Taste of Santa Monica 2007

by janet on September 17th, 2007

Ah, FOOD FESTIVALS! James took me to the Taste of Santa Monica yesterday on the Santa Monica Pier, and it was perfect. After all, don’t all perfect days end with massive headaches and wanting to die?

We are trying to figure out, still, whether TOSM is a good deal at $40. I think it is (it’s basically a 38-course tasting menu ((Though I don’t think “Heal the Bay” counts as food.)) for $40; though we only hit up 25), but James says the true deal is the wine tasting for $10. All-you-can-drink wine for ten buckaroos is pretty good, if massive-headache-inducing.

This post has the potential to be a monster with all the photos and food, so I’ll keep the descriptions brief.

First up – nasty prosciutto and veal tortellini in an organic cherry tomato sauce from Locanda del Lago. What a shitty way to start the day.

Really low blood sugar, and I had to watch James eat a whole plate of fried shrimp and a hush puppy (with tilapia and shrimp inside) from Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. (I’m allergic). James was loving it, and went back for seconds at the end of the day. He says fried shrimp has all the goodness of french fries, but it’s better. Then, inexplicably and unrelatedly, he said, “Can’t beat my meat for a tasty treat.” James is crazy.

Finally – food! Kind of. This was chili from Barney’s Beanery. A meatless chili, it was watery in a pleasant way, if that’s possible.

From La Vecchia Cucina was rigatoni bolognese and Penne Zingara – penne with sun dried tomates, leeks, zucchini, and fresh tomatoes tossed in an olive oil and garlic sauce. I have the word “normal” written down here. James said, “Which one of these do you like better?” and I answered, “Meh.”

The surprise favorite of the day (for just about everyone I talked to) was Sizzler (or Sizzlers, as their sign said). The BBQ pork ribs were beyond tender, requiring no more than one chew before swallowing it down. I think Sizzler knew they would be the schmancy underdogs, so they really brought it to impress the foodies.

Panini Garden brought out two paninis – chicken pesto panini and caprese panini. The chicken panini was so piping hot it was un-holdable, but the chicken inside was cold. Good flavor, though. The worst thing about these paninis was the bread! It looked and tasted like…hot dog bun bread?

At this point we were parched, so we thought drinking a shitload of alcohol would solve the problem. We went over to the wine tasting area. The magical orange wristband got one as many tastings as he or she liked, which was dangerous in the hot, hot sun. The seafood-heavy fare and the heat were making everyone tend towards whites, which was pissing the snobby exhibitors off. The most pleasant exhibitors and the most delicious wines were at the same two booths (coincidence?) – Alexander Valley Pinot Noir and Iron Horse Chardonnay. We came up with a “2 in, 2 out” plan, where we would taste two wines, go out and taste two foods, go back and taste two wines, etc.

Haha check out this Hooters chick. She was hula-hooping so hard that no one could get to their tent. As such, we did not taste the food.


Sigh. I had such high hopes for Abode Restaurant. Good start with ham and cheese on french bread, but way to let me down with the cold cauliflower soup. The secret ingredient, according to them, was orange zest. To which I say, “Why???” Cauliflower soup is one of my favorites, but this had the texture of Gatorade and the orange zest was just weird.

Another favorite of the day was Tengu, who really brought it with spicy Szechuan chicken, shishito peppers, and Red Dragon Rolls with crab, spicy tuna, green bean tempura, and scallions. The chicken made the whitey next to me happy, while the perfectly grilled shishito was burstingly juicy.

The most beautifully plated taste was from the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, and it was this seared Togoroshi tuna with edamame, mizuna, and miso vinaigrette. Nicely done. With the exception of Aureole, I have never liked seared tuna, and this stringy mess wasn’t going to change my mind. The sauce was super, though.

Having a name like The Lobster House really dooms you, because everyone expects lobster. Of course, they can’t afford to give out a thousand tastings of lobster, so they offered … roasted garlic hummus with crispy chips? James said that the chip overpowered the hummus, which, in their defense, did have some fish and shrimp in it, so.

