The Tastee Awards! Best of 2015

tasteesaward_labeatMy favorite tastes of the year are always skewed. It all depends on which events I attended, and which restaurants I was able to visit. There are a few new restaurants and old favorites that I’m sure would be at the top of the list, but I just didn’t get there this year. Then of course, taste is subjective. I am attracted to high-end ingredients like foie gras and uni, but broccoli will never win.

A lot of publications, both print and online, post a list of their top ten restaurants from the previous year. When I attend food events or go to restaurants I often choose favorites to which I jokingly bequeath a “Tastee” award, in honor of The Dunder-Mifflin “Dundees.” It’s more fun than a boring old top ten, so let’s have at it.

 

BEST BREAKFAST DISH (NO EGGS) – Organic brown rice porridge with blood orange marmalade and a rosemary pine nut brittle from Squirl at LA Weekly Essentials

Sqirl Porridge at Essentials

Sqirl won this city’s heart by putting a lot of thought into perfecting simple dishes. They were definitely no slacker at Essentials. In spite of being right next to the heavy hitters like foie gras, Squirl’s simple porridge made us come back for more, a rarity at tasting events. Their organic brown rice porridge with blood orange marmalade and a rosemary pine nut brittle is the breakfast I want to eat every single day from now on.

BEST EGG DISH – Poached Egg, Chorizo Jam and Potato Mousseline from Trois Familia

Poached Egg, Chorizo Jam and Potato Mousseline.

A good start to your meal at Trois Familia is the Poached Egg, Chorizo Jam and Potato Mousseline. The plate of white potatoes didn’t look very exciting at first, but when I stirred it, wow! The bright red chorizo and yellow yolk made a gorgeous and appetizing swirl. The taste was far beyond my expectations. This is a dish you will wake up craving.

BEST PANCAKES Swedish Pancakes from The Original House of Pancakes

Swedish PancakesThe standard pancake here is buttermilk, which is used as a base for blueberry pancakes and other riffs on pancakes, like Hawaiian and Georgia Pecan. The batter for the Flap Jacks is made with sourdough starter, giving the pancakes an added dimension and a slight tanginess.

The crepes and Swedish Pancakes are each made with their own batters. The Swedish Pancake batter is rich with melted butter. They are served with loganberries on the side, just like they were in the countless Swedish Smorgasbords popular during my childhood.

BEST OVERALL BRUNCH – Brunch Tapas from Bacari PDR

Bacari PDR Shakshouka

The cozy restaurant launched a weekend brunch menu this year comprised of Chef Lior’s signature “cicchetti,” or tapas-style small plates. From the first bite, your palate is overwhelmed by complex, yet well-balanced flavors. You naturally assume you have chosen to start with the best dish in the house, but each plate outdoes the last. The Goat Cheese Polenta with lamb ragu will stop you in your tracks. The intense chipotle pepper sauce is mixed in with chunks of fried polenta, which is then topped with a fried egg. Another not-to-be-missed dish is the Potato Hash with chorizo in a Mornay sauce. Yes, also topped with an egg. The Shakshouka, however, is not topped with an egg. Instead, a sous vide egg floats in a cup of rustic tomato sauce similar to a Romesco. Thinly sliced country bread is served alongside the dish for dipping. Although it was unusual, it was one of our favorites.

BEST TACO – Shrimp Taco from Mariscos Jalisco at Jonathan Gold’s 101

Mariscos Jalisco hard shrimp tacos

Wow, this was a hard choice. There are so many fantastic tacos to choose from. But I am always pleased to see Mariscos Jaliscos, whether at a food event or at their truck on East Olympic. These fried pockets of shrimp with avocado drowned in salsa are so much more than tacos.

BEST COLD SANDWICH – Ham and Cheese from Lincoln

hamandbrielincolnThanks to Jonathan Gold’s 101 for turning me on to this gem tucked out of the way in North Pasadena. The vibe is upscale artisanal, and the menu is mostly baked goods, sandwiches and lighter vegetarian fare, like pot pies. Their lamb sandwich is definitely more exciting, but the quiet and simple ham sandwich is austere perfection. When you make something simple, you have to use only the best ingredients, and Lincoln comes through with fantastic ham and the most buttery brie in town. The French bread, which is fresh out of the oven, is phenomenal. As a result I have been making ham and brie sandwiches at home at least once a week. And no, they are never as good as the ones from Lincoln.

