Monday, March 7, 2011

Gold Standard 2011 - Setting New Bar with Culinary Currency

Yesterday's 3rd Annual Gold Standard Food & Wine Event was easily the best gourmet gathering I have ever been to in Los Angeles - the best $50 I have ever spent - and one that could only have been pulled together with the cache of LA Weekly's pulitzer-prize winning food critic Jonathan Gold. 

That the event was created for the people, to celebrate the essence of the Los Angeles dining scene - while reflecting Mr. Gold's personal, eclectic approach - is apparent in every carefully crafted detail.

First off, the event was held inside the Petersen Automotive Museum, an unusual choice for a destination food & wine event - a venue with a vibe that feels more Hard Rock than Pebble Beach (in the most fabulous way - it was eye-opening to check out all the classic, futuristic, movie-prop and vintage 'Hot Wheels' cars on display, after the gorgefest was done).  Read:  no pretentiousness served here, only a curated collection of the noteworthy.

The restaurants and vintners who were hand-picked out of thousands for the event ran the gamut from street food by emerging superstars to fine dining culinary luminaries, with cuisines reflecting some of the incredible diversity that Los Angeles has to offer, from Southeast Asian to Mexican to French to fusion.

The space was well designed - with the main room divided into three aisles, two on the outside for food, and the center aisle for wines - this was perfect as you didn't have to travel far to move from one to the other, and  'Designer Cyclist', her hubby and I found that we loved floating easily between the aisles to spontaneously create our own pairings!

Armed only with a souvenir wine glass, plastic 'fife' (fork + knife hybrid), event program and near-hysterical-excitement, we launched straight into the locust swarm of enthusiastic food lovers buzzing from booth to booth.

I knew we were off to a great start when the first booth we saw upon entering the main room was Mozza.  Regular readers know that Pizzeria and Osteria Mozzas are two of my favorite restaurants in LA, and they didn't disappoint with an incredibly smooth, creamy and yieldy ball of burrata topped with roasted tomato, basil and bread crumbs for contrasting crunch.

The tastings that followed were a blur of blissful, extended ecstasy.  I struggled with how best to represent them, chronologically or by favorites - and decided to on the latter.

So here are the highlights - my absolute favorite / pick for best of show (out of the items we tasted) would be Drago Centro's Foie Gras Panna Cotta with Duck Confit and Beet Crouton in a shot glass.  I might be a bit biased as this features some of my favorite foods on earth - but I thought it was a brilliant idea to turn rich, earthy foie into incredibly creamy panna cotta, then to counterbalance with gamey duck and crunchy beet croutons!  All in a presentation that highlighted the gorgeous colors, and smartly made it easy for guests to carry away quickly and eat while standing / scurrying through the crowds without making a mess! Sheepishly, I went back for seconds - twice.

My runner-up for best of show has to be the Bahn Mi with pork belly + ears, kumquat, pistachio and lardon from Palate Food+Wine.  Given my last semi-traumatic experience at the restaurant, I was a bit hesitant to allocate precious stomach space to them - but Designer Cyclist and "Mr. Cyclist" tasted first and convinced me with their lit-up eyes and disregard to the sauces dripping down their arms.  They were right - I absolutely LOVED the sandwich with its unique combination of ingredients and fatty juices soaked into the bottom of the bread - ESPECIALLY the fact that it is a completely unexpected ethnic offering from a place not normally known for...ethnic dishes.  And, we decided that from now on, like Windex in 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding', if something needs fixing or sprucing up we're going to say "put some Banh Mi sauce on it!".  Palate's Banh Mi paired incredibly well with a sauvignon blanc whose label I can't remember - will have to ask Designer Cyclist later! 

Funny enough, directly next door to Palate was Starry Kitchen - the husband and wife team who started with an 'underground' kitchen run out of their apartment, built a cult following, and now serves up their pan-Asian creations to masses of fans from a brick and mortar opened downtown just last year.  Nguyen playfully ribbed Chef Octavio for not notifying him of taking over 'his' cuisine!  I loved SK's sweet, spicy, coconut-y Malaysian Chicken Curry, and liked the Crispy Tofu Ball (stuffed with corn and fried in green colored breading) which was so popular they ran out maybe an hour and half into the event.  Nguyen "of course" dressed in Top Hat and suit, with a Gold mustache paying fitting tribute to his host. 

