Taste of the Nation LA No Kid Hungry Brought Food, Fun and Frolic to Culver City

Poppy and Rose’s chicken and waffles at TOTNLAX. Photo by Elise Thompson.

The weather was cloudy and cool last weekend as Taste of the Nation No Kid Hungry hosted its fundraiser to help end childhood hunger. But even the overcast skies didn’t dampen the mood as chefs and mixologists chatted and laughed with guests and children ran around trying the various activities set up for them. There was a cute road map where kids could complete tasks such as “Try a vegetarian dish” or “take a selfie with the No Kid Hungry sign.” Once they completed the assignments, they could turn the map in for a prize.

There was a nice combination of street eats and upscale dining. When you are trying to cover a big food event, your appetite is at a premium. It is best to avoid things that will fill you up, like hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza. But last Sunday, TOTNLA had such a stellar lineup, I had to break my own rule. The guys grilling smash burgers over at Maple Block Meat Co. were friendly and served up delicious, greasy burgers, A local favorite, Dog Haus, had created Mac n Cheese dogs. I asked Chef Adam Gertler how they kept the macaroni from gumming up the grinder. They said you mix the macaroni in after the meat has gone through the grinder, which maybe should have been obvious. The dogs were fun and I ate my entire serving. There were two kinds of pizza on offer, and I really liked the cacio y pepe.

Playa Provisions scallop at TOTNLAX. Photo by Elise Thompson.

I always like seeing Poppy + Rose, and their chicken and waffles are seriously unparalleled. It’s amazing that they can cook up something in the back of a tent that is better than something you could get at a fancy sit-down restaurant. Jitlada went a little off-menu. Instead of serving the throat-searing chicken I am used to, they had big chafing dishes of noodles, with the option of spicy or not spicy. Thank you Jazz! The Attic, which is new to me, handed out plates of Pimento Cheese on freshly baked bread with preserved vegetables. I’m not from the South, so pimento cheese isn’t always my favorite thing, but this version was creamy and light. I was also surprised by how intense and flavorful a healthy and often bland dish like Peruvian roasted veggie quinoa salad from Qusco Bistro and Gallery was.

There was a lot of seafood and other high-end ingredients. Although Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson couldn’t make it, her husband/partner and the rest of her team from Playa Provisions brought cool and refreshing scallops that seemed straight out of the water. SALT from The Marina Del Rey Hotel also threw down with bivalves, with generous trays of Pacific Gold Oysters with Yuzu mignonette and cocktail sauce. There was a caviar-off between the Caviar Veneziana from Ospi, consisting of a polenta cake with corn creme fraiche and kaluga caviar, versus Sterling Caviar on a corn blini with Creme Fraiche from Kali. In case you are wondering whether kaluga caviar is misheard beluga caviar, it is a similar-tasting caviar from the white sturgeon.

SOCALO’s Baja Ceviche tostaditas were made with a mystery “sustainable seasonal fish” and shrimp in a bright sauce of tomato, onion, lime, cilantro, and roasted jalapeno aioli. Durango Cantina’s taco de pulpo was made the the sweetest, most tender octopus I have ever eaten. Death and Co. Kanpachi Crudo with agua de sandia (watermelon), ponzu, pickled radish and chili oil was the perfect early summer dish. Chef Stephanie Izard of Girl and Goat created a “Summertime Chili Crunch Cracker Situation,” made with her own Chili Crunch, that was full of large, tender shrimp.

The Viceroy Santa Monica offered a 5-course meal over the course of the day. The first course was French onion bone marrow with gruyere, smoked gouda and brandy. In retrospect, I was probably supposed to scoop out the marrow and mix it into the soup, But, as a creature of habit, I asked for an extra slice of the excellent bread from the Attic to smear he marrow onto, and it was awesome. They also served Spanish Octopus and a Fig Sangria with single malt scotch, both of which I missed. I really wish I was there at the end of the day for the Key Lime Cheesecake Tart.

Mei Lin of Daybird with Nini Nguyen from New Orleans’ Phostrami san chan bao Nuoc cham with pickles and herbs on crisp lettuces was a light take on BBQ. Santuari’s braised short ribs with beets, red wine, and horseradish dill was so tender. Jamaica Bay Inn Beachside served an elegant-looking pork belly tossed in vinaigrette on a rice paper chip.

Big Boi brought one of my favorites, Filipino Pork Adobo with garlic rice and housemade cucumbers. Their dessert side, B Sweet, granted my wish with ube bread pudding with buko pandan cream cheese drizzles on top. They also introduced their canned Thai Iced Tea and Coffee. Coolhaus brought a Pride Sammie with a rainbow sprinkle cake cookie and cheesecake ice cream. Someone told me they had been handing them out for free at the Pride Parade. Now, that’s an ally! Chef Shirley Chung of Ms. Chi’s Cafe brought her famous mochi donuts. I liked the seasonal peach.

There were a lot of cocktails, but I have to pace myself and was content with one called “It’s too Darn Hot” with Tito’s Vodka, Limoncello, Watermelon, Chartreuse, and cucumber-mint sour. It was a relaxed, uncrowded family event, and we can’t wait for next year!

Chef Mei Lin of Daybird and Nini of New Orleans at TOTNLAX. Photo by Elise Thompson.




Elise Thompson

About Elise Thompson

Born and raised in the great city of Los Angeles, this food, culture and music-loving punk rock angeleno wants to turn you on to all that is funky, delicious and weird in the city. While Elise holds down the fort, her adventurous alter ego Kiki Maraschino is known to roam the country in search of catfish.
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