The Essentials 2016 by LA Weekly
On Saturday, February 20, 2016, The Essentials took place at the California Market Center in DTLA. With over half the restaurants from LA Weekly‘s recently-released 99 Essential Restaurants list participating, it promised to be a great time. The actual experience, though, was a bit bifurcated for VIP and GA ticket holders.
The event this year was shifted to the evening; last year’s took place between 1pm and 5pm, the first hour for VIP only, while this year the event spanned 5 hours, from 5pm to 10pm, again first hour VIP-only. The event was completely sold out, and the early entry was well worth the upgrade to VIP. It was pretty easy to sample nearly all the food during that first hour. Notable exceptions were Providence/Connie & Ted’s, which were shucking oysters on the spot, and Bestia, which was serving crispy pork belly, as their lines started long during VIP and only got longer.
After the event, I heard from many GA ticket holders about their dissatisfaction with many participants closing up, some as early as 7:30pm, only an hour and a half after GA admission started. Granted enough participants were still serving food well into the night that GA attendees should not have left hungry, but the bigger point was that people expected to be able to sample from particular restaurants, but were disappointed because so many ran out early.
It’s strange because last year’s event didn’t have the problem to the same degree, and usually quantity issues improves year over year. Perhaps the VIP guests were more greedy this year? Perhaps last year the event did not sell out, while this year it did, and participants, many of whom were returning, didn’t anticipate the higher volume?
I’m not sure what the answers are to these issues and questions, but the question I got asked most was what were my favorite bites of the event. Now that I can answer!
One of the highlights for me was Baroo. A current darling of the food press, Baroo actually closed their restaurant for the week to ramp up for the event. They served a trio of dishes, one meat, one fish, and one vegetarian, that showed off their interesting focus on pickles and fermented foods.
Baroo's Ssam (short rib), Ocean (yellowfin tuna), Peas & Beans. Clockwise from left. @baroo_la #ssam #shortrib #ocean #yellowfintuna #peas #beans #baroo — From LA Weekly's The Essentials 2016. @laweekly #theessentials #laweeklyessentials #foodevent #foodfestival #theoffalo #offaloessentials #offaloessentials2016
Other favorites include Republique’s beef tartare, Melisse’s Hokkaido scallops, and Maude’s potato chips. Also great was Cassia’s oyster pan roast, but I couldn’t get a decent shot of it.
My wife’s favorites were two vegetarian dishes from Osteria Mozza and Crossroads Kitchen, and she’s not even vegetarian, as well as the ice cream from Jeni’s.
I did try many other dishes, including from Broken Spanish, Guerrilla Tacos, .ink, Ricebar, Spago, and more, and you can check them all out using the #offaloessentials2016 hashtag on Instagram.
As my wife and I were leaving around 8:30pm, we saw some people just checking in at the front desk, and I felt bad that they were going to see many empty tables from some big name restaurants. Again, I think there was enough food still available for people not to leave hungry, but if they were specifically looking to try something from Maude or Sqirl or some of the other popular chef-driven restaurant, they were out of luck.
Running an event is I’m sure incredibly difficult and stressful, and I don’t envy anyone involved with the process. Again, I don’t have the answers to how to fix the issues that many GA ticket holders experienced. I do think the event length was scheduled too long. Having an event that “lasts” 4 hours for GA gives false expectations for how much food will be available during the latter part of the event. Encouraging the participants to bring more food is the most obvious solution, but it’s also easier said than done. I don’t know the particulars behind this event, but at many food events the cost of the food is on the restaurant, so it’s an investment to participate.
Hopefully, LA Weekly can take the feedback and make the event better. It may be a cyclical thing, though. Last year’s event had fewer restaurants running out, but they didn’t sell out their tickets because the previous year’s was apparently a mess. This year, probably based on the relative success of last year, they did sell out, which meant more attendees and more chance to run out. So who knows what will happen next year. But cross your fingers and maybe splurge for VIP.