Saturday, September 11, 2010

we still remember

For everyone whose lives were irrevocably changed nine years ago today. We remember.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Eat Drink Fun - the Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food and Wine

The Los Angeles Times held their first Celebration of Food and Wine this past Sunday, September 5. I'd seen the ads on Facebook, and it sounded fun, but I was hesitant to attend. I'd heard about other events involving food trucks, and most of what I'd heard made me shy away from them. The operative word seemed to be "overcrowded". People either couldn't get in at all or, once they were in, spent two or three hours in line just to purchase food, and it was hot with very little room to move. That wasn't my idea of a good time.

The husband mentioned this event to me a couple weeks ago, and then another friend mentioned wanting to go, so I figured, OK, I'll give it a try. If nothing else, I'd be in good company.

The event was held at Paramount Pictures studios in Hollywood, with the celebration running from noon to 8pm. We arrived at about 1pm and parked at Paramount's Gower parking structure. The parking fee was $7, and the website had instructed that cars would not be allowed to turn left to enter the parking structures, so we'd made sure to be traveling southbound to enter the structure. It made sense not to allow left turns so as not to add to the traffic congestion of everyone trying to get to the event, but they must have changed their minds, because as we were entering the structure, northbound traffic was being allowed to turn left into the structure as well. We parked on the third floor and then walked down. We thought we would have to walk to Paramount's main gate, so we were pleased to discover that a side gate into Paramount was open. We walked through part of the lot and then got to the designated entrance to the event. We had printed out and brought our admission tickets, which they scanned. The ticket had said that once it was scanned, we would be receiving wristbands, so I was a little confused when the volunteers just sent us on our way and told us to have a good time. I asked them about the wristbands and discovered that you only got wristbands at the front if you had paid for the VIP entrance. There were tents shortly inside the entrance (and elsewhere on the lot) where you got a wristband after showing your ID to prove that you were over 21 and could therefore partake in alcohol. There seemed to be other people confused about this as well, so it would have helped for the ticket to have proper instructions printed on it, and signs or verbal instructions specifically directing you to the tents would have been nice too.

We went to the ID tent and got our wristbands.

We all got a wristband and an "X" (red or black) on our hand - we never did figure out what the "X" was for.

We browsed the little booklet a bit but decided to just dive into the event. And in the first groupings of trucks that I saw was the Dim Sum Truck! I've eaten there once and *loved* it, and I was eager to introduce the husband and friend to them, so we headed there first.

We knew that we had a long day of eating and drinking ahead, so we had to remember to pace ourselves. I could have had a full lunch at the Dim Sum Truck, but instead, the husband and I shared an order of the crab and scallop dumplings (2 per order), and we each had a duck taco. They were both as good as I remembered from last time. The husband really enjoyed the duck taco, but unfortunately, I hadn't noticed that the crab and scallop dumpling had cilantro in it (lots of it), and he HATES cilantro. He tried to eat some of it but couldn't pick out the cilantro, so he quickly gave up, which I benefited from since I finished his dumpling. Our friend had the dumplings as well (she doesn't have an aversion to cilantro) and enjoyed them.

First stop - the Dim Sum Truck.

The line for the Dim Sum Truck at 1:20pm.

We sat on a nearby curb to enjoy our snack, and we had a chance to glance around a bit. The B-tank of the studio (with the "blue sky" behind it, which this day was painted to be a bit cloudy and overcast) was the location for the main stage as well as a number of other food trucks. There were a couple that we would return to visit later in the day.

The main stage, with the blue sky backdrop.

Now that we'd had a little to eat, it was time to go check out more of the event. The husband had looked at the brochure and seen that the tastings were all in the New York Street area, so we headed back there.

Backtracking a little - when we had gotten our wristbands, we were handed a plastic glass and 8 tickets. We were told that the tickets could be exchanged for wine tastings, and if people wanted more, they could purchase more, though I don't know what the price was. I knew there was going to be wine sampling at the event, but I figured there would be maybe a dozen or so, somewhere in that neighborhood. I'm not a big wine drinker (there are a couple of dessert wines that I like), so I figured I'd probably end up giving my tickets to the husband and our friend, since they're very into wine, and I figured they'd want the extra tastings. Well, we were very surprised to get to the New York Street area and discover that there were booths bordering the entire area. Some were for wineries, some were for food vendors/restaurants, some were for other alcohols and some were for various other interests. I hadn't really expected it to be quite as elaborate and involved as it turned out to be. We were wondering how we were going to ration our 8 tickets, but as we started making our way through the various tents, we discovered that many of the vendors weren't even taking tickets. They were either pouring samplings into your glass (and they all had jugs of water so you could rinse out your glass from whatever was in it previously, and there were trashcans aplenty as well, to dump out any liquids you didn't want), or they had little glasses themselves that they poured for you. Of the various wineries that the husband and friend tried, I think only one asked for a ticket. I spent a few of my tickets on some of the hard liquor vendors, but some didn't ask for anything at all. By the end of the day, even though we'd had plenty to sample, we each still had about 4 tickets each.

