During my drive home to SoCal from Las Vegas on Friday, March 16th, I received an email from an acquaintance of mine from Beyond Fifteen. I was excited to read the invite: a four-course dinner with drinks and fun! I immediately sent my RSVP and marked my calendar.
This event was sponsored by The Astoria at Central Park West in Irvine, California. From one bed/1.5 bathroom (1,119sqft) to three bed/3 bathroom (3,024sqft) floor plans, you’ll be sure to find an option that will fit your needs. It is conveniently located in Orange County, close to UC Irvine, John Wayne Airport, and many upscale shopping malls such as South Coast Plaza, Fashion Island, The Tustin District, and Irvine Spectrum.
According to their website, “Astoria offers thoughtfully designed floor plans with fully equipped designed kitchens, caesarstone or granite counter tops, custom craftsman cabinetry, designer illuminating light fixtures, designer soaking bath tubs, Electrolux stainless steel refrigerators, high-end hardwood flooring, beautifully tiled bathrooms, ans expansive patio terraces.”
As you pull up to the front of the Astoria, the valet greets you with a genuine smile and welcome. They took my car and assured me that my car will be safe. I waited for the shuttle bus in the lobby. The lobby was spacious and had a variety of seating options: couches, sofas, chairs. Very comfortable.
Shortly after boarding the luxury shuttle bus, we were on our way to South Coast Plaza. The coordinator for the Astoria, Roxanne, introduced herself and gave us a briefing on the night’s events. Fortunately for us, there wasn’t too much traffic and we soon arrived at our destination. Our driver literally dropped us off at the back door of the restaurant! Talk about service!
As we entered the dining room floor, we were greeted warmly by the staff and saw our tables arranged in a circular pattern around the cooking demo table.
Each place setting was arranged with an empty wine glass, a candle, yellow linen napkin, white porcelain side plate and a fork and knife. There was also a packet of papers underneath the napkin that contained the menu, recipes for the menu items as well the lyrics of famous songs.
Before the cooking class started, I was able to walk around and take some photos. I even got to meet the General Manager, Domenico Grillo. Turns out, we know some of the same people in the Italian restaurant scene in Temecula!
Domenico had a nice set-up for the cooking demonstration.
After each course was prepared, his efficient staff would remove the soiled items and replenish with new cleaned utensils and the pre-portioned food items for the next course. I really appreciated this because it provided a smooth flow during the class.
Domenico was very engaging with the audience. For each course, he asked for volunteers to help prepare and cook each item. Below you can see guests preparing the first course.
The first course (Antipasto) was Trio di Bruschetta. This consisted of three toasted bread points topped with different toppings. Bruschetta Calabrese is probably the most popular selection. It features diced fresh Roma tomatoes, chopped garlic, capers, kalamata olives, olive oil, and fresh basil. All ingredients are tossed together and can be prepared ahead of time (which is preferred to allow the flavors time to incorporate). The Salmone Affumicato selection is also popular and similar to lox. It has the same toasted bread points layered with soft mascarpone cheese, slice of smoked salmon, white onions, capers, and a light drizzle of truffle oil. The last selection in the Trio is Funghi Parmiggiano (or Misti). For this option, you’ll need to prepare the topping in advance due to the cooking time needed. Take fine chopped shiitake mushrooms and button mushrooms and saute with chopped garlic, extra virgin olive oil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. When ready to serve, top toasted bread point with mushroom mix and sprinkle chopped parsley and shaved (or grated) Parmesan cheese.
The next two courses were prepared and served together. We witnessed Domenico and volunteered guests prepare and cook a four-ounce pan seared filet mignon in a black peppercorn sauce as well as fresh ravioli stuffed with artichoke hearts, baby spinach and ricotta cheese mix in a delicate pink (or rose) sauce.
Domenico shared with us that night a little secret. If you are in a pinch for fresh pasta (to make ravioli) you can use wonton wrappers! Genius! Just brush the edges of one wrapper with an egg wash. Place filling in the center of the wonton wrapper and cover with a second wrapper. Press the edges together to form a seal and presto! Place the ravioli in boiling water for a few minutes. You’ll remove the raviolis from the water with a slotted spoon or a skimmer and place on the plate. Pour the rose sauce over the raviolis.
The final course was dessert! Homemade Tiramisu made with espresso liqueur. This classic Italian dessert is simple to make but somewhat tedious. From my own experience, when you dip the lady fingers in the espresso mixture, if you let it soak too much, your tiramisu will be “too wet” and runny. If you don’t let it soak “enough”, your tiramisu could be “too dry”. It may take a few times to perfect the right amount so don’t get down on yourself if your first one doesn’t come out great.
With the many layers of espresso-soaked lady fingers and sweet mascarpone cream, the tiramisu was a delicate dance of sweetness and cream in my mouth. The dessert is dusted with cocoa powder and added to the dynamic of the dessert.
Throughout the evening, Domenico led us in song and dance. We sang “That’s Amore” by Frank Sinatra, “Volare” by Dean Martin, “Fly Me To The Moon” by Jason Mraz, and “Sway” by Dean Martin. The guests were lively and engaged during the entirety of the event. Even as the event ended and the light dimmed, the music played on and guest began dancing together! I was invited onto the dance floor and learned how to dance to Nortenas!
I cannot wait to come back for the next cooking class! The Q4 staff were exceptional and professionally dressed in clean chef jackets.
Until next time…#ForkThisPlate!