The food at Harbor Nights is provided by culinary teams from the various restaurants at Portofino Bay… locations like Mama Della's Ristorante, Trattoria del Porto, and Bice Ristorante generally serve some really great samples — but honestly, all the food is great and the menu for each evening is fairly well thought out.
Seared Ocean Bass Osso Buco is a dish that Mama Della's Ristorante was serving at a previous Harbor Nights event.
Each of the restaurants is set up with one or two cooking stations in various locations throughout the piazza. If there's a Bice Ristorante cooking station on the left side of the piazza, there will probably be one on the right side as well. Both Bice Ristorante cooking stations will be serving the same item... they just offer two stations to keep the lines from getting too long.
As long as you have a Standing/Strolling wristband or a VIP wristband on, you pretty much just walk up to a cooking station and they'll hand you a sample of what they are making for that night's event. I you want to ask questions about the food, you can — for example, if you have a nut allergy or something, it's always best to talk directly with the person making the food!
In between the cooking stations, there's wine stations... those usually have between two and four different wines available. To me, it doesn't seem like the wine stations are duplicated quite as much as the food stations are — what I mean is, you might not find the same wine on the left side of the pizza, as you'll find on the right side.
Here again, as long as you have the Harbor Nights wristband on, they'll hand you a sample of whatever they're pouring at that station... and you're free to go back as many times as you want.
Cooking and Wine stations like these are located all over the Harbor Piazza.
There are usually five or six savory items at each of the Harbor Nights events, so that means there will be at least 12 cooking stations and probably 8 beverage stations set up all over the pizza — the whole idea is, you can stroll around and pick up food and wine samples as you go.
In the VIP area, most of that night's food and wines are avilable at stations located inside the VIP area... just for VIP guests... so there's not as much walking around and the lines aren't as long. But if you want to, you're free to roam around in the main piazza as well.
Most of the food and wine stations are dulplicated in the VIP area, where the lines tend to be a little shorter.
As I mentioned before, the events are seasonally themed, so you might find a little more seafood and some fresh garden veggies being used in the spring events — where the autumn and winter events might feature more root veggies and beef — but that's just a rough generalization. There's almost always a flatbread or two, a beef or pork item, a chicken item, a seafood item and a couple of dessert and gelatos.
The food at Harbor Nights changes with each event, but here's just a few of the items from previous Harbor Nights events... Gamberi Genovese - Sauté shrimp in pesto sauce, roasted pepper sauce (top left), Sauteed Mahi Pasta (top right), Red Wine Braised Beef with cheese polenta rustica, pickled heirloom tomato and fresh chives (bottom left), and Chocolate Chip Cannolis (bottom right).
The menu is not extensive — it generally only contains five or six savory items, two mini desserts and two gelatos. The portion sizes are also what I would call tapas or sample sized — but you can go back and get as many as you want.
I've found that I can try one of everything and go back and get two more of my favorites before moving on to the mini dessert and gelato… and leave feeling full and happy.
Also, if you're in the VIP Seating area, you'll get an additional hors d’oeuvres plate for the table (which is not an unlimited offering like all the other food at the event… the hors d’oeuvres plate is a one shot deal). What's on the plate will vary with the season as well, but generally contains a collection of cheeses, meat, some grilled veggies, olives, and a couple of crackers or breadsticks (traditional hard, thin, crunchy breadsticks… not the soft chewy ones).
If you purchased a ticket to the VIP Seating area, you'll also get an extra hors d’oeuvres plate for the table — which is usually a meat, cheese, and veggies plate similar to this one. The meat, cheese and veggies are seasonally inspired.
Usually at these type of strolling events, I stay away from the "meat and cheese" plate — thinking that the made to order culinary stations are where all the best food is located. But here, I actually really enjoy having that hors d’oeuvres plate on the table. The servers in the VIP section try taking it away from me after the first half hour or so — but I tell them "no thanks, I'll keep it here" and I'll nibble on it all night (especially those olives)! While I wouldn't call everything on the plate a "palate cleanser" — it's nice having something cool and dry, between the hot samples.
There's a little gelato shop at the Portofino Bay Hotel and Resort called the Gelateria which usually has around 14 flavors of gelato on any given day. Hard-core gelato fans will probably consider what they serve to be "flavored ice cream" more that traditional gelato — but they do have quite a few seasonally inspired flavors — two of those flavors are featured at each of the Harbor Nights events. No matter what flavors show up — they both pair really well with sparkling wine.
There's also two dessert items that are probably made by the Portofino Bay catering team. They're served in cute little cups and are as pretty as they are tasty.
There's usually two gelatos and two mini-cup desserts at the Harbor Nights event — and they're all really good! The desserts change seasonally with each event, but here's a few samples from previous Harbor Nights events... Tripple Chocolate and Pumpkin Spice Gelato (top left), Strawberry Gelato (top right), Gingerbread Crème Brûlée (bottom left), and Apple Spiced Crème Cake (bottom right).
I know we are a "rate and review" directory here at Mealtrip ... but it's a little hard to generally "rate" all the Harbor Nights events because the food and environment at each one is different. Conveniently, we do have several reviews with lots of photos available from past events…
… but really, it just depends on the menu, and if there's a number of items on the menu that sound good to you. Honestly, I've usually found that two of the five or six items are really good "standout" items of the night, while the others are just "okay".
I think the fact that there's more "strolling" guests at Harbor Nights than there are VIP "Seat and Table" guests — some of the food (like the flatbreads) have been designed to easily pick up and eat without a table. For me, the flatbreads (for example) tend to have a little too much bread — but, if the flatbreads were loaded with toppings, extra saucy, and thinner — they might be harder to eat with one hand. So there's that trade-off.
You're probably going to get better food quality if you go directly to one of the Portofino restaurants (like Mama Della's Ristorante) and order a full meal — but Harbor Nights is not just about the food, it's a combination of the food and wine, the dining outdoor with live music, special night experience — and I feel like they've found a great balance of all those things, for the price being charged.