My first time at Taste of a Nation

A coworker of Husband’s told us about this event a while ago and ever since finding out about it, I’ve been keeping watch for the next LA date.  The minute tickets went on sale, I snatched up VIP ones and counted down to June 6th.  Taste of a Nation is an event that occurs in different cities at different times of the year.  Chefs in that locale get together and offer up tastings of various items, all in the name of ending childhood hunger in America via the Share Our Strength charity organization.  Tickets for the LA event aren’t cheap but you get access to an amazing event AND, even better, you help out a great cause.

Media Park in Culver City

The Taste of a Nation LA event was held in Culver City’s Media Park, a perfect location with trees for shade in some areas and easy access parking.  VIP tickets included free valet parking.  It was awfully nice of the organizers not to oversell capacity; there were a lot of attendees but the park was never uncomfortably crowded, nor were there ever any insane lines to get to the food.  I think the only complaint I had that day was about the amount of sun I got.  I need to remember a hat next year and sunscreen.  *ouch ouch sunburned cheeks*

Husband and I were there with a couple of other foodie friends and we attempted to sample everything but failed.  Still, we managed to try some amazing bites like the beef cheeks from XIV, Public’s sliders on brioche and duck and foie gras sausage, The Foundry’s grilled cheese sandwich and Street’s Burmese Melon Salad.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Watermelon gazpacho shots by Bazaar (Jose Andres)

Liquid nitrogen magic!

The AMAZING beef cheeks with a corn foam courtesy of XIV (Michael Mina)

Salted caramel gelato from Gelato Bar...perfect for the warm day (Joel Gutman/Gail Silverton)

The Foundry's grilled cheese (Eric Greenspan)

Torchon foie gras with organic apple gastrique and marcona almond brittle by Bottega Louie (Sam Marvin)

Burmese melon salad by Street (Susan Feniger)

That’s but just a taste of what was offered. Most of it was amazing though there were a few dishes that were too salty for me or just didn’t really win me over for one reason or another.

Chef Michael Voltaggio demo-ing how to make a pasta dinner

Liquid nitro man

There was a cooking demo by Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio.  If you watched the show, you know that he does some amazing but complex dishes.  For his demo, instead of doing something that seems like it requires years of culinary expertise, he kept it simple and showed how to make a meal for 8 from a few simple ingredients, something that resonated with the theme of the event.  But for dessert, he whipped out the liquid nitrogen and made churros.  That was pretty awesome.  🙂  I had the chance to meet him and he was quite nice.  He also showed off his new tattoo – the Taste of the Nation logo…

Wait, are they auctioning off LudoBites or Chef Ludo?

Part of the event is a silent auction where people can bid on various items like gift baskets or trips.  There was also a live auction to bid on catering services by various chefs.  Chef Ludo Lefebvre offered up his Ludobites Truck and Chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken auctioned off their Border Grill truck for private parties. I have to say, Chef Feniger is just awesomely energetic and enthusiastic, and it was a lot of fun watching her jump on stage and encourage the bidders.  I think she’s my new chef crush…  Her passion is infectious.

There was also a little “carnival” section where you could trade in tickets to make use of the mobile photobooth truck or attempt to win restaurant gift certificates via a culinary trivia game.  I tried my hand at the trivia three times and managed to win three times!  🙂  Wooo…an 8oz Burger and 2 Fraiche gift certs!  I have to say though, some of those questions were challenging…

All in all, this was really a fabulous event and even Husband enjoyed himself.  I think the free booze won him over.  He did say though that he felt like a vegan at a BBQ since there wasn’t much that he could eat due to most items having some sort of fruit or vegetable in it.  *roll eyes*

We both swore that we will try to make this event every year.  We had a lot of fun and got to support a worthwhile cause.  We also want to win one of those live auctions…time to save up a few thousand dollars!  🙂

More pictures can be seen on my Facebook page.

