Saturday afternoon’s Lexus Grand Tasting was all about elegance and luxury. Held on two soundstages at LA Center Studios, the ambiance was that of a chi chi wedding reception. Chefs brought out high end ingredients, and a greater variety of champagnes were poured compared to the other LAFW events we attended. The crowd was much smaller than at the evening events on Grand Avenue, but not as exclusive as some of the lunches and demos.
Church Key highlighted the perfection of simplicity with Chef Steven Frett’s hamachi with liquid nitrogen-frozen watermelon. And as long as they had the nitrogen, why not make tequila Otter Pops? Why not indeed! Greg Hozinsky of The Strand House in the culinary upstart that is Manhattan Beach presented a lovely Spanish Octopus with Fairytale Eggplant, Cranberry Beans, and Heirloom Tomato in a Patron Vinaigrette which also emphasized quality ingredients treated simply. Chef Peter Haller of The Gorbals knew mussels are always a welcome indulgence.
Richard Blaise presented a Carne Crudo Asada and quail egg with a perfect, runny yolk. A precious deviled quail egg with puff pastry, smoked salmon roe, Caramelized Radish Salad, Frisee and Horseradish was intricately plated by Chef Joe Vasiloff of Cafe Pinot. Brad Farmerie of Public and The Thomas had the most dramatic presentation of the day, with a salmon head and tail bookending slices of sumptuous Ora King Salmon crudo. But there was stiff competition from Alimento’s Scallop Crudo with lemon and calabrian chile by Chef Zach Pollack.
Red meat was well represented. Also playing for Manhattan Beach, Chef David Lefevre of MB Post and Fishing with Dynamite scored with Vietnamese caramel Sunfed beef Shortrib with Rau Ram (Vietnamese coriander/mint). Chef Kris Morningstar gave us a preview of what was to come at Terrine, his upcoming restaurant teaming with Stephane Bombet. The Smoked Beef Deckle, with Burnt Lilies, Crunchy Potatoes and Horseradish was exotic and familiar at the same time. Deckle is the “second cut” of beef, a favorite amongst “nose-to-tail” chefs. The tallest chef in town, Bernhard Mairinger of Bier Beisel Imbess carved thick slices of pork belly for open faced sandwiches.
Comfort food is always a hit, especially Italian comfort food. Scott Conant’s Scarpetta prepared Caviatelli with house made duck sausage under the steady watch of Chef Freddy Vargas. Top Chef alum Fabio Viviani of Firenzi Osteria and Cafe Firenzi doled out a mouthwatering Fresh Garganelli Pasta with Porchetta Sugo, Salsa Verde, Parmesan and Black Pepper. He was also spent time at the table signing “Fabio’s Italian Kitchen.” We also caught up with Chef Ben Ford who was signing “Taming the Feast.”
Corn was a popular base for a number of dishes. CLM‘s chef, Levi Mezik brought a down home vibe with Rock Shrimp and Grits. Really, I could eat an entire plate of his shrimp and andouille sausage topping creamy Cheddar cheese grits. Chef Matthew Accarrino of SPQR in San Francisco presented a refined dish of Savory Corn Panna Cotta with a Passmore Ranch Sturgeon, Bacon, and Truffle Salad. He also sneaked in a little popcorn. We already love Vartan Abgaryan of Cliff’s Edge. But he sealed the deal by whipping out the uni. Corn Panna Cotta Vadouvan with a hint of curry toped with uni was my favorite bite of the day, and a truly photogenic bite at that.
As you may have noticed, Smoking was a trend amongst the chefs. Locanda del Lago presented a dish of Smoked Ricotta, Dill-Mustard Marinated Green Cabbage with Granny Smith Apples and a Spiced Grain Mustard Sauce. It was surprisingly mild, and hinted at sausage, in spite of the lack of sausage. Chef Pawan Mahendro of Badmash served a very popular Punjabi Pork Slider that will certainly have guests flocking to his restaurant. Fragrant with a complex layering of spices, it is one of those natural marriages that defines fusion cuisine at its highest level.
Besides crowd-pleasing crispy pork tacos with corn and avocado cream, Anthony Meidenbauer of Holstein’s Shakes and Buns in Las Vegas spoiled us with thick cookies and cream milkshakes. McConnell’s was scooping samples of strawberry and salted caramel ice creams. It was a sweet way to end a decadent afternoon.