Somehow, for 13 years in a row, Los Angeles magazine has managed to bring all of the best elements together to make a perfect day that can stand up to a simple name like “The Food Event.” That’s all they really need to say. Every year I gush about the bucolic, verdant rolling grounds of Saddle Rock Ranch. It is gorgeous and the Malibu Hills get enough of the ocean breeze to make for temperate weather even on the warmest of days. Once again they filled the grounds with a combination of new and exciting restaurants and familiar old standbys.
A number of favorite places managed to surprise us again, surpassing our expectations. Although we missed the bright smile of Chef Antonia Lofaso this year, the representative dishes from her new restaurant, Dama, at City Market South, proved that she can cook more than standard Italian fare. We thought corn season was over, but her Street Corn with queso fresco, cotija, housemade cilantro aioli. chile, lime, and salt brought us right back to the street corners of Highland Park. We also dug the tacos with whipped heirloom white beans, crispy pork, cotija cheese, onion, radish, and pickled onion. Seriously, is there anything better than crispy pork and pickled onions?
Salazar has not been slacking as founding chef and partner Esdras Ochoa has been globetrotting around Asia. Their ceviche made with shrimp, snapper, scallops, chayote, Fresno chile, onion, and cilantro, was on point—fresh, yet heartier than any ceviche we have ever tried. The dish was served with a yucca chip, but the generous helping really required about seven more chips.
We have come to expect perfect pastas, dumplings, and charcuterie from Chef Steve Samson’s Sotto, but their Pizza Fioratta was a revelation. The Salame Piccante was cooked just enough to make it a little crispy and to really bring out the flavor, which worked surprisingly well with the buckwheat honey. Honey on pizza! And it worked! There was also provolone, but it was really just a sidechick to the marriage of salame and honey.
Chef Marcel Vigneron from Wolf was there with his popular “Crack Potatoes.” I must admit that I had tried them near the end of the night at “The Taste” last summer, and they were good, but I wouldn’t trade real crack for them. At The Food Event, however, I got it. The potato must have just come out of the fryer or something, because it was crunchy and rich and amazing.
I have been known to throw a tantrum if Bone Kettle tries to serve anything but oxtail dumplings. Their take on Italian Arancini blew those dumplings out of the water. The way their Rendang Rice Fritters with braised short rib, garlic aioli, mizuna greens and red endive hold together almost seems to defy the laws of physics.
One of our regular brunch spots, The Bellwether, served a stunning oil poached tuna that was so meaty it was easy to mistake for beef. The tuna was served as a tostada with salsa morita, whipped avocado, and nasturtium.
We must confess that we have not dined at Terranea since Chef Michael Fiorelli was at the helm. Their Mole-braised beef cheek mini tostada and Wagyu braised short rib with celeriac puree and crispy farro tabouli convinced me that it is definitely time to return to those gorgeous clifftop views and relaxing ocean breezes.
Although we have had a longtime romance with B Sweet, we hate to admit we have not yet visited Barb Batiste’s Filipino restaurant on Sawtelle, Big Boi. She teased us with delicious stewed chicken adobo to make sure we knew what we were missing. Hot tip: Barb will be serving breakfast as a pop-up at Big Boi from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Sundays.
Although the following restaurants aren’t necessarily new to the LA food scene, they are new to us, and what exciting discoveries they are! The selection of restaurants in LA is always in flux, which can be heartbreaking when you lose an old favorite, but it is dynamic, and we are always happy to explore new horizons. I also have to give a shoutout to the South Bay restaurants so often overlooked. I guess MB Post, Fishing with Dynamite and Love & Salt have lured people down to the beach cities.
The Gables’ patty melt had a lot to live up to, as I compare all patty melts to the one at Cassell’s. I have to say, they held their own. The grass-fed beef was perfectly greasy, but not too greasy, and the standard cheddar and American cheese on rye were elevated by first-rate ingredients and a bit of Balsamic.
Madre in Old Torrance blew us away with beef barbacoa tacos with homemade tortillas and memelas with cilantro (handmade corn disc, layered with black bean paste, Oaxacan cheese, and marinated pork). We liked watching them cook the tortillas and memelas on open flames next to their tent. This South Bay eatery will be on my to-do list this weekend.
Ronan, a seasonal “shared plates” spot on Melrose in the Fairfax District served breakfast radishes with anchovy butter. Although I am not a big fan of anchovies, the radish was crisp and cool, with only a light, clean flavor at first, then Ka-Pow! That burn hits you a second later than you expected it. A peek at Ronan’s menu shows that they serve duck confit with pickled cherries and describe their Marinara Pizza as having “too much sauce.” Respect.
Tesse, a European restaurant that opened last summer in WeHo, plated delicious roasted garlic and short ribs on toast. But what we really loved was their ube ice cream sandwich with cashew cookies. We expect that Tesse will be a big success. With a team like restauranteur Bill Chait, Michelin-starred Chef Raphael Francois, pastry guru Sally Camacho, and managing partner and wine director, Jordan Ogron on the job.
Brewpub and restaurant 6th and La Brea was right on point with a short rib bowl containing rice and scallions. You can never have too much short rib. Overall, it was a pretty meaty event as we slide into the Fall and Winter seasonal menus. If there was any doubt, over at Hayden, Chef Ari Kolender was putting the finishing touches on Roasted Honey Nut Squash with miso, pickled apples, and bottarga (dried mullet roe). Squash is the harbinger of Fall in LA. I know it’s the end of October, but summer goes on forever here.
Hip Hot served a mild fish soup with a flaky white fish in a clear broth. We expected it to be spicy due to their name, but it was pleasantly comforting and I suspect I would long for it when sick in bed. Another excellent fish dish came from The Exchange. Their aguachile tostada was comprised of big chunks of albacore, avocado, and the unexpected addition of a Lebanese yogurt cheese called labneh and the Yemenite-inspired spice blend, shabazi. Fat Dragon served a pungent and original version of Spicy Sichuan cold noodles. Two other original and eye-catching bites were the New Zealand snapper sashimi with braised shiitake and a ginger dashi gelee from Umi by Hamasaku and Gabi James‘ “Gildas”—lollipops of pickled roasted peppers, olives and white anchovy. It was a risky dish, with several ingredients your average person won’t eat, but I admired them for going balls out like that.
It’s not often that we see something wholly original that we have never even seen before. Lady M Cakes brought Mille Crepes, 20 crepes layered with pastry cream. They even had one that was Green Tea flavored. You better believe I kept going back for just…one…more…bite.
After strolling around to the New Orleans sounds of the Mud Bug Brass Band and sampling delectables, we drove off of the beautiful ranch and admired their rescued wild animals. We were sated and happy. I don’t know if anyone has ever felt so lucky.