Thursday, December 16, 2010

Artisanal LA / Unique LA - Indie Holiday Shopping Extravaganza

My addiction to Artisanal LA - a celebration of local artisanal food makers, community and economy - began in October this year, during their inaugural show in the historic Cooper Building downtown.  It was a great place of culinary discoveries, with an exquisitely curated collection of foodmakers who are clearly passionate about their work - ranging from handcrafted truffles to unique fusion brittle to 'small batch bacon couch mix'.

So as soon as the dates for the Winter show were announced, (along with Unique LA - an indie fashion/ gift show on the same weekend, kitty corner in the California Market Center!), I immediately put it on my calendar with three reminder alarms. 

I loved shopping and tasting at the Artisanal LA show back in October, in the bright, airy Cooper Design Space in the penthouse of the building in the heart of downtown's fashion district.  This time, the show had moved to the ground floor gallery space in the back - perhaps to allow the larger penthouse space to cater to the wider masses looking for non-edible and perhaps higher price point gifts.  The penthouse of the Cooper Building this time was used for A Current Affair, the third show in this DTLA pop-up holiday shop extravaganza weekend - offering vintage finds. 

Despite initial disappointment about the scaled down Artisanal LA show (or as I like to call it, Artisanal LA 'Lite'), my excitement returned full blast when I saw that it was a well selected mix of vendors - it was all about quality, not quantity at this holiday edition of the show.  Here are some of the highlights:

Jammies Jams brought their organic, homemade small batch jams and jellies - owner and chef Larrian originally trained as a pastry chef in Paris, then studied jam-making in Berkeley and now makes these amazing jars of pure awesome in her kitchen using her grandmother's time-tested recipes, quality / creative ingredients like Mariage Frere teas (or bacon!!!!), and leaves out all the preservatives, pectin and other ingredients that you know are bad for you, and can taste in mass produced jams & jellies.

There are some staple jam flavors, of course, but their bestseller at the show was the very creative "Hog Heaven" jam ($12 for 8oz jar), which had already sold out by the time I arrived, mid-afternoon the first day.  Lorrian was kind enough to offer a sample, and a card with her website info so I could order online - but that little spoonful made it impossible for me not to drive back, 40 minutes from the Valley the next day, to pick up some jars.  For holiday presents (one for me, and the other...maybe for me as well, we'll see! ;) ) So what is in this divine concoction you ask? It's a BACON jam infused with amazing layers of flavors - pieces of bacon are added to apple butter, sugar, walnuts, BOURBON, spices, vinegar to add tartness, and chipotle chilis for heat.  Basically it will have every taste bud singing hallelujah!

Cast Iron Gourmet  - continuing with the bacon theme, I decided to stop by Cast Iron Gourmet's booth, as they had a grill out on the patio with the irresistible smell of sizzlin' bacon.  At the October show, I had stopped by this booth and was not impressed by the 'couch mix' of candied bacon pieces with dried fruit and nuts, nor the somewhat overly boisterous sales guy out front 'working' customers.  I decided to give it one more try this time around, and was so glad I did, as this turned out in my opinion to be one of the best-of-show booths (along with Jammies) at this Artisanal LA!  One taste of the BOURBON BACON CHUTNEY and I was hooked.  It's like Boeuf Bourguignon in a jar, with tantalizingly tender meat but sweeter in overall flavor, with Bourbon instead of wine as the alcohol of choice (a great and apparently popular pairing!). Amazingly talented owner / chef Rashida (who churns out the good eats and runs the company part-time) recommended using the chutney on a cheese board with hard cheeses, or mixing it up with mac & cheese.  Or just eating it out of the jar - which I fully support!  One other best-in-show item is also from Cast Iron Gourmet - Pimento Cheese made with bacon mayo ($16/ jar, $30 for two)!!!  Lovely cheddary tasting cheese spread with a kick, and of course bacon flavor - in a jar.  They had already sold out of the Bourbon Bacon Chutney ($16/ jar, $30 for two) my first day at Artisanal LA - and I couldn't stop thinking about the flavors all I made the trek out the next day to stock up - along with the Pimento Cheese and Jammies Hog Heaven jam (that became not just a product name for me, but pretty much described my state of mind throughout Artisanal LA, with all the great bacon items on offer)!

Crust by Stephanie Jayne had one of the most elaborate displays at the show - there was no mistaking  what they were all about - pies, tarts and everything to do with these rounds of deliciousness!  I sampled the Chocolate Fleur de Sel Caramel Tart topped by a bit of sea salt and loved the way the salt broke up the richness of the chocolate and caramel!  A Crust original creation was the Cracker Brittle (small bag $5) - salty crackers topped with caramel crunch and drizzled with dark chocolate - this was originally developed as a garnish for the Chocolate Fleur de Sel Caramel Tart, but proved so popular that Stephanie decided to offer it as a separate item.

As my brother and his wife were only going to be in LA for  a few more days, and we would likely be eating out as much as possible within that time, and I am going to leave for Asia soon, I didn't want to buy a lot of perishables that we likely would not finish.  But will definitely be checking back with Crust in the new year!

Other highlights included Creme Caramel flan (love the coffee flavored one!  I heard they also had bacon bread pudding but didn't get a chance to taste this!) and amazing smoked olives by Orgasma de la Boca (loved the taste - but the name was unfortunately actually a deterrent to purchase for us, the olives themselves are amazing and would be nice to package with perhaps a martini set for a great holiday gift. The name on the label is somewhat gimmicky and not conducive to gifts for bosses or most family members.  It seems designed to appeal to a specific and narrow market of single women).  My brother and Foodie Mentor also loved and bought jars of the Hong Kong Habanero mustard from SoNo Trading Company.

