A huge red carpet was rolled across Grand Avenue over the weekend, adding an elegant flair to the LA Food and Wine festivities, which were held against the dramatic backdrop of the Downtown LA skyline. As usual, there were a variety of dumplings and sashimi, but this is the year that Filipino food really broke out.
For many years, Filipino food was primarily a home-cooked cuisine, with the rare exception of cafeteria-style lunch spots like Manila Good Ha!!! and the quirky fast-food concept Jollibee. Chef Alvin Cailan, who did time at Bouchon and French Laundry up north before opening his famous Eggslut, has been at the forefront of LA’s new wave of Filipino restaurants with projects like Amboy and Unit 120 in Chinatown He was out in full pinoy glory Friday, carving up whole suckling pigs, known as lechon. Although the cheeks were already spoken for, the chef generously granted my request for a rib.
If I was worried about missing out on pork cheek, my fears were unfounded. Chef Ross Pangilinan, who has a strong background in French and Italian cooking, is now helming the global eatery, Mix Mix in downtown Santa Ana. Chef Pangilinan was serving a rich and nicely balanced pork cheek adobo with chimichurri that went light on the vinegar. I did check, and the pork cheek adobo is on the menu at Mix Mix, so get down there asap. The chef also prepared a pretty tropical verrine, a twist on halo halo, with passion fruit, coconut, macadamia nuts and ube.
Longtime favorites Badmaash thrilled us with another new treat, butter chicken sliders. Watching them grease the pan with a huge block of butter to toast the buns made my mouth water. Heaven is in the details. The sauce was just spicy enough to add interest without sending you in search of a fire extinguisher. We were also pleased to see Clobster Roll passing out their sweet buns filled with cool, fresh crab and lobster with a fancy champagne-caviar cream.
Dumplings are always popular, and we enjoyed a repeat of a couple of great ones from festivals past — Little Fatty’s exquisite Squid Ink Xiao Long Bao, pork “soup” buns, that fill your mouth with hot soup when you bite down on them. I thought I was not a fan of squid ink, but the fishiness it exudes in pasta is not at all apparent when used in Asian dishes. Phorage’s chili wonton with pork and fresh herbs went upscale with a flutter of freshly shaved truffles. Toro tartare covered with caviar from Tao was also a crowd-pleaser.
There was definitely a lot of pork on the red carpet. Chef Ian Gresik of Arbour mesmerized us with his bell jars that released smoke as the lid is lifted to reveal a deconstructed BLT. I asked Chef Gresik why he looks so scary in his press picture when he is such a nice guy. He said he keeps taking new pictures, but that’s the one everybody uses.
The Patina family of restaurants always goes nuts at LAFW, and this year was no exception. Their “Grand Avenue Street Corn: Esquites with summer truffle. frozen foie gras, Parmesan, Arbol Chile and Lime aioli by Chef Greg Wiele was probably the best dish of the night. But the real party was happening over at Chef Frania Mendivil’s dessert section with delicious Rose Velvet Rochers chocolates and nitrogen spraying in the air and creating the “breath of the dragon” as people crunched on nitrogen candies and blew out smoke. Not to be outdone, Salt & Straw went way out with an uni meringue, orange sherbert and salt water sorbet from Chef Tyler Malek.
Bulleit Frontier Whisky and Hendrick’s Gin went head-to-head for the strongest cocktail game. Bulleit Frontier Whisky sponsored mixologists from Sassafras to mix up some delicious cocktails. My favorite was “One in a Melon” with Bulleit Bourbon, Lemon juice, watermelon and rose sorbet. amaro montenegro, watermelon juice. Hendricks Gin brought an intriguing photo booth and a gin fountain. As with any quality spirit, the simple drinks really shine and we loved their gin and tonics. And just imagine, there are still three more events to go!