Lately, I’ve been missing many aspects of my past trip to Europe… and especially the robust flavors of the simple yet divine food I found in Italy. So the Taste of Italy, held this past weekend in downtown L.A., came at the perfect timing. It was the Italian mini-vacation I needed, right here in Los Angeles!
I covered the event two years ago, and was excited to see what had changed or remained the same since. What didn’t change was the lively atmosphere full of live entertainment and merriment, I’ll tell you that much!
Of the multitude of authentic Italian restaurants and wineries serving and pouring throughout the night, there were a few that really stood out to me. What makes a bite of food special for me at an event is a combination of the taste, originality, balance of flavors and textures, and– last but not least– the service. (It also helps if the item looks pretty on the plate, as it makes the eager food photographer in me very happy!)
A couple dishes I really enjoyed were served at the joint booth by Italian restaurants Celestino and Drago Centro, with brothers Calogero and Celestino Drago personally serving guests. They served garganelli pasta with pork sausage and fennel pollen, and plated it right out of a giant, hollowed out cheese wheel (also featured in the video below). The panzanella salad they also served with a smile was refreshing, and a good counterbalance to the flavors and textures in the pasta dish.
Another standout was The Jonathan Club, which served tiramisu and cannoli-inspired donuts that were absolutely scrumptious, and really tasted like their respective classic dessert inspirations. They even included tiny droppers to inject the accompanying espresso or the cherry sauce into the donuts for an interactive experience. They also served spumoni push-pops with pistachio and cherry swirls, which were just as fun as they were tasty (also featured in the video below). Loved the innovative twist on those classic Italian flavors!
Di Stefano Cheese served a creamy burrata topped with a smooth pesto sauce, nutty pumpkin seeds and a soft square of focaccia bread to sop up all that goodness. It was one blissful bite! Other dishes served throughout the night included onsite oven-fired pizza, gnocchi with mushrooms, and plenty of cold seafood dishes.
To wash it all down, we sipped on top quality Barolo red wine, long known amongst Italians as the “King of Wines.” I learned that the wine originates from the Piedmont region of northern Italy, and is traditionally made from the native Nebbiolo grape, which is quite thick-skinned and tannic. There was also plenty of Italian coffee on hand, along with cannoli, gelato, and even amaro, which is an Italian digestif.
With all the hearty food and drink, I found samples of Eden’s Savory Sap to be quite refreshing. It is an elixir made from plants and roots, and I tried their Turmeric-Almond-Rose and Sage-Rosehip-Elderflower flavors in soda water. They tasted like a healthier, aromatic and elevated version of your typical soda, with almost none of the sweetness. I could see them mixed into cocktails as well.
And now, I present you with the best bites in action, right here in this one-minute video packed with Taste of Italy highlights:
It’s also important to note that the annual event is held in support of the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles, to help raise funds to preserve Italian American history for future generations.
The Taste of Italy was as close as I’ll get in a while to physically being back in Italy, but it definitely transported me back mentally and filled me with nostalgia… all while infusing the event with an innovative L.A. twist. Until next time… ciao!