For more information on Taste of a Nation, visit http://taste.strength.org.  I highly encourage you to attend next year!

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BLT kick

I’ve been on a BLT kick lately.  It’s a pretty simple sandwich but when done right, can be all kinds of yum.  I think what I like best about it, besides the bacon, is the crunchy texture.  Toasted bread, fresh lettuce and crispy bacon all combine to give it this snap when you bite into it but it’s balanced with juicy tomatoes and mayo for moistness.

On Tax Day, we took our friend, artist Tanya Bjork, and her man to The Counter in El Segundo.  They had never been but had heard Husband and I sing its praises.  They ended up happy with it.  Another convert!

BLT

I decided that I wasn’t in a mood for a burger and opted for the BLT instead.  The bread was nicely toasted and, while thickier than normal store-bought bread, wasn’t too much.  The amount of bacon was perfect to get the flavor of it in each bite.  The tomatoes were juicy and the (Romaine?) lettuce was chopped which made for a slightly messy sandwich.  Instead of mayo, The Counter uses garlic aoli which definitely is tastier.

Fries smothered with a ton of Tillamook Cheddar

On a side note, Tanya ordered the grilled cheese which ended up being a monster of ooey gooey 3 cheeses.  They put so much cheese that it was just oozing out from between the two pieces of bread.  I bet it would be awesome with bacon and tomato added…  😉

We ordered some cheddar fries to share between us and these were demolished, though I think I did most of the nomming.  Eeks.  As an avid lover of french fries and cheese, cheddar fries are to me what fish treats are to kitties…  The cheese was nicely distributed but by the time we reached the end, it had solidified into a mass.  Which I promptly devoured with a fork.  *sigh*

The next day, Tanya and her man got hitched at the courthouse (CONGRATULATIONS!!!) and we all, along with other friends, celebrated with dinner and drinks at Tompkins Square in Westchester.

I ordered the grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and tomato.  Okay, it’s not a true BLT but it’s a close cousin.  T2, as we call it (it’s owned by two brothers), has a darn good grilled cheese which only gets better with bacon and tomato.  Two slices of thick white bread, Tillamook cheddar, American and Gruyere…pretty classic.  The nice thing is that they put in a good amount of cheese to offset the thickness of the bread.  This time around though, the kitchen didn’t keep the sandwich on the grill long enough to melt the cheese completely.  Forgivable since the place was packed and the kitchen was probably trying to get out orders as quickly as possible.  Next time though…

Classic BLT at Johnny Rocket's

Last night, Husband and I ate at our local Johnny Rockets.  Once again, I went for the BLT.  This was textbook – sourdough bread, bacon, iceburg lettuce, tomato and mayo.  While it was good, it wasn’t really anything above average.  And for the price…almost $9 (includes a side of fries), it seems a little overpriced.

Overall, I think the best BLT I had this weekend was at The Counter…

The Counter – El Segundo is rated 4 NOMs.
Tompkins Square is at 4 NOMs, as well.
Johnny Rockets is at 3 NOMs.

The Counter – El Segundo
700-A Allied Way
El Segundo, CA 90245
(310) 524-9967

Tompkins Square
8522 Lincoln Blvd
Los Angeles, CA90045
(310) 670-1212

Johnny Rockets
1550 Rosecrans Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA90266
(310) 536-9464

The Grilled Cheese Truck

I love cheese.  One of the best ways to enjoy it is via a grilled cheese sandwich (GCS).  As a kid, I used to come home from school and eat a GCS or two as my “snack”.  It was also one of the first dishes I learned to make – margarine, 2 pieces of wheat bread and a Kraft Single.  As an adult, though, I’ve moved on to more “gourmet” versions and higher quality ingredients…like -REAL- cheese…hahaha.

