The Food Event presented by Los Angeles magazine changed things up this year, and it’s definitely for the better. Once again, the event was held at the Saddlerock Ranch, but it was set up in a different area that I didn’t even know existed. Instead of one big, broad field, the location was made up of several small, connected clearings. Blankets and chairs were laid out to create little havens where guests could relax and spend time with friends. There were also conveniently placed barrels that you could set your food and drinks on to avoid juggling.
The tents were broken up into groupings of around three to seven restaurants, interspersed with wine merchants, making them easier to manage and much less overwhelming than the endless wall of tents guests faced in the meadow in years past. The only recommendation I might make is to provide the chefs with chalkboards so they don’t have to repeat the ingredients so many times. There were also a lot more new restaurants to discover this year, but still enough old favorites to guarantee a fantastic day.
Longtime LA Beat favorite, Chef Kris Tominaga, had the winning dish of the day at the Manuela tent. Chicken fried lobster mushrooms with celery aioli, bread and butter pickles and jalapeno on a potato bun attracted one of the longest lines of the day. Calabra also served a vegetable forward dish, plating a Japanese Sweet Potato with jalapeno dill aioli, harissa, pomegranate, molasses and burnt onion soil. It was full of flavor and had a nice, comforting texture. Its unusual look caused some picky eaters to balk, and I was like “Just eat it! It’s the best vegetable you will ever eat!”
Home State’s loaded queso, served with chips, combined cheddar, black beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream, making a nice dip to eat while strolling amongst the trees. Not to be outdone, Chef Vartan Abgaryan’s Venice Beach hotspot, Yours Truly, brought their Avocado Hummus served with chips sprinkled with za’atar. Madre Oaxacan Restaurant and Mezcaleria, which we have visited several times already in its Torrance location, served delectable squash blossom quesedillas and barbacoa enchiladas. You just can’t go wrong with antojitos.
When we attended a press dinner last week at Wally’s in Santa Monica, I was impressed by the wealth of truffles. I thought the generosity was due to it being a special dinner. But it seems Executive Chef Ryan Kluver just can’t help himself. He was there at the table, furiously shaving flurries of black truffle onto a mild squash tortellini with roasted chestnut, wildflower honey and brown butter served in a Parmesan wheel.
The Pasta Sisters, who blew me away with their gnocchi at The Taste, brought homemade lasagna. It might seem too heavy to eat on a warm October afternoon, but homemade pasta sheets combined with Bolognese, beschamel, and Parmigiano created a light and delicate lasagne. Handmade noodles make all the difference.
There was a lot of ceviche, as usual, although less than there was at the height of summer. Gracias Madre impressed us with a Coconut Ceviche that must have included seaweed, because it still sparkled with the taste of the sea. Fia served a refreshing Hamache Ceviche with leche de tigre, basil, and radish. I had not seen branzino ceviche until this month, and now I am seeing a lot of it. The Cliff Diver came strong with an intense Branzino Ceviche with capers, cilantro, olives and avocado.
Chef Yoya Takahashi of the California-inspired Japanese restaurant Hamasaku created the most beautiful dish of the day, reminding us of something similar he served several years ago at LA Food & Wine, called a Chirashi Jewelbox. The word “chirashi” means “scattered,” and it is used to describe a variety of sushi and other ingredients scattered on rice. Of course, artfully arranged is more descriptive than scattered. Hamakasu’s chirashi this year also gleamed with jewel-like colors. Some of the ingredients were tuna, salmon, and salmon roe, which really allowed the light to shine through.
Rice Box brought Cantonese-inspired and comforting Mary’s Chicken Wings stuffed with pork belly, sticky rice, salted egg yolk and sausage. They will be selling whole Cornish game hens stuffed with the same ingredients for the holidays. You can pre-order them by emailing Rice Box here.
Speaking of game birds, Michael’s in Santa Monica surprised us with a perfectly cooked quail. The quality wasn’t a surprise, but it is an unusual protein for a food festival. Eataly went all out with giant Brasiole turning on a spit. Brasiole is a rolled meat that is usually small enough to put in the Sunday gravy. This one was enormous!
Chef Jeffrey Arrieta, late of the much-lauded Fig, created brunch of the gods with Pork Belly and Grits, and “Malibu Toast” made up of eggs, avocado and caviar. Lanea served Barbacoa Tacos, which sadly we missed, but we loved their Spicy Margarita. Suntory was on hand stirring a “Haku High” with Suntory Vodka, Fever Tree club soda, and a lemon wedge. They were also pouring Roku Gin and tonics, offering a variety of tonics. We especially enjoyed the light spritzes from St. Germain.
The Getty’s Bon Appetit Management Company cooked as well as anybody, showing off with a butter-soft wagyu tenderloin with bone marrow aioli, and the crispiest fries ever sprinkled with lemon herb dust. As if that weren’t enough, the pastry chef brought fresh airbrushed macarons and little strawberries made out of chocolate with a strawberry filling.
Over at dessert row, our beloved Crème Caramel served Ube Pavlova, while Lark Cake Shop had baked moist and addictive chocolate, cream-filled cupcakes and carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Lady M Cake Boutiques was there with their mind-blowing cake made out of what might be millions of soft crepes with layers of pastry cream between them. Of course, Supercool Creamery was putting on a show with their liquid nitrogen, which is always fun to photograph.
All in all, it was another spectacular event from Los Angeles magazine. The new location is awesome–you don’t have to trudge across a giant expanse of grass, and having so much shade is nice. And the food, as always, was memorable and delicious.