What could be better than eating endless tacos and ceviches? Maybe a bottomless wine glass? How about enjoying it all for charity? On Friday night, AltaMed hosted its 9th annual “East LA Meets Napa & Beyond” event at Union Station. All proceeds benefit AltaMed Health Services, which provides “…access to health care, senior services, teen mentoring, HIV care and more to underserved families in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.”
The sold-out party flowed between two courtyards as a mild summer day softly slid into an evening under the stars. Sixty Latino-owned restaurants and vineyards provided delicious plates and specialty pours to the one-thousand, five hundred guests. Things really got rolling when the Grammy-nominated José Rizo’s Mongorama, an all-star group rooted in the classic Charanga/Jazz tradition, got the crowd onto the dance floor.
We always anticipate the wealth of tacos. Pork also figured prominently on many menus this year. We enjoyed a favorite dish — Doña Rosa’s cochinita pibil, Yucatan citrus-marinated pulled pork, on freshly made tortillas. King Taco served tacos al pastor, with pork cooked on a vertical spit like shwarma. Yxta impressed with “Gringas,” thick chunks of pastor, Queso Oaxaco, cilantro and a variety of salsas on flour tortillas. Hey, us gringas can take a joke if it’s this delicious. El Cholo served sweet corn tamales with mole. Rocio’s surprisingly did not make mole, but soyrizo tacos and delicious crunchy shell meat tacos. Aro Latin Bar and Restaurant dished up hearty chunks of pork rib meat accompanied by fresh corn. Teresita’s kept the theme going with costillos de puerco, or pork ribs, en chile negro.
Ceviche, a traditional warm weather dish, was also well-represented. Seta (an LA Beat favorite) had a ceviche that I could swear Chef Hugo Molina called “Blackbeard.” I was thinking that blood clams are called conchas negras, so I asked, “Is that a clam or a fish?” He simply shrugged, smiled charmingly and answered, “It is Blackbeard.” No, I can’t find it in Wikipedia. Seta also cooled our palates with a delicious jackfruit agua fresca. I had thought jackfruit was mainly a Thai ingredient. Just around the corner was not so much a competitor, but an accompanying favorite dish, scallop ceviche shooters from Zengo.
Another old friend, Rivera, topped Kennebec crisps with brocamole. That’s just wrong. I have a “thing” about broccoli. Please bring back the corn flans! La Huasteca went wild and served up five or six different “small plates.” Chef Maria made camarones in the shell, tamales with mole, quesedillas on what looked like nopale tortillas, something in a puff pastry cornucopia and more. After scarfing down Chef Maria’s Chiles Nogales, my mouth was on fire, so I ran to a nearby vendor. As I reached for a cup of green liquid, the server helpfully offered, “That’s vegetable juice with broccoli.” What a quandry! If this were a movie, the camera would pan up to the heavens as my voice yelled, “Noooooooooo!” Krug rescued me by quickly cold-brewing an iced tea.
For desserts, there were scrumptuous little brownie/flan hybrids from Flantastic, and of course we have to mention Porto’s. The Cuban bakery served their signature guava pastries, chocolate-dipped strawberries, teensy fruit tarts in chocolate cups and cookie kisses filled with dulce de leche. Breadcrumbs, who went for an Italian theme to stand out, had the thickest, richest, most decadent tiramisu imaginable.
Our favorite wine turned out to be the Pinot from Encanto Vineyards. Other popular vineyards were Ensamble, Napa Valley’s Rollicking Rose, and Sequoia Grove’s Cab. In addition to the wine, guests refreshed themselves with Tributo Tequila’s icy margaritas, various chef’s aguas frescas and the wide variety of iced teas and coffees from Krug. Atilla the Flan even provided champagne Jell-o shots. Now, that’s a party!