Only in its second year, Los Angeles Food & Wine had already become one of the most highly anticipated events in the city - mainly for having the power to draw high profile chefs from around the country, to a series of themed cooking and tasting events over four days (August 9-12).
This year I was excited to get a press pass to two of those events on Sunday: a cooking demo with Richard Blais of Top Chef fame, and the Lexus Grand Tasting . There aren't many things I would wake up at an ung*dly hour of morning on weekends for, but I set three alarms to make sure I got to the cooking demo downtown at the JW Marriott at L.A. Live. And it was well worth it - on reality TV shows, clearly editing plays a big part in shaping 'characters'. So it was fantastic to get a sense of the 'real' Richard Blais in person - who turned out to be hilarious! While showing how to put together a hamachi dish, he opened up the floor to any questions
from the crowd, kicking things off with "If you are wondering about the hair....it's equal parts duck fat and liquid nitrogen".
We heard a little bit about his restaurant, Spence, in Atlanta, and as he demonstrated different techniques with elements of his hamachi creation - we also got to sample a tomato pate fruit that was refreshing and delicious.
And though we didn't get to taste the actual final product, it was an absolutely beautiful dish - there were so many components I couldn't even take notes fast enough, but if memory serves correctly, it was a hamachi sashimi wrapped in cucumber, with fried clams (freshly shucked with liquid nitrogen), olive oil "pearls" (ice cream flash frozen with liquid nitrogen), and dill (which chef described as "oceanic" and a bit "like the Jackie O of herbs, so elegant, simple and beautiful" - love the quotable Blais!).
Right after, I headed down to the tent in the LA Live event space for the big Lexus Grand Tasting. The setup was essentially the same as last year's but I was happy to see many more food stations. Instead of an Amex lounge this year they had a Delta one (where they were giving out lanyards that you can use to hang your wine glass around your neck - sad I missed those, they ran out by the time I got there).
There were many delicious bites/sips to be had from the 30 chefs' booths + 300 wineries - much of it was a blur in the race to sample as much as I could within the 3 hour event...so hopefully I captured names and ingredients correctly, but apologies in advance if not!
One of my favorite things about these tasting events is that you get to sample bites from a wide variety of high caliber restaurants, ones you may not have been quite ready to commit to a full meal yet, and ones from other cities that you might want to consider on your next visit.
So my first stops were at booths of restaurants I've been meaning to try. I was drawn to the Rivera booth by their cute displays of savory looking cones. There were two kinds when I got there, one that was filled with salmon tartare and sesame (which was SO tasty with its perfect balance of lush smooth bites of fish with the crunch of sesame and cone), and the other with some sort of salad topped by pumpkin seeds.
Mercato di Vetro served up a lamb merguez sausage sandwich (really more of a wrap or taco) - a hearty bite with bit of heat, super juicy with a slight char. Loved.
Their other offering was one of my favorites at the show - a tomato gazpacho with liquid nitrogen frozen lime and basil sorbet, in a plastic shot glass. In the summer heat, this was the perfect sample to serve - it was life-savingly cool and refreshing, and instantly addictive (I shamelessly went back for I think 5 before I lost count...) I sincerely hope that they sell these at the restaurant by the pitcher, because I need a fix NOW and I will easily down that amount in one sitting.
A restaurant that I will probably never be able to afford, Nobu served up one of the best bites of yellowtail I've ever had. It made me ecstatic (that I got to try it) and sad (that it probably won't happen again until the next LAFW) at the same time.
The Lodge at Pebble Beach brought a well balanced plate of grilled cheese with pork belly and tomato gazpacho
Post Ranch Inn had one of the most photogenic tables with their wagyu beef with compressed watermelon and edible flowers (they were tasty bites too!)
Searsucker (I had a lovely meal there on my last trip to San Diego, which I've yet to blog about!) wins for most generous serving, with a lobster roll that is gigantic in size and flavor. I only wished I had more stomach space - I wouldn't have been able to stop eating these...
MB Post had a lamb belly with pickled peaches that was good, though not mind-blowing and just a bit too chewy and overseasoned...
The Plumed Horse (Saratoga & Los Gatos, CA) was all about a classic, well executed: braised beef short rib so tender and flavorful, made transcendent when paired with a perfectly creamy polenta.
