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Taste of Beverly Hills – A Taste of the Good Life

September 12, 2010

New York City has one.
South Beach has one.
Aspen, of course, has one.
And now…Beverly Hills has one too.

What do all the above have? Well, sometime during the year, all of them have one of Food & Wine magazine’s numerous food festivals hosted in their city.

The first ever Taste of Beverly Hills was held this past Labor Day weekend – a four day/six session event touting unlimited food and wine tastings from Los Angeles’ top restaurants and vendors, demos from well-known chefs from across the country and live musical performances.

Thanks to a *special someone*, I found myself in possession of a pair of weekend passes to the Taste of Beverly Hills. My schedule only permitted me to attend Friday night’s “The Art of Mixing” and Saturday night’s “Date Night” sessions, but I made the most of both nights and ate and drank to my heart’s content.

Now I’ve never been to a tasting event of this magnitude or caliber so I wanted to really take the time and enjoy the Taste of Beverly Hills. Thus, I decided early on that I wouldn’t take any pictures at either session and would completely suppress my (now normal) food blogging habits. Therefore, if you’re scanning this post and wondering where the pictures are – Sorry! You’re out of luck. (Honestly, part of me does wish I had taken pictures…but it was so much more fun eating knowing I didn’t have to shoot every bite!)

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The Art of Mixing

I was so excited going into Friday night’s session; upon walking into the venue, I began prancing around like a kid in a candy store, giddy with anticipation. Luckily, I had two of my favorite dining companions to share the excitement with – thanks to a ticket giveaway from YelpLA, I was able to invite Libby the Lusty Glutton and Linden the Gastronomnom to join in on the Taste of Beverly Hills fun.

In 45 minutes, the three of us ate at every food exhibitors in both tents. As expected, some samples were better than others. The following were my favorites of the night (listed alphabetically):
– Angeli Cafe – beet and ricotta gnocchi
– Church and State – pigs feet croquettes
– Cut – kobe sliders
– Il Cielo – white truffle pappardelle
– Osteria Mozza – burrata with olive oil and tomatoes
– Restaurant at Sunset Marquis – duck and foie gras
– Walter Manzke – potato taquito

Date Night

Friday was fun but Saturday was better, solely because my “date” happened to be the little brother, who I wish I could hang out with more often. The little brother is a bit of a closet foodie (he finds food bloggers pretentious, but he likes to eat and can be just as critical as food as the rest of us), so I knew he’d appreciate the event.

I was a little disappointed with Saturday’s night session as I felt the food was slightly stronger the day before. However, Saturday’s session was also noticeably more crowded, so I think that may have been the cause for the decline in overall food quality. No matter the night, the following exhibitors would have still been my favorites though (listed alphabetically):
– District on Sunset – venison relleno, zucchini terrine
– Ford’s Filling Station – ham hock risotto
– Petrossian – caviar tasting
– Water Grill – freshly shucked oysters

———-

In the end, my feelings about the Taste of Beverly Hills can best be summed up by a conversation I overheard during Friday’s session between a little boy and his father:

“…And that was delicious! And the burger was amazing! And this dessert is fantastic! And….”

Well done, Taste of Beverly Hills, well done.

LA Street Food Fest 2010 – The OTHER Side (Starry Kitchen’s Side!)

July 25, 2010

If you think this post is going to be your typical “I went to this event and this is what I ate” type post, you are mistaken. Oh no, this is going to be my take on the LA Street Food Fest’s Summer Tasting Event from the other side – the VENDOR side.

I can’t remember exactly when I found out that my DTLA lunch haunt, Starry Kitchen, was going to be participating in the LA Street Food Fest’s Summer Tasting Event…All I know is that I somehow found out they were and that they were looking for help for the event. I like being helpful and I obviously like Starry Kitchen, so it only made sense for me to offer my services. Who knew that this would be how I would find myself serving thousands upon thousands of crispy tofu balls on a sunny July Saturday afternoon to thousands of hungry attendees?

———-

(Picture taken by Remil M.)

