Would you spend $500 for a dinner at a former cathedral? My answer was a resounding yes since the dinner was mainly being cooked by a famed French chef, Pierre Gagnaire, of whom I am a huge fan. The culmination on Saturday night of the enormously-successful 4th Annual L.A. Food and Wine Festival was this private dinner for a hundred affluent foodies (and a handful of comped festival affiliates, media and friends) at a stunning site to which I had never been....Vibiana, the former Los Angeles Cathedral. This stately building had been the victim of the 1994 earthquake and declared unsafe for human occupancy, so after a long and fierce battle with the city, the faithful have moved to a new site of worship and the cathedral has now been retrofitted for commercial occupancy. When David Bernahl's Coastal Management people, operators of the festival, were looking for a location for their special closing-night dinner, this beautiful building was the perfect choice. The building's proprietors told me that, comes October 3rd, they will be opening a restaurant in the former observatory of the cathedral adjacent to the main hall. The new eatery will be called Red Bird, and the company's astute manager-on-site, Denise, told me that it was a playful ploy on the word 'cardinal,' honoring its holy precedence. Humorous, yes, and very apt. The food from chef Neil Fraser will be all-American, and the 80-seat restaurant will have a private entrance on 2nd Street just below Main. I know I will be there opening week to check it out.
Before the dinner, I had a chance to reminisce with Chef Gagnaire about my several visits to his namesake eatery on rue Blazac in Paris. My Huffington readers may recall that we rave reviewed his new restaurant, TWIST, at the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas when it opened a few years ago. He laughingly reminded me that I had first written a review of him over 20 years ago when he arrived here to cook for a week at the old L'Orangerie Restaurant on La Cienega, only to depart after one night when the shortsighted proprietor tried to get him to scrimp on the costly ingredients. No scrimping on Saturday night as we Dined with the Michelin Stars...these chefs had a combination of nine stars among them. He opened with Tajima Wagyu Beef Tenderloin, tiny cold morsels of true Japanese beef with eggplant cannelloni and ratatouille. He followed this with a Bouillon Zezette, a miraculous broth with a small parmesan crab cake. My old friend Chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence, followed with a Roasted Haunch of Wild Stiped Bass, with oven-roasted tomato, rosemary and roasted eggplant. Chef David Kinch of Manresa finished the main courses with a fabuous Beef with Pole Beans and Puffed Rice in an Onion Broth. Chef Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn provided the dessert of Corn/Brioche/Chocolate. Needless to say, the Krug champagne and many boutique wines flowed, but I am careful about drinking and driving these days. Yes, it was a night to remember...in a venue I will never forget.
The L.A. Food & Wine Festival began on Thursday night with a gala event at its main location, the three blocks of Grand Avenue butting up against the Walt Disney Hall and complex. They proclaimed the participation of some 200 vineyards and 100 celebrity chefs, and many of them were present on that opening night. I noshed my way through the bountiful booty, drank some of my favorite wines from Justin and Landmark, and made my way home from downtown in a daze of feast and flavors. After all, I had to prepare myself for my Friday evening follow-up, a Champagne and Caviar Celebration at the stunning, sophisticated L'ERMITAGE HOTEL IN BEVERLY HILLS, one of the top links in the Viceroy international hotel chain. Set on the roof of the hotel, it was truly one of the most spectacular and satisfying culinary events of the year. Let me be clear. All of these festival events are not inexpensive; they are pricey and popular. The L'Ermitage event for example, cost $150 a person..and it was jam-packed with mainly Generation X folks who cud afford the tab for an evening of frolicking fun. On Saturday night, the concluding major event at the selfsame Grand Avenue blocks was a massive display by most of the participating chefs and wineries. There was a chef's challenge competition sponsored by FOOD & WINE and something called "Chase Sapphire Preferred" which I gather is a travel rewards credit card. After the live challenge involving street tacos, they donated $20,000 to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank on behalf of the winning chefs, Fabio Viviani and Ray Garcia, who came up with a mango chicharron chile rellena taco. Sounds delicious.
Chef Sang Yoon from Father's Kitchen had orchestrated the Champagne and Caviar event at L'Ermitage and I must say that of all the things I did on this four day extravaganza, I enjoyed the rooftop party the best. Over 40 different sparkling wines and lots and lots of caviar...in a Beverly Hills location just minutes from home. Now that's my kind of party. Can't wait 'til the 5th annual festival next year!
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