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dineLA Restaurant Week's Big Kickoff

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Mayor Villaraigosa serves the city / Photo by Elise Thompson

dineLA Restaurant Week kicked off in style yesterday at Neal Fraser's Grace on Beverly Boulevard. Neal Fraser is the only Angeleno ever to have won Iron Chef, against none other than Cat Cora.

The Two Hot Tamales, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, were the belles of the ball. I just had a moment to chat with them regarding a funny story they had written about a banquet gone awry. Mary Sue immediately asked, "Did it gross you out?" I barely had time to reply, "No! I thought it was hilarious!" while the tide of people bore her away. The Hot Tamales are constantly laughing, and their upbeat spirit is definitely contagious.

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In attendence were such culinary luminaries as Suzanne Tracht, Fred Eric and Olivier Rousselle, but the guest of honor was Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. When Villaraigosa first walked in, he was greeting people as the press took pictures. He hesitated in front of me, so I went for the big front-facing-handshake pose of a person receiving an award. He naturally fell into position, and the photographers snapped away. So I can hang that in my den over my Pulitzer someday.


Neal Fraser cracks up Milliken and Feniger / Photo by Elise Thompson


Chef Rousselle, Mayor Villaraigosa, Fraser, Milliken and Feniger / Photo by Elise Thompson

The Mayor was presented with a Chef Villaraigosa jacket, and like the good sport he is, he put it right on and wore it for the remainder of the event. Taking his "whites" all the way, the mayor handed out glasses of champagne and passed platters of hors d'oeuvres.


Chef Villaraigosa / Photo by Elise Thompson


Mayor Villaraigosa is a good sport / Photo by Elise Thompson

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When a tray full of glasses fell, Mayor Villaraigosa was gallant enough to edge away Susan Feniger and clean the glass off the floor himself. I had to sneak into the crowd to take this picture; it was not a photo op for him, just a natural reaction. No job is too big or too small. When is he up for re-election? Can I vote for him twice?


Mayor Villaraigosa cleans up this town / Photo by Elise Thompson

The Mayor also had the honor of the first official bite of dineLA. He enjoyed the tuna tartare, which seemed to please Fraser.


Mayor Villaraigosa's first bite of dineLA / Photo by Elise Thompson


Toasting: Feniger, The Mayor, Fred Eric, Milliken / Photo by Elise Thompson

The champagne was provided by Veuve Cliquot, and naturally, the food was spectacular. Besides tuna tartare, there were bites of clean, fresh crab and ripe avocado also served in the now-familiar appetizer spoons. Mini grilled cheese sandwiches were topped with a dollop of truffle sauce resembling a vinagrette. It was a surprise to the palate, but took the sandwich somewhere new. I suddenly realized what the judges on Top Chef mean when they insist that dishes needed "an acid".



Crab and avocado / Photo by Elise Thompson


Chef Fred Eric samples the grilled cheese / Photo by Elise Thompson


Tuna Tartare / Photo by Elise Thompson


Everyone loved the tuna / Photo by Elise Thompson

Having been intrigued by boar on the menu, I was excited to see something meaty coming out of the kitchen, and blurted out, "Is that boar?" The server looked down at the plate of little lamb chops drizzled with parsley and garlic, not wanting to be rude. I followed his gaze and realized they would have had to be really tiny boars. Do I even need to mention how fantastic the perfectly rare chops were?



We have all seen Take my Picture, Gary Leonard from the photographer's point-of-view, but it's a special day when you are able to stare down his lens as he works his magic. Let me take your picture, Gary Leonard!



Mayor Villaraigosa and the Two Hot Tamales / Photo by Elise Thompson

The two-week dineLA Restaurant Week (?) is sponsored by The Los Angeles Convention and Visitor's Bureau in partnership with American Express to encourage dining out and tourism during a traditionally slow season. The reps from both sponsors were friendly and interesting. Other sponsors include the LA Times, SoCal Gas (no, it's just too easy), and a number of radio stations. I am picking up the phone right now to make more reservations! Maybe by the end of these two weeks, I'll be able to pronounce prix fixe properly.

Photos by Elise Thompson for LAist