LAFW Sunday Grand Tasting 2014

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All photos by Bob Lee for the Los Angeles Beat.

LA Food & Wine’s 2015 edition came to a close on Sunday afternoon with a stellar display of talent from chefs both local and imported. This tradition of getting out-of-town headliners to join the regulars at these festivals is a good thing, making it possible to appreciate these nationally known chefs and try their stuff at least once, for the price of a ticket. And maybe it’s coincidence, but it seems to keep the locals on their toes – virtually everything I sampled was first-rate, well-conceived and executed for a big crowd with great precision. The relatively few lines that were long moved quickly, and gave us a chance to recover in between plates.

Patrons of the closing day’s festivities got to experience the work of out-of-towners like Michael Ginor and Iron Chef Masuharu Morimoto from New York City, Miami Beach’s Andre Bienvenu, whose crab-filled waffle cones inspired some of the longest lines and most satisfied diners of the day, and Los Olivos’ Robbie Wilson, whose pork belly with chili and melon proved to be a festival highlight. Top Chef finalist and San Francisco restaurateur Casey Thompson enthusiastically greeted fans and fellow chefs at her stand, which offered a trio of tantalizing bar bites. John Cox, visiting from Big Sur, gave his guests a sea cucumber “touch and taste” experience with the chance to meet live specimens before sampling his chicharrone-style treatment of same, the most adventurous, interesting-in-a-good-way thing I ate all afternoon.

Among the local luminaries, Alvin Cailan’s Eggslut was a clear fan favorite, dishing up little mason jars filled with coddled quail egg and caviar over a little potato puree, salty and satisfying. And the quartet of confections from Craftsmen And Wolves was the thing that made me say “Fuck!” loud enough for someone to hear, and inquire where they could get some of whatever that was. Mette Williams’ (Culina) produced an open-face meatball sandwich with burrata that had my entire table proclaiming their approval: creamy, deftly-seasoned and balanced perfectly against the crostini at its base. Michael’s Santa Monica impressed with pork loin with chili and onion and a decadent chocolate/ caramel pudding.

At the end of the day, though, it was a New Yorker that left the most intense impressions. Michael Ginor’s duck confit panini with gruyere gets my vote for plate of the day, a phenomenally rich, yet light experience, the kind of thing only eaten at special events. It’s important to have special events in your life once in a while.

I arrived at Iron Chef Morimoto’s table maybe halfway through the event to find him surrounded by female admirers, and apparently out of food. As I prepared to walk away disappointed, he caught my eye, reached down onto a plate and pressed a small square of cold noodles into my hand. As I bowed and walked away, I noticed that was actually the name of his dish – “Cold Noodles”. It was one of the modest things imaginable, just some lightly sauced cold noodles, but beautiful and immaculate, and the sense that this famous chef had noticed my interest and given me some of what I believe was his private stash made it all the more enticing. I have to admit, the guy has a vibe, such that I split without getting a picture of either him, or my handful of noodles.But I’ll remember the moment for a while.

The selection of wines on offer was truly overwhelming. Over 70 wineries were represented, 18 from Napa and a number of French heavy hitters – the Mumm and Perrier-Jouet booths were quite popular – and entries from as far afield as South Africa, Slovenia and Chile. This reporter found himself magnetically drawn to the Stags’ Leap booth for repeat occurrences of their 2011 cabernet, alternating with the Etude pinot noir next door. The most eye-opening entry I sampled was the Lunatic White from Luna Vineyards of Napa Valley, a surprisingly affordable blend of Symphony, Arneis, Albarino and Viognier grapes into an entirely new beast. This one could prove to be quite a pleasant summer companion, not to mention a cheap date.

 

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