After getting our fill of edibles, we decided to stop by Unique LA - for the awesome two-for-one admission ($10 for two people with Artisanal LA wristband).  Event organizers had a few offers going on to cross promote the trifecta of shows going on next door to each other:  Unique LA (handmade / local artists fashions/accessories/gifts), A Current Affair (vintage goods) and Artisanal LA (food).  The admission offers worked two ways between Artisanal LA to Unique LA - you could either purchase individual admission to Unique LA first, then take the wristband to Artisanal LA to get two-for-one admission to Unique LA - or take your Unique LA wristband to Artisanal LA to get $1 off admission.  Since individual admission to Unique LA was $10, and to Artisanal LA was $6 - we figured it would be smarter to go to Artisanal LA first (my addiction to good eats aside - it WAS also a better deal which made the choice even simpler) - so for a group of four we ended up paying a total of ($6 x 4) + ($10 x 2) = $44 versus ($10 x 4) + ($5 x 4) = $60.  Score!

Loved shopping at Unique LA for holiday gifts (most of which ended up being labelled 'to Me') and jewelry pieces while checking out good eats like Flying Pig truck (grounded as a booth at the show), Coolhaus (already a fav) and Scootabaker cupcakes and cookies.

Here are a few of the food related gift highlights on offer from Unique LA:

Susuten featured adorable handcrafted plush items from cell phone straps to desktop decor to small toys.  The sushi roll plush cell phone charms were too cute for words.  My fav find, because it involved bacon, and because it is just so completely random - is the bacon wrapped enoki mushroom plush - aka "Baconoki"  ($50).  This was a little out of my price range (I think I've developed a bizarre rule for evaluating purchases - I now think in units of Osteria Mozza Amaro Bar meals - every purchase is weighed against how many of the amazing $35 prix fixe dinners I would have to give up in exchange) but it was with a huge amount of discipline and wistfulness that I was able to drag myself away from Mr. Baconoki. 

Jenny and Jimbob offered charming necklaces packaged in customized matchboxes with fun pop / vintage art wraps and tongue-in-cheek editorial.  Loved the edgy (yes, I am in the mood for cheesy puns) meat cleaver pendant necklace in a matchbox that says "Serious Cleavage" or the eggbeater one that says "Just Beat It" (and the non-foodie one with a vacuum charm that says "Love Sucks").  Silver pendant necklaces run $30 and gold ones $40.

Graze Organic encouraged people to go green and replace their ziploc bags with cute reusable bags made of 100% organic cotton, with velcro seal, and features fun & functional prints like carrots, orange slices and sandwiches, indicating what each is sized for (set of 3 for $24).  They also offered the cutest organic totes ($29.95 each online, $28 at show)!  My only concern is lack of waterproofing - if fruit / veggies got squished in these bags, they would definitely leak into my handbag.  Though, I'm assuming that these snack/sandwich bags are made to go into other lined lunch bags for transportation.

Dewi - though this booth is not food related, I wanted to give them a shoutout here, as I completely fell in love with their amazing, delicate jewelry that are hand woven with metallic or organic threads into art or nature inspired shapes like leaves and water drops.  I love them because some of these are incredible, creative statement necklaces, that are able to accomplish what a lot of necklaces in this category can't - look sophisticated and classic but be completely innovative at the same time.  As the necklaces and earrings are made of thread, they are very lightweight and easy to wear.  I picked up a necklace strung with delicate gold leaves ($50 and I got a $5 discount)!

Quick shoutout also to Fahmina, which featured amazing earrings and other accessories made with buttery soft reclaimed leather in sophisticated metallics and unexpected color combinations.

Last few notes on the events:

Free Take-Home Loot:
  • O.N.E. Amazon Acai box drink
  • DRY Soda - flavors including Lemongrass or Lavender
  • Unique LA tote bag
  • Function Detox drink
Going Back for Seconds: Admission was good for unlimited re-entry - both days! Two days of entertainment / holiday shopping for just $11 per person ($6 Artisanal LA and $5 as share of 2-for-1 deal at Unique LA). 

Short walk, less secure than Cooper Building's parking structure, but dirt cheap (for downtown): Aside from the lots mentioned on the event site on Santee Alley, there are also some on Los Angeles St between 6th and 7th Streets: the first one is $4, second one for $3, both flat rate, both outdoor (first one is roof parking, not sure about the second). There is also a small lot attached to a strip mall on 9th for $2 flat just past Broadway.

Note for next show:  BE SURE TO ASK FOR A TICKET that has the address of your lot - all the lots around the area look about the same, and if you get lost it will be extremely difficult to identify which lot you're in via description and price alone.  These outdoor lots are safe enough for daytime parking, but definitely leave before sunset if you are not in a large group -  DTLA turns into a completely different place that you don't want to get to know, after the shops start to shutter up, as I found out the hard way when I returned on my own the second day.

For those who couldn't make it to the show - check out each vendor's website, a lot of their products are available to order online!

Congrats to Artisanal LA and Unique LA for another successful show.  Looking forward to the next one!!!


Artisanal LA
Saturday, December 11th and Sunday, December 12th 11am-6pm
Cooper Building
860 S Los Angeles St., Los Angeles, CA 90014


Unique LA
Saturday, December 11th and Sunday, December 12th 11am-6pm
California Market Center
110 E 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90014

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