From @MyLastBite: “To sleep early. No breakfast tomorrow… Must be ready for The Gold Standard…”
From @Yutjangsah: “My friends n i r soo eggsited to fill our cavernous innertubes w goodies frm @thejgold food carnival. Bring on the candied unicorn hooves.”
From @CManzur: “On my way to #goldstandard and I’m coming hungry!”
Finally, from @CarolineonCrack: “Uh oh the flood gates have been opened. Trying to eat and drink as fast as I can…”
It seemed that everyone and anyone who had any interest in food and dining in Los Angeles was going to LA Weekly Pulitzer-Prize Food Writer Jonathan Gold’s Gold Standard event at the Peterson Automotive Museum at Fairfax Ave. and Wilshire Blvd. that afternoon. I was secretly jealous and wishing them all massive stomach aches (not really), but didn’t blame them for their excitement. With 40 of Jonathan “the Belly of LA” Gold’s favorite restaurants serving up signature dishes like Jitlada’s famed crying tiger beef and Starry Kitchen’s cult favorite crispy tofu balls, it was destined to be one of the finest LA-based food festivals of the year. Especially with unlimited pours from 30 different wineries, frothy mugs brimming with Singha beer, and other specialty cocktails like Old Fashioned’s from Cole’s Downtown.
Despite the bolts of jealousy that were rippling through my veins, I was actually perfectly happy to be spending my Sunday morning celebrating my brother’s 30th birthday at Cucina Alessa in Newport Beach with my family. I adore being shellacked with Abby Cadabby stickers by my two-year-old niece when she’s kind enough to share them. I don’t even mind the occasional ribbing from my dad who has been known to tell me things like, “I pray that you’ll find a husband some day.”
Even with all the love I feel toward the people who show their affection through harassment and stickers, when Cathy from Gastronomy Blog called at 12:45 pm to ask if I could possibly use her ticket for the event, I didn’t hesitate. Yes, I’d just consumed half an order of French toast and half an order of an egg and cheese panino (a few short hours after an early breakfast of yogurt and banana), but that was no matter. The Belly of LA was calling and I needed to answer. I hastily bid my family goodbye – hoping they’d understand it was my stomach, not them that was driving me toward the exit – and immediately began the trek back up to Los Angeles.
It felt strange arriving at the at-capacity food festival already full – especially when so many of my contemporaries had made extensive preparations for the event. Per their tweets, they’d arrived starving, in stretchy pants, with clear-cut itineraries for how they would take down the expansive array of offerings from acclaimed restaurants like Providence, Mozza and Cut, as well as non-restaurants like Ludo Bites and Manila Machine. I felt more than a little lost as I made my way into the tented area armed with my wine glass and a fistful of plastic forks. Where did I begin? Was I even ready to begin?
I secured a pour of Chardonnay from Justin Winery and then made the prescient decision of heading directly to the Ludo Bites booth where Ludo’s wife Krissy Lefebvre was graciously doling out cups of his criminally buttery whipped brie with honey balsamic gazpacho and frisée. I somehow finagled one of the last four servings of the delightfully indulgent offering and took a moment to savor the velvety texture of the sultry brie before casting my sails toward the rapidly depleting pastures of food.
Because I was already feeling taxed from brunch, I was careful about my selections. Though I imagined that Eva’s 48-hour Bolognese, Bludsoe’s pulled pork and brisket, and Slaw Dog’s “death dog” would be prime feasting for those who hadn’t already consumed two meals that day, I needed to tread lightly. Little Dom’s popular smoked oyster (all oysters were shucked on-site to maintain optimal freshness), A-Frame’s sweet and spicy Furikake Kettle Corn, and Ramen Jinya’s Tonkotsu ramen were most attractive to me given my current state.
My sweet tooth raging after the teasing taste of A-Frame’s popcorn, I was ecstatic to discover that Bistro LQ was serving up mini sesame and green tea macarons. Both Christina from Food je t'aime and I agreed that they were the perfect texture – slightly crispy around the edges, and delicately chewy in the center. As I finished my macarons, I sheepishly asked a man standing near the display if he worked for the restaurant. I flashed bright red when someone informed me that he was Chef Laurent Quenioux.
To chase my macarons, I secured another bite-sized treat from Providence’s table across the way. Despite its small size, the compressed pineapple and curry petit four packed an assertive display of sweet, tropical flavor. Of course, the most assertive flavor award undoubtedly goes to the crying tiger beef and green curry with chicken and vegetables from Jitlada Thai. The fragrant spices and searing heat blasted my metabolism into high gear. Despite the heartiness of the plate, my palate felt cleansed by the intensity of the spice.
While arriving at this year’s Gold Standard already satiated was seemingly the worst possible scenario, in a way I was actually able to enjoy the event more than I would have if I’d arrived with a one-track-mind to eat everything in sight as quickly as possible. The real reason that I high-tailed it up from Orange County in 56 minutes time was not because I was dying to stuff my self silly (I do that on a regular basis already). I wanted to be there because I wanted to see all my friends and colleagues.
What they don’t tell you in the press releases is that festivals like these aren’t really about the food – they’re about connecting with like-minded individuals and the talented chefs that have turned LA into what Jonathan Gold considers “the best place in the world to eat now.” On this particular day, I had the opportunity to embarrass myself in front of Chef Laurent Quenioux, receive the sincerest of hugs from Jitlada’s owner Jazz, chat with Krissy Lefebvre about all the exciting things in store for her and Chef Ludo, spend an afternoon with my fanatical food friends, and, most noteworthy of all, meet the Belly of LA.
That’s the stuff that makes the Gold Standard so special. The food itself is just the cherry on top.