LA Weekly is one of my go-to places to find out about events around town. Whether it’s the latest food craze or some weird, only-in-LA kind of wellness trend like floating in a sensory deprivation tank. Because why not?
But one thing I look forward to most is their annual LA Weekly Essentials issue – outlining their top 99 restaurants in Los Angeles (and surrounding cities) each year. Their 2017 list included some of my ultimate faves – like A.O.C., Angelina Osteria and 71Above that made it on the “freshmen 15” list for up-and-comers. As a side note, 71Above was also featured in Gourmet Globetrotter’s top romantic Valentine’s Day recommendations. I mean, the view alone is worth making any list (and the food is just as spectacular).
A few weeks ago, we were invited to attend the official Essentials food festival. The one-day event showcased more than 50 of their top restaurant picks and wineries, with all samples included. With this much buzz (oh, and maybe all that free wine), you know this will be a popular place.
There are two ticket options for the Essentials – a VIP ticket ($100 each) with access to the Freshmen 15 showcase at 1 PM, all the free samples, gift bag and lots of other items thrown in. And the other is general admission ($65 a ticket, and what we got) with access starting at 2 PM to all the free samples.
We showed up exactly on time for the festival’s start at 2 PM (even with Kevin in tow, who has gained a reputation for his ‘fashionable tardiness’). But the last thing I wanted to do was miss out on free food! But clearly, I wasn’t alone in this thinking with the line stretching from inside the festival’s venue (in downtown’s California Market Center) and snaking around the corner outside.
I have to admit – the line looked really daunting. But it moved like a well-oiled machine. The staff quickly scanned our tickets, checked our ID’s (which always puts us in a good mood!), slapped on some bracelets to get access and off we went in the elevator to the top floor where I could smell all the good food as soon as the doors opened.
The place was hoppin’ — with some lines rivaling the wait time of Space Mountain on 4th of July (here’s to you hot spot, Bestia). While others you could literally just walk up and grab 5 plates if you wanted. Not that I would ever do that…
Kevin and I immediately broke down our food strategy to maximize our time (something we’d totally recommend if you attend). While Kevin stood in one popular line, I’d then run around like a banshee and collect as many samples as possible from the more efficient restaurants that pumped out samples like a factory line.
My first stop included veggie-fave Elf Cafe, which served (get ready for this one) “Almogrote with smoked olive and herb gremolata on ficelle.” Okay, so I had no idea what that was. And if I asked Siri, I could only imagine what obscene suggestion she’d come back with. So I Googled to translate. It’s basically cheese and olive on bread. Despite not knowing any of this (since I ate the sample before translating), it was still pretty tasty. If not a mouthful to pronounce.
Next up, I visited a restaurant I actually didn’t know of (prior to The Essentials event) called Dune. It’s located in Atwater Village — quite a trek from West Hollywood (where we’re based) so not totally shocking we haven’t come across it. Dune is known for their falafel (with LA Weekly writing ‘Holy crap, this falafel is good’). Today, they served organic hummus with baby kale and collard tabouleh and marinated feta and tahini dressing. I downed my sample before I even got back to Kevin – still waiting patiently in the first line.
I joined Kevin just in time to grab 2 samples from Park’s BBQ. This was a showstopper and long on our list of places to eat in LA. We’ve tried a few Korean barbecue spots in town. But none have matched the quality, flavor and tenderness of this one sample. This has made it to the top of our list of places to explore further.
THE BEST OF?
Everything was fantastic – I mean, LA Weekly pretty much handled culling down only the best of the best for this event. However, one place stood out the most. And again, it was a restaurant we never visited (though, I did have it bookmarked on Yelp for quite some time). The top pick went to Union, Bruce Kalman’s 3-year-old Cali-Italian restaurant in Pasadena. It was simple, but consisted of quality ingredients that just worked so well together. Some restaurants at the festival conceived dishes that took teams to assemble and perfect (much to the demise of some hungry people waiting in line). But Union’s dish was basically sliced baguette with olive oil and cheese. And okay, maybe I did eat 3 of these (no shame!).
Be sure to check out LA Weekly, and read all about their 99 Essential Restaurant picks. And even better yet, when it’s this time next year, visit the Essentials festival to try out all the samples. And I almost forgot the most important part – all the fantastic wine. Those New Zealand wines curated by NZ Wine Navigator were top-notch and the Kiwis serving the wine were hilarious (or maybe it was the generous samples of wine?).
Oh, and the Ojai pixie cocktails…. Okay, clearly I had my calorie intake for a week (or two) as we shut the place down staying nearly to the very end. I think we know where we’ll be this time next year!