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2023 Top 5 Moments in Culture, Visual Arts and Food

Updated: Jan 1

Katelyn Phan, 2022 Miss Vietnam of Southern California First Princess, takes her last walk as part of the royal court during the 2023 UVSA Tết Festival on Jan 28, 2023. Phan said she’s looking forward to investing more time in supporting her community as well as new beginnings in her life. “This is my year.” said Phan. Photo by Omar Sanchez, Voice of OC

The clock is certainly ticking on 2023. But while we have a few precious moments left, let’s look back on the best in arts and culture this past year in Orange County – and in one case, beyond.

Earlier this week, we offered the top five moments in classical music, theater and dance. Here we present our arts and culture writers’ top five best – or most notable – moments in culture, visual arts and food.

From all of us at Culture OC, happy New Year everyone! We’re glad you could join us during our inaugural year, and look forward to an exciting and eventful 2024. 

Top 5 Cultural Moments

While there were many festivals and events to choose from, a handful stood out in our minds. The local Vietnamese and Asian communities celebrating Tet, or the Lunar New Year. Casa Romantica closing after landslides, and after some hard work, reopening. And Buena Park designating a stretch of Beach Boulevard as “Koreatown.”

Here are five of the top cultural events that occurred in Orange County in 2023, in approximate chronological order. – Richard Chang      

From left: Tu-Uyen Nguyen, Thuy Vo Dang, Jason Nguyen and Quyen Ngo wear their ao dai at the 2023 UVSA Tet Festival. Photo by Richard Chang, Culture OC
Tet Festivals After Monterey Park Shooting

2023 started with a crazy mass shooting in Monterey Park, killing 11 Asian people – mostly seniors – and injuring nine others. The next day, seven people were killed in Half Moon Bay, five of them Chinese. While officials and some attendees were nervous, three Tet festivals and parades in Orange County occurred over the following two weekends without a hitch – the Little Saigon Tet Parade in Westminster, the OC Tet Festival in Fountain Valley, and the UVSA Tet Festival in Costa Mesa. The very public gatherings proved that despite isolated instances of extreme violence, you can’t keep people from gathering and celebrating their traditions and culture.   

Construction progress at Casa Romantica on Oct. 27, 2023. Photo courtesy of Casa Romantica
Casa Romantica Closes, Reopens After Landslide

After a winter of wet and powerful storms, an April landslide in San Clemente damaged a portion of Casa Romantica, a historic San Clemente landmark. Sections of the ocean terrace and lustrous walkways were taken down the cliffside, toward the beach below. Fortunately, after some repairs, Casa Romantica was able to reopen and celebrate some events and, of course, the cherished annual holidays. 

Entrance for Festival of Arts of Laguna Beach transformed for Pageant of the Monsters. Photo courtesy of Festival of Arts of Laguna Beach
Pageant of the Masters/Monsters

The Pageant of the Masters celebrated its 90th anniversary during the summer with the theme, “Art Colony: In the Company of Artists.” It was more diverse than one might expect, with explorations of Chicano, African American and Native American art. The Sawdust Art Festival and Art-A-Fair also enjoyed an active Laguna Beach summer art season, comparable to pre-pandemic levels. And in October, the Festival of Arts returned with its Halloween-themed Pageant of the Monsters, which occurs once every five years.  

A table full of banchan (Korean side dishes) is a common table spread for Korean meals. Photo courtesy of Baekjeong Korean Barbeque
Koreatown Designation for Buena Park

In October, Buena Park city council members voted unanimously to designate Beach Boulevard from Rosencrans to Orangethorpe Avenues “Koreatown.” It’s about time: The Korean scene has been thriving in north O.C. for years, and it’s more than just Korean restaurants, K-Pop and suljips (bars).  


From left: JoeJoe McKinney in “Rent” performed at the Chance Theater in Anaheim; Shanghai Dumplings at Nếp Café in Irvine; Festival Ballet Theatre's production of “Sleeping Beauty;” Relámpago del Cielo's “Celebracion del dia de los muertos” in 2021; cellist Jonah Kim performing at the Irvine Barclay Theatre; "Untitled" by Sofia Enriquez in the sculpture garden at The Muckenthaler Cultural Center. Photos courtesy of Chance Theater/Doug Catiller, Anne Marie Panoringan, Festival Ballet Theatre, Relámpago del Cielo, Irvine Barclay Theater/Steven Georges, The Muckenthaler Cultural Center
Culture OC Launched!

The site you are reading now launched on Sept. 8, filling a vacuum of arts and entertainment journalism and coverage in Orange County. Why Culture OC, and why now? Read this outstanding and insightful explanation.


