TALENTED: Rick Braun, David Benoit and Mindi Abair perform for the crowd at two nights of jazz in February on the Orange Coast. (Rick Chatillon, Daily Pilot / February 18, 2012)

Celebrating 10 years of jazz at The Ocean Institute, Dana Point, a sold-out crowd came together for two evenings of incredible music, fabulous food and, most importantly, a purpose of raising funds to support the institute's educational programs. They accomplished their goal with style and success, raising $180,000 net.

The jazz and gourmet dining event unfolded on Feb. 3 and 4, presented by organizers at The Ocean Institute in conjunction with partners 94.7 The Wave radio, which was represented by anchors Pat Prescott and Kim Amidon.

Producer and jazz artist Rick Braun once again was at the helm of the fundraiser, joining fellow artists David Benoit and Mindi Abair in helping attract the sold-out jazz loving crowd.

The festivities began on the evening of Friday, Feb. 3, with a less formal program supported by some 290 patrons, who came to hear Braun and friends, while sampling delicacies from IL Fornaio and wines hosted by Pear Valley Vineyards.

For the big gourmet dinner night on Feb. 4, another 200 guests came for sunset cocktails and hors d' oeuvres created by Newport's Balboa Bay Club & Resort and Park Hyatt Aviara Resort. This was followed by an out-of-this-world, four-course epicurean extravaganza prepared by a Who's Who roster of local culinary talent, including chefs from The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa, St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa and The Montage Laguna Beach.

Perhaps it is unfair to tease the reader with a review of the dinner, but here is a sampling of exceptional highlights. The Israeli artichoke bisque served in espresso cups was warm and comforting, and was a welcome sight to party goers on the cold February night. In addition to the soup, oysters adorned with caviar in a sea urchin sauce treated the taste buds and took one on a voyage deep into the Pacific Ocean.

Arugula, goat cheese, winter grapefruit and beet salad with a smoked almond vinaigrette for the starter salad was a clean simple salad, which prepared the tongue for the meal to come. The brightness of the flavors were only rivaled by the high notes of jazz star Rick Braun.

And much like Braun complementing saxophonist Mindi Abair, this gave way to a luxurious; pa- seared jumbo sea scallop with warm blood orange vinaigrette. The scallops tasted as fresh as if they had been taken off the shores near The Ocean Institute, followed by an entrée of beef filet.

Spotted in the dinner crowd and enjoying the smooth sounds of jazz were Maria Barney, Robert Kline, Bonnie and Patrick Fuscoe, Reggie Jackson, Charyl and Dennis Assael, Denise and Steven Eisenberg, Robert and Kathy Levenstein, Bryan and Jeanne Stirrat, Roger and Juniel Worthington, and Debby and Brian Steel.

Following dinner, a live auction preceded the jazz performance by Braun, Benoit and Abair.

Chaired by super-dedicated local residents Tim McMahon and Jens von Gierke, the two -night event was possibly the best in its 10-year history. To date, more than $735,000 has been raised at the annual jazz party. The money goes toward supporting immersion-style educational programs in various aspects of ocean-related subject matter, reaching an estimated 115,000 students and public visitors to the institute each and every year.

To learn about the Ocean Institute, visit http://www.ocean-institute.orghttp://www.ocean-institute.org.

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.