Of all the exhibitors, the one that definitely raised eyebrows (mine, at least) was Playboy Mansion - I had no idea they were a source of Food & Wine caliber dining and was curious to see what they would be sampling. The answer should have been obvious - and lends itself to bad puns, of course: lamb tartare (i.e. raw meat) with pickled onions, on brioche bread. The lamb was edible, but the bread was not. They also served a compressed watermelon 'salad' with balsamic vinegar. Let's just say that I don't think people are going to Playboy Mansion for the food anyway...but fun to have checked out their offerings at the show - curiosity satisfied.
It wasn't until later into the event that my truffle radar kicked in, and I spotted the WP Catering booth with Jidori Chicken, Corn Ravioli and *fresh shaved truffle*!!!! The entire tower was delicious, but I especially (shockingly, I know) loved the truffle topping the most.
WP Catering also had the most interesting+fun+tasty dessert plates at the show - Sticky Toffee Pudding with Stout Ice Cream, Gooseberry and a piece of chocolate imprinted with a QR code with a 'secret message'. In the rush for food and drink, I didn't get a chance to download a QR code scanner app to find out what the message was - do share if you were at the show and got to check it out!
Chef Celestino Drago was personally greeting guests and serving them pasta with *fresh shaved truffle* (they had a giant display of gorgeous truffles that they almost had to pry my fingers - and nose - away from) at the Drago Centro table.
...and a fantastic chipotle brownie bite with maple bacon ice cream! Sweet with a bit of heat in the brownie paired nicely with the sweet / porcine saltiness of the ice cream.
Akasha peach cobbler with whipped cream and red currants - loved the clean flavors and perfectly ripe peaches and the unexpected pop of red currants.
Another fun dessert was served up personally at The Gorbals booth by chef Ilan Hall (Top Chef season 2 and Time Machine Chefs) - snow cones, a kid dish made upscale/adult with toppings of smoked marshmallow and maple bacon tapioca.
While sampling all the food at the event, many people noted how the flatware was really convenient as you could cut through food with the side of the fork versus having to juggle forks and knives and plates while trying to find perch space at the communal tables. This is the work of event sponsor Knork, which provided all the silverware at the event - these are apparently specially designed - forks have a bevelled edge which makes it easier for cutting, and curved tines which makes it easier for scooping up food (so it's like a fork with some knife and spoon benefits!). At the event they gave out plastic versions of their knorks as samples, and ran a contest inviting people to take and tweet pics of the knork next to their favorite dish at the show for a chance to win a 20 piece set of silverware. Fun! (They also very kindly gave me a 'real' knork to take home - thanks guys!)
Aside from celebrity chef / restaurant booths, Lexus also had their own featured corner resting space, set up to look like a southern style front porch complete with whitewashed wood panels and rocking chairs. In that space there was also a bar where they served vodka/whiskey cocktails. I had a Mint Julep which was made pretty with a perfect little sprig of mint, but which definitely showed they didn't skimp on alcohol there - it was pretty strong.
Speaking of alcohol - you'd think from the focus of my post so far that it's a purely food event - but no there were tons of wines and champagne on pour - I'm just not as big of a wine drinker, so didn't really spend a lot of time at those booths. But champagne I love (as do others, apparently - these boths are always first to run out), and hit up several including Perrier Jouet. Beer fans could also hit up the Stella area for beers on tap and souvenir glasses - it was a nice way to cool off in the heat.
I do still wish that event organizers would make the Grand Tastings run a bit longer so that it would feel less of a race to sample everything (especially for those who are paying $150 for admussion to feel like they've had time to get their money's worth, at a less stressful pace) But all in all, a fantastic afternoon celebrating some of the best food and drink that LA has to offer. Can't wait til next year's event!
[To see more photos from Los Angeles Food and Wine events, visit my Facebook page]
Los Angeles Food & Wine
Richard Blais Cooking Demo
Sunday August 12, 2012 10:30am-11:45am
Diamond Ballroom - JW Marriot at L.A. Live
Lexus Grand Tasting 2012
Sunday August 12, 2012 12pm-3pm General Admission, 11am VIP early entry
L.A. Live - Event Deck
800 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90015
General Admission: $150