Winding our way along Saddleback Ranch’s narrow road, passing the horses and zebras, we were reminded how truly lucky we are. The scenery is breathtaking, and the air was heavy with anticipation of the delicious and exotic tastes that awaited us at LA Magazine’s Food Event.
There were a lot of old favorites waiting to greet us. It’s always nice to see Jitlada, who did not go their usual fiery hot route, but had a mellow chicken and turmeric rice dish. Of course, there were crazy hot sauces you could doctor the dish with. Knuckle and Claw was serving Lobster Roll Shooters, and Chef Roy Choi’s Pot not only had Korean short ribs and fresh pickles, but jill-of-all-trades, Mary Thompson.
Chef Kris Morningstar of Terrine decided to cook not one, but four whole pigs and served a variety of parts throughout the day. We caught the pork with an intense and amazing mostarda early in the day, and some nice head meat as we were leaving. Chef Michael Hung was hanging out in the Terrine tent, probably his last relaxed moment before he and Terrine partner Stephane Bombet open the highly-anticipated Viviane in Beverly Hills tomorrow (FYI Terrine is currently offering 1/4 lb seared foie gras for $22).
Quintessential showman Chef Fritz of Church Key quickly cranked out nitrogen-frozen Sex on the Beach Cocktails while occasionally pranking people with a quick shot of frozen air to their ankles. I found it very refreshing. Maybe I should get a nitrogen tank instead of an air conditioner if the weather stays this hot. Church Key also served shrimp tostadas with picked onions. Bright pink pickled onions are definitely in vogue right now.
And what cookout would be complete without burgers? Cassell’s was on hand to make sure we got only the best sliders possible. Animal’s delicious and delicately flavored char siu pork belly was really impressive. It’s hard not to go overboard with char siu. Badmaash served a Goan Style Pork Curry that was unbelievable. I also discovered I have been pronouncing their name wrong all this time as “Bad Mash.” It’s “bod mosh.” Saddlepeak Lodge, who we count on for something exciting, presented a bison ravioli with parmesan cream and basil. I teased the chef because I believe I saw some bison on the ranch. (FYI Chef Kufek offers a 3-course Supper menu for only $35 on Mondays or Tuesdays).
Tripel/Hudson House created a white sardine canape, and of course they could not leave out their trademark chocolate-chip cookies. Scopa Italian Roots served an amazing seafood salad sandwich made with ocean trout and a little lobster with arugala, pickled shallot and lemon. Manhattan Beach’s popular Little Sister also pleased the crowd with their tender shrimp satay (FYI opening a second location in DTLA this week), while Bestia served a fantastic grilled octopus. Republique had another of the best bites of the day with their grilled shrimp served with an ingenious clear cocktail sauce (the secret is yellow tomatoes).
L&E Oyster Co. were shucking Phantom Creek Oysters from Vancouver Island with a serrano fish sauce mignonette. They earned instant hip credentials by shucking along to the Minutemen. Sweetfin Poke enchanted us with a cold smoked salmon with blood orange ponzu, confit butternut squash and truffled pumpkin seeds.
Loteria Grill wisely reprised their menu from the Taste of Mexico the previous evening. His chile en nogada tostadas, enchilada margaritas and sweet tacos with mango, pineapple, cream cheese and teensy churros are an exciting departure from the usual thing. Petty Cash served delicious tuna tacos and pork tacos with those pink pickled onions. As we feverishly await the opening of Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market in The Grand Central Market, we are happy to make do with Chef Bruce Kalman’s Porcini Campanile with Smoked Guiaciale and Chantarelle Mushrooms from Union.
As for the new, Hatchet Hall was serving a salted grilled shrimp in the shell, but we were distracted by one of the chefs teaching someone how to open a bottle of champagne with a hatchet. We ran into the wine merchant who physically pulled me out of the path of a camel on the attack the first year that I attended this event, and needless to say, the last year I entered a pen to feed carrots to the animals. He highly recommended Gardner Junction, so we walked over with him. They definitely impressed us with their gazpacho with octopus and buttermilk snow. Hermosa Beach’s newest special occasion restaurant, Steak & Whiskey, cooked up a boudin blanc with truffle mornay and onion sprouts on a brioche bun.
Perhaps the best bite of the entire event was from Santa Monica’s Cadet, helmed by Kris Tominaga, formerly of The Hart + The Hunter. We approached the headcheese fritter with mustard seed, honey and garlic with some trepidation. But the sometimes off-putting gelatin had melted into a rich, fatty coating for the shreds of pork. It was possibly even the surprise best hit of the year.
Salt & Straw outdid themselves with a Brown Butter Blondie Sundae, and California Donuts served raised donuts topped with cereals and other treats. They even made a donut look like a panda bear with strategically placed Oreo pieces.
Another beautiful day at Saddlerock, another outstanding event by Los Angeles Magazine, and great cooking demos from Chefs Brooke Williamson, Neil Fraser and David LeFevre. If the food continues to be of such a high caliber this year, I may have to ask my smelter to fire more “best bite” trophies (informally known as “The Bities”).