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"The Taste" - How Was It For You?

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We did two segments of the LA Times' Paramount-lot long-weekend extravaganza, the Cocktail Confidential last night and the Flavors of L.A. today. Both were very well attended - they said today's session was sold out - but although it could be hard to find a place to sit it never felt over-packed to us. The evening session felt a bit skimpy on food, mostly snacky items, but then I suppose bar food was to be expected. Gorbals presented essentially the same thing as at last year's Film Noir event downtown, a slice or two of fried tongue on a toast slice with some garnish; there were lobster tostadas and skillet-fried chicken offered at two stands almost next to each other, but the lines went far enough to promise you'd get nowhere else that evening. We were with friends and kept running into others, so between socializing and stops for sample cocktails it was too hard to keep track of whatever noshes came from where, although my fried mac'n'cheese ball from the Pig's Feet Under truck was good enough to put me in the line for another. As for beverages, the little shots of Rye Manhattan from the Bulliett stand were about as tasty as whiskey gets. We did wrap the evening with a late supper at Fred 62 in Los Feliz, which patched up any remaining holes in our nutrition requirements quite well.

Flavors of L.A. still had plenty of beverages to sample, but the food activity was more varied and easier to get to. Juan's Restaurante was pushing cactus, serving duck confit on tortillas with cactus-paddle added, and a very spicy habañero fruit garnish, mostly very good except for the rather mushy duck. Spice Table landed the first big score of my day with their Cereal Prawn, a deep-fried whole prawn with some kind of orange-colored grain-based crumbly stuff over it. "Eat the whole thing! You can eat the whole thing!" the guy kept exhorting us. Some were reluctant to chew up the head; I dutifully chewed up head, shell and all right back to the little tail flukes, which I threw away. Spicy, chewy, shrimpy and really good. I don't know that it was the best thing there, but certainly the most fun to eat. I'd also gotten a pleasant pinot noir from the Laetitia Winery, which we've passed a few times up near Santa Maria and wondered about.

After taking a break to watch Susan Feniger show us about pickling vegetables and making a good cold soba salad, we went to stand in a shady spot - the sun was very hot, but there was a good cool breeze - and I went over to the Luckshon/Father's Office stand and came back with a plastic cup of an interesting-looking pig's ear presentation. That was another stunner: the ear meat almost melted on the tongue, with a rich but very discreet flavor, while shreds of carrot and red pepper added crunch. Under all was a layer of a pungent, herbal green sauce that sent everything home with a lovely kick. That was the only thing of Sang Yoon's I've ever had, but to me it proves his often-mentioned mastery of flavor.

We had plenty of entertaining observations from him in the "L.A. Food Scene" discussion led by Jonathan Gold and Evan Kleiman; Gustavo Arellano was on that panel as well. Although it was hardly an intensive exploration of the subject (and there was a distractingly loud mariachi event happening down the block besides), it was good to hang out with four smart, witty people who are not only concerned about that scene but active participants in it.

We headed back to the front part of the lot, a large rectangular Astroturf "lawn" with umbrellas, tables and chairs scattered about it and surrounded by more food and drink booths. Wurstküche, which had been mobbed the night before, had plenty of their mango/habañero and rabbit/rattlesnake sausage samples on hand; I tried both and surprised myself by preferring the latter. A restaurant called Ombra of which I did not know had samples of their take on vitello tonnato, with thin slices of medium-rare veal and a good dab of an un-fishy but delicious creamy sauce. They happily gave me two, and then a third when I asked. Maybe I need to know them better. I got a nice little plate of chicken Doro Wat from Meals by Genet, served with a long enough strip of injera bread to eat it Ethiopian style, but I was concerned about my spotless white shirt … and then a set of plates of chips with mole, one Puebla-style and one Oaxacan, took care of THAT. Which is why we have Zout.

I've left out a lot, such as the interesting "succotash" from A1 Cucina Italiana, with tiny beans, corn and a lot of coarsely-chopped raw beef, more interesting than wonderful, and the smears of very good rillettes (subtitled "Pig Jam" on the sign) on Melba toast, because I don't recall whose it was. In terms of getting one's money's worth in food and drink alone, I suppose you can if you don't do anything else; these things are more about trying new things and celebrating food and drink than they are about simple consumption. The Times organization has continued to get better and better at making these events run as smoothly as possible; this was the second we've attended this year, the Festival of Books being the other, and although no such event can be truly glitch-free these came close. We look forward to next year's versions.

