When I got an offer from Marriott Vacation club for a three night stay in their Newport Coast Villas, we turned it into a culinary adventure, exploring SoCal. I had been to Newport once on a business trip and had always wanted to go back. We started our culinary adventure with a lunch in Santa Barbara on our way down. We ended it in style, with brunch in Long Beach on our way back. In between we sampled lunch and dinners in Newport and Catalina Island. We ended up having a couple of delicious days.

We leave on Thursday morning, early enough to make it to Sant Barbara for lunch. This is where at Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen our culinary adventure begins. It is a bit of a trip through memory lane, as years ago, we used to come to Santa Barbara for fourth of July. We used to stay in the State Street Inn, right next door to where now Finney’s is. State Street Inn is now Hotel Indigo and is definitely an upgrade from those days. And so is Finney’s from the seedy bar I remember from those days.

Lunch in Santa Barbara

I am tempted to order the burger and onion rings, when I see them arrive at the table next to us. However, it is a long weekend, so we decide to start with a little lighter fare. I order the mini lobster rolls, while Mandi decides on the mini ahi poke tacos. We share a side of the crispy brussels sprouts. The lobster rolls come on a Hawaiian bun instead of the usual hotdog roll and with a tabasco citrus aioli, instead of mayonnaise. It is surprisingly delicious. And the brussels, what can I say. I have hated Brussels sprouts since I was a kid, but lately I have taken to roasted and crispy brussels. The sprouts are not too big, crispy and they come with bacon, figs, almonds and and a tamarind lime ponzu. It is heaven on a plate.

Dinner at the Beachcomber

We had unsuccessfully tried to make reservations at the Beachcomber at Crystal Cove. However, when I asked about it at check-in, they tell us just to go and try our luck. It is a Thursday night so we decide its worth a try. After trying to find parking near the hotel, we realize we need to park across the Pacific Coast Highway and either take a shuttle, or walk through the pedestrian tunnel. We are lucky, they have a table for us. We browse the menu and although I am tempted to have the lobster bisque, I settle for a pasta with shrimp in a cream sauce and sample some of the lobster from Mandi’s Main Lobster Pasta. A nice bottle of wine from New Zealand with the fitting name “Boathouse Rose” is a great companion for our seafood.

A Day at Catalina Island

After a fully masked and rough boat ride, we are glad to arrive at the harbor in Avalon, one of the two harbors of Catalina island, around 10.15. We have rented a golf cart to drive around in the morning and explore the part of the island around Avalon. After dropping of the golf cart, we walk along the shore to Catalina Descanso Beach Club, our chosen lunch spot for today. While sipping Aperol Spritzer and Mojitos, we munch on the hummus plate and chicken drumettes and enjoy the view.

It is such a beautiful day, that on our way back, I can’t resist an ice cream at Lloyds of Catalina. The menu shows a caramel apple special. At $7.95, it is the most expensive ice cream I have ever had. But I have to try it and it is delicious. Unfortunately, it is also too big and too much, so I only manage to eat about half of it.

Dinner at Shorebird

Shorebird restaurant is located right at the harbor of the intersection of Newport Beach and the Balboa Peninsula. The food is modern American. The restaurant is big and spacious with doors opening up to a big deck. We share the Sashimi of Hamachi, which is super fresh and light. For main course, Mandi orders the Halibut that comes with chive-whipped potatoes, heirloom cherry tomatoes, asparagus, sunny quail egg and a sherry & tomato vinaigrette, while I opt for the seared Hokkaido scallops, with black mussels, malt vinegar-cured scallop, sweet corn and applewood smoked bacon. As an additional side, we order the mushroom risotto. As of today, I still dream about that meal and specifically the risotto, it was creamy heaven in a pot.

An Evening at Lido Marina Village

This evening we are going to the Lido Marina Village, a cute little village full of artisan shops, bars and restaurants. We have reservations at Lido Bottleworks, but we are early and manage to grab two seats at the bar at Malibu Farm for cocktails.

The “Raspberry”, the best cocktail ever

They have a interesting cocktail menu, most with house made agaves. Of course we have to explore this. I order the “Raspberry”, a vodka based cocktail, with raspberry sage agave, fresh lemon juice and prosecco. This is from now on hands-down my favorite cocktail. Mandi tries the “Blood Orange” a house infused citrus vodka with blood orange pomegranate agave, fresh lemon juice and a blood orange sugar rim. It’s a great start of a Saturday night.

Sage is the secret

After our cocktails, it is time to go to Lido Bottleworks next door. We start with the burrata. It is prepared with a pear and winter squash puree, but what makes this dish is the addition of sage. We have a hard time deciding on our main course, there is so many interesting choices on the menu, like potato chorizo croquettes and pork belly bao buns. Mandi eventually settles on the salmon and I finally have the burger that I have been thinking about since I saw it during lunch on Thursday. Both do not disappoint and it is another successful culinary evening.

Brunch At the Museum

We end our weekend in style, with brunch at the newly opened Claire’s at the Museum, in Long Beach Museum of Arts. Right on the waterfront, it is a beautiful location. Celebrating¬† our last meal of this trip in style we order a mimosa and grapefruit and rosemary fizz. For brunch, we have smoked salmon benedict and mushroom toast with poached egg. Both are delicious and it is a worthy end of our culinary adventure exploring SoCal.

As usual Mandi outdid herself in finding the best places to eat. We added another memorable trip to our list.




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