East LA Meets Napa (2008)

Train Station Los Angeles

The third annual East LA Meets Napa event convened at Union Station to benefit AltaMed Health Services Corporation, which has been providing health care to minorities and economically disadvantaged Southern Californians since 1969. The organization started with a small free clinic. They now have 33 Southland facilities. Union Station is one of downtown’s great spaces, but even for that location, this was a special evening.

The Union Station courtyard was ringed with over 40 booths, including wines from more than 20 Latino-owned or –managed wineries. There was also food from lauded Latino chefs like Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu of La Casita Mexicana, John Rivera Sedlar from his forthcoming Rivera Restaurant and Octavio Becerra from palate food + wine in Glendale.

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I was treated to up-tempo music from Jose Rizo and the Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars.

Ceja Vineyards
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Since it was so warm out, I bypassed Ceja Vineyards’ Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon for their crisp 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, from the Sonoma Coast.

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Thanks to Chef Daniel Salcido, I previously had a good dining experience in downtown Whittier. The affable Salcido cooked his signature baked Iberian crepes. I opted for a skewered date stuffed with goat cheese, drizzled with tamarind sauce. It was sweet but flavorful.

La Casita Mexicana
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Chef Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu clearly run the most compelling Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. Two of their dishes incorporated puff pastry, which del Campo says is traditional in Mexico City. The first puff pastry sported minced jicama, which had some nice crunch, cinnamon and yerba buena (Mexican mint).

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I finally got a chance to experience La Casita Mexicana’s blackberry mole, a dish that has proved elusive on recent visits to the Bell restaurant. In this case, the subtly sweet mole blanketed white meat chicken and was sprinkled with sesame seeds. Impressive.

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Martin del Campo’s third dish: tamales with masa mixed with huitlacoche (black corn fungus) and fresh corn kernels.

Rivera Modern Latin Cuisine
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John Rivera Sedlar hopes to open Rivera Modern Latin Cuisine near L.A. Live on November 1, combining ancient Mexican cuisine and molecular gastronomy. He promises a Latin sashimi bar, gourmet tamales, Prime steaks, plus tequila and Mescal flights. Sedlar’s still looking for downtown home for his Museum Tamal, the second phase of his plan. Sedlar offered cups of Donaji, an ancient Meso-American cocktail made with Mezcal and tequila, the rim of the fruit-filled glass lined with a mixture of salt, chile and finely chopped crickets. The taste of cricket was undetectable. Fresh blueberry, blackberry, lime, plum and herb were more pronounced.

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Sedlar said it was okay to eat from his bowl of chapulines (crickets), but I lost my nerve when he described the insects as “meaty.”

Dorados Seafood Kitchen
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Ricardo Diaz also represented his other Monterey Park restaurant, Cook’s Tortas, but since I’d eaten there twice recently, skipped it in favor of his Mexican seafood restaurant. Dorados offered shrimp, fish or mixed seafood tostadas. I opted for the tostada mixtiada, piled with shrimp, fish and faux crab, all mixed with tomatoes, onions and cilantro.

This well-respected down-home East LA restaurant served pork short ribs in a fire-red mole sauce. The hog meat was tender.

Tamayo Restaurant
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This sprawling East LA restaurant served two dishes on tiny fresh-grilled corn tortillas. Cochinita pibil was a respectable version of the spice-soaked Yucatan pork dish, but I wasn’t crazy about the white meat chicken in bitter black mole.

Hacienda San Isidro
A grill and a high-end restaurant by the same name have been offering “Mexican cuisine with attitude” for two months in Whittier, with menus from Chef Alfonso Ramirez. I ordered a quesadilla with huitlacoche, rajas and flor de calabaza (zucchini flower) with spicy, creamy guacamole. Very good. I somehow missed the shrimp in pineapple sauce, but it looked pretty good later.

Tamales y Antojitos La Tia
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The restaurant has been open for two years in East LA, offering 25 moles at the restaurant, five here, plus cochinita pibil.

