Once again, Los Angeles magazine held their annual Food Event at the gorgeous Saddlerock Ranch, with its wide expanse of grass nestled in the shadow of the hills. There were a lot of new participants this year, including both new and established restaurants.
Possibly the top bite of the event was calamari in squid ink from Chef Antonia Lofaso of Scopa Italian Roots. It looked dark and forbidding in spite of a garnish of bright peppers. But it was so delicious it could dispel any fears of eating unusual-looking food. And with octopus having its moment, it was nice to get back to a little calamari. Bone Kettle had rolled a stunning number of lumpia, something we just don’t see enough. Same Same Thai served delectable chicken wings, and now we definitely have to go check them out.
Another festival favorite, Chef Mirko Paderno of Estrella on Sunset served a comforting gnocchi with beef cheeks topped with a fluttery curls of paper-thin Parmesan. We are always happy to see Cassell’s, and we aren’t the only ones, judging by the long line at their station. As usual, the sliders were thick and juicy, fresh off the grill. But that fell by the wayside when I saw my dream come true — their heavenly banana cream pie with dulce de leche. The whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. Chef Christian Page’s wife, Chef Elia Aboumrad, is the magician behind those pies and I think I make her a little nervous with my unbridled enthusiasm.
We always love the Bellwether, and this year was no exception. Their Vietnamese braised pork with glass noodle salad and Thai basil was exotic and flavorful. Chef Vartan Abgaryan of 71 Above grilled shrimp, then mixed it by hand with passion fruit, white soy, arugula, peanuts and verjus.
A favorite new restaurant is Baltaire, who got our attention with their Omega Blue Baja Kanpachi crudo with coconut and cilantro. Republique also had a killer kanpachi crudo with curry, peanuts and watermelon. In fact, they were two for two with Crèmerie, their new artisan ice cream.
Another exciting newcomer is Cafe Birdie, which served a memorable Moroccan spiced fried chicken. There were other Mediterranean flavors, from Hayden’s charred eggplant to Fig Santa Monica’s grilled lamb and hummus dish garnished with pomegranate seeds. All’Acqua served a delicious meatball with Meyer lemon, white wine and bay leaves. We also enjoyed the meatballs from Wabi Venice, which had a very personable server at their station.
Amongst the desserts in the oak grove, we were most excited about the banana pudding at Paderia’s station, an unusual and original almond-orange gelato from Fatamorgana Gelato, and festival regular B Sweet’s bread pudding. This year they had banana and the ever-popular ube. Another delicious dessert was a deconstructed lemon meringue pie with adorable little meringue cookies.
There were prohibitively long lines at Poppy + Rose, so we did not sample their popular chicken and waffles, as was the case at IXLB Dim Sum Eats. I also somehow missed crab curry dish from Luv2eat Thai Bistro that everyone has been buzzing about. Both Terrenea and Bouchon were there, showing no hints that within a week they would both be rocked by sudden events — Terrenea by an upcoming lawsuit from employees for owed wages, and Bouchon with the announcement of their closing. I guess the only constant in the restaurant world is that it is always changing.