This past Sunday, Angeleno magazine’s food critic Brad A. Johnson teamed up with The Tasting Panel magazine’s editor Anthony Dias Blue to co-host the Annual Chefs Night Out and Restaurant Awards at The Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows in Santa Monica. The event honored the city’s top chefs and restaurateurs while celebrating the release of Angeleno’s annual restaurant issue. Proceeds from the event benefited the Children’s Institute, Inc., an organization dedicated to helping young people who have been affected by violence, abuse, and other trauma.
A week prior to the event, I received a generous invitation to the charity gala from the fine folks at Angeleno. After scanning the impressive list of restaurants slated to attend and learning more about the Children’s Institute, I quickly sent in my RSVP. One would have to be insane to turn down a feel-good evening with the talented likes of David Myers and Susan Feniger, right?
As the chefs and their brigades worked fervently to cook and plate signature dishes, the snazzily-dressed crowd gathered around the courtyard for the Restaurant Awards presentation. Highlights included Suzanne Tracht (Jar) and John Rivera Sedlar (Rivera) being presented with Chef of the Year honors, Melisse receiving Restaurant of the Year, and Church and State picking up Best New Restaurant. [A complete list of Restaurant Award winners after the jump.]
After the presentation, the eager crowd was unleashed upon the talented chefs and their gorgeous offerings. Katana in West Hollywood dished up tuna carpaccio with wasabi soy truffle oil, topped with sheets of Parmesan cheese, arugula, and diced avocado. The salty cheese paired surprisingly well with the tender fish.
Susan Feniger and Kajsa Alger were on hand to prepare one of Street‘s signature items—paani puri—crispy puffs stuffed with spiced potato, chutneys, and sprouted beans. I bumped into veteran Los Angeles Times food writer Barbara Hansen while noshing on my paani puri and we got to talkin’ about traveling and street food. According to the lovely Ms. Hansen, Street’s paani puri are identical to the ones she enjoyed in India.
Next, I paid a visit to Nine Thirty—W Hotel Westwood. Executive Chef Monique King prepared a roasted duck breast with summer peaches, black lentils, red onion relish, and house-made honey Tabasco glaze. The glaze had me going gaga, as did the duck. The perfectly ripe peaches were spectacular.
BLT Steak did not disappoint with their grilled hanger steak with shallot marmalade and baby tomato salad. The shallots, caramelized to the point of sticky sweetness, tasted fantastic with the juicy steak.
The most exciting bites of the evening came courtesy of Sona. Executive Chef David Meyers and Chef de Cuisine Kuniko Yagi prepared a sweet and cool Chino Farm corn soup with okra, mekabu seaweed, and tonburi, while Pastry Chef Ramon Perez assembled a wondrous caramelized white chocolate tart with cinnamon sable, apricot, and chanterelle ice cream.
Westside Tavern‘s Warren Schwartz and Brent Hammer kept it simple and satisfying with a lamb French dip prepared sous-vide. The brioche bun, creamy horseradish, and caramelized onions were delectable counterpoints to the moist lamb.
Executive Chef Evan Funke of Rustic Canyon cooked up goat cheese tortelloni with fresh mint. The pasta’s texture was spot-on, while the filling was generous and flavorful. The mint added a lovely touch of freshness.
Comme Ça‘s cured and confit‘d pork belly with pommery mustard apple sauce and savoy cabbage was my least favorite dish of the evening. I love the swine from snoot to tail, but this just tasted like a slab of un-nuanced fat.
Chef Steve Samson of Pizzeria Ortica paired a panzanella of Tuscan bread and tomatoes with oven-smoked cod. The hunk of fish was supple, but its flavors were too mild compared to the other chefs’ offerings. As a result, the dish couldn’t hold my attention.
Fig‘s Ray Garcia was the only chef to bust out offals for the event. His torta de lengua (tongue sandwich) was a hit among everyone in attendance. Of course, not everyone knew what they were eating.
Craft struck comfort food gold with their braised lamb ribs with heirloom tomatoes, black garlic, and mint vinaigrette. I’m not sure what Chef de Cuisine Anthony Zappola’ secret was, but the lamb tasted like candy with its charred and caramelized edges.
Taking advantage of summer’s bountiful produce, Spago‘s chef de cuisine Thomas Boyce prepared a sweet corn agnolotti with marscapone and Reggiano in a decadently buttery sauce. The taste and textures were outstanding, but the presentation was on the sloppy side.
Lastly, I savored mini-Kobe sliders on brioche from CUT. The tomato marmalade and sweet pickles balanced out the rich meat like a charm. I wholeheartedly embrace the slider trend.
Chefs Night Out provided an excellent opportunity to taste my way around town without leaving the comfort of the Fairmont. I came away from the event feeling extremely positive about our city’s fine dining scene. Sometimes its easy to forget just how lucky Los Angeles is to have such passionate chefs and visionary food.
2009 Angeleno Magazine Restaurant Awards
Restaurant of the Year: Melisse
Chef of the Year: (Tie) Suzanne Tracht, Jar and John Rivera Sedlar, Rivera
Best New Restaurant: Church and State
Best New Chef: Steven Fretz, XIV
Pastry Chef of the Year: Adrian Vasquez, Providence
Best Restaurant Design: Cecconi’s
Best Overall Service: Patina
Best Wine Service: Osteria Mozza
Vanguard Award: Capo