LA Times Celebration of Food & Wine
Paramount Pictures Studio Backlot
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
For me, the first LA Times Celebration of Food & Wine was a tale of two stories; one of the General Admission (GA) area and one of the VIP admission area. If I had gotten the GA ticket, I probably would have been completely unsatisfied. Luckily, I purchased a VIP ticket (discounted through Goldstar), and overall I had a good time.
In short, general admission allowed access to a variety of food trucks and food/drink vendors (of which, 90% you had to pay for) and various cooking demonstrations and wine/cooking panel discussions. Eight drink tickets were included to sample various wines and spirits. The VIP admission included all of that, and a separate VIP section, open at 3pm, with unlimited food/drink tastings at more upscale restaurants and vendors. Ahead of the event, there was no indication that the VIP area was not going to be open until 3 – VIP ticket-holders were effectively a general admission participant until that time. There was very little food included in the price of admission in this area, and any free samples had extensive lines.
Clockwise from the top-left – the event covered a large area of the Paramount backlot; the VIP area was barely getting set up at the time of opening; there were a number of culinary demonstrations – here Mark Peel and Suzanne Goin discuss farm-to-table cooking; food trucks abound including Buttermilk, Border Grill and Nom Nom; discussion panels were a large part of the event – here Aarti Sequeira discusses starting a food blog.
From noon until 3pm, VIP attendees were free to browse the ‘general’ event until the VIP area opened up. This is about the time that everyone realized that the vast majority of food would cost money, even water. Considering the VIP ticket retail price of $125 (or even the $55 GA ticket), I don’t think a lot of people were happy about having to pay $5-10 at each truck/stand. One of the most popular stands throughout the afternoon was Kyochon Chicken.
They passed out samples of their delicious fried chicken and, perhaps more importantly, handed out bags – a critical item in any festival! I lost count of how many times we were asked “where’d you get those bags from?”
Another venue serving free samples was Seedthee Thai - here we have a chicken curry, to be dipped with fresh warm crepes.
This was a nice variation with just the right amount of heat in the curry to keep things interesting. Tantalum Restaurant offered up samples of a breaded and fried calamari.
This was arguably the best of the free dishes in the GA area with a very tender piece of calamari – the crunchy breading lent the dish a nice textural component.
This exhausted much of the free food we found offered in the GA area – many people started lining up early outside of the VIP area.
Once they opened up the gates, a whole new event unfolded! Food and drink (and water!) were unlimited here, with a much larger variety of restaurants. Our first stop was Water Grill, where exec. chef David LeFevre was shucking oysters all afternoon.
I was a little surprised to see LeFevre shucking these himself all day, but he seemed to really be enjoying himself and chatting it up with everyone that visited the booth. These oysters were quite good, and gave me a fresh, refreshing slurp on a hot summer day. This was definitely a return visit!
Next up was Xino, Chris Yeo’s (notably of Straits Cafe in San Francisco) venture into the new Santa Monica Place. Here he served ha gow and shumai dumplings, as well as chili spareribs.
My favorite here was by far the shumai, which was an excellent variation – densely packed with shrimp and pork. I found the sparerib to be really bony with just a little bit of meat, though the flavors were there.
Next stop was K-Zo, serving spicy salmon over crispy rice, and a “crispy hamachi” dish.
I thought the hamachi was quite good. The fish was fresh with a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. The spicy salmon was good as well, though there was a lot of crispy rice.
Public Kitchen & Bar was serving braised veal cheeks, something I was pretty excited about.
The meat was braised well and extremely tender. The salsa verde was a nice accompaniment.
The Peninsula Beverly Hills served a number of dishes including this salmon and caviar atop a scallion blini.
This was definitely one of the more “upscale” dishes served during the day, and I thought it was a good bite.
Grace served a shellfish ceviche, one of the best dishes of the day.
The pieces of clam, scallops, shrimp and calamari had a great texture to them – overall a delicious and refreshing dish, considering it was a summer afternoon.
Ivan Kane’s Cafe Was chef Alex Reznik, vilified on this season’s Top Chef, had an outstanding booth, presenting three tastes. Having a great sense of humor, he served a pea puree soup, bacon-wrapped dates filled with Roquefort cheese, and Kennebec potato chips.
