At the onset of the meal, a minor speed bump: one of the guests sitting across from us at the long dinner table that stretched across a small portion of the CSUCI campus almost drank a broth meant for pho. Given that the broth had been served in a sake glass and the bowl of Wagyu beef, tendon, star anise and basil came with no instructions, he figured it out soon enough. As a prelude to Casa Pacifica Angels 21st annual Food, Wine and Brew Festival on Sunday, the nine-course meal presented at the Yummies Top Chef Dinner was a harbinger of the innovative crafty showcase to come.
Mastro’s Ocean Club Malibu Chef Oscar Ledesma’s deconstructed pho dish, paired with the Magnaveno Beautiful 2012 six-varietal white, was a standout — the beef broth a particularly savory accompaniment, though it was missing the citrus kick of lime, a key to any good bowl of pho.
University Glen Corporation at CSUCI Chef Nic Manocchio’s alfalfa hay-smoked octopus Napolena, served on a crispy wonton, is a dish I hope ends up on the menu at the student cafeteria. The aromatic smokiness melded well with the marinated seaweed, edamame and kaiware salad, and the inclusion of Ventura Limoncello was a nice touch. Paired with the Ferarri-Carano chardonnay, it would be worth re-enrolling just to have again.
Chef Tim Kilcoyne of Scratch Food Truck made the only everyman-style dish of the night, a braised pork meatball with a homemade mole sauce, smoked almond purée, gremolata and pickled cherries. Paired with the winner of this year’s (and first ever) Best-in-Fest beer award, Institution Ale’s Restraint brown ale, the meatball rolled into my life at the right moment. Though a bit cold by the time it reached us (which, as I pointed out to our table-neighbors, is a sign of a great meatball — if it tastes just as good as it did warm, as Kilcoyne’s did), it acted as a welcome palate cleanser before C-Street Restaurant Chef Luis Martinez’s potato-crusted salmon with vanilla beurre blanc and roasted vegetables; Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars Chef Gabe Garcia’s lamb Wellington with mushroom duxelles, veggies and a lamb demi-glace; and Plated Events by Chef Jason Collis’ spice-salted flat iron steak with fig-onion jam, beets and goat cheese.
Followed immediately by a trio of desserts: Barrelhouse 101’s pastry chef Anastashia Chavez’s banana toffee torte, infused with the Belgian style quadruple ale Gulden Draak 9000, a big hit; Missy’s Cupcake Creations owner Missy Drayton-Benado’s “chocolate thunder” cupcake had a frosting that I’d like a bucket of immediately; and Cold Stone Creamery owner Barry Davis with a salted caramel ice cream was a fitting conclusion.
The only things richer than the menu were the guests of honor at the center of the tent. Of course, the Yummies and the festival are all for charity; proceeds go right back into Casa Pacifica for the organization’s programs in the coming year.
On Sunday afternoon, the festival began in earnest. This year, maybe playing off the rising star that is the craft beer world, breweries turned up in spades. Our local brewers Institution Ale, Surf and Enegren made good impressions with visiting out-of-towners while others, like Ladyface Alehouse and Wolfcreek Brewing, gave us a little taste of over-the-hill. The big guys came with Goose Island, Ninkasi, Rogue and Anchor, putting in little effort other than to pour the stuff. (Upon asking what Rogue’s OREgasm was, the server said, “Um, it’s kind of hoppy and … light.” Thanks, I guess?).
Wolf Creek’s Timber Wolf oak-aged red ale made for an incredible pairing with the second-place winner of the Yummies competition, Main Course California’s cherry-smoked short rib over whipped potatoes. A little drama at the judge’s booth may have prevented the dish from rising to first place. Each judge tasted dishes twice and Main Course chef Rachel Main served her short rib the first time in a mason jar, the second on a plate. As some judges confided, this may have swayed their decision. Chef Gabe Garcia of Tierra Sur took first for his cold smoked hamachi with beet butter, sweet and sour leeks and dried citrus.
Shanghai Beer Garden sliced for guests a smoked duck that melted on the tongue; Bob Ostini of The Hitching Post II grilled rib-eye to perfection and served it along with crispy French fries and a splash of his brother’s award-winning wines; and Massimo Gasparini, executive chef at Oxnard’s The Tower Club, had freshly made focaccia that needs to find its way to store shelves, stat.
The festival runs from 1 to 5 p.m., which is deceptively short. After wandering down University Drive around 4:15, contemplating how I would survive the night after eating myself past the point of no return, I realized the genius of Casa Pacifica Angels Food, Wine and Brew fest: more than enough to satiate, more than enough restaurants to place on your to-visit list and, as always, a reminder to prepare yourself for next year’s event ahead of time for the inevitable deep sleep to follow.