Tag Archives: Cocktails

i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

Irvine, a bedroom community in Orange County, is often spoken about as a homestead of possible Utopian living with green trees, cookie cutter homes, and maybe an ethnic market selling something as exotic as dark chocolate or unroasted nuts. In truth, it’s a thriving urban area with an incredibly diverse population – and food to match.

i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

Close to Disneyland, 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and roughly an hour and a half drive from the City of Los Angeles, resides Irvine, opened in 1965 as a “new town.” The area’s conception was a bedroom metropolis budding out of the 405-freeway connecting LA, OC, and San Diego counties. Its sole purpose was to be a pedestrian, and yes, a conformist archetype of 20th century modernism.

Now, in the 21st century, ironically, it is the largest city in the continental U.S states with an Asian diaspora, ranging from Indian to Korean, Filipino to Chinese, Malaysian to Japan. Irvine has become a blossoming food center, offering cuisine not only throughout Asia but Mexican, Italian, Indian, and Middle Eastern – and sometimes, a fusion of several.

For residents, the town’s proximity is close enough to enjoy Pacific Ocean breezes from Newport and Laguna Beach without having to pay for the pricey coastal real estate, although that, too, is changing as it continues to grow. Indeed, the area measuring 65 square miles is home to several higher learning schools including University of California, Irvine, Concordia, Brandman and Chapman Universities, and has a median income of a little more than $93,000 per household compared to the entire state at $63,000.

During the mid-sixties, people were the leaving urban centers for places like Irvine, which quickly become synonymous as a landmark of social and political conservatism. Often a hidden tag line, going to any city within Orange County such as Anaheim, Huntington Beach, or San Juan Capistrano was said to be “visiting behind the Orange Curtain,” a post-WW II reference to communist countries and much of the then area’s non-liberal viewpoint. Much of that has changed, as OCs head into the first quarter of the 21st century.

Matter of fact, Irvine proudly stated that for the first time since WWII, the entire area went “blue,” attributable to the shifting and dying demographics that once reigned in the area. Now Irvine, also called “SoCal’s Silicon Valley,” is one of the leading centers of the state’s diverse eats and eaten by internet company denizens from Google, Houzz, Microsoft, and Oracle populating each side of the 405.

No, Dorothy, this isn’t Kansas, it’s Irvine.

Breakfast: Hotel Irvine’s Marketplace

If you’re staying here, this yummy place offers well-made grab and go sandwiches, pizzas, and salads throughout the day. However, it’s the ideal spot to grab a great sausage and egg on an English muffin ($3) or a breakfast burrito ($4). Want to order a la carte? Go for scrambled eggs ($2), any breakfast meat ($2), and a side of potatoes ($2). It’s far better than anything heated up at a chain coffee of fast food spot. Indeed, many of the young office workers start their days at Marketplace because the prices are low. Coffee is standard Starbucks, but you can have a breakfast meeting with the ample seating. Free wi-fi included so it’s easy to start up a Powerpoint presentation. Come back during the never-ending happy hour and enjoy inexpensive glasses of wines, unique cocktails, and beer along with a stellar small plate eating menu that is equally as delicious.

 

Breakfast at Hotel Irvine’s Marketplace. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

17900 Jamboree Road
Irvine, California, 92614
866.396.4201

Lunch: Wholesome Choice

You did well on that 26-slide Powerpoint presentation during breakfast, but that was at 8:00 am. It took hours to get through, and you’re famished, but the chain restaurants which proliferate in Irvine – and they do – aren’t what you want. Head to Irvine’s possibly greatest food spot: a grocery store called Wholesome Choice. At lunch (or even dinner), they have one of the best ethnic food hot bars probably in the country. Running the gamut from Chinese-American, Persian, Indian, Mexican, traditional American, to Middle -Eastern, it’s a food person’s dream. Enter in on the right side by the vegetable and fruit area, and you’re walking into a Turkish bazaar stateside.

Lunch at Wholesome Choice. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

The bins are overflowing with pomegranates, Persian cucumbers, key limes (in season), parsley, ginger, and other items not seen in traditional grocery stores.

Lunch at Wholesome Choice. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

Before getting there, though, you have to sidle by the sangak bread bakery and its bakers (who are Mexican). In line waiting for the unleavened curtains of whole wheat, which drape the shopping carts, are people of all backgrounds – Latin, Korean, Jewish, Russian, Filipino, Persian, Arabic – reflecting the neighborhood and the locals.