Before I dive into the Summer Tasting Event, let me just say that Team SK is a force to be reckoned with. Why? Because Team SK rolls deep in food bloggers. The Manila Machine may have been founded by Nastassia of Let Me Eat Cake and Marvin of Burnt Lumpia and Scoops Westside may have Matt of Mattatouille leading the charge, but I think we top them both in numbers. Team SK had not one, not two, but FIVE food bloggers in its ranks. We’re talking:

  1. Danny of Kung Food Panda – Plater of the tofu balls
  2. Julian of Jewelz, What Are We Doing Today? – Fry crew
  3. Christine of folie à choisauce – Fry crew
  4. Misty of Noms Not Bombs – The voice of the tofu ball (I think she gave the crispy tofu ball spiel at least a thousand times)
  5. Yours truly – Plater of the tofu balls, pandan flan passer-outer

Not only did we have the five of us, we also had half a dozen more people to help:

  1. Matt K. – Napkin/postcard passer-outer
  2. Justin M. – Sauce squeeze-bottle extraordinare
  3. Remil M. – Bringer/announcer of the tofu balls
  4. Caleb C. – Fry team

(And if you’re questioning my counting abilities, rounding out the “half a dozen” is Nguyen and Thi, the husband/wife team behind Starry Kitchen. I didn’t include them in the above because they ARE Starry Kitchen.)

———-

So…the LA Street Food Fest. I went to its first incarnation in February – it was sort of an organizational mess. This summer tasting event was supposed to be the new and improved version – it was exponentially better.

There were a lot of changes made to this event – the venue, the time, the setup, the ticket sales – EVERYTHING was revamped to make this event move as smoothly as possible. My favorite change was the switch from food trucks to food booths – rather than having each vendor cooking in a cramped food truck, they each had a assigned food booth and cooking area that allowed much more space to maneuver and serve. (Not only did it make more sense, logistically, but it also gave us an excuse to decorate.)

(Our beautiful booth.)

To go along with our festive booth, we presented equally festive food. Starry Kitchen pulled out all the stops for their first go at the LA Street Food Fest. Their menu for this fateful day consisted of one dish: their “Game Changer #2”, the crispy tofu ball.

(What’s all the hoopla about? These babies – Crispy tofu balls!)

A crispy tofu ball is made from tofu that has been marinated, pressed and ground, then mixed with corn and dipped in buttermilk and a natural green colored rice flake from northern Vietnam. I don’t know if you can tell by the description, but this baby is a labor-intensive monster. We’re talking about a week of long nights of prep work in order to roll almost 3500 tofu balls for this event. (I, sadly, didn’t get to roll a single ball during prep, but I really wanted to!)

So I covered the booth, I covered the food, now what about our mascot…

(Oh Captain, my Captain!)

If you didn’t see Nguyen, then I don’t know what you were doing during this event. He’s wearing a banana suit. His sign is telling you to taste his balls. I mean, seriously. What. Were. You. Doing. ?!

———-

Anyway, wonder what the life of a vendor is like on the day of a food festival? Here’s a sneak peak:

(Picture taken by Remil M.)

10:30AM – Team SK meets at SK in DTLA to pack. 21 sheets of tofu balls make their way into four SUVs. (Note, crispy tofu balls cannot be stacked, which makes it hard to transport.) My car is filled to the brim with boxes. A tower of pots is seat-belted into my front passenger side seat.

11:30AM – Leave DTLA for the Rose Bowl. I almost get crushed by said tower of pots in the front passenger side seat. (One hand on the wheel, one hand keeping the pots in place.)

1PM – After waiting in a line of cars and trucks outside, we finally enter into the Rose Bowl. Lots of unpacking and set up. Main agenda: Get oil heated now in order to have it hot enough to fry when the VIP doors open.

2PM – The first test batch of balls is fried. (Note: From this moment onward, the fry crew never once stopped frying. They fried tofu balls from 2PM until 8:30PM – 6.5 HOURS OF FRYING.)

4:15PM – VIP admission opens. Lines aren’t too long, we’re figuring out how to plate, we’re getting in the groove of things. We get a slight pause every 10 minutes or so. (I sneak a bite from our neighbors from Mo-Chica. If you didn’t get to try their scallops dish, then you missed out.)