We made our way around to the various booths. At some wineries, the husband and/or our friend would want to try the wine. Sometimes, they'd see that the offerings weren't to their liking or it was too crowded and they couldn't even see what was being offered at all, so they'd pass that booth altogether. We didn't mind waiting for something we wanted, but we didn't want to wait in a line, not even knowing if we were going to want to try what they had.

We stopped in at Voskos Greek Yogurt, and they had samples of some of their flavors. I opted for the strawberry, which was very tasty. I liked that the yogurt was a thicker consistency than normal as well. I was interested in the honey vanilla as well but didn't want to ask for a second tasting. I figured I'd just go buy some at some point. Their website lists a number of stores near me, both at home and at work, that carry their yogurt, so I'm looking forward to trying more of them.

We also stopped at a booth marked Melissa's, which we didn't really know what it was. Turns out the company has a line of produce, and they were letting people sample yellow potatoes cooked in some kind of sauce which I don't recall but was very tasty, and they had a side of tiny grapes as well.

There was a very small stage that we'd passed to get to New York Street which only had room for about 3 chairs on the stage. There was another stage set up in the square of the Times Square section of New York street. That stage was bigger and was more like a demo stage. There wasn't much shade to be had, though, so it would have been pretty hot to sit and watch a demo. Some people did have umbrellas with them.

We then made our way to Blackmarket Bakery / Marche Noir Foods. The husband and friend were quite enamoured of the wine flour pasta (I think it was a cabernet pasta), but I was more entranced with the cabernet brownie. The husband had a taste of the sample, but I finished the rest. To be honest, I couldn't taste the cabernet all that much, but the husband and friend said they could. I just knew it was pretty yummy, and I'm not even a fan of cabernet.

We then wandered around some more and saw a sign for Starr African Rum and decided to try that. It was a little crowded, so we waited a bit, and as I began to hear bits and pieces as I got closer, I was a little confused about what I was hearing. The guy was talking about ice and how it worked, and I was thinking that maybe their brand of rum made ice different or something. It turns out that the Starr African Rum people were paired up with another company that made some kind of special ice that didn't melt as fast and so wouldn't dilute your drink as much. When we got to the front, the demo guy showed us two containers that he'd poured of the rum over ice. He gave all of us a taste of the rum from one container, that contained regular ice. He actually gave quite a bit more than a "taste", in my opinion. I sipped the rum, and WOW, it was strong. And then I noticed that he was talking about the other container and he was explaining how the second container had the ice that they make, and he wanted us to try how the rum tasted with that. And he started pouring for people. And I quickly realized that it wouldn't make any sense to combine the two tastes because that would defeat the purpose of the taste test. And I looked around, and everyone else had finished their rum. I still had quite a bit in mine. So, not wanting to waste the rum or be disrespectful by throwing it out, I did the only reasonable thing - I downed what was in my glass, probably about a shot full. Oh boy. So when he got to me, my glass was empty, and he poured me some more rum. And yeah, I could tell that the second taste was a lot colder, but I'm not a liquor expert - I mostly just have them in mixed drinks. The husband said he could definitely tell a marked difference in the two tastes, with the second being much better. I ended up finishing off what was in my glass again, so my first intro to the "wine" portion of the celebration was basically downing two shots of rum. Cheers!

It was a bit warm out, and the sun was shining down, though it wasn't scorching, and we were all wanting some water. It turned out that water was hard to find. We figured the food trucks would have water to sell, but all the lines were pretty long. We'd seen one location that had alcohol for sale by the glass and water as well, but that was back in the front of the event. We ended up giving up on the water quest for the moment.