Lunch at Wholesome Choice. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

Buy a bottle of orange water, rose water, lily water, or drinking water. Nearly a dozen varieties of tahini rest in the sauce aisle – it’s hard to choose. If you’re a little queasy about meat products, don’t head to the butcher cases. Whole sheep and cow reside there in pieces. An eye there, a testicle here, and a little bit of tongue. (Don’t forget trying a little bit of the house-made Turkish delight. There seem to be nearly as many choices of the confection as there are stars in the sky.)

Lunch at Wholesome Choice. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

18040 Culver Drive
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 551-4111

Cocktails

After shopping through one of the many malls, including Irvine Spectrum complete with a ferris wheel, head to Angelina’s Neapolitan Pizzeria, located in another strip area across the 405. Even though it’s a cement block with all the appeal of a wood chip, inside, the Italian bistro is light with grey, burgundy, and white.

Cocktail at Angelina's Neapolitan Pizzeria. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

Additionally, it’s well-appointed with racks of wine bottles (mostly Italian), a full bar, and a pizza-oven creating robust aromas. Although you could order a glass of Pinot Grigio with maybe a pizza to share for as an appetizer before a meal, my recommendation is a flight of Italian food and wine. It consists of three tastes, with a trio of wines of about 3 to 3.5 ounces each. For example, the Sophia Flight ($12) focusing on rosatos, imbibers sip a sparkling from Setteanime, Raboso Marca Trevigiana, paired with a bruschetta of shrimp, garlic, and bell pepper. Another pairing is a Sangiovese rosato from Il Poggione Brancato in Tuscany coupled with a bruschetta of brie, olives, and micro-basil and lastly, from Puglia, a beautifully dry rosato, Tormaresca Calafuria Negroamaro, is combined with goat cheese, artichokes, and parsley slathered onto toast. There are others, but it’s a tasty way to travel the Italian wines without going bottle by bottle. Granted, you can do that, but there are checkpoints in Irvine.

Flights of food & Wine at Angelina's Neapolitan Pizzeria. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

Los Olivos Marketplace
8573 Irvine Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 536 – 5200

Outside the Box of Irvine: Union Market

Union Market is one of my favorite destinations in all of Orange County, both for eating and retail shopping. It’s a unique one-of-a-kind retail and food hall destination showcasing the best of the independent shops.

Outside the Box of Irvine: Union Market. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

Located in Tustin, a small town to the north of Irvine, it’s based in another mall, called The District.

Outside the Box of Irvine: Union Market. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

There are about seven full restaurants, including Hatch which serves only sliders, Kettlebar, a New Orleans steam cooking experience, and several others. In the center of the mini-mall within a large mall – sort of like the Russian stacking dolls — lies a horseshoe shaped bar, appropriately named Central.

Outside the Box of Irvine: Union Market. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

 

Here you will find locally-sourced beers, hand-picked wines, and craft cocktails served to a robust gathering of area workers. Order a deliciously messy Country Fried Chicken Poutine ($9) from The Kroft (the tagline is “comfort food re-invented.” ‘Nuff said.), or Market 2 Table’s freshly made rigatoni served with Bolognese ($8.95), and eat at any of the tables. How much fun is doing a buffet to your liking?

Outside the Box of Irvine: Union Market. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

2493 Park Avenue
Tustin, California 92782

Dinner: Puesto

Across the parking lot from Angelina Neopolitan Pizzeria lies a Mexican restaurant created by three brothers in San Diego. Offering a variety of tacos and other South of the Border goodies, Puesto is a unique offering in the world of California Mexican food.

Dinner at Puesto Taco. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

Begin the evening in the kitchen, where four dining tables are close to the culinary action. If the meal conversation lags or your companion is completely dull, start watching the sous chefs make batch after batch of perfectly pressed blue corn tortillas. Monthly, their Executive Chef Katy Smith creates a taco, of which a dollar from each sale goes to a local charity. It’s not always a taco, either. Sometimes, it’s a margarita, and in April of this year, a frozen horchata was chilled up. The inspiration comes from a variety of Mexican states, including the street food of Distrito Federale. It’s also one of the few restaurants where I’ve had freshly made chicarrones (pork skin deep-fried). Lightly salted, they can be a gluten-free or an alternative to corn chips. Fresh, intensely flavorful, and charitable all at the same time. What more can you want from a dining experience?

