Dinner with a Twist is one of the most popular events at The Taste. Hosted by Times Restaurant Critic Jonathan Gold and Deputy Food Editor Jenn Harris alongside Chef Michael Fiorelli and Marianella, tickets completely sold out. Focusing on the collaboration between the chef and mixologist, a number of the stations presented cocktails to compliment the chef’s plates.
The dish that was the talk of the night was Bellwether’s Charred Octopus. They sorted through the plates to find me the one they felt was perfectly charred. It was a larger octopus than you normally get, since it can really be tough, and it was nice to experience its meatiness. Coni’ Seafood served an aguachile of tamarind shrimp and a fish and octopus ceviche. I would have never thought of using tamarind with shrimp. Someone thought it was a borrowing of Indian cuisine, but tamarind also grows in Mexico, as evidenced by the popular tamarindo drink. By the way, Coni‘ told me the difference between ceviche and aguachile is that ceviche soaks in the citrus for a long period of time whereas agua chile is put into the marinade at the last minute.
There were plenty of other fish dishes. The Misfit offered California Halibut, White Peach, Fennel, Nasturtium and Orange Carrot Vinaigrette. Remember when you didn’t have to specify the color of a carrot? Perhaps the most beautiful dish of the night was cured hamachi over purple potatoes with dates and jalapeno from the Montage Beverly Hills, garnished with unusual velvety colorful flowers. Tipple and Brine marinated clams and topped them with fennel. My friend from Venice Whaler was there with their signature crab cakes. I realized after a few Don Julio blancos, “Venice Whaler” sounds just like “Venezuela.”
We have come to expect a lot from Celestino Drago over the years, and he met our expectations. The Drago brothers recklessly shaved flurries of black truffles over gnocchi stuffed with mushrooms in a Fontina and black truffle sauce for his namesake restaurant Celestino. Another great pasta dish came from Michael’s on Naples who rolled out Ricotta Cavateli with Chianina Beef, an Italian breed of cattle that has been around since the Roman Empire. You know you are dining in style when your menu mirrors that of Julius Caesar. Churchill had a nice pork belly pastrami. The food writers I know were all gushing over 10e and their Grilled Lamb Chop. So nicely charred, and zig-zagged with beautiful sauces.
We also enjoyed the seasonal Grilled CA Peaches with Dandelion Greens, Toma, and Duck Salami from Michael Fiorelli of Love and Salt. Perhaps the most intense salad I have ever eaten came from Kris Morningstar of Terrine. Salade Landaise, Gésiers de Canard, Foie Gras Torchon, with Shallot Vinaigrette. It was so nice to feel foie gras on my tongue again. Usually I like it paired with something fruity, but the vinaigrette balanced out the fat nicely. Later another guest and I would get into a standoff when she insisted it was gizzards, and I insisted it was foie gras. Later I saw my picture of their sign and realized we were both right. Kris Morningstar’s partner, Stephane Bombet, was also there for the weekend with Michael Hung premiering their soon-to-open restaurant Viviane.
Tacos are always popular, and Ben Ford was doing it right for Ford’s Filling Station, using a whole roasted pig. They kept the carcass in the back so as not to freak out the guests, but when I asked about the cheeks, they let me come in the back and watch as they made me a taco with both cheeks. Yes, it was fantastic, and yes, the pictures I took of the procedure might freak you out so they are not posted here. We noticed a lot of Greek and Middle Eastern influences this year, and Katsuji Watanabe of Mexikosher was right on trend serving a falafel taco with burnt salsa and habanero tahini. Our longtime favorite Diablo Tacos presented a Whiskey-braised Oxtail, Heirloom Marble Potatoes, Blistered Flamed Grapes, and Calabrian Chili Pesto in a “Kernel of Truth” Non-GMO Organic Yellow Corn Tortilla. Slapfish had a lobster taco that I somehow missed. And I am not happy about it.
Badmaash veered away from their usual lamb and cooked up pulled pork. So when the dad, Pawan Mahedro, came out and rested his hands on the grill he totally freaked me out until I realized the grills were off for the night. Their motto is “F*ck your favorite Indian restaurant.” But what if Badmaash is my favorite Indian restaurant? What then? Mi Piace’s Braised Beef Short Ribs were getting a lot of attention, but by that time I was stuffed and not in the mood to wait in a long line for filling comfort food. I do have my limits, you know.
The most spectacular dessert was unsurprisingly from Church Key. Chef Steven Fretz Made a bubblegum ice cream that tasted exactly like Bazooka. Most bubblegum ice creams were a poor imitation of gumballs. Chef Fretz told me the standard bubblegum is a combination of a number of fruit flavors, including banana.
The demos partnered chefs and bartenders, including Ludo Lefebvre and Helen Johannesen (Petit Trois/Trois Mec), Michael Fiorelli and Vincenzo Marianella (Love & Salt) a group demonstration led by Gold and Harris with Bricia Lopez (Guelaguetza), Zach Patterson (Melrose Umbrella Co.) and Josh Goldman (Belcampo Meat Co./Soigne Group). Our favorite demo of the night was by Steven Fretz and Devon Espinosa (The Church Key), featuring their “hype pig” named Chops. Glitter cannons shot out over the audience, nitrogen clouds billowed, and Chops showed off some bad ass dance moves.
Don Julio was styling in their usual Airstream trailer, mixing a variety of cocktails. We liked the “Tiki on the Radio” — Don Julio Blanco, Mezcal, Fresh Lime, Fresh Strawberry, Vanilla, Tiki Bitters and House Ginger Beer. Tanzy in the iPic Westwood had a really exciting cocktail, “The Afternoon Delight,” with tequila, raspberry, golden raspberry, blackberry, freshly squeezed lemon, orange and lime juice, and a slap of mint. Our cocktail of the night, though, came from Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine. I was really excited about their “Moonshine Cherries” soaked long enough to pack a wallop. A nice little surprise in any drink. They were pouring a “Dirty Shirley Temple” and their version of a mule. I was bringing drinks to one of my friend’s booths and I told them their two options. One cook was shocked, “No way! Shirley Temple is a little girl. I don’t want to get caught with a dirty little girl!”
I asked, “Would you rather be caught alone with a dirty girl or a mule?” He chose the Dirty Shirley Temple.