Friday night East LA Meets Napa hosted its annual food festival at a brand new location in downtown LA. California Plaza provided a beautiful background for the festive event. The musicians appeared to be on an island in the water, and there were two stories to hold the endless explosion of food. The VIP sections worked well there, with reserved areas on the balcony overlooking the stage.
There was a bit of a traffic jam at the entrance as a sizeable line of guests clamored for tortas ahogadas from Chago. But our favorite plate was waiting at the end of the upstairs row. As usual, Chef Hugo Molina of Seta charmed our socks off. The chef served an unseasonal dish of short ribs and polenta in a red wine sauce. Although it was a warm day, the comforting and substantial plate was one of our favorites. Competing with Chef Molina in the charm-off is Chef Edras Ochoa of Mexicali & Co. and the hot restaurant of the moment, the newly opened Salazar in Frogtown. Chef Ochoa cooked up some skate on the grill, shredded it and added shrimp and peppers, plus a spicy sauce. He heaped the seafood onto a tostada, finishing it with uni and caviar.
Chef Cristina G’lez-Novoa was working with Guava Delights and produced a nice little bite of guava mousse and goat cheese, and a guava pulled pork slider with plantain. Conveniently located opposite the Guava Delights table was everyone’s all-time favorite guava pastries from Porto’s. I always get a kick out of Betty Porto. It’s like meeting Colonel Sanders.
Pez Cantina, located literally across the street from the event space, had home court advantage and produced a delicious yellowtail ceviche tostada along with blackened tuna-topped salad. Chef Natalie Curie of El Coraloense produced a delicious Tostada de jaiba y almejas con limón y aguacate (crab tostada and fresh clam with citrus and avocado). Del Frisco’s Grille had a very Instagrammable raw tuna taco.
Isaac Gamboa of Prospect Gourmand did a play on frisee lardon with pork belly. Another modern-feeling dish was a vegan tostada with a jicama slaw from Tabachinese Cocina. In a more traditional vein, Yuca’s served beef tamales with a thick sauce of tomatoes and onions, and King Taco spit-roasted pork for tacos al pastor. We also enjoyed the green enchiladas from Gloria’s Restaurant and Bar, and you can’t have a food event in LA without El Cholo’s sweet corn tamales.
Although the venue had changed, the spirit of ELA Meets Napa was strong. Once again, the event was a successful fundraiser for AltaMed Health Services, a community organization that provides “…access to health care, senior services, teen mentoring, HIV care and more to underserved families in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.” The evening was winding down to the beat of conguero Poncho Sanchez as we headed for our cars. Of course, if we had drunk enough wine, maybe we would have just jumped in the man-made lake for a cooling evening swim.