A media tour was organized by Wendy Haase, Director of Tourism Marketing, Destination Irvine, and our International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association Board Member Linda Kissam, for eight IFWTWA writers and photographers to experience a two-day tour of Irvine that showcased just how wonderful the Irvine area is, and how it truly does have something for everyone.
Located right off of the I-405 freeway it’s in the heart of Irvine. Ranked as a Triple A Four Diamond hotel, the Hyatt provides the best of whatever you are seeking. The rooms are quite spacious. There are 536 guestrooms, including 16 Suites. The rooms above the 11th floor are known as Regency Club rooms and have their own breakfast buffet center, to include a beautiful and spacious patio to enjoy it on.
Hungry? Go to their 6ix Park Grill whose trademark is their California cuisine. We had lunch at 6ix Park Grill with Mark Bastis, Hyatt’s General Manager, and Don Hanson, the Director of Food and Beverage. For the salad I had Chef Hill’s little gem wedge salad, with organic little gem lettuce, chopped applewood bacon, point Reyes bleu cheese, red onion, yellow and red grape tomatoes with a buttermilk citrus vinaigrette. My entrée was the grilled skuna bay salmon with coconut bacon rice and grilled asparagus in a lemon-butter sauce. Dessert was a fresh peach crème brulee, with caramelized peaches and pecan cookie. They were all delicious, with top notch presentation.
Jennifer Anter, Hyatt’s Business Travel Sales Manager escorted us through the property. The Hyatt can accommodate most business conferences, with 32 individual conference rooms ranging from as small as 275 square feet to opening several conferences rooms and create their larges space of 14,700 square feet. Jennifer said that they have held everything from church revivals to Mixed Martial Arts tournaments. Your employees need to eat, and they have dozens of breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee break, and hors d’oeuvres plans to suit your company’s needs and budget. You can also network in their lounges at the 6ix Park Grill Bar, bar8, or The Café.
Used primarily as a business hotel the rates are higher during the weekdays, leaving a cheaper rate on the weekends that families could take advantage of for weekend getaways to Orange County. Catering highly towards travelers the Hyatt helps to lighten the load by providing courtesy bicycles to its guests. As a father I know the pains of packing, and the last thing I need to add are bicycles to the back of the car or truck. This is an excellent call on the Hyatt, with them having miles of trails, beautiful scenery and shops galore within your reach.
The Wine Artist
The Wine Artist
It is a boutique winery that specializes in corporate events, private parties & custom labeled wine. Boutique wineries are not normally found in an industrial park, and neither are cooking classes. M.J. Hong took those elements, gently stirred, and created, The Wine Artist. Located in an unassuming industrial building, you need to remember what your momma always told you, “Never judge a book by its cover.”
A warm Tuscany and bistro atmosphere welcomes you. Broken into two areas, the bar and bistro comprise the front, with the wine making and cooking class making up the back; comfortably hosting one-hundred visitors, it’s perfect for the business and private events held there such as corporate team building events and bridal parties. You don’t believe making cuisine can be a team building event? Then you haven’t met M.J. Hong.
M.J. is the owner and class instructor. She had our IFWTWA media group making dishes from the Taste of Thailand selection! Let us just say that recipes involving anything of an Asian origin have never really been my forte. Actually, they’ve never been my anything. Not because I don’t like Asian food, because I could eat it all day, but because I’ve been way too wrapped-around-the-axle on its complexity. Thanks to M.J. I am proud to say that now I can make a pretty mean spring roll, along with Pad Thai, Chicken Curry, and Mango Sticky Rice.
Located on the outskirts of the South Coast Plaza, it had the air of a speakeasy from back in the days of prohibition. You’d swear the likes of Capone or Dillinger were going to walk out at any moment. On the outside it appeared to be a huge establishment, however as you entered you realized that it was long and narrow, as if a passageway had been secured with brick and mortar. The colors and decor reminded me of the glorious Rat Pack movies. Dark and rich, simple yet stunning.
