FOR THE CHORALE: Meredith Riekse, Kimberly Dwan Bernatz, Robert Bernatz gather at Big Canyon Country Club for an underwriting dinner on behalf of The Pacific Chorale. (hand in, Daily Pilot / November 10, 2010)

Once again Christmas came early this year as the super dedicated and giving folks who support the Pacific Chorale gathered for an early fall dinner at Big Canyon Country Club, Newport Beach, to raise funds needed to produce their annual holiday gala, "A Dickens Feast."

To set the stage for the fundraiser, Newport's dynamic Jan Landstrom was on the phone to Roger's Gardens in mid-September, requesting a fully-lighted and decorated holiday tree for the country club's dining room.

"They did it," she said with a twinkle. "Not bad for a Christmas tree that is three months early!"

The mid-week get together was graciously hosted by underwriters Mart and Margie Hubbard, who invited the crowd of some 40 guests to dinner. Margie Hubbard worked with Jan Landstrom to create the pre-holiday evening. It starred TV host Ed Arnold of KOCE fame as the emcee and helped raise an impressive $118,000 in underwriting for "The Dickens Feast," set for the evening of Sunday, Dec. 19, at The Center Club, Costa Mesa. The party will immediately follow the Pacific Chorale's "Tis The Season" Christmas concert in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. This year's gala is in the capable hands of chairwoman Valerie Imhoff.

Donors in the Big Canyon crowd included Kimberly and Bob Bernatz, Phyllis and Terry Clark, Elaine and Hunter Keck, David and Darrellyn Mellili, and the official unofficial "queen" of the chorale, Mary Lyons, and her husband, Phil Lyons. Also front and center were Vina and Tom Williams Slattery, former Newport Beach Mayor Doreen Marshall, Warren Coy, Carol Dalton, Mike Carroll, Denice Douglas, Meredith Rickse and, also from KOCE-TV, Mel Rogers. Kelly Ruggirello, president of the chorale, joined much loved Artistic Director John Alexander in praising the crowd for their generosity.

For ticket information for the performance and after-concert dinner, please go to http://www.pacificchorale.org, or call (714) 662-2345.

Fireside chat

On Lido Isle, another spirited dinner gathering unfolded at the waterfront residence of Dr. Jerrel Richards. Some 50 local citizens joined Richards for a recent Sunday dinner and talk by Ralph Clayman, M.D., dean of the UC Irvine School of Medicine.

Arriving at dusk for a bayfront cocktail overlooking the Newport Channel were Lido Isle's prominent couple DeeDee and Donald Sodaro, Anne and John Wortmann, Margaret Richardson, and the civic-minded Mary Roosevelt. Host Richards joined his daughter welcoming the guests, then turned the evening over to greet Clayman who literally transformed the Richard's living room into a "fireside chat" on the advanced state of medicine. The dean spoke on the advent of robotics in surgical procedures and the vast changes in the education of future physicians, given the strides in technology and information.

Evening with Fabrice

Yet another remarkable dinner gathering on the harbor welcomed renowned French vintner Louis Fabrice, president of Maison Louis Latour, guest of honor of celebrated Beverly Hills wine merchant Dennis Overstreet and his restaurateur wife, Christine. The Overstreets' fabulously romantic, al fresco harborside dining room on the Lido Peninsula, simply known as "The Dock," was the setting for a guest list of some 75 people who came to meet Fabrice and sample the rare wines he brought to share over an incomparable dinner.

Envision the setting. A candlelit, chocolate brown tent open to the evening breeze off the harbor envelops guests resting on overstuffed chocolate brown down cushions. A staff of nearly one server to every couple brings a first course of caramelized sea scallops over a risotto infused with blood orange foam. Fabrice serves a Corton-Charlemagne 2004 vintage white that has the dinner crowd begging for more.

Between courses the erudite Frenchman, whose ancestry in the wine industry dates back centuries, waxes poetically on the process and the pleasures of his family business. A second course consists of braised short ribs and prime flat-iron filet. Yet another Corton, this wine a Chateau Crancey 2003, delights the senses.

Then a third entrée course of pan-seared lamb chops over golden raisin couscous is served with Chambertin Cuvee Heritiers Latour 1996. And for dessert, banana bread pudding with banana brûlée and crème anglaise.

"In our fast-spinning world, there is still a place for fine wine and excellent cuisine shared by like-minded people who enjoy stimulating conversation over a long-lasting and relaxed dining experience," remarked Dennis Overstreet.

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.