BEST HOT SANDWICH – Shrimp Po’boy from Orleans and York

shrimp1

You can’t be all things to all people. But Orleans and York, as the name suggests, is making an effort to at least cover two of the most food-focused cities in America. I cannot attest to the authenticity of the New York subs, because I’m all about the po’boys. When I took my first bite of their shrimp po’boy I honestly felt like all of the other sandwiches might as well just give up and go home. You can even order additional shrimp, not that you need to. If you ask nicely, they will grill your shrimp instead of frying it, and serve it in a nice mayonnaise-hot sauce. With the wall of Zapp’s Potato Chips and desserts like Banana Pudding and Red Velvet Cake, the Southern culture does seem to overshadow the New York heroes. Grab your own sides and sodas, which include the cult favorite Faygo, and order at the counter.

BEST BURGER – Boner Burger from Animal at LA Weekly’s Burgers and Beer

Animal's Boner Burger with Jack Cheese on Marble Rye with caramelized onions, Poblano Chile and 420 Sauce

Los Angeles is known for its hamburgers, and The LA Weekly presented thirty-five burgers at its Burgers and Beer event this year. Nevertheless, this one was the easiest decision to make. Our favorite burger was Animal’s “Boner Burger,” an off-menu item at the restaurant. Lesley Balla reported in Zagat that the burger patty is made up of bone marrow mixed with house-ground chuck and short-rib meat. The burger is topped with jack cheese, caramelized onion, poblano chile and “420 sauce,” which is kind of like a mustardy beer-cheese sauce. The marble rye bread can barely contain it, so it is best eaten over a plate, or in our case, a trash can, because we are so glamorous.

BEST PATTY MELT – Cassell’s

pattymeltcrop

Again, a no-brainer. In December of 2014, a new Cassell’s Hamburgers opened in the Hotel Normandie, joining the Normandie Club and speakeasy Walker Inn. Once declared “the best burger in LA,” Cassell’s was a beloved neighborhood joint that closed down in 2012, but it had hit the skids long before that. Jingbo Lou, an architect dedicated to preservation, thought Cassell’s would be a good cornerstone for his restored and revamped 1928 boutique hotel. Lou bought the Cassell’s name, recipes, and equipment in order to resurrect the lost relic.

The Patty Melt is served on a thicker rye bread than Al used to use, but it is possibly the best Patty Melt in town. Chef Christian Page puts fresh Colorado chuck and brisket through a coarse grind twice for the patty. The crispy, buttery toast allows the flavor of the quality beef to be more pronounced than when it is encased in a big, fluffy bun and drowned in toppings. The 500 degree heat of the broiler makes the Swiss cheese inside the sandwich melt like lava, while edges are converted into sheets of crispy cheese that beg to be picked off.

BEST OVERALL LUNCH – B.S. Taqueria

Lengua tacos at BS Taqueria

B.S. Taqueria is cozy and inviting, painted with bright colors and adorned with Mexican pottery. The sensibility here is not so much about Mexico as it is about Los Angeles. The seafood cocktail known as Campechana Verde is on of our favorite dishes of the entire year, with squid, scallops snapper, cucumber, shrimp, octopus, and tomatillo ready to be spooned onto bite-sized tostadas. Citrus and fresh seafood will always be a winning combination.

In spite of the wide variety of dishes, the main focus here is tacos. They come two to an order on rustic handmade corn tortillas. Carnitas arrive on a layer of avocado topped with salsa verde. The pork is juicy and tender without any crunchy bits. Chicken tacos consist of huge slabs of moist breast meat dressed simply with salsa fresca. The first bite I took of a lengua taco with chile verde was so flavorful I swooned. There are none of the tough or rubbery bits found in your average taco truck taco. The chorizo and papas tacos had a thick swath of rich, mild chorizo topped with little potato wedges and a sprinkling of cotija cheese.

