Favorites from LA Weekly’s “Essentials” Event

Spicy beef tendon chip and charred onion pho dip from Animal (All photos by Elise Thompson for The LA Beat)

The LA Weekly’s food events get better every year. The line at Essentials last Sunday was fast and smooth, thanks to them checking IDs while people were still in line, and taking tickets quickly without checking them against a master list. I was able to sample a lot more bites with shorter lines than at many other food events.

Chef Sang Yoon of Lukshon served one of the top bites of the say with his shrimp cocktail, whipped Tom Ka Gai, mushroom crumbs, pork floss, and frozen lime. It was like an entire bowl of Tom Ka Gai concentrated into one little cool bite. It was spectacular. I had to look up pork floss. It is finely shredded seasoned dried pork. Also battling for first place was Chef Suzanne Goin  of AOC with a rich pork rillette crostini topped with frisée, pickled red onion and cornichon.

As always, El Coraloense blew our minds. They served two kinds of shrimp tacos. The shrimp ceviche with habanero aioli, freshly made chili peanuts, dried mango in a sweet plum sauce burst with flavor, but my favorite was the butterflied shrimp aguachile in a citrus, serrano and cilantro sauce topped with sharp red onion and soft, ripe avocado. Bellwether created a memorable, tender skirt steak with blistered shishito peppers, shiitake mushrooms, and a big flavor boost from brown butter, soy and roasted ginger. Night + Market wooed us with their unexpected curried duck.

Many of our favorite bites this year were from old favorites and will come as no surprise. Animal started our day off right with our first bite — a spicy beef tendon chip and charred onion pho dip. Big Mista’s Barbecue in Long Beach made a spicy brisket chili and cornbread — bonus. It may be difficult to imagine what that dish is like. It was like a very delicious chicharron with a flavorful creamy topping. Sotto dished up Albacore Tuna Conserva with heirloom scarlet runner beans, pickled mustard and fried shallots

Love & Salt’s Spring Pea Salad with radish, mint and burrata plus a squeeze of lemon could not have heralded Spring better if it had been served on a daffodil. Stracciatella from Chef Bruce Kalman of Union confused me because it was not gelato. He explained that stracciatella means “shreds,” and in this case it was shreds of cheese served on bread. As I walked away, a guy next to me asked his date, “What’s the big deal about cheese?” I wanted to slap him on the back of his head, but I have been working on impulse control.

Besides longtime faves like Jitlada’s mouth-scorching chicken, Providence’s fresh-off-the-boat bivalves and Park’s BBQ, there were a few new favorites. Elf Cafe, an organic, Mediterranean-style vegetarian restaurant in Echo Park created a deceptively simple dish of Spanish Almogrotte cheese with smoked olive and herb gremolata on ficelle ( a skinny baguette). Even though I am not a fan of olives I loved it, and it would be a perfect party food for the holidays. Another impressive newcomer was Dune, another organic Mediterranean-inspired spot. Their organic hummus with baby kale and collard tabouleh, marinated feta and tahini dressing was also one of those things that seems run-of-the-mill until you try it and realize the quality of the ingredients and skill of the chef have made it transcend your expectations.

We were pleased that we only missed a few dishes, but were disappointed missing Melisse’s Hakkaido scallop with kohlrabi, sorrel and trout roe. We were also too late for the very daring yuzu panna cotta with eel gelee and buckwheat from Trois Mec.

Tavern made our favorite cocktail of the day, “The Thunderer” –a mix of Jim Beam Whiskey, grapefruit, lemon juice, and honey. It was a little like a mule and a little like a greyhound. A mulehound.

Kudos, LA Weekly, for a well-run event.

Elise Thompson

About Elise Thompson

Born and raised in the great city of Los Angeles, this food, culture and music-loving punk rock angeleno wants to turn you on to all that is funky, delicious and weird in the city. While Elise holds down the fort, her adventurous alter ego Kiki Maraschino is known to roam the country in search of catfish.
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