I’ve been chasing the Grilled Cheese Truck around LA ever since I heard about it months ago.  My first two attempts to partake in the ooey gooey yumminess were thwarted by crazy long lines.  But when I read on Twitter that they would be at South Bay Mini in Torrance for some promotional event a couple of months ago, I told Husband that we were going and dammit, I was going to get me a GCS, even if I had to run people over (preferably in a shiny new Mini)!

Line at Grilled Cheese Truck

When we got there, there was already a line.  Fortunately, it wasn’t anywhere as bad as the last two we encountered.  Sure, we still had to wait about 40 minutes before getting to the order window but I was on a mission. Even the threat of getting towed didn’t deter me; I just sent Husband to move the car instead….  Such a good spouse!

Specialty Sandwiches

The Grilled Cheese Truck offers up several pre-made combinations and a list of ingredients for a build-your-own sandwich.  Bacon, cheddar, gruyere, basil, and tomatoes are just some of the choices you have.  There’s also a “sweet” section for a dessert-y grilled sandwich – banana, nutella and marshmallow!

Pictures speak louder than words

Now, another way I enjoy eating cheese is in mac n’ cheese form.  Imagine my delight when I saw the Cheesy Mac Melt.  OMG…mac n’ cheese in a GCS?  Sure, it sounds like carb overload but what a brilliant idea!  Two of my favoritest cheesy things in one…

I opted to add in the BBQ pork and caramelized onions.  Husband went with the original Cheesy Mac Melt.  I also got an order of the Harvest Melt.  Hey, I didn’t know when I would get to visit the Grilled Cheese Truck again!

Cheesy Mac Melt with bbq pork and caramelized onions

Wear your stretchy pants when you eat Grilled Cheese Truck’s food because they don’t make skimpy sandwiches.  My Cheesy Mac Melt was heavy, rich, delicious Southern comfort in between two slices of crispy, butter-toasted bread.  I devoured this beast but it conquered my hunger so the Harvest Melt waited a few hours before consumption.  After sitting around in a foil bag, the sandwich was still good but the bread had lost its toastiness.  This was a great vegetarian option, full of fall flavors.  I’m not sure which I enjoyed more, which is surprising because I do like my proteins…

Chipmunk??!?! Is that Grilled Cheese speak for chipotle?

The Grilled Cheese Truck also serves up tater tots as a side and for 50 cents extra, you can get a dipping sauce.  We got an order each and opted for the chipotle and nacho cheese sauces.  Turns out, a single order of tots would have sufficed for the two of us.  Not the best tots I’ve had, these were a bit on the greasy side and were a little soggy.  The chipotle dip packed a bit of a kick but paired with oil-heavy tots and a heavy cheese sandwich, it was too rich for my stomach.   The nacho cheese dip was actually better and lighter.

Last weekend, the Grilled Cheese Truck was back at South Bay Mini so Husband and I stopped on our way to the Del Amo Mall to indulge in some GCS goodness.  This time, I tried their double-cream brie and pear with turkey while Husband went for the Cheesy Mac Melt again, but opted to add in bacon.  Last time, we both felt that the original needed some sort of meaty product to offset all the starch.

I keep forgetting that I’m not a big turkey fan.  I want to love turkey but at some point, my tastebuds and stomach go “DONE!”.  The brie and pear were a great combo, with the brie not being overly strong but still having that bite to it.  But at some point, the turkey did me in and I stopped enjoying the sandwich.  I think next time, sans turkey.  Or maybe I’ll try the Cheesy Mac Melt with bacon because it looked awfully good…and Husband didn’t give me a bite even though I kept giving him the “look”.  He was too busy eating to notice, I guess…

Price wise, Grilled Cheese Truck isn’t the cheapest; our 2nd time eating their food cost us $18. A bit high for a “food truck”, but the sandwiches are fancier with better restaurant-quality ingredients so I don’t be-grudge the hit on my wallet as much.

4 NOMs for Grilled Cheese Truck!

The Grilled Cheese Truck
http://twitter.com/grlldcheesetruk
Grilled Cheese Truck (food truck) on Urbanspoon