Thursday night LAFW started out with a bang. The party shut down Grand Avenue and brought chefs in from all over the city. The “Ultimate Bites of LA” tasting event presented by Chase Sapphire Preferred was hosted by chatty and down-to-earth Celebrity Chef Graham Elliot. Billy Harris emceed and DJ Dustin Fuselier was spinning it smooth but funky with the likes of Prince.
Chefs Ray Garcia and Fabio Vibiani battled it out against chefs Ben Ford and Graham Elliot in a taco challenge. Team Garcia/Vibiani emerged victorious and won 20K for the LA Food Bank! That translates into 80k meals!
The best bite of the evening had to be Braised Veal Cheeks with Black Truffle Polenta from Chef Mark Mollica of La Vecchia Cucina. Although the cheeks were braised, they had a decadent, crisp exterior. A close second was truffle-infused pasta served out of gigantic hollowed-out wheels of Parmesan from Chef Mirko Paderno of Oliverio.
There were three very different foie gras dishes. Alma, which was named Bon Appetit’s best new restaurant of 2013, went all molecular gastronomy on us with liquid nitrogen frozen bits of liver that chef Ari Taymor would neither confirm nor deny was foie gras. The restaurant that had me passionately digging into the foie like a long lost lover was B Too with Bart Vandaele’s a Canned Foie Gras Parfait with Lavender Crumble, Stella Cidre Gelee, Peach and Mint. As always, fruit paired well with the silky foie, and the gelee brought a perfect textural counterpoint. One unexpected surprise was a foie gras macaroon. The purple shade led me to believe it would be grape. The creator of the unusual bite was Stephanie Boswell of Rose.Rabbit.Lie in Las Vegas. In fact, there were a few interlopers including a tricked out Airstream from The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas.
Chef Robert Liberato of STK offered Dry Aged New York Steak with Heirloom Corn Salsa while Celebrity Chef and TV Judge Elizabeth Falkner from NYC presented a Steak Tartar with Brown Butter Bernaise and Potato Krispies. While Ray Garcia was battling it out in the taco challenge, we found Chef Vartan Abgaryan of Cliff’s Edge in the Fig booth impersonating Chef Garcia. We were not fooled, however, in spite of the delicious Chile Verde.
Two lobster dishes vied for attention, Lobster Thermidor from Gabriel Ask of The Montage and a lobster salad in adorable little clay pots from Ian Gresik of Drago Centro, which barely beat out Elia Aboumrad of GORGE Hollywood’s chicken liver toasts and duck rilletes in pate a choix for best presentation. Michael Hung of Faith and Flower pleasantly surprised us with a little Southern flavor with a Rock Shrimp and Grits Toast. Megan Logan of Nick and Stef’s Steakhouse plated a lovely Charred Octopus with Smoked Potato, Olive Piquillo Pepper and Relish. Just a few booths down, Bestia was combining octopus with rich, creamy burrata.
There was a wealth of fresh and delicious fish to choose from. Ricardo Zarate of Spicca, Mo-Chica and Paiche created a Yellowtail Tiradito. Host Chef Eliot has been running marathons and eating healthy, as shown with his Peruvian Ceviche in an unexpected Miso Raisin Puree. Brian Malarkey of Herringbone made a delicious ceviche of line-caught tuna and clams. Water Grill’s Chef Damon Gordon plated Wild Salmon Crudo with Fig Jam and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. South Bay favorite, David Lefebvre of MB Post and Fishing with Dynamite produced an amazingly good Cold Poached Passmore Ranch Sturgeon with Tiny Beets, Citrus and Horseradish Dill. I was surprised to have cooked fish after so much crudo and ceviche.
While Squirl provided our veggies with a Zucchini Blini with California Osteria Caviar, Chef Eric Greenspan, along with his right hand festival man, Josh McKnight, gave us the only thing we ask of him anymore, upscale grilled cheese and tomato soup. Chef Nicco Chessa of Valentino lightened things up with a Baked Ricotta Salad with Citrus Balsamic Dressing White Asparagus and Spinach.
Wine and champagne were flowing, especially pink Brut, especially Henriot, but we were charmed by the cocktails. The Cosmopolitan’s “Streaker with a Cause” combined El Dorado 12 Year, Amaro Montenegro, Hum Botanical, Caramelized Pineapple Puree, Lime Juice, Cardamom Ginger Syrup and Elamakule Tiki Bitters. Just add some flour, and I could bake a cake. Their “Wanderlust” is a take on “The Paloma”with Montelobos Mezcal, Combier Pampelmousse Rose (My new spy name), Lemon Juice, Ginger Tamarind Syrup, and Stiegl Grapefruit Lager. The “Streaker” was a refreshing match for some of the spicier dishes. Ocean Vodka, which is very mild, was mixing up Watermelon Martinis.
The night was cooler than in recent nights, making for a comfortable event in the shadow of the downtown skyline. Music