The dessert menu, developed by the chef in collaboration with Pastry Chef Roxana Jullapat, is not to be missed, diet or no. Tres Leches is a longtime favorite, so the fact that their version of the cake is fantastic is no big surprise. But the churros — my God, the churros! They are so light and ethereal, they are like the angels of the churro universe. I am ashamed for the rough, crunchy dough sticks that dare call themselves by the same name as these delicate bites of pure heaven.

BEST STEAK – Grilled Flank Steak with Parmesan- Reggiano by Nancy Silverton at the All-Star Chef Classic: Grill & Chill

Grilled Flank Steak with Parmesan- Reggiano by Nancy Silverton at the All-Star Chef Classic

From the grilled plates at the All Star Chef Event, we were most impressed with Nancy Silverton’s hanger steaks with Balsamic, Parmesan-Reggiano and a lemon vinagrette. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the generous slices of cheese felt incredibly indulgent.

BEST PORKPork Curry from Badmaash at Los Angeles Magazine’s Food Event

Badmaash served a Goan Style Pork Curry from Badmaash

Badmaash usually serves their popular lamb burgers at food events, which attract extremely long lines. We have also enjoyed their butter chicken. But at Los Angeles Magazine’s 10th annual Food Event, the family served a Goan Style (Vindaloo) Pork Curry that was unbelievable. I also discovered that I had been pronouncing their name wrong all this time as “Bad Mash.” It’s “Bod Mosh.”

BEST LAMBDavid Lefevre’s Moroccan Lamb Belly at the All-Star Chef Classic: Grill & Chill

David Lefevre's Moroccan Lamb Belly at the All-Star Chef ClassicDavid Lefevre with his Moroccan Lamb Belly at the All-Star Chef ClassicSouth Bay homeboy David Lefevre grilled a Moroccan Lamb Belly with caramelized onions, kumquats and orange curd at the All Star Chef Classic:Grill & Chill. The first bite filled your mouth with a sweetness and spice that slowly developed into the rich umami of lamb.

 

BEST CHICKEN – Mary’s Chicken & Dumplings with Parisian Gnocchi, Young Carrots, Cipollini Onions, and Natural Jus from Viviane

Roast ½ Mary’s Chicken & Dumplings with Parisian Gnocchi, Young Carrots, Cipollini Onions, and Natural Jus

Stephane Bombet, who is a partner in Terrine with Kris Morningstar, has now teamed up with Chef Michael Hung, who made a name for himself with his impeccable cooking at Faith & Flower. Chef Hung focuses on using only the best ingredients and perfecting the most basic elements of a dish rather than concentrating on bells and whistles. We had already heard the buzz around Mary’s Chicken & Dumplings. It did not disappoint. The crispy, perfectly seasoned chicken skin dripping with the robust au jus was the perfect first bite. If the tenderness of the meat was any indication of its treatment, these chickens were not only free-range, and antibiotic-free, but they were hand-fed only the finest organic corn while being gently rocked in loving hands to Brahms lullabye.

BEST GAME – Grilled Rabbit Sausage Bruschetta from Carolynn Spence at All-Star Chef’s Classic: Grill & Chill

Grilled Rabbit Sausage Bruschetta with English Pea Tapenade and Morel Butter by Carolynn Spence at the All-Star Chef Classic

Carolynn Spence, with Bar Marmont at the time, surprised us with her Grilled Rabbit Sausage Bruschetta with English Pea Tapenade and Morel Butter. Buried beneath an edible flower garden was a toast spread generously with the sausage, which seemed like it was mixed with the butter, because it had such a beautiful texture. It was almost like a rustic pâté.

BEST DISH WITH FOIE GRAS  – White asparagus foie gras mousse, braised mustard seed and pearl onion from Maude at LA Weekly Essentials

Maude's Foie Gras at The Essentials

Maude was without a doubt everyone’s favorite bite. We were eager to try Curtis Stone’s food since reservations are so hard to come by for his 7 table restaurant. The small plate of white asparagus foie gras mousse, braised mustard seed and pearl onion was pure heaven. I kneel down and thank the gods that foie gras is back. This mousse celebrates everything that is beautiful and rich about foie gras with none of the occasional whisper of offal. The fried toast was the perfect vehicle to escort this classic into your mouth. Ten out of ten.