On the subject of blowing expectations - Italian is not normally my first pick, but "Foodie Mentor" has always raved about Little Dom's, and when we finally made our way to the tents in the back patio, we spotted a huge line and happy looking people walking away with BBQ Oysters!!!  Unfortunately, just an hour or so into the event, they ran out just as we got to the front of the line.  So we grabbed their last two Spiced Caramel Sundaes with candied pecans (delish!!!) as a palate cleanser.  The team was incredibly nice though, and instead of shutting down early like some (disappointing) restaurants that shall remain unnamed (why bother to exhibit / take up a precious slot if you're going to be stingy about it?) - they sent for additional supplies from the restaurant and reassured us that they would be 'back in business' shortly.  The service alone, even at an AYCE event, made me want to go visit Little Dom's at some point.  The team made good on their promise, and I was in absolute heaven to taste the fresh-off-the-grill oysters marinated in butter infused with paprika, garlic and other spices I can't report because I my eyes were rolled too far back in my head and my fingers - dripping with delicious buttery goodness - were jammed too far in my mouth for me to be able to take any notes!

Another favorite was Bistro LQ - which offered up two exquisite dishes - the tenderest, addictively-flavored Braised Ox Cheek on Grits, and Wild Hare Terrine with pickled huckleberries (I think they ran out of stuffed duck neck which was to accompany the dish, at that point?)  Again my inner glutton overtook the blogger - suffice it to say I would have eaten these all day if I could!

My go-to favorite for foodie-friendly happy hour on the westside, Waterloo & City, brought Chicken Liver Foie Gras Mousse complete with aspic in little plastic shot glasses, served up with a slice of baby baguette.  Loved this - it was a little pungent but still a sollid tasting.

The thing I was MOST sad about missing at the event is Michael Cimarusti's (Providence) leaf-wrapped scallops.  (I also missed Ludo Bites! :( They ran out when I got there and I didn't get a chance to go back) I had originally planned to hit Providence FIRST, but got distracted with all the whip-lash-inducing offerings around the room.  By the time we made our way to Providence, they had completely run out of scallops, but had started serving dessert - which was an amazing skewer of Compressed Pineapple whose density contrasted nicely with the levity of the Pineapple Curry Pectin Fruit.  Heaven on a stick!

The Gorbals, true to form, brought probably the most unusual protein of the show - Grilled Chicken Gizzards with Romesco Sauce and saffron.  If there had been a bone for this to fall off of, it would have fallen off the bone - it was that unexpectedly tender.

One that I had been dying to try was Jitlada - based on all the rave reviews from critics and bloggers alike, about its hard-to-find authentic Southern Thai food.  When I asked for the name of the dishes they were serving, I was told simply "beef and chicken in green curry".  Aware of the spiciness of its dishes as one of its claims to fame, when asked whether I wanted chili sauce I asked for just a small dollop on the side. Turns out I wouldn't even make it anywhere near the sauce - the dishes were so hot I think the three of us each downed a half a bottle of water before our eyelids could fall back safely over our eyeballs (I guess we had the Crying Tiger Beef!).  The burn was worth it for the taste - though I'm not so sure now that I can handle an entire meal of this level of spice!

Since my office is literally minutes away from Ramen Jinya, I didn't want to take up stomach space when I have such easy access any day of the week.  However, its rich, nuanced Tonkotsu broth lured me in, and after Designer Cyclist and hubby headed home, I snuck back to end the show with just one more bite (and sip), hard won through sheer force of willpower (my jeans were seriously in danger of splitting at that point).  It was well worth it, and a nice belly-warming finish to an amazing experience.

