VOLANTE Elyse Glickman, Derek J. Poirier and Jody Miller confirm less is more when it comes to staging a good food festival. Over the US Labor Day holiday, they combed through the delicious, the debatable, and the surprising, during the LA Times’ 10th annual Taste, at Paramount Pictures’ hallowed backlot
Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of, and Derek Poirier and Jody Miller are correspondents for, Lucire.
In order to stay relevant, even things that have become a tradition for a city need to evolve in order to stay relevant. In many respects, our city’s beloved ‘The Taste’ retains some of its most unique hallmarks. The moving feast is still presented along Paramount Pictures’ ‘New York Street’, plans its three nights of grazing sessions in a thematic way, and stages several demo sessions and panels with the city’s most important chefs, restaurateurs, bartenders and sommeliers. There are lots of backdrops erected specifically for the selfie–influencer crowd that, in themselves, are masterclasses in product placement. There are still clever on-site promotions for the LA Times, reiterating its relevance in a rapidly changing media industry where print newspapers around the us are going digital and disappearing into the archives of history.
The VIP area still offered exclusive passed bites, (relatively) plush lounge-style seating, and full-sized drinks and glasses of wine to those willing to pay a few dollars more. There are long lines for food where those waiting can debate one another on what constitutes the city’s best tacos or sushi, and what will be the next big ethnic cuisine craze now that Korean restaurants have gone from Koreatown to all over town.
Ten years on, it remains a nicely structured Cliff’s Notes of the Los Angeles restaurant landscape, informed by the outlook of Jonathan Gold, whose influence on how people eat and choose restaurants remains intact more than a year after his passing. His spirit, embodied in neon light tubing, watches over his devotees, who when entering Paramount’s ‘New York’ are debriefed on his rules for dining out in LA.
The tenth anniversary edition of the festival, however, feels different even when crowds were at their most boisterous on the second night (which we’re calling the ‘Meat and Potatoes Affair’). The most obvious change is that it’s half the festival it used to be in the physical sense, with the front section of the Paramount out of commission. This results in every aspect of the festival feeling more focused and intimate. The attendees generally seemed calmer and less anxious to fight their way to different bites. Some restaurants set up shop all three nights with different selections, acknowledging their many sub-audiences, while others (such as New York City transplant Roberta’s Pizza) gave their fans exactly what they wanted.
Our highlights and picks, and a few salty and spicy observations are noted below.
Roberta’s Pizza, because who doesn’t love a New York slice approved by actual New Yorkers queuing up?; and Wanderlust Creamery, which made sampling flavour profiles outside our comfort zone a sweet experience; the House of Suntory’s new Roku Gin, which provides the foundation for the perfect late-night summer cocktail when fresh fruit garnishes and soda are added; Maker’s Mark, especially as a sundae topping-yum; the bourbon brand also whipped up two delightful summer cocktails, the Sunset Spritz and the Maker's Mule. Bulleit Frontier Whisky, which packed a punch with a punch recipe as well as a breakfast cocktail complete with mini-pancake.
Taking it to the streets (a celebration of Los Angeles’ street and ethnic foods and our favourite night of the festival)
Donut Fiend: extraordinary vegan doughnuts in traditional and exotic flavours (e.g. green tea macha).
Park’s BBQ: the sweet, spicy and pungent taco–onion pancake hybrids are proof positive that Korean food is not going anywhere, though Black Market Liquor Bar had a very respectable take on a Korean chicken wing and the chain Bibigo offered their tasty contributions to the trend.—E. G.
McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams: our favourite Santa Barbara, Calif. transplant showed up with the perfect final bite—churro ice-cream sandwiches—to tame the effects of a night filled with savoury bites prepared by chefs not afraid of spice.
Rao’s Hollywood: classico Italian that hits all the right flavour profile notes, without excessive sweetness or greasiness.
Burritos La Palma: these small burritos were packed with big flavours, thanks to a distinctive blend of of shredded beef, spices, queso and sauces. They were among the very best I have ever had in Los Angeles: no small feat, given the large number of excellent Mexican restaurants in LA.—D. P.
Casa Vega: the long-time San Fernando Valley institution, which recently updated and upgraded their menu, rolled out a very flavourful sweet corn tamale with sweet corn, cheddar cheese and mild chili. This was not your everyday tamale, bursting with lots of bright flavours like many of its newer menu selections.—D. P.
Tumbi’s Craft Indian Kitchen: the butter chicken Uttapam was one of the best items all weekend. The white meat chicken was covered in an unforgettable expression of the flavoured and creamy indian curry.—D. P.
They put the butter into butter chicken in a way we can’t resist. They were welcome as our favourite first family of original Indian fusion from Badmash (chefs Pawan, Nakul and Arjun Mahendro) took to the stage to preview their new burger restaurant opening this winter.—E. G.
