There’s no better place than a well-thought out backyard barbeque to try out a mix of favourite old dishes, interesting cocktails and new spirits and covet a few entertaining ideas. The Taste of LA was that to the umpteenth power.
by Elyse Glickman and Cheri Fox
Photographed by Elyse Glickman and Derek Poirier
Over three decades ago, the Taste of Chicago transformed the concept of the street fair into a citywide celebration of ethnic diversity and the restaurants that defined the many neighbourhoods making up the city. It was an event that not only set attendance records but also created a new way for people to “explore” a city in a very concentrated, sensory way. The concept, metaphorically speaking, went over like hot cakes and was adopted by cities across North America and the world.
Many of the top food festivals staged around LA (including those benefiting the SOS–Share Our Strength charity and Wolfgang Puck’s favourite charities) have used the tried-and-true formula established at Taste of Chicago: set up dozens of tents with restaurants at all price ranges and genres, open the gates at 11, throw in some cooking demonstrations or musical entertainment, and let them graze until night.
However, this is Los Angeles, dude. For the event to truly represent the city’s all-over-the-map food and bar scene, you have to get creative, for better or worse. In recent years, Taste of LA took on the feel of a scavenger hunt, with different themed events in different areas of the city. An interesting way to eat your way across town, for sure. What they did for 2012 was just as risky, staging five distinctively themed four-hour marathons in centrally-located Paramount Studios. Though this format took getting used to, especially if you are more familiar with full-day or full-weekend tent-hopping, this event’s structure had its advantages.
You could attend sessions that best matched up with your tastes, with separate events showcasing cocktails, home entertaining, global cuisine, American comfort food (appropriately on the US’s Labor Day holiday) and the Farm-to-Table Movement.
There was an element of surprise, with restaurants represented constantly changing in each session.
It was so much easier and economical for many of the attendees to drive to Paramount Studios, with its central Hollywood location.
Though an event like this, especially with all this Hollywood high-concept stuff, can be overwhelming, the 2012 Taste of LA ended up being a particularly good representation of cocktail and entertaining trends taking shape now.
Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is ready for prime-time with its spirits-based, decadent dessert drinks with Luxardo cherries on top.
Ginger beer, and ginger; artisanal liqueurs; chocolate and coffee; bourbon and whisky cocktails; fresh fruits along with the use of herbs and bitters to make even sweet drinks a little less so; small bites that are big on creativity; lots of showmanship in the creation of the drink. Beautiful but unpretentious flower arrangements.
Ginger beer was everywhere, giving everything from bourbon and reposado tequila to light gin and vodka drinks a kick.
What’s out, or at least not making the scene at the Paramount lot?
Pre-made mixers; quick fix simple cocktails; meat and potatoes (enter farro, polenta, succotash; corn cakes and other things that makes even tricked out truffle or wasabi mashes seem a little passé); architectural topiary; things on sticks; sushi (maybe it is so mainstream that the sushi sanseis needed to spread their creative wings); deep fried things (with the exception of gourmet fried chicken).
This is how you win at gin: the latest multi-dimensional gins from Caorunn and Amethyst.
Artisanal gins: we sampled fantastic newly launched gins that transcend characteristic Juniper herb that gives the original “flavoured vodka” its name.
No matter your tastes, or your time constraints, there is a sangria out there for everybody.
Sassy sangrias: If you’re having a large party, sangrias and other punches mix preparation simplicity with the modern fresh fruit-and-herb trend we’re seeing in cocktails now. Sake and Korean fruit wine-based sangrias are perfect if you are doing your barbecue with a hibachi skewer twist.
Bourbon beauties: cocktails with scotch, bourbon or whisky and fresh fruit, honey and herbs are making both die-hard fans and new converts rethink brown spirits’ versatility.
Pretty in brown: Bourbons, whiskies and other brown spirits are integrated into fresh fruit cocktail recipes so sophisticated and light they will even make brown spirits drinkers out of the most insistent white spirits drinkers.
The latest chocolate liqueur indulgences from Dorda and Forbidden.
Fine wine brings new life to almond gelato.
Don’t desert dessert: coffee is not just for the afternoon, especially when it is mixed with the latest chocolate liqueurs hitting the market. Wine is also being “paired” in cool new ways.
