Saturday afternoon, LA Food and Wine presented “LA Faves & Craves,” hosted by Chef Jet Tila at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica. The fantastic food represented the diversity of the city, with Korean, Indian, French, Italian, and especially Mexican food taking a star turn. Tacos and seafood were the order of the day, beating out many of the other contenders in both quantity and quality.
One of the prettiest and most refreshing dishes was the Scallop Ceviche with yuzu and pistachio from Nomad Hotel, which was served in scallop shells. Presentation-wise, it was a close call between the scallops and the gorgeous little bamboo leaf bundles from sushi chef Yoya Takahashi of UMI by Hamasaku that revealed salmon sushi when unwrapped.
Other impressive seafood dishes included a longtime favorite, Slapfish’s “Clobster Rolls” from Chef Andrew Gruel, which put a spin on the popular East Coast sandwich by combining blue crab with the lobster. Naturally, our host, Chef Jet Tila, brought his A-game with a Thai Hot Smoke Loch Duart Salmon with palm sugar jam. Brian Bornemann of Michael’s Santa Monica served a spot prawn risotto with wild fennel that reminded us of a trip to Venice.
Chef Jo Jo Ruiz of Serea Coastal Cuisine in Coronado plated a complex Octopus Salad with roasted farmer’s peppers, spring onions, olives, and harissa aioli on a pita chip. There was only one place serving anything similar, with a plate of hummus and eggplant. It appears that Mediterranean cuisine might be on its way out.
Jidori chicken is still popular, with LA Beat favorites Yong and Ted Kim of Seoul Sausage preparing Sticky Chicken on little skewers, and a Crispy Jidori Chicken sandwich with Wasabi Dynamite Sauce, pickles and cabbage slaw from Chef Chris Robbins of LNZ blowing away the current fast food “chicken war.”
My favorite pasta is anglotti, so I was excited by the Corn Anglotti from Ian Gresik of Pasadena’s Arbour, topped with generous shavings of black summer truffles, and the Burgundy Style Agnlotti from Chef James Trees of Esther’s Kitchen in Vegas. The green sauce on the pasta was so…green, it immediately seemed like something your kid would refuse to eat. And they would be right, because when I took a bite I realized there was escargot on the side of the anglotti. Of course. Burgundy snails. Most adults, myself included, and a friend’s adventurous seven year-old (Hey, Greyson!) love escargot, but I felt like, good on ya, warning the picky kids.
There were also a few traditional old-school dishes like a pork Pate en croute from Chef Timothy Hollingsworth of Otium, the fancy restaurant next to The Broad. But tacos were king. Using tweezers, Thomas Ortega from Playa Amor and Amor y Tacos carefully plated Mesquite-grilled skirt steak tacos on blue corn tortillas with avocado salsa, fresh tomatoes and chile de arbol, onion and cilantro.
Someone always goes big, and this time around it was Chef Patricio Wise of Nixtaco Mexican Kitchen with a whole pig for his Suckling Pig Taco with peanut chipotle “soubise.” He even let me have the cheek, so he is my new favorite. Speaking of favorites, the handsome Esdras Ochoa was representing Mexicali Taco and Co. with a taco made with ribeye, Mexican ponzu, salsa roja and guacamole also on a blue corn tortilla, like most of the other tacos.
The Taco with Shrimp Diablo and charred scallion slaw, and dried chile salsa on a squid ink tortilla from Chef Bret Thompson of Pez Cantina was topped with an adorable tiny whole shrimp chicharron. We also liked the Oyster and Bass Tostada from Chef Jason Witzel of Ellie’s/Lupe’s de la Mar in Long Beach.
For dessert we enjoyed treats from andSons Chocolatiers, including caramel chocolates. The Milk Bar truck was serving cereal ice cream, and Salt & Straw was scooping up hot fudge sundaes with Sea Salt and Caramel Ribbon ice cream. Wanderlust Creamery brought Ube Malted Crunch, Gianduja (hazelnut and dark chocolate, similar to Nutella), whiskey caramel, and Irish brown bread flavors. They teamed up with Guinness to make delicious floats. I liked the one made with Gianduja.
The House of Suntory was serving a selection of cocktails with their various spirits, but I’m still partial to their Highball with Whiskey Toki, chilled soda water and grapefruit peel. Santory always has something interesting going on, and they had set up tanzaku, slim paper cards for writing wishes upon. Bulleit Whiskey served a “Rye-Rye Birdy” and Aperol Spritzes were also on the menu. Perrier Jouet was popping champagne bottles, along with the multitude of wines being poured. It was a perfect afternoon.