Sunday, September 8, 2013

Los Angeles Food & Wine: Lexus Grand Tasting

With Food & Wine and Lexus as presenting sponsors, Los Angeles Food and Wine has become that iconic, magnetic food event known attracting luminaries from the culinary world from around the country, to a four day spectacle for the senses taking place all over the city. 

Positioned as 'cuisine meets culture' - going to LAFW for foodies is sort of what I would imagine SXSW is like for music fans - but with chefs as the rock stars, and no stage to separate you.

I was counting down the days to the event, having received a media pass to a few events including the  Lexus Grand Tasting which would be attended by THE Grant Achatz, visiting from Chicago! 

So of course the first order of business when I arrived to the Sunday tasting was to make a beeline for the Lexus Lounge, where Chef Achatz was stationed for the event!  LOVED that he was very low key and graciously available to anyone who wanted to come up and chat or (dork out and) ask to take pictures with him.  I was like a 12 year old girl accidentally let backstage at her first concert.  Alinea and Next have been on my bucket list to experience...hoping I will be able to break away on an upcoming work trip to Chicago.  Especially since chef shared that the theme for Next at that time will be Bocuse D'Or!!!

Though like many others, I had been hoping to sample a bite of Chef Achatz' food, it was totally understandable that quality control and the experiential approach would not work very well in the AYCE, roving masses setup of a food festival.  The Alinea/Next team served up a cocktail made with a chunk of pineapple that had been grilled - to add smokiness to the drink, while also bringing out the sweetness of the fruit - and frozen to cool the drink down without diluting it. 

Having accomplished my biggest mission for the event, I was then free to move on to maximize on the AYCE AYCD aspects of the event.  Delta, as with previously years, handed out free lanyards that have a plastic wine glass gripper at the end - so that you can dangle your beverage from your neck, leaving your hands free to scavenge / double fist awesome bites of food on offer at tables spread throughout the event space.  Too awesome for words.  Here's a recap of some of the bites I had:  Cliff's Edge: crispy pork, watermelon, toasted rice, barrel-aged fish sauce, lime & herbs. Beautiful colors on the plate.

One of the things I love about LAFW grand tastings is the chance to try food from visiting chefs.  One visiting one was Hearty Restaurant from Chicago - they put together a gorgeous display of perfect, in-season peaches!

The sample portions were generous and delicious: grilled peach with herb-encrusted goat cheese, marcona almonds salad.
Another visiting chef, Michael Ginor from Hudson Valley Foie Gras & Lola (New York) brought a flavor rich, perfectly toasted duck rillettes and peach chutney grilled sandwich with fried lotus root chips.  I was hoping some foie gras would 'accidentally' be included in the sandwich, but no such luck...nonetheless, a delicious offering!
Circa (Manhattan Beach) brought halibut ceviche with tiradito sauce, avocado and jicama.

Cafe Pinot served up poached albacore, forbidden rice with yuzu kosho and black garlic.  Really loved the combination!

I'd read a bit about Pedaler's Fork in Calabasas, a hybrid bike shop / restaurant / cafe - and was curious to try their food.  They brought a beautifully plated tower made of compressed yellow watermelon, heirloom tomato, burrata and speck. Verdict: tasty.  

Pedaler's Fork also offered a dessert of flourless chocolate crunch bars.  Also delicious.  Which highlights a cool aspect of the LAFW grand tasting events: you get to discover new restaurants to note as 'need to try' - and based on the bites at LAFW I would want to taste more the next time I'm in the area (which, I'm not sure what reason I would have to be in the neighborhood - but should the occasion arise, Pedaler's Fork is now on my To Try list)   

Sierra Mar at Post Ranch wins my vote for most inventive & on theme display - hawaiian shave ice in gourmet flavors like strawberry chamomile were served in cones buried in brown sugar 'sand' along with dried starfish and decorative plants.

I really loved the Anise Hyssop flavor!  (Was devastated to hear afterwards that they had, at the Saturday tasting, live jellyfish - which I totally missed!)
From Mar'sel (at Terranea Resort): olive oil poached albacore crostini with crushed olives, pickled onion, preserved lemon & avocado. 
Holstein's Shakes and Buns (Las Vegas) sent out "Cuban" street tacos with roasted pork shoulder, smoked ham, swiss cheese, mustard aioli and pickle.
AND a brilliant Red Velvet Shake made with red velvet vodka, cream cheese mousse, red velvet cake and mini whoppee pie that was perfect in the stifling late August heat.
Littlefork unexpectedly brought meat versus seafood, perhaps to show range? Maple glazed pork  belly, Johnny Cake polenta.  As a big fan of polenta, I think I'd go back to Littlefork for more of this one.
Littlefork also served 'corn off the cob' with Montreal Steak butter and parmesan. 
But if I had to pick a 'best in show' - it would be Picca / Mo-chica's Wagyu Beef Tartare Crostini with Truffle Shavings, Truffle Pearls, Parmesan Sauce. Visually, texturally and flavor-wise: perfect.
Now I know based on my recap it seems like there was just a lot of food, but there were actually dozens of wine vendors pouring as much as you can handle as well.  I'm just not much of a wine drinker - but I do love my sparkling wine / champagne and made sure to stop by for Perrier Jouet.
Cocktails are definitely more my speed, especially creative ones.  Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix were at the Old Lightning table personally mixing up amazing cocktails for us.
Between the entertainment of bar masters shaking things up live, and the lovely looking drinks at the table, Old Lightning drew quite a crowd.  So it was hard to catch what exactly was in the drink - but I thought I heard four kinds of rum, orgeat and coconut - topped by a tropic-thoughts-inducing orchid.  In two words: liquid vacation.  Magic.

Can't wait to see what LAFW puts on the table(s) next year!

[Until then, to see more photos from Los Angeles Food and Wine events, visit my Facebook page]


Los Angeles Food & Wine

Lexus Grand Tasting 2013
Saturday August 24 & Sunday August 25, 2013 12pm-3pm General Admission, 11am VIP early entry and cooking demo at 10:30am
Stages 1 & 2, LA Center Studios, Downtown LA
General Admission: $150 VIP $195

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