By Andy J. Gordon
The first annual Los Angeles Times Food Bowl features several events, panel discussions and a series of themed dinners at restaurants around the city, all happening in and around Los Angeles from May 1 to 31, 2017. One of the dinners that was part of the Citibank-sponsored Chef Series took place at Playa Provisions on May 24, 2017. Proceeds from the food-and-wine pairing dinner went to No Kid Hungry, a charity that raises funds to provide meals to children in need.
Playa Provisions is the brainchild of Top Chef alumni Brooke Williamson and her husband Nick Roberts, who have opened several places in the beach communities of Playa Del Rey and Redondo Beach. Playa Provisions is a multi-use property that contains a food shop, ice cream parlor, whiskey bar and full service, seafood-centric restaurant called Dockside.
The evening started with a cocktail hour on the outdoor patio. Servers passed hors d’oeuvres and guests mingled. Two signature cocktails were offered, both featuring Hendrick’s gin. The first, an “Unusual Negroni,” was made with the gin, Lillet Rose, Aperol and grapefruit oil. The second, called “Ladyland,” contained the gin, Calvados, Crème de Violette, maraschino and rose. Both were potent and led with the distinctive taste of the gin.
As highly reluctant gin drinkers, we opted to go rogue and had the staff procure one of their regular bar cocktails called El Chapo. The drink is an excellent blend of Casamigos blanco tequila, pomegranate and lime juice, cilantro agave and jalapeño tincture. Other guests chose selections from the evening’s wine selections.
The best of the passed appetizers was the lobster roll. Large chunks of meat busted out of crusty, buttered rolls and were accompanied by pickled mustard seeds and crushed potato chips. There was also a well-balanced white bean, braised fennel and anchovy toast as well as vibrant radishes flaked with habanero salt.
The outdoor patio served as the setting for the sit-down dinner. Fortunately, the retractable roof kept out the ever-increasing ocean breeze. MC extraordinaire Billy Harris, whose “Hanging with Harris” video series has taken him all over the world sampling bars and restaurants, hosted the dinner. He introduced Williamson and Roberts as well as Jenn Harris, deputy food editor at the L.A. Times. Each spoke about the Food Bowl Series and the important work of No Kid Hungry. Williamson talked about the evening’s menu items and the Santa Barbara area wines being paired with the food.
The meal started with grilled oysters sourced from Massachusetts. The oysters were covered with swiss chard and bacon. A 2014 Qupé Marsanne paired nicely with the shellfish. The second course was a tuna and compressed watermelon salad that Williamson said was a dish that she prepared on Top Chef, but it never made it onto one of the TV broadcasts. The combination of raw tuna, watermelon and shaved serrano chile in a lime vinaigrette was delicious. A bright and fruity 2016 Buttonwood Syrah Rosé from Santa Ynez Valley matched well with the dish.
Crispy carnitas were the surprise main course. The juicy, flavorful meat was prepared beautifully by the kitchen known for its mastery of seafood. Purple cabbage and cauliflower, cilantro and fish sauce accompanied the carnitas and it was a tasty combination. A 2016 Brander Merlot from the Los Olivos District worked great with the bold pork dish.
Before dessert, Billy Harris and the restaurant owners auctioned off a Williams Sonoma gift box and a future dinner for four at Playa Provisions. The proceeds went to No Kid Hungry. The meal concluded with a lovely version of peaches and cream. A buttermilk semifreddo – a type of frozen mousse – with grilled peaches and browned buttermilk crumbles filled a decorative bowl. Gourmet coffees and the decadent dessert were a fine conclusion to the highly enjoyable meal eaten for a very good cause.