Dinner at Puesto Taco. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

8577 Irvine Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 608 – 9990
www.market2plate.com

Hotel Irvine

Within the confines of staying in the city area of Irvine, hotel choices are limited. However, a nice casual business stay is the Hotel Irvine.

Where to stay: Hotel Irvine. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

Looking more like a seventies securities exchange building, the 536-room property is nicely appointed – free Wi Fi – with a thriving food scene. Some of the rooms have balconies but overlook a business park and freeway. Regardless, it’s a quick escape from either North or South on the 405 and comes complete with a pool. (My motto: No pool. No stay.) The restaurant is called Eats Kitchen & Bar, which in January changed executive chefs. It’s now overseen by Jeff Moore, who comes from a fourth generation Palos Verdes-based grocer. The atmosphere of the restaurant is conflicted between being a gastropub, as is seen in the décor, and an industrial edifice.

EATS Kitchen & Bar Dining Room. Breakfast at Hotel Irvine’s Marketplace. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

EATS Kitchen & Bar (Nicoise Salad). Breakfast at Hotel Irvine’s Marketplace. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

Regardless, it’s a great place to stay – hell, it’s really the only place to stay in Irvine.

Where to stay: Hotel Irvine. From i8tonite: 24 Hours of Eating in Irvine, California

 

– The End. Go Eat. – 

 

Word photo courtesy creative commons: Derek Liang 

i8tonite with Humito Tequila’s Juan Domingo Beckmann & Cocktail Recipe for Guava Smolder

i8tonite with Humito Tequila's Juan Domingo Beckmann & Cocktail Recipe for Guava Smolder
Jaime Camil, Juan Domingo Beckmann, and Nick Fouquet. Photo courtesy Getty Images for Proximo Spirits

Juan Domingo Beckmann is not just any man of wealth. Senor Beckmann has the distinction of being the sixth generation company leader of Jose Cuervo, and a direct descendant of Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo, founder of the world’s leading tequila. In other words, his family is responsible for most of world’s population growth (drunken sex = producing babies). Currently, he’s promoting his new product, Maestro Dobel Humitos – meaning “little smoke” – the world’s first smoked tequila. The innovative libation is all Beckmann’s making, and harkens back to his forefathers’ original crafting of the Mexican liquor. Artisanal in nature, the spirit is hewed using 17th-century methods of blue agave and mesquite wood. Even in the bottle, a swirling hint of smokiness is displayed through the clear glass.

i8tonite with Humito Tequila's Juan Domingo Beckmann & Cocktail Recipe for Guava Smolder

Raised in Monterrey and Mexico City, Senor Beckmann is quiet and soft spoken but loves talking about his homeland. Indeed, he even says, “I grew up with Mexican food and love it. I’m addicted to it. Near my home in New York City and I’m visiting, I go to Toloache almost every day. ”

He also admits to not cooking himself, nor do his wife and children – that’s left to the cooks. However, he mentions that he loves skiing and goes to Vail, Colorado regularly. His additional places to relax include going to Ixtapa, located on the Pacific Ocean, or Rio Bravo, centered in the north, with his family in tow. In his answers, there is a certain humbleness of spirit. Generally speaking, most people of extreme wealth talk about Monte Carlo or Costa Smeralda, yet he is never far from his birthplace.

i8tonite with Humito Tequila's Juan Domingo Beckmann & Cocktail Recipe for Guava SmolderInterestingly, he is trying to turn Tequila, a small town located in the state of Jalisco, about an hour outside of Guadalajara, into a Latin American version of Napa Valley, complete with a museum, a train, and pairings of the namesake drink in restaurants. “It’s my father’s dream,” he says, “to turn the area into a destination with hotels. We want to grow it into something bigger.”

When speaking to the Bill Gates of tequila, one had to ask the important question how he felt about presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump. He chuckled a little and said, “I don’t like him. What else can I say?”

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

What is your favorite food to cook at home?
Any type of Mexican food. Spicy food goes well with Humito, well actually any food, if you make a nice cocktail out of Humito.

i8tonite with Humito Tequila's Juan Domingo Beckmann & Cocktail Recipe for Guava Smolder

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Tequila, ice, shaker, and fresh fruit.

