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LA Food & Wine Festival: Grand Tasting

Chef Nico Chessa (credit: John Sciulli/Getty Images for DCP)

>> CBSLA Special Section: LA Food & Wine Festival

At this point in the year, LA is on culinary festival overload. Between the TASTE, Plate by Plate, Taste of the Nation, and next week's Los Angeles Magazine Food and Wine event, it's all blending together in one food coma-induced haze. Angelenos are getting so good at balancing small plates on our wine glasses that we just might have to make a sport of it.

This weekend's Los Angeles Food & Wine event is particularly of note, however, because it's the first time American Express Publishing has brought their top-tier event to our city. Basically, it's our food fest right of passage. The event was filled with A-list culinary celebrities including Johnny Iuzinni, Michael Chiarello, Dana Cowin, Rick Bayless, Tyler Florence, and many many more.

LAFW was filled with over 70 fabulous lunches, parties, and dinners, and it was all capped off with the Grand Tasting at L.A. Live on Saturday. We attended the afternoon session, and we've handicapped our favorite dishes from L.A. Restaurants here.

Alpaca Crostini (credit: Krista Simmons)

Alpaca crostini from Picca

Ricardo Zarate and his team over at Picca nailed it with this dish. The gamey ground alpaca was mixed with a spicy chorizo and an aji amarillo sauce and then placed on a lightly toasted baguette. The smoked spice of the paprika in the sausage combined with the freshness of the micro greens really struck a chord. It was a perfect way to introduce guests with a new (and slightly intimidating) protein. If you're a culinary daredevil, Zarate will be using alpaca on his menu at Picca soon, so stop by.

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Albondigas (credit:

Albondigas from MB Post

Made from a grind of veal and pork, these little one-bite-wonders were perfectly juicy and oh-so-savory. The Mexican meatballs were balanced out with a squash puree, and a smoky shisito pepper on the side. This super solid dish would have been even better if it were warm, but we'll give the guys at MB a break since doing food al minute is difficult when serving hordes of festival goers.

Paella (credit: Krista Simmons)

Paella from Bar Pintxo

If there were any old-school abuelas in the crowd, they would have approved of this Pintxo's paella, which was presented in giant traditional paellera pan. The mussels were just right, not too chewy from being overcooked, and the rice was al dente. The freshness was a breath of fresh air after tasting weighty dishes like Tyler Florence's panna cotta. And it certainly was a nice accompaniment to the plethora of red wines.

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