Taste of Orange County Part I

After a 16 year hiatus, the Taste of Orange County made its triumphant return to Irvine over Father’s Day weekend.  Since the Englishman’s birthday was earlier in the week, we decided to celebrate at the Taste of OC and enjoy some good food and drink.

Because I am also a blogger for OC Menus, we had the opportunity to participate in the Great Farm to Table dinner that featured a fantastic 7 course meal with dishes made from locally grown ingredients by OC’s top chefs.  But more on that later.

The Taste of OC was held at the Verizon Wireless amphitheater in Irvine and featured food from Orange County restaurants, wine pairings and live music, with all proceeds from the event going to the Orange County Food Bank and the Culinary Liberation Front.  The Englishman and I decided we would cruise over to the event in the late afternoon, so we could enjoy some of the food and beverage vendors and then head into the Great Farm to Table dinner.

It had been 16 years since the Taste of OC was last held, and while the overall event was nice, there were definitely some logistics that still need to be ironed out.

Parking:

Because the event was held at the Verizon Wireless amphitheater, parking was an additional $10 on top of the event entry fee ($25 was the cheapest option) and if you spent any additional money to buy food and drink credits, and you could easily be down $50 bucks or more in a blink of an eye.  I didn’t mind this too much since the proceeds were going to a great cause but may I suggest somewhere with free parking next year?

Registration/Entrance:

Since we had bought a special deal online (that included 40 food and drink credits apiece), we figured we would just show up, show our ticket voucher and get inside.  Unfortunately, the volunteers had a hard time finding our name on the list, and we ended up having to go to the VIP area to make sure we got sorted out properly.  Fortunately, the VIP area was awesome and we got our wristbands and tickets and cruised right in (thanks Vanessa!).

Food and Drink Credits:

I’m a big fan of the food and drink credit concept at events like this.  You pay upfront, don’t have to worry about carting around a lot of cash to pay for food, and the credits are easy to keep track of.  The Taste of OC tried to take it to the next level in simplicity by giving you a wristband that was just scanned, but sometimes the wristband didn’t work at various food/drink stations and you either had to find paper credits or pay cash.  I ended up just using the paper credits since my wristband never really worked.

Then there’s the matter of cost.  For small food samples (think 2-3 bites max), it would cost you roughly 3-9 credits, which isn’t too bad at all.  But for any sort of alcoholic beverage, it costs you a whopping 20 credits! (tequila based drinks were 24).  So if you went into the event with 40 credits, you would instantly lose half of your credits on a glass of wine or a beer.  I totally understand the reason to mark up the drinks, but I felt that 20 credits was a bit excessive.  And I wasn’t the only one – many people ended up turning away from the drink stations due to the cost.  Since the Englishman and I were going to the Farm to Table dinner where we knew we would be treated to a delicious meal, we decided just to get a couple of drinks and use our credits that way.

Even though there were some issues that needed to be improved, the event itself was a lot of fun.  It was nice to walk around outside and check out some of OC’s top restaurants, watch chef demos and listen to live music.  There were plenty of areas to sit and relax, and there were also vendors selling items you could take home such as gourmet balsamic vinegar (I was tempted to get the vanilla fig flavor).

Now the real highlight of the event was the special Farm to Table Dinner that the Englishman and I attended, but let’s get to that in the next post…

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