There was much more alcohol to be had. We ended up at one section of the tents where there were several liquor vendors side by side. The first was Lunazul 100% Agave Tequila, who had little shot glasses that they were pouring their tequila into. We all had some of that. Then there was the Evan Williams Honey Reserve Bourbon, which I didn't partake in, but the husband and our friend greatly enjoyed that. They too had little shot glasses that they served the drink in. Third in the row was Blackheart Premium Spiced Rum. When I got to the front, the guy asked if a wanted just the rum straight up or a rum and Coke. I thought a rum and Coke sounded good. So he took my glass, poured in a good bit of the rum and then added about half a can of Coke to it. When he handed me back my glass, it was about 2/3rd full. It was pretty tasty, but it was definitely more than I expected to get.

Towards the latter part of this adventure, the husband went off in search of water. He ended up making his way to the back, to the Sweets Truck, who had large bottles of SmartWater, so he got some from there. I've never had the chance to try the Sweets Truck, but thanks for the hydration help.

At this point, we decided that it was time for some actual food. The snack we'd had earlier was good, but with the alcohol we'd just consumed, food was definitely in order. We had seen a truck in the B-tank earlier that the husband wanted to eat at, so we made our way in that direction. Along, the way, I noticed some people had bags from various vendors, and I was thinking that a bag would come in handy, with the various glasses and such that we'd collected. I hadn't thought about bringing a bag with me since I didn't think I'd need it. I saw some people with one of those nice recyclable bags from Don Francisco's Coffee, so we stopped in to try some of their coffee (the Hawaiian Hazelnut was delicious, even though it was hot coffee on a warm day) and to get a bag as well. The bag came in very handy for carrying around our things for the rest of the afternoon.

Along the way, we stopped and looked at the menu for Campanile Restaurant, and the husband and I also stopped for a sample at Tantalum Restaurant, which was calamari. Our friend passed on it since she's not a fan of calamari. The husband really liked it, and I liked the texture of the calamari, but the sauce was a bit more than I normally prefer. Still, it was tasty.

Sample of calamari from Tantalum Restaurant.

As we got near the Nom Nom Truck, the line was still really long, so the friend and I gave up any thought of eating there.

The line for Nom Nom Truck at 3:20pm.

The husband had decided he wanted to try the Ragin Cajun Truck, so we all ate there instead. I was telling the husband that I wanted to try the gumbolaya (gumbo and jambalaya mixed together), and he said that the containers looked pretty big, so we should share one. When I looked at the containers he was pointing at, I was surprised to see they were the large styrofoam containers that you'd get for a large soup, so I agreed we should share one. After we got our food, we decided to take a seat on the ground in the B-tank in the shade to enjoy our lunch.

The serving size of the gumbolaya was indeed quite large, and it was very tasty. There was a lot of rice, and also good servings of sausage, with a spicy kick to it all. It was a terrific lunch and easily shared by the two of us. And it only cost $6. That was the most surprising of all. They have a restaurant in Hermosa Beach, and we're definitely planning on trying them at some point.

Gumbolaya from Ragin Cajun - a lot of good food for not a lot of money.

There was some kind of cooking demo going on the main stage at that point, and I'll admit we were only vaguely paying attention. We were just enjoying our food and the gorgeous day out and the wonderful atmosphere and just having a good time.

In Paramount's B-tank, eatin' and chillin'.

After a bit of a respite, it was time to head back to New York Street to check out a few more things. I'd wanted to try the sparkling sake from Gekkeikan, but they were out by the time we got there, so I had their plum wine instead. Mmmm, that was really tasty. I'll have to pick up some of that. While the husband and I were waiting in that line, our friend got in line for the Fiji water Cafe. We'd seen it earlier but didn't really know what it was, and it had a very long line, so we'd skipped it. When she got in it, it wasn't very long, and it turns out they were giving away little bottles of Fiji water, and they had bacon-wrapped matzo balls as well. After we were done, we got in that line, but they ran out of the matzo balls, so we just got water, which we appreciated. I did think it was funny though. I wouldn't have expected Fiji water to be giving away food, just water, and of all the things you could possibly wrap in bacon, they chose matzo balls? Someone was definitely having fun with that. Our friend said it was pretty tasty though. And they did hand out recipes so you can make it yourself.

