We joined hundreds of others at the Great Chefs in LA yesterday, a fundraiser for the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California and one of the last outdoor charity tasting events of the season. It was a windy and occasionally cloudy one, but at least it didn't rain (as one woman put it, "I think we hit all four seasons in the last two hours."). Kind of compact on the CBS Studio Center lot in Studio City, there was just enough room to taste an array of foodstuffs and drink nice wine, plus get in some good goss along the way. Some obversations:
1) If you think the Drago family takes up a lot of restaurant space in LA, just have them all in attendance at one event: The Drago Wing, as we dubbed it, took up most of the mid-section with tables from all of Celestino, Cologero, Tanino and Giacomino's places. Best of what we tried: Smoked scallop carpaccio with pomegranate seeds at Panzanella. Best take-away: The Il Pastaio pasta dinner set Giacomino handed out.
2) Interactive tables are the new black. Everyone kept talking about the Saltistry (full of artisanal salts with things to dip in them) and the Plush Puffs (gourmet marshmallows with mini burners to tost them) tables.
3) Although always delicious and, we get it, easy for this type of event, Vincenti needs to break out of the lasagna thing. Served every. time.
4) More favorite dishes from our completely unscientific polling: thinly sliced roast pork filled with tonnato aoili from Fraiche; Grace's crab salad; Animal's pork belly with kimchee; Josie's "French pizza" (quiche); and the duck confit rolls with apple "cappuccino" from The Blvd at the Beverly Wilshire.
5) The rogue table: Animal. Situated right in front of the DJs speaker, the boys (Vinny Dotolo, Jon Shook) danced and sang everything from Journey to Prince's Kiss, the table was littered with empty wine bottles and splattered with food, there were always women crowded around them, and they were sizzling up pork belly while most tables closed up to go home.
6) Random gossip: All the furniture is in at Drago Centro, they have final health inspections coming up and will hopefully get people in the kitchen this week to start training, possibly open by Thanksgiving; there's a new more streamlined, lounge-friendly menu for Blvd 16 at the Palomar Hotel; Josie LeBalch looking for restaurant space for something new; the other new Drago restaurant, Gitano in Beverly Hills, now named Via Alloro (more on that later); Cole's hasn't even fired all the new kitchen equipment yet, still awaiting final inspections.