Saturday night is always a big bash at the LA Times’ Taste. Although it is no longer themed “Cocktail Confidential,” the event is still as much about drinking as eating. It attracted the biggest crowd of the three events—it felt like twice as many people as had attended Friday night. You have to change your expectations from trying all of the food to having a few libations and enjoying the excitement and the crowd.
I still did a pretty good job of getting to most of the booths. It was kind of a surf and turf night. Chef Holly Jivin of Bazaar by Jose Andres always has something interesting happening. She had teensy tiny “ice cream cones” that were actually Smoked Hamachi Cones with yuzu mayo, jicama, and watermelon, topped with swirls of yuzu meringue. And can I just take a moment to applaud Chef Andres, who is once again swooping in to help where governments falter, providing food and water to the Bahamas as he did for Puerto Rico and Haiti and Houston and North Carolina—too many places to name. I hope he does get the Nobel Peace Prize. If you would like to donate to his World Central Kitchen you can do so HERE.
Con’i Seafood is a longtime favorite of ours, and they served twin ceviches—a verde and ceviche marinaro. The papaya in the lighter ceviche was perfect. Ellie’s, a new happening place in Long Beach also served a salad-like Shrimp and Melon Ceviche with Persian cucumber, serrano chile, and crispy quinoa. Kali went with a Yellowtail Crudo with buttermilk leche de tigre, sea grass and a rice cracker. I am a sucker for leche de tigre.
We enjoyed a nicely balanced Marinated Spicy Ahi Tuna and Soba Noodle Salad from our locals over at the Bellwether in Studio City. If you haven’t tried their weekend brunch yet, you should check it out. A new favorite is Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, whose charming chef-prepared Shrimp Saute with Tabasco cream sauce. Izakaya Osen had a selection of four items, but we were taken with the Insta-ready salmon, filled with crab and topped with caviar.
There was a lot of octopus on the menus, including an Octopus Ragu with nduja sausage, rigati, burrata, piquillo, olive, and tomato from Iron Chef winner Chef Viet Pham. Baltaire served a Spanish Octopus with romesco, salsa verde, and Weiser Farms Potatoes. Little Sister from Manhattan Beach (with restaurants in Redondo Beach and downtown as well) tends to smack you in the face with intense flavors. The Saigon Chilled Prawn Salad with papaya, Vietnamese herbs, scallops and a rice cracker was definitely exciting.
As for the turf, the Maple Block Meat Co.’s Peachwood Smoked Brisket served with vinegar slaw and LA Brisket’s eponymous meat with Salsa Verde were both as good as any I have tried in Texas. We are probably a bit biased, because we love Chef Michael Hung of Faith & Flower, but his Flat Iron Steak with cherry tomatoes and XO Sauce was definitely a standout dish. Castaway, way up on the hill in Burbank, has struggled through several chef changes and the chancy reputation that all “restaurants with a view” have. They piqued our curiosity with a Snake River zabuton with chimichurri, smoked potato, and crisp shallot, and we will be heading up the hill soon for their brunch, which we are told has been improved by doing away with the buffet.
A new mid-century modern lounge and dining room in Studio City, Mister O’s, won us over with a Filet Mignon with pomme puree, cremini, and bordelaise and a memorable corn bisque, with curry and octopus Togarashi (A Japanese chile that also lends its name to a spice blend). Seriously, I am still thinking about that corn soup. Longtime favorite Rice Box fancied up Chinese BBQ with Char Siu Beef short ribs topped with an elegant quail egg and taro puree.
One of the top tastes of the night was the “Bee Sting” pizza from Roberta’s, a gourmet pizza place in Culver City. I am a fool for any pizza with soprasetta and honey. Hotville Chicken, which we were lucky to try because they only do catering and pop-ups, were serving “Music City Medium,” not quite as Nashville chicken, with house-made pickles, French fries, and refreshing slices of watermelon. Dog Haus often does chef collaborations for charity, and along with Chef Greenspan of BuBu’s, who is known for his awesome grilled cheese sandwiches, had concocted a hot chicken grilled cheese sandwich on Doghaus‘ standard Hawaiian rolls.
Tacos 1986, the local food press’ darling, gave you a choice of chicken or mushroom tacos. I went for the tacos hongos, which did not disappoint. A vegetarian would still have had a good time at this event, with those tacos, filled pasta from Eataly, and Maitake Mushroom with mushroom aioli, peaches, arugula, and Pecorino from Café Birdie.
The best vegetable of the night, though, has to go to Popcorn Brussels Sprouts from LN2. The cruciferous vegetable is known for being mushy and bitter, but the tender sprout, dipped in a tempura-like batter, not a heavy popcorn shrimp batter, would win over any haters. LN2, which is named after liquid nitrogen, is a modern gastropub, so they may have worked some magic with those Brussels sprouts.
My drinks of choice over the weekend included Ketel One Vodka’s deceptively light and sweet Watermelon smash, made with fresh lemon juice, and cold pressed watermelon juice, with a mint garnish. As for their other specialty cocktail,I’m not sure the world is ready yet for a Matcha Collins. Suntory Whisky was pouring sparkling water with lime and your choice of whisky Toki, gin or vodka. All of their liquors are very mild and good when you don’t want anything harsh. I felt it was my duty to try all of the cocktails so I could report on them, so yes, I took an Uber.