The Taste America: Los Angeles: This “Beard” Grows on Us!
By Elyse Glickman
The Taste of Chicago was a granddaddy of American food festivals, launching in 1980 as one-stop shopping for those anxious to taste the best of the city, from the beloved Chicago style pizza to top-tier restaurants falling in the “splurge” price range. Just as most rock bands trace their creative roots to Elvis or the Beatles, festival planners could do the same for the venerable original in the decades that followed.
Perhaps, then, it’s interesting that tourism office ChooseChicago (choosechicago.com) was a main sponsor for the Taste America luxury fundraiser series of dinners supporting the James Beard Foundation (jamesbeard.org), whose multi-fold mission of celebrating, nurturing, and recognizing chefs and other culinary leaders responsible for making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable.
The Taste America: Los Angeles dinner, staged at the SLS Hotel on October 12, was anything but stuffy given the city’s diverse culinary character and full-on embrace of food festival events throughout the year. It was easy to fill up at the pre-dinner reception—a mini-food fest covering several innovative chefs behind the most-buzzed-about ethnic, brasserie, and fine dining establishments, including Wes Avila(Guerrilla Tacos), Pawan Mahendro (Badmaash), Raphael Francois (Tesse), Mei Lin (Nightshade), and Curtis Stone, one of Australia’s most recognized celebrity chefs and the evening’s emcee. Some patrons got to sip Gloria Ferrer champagne while tasting five fine caviars from Petrossian Caviar. everybody had a chance to try exceptional cocktails with El Tesoro Tequila and Woodford Reserve Bourbon.
The actual dinner itself was a rollicking good time, reminding all impeccably dressed attendees that at its heart, food is familial and fun. Granted, my colleague, Derek Poirier, and I had the advantage of being assigned a table with James Beard Award Winner/Foundation Trustee Mary Sue Milliken, (co-creator of the groundbreaking upscale Border Grill Restaurants with fellow chef Susan Fenniger) and Stone, who is clearly as adept in the front of the house as he is in the kitchen…and wonderfully approachable and witty to boot.
Between documentary film clips of the James Beard Foundation’s community endeavors and a luxe auction, guests enjoyed a fresh, vibrant three-course journey narrated by the chefs (Andrew Carmellini, The Dutch, NYC; Ludo Lefebvre, Trois Mec, L.A.; and Holly Jivin of The Bazaar by José Andrés, Beverly Hills, CA). The dessert coda, meanwhile, was fitting with on-trend sweets by Salt & Straw ice cream, Margarita Manzke (République), Lincoln Carson (Bon Temps), and Mitzi Reyes (SLS Hotel, Los Angeles).
Curtis Stone (center right) with the Princess Cruises culinary crew.
The following week, Stone continued his hosting duties on Princess Cruises when he unveiled his fall tasting menu at Share, his high-end collaboration with Princess Cruises, as well as “Crafted By Curtis,” a rotating selection of dishes available in the main dining room, and on ships that don’t have a Share restaurant.
Cavaelli dish from Share’s tasting menu. A Curtis Stone mussel dish for Princess Cruises’ main dining rooms.
Remembering The “Gold Standard” at Taste of L.A.
by Derek Poirier
Jonathan Gold went beyond being a food writer who became a national household name for witty prose and descriptive language. He helped transform the Los Angeles restaurant scene into something far more substantial than a place better known for its celebrity hangouts. He democratized dining out, familiarizing his readers with mom-and-pop restaurants, multi-ethnic cuisines, and innovative young chefs.
After his passing this summer (part of a holy trinity which included Anthony Bourdain and Joel Robuchon who left the table), food connoisseurs of all stripes knew his loss would loom large over the Taste of L.A.–where he made himself accessible and personable to those attending. There was concern over whether the event would be a wake or a celebration of his life. Thankfully, it was the former, which was more intimate (only nighttime events) but substantial with many visual and edible tributes to Gold over the Labor Day holiday.
Here were the highlights. If you plan a visit to Los Angeles, take note and refer to this as a guide for your next visit.
- Casa Vega – Sweet corn tamales with cheddar cheese, green chile and crema. I am not usually a fan of corn tamales but these were exceptional. The cornmeal was balanced with the filling of cheddar cheese, green chile, and crema; this flavor balance created a smooth tasting tamale without the usual cornmeal texture or flavor.
- Poppy and Rose– Mini Fried Chicken Dinner. This one of the highlights of the whole weekend; excellently seasoned fried chicken, brown gravy and mashed potatoes delivered on one plate. A classic that was superbly executed; truly fantastic.
- Baltaire– Grilled NY Bison with Charred Corn Salad, Hatch Chile and Chimichurri. The bison was very flavorful, superbly cooked at medium rare. The flavor of the Charred Corn Salad did not blend well with the steak but the steak was so well executed, I was back in line for seconds.
