Food lovers lucky enough to attend Los Angeles Times' The TASTE over Labor Day weekend devoured dozens of savory samples and gulped cupfuls of craft cocktails. If you're feeling left out, the best I can offer is a rundown of event highlights and ruminations on general food trends.
Celebrated restaurants from all corners of metropolitan Los Angeles distributed small, often artistic plates of top-shelf menu items. For instance, Glendale's own le comptoir (Gary Menes' superb pop-up in the Bekins building on Brand) served a fragrant and delicious cherrywood smoked potted shrimp.
I noticed certain food items kept popping up again and again. Kale continues to be popular among health nuts and taste nuts alike. There was a Tuscan kale Caesar, baby lacinato kale with salami, kale and crispy shiitake salad, and even a delicious kale shake from Studio City's Sun Cafe made with banana, cashew and agave.
Unusual greens of all kinds were major stars at most of the events, which bore titles like "Field to Fork" and "Flavors of L.A." At food booths and in cooking demos held throughout the weekend, chefs such as Michael Cimarusti (of Providence) and John Sedlar (of Rivera) created seductive salads made with redwood sorrel, fennel fronds, chervil, golden purslane, wild arugula and other chlorophylls.
Gazpacho was another trend at The TASTE, some more successfully realized than others. My personal favorite was Tender Greens' yellow heirloom gazpacho with a punch of tangy vinegar.
But woman cannot live on vegetables alone (at least not this woman). Seafood was plentiful at The TASTE as were all things belly: braised lamb belly, seared salmon belly, pan-fried pork belly. Some of the memorable seafood dishes include Coni' Seafood's tostaditos with shrimp, octopus, sea snail and jicama ceviche and FEED Body & Soul's scallop, sea bass and brine appetizer. Salt brine made an appearance in a number of dishes and demos this year.
There were fantastically spicy ethnic dishes such as Jitlada's Thai tamarind dip, Ethiopian chicken stew (doro wot) with fermented flat bread (injera) at Meals by Genet, and the less spicy/more comforting South Indian butter chicken at Mayura. Noodles made a splash as well, my two favorites being Lukshon's Sang Yoon's complex dandan noodles and Tusjita LA's refreshing cold sardine ramen. I predict sardines and other small fish will hit the food scene big this year. Not only are they full of nutrients but they are a sustainable resource, a hot topic at this year's TASTE.
Cocktails were on the agenda all weekend too, culminating in Sunday evening's "Cocktail Confidential." I've never been comfortable with the word "mixologist" ("bartender" will do just fine) but witnessing representatives from the world of fine food work with spirits and handcrafted mixers, I'm a little more comfortable with the word. Most of the mixologists demonstrated how if you have quality homemade sweeteners (honey syrup, ginger juice, simple syrup) and fresh citrus (lime, lemon, orange) you can put in almost any booze you like (vodka, bourbon, tequila, Pisco) for an outstanding drink. Julian Cox (of Rivera) wowed the crowd with science as he concocted real carbonated raspberry lemonade creating a beverage with bubbles that tickle, instead of assault, the tongue. On the spirits front, my favorite new discoveries are Becherovka, a 200-year-old Czechoslovakian bitter liqueur, and Breaker Bourbon from Ascendant Spirits, the first distillery to open in Santa Barbara Country since Prohibition.
There were many other standouts at the event including Mexikosher's pan fried chorizo torta, Riva Bella's nidi di rondini, and Fred 62's beef brisket Frito pie. Some of these restaurants require a drive across town but checking into them is just a computer click away. In the meantime, look for these food trends at a restaurant near you or simply plan to attend next year's Los Angeles Times' The TASTE.
LISA DUPUY writes dining reviews for Los Angeles Times Community News.