(Picture taken by Sarah Reingewirtz of the Pasadena Star News.)

5:45PM – The general admission crowd really gets going now. People are constantly getting in line. From this moment on, we never stop moving. The only time we rest is in between batches since we have nothing to serve. Otherwise, we’re constantly serving, serving, serving. Our fry team can’t keep up with the demand; however, we’re still able to get a new batch of balls out within 5-10 minutes of running out. We try to eat in between batches – Matt has been trading tofu balls for food with the other stands. (We tried a bunch of random stuff, but I’m honestly not sure what most of it was and I definitely DON’T have pictures of any of it.) We chat with the crowd. People seem happy.

8PM – We bring out dessert – the mini pandan flans. (We only made 200-ish of them, as a reward for those who stay late.) I pass them out to the people in line while they wait for the next batch of balls to come out.

8:30PM – We receive notice from the fry crew that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. (Literally, not figuratively – our fry crew is frying in one of the Rose Bowl tunnels.) No light = no more frying. We have two batches left – that’s it.

8:50PM – We give out our last tofu ball. We’re done with service!

(Yeah crispy tofu balls!)

9:30PM – We start cleaning up. We wait for the oil guy (his name is Sam) to come take away our fry oil. We start throwing everything into plastic garbage bags. We load up all the cars with the leftover balls. We look for our leader in the banana costume. (Bill of Street Gourmet LA stole him away and made him take shots of tequila. Shots shots shots shots shots shots!)

10:15PM – We’re done with clean up at the Rose Bowl. Everyone else drives to DTLA to bring everything back to the restaurant and get some late night grub. I drive home, planning on resting after a long day, but…well…apparently choosing to blog instead.

1:45AM (the following day) – I finish blogging and realize how stupid it was to blog instead of sleep (especially since I have to do real work tomorrow). My feet are still a little sore from standing all day. My eyes are getting droopy. I’m definitely tired. I click the “Publish” button – I’m finally, completely DONE!

Grilled Cheese Invitational 2010 – Bread. Butter. Cheese. Victory!

April 24, 2010

2010 must be a year for food festivals. A little over 2 months after my adventure at the LA Street Food Fest, I was back at the LA Center Studios for the 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational (i.e. “GCI”), running from vendor to vendor, stuffing food in my face, and soaking in the bright summer sun. It was nice being back at the LA Center Studios – since I had been there once before, I was familiar with the campus and had a general gist of where to find whatever I wanted.

(Does that picture look eerily familiar to you…?)

In my opinion, the GCI was remarkably well organized, with different areas sectioned off for free food, food for purchase and the amateur grilled cheese competition. I registered early and made the cut for their “judging society”, which basically meant I could taste as many sandwiches as I could get from the competitors. I had no problem finding food.

There was one problem that I didn’t anticipate though: This time around, I was running solo. I never realized until today, there are two reason the “divide and conquer” strategy works so well at food festivals:

1. You can cover a large number of vendors in a shorter period of time by having each member of the group cover a different vendor.

2. By having a large group, you never eat a full portion. A little taste here, a little taste there – getting full isn’t really a problem.

Back to my original statement: I came to the GCI by myself. I purchased sandwiches, I judged sandwiches, I ate all of those sandwiches BY MYSELF. I ate 6 sandwiches today – no lie. See for yourself…

The Purchased Sandwiches

As previously mentioned, the GCI had vendors with sandwiches available for sale (i.e. from the pros who do this for a living). I tried three of them.

Vendor #1: The Grilled Cheese Truck – Cheesy Mac and Rib Melt

I never tried the Grilled Cheese Truck prior to today, but I’ve heard so much about them (and their long lines). When I got in, there was no line so I figured, “What the hell? I’ll buy one.” I tried their specialty – the cheesy mac and rib melt. It was good, albeit a bit mushy; I ate the whole sandwich anyway.

Vendor #2: Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese – The Champ

Chef Greenspan was my must-try for this year’s invitational. He won the whole thing in 2008 with his short rib and tallegio grilled cheese with apricot caper puree. He sold a similar sandwich at his stand today (minus the short ribs). I can see how it could win – a mix of sweet and salty with tons of cheese…I ate his whole sandwich too.

