LA Food & Wine 2013: Lexus Grand Tastings (Los Angeles, CA)

Lexus Grand Tastings: Saturday & Sunday
Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival 2013

LA Center Studios
1201 W 5th St
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Dining date: 8/24/13 and 8/25/13

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This past weekend marked the third annual Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival. It’s the largest food/drink festival in the city with around 25 different events, primarily held in downtown LA. Friday power lunches, cooking demonstrations, and a number of food/drink tastings make up the bulk of the events. At the larger tasting events, 25+ chef/restaurants (and even more vintners) are on hand to serve their food in all-you-can-eat and drink fashion. One of the distinctive features of these LAFW tastings is the presence of many out-of-town chefs. The size and brand of the festival (sibling to Pebble Beach Food & Wine) draws some big names including Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Michael Mina, Masaharu Morimoto, Rick Bayless and Scott Conant.

Lexus has sponsored daytime grand tastings each year since festival inception and I obtained a media pass to attend both days. This would be my third year attending; regular-priced tickets were $150 each day, with a $195 VIP option allowing earlier access.

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Large, air-conditioned tents sheltered patrons from the heat, anchored by the stations of the main sponsors. Chef and vintner stations weave throughout the tents.

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Morimoto Napa hamachi taco

Morimoto Napa hamachi taco

Nick + Stef’s Steakhouse dry aged steak tartare, olive crostini

Nick + Stef's Steakhouse dry aged steak tartare, olive crostini

The Strand House ricotta gnudi, heirloom tomato pomodoro, pesto gelato

The Strand House ricotta gnudi, heirloom tomato pomodoro, pesto gelato

M.B. Post thai tea panna cotta, puffed wild rice, white chocolate, lychee

M.B. Post thai tea panna cotta, puffed wild rice, white chocolate, lychee

Herringbone/Searsucker lamb tartare

Herringbone/Searsucker lamb tartare

La Vecchia Cucina tortigliono ai funghi e tartufo

La Vecchia Cucina tortigliono ai funghi e tartufo

La Vecchia Cucina tortigliono ai funghi e tartufo

Montage Beverly Hills herring ceviche, tarragon mousse, young egg

Montage Beverly Hills herring ceviche, tarragon mouse, young egg

Phorage dungeness crab salad

Phorage dungeness crab salad

Le Ka pekin duck salad, snap peas, cantaloupe

Le Ka pekin duck salad, snap peas, cantaloupe

Ford’s Filling Station lamb meatballs, tomato chutney, gianciale, cilantro yogurt

Ford's Filling Station lamb meatballs, tomato chutney, gianciale, cilantro yogurt

Mabel’s chicken & waffles on a stick, roasted bacon-maple dip

Mabel's chicken & waffles on a stick, roasted bacon-maple dip

Short Order the reuben

Short Order the reuben

Short Cake mixed berry short cakes

Short Cake mixed berry short cakes

Akasha masala shrimp salad, mango chutney dressing

Akasha masala shrimp salad, mango chutney dressing

Laura Werlin buffalo chicken mac & cheese

buffalo chicken mac & cheese

Hudson House/Tripel pulled duck with plums, pickled fennel, seeded vinaigrette, beet paste

Hudson House/Tripel pulled duck with plums, pickled fennel, seeded vinaigrette, beet paste

Upper West braised pork tongue, fennel, apple chorizo hash, tomato syrup

Upper West braised pork tongue, fennel, apple chorizo hash, tomato syrup

Chaya Brasserie wagyu nigiri; compressed watermelon mojitos

Chaya Brasserie wagyu nigiri; compressed watermelon mojitos

Eveleigh head & feet, chili vinegar, garlic, chives

Eveleigh head & feet, chili vinegar, garlic, chives

Café Firenze/Firenze Osteria cured pancetta, frisee salad, shaved black pepper pecorino

Café Firenze/Firenze Osteria cured pancetta, frisee salad, shaved black pepper pecorino

Mattei’s Tavern halibut, lemon ash, pistachio

Mattei's Tavern halibut, lemon ash, pistachio

Georgetown Cupcakes

Georgetown Cupcakes

Sunday brought a totally different lineup of restaurants and chefs – the most anticipated of which was probably Grant Achatz representing Alinea and Aviary.

Alinea/Aviary cocktails

Alinea/Aviary cocktails

Alinea/Aviary cocktails

Cliff’s Edge crispy pork, watermelon, toasted rice, fish sauce, lime, herbs

Cliff's Edge crispy pork, watermelon, toasted rice, fish sauce, lime, herbs

The Little Beet kale salad, pecorino

The Little Beet kale salad, pecorino

Joe’s Stone Crab clam chowder

Joe's Stone Crab clam chowder

Sierra Mar at Post Ranch hawaiian shaved ice

Sierra Mar at Post Ranch hawaiian shaved ice

Campanile LAX grand marnier cured salmon, olive oil blini, 62 degree egg; mimosa granita

Campanile LAX grand marnier cured salmon, olive oil blini, 62 degree egg; mimosa granita

