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!

Advertisements

XIV

A few weeks ago, Dine LA hosted its Spring Restaurant Week (well, actually 2 weeks).  This is a prime opportunity to sample some of Los Angeles’s fine dining restaurants without breaking the wallet.  My friends, Kristeen (proprietor of Kristeen LaBrot Events) and Suzy, accompanied me to XIV.  We’ve talked about this place for a while now and were finally lured in by the offer of a $44 prix fixe 3-course dinner menu.

Bar at XIV

XIV, owned by Michael Mina, is pretty much what you’d expect a hip LA fine-dining establishment to be – posh decor, a large bar serving unique cocktails, fashionable patrons and, of course, the occasional sighting of a celebrity or three.  Oh yeah, can’t forget the looooong wait for a table, either, despite having a reservation.  We waited over 40 minutes to be seated.  The host did comp us a round of drinks for the inconvenience, though.  Suzy, who is warming a bun in the oven, was quickly accommodated with delicious mocktails.  The saying “you get what you pay for” holds true for XIV…impeccable service on all fronts.

When we perused the regular menu, the debate began as to whether we should stick to the Restaurant Week menu or splurge and order one of the tasting menus.  XIV offers 3 levels – 8 courses for $64, 11 courses for $88, and 14 courses for $112.  For those not familiar with what a tasting menu is, the table selects a number of choices from the menu and each person is served a sample portion (usually around 2-3 bites) of that dish.  It is a great way to sample a variety of the restaurant’s offerings but the entire table is required to agree on what the choices are.  While not really a problem for smaller groups, for larger ones, getting consensus could be like herding cats since the menu has a lot of delicious options.  XIV does accommodate vegetarians and vegans as well.

We decided to splurge and went with the 8 course tasting menu.

Nantucket Bay Scallop Tempura

First up was the Nantucket Bay Scallop Tempura.  I was expecting a large scallop that was tempura battered and fried.  What I got was very different.  Little baby scallops dotted the plate, garnished with fried tempura batter bits, cauliflower..  The flavor was delicious and the scallops perfectly cooked.  The crunchy texture was a nice contrast to the butteriness of the scallops.  Even Suzy, who is not a fan of scallops, liked this dish.

Ricotta Strozzapreti

Next on the appetizer list, the Ricotta Strozzapreti.  This is actually a pasta dish with a ricotta and pecorino cheese sauce, porcini mushrooms, turnip greens and sunchokes.  This was one of the best dishes of the night, in my opinion.  The flavor of the cheese was nicely balanced with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the greens added a much-needed burst of color.  After tasting this, I was a little surprised that this is an appetizer; it seems a bit heavy and rich to be a starter.

Crispy Branzino

For our first main course sample, we chose the Crispy Branzino.  The branzino (a type of sea bass found in Europe) was delicious.  The skin was perfectly crisp, the meat moist and flaky.  The butter bean puree that was served under the fish, I found bland even when combined with the other ingredients on the plate.  The chorizo didn’t really come thru for me, either.  While the presentation was beautiful, taste-wise, this was the most disappointing dish of the night for me.

Maine Lobster Pot Pie

Maine Lobster Pot Pie - inside

We selected the Maine Lobster Pot Pie which was next and came with an extra $15/pp charge.  It was more like a lobster bisque covered with a puff pastry and definitely took more than 2-3 bites to eat.  The “filling” had a creamy smooth texture and great flavor.  The puff pastry was flaky and buttery.  While I liked this dish best out of the 3 main courses we tried, I didn’t think it was on par with the Strozzapreti.

Prime N.Y. Steak

The Prime N.Y. Steak arrived next.  I really had high hopes for this dish.  It had a list of ingredients that I love – Kobe short rib, arugula, hazelnut, figs, horseradish.  The short rib, while fork tender, ended up being drowned out by the flavor of the sauce.  The arugula salad with fig and hazelnut was good but nothing special.  Overall, this was an okay dish but not outstanding as I hoped.

XIV Cheese Selection

For our first dessert, we ordered the XIV cheese selection.  This dish just popped in my mouth.  A slice of brie-like cheese with sweet quince (tasted a bit like guava) and Meyer foam, the flavor combination just blew me away.  I adored this dessert and would have been happy eating 8 courses of the XIV cheese selection.  Definitely one of the most memorable things I have eaten in my life…

Nutella Custard

The Nutella Custard followed and this was another superb desert.  Topped with passionfruit foam, toast streusel and popcorn ice cream, the textures and flavors melded together to form delectable, decadent bites.  A must order for Nutella fans, like me.

Chocolate Cream dessert

To end our meal, we had the Chocolate Cream dessert.  It was not the dish I would have wanted to end my night on.  While it was a good chocolate dessert, it didn’t blow me away like the XIV cheese did or make me want to lick the dish like the Nutella custard did.  I would have preferred to start the desserts with this as I thought it was the weakest one.

Overall, XIV both impressed and disappointed my taste buds.  The selections we had from the main course section of the menu were nothing that would draw me back for the cost but the cheese and Strozzapreti were delicious enough that I would come back just to eat those dishes again.  Fortunately, there’s still quite a few items left untasted on the menu to make another visit worthwhile.

The Catty Critic gives XIV 4 NOMs.

XIV
8117 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 656-1414
http://www.sbe.net/xiv
XIV on Urbanspoon