Jonathan Gold might be the premier gastronome in a budding food mecca, a town where even New York transplants are beginning to declare as “exciting.” That could be an understatement considering the overwhelming turnout at the first annual (meaning I hope there is more than one) Gold Standard food event hosted by LA Weekly this past Sunday, March 7th, where 30 hand-picked restaurants and eateries brought out signature dishes for denizens of Gold readers and foodies. The stately Gold, a Beard-esque figure, made his rounds while well over a thousand revelers and giddy urbanites trotted the narrow hallways and expansive rooms of Smashbox Studios in West Hollywood on a chilly afternoon.
Parking was a nightmare in the mostly residential area south of Santa Monica Boulevard, but once we got in, we could see hundreds of people wandering the main room, where Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of the now-famous Animal Restaurant grilled fresh pork bellies for a line of at least three dozen people. While I wasn’t able to taste many of the heavy hitters because they had run out of food just 2 ½ hours into the event, I was able to try a good number of solid dishes.
Free wine was available all over the venue, with a taste of this Piper-Heidseck as one of the notable ones. Some different regions were featured like this set from Oregon and Washington.
The seafood salad at Drago, featuring baby spinach and large pieces of fresh scallop, were very good. Since the line was long, Christine and I had a few plates each of these. They also briefly offered a fantastic panna cotta topped with assorted citrus.
Loteria Grill was making dozens of tacos by the minute, with the potato and the crispy cheese on guacamole as notable ones. We also had this seared fish taco with fresh tomatoes and queso fresca.
Lou, a wine bar in a tiny strip mall in Hollywood and a place we’ve been meaning to visit for many months now, featured a delicious pulled pork canapé as well as a salt-cod canapé.
Alcazar, a Middle-eastern restaurant from Encino, had various staples such as hummus, stuffed grape leaves, muhammara (crushed walnuts mixed with red pepper, pomegranate, and spices), and assorted olives. We also had a piping hot falafel piece straight from the deep fryer, topped with tahini sauce.
KyoChon Chicken, the well-known Korean fried chicken joint, offered spicy chicken wings about the size of your pinky finger. They were flavor packed and resembled the spicy wings I’ve had at Izakaya Bincho and even the tebasaki I’ve had in Nagoya, Japan. I must go back and get these at the restaurant. At $17.99 an order, I”ll hesitate though.
Cheery chef Susan Feniger of Border Grill and Ciudad was working a massive paella pan with clams and chorizo outside. The paella was delicious and topped with an aioli sauce.
Upstairs 2, the small plates restaurant atop Winehouse in West LA featured a well-cooked piece of kurabuta pork with sherry sauce. It was a scrumptious bite, though it looked a little dreary on the paper plate.
Beacon’s lone offering was a simple salad of fresh sugar snap peas in a lemony dressing.
Chili My Soul from Encino had a superb selection of (you guess it), chili. I recall the delicious spoonful of Texas Pride chili, a low-fat chili heavily spiced with chilis and cumin. I will definitely be trying both this place and Alcazar in my next trip out to the Valley.
Meals by Genet had a huge plate of Ethiopian specialties, included a ground bean paste and dorowot, a chicken stew made with red peppers. The plate also had layers of injera, a large sourdough flatbread that was used to pick up the rest of the ingredients. No utensils required. Meals by Genet is another place I must check out in the near future.
Anisette had run out of their original dish so they improvised and created a frisee salad topped with duck breast. It was pretty good but I wondered what the original dish was. The line was over two dozen people long so we didn’t bother waiting for the first dish. Among other chefs, Alain Giraud was in the house helping with the dishes.
The stars of the evening, Sona and Palate, both of which I wasn’t able to try because they had run out (and had a prohibitively long line of over 50 people) were supposed to be delicious. Chefs David Myers and Octavio Becerra were manning the stations. Sona’s booth featured zen-like stones and a mocktail made with blood oranges topped with a tiny dish of ____ , while Palate’s offering was their signature pork belly (which could be had at their restaurant any day of the week). Still, I was sad I couldn’t try it, but at the rate the line was moving, I would’ve missed out on many other dishes if I were to wait in line.
Jitlada was in the house, a perennial Gold favorite. They had spicy beef with a fiery-hot mango rice-stir fry that pretty much put my palate out of commission for ten minutes. A measure of Singha beer from Thailand tempered the heat.
Some tasty desserts and sundry items were on display at Fancifull, a specialty foodstore and basket shop on Melrose. We sampled a delicious chocolate treat with crispy rice, some spicy chorizo from Fra’ Mani, and a trio of cheeses.
We capped off the night with some fresh tea from LAMILL Coffee, with premium jasmine pearl green tea.
Afterwards, Christine, H.C. and I were able to chat with Jonathan Gold for about ten minutes, with topics mostly about Korean food and the Kogi phenomenon. It was great to finally meet a writer that I both admire and model after, finding that he was jolly and well-mannered, overall likeable and certainly passionate about food. To see the booths wrapping up and soaking up the success of the night was probably a welcome comfort to Gold, whose reputation was on the line. I’ll be seeing Mr. Gold later this week at the Zocolo panel featuring Chef Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ truck, Nancy Silverton, and Jazz from Jitlada.
Regarding the event itself, hundreds, if not thousands (at least it seemed) joined the fray for a superb selection of eats from all over the city. Ethnic, high-end, dessert, and wine were given away liberally. Top notch ingredients and fresh preparations ruled, with chefs manning their own booths and showing off their restaurant’s best.
Some things I did not enjoy were the cramped location, with various choke points between the three main rooms at Smashbox Studios. Also, many of the restaurants were packing up at 5:30 because they had run out of food. It was obvious that some places had too much to offer (pork belly) and other too little (sugar snap peas), creating a disparate dispersion of the crowds. Packing Sona, Palate and Anisette together resulted in a huge crush in the South Studio room that left me more annoyed than anything.
Also, the parking and location were ill-conceived. Next year, they ought to get a room at the L.A. Convention Center where it’s outfitted to handle hundreds of cars and thousands of people.
In the end, the event was a success because the place was packed to the gills and many people were able to try places they would never have dreamed of venturing to (Renu Nakorn is probably out of the purview of most Westsiders). Jonathan Gold solidified his prominence as the best restaurant critic in the city, at least one that’s still relevant and producing top-notch writing in a newsprint environment where even the big players are struggling to make ends meet. Bloggers, publicists, foodies, neophytes, and scene-whores converged on this WeHo venue with a buzz and energy not often seen during these recession days. Ultimately, the restaurants win because they can showcase their skills and hopefully lure customers. I don’t know what the financial arrangement was, but I’m sure in the years to come, the competition to get into Gold’s hand-picked list of restaurants will be tough. Maybe in the future, Gold’s annual 99 essential restaurants will pack into the L.A. Convention Center for a yearly gorgefest and celebration of LA’s finest culinary lights.