Taste of the Nation last Sunday was the perfect way to escape the heat wave by strolling the grounds of Media Park in Culver City enjoying the mature shade trees and the breezes of the Westside. It was a good time for a good cause, raising $200,000 for the No Kid Hungry campaign to end childhood hunger in America.
Our good friends from Silver Lake, Knuckle and Claw, were serving their delicious Lobster Rolls with Truffle Butter. They had a little competition from Slapfish, who were serving gorgeous “Clobster” Rolls. The Whaler went traditional with a crispy crab cake. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Michael Hung of Faith & Flower impressed with his upscale Lobster Parfait with Persian Cucumber, Lemon Cream and Trout Roe that was so beautifully composed it nearly broke the food porn meter on Instagram.
One seafood dish that was absolutely peerless was the Fried Skate Wing Sandwich wih fermented coleslaw, citrus onions, and green Tabasco aioli from Ray’s & Stark Bar. Skate usually reminds me of a cross between calamari and whitefish, but this big hunk of skate was flaky and tender like cod, perfect for the fish & chips-style deep fry. Cliff’s Edge presented a flavorful Octopus with Jalapeno and Snap peas.
Mainland Poke Shop joined the festival circuit with a stunning Salmon Poke over Watermelon Radish with Avocado Cream and Shallots. B.S. Taqueria pleased us with our new favorite dish, Campechana Verde, comprised of octopus, squid, scallops, snapper, cucumber and tomatillo. The seafood is cooked before being tossed in a lime vinaigrette, differentiating it from ceviche, although the effect is similar. Eagle Rock Brew Public House composed a plate with a perfect slice of apple, salmon, and a teensy weensy lavender flower with itty bitty herbs.
Kris Morningstar of Terrine brought the meat with a juicy lamb belly, and Barrel and Ashes paired smoked brisket with juicy watermelon. Pono Burger and Plan Check flipped delicious-looking burgers that seemed too filling for me at that point. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Whenever I think of Bazaar by Jose Andres I always think of their addictive take on the Philly Cheesesteak. I was beyond happy to see that was exactly what was on their menu. Dog Haus put their spin on the traditional corndog with a Masa Battered Smoked Queso Sausage, in house-made pepper jack sauce sprinkled with crushed corn chips.
Chef Bruce Kalman’s name is often heard in conjunction with a variety of awards. I think the award he should really be up for is best pasta. Union’s Spelt Cavatelli with Langley Farm Goat Sugo and Peruano Beans almost made us forget the duck agnolotti he served at Alex’s Lemonade last year. We look forward to hitting his upcoming pasta lab in the Grand Central Market. Although I do have to confess that Culina Modern Italia’s Ravioli alla Carbonara with pancetta, onion, thyme, marscapone and pancetta-wrapped yolk gave Union a run for their money. Joe’s/Bar Pinxto had a huge pan of Spanish paella with eggs broken on top. Border Grill and Mudhen Tavern went a little healthier with Walnut Chorizo Flatbread and a kale salad.
Most of the cocktails were served within a copse of trees. There was a completely different vibe in the shade than the rest of the event. It was kind of like the party arbor. Punches are definitely in right now. It’s a good way to serve a crowd a complicated cocktail that might take 5 minutes to mix. Outside of the party arbor, Tom Bergin’s was pouring Iced Irish Coffee while Ray’s and Stark Bar was shaking Mezcalifornications with El Silencio, Chateau Aloe, blood orange syrup, lime juice and cilantro. I guess the aloe helps heal the burn from the mezcal.
I am a bubbly girl, so I headed straight for Henriot, but they were only serving wine. So I was extremely happy to see Moet & Chandon there. Then, as I watched, the server filled a glass with ice. Whaaa? The he poured the champagne over the ice. I audibly gasped. Actually it wasn’t as ladylike as a gasp; the sound the came out was kind of like, “Eeaaaghaaah!” Both reps quickly held their hands out in a calming, palms-down gesture and insisted, “No! It’s supposed to be on ice.” Why? Why would they do that? I suspiciously accepted a glass of Ice Imperial. Very fruity. Kind of like a carbonated chardonnay. When I got home, I immediately checked the website. Yes, it is meant to be served over ice. It is a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. I guess it might be nice on a picnic, or on a boat, or at a book club. If you ran out of wine cooler.
Most of the desserts were frozen, as was befitting the heat. We loved Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Pop (aka popsicles) in flavors like blueberry and tangerine. We went with the blood orange. Salt & Straw’s Cacique Lemon Cheesecake with Guava Swirl Ice Cream was unbelievably good as was McConnell’s similar Eureka Lemon and Marionberries Ice Cream. Across the park, Rita’s offered a choice of Lemon or blue Cotton Candy. Hinoki & the Bird served a lovely panna cotta with honeydew, but I’m still not over Kuniko Yagi. There were two standout bread puddings, one from Valerie Confections and the other from La Brea Bakery. People often ask me about the best dish I tried at an event. This time it was definitely La Brea’s Almond Cookie. It was not crispy as expected, but soft and comforting like a warm chocolate-chip cookie.
The waiter races are always a popular feature of Taste of the Nation LA. Teams ran relay races starting with a bottle of wine and empty glasses, each of which must be filled from the bottle on every leg of the race. Lots of cheering and laughing covered up the gasps as glass after glass fell and shattered. In the end, Cafe Gratitude was the victor. I guess all that good karma really does accumulate.