Thursday night, “Ultimate Bites of LA” was the first marquee event of the eighth annual LA Food and Wine festival. Grand Avenue was closed off at first street, with a red carpet spread from sidewalk to sidewalk. With the Walt Disney Hall and Downtown LA’s twinkling lights in the background, the stage was set for a glamorous evening. Thursday’s hyperlocal restaurant theme is always one of our favorites.
There were a number of impressive seafood dishes. Chef Nicholas Erven of Rappahannok Oyster Bar served refreshing cold scallops with yuzu, burnt orange, poppy seeds and tarragon. Chef Art Kolender of Hayden created a “Japanese Farmhouse Bowl with molded rice and a lovely thick slice of omega blue kampachi (a larger amberjack, best eaten in the Summer). Chef Antonia Lofaso represented her new restaurant, Dama, which is located in City Market South, with a perfect bite–aguachile hiramasa (Farm-raised yellowtail amberjack) with red pearl onion, radish, chives, cilantro and lime. For dessert they were also serving tiny little churros which were piping hot and so feather-light they would break in half if you weren’t careful.
A number of chefs I spoke with praised the pork-filled Squid ink Xiao long bao (soup dumplings) from Chef David Kuo of the always dependable Little Fatty restaurant / Accomplice bar. We always look forward to seeing Ted Hopson of The Bellwether in Studio City, and he outdid himself with house-made spiced lamb sausage served over charred eggplant baba ganoush with an herb salad. A very photogenic but small salad. I still haven’t figured out at what point a garnish becomes a salad. Chef Gregg Wiele and his team from The Patina Restaurant Group was hard at work shaving flurries of truffles onto their juicy Summer Truffle Sliders. Besides pasta, I think burgers are the best vehicle for truffles. People try to truffle a lot of things just for the glamour, and it doesn’t always work. These burgers worked.
Speaking of truffles, I would say that the corn agnolotto with truffles from chef Ian Gresik of The Arbor in Pasadena was one of my top three tastes of the entire night. Also on the pasta front, The Factory Kitchen was handing out plates of mandilli di seta, a very light handkerchief egg pasta with Ligurian olive oil, almond-basil pesto and Regganio.
We always love the intense curries from Chef Tin Vuong of Little Sister. This time around he mixed it up a little with a Vietnamese curry using roast duck, sweet potato, lemongrass, chilies, lime leaf and herbs. He tends to serve these with a buttered baguette, perhaps an influence from the French. Alvin Cailan of the popular-to-the-point-of-being-a-cult Eggslut veered away from his usual modern Filipino food to make a simple but complex chicken pozole. We talked about his dinner at Big Boi with Chef Barb Batiste of B Sweet. He said it was a combination of traditional dishes and courses with a modern spin. Chef Batiste has impressed us with her Filipino comfort dishes, but at this event she seemed to return to her bakery roots with fresh Pan de Sal and Ube Butter. Amongst all of the rich and extravagant food, it was nice to have something simple and nourishing like hot soup and warm bread.
There were not a lot of vegetable dishes, but with Chef Michael Schlow of Cavatina at Sunset Marquis on the job, only one vegetable dish was needed. His spice beet salad with thai basil, mint, and crispy quinoa was one of the best beet salads I have ever tried. It was so good that Chef Aaron Sanchez was doing a yummy food dance while he ate it.
Chef Chris Ford of The Beverly Wilshire dreamed up an elaborate dessert he dubbed “Passionnuts.” Looking like oversized cake pops dipped in marshmallow, the Passionnuts were made of mango-passion fruit, tropical caramel, praline crunch, and coconut ganache with pop-rock vanilla marshmallow. They told me it was a one-bite treat, but I disagree. I had to unhinge my jaw like a snake to get it in my mouth, then I was helpless with my mouth stuffed to capacity. It helped that it was amazingly delicious. We also loved the Cookie Monster ice cream because it was a gorgeous and weird bright blue
While one normally tries to avoid mixing liquor, Hendricks Gin had a delicious and fruity summer bloom punch as well as a citrusy cucumber lemonade, both of which would easily deceive you into drinking too much. But I was also drawn to the with silver tequila blueberries, white crème de cacao, and taro. It looked like they had added edible sparkles, although the bartender told me they didn’t. Maybe he wanted to preserve the magic, or maybe that came from drinking gin and tequila. Thank goodness for Uber!