BEST DISH WITH OFFAL – Beef Heart Rolled Wonton from Leona at Jonathan Gold’s 101

Leona’s Beef Heart Rolled Wonton (Photo by The Offalo)

I have eaten beef heart before, but it was always begrudgingly. There is a dark, sinister gaminess to it that I have to willfully tolerate.

Chef Naisha Arrington somehow exorcised the wickedness out of beef heart, leaving only the rich, delicious meat. I savored Leona’s Beef Heart Rolled Wonton and would have eaten more had her line not been so long.

 

MOST SURPRISING TOP DISH – Headcheese Fritter from Cadet at LA Magazine’s Food Event

Cadet's headcheese fritter with mustard seed, honey and garlicPerhaps the best bite of the entire LA Magazine Food Event was from Santa Monica’s Cadet, helmed by Kris Tominaga, formerly of The Hart + The Hunter.

We approached the headcheese fritter with mustard seed, honey and garlic with some trepidation.

But the gelatin that we expected to be off-putting had melted into a rich, fatty coating for the shreds of pork. It was possibly even the surprise hit of the year.

BEST FISH DISH – Blackened Catfish and Grits from the Little Jewel of New Orleans

catfish and gritsMarcus Christiana-Beniger and Eunah Kang opened a little market and restaurant in Chinatown in 2014 called Little Jewel of New Orleans, and it was a game-changer. You order at the store’s cashier and pick up your food at a deli counter in the back, just like in the Crescent City. A large, colorful blackboard displays the menu, which offers a variety of po’boys and muffalettas, as well as daily specials like duck and andouille gumbo served over jambalaya (“Gumbolaya”). I have to admit I am partial to catfish. Actually, I am obsessed with catfish. The blackened catfish alone would have hooked me, but these people know their grits. The dish as a whole works incredibly well, spicy yet comforting, with a little oil from the fish dripping down into the grits. It should be as much of a classic as shrimp and grits.

BEST SHRIMP DISH – Shrimp and Grits from The Front Yard at The Taste: Brunch

The Front Yard’s Shrimp and GritsThis dish gets a blue ribbon in every single category. It was beautiful, it was appealing, and there was a perfect balance of flavors. The grits with white cheddar were comfortingly smooth and creamy. Executive Chef Chris Turano is bringing some excitement to North Hollywood’s Garland Hotel and we can’t wait to sit down at a table in The Front Yard and eat an entire bowl of shrimp and grits. The dish is only served at weekend brunch, but they also have homemade pop tarts, so it’s worth waking up early.

BEST LOBSTER DISH – Lobster Parfait from Viviane at James Beard Foundation’s Taste America

Michael Hung's lobster parfait at Taste America

After stops in major food cities like Miami, Seattle, Boston, New Orleans and Chicago, the James Beard Foundation’s Third Annual Taste America hit Los Angeles on November 6th. The foundation kicked off a weekend of activities with a cocktail reception at the glamorous Ebell of Los Angeles.

Michael Hung of Viviane created a statement dish, to say the least. Gently cooked lobster meat was tossed with Fuji apples in a creme fraiche and then topped with trout roe to create a “Lobster Parfait.”

BEST SCALLOP DISH –  Carrot Broth with Coconut Black Rice, Sambal and Diver Scallop from Tavern at Spirit 30

Tavern's Thai Inspired Carrot Broth with Coconut Black Rice, Sambal and Diver Scallop

Tavern took it right over the top with their Thai Inspired Carrot Broth with Coconut Black Rice, Sambal and Diver Scallop. Although the scallop is mentioned last, in the dish it had top billing. The gigantic scallop with curry and sambal was perfection, and the plating was gorgeous.

BEST DISH WITH CRAB – Dungeness Crab Cone from Chef Paul Lee at LA Food and Wine Night Market

Chef Paul Lee's Dungeness Crab Cone

Chef Paul Lee has worked all over Europe and was most recently at Le Cirque in Las Vegas before being chosen as Joaquin Spichal’s right-hand man. He continues Patina’s tradition of fine dining with a French influence.

