Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Taco Task Force: Potato Tacos, the Reason My Belly Aches

What do these people and the Taco Task Force have in common, you ask? A shared appetite for pain,inane acts, and suffering. We have both committed a gross misappropriation of the potato, the vegetable that once saved civilization, the noble tuber that has enriched the cuisines of Colombia and Peru with its varieties, flavors, and textures.

As president and CEO of the Taco Task Force, I must confess that this was not my idea, nor my planning. But, as any other president, I must accept my responsibilty.....and blame someone. The blood brother, Javier Cabral.

I was moving forward with a barbacoa run when Javier and Matt started on with their more "progressive" taco runs. "How about a fusion taco mission?" "How about a vegetarian option?" "What about potato tacos", Javier gestured. Potato tacos? Who cares about that? I never ordered the things, always something better on the menu. A friend has been bugging me forever to go with her to El Atacor and I've always weasled out of it. I had potatoes in tacos when I was younger, I mean, my abuelita would sometimes make mashed potatoes and we'd put them in tortillas with beans. Those were great. "OK, I GUESS, but Javier, this one is YOUR baby." You pick the places, plan the route......I'll be damned if your gonna park my barbacoa run in favor of this......fool's mission, then make me do all the work. Heeeelllll no.

We finally picked a date. The only smart member of the team, Cathy Danh, was out of town for this one, and Matt had some vague reason he couldn't make it. So, it would be just Josh, Javier, and I. Matt would have to do this on his own at a later date.

The night before this ill-fated journey I was partying 'til the wee hours, burning it at both ends as seems to be the routine these days. At about 2AM I get a text from Javier."Dude, I'm wasted....I'm going to crash at my friends and catch up wth you guys half way through, or something." I fired back,"I don't think so!" "Josh and I will see you at 9AM at Cacao." Oh, did you know Javier just turned 21? YEAH!

Scoring Key:B=Bill,Jo=Josh,M=Matt, and Ja=Javier

STOP #1: Cacao Mexicatessen
1576 Colorado Boulevard, Eagle Rock, 323 478 2791

A disheveled Javier Cabral showed up with Josh a little after 9AM at Cacao Mexicatessen, where I attempted to revive myself with a little of their tasty expresso, a double of course. After I gave Javier an acerbic applause for showing up, the potato tacoing commenced.

Cacao's version was one of the two atypical potato tacos on our run down. The tortilla is made of blue corn, and red potatoes are used mixed with poblano chile strips. The flavor was mild, not the snacky goodness I was expecting. Cotija cheese was sprinkled atop the taco, it was dressed with iceburg lettuce, and a tomatillo and chile de arbol salsa.

From this very first taco, I started to doubt this mission. It was uninteresting, despite its attractive presentation. I mean, there are the duck carnitas, and the chocolate and bacon taco here. Why would I ever order this?

Grade of Key Ingredient:Jo 3, B 2.5, Ja 3, M 2 AVERAGE 2.625/5
Condiment/Tortilla:Jo 2.5, B 2.5, Ja 3, M 2.5 AVERAGE 2.625/5
Overall Flavor:Jo 2.5, B 1.5, Ja 2, M 2 AVERAGE 1.875/5
Cooking:Jo 3, B 2.5, Ja 3.5, M 3 AVERAGE 3/5

STOP #2: My Taco
6300 York Boulevard, Highland Park, 323 256 2698

The potato taco at My Taco wasn't offensive but decidedly bland. I think it was at this point that Josh and I were beginning to detest this taco run.

I was very Taco Bellish, without the fast-food-formula FLAVOR.

Grade of Key Ingredient:Jo 2, B 2, Ja 3, M 3 AVERAGE 2.5/5
Condiment/Tortilla:Jo 2, B 2, Ja 2.5, M 3 AVERAGE 2.375/5
Overall Flavor:Jo 2, B 2, Ja 3.5, M 3.5 AVERAGE 2.75/5
Cooking:Jo 2, B 2, Ja 3, M 3 AVERAGE 2.5/5


2622 North Figueroa Avenue, Cypress Park, 323 832 9263

When we arrived at El Atacor, the only real legitimate stop on our crawl that day, I mean, this place is known for these things and specializes in them. The rest of our stops didn't fall under the specialist model of previous runs.

