The Taste has become a favorite LA food tradition for Labor Day Weekend. Having spent so many holiday afternoons and evenings experiencing sensory overload in the artificial streets of Paramount Studios, I can now spot them in commercials and TV shows as if they were actual LA streets. “Look honey, that insurance guy is standing right where the Bulleit Bourbon tent goes!”
More is usually more when considering the bang-for-buck value of different events, but this year’s edition of The Taste saw a couple of edits that were actually beneficial. The last few events in the space have featured a separate grassy square off to the side that was easy to either miss or to get stuck in. That section of the lot was fenced off this year, with all vendors set up in the main area, which stretched out a little past its former boundaries. The change of layout allowed us to circle the grounds more easily, a blessing if you are the type of person who likes to eat strategically, like walking around eating nothing but seafood and salads for half an hour before getting into the red meat, or poking around to find the perfect salad to pair with the plate of meat you just got from another stand.
And unlike prior years, this weekend had no daytime events scheduled, sparing attendees from having to stuff themselves amid triple-digit temperatures. Night-time food events have their own vibe to them–generally looser, drinkier, wilder than those held in the glare of daylight–which suits this particular crowd quite well.
Inevitably, at an event hosted by the LA Times, the presence of its dearly departed and deeply beloved food and culture writer Jonathan Gold loomed-large. His curiosity and keen sense for how to seek out the delicious has helped the city’s food scene become what it is. It is easy to imagine many of the restaurants that have become regulars at these events getting overlooked without him to report on what was really going on, food-wise, within the borders of Los Angeles.
That celebrated diversity was on full display during Saturday night’s event. Mexican and Mexican-style street food seemed to be the order of the night with hearty barbacoa tacos from Madre Oaxacan, barbecued lamb from Aqui Ex Texcoco, an astonishing shrimp aguachile from Con’i Seafood, bulgogi tacos from Komodo, and snapper ceviche tostadas from Herringbone Santa Monica all registering on my list of highlights. Kali brought its ingenious-to-the-point-of-miraculous canape of beef tartare with charcoal and egg yolk aioli, one of those bites that just captures everything you were looking for in a forkful of beef, delivered in a way you would never have expected.
Poppy & Rose satisfied mightily with its miniature version of a fried chicken dinner, which will definitely get us in the door to try to the Adult-size version before long. Chef Ludo LeFebvre of Trois Mec offered a Smoked Macedoine, a modest salad with a very subtle hint of fire, a perfect side for the BBQ brisket served up by the Maple Block Meat Co.
Don Julio, Maker’s Mark and Bulleit ran cocktail service, and there was plenty of Stella Artois, but my favorite libation of the night was a pinot noir from Belle Glos wines of Santa Barbara County, a full-bodied pinot that was perfectly paired with the heady, slightly funky barbacoa from Madre.
I was excited to try something from Eataly, based on initial positive reviews, but was a bit disappointed at first to see that they had only brought dessert, in the form of bombolone, basically donuts stuffed with ice cream. Now that I’ve written that down, it sounds great – just not what I was expecting. But they were mighty good bombolone, as bombolone go. As the night began to wind down it became apparent that few other vendors had brought dessert, making theirs one of the few frozen treats on offer at a summer food festival. However, those patrons who happened to stop by the Ice Cream Social event and ice-cream making demo, hosted by the Borlongan sisters of Wanderlust Creamery, were rewarded with samples of the gelato produced in their demo.