shopped our way through some of the best restaurants and other appealing venues Irvine has to offer. The trip was expertly arranged by Wendy Beierle Haase of Destination Irvine whose creative itinerary captured the spirit of what is happening now in the Irvine area. It was a busy and fascinating two days for all of us.
The Hyatt Regency Irvine
The Hyatt Regency Irvine is a beautiful, high-end hotel with 536 modern and attractively decorated guest rooms with very comfortable bedding and other amenities, such as special bath products and Regency level rooms, which include breakfast and a cocktail hour. The hotel also features a superb restaurant, the 6ix Park Grill, a more casual Café, and the popular bar8, a contemporary lounge that is a congenial gathering place for guests.
Our group enjoyed an outstanding lunch at the Hyatt’s 6ix Park Grill, which features a varied California, contemporary cuisine highlighted by fresh ingredients and innovative dishes. Our menu included a crispy California greens salad, and a choice of enticing entrees, including Skuna Bay salmon, free range chicken breast, meyer natural top sirloin, or orange Mediterranean couscous. Everyone raved about these beautifully presented and delicious entrees, which were perfectly paired with Matchbook Cabernet and Matchbook Chardonnay. The dessert was a luscious crème brulee cheesecake with pecan cookies and peaches.
We were graciously welcomed by Mark Bastis, the Hyatt’s General Manager, Don Hanson, the Director of Food and Beverage, and Executive Chef Ted Hill. The Hyatt Regency is located at 17900 Jamboree Rd. in Irvine. For reservations, call 949-975-1234 or go to www.irvine.hyatt.com.
The Wine Artist
The Wine Artist in Lake Forest was our next stop. This is a unique and welcoming event venue and winery owned by MJ Hong.
In a lovely Tuscan-styled setting, she regularly hosts groups for corporate events, private parties, charity events, and cooking classes. Her cooking classes have a range of themes from Italian, Spanish, French and even Sushi. The cooking class on this particular day was titled Taste of Thai and featured spring rolls, pad thai, chicken curry and mango sticky rice. This was a thoroughly enjoyable, hands-on, cooking class, which had all of us chopping lots of vegetables, deveining shrimp, dicing chicken, stirring sauces, rolling spring rolls, and adding spices.
MJ Hong is a gifted cooking teacher for both her experienced and inexperienced guests. She teaches with a gentle, encouraging approach but also makes sure to include the specifics so guests can recreate these recipes on their own, using printed recipes that she provides.
She also makes her own wine and we enjoyed her Wine Artist Gewurztraminer and her Wine Artist Tesoro Bianca (both $18). Both wines enhanced the Thai dishes. Our final dish of the class, a delicious mango sticky rice, was nicely accompanied by a mellow orange chocolate port ($15). As an added bonus, we were able to bottle our own wine with a personalized label as a reminder of this unique and tasty experience at The Wine Artist.
The Wine Artist cooking classes typically run from $75 to $95 and include eating, not just cooking. Call 949-297-3656 to discuss reservations or go to www.TheWineArtist.com to learn more.
Our next stop was Pizzeria Ortica located at Irvine’s luxurious South Coast Plaza shopping center. The setting was modern, nicely lit, with a soothing hum of satisfied guests enjoying not just the food but the relaxed ambiance of the setting.
After a day of eating, we were not ready to stop. Our dedicated group actually took a deep breath and rallied, thoroughly enjoying yet one more wonderful meal of the day. (There is a reason these people write about food. They love to eat.) And Pizzeria Ortica offered an authentic Italian feast served by congenial Kyle who just kept the food coming. Chef Justin Miller, who planned and created our evening’s feast, also introduced himself during a busy night at this popular restaurant.
Our first dish was antipasti, which included sliced prosciutto de Parma, Castelvetrano olives, fresh burrata cheese, thinly sliced zucchini, cippolini and crostini. We savored this tantalizing presentation of both traditional and unique antipasti items. Next came a wonderful Puglia-style bread salad with baby heirloom tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, red onions, stale bread, basil and olive oil. It was lovely to behold and also to eat.
Then we were amazed by three scrumptious pasta dishes, each a bit unique and definitely delicious: an English pea, mint and Italian bacon risotto; a ricotta gnocchi with butter and asparagus; and also a papparedelle pasta with lamb ragu mixed with ricotta cream. Needless to say, we happily devoured these dishes.
The four pizzas that followed were equally unique and savored by the group: a Margarita pizza with crushed tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil; another Margarita pizza with fresh arugula and prosciutto de Parma; a Milanesa pizza featuring fontina, asparagus, and a surprising but tasty fried egg; and a Salsiccia pizza with house-made sausage, caramelized fennel, red onion and pecorino.
Our tasting feast concluded with a brioche bread pudding topped by a rhubarb and strawberry jam. We all finally admitted to being pleasantly full after this bountiful and delicious tasting experience at Pizzeria Ortica.
These dishes were all accompanied by some beautiful wines, including a 2010 Falaghina Feudi di San Gregorio, a full-bodied and flavorful white wine that enhanced the antipasto and salad. Later we enjoyed a 2009 Frappato di Vittoria from Sicily which, with its rich aromatic berry and floral flavors, paired well with the pastas and pizzas.
Reservations are recommended at Pizzeria Ortica, especially on weekends. Call 714-445-4900. For more information go to http://www.pizzeriaortica.com. There are more than 30 other wonderful restaurants and 250 boutiques at South Coast Plaza. For more information, go to www.southcoastplaza.com/traveler.
It was then back to bed at the beautiful Hyatt. Those beds looked good after a busy day of eating and eating and more eating. The Hyatt does have a heated outdoor pool, a whirlpool, and a state-of-the-art fitness center for those who want to work off a bit of the calories consumed at Irvine’s great restaurants.