On Sunday, March 8, more than 50 of L.A.'s best restaurants will converge on the California Market Center with sample-sized portions of their most impressive dishes for L.A. Weekly's The Essentials event, our annual celebration of the city's 99 must-visit restaurants as determined by restaurant critic Besha Rodell (with help from Tien Nguyen and Garrett Snyder). The list will be revealed in our March 6 issue, but the event's full lineup is available now for your viewing pleasure — and it's awash with all the cuisines that make L.A. such an exciting place to eat: crispy shrimp tacos from Mariscos Jalisco, gurgling Korean tofu soup from Beverly Soon Tofu, classic french dip sandwiches from Philippe's.
But perhaps the most exciting part of The Essentials will be the chance to sample popular menu items from restaurants that don't ordinarily scale down their food for walk-around events. Those critical darlings usually require reservations before you can even think about ordering.
Here are five dishes not to miss at The Essentials:
Alimento: Escolar crudo with eggplant and almonds
With a lightly acidic fish topping a silky eggplant puree, Alimento's escolar crudo references the inspiration the restaurant finds in the food of Northern Italy. A sprinkle of fennel pollen adds to this assemblage of luxuriant textures.
Petit Trois: Escargot
The Burgundy snails at Ludo Lefebvre's ode to Paris, Petit Trois, are not only the best escargot in L.A. — they're the best escargot our restaurant critic has ever had. Enjoy a gushing bite of this French bar food staple without the hassle of figuring out how to get a seat at Trois Mec's tiny and well-loved little sister.
Crossroads: Smoked carrot "lox"/ almond "creme fraiche"/ kelp "caviar"
In an effort to redefine vegan dining, Crossroads has invented dishes like "artichoke oysters," "crabcakes" and a veggie version of cassoulet. At Essentials, chef Tal Ronnen will be serving a mix of high-end approximates that require as many quotation marks as double takes: "lox" made from heirloom carrots, "caviar" made from kelp and "creme fraiche" made from a nutty almond puree.
Saint Martha: Sea urchin tataki with avocado and seaweed "Doritos"
One of the more theatrical dishes to come out of chef Nick Erven's kitchen at Koreatown's unassuming Saint Martha, the seawood "Doritos" with avocado mousse and thinly sliced sea urchin is a clever riff on guac and chips. Each mouthful is a creamy umami bomb.
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Szechuan Impression: Spicy beef jerky and cold noodle
Szechuan Impression's spicy beef jerky is the kind of Chengdu-style food that sets your mouth and heart ablaze. Cold noodles, a staple in southwest China, are slippery and spicy, served alongside chewy dried meat coated in numbing Szechuan peppers.
Tickets for The Essentials are $65 for general admission, $85 for VIP. Buy them here now before they're gone!