I also really liked - but could only sample - A-Frame's Furikake Kettle Corn that was spicy and sweet at the same time, with nori, sesame and corn nuts.
And yes, going out of order chronologically  - next up in terms of favorites is the Braised Short Rib (?) with flatbread from Cut.  This was a bit too salty for me - but the cute, friendly blond chef at the booth (whose name I was too shy to get) made that fly immediately out of my head.

Chichen Itza served up Tripe Soup (wonderfully but not overwhelmingly spicy, though a little hard to eat while wading through the sea of humanity), Banana-Leaf Braised Pork, and Ceviche with Habanero.  I liked them all, but there was a little too much heat in the ceviche for me to handle.  "Made" me guzzle more wine than I wanted to, only for purposes of neutralizing the spice, of course.

Susan Feniger is one of those personalities that people love to love - and Street is on my list of places to try (though to Foodie Mentor's point, it's tough for an Asian to pay gourmet prices for street food that is not designed as a unique culinary excursion through different cultures, but simply presented 'mix and match' as is).  At the show, guests got to sample the Coconut Mung Bean Crepe filled with pickled daikon, long beans, carrot, bean sprouts and peanuts.  The crepe was a little sour, and the style of preparation reminded me of Ethiopian.  Unfortunately, I wasn't a fan of this particular dish - it was a toss up of flavors that didn't come together for me.

To be perfectly honest, I am not at all knowledgeable about wines - luckily Designer Cyclist and her hubby are experts, and took me on a guided tour down center aisle throughout the event.  A complete lightweight, I am normally done after one glass - but for some reason I was able to hold up at the event and got to try tons of amazing wines.  I can't name half of them, but I do remember Jeio Cuvée Rosé Prosecco, from Bisol - a medium-bodied sparkler with fruity notes (do I sound somewhat like I know what I'm talking about?  No? Ok.)  I also loved that the event offered a range of cocktails and mocktails as well.  My favs were Fine Print cocktail from A-Frame - with its luscious layers of sweet / tangy/ floral flavors from rum, hibiscus, falemum, lime and orange bitters, the Olympus Mons with ginger and lemon infused artisanal vodka from Moon Mountain, and the POM Julep - which was refreshing and critical to hydrate between sips of alcohol.

All in all, we had an awesome time.  Beyond all my raving above, I also loved that even A-list chefs were actually in their booths, some actually cooking.  In my opinion this is the best collection of amazing restaurants / chefs etc from a wide-ranging spectrum that you will find in LA for just $50 (General Admission is $60, but early birds got $10 with publicized promotion code) - setting a high bar thanks to the eponymous Mr. Gold's currency in the culinary arena.  And is the antithesis of the awful, fool-me-once-shame-on-you-fool-me-twice-shame-on-me event thrown by Los Angeles Times ($65 at door). For one thing, I actually left stuffed to the gills, and at no time did I feel like I was going to expire from dehydration out on the streets due to 'exposure' to extreme heat in an uncovered venue in the dead of SoCal summer, with little obvious access to water or other beverages besides alcohol.   And I didn't have to pay for any food that's even the tiniest bit larger than one bite-full, after paying exorbitant admission - Gold Standard was AYCE, once you're in the venue, it was a free for all.  Gold Standard is definitely, especially very much appreciated by foodies on a budget - if you only go to one food event next year - make it this one!  (And as I mentioned, with admission to the event you also get to wander through the awesome auto museum, which includes of all things the Batmobile - the regular cost of admission just to the museum is $10 for adults, so I consider it an additional value!)

Well done LA Weekly - and thank you Mr. Gold - I will definitely be back next year!!!


3rd Annual Gold Standard Food & Wine Event 2011
March 6th 1pm-5pm General Admission, VIP early entry 12pm
Petersen Automotive Museum
6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036

$60 General Admission, $80 VIP


$8 self parking in Petersen Automotive Museum structure was full by 12:55pm!  Not sure if next year's event will be held in the same venue and on the same day of the week, but I was happy to find street parking fairly easily just 2 blocks away, down Wilshire - free because it was Sunday! 


*My share buttons are not working right now!  To share on Twitter - please feel free to use Thanks!

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...