The intersection of travel and wellness


A Surprising Hotel Food Scene in Newport Beach

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Newport Beach, California? For me, it was beaches, beautiful people, fancy cars and lots of wealth. That is, until I visited for the first time through a FAM hosted by Visit Newport Beach last month. After that trip, I’m adding inventive food scene to my list. Here’s what I discovered eating my way through this SoCal city.

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Cauliflower Ring

The best part about dining with a media group can be getting to order off-the-menu items. Such was the case at Lido Bottle Works, an eccentric spot in the upscale Lido Marina Village. Keeping good company with the likes of Nobu, this restaurant focuses on local, sustainable ingredients and sharing with friends. While everything we tried here was delicious, the cauliflower dish was a true work of art. Featuring several varieties of the vegetable in a ring shape, held together by a sweet puree, this colorful plate was highly palatable.

Pan-Roasted Maine Diver Scallops

Bivalves are in vogue. Scallops made their way onto fine dining menus years ago, but they’re showing no sign of going back in their shells. We enjoyed scallops at three different restaurants during our trip. David Man, executive chef at Fashion Island Hotel, added panache to the crustacean by putting on a fiery show alongside dinner. During a four-course meal at the hotel's private dining space, Man did cooking demos, showing us detailed techniques for each dish. Man—whose personality could render him a shoo-in for “Top Chef"—executed a perfect pair of scallops over crushed English peas and potato confit.

Almond Joy 2.0

Also at Island Hotel, Pastry Chef Andy De La Cruz at first blended into the background. But once the dessert course rolled around, we discovered this guy is one heck of a talent. (He was even featured last Christmas in the L.A. Times for his giant edible gingerbread display.) De La Cruz, aka Willy Wonka, led us to find more room in our stomachs to savor every last bite of his riff on an Almond Joy bar for dessert. We watched in awe as he plated coconut chocolate cremeux with homemade almond ice cream, coconut powder, slivered almonds and a slice of blue chocolate. Gerard Widder, general manager of the hotel who dined with us, admitted to licking his plate clean.

Pumpkin Rolls

If there’s a downside to traveling, eating and drinking often, it’s the need to work extra hard to stay fit. Skipping the bread basket is a simple way to cut calories—unless it’s bread that is life-altering. Case in point: the pumpkin rolls at Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa. Since this hotel is the largest in the area, you might expect its food to be more banquet-minded than mind-blowing. But you’d be wrong. The team of chefs here have a go-to recipe for rolls that change with the seasons. In September, it was pumpkin: served piping hot from a cast-iron skillet and topped with flaky sea salt and tomato butter. These pumpkin rolls were stow-some-in-your-purse-for-later good.

Vanilla Crème Brulee

It's no secret I have a raging sweet tooth, and I always save room for dessert—but usually of the chocolate variety. When it comes to crème brulee, I can take it or leave it. Yet, I’d take another serving of Hyatt Regency Newport Beach’s take on this classic dessert any day. Drawing on his French upbringing, Executive Chef Julian Bontron paired a basic vanilla crème brulee with local strawberries, pistachio sponge cake, fluffy marshmallow and white-chocolate nitrogen rocks. It's safe to say the combo rocked our tastebuds as the grand finale.