We wandered around to another street and stopped by this little place called Delicious Wishes of Beverly Hills. With that kind of name, how could it not get our attention? And then we saw what they had, and we got in line. They are basically cake balls truffles - bite-sized cake balls dipped in chocolate. Oh my goodness. They had several different flavors to choose from, so it was a very hard decision. I opted for the red velvet cake. And yes, it was as yummy as you could imagine. The husband had a bite of it. Our friend chose the peanut butter ball and was in heaven. I see on the website that they also have an "almond joyous". That one is so screaming my name. And yes, I'll admit it, as I was talking to the women there, I did ask them where their business was located. OK, in my defense, I was focussed on the product itself, and after initially seeing the business name, I wasn't really thinking about their name. Also, at other businesses before and after this, I usually asked where a business was located if I was interested in them, to see how easy they might be to get to. The woman very nicely told me they were located in Beverly Hills. Do I get credit at least that once she said it, I totally admitted that I was an idiot for not remembering the name of their company and for asking where they were? No? OK, fine, I'm an idiot. I'll accept that. But, the fact that they're in Beverly Hills means they're not all that far from where I work, so I could totally stop by there without too much of a hassle. However, I noticed that their website doesn't list an address (unless I'm being an idiot again and am totally missing it), so I'm not sure what the deal is with that. I may have to investigate further.

We also stopped by a booth jointly occupied by La Brea Bakery and Kerrygold, and we had a little piece of baguette with some cheese, and as the woman was explaining the cheese, I realized that I'd purchased that cheese before from Whole Foods and really enjoyed it.

The husband sampled some Russian Standard Vodka, and he enjoyed that.

Earlier in the day, we'd seen KOOKSOONDANG-BEKSEJU USA, INC., and they had a Korean rice wine. I tried some of that, but it wasn't really to my liking. I did, however, enjoy watching their dancing bottle mascot, who was posing for pictures with everyone.

Dancing Korean rice wine bottle, ready for a photo op.

We ended up going to the back of the New York Street area, and the husband had found the little inside area where Don Cardona Tequila was located. He'd already tried the tequila there, so our friend had the tequila and cranberry juice and seemed to enjoy that a lot.

We sat outside that area for a bit as our friend was enjoying her drink. There was a small stage set up nearby, and it looked like a demo had just finished up, so I went to check it out. The husband and our friend were a bit surprised when I came back with, not food, but a drink. I said that I'd had a Spanish olive while I was waiting, but they said that didn't really count as food either. They asked what the drink was that I had. I said I didn't know. The guy doing the demo was just pouring a bunch of stuff together and mixing it up, and people seemed to really like it. I had to wait through him making three batches before I could get a tasting cup, so I figured, what the heck, I'd try it. The husband and our friend both laughed at me. It was pretty tasty, though, and the husband tried some. He said he thought it was basically a margarita of some sort. I mentioned that the guy doing the demo had other alcohol he was letting people try. I said he had a Jamaican rum that sounded good. The husband thought that sounded good too, so he went back with me. We both got a little cup. I took one whif of it and WHOOOAAAAA. I was getting a contact high just from the sniff. I decided that with all the alcohol I'd already had, it probably wasn't in my best interest to even taste that, if I was getting that effect from just smelling it. Our friend had a taste of it, and then I gave the rest to the husband.

We wandered around a little more and looked at a few things. Then the husband noticed that the Thai place we'd seen earlier had re-opened so he and I got in line for some curry. Our friend passed, not being a curry fan.

SedThee Thai Eatery had yellow curry with rice and potatoes and carrots. They had a vegetarian version and one with chicken. We both got the chicken. I love curry, but oftentimes, it can be very bland. That was definitely not the case here. It had a very nice flavor, and a good mix of ingredients, and it had a definite spicy kick to it, kind of lingering, building as you had more of it. I really enjoyed it. We saw that the restaurant is located in Glendale (yes, I asked them where they were located), and we're definitely planning to visit.

Yellow curry with chicken from SedThee Thai Eatery.

A little more wandering around, and then it was time for dinner. Yeah, I know, we'd been munching bits and pieces all day, but we'd also been drinking, and we knew that just tastes here and there wasn't enough - we needed some more actual food.

We headed back to B-tank, and our friend noticed that the line for the Nom Nom Truck wasn't that bad, so she and I decided to split a combo from there - 6 inch banh mi and 2 tacos. We were going to get pork banh mi and lemongrass chicken tacos, but they were all out of chicken, so we got pork in both. The husband was going to get food from Wahoo's Tacos, but he came back shortly after and said they were out of fish tacos. We went back to sit where we'd sat to have our lunch, and the husband went in search of other food.

