Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Los Angeles Times Food & Wine The Taste - Food Fest Marathon Day 3: A Study in Contrasts

Day 3 of my food fest marathon took an intriguing turn, offering an immersive experience in chiaroscuro n. /kɪˌɑːrəˈskʊərəʊ/ the treatment and contrast of light and dark.  Both equally LA.

My morning run was a model of levity, flitting among bright tents full of shiny happy people and fashionably styled brunch bites on a sunny SoCal Sunday. 

Fashion Bites Brunch (Beverly Hills, 10am-2pm) was the first The Taste event set up right on Rodeo Drive, home to outposts of the haute-test luxury brands in the world.

The idea was that you could peruse the latest runway looks, then score culinary gems from some of the trendiest restaurants around town - all while sipping on a housewives-worthy morning cocktail or three.

Food samples at this event were as swanky as its setting.  And there were so many great bites on offer, I was actually stuffed before getting to try every single sample.  Below are some of the highlights. The first thing I saw when I walked in was the Seared Kobe Beef, served with whipped horseradish and microgreens at The Blvd at the Beverly Wilshire booth. 

This was a gorgeous slice of succulent beef, perfectly marbled with fat, that made me forget the time of day - I only knew I needed to have several more, even if this is the first food to hit my stomach that morning.

Blvd also served Spicy Tuna in cucumber roll, aioli and chocolate sesame crisp.  I wasn't as bowled over by this as the Kobe beef, but the chocolate sesame crisp had a distinct, delicious blend of chocolate/savory flavors and a perfect, light crunch.  There were two other samples I missed, but based on the two plates I had, I'd want to check out Blvd at some point.
Down the line, many other restaurants were similarly generous with lux ingredients, and with variety of offerings.  Fig & Olive had Crostini with Mushroom, Truffled Artichoke and Parmesan - a little taste of heaven for a fungi lover, earthy with a 'meaty' chew, lightweight and flavorful.  They also had Brown Butter Madeleines, a refreshing shot glass of Cucumber Gazpacho with pink peppercorns, and a Sliced Zucchini and Cheese Salad.   All fresh, light bites that worked well for brunch. 
It wasn't long before I encountered one of my favorite things in the world - runny eggs - perfect for any time of day, but especially at brunch.  And Fashion Bites had runny eggs in abundance, in the form of cute bite-sized quail ones. 

The first sample I had with egg was a lush slab of Pork Belly from Napa Valley Grille, served with Goat Cheese Grits, mustard greens and a poached quail egg - the latter a drop of golden sun on the plate.  I loved everything in this dish - and tried hard to maintain some semblance of decorum, to muster up enough restraint to carry it to a table first before going to town on it, but ended up inhaling the entire plate in the middle of the street.  And then licked it clean.  And sighed silently to myself in satisfaction.

I had met The Nomster at the Secrets of the Kitchen & Cellar event the day before, and enjoyed her approach to food - which was right in line with mine: whatever is the most unfamiliar, is the very thing we get most excited to try. We met up to hit the Fashion Bites Brunch together, and were both drawn to the beacon of Gordon Ramsay at the London's Braised pork belly in blackened brioche breading, new potato, mustard greens, and chicarrone (fried pork skin).  The quail egg also makes an appearance in this dish. 

Kudos to the chef for this avant garde dish and stylized presentation.  However, in terms of taste I ended up preferring the pork belly from Napa Valley Grille, which let the natural flavors of the ingredients take center stage. Though I loved the concept and risk-taking, the blackened brioche breading was just a bit too ashy in texture, and the pork belly inside a bit dry.  Also, the ingredients on the plate did not come together for me in a cohesive way.  But Nomster and I were both glad we tried it.

In the Inifiniti lounge, there were two samplings that aren't intuitively associated with brunch fare, but both of which I loved. 

The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills sampled a trio of soft cheeses - my favorites were of course the Boschetto with BLACK TRUFFLE!!!!, and the Reblochon, a soft, yet structured cheese rich with intense nutty flavor. 

According to Wikipedia, 'reblocher' literally translates to 'pinch a cow's udder again' (thanks for the visual, Wiki.). This refers to farmers' practice of holding back some milk from the first milking (tax avoidance tactic against 14th century landowners). The 'holdback' milk is much richer, perhaps accounting for the flavors in the cheese made from it.  Yay for learning something new! 

On the other side of the lounge is Compartes Chocolatier, who brought their always gorgeous jewelry-box-like display case of colorful chocolate truffles, and sampled a Smoked Salt & Caramel Truffle that is absolutely incredible, and made me want to drive to their Brentwood store the next day that they're open to stock up.