But, Jonathan Gold put El Atacor on the map, and I think is soley responsible for potato taco awareness in LA. Thanks, Jonathan Gold. It's even one of his 99 Things to Eat Before You Die in LA.

I do understand the appeal of this taco, a junk food lover's dream. It's greasy, covered with pre-shredded Jack and Cheddar, and a fast food package grade guacamole tomatillo sauce, and a watery crema. This could be a Taco Bell menu item. Something for cannibas induced munchies at 3AM, or a post High School football game snack for a 16 year old linemen.

It was more flavorful than any potato taco that day, but it wasn't making me feel that great.

The three of us had that constipated look, languid, queasy,as Javier indifferently attempted to bite this taco as it sadly fell apart onto the table. I stared at this bit of lost morsel, and thought, that's where it belongs.

Grade of Key Ingredient:Jo 1.5, B 2, Ja 2, M 3 AVERAGE 2.125/5
Condiment/Tortilla:Jo 1.5, B 1.5, Ja 3, M 2 AVERAGE 2/5
Overall Flavor:Jo 2, B 2.5, Ja 4, M 3 AVERAGE 2.875/5
Cooking:Jo 1.5, B 2, Ja 3.5, M 2.5 AVERAGE 2.375/5


STOP #4: La Parrilla
2126 Cesar Chavez Boulevard, Boyle Heights, 323 262 3434

Then, we descended into combo plate hell at La Parrilla. Beans, rice, and potato tacos? The beans were the only redeeming thing on the plate. I think somewhere between the last few stops I received another caffeine injection.

This was a rather unpleasant offering of this base taco. Again, lacking any flavor, save for the tomatoes, cheese and lettuce.

Grade of Key Ingredient:Jo 2, B 1.5, Ja 2.5, M 2 AVERAGE 2/5
Condiment/Tortilla:Jo 1.5, B 1.5, Ja 2.5, M 2.5 AVERAGE 2/5
Overall Flavor:Jo 1.5, B 1, Ja 2.5, M 1.5 AVERAGE 1.625/5
Cooking:Jo 1.5, B 1.5, Ja 2.5, M 1 AVERAGE 1.625/5


STOP #5: La Casita Mexicana
4030 East Gage Avenue, Bell, 323 773 1898

Needless to say, by the time we got to La Casita, our power trio of taco rockers was feeling like we just played 10 straight nights in Des Moines. I attempted another caffeinated product, Jaime and Ramiro's cafe de la olla. I think I had two to three cups.

La Casita's potato taco was beautiful, of course. Romaine lettuce, vibrant purple onion,fresh sliced tomato,a paired salsa, with small Dutch boiled potatoes. These were the flavors of crisp vegetables, and refinement.

I stared at this taco, and thought about the funky versions we'd encountered earlier and the caffeine just took hold. I started to argue with Josh and Javier that we couldn't really compare these tacos, there were too different. My eyes were widened, my hands trembled, and I was a tad irrational.

The boys sent out some other dishes, which were the first tasty moments of the day. Shrimp torts with with rosemary for lent, and an excellent ceviche. I thought, who would order potato tacos at La Casita with all the great food they have there? Come on. Oh, and what to give up for lent?How about potato tacos?

In La Casita, we found our winner, but the biggest losers? Javier, Josh, Matt(who had to suffer through these places alone), and myself for having to eat these things.

Grade of Key Ingredient:Jo 2.5, B 3, Ja 4, M 3 AVERAGE 3.125/5
Condiment/Tortilla:Jo 3.5, B 3, Ja 3.5, M 3.5 AVERAGE 3.375/5
Overall Flavor:Jo 3, B 2.5, Ja 3.5, M 3 AVERAGE 3/5
Cooking:Jo 3, B 3, Ja 4, M 4 AVERAGE 3.5/5


The scores given for this run are reflective of a comprehensive approach to our challenges, rating the different tacos across all the different categories. In other words, a potato taco is going to score lower in general to more complex tacos like our previous birria and fish tacos. Just like degrees of difficulty are awarded higher points in gymnastics.

Anyways, potato tacos? You can have 'em! I'm done.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bizarre Foods Baja: Part 1-Street Gourmet LA Gets The Call

On April 26, 2010, the new season of Bizarre Foods begins on the Travel Channel. One of the episodes in the new season line-up, Bizarre Foods Baja will feature ME as an onscreen guide during a street food segment. As all amazing things that come our way in this life, there are events, orchestrated, reactionary, and accidental that lead us to most unexpected outcomes.