Its heart and soul was an open wood fired kitchen located dead center for everyone to view. Chef Justin Miller created spectacular dishes that roared with flavor. Every one of the dishes was spectacular, but if it had to be narrowed down the English pea, mint, and guaniciale risotto rocked the pasta palate. The prosciutto di Parma e rucola pizza was a margarita style topped with fresh arugula and prosciutto de Parma. It even made you drool after you had it. The dessert was a Brioche bread pudding with rhubarb and strawberry jam, and vincotto. Magnificent!
This place would have made Willy Wonka green with envy. At Qzina you don’t buy chocolate, you make it. Executive chef Francois Mellet guided us from the very cocoa pod itself through the entire chocolate making process they have streamlined called the Bean to Bar Experience. We started with roasting the beans to reduce water content, then transferring them to the winnower, where the beans are cracked, reduced in size, and separated from the husk, to refining the bean by grinding it down, and then placing it in the conching machine where chocolate receives its distinctive qualities such as total cocoa percentage, sugar level, and texture.
The products and ingredients available were all high-end. Think of it as the cocoa world’s version of Tiffany’s on Rodeo Drive. Vendors such as Callebaut, Chewter’s, Keller, Bakel, and Barry are what you find here, with the finest ingredients and equipment. Qzina’s marketing director Laina Corgel Malnight had samples of dark chocolates made from cocoa imported all over the world. It’s amazing how each regions cocoa had uniqueness to its characteristics. I’d have to nail it down to the same thing as the terroir of a wine region.
Qzina celebrated its 30th anniversary in a big way. To be exact, 18,239 pounds worth of big. This broke the previous world record by a measly 7,500 pounds. Chef Mellet created a chocolate replica of the Mayan temple Kukulkan. The Mayans had a crucial role in the origins of chocolate. They were one of the first civilizations to know the potential of cocoa and started to cultivate Cacao trees. The temple is currently on display at Qzina.
SWSH Shabu Shabu
Japanese cuisine gone mainstream. Stephen Le and Ming Li, two of the five owners of SWSH Shabu Shabu guided us through the menu of fresh vegetables, meats, and seafood. It reminded me of the Melting Pot restaurants in a way, but far superior in atmosphere, food, and service. Joining us was Suzie Won, Marketing Director of Diamond Jamboree.
Everything is brought in daily so you know you’re getting the freshest of ingredients. The quality meats are thinly sliced throughout the day. Their chicken is organic free-range chicken that is delivered within 24 hours of its demise with a butcher. Seafood is local and flavorful, and their noodles such as the shirataki are also made daily.
You start your adventure with a base of sauces such as goma and ponzu, which have intense flavor already. From there you create your own by adding fresh daikon radish, chopped scallions, chili oil or minced garlic for whatever suits your palate. I’m a meat eater, but could easily be converted to a vegetarian because of SWSH Shabu Shabu’s fresh ingredients and sauces that make your taste buds go into sensory euphoria. Not to be forgotten is their top line Saki selection. Perfectly chilled and served. Stephen had me try the Otokoyama Saki which was amazing and is now my personal favorite.
After that phenomenal feast we walked around the Diamond Jamboree, a multicultural dining and shopping plaza where you find things you can’t get elsewhere. They have a very large grocery store called the H Mart. It has got to be the largest and cleanest Asian grocery store I have ever seen. There was a coffee and pastry shop I was suggested to patron called 87 degrees bakery; the largest coffee chain in Taiwan, named after the premium Celsius temperature to properly serve coffee. Winding lines of customers lead clear out the door. I spoke to some of them about how far they had come just to shop here and why they did. A father and son, with heaping boxes of pastries I can’t even describe said they were from north Los Angeles. “We come because you can’t find this anywhere else in the area.” The father responded. I had their Sea Salt Coffee on ice. It was perfect for ending a wonderful experience.
Dave Ihrig, the host of the local tv show Irvine Scene went along with us during our trip with his camera crew documenting our visit. You can watch his great program below.