This time though, the crowd was very different - there were kids literally everywhere, probably because the format (picnic) was family friendly, and kids 14 and under got in for free. So everyone who had spawn, brought them. And their friends.
Picnic in the Hills (Beverly Hills, 12-4pm) initially evoked visions of rolling green hills overlooking the city, but we were actually back in the parking lot of the old Robinson's May next to The Beverly Hilton hotel. However, Target, the event sponsor, did a fantastic job of transforming the venue into a vision of greenery and retro cool, with turf laid out in the outdoor area, and red/white blankets and umbrellas set out amongst picnic tables.
Beyond the giant tent filled with a who's who list of restaurants serving gourmet food samples, and wineries / liquor vendors pouring every kind of merry libation (more on those later!), there was a quaint little 50's style lemonade stand, surrounded by cute produce displays and take-home fruit.
This is where Target served up fresh lemonade in mason jars (with handles for easier, er, handling) with watermelon or strawberries and sprigs of fresh basil.
This was the perfect drink for a scorching day, appropriate for the entire family, and served in a 'glass' convenient to use out on picnic blankets (lid minimizes kiddie spillage). Plus, the jars were a great souvenir to take home - I plan to use mine to make watermelon rind pickles!
The Curious Palate served Watermelon Gazpacho (when many others were serving tomato) that was refreshing as an accompaniment to their Pork Slider, which also broke out from the herd. What I like about The Curious Palate is that they don't just go safe and 'classic' - as implied by their name, they love to experiment with food - and the pork slider is a great example of this. Each slider featured three kinds of pulled pork, cooked three different ways - cheek (braised), belly (smoked), and butt (roasted), served with apple cabbage slaw and aioli.
[Thanks, Nomster for letting me crib off your notes! :)]
Art of Mixing Friday night, it didn't sear itself into memory as a place I absolutely had to return to.
But other bloggers raved about their fried chicken, so we went to check it out. And ended up going back for 3rds, 4ths...
The Fried Chicken was served with corn salad, cherry tomatoes and shallots on the side - but it was really the little chicken drumstick that made a big impression. A clean, crisp, lightly battered shell yielded to juicy, flavorful and tender meat with every bite - and I literally sucked each one down to the bone, they were that good.
I wouldn't have immediately associated Lexington Social House with great fried chicken, but after tasting the samples I would say it could possibly give Kyochon a run for its money.
Aside from Fig & Olive's Mushroom Crostini (same as what they served at Fashion Bites Brunch), this and the tomato avocado bruschetta were some of my favorite bread+topping bites.
It was a Mole Braised Short Rib with Cauliflower Escabeche, Quail Egg and Crisped Carrot Slivers over Honeycomb Polenta. This one set off fireworks in my mouth, with its rich, succulent beef counterbalanced by tiny bunches of crunchy cauliflower and crispy shreds of carrot, and the creamiest polenta - crowned with a runny quail egg, which took it over the top in a great way. LOVED!
Angelini Osteria served up a Spinach Lasagna, topped with fried spinach for textural contrast.
Food Noir event. But did look longingly at the fresh made Spaghetti, and Tagliatelle with Ragu.
Other desserts included RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen's Ovaltine Shaved Ice. I grew up with and love Ovaltine, but not a big fan of shaved ice (don't see the appeal, it's...frozen water with flavoring poured over it...?) so not the best person to comment on the piece - but kudos for originality in using Ovaltine. Green & Black's Organic was also on hand to sample their chocolates.
In terms of cocktails, I loved the refreshing Goslings' Dark and Stormy again (first tasted at Taco Tequila Tryst) and YES vodka's Bloody Mary (though not as much as Avion's Bloody Maria).
And thus ended Day 4 of the marathon! Total run time: 4 hours.
Overall, The Taste was an unforgettable series, and I came out of it with a new record for new experiences of LA food/wine/cocktail purveyors (who were new to me anyway) on consecutive days, great memories, and awesome new foodie friends.
If I hadn't gotten the press pass, would I pay $125-$150 per person per event? As a foodie on a budget, I would say I would have definitely taken advantage of the 40% off offers - and chosen 1-2 events very carefully based on participating restaurants and format (with the benefit of having experienced 7 of 9 events, I would say the best value in my opinion were Secrets of the Kitchen & Cellar, Picnic in the Hills and Fashion Bites Brunch). Overall, I enjoyed the 'city-wide' series - though if I was paying admission again would have rather had a consolidated 1-2 Grand Tasting events (a la Pebble Beach) where I could maximize experience of different restaurant/wine/cocktail offerings - but I do see how this format offers more varied themes and groupings for people to 'choose their own adventure'.
[For more photos from these events, check out The Taste photo album on my Facebook page!]
Los Angeles Times Food & Wine The Taste 2011
Picnic in the Hills (9/5 12-4pm): 9900 Wilshire Blvd Beverly Hills, CA 90210
$150 pp (Children 14 and under free)