It was back in July when I led a FAM to Baja of a certain infamy known amongst a FAIR part of the LA blogging community. It tested the stamina of even the most hardcore knoshers, and proved to be a tasty surprise to all who participated at the very least. For the most it was a life changing journey.

I had invested years and several hundred thousands of calories investigating the gastronomy of Baja and had planned to write a guide book when circumstances caused me to start increasing my blog output to lay claim to my "boots on the ground" discoveries in Baja. This is not even worth mentioning to any degree, but, the cache of Baja reviews did get me an invite from the Tijuana Cotuco(Conventions and Visitors Bureau) to attend a FAM(Familiarization Trip) in Tijuana. One look at the itinerary and I thought, really? How could they leave out the incredible street foods, taquerias, and true gastronomy of Baja?

So, I set up a meeting in Tijuana to......consult them on their FAM. An unknown blogger from LA....telling these guys that their trip stinks, and that I could do it better. And no, I hadn't even started drinking that day. I hit traffic coming out of LA and was about an hour late for that meeting. Stressed out from traffic, and disheveled, I pitched these guys another type of trip, a trip that I deeply believed would change the discussion about Baja. More than any tired guide books, hotel pamphlets and flyers, billboard signs, or the handful of articles from major publications that seemed to be using a single source of repetitive stops,or obligatory nods. In my overconfidence, or rather faith in Baja, I alone, with a little help from some friends, could create a new paradigm.

I remember telling the guys at Cotuco and the Crossborder Group that these blog posts would provide a new outlook on Baja cuisine, and that maybe someone like Anthony Bourdain, Rick Bayless, or.....Andrew Zimmern would come as a result of these untold stories.

Well, July came, and the bloggers,photographers, writers, restaurateurs, and chefs climbed aboard the bus at Union Station for an uncertain journey, with some guy that only about 5 of the 27 passengers knew.This trip had almost fallen apart the night before and ultimately was compromised a bit by some folks in Mexico that still were not convinced that, I could deliver the goods.

This trip turned out to be brilliant, and as the sun set in the Valle de Guadalupe on our last night, and we headed home to go our separate ways, the wheels were set in motion for something...but, honestly, I wasn't sure what would come of all this. In the following months, post after post created a splattering of new restaurant information on Tijuana, Ensenada, and the Valle de Guadalupe.

Then, an e-mail from Andrew Zimmern's production company came just a couple months later. I would like to say that they were hooked after my first story about a particular taqueria in Tijuana, that I shall name at a later post. Hey, that's showbiz folks!

Out of those e-mails and subsequent converations came the green light for Bizarre Foods Baja, and a gig as an onscreen guide! I unloaded story after story, restaurant upon restaurant until they cried uncle.

Then, I get the call. "Hello Bill, I'm calling to see if you'd be interested in being a fixer for La Paz, in Southern Baja." I was in a soundcheck in Vegas and could barely hear, but said YEEEESSSSSSSS!!!!! An on camera spot had been discussed with the usual disclaimers, but I thought, if I have proven worthy enough to do this, be a fixer, and can stick this fact finding mission, I'm in. I don't know if there's a precedent for this, but fixers are exclusively locals. In other words, they were flying me in to La Paz in favor of a local operator. Could this be a first time?

On such short notice, the only flight that would work was into Cabo. Cabo? OK, I'll just go to Cabo and get a rentacar, and drive to La Paz. This would give me Friday afternoon to evening, all day Saturday, and MAYBE some time Sunday morning on the drive back to Cabo, about 3-4 hours depending on traffic, or rather the number of times you need to wait for the damn cows to get out of the way. There are free range cattle that roam from south of Ensenada damn near to Cabo and are often in the middle of the two-lane, no shoulder,no services, dessert highway the other side of a blind hill. When you see hazard lights on the opposite traffic lane's vehicle, it means your ASS if you don't slow down.

While La Paz was a city I'd been before, several times, and was leagues ahead of Cabo in regards to its food, finding foods worthy of a Bizarre Foods episode in La Paz is like finding a real Coach bag in the Fashion District.

Three days of cold research in La Paz, Mexico,....and Cabo. Cabo San Lucas is a place that I always thought, "you'd have to pay me to go there!"

