The First Taste of Abbot Kinney

It’s safe to say that the first ever Taste of Abbot Kinney can be logged in the books as a success. I had a great time going from restaurant to restaurant (especially in the company of Caroline on Crack, H.C. of LA-OC-Foodventures, Sam of LAist – while running into The Delicious Life and Choisauce), having bites of everything each storefront offered to entice us back on a later date. For the most part, the Abbot Kinney restos put in good effort in making sure each guest got to enjoy a decent-sized portion rather than token smidgens. My main qualm was that there could have been more wine and cocktails served for the pairing. After all, regular price admission was $60 per person (or if you were savvy enough to catch the discount on Goldstar, $41 with ticket fee).

But there were pleasant surprises. It was my first time at most stops – with mental notes made to revisit Lemonade, Intelligentsia and Tasting Kitchen. Avoid: The Brig – an Abbot Kinney “dive” bar undergoing an eastside identity crisis, who served up a Brazilian Lemon Drop. It was Brazilian in the sense that it was made with rum, not vodka – but rum is sweet and lemon drops are sour, so the point escaped me. Stick to the 1:2 pours here, as the point of this bar is to knock ’em back rather than to actually taste. The rib from Beechwood served at The Brig, while an unfair gauge on the establishment’s food as a whole, was sweet, average and unremarkable.

Back to Lemonade (yes, it’s a chain) – who gave us a generous portion of their delicious cucumber mint lemonade and a sampling of three salads (above): Sesame vinaigrette atop snap peas and edamame, Hazelnut vinaigrette atop roast beets and pickled red onions, and roast cauliflower, golden raisins and almonds in a light curry sauce. Three salads, three words: Bursts of flavor. Super fresh ingredients. Perfectly, lightly seasoned. Must try it.

Formerly a Sunset Junction Intelligentsia junkie (their unreliable wifi responsible for past tense), I’d not had the privilege of frequenting a location of theirs privy to desserts. Thanks to Taste of AK, I’d now had the Venitian heavenly sweets – a vanilla bean creme brulee and a chocolate ganache tartlet. The perfectly torched creme brulee had the indicative black specs to match its true vanilla flavor. The tarlet had beautiful, gradual layerings of a none-too-sweet yet dark, rich and dense chocolate and ganache atop a buttery crust.

Also good was a mini-quiche from Lilly’s, on the same end as Joe’s and Primitivo. Paired with a cabernet or chardonnay and light frisee salad, the quiche was a pleasant surprise, with artichoke inside the pie.

The appetizers at Joe’s were mostly pates or a pickled carrot salad on crostinis, but here is where the featured cocktail did well – employing Zaya rum just as the second  round of Raising the Bar cocktail competition would require later that evening. It was refreshing, though I’m not clear what the other ingredients were.

Primitivo offered sangria and bacon-wrapped dates – a simple yet undeniably delicious combination, if even a bit safe. Completely skipping over Pinkberry, my girlfriend and I were pleasantly surprised by N’ice Cream’s salted caramel scoop. So good!

Also a hit was Petrossian caviar, served at Elvino Wine Shop with champagne. While my palate is not particularly adept to the varieties and brands of caviar, I especially enjoyed the sturgeon (black) variety. The salmon roe was also delicious and reminiscent of sushi toppings. Nothing short of salty, rich decadence that melts in your mouth.

Also worth a mention was Wabi Sabi, who served a Yuzu pisco cocktail and a scallop-whitefish ceviche. Inside the ceviche was a crazy potato-corn hybrid, with huge kernels from said corn having a pasty, potato-like texture to it. Also in the ceviche was a seaweed and a light vinaigrette. While probably not a dish I would order (I like corn the way it is – sweet and crunchy), it was such an interesting, daring dish to sample to visitors of Abbot Kinney.

As mentioned before, a place I’d revisit to get an accurate, more well-rounded opinion is Tasting Kitchen, formerly A.K. Restaurant Bar + Grill. The toast with pork appetizer topped with a coarse, spicy mustard was good, but they had the best cocktails on the street. (I admit – I’m biased because they had offered two.) I liked their bourbon, infused with cloves and blueberries. The novelty of the new resto is that they change the menu every single day – as indicated by their handwritten, color-copied booklet with a cover that adorns a single painted number, proclaiming exactly how many days they have been open (our menu said “88”). I think this would be a good place to visit as that number increases.

I shouldn’t fail to mention that there are really great markets at the end opposite the more well-known and frequented restos. Market Gourmet served great house-made side dishes available in their refrigerator case. Their potato and chicken-apple salads were good.

While the event probably should have included more liquid libations along the route to make the $60 entry fee worthwhile, the experience of traipsing along Abbot Kinney with fellow foodie camarades made for one full (appetite- and merriment-wise) Sunday afternoon. But applause is definitely in order for the organizers – especially for a first effort. I’ll be looking forward to next year.

Taste of Abbot Kinney Set on e*starLA’s Flickr

Taste of Abbot Kinney
Abbot Kinney
Venice, CA 90291