Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Taste of the 626 TTDILA Dines Out

by Eric Harris

The TTDILA team is always exploring new things to do in Los Angeles — it’s what we do. It is rare when we review the same restaurants or similar food-themed events more than once. However, we made an exception to our policy to cover the nationally renowned 626 Night Market’s new concept “Taste of Night Market.”

The “Taste of Night Market” is fascinating concept. As Asian-style night markets become increasingly common (check out this NPR link ), the 626 / OC / DTLA Night Market organizers managed to keep things fresh by trying something different, in this particular case, an upscale, prix fixe, tasting event format that catered towards a more diverse “foodie” audience than the typical night market crowd.

The event was held February 5-6, 2016 in Santa Monica’s Barker Hanger. http://www.626nightmarket.com/
As with any new venture, there were pros and cons. The Taste of Night Market, strictly limited ticket sales to ensure a unique and intimate food tasting experience. For those unfamiliar with typical 626/OC Night Markets, these events are extremely crowded. The nights markets are so busy, with thousands of visitors and dozens of food vendors that that it is virtually impossible to sample all of the amazing and unusual Asian foods that you will only encounter at one of these festivals.
The prix fixe format was great because the serving sizes were modest (but unlimited) and it was possible to sample all of the food vendors’ creations. Many menu items were unique for this event. A side benefit was that since the food and beverages were covered it encouraged guests to sample adventurous foods that one would not necessarily try under normal circumstances. There were many hidden gems among the menu items. One of my personal favorites was Starry Kitchen X Button Mash’s coconut chili snails with pineapple. When you see a chef dressed as a banana (?), you know this guy doesn’t mess around with his food. It also helped that he aggressively dared people to try his amazingly tasty snails. (On a side note, this is the second time within a month that TTDILA
correspondents have eaten bugs for restaurant reviews.)

Almost all the food was worth a try. Other chef creations included Tofu with Caviar and Scallion, Shrimp Taquitos with Garlic Sauce, Pho Tacos, Middle Eastern Shawarma and Pita, Lahtt Sauce, Rakken Beef Jerky on Papaya, Duck Tacos, Original Ramen Burger, and the always fun food items from the Okamoto Kitchen food truck.
Crescendo Ice Cream’s Singaporean Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Bread was a unique entry into the trendy liquid nitrogen ice movement. I personally don’t understand the bread part. However; the Crescendo Ice cream people gave me a detailed back story on why the bread is included. My favorite feature of the Crescendo Ice Cream menu was that all the ice cream has a music or music-instrument-themed name. Menu items included, Cha-Cha Matcha (Matcha Cookies and Cream), Baileys Bass (Vanilla with Baileys Origional Irish Cream Liqueur), Baby Granilla (Vanilla Bean with Dragonfruit Passion Tea), Cocoa-Coustic (Chocolate with Dragonfruit Passion Tea), and Cookie Cajon (Cookies and Cream with Dragonfruit Passion Tea).

One of the most fascinating vendors, with correspondingly long wait times, was for the crazy cotton candy artists at Cloud Food Creations. Cloud Food Creations specializes in making crazy cotton candy sculptures.  When was the last time you enjoyed cotton candy? Was it shaped like a heart, “cloud poop,” or multi-colored flowers larger than the size of your head? Whatever your feelings are towards cotton candy, nothing ends an evening quite like a wacky, sugary, cute, fluffy, artsy desert — unforgettable and highly recommended!
[You might want to check some of their pics from their Instagram https://www.instagram.com/cloudfoodcreations/ ]
While this review has been overwhelmingly positive, there were a few negatives to an otherwise solid event. Con #1. Location. The Barker Hanger is a cool place. Few people would disagree. However, driving around and parking in Santa Monica on a Friday evening is a real buzzkill. Although, it should be noted that the 626 Night Market people did a good job of informing people about the potential for parking issues. Con #2. Unbalanced queues. This is unavoidable at an event like this. The ability to sample most, if not all, menu items resulted in some truly unbalanced wait times. Many guests lined up for the hottest new chefs, thus some lines were excessively long, while a handful of less well known chefs, which had, in my opinion, some of the more delicious and adventurous food, had almost zero wait times. Con #3. Ticket prices. This was an all you can eat and drink ticked event. The average cost per person ranged between $65 and $100+ depending on ticket purchase date and parking options. This is a huge sticker shock when compared to other 626 / OC Night Market events. While the upfront cost is significantly higher than that for other Night Markets, the overall value is more than reasonable if you are a foodie and interested in exploring Asian Night Market culture.