Upon arrival, what struck me was that english was spoken exclusively in customs. Never in all my years of traveling through 22 states in Mexico had I encountered such a surrealistic passage through aduanas, or customs. It was like the movie Starship Troopers by Paul Verhoeven, where Argentina is portrayed, insultingly so, as a place completely devoid of Latino culture and character.

Walking along the beach on my way back from La Paz a few days later I watched this group of tourists ask the beach masseuse in a white canopied tent if a "happy ending" was available.The massuese was female and this was in front of an upscale hotel. The guy working at the massage tent pointed to a chubby male coworker and said, "yes, here you go, amigo!" I call that a draw. And, speaking of happy endings, it was time to get out of there, and fast. Cabo just isn't for me.

The airport was ala Vegas or Hawaii, but could have been Phoenix, too.

And, what a disappointment to go to the Cabo Wabo shop to learn there was no Cabo Wabo for tasting. Cabo Wabo isn't in my tequila collection, but at that point I needed something to numb my senses.No tequila tasting at the teQUILA shop?

Between the Amigos bar,....

the Old Mex Candy shop, and the gaggle of time-share hawkers outside Cabo is one of the more Bizarre places I've been.

Besides, everyone had just about cleaned out all the nachos! The waiting area in the Cabo airport is a movie theater nachos festival!Apparently you can't leave Mexico without nachos and a sombrero.

Todos Santos is a quite artisan and craft village, kind of like Baja's own Sedona. It was a nice great from the Orange County style strip malls and resorts that line the the highway passing through Cabo and San Lucas.

My good friend Benito Molina suggested a stop in Todos Santos on the way for an expresso, and some Italian food at the Santa Fe Cafe.

It's a vision of tranquility at the Cafe, and Ezio Colombo, the owner, came out and sat with me for a while talking in his Italian accented Spanish.

I was saving valuable tummy space for the finds that lie ahead but couldn't resist the complimentary bread. Ezio comes from Liguria, and has been in Mexico for the last 20 years.

I was very nervous cutting across the peninsula in that beautiful isolation where desert tucks itself in between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific. I had already hit my first snag in Cabo, an expired driver's license. They weren't going to let me rent the car, but I begged and pleaded, "Baja is depending on my trip!" A little bribe and I was on my way, thought it said "expires on birthday in 2010!"

The first signs of some food worthy of the show came about 45 minutes outside La Paz in the village of San Pedro. There I met the shy Guadalupe Martinez-Molina who has been making pit roasted lamb,lamb intestines, and lamb heads for the past six years.

This is the kind of stand that is found all over Latin America, but in the states it's a cultural mirage. It's like from a scene in a movie, the kind of place that Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna might have stopped on their way to some imaginary beach, the dialogue drops in the cue while a narrator reveals a back story. The journey from the nachos of the Cabo airport and the tumbleweeds of San Pedro is profound. Yes, I was back in Mexico wrapped in a stream of consciousness.

I loved talking with Guadalupe, who did more smiling than talking, until I started to take her picture.

The adobe oven and roadside setting was beautiful, lonely, and timeless. I imagined Guadalupe's daily regimine, preparing the barbacoa, stuffing offal into lamb's maw in the wee hours of the morning, attending the customers on this reclusive highway, and cleaning and prepping for the next day in solitude. It was only around 4pm, and San Pedro had nothing left to offer but dust. And, pit roasted lamb? Bizarre Foods had already done it. I knew this, but I relished my few minutes here. It's rich material for those day dreams I frequent, hungering for Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras.......the people, places, heavenly food, lusty drink,women,the human touch, the exploits, the rumba!

Well, here we go. La Paz."Man, I don't remember any unique foods there AT ALL", I laughed nervously to myself."OK, fuck it", "This is what I do, I find shit nobody else finds!"

To be continued........

Cafe Santa Fe
Calle Centenario, 12-9
Todos Santos, BCS

Barbacoa Estilo Jalisco
the entrance to San Pedro
Highway Todos Santos-La Paz

Chaya Downtown LA: Make It a Three Day Weekend, Monday Nights at The New Japanese Beer Garden

On April the 5th I was invited along with some other bloggers by Chaya to try the new Japanese Beer Garden Menu at Chaya Downtown LA, chef Shigefumi Tachibe's East-West kitchen, in the heart of the downtown restaurant scene.