The combination of Dungeness crab with cardamom, nuoc mam and green mango sorbet he served at this year’s LA Food and Wine Night Market was absolutely inspired. The cool, fruity sorbet is perhaps the best thing to happen to crab meat since melted butter.

It’s no wonder Chef Paul Lee of Patina is known for his artful presentations.

BEST DISH WITH UNI – Octopus and uni aguachile from the Ceviche Project at the Street Food Fest.

Octopus and Uni Aguachile from Ceviche Project at LA Street Food FestWherever the Ceviche Project pops up, it always comes correct with beautiful, clean seafood. LA locals Octavio Olivas and his wife Shannon maintained the Ceviche Project’s high standards at this year’s Street Food Fest.

Their tostada with chilled octopus, sea urchin, cucumber, tangerine, avocado and microgreens was the best bite at the festival this year. Although the Ceviche Project didn’t win the same award they captured from the Street Food Fest judges last year, they did capture a Tastee!

BEST CEVICHE/AGUACHILE – Shrimp Aguachile from Cocina Condesa at Taste of Mexico

Shrimp ceviche from Casa Condesa at Taste of Mexico previewExecutive chef Eddie Garcia is influenced as much by his Aztecian roots as his time studying with Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of The Border Grill. At the Taste of Mexico press preview, and at the Taste of Mexico event itself, Cocina Condesa served our favorite bite of the evening, a Mexican gulf shrimp aguachile in a serrano-lime sauce served on a cucumber chip. Once again  we were drawn to its simplicity. The unimposing cucumber complimented but did not mask the shrimps’ natural sweetness. The bright citrus of the lime is all this dish really needed to make us still remember it with longing today.

BEST SALAD – Spiced Pear Salad from the Purple Room at The Preview for the Food & Wine Festival Palm Desert 

Spiced Pear Salad from The Purple Room

Last February there was a media preview for the Food & Wine Festival Palm Desert. Among the chefs offering tastes was Chef Jennifer Town from the Purple Room in Palm Springs. The Purple Room at Club Trinidad is a place with history. We’re talking about the Rat Pack supper club scene. The restaurant re-opened with a nod to the style and carefree spirit of that era. If you are a regular reader of The LA Beat, you have probably noticed I am not a big salad person. But the chef’s Port Poached Pear with Goat Cheese Mousse, Arugula, Spiced Pecans, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette was unforgettable. Even now, I can still taste that delicious salad.

BEST SIDE DISH – Mexican Street Corn from Red O

Deconstructed Mexican Street Corn

Mexican Street Corn “deconstructed” with Cotija and serrano-cilantro crema. The corn is so fresh and delicious, I could eat it as a main dish. The asparagus is also nice, or during the winter months, try their brussel sprouts and kale. But seriously, corn.

BEST VEGAN DISH – Stuffed Inari Pockets from M Café de Chaya at The Taste: Field to Fork

M Café de Chaya's stuffed tofu inari pockets

M Café de Chaya stuffed tofu inari pockets with the ocean vegetable hijiki, Japanese greens called mizunaw, pickled burdock and daikon with sticky rice. It turned out to be one of the best things I ate all day. The combination of flavors, especially the pickling, gave me a new appreciation not only for vegan food, but for Japanese food in general.

BEST DUMPLING –  Kurobuta Pork Sichuan Dumplings from Lukshon at LA Weekly Essentials 

Lukshon's Szichuan Dumpling

Lukshon’s Sang Yoon did not get to where he is today by half-assing it. His kurobuta pork Sichuan dumplings with spicy ma-la vinagrette, sesame seeds and peanuts, exploded with flavor, all vying for your taste buds’ attention and finally melding together into something that is more than the sum of its parts.

BEST SNACK FOOD – Pig Ear Cheetohs from Churchkey at Street Food Festival

Pigs Ear Cheetohs from Churchkey at LA Street Food FestChurchkey’s Chef Fretz is a  barker who always knows how to put on a show. At this year’s Street Food Festival Churchkey won a prize for Best Showmanship for their cooked-to-order Brown Butter Glazed Donuts.

