08/05/2010 02:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Summer of My Discontent -- Too Many Food Festivals?

You never know what exotic food you will encounter at one of our many charity benefits! Here is the suckling pig at one!

To paraphrase Shakespeare, 'Tis the summer of my discontent.' As a food writer and restaurant critic, I am invited to almost all of the food festivals held in our fair city... most of them benefiting very worthy charities. And I dutifully go, mainly to greet the chefs and see what they are serving. A surfeit of sliders, of course. Lots of chopped salads (boring), chunks of pork belly (not boring), and cold gazpacho in infinite varieties. My favorite dish? Always, Gino Angelini's lasagna, from Angelini Osteria, served with aplomb by his beautiful wife, Elizabeth. Luscious sheets of chewy pasta, ground pork and beef, and a velvety béchamel sauce... I always get the corner slices in the pan to pick up more crust.

Chef Gino Angelini prepares the most incredible lasagna for all the charity events!

Here come the sliders - a favorite at every benefit. Never met a slider I didn't like.

A chef samples some of his own food to check the taste.

But occasionally there are pleasant surprises, like Sunday at Brad A. Johnson's 8th Annual Angelino Magazine's Restaurant Awards, at the beautiful Fairmont Miramar Hotel. Chef Monique King of Nine Thirty restaurant in the Westwood W Hotel served up scrumptious fried chicken and waffles with a bit of Indian spice in the crust. And Chef Quinn Hatfield, whose new restaurant, Hatfield's, was honored as Restaurant of the Year came up with a meltingly soft cube of pork belly atop a barley, corn and carrot salad with vadouvan sauce which really sang with flavor. Young, talented Chef Benjamin Bailly represented Petrossian with a caviar tin filled with cauliflower panna cotta topped with a dollop of caviar. Even a dollop is better than no caviar at all.

Fig Chef Ray Garcia hosted the Angelino event at his Fairmont Miramar Hotel

Because of Brad's influence, several chefs were present who don't usually do these events, like Craft's Tony Zappolo (whom we reviewed glowingly in Huffington some months ago), here serving a braised Spanish octopus, excellent. Josie's Josie LeBalch has a wonderful wild mushroom-and-gruyere cheese quiche which I quickly consumed. And Jar's Suzanne Tracht came directly from the same event I had previously attended with her wonderful pork croissants, two of which I took home for a late dinner while watching Mad Men. Oh, yes, my buddy and new friend, Chef Laurent Quenioux of LQ Bistro, showed his usual brilliance with a rabbit loin stuffed with veal sweetbreads! The effervescent Susan Feniger of Street had healthy and delicious Burmese melon salad... although I don't eat a lot of salads at these events.

Wolfgang Puck chats with Josie LaBalch and Susan Feniger at a charity evening.

Earlier that afternoon, at Steve Wallace's Central Coast Food and Wine Tasting benefiting the Bonnacorso Scholarship Fund, a Los Alamos pizza place called Flatbread, noted for their all-natural, artisanal flatbread pizzas, brought a portable wood-burning oven to the event and turned out the best pizza I've had all year....clams and stuff, thin crust, just wonderful.

Flatbread Pizza from Los Alamos brought their own oven to Wally's charity event!

A few days earlier, at the American Food & Wine Festival's first event of the year, on the sands of the Jonathan Club in Santa Monica, Chef David McIntyre of Wolfgang Puck's exquisite new downtown restaurant, WP 24, knocked us all out with Grilled Hunan-style Lamb Chops. (Yes, it's true, I did eat three...but my date didn't eat any, so it balanced out.) She embarrassed me by asking Chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence if the salmon he was serving was farmed or wild, since it had such a brilliant red color. He groaned in anguish as he explained it was wild Copper River Alaskan sockeye, rare and delicious.

Even the celebrated Chef Nobu Matsuhisa comes to the Meals on Wheels event.

Just a week before, I had spent a pleasant Saturday evening wandering the length of the Sunset Gower Studio at the Saban Free Clinic's Extravaganza of the Senses; that's where I had Gino's aforementioned lasagna, but - bottle of Fiji Water in hand - I also had discovered Brats Brothers Gourmet Sausage Grill, with 23 different sausages served at the Ventura Blvd. restaurant. Here at the event I encountered a coarsely ground elk sausage with my name on it which I consumed in two or three hasty bites. And there again, following my first enjoyable encounter with them just weeks before at the Concern Cancer Benefit's extravaganza at Paramount Studios, I settled in with the guys from Lawry's Catering for a roast beef sandwich which set the standard for all others to come. (They had left the prime rib bones back at their La Cienega home, but Todd Johnson promised me a bagful when I next visited.)

Bouchon Chef Rory Herrman at last year's Meals on Wheels event.

I'm getting ready for next Sunday's event, California Spirit XXVI at the Pacific Design Center, another Wolfgang Puck endeavor, with Barbara Lazaroff and Sherry Lansing, this for the American Cancer Society and honoring the President of Sony Pictures TV, Steve Mosko. I know I'll encounter the Spago crowd but am eager to see what Melisse, Red7 and Montage Beverly Hills will be serving.

Sherry Lansing co-hosted an American Cancer Society benefit honoring David Murdoch.

The city of Beverly Hills is even holding its own "Taste of Beverly Hills", a four day event starting on 9/2/2010 with scores of chefs from local restaurants participating...and I'll probably attend some of the events 'cause it's taking place next to the Beverly Hilton Hotel, within walking distance of my lair. Since I am reluctant to drink and drive, this way I can consume a grog or two and stagger safely home.

But I must pace myself, for the season concludes with two spectacular events from American Food & Wine benefiting the Meals on Wheels program serving thousands of meals each day to homebound senior and disabled members of our community without regard to religion or ability to pay. So Event Coordinator Joan Wrede reminds me to mark my calendars and make certain to buy tickets for the huge, food-and-fun-filled event on Saturday, Sept. 25th, at the Universal Studios backlot. (Call 310-573-3663 for info.) The next night, on Sunday Sept. 26th, is a fitting almost-conclusion to the festive charitable season with the Chef's Grand Tasting Dinner at Spago in Beverly Hills, where five or six of the world's greatest culinary talents cook a dish or two each for the select, wealthy crowd. (Tracey Spillane has the details at 310-385-0880).

Our Mayor at last year's Meals on Wheels event at Spago.

I am personally involved in only one charitable event, the Special Olympics Pier del Sol held on Sunday, October 10th, at the Santa Monica Pier; you know that's the organization which Governor Schwartzenegger's wife, Maria, founded with her late mother, Eunice. I help Ivy Chu and Maureen Barclift line up the 35 restaurants which participate in the wonderful and tasty VIP event that morning. (Call 562-354-2605 if you want to join me.)

Yes, that's me, enjoying a rib at one of the many charity events I attended.

After which, I think I will sail off to a remote island in the South Pacific and consume nothing but coconuts 'til Christmas. But undoubtedly there will be a benefit for the local native chieftain... and you know I wouldn't miss that!