The Beer Garden is exclusively on Monday night from 5pm 'til close. This will be running until the end of the summer where you can order yakitori grilled to order on their casual patio space.

I arrived to see friends Maya and Esther already a couple drinks in, enjoying the signature cocktails on the Japanese Beer Garden menu. But, this is a beer garden, so I ordered a beer I've always enjoyed, Kirin Ichiban($5).Is this Monday, or what?

Yakitori skewers($2 each)are an affordable option, and were very good, I especially liked the tongue and the shrimp. The five selections are rounded out by beef, chicken, and shitake mushrooms.

I tried some of Esther and Maya's grilled corn with feta($5), a fancy version of street corn, but just as tasty. In turn I gave them some of the Hawaiian Albacore Poki($7). This was so satisfying, classic Asian flavors that are familiar and pleasurably in balance, a cool complement to a glass of beer or wine.

At $8, the Sake Steamed Mussels are the most expensive item on this menu, not bad, but you get a more than fair amount. I managed to grab this last one from the girls' plate.

The Chaya Downtown is an elegant yet relaxed restaurant, that exemplifies the new spirit of the Downtown LA scene. These are restaurants that are hip, committed to service and great food, but are accessible to all walks.

The prices are very approachable, a straight-forward and tasty menu, with $5 beer and wines by the glass, and a whole pitcher of beer goes for only $15. These prices are just what this current economy needs. The ambience is casual and festive. Red lanterns,$5 beers, the scent of grilled yakitori, and the company of good friends are the new cure for the Monday morning blues, or, reason to add an extra day to your weekend party.

Japanese Beer Garden
Mondays from 5PM to close
March 22 through the end of summer

Chaya Downtown LA
525 S.Flower St.
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Street Gourmet La in the May 2010: Travel and Leisure.Think Baja Should Put Me on Retainer?

On my way back from another epic culinary tour of Baja, my Great Chefs of Baja encounter a friend came across this article.

"On the Baja forums of, I pored over descriptions of barbecued-quail stands and itinerant sea-urchin vendors, unfiltered honeys and farmstead cheeses. I devoured the posts of StreetGourmetLA (real name Bill Esparza), a Los Angeles–based musician who seems to spend all his days eating his way across northern Baja, then regaling fellow Chowhounds with his discoveries, including an Ensenada ceviche stand “that will change your life.” (Baja Tourism should put this guy on retainer.)"

Excerpt from May 2010, Travel and Leisure
article by Peter John Lindberg

Friday, April 2, 2010

Birrieria Apatzingan, Pacoima,CA-The Pleasures of Birria and Regional Bites from Apatzingan, Michoacan

Back in December I played a show in Apatzingan, Michoacan. This was brilliant trip that included my first visit to Morelia, and a stop in my current fling, Mexico City.

Apatzingan lies in the Tierra Caliente, hot lands, of Michoacan. And, it turns out that this little town has its own cuisine. The cooking of Michoacan is elusive, even in the the capital of Morelia, where much of the legendary cuisine is mostly found in homes of michoacanos. I know there are many people from Michoacan here in LA, but there isn't a single restaurant dedicated to the cuisine of Michoacan, except in.....Pacoima!

I believe I passed by this place about a year ago, made a mental note, but never followed up. Armed with my new appreciation of the delights of the Tierra Caliente, I took a closer look a couple weeks back......and....jackpot.

The restaurant is tucked back in the parking lot behind a convenience store called Super Stop. Its treasures are splashed in bright red letters against an orange sherbet exterior. Doesn't get anymore authentic than that!

Inside, a typical cafeteria style restaurant that seems to be a common decor in Pacoima.On the wall atop the arch of a walkway is a picture the chef, Martin, with his hands around a goat's neck. Martin has been here for two years, and was kept on recently when new owners took over a couple of month ago. His job in the morning is to fire up the birria. Josepha is around in the afternoons to make the various Apatzingan dishes and prepare fresh tortillas for the birria.

I remember scanning the taqueria menu signs driving into Apatzingan and seeing
chavindecas in every restaurant. What the hell are chavindecas? How come I never heard of 'em?

