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The Best $500 Dinner of My Life... and Other Eating Adventures at the L.A. Food & Wine Festival

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meals on wheels gets a check

Sister Alice of St. Vincent's Meals on Wheels gets a $400,000 check from L.A. Food & Wine Festival participants.

Anyone remotely interested in food and wine will know that this past weekend saw the 2nd Annual Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival take over this city in a frenzy of gourmet eating-and-drinking events, the culmination of a summer of food festivals, which seemed to be never-ending. (Well, another big one erupts on Labor Day weekend when the Los Angeles Times has its three-day extravaganza at the Paramount Studio, but that should be it for a while.

Oh, yes, there is the Lemonade charity event which Suzanne Tracht and friends hold in late September, and then there's the Special Olympics' Pier de Sol gala on Sunday morning, October 14 (of which I am a restaurant board member). As a faithful chronicler of such worthy events, I have attended almost all of them, about a dozen, beginning with the Concern Cancer benefit in early June at the Paramount Studio, where 2,500 people paid $350 a ticket to wander around the backstage grounds and eat-and-drink themselves into oblivion, raising several million dollars in the process for research into the insidious disease.

I dutifully attended the Saban Clinic's event at the Columbia Studio. It's a group that I am inordinately fond of because of what they do to serve the health needs of less fortunate members of our city's population. (My friends, the late Joseph and Caroline Sargent, helped found it and Haim Saban and his wife have made it into the powerful helper it is today.) I went to the Jonathan Club at the beach to celebrate a Food & Wine frolic, which the remarkable Joan Wrede held there for St. Vincent's Meals of Wheels, another charity which is close to my heart, furnishing 4,700 meals each day to indigent and senior residents of our city, as well as many hungry school kids.

I greeted Sister Alice Marie Quinn and consumed some of Mako's treats as we talked about his and Dennis Maoi's Robata-Ya on Sawtelle, my favorite little grilled Jidori chicken skewer joint. A truly wonderful, massive event at the Pacific Design Center hosted by the irrepressible and resolute Barbara Lazaroff and Sherry Lansing was also for St. Vincent's Meals of Wheels. It was a new celebration spinoff from the former American Food & Wine event, which for 27 years had been hosted by Wolfgang Puck and Barbara Lazaroff at the Universal Studios back lot, raising over $14 million in the process.

Bouchon chef Rory Herrmann stole the show

Bouchon Chef Rory Herrmann stole the show at the Montage dinner with his beef dish.

As a result of the split, the annual Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival came into being -- a for-profit venture by the two guys, David Alan Bernahl II and Rob Weakley, who hold the very successful Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival each year. They joined with Wolf on the new venture and I attended the ceremony a few months ago when they presented Sister Sam with a check for $400,000 for St. Vincent's Meals on Wheels.

Their partners in this festival are AEG, the downtown colossus of L.A. Live and the Staples Center, and Orly Adelson's Dick Clark Productions; very active despite the recent passing of the namesake founder. And Food & Wine Magazine joins with Lexus to complete the circle. In coming days I'll be telling my readers some of the highlights of this astonishing festival, including the amazing Wolfgang Puck cooking demonstration which amused and amazed several hundred hungry observers. But today I will detail a very special dinner which Montage Hotels hosted at their Beverly Hills stronghold. It was a Delicacy Dinner, sponsored by DFS, the people who have all those airport shops selling exquisite wines and spirits, for which several hundred people paid $500 a person for the privilege of eating and drinking some of the most delicious and awe-inspiring food on the planet.

marinated bay scallops superb

Marinated bay scallops with caviar kicked off the splendid dinner.

The meal began with a dish from my chef friend, Kris Morningstar of Ray's & Stark Bar, and I turned to my companion, journalist Linda Burum, and said that I had never before tasted scallops with the soft flavor of these marinated bay scallops. Topped with dollops of caviar, smoked tomato jelly and avocado cream, with a few shreds of crispy potatoes, it was an auspicious start. A Gruner Veltliner from Hirtzberger, Smaragd Honivogl 2010 was the crispy white wine served. The second course was a striking one: Ocean Rose Red Abalone from Santa Barbara. Chef John Cox of the Post Ranch Inn served the thin shellfish slices with smoked kelp along with locally foraged seaweeds, and yes... you could actually taste the sea in the wisps of real seaweed. Unique. I wanted more of the abalone. A California white was served, Clenndenen Family "Le Bon Climat" Vineyard's 2008 Chardonnay. I preferred the first Austrian wine.

abalone and seaweed

Red abalone is sheltered with shreds of locally foraged seaweed.

In conjunction with Montage Chef Gregory Ask, their Scarpetta Chef Scott Conant served the best pasta I have ever had from his kitchens, a Lumache Agnoletti, with chanterelles and truffle-spinach puree. A Paul Jaboulet Aine, Hermitage La Chapelle 2006 was a rather unusual, almost overwhelming choice for the gentle pasta. Then came the hit of the evening: a red meat dish, which I dreamed about while falling asleep later. "Calotte de Boeuf Grille" was a grilled calotte of prime beef with 'tongue-and-cheek presse,' Oh, my, Bouchon's Chef Rory Herrmann hit it out of the ballpark with this dish. The red with the meat was a Hundred Acre "Ark" cabernet 2009, a match for the hearty beef.

grilled beef-the hit of th evening

Bouchon's grilled beef dish was, for me, the hit of the evening.

I told my friend of an astonishing beef dish which I had at lunch that very day at Livello, the stunning new restaurant at L'Ermitage Hotel in Bevery Hills, where Chef Joseph Elevado and Levi Mezick of Restaurant 1833 had served us a Snake Rover Farms kobe beef steak of unparalleled sweetness of flavor, which had the whole room talking. Now, at our Montage dinner, we ended with a plate of sweets from Michael Mina's pastry chef, Lincoln Carson: Tainori Chocolate Delice, with cherry, caramel, and hibiscus. Surprise drinks accompanied the desserts... a 40-year-old Sandeman Tawny Port (awesome) and... a beaker of Johnny Walker Blue Label, the ultimate whisky for whisky-drinkers like me.

dessert

The chocolate dessert from Michael Mina's pastry chef.

all the chefs who prepared the dinner

All of the chefs who worked tirelessly to prepare the wonderful dinner.

Montage dining room

A view of the Montage dining room with its sated diners.

Yes my friends, for a worthy charity I would spend $500 for a dinner of this superb quality. As a gent at my table said, "Where can you eat and drink food of this incredible quality and feel good doing so?"

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