We went to the LA Weekly/Jonathan Gold food festival at Smashbox studios in West Hollywood. Had a great time.

The preliminary info: We tried to buy tickets on Goldstar ($36) as soon as we heard about the event, but they were sold out. We found them at the full-priced supplier, TicketWeb, at $60. Since Goldstar had sold out, we made the purchase quickly on TicketWeb. Those were gone soon, too. We got two adults, and two kids ($10 – great deal). We opted for will-call rather than pay the $16 (I think) for them to be sent.

We rode our bikes over to the studios since it was a great day and we didn’t want to have to drive home after too much wine. We got there about 2:30 to get our tickets, but the didn’t open the gates, even for will-call, until 3:15. Then, we weren’t on the list, but fortunately I had brought a printout of my tickets so they just put bracelets on us and waived us through. The ticket area really had no idea of what was going on.

So the first area was an outdoor parking lot with maybe five stands and a Japanese beer stand. We had sausage slices from Wurstkuche (nothing special, but fine) and a good shrimp with habanero sauce from Babita Mexicuisine. But the real action was inside.

The first room was the largest, with a cash bar in the middle. That didn’t make a ton of sense to me, and they weren’t doing a lot of business there or at the other cash bar. With decent free wine and beer at the same level of the beer at the bar, who would pay? For the record, there were generally pretty good wines, and two great champagne vendors (Schramsberg and Piper-Heidsiek) but the beers (Singha, and, I think, Kirin) and the beers at the cash bar were all pretty low-end. I was surprised some better beer didn’t make an appearance.

In that first room, La Mill was serving cookies. I was a little let down that they didn’t have something better, and same at Beacon that had a simple snow pea and cheese salad. Then Providence has desserts only (which I came back for – not really my cup of tea). But then I hit Angeli and they had beet gnocchi over their insalate forte which are my two favorite menu items there. In addition, we met Evan Kleinman so it was nice to finally meet the woman who owns the place. That’s a regular haunt for us.

In that first room was also Renu Nakorn, who probably wins the prize for being most ready for the crowds. The food was good – the spicy, cold beef salad was fragrant and full of herbs. Definitely a winner.

Probably the second longest line of the festival was here, and I waited in it, and was rewarded. It was for Animal, and they were serving their pork belly with peanuts, scallions, kimchee (gone by the time I got there) and an asian sauce. I still don’t know how they do it, but it’s crispy and still falling-apart. They’ve got this down. I spoke to one of the owner/chefs – he had on the t-shirt from Au Pied du Cochon in Montreal, which has a very similar menu and vibe.

Then you go into a lounge with the other cash bar and the bottles of Fiji water and all the Pom drinks. I think they’re owned by the same woman (Linda Resnick?) and she really knows how to market. These have to have the cheapest ingredients on the planet, but a good story, and she makes a fortune off them.

OK – the next room has the longest line: Mozza, with Nancy Silverton dishing out burratta with pesto and roasted tomatoes (still on the vine). No question, excellent. The pesto wasn’t so strong as to overwhelm the cheese. And, maybe because we go there early, but the portion was really generous.

Next door was Clementine full of great desserts. Then, there was a restaurant called Alcazar that I hadn’t heard of. Of all the new places I found (not too many, really) this was hands-down the best. I’m linking to their site, but be careful. It’s loud. They’re in the valley but the owner said a new location was coming soon to Westwood. His muhamarrah was amazing, and the babagahnoush was smoky and the hummus was great, too. The falafel was crispy and light. The one thing I didn’t love was the spinach pie thing, but the rest was really, really good and I’ll definitely be a customer when I don’t have to go to the valley for it. I’m glad I found this place.

Next door was Lou, which I haven’t been to, but I had a good pulled pork on polenta concoction there.

At the big room in the back there were several restaurants I love. The first one was Loteria Grill, which is another place we frequent (both locations). They were serving potato and meat tacos, but also a new fried cheese taco with, I think, cactus, that was great. This place was swamped, but they were keeping up pretty well. They had some good drinks including a cucumber water that I liked.

Then there was Sona which had a complicated dish with salmon, salmon caviar, a gel of maybe ponzu, seaweed, and a radish from Chino farms. I probably had four of these. This was one of my top dishes. They also had a ginger and blood orange drink that even my kids liked.

More great restaurants in this room: Anisette, complete with Alain Giraud serving. I haven’t been there (yet) but now I surely will go. They served duck a l’orange on a stick with a peel, duck, and a piece of bread. My son dug it. But also, they had a frisee salad that was a real twist. It was a u-shaped toast with pancetta, frisee, and a lightly poached quail egg inside. It looked gorgeous (to me) and it spurted yolk in my mouth. Pretty perfect.

Hungry Cat had a great smoked salmon plate. They wrapped it around tandoori yogurt with dates. The tastes and textures worked really well together.

Lastly, Jitlada had their good spicy air dried beef and rice salad. As delicious as both were, I only went once. I found that and Renu Nakorn a little hard to deal with amid all of the European flavors. And I was concerned that the spiciness would numb me to the rest of the tastes.

I’m sure I left out some good items (Drago comes to mind, and there are more). I didn’t try Meals by Genet, but my wife loved it and the line was huge.

If I find any decent pictures in my camera, I’ll upload them.

Next year, we’re back, no problem. Just maybe some good beer? Maybe Craftsman even?

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