I had gone to a taqueria in the town center of Apatzingan to look for these chavindecas, when I discovered their rather uninvolved construction. It's just two tortillas with melted cheese and carne asada sandwiched in between.But don't pass this off as a mere quesadilla. This is the comforting flavor of toasty corn-scented tortillas with the lubricious pairing of melted cheese and carne asada.

The pure corn tamales of Michoacan, uchepos, make their debut here in LA. They are served with crema mexicana, and a tomatillo sauce. These are only offered on the weekends, but you'd better get up early or call in advance. Forget about the other corn tamale hypes in town, this is the real deal. They are brought to the restaurant from San Jose, CA where a master tamalera from Michoacan makes them.

They have pork ribs in a tomatillo sauce, but get this in the morisqueta, a sort of Mexican rice bowl with white rice, beans, and a topping of supple pork ribs in a tangy salsa. This is another hearty specialty of Apatzingan. This is a Friday lunch date kinda treat.

Aporreadillo is another dish you will not likely find around these parts. Eggs are cooked in a mild spiced sauce with cecina, Mexican beef jerky, famous in Michoacan. I had this on my Morelia run and am relieved to learn I could have this plate just a short drive from home.

Enchiladas of chicken or cecina are done Apatzingan style. This is similar, or rather identical to the famous pollo de la plaza(plaza chicken) in Morelia.

A guajillo chile sauce is used to fry chicken and potatoes. This same enchilada sauce is applied to corn tortillas stuffed with cotija cheese and fried into what resemble tacos.

The enchiladas are covered with lettuce, tomato, and onion.

These are a deconstructed enchilada as compared to the usual type, or perhaps the folks from Apatzingan would call our local version of the chicken enchilada a "constructed" enchilada.

Either way, this is one of the few regional enchiladas you can enjoy here in Los Angeles, a delicious dish, and something special that can expand your antojito horizions.

But don't let all this exotic regional gastronomy distract you too much, this is a birrieria after all. There's is always a big pot simmering, and the aromas of goat and spice permeate the restaurant.

This is a birria en caldo, a birria soup. This is reason alone to come to Birrieria Apatzingan. The broth is slurp 'til the last drop good, the kind of soup that makes you cringe the each time a dot of the juice falls onto the table negotiating the journey from bowl to mouth. The best way is to close the distance, eating directly above the scented aromas floating around the rim of the bowl.

Cumin is a principal spice in birria, but here you get cinnamon, garlic, cloves, laurel leaves,and sweet peppers. There is luscious balance of spicing, dried chiles, oily goat stock, and succulent meat.

This is the baby of chef Martin from Apatzingan, a personal recipe that can call itself among the top birrias in town. It's only peer at this time is Flor del Rio in Boyle Heights, but if you live in the Valley, Flor del Rio might as well be as far as driving all the way to Zacatecas.

Birrieria Apatzingan
10040 Laurel Canyon Bl
Pacoima, CA 91331

31 Hours of Star Chefs Rising Star-Los Angeles/San Diego

John Sedlar and Thomas Keller in the kitchen at Rivera, Downtown LA

Two culinary giants relaxing at the March 18 Honorees dinner at Rivera

On Wednesday, March 17th I was invited to the Star Chefs Honorees dinner at Rivera, along with my culinary wing man, Brian. We were looking forward to this event for about a month and in our anticipation leading up to this day we arrived at Rivera an hour early.

The dinner hosted by John Sedlar included co-hosts, David Myers(Sona), David Lefevre(Water Grill), Neal Fraser(Grace), Elizabeth Belkind(Cake Monkey), and Vincenzo Marianella(Copa D'Oro).

A few drinks at the new Ritz-Carlton remedied our premature arrival two begin what would be a 31 hour party with the Stars and Rising Stars of the LA and San Diego culinary scenes.

For the entirety of these event the liquor did flow,and so we decided to kick off the official Honorees dinner at Rivera with a couple a pair of cold Stellas. The lovely ladies serving the complimentary brews caused quite a stir when they arrived though, more dressed up to be ring girls than for a Star Chefs soiree. No problem, they had these little numbers on hand and were ready to go. They were actually quite knowledgable about the the three beers they were serving, Stella Artois and a couple others. I tried to sneak some of the delicious food to them towards the end of the night, stealthily dodging their grumpy boss.Hey, naughty girls need abalone too!

