I had been waiting twelve seemingly interminable months for this year's event - but merely a week or so away, the excitement started to play tug of war with wistfulness, when it was announced that The J Gold would leave LAWeekly for his former perch, LA Times. What would become of the much beloved annual extravaganza? Who would have the pull to bring the likes of Michael Cimarusti, to an Auto museum of all places, in an event that from the start seemed designed for the people (vs. pure profit, though this year's admission price did increase by $15)? I was sure only of one thing: that I would make the most of this potentially last year of the event, in its current form anyway before the Gold scoots off into the horizon.
This year's Gold Standard was again held at the Petersen Auto Museum, a quirky, fun venue where vintage vehicles lend a sort of timelessness without stuffiness to the event.
The J Gold handpicks the food vendors that get to be there, and this year there were some great new additions to the list as well as some continuing favorites. I almost died to meet the talented Michael Voltaggio at the booth for ink. - where he was personally serving up his show-stopping Beef Tongue and Tendon Taco with horseradish snow. Said snow materializing as puffs of liquid nitrogen dissipated into thin air, for maximum theatrical value, of course. You'd think tendon would be very tough and chewy, but it was incredibly light, and in consistency just like a thin slice of ham! Don't know what culinary wizardry was involved but the dish had a spunky design, and tasted amazing
Palate Food+Wine was a huge disappointment for us when we went there for dineLA a while back - but their unexpectedly ethnic and delicious food offering at last year's Gold Standard (pig ear banh mi) had me convinced they are a 'must stop' at this year's show. And they had an awesome surprise there as well - serving up Lamb Heart Buns which were surprisingly supple. Not as instantly addictive as the 'carpaccio'-like pig ear banh mi they had last year, but an exciting offering nonetheless.
While on what I'd call this decidedly non-onomatopoeic 'offal aisle' at the event - I couldn't help but be drawn to The Spice Table, with its eye-catching display touting pig tail.
I half expected something like the version served at Animal - pork around a hard piece of cartilege. But it was tender like meat that had been slow cooked for hours, and served on a piece of gem lettuce with mint, red parilla and fish sauce. Delicious. Added to my list of places to try a full meal at, soon.
Then there was the Salted Plum Lychee Panna Cotta by Starry Kitchen, one of my favorite bites from the show. The formerly underground and now popular downtown LA restaurant served up salted plum two ways: with chicken (I was too full by that point) and with lychee panna cotta. The little cups of creamy heaven were as gorgeous to look at as they were to eat. A taste of the tropics tinged by subtle unique salty-sweet-tartness.
Mo-Chica / Picca Peru served up perfectly grilled, skewered Black Tiger Shrimp with aji panca foam. It was perfectly cooked with a nice smokey char.
Their second item was Carapulcra: Sun-dried potato stew, roasted pork belly, jalapeno salsa. I liked the texture of the Peruvian potato, but out of the two items on offer the shrimp was much more flavorful and impressive.
Although there were literally table after table of all you can drink wine, cocktails are more my thing, and I was glad to see quite a few gourmet cocktails served at the show. My hands down favorite was the St. Germain champagne cocktail. It was light, refreshing, and sparkling, on a hot day - and proved the best way to get out of the heat. In the flurry of activity and migratory movements of the flock of foodies, I didn't get a chance to write down the ingredients, but this was defnitely one addictive drink. I had three, at last count.
Last year, Providence offered a breath-taking item - scallop tartare on nasturtium leaf, pinned to a clothesline - that I completely missed because I somehow didn't see their booth until near the end of the show, when they had already run out. So this year I made a beeline for their booth as soon as I got onto the show floor. Was hoping for seafood and maybe a glimpse of Chef Cimarusti, but neither were to be found - their offering this year were cups filled with pistachio, white chocolate, meyer lemon and rosewater.
Campanile got a little lost behind the long line for Bulgarini Gelato (it was really hot inside the event venue) - and to be honest I sort of reached for their sampling only because I was tired of waiting in the gelato line, and their booth looked wide open for approach. This turned out to be a great bite - 28-day dry-aged prime rib with white bean horseradish sace, and balsamic over bread. Delicious bites of beautiful folds of flavorful, tender beef.
