Last Sunday, the LA Weekly hosted “The Essentials” at the California Market Center in DTLA. The event was scheduled from 2pm until 5pm, but we only got to enjoy about an hour of tastings. The VIP ticket, which allowed you to enter the event at 1pm, sold out quickly. The line for everybody else wound around the courtyard 3 times and even snaked through a ballroom before guests finally received the requisite wristband. I got in line at 1:30pm and did not enter the penthouse event until 2:45.
Once I hit the penthouse, however, it was one hell of an event. Some of the greatest restaurants in the city, elbow to elbow. The selections by LA Weekly truly showcased the diversity of Los Angeles. From a $2 per taco food truck to a seafood restaurant with a $305 tasting menu, from an obscure Ethiopian restaurant to internationally acclaimed celebrity chef spots, The Weekly staff did an incredible job of curating some of the best food in LA.
I have already listed some favorites. Here’s a shout-out to Maude, Sqirl, Lukshon, Mariscos Jalisco, Phillipes, Pollo a la Brasa Western, Crossroads and Guerilla Tacos. Of course I couldn’t include all of the amazing food in one post. Michael Cimarusti of Providence and Connie & Ted’s wowed the audience once again with freshly shucked oysters. He was right in the thick of it, shucking away; that man is not afraid to get his hands dirty. Chichen Itza went big with an octopus tostada in squid ink. Speaking of ink, Michael Voltaggio and crew served Rye Pasta, Smoked Trout Roe, Bagel Crumbs, and Dashi Brown Butter. I couldn’t help taking a picture before the dish was complete; it looked so beautiful with all of that gleaming roe.
Buna, the Ethiopian restaurant, cooked up a variety of stews and vegetable dishes. They are traditionally served on an injera, a sourdough crepe/flatbread, but that would have needed an enormous plate. Lum-Ka-Naad Thai Cuisine made a great showing with a delicious composed salad surrounding a housemade sausage. When You bit into the sausage, the flavors of Kaffir lime and lemongrass filled your entire skull. The James Beard award-winning Gueleguetza presented not one, but three different moles. The black mole was a favorite.
At one point it seemed like Jitlada’s “not too spicy” Thai food and Pot’s Octopus Japchae were competing to see who could burn my lips off first. Thank God for Keurig. Yeah, Keruig, I know, very corporate sponsorship of me. But not being a wine drinker, it can be hard to find anything but water at some events. Being able to chug down Snapple improved my experience immensely. And the representative promised me that are working on making their cups biodegradable.
Chengdu Taste also served a spicy chicken, but cooled he palate with refreshing marinated vegetables, including the beautiful lotus. Also on the lighter side, Superba offered a delicious Grain Bowl with bulgar wheat, rye berry, red quinoa, black rice, collard green slaw, cashews, avocado smash pickled chiles. The team from Tar & Roses presented a spicy bacon popcorn for munching on the go.
By 4pm Cacao Mexicatessen, Guisados, Hungry Cat, Petit Trois, Horse Thief BBQ, Bestia, Sotto, and many others were completely out of food. It looks like we missed an entire corner of the event due to the time limit and insufficient food. We never did make it to Animal, Alma, Angeli’s Osteria, Langer’s Deli, Bludso’s Din Tai Fung, or Hungry Cat before everyone was packing up around 4:15. We did hear unsubstantiated rumors that St Martha had uni, and Petit Trois served escargot.
I am not an event coordinator, so I don’t know how they could have run things more smoothly. Maybe if they had scanners, they could have scanned people and handed out wristbands while everyone was waiting in line. One of the chefs who ran out of food told me that the event was oversold. They had not planned on having enough food for that number of people. Although it was a little disappointing, this will not deter me from attending next year’s Essentials. I still feel like I got what I came for; I did not leave hungry. Hopefully the next event will be an improvement. But if not, I still had one hell of an hour and it was worth every penny.