Vendor #3: Chef Mark Peel – Burrata, Olive Oil & Roasted Tomato sandwich

I wasn’t planning on buying another sandwich (I wanted to save the stomach space for the competition) but the lure of fresh burrata was impossible to resist. Not quite a traditional grilled cheese, the cool burrata and the fresh flavor of the tomatoes were a nice intermission to the heavier sandwiches in the day.

The Competition Sandwiches

After eating all three of my purchased sandwiches, I finally made way to the competition zone where the first heat of competitors were already grilling up a storm. I camped out in front of a couple of entries that I found interesting and was able to eat three more sandwiches before calling it quits for the day.

Competitor #1: Cheese Pancake

It’s a shame I can’t remember much about the ingredients in this entry because it was very good. The batter had cheese mixed in and the whole thing was topped with extra sharp cheddar. It was a very savory dish, reminiscent of Brazilian cheese bread rather than a pancake. Although I enjoyed the dish, the competitor, unfortunately, entered in the “Missionary” category (i.e. strict, traditional sandwiches only made of standard cheese, bread and butter) – I couldn’t rank them very highly. (I wanted to though!)

Competitor #2: Chevre Goat Cheese Ice Cream on a Strawberry Sandwich

I saw this stand setting up 15 minutes before their heat started and was so intrigued by the dish that I camped there until I got one. An entry in the “Honey Pot” category (i.e. a sweet grilled cheese), I was happy that the flavor of the goat cheese was heavily infused into the ice cream. The strawberry cookies surrounding the ice cream were moist and still warm from being lightly toasted just prior to assembly.

Competitor #3: “The Afterburn” with a Fried Egg, Avocado, Tomato and Turkey Bacon.

The heaviest sandwich I tried at the GCI (in weight and in flavor), I was happy I ended the day with this. The egg was actually cooked in a hole in the top layer of bread (i.e. “egg in the hole” style), then set aside for a second while the pre-assembled bottom was placed in the pan. Then the whole thing cooked together to mesh into the ultimate breakfast grilled cheese. The turkey bacon didn’t taste like turkey bacon to me at all – it was hearty and tasted of real meat. The cheese had some stretch to it when you bit into the sandwich. And the egg…I love runny yolks, so that was the cherry on top.

———-

…After that sandwich, I had to go home early for fear that I wouldn’t be able to waddle myself back to the car after a seventh one. That was at 3PM so I didn’t get to hear the winners list – I can’t wait til the results are posted!

Now that I’ve figured out the trick behind food festivals, I’m really enjoying them a whole lot more. The 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational was no exception. I had fun out there today, trying all those grilled cheese sandwiches. Kudos to its organizers – you did well this year!

LA Street Food Fest 2010 – Part II: Icing on the Cake

February 13, 2010

Read Part I of my adventures at the LA Street Food Fest here.

(Now for a more objective view of the 2010 LA Street Food Fest.)

Like I said in my prior post, I already considered the day a success after getting my LFC and figured everything else would be icing on the cake. In this case, the icing was deliciously sweet because I had a complete and utter BLAST at this event!

The best way to get around food festivals such as this one is to use the tactic my friends like to call “divide and conquer”: Get a group of people, everyone take a different truck, order 2-3x more than you normally would, then meet back at a specific location and divvy up the goods. Yes, you’ll still get stuck in a line but it’s only one 2-hour line rather than four 2-hour lines and you get at least twice the amount of food.

Based on our “divide and conquer” technique, I was able to taste the following trucks and try their respective goodies:
– Frysmith: kimchi fries, rajas fries, foie gras fries, chili cheese fries
– Dogzilla: karai furikake dog, yakisoba dog, dogzilla dog
– Qzilla: smoked brisket, pulled pork, ribs, Texas toast, smack and cheese
– Mama Koh’s Chicken: chicken wings
– Fishlips: tuna, eel, shrimp, yellowtail
– Buttermilk: red velvet chocolate chip pancake bites.
– Coolhaus: chocolate chip cookie, brown butter candied bacon ice cream
– Del’s Lemonade: frozen lemonade

As you can see, “divide and conquer” works pretty well (to say the least).

