It was a sweltering doozie on the weekend for the epicurean fest of feasts, but that didn’t stop the consuming masses. From festivals, cooking demos, tastings, lunches, dinners, after-parties, to after after-parties (if you had access), it would require time travel to cover it all. For many, it was not simply a choice of where to go, but what was not already sold out. And, the lucky ones were treated to plenty of libations, and culinary bites prepared by celebrity chefs both locally and from across the country.
For me, it boiled down to what would fit into my schedule, and so I attended two on opposite ends of town on separate days, each providing a very different experience of the event as a whole.
Friday Evening - Summer at the Shore (Ticket prices: $150 and $450 VIP - Sold Out)
The theme alone had me won over with notions of fish, seafood and California coastal cuisine, hosted at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. The staging of the event over the two parking lots, likely due to necessity, provided a level of intimacy for the evening crowd to mix, mingle, and consume. It’s difficult to say whether it lived up to everyone’s expectations. I can’t say it did for me. But, I was rather impressed by three participants.
Now if this was the Olympics and I was a judge voting on creativity, execution, and overall presentation, plus taste, Graham Elliott would take home the gold medal. The Chicago chef and restauranteur (Grahamwich, Graham Elliott) prepared a most inventive creation complimented by a beautiful table presentation to match. Entitled The Edible Pacific, and offered up in a sea urchin shell, it looked anything but edible, and more like it had been scooped up at the beach, sand and all. After a little encouragement, Graham happily gave up the recipe. That imitation sand? Well, it was no small effort. He used panko crumbs, toasted to 3 different shades, combined with a chicken broth reduction. Mixed together, and voilà, savoury sand! Add in fresh uni (aka sea urchin), ahi tuna, dungeoness crab, and 3 types of seaweed, topped with ocean froth, and it becomes the tastiest beach you’ve ever had.
Awarded the silver, Joe’s Stone Crab out of Miami, who presented three wonderful samplers, representative of the menu at the 99 year old South Beach staple. Imagine watermelon ball stuffed with smoked rib mousse (huh?), coleslaw slurry, bbq sauce, tequila lime salt (made in house), and mustard greens. Next up, Joe’s famous crab claws, and there was no skimping on supply. Finally, their pièce de résistance, Joe’s coconut clam bake made with care by two of Joe’s fun loving cooks. Ingredients included Cuban potato, Florida corn, chorizo, Florida lobster, Florida rock shrimp, and Florida clams that were cooked in a coconut lime broth finished with a tequila lime infusion, and served in a bulbous container which reminded me of a miniature fish bowl. It was all yummm, and I wasn’t the only one patiently lining up for more.
Now, I think I’d have to give the bronze to a surprising sweet & savory from Locando del Lago in Santa Monica. Have you ever desired to make eggplant into a dessert? No? It might be time to reconsider. Chef Gianfranco Minuz and team were serving up a scoop of eggplant gelato alongside a scoop of ricotta cheese, which looked like vanilla bean ice cream to us curious goers. The temperature contrast between the gelato and ricotta, the smoothness of both, and the delicate flavour, was doing a little dessert dance on my palette. I would’ve needed to sample it again to figure out what it was reminding me of, although gourmet pastry or doughnut was coming to mind. If you’re not into sweet desserts, this would be one to enjoy, and Chef Gianfranco might do well to add this one to his restaurant menu.
There were a number sampling disappointments, Fonuts ran out many of their vegan treats and ice creams, and the music was ok. The pluses were spending a hot summer’s evening outdoors near the ocean, friendly participants, and the standout dishes as mentioned above.
If you would like to continue reading my review, please go to Part 2.