Big taste, small package: sliders from the Counter, the California burger chain that has people lining up, paired with a flight of craft beer.
Salmon pastrami from Public School 612, one of downtown LA’s hippest dining spots.
Short rib woodfire pizza from the chefs at Orange County, Calif.’s posh Terranea Resort.
Comfort food in small doses: everything in moderation, except flavour. Sliders are still popular, as are new ways to think about pastrami—in salmon form. Who knew there was a fresh way to enjoy lox?
Pizza haute: pizza has not gone away, it just gets creative with luxe accoutrements such as short ribs, artisan cheeses and herbal treatments beyond basil.
Here are some fun things to try at your next backyard do, thanks to the spirits’ sponsors and mixologists of Taste of LA.
50 Shades of Spey, from the Glenrothes Booth
1½ oz the Glenrothes 1998 Vintage Scotch
½ oz sweet vermouth
1 oz fresh brewed earl grey tea
1 oz Pages pear “poire” liqueur
Dash aromatic bitters.
Serve over ice with and garnish with a fresh blackberry.
The Lexington, from the Lexington Social House, Hollywood
1½ oz earl grey tea infused Woodford Reserve Bourbon
1 tsp honey
1 oz lemon juice
A dash or two of orange bitters
Combine ingredients in a shaker and serve in a rocks glass over ice.
Masataka Punch, inspired by what was served at the Taketsuru 12-Year-Old Whisky booth
1½ oz Taketsuru 12-Year-Old Whisky
¼ oz bittersweet vermouth
½ oz chai tea-infused simple syrup
Dash of aromatic bitters
Brut French cider topper
Combine ingredients except cider in a shaker, top with cider and serve in a rocks glass over ice.
5-Points Manhattan, based on cocktails by Wood & Vine, Hollywood, Calif.
2 oz applewood smoked bourbon
¼ oz Guinness stout reduction
½ oz Punt E Mes Vermouth
Orange slice garnish
Chai Gold Rush, based on cocktails by Wood & Vine, Hollywood, Calif.
2 oz chai vanilla-bean infused bourbon
¼ oz fresh lemon juice
1 tsp honey
Serve in rocks glass over ice.
The Tobago, inspired by cocktails from Ammo, Hollywood, Calif.
1½ oz vodka
1½ oz fresh pineapple juice
2–3 leaves muddled basil
Dash Angostura bitters
The Lavender Laila, inspired by cocktails from Ammo, Hollywood, Calif.
1½ oz light rum
½ oz fresh lime juice
1 oz St Germain liqueur
The Hall Pass, from event beverage sponsor Chopin Vodka
1½ oz Chopin Rye Vodka
2 oz Snapple Cherry Pomegranate
½ oz lime juice
The Hummingbird, from event beverage sponsor Chopin Vodka
1½ oz Chopin potato vodka
½ oz lemon juice
1 oz Canada Dry ginger ale or ginger beer
Splash of Snapple Peach Passionfruit
The winners of the Taste of LA Cocktail Confidential competition
Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, by Marcos Tello
1½ oz fennel-infused Partida Tequila Blanco (tequila flash infused with fennel using an ISI charger)
¾ oz Marie Brizard White crème de cacao
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
Shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass infused with cinnamon smoke (finely grind cinnamon stick and place in a smoke gun, ignite, and inject into glass). Garnish with a fennel stalk and cinnamon stick.
Day Trader, by Marcos Tello
1½ oz Flor de Cana white rum
¾ oz simple syrup (1:1)
½ oz Licor 43
½ oz fresh lime juice
Place all ingredients in a blender with 1 cup of crushed ice and blend until frappé. Garnish with one empty lime shell filled with Angostura bitters and light on fire.
Canadian Capone, by Paul Sanguinetti
1 oz Plantation Rhum Barbados (or other aged rum)
1 oz Knob Creek Overproof Rye
½ oz maple syrup
¾ oz fresh lemon juice
4 slices, fresh plums
1 egg white
Muddle plums in shaker tin with the rum and rye. Add remaining ingredients. Dry shake for 10 seconds. Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail coupe. Sprinkle with allspice on top of foam and garnish with fresh mint leaf and slice of plum.
Double Cross vodka and Prevu, a sparkling liqueur spirit. We think these could be a good match.