The weather was nice and cool for LA Food & Wine’s Sunday Grand Tasting at The Barker Hangar in Santa Monica. Hendrick’s Gin was pouring cocktails in the shadow of what appeared top be a giant calliope, staffed with a coterie of characters and even a stilt-walker. Their “Night of the Iguana” was a refreshing mix of gin, Ancho Reyes verde, celery juice, cucumber juice, lemon juice and simple syrup.
It was an interesting day all around, with Chef Andre Dangond of The CUT serving a burger with a banana on it, Chef Alvin Cailan of Amboy/Eggslut creating a vegetarian corn chicharron, and Chef Brian Redzikowski of the Kettner Exchange serving a beef chicharron topped with salmon tartare, which looked like an otherworldly coral. Chef John Cox of The Bear and Star went a bit mad scientist, compressing watermelon juice and purple passion fruit into its most concentrated form using his RE-501 RotoVap, and then topping it with Pop Rocks.
It is no surprise that Chef Matthew Beaudin of Monterey Bay Aquarium went furthest out on the wild side with his “Hangtown Fry.” He nestled a soy-cured farm-fresh egg yolk in an oyster shell with a little bit of crispy pork belly and pickled onion, then topped it with an oyster that had been fried in a flour made of crushed crickets. I have to say, texture-wise, it was one of the best uses of crickets I have come across.
Several chefs went for brunch dishes. Chef Alex Reznik of Ditmas cooked up beef bacon and couscous. Note that there is no comma. It is not beef, bacon and couscous, but a kosher beef-bacon and couscous. Phorage’s Chef Perry Cheung treated us to a rich dungeness crab congee with uni butter.
The Beverly Hills Hotel doubled up with a “Baja Kanpachi” served seared with apple, sorrel, and ginger as well as a delicious little pop made up of almond, mango and blonde chocolate. I will confess that I went back for a second chilled pop. We also enjoyed the amberjack poke with peach kimchi, braised lotus root, peppercress and lotus chip with tobiko shoyu over hearts of palm chawanmushi (whew!) from Chef Dakota Weiss of Sweetfin Poke.
My favorite dish of the day was from Hudson Valley Foie Gras. I’m a sucker for foie gras anyways, and they perfectly combined a pepper shortbread and port wine glaze with a rich torchon to create a lovely foie gras tart. John Tesar of Knife at the Highland in Dallas served a 100-day aged pimento slider. We have always had a soft spot for Chef Tesar after watching him on Top Chef Masters, and the slider helped.
For those of you counting, there were several Top Chef alum under the tent that day. Like Chef Antonia Lofaso of Black Market Liquor Bar, who was handing out her steak frites in a cone and a fluffy bao at the Stella Artois bar. This time she created a whole host of sauces you could squirt onto the food, like Frank’s Red Hot Aioli and Cilantro-Lime Aioli. Bless the day they invented those little plastic squirters.
Jon and Vinny’s drew me in with a pretty model serving rich chocolate mousse in front of a Lexus that was glowing with LED lights. I scored an entire pizza to take home and share with my family, so it was a great day!