There was one word that came to my mind while walking out of Saturday night’s LuckyRice Night Market, cheeks flushed from the 20-plus dishes I consumed, not including the double dose of chef Sang Yoon’s lamb tartare, which was so good that it lured me back for a second serving towards the end of the night. The word was gracious.
It started with the aforementioned chef Sang Yoon, of Lukshon and Father’s Office, who hosted the event at Helms Bakery’s HD Buttercup, accommodating guests and fans with a humble greeting as they plucked plates of pig ear topped pork confit lettuce cups and sweet bowls of coconut sticky rice kiwi soup. And it continued with chef Susan Feniger’s infectious laugh as she handed out skewers of tatsutage fried chicken and lovingly autographed copies of her new cookbook, Street Food. On the outside patio, chef Diep Tran, of Good Girl Dinette, may have been having the most fun of all, happily chatting with guests as they gnawed on her remarkably flavorful blistered corn cobs brushed with red boat fish sauce and scallions. And next to her, chef Jet Tila, of The Charleston, served hunks of juicy pork belly in a slightly toasted bao bun, while chef Kris Yenbamroong from Night + Market warmed palates with a fiery grilled pork salad. Top Chef’s Angelo Sosa effortlessly vacillated from carefully garnishing his summer corn soup to chatting with his fans, and Top Chef Masters’ Susur Lee smiled for photos with guests between servings of his crisped goat cheese Chinese duck sausage tart. In an environment like this one, you begin to notice how small and kind this world is. Chefs beamed at guests when complimented. With one another they exchanged dishes, remarking to fans, “We’re old friends!”
While the majority of the night market’s chefs were LA-based, three of the six mixologists were flown in for the event. San Francisco’s H. Joseph Ehrmann of Elixir was concocting a fragrant cherry rosemary martini with hints of pepper on the back-end along with a dangerously sublime watermelon mint cocktail. Meanwhile, Bernard Sun from the Jean-Georges empire stirred coconut water martinis, which intrinsically justified a second round of imbibing.
The space resonated with an amaranth hue, as if looking through a party punchbowl, with Chinese lanterns strung overhead. Much credit must be given to chef Sang Yoon, who didn’t over-sell tickets so that lines were minimal or nonexistent, giving every guest fair access to each booth and bar. And although the very last plates of The Spice Table‘s spicy lamb bacon and corn were scooped up at 9 pm, an hour before closing, the event had a wait list of about 400 people that were wisely kept at bay. The festivities were vibrant, yet civilized.
The LuckyRice Festival, which embraces both the tradition and modernization of Asian cuisine, may have started in New York, but it has found a new home in LA, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country. As the night began to wind down, guests started taking cues from the chefs’ congeniality, as strangers began to converse and new friends were made. Angelenos were abuzz, simply happy to be there. After all, there were many reasons to celebrate.