What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
People that enjoy a good drink drink and have a good sense of humor.

i8tonite with Humito Tequila's Juan Domingo Beckmann & Cocktail Recipe for Guava Smolder

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
A person who is always criticizing.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
Cocktail. Smoky Negroni: Negroni with Humito and a grapefruit twist. I do like Mexican (tequila), Italian (wine), and tequila añejo at the end. Japanese beer and tequila añejo on the rocks at the end are always good too.

Your favorite cookbook author?
I like the owner of el Bajio, Cardenal and Jorge Vallejo of Quintonil. (All of them in Mexico City)

Your favorite kitchen tool?
Cocktail shaker

i8tonite with Humito Tequila's Juan Domingo Beckmann & Cocktail Recipe for Guava Smolder

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
I like all food, but I prefer Mexican.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
All of the above, except tofu.

Favorite vegetable?
I love asparagus!

Chef you most admire?
Jorge Vallejo from Quintonil

i8tonite with Humito Tequila's Juan Domingo Beckmann & Cocktail Recipe for Guava SmolderFood you like the most to eat?
Every type of food that pairs with tequila. With Humito, I like grilled food or bbq.

Food you dislike the most?
Boiled chicken

What is your favorite non-food thing to do?
I love to ski in the winter and go to the movies.

Who do you most admire in food?
The creativity of the chefs – it’s inspiring. I enjoy sharing any good food experience with great people, and tequila always adds to that experience.

Where is your favorite place to eat?
Mexico and NYC. There is a new trend of great Mexican chefs now in Mexico. I’m sure Mexico in 10 years will have at least 3 of the best chefs in the world.

What is your favorite restaurant?
I have three. I love el Bajio, el Cardenal, and Contramar in Mexico City.

Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
No tattoos

Cocktail Recipe: Guava Smolder

i8tonite with Humito Tequila's Juan Domingo Beckmann & Cocktail Recipe for Guava Smolder
Mixologist Gustavo Ortega-Oyarzun

2 oz Maestro Dobel Humito
1 oz Guava Puree
½ oz Canton Ginger Liquor
½ oz Lemon Juice
¼ oz Giffard Pamplemousse Rose
3 dash Peychaud Bitters
Tajin Salt Rim
Mix all the ingredients in a shaker glass and shake vigorously. Serve in a rocks glass with Tajin and garnish with a Lemon wedge.

 

I8tonite: with Tucson’s Casino del Sol Mixologist, Aaron de Feo, and a Tom Turner Overdrive

I8tonite: with Tucson's Casino del Sol Mixologist, Aaron de Feo, and a Tom Turner Overdrive Right out of college, Casino del Sol’s renowned mixologist Aaron de Feo was turned down for a journalism job in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona. As the saying goes, “When someone hands you lemons, you make margaritas.” And, that’s exactly what de Feo did. He has become the one of the country’s prominent mixologists while working at the 215 room property owned by the Pascua Yaqui Indian tribe, a native area nation of the forty-eighth.

Before he landed at Arizona’s only Forbes Four Star and AAA Four Diamond casino resort, de Feo also worked at the landmark Hotel Congress, the city’s only other exciting property, perfecting his craft of blending liquors. Since he’s landed at Casino del Sol, however, his creative drinks have been showcased, turning de Feo into one of the I8tonite: with Tucson's Casino del Sol Mixologist, Aaron de Feo, and a Tom Turner Overdrivecountry’s leading libations makers. His business card names him Beverage Director, but he has been called by GQ as “Top 10 Most Inspired” and “Celebrated Doctor of Mixology” by Nightclub & Bar Magazine. He even has a nickname, “Doc,” used by his Old Pueblo liquor networks and friends, turning him into a cocktail cowboy of sorts – although de Feo’s more likely to pull out six shots of his favorite gin, rather than a six bullet shooter.

Importantly, one of the first things he accomplished when opening the four-diamond property was to invigorate Arizona’s growing swizzle stick scene on his turf.  He ensured that all staff learned how to master scratch beverages using simple syrups, freshly squeezed juices, and macerated herbs. De Feo’s distinguishing mark is to insure that any customer had a thirst-quencher made from wholesome ingredients, nothing made with food coloring or preservatives.

