Gold Standard 2011: The Food Festival with a Heart of Gold! Petersen Auto Museum. Los Angeles, CA.
Jonathan Gold: The Man with the Golden Gut.
How is it that I've never met Jonathan Gold all these years? Decades even. We regularly appear on the same radio show, KCRW's Good Food; we have a bunch of the same friends according to Facebook; we enjoy many of the same restaurants and cuisines; and yet, we've never met. It seems running in the same circles just meant J. Gold was running several steps ahead of me.
Well before my food writing days, I admired J. Gold for his gutsy gullet as he ventured into the hole-in-the-walls (as well as the hole-in-the-mini-malls) all over Los Angeles. Beyond the admiration, I felt a kind of gastronomic bond with him since, it seemed, he enjoyed the same crazy foods I did for the most part. I won't even get into how his lyrical descriptions of his dining make him a virtuoso in his field. (That topic alone would take up several posts.)
So it was an amazing experience that, as I strolled into the massive white canopy for the 3rd Annual Gold Standard, a food and wine event curated by Pulitzer Prize winning food writer Jonathan Gold, the first person I would recognize was Jonathan Gold himself. He was rolling with a documentary camera crew and looked like a one-man reality show.
Julie Wolfson & Jonathan Gold expertly ignoring the camera.
I said a quick "hello" to the J. Gold and let him go about his business of making a show. I just couldn't wait to get this party started because if I knew the J. Gold, then I knew that this party would mainly be in my mouth.
Chichen Itza's famous cochinita pibil.
The Yucatecan restaurant Chichen Itza provided generous tastings of its succulent, savory and soft Cochinita Pibil piled in a small mound atop a square of banana leaf and garnished with pickled red onions.
Red snapper ceviche y mondongo soup.
Chichen Itza's Ceviche de Pescado was meant to be a bite of fish freshness and citrus goodness, instead I glopped on a generous heap of their popular habenero sauce and my head blew off. Miraculously, I could still appreciate the food.
For a second I thought the Sopa de Mondongo was menudo. It wasn't. I love menudo but I found the sweet and more delicate profile of the mondongo to be better. Now, is there a boy band out there named Mondongo?
Chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence.
Without a doubt, Chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence is a culinary artiste (yes, with the extra "e" at the end). His simple, playful, tasteful yet elegant amuse of Scallop Tartar on Nasturtium Leaf was, as is so commonly observed about the creations at Providence, almost too pretty to eat.
A packet of pretty.
At 1 PM, when the general admission crowd of unwashed masses tromped their way into the makeshift hall, the Gold Standard turned into a refugee camp of discerning albeit rabid foodies. I braced myself for the inevitable shoving, incivility and culinary clusterhump that normally comes along with a food festival. However, none of that happened. People were actually polite and patient. I even had a few nice folks pass food to me. One woman was cool enough to hold her plate long enough for me to take a macro shot of it. Who are these Jonathan Gold fans? And why are they so damn nice???
Oh, the hungry humanity!
My grand scheme at Gold Standard 2011 was to pace myself. This was a marathon not a sprint, I reminded myself. But, those good girls at Good Girl Dinette didn't exactly make it easy on me, what with their scalding hot Chicken Curry Pot Pie and intensely flavorful Vietnamese Pork Confit.
Good girls cook really good food!
A heat warning came along with the tasty, savory chicken curry pot pie, but once it cooled down, the taste came out big. The Vietnamese pork confit really made me happy. My mother used to cook up something similar although not as concentrated with flavor. In fact, Good Girl Dinette explains this tasty rice and pork bowl is one of the pre-requisite recipes every Vietnamese housewife should master before her big day. I wanted to go another round here but wisely moved on because there was much more to chow down.
Double the goodness!
Father's Office was representing but not with its famous burger, rather, it was ticklin' taste buds with Stout Braised Ribs with Orange Glaze. Sweet and tender, I could've pulled up a chair, if there was one, and turned the Gold Standard into an all-you-can-eat rib contest.
Your daddy's rib.
The mob in front of Ludo Bites was impenetrable, so instead I had to feast my eyes on Kristine Lefebvre, Chef Ludo Lefebvre's wife. If Ludo can have his "bitches", Kristine can surely have her "boy-tches". Believe that!
Long, tall drink of French Chef Wife.
Then there's the Jitlada crew dishing up Thai food so incendiary, the fire marshal had to be staged next to the table along with cases of Singha Beer ― the only sure way to put a Thai chili fire out!
The Reigning Queen of Thai.
Bricia Lopez served up a dazzling white smile along with Gueleguetza's Yellow Mole. Never enjoyed the yellow mole before and I loved it mucho! Thanks, Bricia!
That crazy Nguyen from Starry Kitchen and his more or less sane wife, Thi, cooked up a caldron full of Malaysian Chicken Curry and not as much of their uber-popular Crispy Tofu Balls. Ultimately, I got some cock and no balls in my mouth. Thanks a lot, Nguyen or Golden Abe Lincoln or whoever the hell you're supposed to be.
Chicken curry the Malay way!
Thi & Nguyen "Honest Abe" Tran of Starry Kitchen.
