A Taste of East LA Meets Napa

Another year, another amazing AltaMed’s East LA Meets Napa food and wine festival. What sets the annual downtown Los Angeles apart this year is the vast and growing need for support AltaMed provides. The spate of current events have left many people in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and around the country, feeling vulnerable, fearful to seek medical treatment and other services they made need. That makes AltaMed, who presents the festival, more vital than ever. The always sold-out event draws 2,000+ people annually and proceeds benefit AltaMed’s initiatives and services that create access to health and dental care, senior and HIV services, teen mentoring programs, and more to undeserved families in Southern California. It’s an excellent way to eat amazing food, drink spectacular wine, and support a great and necessary local cause. It’s an event you won’t want to miss in 2020.

Every year for the past 14 years, AltaMed’s East LA Meets Napa celebrates the richness of Latin food in Los Angeles and the success of Latino-owned vineyards in Napa.

Music was provided by Mongorama, a latin-jazz ensemble formed by KJazz 88.1 radio personality Jose Rizo (host of ‘Jazz on the Latin Side’), exploring the early Mongo Santamaria charanga-jazz material of the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Conga legend Mongo Santamaria, saxophonist Chombo Silva and flautist Rolando Lozano performed an exciting latin jazz sound driven by cuban charanga rhythms and  straight ahead jazz. Mongorama celebrates this music preserving  the classic charanga-jazz element , yet refreshing it with a modern perspective. You can sometimes catch them at LACMA’s Friday Night Jazz series, which is one of my favorite music series of the summer. Buy their album here.

Our first bite of the evening was courtesy of Masataco. Masataco is a scratch kitchen located in Whittier. They offer an all vegan menu and organic handmade tortillas, plus a vegan coffee and tea bar. Their vegan al pastor tacos were the perfect start to the night, savory yet not too heavy. The tacos mere made of root vegetables, Oaxaca pasilla salsa, vegan avocado crema, 24K gold dusted micro cilantro all on an activated charcoal tortilla. For more delicious looking sounding dishes be sure to follow Masataco’s delectable Instagram.

Our first sip of the night came from Guerrero Fernandez Winery. Guerrero Fernandez Winery is a small boutique winery in Sonoma that produces limited (in some cases, as with the cabernet we tried, very limited) quantities of exceptional handcrafted wines using traditional winemaking techniques. As the winery puts it, “Throughout the process we put our heart and soul into producing award-winning premium red wines for our families, friends, and anybody that enjoys great things in life.” Guerrero Fernandez Winery also has an excellent Wine Club for a surprisingly affordable price. The cabernet featured concentrated aromas of blackberries and black cherries with an inviting hint of Tobacco. The wine’s silky palate is long and seductive, boasting a beautiful balance of black fruit and fine tannin structure.

One of the biggest and best surprises was courtesy of Angel Flores, the new chef of Yamashiro Hollywood. Chef Angel Flores has deep roots here in Los Angeles; from his parents’ childhood homes in East LA to his culinary education at Cordon Bleu in Pasadena. Flores’s love for cuisine has cultivated respect for traditional techniques while also inspiring a unique & flavorful point of view. Yamashiro served ahi tuna wonton nachos that combined the perfect flavors of Latin America with Japan and offered the perfect crunch. The line for these bad boys was consistently the longest of the night. If you’d like to try Chef Flores’s unique dishes, don’t miss Yamashiro’s weekly Night Market, happening every Thursday for the rest of summer in Hollywood.

Another delightful surprise was discovering Genovese’s Italian Kitchen. The longtime restaurant, located in Alhambra, is a classic neighborhood pizzeria that also offers pasta and subs. Mr. Genovese himself was on hand (amid a lovely bevy of summer sunflowers) to present his dish: a shrimp alla diabola with roasted pepper polenta. The dish perfectly showed how similar flavor profiles from Italy and Mexico can be.

La Huasteca Restaurant has two locations in the LA area: Lynwood and Buena Park. They do a wonderful Sunday brunch at each location, until 2:30pm. La Huasteca offered not one, not two, not three, but four dishes.

My favorite of the three was the cucumber and corn ceviche. I was glad to see ceviche return to East LA Meets Napa as it has seemed to go out of style in recent years in favor of heartier (think beans and rice) dishes. My opinion? I say keep the vegetable-centric dishes coming. We have a lot of dishes to try and a long night ahead of us.

