Saturday night was the 22nd American Wine & Food Festival at the Universal back lot (the "Back to the Future" set) organized by Wolf Puck as a benefit for Meals on Wheels. This was by far the best in recent memory. Not nearly as crowded as in previous years, it seemed like the lowest attendance since September 2001. We didn't feel like cattle and you could actually find places to sit and eat. We drank only water all day Saturday so that we could truly sample as much as possible until we burst.
The line-up of 40 Chefs was broader than in previous years. There was no primary food sponsor (ie, Alaska Seafod Council or American Lamb Board) so the variety of dishes was great and one didn't OD on rare lamb (tough to do, though). Almost everything was 100% delicious, sort of like a gigantic chef's tasting menu with unlimited wine pairings. The top dish for me was a tie: Jasper White's (Summer Shack) simple fried clam bellies with tartar sauce. I must have had 6 servings. Why can't someone in LA abandon clam strips with dreary breading and go for whole bellies with a light cornmeal dust? Even better (but close) was Hiro Sone's (Terra) foie gras ravioli with a wild mushroom broth. Impossibly thin pasta and devilishly rich FG made a beautiful pairing.
With an apparant nod to David Kahn, Mark Peel had whole roasted pig and collard greens. The meat was incredibly moist and flavorful, and the skin/fat combination was both chewy and meltingly tender at the same time. I didn't try them, but Mrs. Swift reported that Nancy Silverton's house-made peanut butter cups with scratch Oreo crust, creme fraiche, butterscotch sauce, Spanish peanut ice cream and Spanish peanuts was thoroughly addictive. Silverton scolded her as she was describing them to someone else in line, telling her that her description didn't "do justice" to the treat.
Nobu Matsuhisa had his signature spicy tuna handrolls and, after Wolf had eaten his fill, rolled out the uni for handrolls for the rest of us. Sublime. Piero Selvaggio had grilled Margerita pizzas, grilled veal with a tomato-based sauce that would make old tires taste great, and house-made shells stuffed with a goat cheese/spinach mixture. Very tasty. Dean Fearing (Mansion on Turtle Creek) had the best soft mini-tacos with grilled pork and one of his signature salsas. Yuji Wakiya (Wakiya Ichiemicharo, Tokyo) offered grilled Maine lobster with a red chile sauce and unreal french fries, which were great but not as good as those fried in been tallow from Frank Ostini of the Hitching Post. Ostinii's pork ribs were good but not great. Bradley Ogden (Lark Creek Inn) had the most delicious twice baked Maytag Blue cheese souffles, about an inch high and the size of a silver dollar. Melt in your mouth.
Mario Batali, who looked older than he does on TV, had a simple bruschetta with sliced salamis - it was musical to hear him pronounce the name of his dish. Alan Wong had a delicious tandoori yellowtail, very mildly flavored. Robert Del Grande (Cafe Annie), Mark Miller (Cayote Cafe) and Stephen Pyles (Dragonfly) offered Southwestern dishes heavy on the cumin. Laurent Gras (Fifth Floor) had pan seared sea scallops with a champaigne sauce. Great carmalized flavor. Drew Nieporent (Tribeca Grill) had this delicious poached Maine lobster with crispy sweetbreads and carmalized endive. Lee Hefter and crew (I didn't see Wolf actually cooking) plated roasted beet salad, sauteed goat cheese with hazelnuts, and baby greens with a shallot-citrus vinegrette. Lydia Shire, Norman Van Aken, Todd English, Jimmy Schmidt and Sam Choy had dishes which tasted great at the time but which escape me now.
All of this chow was washed down with Chandon sparkling, Jordan 2000 Cab, Patron tequilla, Belvedere vodka, Johnnie Walker black and others too numerous to mention.
And to top off the evening (although it happened at the start) we ran into another LA Hound, John, on the tram from the parking lot. It made me think that perhaps next year we could organize an LA Hounds table or two - that way we'd have guaranteed seating and a "home base". Overall, a thoroughtly delightful evening that ended all too soon at 10:30 pm.