The Taste of Laguna amazed the senses in Laguna Beach, California

Have you ever been to grand tastings and food & wine festivals where lines are so long they intertwine with other lines, the restaurants or proprietors run out of food in the first hour of the event, or you leave still hungry? Well, look no further. The Taste of Laguna is a wonderfully organized and spacious event. They do not oversell tickets so everyone is able to enjoy short waits from each restaurant, winery, and food/drink proprietors and plenty of space to mingle in between bites. Even the photographic foodie has time to take photos too. This year’s event was at Tivoli Too!, a fabulous event space for corporate functions, weddings, parties, etc. It has a rustic Italian feel, the perfect backdrop for an intimate food & wine tasting event.

Here is a look at some tasty bites from several of the restaurants. Keep in mind this was about half of them. We were too full to eat from every restaurant.

Las Brisas presented Ahi Poke (hass avocado, tomato, Asian pear, jicama, and sriracha aioli) and Guacamole (hass avocado, tomato, cotija, and red onion). Their ahi poke was haole-style infused with Mexi-Cali flavors. The rice paper was a great serving vessel for serving and also added a nice crunchy texture to the bite. 

Their guacamole was amazing! I loved the addition of cotija as it adds more of an umami flavor to the creamy avocado.

Okura Robata Grill & Sushi Bar presented Fire Cracker (fresh spicy tuna and avocado served on a fried wonton chip) and Serrano Hamachi Carpaccio (shoyu yuzu dressing with a hint of serrano pepper). The Fire Cracker reminded me of poke yet more Japanese with its yuzu flavor. 

The hamachi carpaccio was oishi! The hamachi was buttery and paired well with the salty shoyu and citrusy yuzu for acidity.

The Cliff presented Ahi Poke (shoyu, jalapeno, onion, sesame, and avocado on a wonton chip) and BBQ Pulled Pork Slider. Their haole-style poke was pretty good. Instead of avocado, I would use ogo seaweed. 

The slider had great texture from the soft potato bun and crunchy slaw. But the BBQ sauce was way too sweet. I would dial down the sweetness to a more bold or spicy flavor. Did you know that The Cliff is dog-friendly? They have a small menu just for your fur-baby.

Fresh Brothers presented their Pepperoni and Margherita Pizzas. The pepperoni pizza was awesome with just the right amount of sauce, cheese, and pepperoni. The Margherita pizza was a great vegetarian option with lots of flavor from the vegetables and sauce. My favorite pizza from Fresh Brothers is The Miller Special. It’s just to-die-for and will satisfy any pizza lover!

Tortilla Republic presented a Duck Confit Tamale with mole sauce. This was the most beautifully presented dish at The Taste of Laguna. The corn husk was popped open with a perfectly cooked tamale inside with lots of tender duck confit. The mole along with the crema balanced each other while still letting the duck take center stage. The contrast of microgreens and the purple flowers caught the eye immediately. This needs to be on their menu!

Laguna Beach Brewery and Grille served up Corn Pops (sweet corn cakes) and Baja-Style Ceviche. The corn pops were a nice way to refresh the palate from all of the savory items. The cake was light and the corn kernel “frosting” was rich and creamy. The ceviche was also refreshing with a light citrus flavor and sweet notes from the mango.

Mozambique served up Peri Peri Chicken Pops with rice and fruit. The chicken was tender and picked up a nice char taste from the grill. The sauce added a nice flavor similar to a marsala wine sauce. The rice was okay, but it was the fruit that helped refresh the palate.

Skyloft served up California Smoked Spareribs and Brisket. The ribs had a nice flavor and smoky bark. The brisket was a little disappointing. It was way overcooked and just crumbled when I tried to eat it. A properly cooked brisket is tender yet holds together when sliced. Sorry guys but I’m a KCBS Certified BBQ Judge and brisket is my favorite category.

Lumberyard presented Lamb Meatballs (with cauliflower puree) and Ahi Poke (with avocado and seaweed). OMG! Their lamb meatball was just to-die-for! It’s meaty, flavorful, and paired perfectly with the creamy cauliflower puree. I could just have a plate of these for dinner! 

Their ahi poke was probably the best one of the night. Their version was haole-style with the addition of avocado but they added ogo which just makes me so happy. The shoyu and onion flavors were great, but a touch of sesame oil would make it perfect.

Rasta Taco presented Slow Roasted Carnitas (with pico de gallo and guacamole) and Corn & Green Chile Chowder. The carnitas were sabroso! The pork was tender and utterly delicious. The pico de gallo added sweetness and acidity while the guacamole added creaminess. The crispy tortilla strips added a nice crunchy element while not taking away from the porky goodness. 

The chowder was a nice, lighter vegetarian option. The flavors were awesome with the sweet corn contrasting with the green chiles. I might finely dice the green chiles so they could be seen in the chowder and the yellow corn base would not be muddled for a better presentation.

Mosaic Bar and Grille at the Montage Resort presented Baja Ahi Ceviche (with jicama, red onion, mango, cilantro, avocado, agua chile, and lime juice). This ceviche was perfect and packed full of ahi. The jicama added a crunchy texture, the mango added sweetness, and the guacamole added a creamy touch.

Starfish Laguna presented Thai Curry Chicken (grilled chicken breast, potato, edamame, spinach, tomato, and panan curry atop rice). The first experience of this dish is the savory aroma. The thai curry spices and coconut milk hit you immediately. The chicken was tender, but the sauce was definitely the star of this dish. You could just eat it over rice, glass noodles, or any other starch and it’d be good to go. Definitely addictive!

Broadway by Amar Santana presented Poached Shrimp (green papaya, nouc cham, tangerine, herb salad). The shrimp was perfectly cooked but seemed a bit lonely on the plate. The vegetables underneath just felt like garnish and did not really elevate the shrimp. The nouc cham was barely noticeable.

Royal Hawaiian presented Pineapple Upside Down Cake. The cake was moist and not too sweet. The caramelized pineapple on top was just right as our last dish of the evening. Royal Hawaiian just opened so go check it out. I know I will!

A BIG mahalo to the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce for putting this event together. Hope you can catch this event next year and have an awesome experience like I did!

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