Although I had a great time and filled myself up on truck food, I knew pretty early on (i.e. immediately after I got my order of LFC and watched the line grow exponentially in the next 5 minutes) that there was going to be some kind of backlash on “teh internetz” about this event. With the amount of people pouring through the gate, the lines were bound to be long and most people, like me, hate waiting in lines. I also knew that quite a number of people would probably be unaccustomed to food festivals and expect to stroll in at 3PM and get food immediately (which is obviously NOT the case).

Huge crowds + long lines = disgruntled people who will complain.

I knew it was going to get even uglier when I caught news that they were closing down the general admission line due to overcapacity inside. (As someone who was on the inside, I can vouch – it was crowded already.) The next news to hit was that there were delays in the trucks because of health inspections. Both would affect the public’s view of the event and, again, would cause people to complain. (I can already see negativity bubbling in the comments on other people’s blogs and on Yelp.)

Here’s the way I see it:

Yes, it sucks that people had to wait outside for hours and still weren’t allowed in.
Yes, it sucks that people had to wait inside for hours and didn’t get very much food.
I’m not going to lie – it totally sucks.

But think about it from another perspective: This is the first food festival in LA of this size. Name another festival that comes close to reaching the number of people in attendance at the Food Fest today – What, the Tofu festival? BBQ festival? KBBQ festival? I would argue that the LA Street Food Fest is a first for this city. Considering this is its first year, that the turnout was 50-100% larger than anticipated, and given the hiccups caused by the fire marshal and the health inspector and whomever else, I would say the LA Street Food Fest did pretty damn well for itself.

Nothing works perfectly the first time around; it’s only with time and hard lessons that things get better. And I honestly believe that the next time around (and there will be another time around), the event will be bigger and better. I mean, if, in its first year, the LA Street Food Fest has already converted me into a food festival supporter (which is a big deal in and of itself), who knows what else it is capable of?

LA Street Food Fest 2010 – Part I: Operation LFC

February 13, 2010

I haven’t been to very many food festivals in my lifetime…Well, to tell you the truth, I’ve only been to one other. But I learned one VERY important lesson from the Korean BBQ Festival of August 2009:

If you show up late, you WILL wait in line.

Now, if you know anything about me, you’ll know – I’m an impatient girl. I absolutely abhor waiting in lines. And since food festivals equal lines and food trucks equal lines, I had pretty much decided I wasn’t going to go to the 2010 LA Street Food Festival.

…That was, until I heard about Chef Ludo and his LFC (i.e. Ludo Fried Chicken) truck. Once news broke about Ludo, I started to plan – I was going to show up at the crack of dawn (more like 45 minutes before the gates opened) and I was going to go to Ludo’s truck. If I got myself an order of LFC, I would consider the day a success and leave with no remorse. Everything else would be icing on the cake.

So, this morning, I left the house at 10AM with my $10 presale fan ticket in hand and drove the 15 minutes to DTLA. (Note: Presale is a must, especially when you don’t know how general admission is going to look. In this case, it was an extra $5 well spent.) I paid my $5 for parking (the lot was pretty empty at that time), found the side entrance (for fan ticket holders only) and waited. And waited. And waited. But once those gates opened and they checked my name off the list, I RAN. I knew that, with every step, was five people I would beat in line. Lucky for me, Krissy, Ludo’s wife, had posted a picture of Ludo’s beautiful truck on Twitter that morning. I knew EXACTLY what I was looking for: a bright red truck with the coq on it.

(The holy grail.)

I think I was one of the first dozen people in line. No real wait, the chicken was already fried and the trade-off of money for chicken was almost instantaneous.

(Operation LFC: A SUCCESS!)

I found a seat at a nearby table, watching the line quadruple before my eyes. I bit into the chicken and the aromatic flavor of the rosemary filled my mouth. Each piece of chicken was succulent and moist and absolutely perfect. I dunked the chicken, the breading, anything I could get my hands on into the tangy piquillos sauce.

An hour in and the day was already a success. It could only get better…

Read Part II of my adventures at the LA Street Food Fest here.

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