LA Food & Wine Festival 2016: Lexus Grand Tasting

I’ve always been meaning to return to the LA Food & Wine Festival.  It’s taken me 3 years to do so, but better late than never right?  With all the food and drink you can eat, these festivals are an utter delight to attend if you can swallow the price tag.  The price has significantly dropped by about half compared to 3 years ago.  Still, I did think twice about forking up the hundies for this.  In the spirit of YOLO, I bit the bullet and bought two tickets for The Annoyer and I to attend Sunday’s lunchtime Grand Tasting at The Barker Hanger in Santa Monica.  Unlike, The Taste by LA Times, which is usually held at The Paramount Studios backlot, this event was enclosed and well ventilated.  We didn’t have to bake and burn under the unrelenting summer sun while we wined and dined.  There was a lot of food so I’ll keep the commentary brief.

Local Halibut vermicelli, pineapple-anchovy sauce, peanuts
Charles Phan | Slanted Door (San Francisco)
Charles Phan has a knack for modernizing and/or elevating traditional Vietnamese dishes.  Chà cá is usually made with catfish, but he uses halibut.  The fish was a little salty, but overall the tumeric flavors were there.  Traditionally a shrimp paste based sauce is used, but he went mắm nêm which uses pineapples and fermented anchovies.  The ground peanuts and dill topped it off with the right aromatics and garnishes.DSC01665

Manila Clams sake, vadouvan, shiso
Yousef Ghalini | FIG
East Asian meets South Asian here.  Interesting, but not the best clams ever.DSC01670

Red Dulse miso toast, uni butter, pressed pork belly
Matthew Beaudin | Monterey Bay Acquarium
Chef Beaudin had a whole table of these laying out.  I felt it would have been better eaten fresh.  The toast seemed a bit soggy or stale.  The pork belly would have been tastier eaten hot.  The uni butter was subtle but surprisingly noticeable.DSC01672

Snow Crab sushi-kano miso, avocado mousse, nori, arare
Billy Ngo | Kru + Fish Face Poke Bar (Sacramento)
It’s interesting how crab and avocado go so well together.DSC01676

Duck Confit Rilletes pickled red onion, radish sprouts, saba
Brian Malarkey | Ivory on Sunset
A nice little bite.  The duck flavor was well presented and the pickled red onion gave it some zing.DSC01679

Clam Rolls
Kevin Nashan | Sidney Street Cafe (St. Louise, MO)
An excellent clam roll!  The clam was battered in a perfectly crunchy well seasoned batter.  I couldn’t tell what was clam and what was batter but I didn’t care.  The roll was soft and a creamy herby sauce married the two together.  The Annoyer really loved this one.DSC01681

Filipino Style Ceviche yellowfin tuna, coconut lime dressing, avocado, pork cracklings
Ross Pangilinan | Leatherby’s Café Rouge
A unique take on ceviche using coconut milk to bring a bit of tropical richness.  The bite still remained light and refreshing with a good amount of citrusy zing.  The pork rinds and avocado provided varying texture.  DSC01686

Beautiful presentation.DSC01688

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota corn, tomato, espelette
Sean O’Toole | TORC (Napa)
The corn cake was a bit too crunchy and dry and unfortunately distracted from the nutty saltiness that makes Iberico ham so special.  Eaten alone, the ham was delightful.DSC01690DSC01692

Sweet E’s Bake Shop
Sweet E was not actually at the event.  Rather UberEats was promoting itself by giving away these very moist and not too sweet cupcakes.  Thumbs up to Sweet E’s.
DSC01695 DSC01696

Tomato BLT Salad
Elizabeth Falker | Falk Yeah! Productions (New York City)
I was quite surprised that something so simple could pack so much flavor.  The tomatoes were perfectly ripe.  The crumb topping looked totally unassuming but had all the bacon flavor one could want.  The micro basil added a bit of herbaceous pop.  YUMS!DSC01699

Strawberry-Mint Fluff
Blueberry Bliss
I’ve had this fluff stuff before, but this wasn’t the greatest representation.

California In The Summer Salad whipped blue cheese, emerald & jubilee pluots, heirloom tomatoes, breakfast radishes, herb-scented bread shards, pedro ximeñez gastrique, napa olive oil
Nicole Votano | DIRT (Miami Beach)
The long list of ingredients seem a bit overwhelming, but this was one of the best salads of the event.  The varying textures, layers of sweetness and tartness, and richness of the whipped blue cheese, gastrique and olive oil made for a wonderful summery vegetable dish.  The Annoyer was pleased as was I.DSC01710

Smoked Passmore Ranch Sturgeon Rillette pickled mustard, squid ink bun
Oliver Ridgeway | Grange Restaurant & Bar (Sacramento)
Your eyes get excited at the site of this, but when you pick it you’re immediately disappointed by the rock hard texture of the bun.  Still, the flavors were well balanced and then squid ink bun didn’t actually taste as dry as it felt in the hand.DSC01712

