Well another year, another AWFF weekend gone by. The weekend starts with a big red meat night at Red Seven at the Pacific Design Center that tends to feature mostly local chefs and restaurants, goes into the gorge-fest otherwise known as the American Wine & Food Festival at the Universal Backlot with biggies from all over the country, and ends with a $750-per-person dinner with the likes of Joel Robuchon and Eric Ripert at Spago. Once again, we hit the two parties we had access to (Friday and Saturday night), and after the appropriate pacing, lived to tell about it. Here, then, some observations:
1) We, as most people, didn't get to Red Hot @ Red Seven until after the presidential debate on Friday night, but that just meant the chefs were able to serve longer than last year. A strong showing by stalwarts like Lawry's Prime Rib and Cut (both LV and BH), with burgers from 8 oz, steak-filled flatbreads from Craft (no Coliccho, but chef Matt Accarrino instead), and the coffee-rubbed steak from the restaurants at the new Montage Beverly Hills would've been fine if it didn't leave coffee grounds in our teeth for the rest of the night. Attendees and drinks were in abundance, the band played everything from Zeppelin to Nancy Sinatra, rumor had it that Janice Dickinson made an appearance, and it's not a party until that crazy bitch shows up.
2) Gossip: Table 8 probably not reopening until 2009; restaurants at Montage Beverly Hills---Parq and Muse---opening in November.
3) On to Saturday: Everything about the grand tasting event is as smooth as always, but after 26 years, they have it down to a science. We've figured it out, too: Go early, go in teams so one person can get booze while the other waits for food, pace yourselves. Lines were long but moved swiftly.
4) Two sections, however, did get log-jammed: The "Italian Piazza," an enclosed courtyard anchored by Gino Angelini, but oddly flanked by SBE's new additions, Jose Andres for the Bazaar at SLS and Michael Mina for XIV, who served nothing Italian. Guests kind of got stuck in the muck around a central table in there. The other was the dessert and Champagne lounge toward the end of the night, which was so crowded with no flow. Even Payard's cake wasn't worth getting elbowed in the ribs for.
5) Sherry Yard takes the prize for creativity: Whether she's just trying to keep an event she does every year interesting or she's just kinda crazy, her dessert booth was covered in sheets and sheets of Dots candy, the colors of which matched the macarons, frosted cupcakes and staffer's wigs.
6) Mina on opening XIV in LA: Very excited, said he's known Sam Nazarian for years, the concept of small plates isn't such a stretch for him as its similar to his "trio" menus, just more choose-your-own for the diner.
7) Huge lines at the Mozza table, per usual. But Nancy Silverton & Co. were frying stuffed squash blossoms on the spot. Who could resist. Grace wasn't there, but chef Neal Fraser was spotted helping out at Drew Nieporent's Tribeca Grill table.
8) Lots of meat at the event: Duck (delicious at NYC's South Gate; whole ducks hanging at the Red Seven table), prime rib, steaks, short ribs everywhere (most memorable were paired with "loaded baked potato" ice cream—bacon and all—from the Wynn's SW Steakhouse), roast leg of lamb (Campanile). Truffles also in abundance. Last year Ame's noodle shoot wowed us; this year sibling restaurant Terra's dish of uni-topped noodles with abalone and mushrooms on the side were a favorite. Summer Shack's fried clams still the best.
9) Tables sad to have missed but we were too full anyway: Palate, who had awesome center placement, Michelle Bernstein's Michy, Wilshire, Redd.
10) Wolfie working the crowd, as was the sparkly Barbara Lazaroff. Wolf's adorable kid went tearing through the crowd at one point followed by friend/uncle/nanny. Hey, it's his party. We met one of the directors who said that the weekend pulls in about a half a million dollars for Meals on Wheels.