Sunday, March 9, 2014 was a momentous day for many Angelenos. Thousands pushed themselves to never-before-reached limits of physical and emotional achievement in the LA Marathon, running through pain and fatigue until they hit the finish line. I thought of them often that day as I, too, tested my endurance and willed my body to new limits of food consumption at LA Weekly’s 6th Annual Food and Wine event .
Situated in DTLA’s LA Mart, this impeccably curated event featured 40-plus members of LA’s all-star restaurant roster. Chefs from the likes of Animal, Bestia, and Lucques had tables featuring bites of their best culinary creations. The event had sold out about a week before, and as I arrived a I was alarmed to find a seemingly endless line around the block. It became clear that the potential for this to be a culinary sh**-show was running about 99%. I finally made it to the entrance of the event about a half hour after I arrived, and as I saw swarms of people crowding around tables for bites of the city’s best, I had a realization: there was no way there was going to be enough food for all of these people. Everyone looked like they had fasted all morning in anticipation of gorging themselves. This wasn’t going to be a casual, take-your-time-and-savor-each-bite kind of food event. No……this was going to be a real-life Hunger Games. People were hungry, and survival instincts were about to kick in en masse. Luckily, there is one area of my life where I feel I have Katniss-level superpowers, and that is eating. “What about the lines of people, the crowds, and just plain old etiquette“, you ask? To which I say, “May the odds be ever in their favor”. Luckily I had my fellow food zealot Melanie in tow, and quickly we devised a plan to divide and conquer.
My first stop was at Mexicali Taco Company (which I was unfamiliar with), and I immediately met my first challenge as I was presented an escargot taco (aptly named the “Taco Frances”). Snails – not really my thing. But, I made a decision that this was going to be a day of no-holds-barred eating, and down the taco went. It was the right decision – the combination of the chipotle-garlic sauteéd escargot, cilantro-lime gremolata, micro-greens and cheese hit all the right notes and made for a delicious bite.
What ensued after this was a rapid-fire onslaught of samples, detailed here:
Superba Snack Bar: Fried chicken with pickled chilies and red wine vinegar glaze. Yep, it was as delicious as it sounds -crunchy, salty, and tangy.
The Oinkster: House-cured Pastrami sandwich. It was good. It was a pastrami sandwich – no more, no less.
Nickel Diner: a trio of delectable treats: Maple-bacon doughnut holes, strawberry-jam doughnut holes, and Nickel Ho-Ho’s. (The Ho-Ho’s were the best; I had to swoop back around for a second one)
Night+Market: Papaya Salad. It was tasty, to be sure, but I guess I had hoped for their all-star chicken wings, which are one of the greatest things you can possibly eat in this city.
Bestia: octopus carpaccio. Absolutely stellar. Beautiful presentation and so delicious. Bestia can do no wrong. (Extra props to Genevieve who was plating beautiful bites while very preggo. She makes some of the best desserts in town- that kid has got it made)
Animal: Big-eye tuna crudo. Oh my, this was delicious. John and Vinny have had one of the most beloved restaurants in LA for the last 5 years, and they are clearly still bringing their A-game.
Beverly Soon Tofu: Spicy Kimchi, and cucumber salad. Fresh, light, and delicious.
chi SPACCA: Spicy spreadable salami. Yes – spreadable salami. Genius…and definitely spicy. I have had this relatively new Italian heavy-hitter on my list to try, and they did not disappoint.
Coni’seafood: Ceviche and shrimp tacos from Inglewood’s renowned Mexican restaurant. Yummy.
Jitlada: Spicy tofu curry with green beans. This was really great – I don’t particularly love tofu, but it was delicious once Jitladified. Also, extra shout-out to them because they were one of the only booths with food left at 3pm
Starry Kitchen: Singaporean popcorn-shrimp with curry leaves and red jalapeño “shooters” – consumed while an asian man in a blonde mullet wig chanted for me to “down it!!” Of course, I succumbed to peer pressure.
AOC: Lamb tartare. It was ok. I don’t really like consuming baby animals, so this one was a little hard to enjoy.
Little Sister: A super-tasty green papaya salad with shrimp, served in adorable chinese takeout containers. I will definitely have to make the trek down to Manhattan Beach to check this new asian-fusion establishment.
Drago Centro: To be honest, all I remember was that it was some kind of pasta dish, and it was savory and rich. This is about the point where it was all starting to get hazy. But fear not! I powered through….
Angelini Osteria: The restaurant’s famed lasagna verde with beef and veal ragu. Yes, it was delicious, and I was so excited to try one of the venerable Gino Angelini’s creations. Again, though, baby animals were involved, so guilt muddled the taste of this expertly crafted bite.
Hinoki and the Bird: I was thrilled to see this restaurant participating as it has been on my “to try” list for ages. They were serving up an “avocado mousse” dessert – topped with chocolate crumble and beet-juice soaked chia seeds. This was both a simple and special creation, and re-affirmed that this is a must-try LA dining establishment. At this point, supplies were dwindling, so I ate it this splendid mousse concoction with a knife (pictured above).
Sqirl: YES! I Love Sqirl! (See my last post). These east-siders did not disappoint with a delicious sampling of their Crispy Kokuho Rose Brown Rice Salad – followed by a chocolate cookie. I love Sqirl.
Craft: presented a pretty plate of avocado, tomatillo, hearts of palm, and spiced peanuts. Though it seemed a bit “light”, I was grateful..as I was hitting a feeling I had truly never had before:
I could not eat one more thing. The idea of putting one more morsel of food in my mouth made me want to cry. You see, in addition to all that was listed above, there were samples of ice cream, candy, tea, and juice – all consumed in under 90 minutes. Luckily, my stomach has “trained” for this challenge over time, but I knew I had just crossed my own personal food consumption finish line. I came, I ate (…a lot), I felt enormous pain, and in the end….I conquered (with a little help from my friend – thanks, Melanie!) It is worth mentioning that there were still several restaurants that I was sad I did not get to try (Allumette, Chichen Itza, Salt’s Cure, and Church & State, to name a few).
On a final note, the folks at LA Weekly did an amazing job of curating a wonderful event at a reasonable price. It gave a lot of people the opportunity to try great restaurants that may normally be out of their budget. Sadly, though, most of the vendors were out of food by 3pm….with two hours left to go. At that point, most people began channeling their efforts in to getting wasted on the free alcohol, the only thing left. (Imagine the poor, hungry schmuck who showed up at 4pm in an effort to “avoid the crowds”). Maybe next year there will be a better system to ensure that everyone gets to eat. Until then, I’ll be continuing my excessive-food-consumption training, one meal at a time.
- Superba’s fried chicken, Mexicali’s escargot taco, and Oinkster’s Pastrami Sandwich
- Trio of treats from Nickel Diner
- Animal’s Big Eye Tuna Crudo
- Bestia’s Octopus carpaccio
- Cone’Seafood’s ceviche tacos
- Beverly Soon Tofu’s Kimchee and Cucumbers