Savor the Flavor: Irvine

Just in case you haven't heard, January is all about eating in California. This month marks the third annual Restaurant Month, a statewide promotion set up by Visit California, the state's tourism bureau, in order to promote the Golden State's rich culinary diversity. During the promotion, restaurant-goers with big appetites and a love of flavor can enjoy a variety of offerings from some of the best restaurants in the state at low prices not seen at any other time of the year.

"California is the top U.S. destination for culinary travel-we have long been a leader in fresh produce and seafood, farm-to-fork dining, winemaking and more one-of-a-kind culinary experiences that to suit any taste," says Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California.

In honor of this palatable promotion, Smart Meetings will be taking a look at a hodgepodge of cities up and down the state, highlighting a few of their group-oriented options and some of the dishes they offer.

Kicking off our series is the upscale Southern California city of Irvine.

Irvine, which lies in the center of world-famous Orange County, less than a half-hour from the major attractions of Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Disneyland Park and Knott's Berry Farm, kicks off its Restaurant Week today and runs until next Thursday, Jan. 17. According to Wendy Haase, director of tourism marketing at Destination Irvine, the city's convention and visitors bureau, the event has been steadily gaining popularity and showcasing the best of Irvine's top offerings. "I would say the biggest highlight has been watching the event grow," she says. "In the first year, we had nine participating restaurants, then 16 and this year more than 30. The event has been well-received by participating restaurants, visitors and residents, as Irvine has a plethora of diverse dining options that many are unaware of."

While Irvine might not have the drama found in some of its neighboring municipalities (we've all seen the shows), it does feature several high quality, group-friendly restaurants. Below are a few of our favorites.

Andrei's Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails

Specializing in sustainable local food and featuring a delightful ambience, exquisite cuisine and first-rate service, Andreis (featured in a previous blog here) is one of the premier establishments in Irvine. Pictured above is a California Field Green salad, which includes Scarborough Farms baby field greens, toasted hazelnuts, cherry tomatoes, watermelon radish, edible flowers and lemon herb vinaigrette. Options available for Restaurant Week include potato- and celery-crusted Loch Etive steelhead trout, wild boar ragout and Andrei's signature carrot cake with whipped goat-cheese frosting. The restaurant can accommodate groups of up to 300 in its Great Room.

Cucina Enoteca

Italian classics, coupled with the use of the freshest local produce and organic, sustainable products, make up much of the menu at Cucin Enoteca. Pictured above is butternut squash ravioli, with pinenut and golden raisin caponata and an apple puree. The location can accommodate groups of 20-40 in two semi-private dining areas.
Paul Martin's

Owners Brian and Paul Martin spent more than a year handpicking the sources for Paul Martin's menu, producing 40 partnerships with local farmsteads for this back-to-the-farm American bistro. Pictured above is the braised short rib with horseradish cream and beef au jus. Groups of up to 60 can gather in its private dining room.

Chakra Cuisine

Chakra Cuisine incorporates traditional Indian ingredients with western flare to create a menu that is both intriguing and inviting to the newcomer, while remaining authentic to the cuisine. Pictured above are the seared scallops. Options available for Restaurant Week include Goan Shrimp with tangy tomato gravy and coconut and pepper chicken infused with fennel. The restaurant can handle groups of 15-18 in its private dining room, as well as up to 280 for a complete buyout.

-Diego Vallejo