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Inside East LA Meets Napa: Los Angeles’s Best Food & Wine Festival

After arousing suspicions for the past several years, it may be safe to call it: East LA Meets Napa Food & Wine Festival is the best food and wine festival in Los Angeles. At no other festival is there more food, more wine, music, and dancing than at AltaMed’s annual downtown Los Angeles bash. Find your new favorite bottle of wine and where you should book your next dinner reservation inside.

Now in its 13th year, AltaMed’s East LA Meets Napa is a unique event that celebrates the richness of Latin food in Los Angeles and the success of Latino-owned vineyards in California. This year, East LA Meets Napa took attendees on a wine tasting journey stretching from the famed Napa Valley, through many of Argentina’s vast wine regions. It was The Hollywood Home’s third year attending the only festival which celebrates the richness of Latin food and the success of Latino-owned vineyards in Napa. I’m beginning to wonder what a summer would look like without the tradition of East LA Meets Napa. This year, over 70 Los Angeles area restaurants and chefs participated.

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 LA and Orange counties. It’s the kind of event that’s an excellent way to eat amazing food, drink spectacular wine, and support a great local cause.

This year the event was once again held at LA Live. We started (and at the close of the night also ended!)with sips 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.

On this warm evening, we were also in the mood for a chilled white wine so next door we had a glass of Pavo Real‘s white blend. The outstanding blend is comprised of 45% Sauvignon Blanc, 45% Chenin Blanc and 10% Chardonnay. At around $10 dollars a bottle, the blend was nicely crisp and fresh with notes of tropical fruits. Pavo Real’s grapes originates in Valle de Guadalup in Baja, Mexico. Their white wine pairs excellently with Baja style Mexican dishes such as red snapper tacos with pico de gallo and salmon a la parrilla. The citrus flavors of this wine will also enhance lighter dishes such as enchiladas verdes and vegetarian tacos. For a unique cocktail, use Pavo Real to make a white wine margarita.

We began with – where else? El Tepayac Cafe. El Tepayac has been in business in Boyle Heights for over 60 years and has become something of a Los Angeles cult favorite for their massive “Manuel’s Special” burrito, which weights in at over 5 pounds. They decided to go a bit lighter for their dish and served freshly made guacamole, tortilla chips, and chicken in a slightly sweet homestyle red sauce.

Scratch margaritas were provided by Cazadores Tequila. Trust me, this wasn’t the only time throughout the night we visited this booth.

Honrama Cellars is one of our go-to wineries each year. Honrama Cellars is located in Napa and is a boutique producer focusing on two varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. The wines are produced by husband and wife vintners Juan and Miram Puentes.Production is small – about 1000 cases of the Cabernet Sauvignon and 250 case of the Sauvignon blanc. This year, Honrama had a delectable rosé that was a refreshing palette cleanser before we moved onto more food.

Encanto Vineyards is a small boutique winery that produces high quality wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Encanto wines are produced to please customers who like the Bordeaux and Burgundy types of wine produced in the microclimates within Napa Valley. They claim their wines taste so good because of the “generosity” of the earth. Encanto’s sauvignon blanc has tropical aromas of mango and passion fruit and is underlined by a well-weighted palate of kiwi, stone fruit and minerality. Soft acidity adds a nice balance to a refreshing crisp finish.

Our two absolutely favorite dishes of the night were from The Knotted Apron. The Knotted Apron is a contemporary cooking and event space in Whittier that does group and individual classes in their stunning showroom kitchen.

The Knotted Apron had both a crunchy vegan potato and a delicious steak fried quesadilla with just the right amount of greens on top and drizzled with a truly fresh chimichurri sauce. If you aren’t sold on taking cooking classes at The Knotted Apron yet, you will be once you try these bad boys. Follow The Knotted Apron on Instagram to see if they’ll be coming back to town any time soon.

Ceviche was all the rage at East LA Meets Napas past, but this year the ceviches were few and far between. But Ceviche Stop was, of course, at the festival to fill that void. Ceviche Stop isn’t a restaurant, or a food truck, instead it’s a pushcart called Ceviche Stop, manned by well-known chef Walther Adrienzen. He’s been making Peruvian ceviches for years, and now has plans to hopefully bring a Ceviche Stop to every city he can, including all over Los Angeles.

