Yesterday the annual Taste of the Nation foodie fest took place in Culver City's Media Park, now with more of LA's top chefs, more food and it looked like more do-gooders than ever. The weather couldn't have been more perfect, and there's a lot of space, so no matter how long the line, there's no major pushing and shoving for bite-size morsels, even at the Craft table. No one ran out of food too early, and there were plenty of cocktails and enough water to rehydrate the crowd---all positives compared to last year. The best part is foodies and fans meeting the chefs, all for a good cause: Proceeds go to the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger & Homelessness, the LA Regional Food Bank and other charities. Some hangover observations:
1) We didn't hit every booth so it's unfair to say who had the best dishes of the day, but we enjoyed the roast pork and coleslaw sandwich from Grace, the returning arancini from Dominick's (as well as their house white wine), Cognac-cured salmon from Conny Andersson's forthcoming AK restaurant, duck liver mousse from Palate Food + Wine, simple oysters on the half shell from Water Grill, and pork belly from Sona/Comme Ca. Where the lines never died: The mojito bar and Gail Silverton's Gelato Bar booth.
2) For her first TON as a Top Chef, Foxtail's Antonia Lofaso worked it. She cooked fettucini and clams with fennel (same dish as in the Restaurant Wars episode?), which was damn tasty, posed for pics with fans, and competed in a TC-type cooking challenge against Fred 62/Tiara's Cafe Fred Eric. Judges Evan Kleiman (owner of Angeli Caffe and host of "Good Food," LA Weekly's Jonathan Gold, and Cat Cora picked Eric as the winner, which may or may not have had something to do with him ripping off his clothes to reveal full-on Lakers' regalia.
3) Chefs with kids was this year's theme: Lofaso's daughter helped in the Foxtail booth, Josiah Citrin's passed out food in the Melisse booth, Cat Cora had some kids in tow, as did the Frasers and the Fords.
4) Colicchio was a no-show for the event, the first one for Craft in LA. We heard he was double booked for a similar event in NY. Also notably missing: tables for A.O.C., Hungry Cat or Lucques, Valentino, Spago, Mozza, Father's Office.
5) Akasha Richmond hosted the after party at Akasha a few blocks away. Fact: If they didn't cut everyone off around 8:30pm, no one would've left. The drinkers went to after-after-party at Ford's next door.
6) Random thoughts and more fun facts: Loteria Grill's Jimmy Shaw only became a U.S. citizen five years ago (born and raised in Mexico City); Hell's Kitchen sous chef Scott Leibfried spotted helping Conny Anderson at AK booth; Ben Ford's girlfriend Emily Beretta sporting a huge engagement ring; the Culver City chefs love the Let's Be Frank hot dog cart, which will hopefully make an appearance at next year's event; Kirk Cameron still surprisingly cute.