by Liz Laing
Patrons at the California Clambake walked around barefoot in the sand, dining al fresco on fresh clams and lobster (cooked beneath the sand!) while enjoying the sea breeze, music and libations, making this one special venue for yet another event of the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival. This East coast tradition was greatly welcomed by guests at the California Clambake, which took place on the beachfront of the exclusive Jonathan Club in Santa Monica on Friday evening. Though many were looking forward to meeting their host, Top Chef’s head judge, Tom Colicchio – he was unable to attend, due to nursing a bad back. Fortunately, this proved to be the only disappointment of the night.
Diners were greeted with a stylish outdoor lounge on the beach, complete with flaming heat lamps, strings of lights, live music and a dance floor (eventually covered with sand as the night wore on). White tents surrounding the perimeter showcased the coastal culinary creations from 10 esteemed chefs, accompanied by top-rated wine, beer and spirits. Casual seating areas were set-up throughout the space so patrons could grab their favorite bites at their leisure, relax and listen to the band – then go and taste test some more.
Roy Yamaguchi of Roy’s, the “father of Hawaiian fusion cuisine,” and New York Chef Kenny Callaghan of Blue Smoke booths attracted crowds all night long, though my favorite dish of the night went to Chef Jimmy Schmidt of Morgan’s in the Desert (at La Quinta Resort and Spa) – a BBQ Hog Island oyster and ginger-bacon prawn on a stick, served with a sweet Indio corn shooter. All in all, this was a great combo of heat, tanginess and sweetness.
Another popular dish was the corn-pudding tamale with fried clams, creamy chorizo and radish salpicon from Chef Stephan Pyles of Dallas. This hearty comfort food was a nice alternative to some of the other more raw dishes.
There’s nothing like a raw oyster, especially when they’re from Rappahannock River, VA. The folks at RR Oysters made quite a showing at the clam bake, bringing an East coast authenticity with them (along with the foggy, misty weather). They kept it simple and classic, serving their raw oysters with lemon and tabasco.
The Main Event
Nobody could argue that the star event of the evening was the unearthing of the seafood bounty, as shovels dug through the sand to find crates of crustaceans cooking on a bed of seaweed and wood. The steam that rised from the enormous heap lent an air of mystery, as layers were peeled back revealing a treasure trove of clams, lobster, sausage and corn. (Yes, there was sausage too!)
This was surely the freshest and best lobster most had ever tasted. It was tender and moist with just the right amount of natural saltiness. The best part – lucky patrons could eat as much as they wanted. Some took to the dance floor to work off the calories or simply to let off some steam and have a good time.