I was more impressed by their Pig Ear Cheetohs, which was the crunchiest and lightest pig’s ear dish I have ever eaten, as pig’s ear can be pretty tough. I could eat them all day long, orange fingers be damned!

BEST COOKIE – Almond Cookies from La Brea Bakery at Taste of the Nation & The Taste

La Brea Bakery's Almond Cookies

Almond Cookies. Yeah. Again. We still remember these cookies. They are so surprisingly chewy they are probably made with almond paste. Knowing La Brea Bakery, they probably make their own almond paste. The cookies aren’t for sale on the website, so I think I need to hit the bakery soon.

BEST CUPCAKE – Triple Chocolate Cupcake from Huckleberry at All-Star Chef’s Classic

Triple Chocolate Cupcakes. Lemon Meringue Pie and more from Zoe Nathan at the All-Star Chef Classic

Zoe Nathan is involved in so many projects, including Sweet Rose Creamery, she provided a tantalizing array of sweets at All-Star Chef’s Classic. Triple chocolate cupcakes, lemon meringue pie, a Farmers Market Berry Trifle, and a blueberry cornmeal cake with vanilla ice cream made it almost impossible to choose. The triple chocolate cupcake won out in the end. It was moist and complex, and would make it worth driving to Huckleberry. We will have to see if that recipe is in her cookbook.

BEST CAKE – Paradise Cake from Kings Hawaiian

Paradise Cake Slice King's Hawaiian

The founder of King’s in Hawaii, Robert Taira, came up with the Paradise Cake after founding his bakery in Hilo during the 1950s. The Paradise is a chiffon cake boasting three layers, each with its own tropical flavor — guava (pink), passion fruit (yellow), and lime (green). The cake is layered with whipped cream, and the top is decorated with guava, passion fruit and lime nectar glaze.  If all of that isn’t enough to blow your mind, King’s also serves a Tropical Cheesecake with the same three layers.

BEST PIE – Banana Cream Pie with Dulce de Leche from Cassell’s

Cassell's Banana Cream Pie with Dulce de Leche

The luscious-looking pies rotating in the pie case do not disappoint. Dessert is definitely one area where this place beats out the original Cassell’s. Elia Aboumrad, who we fell in love with when she shaved her head on season two of Top Chef, is not only Christian Page’s wife, but she is also the pie wizard. The banana cream pie with dulce de leche will blow your mind. A nearby diner remarked, “That is exactly what banana cream pies have been missing all this time.”

BEST ICE CREAM – IT’S A TIE!

McConnell’s Eureka Lemon and Marionberry hand-packed ice cream

McConnell's Eureka Lemon and Marionberries Ice CreamLemon and berries have always been a natural pairing, but they soar to new heights when combined in McConnell’s Eureka Lemon and Marionberry hand-packed ice cream. The lemon is tart, but not unpleasantly so, and the marionberry adds an even stronger tartness, like a good fruit pie. The two flavors explode on your tongue with an unexpected intensity.

Vanilla Ice Cream from Dandy Don’s Ice Cream

Dandy Don's strawberry ice cream at Pier del Sol

Dandy Don’s had make-your-own sundaes at two of the events I attended this year, The Taste and Pier del Sol. Have you ever taken your first mouthful of food, expecting one thing, and been so surprised that you stopped eating and looked around for someone to share your amazement? I had expected the ice cream to be flavorful, having noticed the black speckles of vanilla bean, but it was possibly the best vanilla ice cream I have ever eaten. I returned to the booth to rave, and was introduced to Dandy Don Himself. Clad in a red and white striped shirt and ice cream cone tie, he was like the Orville Redenbacher of ice cream, or maybe even Willy Wonka.

 

BEST DESSERT – Lychee Panna Cotta from Starry Kitchen at Button Mash

Lychee Panna Cotta at Button MashThis year I attended the opening night of the much buzzed-about Button Mash, an Echo Park bar full of retro video games and pinball machines. The big draw for me was the food, which comes courtesy of our favorite culinary duo, Starry Kitchen. By the time I showed up around 10:30pm, the kitchen was already sold out of everything but dessert. I was still happy as hell to enjoy the yin and yang of Lychee Panna Cotta, so smooth, cool and creamy, with a very subtle salted plum sauce.