La Huasteca‘s third and fourth dishes were a red ceviche with a fried plantain chip and a jalapeno stuffed with pomegranate seeds and crema.

The Chori-Man® is a storefront in San Pedro that has a wide range of Artisan chorizo by the pound, chorizo tacos, burritos, and quesadillas. Smoked meats, brisket, and specialty sausages. Argentinian chicken chorizo link with chimichurri Sauce. I love a nice chimichurri and rarely will pass up the opportunity to try one so I can experiment the next time I make one. After all, everyone has a slightly different recipe. I wanted to skip the chorizo and try just a slice of bread with the chimichurri on top and, despite being a legit butcher and butcher shop, The Chori-Man was only too happy to oblige.

Hugo Miranda of Butcher Block LA served a nicely plated Shrimp Aguachile Ceviche, served on a Patacone with Ancho Chile Roasted peanut salad, avocado aioli, dried chili mango topped off with micro cilantro and micro radish. BBLA hosts random pop-up dinners and offer full catering services. I liked the look of the dish so much I shot it in my iPhone’s portrait mode.

Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria, a community favorite in Pico Rivera, offered a savory yet sweet pineapple tostada.

Chef Wendy Centeno of  VCHOS Food Truck offered another one of the big hits of the evening. Pupusas stuffed with either chicken or cheese, with a drizzle of tomato salsa on top. The dough of the pupusa was perfectly fluffy and luxurious. VCHOS Truck keeps their calendar updated daily so be sure to check out where you can find them roaming around LA. Their tapas and pupusas are made from scratch daily, gluten free, and are made with only the highest quality ingredients.

What we needed next was another glass of wine or two. We stumbled upon Anaya Vineyards, which I think in the past four years of attending East LA Meeta Napa, was strangely our first time trying their varietals. Their Pinot Gris was a floral and fresh wine with a dry but rich texture, dusted with a hint of spices. They use a 100% stainless steel fermentation process and the bottle is a nice fully rounded 13.7% alcohol by volume. Anaya Vineyards was also the only winery at the festival located in Lodi, California. The South of Sacramento Central Valley winery is actually harvesting grapes as we speak. Be sure to follow them on Instagram.

Our final dish of the night were the Rajas Tacos from The Knotted Apron. You may recall they had our favorite dish from last year so we decided to save the best for last and, once again, The Knotted Apron did not disappoint. The Knotted Apron is a kitchen and event venue in Whittier that offer cooking classes and parties in their great space. Check out some of their cooking classes here. On October 3rd, for example, they’ll be hosting a Cooking with Tequila class. Sure to be a great time!

Just as they did last year, The Knotted Apron offered a vegetarian and a vegan dish, always a relief in what can sometimes feel like a sea of carnivorous options at most food festivals.

The Vegetarian Rajas: Rajas con crema with smokey black bean Puree, corn salsa, pickled radish, and cotija cheese. Vegan Rajas:  Rajad con crema de almendra, smokey black bean puree, corn salsa, and pickled radish.

Both options were fresh and rejuvenating. The black bean puree and crisp tortilla offered just the right amount of heartiness, while the corn salsa and pickled radish kept things feeling healthy and light. I liked this seemingly simple dish so much I tried to recreate it at home. I couldn’t get it quite right. I wonder if its pinto versus black beans, canned versus fresh, or if I’m missing a spice altogether. Coriander, maybe? I’ll have to ask the Knotted Apron team next year.

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To close out this festive night, or, before moving onto the dance floor I should say, we had a glass of Honrama Cellars‘s spectacular Paula’s Rosé. Honrama is a Latino family owned winery in the Napa Valley. This Rosé stand apart fromt he rest because it is crafted with cabernet grapes instead of the traditional pinot noir or chardonnay variety. The final product has hints of strawberry and citrus fruits. Honrama offers a quality product at a nice price point: their wines usually go for between $20 and $40 dollars a bottle.

That’s a wrap on another successful and wonderfully fun East LA Meets Napa. Thanks so much to AltaMed for hosting us year after year and for doing the work you do. Los Angeles and Orange County need it now more than ever!


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