Masters of Taste
If you happened to be in the Los Angeles area last weekend you’ll remember that Sunday was more like freaky Friday when it came to the weather. I peered out my window looking at the ominous gray clouds crowding the sky and wondered what my afternoon of sampling the best of LA would hold. Come rain or come shine (or hail for that matter) this food loving blogger was headed to the Rose Bowl for the 2nd annual Masters of Taste event.
From Miro to Mama Lion, over 30 of LA’s top restaurants, most celebrated chefs, master mixologists, hand-crafted breweries, local wineries, and pastry extraordinaire’s assembled on the 50 yard field to feed and quench the salivating masses. What I love about these events besides the all-you-can-eat-and-drink aspect of them is, being able to try a variety of cuisines I normally wouldn’t taste all in one place. It’s as if I traveled around the world in a single afternoon sampling the best of Asia, Europe, North and South America and the Middle East. With every booth serving up their best in show, it was hard to narrow down my favorites amongst the multicultural spread. Below are the 5 standouts that made the rainy afternoon worthwhile.
1. Ramen Tatsunoya- 16 N. Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91103 (626) 432-1768 (Old Town Pasadena)
Admittedly, there’s been a prejudice in my heart against ramen. My association has always been those dry, just-add-water, multi-colored packages that college students stockpile for sound economic purposes. Although I’m a huge proponent of living inside your means, ramen just seemed like a lackluster and potentially flavorless last resort meal, so I shied away from it. In recent years, I’ve seen the ramen craze explode with restaurants popping up all over the city devoted specifically to the noodle-soup. In the spirit of adventure, I decided to give traditional ramen a try.
“The pork broth is simmered over 12 hours, then seasoned with a special thick soy sauce imported from Kyushu. The bowl is topped with succulent pork; house blended spicy miso and garlic oil. The noodles are designed to be very thin in order to lift just enough savory soup,” (Ramen Tatsunoya)
Needless to say, Ramen Tatsunoya’s traditional pork ramen was not your average dorm room disgusting last resort. I immediately converted from skeptic to super fan once I tasted this multi-layered savory dish. The pork was indeed succulent, tender and wonderfully seasoned. Four days later and I’m still thinking about how good it was. You’ve got to go try it for yourselves.
2. Magnolia House- 492 S Lake Ave, Pasadena CA 91101 (626) 584-1126 (Pasadena)
There’s nothing like a great meatball. A mixture of beef, pork and lamb drowning in a tangy marinara sauce that you know is the recipe of some old Italian grandmother passed down through the generations. A little pecorino and fresh basil, and you’re done! Like all great Italian food, clean and simple ingredients come together to make food that’s bursting with flavor. Out of all the meatballs I tried on the field, Magnolia House’s meatballs won the day and I can’t wait to try more of chef Evan Colter’s small plates.
3. Hamasaku- 11043 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90025 (310) 479-7636 (Los Angeles)
I was thrilled to try Chef Yoga Takahashi’s sushi. Hailing from celebrity Iron Chef Makoto Okuwa’s Manhattan Beach restaurant Sashi, I knew his approach to modern Japanese cuisine would be exemplary. Now executive chef at Hamasaku, he brought their “Albacore Cilantro Temaki” for guests to try. Fresh albacore, frisee, sushi rice, nori, garlic ponzu and cilantro aioli satisfactorily mingled in my mouth. Flavor-stacked with the finest cuts of albacore, I’m excited to go to Hamasaku for either their 5-course prefixed lunch, or 7-course prefixed dinner.
4. Belly Bombz Kitchen- 11824 Artesia Blvd, Artesia CA 90701 (562) 402-5400 (Artesia)
At the end of the day, fried comfort food comes out on top. As if I could resist mouth-watering Korean inspired wings. With a choice of “Firecracker,” “Mom’s Recipe” and “Spicy Garlic Parmesan,” Belly Bombz was one of the booths that had the longest line of return offenders—me amongst them—guilty of greedy-gut crimes. I blame the complexity of flavors that made my tongue need to re-engage. Although the restaurant is closer to Long Beach, they do have a traveling food truck that I hope to catch one of these days. Fantastic wings!