I8tonite: with Tucson's Casino del Sol Mixologist, Aaron de Feo, and a Tom Turner Overdrive“People are more adventurous now,” says De Feo. “We were being out-gunned by Los Angeles and smaller cities like Nashville. Because we have a good, local music and cultural scene, many of the bar owners didn’t care about changing. They now do. There is a difference which is because of the hotel.”

According to Visit Tucson, the area’s bureau on tourism, there has been an uptick of yearly visitors from 3.4 nights in 2011 to 4 full nights in 2015. It can be attributed to many factors. Since the progressions occurred during de Feo’s term at Casino del Sol, the safe conclusion about the growth is the word is out about his crafty liquor potables. Resort and area guests want a drink from “Doc,” knowing that what he concocts will surely cure what ails them.

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

I8tonite: with Tucson's Casino del Sol Mixologist, Aaron de Feo, and a Tom Turner Overdrive
Tom Bergeron

What is your favorite food to cook at home? I tend to cook rather simple meals, mostly lean, grass-fed meat, vegetables, and legume pasta. However I’m very partial to making sauces, which I think comes from how often I am working with flavoring agents in cocktails.

What do you always have in your fridge at home? A galaxy of various syrups and house-made ingredients for cocktails, which is funny because I don’t drink cocktails at home that often.  Mostly they are experiments that I have elected to save for posterity.

What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?  Honesty.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?  Anyone who tries to decide for me what “we” are having at a restaurant.

Beer, wine, or cocktail? A Gin Rickey.

I8tonite: with Tucson's Casino del Sol Mixologist, Aaron de Feo, and a Tom Turner Overdrive
Casino Del Sol Resort 2011

Your favorite cookbook author? Maybe not a cookbook, but certainly Harold McGee’s work on the science of food is fascinating.

Your favorite kitchen tool? A really great Y peeler.  So many of them are garbage.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook? Italian, without question.  Focus on the ingredients and their harmony more than intricacy.

Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? Beef.  Chicken gets re-heated so often in fast casual places.

Favorite vegetable? I’m a huge fan of green peas with truffle salt & olive oil, and brussel sprouts, of course.  Baked cauliflower is about the greatest thing ever.

Chef you most admire? I don’t go in for celebrity chefs much.  I certainly admire many of the chefs I’ve worked with, especially the ones whose cuisine has inspired me behind the bar.  I admire Phoenix-area chef Cullen Campbell (Crudo, OKRA) quite a bit because he has managed to do extraordinary things with styles of food that I’m not entirely comfortable with, and still has me coming back for more.  His take on Southern cuisine is simply incredible.

Food you like the most to eat? Really great pasta with really great sauce.  Nothing better.

I8tonite: with Tucson's Casino del Sol Mixologist, Aaron de Feo, and a Tom Turner Overdrive
Casino Del Sol Resort 2011

Food you dislike the most? I guess I just don’t get the phenomenon of tartare and paté.  Texture and aroma mean a lot to me, and the mushy, raw consistency of those things triggers a flight mechanism in my mind.  I guess that makes me the foodie equivalent of a hillbilly, but I don’t care.

What is your favorite non-food thing to do? I suppose that excludes going to cocktail bars.  I spend a lot of time working out late at night, by myself.  There’s something extraordinarily calming about it, almost like hitting a sweaty reset button on my day.

Who do you most admire in food? Dave Arnold, for making that leap from food to beverages and showing us all how it’s done.

Where is your favorite place to eat? Sonoran Mexican restaurants, no doubt.

What is your favorite restaurant? Mercantile Dining & Provision in Denver is not only one of the coolest spaces I’ve dined in, but the food and service were mind-blowing.

Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food? I think I’m one of the last people in the industry with no tattoos, and honestly it’s getting to the point where that’s almost a disadvantage… like I’m not in the cool club.

Drink Recipe

Tom Turner Overdrive. Created by Aaron DeFeo, Casino Del Sol Resort Mixologist.

I8tonite: with Tucson's Casino del Sol Mixologist, Aaron de Feo, and a Tom Turner Overdrive

  • George Dickel Select Barrel Tennessee Whiskey (1.5 oz)
  • Creme de Mure (1 oz)
  • Fresh lemon (.5 oz)
  • Mint (4-6 leaves)
  • Shaken and double-strained over crushed ice with four dashes of house aromatic bitters. Garnish with mint and blackberries (if available)

NOTE: Thomas Turner is the Master of Whiskey for the Diageo whiskey portfolio.

The end. Go drink.