Taste of the Eastside returned last Sunday to the beautiful Los Angeles River Center and Gardens. The series of well-shaded patios and grassy areas gave the event a sense of relaxed intimacy and community. There were no long lines and no rush. It was nice to just leisurely stroll from table to table, getting to know the chefs and the other guests.
Fresh, quality fish was popular in many iterations—Poké, crudo, cured, smoked, and grilled. Oki Poki LA’s Ahi Poke Bowls featured gorgeous chunks of pink tuna sprinkled with wasabi roe, which I love popping between my teeth. A seared Ahi Tuna Tostada from Malo was our first and one of our favorite bites of the day. Little Dom’s had smoked tuna the old-fashioned way, with big earthy chunks like my Canadian uncle’s famous smoked salmon.
The buttery richness of the Cliffs Edge’s Hiramasa (Farmed Yellowtail Amberjack) Crudo was offset with citrusy Cara Cara orange, grapefruit, and lime foam. The beet-cured salmon was a bit unusual—almost candied—but served with traditional flavors like dill, horseradish crema, beet vinaigrette, Cara Cara orange and pickled “cukes.” Is Cara Cara the blood orange of 2018?
Melody, a “lazy French” spot in Silver Lake, served Smoked Brandade on House-made Chips, a modern presentation of a classic French cod dish. It is featured as a dip on their menu. Barbrix Wine Bar grilled little Spanish Octopus and added heirloom cherry tomato, cucumber, Romesco sauce, and lemon vinaigrette. They were so small you could pop the whole thing in your mouth in one big bite.
There were also some delicious plates featuring red meats. Perhaps the best bite of the day came from Spread Mediterranean Kitchen, a mix-and-match “pick your base and seasoning” kind of restaurant we are going to have to check out soon. One of the few lines was for a Pita with Harissa-braised Beef, Pickled Cabbage, hummus and Shug (a spicy seasoning from Yemen). Diablo’s pork belly taco with caramelized bananas and Thai peanut relish was a standout. I love Esquites, so it was no surprise that I was a fan of their Street Corn made with truffle lime mayo, cotija cheese and smoked chili powder.
Every year we are pleased to see the Bon Vivant Market and Cafe’s Chocolate Balsamic Lamb Chops. They are usually large and impressive, but were smaller and more tender this year, like lollipop chops. We kind of miss Momed’s duck shawarma, but they made up for it with lamb and beef Greek meatballs with spicy chermoula (A North African marinade), toasted pine nuts and pomegranate topped with feta cheese and soft herbs.
You will rarely hear me crowing about salads and vegetables, but great chefs can work magic on those often dull sides. An unusual Tea Leaf Salad from Daw Yee Myanmar Corner combined fermented tea leaf, cabbage, corn, tomatoes, butter beans, lentils, garlic peanuts, sesame and lime to create a dish that was heavily textural with appealing crunches and pops. Fat Dragon’s Persian cucumber salad was also a pleasant surprise, adding a touch of sweetness and complexity to the familiar pickled vegetables.
For dessert, we were enamored with Little Dom’s delicate Olive Oil Cake with Strawberries, Blossom Honey and Pistachios. Red Herring’s Berry Cobbler was the perfect match for Pazzo Gelato’s Madagascar Vanilla Bean gelato. It’s all about teamwork, people. Gigi’s Cafe Cubano was super cool. Knowing everyone was stuffed by the time they hit the bakery’s station, they were filling little paper to-go bags with their delicious conchas, pineapple pastries, guava pastry, and my favorite, the rich crumb guava cake.