5. Intro- 4200 Lankershim Blvd, Studio City, CA 91602 (NOHO Arts District)
For sheer presentation and innovation alone, Intro was by far the booth that left me with longing anticipation of what’s to come. Currently serving pop-up dinners in their North Hollywood event space, chef Paul Shoemaker and art curator Rob Ciancimino offer a unique dining experience where food and art coalesce.
“Imagine an art gallery exhibition where you relax at a 24-foot chef's table, enjoy a specially-curated menu from Michelin-starred chef Paul Shoemaker, and drink fine wines while the featured artist reveals their personal insights on the pieces displayed,” (www.experienceintro.com)
With a tongue-n-cheek irreverence, Chef Shoemaker offered me his “Foie Gras Dime Bag!” I put the clear baggy filled with white powder and brown rocks in my mouth and was shocked to find that this deconstructed play on drugs actually tasted like foie gras. I finished my tasting visit with his Smoked Salmon Skin crostini. Equally as impressive, if the food I sampled there is any indication of what a pop-up Intro dinner would be like, I think patrons are in for an exceptional, out-of-the-box culinary experience.
Alexander’s Steakhouse- 111 N Los Robles Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101 (626) 486-1111 (Pasadena)
Miro- 888 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90017 (213) 988-8880 (Downtown LA)
Little Beast- 1496 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041 (323) 341-5899 (Eagle Rock)
Venice Whaler- 10 Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292 (310) 821-8737 (Venice)
I paid close attention in college when my RA told me: Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear. It was sound advice that hasn’t failed me yet, so I rarely ever mix spirits. After years of trying A to Z, through a process of elimination, I’ve pretty much arrived at the conclusion that I’m a tequila man. So, it was with great enthusiasm that I made the rounds to the cocktail booths serving margaritas. Two master mixologists in particular blew me away with their tasty signatures cocktails.
Birds & Bees- 207 S Broadway, B Los Angeles, CA 90012 (213) 537-0510 (Downtown LA)
Zesty with a touch of spice, the “Tierra Roja” from Birds & Bees provided the perfect distraction from the storm. The ingredients: Olmeca Altos Resposado infused with strawberry & saffron, medium dry sherry, cinnamon cordial, white peppercorn tincture and fresh lemon. I have no idea what half of the things in the drink are but I can confirm that it tastes delicious. Located downtown near Grand Park, you can go try it for yourself—only in house it’s known as the “Lucille Ball.”
SOL Mexican Cocina- 12775 W. Millenium Dr., Ste. 160, Playa Vista CA 90094 (424) 289-0066 (Playa Vista)
Beyond refreshing, as the sun started to come out towards the end of the event, I quite enjoyed sipping on Sol’s passionfruit and guava margarita made with premium Desmadre tequila. The tartness of the passionfruit was balanced by the subtle sweetness of the guava along with a spiced salt rim that gave the drink a kick. I loved the drink so much I’m planning on going to Sol for a few rounds ASAP!
Lark Cake Shop- 3337 W. Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026 (Silverlake)
I’m a sucker for a scrumptious cupcake and in my opinion no one does it better than Sprinkles. However, in the spirit of trying all things new, I refrained from bogarting the Sprinkles booth and set my sights on other purveyors of my favorite frosted treat. Hands down the carrot cake with traditional cream-cheese icing from Lark Cake Shop was the best eyes-roll-to-the-back-of-your-head-with-pleasure dessert on that field. The icing was dense and not too sweet—an ideal accompaniment to a light (not oily or dry), spiced carrot sponge of moist cake.
Cafe Dulce- 134 Japanese Village Plaza, Bldg E Los Angeles CA 90012 (213) 346-9910 (Little Tokyo)
VIP status turned out to be a worthy investment. Being able to enter the arena an hour before the GP afforded me the opportunity to taste without having to wait in long lines. With less people to serve, the chefs and wait staff were able to interact with the guests, extensively describe the dishes they had prepared for us, and also let us know more about their brick and mortar establishments. To top it all off, Masters of Taste really knew how to give their VIP’s the royal treatment. In between gorging myself on chicken wings and passionfriut margaritas, I got a 20-minute massage at the Massage Envy tent. This was a curtsy extended exclusively to VIP ticket holders. Given all those perks, I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
All photos except for the cocktail featured under Birds & Bees were taken by Darrin Banks