Highlights of The Masters of Taste

Huckleberry Glazed Donuts from Sidecar Donuts (All photos by Elise Thompson for The LA Beat)

Last weekend the Masters of Taste filled The Rose Bowl with fantastic sips and tastes. Unlike last year, the sun was shining mightily; only the grill smoke clouded the sky. Here is a selection of some of my favorite noshes:

Bone Kettle is my favorite Pasadena restaurant at the moment, and they brought it with Indonesian Crab Lumpia with Sweet Sugar Cane Chili Sauce. I love these little egg rolls which are often found in Filipino cooking. I will admit that I had really hoped they would bring their oxtail dumplings again, but I guess I will just have to have dinner there soon. Ayara Thai impressed the hell out of us at the Masters of Taste preview. For the big event they busted out with scallops! In the shell. Cooked in a rich curry. So much winning.

Another great Pasadena restaurant that I sometimes hit for lunch when I want to spoil myself is Lunasia Dim Sum House. In spite of not being located in the San Gabriel Valley, it is usually included in lists of LA’s top dim sum places. Rather than having a standard plate at their station, you could select your favorites from a menu. They had jumbo shrimp har gow. I assumed it was jumbo shrimp, but it was actually jumbo har gow! Those dumplings were immense. As were the sui mai, which could have fed an entire family. But my favorite dim sum will aways be a sesame ball with red bean paste, and they delivered. (I don’t know if they actually deliver, but that would rock).

Redbird served a lovely Hiramasa tartare on a calamansi vinegar shrimp chip. This is my second time seeing this farm-raised yellowtail in as many weeks. I wouldn’t mind if this became a big trend. I was surprised by the simple plating, no snipped chives or miniature flowers sprinkled over the fish. But then I thought about monochromatic art. It has its own pure beauty, just as the taste of the fish is fresh and pure. Now that I’ve said that, they probably just ran out of tiny flowers by the time I got there.

The Grill ’em All truck was in the front of the Rose Bowl serving a Powerslave Burger. Their burgers always have interesting names. It was charred and juicy as always. One woman was unhappy that they didn’t have vegetarian patties. But they could have made a nice sandwich just using the Powerslave’s toppings of brie, grilled apple, balsamic aioli and field greens.

Spicy Carnitas tacos from Mercado were generously stuffed with big meaty chunks of pork with guacamole, red onions, cilantro and their “YXTA Salsa Bravo.” Mercado is just off of 3rd and Fairfax. I would definitely go out of my way for these tacos, and perhaps even eschewing my favorite Farmer’s Market spots like The Gumbo Pot.

Gus’s Barbecue, a classic restaurant around since 1946, served intense Carolina pulled pork with cornbread. It wasn’t cloying as many barbecue meats can be. It was so good I will forgive any issues with that apostrophe. I will admit that when I saw their name on the participant’s list I thought it was Gus’ Famous Chicken. Either way, I would have been more than satisfied.

Helados Pops always has the most exciting flavors. Their lucuma ice cream, which they described as being a sort of cross between an orange and avocado was rich an creamy and citrusy. The internet describes it as a Peruvian superfood. It was my favorite flavor of the day, or maybe of ever. I will have to try the soursop next time, because it not only sounds like a fruit from The Jungle Book, but the web says it can “kill off parasites, heal the skin, treat cancer, boost immunity, eliminate stress, soothe the stomach, and relieve pain.” I am all for medicinal ice cream. In the shop, they scrape out the coconut first and add it to the sundae.

We consider Creme Caramel to be friends of The Beat, one of the places we return to over and over again until they know us by name. Their little meringues filled with ube were the perfect one-bite dessert. Another favorite, Nothing Bundt Cakes, where we often buy birthday cakes, had an incredibly moist and spongy red velvet cake topped with dollops of cream cheese frosting. It may have been a fad, but that cake is a standard now. Also, we can’t forget the delicate Tahitian vanilla panna cotta with mango, passion fruit coulis and coconut from Tony Esnault of Church & State and Spring. Like angel’s breath. Huckleberry Glazed Donut Holes from Sidecar Donuts came out hot and crisp, intense with the flavor of huckleberry, but not too sweet.

Due to time constraints and belly limits, we missed a few things. It was a huge event and it’s impossible to eat everything, although we keep trying.

At the end of the day though, we must remember that this event is about raising funds for the Union Station Homeless Mission, which helps individuals and families to end their cycle of homelessness.

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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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