Each night of Los Angeles Food and Wine has its own unique vibe. Saturday night is all about the party. The focus is on cocktails and music. Lines tend to be longer for the food, so you have to be selective and really commit.
Herringbone had a fantastic dish of octopus and olives, and Chef Bruce Kalman served a Roasted Beet and Crescenza Tortellini with Lemon, Poppyseed and Wild Fennel for Union. Kalman’s Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market in the Grand Central Market can’t open soon enough. South Bay local David Lefevre presented a Roasted Pork Shoulder with Peach Mostarda and Escarole for the Manhattan Beach Post and Arthur J. Another great chef from Manhattan Beach, Chef Greg Hozinsky of The Strand House cooked up an outstanding Spicy Rock Shrimp and Chorizo Broth
As I wandered along the red carpet on Grand Avenue, I peeked at a lot of interesting dishes. Fig had a Vadouvan Rice Bowl with Charred Pork Belly and Octopus. Joe’s Stone Crab was serving up their popular paninis cooked between two irons. This year they were making Cubanos. Also on the grill were Warm Brie Sandwiches from Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli, who you may recognize as one of the judges on Chopped, along with Aaron Sanchez. Chef Genevieve Gergis of Bestia displayed tempting Strawberry Shortcakes created in conjunction with Salt & Straw ice cream.
I realized I knew about four mixologist/bartenders, each of whom slipped me drinks on the side. Damian Windsor and Jason Bran were both at Hendrick’s Gin and were once again pouring delicious lemonades, so I committed myself to a cocktail-fueled party night. Then I happened upon Barrel and Ashes, and they were having a luau! They had an entire pig that they were making into little pulled pork sandwiches. I noticed Chef Rory Herrmann drinking out of a coconut. So I asked, “You have drinks in coconuts?”
He replied, “Sure. We have Mai Tais. Julian Cox is making them right over there.” I squealed like a sorority girl at the sight of Julian and unsuccessfully tried to hug him across the table top.
Chef Michael Ginor of Hudson Valley and Lola Restaurant produced the richest and most elegant bite of the night — a Torchon of Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Caramelized White Chocolate. I was amazed that his table wasn’t overrun. This is foie gras straight from the source. Along with the white chocolate, there was a dollop of fruit jam on top, always a welcome match for foie gras.
When The Roots took the stage a mass of people clearly on a mission headed towards the band. I realized that this was my moment. It was like when I was a kid and I would wait until the Electric Light Parade started so I could go on Space Mountain without any line. I was able to hit Chef Nick Elmi’s table for Braised Burgundy Snail with Sea Capers and Potato from Laurel in Philadelphia, and Chef Sean Chaney’s transportative Seared Foie Gras on a Pig’s Ear Crisp with Cara Cara Orange from Hot’s Kitchen in Hermosa Beach, which I will be visiting very soon. I made it to Bouchon’s raw bar a little too late, but I had a nice chat with Chef David Hands, whose arm was bandaged due to an unfortunate accident while wrestling their giant tuna aboard.
I caught the second half of The Roots’ set. They were much better than I had expected. I knew they would be good, but they were outstanding. They would play a few lines from a song — more than a sample, but less than a medley — and just jam on that for maybe five minutes before segueing into another groove. The cover selections were eclectic — Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” and Guns n Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine.”
After the band was over, I wandered back to the Hudson Valley foie gras and discovered people still weren’t eating it, so I ate two more and I brought a couple over to Barrel & Ashes. They insisted they were too full to eat another bite, so I ate those two as well. As I stood off to the side chatting with the chefs, I was contemplating the pig’s head. I asked Rory, “What about the cheeks?”
“What about them?”
“It’s the best part of the pig and you haven’t even eaten them.”
He replied, “Go for it.” I stared at him to see if he was serious and he looked back at me expectantly. But no one handed me a knife. So I peeled back the crisp crackling skin and took out a handful of pork cheek with my bare hands.