The theme of the annual East LA Meet Napa event at Union Station this year was cuisine from the state of Michoacan. Chefs paid homage with the local staples of corn, beans, and squash as well as the region’s native Cotija and seafood (and pork, which was introduced by the Spaniards). It being summer, restaurants had a bounty of corn and squash blossoms, which were featured in a number of dishes. Some of the most outstanding were squash blossom quesedillas and Rivera’s dreamy corn custard, although we missed Chef John Sedlar’s charming presence.
The night truly belonged to ceviche. Dorado’s palm ceviche was the most impressive, bright with citrus. A close second had to be Cacao’s mango ceviche, bursting with the flavors of summer. There were even two different versions of ground beef ceviche, a sort of Latin tartare.
Since Cacao went for ceviche instead of their famous wild game, somebody had to balance things out with some rich meats. El Portal did an amazing job with perfectly seasoned, tender lengua. Chalio served up succulent and sweet birria, which has made them so famous they are probably going to be required to serve it at every single function.
El Cholo had one of the top corn tamales; the masa was exceptionally moist, if a little sweet, although I have to admit sweet corn cakes are a guilty pleasure. Perhaps the preview to the event predisposed me to have favorites, but some of the most memorable dishes were from Seta, Loteria Grill and what I consider the “Brennan Family” of Whittier, that winning trifecta of Dorados, Cook’s Tortas and Guisados. Those restaurants will soon know me on sight.
On the sweet side, there were the usual pan dulce, and no one can match Porto’s stop-you-in-your-tracks guava pastries. Playa offered up a Flan de Elote, and Atilla the Flan wowed the crowd with their show-stopping florales in gelatin.
In addition to the wines, there were a variety of tequilas to sample, and many restaurants offered up traditional non-alcoholic fruit drinks known as aguas frescas. The women of Oaxaca were busy patting, frying and folding antojitos while mariachis serenaded us in the courtyard. I slipped off with a full belly as the party ramped up, leaving the guests to dance into the night.