I'd never been to the Nom Nom Truck before. I'd only heard about them for the first time maybe a month or so ago. I was at Volcano Tea one day and saw that they had a co-promotion with the Nom Nom Truck. I looked them up and started following them on Twitter, but I hadn't had chance to try them yet. I was glad to see they'd be at this event. I'd never had banh mi before so this was my first time, and I really enjoyed the sandwich as well as the taco. (Don't know what banh mi is? I didn't either until I read this.) I loved the mix of flavors, and the seasoning on the pork was very tasty. I'm looking forward to trying the lemongrass chicken next time.

6 inch pork banh mi and pork tacos from Nom Nom Truck.

The husband came back from Uncle Lau's Island BBQ with a pulled pork slider and Korean kalbi beef sliders. He seemed to enjoy those.

We enjoyed our meals, more conversation, reminiscing about the day's events and just generally having a good time. At about the end of our meal, She & Him took the stage, so we listened to them for a little while. I wasn't familiar with them but recognized the "She" of the duo - Zooey Deschanel, who played Trillian in the film of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Their music seemed nice enough, ok to listen to, but it wasn't something that grabbed me or made me want to find out more about them. I liked Zooey's voice, but the sound mixing wasn't very good, so she was drowned out a lot by the instruments, so it was hard to really hear her very well most of the time.

It was getting late in the day, about 7pm at this point, and the sun had gone down past the buildings, so the friend and I were getting a little cold, so we decided to head out.

I reminded the husband that he'd wanted to try dessert from Nana Queen’s Puddin' & Wings Truck - yes, I do think they have a weird name for their business. He had the Coffee Toffee Nana Fingers - lady fingers with coffee toffee-flavored pudding and banana slices. He really enjoyed that.

I was kinda looking for a little something for dessert as well - and then I remembered that the Dim Sum Truck was on our way out. I checked to see if they had any more egg tarts, which they did, so I got one for me and one for our friend. Yum.

Ending our day with egg tarts from the Dim Sum Truck.

We could have exited through the side gate, the same way we came in, but we decided to leave via the main gate so our friend could get a picture of the famous gates.

Picture of Paramount's gates from event website.

It was about 7:30pm by the time we left the parking lot, headed for the freeway. We had a wonderful day. We'd purchased the general admission tickets in advance for $55. General admission at the door was $65. There was also a VIP package available for $125 with some added perqs, and we'd thought about that but they were sold out by the time we considered buying them. In hindsight, I'm glad we didn't end up going VIP. They did seem to have some extra vendors and events and a seating area with tables and chairs, but I was pretty happy with what we got. We went through quite a number of vendors but didn't have time to get to every single one that we would have wanted to. And I'm pretty used to sitting on the floor from having attended numerous other kinds of events, so I didn't really need a table and chair. We had a great time, without spending the extra money. There were still a lot of things we didn't have time to do - attending seminars and going into the "wine chat" area - all we saw was the sign outside, and we never got the chance to go inside to see what it was all about.

With the few issues that I mentioned when we first arrived, everything else seemed to go pretty well. I liked that there were trashcans readily available everywhere. They also had port-a-potties available as well. The only thing I would like to be different next time is that water be more readily available. I appreciated that Fiji was giving little bottles of water away, but I would have been happy if there was easy access to bottles for purchase. Two tents in the entire location (and we never did find the second tent - it wasn't where the map said it was supposed to be) isn't really enough, given that the food trucks would have lines. You can definitely count on warm weather during Labor Day weekend in Los Angeles, so with the heat and the drinking people are expected to be doing, having water more readily available is probably a good idea.

Speaking of the food trucks, I knew from experience that most of them don't accept credit cards and only accept cash, so we were prepared for that. It seemed that many others weren't, so in the future, if you're planning on visiting a food truck, be sure to have cash ready. They did also have third-party ATMs available on site.

The other thing to keep in mind about the food trucks is that they do run out of food. Usually, they're only out for a couple of hours at a time, and they're probably not quite as busy for so long as they were at this event. I'm sure they were well-stocked but if you want something, it's probably a good idea to get it earlier rather than later, and if they run out, don't be upset at them - there's only so much they can carry in their trucks.

We had a wonderful time at this event. It was generally very well run, and the attendance level was busy but comfortable, not overcrowded at all. Paramount Studios was a terrific venue to hold this event - spacious so everything wasn't all crammed together, and it was an added bonus to have the New York Street surroundings in the tastings area. If this becomes an annual event, I can definitely see this becoming part of our Labor Day weekend tradition.