Giada De Laurentis signs a bottle of wine for a fan.
Under the frenetic lights of the Nokia Plaza, located in the epicenter of the hip and ever-expanding downtown Los Angeles, affectionately known as DTLA, is the opening of the LA Food and Wine Show. The decadent four-day event spans from downtown across the city to the shore of the Pacific in Santa Monica and features countless chefs from restaurants across California. Chef superstar Giada De Laurentis hosts Thursday’s event, called Giada’s Festa Italiana and it features Italian chefs from restaurants as far north as Big Sur and more than 200 wines from wineries across the world.
While the process is simple, the event itself, is at first, daunting. It is hard to wrap my brain around the availability of 200 wines and food from twenty-eight of California’s finest restaurants. Not to try each and every one would be a colossal slap in the face to foodies across the globe, and while the term “foodie” makes me cringe, tonight, that is just what I am.
By night’s end, culinary delights from such chefs as Matt Molina from Osteria Mozza, Gino Angelini from Angelini Osteria, John Cox from Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn, Danny Elmaleh of Cleo, Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani from Café Frienze, Michael Fiorelli of Mar’sel will be fighting for space in my stomach in a sea chardonnays, merlots, pinot noirs, pinot grigios, syrahs, and tempernios to name a few and while that thought makes me fear for the future, never in my life have I been so eager to live in the present.
The line for a tasting of Giada De Laurentis’ featured dish of the night, Penne with Short Ribs Ragu and Summer Watermelon and Coucous, is long but moves fast. As it does, I sip a Pinot Grigio from an Italian vineyard called Barrymore, owned none other than Drew Barrymore. There are whispers that she might even turn up to pour a couple of glasses herself. To my right, Giada herself poses for pictures with adoring fans and upon trying her Short Rib Ragu, I understand exactly why. Forget that she’s famous. Her food is perfect.
Morro Bay Oysters from the chef of Post Ranch Inn
Some of the dishes are familiar ones. Others, like Post Ranch Inn’s John Cox get creative, serving oysters with lemon verbena, cucumber, basil seeds and balsamic. Cleo’s Elmaleh personally hands me a squash blossom with tallegio, honey and truffle. While I don’t have the slightest idea what tallegio is (sorry foodies), my taste buds are pulled into a thousand blissful directions.
As the hot Los Angeles evening turns dark, the event is as packed as my stomach. I bring the night to a close with a olive oil and sea salt truffle from Los Angeles Chocolatier Jonathan Grahm, owner of Compartes Chocolatier and a alcohol infused push up pop (like the ones we had when we were kids, only with booze), courtesy of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas, called a Pour Some Sugar on Me. It is made up of Maker’s Mark, Peach Rooibos Tea, pureed peaches, and lemon juice. As I finish this modified version of a childhood favorite, Saturday’s featured chef saunters past me. It is none other than Wolfgang Puck and if I’m going to eat some of his food, I best stop for now so there will be room.
As I inhale the smell of cypress mixed with salty ocean air and merge that scent with the sound of sheer metal slicing through air, pinnacled with a compressed thwack, I know that I am someplace special. So special, in fact, that to even take in the greatness of this particular merging of land and sea at its greatest expression, one must pay upward of five hundred fifty dollars, subject themselves to potential rain and wind, not to mention a reasonable amount of frustration. I, like most Americans do not have the money to thoroughly subject myself to such a peculiar blend of tranquility and torture, so usually my journey to this magical place begins and ends with a glass of wine at The Lodge. This lodge of course, is located on the 18th hole of The Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Seventh hole at pebble
From across Ocean Ave. in Carmel, CA visitors can catch distant glimpses of Pebble’s 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th holes which stretch regally out across a sheer Cliffside that drops savagely off into the mighty, crashing Pacific. For a fee of roughly ten dollars, tourists can drive the seventeen-mile drive across Pebble, catching fleeting glimpses of many of the peninsula’s eight courses. For thirty dollars a person, in addition to the ten to simply get onto the property, members of the public can play a nine-hole par three executive course called Peter Hay, which, though it sits near the famous coastal masterpiece and is owned by the same company, is a far cry from the majesty of it’s big brother.
This week, Pebble Beach is home to the AT&T Pro Am. While I am eager to watch Tiger’s return to the tournament after a ten-year absence, Bill Murray and his ridiculous hats defend his title, and Bill Belichik try and regain some dignity after The Patriot’s Super Bowl loss, what I am most excited about are the practice rounds the days before the tournaments.
On these particularly glorious days, true enthusiasts can actually to grace the rolling grasses of three of Pebble’s most noted golf courses; being Monterey Peninsula Shore Course, Spyglass, and of course Pebble Beach itself. I take in each hole as I walk along. Number six, an epic par five leads out towards the water is arresting in its nuance and scale. I look across the ocean at the beach where for years I’d looked at the very spot I now stand. The enthusiasm and optimism of golfers as they play their last drive from eighteen towards the lodge is infectious.
Tiger plays a quiet, unwatched round at Monterey Peninsula, Mike Weir peacefully contemplates putts on a putting clock and OU football coach Bob Stoops crushes a drive off of the second hole on Pebble. When watched this way, these titans become simply men playing a game.
Watching these talents in their element, apart from the throngs of screaming fans one finds on a typical tournament day, somehow makes these legendary courses feels in a strange way, less magical and more real. From now on, when I watch tournaments for the comfort of my own home, I will know that the place where these golfers are playing actually does exist and isn’t some surreal exit from reality. And somehow despite the fact that from now on these golfers won’t feel like characters in my favorite films set in mythical locations, the game of golf itself becomes an even more beautiful and challenging thing.
For a second, I even think that if I put away twenty dollars a month for about thirty months, that I too could play this course just like these guys. And in the two and a half years I would take to put away that money, I’d have plenty of time to get good enough to actually play the course well.
As I watch a young pro sail a drive from the tee box over the green on the seventh hole and into the pacific, followed immediately by another ball meeting the same fate, I think to myself… Maybe I’ll save ten bucks a month for six years. Two years at my skill level seems a little too soon to face off with this mighty merging of land and sea. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my wine at The Lodge.