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La Tia dispensed grilled chicken breast and steak with plantains. I chose drizzles of red wine & hibiscus mole, tamarind mole and pepian verde. They also had white mole and mole Poblano. The moles were interesting enough to make me want to visit the restaurant, but they didn’t have the mouth-rocking impact of La Casita Mexicana, and the steak was too fatty.

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This basket hosted some of the ingredients that La Tia incorporates into her moles, including cinnamon sticks, almonds, pumpkin seeds, garlic and dried chilies.

palate food + wine
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Octavio Becerra wasn’t on site, but he dispensed some talented minions, including George Garduño, Jr., whose parents own My Taco in Highland Park. Palate served delicately fried squash blossoms, filled with seasoned minced pork, served on spicy chipotle aioli.

My glass was stolen twice, so it took awhile to get started with my drinking.

Carneros Della Notte
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This Carneros vineyard harvests grapes at night since the grapes are neutral at that time, it’s cooler, and the bugs are quiet. Their bottles have glow-in-the-dark labels. I received a pour of 2003 Pinot Noir ($48 per bottle). The owner said his Pinot Noir recently won a Pinot showdown, selected from a group of 250 different versions. After a sip, that was entirely believable. He also poured a taste of the Reserve ($150 per bottle), served surprisingly cool.

Mi Sueno Winery
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Mi Sueno (aptly named “my dream” in Spanish) poured a sweet 2006 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. They also offered 2006 Chardonnay from Carneros, a 2005 El Llano red wine produced in Napa Valley, a 2004 Syrah from Napa Valley and a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
J. Lohr Vineyards from Monterey County served a very respectable Chardonnay.

Attila The Flan
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Attila the Flan is a great name, and owner Jenny Martin clearly has a sense of humor. The cartoon character with flan on his head will apparently appear in a comic strip. Thankfully, Martin’s Mexican dessert wasn’t nearly as wicked as the namesake Hun.

Attila served Napolitano (traditional), Tres Leches and Choco. I selected Tres Leches, which had a layer of fluffy cake, and a layer of flan.

Porto’s Bakery & Café
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I can visit nearby Porto’s any time, but I still couldn’t resist a cheese roll, light and flaky, filled with a layer of sweet cheese. They also had guava and cream cheese strudel, mango mousse and other pastries.

Lucio Perez Family Estate Vineyards
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Since I had a cheese roll on my plate, I asked the owner of this Carneros vineyard and his son if they could suggest a wine that paired well with cheese. They poured a 2000 Chardonnay from Carneros, which worked well. They also offered pours of 2006 Zinfandel, produced in nearby St. Helena.

D’s Delights
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The “D” stands for Daryl Galindo, who has worked with chocolate for about 30 years. He offered samples of six different chocolates on his two multi-tiered trays. I tried habanero almond dark chocolate, which had some kick. This fundraiser had a wine focus, so Daryl encased Bordeaux in milk chocolate and Champagne cream in dark chocolate.

Alex Sotolo Cellars

My final taste came from Alex Sotolo’s Napa Valley vineyard. Jaime Martin del Campo met Sotolo four years ago in Mexico. They’ve become friends, and Martin del Campo even plans to serve Sotolo’s wines at the larger outpost of La Casita Mexicana, which should debut in Bell around New Year’s. Jaime knew to ask for the Moscato, which Sotolo kept chilled behind the table. The sweet white wine was delicious, not over the top sweet.

I would definitely return for the fourth annual East LA Meets Napa event. I’ve never been to a better food and wine event, and since the event is growing every year, 2009 should be even better.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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What Dorado Restaurant provides an orange plastic bag for food in California?

Your descriptions make my mouth water, and you made me so hungry, I can’t wait until this year’s event on July 10th. And Peter Dills and I are looking forward to having you on our show Friday, July 3rd at 11 AM at http://www.LATalkRadio.com channel 2 for the Friday Morning Happy Hour to talk all about it! Be sure to write for directions to the studio.

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