LA Times Celebration of Food & Wine – 9/5/10

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…


  1. Thanks for this great review. I didn’t bother taking a break from stuffing my face to take pictures, assuming I’d find some online. I had a very similar take on the event as you did. It would have been very disappointing if I didn’t get (discounted) VIP tickets. The LA Times site could have been clearer, but after poking around on it for awhile before the event, I did notice that the VIP area wouldn’t open until later in the day. So I just grabbed some of the free food, sampled some wine, and enjoyed a couple panel talks and just walking around, and jumped in the VIP line a bit early and thoroughly enjoyed myself once I was inside. The concert was a great way to end the day (especially since I’m a fan of She & Him).

    Once again, great review & hopefully there will be a next year!

  2. We had VIP tickets but, sadly, arrived at 12:30, not knowing that there was nothing VIP until 3:00: no food, no drink, no lounge (how about anyplace to sit Out of the Sun), nothing.
    So, ok, game face on–let’s just hang out in general admission area until 3:00.
    Buttermilk food truck. Oh, goody, always wanted to try it. 10 minute wait. Ok, not too bad. Wait, they’re charging mo money. I’m confused. Ok, let’s pay and taste. Hmmm, tastes good.
    Now, what are we supposed to do?
    Ok, let’s get some more food (will they charge us for every bite?) and, you know, drink, I guess.
    Oh, wait, we can’t get near any of the food but it seems easy enough to drink.
    So, we drank.
    Is it 3:00 yet?
    I’m starving.
    Let’s go see Michael Voltaggio and the Animal boys talk. Oh, only seats in the sun available. But, then, we noticed 2 single seats on the shaded side. “Is anyone sitting on that empty seat with the cup on it?”
    “Well, yeah, that’s why the cup is on it!”
    Anyway, finally got people to take pity on us and actually got to sit. In shade. Sheer joy until a guy came back with grilled cheese sandwich from Campanile booth. And said “yum” with every bite. “How did you get that?” we drooled. He waited 25 minutes in the hot sun.
    Finally, it was 3:00. Hallelujah!
    Off to VIP land.
    But, wait, more lines, no shade and no backlot brownstone steps to lounge on. Wait, there is nowhere to sit. There is no shade.
    On the plus side (ha), there was some great food in the VIP area and it really was a little easier to get to; therefore, the 3-star rating.
    Had to leave before She & Him–too much booze, not enough shade.

  3. Unfortunately, I did not purchase a VIP ticket but rather 4 -GA tickets – we got heat; long lines; sips of wine after waiting 15 minutes for each and paid for the few trucks we could tolerate the lines for. This was not my idea of a food tasting! If you want to charge for each taste, as many events do, you should not have a $55 cover charge! Not sure it would have been worth $500 for four of us to attend as VIPs either – the silver lining was that we had a GREAT meal across the street at Osteria de la Buca and it was $200 including a bottle of wine!
    Count me OUT for next year!

  4. Nick – You realize early on it’s kind of hard to take pictures of everything while eating and walking at the same time! Sounds like you had a great gameplan for the event.

    Lira – Our group had no idea the VIP area (ie basically the reason we were there) didn’t open til 3 as well, and it was frustrating to realize we had to pay for everything until then (we came hungry). At first, I thought the VIP area was way too crowded as well, but I found the lines (and the sun) to calm down an hour or two into it.

    Myriam – I agree – if we had GA I think we would have just cut our losses and left at around 2pm. Would’ve been much better off paying $5-10 to get into one of the food truck festivals, given that’s what the majority of the food options were. I was not only shocked that we had to pay for them, but they were all charging full street price as well. Sounds like you had a great meal at Osteria La Buca though, so not all was lost!

  5. This event is NOT worth the price of admission. For general admission, you pay for the opportunity to wait in line to BUY a food sample. Lots of long lines everywhere, no shade, no water, and no seating. Plenty of wineries for wine tasting (very expensive wine tasting), but you are drinking on an empty stomach. We left before the concert because we were too tired from all the lines, and being in the sun all day on an empty stomach.

    0 stars – go to a nice restaurant instead

    1. Rudy – looks like a lot of people have echoed your sentiments on the GA ticket; I probably would have had the same opinion if I had gotten a GA ticket (I was so surprised not even water was readily available without a fee).

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