Top 5 Visual Arts Moments

Though we are not the Mecca that is Los Angeles, Orange County has enjoyed its share of notable art exhibitions and events this past year. The O.C. Museum of Art celebrated its one-year anniversary, the Pageant of the Masters celebrated 90 years, and the Hilbert Museum of California Art relocated to a temporary space in Old Towne Orange as it busily worked on an expansion that will nearly triple its original size. Here are the top five visual art events and exhibitions, in no particular order other than feeling. – Richard Chang  

Seán O'Harrow, the new president and CEO of the Bowers Museum, stands in front of a poster for the new "Beyond the Great Wave: Works by Hosukai from the British Museum" exhibition at the Bowers. Photo courtesy of the Bowers Museum
Bowers Museum Hires New President and Chief Curator

After the death of Peter Keller in November 2022, Seán O’Harrow took the role as president and CEO of the Bowers Museum in August. It’s been a good fit so far – he’s a multicultural person, half Vietnamese, half European American, like the institution he represents. On Dec. 1, he hired Tianlong Jiao as chief curator, the museum’s first senior or full-time curator since April 2005. Both current exhibitions, “Beyond the Great Wave: Works by Hokusai” (through Jan. 7) and “The Power of Photography” (through Jan. 14) are impressive, and the future looks bright for Orange County’s largest museum. 

An exterior shot of the new Orange County Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of Jasmine Park
OC Museum of Art Celebrates its One-year Anniversary

The Orange County Museum of Art celebrated its one-year anniversary in October with a weeklong series of events, plus an all-day Saturday party. Despite some negative reviews of the building when it first opened from regional and national press, the new OCMA at Segerstrom Center for the Arts has turned out to be a hit. The free, 53,000-square-foot museum designed by Morphosis and Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne attracted 263,000 during its first year – 12 times the number of people who visited the previous location in Newport Center, near Fashion Island.

My favorite OCMA exhibitions during the first year were “Fred Eversley: Reflecting Back (the World),” “Alice Neel: Feels Like Home” and “Jennifer Guidi: And so it is.”

IMAGE 1: "Satan Exulting Over Eve," 1795 by William Blake, a color print with graphite, pen and black ink, and watercolor. Image courtesy of the Getty Museum. IMAGE 2: "The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve," about 1826, by William Blake, made of ink, tempera and gold on mahogany. Image courtesy of the Tate. IMAGE 3: "The Ancient of Days," from "Europe a Prophecy" by William Blake. This is plate 1 of Copy A, printed in 1795, a color-printed relief etching in dark brown with pen and black ink, oil and watercolor. Image courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, New Haven. IMAGE 4: Title page from "Songs of Innocence and of Experience," plate 1 of Copy E, printed by 1806 by William Blake. It's a relief etching with watercolor. Image courtesy of the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens.

William Blake at the Getty

Yes, the Getty Center is not in Orange County. But it is a jaunt up the 405 Freeway, and it’s worth the drive just to see “William Blake: Visionary.” This stunning collection of over 100 drawings, paintings, prints and poems illuminate Blake’s visionary worlds, and breathe colorful, glorious life into famous literary works such as the “Songs of Innocence and Experience.” It’s the first major international loan exhibition of Blake’s work on the West Coast, and it has been on view from Oct. 17 through Jan. 14. (The brilliantly illustrated catalog is worth spending some time with as well.)

IMAGE 1: "Big Brother is Watching You," a 2008/2019 screenprint and mixed media collage on paper by Shepard Fairey. It was on view at Laguna Art Museum, March 11-June 4, 2023. IMAGE 2: "End Corruption," a 2016/2019 screenprint and mixed media collage on paper by Shepard Fairey. It was on view at Laguna Art Museum, March 11-June 4, 2023. Photos of images by Richard Chang, Culture OC

Shepard Fairey at Laguna Art Museum

While some might debate the merits or originality of his work, no one can deny Shepard Fairey’s impact, from his clothing line and Obey brand to the “Hope” poster he made for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. Laguna Art Museum showcased 30 years of Fairey’s work in “Facing the Giant – Three Decades of Dissent,” from his early Andre the Giant references to his sardonic anti-establishment and anti-capitalist prints of more recent times. Anyone who appreciates street art – and its patron saint Banksy – would have appreciated this Fairey collection (March 11-June 4).

Imogen Cunningham, “The Bruton Sisters, Artists,” 1930, gelatin silver print. Part of “The Bruton Sisters: Modernism in the Making,” Feb.4-May 6 at UCI Langson IMCA. Image courtesy of UCI Langson IMCA/Imogen Cunningham Trust
The Bruton Sisters at Langson IMCA

The still-evolving UCI Langson Institute and Museum of California Art will eventually move to the chunk of property known as UC Irvine North Campus, along Campus Drive near Jamboree Road. In the meantime, Langson IMCA has been presenting exhibitions in its temporary space on Von Karman Avenue, where the Irvine Museum used to be.

The exhibition, “The Bruton Sisters: Modernism in the Making” (Feb. 4-May 6), shed light on three sisters who were winning awards and getting rave reviews in their lifetimes, but were largely underrecognized and forgotten later. The show also included works from Monterey, their hometown, and from California contemporaries to illustrate their impact and put their work in context. 