Jumping back to savories, The Nomster and I cut over to Sweet Butter Kitchen Cafe & Market who served up adorable, rustic trays of Porcini Mushroom Soup with White Truffle Oil (inhaled. yes.), Grilled Grafton Cheddar Cheese with roasted tomatoes and basil aioli, and Shaved Brussel Sprouts with Grana Padana and Hazelnuts.  My favorite was the soup (hello, it has truffle - ok truffle oil, but really great tasting one).  Could drink gallons of this stuff!  Luckily Sweet Butter is in the Valley so I fully plan to pay a visit soon!
Another quail egg creation came from Zengo - with its Peking Duck Mofongo and of course, a quail egg, and plantain hash.  An interesting mix of flavors, though I found the plantain a bit too firm (I thought I was biting into a potato).

And the key characteristics of Peking Duck are succulence and luscious fat attached to a thin, juicy skin, and though I know this dish is an interpretation, the essence of Peking Duck did not really come through for me in this fusion dish.
Along with good eats were lots of interesting beverages on offer. 

Ciroc, a presenting sponsor, mixed up premium vodka and light, fruity cocktails that were the perfect refreshment after hours in the sun.  My favorite of the 3 on offer was the Ciroc Coco Coutoure, made with 1.5oz Ciroc Coconut and 1.5oz Pineapple juice.

We also tried an Aperol cocktail, Mionett prosecco mixed with Elixir syrups in floral flavors like English Lavendar and Andean Fire Orchid (Lavendar was better), and Chocolate  Shop Chocolate Lovers Wine, fragrant with dark chocolate and quite delicious - could make for a good dessert wine!

Along the way we met and chatted with other bloggers, then walked off our brunch at Louis Vuitton (looks like anime style school girl chic and Lady Gaga-esque platform pleather footwear are in?), Rodeo Drive proper (up the cobblestone slope) and the Beverly Wilshire  hotel. 

So what next? Sunday was the day packed with the biggest number of events, and after Fashion Bites Brunch we had the option to go to Street Eats, then Desserts After Dark or Food Noir. at night  Though we initially joked about a foodie triathlon, The Nomster and I were both feeling stuffed and in need of a few hours rest before hitting the next event.

Desserts After Dark was at about the same time as Food Noir, and one was going to be back on Rodeo Drive, while the other would be in downtown LA.  Though DTLA is  home to a few of the places and events I love, I'm still weary of certain less reputable parts of the area based on a bad experience last year.  From that I had developed an irrational fear of being there, for any amount of time by myself, after dark. So I almost passed on Food Noir, but then realized that it was clearly the more original concept, sounded fun (love period pieces, especially the 20s), and would feature some of the best cocktail spots in the city.  And other bloggers we'd met during Fashion Bites were heading to Food Noir: I was looking forward to hanging out with them, so I repressed the voice of caution and headed to the dark side of town after a pit stop at home.

With a moment of panic when I got off at the wrong exit, and had to drive through the shadow of the valley of death a desolate part of DTLA, then realized I foolishly didn't bring enough cash to park in the $10 lots right next to the event, then could only find a free meter a few blocks out requiring passage through a stretch of 7th Street occupied by people who did not look in the most stable of mindsets...I was VERY ready for those cocktails that promised to take me to another time and place.  1920s speakeasies, to be exact.  The Nomster and Darin Dines did their best to calm me down, then we made our way through the throngs of people (it was the most crowded event we'd been to, yet) to go for quick bites.  And eventually made our way to the Las Perlas bar, where they poured my favorite drink of the night - a Spiced Daisy, made with tequila, jalapeno/cucumber/cilantro juice, agave nectar, and royal combier, garnished with a kaffir lime leaf.  Loved the market fresh, savory, herbaceous refresher with subtle heat from the jalapeno!

The other drink on offer was a Margarita Noir (pink drink in picture) made with tequila, lime, agave nectar, royal combier and creme de cassis. This was tasty as well, but nowhere near the same level of complexity as the Spiced Daisy.
Our next liquid 'course' was at Cana Rum Bar, literally the next counter over.  They served a Garden Snake drink made of anejo, citrus, tomato syrup, Amaro Montenegro, and Maldon salt.  Sweet, tart, ever slightly bitter and salty at the same time - I really like layers in my drinks, so this is my second favorite of the night after the Spiced Daisy. Step a little to the left, and we got our third liquid course from Seven Grand, called Ward 8, made with Makers Mark bourbon, lemon juice, orange juice, and pomegranate syrup.

The Gorbals gave me the best tongue I ever had a while back, and like your first love you'll never forget it.  But I think the Beef Tongue with Romesco Sauce served at Food Noir managed to top the one I had at the restaurant.
It was perfectly seared, succulent, and cut to just the right thickness for a sumptuous mouthfeel.  Yes, I went back for seconds.

Another downtown restaurant featured was Drago Centro - which served up Wild Boar Garganelli in a giant hollowed out cheese wheel. 

Loved the presentation!

