Night Market is always my favorite event of LA Food & Wine’s weekend extravaganza. Some dishes are unfamiliar and exciting, while other dishes are modern spins on Asian flavors. The creativity is always flowing.
Weiser Farm Melon Soup with crab, lemon creme fraiche, sherry raisins, and pistachio from Chef Dean Max of James Republic was an unusual mix of flavors, with fresh melon and crab marrying perfectly. The guys were also extremely enthusiastic, so if there is a prize for Most Congenial, and why shouldn’t there be, they have definitely won.
Another favorite was also a cold soup. “Tom Kha Gai” with Laughing Bird Shrimp, bay scallops, and Kaffir Lime with Coconut cream from Chef Kyle Johnson of Bourbon Steak was a pleasant surprise. A smooth creamy coconut and seafood soup with puffed rice, cilantro, lavender and mint was a great choice for our never-ending heat wave. Also in the cold soup category, Chef Sean O’Toole created a refreshing Gazpacho Andaluz with basil, cucumber and black truffle from TORC in Napa.
I try to stay true to my first love, Japadog, but I guess this town is just too big for only one Asian-inspired hot dog, and I must make room in my heart. The Sumo Dog with wasabi relish, wasabi furikaki (spice mix), teriyaki, spicy mayo, and kizami nori from Chef Jeffrey Lunak of Sumo Dog definitely swayed my foolish heart. Wasabi anything, and you’ve got me. There were a lot of flavors battling it out on those overladen dogs, but it worked, and it worked well.
Coming from way out of left field, Matthew Beaudin of the Monterey Bay Aquarium not only didn’t serve seafood, but his decadent dish wasn’t obviously Asian. Of course, when you are coming with bone marrow custard, who needs to see the pedigree? And this dish was no slouch. The plate started with cashew and brown sugar “dirt” The bone is filled with an ostrich egg, camel milk and bone marrow custard. Ostrich eggs. Camel milk. Seriously. Bruleed, naturally. The sea salt was harvested the day before in Big Sur. The stock has been cooking for 11 months, “We boiled 80 gallons down to one gallon over a hundred times. There’s over 32,000 animals in it, from ducks to chickens, we use every single last piece.” You know, if you’re going to bring it, you might as well BRING IT. It was probably my favorite dish and I returned for seconds. I think I’m going to make it for Thanksgiving. I just need a camel, an ostrich, and 32,000 more animals and I’m good.
Taking the opposite tack of Chef Beaudin of Monterey Bay Aquarium, Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis found perfection in simplicity with his rich and homey Crawfish Pot Pies. Host and Chef Brian Malarkey of Herringbone presented a trio of ceviche: a shrimp and clam ceviche with pineapple, scallion and microcelery: a deceptive compressed watermelon that looked exactly like tuna, with toasted sesame; and a spicy hamachi with habaneros and leche de tigre. Our other host, Jet Tila of Pakpao Thai presented a kind of deconstructed Pad Prik King with spicy ground pork, blanched fresh green beans, a nugget of perfect rice, a bite of parsnip and a chicharrone. I’m beginning to believe that chicharrones should be added to everything.
The Pinot family of restaurants were inspired to create a dish with octopus, squid ink skordalia (a garlic paste), charred broccoli, and fermented chile by the hand of Chef Jake Eaton of Cafe Pinot. A vegan tostada from DIRT did not immediately grab my attention until I noticed the generous shiitake mushrooms perfectly placed on each little tostadita. Along with some toothsome beans, which you don’t normally think of as “vegan,” it was a rich, complex and satisfying dish from Chef Nicole Votano.
Longtime favorite Badmaash did not disappoint with a juicy, Indian-spiced pulled pork sandwich. The dad and brother combo tell me they have more fun at food festivals than just about anywhere else. As long as they are serving, I have to agree with them.