To say last Sunday’s Taste of the Eastside exceeded our expectations would be an understatement. The location at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens was one of the greenest and most versatile event spaces we have ever visited. And to think it has been there, quietly nestled in the crook of the 5 and 110 freeways all this time.
Perhaps it was the cool shaded courtyards, or perhaps it was because this was a smaller, localized event, but for whatever reason, there was a friendly and communal vibe throughout. Strangers smiled as you passed, and children ran freely. I followed my usual plan of attack at first, rushing to photograph as much food as possible before the horde descended, but the horde never even materialized. So I was able to slow my pace and really enjoy the event. Lines were short and people were chatty. It was a treat to leisurely speak with the chefs, who were happy to pose and answer questions.
Usually we would have a list of favorites for you, but nearly every single bite was a favorite bite. It was a seafood-heavy event, with L & E Oyster Bar shucking Phantom Creek Oysters from British Columbia to serve with cocktail sauce and a mignonette. We were curious to try Silver Lake’s Knuckle & Claw, who were offering sample sizes of lobster rolls with lobster flown in live that very day. The chilled lobster sat on slightly sweet rolls with melted butter. Of course, the staff generously urged you to take more than one sample.
We also checked out Maximiliano, an Italian spot in Highland Park from the same people who brought you Oinkster. Chef Clinton Dunn was serving a deviled egg alongside a very fresh and clean tasting apple wood smoked trout that had been brined for three hours and smoked for five. The Greyhound Bar & Grill impressed us with their shrimp and grits with cherry tomatoes. Malo, an old favorite, served up delicious fish tacos. Little Dom’s chef, who is from Louisiana, created pork and crawfish meatballs, then treated us to chocolate budinos for dessert.
There is always one showpiece at these events, and this time it was Bon Vivant’s huge lamb chop in a chocolate sauce. It was tender yet meaty with very little of lamb’s trademark gaminess and just a bit of fattiness. The sauce managed to be dominated by chocolate without being too sweet and without venturing into mole territory. Momed, one of our favorite festival participants, did not hold back and gave us our Momed duck shwarma fix. Feast Catering served an eclectic combo including a refreshing beet and citrus salad. The bite that impressed us the most was their lamb bisteya, Moroccan spiced lamb layered in filo.
Taste of the Eastside regulars Xiao Vietnamese Eats’ complex plate of Hoi An poached chicken with julienned red onions, Vietnamese coriander, and fried shallots, with a side of fragrant broken rice and a squeeze of lime exploded on our palates and blew our minds. And I hardly added any hot sauce. Diablo Tacos, another LA Beat favorite, served a perfectly braised, intensely flavorful Chipotle chicken taco.
Lemon Poppy created a delicious Spring onion and English pea polenta with braised pork and pickled grape tomatoes. As a bonus they had baked a banana coconut cake that was so good a piece may or may not have been smuggled out. I can neither confirm nor deny such accusations.
Polka, a Polish favorite of local food critics, upped the carbs with potato/cheese pierogies and potato pancakes. Spitz wasn’t able to make their doner kabob without a portable spit, but they had really fresh pita and promise they are shopping for a spit. They get a free pass though, because they were playing the New York Dolls and Bowie at their booth.
Although Angel City Brewing was on hand, we really appreciated G&B Coffee’s iced teas and coffees to cool us down. We chose a scoop each of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream’s rich and creamy Salted Caramel and Brown Butter Almond Brittle, but still stared wistfully at the Mango Lassi Frozen Yogurt. It looks like the only booth we missed was Plazzo Gelato’s. But we made it up to ourselves with a Michelada popsicle from Diablo Tacos. Sure, the Diablo Pop is meant to be used as an ice cube, but we left happy.