There may be no longer-running summertime tradition in Orange County than Pageant of the Masters.
Created in the 1930s and held on the Festival of Arts grounds, the Pageant draws some 140,000 patrons every summer to watch a live presentation of the Pageant’s tableaux vivants (“living pictures”). Real people in costumes and makeup step into famous works of art by artists like Vermeer, Dali, Rockwell and Da Vinci for a one-of-a-kind theatrical experience.
This year’s Pageant of the Masters runs nightly through Aug. 31 with a theme of “The Time Machine,” a clever concept to take audiences around the globe and into the past, present and future in search of great art and amazing stories.
Pageant-goers are also in search of parking and often a good restaurant. That’s always my main dilemma every year, especially the parking. However, this year I came up with a brilliant solution.
Ten of us had tickets to the Pageant on the opening Saturday night, but we lamented the challenge of getting a reservation at a restaurant and parking somewhere within walking distance of the Pageant grounds.
Our solution: Dinner at Andrea Restaurant at Pelican Hill Resort, followed by Lyft rides to the Pageant’s front door. With complimentary parking at Pelican Hill, we could leave our cars there and even enjoy a nightcap when we returned to Pelican Hill.
The folks at Andrea Restaurant arranged seating for 10 on their lovely patio. We began with a reception featuring red and white Italian wines, plus an Italian sparkling wine, before sitting down to dinner.
Chef Chris Simons, who has been running Andrea’s restaurant since last October, is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable chef who recently introduced a crudo menu. Crudo means raw in Italian, and usually means a dish of sliced, seasoned, uncooked seafood often served with a sauce.
“This is how I like to start a meal,” said Chef Chris. “Everything is as fresh as I can get. The crudo menu has been doing well for us, everyone loves it.”
Our crudo selections: Dungeness crab seasoned with olive oil, white balsamic, apple puree and almonds; cured salmon belly (cured with Hendricks gin and beet juice for 12 hours), Santa Barbara prawns soaked in ouzo juice and rubbed with ouzo juice and chili, then cooked tempura-style; braised octopus with cucumber jalapeno; ahi tuna with avocado, sesame oil and lime; and geoduck clam with a strawberry consume and micro basil.
The crudo was exquisite, with each item an adventure that drew excited gasps of pleasure around the table.
Next came an Andrea tradition: risotto with mushrooms made in a giant parmesan wheel and presented tableside. Shaved truffles are optional — Chef Chris said Australian black winter truffles are starting to come in.
Then came a sampling of pastas, including gnocchi, which Chef Chris makes daily using pancetta milk which he said adds an important part of the flavor for the sauce. The cavatelli was also a marvel, as was the penne with pork sausage made in house. Chef Chris called it intoxicating. We agreed. The pastas all went well with the bottles of Tobin James Fat Boy Zinfandel I brought along for the occasion.
A selection of desserts completed the memorable meal. We chatted among ourselves as to our favorite dishes, and the winner was…everything.
We called for two Lyft rides and made it to the Pageant with a few minutes to spare.
Diane Challis Davy, now in her 24th season as the Pageant director, called the show very different.
“The story line will bring audiences on a journey through a series of clues and instructions from a notebook inspired by a famous artist, a first in the Pageant’s history,” she said. “Some over-the-top innovations for this year include laser lights, an authentic 1959 Juke box and if you are paying attention you may even see a UFO.”
As in recent Pageants, live action has been added throughout the evening to break up the flow of tableaux. More than 30 works of art are presented during the Pageant, from familiar artists to some who labored in relative obscurity creating movie posters. As always, “The Last Supper” ends the show, albeit with different music and narration than those normally used for the closing piece.
After the Pageant ended, it was relatively easy to take Lyft rides back to Pelican Hill. A Saturday night Pageant of the Masters outing was conquered with ease.
For Andrea reservations, visit AndreaNB.com.
For Pageant of the Masters tickets, visit FOAPOM.com.