We did two segments of the LA Times' Paramount-lot long-weekend extravaganza, the Cocktail Confidential last night and the Flavors of L.A. today. Both were very well attended - they said today's session was sold out - but although it could be hard to find a place to sit it never felt over-packed to us. The evening session felt a bit skimpy on food, mostly snacky items, but then I suppose bar food was to be expected. Gorbals presented essentially the same thing as at last year's Film Noir event downtown, a slice or two of fried tongue on a toast slice with some garnish; there were lobster tostadas and skillet-fried chicken offered at two stands almost next to each other, but the lines went far enough to promise you'd get nowhere else that evening. We were with friends and kept running into others, so between socializing and stops for sample cocktails it was too hard to keep track of whatever noshes came from where, although my fried mac'n'cheese ball from the Pig's Feet Under truck was good enough to put me in the line for another. As for beverages, the little shots of Rye Manhattan from the Bulliett stand were about as tasty as whiskey gets. We did wrap the evening with a late supper at Fred 62 in Los Feliz, which patched up any remaining holes in our nutrition requirements quite well.
Flavors of L.A. still had plenty of beverages to sample, but the food activity was more varied and easier to get to. Juan's Restaurante was pushing cactus, serving duck confit on tortillas with cactus-paddle added, and a very spicy habañero fruit garnish, mostly very good except for the rather mushy duck. Spice Table landed the first big score of my day with their Cereal Prawn, a deep-fried whole prawn with some kind of orange-colored grain-based crumbly stuff over it. "Eat the whole thing! You can eat the whole thing!" the guy kept exhorting us. Some were reluctant to chew up the head; I dutifully chewed up head, shell and all right back to the little tail flukes, which I threw away. Spicy, chewy, shrimpy and really good. I don't know that it was the best thing there, but certainly the most fun to eat. I'd also gotten a pleasant pinot noir from the Laetitia Winery, which we've passed a few times up near Santa Maria and wondered about.
After taking a break to watch Susan Feniger show us about pickling vegetables and making a good cold soba salad, we went to stand in a shady spot - the sun was very hot, but there was a good cool breeze - and I went over to the Luckshon/Father's Office stand and came back with a plastic cup of an interesting-looking pig's ear presentation. That was another stunner: the ear meat almost melted on the tongue, with a rich but very discreet flavor, while shreds of carrot and red pepper added crunch. Under all was a layer of a pungent, herbal green sauce that sent everything home with a lovely kick. That was the only thing of Sang Yoon's I've ever had, but to me it proves his often-mentioned mastery of flavor.
We had plenty of entertaining observations from him in the "L.A. Food Scene" discussion led by Jonathan Gold and Evan Kleiman; Gustavo Arellano was on that panel as well. Although it was hardly an intensive exploration of the subject (and there was a distractingly loud mariachi event happening down the block besides), it was good to hang out with four smart, witty people who are not only concerned about that scene but active participants in it.
We headed back to the front part of the lot, a large rectangular Astroturf "lawn" with umbrellas, tables and chairs scattered about it and surrounded by more food and drink booths. Wurstküche, which had been mobbed the night before, had plenty of their mango/habañero and rabbit/rattlesnake sausage samples on hand; I tried both and surprised myself by preferring the latter. A restaurant called Ombra of which I did not know had samples of their take on vitello tonnato, with thin slices of medium-rare veal and a good dab of an un-fishy but delicious creamy sauce. They happily gave me two, and then a third when I asked. Maybe I need to know them better. I got a nice little plate of chicken Doro Wat from Meals by Genet, served with a long enough strip of injera bread to eat it Ethiopian style, but I was concerned about my spotless white shirt … and then a set of plates of chips with mole, one Puebla-style and one Oaxacan, took care of THAT. Which is why we have Zout.
I've left out a lot, such as the interesting "succotash" from A1 Cucina Italiana, with tiny beans, corn and a lot of coarsely-chopped raw beef, more interesting than wonderful, and the smears of very good rillettes (subtitled "Pig Jam" on the sign) on Melba toast, because I don't recall whose it was. In terms of getting one's money's worth in food and drink alone, I suppose you can if you don't do anything else; these things are more about trying new things and celebrating food and drink than they are about simple consumption. The Times organization has continued to get better and better at making these events run as smoothly as possible; this was the second we've attended this year, the Festival of Books being the other, and although no such event can be truly glitch-free these came close. We look forward to next year's versions.