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  1. At the cocktail event, terranea was roasting whole goats and serving pieces cut directly off. Probably my fav bite that night. Sadie had a Kentucky ninja drink that was really good too.

    9 Replies
    1. re: cdub

      Darn. I missed that goat.
      I was there for Dinner & Drinks 9/2 Evening
      I loved the Mexican corner including Casa Azul (beautifully flavored carne asada tacos), La Casita and another place I forget. Had a wonderful mole with a green tortilla.
      One of my favorite bites was Rustric Canyon's pork rib with white beans.

      1. re: Ciao Bob

        Yes it was a nice event. I think they capped the ticket sales at a reasonable number.
        No line was very long and the less popular items had no line at all.

        My favorite and most memorable bite was the pigs ear as well.
        I did enjoy the shrimp head and all.
        A good filler bite was the chicken wing.
        I think that was from Milo and Olive.

        We thought it was funny the people hoarding the Stella glasses.
        This woman in line told me they were up to a set of 6 and going back for more.

      2. re: cdub

        The guy at the bar at Terranea told me it was lamb, not goat. Don't know if that was right or not. Whichever it was, it was really good. I also liked the lamb tostadas from mo chica/picca, the beef tongue from the gorbals, and a tequila rice cake from one of the Mexican vendors. I had plenty to eat and most all of it was good Saturday night but I don't remember much else of the food really standing out. Perhaps because I had so many of the cocktails. Strangely, the only place where I really encountered much of a line was The Counter which I wasn't that interested in anyway.

        I also went to the flavors of LA. Standouts there were the Pig Ear from Lukshon, the cereal prawn from Spice Table, The Jidori Chicken from Plan Check, the rabbit tacos and Cactus Frond Drink from Juan's, and the Coffee Crunch Cake from Valeries Confections.

        I think the only thing I had that i didn't much care for was the Doro Wat. I was happy to at least get to try it though.

        1. re: bg90027

          I thought it was strangely dry; I wasn't going to complain, but with Genet's reputation I was surprised, especially as it's the one Ethiopian dish I've had quite a lot of. The flavor was very good, though, and I loved the sourness of the injera.

          I'm kicking myself around the block for skipping Terranea - from a distance it looked just like some resort promo of the sort I try to avoid. Serves me right, because I do love me some barbecued baby sheep and/or goats.

          1. re: Will Owen

            I've never had doro wat or ethiopian for that matter before. I wasn't trying to say it was a poor representation of it. I didn't hate it either. It was the only thing I threw away without finishing though. There was just too much that I did like or wanted to try to waste my stomach space.

            1. re: Will Owen

              << from a distance it looked just like some resort promo>>
              That was exactly my (ir)rationale for the same behavior!

            2. re: bg90027

              Oops...I meant the lobster tostadas from mo chica/picca.

              1. re: bg90027

                By the time I noticed those, the line was almost around the block! Any line that went past two street corners was off my agenda, no matter what they're offering. And the fried chicken from the iron skillet people was like unto it.

                1. re: Will Owen

                  I don't blame you. I showed up early and went directly to the back area and there were no lines then. There was enough good food though that I would have skipped anything with a long line.

          2. I went for the Labor Day Picnic. The price was right as my wife works for a wine co. and got some vendor tix.
            That said, it was disappointing. To start it was part nature, but one could imagine it might be hot at that time and come up with some more shade. I thought the food was not very compelling at all. The biggest problem was that min. 60% of the items were dessert. So the 15% of the items which were at all substantial savories (ie sliders, grilled cheese) had lines 20+ people deep. We stayed for 1.5 hours, ate too much ice cream (albeit tasty) from 7-8 booths, and left. The only substantial styled thing we ate was a sausage from Terranea which I can buy at Costco. Maybe the organizers didn't see the need to dictate a greater number of savory offerings, but they should have.
            I would have been interested in something like the Keller/Parsons discussion but the tent was nowhere near big enough (SRO and then some) and hot. There were a decent number of alcoholic offering, but at that early hour we weren't interested, though others were..

            1 Reply
            1. re: john gonzales

              We heard largely negative reports about Monday, too - too many dessert things, nothing really for kids to do but eat junk, and too hot. If there hadn't been that cool, steady breeze on Sunday I might not have been able to stick it out, although of course that's not something that can be arranged!

              The thing is that this was not really meant to be FOR kids; they were simply allowed in the gate. But the selection of food offerings is open to criticism on thematic grounds: ice cream and cookies are not what pops to mind when I think "family picnic." Although I guess fried chicken and potato salad might be too much to expect …