RECAP: The Lexus Grand Tasting at the L.A. Food & Wine Festival | Hot Times in the City of Angels

Inside the Lexus Grand Tasting
August 17, 2012

Summer was in full swing as we made our way north to Los Angeles to cover the grand finale of the 2nd Annual L.A. Food & Wine Festival - day 2 of the Lexus Grand Tasting event.  Even with $300 in complimentary passes, we were reluctant to get in the car and venture to the traffic hell that is L.A. on such a hot day.  I know, we're jaded now!!!  (SD rules!) Regardless, we stayed true to our word, as we had readers and publicists to answer to, and you know what, we're happy we did.  This is the story of our experience.

Brian Malarkey with Ness
Unlike past events, getting into the Lexus Grand Tasting was quite painless.  While Lexus drivers were able to secure free valet parking, everyone else had to pay a reasonable $10 for parking at the LA Live center facility.  Although we didn't mind, I'm not too sure we would have felt the same had we paid $150 each for tickets to the tasting event.  Surprisingly, there was no line to get into the tented event, even though it was insanely packed inside.

And Malarkey's Lobster roll
Our first taste of the day was from San Diego's very own Brian Malarkey, who made a delicious lobster roll, served on a soft potato bun with bright orange caviar on top.  Malarkey was highly energized as usual, pumping out his lobster rolls while dancing around in his patent leathers.  Unfortunately, the overstuffed mini sandwiches meant that his lobster salad would soon run out, and although a favorite of the event, Malarkey may have been the first to close up shop.

Drago's anglotti with black truffles
We sauntered through the enormous tent, nibbling and imbibing along the way, running into familiar faces (like Chef Daniel Joly who is always at these events) and exchanging pleasantries with the other eager foodies.  Chef Celestino Drago's line ran long, as passersby were lured by Chef Drago himself generously shaving black truffles onto his handmade boar anglotti. Even though I hadn't even realized there was boar (didn't taste any meat) I swoon for truffle and thoroughly enjoyed the pillowy soft little raviolis elevated by the luxurious shavings.

Chef Roy was non-stop!
Even though we arrived sweaty and starving, we quickly traversed the entire tent, filling up on small plates, good and not-so-good.  Though Ruth's Chris put out a beautiful martini glass, overloaded with bright white crab, my brain (and the fishiness) forced me to instantly reject it, and into the garbage it went with many, many of its brethren.  Quick mouth wash with beer from the Stella stand and I was ready to move on.  My absolute favorite of the day was Roy Yamaguchi's slow-cooked, 48 hour short rib, Japanese style, plated by Chef Roy himself. Roy's exquisite piece of meat was melt in your mouth tender, contrasting its perfect sear, and complemented with onion gel, English peas, and gold chanterelles. Despite our nearly-exploding bellies, we immediately returned to the long line for seconds.  And thirds. Don't judge! We definitely weren't the only ones.

Being goofy with Chef Amanda!
We clinked glasses with some of our favorite Top Chefs, Amanda Baumgarten (now at Herringbone in La Jolla), Alex Reznik, Ilan Hall, and Edward Lee, who all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the event.  Chef Amanda was quite the pleasure and was very approachable and fun, explaining that she has a fetish for, of all things, lettuce (we'll get to that when we profile Herringbone).

A highlight of the day was running into our good friend, former championship trivia team partner, and KTLA's hottest new star, former San Diegan Doug Kolk, and the afternoon ended with a bang (and pounding three or so beers) before being led out of the event by security.  We continued out onto the town and almost attended the Red Hot Chili Peppers show at the Staples Center across the way (sorry Doug!).

Just a fraction of our bounty!
You may be wondering, "Hey SanDiegoVille, how were the hundreds of wines up there? It was a WINE festival, ya know!"  Well, I'm sure they were all bold, brilliant, earthy delights, demonstrating depth and boasting intoxicating bouquets, (blah, blah, blah), but, as tends to be the case at such food festivals, Stella Artois satisfies all of our drinking desires, pouring icy cold, refreshing beers in souvenir glasses, rather than thrifty siplets after long lines and lengthy explanations.  Now, after attending San Diego Bay Wine & Food, Pebble Beach, and now L.A., our biggest issue is storing the huge assortment of Leffe, Hoegaarden, and Stella glasses in our apartment - not a terrible problem to have.  Annnnnd on that note, I'm going to fill up one of those bad boys!  Cheers to another successful food festival! And cheers to the weekend!