Yamashiro also made an appearance with their Seared Albacore Tuna served on a tortilla chip, and a Carnitas and Shallot Risotto served in a cup.
In terms of theatrics, Terroni won many fans old and new over with their handrolled pasta, made fresh right at the booth for all to see! They weren't using semolina dough, but the difference between fresh and dry pasta are apparent with your first bite.

Terroni sampled Rigatoni with Italian Sausage and Dandelion - steaming, cheesy plates heaped with fresh made pasta brought light in the dark heart of DTLA.  I instantly felt better, comforted. 

(Later in the evening the chefs at Terroni generously hand out bags of the pasta that was on display - we were excited to leave with single serving 'loot' bags of tagliatelle!)
In addition to food & libations, bands tried to work the crowd with live performances on the outdoor stage.

They had an interesting sound which I couldn't quite place - it was definitely not Chinese, but what I heard reminded me of old school Asian wedding music, the kind chosen by elders you could not disrespect by veto-ing their playlist, pumped through the PA at a Chinatown restaurant gilded mercilessly with red and gold.  Not sure what that has to do with noir...but it did add character to the soundscape for the event, for sure.
To escape the audio assault  take a break from the street scene, we ducked into the Orpheum theater for a bit, where they were screening classic cartoons, newsreels and film clips from the 1920s/ 30's. 

The theater interiors had the sort of vintage vibe that straddles the thin line between lovely and other-worldly.  Between quaintly historic and possibly haunted.  A place to admire during the day, but where I would not want to be at night if the power went out.  With my overactive imagination, I could just see a crazed Jack Nicholson coming after me with an ax.

If words can be considered weapons, then I ended up not being far off afterall - some lunatic (who, like many other of their kind, looked relatively normal when she first approached us) came up to me and The Nomster, initially to ask what was playing on screen, then proceeded to reprimand us for taking photos of the theater, with heightening hysteria - spiralling up into wild accusations in a matter of seconds.  When reasoning with her had no impact, Nomster pulled over an event staffer - who we then guiltily left to deal with the lady.  In a bizarre epilogue, when we met Chef Dan Moody later, he started telling us about a disturbance on the last night of Test Kitchen - where this lady did a dine and dash - and he thinks he just spotted her at Food Noir.  Nomster immediately described the lady who accosted us at the theater - and turns out it was the same lady that screwed over Test Kitchen!!!  I was so tempted to go back and let her know what's really illegal!  But, we put aside dark thoughts in favor of enjoying the rest of our evening.

As if there wasn't enough action for the night, we also got to watch the dapper Eric Alperin (The Varnish) non-chalantly take hand and chain saws to a giant block of ice, which he was cutting down to make ice cubes usually used in his drinks.  Unfortunately though by the time we made our way over to The Varnish counter, they had run out of alcohol. 

The ice carving was more of a demo, and Eric took the time to explain the process of creating these giant blocks, using Clinebell machines to mimic the freezing process in a lake (freezing from a single direction) that results in crystal clear ice. 

We were disappointed to have missed drinks from The Varnish, but Cole's was still pouring, and so we had a cuppa while watching Eric work his magic with the ice.
In a last semi-macabre visual of the evening, a chef was seen carving a giant hunk of meat (prosciutto?) at Terroni before close of the evening.

We had stopped by to collect our take-home, fresh tagliatelle and got a last round of rigatoni to boot.

Little did we know, as we cheerily went on our way, that the night still held more 'noir' for us.  Three of us walked each other to our cars, ok, to my car parked on a block that turned sketchy later in the night - and three guys that didn't look like they went to the Rodeo Drive event earlier in the day got uncomfortably close.  We were safe though, I think, as we were right next to a bus full of witnesses people, the street was lighted, other people were still walking to their cars - but in any case, the guys thankfully seemed to decide last minute to back off.

So, though the day ended with a very different vibe than it began, I was really glad we went Noir.  All in all, a fun event where we got to experience artisan cocktails (standouts for the event and catalysts for good times all around) in a cool themed street fest. It was great to meet lots of other bloggers as well as culinary luminaries (including Michael Voltaggio, who was behind us in line at Terroni!).

Didn't Eleanor Roosevelt once say: "Do one thing that scares you every day"? I filled my quota for Day 3 - being open to new experiences and people, and facing my fear of certain places - and with all things either way that came along with it, it was worth it.  (Disclaimer: Pretentious drivel served in next few sentences) Afterall, how do you know light, without darkness, and vice versa? Maybe it's in the interplay of both that we learn and grow the most - as individuals and as a city.

And thus ended Day 3 of the marathon! Total run time: 6 hours 27 minutes.

[For more photos from these events, check out The Taste photo album on my Facebook page!]

Up next: Day 4 (last leg) of the foodie marathon!


Los Angeles Times Food & Wine The Taste 2011

Fashion Bites Brunch (9/4 10am-2pm): Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills $150 pp
Food Noir (9/4 8pm-12am): Broadway between 8th & 9th, Downtown LA $125 pp



No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...