The annual Los Angeles Food and Wine festival is when the chefs take out their big guns. We were definitely impressed by the wide array of offerings on Thursday’s opening night: Ultimate Bites of LA. Sponsored by Lexus, it was a glamorous evening with the downtown skyline as the backdrop and a huge red carpet laid out on Grand in front of the Disney Hall and the new Broad Museum.
If anything stood out Thursday, it was the profusion of pastas and seafood. In case anyone didn’t know yet, the chefs made us well aware that it is truffle season. Fernando Darin of Patina Restaurant Group shaved truffles over a heavenly duck confit tortellini, while Drago Centro presented a corn and truffle agnolotti.
Not to be outdone, La Vecchia Cucina from Santa Monica announced their presence with a Fresh Casarecchia pasta tossed with a braised lamb shank ragu, and a quenelle of Italian buffalo milk ricotta cheese. With Italian black truffle, of course. It may have been a warm night, but the ragu was still as warming and comforting as it would be in Winter. Angelo Auriana of The Factory Kitchen served Risotto Monzese from a hollowed-out wheel of Parmesan. Chef Steven Fretz of The Churchkey served a Ricotta Gnudi with Corn Espuma (Gnocchi-type dumpling with corn foam), that looked very much like mashed potatoes and gravy from a 1950s cookbook cover..
One of the most exciting fish dishes came unsurprisingly from Water Grill. Chef Damon Gordon sliced a Wild Bigeye Tuna Crudo, caught in the Maldives near Naifaru. Our personal favorite was thinly sliced rolled tuna from Chef Bruce Bromberg of Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill. Chef Antonia Lofaso of Scopa Italian Roots took the road less traveled with her dish of Cockles and Fennel, Chili, Garlic and Herbs. Cockles are very similar to little clams (luckily they weren’t alive alive-o). Eagle Rock Public House had one of the night’s big hits with their Uni and Corn Custard. Sweetfin gets the win for presentation for their yellowtail tuna poke with white soy glaze and yuzu panna cotta in adorable clear orbs. We were especially pleased to see that Slapfish had brought their buttery hybrid crab-lobster Clobster Roll.
Meat remains a popular menu item. We were swooning over the Foie Gras Tart with charred onion meringue, pickled mustard and tarragon from Chef Vartan Abgaryan of the Cliff’s Edge. The crust was slightly sweet, but the dish was not nearly as gnarly as the Foie Gras Creme Brulee they used to serve at L’Orangerie. The Golden Tostada (wagyu beef, dashi, black truffle, caviar) by Chef Kyle Johnson of Bourbon Steak put a whole new spin on tartare. Chef Holly Jivin of Bazaar by Jose Andres pleased us with our favorite steamed buns, which were filled with oxtail. Chef Kris Morningstar of Terrine got exotic with Egyptian Spiced Braised Goat with grits and crispy okra, which was fantastic. Tim Byres of Smoke in Dallas set up a little cabin with beer pairings for his dishes. We especially liked the coffee-cured beef brisket with a salad of watermelon and tomato. Badmaash cooked up their famous lamb burgers, which always draws a huge line.
Jessica Koslow of Squirl served a flavorful Heirloom Tomato Soup with dehydrated quinoa & cactus. Chef Sydney C. Hunter III presented a fruit salad of Weiser Melons, Pickled Cherry Tomato, Maple-Chili Vin and Black Olive Crumble from Superba Snack Bar. You would think that olives would clash with fruit, but it wasn’t really a shock to the palate. It was kind of like putting salt on watermelon.
We mostly drank champagne, but the best cocktail of the night was the Sicilian Buck from Scopa. For dessert, there was chocolate from Compartes. They had a fun birthday cake-flavored white chocolate. Nancy Silverton premiered her new line of gelato and sorbetto called Nancy’s Fancy. Her sister ran The Gelato Shop that used to be in Studio City. We tried the Budino, of course. The guests swooned at the sight of Curtis Stone, but I was more impressed with his wife, Lindsay Price, who used to be on All My Children. The DJ for the night replacing Questlove was Mike D of the Beastie Boys, and everyone ended the night dancing.
Scopa was cool enough to share their recipe for the best drink of the night with us!
1 Purity Vodka
1 Montenegro Amaro
.75 Ginger Syrup
Shake, top with soda water, strain over fresh ice. Hand drink to Elise.