Tomato-Strawberry Gazpacho cucumber, seared tuna
George Mendes | Aldea – Lupulo – Bica (New York City)
Strawberries and tomatoes are some of my favorite things in this world, so I enjoyed this while The Annoyer didn’t care for it much.  DSC01716

Seafood Bouillabaisse
David Codney | The Peninsula Hotel
The bouillabaisse might have been one of the standout dishes of the event.  The flavors were traditional and the dish was perfectly executed.  None of the seafood tasted overcooked, and there was plenty of it.  I thought the presentation in these little tin cans brought some fanciful whimsy to the whole thing.DSC01720

Dessert Bar
David Codney | The Peninsula Hotel
Nothing too special going on here.  The jello looking thing was watermelon flavored and pretty unique to me.  DSC01723

Top Chef contestant Antonia Lofaso!DSC01725

Ricotta Crostini
Antonia Lofaso | Scopa Italian Roots
By this point, The Annoyer and I were feeling pretty darn stuffed and started sharing bites.  The crostini was creamy but light in flavor.DSC01728

Arancini
Antonia Lofaso | Scopa Italian Roots
Antonia is quite famous for her arancini, or fried risotto balls.  The ones she served here are miniature versions of the ones at her restaurant.  The ones at Scopa are perfectly unctuous on the inside, and satisfyingly crispy on the outside.  Here, they just seemed a bit dry, which was probably a result of the size more than anything.DSC01730

Organic Braised Pork Belly pickled grapes, cucumber, okra, mouse melon, mustard flowers, greens
Belcampo
I hear about Belcampo Meat a lot, but have yet to try anything from there.  I was sorely disappointed that the pork belly was probably 10% meat and 90% fat that wasn’t well rendered or crispy.  The flavors were nice though.DSC01733

Hello Top Chef winner Stephanie Izzard!DSC01737

Lump Crab & Ricotta Bruschetta green tomato & tamarind vinaigrette
Stephanie Izzard | The Girl & The Goat
A nice refreshing bit that kept up with the lunchtime theme.DSC01738

Walnut Butter Ice Cream ritz pie, candied apples, parmesan
Tyler Malek | Salt & Straw
This was easily my favorite sweet treat of the event.  I’m a huge fan of Salt & Straw, at least the original shops in Portland.  This was almost apple pie-ish in deconstructed form.  Not sure what a Ritz pie is but it was this buttery, crumbly, brown sugary delight at the base of a heaping scoop of creamy ice cream.  The parmesan was an interesting salty contrast to the whole thing.  YUMS!!!!DSC01741DSC01743

Corn Agnolotti my dirty smoked meats
Alex Reznik | Ditma’s Kitchen & Cocktails
The line was insanely long for Chef Reznik’s dish.  The name may not ring any immediate bells, but Alex Reznik is infamously known for the controversy on Top Chef surrounding the “missing pea puree.”  With the line being so darn long, you would think it would be either really amazing or really disappointing.  I was totally ready for the latter because I’m just a hater like that.  The agnolotti was perfectly made being al dente and filled with sweet corn puree.  The contrast of sweetness with the smoked salty brisket made for a unique pairing.  Well done Alex!  YUMS!  I still think you stole the pea puree though =).DSC01746

Lobster, Sweet Corn & Summer Truffle Parfait
Michael Fagnoni | Hawks Provisions & Public House (Sacramento)
We circled the venue one more time to see if there was anything else we missed.  It’s a good thing we did because we might have missed this absolutely delicious bite.  No description need.  SO YUUUMMMS!!DSC01749

Laughing Bird Ceviche melon, tomato, puffed quinoa, leche de tigre
Marcel Vigneron | Wolf
Too bad we didn’t just call it a day with the last bite.  It would have been a better note to end on than with this.  Well executed, so nothing technically to fault.  However, the tastes were just whatevers.  I’m not too excited for Marcel’s new restaurant Beefsteak.DSC01752

I quite enjoyed my experience at the LA Food & Wine festival.  I think next time I will aim for an evening event because the food might better like it was the last time I went.  Things were good at this lunchtime event, but there were more salads, ceviches, crudos, and crostinis than I would have cared for.  All in all, hats off to Kevin Nashan (clam roll), Elizabeth Falkner (tomato BLT), Nicole Votano (summer salad), David Codney (bouillabaisse), Alex Reznik (corn agnolotti), Tyler Malek (ice cream), and Michael Fagnoni (lobster corn truffle parfait) for serving up the best bites of the day.  The price tag is certainly justified if you can drink like a fish, but unfortunately The Annoyer and I are already struggling with our acid reflux just to squeeze in all the rich food as it is.  We really enjoyed the wine that we did have.  I’m looking forward to next years event!

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