Am I the only on who thinks the expression, "The First Annual LA Food & Wine Festival" is an oxymoron? It is either 'the first ... event' or the second annual event... but not both. Apart from that, The First Annual L.A. Food & Wine Festival was a ravishing success, ending on a wonderful high note with Wolfgang Puck's debut of his food service stint at the newly-refurbished ($100 million) Hotel Bel Air. Serving one of the best meals I have ever eaten (yes!), Chef Puck hosted a charity feed/auction on Sunday afternoon at the hotel, and we will devote a separate Huffington Post article to it and the hotel opening shortly. It proved to be one high point of a four-day succession of 70 events ranging from Santa Monica to the AEG/LA Live/Staple Center fulcrum downtown. Over a hundred celebrity chefs and three hundred wineries participated, and fun and frolic was had by all while the St. Vincent Meals on Wheels charity benefited to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars. All of this was orchestrated by two enterprising young men with a vision and determination which proved to be indominable. David Bernahl and Rob Weakley of Coastal Luxury Management Group elaborated upon their past experience doing the Pebble Beach food and wine event to make this "first annual" LA one a massive success. Our recent Huffington Post article detailed my dining and drinking at the opening night Red Carpet party, but it was the rest of the weekend which defined the successful totality of the event.
There were a dozen Friday lunches all over town, but I chose to attend the one at Wolfgang's CUT Steak House in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel because it was being cheffed by resident chef Ari Rosenson and visiting guest buddy Paul Bartolotta, formerly of the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. Michel Le Doux, manager of Cut, oversaw the passing of hor d'oevres in the bar, and sommelier Dana Farner poured some delicious wines, but what I remember most is Ari's amazing home-made Kobe beef pastrami with gruyere cheese on dark rye toast points. While it may not have had the fatty mouth-taste qualities of the world's best pastrami, from Langer's at 7th and Alvardo, (yes it is!), it was far better than Nate 'n Al's up the street. Paul first served a Sicilian amberjack with anchovy sauce, interesting, then agnoletti Piedmontese, ravioli with butter and sage. The highlight of the lunch was Snake River Farm's beef cheeks and grilled New York steak slices from Chef Ari. Had the pleasure of sitting with Chappellet Vineyard's hospitality director, Candice Pannetier, who was pouring their Cabernet... and told her of my dating Alexis Chappellet when we were both much younger. Chef Floyd Cardoz of Danny Meyer's now-closed Indian restaurant, Tabla was sitting at the next table, next to Wolf's lovely wife, Gelila, whom I would meet up with again on Sunday with Sidney Poitier and Paul Anka. Floyd told me he and Danny would soon be opening the North End Grill in Manhattan. Kathy Griffin was walking around snapping pictures as everyone snapped her photo. Cut is a lovely, airy place and I regretted having slammed the Richard Meier design when it opened, calling it a Long Island diner. Either it has mellowed or I have.
Friday night was the exclusive, expensive ($500 a tix) dinner at the Montage Hotel ballroom honoring Chef Daniel Boulud, and it quickly sold out. I may have been tired, food-weary, whatever... but I found the five-course, three-hour+ meal to be a monumental bore, even though many chefs and wineries paid worthy tribute to the charming French chef. LAFW co-founder David Bernahl tried mightily to enliven the evening. He's big, booming, smart and a funny speaker, and he said it all: "Chef Daniel is an artist, a chef, a mentor, a father, a friend, a philanthropist and an all-around outstanding individual." Many of the chefs in the kitchen tried to emulate some of his dishes, the most successful being Bouchon Bistro's Rory Herrmann, who started us with a Dungeness Crab Salad topped with Santa Barbara sea urchin (my passion) and dotted with pickled mushrooms, Fuji apple and young celery leaves. Paul Bartolotta (him again) did another far-out fish (for L.A.), this time red mullet with Ligurian olives. The third course came from Boulud's "burger" buddy," and they good-naturedly ribbed each other about eating burgers "without ketchup at Sang Yoon's Father's Kitchen. (I like their burgers but hate their attitude.) He served a seared tenderloin of Iberico de Bellota pork with a sliver of pig's ear and black garlic. (I liked the look of his new Helms Bakery place, Lukshon, but was not enchanted with the food.) Patina's Tony Esnault served the final entrée course of venison loin with a sauce poivrade. Venison should be rare, and my slice was well-done, but it was still a delicious entree. The dessert, from Boulud collaborator Francois Payard, was superb: a Roasted Pear with brown butter ice cream and pecans. Didn't think the wines were outstanding, except for the Chateau Palmer 2001. (The Au Bon Climat Pinot was oaky.) Again, a lovely man (who likes to dance on tables holding a bottle of champagne) being honored, but it was the length of a Jewish wedding... and I've been to many of them. As I left, he gripped my hand, rubbed the stomach of the rare jade Buddha I always wear around my neck, and said, "May the only pain you have be the pain in champagne." That was nice.
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