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Each year The TASTE, presented by the LA Times, takes place over Labor Day weekend. Los Angeles residents, tourists and foodies alike look forward to this annual event. It’s a wonderful way to try the cuisine of multiple restaurants while enjoying an inside peek of the New York back lot at Paramount Pictures.

The Taste crowd; photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG;

I have attended this event since 2011 and look forward to it every year. I loved bumping into famed food critic, and co-creator of The Taste, Jonathan Gold who would always say hello and ask “are you having a good time?” “Yes, I would exclaim.” For those of you who don’t know, we lost Jonathan last year (prior to the Taste event in 2018). This year’s festival spotlighted him at the entrance with his now famous saying “Five Rules for Dining in LA” as well as his profile in lights, situated for all to view and contemplate.

The quality of the food being served continues to be excellent…I could go on about each and every dish. However, this would turn into the never-ending article, so here are a few of my favorites from each night.

Jessica Kott, Southern California Field Sales Manager of Barton & Guestier; photo by Kathy Leonardo; courtesy of ETG;

At the start of my night I came across Jessica Kott, who works for Barton & Guestier, based out of Bordeaux France. Kott was quite knowledgeable about wine, I normally drink red, but she offered me a 2018 B&G Cotes de Provence Tourmaline Rose. She described it as one of her favorites. “It is crisp, with flirty minerality and the perfect juicy palate and floral bouquet”…and she was right. It was quite delightful and great choice to start off the night with. I would come to know her, and the wine she represented even more as we continued to see each other throughout the festival.

From left to right Chef Antonio Giordano and Head Pizzaiolo Michele Rubini, L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele

My first foodie choice of the first night was stupendous. I had just met L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele’s Pizzaiolo Michele Rubini at another food event this past week and was excited to sample the Pasta alla Nerano being served. It was my first time meeting Chef Antonio Giordano, who runs the kitchen with Michele. The pasta alla Nerano (zuchinni, basil, pecorino parmigiana), a classic dish – was simple, yet enchanting. The homemade pasta was al dente and the delicate flavors blended perfectly with my glass of Tourmaline.

At the Le Grand Restaurant booth, I met the Events Coordinator, Justin Milian, who offered us two tastes…a Branzini Ceviche and Compressed Watermelon. The ceviche was so succulent, yet slightly tart, with a wonderful zing of fresh lime. The watermelon provided a sweet refreshing ending. They were both beautifully displayed and perfectly paired.

Gorgeous display of Branzini Ceviche from Le Grand; photo by Kathy Leonardo; courtesy of ETG;

One could not ignore Gus’s Fried Chicken. The line remained long all three days of the festival. I am a huge fan of its Memphis style fried chicken. See my restaurant review HERE (originally published on ETG’s sister site – LAArtParty.com in 2018).

Next I tried an exceptional dish from Noree Thai, another restaurant that made big waves all three nights of the festival. The owner Noree was beautifully dressed and was the visual anchor of their lovely presentation. Each night I experienced a different delicacy from this fantastic restaurant. The first night I scarfed down an incredible dish of Noree’s, crispy chicken with honey lime sauce. It was served on a bed of crispy greens, which Noree explained were broccoli leaves. The next night I enjoyed a tofu and noodles in curry dish which had my taste buds popping. The lush thick noodles and seemingly seared tofu, with a firm toasted edge, soaked up the spicy sauce they were swimming in, resulting in a robust and super flavorful dish with multiple layers.

Two delectable tastes from Two Different Days from Chef Noree Pla; photos by Kathy Leonardo; courtesy of ETG;

Large un-cut Sushi Rolls were prepared by Umi Hamasaku. The albacore and tuna selections were delicate and delightful. I continued my culinary journey through the evening and enjoyed tastes from Black Market Liquor Bar, Church & State, Otium, and Tar & Roses. Another favorite was Roberta’s Pizza…hands down the best pizza of all three days of the TASTE (see photo below with Sunday’s coverage). I enjoyed a glorious slice which was a spectacular companion to a full-bodied pinot noir from Bernardus 2016 Santa Lucia Highlands.

From a distance I saw smoke rising from the Super Cool Creamery booth, so I immediately darted over there. When I arrived, I discovered an entertaining team of stylish “Nitro-Artisans” making ice cream with nitrogen. The entire crew was dancing and laughing while they prepared the freshest ice cream imaginable. They put on quite a show. Nitrogen smoke was everywhere…it was definitely the place to be. At every food festival I attend, there is always one rowdy booth attracting all the attention…these guys at Super Cool Creamery knew how to draw in the crowd and stole the show.

