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Taste of Beverly Hills - The First Night!

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I live in Beverly Hills, a relatively small community surrounded by the sprawling mass that is Los Angeles. A little research shows that some 30,000+ people are residents here, about 50% of them Democrats and 25% Republicans, which makes it a liberal enclave. Celebrating its 104th birthday on October 22nd, it boasts of the fact that it is the most expensive housing market in the United States, with a median home price of $2.2 million, ranging from the luxurious, extravagant (sometimes obscenely so) domiciles north of Sunset Blvd. to the many smaller duplex rental units and detached houses south of Wilshire Boulevard. To the world, it is probably best known for a TV show with the zip code 90210 and the annual Golden Globes TV show held in the Spring at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. (Which Conrad Hilton opened in 1953, with my friend Fred Hayman as its banquet manager. Fred went on to found the legendary Giorgio's clothing emporium on Rodeo Drive.) Underneath the city is a large pool of oil, which is pumped out 24 hours a day via four pumping stations hidden behind windowless buildings around the city. Some 6,000 residents who own mineral rights to their property collect royalties for the oil.

Wolf

Wolfgang Puck tasting Spanish cheese at the Beverly Hills event.

If I have my way - and yes, I intend to - my small city will soon be famed for another achievement, The Taste of Beverly Hills Festival. The first such event, sponsored by Food & Wine Magazine, is being held this Labor Day weekend. Four days of food, fun, music and mayhem. Held on the tented roof of the parking garage opposite the Beverly Hilton Hotel, within walking distance of my humble abode, I plan to attend all four nights and several daytime events. No, it won't match the size and splendor of Wolfgang Puck's Meals on Wheels gala coming up on September 25th (nothing can quite equal that wonderful food fest), but in some small way the Beverly Hills party is already a huge success and precursor of many more to come.

Todd Jihnson

Lawry's The Prime Rib General Manager Todd Johnson plating a prime beef sandwich.

I admit that, when I first heard about it, I was somewhat skeptical about its potential. Would people come out on Labor Day weekend? Would a competing event from the Los Angeles Times on Sunday hurt attendance? Would people pay a hundred plus dollars a ticket to attend a celebration in these perilous times? But the moment I walked into the enormous venue on Thursday evening and saw the crowds, I knew we were in for a fabulous party. On a space the size of three football fields, the event managers had constructed two enormous tented enclosures with two large stages for entertainment and fifty tables scattered around. There was Chef Wolfgang Puck himself, handing out bottles of his new Wolfgang Puck Iced Coffee to eager party-goers. I put mine in my backpack for later consumption. Since I wasn't driving, I was ready for a cocktail. (No, I don't drink and drive.) But I was keenly aware of today's press report that moderate drinkers live longer than abstainers or heavy drinkers. My supposition is that alcohol is associated with social interaction, which is important for physical and mental health. The big question is the definition of 'moderate.'

Beverly Hilton

A Beverly Hlton chef preparing delectable lobster dumplings.

At some point in the evening, the Kardashians arrived en masse and I moved to the opposite end of the site. Only to encounter the new cast of the series 90210, so there was no place to hide. But I did enjoy seeing Larry King honored for... whatever? And hearing a new song called "90210 Beverly Hills" composed by Hal David and Charlie Fox, sung by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. However, the food and drink were the highlights of the evening, and I will tell you some of the most memorable things which I greedily consumed. Probably the most popular booth was that of Lawry's The Prime Rib, the Beverly Hills eatery on La Cienega which is so ingrained in the meat-loving sensibilities of L.A. natives that it is the first stop to which I take foreign visitors to the city. It's all downhill after that prime rib experience... and tonight General Manager Todd Johnson and his team were dishing out succulent sandwiches of ruby red beef, some 400 pounds of it by the end of the night. I then stopped at the Bouchon Bistro space to embrace Chef Rory Hermann, and enjoyed a melon-and-cheese aromatic salad which was somewhat unique and actually delicious.

kimmy

Chef Kimmy Tang of 9021PHO served up a delicious beefy pho beef broth with noodles.

Teroni pasta

My first taste of wonderful Terroni pasta.

The Beverly Wilshire Hotel was represented by The Boulevard Restaurant, and I met the new chef who has just come here from Spain, Perfecto Rocher, who served up a sort of paella in a five foot pan... the dish was so exquisite that I went back for doubles (actually triples, but who is counting?)... fideua, a pasta much like orzo but larger grains, infused with squid ink to make it inky black and saturated with crunchy shrimp... "my Catalan grandmother's recipe," he told me... and I dreamed about its inky flavor before falling asleep. The Grill in Beverly Hills made its legendary short ribs, served atop a bed of mashed potatoes, and I told a woman elbowing me in the line that it was the most popular dish on their extensive menu. As I circled the large tent, my eyes were struck by the Beverly Hilton ensemble, and I asked their chef if I could have some of the lobster dumplings in a bag to take home... to my cat, I said, but you know whose stomach they went into by the time my evening ended.

Boulevard

The new chef, Perfecto Rocher, at The Boulevard Restaurant at the Beverly Wilshire, serving his squid ink pasta with shrimp.

I'm not a big drinker but they were serving my favorite flavored spirit, something called Canton Ginger and Cognac Liqueur, and I was sipping that in between bites of food. Oh, yes, the tiny Vietnamese woman, Kimmy Tang, who two years ago gave me the rare, hundred-year old jade Buddha which I always wear around my neck (it brings luck to those who wear it or rub its stomach), has opened a place in Beverly Hills called 9021PHO (490 N. Beverly Drive) and was serving small bowls of her fabulous beefy broth, called pho, with rice noodles. A bowl or two of that, a plate of Celestino Drago's pasta, and I was ready for dessert.

James Overbaugh

Chef James Overbaugh of the Peninsula Hotel restaurant serving up his dish.

Dragobros

The Drago brothers, Chef Celestino and Giacometti, served up their delicious Italian food.

However I was directed to a large tent at the side of the roof where the Persian/Iranian community of Beverly Hills had taken its own separate site... and it was enormously enticing and interesting. According to a NPR article I just read, some 20% of the population of Beverly Hills is Iranian-American, and 40% of the students in its school are of that origin, as is its Mayor, Jimmy Delshad. Tonight the Farhang Foundation, a non-religious, non-political and not-for-profit group had organized this display, and between the exotic dancers, the large food display, and the tastes of Persian delights, I spent an engaging hour there.

Persian dancer

A Persian dancer at the Iranian-American pavilion.

Iranan food

Serving Iranian/Persian food to a hungry crowd of diners.

At which point I hobbled home, fed my cat some of the lobster dumpling, emptied my pockets of all the cards and brochures I had collected... and wearily climbed into bed. Had to get my rest... for tomorrow evening is another Taste of Beverly Hills party!

To subscribe to Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter ($70 for 12 monthly issues), email him at jayweston@sbcglobal.net.