- Michael’s Santa Monica – Szechuan Pork Dumplings. The pork dumplings were fantastic; Lots of flavor in a small package; Went back for seconds.
- Centro Pasta Bar – Gnudi Pasta with Chanterelle, Brown Butter Sage and Black Truffle. This was absolutely the best pasta offering all weekend. The pasta was perfectly cooked, the Brown Butter Sage was amazing. The Black Truffle was freshly shaved on each plate; superb flavor.
- Maker’s Mark –Summer Smash cocktail included Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Triple Sec, Orange Juice, Pineapple Juice, Grenadine. This was a lovely and refreshing summer cocktail. The fruit juices balanced out the Bourbon flavor to create a very accessible Bourbon cocktail.
- Pacific Dining Car – Ribeye Steak with creamed spinach and mashed potatoes. This entire dish was perfectly executed. The Ribeye was cooked medium rare and seasoned well. The creamed spinach was flavorful and delicious and blended well with the mashed potatoes; seconds on this as well.
- Bon Appétit– Oxtail Dumplings. These were delicious dumplings, perfectly cooked. The salty/sweet soy glaze on the dumplings balanced with the bold flavors of the oxtail.
- Highly Likely– This crispy fish sandwich made in honor of Jonathan Gold, showcasing the lightly fried cod with a flavorful slaw and aioli. I understood why it was one of Gold’s favorites.
- Rao’s – Mini Meatballs (above) with Beef, Pork, Veal, Bread Crumbs, Pecorino/Romano. Tender and smooth, melt in your mouth delicious; Went back for seconds.
- Tao Los Angeles – Duroc Pork Bao Buns. The pork was sweet and salty, with a sweet soy glaze on the top.
- Lunetta– Seared Ahi Tuna, Green Tea Soba, Shitake Mushroom Ponzu. A light and lively offering with rare tuna. The green tea soba and shitake mushroom ponzu elevated this classic dish.
- Eataly– Bombolini. A perfectly soft and warm doughnut with vanilla gelato. This was a perfectly executed classic; a long line for this offering.
- Centro Pasta Bar– Gnocchi with spicy pork. This was a tasty and well-balanced dish with perfectly cooked pasted in a spicy pork ragout.
- Granville– Uptown Mac and Cheese. This was a rich and delicious mac and cheese offering with aged cheddar, gruyere, chicken, asparagus and peas; absolutely a meal on its own.
- Panxa Cocina– Albondiagas con Spatzle. Veal and Pork meatballs with cotija, spatzle and chorizo gravy. A fine dish slightly marred by overcooked pasta.
- Roe Seafood– Poisson Cru. Shrimp, sea bass, lime, coconut and pico on a cristy tortilla. This was a fresh and brightly flavored dish that was a nice counterpoint to some of the heavier dishes.
- Melody– Smoked brandade with a housemade potato chip. This was a very simple but delicious, creamy bit sized seafood offering. This was another light alternative to some of the heavier dishes.
- Pacific Dining Car– Filet Mignon and Crab Cake. The filet was perfectly cooked at medium rare. The crab cake was very rich and creamy. The two items together were exceptionally rich; almost too rich, but overall a nice offering.
- Winston’s Pies– Blueberry Pie (above). Winston’s makes exceptional pies. The crust was buttery and flaky perfection. The wild blueberry filling was bursting with flavor without being overly sweet.
- Hotville Chicken— Nashville Hot Chicken Bites were a down-home treat. The perfectly cooked and seasoned chicken bites were served on white bread with a pickle. The chicken was tender and juicy, but the spice level was too hot for most palettes
- Otium– Scallop, Potato, Burnt Allium, Ficoide Glacial. The scallops were juicy, hot and perfectly cooked. The other elements combined to create a creamy but light seafood offering. The scallops were the star of this dish.
- Dog Haus — T-Mex Beef Hot Dog with Chorizo and Pepper Jack Cheese. These were spicy hot dogs with a cool and flavorful slaw, chipotle aioli served on a King’s Hawaiian roll. Another perfect seasonal offering from Dog Haus. The spice from the chorizo and the creamy cheese in the dog balanced well with cool, flavorful slaw.
- Bourbon Steak Los Angeles – Pork Spare Ribs. These were very meaty and rich ribs with a very flavorful rub with a touch of pomegranate. These were excellent ribs.
- Pacific Dining Car – Top Sirloin with Lobster Mac and Cheese. The top sirloin was perfectly cooked and seasoned. The lobster mac and cheese was fine but had very little lobster pieces or flavor. The steak was excellent.
- Bulgarini Gelato– Chocolate with Salt. This simple but superbly well-balanced gelato was exceptional; sweet and creamy chocolate with the perfect touch of sea salt.
Jody Miller contributed to this report.