One of my favorite things about the Gold Standard is that it's an event for you to discover new dishes / places without committing to a full dinner. And sometimes, new restaurants that don't even have a permanent address - like LudoBites last year, and this year: Le Comptoir - Fried Quail Egg with wild greens and flowers. Simple, elegant, and divine. Can't wait to check out Chef Gary Mene's prix fixe meals, even if it requires a trek downtown.
And I got to sample from new, hot restaurants like Short Order without the oft-reported long lines. The Pretzel Pup, with its hot dog in hard-to-find-but-oh-so-ahmazing toasted pretzel bread and the subtly delicious kraut made by the lovely and talented Ms. Koslow of SQIRLLA.
Short Order was actually very generous with their samplings - aside from the Pretzel Pup they also served up a bean salad with garbanzo beans, haricots vert, and a Mac Salad.
Their sister cafe, Short Cake, sampled Single Origin Verve coffee. I don't know anything about coffee at all, but this was so fragrant I was willing to risk a caffeine headache for it. Twice: once for the Salted Caramel Latte and once for the Vanilla Latte. Loved both, but maybe the Salted Caramel Latte more if I had to choose one.
Sunday is always an awkward day to have too much to drink, especially during the day, but I needed to try the gorgeously amber colored rye cocktail by Bulleit. It was apparently called a French Quarter Cooler and contained rye, chartreuse, benedictine. Another surprising light and refreshing drink.
Drago Centro offered fresh shaved truffle over their Agnolotti. I was too slow and only managed to grab one with a small piece of truffle, but others got pieces so massive you can see every fleck in the pattern. But he pasta was freshmade and tasted fantastic.
Another newcomer to the WLA dining scene, Tsujita, best known for their tsukemen - somehow just brought sushi to the event. Everyone got a small plate with two rolls plus a spoonful of ikura (salmon roe). In a way, though not showing off their most famous dish, sushi was a smart choice as it was hot and humid in the event space and with people running around booth to booth it would be hard to try to dip noodles in broth.
This year the event seemed larger than the last - as there was another 'wing' set up in the parking lot area under tents - and in this extension wing, in the far corner was hidden gem Tasting Kitchen. They score huge points in my book for presentation - bean stew served on a silver spoon with handbroken bits of crisp salmon skin.
Across the way was Upstairs 2, serving up the culinary equivalent of 'smart casual': Lobster Tater Tot with Sea Bean Salad. A lovely grown-up version of a childhood classic, with beautiful greens on the side.
MB Post has received rave reviews for its bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuit - but breakfast was not on the menu for the event. Instead they served up cups of Cous Cous with Pomegranate, Feta and Marcona Almonds. Sort of a nice Mediterreanean inspired side, but not particularly memorable.
Roy Choi, godfather of the food truck as hotbed for innovative fusion cuisine, was also on hand to personally serve up octopus and squid dishes (both with bold flavors, of course!) at the A-Frame / Chego booth.
Night + Market is a place I've been meaning to try forever, but somehow always got sidetracked. So was excited to check out the Moo Sadoong in trays served by chef/owner Kris Yenbamroong himself! I didn't realize the level of spice I would encounter though - it definitely cleared my sinuses.
One of the reasons why Gold Standard is so aptly named, is that you would never leave this event hungry. The food samples are not only high quality, they are generous porions and AYCE. So after gorging for several hours, I realized I physically did not have room left for all the desserts on offer.
Huckleberry brought a ridiculous (in a good way!) spread of at least 15-20 desserts from cookies to cupcakes and cakes and pies, that all looked incredible. It was the ultimate sadness for me not to have enough room to try everything.
Mozza had apparently served up Butterscotch Pudding as well, but had run out by the time I got to them. They did have a small mountain of Pecan Rosemary cookies, which were a fabulous mix of sweet and savory on a crunchy bite-sized cookie.
All in all, another successful event that I would deem 'foodie event of the year'. I rolled myself out after 3.5 hours of feasting, almost bursting at the seams (good thing I remembered to wear stretchy clothing!) Though the future of this particular event with LAWeekly is uncertain, I'm looking forward with hope to the new era that Mr. Gold will bring to LA Times and possibly at least some of its well-heeled food events.
[For full set of 40+ photos from the event, check out the album on my Facebook page]
LAWeekly Gold Standard Food & Wine Event 2012
March 3rd 1pm-5pm General Admission, VIP early entry 12pm
Petersen Automotive Museum
6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036
$75 General Admission, $95 VIP