Mario Bazan Cellars was one of our first glasses and one of our definitive favorites. Owner (and wife of Mario) Gloria Bazan was as kind and knowledgable about her wine as possible. Mario and Gloria have their own estate vineyard in Napa. Their a boutique winery focused on a single varietal wine, an ultra premium quality 100% Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Smooth and silky, this wine is a true expression of its varietal.

Chef Ben Diaz of CBD Cuisine and the Luxe City Center Hotel’s Nixo Patio Lounge served an inventive and tasty lamb birria with salchichon salad and rice chicharon.

For meat lovers, it may have been the dish of the night.

Taking a moment to dance before the deluge of dessert seekers to come.

Ravello Bar & Grill is an upscale Italian restaurant in Whittier. Their main dish was a jerk pork served on a bed of polenta! You can also order this dish anytime at Ravello, so there’s no way to miss it!

La Fonda kept things simple with this spicy carne asada taco.

The Instagrammable stars of the evening were courtesy of Chef Draden Medina. These two studs were serving more than gazpacho. Chef Draden, otherwise known as The Harlot Chef says of his food, “If Martha Stewart and Dita Von Teese had a love child, that would be me. I’m a Culinary Courtesan, and I will give you an experience you will never forget.”

Chef Thomas Bille of Otium served crunchy fish tacos on Kernal of Truth organic tortillas.

Cesar’s Bistro is located in the beautiful city of Long Beach. Their specialty is a new model, style, and concept of Latin cuisine. They are famous in Long Beach for their empanadas. At the event they served a Latin American rice dish with American and Chinese influences. It was tasty and unique and perfect to soak up a bit of the wine and the tequila.

While We didn’t see any beer at the festival, there was something somewhat similar but also one-of-a-kind: Hard Frescos Brewing Company. They had a refreshing, seemingly light as air craft-brewed agua fresca with a Stella Artois worthy 5.7% ABV and – this is the best part – only 7 grams of carbs. Hard Frescos are the only cold-fermented aguas frescas brewed from real fruit and all natural ingredients. With three flavors – Tangy Tamarindo, Guava Citrico, Juicy Jamaica, they taste like fresh fruit with the added benefit of alcohol. They also make perfect mixers. Here’s their recipe for a “Return of the Jedi:”

1.5 oz. Tequila
0.75 oz. Lime
0.5 oz. Agave Syrup
3-4 oz. Juicy Jamaica
2 dash spicy jalapeno / habanero tincture
2 sprigs of Thyme
Serve on the rocks

We tasted one winery and two more bottles of wine before hitting the dance floor. Vinos Unidos that makes you feel good about drinking it as they give back 10% of their profits to college scholarships. They chose the name Vinos Unidos or United Wines to show their connection with wine and each other, and to highlight their diverse backgrounds. We had the rosé and the cabernet sauvignon.  Vinos Unidos Rosé Wine was awarded first place in a wine challenge against 15 other Rosé wines from California, France, Portugal, Australia, and Italy. The rosé made from 52% Cab Franc from Alexander Valley, Sonoma County and 48% Cabernet Sauvignon from Atlas Peak, Napa Valley and boasts enticing aromas of strawberry and crisp watermelon.

Onto the dancing. Mongorama is 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. Buy their album here.

There was also tango throughout the evening lead by Mónica Orozco, currently one of the most influential people spreading the Passion for Tango in Los Angeles.

The headliners and the closeout of the evening were the local Los Angeles six piece band Ozomatli. They are known both for their vocal activist viewpoints and their wide array of musical styles – including salsa, jazz, funk, reggae, rap, and others. They brought the house to their feet with their energetic set before departing from the stage and into the crowd to perform Latin classics.

 

AltaMed’s East LA Meets Napa Festival is not just important because of all of the amazing work AltaMed does for our community and for our health. This great food and wine festival is also important for what it represents – the coming together of different cultures, cuisines, ideas. As Anthony Bourdain put it, “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”

You won’t want to miss this event next year!

Find out more about AltaMed’s East LA Meets Napa Festival here.

Find out more about AltaMed’s East LA Meets Napa Festival here.

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