Slaw Dog's Spring Fling Holy Roller is a mouthful to speak but as a mouthful to eat, it is holy crap delicious! A deep fried hot dog snuggled inside fried cheese is not what the doctor ordered but that's why it's so good!
Chef/Owner Ray Byrne giving away samples like a crack dealer.
Spring Fling Holy Roller is sinfully good.
The absolute best feature of the Gold Standard is that it democratizes the food tasting experience. I can get my lips smeared with a delicious deep soul chili dog from Earlez Grille and then stroll a few booths down and excavate with my taste buds the flavorful layers of Drago Centro's Foie Gras Panna Cotta, Duck Confit & Beet Crouton. It's a singular eating event that must be savored at least once in a lifetime.
Leggo my Drago!
Culver City's James Beard Award nominated A-Frame Restaurant passed around a load of its Furikake Kettle Corn, hot, buttered and blazin'! Although Chef Roy or Chef Jonas weren't representing, this tasty small snack was.
Taste the Furikake!
Just a couple of tables down, the brick n' mortar neighbor of A-Frame and fellow James Beard Award nominee was Waterloo & City Gastropub. Chef Brendan Collins whipped up a Chicken Liver Foie Gras Mousse which was rich and fluffy with a satisfying thin layer of savory gelatin lining the top.
Another pleasure of attending the Gold Standard is the face time you can get with the chefs, if you choose. I've met Chef Collins a couple of times before and they were mostly superficial, pat-on-the-back, "great job with the restaurant" kind of chatter. Someone like Chef Collins with such a stellar pedigree is simply assumed to achieve success automatically, his golden path predetermined long ago. This is grossly untrue.
I discovered Chef Collins actually struggled to open up Waterloo & City with his co-owner/manager Carolos Tomazos: Maxing out credit cards (even his Home Depot account), emptying his kid's college fund, sleepless nights, constant questioning whether he is talented enough, good enough, will people be interested, does he have what it takes to open up his own shop, does he have the balls? I was overwhelmed my these candid revelations taking place in the middle of the massive tent on a perfect Sunday afternoon. My only response was if he ever did get balls, please let me know so I can make a reservation.
Just a taste of the great Waterloo & City.
Chef Brendan Collins vis-à-vis Jonathan Gold.
Speaking of chef face time, I got to breeze it up a bit with the famous and always popular Susan Feniger of Street and Border Grill. For fun, I had to remind her that I was her judge on the weird ingredients episode of Top Chef Masters Season 2. We joked about the slimy sea cucumber she had to work into her cooking for the challenge. Good times.
Always smiling. What's your secret, Chef Feniger?
Another really, really happy chef nowadays is Chef Ricardo Zarate. Talk about an infectious smile, the guy seems to always be grinning from ear to ear. Well, he is and has been the talk of the town for Peruvian cuisine, even appearing on the roster for Test Kitchen last year. Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA has been a proponent of his for a long time. With Mo-Chica a hit and Picca, Zarate's anticucho concept, coming soon, the future is hot as a habanero pepper.
Mo' chicken at Mo-Chica!
Anything on a shell was in crazy demand at Gold Standard 2011, the Grilled Oysters at Little Dom's was on the top of that heap with lines for the briny bivalve looking like a mini Black Friday at your local Best Buy whenever the shucking started.
A shuck to the system.
Screw the pearl. This is the jewel!
Knowing his audience and my bias for the bizarre, Jonathan Gold asked me if I tried the Fried Gizzards with Romesco Sauce. I said, "Hell yes and extra crispy." The gizzards from The Gorbals were one of Jonathan's favorites.
Gorbals' gizzards. Ain't nuthin' but a G-thang!
If there was one big theme at the Gold Standard 2011 it would have to be comfort food. Comfort is good anytime but it is desperately needed now in these arduous and austere times. Whatever foods make you feel warm and cozy within, they probably were at the event: Chef Eric Greenspan's award winning Grilled Cheese Sandwich at The Foundry, Park's BBQ Grilled Beef and Rice, Manila Machine's Pork Belly & Pineapple Adobo with Lumpia Shanghai, the Chili Dogs and Sliders at Earlez Grille, even Palate Wine + Food's take on Banh Mi with Pork Belly, Ears, Kumquat, Pistachio and Lardon. Each and every one of these items was not simply comforting but sensational too.
Mama mia, upper crust banh mi from Palate Food + Wine!
Korean BBQ always feels good.
Earlez Grille with the "z" and extra "e" is extra good, baby!
Manila Machine cranks out amazing Filipino fare.
Like any memorable meal no matter where it takes place, it's not just about the delicious food made with love, passion and skill but also about the people making it, eating it and sharing it. At Gold Standard 2011, all the right ingredients were together, mingling, enjoying and loving the best food in LA.
Here's to a great Gold Standard 2011. Jonathan, you can be proud to call the 3rd Annual Jonathan Fest a sweet, succulent and savory success!
Marvin Gapultos of Manila Machine.
The Gorbals Grrrlz!
Matt Kang of Mattatouille & Scoops Westside with his hands and, soon to be, mouth full.
Noah Galuten still biting the world one dish at a time.
'Til we eat again!