Garlic Party

Times Staff Writer

Garlic, a plant whose indelicate scent but alluring flavor has made it a notorious component in the world of food, was showcased Sunday night with a West Hollywood street festival celebrating its universal appeal. The event, which inaugurates the fourth annual Los Angeles Garlic Week, was highlighted by the culinary contributions of two dozen restaurants along with the sounds of numerous jazz entertainers.

More than 5,000 fans of the odoriferous bulb attended the affair, which benefits the local chapter of the Red Cross. Garlic's appeal, as judged by the overflow crowd, has certainly outgrown the festival's present location on an empty lot on San Vicente Boulevard in view of the Beverly Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Those who gathered to inhale, consume and fraternize amid that distinctive aroma were repeatedly taxed as lines for the diverse restaurant fare and beverages varied between long and longer.

But event organizers and participants repeatedly stressed that despite the overcrowding all monies generated went to a good cause.

"The Red Cross is a great charity that no ones pays attention to because it's not trendy like Farm Aid or USA for Africa," said Russell Ruscigno, food and beverage manager for the New Otani Hotel, whose chicken yakitori offering was one of the day's most sought-after garlic-infused tidbits.

As for the pungent focus of the evening's affair, Ruscigno acknowledged that garlic is not a commonly used ingredient in Japanese cuisine, the specialty of his hotel. However, he didn't think those in attendance were offended by its inclusion.

"This yakitori, for that matter, is not really a Japanese dish, per se, but an adaptation of a recipe that originated in Thailand," he said, while directing more than a dozen employees who were scurrying to grill what took 1,200 chickens to create.

Another participant, restaurateur Roy Yamaguchi of 385 North, was able to view a portion of the festival himself because his 700 servings of mussels, garlic and black bean sauce atop fried noodles disappeared within 90 minutes of the gates swinging open.

"I do enjoy working at an event like this, but more importantly, I'm among those who like to give (to charity)," he said, just after serving his last portion of mussels. "This is certainly not a business proposition. And besides, one day you never know--I might need help from the Red Cross."

The hungry crowd also made fast work of Le Bel Age Hotel's offering. In just two hours, more than 2,500 portions of potato torte Milanese were gone, and Edward W. Beardsley, food and beverage director, sent some of his staff to retrieve food from the hotel's kitchen. What they came up with was one of Le Bel Age's more expensive offerings, a pate made from veal, duck, pistachio, Cognac and garlic. Eight hundred servings of it were quickly consumed.

"I didn't know that we would be so busy so fast," Beardsley said.

Despite the crush of food lines, crowd temperment remained subdued and pleasant. In fact, some people didn't mind waiting for samples of alligator jambalaya or iced fresh fruit with blueberry-garlic glaze.

Said festival-goer Barbara Burton of Los Angeles, "I didn't mind the lines because they prevent you from eating too much."

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