Another sponsor of the Star Chefs awards was Highland Park. I probably put down a bottle between the Honorees dinner and the Gala Event the next night. Highland Park 18 is a single malt scotch produced in the Orkney Islands. It's a Highlands scotch exhibiting peat, spices, and sweet notes.

Dinner is served. Just like Thomas Keller(French Laundry,Per Se,Bouchon), I really enjoyed John Sedlar's abalone ceviche.

The abalone ceviche was made with mezcal, tangerine, Fresno chiles, cilantro, and Rivera's famous cucumber caviar. I love that a luxurious ceviche at Rivera has Fresno,CA in the mix. To clear up another discussion I had with Brian, red jalapenos aren't Fresno chiles, they're two different chiles. Gah!

Unlike many restaurants around town, Rivera knows ceviche. Ceviche is a balancing act of citrus, seafood, and textures. This was outstanding.

Rivera's tortillas florales were the base of a milk fed piglet taco with a pomegranate salsa. Al pastor has traded in the Durangos for pair of Versace Crocs. This was a grand tribute to the traditional street version of a sweet pork taco.

Elizabeth Belkind encountered a rather loosened version of myself hours later when I demanded that she pair one of her desserts with the beer I had in my hand. Her choice of dessert and beer pairing was expert. We had a great conversation earlier in the night and would close out the party together the following evening after the Gala event at the Umami Burger after-party. I was surprised to learn she is from Mexico City and speaks fluent spanish. Elizabeth is the pastry chef and partner behind Cake Monkey.

Water Grill's David Lefevre prepared hamachi sashimi and tempura with yuzu, radish, fennel, and ginger. After briefly talking with David I think he's my kinda guy...but...don't hold that against him. Had several helpings of this fantastic yellowtail dish.

Neal Fraser was serving salmon. This sexy New Zealand salmon with wild greens and horseradish gremolata was oily in the best of ways. It was rich, inviting, and it was driving the Stella girls wild. I love hearing women talk about food with desire and passion.

It was akin to having these great chefs cater my own booze cruise. At the Gala Event on Thursday night, Neal turned John Sedlar and I to a nice pinot blanc from the Alcace. He planned to do multiple refills throughout the evening, I thought this a great idea, so I did the same. Neal is a good hang, and boy if I could tell you all the restaurant gossip Brian and I heard over these 31 hours. stays in the vault.

The honorees dinner came to a close when all the Rising Chefs were recognized. The 2010 Rising Stars:Chefs Vinny Dotolo & Jon Shook-Animal (Los Angeles),Rory Herrmann- Bouchon Bistro (Los Angeles), Walter Manzke-Church + State (Los Angeles), Diana Stavaridis-BLD (Los Angeles),Ken Takayama-Melisse (Los Angeles), Kuniko Yagi-Sona (Los Angeles), Zachary Pollack & Stephan Samson-Pizzeria Ortica (Costa Mesa),and Michael Voltaggio-The Dining Room at the Langham (Pasadena);Pastry Chefs Jordan Kahn-XIV (Los Angeles), and Adrian Vasquez-Providence (Los Angeles);Mixologists Eric Alperin-The Varnish (Los Angeles), and Julian Cox-Rivera (Los Angeles); Sommeliers Christopher Miller-Spago (Los Angeles), and Jesse Rodriguez-Addison (San Diego);Sustainability Award Ray Garcia-Fig (Los Angeles);Community Chef Roy Choi-Kogi (Los Angeles);Restaurant Concept Adam Fleischman-Umami Burger (Los Angeles); Restaurateurs Zoe Nathan & Josh Loeb-Huckleberry & Rustic Canyon(Los Angeles). The Vip Host chef for the Gala Dinner at the Fairmont in Santa Monica was Jason Prendergast-Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows.

The honorees dinner was a blast and all were having a good time. The drinking continued and the schmoozing began to soften as several chefs including Thomas Keller headed over to Animal for more bites and slugs.

Brian and I spoke with Roy Choi of Kogi, who was admittedly out of place at this shindig, and....he had Chego on the mind. He invited us to come down to the opening of his first brick and mortar, Chego,located in Palms, which we got a chance to visit this past Thursday night.

Thursday, March 18
Well, I was beat. I had been partying for four days in Tijuana, taking a blowtorch to the candle at both ends, and arrived in LA only hours before the Honorees dinner. But, after a long rest and very little convincing, I found myself at the Gala and Awards Ceremony the next night at the Santa Monica Fairmont. John Sedlar and I took a tour of the Rising Stars best eats, starting on the dessert end. Hey, a couple of Latinos don't mind having a postre before dinner.

