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
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.
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.
Morimoto Napa hamachi taco
Nick + Stef’s Steakhouse dry aged steak tartare, olive crostini
The Strand House ricotta gnudi, heirloom tomato pomodoro, pesto gelato
M.B. Post thai tea panna cotta, puffed wild rice, white chocolate, lychee
Herringbone/Searsucker lamb tartare
La Vecchia Cucina tortigliono ai funghi e tartufo
Montage Beverly Hills herring ceviche, tarragon mousse, young egg
Phorage dungeness crab salad
Le Ka pekin duck salad, snap peas, cantaloupe
Ford’s Filling Station lamb meatballs, tomato chutney, gianciale, cilantro yogurt
Mabel’s chicken & waffles on a stick, roasted bacon-maple dip
Short Order the reuben
Short Cake mixed berry short cakes
Akasha masala shrimp salad, mango chutney dressing
Laura Werlin buffalo chicken mac & cheese
Hudson House/Tripel pulled duck with plums, pickled fennel, seeded vinaigrette, beet paste
Upper West braised pork tongue, fennel, apple chorizo hash, tomato syrup
Chaya Brasserie wagyu nigiri; compressed watermelon mojitos
Eveleigh head & feet, chili vinegar, garlic, chives
Café Firenze/Firenze Osteria cured pancetta, frisee salad, shaved black pepper pecorino
Mattei’s Tavern halibut, lemon ash, pistachio
Sunday brought a totally different lineup of restaurants and chefs – the most anticipated of which was probably Grant Achatz representing Alinea and Aviary.
Cliff’s Edge crispy pork, watermelon, toasted rice, fish sauce, lime, herbs
The Little Beet kale salad, pecorino
Joe’s Stone Crab clam chowder
Sierra Mar at Post Ranch hawaiian shaved ice
Campanile LAX grand marnier cured salmon, olive oil blini, 62 degree egg; mimosa granita
Cavallo Point toasted oat & plum bar, sage cream
United States of Bacon bbq corned beef, duck fat tortillas, pickled apricots, salsa verde
Circa alaskan halibut ceviche
Top Round Roast Beef ‘beef & cheese’
Cannery Row Brewing Company bbq braised pork cheek, roasted corn salad, compressed watermelon
Lola Restaurant duck rillettes & peach chutney grilled sandwich
Cafe Pinot poached albacore, forbidden rice salad, yuzu kosho, black garlic
Michael’s carnitas taco; banh mi taco
Hearty Boys Restaurant grilled stone fruit salad, herbed chevre
Holsteins cuban street taco; red velvet shakes
mar’sel olive oil poached albacore, pickled onion, olives, crostini
Pedaler’s Fork compressed yellow watermelon, heirloom tomato, buratta, speck; flourless chocolate crunch bar
Roadhouse L.A. sloppy singapore
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
Plan Check Kitchen + Bar pork bun
Roy’s five spice wagyu tri tip, sweet corn kimchi
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
Cole’s old fashioneds
Old Lightning rum, marshmallow, orgeat, coconut
Mumm & Perrier-Jouet
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.
Note: This was a hosted event.