Did you ever put a bite of food into your mouth and suddenly realize that what you were eating was truly astonishing? As a restaurant critic, I find it happening only a very few times during the year. It happened to me this Saturday at the fabulous LA LOVES ALEX'S LEMONADE STAND BENEFIT for pediatric cancer research. As I wrote here on Huffington, it was the fourth such annual event organized by three local chefs, Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne of Lucques, AOC and Tavern, and David Lentz, Suzanne's husband and chef of The Hungry Cat. They called upon more than 40 of their culinary friends around the country to come to LA for the afternoon, dispensing tastes of their best dishes. I ate my way through the large gathering at UCLA's Royce Quad, where some 2,000 people bought tickets and gorged on the delicious tastes to benefit the cancer group. Their able publicist Jannis Swerman told me that they had already raised over one hundred million dollars for the cause, an immense achievement to fight this scourge of childen's health.
The food moment I mentioned above came at Chris Bianco's Phoenix-based Pizzeria Bianco, which has been called by Bon Appetit, Vogue and dozens of food experts (Martha Stewart, Andrew Zimmer, etc.) the best pizza in America! I stopped by his booth as food maven Phil Rosenthal, now the host of a forthcoming food show soon on PBS, was interviewing Chris on TV and consuming a pizza. I grabbed a slice of what was decribed as 'a white pizza' ....and the first bite put a silly smile on my face. Hot from the flaming wood-burning portable oven, it had fresh mozzarella and a crust which was blistered amd crunchy. I kept coming back for more, but there were so many astonishing dishes being offered that I soon exhausted my appetite and capacity.
As you entered the compound, the first booth was David Lentz's Fruits of the Sea from his The Hungry Cat, and I watched his guys cracking open a pile of black spikey sea urchins and dishing up little cups of uni (oursin to the French). My Huffington readers know of my passion for this caviar of the sea, so I was a happy camper. The Lucques girls were next in line, with a huge Porchetta glistening on the table as Chef Javiar Espinoza and Amy Deaderick sliced small portions of the ham onto plates, along with blistered cherry tomatoes. Michael Fiorelli and Rebecca Merhej of Love and Salt (don't you love that name) caught my interest with corned lamb tongue panini sandwiches with pickled peppers. I love tongue, so I made a lengthy stop. My buddies from Animal and Jonathan Whitener offered up a smoked chicken leg, savory but one bite was enough. Then came something which intrigued me and my taste buds no end: Steve Samson of Sotto was serving goat meatballs. You heard me right..goat balls...but they tasted like veal. Delicious, two were sufficient.
Did you see Sunday's episode of Showtimes' Ray Donovan? I was beside myself with excitement to see Ray eating a hot dog in front of Pink's on LaBrea. The people at PINK'S, Richard, Gloria and Beverly Pink, are the most charitable folks in the world, and their mobile truck is at every charity benefit in the city, dispensing hot dogs to hungry hordes. I asked Gloria and Richard how many dogs they would give out at Saturday's event and they estimated it would be 800 to a thousand. As I said, fabulous folks...and even nicer, they wrapped a juicy hot dog with mustard, sauerkraut and that evil orange chili to go...so I could enjoy it in bed Saturday night...knowing it would keep me up 'til Monday. Chef Roy Choi was there with his Kogi BBQ Truck, the most famous food truck ever, dispensing Korean tacos to all. He didn't seem to recognize me and I didn't mention my recent rather adverse review of his POT restaurant in Koreatown. Chef Michael Cimarusti and Donato Poto of Providence and Connie & Ted greeted me with some fine seafood, and I was puzzled by something which brilliant Chef Matt Molina of MOZZA was serving....he described it to me as "fried soup," a version of the Italian soup riboletto. Sorry, Matt,..it tasted like fried mush. I am somewhat addicted to a pastry from Brittany which I regularly get at Bouchon Bakery, but Zoe Nathan of Huckleberry had a slightly offbeat version of it here. Named kouign amann...I just call it "Queen Anne"..and here it was served with carmelizeed onions and gruyere atop the flaky, sweet layered pastry. Liked it, but frankly love the other version more.
So many wonderful chefs here...it would take a small book to do them all justice. John Besh from New Orleans, Michael Anthony from New York's Gramercy Tavern...and the seldom-seen here Scott Conant of Beverly Hills' Scarpetta. I chatted with Neal Fraser about the imminent opening of his Red Bird in the vestibule of downtown's former cathedral. Giada De Laurentiis was telling all about her new Giada Vegas. I was welcomed by old friend Todd Thurman, who is now the manager of the sophisticated CRAFT in Century City, introducing me to his chefs there, Ray England and Shannon Swindle. Ben Ford told me he would be opening another Ford's Filling Station downtown. TV Star Chef Ludo LeFebvre told everyone he could not help with reservations for his Petit Trois. I greeted Ink's much-inked fine chef Michael Voltaggio and again explained why I would never set foot into his nice restaurant. (The owner). Hugged Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill and whistled in amazement she was serving a pork dish, unique for her veggie-oriented world. Asked San Francisco's Chef Nancy Oakes of Boulevard about her hubby Josh, the sausage king, and she said he was somewhere about. Told Chef Mette Williams of the Four Seasons' Culina that I had loved a roast duck I had there last week. Finally met a young chef I have been admiring and hearing about for awhile: Kris Yenbamroong of NIGHT & MARKET, a purveyor of Thai street food in his two restaurants.
I ended my mighty hegira of food after about two hours. No wine or cocktails for me, though they were well represented; don't drive and drink these days, and they didn't have Laetitia or Justin/Landmark, my wines of choice. Ended by standing next to Jimmy Kimmel as we consumed the most delicious ice cream ever....McConnell's, from Santa Barbara. It makes all other ice creams pale in comparison. Can't wait for this event to roll around again next year. Suggest you do the same.
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