09/08/2010 12:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Taste of Beverly Hills -- A Summation & Surprise!

Caviar. Gobs of it, served on tiny blinis with a dab of crème fraiche. "We used about ten kilos of Northern California White Sturgeon tonight, " said Chef Benjamin Bailly of Petrossian, the fine dining and caviar emporium on Robertson. It was towards the end of TASTE OF BEVERLY HILLS' Saturday night party, the third evening of this very successful event. After garnering two such dollops, I walked across the aisle to Chef Kerry Simon's SIMON LA booth to sample his startling offering: a Maine Lobster and Black Truffle Pot Pie, served in a small ceramic cup, with a morsel of the season's first sunchoke, green peas and oyster mushrooms. Both were not something you would usually see at a food festival, but this was not an ordinary event... not by a long shot. As I reported in my HuffPost last week about opening night, the four day/night TASTE OF BEVERLY HILLS, sponsored by Food & Wine Magazine, confounded all of its participants and guests by being so much more than expected. And how often can you say that about anything these days?

I've never met the guy, Jeff Best of Best Events, behind the project, but he must be something of a magician to have created this massive and delicious wonderment. The site itself turned out to be astonishing... atop the parking garage across from the Beverly Hilton, they build two huge spacious tents the size of football fields, abetted by several stages and acres of tables and seating. Then he and his associates enrolled over a hundred of the city's top (and bottom) restaurants to participate, with an equal number of wineries and spirit companies. (Mescal, spicy rum, Prosecca anyone?)

I suppose a word of praise should be offered to the half-dozen main sponsors who came into the event: Life's Good (I agree that it is, but I never expected a high-tech garbage can company to tell me so!); there were several smart Infinity cars scattered about the site, all attended by equally smart blond women demonstrating their features (those of the car, not the women); American Express had a comfortable lounge where cardholders could relax and rest their feet; Stella Artois, a Belgian beer which actually is quite good, had a big display with working spigots; the Beverly Hilton, of course, although I do have a bone to pick with them, raising the self-parking rate in the garage to a flat $25 was outrageous; Angelino Magazine, whose food critic Brad Johnson had an esteemed event of his own recently; Intelligensia, Nick Griffith's fine coffee company in Silverlake and Pasadena; and S. Pellegrino, which I drank because my favorite, Fiji Water, doesn't yet have a sparkling water.

The city's mayor, the Honorable Jimmy Delshad, was instrumental in making it work, which should earn him another term or two, especially after witnessing his comedy performance with three of the Drago brothers at their cooking demonstration Sunday evening. P.R. maven Mary Wagstaff, whose fabulous platoon of women did a smashing job in telling the world about the party, informed me that the Beverly Hills Education Foundation will receive some of the proceeds. Tickets averaged $150 each evening, which seems high but, hey, this was an expensive big deal all around and no one went home hungry or thirsty (which is more than we can say about much of the world.)

About ten minutes into the final evening, legendary Chef Walter Manzke (Bastide, Church & State, and a soon-to-open venue) walked by me and whispered into my ear: "The best food tonight is being served at three little taco stands beside the band shell." Someday I will tell you of my search for the best fish tacos in California, so that was all I had to hear. Literally running, I viewed a wondrous sight: thee small taco stands and a Mexican 'shawarma' station had been set up in a remote corner of the enclave. A casual friend, Bill Esparza, musician and blogger - - had arranged for these four vendors from the hidden eastside streets of our city to grace us with their presence tonight. One of them had been serving up tacos on a street corner in Boyle Heights for 20 years 'til the police closed him and others down; now they had a taco bodega there. One of the three taco stands was Connie Cossio's Maricos Chente in Inglewood, who said she was serving the best and most authentic Nayarit-style Mexican seafood in the U.S., while the last one now had a food truck. The 'shawarma' guy had a long vertical pole wrapped in pork slowing turning around a blazing grill... he sliced off a few morsels, onto a hot griddle, added some shreds of cheese, and deftly handed me a wrapped torta. I eagerly consumed three very different shrimp tacos, vowed my lasting affection to the entire grinning group... and retreated back to the main area of the festival just as the crowd descended upon them. I picked up a juicy, spicy meatball along the way from Garden Grove's Rancho Rocke BBQ & Catering, where owner Brandon Rocke told me that they mostly catered tailgate events from their truck

