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Inside Orange County Restaurant Week's Launch Party

Tanaya Ghosh |
February 26, 2012 | 10:03 p.m. PST

Food Editor

Orange County Restaurant Week's launch party offered many fresh tastings such as hamachi from Katsuya. (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
Orange County Restaurant Week's launch party offered many fresh tastings such as hamachi from Katsuya. (Tanaya Ghosh / Neon Tommy)
For those wishing to enjoy gourmet restaurant fare without paying a full price, this week presents the perfect opportunity.

The 4th annual Orange County Restaurant Week runs from Sunday, February 26th through Saturday, March 3rd, with 100 Orange County restaurants offering special multiple-course menus in addition to their everyday selections.

The launch party, held Saturday at Newport Beach Lexus, was the perfect way to kick off a week of food and fun. With 17 restaurants offering samplings of their restaurant week menus, it enabled cocktail-attired guests to preview the fine dining in store for them this week.  In addition to the wide range of sweet and savory tastings, there were plenty of wines, margaritas and chocolate-raspberry martinis for attendees to sip on. It was a time for locals to come together, with proceeds from the event going to Share Our Strength, an organization that works to end childhood hunger.

One prominent trend of the night included raw fish dishes such as Royal Hawaiian's tuna poke, RA Sushi's spicy tuna on a crispy wonton skin, and Katsuya's hamachi with jalapeño. All were fresh tasting and had their own unique dressing. Lobster also joined the seafood party, with options such as lobster bisque from Scott's Restaurant and lobster mac n' cheese from House of Big Fish.

In addition to the "surf," there was also plenty of "turf" that came to the party. There were moist and juicy pulled pork sliders on soft rolls from The House of Blues Anaheim, and succulent braised pork shoulder atop a creamy mascarpone polenta, with rapini ragu from Cucina Enoteca. Well-dressed salads were the popular side dish, and warm, saucy bread puddings were the trending dessert. All of the restaurants had distinct flavors, and it will be a treat to explore their restaurant week menus this week.

"The launch party gets people engaged, and it pulls Orange County together as a whole," says Pam Waitt, president of the Orange County Restaurant Association. Because Orange County is divided into many distinct areas, a sense of unity is sometimes lacking. The launch party facilitates "a unification of the counties, and it's an opportunity to recognize chefs and let foodies interact with them, and to grow a sense a community," says Waitt.

To enjoy the 4th annual OC Restaurant Week, go here to explore all the restaurant options and menu choices. Visitors can search by city, price, or restaurant name, or choose to narrow down their choices by using the interactive map. Prix-fixe lunches are priced at $10, $15 & $20, and dinners at $20, $30 & $40.

The 100 restaurants participating in restaurant week cater to a variety of tastes, "ranging from upscale and fine dining, to casual and family friendly establishments" according to the OC Restaurant Association's OC Foodies. In planning their menus, chefs made sure to include something for everybody, while reflecting their personal styles through the food. There are often familiar items as well as more unusual choices, because, as Waitt has seen, "people get more adventurous with restaurant week."

In addition to getting a bargain price for a multi-course feast, guests are also giving restaurants much-needed support, as they are part of an industry that has been hurting lately due to the economy. "Restaurants are the first ones to respond in times of need. They're generous by nature, so it's good way to support them, since times have been hard," says Waitt.

Over 100,000 people enjoyed last year's OC Restaurant Week, and this year the numbers are expected to grow. A lot of planning goes into such a highly-anticipated annual event. As Waitt explains, "We start planning (for next year) as soon as this one ends."

OC Restaurant Week is the perfect opportunity to share a few different dishes with some friends or loved ones, and to try something different. Who knows, you just may discover your new favorite dish before this week is over!


















You can reach reporter Tanaya Ghosh here or follow her on Twitter.



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