Watch out for 3hree Things every Tuesday, where Riley Breckenridge, drummer of Orange County's favorite local alt-rock band Thrice, gives his take on life in Southern California as an OC native.
The lady and I headed up to Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon to see what the first-ever LA Times Celebration of Food & Wine
was all about. As fans of both food (essential to survival) and wine (essential to happiness, also: good for you?) the lady and I thought spending our Labor Day Sunday "celebrating" them sounded like a fine idea, even if it required a drive to LA, which I like about as much as like getting punched in the balls. (Read: not at all.) As someone amused by words and how we use them, I had no idea what a "celebration" of Food & Wine would entail, but I was eager to find out.
"Ladies and Gentlemen...TACOS!"
(Crowd goes wild, pops champagne, dogpiles on a pitcher's mound made of taco meat, Kool & The Gang's "Celebration" plays.)
1) The Good: The Food & A Panel Featuring Michael Voltaggio
That never happened. I wish it had.
What did happen was a surprisingly enjoyable, albeit crowded, afternoon of culinary exploration and people-watching. A $55 ticket got us access to the Paramount lot, eight coupons that we could exchange for samples of wine and booze, and a free She & Him concert (which we skipped.) VIP tickets were available for $125, but from what I gathered, that extra $70 just got you access to an exclusive corral of the wealthy (surrounded by a white picket fence), featuring higher-end wineries and purveyors of booze, and I think you could try to jockey for conversation time with some of the chefs that mingled in the area. I consider myself neither "important," nor "very important", so I happily snatched two of the "general" admission tickets and generally wandered the Paramount lot with the rest of the unimportant masses.
After the jump, what was good and bad about the LA Times Food & Wine Celebration.
We spent a little over four hours trying to sample as many different food trucks and wine booths as we could, and while I feel like we fell a little short, mostly because I don't think it was humanly (or financially) possible to hit every one of them, we found a few gems that we'll definitely go out of our way to experience again.
The Nana Queen's Puddin' & Wings Truck
was our favorite of the day. Their Honey Hot Wings were some of the best hot wings I've ever had. My innards can't really handle gut-rotting spiciness, and the balance of spicy and sweet on these wings was perfect.
The OG Nana pudding was so good, we grabbed a free sample, bought and shared a serving, and then couldn't resist going back for thirds on our way out of the lot. My diet starts in 3...2...1...
I noticed a ton of people wandering the premises with Kyochon Chicken
bags and was intrigued, but the line at their booth (never less than thirty people deep) was a little off-putting.
Later in the day, when the crowds had subsided a bit, we decided to suck it up and get in line to see what all the fuss was about, and it was well worth it. The Soy Garlic wings were amazing; crispy, flavorful without being overpowering, and slightly depressing (because we realized that there isn't a Kyochon in Orange County).
An honorable mention goes to the crispy, cheesy, pork-filled goodness of the Brazilian pastel at the Bool BBQ food truck.
The wait for the food after ordering seemed a little excessive, but it was worth it. Like anything worth having at this "celebration," you had to be willing to wait for it.
Notable wines we sampled (before almost every wine booth worth a damn ran out of their stock at 5pm) were the Bonny Doon
Rosette, Alexander Valley Vineyards
Sin Zin, and four different varietals from Pech Merle
(available for the cost of one ticket, which was a very smart move for a young winery trying to make a name for itself.)
We also caught most of an entertaining, informative, and inspiring panel featuring "LA's New Star Chefs: Michael Voltaggio (the winner of Top Chef Season 6, and the culinary mastermind behind the greatest dining experience I've ever had--a birthday dinner for the ladyfriend at The Dining Room at the Langham hotel in Pasadena) and Vinny Dotolo & Jon Shook (from Animal in LA).
The point that all three of them stressed that really resonated with me was that they are extremely driven to bring high-quality dining to So Cal in an affordable and comfortable atmosphere. To me, so much of fine-dining seems overly uppity and stifled by convention, it was inspiring to see these young chefs so eager to think outside of the box not only in what they're putting on the plate, but how and where they're going to do that in the new restaurants they'll be opening soon. 2) The Bad: The Layout
The faux-city setting of the Paramount lot had a cool vibe to it. So much so, that I almost forgot that I was in LA a few times. The uncool part of that vibe was that the streets are really narrow, and with booths on both sides, they're even more narrow.
Cram thousands of people into those narrow streets with bellies full of booze and no idea where anything is (Maps were provided, but who reads maps? Durr.) and you've got a mild clusterfuck on your hands.
On a few of the most popular streets, it was literally nuts-to-butts, which made it tough to tell where lines began or ended. As someone who values his personal space, I found it a little nerve-wracking at times, but with all the outstanding food and booze, and the great weather, I couldn't really complain.
"It's too hot."
It's summer in LA, idiot.
"It's too crowded."
Surprise! You're not the only one that thought an afternoon of food and booze would be a good idea.
"Ew, what the hell is she wearing?"
Your sweaty exposed back flab is pouring over your belt, and you're calling people out for what they're wearing?
"Man, I thought I'd get more free shit."
Everything is amazing and nobody is happy (see: the clip above.) Sigh.
All in all, I'd consider it a success, and I'm eager to see what changes they make to improve the experience next year.