I'll roam through my memories (and ignore my aching feet and full stomach) to tell you of the highlights of the extraordinary weekend. I didn't make any of the daytime events, which is understandable, although I would have liked to have been at Sunday's pie-baking contest, where a 15-year-old girl who had never baked before won second prize against seasoned professionals for a pie she made from a magazine recipe. Most memorable description of a dish being offered: Chef Ray Garcia of Fig, the restaurant in a beach hotel, celebrated Bacon on Bacon, a cube of fatty pork belly wrapped in a smoked bacon strip... but he ameliorated it with some greens on the plate. In that vein, Chef Jason Smith of Church & State, that magnificent downtown bistro, served Pork Shank Croquette with sauerkraut/mustard, but the chef in handing it out said it's really a pig's foot dumpling. So good. With one exception I'll mention, there was no Chinese food that I could find; two Vietnamese, but I assume that few ethnic restaurants could foot the bill for such an evening as it is not an inconsequential expense to participate on this scale. I was pleased to see my favorite Thai place, Talesai, participating; the young owner, Kris, was handing out Green papaya salad with skewered Thai boxing chicken and filet mignon satay. Another vey good Thai restaurant, Soi 56 Bangkok, on Cahuenga in Hollywood, had an Issan Northern Thai dish. Dueling octopus dishes: The Raymond in Pasadena offering tidbits of grilled octopus, but Chef Mirko Paderno of Oliverio in the Avalon Hotel on Olympic Boulevard in BevHills excelled with large tentacles of Spanish octopus, grilling them for 45 minutes 'til tender and offering two inch cuts to a somewhat skeptical crowd. My buddies from WP 24, Wolfgang's brilliant take on authentic Chinese food in downtown's Ritz-Carlton Hotel, were dishing up some wonderful items; Chef David McIntyre handed me a meltingly-soft bao bun with a slice of juicy duck nestled into its folds, while Pastry Chef Sally Camacho gave me a sweet for later. No one neglected the sweets part of the menu: Nancy Silverton and David Rossoff of Mozza had cups of their incredible butterscotch budino, of which there is no better. On Sunday night, Sprinkles Cupcakes drove in their truck to dispense many flavors of cupcakes.

I've described my passion for the prime rib at Lawry's, and on Sunday night they were back with same, the hard-working, delightful Deidy filling buns with slices of that rare red prime beef. On two nights, my new best friend, Chef Perfecto Rocher (don't you just love that name!), he of The BLVD in the Beverly Wilshire, had his five foot paella pan full of Fideua, originally from Valencia, Spain, reworking the paella recipe with orzo-like noodles, squid ink and shrimp. Don't start 'cause you can't stop. As I sipped his gazpacho, I promised Peter Garland of BevHill's Porta Via that I would stop by this month 'cause my ex has been raving about the food. A handsome fellow named Pasquale from Il Cielo, that romantic garden spot on Burton Way, gave me a plate of homemade Pappardelle with white truffle sauce and then insisted on shaving a slather of black truffles atop it, explaining that the white truffles were not in season. Giacomino Drago gently admonished me for misspelling his name in my previous report, but he forgave me when I told him how much I loved lunching at his fabulous Il Pastaio several days a week. Gino and Elizabeth Angelini know of my passion for his lasagna, so she cut me a big corner slice with lots of crunchy crust and I was in heaven for a long moment.

Spago's newly-elevated Chef de Cuisine Tetsu Yahago and Exec. Pastry Chef Sherry Yard sent me home with a bag of cookies, while Cut's Ari Rosenson and Mishel LeDoux gave me a wonderful steak slider. Melissa's Nancy Eisman made me eat some her wonderful, healthy salad. Oh, I must make note of the Raw Bar which Chef David LeFevre of The Water Grill set up on Saturday evening, because he was shelling some of the most amazing oysters I have had in years, a new-to-me species from Baja California which were meaty, briny and delicious. As I watched him coax a young man into eating his first bivalve, I was reminded of the old saying, "The bravest man in the world was the first man to eat an oyster!"

Were there things I didn't particularly like? Sure, certain dishes and foods were not to my taste, a duck 'shawarma' from a local restaurant had a tough wrapping, a certain famous deli's brisket was industrial-quality, a few salads were poor excuses for gourmet food. (Although a woman named Debbie served up a delicious salad bearing her name: finely chopped turkey, salami, Swiss cheese, red onions, avocado, cukes, tomatoes and mixed greens. Ymm.) A nice downtown diner had Maple syrup bacon donut holes, as weird tasting as it sounds. And the wonderful Wurstküche offered a rattlesnake-rabbit sausage from Texas which was, well, unusual.

All in all it was a magnificent tribute to my city, Beverly Hills, the bright shining dream of what all America communities aspire to be and rarely achieve. I can't wait 'til next year's event; it will be a doozy.

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