Saturday afternoon The Taste hosted a Sunday Brunch and BBQ. It has traditionally been a kid-friendly event, so it was a little different now that it is 21 and over. There were less takes on fast food, with the exception of Viet Phan of Ray and Stark’s who produced an unexpected version of a German corndog. There were also less desserts than when the kids were there. I enjoyed Roy Choi and Neil “Bigmista” Strawder’s demos, but I kind of wished they were cooking too.
There seemed to be more brunch dishes than BBQ. Chicken and Waffles are still a popular brunch item. La Brea Bakery, The Springs, and a number of other restaurants prepared healthy yogurt parfait-type cups with granola, whole grains and other fun stuff. International breakfasts were represented by dishes like congee from Asian Box. But here are the top ten tastes I can’t get off of my mind…
1. The Front Yard’s Shrimp and Grits. This dish gets a blue ribbon in every category. It was beautiful, it was appealing, and there was a perfect balance of flavors. The grits were so smooth and creamy. I could have eaten it all day. Executive Chef Chris Turano is bringing some excitement to North Hollywood’s Garland Hotel and we can’t wait to sit down at a table in The Front Yard.
2. Knob Creek’s “pretty drink.” I suspect it may have been invented by Marcos Menendez. I just saw some people holding a gorgeous red drink with a raspberry floating in it. They didn’t know its name, but pointed me over to the Knob Creek outpost. I sidled up to the bar and asked for “the pretty drink.” They knew exactly what to make. It was crazy delicious and I passed up many other alluring cocktails in order to keep nursing it.
3. Toca Madera: Chicken and Waffles. West Hollywood’s new center of “Barrio Style Fine Dining,” impressed us again with their Crispy Chipotle Chicken Strips. They were perfectly crispy and flavorful, and very moist on the inside. The Cinnamon Churro Waffle was a bit dense, but with chicken like that nothing else matters.
4. Baltaire: Pickled Kauai Shrimp with Jalapeno Crema on Anson Mills Homemade Corn Bread. A nice homey dish from this upscale Westside steakhouse. Home pickling is also very au courant, but will always retain a touch of the farm. The pickled topping was nice, but the moist cornbread made with “stone-ground organic ingredients milled from new crop heirloom grains” was a show-stopper. I had to rave about it to the other people at my table and then look up Anson Mill’s website when I got home.
5. Robert’s Catering: Chicken, Pita and Hummus Spread. The plain booth did not look that promising, but one of the guys was just so familiar. Finally he revealed to me that he runs our PO Box store and was working at the event to help his friend. They handed me a plate with a chunk of chicken kabob and some pita. Again, not that exciting-looking. But when I sat down and took a bite I was stunned by how good it was. Flavorful chicken, intense hummus and a super-fresh pita. Although the caterers serve a variety of cuisines, they specialize in Middle-Eastern menus and they beat out some serious contenders to make this list. And I’m not just saying that so my mail doesn’t start getting re-routed.
6. Howlin’ Rays: Howlin’ Hot Chicken. Husband and wife team Johnny and Amanda rode into town with their hot Nashville chicken and took LA by storm. They brought home the awards for “People’s Choice” and “Best Nouveau Street Food,” at the LA Street Food Fest and Chef Johnny was just chosen as a 2015 Zagat 30 Under 30 honoree. Their “Howlin Hot” chicken goes right off the scoville scale, but the medium is nice and juicy without burning your lips off. Howlin’ Rays only uses Mary’s ‘Air Chilled’ Chicken, sourced from Pitman Family Farms in Sanger, CA. And quality ingredients make for quality food. The homemade pickles are also a nice touch.
7. La Brea Bakery: Almond Cookies. Yeah. Again. We still remember these cookies from Taste of the Nation LA in June. They are so surprisingly chewy they are probably made with almond paste. Knowing La Brea Bakery they probably make their own almond paste. The cookies aren’t on the website, so I think I need to hit a store soon.
8. Free Range: Chicken Sandwich. There was a choice between Jesse Furman’s famous Tempura Fried Free Range Chicken, Fresno Chili Coleslaw, Whole Grain Honey Mustard Sauce on a Toasted Portuguese Bun or a Tempura Fried Free Range Chicken tossed in a Local Honey and Sriracha on a Homemade Biscuit. Both sandwiches are unforgettable and yes, they are both served at lunch by their popular food truck.
9. Viviane: Pastrami Cured Salmon Tartine with Whipped Ricotta and Spiced Pickled Squash. Stephane Bombet and Michael Hung teased us with a peek at their new restaurant Viviane with the skill of a burlesque fan dancer. If these samples are any indication, Michael Hung’s food will be precise and delicate with intense flavors. And his food is ultimately Instagrammable.
10. Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine: Hunch Punch Cocktail. This combo of Hunch Punch Lightning, lemonade, lemon-lime and cranberry juice was cooling and memorable. I will definitely be adding Ole Smoky Moonshines to my party list.