Top 5 Food Events/Moments/Dishes of 2023

It has been a difficult year, which has made getting into the holiday spirit tough. Looking back at (food-related) things that made me happy put into perspective what I am capable of when I’m down. Imagine what I can accomplish when I’m doing fine. – Anne Marie Panoringan 

*Note: My “Favorite New Restaurants of 2023” column will come out in January.

**My favorite new cocktail programs of this year were covered earlier in December as part of a series.

Dzung Lewis and Anne Marie Panoringan. Photo courtesy of Nate Lewis
Filming YouTube Content

I met and befriended Dzung Lewis (a content creator known as Honeysuckle) last year at a pop-up she held at Boil and Bake in Costa Mesa, our favorite spot for bagels. I reached out to her after the fact and she kindly contributed to a column I wrote about Lunar New Year. I returned the favor by collaborating on a video in January. The premise: Lewis would visit restaurants with the lowest Yelp ratings to see if, in fact, the criticism was justified. My purpose was to train her on what to look for when rating a place. The video was a hit (in my opinion) with 187,000 views and counting. 

In November, Lewis and I teamed up again to film a second video. This time we discussed Asian cuisine as well as my writing process. I was much more involved this time around, and my biggest concern was being filmed while eating in front of the camera. (Thank you for editing it out!) My two experiences were so positive that who knows, maybe I’ll create a channel in 2024.

From left, Fierce Foods Academy instructor Veronica DeRosa, participants Elias Gonzales and Andrea Gonzales. Anne Marie Panoringan won an OC Press Club award for her story on the Fierce Foods Academy. Photo courtesy of MaxLove Project
OC Press Club Awards

In 2019, I received my first of two awards from the Orange County Press Club. Interestingly, the first-place award was not for food, but for a travel story on the Santa Ynez Valley. My third-place award was for Best Humorous Story and how I compared a restaurant’s brunch to a John Hughes movie, “The Breakfast Club.” It was a good year.

The next few years were a bit of a blur when it came to the dining landscape, but I decided to try and submit entries on a few stories I felt strongly about. This would result in receiving two more awards in completely different categories this past June. Third place for Best Feature was my column on the concept of Buy Nothing groups (My BN group is the best!). Then my article on MaxLove Project’s Fierce Foods Academy earned a second-place award for Best Health/Wellness Story. 

Chorizo-stuffed medjool dates at Avec in Chicago. Photo by Anne Marie Panoringan, Culture OC
James Beard Awards Judging: Year Two

Being asked to apply and subsequently be accepted to the role of judge for the James Beard Awards was a surreal experience that I wrote up last summer. The only thing that could top being accepted was becoming a judge the second time.

I went into my judging duties with prior experience of how this process worked – ultimately making my job less stressful. Sadly, the sheer amount of reading wasn’t any less but at least I was mentally prepared. The best part about returning to Chicago in June was that this time around, I wasn’t completely alone; I had friends in the city, a public relations contact attending with her client and also forged a few friendships while seated at a speakeasy my second night. In other words, I had drinking and dining companions nearly every day.

Carpaccio at the Napa Rose restaurant at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. Photo by Anne Marie Panoringan, Culture OC
Disneyland Resort’s Signature Restaurants

When colleagues tell me how much I love Disney, I have to correct them and say that there are so many other people who adore the mouse much more than myself. It should be no surprise that Disney dining ranks at the top of where my money goes. Sometimes I’ll scour the Disneyland app for seasonal specials; other times I have a beverage craving that needs to be satiated. 

Chef Andrew Sutton, culinary director of signature restaurants, oversees four dining establishments at the Disneyland Resort: Napa Rose, Carthay Circle, Club 33 and 21 Royal. I had not planned on dining at all of them in the same calendar year, but the service and ambiance at each exudes a dichotomy of formality and warmth that runs parallel to the magic guests often experience in the parks. And for that reason I spent my birthday dining solo at Carthay, one fabulous dinner party at 21 Royal in March (I wrote a feature on Royal shortly after), lunch at Club 33 in May and Napa Rose chef’s counter in June.

The ratatouille at South Coast Plaza's Populaire. Photo by Anne Marie Panoringan, Culture OC
My Favorite Dish This Year

When I say “favorite,” it’s because I’ve ordered it so many times that I’ve lost track of how often I’ve dined at Populaire inside South Coast Plaza this year just for its ratatouille. To be clear, this is Chef Nick Weber’s modern interpretation of a classic French dish. When I think about the grill-marked crostini being slathered by vegetables, runny yolk, melty comte cheese and gochugaru, it’s a comforting plate layered in flavor; and that’s coming from someone who has a preference for animal protein.

On my most recent visit, the kitchen was starting on my ratatouille before I was even settled in. I basically eat this when I feel like I haven’t been eating enough veggies. Or after my standing appointment at Benefit Brow Bar across the way in Macy’s. Or when I want to have something modest yet filling before my next meal. Or all of the above.


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