Our first night, we enjoyed a simple supper in the Westin’s Lobby Lounge, which features a waterfall flowing behind a glass wall. The place was filled with people meeting for a post-conference drink or pretheater meal. Because we didn’t have to think about driving home, we were able to relax as we munched on grilled chicken with artichokes and vegetarian pot stickers. 714-540-2500; tinyurl.com/westinoc.
The specialty at Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza’s branch of the famed Taiwan-based chain, is soup dumplings: tiny packets of dough encasing pork and delectable broth. “How do they get the soup into the dumpling?” I asked. “The soup starts in gelatin form,” said foodie Paul, biting into crisp mustard greens enlivened with ginger. “When the dumpling is heated, the gelatin melts.” Go early—there’s often a line. 714-549-3388.
Saturday evening, we ambled through a park-like area of grass, petunias, and sycamores to Vaca, the superhot Spanish restaurant helmed by Top Chef finalist Amar Santana. Among pink geraniums on the patio, we feasted on chicken fritters, Catalan spinach with pickled raisins, and roasted beef marrow, which we carefully scooped from a giant bone. “Just imagine you’re a Neanderthal getting through the winter,” Paul joked. 714-463-6060.