All of these were very good – the highlight for me was actually the cold soup; Reznik definitely showed he could make a delicious pea puree on his own! It had a good, mild pea flavor with a delicious chunk of pork belly inside. The chips were wonderfully crisped, and the bacon-wrapped dates were very strong as well.
La Casita Mexicana served a chicken mole and a whitefish ceviche.
These were both pretty good. My favorite was the ceviche – bright, vibrant flavors were highlighted by the lime juice.
Susan Feniger’s Street served a Burmese Melon Salad, which was a pretty unique dish.
Melons, coconuts, peanuts, and onions were tossed in a sesame ginger dressing. It was not my favorite dish, but I thought it was a nice choice of dish on a summer afternoon.
Lago served a braised beef tongue in a parsley pesto and an interesting take on a caprese salad – heirloom tomato gelato, burrata cheese, and a basil foam.
The beef tongue was a bold dish to serve, and I liked that they were trying to expand people’s tastes. The tongue and pesto worked well; though the caprese was even better. The fresh burrata was delicious, and the tomato gelato and basil foam were good as well – loved the creativity here.
Next stop was Waterloo & City, serving up a chicken liver foie gras and pate.
Unfortunately I didn’t care too much for these dishes. They were a bit rich considering the weather, and the pate had a thicker consistency than I’m accustomed to.
Eva Restaurant served a potato puree with smoked salmon and chives.
I enjoyed this dish. The puree was creamy, with a slight smokiness from the smoked salmon.
Loteria Grill served, clockwise from top left, a guava empanada, a ceviche, and a corn tart with poblano chiles.
The empanada was interesting, but my favorite was the ceviche (see a trend?) Cool and refreshing, it was perfect for summer.
Westside Tavern served a lamb french dip.
This was excellent – the slices of lamb were tender and flavorful, with a little bit of horseradish for heat, and the roll was soft and yielding.
Mar’sel offered up an heirloom tomato gazpacho and a currant tomato and farro salad.
The highlight for me here was the gazpacho with its sweet tomato flavor contrasted by a little bit of yogurt.
RockSugar was serving BBQ lacquered ribs and a green mango and papaya salad.
The ribs were boneless and very tender. The sweet BBQ sauce added some great flavor to them; the salad was a nice accompaniment, considering its refreshing acidity.
Palate Food & Wine was serving a sardine banh mi with lamb heart, pickled melon, mint and a pistachio aillade. Interesting.
The lamb heart was quite tender, and the sardines added a little bit of saltiness and fishiness. I thought this was a pretty good dish; my only problem was that this was a huge serving!
New restaurant Salt’s Cure offered house-cured yellowtail with pickled jalapeno and creme fraiche atop a crostini.
I’m not a big smoked fish fan, but I appreciated the smoky, tender fish and the textural interplay of the crusty crostini.
Josie Restaurant served truffle chips.
These were very good. The chips were very crispy and had a great parmesan and truffle flavor to them.
District served a zucchini bread dessert.
This cake-like dessert was pretty moist, with a distinctive yet subtle zucchini flavor. Delicious!
Sam’s by the Beach served an oven roasted pheasant with sour cream and a port wine sauce, accompanied by a carrot and red bell pepper souffle.
Another strong dish here. The pheasant had good flavor, and was not gamey at all. The carrot and bell pepper souffle was equally as strong, with the characteristic flavor of the bell pepper showing through.
I didn’t get many pictures of the vintners or spirits, but there was a pretty good selection. Notably, I was able to participate in tastings of Green River Valley Sake, Casa Noble Tequilas, and Bache-Gabrielsen cognacs. I felt so enlightened to learn and taste the differences between an XO and a VSOP cognac! VeeV Acai Liqueur was making custom-made cocktails with a variety of herbs and vegetables.
To close the night, the She & Him duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward performed.
I was pretty happy with the event, though this was largely attributable to the VIP area. As this was the first time for this event, it’s understandable there would be some issues. To me, the main problem was that it wasn’t explicit what exactly was included in the GA ticket versus the VIP ticket – I’m sure many people (myself included) figured there would be more food included in the $55 GA price tag; managing these expectations would be a critical element to customer satisfaction. If the LA Times decides to bring this event back next year, I’m sure it will come back even stronger. If they don’t bring it back, there’s also the Taste of Beverly Hills…