It was a whirlwind Labor Day weekend in Los Angeles at the Taste of LA held in Paramount Studios’ sprawling old New York back lot. It felt very much like a street festival with potholes and cracked sidewalks which ensured that the high heeled crowd had to tread carefully.

I missed the first session, a Field to Fork extravaganza, but hit the Cocktail Confidential program full force. The plan was to talk tequila and mezcal along with Bricia Lopez at the Taste of Mexico’s Hoy Café spot but on occasion the best laid plans are pushed aside when the drinks are flowing and conversation is bubbling along non-stop.

LA is a mezcal town, people get it, there is no question in their eyes when you say the word. The experimentation in restaurant kitchens and bars is a normal expectation.  Father’s Office showcased a to-die-for Bloody Maria made with mezcal and kimchee while Crème Caramel LA debuted its Kalamansi (a Philippine lemon) Mezcal bread pudding Creme Caramel.  But most of all there is excitement about agave distillates. When Bricia cracked open a bottle of the Pierde Almas Tequilina Weber we had to hold back the crowd. It is bold, delightfully smooth, and incredibly delicious.  It’s fascinating to see a mezcal like this made from the agave that’s used in tequila.  Del Maguey also has one on the market, the San Luis Del Rio Azul, as part of its Vino de Mezcal Series so this may be part of a larger trend.   In any case, we are planning our second Pop-up Mezcaleria to delve into the tequila vs. mezcal conversation so we’ll be tasting tequilas and mezcals made from the same agave.   Stay tuned for more information.

There was not nearly enough food on cocktail night to offset the generous pours, so it was amusing that there weren’t nearly enough alcoholic parings for the next day’s Flavors of LA session.  As always,  Jonathan Gold‘s carefully curated restaurant list was fresh and exciting and I can’t wait to return and dig even deeper into LA’s constantly evolving culinary variety show. Fantastic treats like Wurstkuche‘s rabbit sausage, Bulgarini‘s olive oil and salt ice cream, Mo-Chica‘s unagi wrapped by mashed potato goodness, Border Grill‘s taco extraordinaire, and Street‘s sweet potato bhel puri kept the taste buds well stimulated.

Later I listened to the panel discussion of local food trends with Evan Kleiman, Jonathan Gold, Gustavo Arellano, and Sang Yoon.  Who knew chefs and critics of their caliber could make Doritos and Del Taco such interesting conversation topics? I also caught the Mexican food talk that featured the Taste of Mexico chefs covering issues like “authenticity”, the perception that Mexican food needs to be cheap, bringing ingredients across the border (no fresh chiles for one), and regional variations in food influences.

A true highlight of the weekend was meeting Javier Cabral, perhaps the only other person who has equal love for mezcal and punk rock. Oh yeah, and pulque.

And of course there was being able to swim, in an unheated pool, at night, without thought of hypothermia.