Super Cool Creamery, “Nitro-Artisans” From left to right, Michael Herbert, Garrett Ingham; photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG;

The four flavors to choose from were Cookies and Cream, Salted Caramel, Chocolate Reeses, and Lemon Sorbet. I fell in love with the salted caramel,  but stole a taste of the cookies and cream, which was amazing as well. In addition to nitro-artisan ice cream, Super Cool also provides nitro-artisan frozen cocktails. No kidding. These guys make a great addition to any party!

The following day, I spotted my new friend Jessica Kott from Barton & Guestier. I was excited to begin my night with a lighter wine, instead of my usual red. She suggested 2018 Listel Grain de Gris Rose de Camargue, a Cinsault, Grenache and Carignan blend. According to Kott it is the #1 best-selling dry rose in the world. After tasting it, I knew why…it was quite pleasing and refreshing, yet distinctive.

Madre Oaxacan Restaurant and Mezcalaria presented two savory delights – Barbacoa de Res Taco (angus beef dry chilis and avocado leaves) as well as Ceviche Piquinn (shrimp and octopus). Both were fantastic!

A delish Spinach Cavatelli served by Kwini Reed from Viviane; photos by Kathy Leonardo; courtesy of ETG;

The well-known restaurant Viviane (located at the Avalon Beverly Hills Hotel) featured an incredible pasta dish…Spinach cavatelli (pork sausage ragu, swiss chard Parmesan with bread crumbs on top). See photo above – It was magnificent. I rushed back to my new friend Jessica Kott from Barton & Guestier to enjoy a rich Bordeaux-style Red Blend (2015 Chateau Magnol Haut-Medoc), with the magical pasta. It was a superb pairing.

Mister O’s enticed attendees with beautifully adorned plates of filet mignon with pomme purée, and cremini bordelaise. This was exquisite. The sauce was stunning and the filet mignon was so divine. A glass of Frescobaldi Remole Toscana Rosso 2016 from Tuscany Italy was an appropriate choice to experience this dish.

A work of foodie art by Mister O’s; photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG;

One thing I love about this event is that you can take a break from grazing and find a seat in the open air studio where you can watch a cooking demo, hear one of your favorite chefs share a few secrets and learn something new. Then, when you might be able to squeeze a little bit more food in, you can return to the feeding frenzy. On Saturday at 10pm, LA Times host Jenn Harris, interviewed Chef Kim Prince of Hotville Chicken as she gave a cooking demonstration for her famous hot hot chicken. Earlier in the evening, I watched a big burly man’s reaction after he popped a piece of Hotville Chicken into his mouth…he said “it’s not that hot.” Then I saw his eyes roll back and his mouth began to twitch as he grasped for his water. If you like HOT – head to Hotville Chicken, you won’t be disappointed.

Yardbird Southern Table and Bar, chicken sandwich; photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG;

By the time I arrived at Yardbird Southern Table and Bar, I was completely stuffed. My husband managed to squeeze in a taste of the chicken sandwich and loved it. The chicken thigh was wedged between a homemade biscuit and pepper jelly.  Richard described it as “an understated joy”…not sure what that meant but he was loving it. Other exquisite dishes came from Castaway, Maple Block, and Rice Box.

We also found Faith and Flower later in the evening. Alas I was quite full, but I decided to try one bite, which soon led to two. The flat iron steak was rare and tender, cooked with cherry tomatoes and xo sauce. This was mesmerizing…so glad I did NOT miss this! Can’t wait to dine at this restaurant.

A flat iron steak from Faith and Flower…found it just in time

Wanderlust Creamery was there the first two days and had long lines. I missed the first day but chose to wait on the line the second day. It was worth the wait. Offering exotic flavors, I decided on a top seller…Catalonian (P’Amb Xocotata, Arbequina olive oil with chocolate and toasted baguette crumb). Olive oil ice cream sounded crazy, but turned out to be exceptional. My husband went with the Bergamocello ice cream with lemon verbena granita…this too was quite magical. We shared of course.