Mariasol served beef taquitos and chicken-stuffed chimichangas. I had just hit my fullness threshold so this one was a challenge to get down. The chimi was basically one big bread ball, so I took one bite of it, one bite of the taquito, licked the guac off my plate, and threw it all away.

This was excellent! Ma’Kai Lounge offered us spicy tuna tartare on crispy sushi rice. Fuck, man. Crispy rice is where it’s AT.

Cezanne Le Merigot wins the schmancy award with their roast breast of duck with fresh hearts of palm and truffle salad. I didn’t see or taste any truffle, but the duck was nice with the pinot binge I went on.

I’m getting tired writing this post, which is very appropriate since right about this time at the festival we were both losing the will to live. The mustard on this sliced steak sandwich with au jus nearly did James in. I liked the one bite I had the energy to eat – very spicy.

What brought me back to life was my favorite dish of the day. It was from a freaking COOKING SCHOOL so it’s not something I can ever order and eat again. Sniffle. Anyway, it was eggplant Napoleon with tomato balsamic vinaigrette and chive oil at Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom. They really put the hard sell on me at this booth, and put in an extraordinary effort to get me to sign up for the “very last spot” in the cake decorating class. I guess you have to give it your all when your classes cost upwards of $2200. Wow.

Not even on the home stretch, folks. Bravo Cucina surprised the shit out of me by feeding me the best meatball I’ve ever had! And they didn’t stop there – they also served pasta rigatoni de la firma with searched chichen and mushrooms on teriyaki cream sauce, which James loved. Then, a little bowl of tiramisu to finish. This was the first restaurant that we actually have decided to eat at after trying it.

Mussels! Mussels! i Cugini served chilled (why?) mussels with pepper confetti and a vegetable pasta salad that was chock full of fresh spinach and other delicious veggies. The mussels left me…well…cold.

Anyone play Wario on the Wii? Well, in it, they have this level where pork buns feature prominently, and James has been jonesing for these mysterious Japanesey pork buns. I kept telling him he could get them at Famima!!! but he never followed through. Lucky for him they had them here, albeit a bastardized version with suspicious green flecks in the buns, but he was happy. We also got a packet of Famima!!! tissues.

This was nicely presented – The Victorian Picnic from The Victorian at Heritage Square. It looked nice but was not delicious by any means. Many people have their weddings here – STOP! The food does not seem to be good.

I giggled when I saw SPN Mahatma Rice in the “Bill of Fare” because what were they going to do? Serve plain rice? Turns out they were handing out rice pudding! Wheee! It was so sticky and yummy, with the STRONGEST basmati scent I’ve ever encountered.

Caffe Bellagio was cooling everyone off with gelato, though by the time we got there the limoncello flavor was all out. We had the chocolate hazlenut kind, which was fine, but when you are craving tart and get just sweet it’s kind of a letdown.

Better sorbetto and gelato was to be found at Angelato Cafe‘s booth (that cute gelato store on the Promenade with a zillion flavors). We got this tri-color sorbetto with strawberry, lemon and mystery flavor (kiwi?). Everyone walking by our table eyed it hungrily/thirstily, and one guy walked by three times before finally asking “Where did you GET that?!?”

Last (thank GOD) was the darling red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting from Hotcakes Bakes, the newest cupcake joint to hit the streets of Hippie Monica. Watch out, Vanilla Bake Shop! Your short-lived reign may quickly come to an end if this mini-cupcake was any indication.

And with that tasty morsel, my day of gluttony and alcoholism was over. I was spinning and nauseous and couldn’t decide if I wanted death or my bed. To top everything off, this was the view as we were leaving the pier:

AWESOME.

4 Responses to “Taste of Santa Monica 2007”

  1. tinks says:

    i’ve been to bravo cucina twice now… and both times it was SO GOOD! who knew that such a little place on 3rd street would be like that? and it’s super cute inside and has cute waiters :)

  2. [...] 2. Taste of Santa Monica Festival. Notable because: It’s basically at 38-course tasting menu. Notable quote: “I was spinning and nauseous and couldn’t decide if I wanted death or my bed.” [...]

  3. [...] Taste of Santa Monica Festival. Notable because: It’s basically at 38-course tasting menu. Notable quote: “I was [...]

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