On Sunday, June 11, Los Angeles’ Taste of the Nation raised $100,000 for No Kid Hungry, which means providing over 1 million children with the meals they need. We were invited to attend the relaxed and quietly elegant event, which was held under the giant shade trees of Media Park in Culver City.
Champagne and wine were flowing as guests strolled through the park enjoying delicious tastes from some of LA’s best chefs. Sometimes the classics are best, as was the case with Mirko Paderno’s deceptively simple Baguette with Italian Mortadella and Robiola cheese from Four Seasons Culina Restaurant and Vinoteca. When something is that basic, only the finest ingredients can be used and must be allowed to shine. We are always excited to see Freddy Vargas, who was representing The Ponte, another Italian joint by Scott Conant. His cavatelli with sausage and English peas was delicate yet filling, and would work in any season.
Another favorite from several food events running are the salibutes from Gilberto Cetina at Chichen Itza. Salibutes, consisting of a puffy fried tortilla with a variety of toppings is a popular street food in the Yucatan. Cassell’s Hamburgers did not disappoint with their dependable, juicy sliders. Over the years, Momed’s duck schwarma has been served on some bases that were more successful than others. This time around their duck schwarma with spicy muhammara was once again at the top of its game.
Other returning favorites included Sotto’s chicken polpette (meatballs), Union’s grilled octopus, Koda Farms chick pea conserva, preserved lemon yogurt, and dukkah, an Egyptian spice blend. Jitlada Original Thai Cuisine threw us a curve with their spicy mint leaf noodles. But they still managed to burn my face off, while smiling charmingly at me.
Maple Block Meat Co. went all out with enormous pulled pork sandwiches. The Bazaar by Jose Andres also made a big show of their seafood and vegetable paellas, cooking them on the spot in a series of five gigantic pans.
Other than those huge pans and the monsters of pulled pork, most of the bites were cocktail party-sized, elegant and well thought out. James Beard called these little canapes and finger food “doots,” which I really wish had caught on. Bradley Miller’s delicious smoked yellowtail potato chip with radish and vinegar powder for Inn of the Seventh Ray was just made to be passed on a silver platter. The Mortadella crostini with mortadella crema and pickles from Chris Keyser for AR Cucina would look inviting on any holiday buffet. Jerry Su’s creation for Eagle Rock Public House were rustic, with bits of stone fruit and smoked maple marscapone set on torn pieces of cranberry walnut toast. Rounding out the crostini was Grandma’s chopped liver with cherry mostarda on sourdough from Wexler’s Deli.
In the category of fancy things in little cups with tiny spoons, we have Gio Osso of Virtu Honest Craft, presenting foie gras pannacotta with a sticky mission fig marmallata, and liquirizia, known to non-Italians as licorice. Jason Neroni of Rose Cafe’s grilled and chilled vegetable gazpacho came with with a delightful surprise jardiniere of seafood. Big points for presentation must be awarded to Dakota Weiss, whose “PLT” for Estrella consisted of consomme, prosciutto, lettuce and tomato, purple basil blossom, truffle mozzarella and a rosemary smoked crostini arranged in a little cup with a tiny spoon. Finally, a delicate bite from Ramenhood that can only be described as a “doot” charmed us with its presentation — “ahi” beets in a little edible nest.
I hesitated at the lamb from Fig in Santa Monica, because sometimes lamb is too gamey. Chef Yousef Ghalaini promised me, “This is like no lamb you have ever tried before.” And he was right. The Kafir lime lamb with black garlic, tahini and chili threads was a culinary epiphany, showing me the depth of flavors possible with game meats and global flavors. I was also underwhelmed by the description of the dish by Nick Shipp for Upper West Restaurant: Israeli couscous with gujillo sauce, corn milk, coconut and cilantro. But I was seduced by the look of the dish, and it delivered a million times more than what I expected. I could have eaten a huge bowl of that couscous.
For dessert we enjoyed red velvet cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes and a refreshing lavender ice cream cone from Salt & Straw. We were blown away by Valerie Confection’s interpretation of Blum’s famous coffee crunch cake. Valerie Confections describes it as “…two layers of sponge cake in a delicate coffee whipped cream frosting, covered in delicious bits of crunch.” This cake is all about that crunch. The frosting is coated with chunks of honeycomb candy that suck up into a little balls of caramel in your mouth like Violet Crumble candy bars from Australia.