Once again, Chef Stuart Skversky has outdone himself with his annual fundraiser, Stu and the Kids, which raises money to educate Hill Tribe children in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The event always features an exciting mixture of traditional Thai dishes and Western dishes incorporating Thai flavors.
One undisputed favorite last Sunday was the pork belly from Barbara Jean. It had such a perfect, light but substantial crunch on the exterior with a melting interior. I wanted to ask Chef Jason Fullilove how he attained such an intricate balance, but I had just seen him pull the pork out of the deep fry, so I guess it is a skill rather than a secret. Chef Fullilove told the LA Beat that he will be opening a Mediterranean restaurant above El Cid soon, and has another project in the works for Baldwin Hills.
Sometimes it is the simplest dishes that pack the most punch. Redbird’s Sugar Cube Melon and Chicharron complemented the local Calamari while still allowing the subtle flavor to come through. Mei Lin, the winner of the 12th season of Top Chef, represented Nightshade, her soon-to-open restaurant in the DTLA arts district. Chef Lin offered a simple dish of Coconut, Dried Shrimp, and Lime that was pure concentrated flavor wrapped up in the peppery Betel Leaf that is popular in Southeast Asia.
Peel and Eat Shrimp from Bar Ama was a nice smoky change of pace, and Chef Walter Manzke of Republique brought back the grilled shrimp with a light corn soup and peanuts that I swooned over last year. Another simple and refreshing dish was the Thai-inspired Ceviche from The Rose Cafe. And it was fun watching him toss the ceviche high into the air to mix it.
Jitlada’s Kanom Jeen Namya, (Thai Southern Curry Noodles with Fishballs) was not as spicy as many of their dishes in years past. But that allowed the complexity of the curry to really shine. If you are curious about fishballs, they are similar to the meatballs you get in pho, very smooth and dense, and without any fishiness. Since Jitlada was so restrained, Same Same Thai won the title of most likely to burn my face off with their surprisingly scorching Papaya Salad. Luckily, Magpies was nearby to cool my tongue with their cool and creamy Sticky Rice Soft Serve.
Chef Nyesha Arrington of Native never fails to please and her Kimchi Latke was light yet a definite comfort food. Jet Tila served moist and tender shredded Pork Neck over Purple Sticky Rice.
Patina’s Ahi Tuna was a definite standout, thickly cut, but clean and cold. Garnished with soya onions, avocado yuzu-lemongrass granite. Patina also offered a rich and creamy Coconut Tapioca with Mango Passion Sauce, and Tropical Fruit Salad garnished with a sweet Super Seed Brittle.
The Tuck Room Tavern added some Thai flavors to their traditional cookies, including our favorites, a Pistachio Pave and Tropical Rainbow Cookies. Saints and Sinners prepared a lovely dessert sampler, with Saints’ Gluten-Freee Tres Leches and Coconut Balla and Sinners’ Thai Basil Nectarine Tart and a fantastic Thai Chili Choco Choux (cream puff).
Ayara Thai set up an entire curry shop for a little taste of Thai street food. You had a choice of fish, pork or chicken curries and a huge array of toppings, including my must-have, a hard-boiled egg. I tried the fish curry, served cool to counteract the hot weather, with some toppings I didn’t even recognize.
Every year, Wolfgang Puck Catering takes over an entire row of the patio. This year an international team of chefs offered Hibachi Grilled Thai Chicken Satay, Pork Belly and Blood Sausage, Sticky Rice Pearls and Coconut Soup, but the one I’m still craving is their Chicken Skin Chicharron with Charred Prik Nam Pla.
Red Curry Mussels from Chichen Itza were flavorful with both spice and the taste of the sea. But Spago had the most daring dish of the day with Stone Valley Farm’s Pork Head Cheese, a metallic-tasting Blood Crisp, and Clam Vinaigrette.
We can’t wait to see what the chefs will be cooking up next year!