Prawn Coastal Casual, and Love and Salt: these spots offered prime examples of wonderful appetizers for a hot summer evening: Prawn Coastal’s salmon mousse crostini was a refreshing of salmon mousse, crème fraiche, cucumber and salmon roe; sun gold tomato and burrata were drizzled with olive oil and a dash of basil, making for a perfectly balanced and refreshing take on the classic.—D. P.
Mainland Poke Shop: its superbly executed spicy tuna poke taco, simple and straightforward but perfectly flavoured and seasoned, enhanced with a cool slaw base to balance the spicy raw tuna.
Otium: the peach glaze balanced out the richness of the veal in their decadent meatballs, and frankly, I couldn’t stop at just one.—D. P.
The meat and potatoes affair (an emphasis on steak, fried chicken, pasta, and lots of starch)
There was a county fair’s worth of fried chicken at the booths this go-round, from the much lauded and trendy Yardbird Southern Table & Bar to beloved casual spot Gus’ Fried Chicken to Nashville import Hotville Chicken. Most of them dripped with honey and gravy, resulting in a flavour profile pointed a little too southern for some SoCal palates. Kudos, however, for the many who offered up generous portions.—J. M.
Eataly: the fact that the Los Angeles outpost of the trendy national restaurant group re-created their a bountiful Tuscan kitchen within their festival booth was quite impressive. Eataly, known for its hand-wrought pasta, tempted with spinach pasta with earthy sage butter.—J. M.
Eataly’s agnolotti del plin with butter and sage was fresh and attractively executed. However, the butter and sage sauce was a bit bland and did not elevate the dish.—D. P.
Madre: the hands-down winner of the evening, with its melt-in-your mouth brisket taco and generous portion of ocean-fresh ceviche. A meal in itself if you took both. However, the brisket taco was the standout of the two.—E. G., J. M.
Maple Block Company: we not only love the brisket, but the fact they offered up the brisket as they do at their Culver City outpost.—E. G.
The Bellwether: Studio City’s Bellwether is home to the best French fries in Los Angeles, if not possibly the world. It’s a secret those on the other side of the Canyons may not have known, but they do now! The cocktails are also worth a trip “over the hill”.—J. M.
The Dog Haus: some of the fanciest farm-to-table spots channelling the southern spirit offered fried chicken and the fixings with great style. However, this was the chicken—in grilled cheese form—that came home to roost for us.—E. G., J. M.
Mister O’s: the newest arrival on the Studio City restaurant scene delivered more than a pleasant surprise, with coffee-marinated filet mignon, potato purée, and an exceptional pumpkin and curry gazpacho.—J. M.
Freedman’s and Genghis Cohen: after the blazing bite of Hotville Chicken’s Music City Hot Chicken, fried rice with touches of fresh pastrami provide a much needed counterbalance to refresh the palate.—E. G.
This was a very interesting, accomplished blend of traditional deli flavours beautifully incorporated into an excellently seasoned fried rice. One of the most inventive dishes of the weekend.—D. P.
Ellie’s: this cute spot offered a very refreshing shrimp and melon ceviche with Persian cucumber, serrano chili, crème fraiche and crispy quinoa. This multi-textured bite had a creamy and flavourful finish, with ingredients almost melting into each other in your mouth.—D. P.
Viviane: its Spinach cavatelli was best pasta offering all weekend, house-made and superbly blended with spicy Italian pork sausage, Swiss chard, parmigiano reggiano and breadcrumbs. It was spicy and creamy, all in one bite.—D. P.
It’s a wrap (the last night underscores the hottest current food trends and eateries in LA. Elyse was the “last man standing” for the finalé) The Bazaar by José Andrés: art as food that tastes good—this time using hamachi in the most delicate way imaginable.
Triple Beam Pizza: the Sage the Whales pizza had the best crust of all pizzas offered during the weekend—crispy, crackly and non-greasy.
Chao Krung and Jitlada: forget the nicey-nice pad thai. The chefs aimed squarely for the jugular of Thai food purists with their burning hot chicken, beef and tofu dishes.
HomeState: sometimes you just have to do nachos the real world way—fresh chips with a nice bowl of creamy cheese topped with guacamole, scallions, and chorizo on the side.
The Taiwan Tourism Office: there’s no better way to sample Taipei’s uniquely spicy, pan-Asian food scene than with a mini-night market, including generous servings of spicy soups and iced milk tea.
Elixir G: in a word, Gingerita. This fantastic product puts craft margaritas in anybody’s hands with a unique formula made from ginger grown in Hawaii. Better still, it can be a great ingredient for mocktails, too! •
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