BEST DOOTS – It’s a 3-way Tie!

James Beard called little finger foods and canapes “doots.” Here are a few that defy categorization, but deserve recognition.

Tuna in a Calabrian Chili Vinaigrette with Lemon Zest from Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo at All Star Chefs

Tuna in a Calabrian Chili Vinagrette and Lemon Zest wrapped in Daikon Radish from Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo at the All-Star Chef Classic

Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s Tuna in a Calabrian Chili Vinaigrette with Lemon Zest rolled into a paper-thin slice of Daikon radish was absolute perfection. It was served chilled and was quite refreshing in addition to it being a perfect compact bite edited down to only the most basic elements. It would win the heart of any modern minimalist.

Smoked Trout from Maximiliano at Taste of the Eastside

smokedfish

At Taste of the Eastside, we were pleased with the plate from Maximiliano, an Italian spot in Highland Park from the same people who brought you Oinkster.

Chef Clinton Dunn was serving a deviled egg alongside a very fresh and clean-tasting apple wood smoked trout that had been brined for three hours and smoked for five hours. Smoked fish should just be mixed right into the yolk for deviled eggs from now on. It was a perfect pairing.

 

Escargot from Petit Trois and Trois Mec at Jonathan Gold’s 101

Escargot from Trois MecChef Ludo Lefebvre brought his formal French training to LA in 1996, and spent time in the kitchens at both L’Orangerie and Bastide before practically inventing the pop-up concept with his wife, Krissy. He eventually settled down long enough to open three acclaimed restaurants in LA.

Jonathan Gold has touted Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s escargot from Petit Trois/Trois Mec as being unrivaled. After going back for seconds of the rich, buttery snails on slices of baguette, we have to agree.

BEST OVERALL BITE OF THE YEAR – Sea urchin brioche with lardo, pistachios and truffle butter. The Otium at the James Beard Foundation Taste America

Lardo at Taste America

My first bite of the evening at Taste America was also my last bite, as I returned for seconds before heading out. Chef Timothy Hollingsworth of Barrel & Ashes and Otium at The Broad presented sea urchin brioche with lardo, pistachios and truffle butter. I spent a good amount of time lingering nearby, and watched as he fried little fingers of brioche in truffle-infused butter, topped one end with a little uni, wrapped the lardo around the tip of the brioche to secure the uni, and rolled it in pistachios. It almost seemed like the kind of a process you would use to compose a dessert. It was one of the most unique and satisfying combinations of flavors that has ever touched my palate. At the end of the evening I jokingly asked him if I could lick out the lardo bowl. He passed me a transluscent square of lardo hanging from the tip of his long metal tweezers. Bonus fat.

BEST FOOD EVENT PRESENTATION – Barrel & Ashes at LAFW Saturday Night

barrel

Each night of Los Angeles Food and Wine has its own unique vibe. Saturday night is all about the party. The focus is on cocktails and music. At Barrel and Ashes, they were having a luau! They had an entire pig that they were making into little pulled pork sandwiches. I noticed Chef Rory Herrmann drinking out of a coconut. So I asked excitedly, “You have drinks in coconuts?”

He replied, “Sure. We have Mai Tais. Julian Cox is making them right over there.” I squealed like a sorority girl at the sight of Julian and unsuccessfully tried to hug him across the table top. At the end of the night, as the party wound down, I was contemplating the pig’s head. I asked Rory, “What about the cheeks?”

He replied, “Go for it.” I stared at him to see if he was serious and he looked back at me expectantly. One of the cooks handed me a fresh roll. But no one handed me a knife. So I peeled back the crisp crackling skin and took out a big handful of pork cheek.

BEST COCKTAIL MADE BY JULIAN COX – Vanilla Cherry Sky at Spirit 30

Julian Cox's Vanilla Cherry Sky

You may have noticed that we love Julian Cox. We have loved him ever since he ran the bar at our beloved and shuttered Rivera. Restaurateur Bill Chait loves Julian Cox too, as he has Julian doing the beverage programs for around 14 of his restaurants.