We also ran into Kristina, a bartender at Rivera who recently won a competition for her mixology skills, and our seal of approval with this bangin' dress.

Speaking of mixology. I grabbed a cocktail from award recipient Eric Alperin as we inched towards the food.His Highlander cocktail of Highland Park single malt and a bit of flavoring was a fine aperitif.

The pinot blanc from the Alsace as a 2007 Rolly Gassman. It was chosen to pair with the salad at the BLD table, but I paired this wine with my entire evening instead. Great stuff.

John and I had a great conversation with Neal Fraser and many other friends of John's in the industry, but, it was time to do our work.....and eat all the food. Here are some highlights from our degustation.

From Rising Star Ray Garcia, bacon wrapped bacon with sylvetta(wild arugala), brandywine(heirloom tomato), tomatoes, and cocktail avocados. This was a hit with all my friends at this public event.

Jordan Kahn's macabre looking edible cube resembled a scene from one of my cousin's elaborate Halloween parties. It was served on a tile, which Jordan said was cheaper than disposable plates. The cube is deceptively hard to penetrate, but once you do, a bloom of complex fruit flavors and textures excites the palate.

Rory Herrmann(second from left), and Thmoas Keller(second from right) were having a
day at the beach. Thomas Keller has the smile and casual walk of someone who has struggled for his accomplishments and truly knows how to enjoy success. His presence dominated these festivities.

Rory made crispy sweetbreads with fava beans, morale mushrooms,and perigourdine sauce. I've heard mixed reviews about Bouchon, but this plate has me thinking I need to go there soon. I ran into Jo of MyLastBite and rushed her over to Rory Herrmann's station. They announced that the lone sweetbreads plate on the table was the last one, to widening eyes and coiled hands. I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I snagged it as another woman was reaching for the plate, but's Jo. Gotta watch out for my peeps.

Diana Staviris, BLD's Rising Star

Diana plated a roasted beet salad with fresh goat cheese. It's funny how a salad is always a curveball at these events. I thought, "aha, trying to make me think you clever with this salad!" Well, it was rather clever, and an excellent version of a tried and true combination of flavors.

Michael Voltaggio had a long line as a testament to his television fame.

The young chef cooked wagyu beef short ribs for 2 days using sous vide and plated with a cream of dehydrated broccoli with a crisped broccoli floret and a Fiscalini cheddar strip of pasta. We loved the dehydrated broccoli in this dish, and the short rib was a supple delight.

While John had to work during the awards presentation I took advantage of the short lines, all the chef fans were wildly snapping shots. Damn, Jo even took a dive in the garden trying to get a picture of Thomas Keller. Walter Manzke was on stage but his crew was still cranking out his roasted bone marrow on a toast. If you've never had bone marrow you don't know what you're missing. It is sinfully fatty and buttery.

But my biggest surprise of the night was the Jamaican jerk pork belly with scotch bonnet pepper jelly from 9-10's Jason Knibb. Who is this guy and why haven't I been to his restaurant? It was my favorite plate of the Gala and Awards Ceremony. The flavor of the usually aggressive scotch bonnet pepper featured the essence of the pepper rather than heat. A thin edible wrapper around the chicken provided an opulence that was so satisfying.

After the Rising Stars had been awarded, which called for some more Highland Park. Julian Cox also gave me a shot of mezcal, without any further mixology. Gracias.

There was finally time to round up other friends I hadn't spoken to and see who has moving on to the after party.

Friday, March 19th....the wee hours

The Hollywood branch of Umami burger was the scene for the finale of this gastronomic trilogy.The Industry Only after party.

Here the true hardcore partiers of the industry kept it going. Mantzke, Lefevre, Cox, Stavaridis, and more sampled lamb burgers, more Highland Park, and Stella Artois.

I ended up sitting down with Elizabeth Belkind ,her fiancé , and Brian talking about Mexico City bakeries and street food. I think a trip is in the works!

I was fun to be a little on the inside, get the scoops, and party like a Top Chef for a couple of days. Not a bad fling for a guy accustomed to dining while standing up next to a gutter, trying not to step on the guy urinating himself in his sleep.

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