Spring sprang in style last Sunday at the Masters of Taste, with colorful tulips in bloom, gauze curtains floating on the breeze, and the greenest grass you have ever seen. Chefs ushered in the season with English peas straight from the garden, tender asparagus and young lamb.
Celestino Drago of Celestino served Chilled Tomato and Vegetable Soup and green Raviolini filled with asparagus and a black truffle sauce, plus Sicilian cannoli. It’s really not a food event without a Drago dishing out pasta, is it? Inotheke served one of our favorite bites of the day — a Spicy Cypriot Lamb Meatball with shredded cabbage salad, tomato sauce and tzaziki.
Although we have to confess, the absolute top bite was the Braised Beef Cheek, Peas and sunchoke puree, pea tendrils and crispy shallots from Hyde Sunset. The pea and sunchoke puree was a bright neon green straight out of The Exorcist. Employees were making jokes about avoiding the splash zone as the puree was being generously splattered onto the plates. They also served frozen alcoholic “otter pops” making it a definitive win.
Chef Bernhard Mairinger of BierBeisl’s Crispy Pork Belly Crostino, fava beans and radish impressed by being simple yet rich. Spare Tire went all out with Pork Belly Lollipops and Duck Cherry Pate, but everyone wanted the Watermelon Pulled Pork on Johnnycakes. Wax Paper from Frogtown introduced itself with an Audi Cornish — country ham and sharp cheese, honey butter, cornichon vinagrette, and sea salt. He also produced a chilled English Pea Soup with wood sorrel that pleased my vegetarian friend.
Going fancy old school-style, Chef Brendan Collins of Birch served a chilled Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Mousse, while Alexander’s Steakhouse updated a Beef Tartare by serving it taco-style, but the taco was more reminiscent of Ethiopian injera. Hache LA cooked up popular sliders topped with tapenade. Someone always gets a little experimental at these things, and this time around it was Chef Kyle Schutte of Wood & Vine’s Buffalo Chicken Terrine with Compressed Celery and Fried Ranch.
Fresh seafood also made a showing. Magnolia House created a gorgeous Florida Gulf Shrimp Ceviche with spiced kumquats, cara cara oranges, Fresno chile, cilantro, and taro root chips. The most photogenic bite of the day has to be awarded to Ayara Thai’s Spicy Larb Salad in Squid Ink Cones. They barely beat out Hamasaku’s jewel box Bara Chirashi, but maybe that’s because we have seen it before.
Toca Madera served their staple — coconut citrus salad vegan ceviche, and had a little competition from Sanger’s and Joe who brought a vegan ceviche with exotic fiddlehead ferns. Chef Neal fraser of Redbird served ricotta, hot on the outside with a creamy interior.
Kikori mixed their version of an old fashioned and whiskey sour, and there was a special Rose Bowl Punch with Balsam Amaro. The Raymond was bro-ing down heavily at two bars while Stella Artois and Angel City Brewery were pulling beers. I stuck with the Brugal Anejo Buck from Hooch, and the Spring Seasonal Riding Solo Pilsner from 10 Barrel Brewing Company. Then I got sucked unawares into Nighthawk’s Vietnamese Iced Coffee with rum, and Cereal Milk with bourbon, which was more like milk punch than the anticipated Frosted Flakes. They also had a surprise hit of the day with their sweet potato pancakes and perfectly crisp fried chicken. There weren’t a lot of desserts, but as always we were happy to see Creme Caramel, who brought an ube dessert and our favorite, a Buko Pandan Chia Seed Pudding.
After realizing the number of drinks I had sampled, I decided to relax until I was ready to drive home. Luckily there were luxurious lounges to while away the time in between enjoying seated massages from Massage Envy. The DJ was spinning lots of funk and Stevie Wonder, and at the end of the event a spontaneous dance party broke out. The perfect end to such a pleasant day and such a successful inaugural event.
Masters of Taste benefitted Union Station Homeless Services. “With over 40 years of experience, Union Station proudly offers a full continuum of nine programs throughout the San Gabriel Valley. Services include street outreach, intake/assessment, care coordination and navigation, meals, shelter, housing, employment development, benefits enrollment, and referrals to medical and mental health services.”