LA Times The Taste - A Thicc Girl's Heaven
I get invited to a lot of events, which is great. I love free sh*t. But when my friend Laura Barrett invited me to the Los Angeles Times THE Taste event, I knew I was on a whole new level. I knew it would be the best thing I have ever been invited to so far in my career, or maybe even my whole life.
Upon entering, the first booth was for Bai, a flavored water with a huge marketing budget, which finds itself at a lot of events. Personally, I don't love the product, but I have a pretty strong aversion to anything that tastes like Splenda. Some people don't mind. I do. What I minded most of all was their Photo Booth set up, which was a background with a pair of wings, modeled after the ridiculous angel wing murals, popularized by non-"influencers" on Instagram and synonymous with the desperation for a higher follower count. Somehow, I knew that even with this undesirable intro, I was embarking on something so much, much more beautiful.
After a few more steps, we were greeted with tent after tent, illuminated by dangling lights over the corridors. It was quite romantic for a rather gluttonous, all-you-can-eat and drink concept that I was thrilled to be a part of.
Our first stop was Border Grill. Their taste included a nice little roundabout of something sweet and savory. I'm not into a lot of sweets, but I tried the empanada anyway, and for someone who likes these flavors, they did do a nice job. I made sure not to eat the crust, because who wants to fill up on a flavorless fried dough in the midst of a million heavenly morsels? For the savory taste, we sampled a chorizo wrapped scotch egg. I would eat another, but I couldn't stop asking myself why the egg wasn't soft boiled. I fantasized about the buttery creaminess missing from this dish.
After running around and sampling a few wines to get the juices flowing, we decided to start on a side street, in hopes of beating the lines a bit. We were, I'd say, mostly wrong (but it's fine!). Our first stop: Firefly. I've heard of this place and always thought it to be an okay spot in Studio City, but I rarely venture to The Valley and mostly just knew that Firefly exists and that is all. I looked down at the clear cups to see little round, fried brown nuggets. I discovered the chalk board to the left, which described precisely what each restaurant would be serving up. FRIED OLIVES. Having never heard of such a thing, I examined the clear plastic cup. Beneath the olives, a smattering of creme fraiche with little bits of herbs beckoned me to come a bit closer. Upon further investigation, Laura and I discovered that this was already going to be the most difficult dish to beat. The undeniable tang paired of the olives with the freshness of the fraiche (lol I'm so clever) and the lightly fried (not greasy at all), perfect crunch would be hard to beat.
Next up, the line for Pearl's BBQ curved around and interfered with the line next to it. We knew we would have to wait and try this as well. There are not a ton of BBQ options in Los Angeles, but in the past few years, some good ones have risen. When we finally approached the table, we were greeted with a nice, colorful little plate. They provided not only a sampling of beef, but also a little pile of a great potato salad, a bite of pickle, some incredible pickled red onion, and a smearing of wonderfully vinegary barbecue sauce.
I'm going to be completely honest in telling you that when I walked by a booth named "Poppy + Rose", my expectations were not high, especially once I noticed that they were passing out, of all things, fried chicken. I cannot lie to you and tell you that "Poppy + Rose" doesn't connote the most Abbot Kinney-Lulu Lemon-Namaste vibes possible. I can't lie to you and say that I wasn't terrified of a hipster fried chicken. Nobody likes a hipster fried chicken, do they? I want my chicken to be full of soul and seasonings. After the few moments it took to separate a piece of fried chicken with a plastic fork on a small plate with my giant iPhone 6 Plus in a huge case in the other hand and put that bite in my mouth, I knew I had judged a book by it's mustached and bespectacled cover. Perfectly battered in a golden, not-greasy crust and epically moist on the inside, Poppy + Rose was a hit. I also happened to really enjoy the bed of mashed potatoes and a light but flavorful gravy that the chicken rested on top of (and let me tell you--I make the best mashed potatoes in the world!). I checked the website and P+R has a great happy hour, particularly on Thursdays. I will be dreaming about it until then.
Next, my eyes fixated on tiny wooden boats filled with a colorful slaw at Kasih. "It's vegan!" a man behind the table exclaimed as I picked up my tiny wooden boat. That did not particularly excite me, as I prefer to not restrict anything in my life. I hate rules and I'd rather just make my own decisions on a case-by-case basis. In one bite, I knew I had found one of the best dishes at Taste Los Angeles. This Indonesian slaw was loaded with spice and peanut flavoring. Although vegan and full of vegetables, the richness of the flavors and smells made it a vey filling and satisfying dish. Next to me, three white women yelled "It's too spicy!" and an internet meme came to life.
We turned around and saw Mayura Indian Restaurant. Their plates offered a taste of the classic chicken tikka masala, a vegetable stew, some na'an, and a spongy, gluten-free bread of some sort. They were the only booth I saw advertising anything gluten-free, thank the LORD, but on the other hand, who is going to go to an all you can eat food festival like this one if they are gluten free? Good, because this spongey bread was certainly nothing to write home about. The chicken tikka masala was fine, but not memorable. The best thing on my plate was definitely the vegetable stew. I found this Indian food to be strangely bland,. although I actually wonder if the restaurant altered their level of spice to please the demographic that would attend this festival. I'll stick to my favorite all-you-can-eat Indian lunch buffet in Silverlke.
As we approached the last leg of the booths, we realized we were starting to get full. I'm talking REALLY full. I haven't necessarily documented every stop we made for a sip of wine or a small cocktail, but since it was Laura and I, we made more than a few stops. I read the sign for the Pacific Dining Car, a classic upscale Los Angeles restaurant whose name conjures up some Old Hollywood feelings and makes me feel like I need a fedora to approach. As soon as I noticed that the chalk board said "Fillet Mignon and Crab Cake", I didn't need that fedora anymore. The filet was good, even though it was unfortunately served a bit cooler than I would have liked, and the crab cake was really excellent. Crab cakes are so hit or miss and a bad one is just depressing. Even though I was starting to feel a little nauseous from overeating (that's what you're supposed to do at a food fest), I didn't skip a crumb.
Post Pacific Dining Car, I was ready to tap out. I skimmed the signs on the last few booths, and luckily,. they were mostly wine, which I had already consumed enough of. Then I saw it--Citizen Mustard. Before I had enough time to process the bizarre name, I saw the most beautiful desserts I had seen all night. Although I don't love sweets, and don't even like them if they aren't chocolate, I couldn't help but to appreciate the tiny, gorgeous Meyer lemon bars in front of me. Beside them stood two dozen singular balls with a small wooden stick standing erect. I tend to like anything ball-shaped, so I popped it in my mouth before eyeing the sign that said "wild mushroom croquette"...and the sign that said "plant-based". These tiny balls packed an unforgettable, deep, savory mushroom flavor. Often times, people attempt to use mushrooms to try to make people forget about meat, but also forget to season and bring out the earthy flavor they offer us when properly prepared. "Oh wow!" I exclaimed. "I'm definitely not plant-based, but these are incredible!" The kind lady behind the table smiled and thanked me. She was completely humble and warm. Deep inside, she knew she was offering some of the best bites at the festival.
I can't end this review without mentioning my final tasting. I regret to say that at this point, I was so incredibly stuffed and uncomfortable, I couldn't give the most gorgeous plate at the entire festival the respect it deserved. Avec Nous served up an absolutely stunning piece of duck bacon garnished with a caviar made out of vanilla infused egg yolk. At this point, I could only nibble a bit around the edges and consume a few tiny vanilla balls, but I can say that this was the most unique, creative, and prettiest plates served on Saturday night.
I hope to one day be perceived by others how I perceived that plate from Avec Nous—with wonder and reverie.