Friday, September 2, 2011

LA Weekly J. Gold Pancake Breakfast 2011 - Sunday Service at the Vibiana

On a sweltering Sunday morning this past weekend, the pious and pagan alike congregated in the temporary house of Gold, downtown at the Vibiana for a service like no other.  A self service Sunday breakfast, to be exact, with a set of some of the best purveyors of pancakes etc. in the city, handpicked by Pulitzer Prize winning LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold. 
I had been looking forward to this inaugural event, not only for the expectedly inspired and diverse takes on the eponymous classic breakfast food (and AYCE for $25!), but also to experience the unique venue - a historic structure that was a former cathedral built in 1876, which has now been converted to a performing arts / special events space.

The event started at 11am, and by 11:30am when I arrived, there were already lines down the block.
But the wait was worth it.  I fell in love with the venue immediately - its weathered exterior belying the relatively modern styled design within, with its rows of graceful white arches leading the way up to a marbled 'stage', on which people reclined and leisurely chatting away while enjoying samples of pancakes from different cultures.  The vibe was almost European - like some postcard from a piazza in Italy, but compact, indoors and no fountain (ok people, use your imagination, alright?). 

Others, as at other JGold events, understood the urgency of getting to popular samples before they run out - and flitted from table to table like mobs of locusts.

I decided to start classic, hitting up FIG Santa Monica first for ricotta pancake with blueberry butter and toasted almonds.  Due to the setup of the venue, almost all vendors were cooking from electric or portable gas griddles / stoves - and it was amazing the quality of pancakes they churned out with the basic equipment.  I decided my measure of how great a dish was that day, was whether I chose to take up precious stomach space to finish the dish.  The pancake from FIG Santa Monica was the first plate I wolfed down without so much as a breath in between each bite.
Here are some of the other plates I finished every bite of: Glowfish Okonomiyaki "Japancakes" with shrimp, bacon, cabbage dough pancake and nori sprinkles.  I know some people who didn't attend because they weren't inspired by the theme of the event - those guys really lost out...a big part of the fun of this event is discovering other interpretations of the deceptively simple breakfast staple. 

101 Noodle Express introduced us to Chinese 'pancakes' - Beef Rolls that were the size of a 1/3 of a burrito - except the flour 'tortillas' were wrapped around beautifully thin slices of marbled beef in a soy sauce marinade.

On the theme of Asian pancakes, Kobawoo House brought their Hoemul Pa Jun, a korean pancake with seafood in eggy dough.  This booth had long lines for good reason!  Can't wait to go to the restaurant at some point to try their other dishes.

Along with food, there were also drink stations - grabbed myself some free bottles of POM as well as bottomless cocktails from Don Q, which in themselves made up for half the value of admission!
Playa sampled a creative plate of things I would not have thought to go together, but that turned out to be divine: maize cake with pressed seeds, fresh made burrata, greens and micro amaranth - I loved the beautiful presentation, with its mix of colors and textures, as much as the taste of this one.  And of course, fresh burrata gets me every time!
If playing a game of 'one of these things is not like the other', I would have to choose Mayura Kerala Restaurant as the one that's MOST not like the others at the event - bold flavors, well, in curry, is not what most people would think of for breakfast.  I loved it when I was in Sabah this past holiday, but I'd never tried these specific south Indian offerings before: chicken curry with appam and idiyappam (gluten-free pancake and gluten-free noodled pancake that were ever so slightly and deliciously sour).  The combination was instantly addictive - and if it were humanly possible for me to stuff down any more than I had that morning, I would have had 10 more plates of this one.

But, I did want to leave room to sample offerings from the many other interesting vendors - and found myself drawn to Tiara Cafe which had the most playful, fun display with the chef and server both dressed in costume (one as I think a bunny and the other an angel).  Everything was in white, as appropriate for Sunday service, with dunny-like vinyl figures on the table, other random white decorative pieces, a bowl of eggs and bell jar pastry displays. What they served: pancake with lemon sabayon and maple syrup.  I confess that all I remember is picking up a plate, and taking it to a little corner to sample - the next thing I remember is an empty plate with streaks where my tongue dragged across trying to catch every last morsel.  I inhaled this one and made a mental note to get to the Cafe next chance I get for brunch.

After grabbing some pourover coffee from LAMILL in my free ceramic mug, I headed out to the courtyard, a charming outdoor space attached to the main hall. 

Out there were BLD (who served blueberry pancakes that were forgettable), Warzsawa (who served potato pancakes that were unfortunately fairly burnt, with apple and raisin sauce), Marston's (frosted flake fried french toast, a southern specialty, I'm told), Salt's Cure (oatmeal griddlecakes with honey cinnamon butter) and some others.
The only dish I polished off in its entirety, from these outdoor booths, was Xoia's Banh Xeo, a vietnamese crepe filled with grilled beef, bean sprouts and topped with peanut sauce. It tasted positively sinful, with its juicy charred meat dripping with flavor, wrapped in the golden, freshly crisped crepe tempered by the refreshing lettuce and bean sprouts for crunch.

From the outdoor booths, I also enjoyed Zona Rosa's iced mexican chocolate topped with whipped cream - refreshing and possibly lifesaving in the extreme heat.

The event also included some non-pancake items for dessert - I only really had room left for one item, and chose from Nickel Diner their salted peanut pie - this felt to me like a s'more in cake form with graham cracker crushed into the creamy peanut filling instead of in crust.  I absolutely loved this and need to go over to the diner for a fix soon!  Definitely also appreciated them going against the grain - since everyone was already doing pancake, it was refreshing for them to offer something different.

All in all, a truly great event and well worth the 'early' morning trek downtown.  This is one event I would consider sacrilege for self-professed breakfast devotees to miss.  Can't wait to see what the JGold brings us next year!

[For more photos of the event, check out my album on Facebook]

1st Annual LA Weekly J. Gold Pancake Breakfast 2011
August 28th 11am-2pm
214 S. Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

$25 General Admission


$3.50 for all-day, self parking in structure on southwest corner of Main & 3rd. Not sure if next year's event will be held in the same venue, but this lot was just a block and a half away from the event venue.


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