The Taste: Flavors of LA 2015

Chaya's Salmon Ceviche, aji amarillo ponzu, red onion, corn, cilantro

Everyone loves the Flavors of LA because it is curated by Jonathan Gold. And LA truly loves its native son. He smashed he image of the food critic as a snob who is totally removed from the common diner. He celebrates the holes-in-the-wall and illuminates oft-overlooked international cuisines. So we know we are going to eat some interesting stuff, and probably get to see Jazz from the Thai restaurant Jitlada. Flavors of LA is co-curated by Carlos Salgado of the lauded Taco Maria, whose Scallop Aguachile with serrano, citrus, cucumber, hoja santa and a touch of squid ink was as lovely to look at as it was to eat.

I cannot in good conscience claim that the dishes that follow are the best dishes of the night, because it is hard to cover everything when the lines are long. If you know the chef, sometimes they will slip you a dish on the side, but I am not going to self-importantly barge to the front of the line. Years ago at The Taste I offered to take Jonathan Gold to the front of the line where I knew the chef. He said he could wait. And if he can wait in line, then I can damn well wait in line. My point being, I probably tasted only half of the dishes on offer that night. Maybe other dishes were better, maybe others were worse. This is what I experienced..

Lukshon made a tom kah kai custard with chicken consomme, crispy chicken skin, herbs, frozen lime cells, nuoc cham and jalapeno. It was surprising how much it tasted like Tom Kah Kai, and what a kick it had to it. And what is this about lime cells? Thanks to molecular gastronomy ingredient lists sound more like science class homework these days. Yummm, corn mitochondria.

I will tell you a secret. I don’t like salmon. But I feel like it is my responsibility to try everything, so I took a big bite of Chaya’s Salmon Ceviche, aji amarillo ponzu, red onion, corn, and cilantro, and damn if I didn’t like it. I might have even loved it. The texture and flavor were totally on point. Aji Amarillo is a Peruvian pepper, and ponzu is a Japanese sauce made with citrus, soy sauce and vinegar. You would think this was an unusual combination, but a search for “aji amarillo ponzu” gets pages of results, particularly from Aaron Sanchez and Ricardo Zarate on Twitter.

One of the most innovative dishes came from Suzanne Tracht’s famous Jar. All of the ingredients for a pot roast were fit into a little sphere of croissant dough. They were exquisite. And if you don’t know it yet, like people in Louisiana, I love things stuffed into other things. They make the perfect little hors d’ ouvre and now I want to get married again so I can have them passed at my reception.

I was excited to see what Toca Maria had in store for us, and was pleased with their Chipotle Shrimp Taco. Lechon al Horno Tacos from Chichen Itza were very popular, and it was one line worth waiting in. The cheeks were gone, but I got rib meat and cracklin’s. People stared at my plate with longing as I passed by. Chi SPACCA’s Lamb Skewers and Fregola Sarda (nutty Sardinian pasta) were a big hit and even ran out because they were so popular. Jitlada’s Klua Kling Chicken was so hot as to be inedible, at least for this girl. The Turmeric Fried Rice only cooled it down a little. Sometimes I wonder if Jonathan Gold and Tui and Jazz of Jitlada have an ongoing bet on whether they can make their food even spicier than last year.

If the New York steak carpaccio with hazelnut soubise and capers from Viviane was any indication, Stephan Bombet and Michael Hung’s new enterprise at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills should be a huge success. Total Instagram bait. There was also a delicious Duck Confit with Blueberry Black Rice Apricots and Duck Jus. Badmaash went more traditional than usual because they had heard that Butter Chicken was Jonathan Gold’s favorite dish. Hyde Sunset served grilled peaches with burrata, pesto and balsamic with a pretzel bun.

For dessert, I savored a Thai Iced Tea ice pop from longtime favorite Artesana Paletas. Kirin had a little teahouse set up serving beer with a frozen Kirin swirl topping to keep the beer cold. It was like my own special find as everyone stood in line for Stella Artois.

Curtis Stone gave a demo, but what I really enjoyed was the banter of the pre-show interview with Jonathan Gold. They were discussing how difficult it is to get a reservation at Curtis Stone’s Maude, a 25-seat restaurant where, like Iron Chef, he creates nine courses using one primary ingredient. “Oh, a review will come,” Jonathan told Curtis ominously, “when…you…least…expect..it.”

Photos by Elise Thompson for The LA Beat and by The Offalo. Used with permission.

Elise Thompson

About Elise Thompson

Born and raised in the great city of Los Angeles, this food, culture and music-loving punk rock angeleno wants to turn you on to all that is funky, delicious and weird in the city. While Elise holds down the fort, her adventurous alter ego Kiki Maraschino is known to roam the country in search of catfish.
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