Wanderlust ice cream from left to right: Two delicious tastes Bergamocello, and Catalonian photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG;

On Day 3, my husband and I checked that day’s list of restaurants and knew exactly what to look for. First I stopped to have a taste of my now favorite Bordeaux (Barton & Guestier) and say hello to Jessica Kott. I just loved the rich dark berry flavor of the 2015 Chateau Magnol Haut-Medoc. I knew it would pair exquisitely with a slice from Roberta’s Pizza. A pizza dubbed ‘the Bee Sting’ (tomato, mozzarella, sopressatta, basil, chili, and a touch of honey) was now my go-to choice. I met Senior Sous Chef and Head Pizzaiolo Chris Ancona the first night, as he was making the pizza. On the third night he was greeting his new fans. This was the first year that Roberta’s participated, and it was lucky for us foodies that they did all three nights. “We had a blast! The paramount lot is always so cool to be in, and it was really an honor to be invited,” said Ancona.

Roberta’s Senior Sous Chef and Head Pizzaiolo Chris Ancona tempting us with a scrumptious slice

Roberta’s was the pizza winner of all three days providing several choices: a hearty meat slice (mentioned above); Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil); Normcore (sungold tomato, mozzarella, basil, garlic, sea salt, olive oil), even a vegan option – they were all remarkable. The crust in particular was truly special…thin, slightly crisp, almost burned, but not. I will definitely return to this restaurant for a pizza pie.

I noticed Osteria Cal Mare’s Assistant Manager Lexi Farr, who was creating a buzz as she handed out Saffron Arancini (smoked mozzarella, green marinara). She let me know that this was the first time participating in the event, and introduced me to the staff. “Ashley is our hostess, server, and my side-kick. You can find her at all of our off site events. Camila is a J1 Cook from Columbia meaning she is here ‘interning’ with us for about a year. She also is our pizza queen at the restaurant, makes the world’s best pizzas! Executive Chef Antonio Votta is our fearless leader.”

From left to right: Osteria Cal Mare’s team – Ashley (hostess), Camila (cook) Executive Chef Antonio Votta; photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG;

The Michelin awarded restaurant Comptior had a long line most of the night. The counter-only tiny eatery that seats a mere eight people (located in downtown LA) kept aligned with its quality-not-quantity philosophy, actually serving each guest individually, not offering take away (like the rest of the restaurants.) Towards the end of the night, having heard great things about the restaurant, I decided to wait. There were several people ahead of me who sent out a scout. When she returned and reported “It’s artichoke soup,” one man said “what, we’re waiting for artichoke soup?” They moved on and I was just a tad closer to my next culinary adventure. It was not until I arrived that I realized Chef Gary Menes had arranged a three course tasting. Chips and dip (crispy kale, garlic aioli), 2nd course: Artichoke Veloute (bread crumbs, Greek yogurt), and for the final course we enjoyed a bite of sweetness…a Sourdough Donut Hole (chantilly, orange preserves). All were exquisite.

While I waited for my Comptior experience, my husband brought me an omega blue Baja Karpachi fish taco (wood grilled) from holbox LA. The fish was so fresh, and spiced to perfection.

holbox LA presented an Omega Blue Baja Karpachi fish taco (wood grilled)

But still, I was not done…There was homemade gnocchi with porcini mushrooms in cream sauce from Pasta Sisters. It was luscious. The porcini mushrooms are imported from Italy…so tasty! Other restaurant stars of the night included: Chao krung Thai, Café Birdie, Mayura Indian Restaurant, Mora Italiano, Same Same, and Yours Truly.

And finally, we realized we missed something – astro doughnuts and fried chicken had been obscured from view by their long line all night. As they hustled to wrap up the night, they passed out the last of their delectable chicken tenders, some peanut butter and jelly doughnuts and a final batch of fantastic crème brûlée doughnuts. This warm delicacy had a crispy glazed shell with sumptuous cream inside. The combination of the sweet, super fresh doughnuts with the crispy chicken was undeniably brilliant…it was the perfect way to end the night.

Me, Kathy Leonardo having a blast once again at one of my favorite foodie events; photo by Richard Bilow; courtesy of ETG;

What a weekend! I met new friends, and so did my taste buds.  We were ever so happy. The Taste is just that – an amazing taste of what LA restaurants have to offer. Although we certainly missed Jonathan Gold, the TASTE paid him a wonderful tribute. He would have been proud. So many attendees read his famous words of foodie wisdom, some with tears in their eyes – I’m sure he felt the love! Remember to book early next year…you won’t want to miss the TASTE.

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