Cavallo Point toasted oat & plum bar, sage cream

Cavallo Point toasted oat & plum bar, sage cream

United States of Bacon bbq corned beef, duck fat tortillas, pickled apricots, salsa verde

United States of Bacon bbq corned beef, duck fat tortillas, pickled apricots, salsa verde

Circa alaskan halibut ceviche

Circa alaskan halibut ceviche

Top Round Roast Beef ‘beef & cheese’

Top Round Roast Beef 'beef & cheese'

Cannery Row Brewing Company bbq braised pork cheek, roasted corn salad, compressed watermelon

Cannery Row Brewing Company bbq braised pork cheek, roasted corn salad, compressed watermelon

Lola Restaurant duck rillettes & peach chutney grilled sandwich

Lola Restaurant duck rillettes & peach chutney grilled sandwich

Cafe Pinot poached albacore, forbidden rice salad, yuzu kosho, black garlic

Cafe Pinot poached albacore, forbidden rice salad, yuzu kosho, black garlic

Michael’s carnitas taco; banh mi taco

Michael's carnitas taco

Michael's banh mi taco

Hearty Boys Restaurant grilled stone fruit salad, herbed chevre

Hearty Boys Restaurant grilled stone fruit salad, herbed chevre

Holsteins cuban street taco; red velvet shakes

Holsteins Shakes and Buns cuban street taco

red velvet shakes

mar’sel olive oil poached albacore, pickled onion, olives, crostini

mar'sel olive oil poached albacore, pickled onion, olives, crostini

Pedaler’s Fork compressed yellow watermelon, heirloom tomato, buratta, speck; flourless chocolate crunch bar

Pedaler's Fork compressed yellow watermelon, heirloom tomato, buratta, speck; flourless chocolate crunch bar

Pedaler's Fork compressed yellow watermelon, heirloom tomato, buratta, speck; flourless chocolate crunch bar

Roadhouse L.A. sloppy singapore

Roadhouse L.A. sloppy singapore

Fickle conch seafood fritter, forbidden rice puree, jackfruit, pickled fennel salsa

Fickle conch seafood fritter, forbidden rice puree, jackfruit, pickled fennel salsa

Little Fork maple glazed pork belly, johnny cake polenta; corn off the cob, steak butter, parmesan

Little Fork maple glazed pork belly, johnny cake polenta

corn off the cob, steak butter, parmesan

Plan Check Kitchen + Bar pork bun

Plan Check Kitchen + Bar smoky fried chicken sandwich

Roy’s five spice wagyu tri tip, sweet corn kimchi

Roy's five spice wagyu tri tip, sweet corn kimchi

Mo-Chica wagyu tartare crostini, parmesan cheese sauce, aji amarillo soy dressing

Mo-Chica wagyu tartare crostini, parmesan cheese sauce, aji amarillo soy dressing

While I’ve been able to capture an almost-exhaustive recap of the food served, I definitely won’t be able to do the liquid side justice. It’s really an impressive lineup and below are just some of the highlights I came across.

LAMILL assorted made-to-order coffees

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Cole’s old fashioneds

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Old Lightning rum, marshmallow, orgeat, coconut

Old Lightning

Stella Artois/Hoegaarden/Leffe/Cidre

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Champagne Henriot

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Mumm & Perrier-Jouet

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Silver Oak/Twomey

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As expected, these were fun events. Maybe it was the venue, but the daytime tastings seemed to be less crowded and congested than the evening ones, and the powerful air conditioners kept everyone cool even though it was pretty hot outside (a challenge in previous years). Food-wise, the main highlight from Saturday had to be La Vecchia Cucina. One of the longest lines of the afternoon waited for al dente pasta prepared with three different mushrooms and generous shavings of truffles. Morimoto’s hamachi taco was cool and refreshing with great texture from the crispy taco shell. I thought Sunday’s food was even better. While I would’ve loved to have seen Achatz prepare some kind of food, I really enjoyed his fruity/savory cocktail, kept cool using frozen chunks of grilled pineapple. Cliff’s Edge’s crispy pork dish was delicious; a thin strip of belly seemed to be fried but I didn’t find it overly fatty or oily at all. Watermelon, fish sauce, and citrus provided the bright flavors to accompany the pork. Todd Fisher, representing Discovery Channel’s United States of Bacon, had a delicious BBQ corned beef taco. Smoky, fatty and juicy, the meat was great – it only suffered from an exceedingly oily tortilla. Lastly, I found Top Round’s sandwich to be very good. Not nearly as avant-garde as many of the other plates, but it was perfectly executed and was utterly satisfying.

While cocktails and beers have a presence, wines dominate the drink side of the offerings. I honed in on the champagnes (ideal on a summer afternoon) and repeatedly came back to the Silver Oak booth (over 10 times throughout the weekend). Both the unlimited old fashioneds from Cole’s and beautiful rum-based coconut cocktails from Old Lightning seriously satisfied my taste for the harder stuff. I eagerly look forward to what next year’s festival will bring.

See other LAFW 2013 coverage: Live on Grand & Asian Night Market.

Note: This was a hosted event.


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