It’s prime-time for the ultimate primer to Los Angeles’ buzziest and busiest restaurants, from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay, report Elyse Glickman and Derek Poirier
photographed by the authors
Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire. Derek Poirier is a correspondent for Lucire.
In keeping with one of our city’s favourite Labor Day traditions, we gamely returned to the Paramount Pictures Studios “set” in Hollywood to discover that—at least in the case of the eclectic Los Angeles Times’ The Taste (the definitively quirky antidote to the sometimes staid and semi-formal food and wine festival)—that the more things stayed the same, the more things changed.
One thing we could count on, regardless, was that key food section personnel of principal sponsor The Los Angeles Times, celebrity chefs, and food pundits were a major draw. Noted food critic Jonathan Gold (right), fresh from the recent release of his documentary, City of Gold, was partying like a rock star—one who embraces food and appreciates his fans. Mary Sue Milliken (below right), who with Border Grill business partner Susan Feniger, enchanted long-time fans with her megawatt smile and recipes for Mexican and Peruvian ceviche in her cooking demo. Chef Rika Yukimasa, host of NHK World series Dining with the Chef, served up easy, original Japanese recipes and insights to Japanese food culture.
Some noteworthy observations included the fact that many of this year’s participating LA restaurants found 1,000 ways to reimagine pork, pulled in slider sandwiches, and spun into sausages, tacos, salads and curries. The mighty pig pushed designer burgers from “trendy” to “beloved standby” status, even with excellent representations from sponsor Princess Cruises and restaurants Tart and Hache.
Within the cocktail element of the Taste, there were several glorious sips, including Knob Creek’s Runaway Rose, Don Julio’s Hollywood Nights and Jalisco Mule, Grand Marnier’s Grand Lemonade, and the Naked Farmer from Ocean Organic Vodka. Wine lovers were not disappointed thanks to pours from New Zealand’s Matua and noted European labels Kettmeir, Santa Margherita and Roederer Estate.
While there were more hits than misses in the vast array of tapas-sized noshes, stand-outs prompting future visits to participating restaurants included the following.
• The Bellwether’s pork and beef meatballs: very tender and juicy with a nice flavour.
• Roderer Estate’s excellent Brut Sparkling Wine from Anderson Valley. When chilled, it would have been an excellent choice that pairs with almost any food.
• Circa 55’s spectacular Butternut Squash Risotto with Nutella Milk Chocolate Crunch bars that were simply fantastic.
• L&E Oyster Bar’s Buttermilk Fried Oysters with house-made sorbrassada and fermented mouse melon, fig mostrarda on bub and Grandma's baguette. The oysters were particularly good: lightly fried, slightly crunchy and very tender and moist on the bite.
• Donut Farm’s inventive gourmet doughnuts with fresh fruit glazes providing just the right amount of fruit flavour and sweetness.
• The Dog Haus’s Tiny Swiney: a delicious pork belly hot dog with cheesy Hauz Whiz, pickled Hatch chilis and fresh scallions on a grilled Hawaiian roll. These were fantastic hot dogs: the flavour balance was perfect with all of the ingredients blending very well together. Derek went back for seconds and looks forward to Dog Haus opening up a location on the Westside.
• Tart’s Tart Burger, a special blend beef patty topped with thick-cut deep smoked bacon, Roquefort blue cheese and mustard aioli on a toasted brioche bun.
• Marvin’s rigatoni bolognese laced with truffle oil with pasta was cooked perfectly al dente.
• LA Mill’s simply perfect doughnut holes adorned with house-made vanilla cream with cold brew and bliss espresso. The doughnuts were excellent: not too heavy and just the right amount of sweetness with the vanilla cream. The cold brew was also excellent, with the espresso providing just the right amount of caffeine.
• We agreed the best offering was Slapfish’s fantastic lobster burger, topped with a generous helping of fresh Maine lobster. At first, we were skeptical of the paring working on a burger but it was perfection. The lobster was tossed with a light but flavourful aioli that blended harmoniously and perfectly with the burger. It was a superbly executed burger version of an opulent surf and turf dinner.
• Bulgarini Gelato’s locally-crafted gelato, which we noted had a bright flavour profile: sweet, creamy, fruity and fresh. McConnell’s Whisky Pecan ice cream and Hinoki and the Bird’s S’More ice-cream sandwiches deserve honourable mentions.
• Ocean Prime’s absolutely addictive version of devilled eggs, made more sinfully delicious with truffle oil.
• Badmaash’s Pork Curry and Lum Ka Naad’s aromatic lemongrass scented chicken, which were stand-outs among the festival’s more exotic offerngs. They were flavourful yet approachable.
• Golden Boys’ Kung Pao Mushrooms: a welcome vegetarian version of a favourite Chinese restaurant staple. We look forward to this pop-up restaurant phenomenon finding a permanent home.
The biggest change was the expanded scope of the daytime events (Saturday’s Field to Fork and the Sunday Block Party), with participating restaurants setting the bar higher for originality, diversity, and quality. Those sessions outshined the marquée Saturday night event, Dinner with a Twist, where participating restaurants played things just a bit too safe. That said, the weekend celebration of Los Angeles’ food scene ended with a bang, gastronomically speaking, with the Flavors of LA—a great road map for newcomers to the food scene highlighting ethnic restaurant finds that paint a delicious picture of Los Angeles’ gastronomic mosaic. •
Beyond the Festival
When in LA: another Killer LA restaurant worth seeking out
Derek Poirier weighs in on Killer Shrimp, a Los Angeles institution celebrating the city’s enduring passion for seafood and craft cocktails
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