Preview for the 2nd Annual LA Street Food Fest
IOTA, Koreatown (Los Angeles), California
With the 2nd annual LA Street Food Fest to be held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena around the corner, I took advantage of an opportunity to meet some of the participants in this year’s event and to sample some of the food that will represent their culinary offerings at the festival. The previews were held over two nights and hosted in restaurants so new that they’re either just opened or soon to open. I attended the second night, held at yet-to-launch, ultra-modern IOTA Coffee House in Koreatown. In addition to being the conduit for coffee wizard Eton Tsuno to bring his A-game to LA, fresh fare by Chef Karen Kang will also be available. The space is an overwhelming assault on the senses with an atmosphere more appropriate for a hot Manhattan dance spot than a coffee house; the kitchen is cordoned off from the dining area by glass that gives those inside full view of the food preparation. Giant monitors wrap around the top of the space with multiple flat panels throughout at eye-level. IOTA creates fresh, healthy drinks but their showpiece is a coffee bar that looks like a mad scientist’s lab with a bank of drip coffee stations and a gargantuan siphon coffee maker standing guard in front of the glassed-in roaster, capable of turning out 2000 pounds of perfectly roasted beans daily.
Prior to the start of the event, two women dressed in traditional Korean attire brewed and instructed patrons on how to create the perfect cup of tea. The bar was open with drinks spiked with Sailor Jerry rum available as well as fresh fruit-laden water and a drink made from thinned pomegranate hongcho (red vinegar) which is said to have considerable health benefits. Every table in the place was filled by media who were introduced to the players by LA Street Food Fest founder Shawna Dawson. One of the two food trucks participating in the event (the Mighty Boba Truck) debuted at last year’s event before they even had the pink slip on a mobile restaurant. In addition to providing tasting cups of milk tea boba (slightly sweetened and blended with non-dairy cream), MBT presented a spicy buttermilk-dipped popcorn chicken garnished with fried basil leaves. Although absolutely delicious, I found it odd that they eschewed dairy for the milk tea boba for dietary considerations, yet buttermilk was a key part of the preparation of the popcorn chicken.
With their kitchen on wheels also parked out front, Glowfish brought in family-style samples of their menu including okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake that seemed to have everything in it but the kitchen sink. A thick layer of bonita shavings liberally graced the top of the dish and they danced as the heat from the pancake hit them. One item seemed somewhat Anglo – it was a dish featuring sous vide beef with vegetables and garlic served with a green salad and white rice. The meat was slightly chewy but not unpleasant and the folks sitting at my table were referring to it as “stew”.
IOTA also brought out some of their signature menu items from the kitchen including a tender hibachi steak that practically melted and was complemented by the crisp bed of shredded, stir fried vegetables it lay atop. A very colorful and delicious plate of glazed chicken wings was offered and they seemed to pick up spice as we ate our way to the bottom.
Gleeka Greek pastries (who sell online) provided a crumbly trinity of phyllo dough pastries including melomakarona, spanakopita and baklava. The spinach in the spanakopita was not cooked down to mush and the crust was still flaky, but I had to laugh a little that the sample sat atop a flattened green cupcake paper (yes, green, not blue). With each course, the owners, chefs and creators of the food vendors were introduced and each gave a little background on their venture and cuisine. Introduced were Rachel Furman, Brand Ambassador for Sailor Jerry Rum; Luca Tseng (co-owner) and Dewey Chou (chef) of The Mighty Boba Truck; Stephanie Ziemer of Gleeka Greek pastries; Brian Chong (part of the team launching IOTA Coffee); and the crew from the Glowfish truck.
IOTA finished the meal with a dessert power trio of cupcake-sized tiramisu, mango tart and a mini chocolate mousse cake. The tiramisu was passible for not coming from North Beach, Little Italy or the North End, and the mango tart was creamy, tangy and delicious. I’m not a big chocolate fan, although Samantha Stanley (events coordinator for this year’s beneficiary of the event, Downtown Women’s Shelter) mentioned that she enjoyed the mousse center; I found the frosting to be a little odd, and I was assisted with the adjective “slimy”.
After the meal the attendees returned to the spacious roofed outdoor patio where the women preparing tea earlier in the evening conducted a short, traditional women’s tea ceremony. One woman prepared three cups of tea and requested two volunteers from the audience to partake of the tea. The crowd sat or stood silent until Fiona Chandra (of the blog Gourmet Pigs) and I got up to participate, taking our cues from the preparer.
The food vendors we met and cuisine we sampled were but a small representation of what will be featured once again in the Rose Bowl on what is being called “Carmageddon” (the closing of Route 405), but ticket sales have been brisk so far and word is getting out of alternative means of transportation as well as discount hotel rates for those attending that wish to stay in Pasadena. Judging by the timed schedule from the web site, this year’s event has been planned out keeping in mind the lessons learned from the inaugural event. Those attending the event truly will be able to proudly brag about their street smarts.
Gleeka Greek pastry’s web site: http://www.gleekagreekpastries.com/
Website for the 2nd annual LA Street Food Fest at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA: http://lastreetfoodfest.com/
GALLERY: See images from the media preview for the 2nd annual L.A. Street Food Fest at IOTA Coffee House in Koreatown (Los Angeles) CA
NOTE: This cost for this meal was provided by the organizers of the L.A. Street Food Fest. The content provided in this article was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event.