The Vanilla Cherry Sky was one of two specialty cocktails Julian Cox made for Spirit 30’s charity event. The cocktail is mixed with Greenbar slowhand white whiskey, Greenbar TRU organic vanilla vodka, Cherry heering, cherry bitters, and lemon. It was strong without being overpowering, with a refreshing light tang like cherry lemonade.

BEST COCKTAIL NOT MADE BY JULIAN COX – Bourbon Bramble from Knob Creek at The Taste: Sunday Brunch and BBQ

The "pretty drink"I saw some people holding a gorgeous red drink with a raspberry floating in it. They didn’t know its name, but pointed me over to the Knob Creek outpost. I sidled up to the bar and asked for “the pretty drink.” They knew exactly what to make. It was crazy delicious and I passed up many other alluring cocktails in order to keep nursing it.

I later learned it was created by Marcos Menendez and called the Bourbon Bramble, which I believe contained Knob Creek Bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, blackberries and crème de mure.

 

BEST ALL AROUND BAR FOOD – Fiscal Agent

Fiscal Agent Scallops

The main reason people come to Fiscal Agent is the innovative yet classic bar menu by bar star Julian Cox. The reason we come is for the amazingly good menu from Chef Michael Kahikina, another member of restaurateur Bill Chait’s dream team, who also chefs at Barrel and Ashes downstairs. A lovely late night dinner can be created from the menu of small plates.

The Smoked Trout Rillettes with Pickled Shallot, Lovage, and Fennel is the best smoked fish in town. I am sometimes wary of smoked fish in America, but rilletes is a magic word, kind of like confit. Anything cooked in fat is good by me. Spread on small pieces of sourdough toast, the trout is heavenly. The octopus, which was served almost like a salad, with a lot of frisee along with crispy Toscana salami, saffron aioli and potato confit (Confit!!!), is the most tender octopus I have ever eaten. Ever. I didn’t know it could be like this; it was like an entirely different animal (OK, cephalopod, whatever). I felt betrayed by everyone who has ever served me octopus in the past. The Peruvian Scallops with cilantro, cucumber and Nuoc Cham is delicate and light. They are now serving lobster and caviar, so you can really spoil yourself.

MOST INSTAGRAMMABLE

Foie Gras Tart from Cliff’s Edge at LA Food and Wine Opening Night

foodandwinevartancliffsedge

Upscale ingredients continue to be popular at food events. We were swooning over the Foie Gras Tart with charred onion meringue, pickled mustard and tarragon from Chef Vartan Abgaryan of the Cliff’s Edge. The crust was slightly sweet, but the dish was not nearly as gnarly as the Foie Gras Creme Brulee they used to serve at L’Orangerie.

Grilled Shrimp from Republique at Los Angeles Magazine’s Food Event

Republique's grilled shrimp with an ingenious clear cocktail sauce

Republique’s Chef Walter Manzke had another of the best bites of the day with their grilled shrimp served with an ingenious clear cocktail sauce (the secret is yellow tomatoes).

Eagle Rock Brewhouse at Taste of the Nation

Eagle rock brewhouse taste of the nation
This bite is so artistic in its simplicity I don’t even have to tell you what the ingredients are. It feeds the eye as much as anything else.

DISCLAIMER: These opinions are solely those of LA Beat Editor, Elise Thompson, not of the other food writers on The Beat. Some meals were comped, as was entry into most of the food events.

My thanks to Genesia Ting, Mike Guerrena, The Offalo and Bob Lee, as well as to all of the PR agencies, chefs, mixologists and cooks, and especially to those people working behind the scenes. These awards are bestowed upon the food and drink, and upon everyone involved in its creation.

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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2 Responses to The Tastee Awards! Best of 2015

  1. theoffalo says:

    Wow! This was a megapost! Thanks for doing the legwork! I’m still undecided on whether to wade through my last year’s worth of posts and summon up enough energy to write about my favorite bites. 🙂 You did pick many of the same dishes I would have picked from the events we both attended!

    • It was easy at first. It got hard when I was friends with the second runner-up or something good didn’t fit in an obvious category. I promised myself not to invent categories just to include something. 48 categories with 3 ties is still probably more than I should do.

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