East LA Meets Napa 2015

AltaMed’s wonderful East LA Meets Napa fundraiser event celebrated its 10th anniversary on Friday evening, and once again, I was lucky enough to be invited.

Established over 40 years ago, AltaMed is Southern California’s leading non-profit health care system delivering integrated primary care services, senior care programs and health and human services for the entire family.

DSCN3050-001

The theme of the event is to showcase Southern California’s best Mexican restaurants, and the best Latino-owned wineries. It’s an inspired combination, and everyone put their best foot forward. Once again, the event sold out early, as I’m sure it will next year, judging by the happy faces of the attendees.

As in the past, the event was held at Union Station. When I first heard about it, I imagined we would be dodging commuters who were headed for the trains, but the airy courtyard of this historic building provides for a free flow of guests trying out the interesting foods and wines, as well as those who came to dance to the live salsa band.

DSCN2898-003

Each of the participating restaurants brought one or two of their signature dishes. Especially memorable was the Cochinita Pibil from Doña Rosa, served on one of the most perfect tortillas I’ve eaten this year (for the record, I’ve eaten a lot of great tortillas this year.) Rocio’s Mexican Kitchen offered something daring (and delicious) by combining a Paella (the classic Spanish dish) with her distinctive Mole Poblano. Chichén Itzá, served their Yucatan special Panuchos, King Taco served, yes, tacos, and El Cholo once again brought their spectacular green corn tamales. Casa Oaxaca had people laughing about their grasshopper salsa… until they tasted the delicious flavor.

DSCN2905-001

There were wonderful wines from Alex Sotelo Cellars, Delgadillo Cellars and Trujillo Wines. It was a temptation to visit LLamas Family Wines, San Antonio Winery, Ceja Vineyards and others, but I can only cover a certain amount of ground in one evening. I have those to look forward to in the future.

DSCN2886-001

Once again, the event was flawlessly organized, and it was a very enjoyable evening. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it. My list of must-visit restaurants has grown (in fact, I’ve already visited one since Friday evening) and I’ll be sure to share my experiences in the coming months.

DSCN3048-001

Advertisements

East LA Meets Napa 2014

AltaMed held its 9th annual East LA Meets Napa fundraiser last Friday evening, and I was lucky enough to be invited.

Established over 40 years ago, AltaMed is Southern California’s leading non-profit health care system delivering integrated primary care services, senior care programs and health and human services for the entire family.

The theme of the event is to showcase Southern California’s best Mexican restaurants, and the best Latino-owned wineries. It’s an inspired combination, and everyone put their best foot forward. News is getting out, and the event was sold out early, as I’m sure it will be next year, judging by the happy faces of the attendees.

P1030676-001

The location couldn’t have been more perfect… or more unexpected. We’ve all been to Union Station, but everyone is so focused on catching a train that very few people notice the lovely outdoor courtyards of this historic building. It provided a free flow that allowed us to listen to the great live music, meet new friends and sample delicious food and wines.

P1030529-001

Each of the participating restaurants brought one or two of their signature dishes. Especially memorable were the chiles en nogada from La Huasteca, flautas de jamaica from Casa Oaxaca and the panuchos from Chichén Itzá. I was also delighted with dishes from La Parilla, Rivera Restaurant, Rocio’s Moles de los Dioses and several others. I even tried eating grasshopper for the first time… it was served in a salsa, so I could concentrate on the delicious flavor, and not the little beasts themselves.

P1030564-001

There were wonderful wines from Alex Sotelo Cellars, Gustavo Wines and Trujillo Wines. It was a temptation to visit Nevarez Vineyard, Luis Ochoa Family Vineyards, Delgadillo Cellars and others, but there was only one of me, and it was only one evening. I’ll be looking out for their wines in the future.

P1030484-001

The event was perfectly organized, and was a big success in all aspects. I was very fortunate to be a part of it. I have a list of restaurants that will keep me busy for months, and I’m already looking forward to next year.

P1030510-001

Chichén Itzá – Panuchos

P1020446-001

About 10 years ago, I did a double-take when I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about Chichén Itzá’s tacos de venado. How could a Yucatán style restaurant be more authentic if it served deer tacos? I don’t think they’re on the menu any more (they were wonderful, by the way), but I’ve been back many times since, to explore the consistently delicious regional cooking.

This afternoon, I was invited to a preview of AltaMed’s signature fund-raising event East L.A. Meets Napa. Owner Gilberto Cetina gave us a tour of the Mercado where the restaurant is located, and presented some of the highlights of the menu, as well as some interesting stories about Yucatán cuisine. I learned, for example, that Queso de Bola is actually Edam cheese that was introduced to the region by Dutch, uh… Pirates of the Caribbean.

The highlights today were the Panuchos. Unlike many Yucatán dishes, panuchos do not date back to the Mayans, but are a more recent, although still traditional concoction. The foundation is a tortilla that has been infused with a black bean puree, then fried. The topping is shredded turkey (!), pickled onion, lettuce, avocado and tomato. My fork didn’t offer much support, so I picked up my panucho (with Gilbero’s approval), folded it like a taco, and went to town.

Was it kind of like a taco? Well, yeah.. but it was more substantial and richer than most tacos. Earthy and satisfying in every way.

The great news is that Gilberto plans to serve Panuchos at the July 18 East L.A.Meets Napa main event. I’ll be first in line.

The address is: 3655 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90007
Telephone: (213)741-1075

Casa Azul Hotel – Mérida

head_casa_azul

I was in the Yucatán city of Mérida last year. I stayed at a perfectly nice hotel downtown, but now I really wish I had known about Casa Azul.

Mérida was a fabulously rich colonial city in an area where a great deal of wealth was generated by growing sisal, the material that for many years was used in the manufacture of rope. There is a particular boulevard of stunning mansions, many now converted to museums and public buildings, that would rival any city in the world, and it appears that Casa Azul is located in this neighborhood.

Yucatán is the site of a large concentration of remarkable Mayan ruins. I wasn’t on that kind of a trip, but I did take a day to see Uxmal. The ruins were stunning, the drive was easy and pleasant, and I finally was able to understand how entire cities can be swallowed by the jungle.

I’m certain my experience would have been much enhanced if I had stayed at a luxurious historical place like Casa Azul.

Here’s the website: http://www.hotelesboutique.com/en/hotel/casa-azul-monumento-historico

Chichén Itzá – Los Angeles – Mesquite Grilled Shrimp

IMG_8810-001

IMG_8848-001

Several years ago, when I learned that Chichén Itzá served Yucatán style venison tacos, I dropped everything and went to try them. They don’t seem to be on the menu any more, but they were absolutely delicious. Since then, I have been back many times to their South Grand Avenue restaurant, as well as to the short-lived MacArthur Park location. I’ve had perfectly executed red and green pipiáns, Yucatán specialty poc chuc and many other wonderful dishes. There’s always a feeling of anticipation while driving there, because, out of character for me, I haven’t settled on a single favorite dish.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting Gilberto and Gilberto (yes, two Gilbertos) at the East LA Meets Napa fund-raising event for AltaMed. Each of the participating restaurants presented a specialty dish for the sophisticated crowd of over 1,000 people, and Chichén Itzá’s mesquite grilled shrimp with a habanero cream sauce was a stand-out success. Served on a bed of julienne zucchini, the distinctive flavors of the shrimp and mesquite were beautifully balanced by a flavorful cream sauce with just enough habanero heat to add a whole new layer to the experience.

A consistently good restaurant, run by really nice people… what more can we ask for?

Here’s the website: http://www.chichenitzarestaurant.com/