It may sound like hyperbole when I say that Saturday night’s fundraiser, Simply diVine, was magical, but it really was. There were probably more restaurants participating than any food event I have ever experienced. And as faithful readers know, this was not my first rodeo. It was elbow to elbow in one of the tents, but everyone remained friendly and in good humor. The festive bonhomie was contagious, and the opening band fronted by Emi Secrest was so energetic it was almost like a tent revival.
The most popular dish of the evening was fish in all of its iterations–ceviche, poke, and lots of smoked fish. Salazar served a version of their popular ceviche made with shrimp, octopus and whitefish, while both Govind Armstrong’s Lobster and Michael Cimarusti of Connie & Ted’s were shucking a wide array of oysters, with Connie & Ted’s also including river clams. Petrossian offered their caviar either on a dignified blini or straight from the spoon like a savage.
Our favorite from amongst the fish dishes was Holbox’s smoked baja kanpachi and scallop tostadas. Scallops from Bourbon Steak were also heavenly. At one point I was balancing Da Kikokiko’s tuna poke topped with smelt eggs in one hand and a ponzu salmon poke with edamame and forbidden rice from Sweetfin in the other, trying to take bites from both of them as I fumbled with a pair of chopsticks, and I realized I had only been pretending not to like poke. I love it!
Sweetfin also served a vegan poke with julienned vegetables on forbidden rice. In fact, there was a lot of vegan entrees, making the party fun for everyone. Perhaps the best vegan bite in town was Chef Brandon Kida’s wild mushroom potsticker with guajillo dashi from Hinoki and the Bird. The dumpling was closely followed by Jaffa’s Tahina with a roasted eggplant that had caramelized to perfection, with sungold cherry tomatoes, sumac onions, dukkah nut and their very own spice blend. I will admit that when I first saw the hippie plate from Jaffa I was not too enthused, as vegan health food can be tasteless. But that eggplant had roasted into an intense lump of charred sweetness, and the other ingredients were restrained, allowing the eggplant to be the star.
Huntington Hospitality had a beautiful and fresh vegetable-forward ceviche combining red lentils, Persian cucumber, avocado, strawberry, cilantro, mint, and aji Amarillo-orange dressing. Ike’s Sandwiches had a vegan meatball sandwich called “The Meatless Mike” as well as a vegetarian option with mushrooms, artichoke hearts and pesto, which could be made vegan without the provolone. To satisfy your sweet tooth, there was a delicious and smooth vegan chocolate dessert from Crossroads..
Meanwhile back at the omnivore’s, CUT was grilling up the most tender steaks I can ever remember having while Otium went haute cuisine with their Sausage Pate with a touch of anise wrapped in a crepe and topped with a white sauce. As always, Chef Susan Feniger of Border Grill flashed huge smiles at the guests as she serves Birria Tacos made with shredded beef, consommé, Mexican cheeses, radish, avocado and tomatillo salsa in a blue corn tortilla. Definitely one of the best bites of the evening. As was the deep-fried Pork Belly from Bestia, which was caramelized to the point of getting stuck in your teeth. The gourmand’s favorite taffy. And we always are pleased to see Rao’s meatballs, one of our favorite New York transplants.
One of the hottest new bakeries in town, Tartine Bianco in the Manufactory treated us to grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate-hazelnut squares. It was a grilled cheese-off at the grills as Tartine was grilling face-to-face with Badmaash and their grilled cheese, which was a break from the norm.
The Pie Hole’s delicate little pies they called “pie holes” were the perfect dessert. You could hold one easily like a cookie, and get all of the pleasure of pie without a the overwhelming sweetness of an entire slice. Jar’s Butterscotch Pudding, called a budino in Italy, was scrumptious as always. I asked the young girl wearing chef’s whites embroidered SUZANNE TRACHT if she was in a movie where she switched bodies, but she just laughed and didn’t give me the deets. Our last bite, Spiced Caramel Coffee Cupcakes from Sycamore Kitchen were so tender and flavorful, it was the perfect taste to let linger.
A few of the beers on tap included Hop Valley Brewing Co. and Lagunitas brewing, but we were into the cocktails from Genever, the rainbow-tinted Malfy, Chareau’s aloe liquor and tonic, and a blackberry gin and tonic from Ginny’s Gin. As we wandered through Hollywood Forever, the dance floor behind us took off as the guests continued to dance the night away. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the anniversary of L.A.’s LGBT Center and 50 years of queer! They definitely put the FUN in fundraiser!!!