Master’s of Taste will be celebrating its 5th year on Sunday, April 5, but it’s hard to believe that such an iconic event is still relatively new in the food festival realm. Held on the field in Pasadena’s historic Rose Bowl stadium, Master’s of Taste brings together dozens upon dozens of LA’s most highly-sought restaurants, as well as a slew of wineries, breweries, distilleries and other beverage purveyors. There’s even an entire section dedicated to dessert. Collectively, these chefs, winemakers, beer brewers, bakers, ice cream makers and everyone in between are known as “The Masters” of culinary, drink and sweet.
This year’s Master’s of Taste 2020 Host is Chef Vanda Asapahu, Owner and Chef of the famed Ayara Thai in Westchester. Chef Asapahu’s role represents many milestones: she’ the first female chef to be given the title of Host for the event, and Ayara Thai is the first mom-and-pop establishment to be represented in this way. Cooking for Master’s of Taste since year one, Asapahu was once one of only two female chefs at the entire event. She sees year five as ‘a year for the ladies,’ where female representation is set to dramatically increase.
Ayara Thai’s legendary family recipes and deep, profound flavors are joined by the likes of many masters in their own right. Michael Hung of Faith & Flower—last year’s host chef—will be back, as well as representatives from Momed, Celestino and Bacchus Kitchen among a long list of others. Drinks will include Obvious Wines, Ascension Cellars, Mt. Lowe Brewing Company, Humm Kombucha and cocktails made from hotspots such as The Raymond and Preux and Proper. Sweet masters will include Penny Oven, Butter Cake Shoppe, My/Mo Mochi and specialties from Mi Piace.
Equally important Master’s of Taste’s mission to fight homelessness. 100% of proceeds go to Union Station Homeless services, which just last year was able to house more than 1200 previously homeless men and women. The event raised over $500,000 in 2019 with its first-ever sellout crowd.
The event is likely to sell out again this year and bring in more than 3,000 people. Get your ticket to feast for a cause while they last at MastersOfTasteLA.com.
Mi Piace has been a staple of Old Town Pasadena for about as long as restaurants have stood on Colorado Blvd. A combination of aesthetic experimentation and culinary genius are undoubtedly two of the biggest reasons that this Italian haute spot has been serving patrons for 30 years and counting, with no signs of slowing down. This is a rare scenario where modern design, contemporary ambiance and a timeless menu that embodies authentic Italian classics come together in perfect harmony. Dare I name Mi Piace as one of the top Italian restaurants in Los Angeles.
Mi Piace is made to feel like a home away from home for anyone who walks through its doors. On the surface, the chic pendant lighting, beautifully-lit bar and dark wooden tables sans white table cloths could be mistaken for just about any other trendy spot that doles out new-age fusion. But there’s more to this ambiance than good looks. It’s an intangible warmth typically reserved for coming home for the holidays or seeing a good friend for the first time in years. It’s the genuinely welcoming tone you get from everyone on staff. It’s the smile that comes not just from you upon first bite, but also from everyone on the team that brought that dish into the world just for you. That familial Italian hospitality is becoming harder and harder to find in LA, but has found sanctuary within these four walls.
And while classic Italian doesn’t seem to be enough in an era of global fusion, Mi Piace shines with its iconic menu, where traditional classics have aged like a fine wine. Reading more like a novel than a menu, the seemingly endless list of handmade pastas, wood-fired pizzas, and meat and seafood specials holds an identity far stronger and a level of flavor far more developed than the typically narrow and terse selection of trendy ingredient combinations you’ll find on a clipboard in some of your nearby counterparts. Let’s digress no further on the new kids on the block thought. Let’s talk about how Mi Piace has helped establish Old Town Pasadena as a culinary powerhouse for decades.
Unquestionably, the pasta is going to be memorable to say the least. Mi Piace features two entirely separate selections, one of pasta made from scratch in house, and another of pastas imported from the motherland. Among the many highlights here is the tagliatelle con gamberi, boasting handmade spinach tagliatelle that holds perfect texture and earthy character, soaking up a rich cognac cream sauce and pairing with perfectly-cooked prawns. Then there’s the spaghetti a la carbonara, another impeccably delightful creation that brings together rich pancetta and peas that snap open with even the softest bite.
For something on the meatier side, look no further than the pork ragu papperdalle Bolognese, with mile-long house-made pappardalle woven into a hearty Moroccan-spiced meat sauce with a touch of fleur de sel. Conversely, on the lighter side (but far from light, in traditional Italian fashion) is the ravioli al burro, or handmade butternut squash and ricotta-filled ravioli with roasted sage sitting in a brown butter sauce.
For those crazy enough to divert from pasta, pizza proves to be a lovely suitor, with fresh ingredients atop a perfectly blistered crust. The mixed mushroom pizza with ricotta and micro greens was something else, but with a long list of toppings and endless custom options, there should be a pizza for everyone here.
And while Mi Piace could easily stick to a traditional Italian wine list, they really go the extra mile in their cocktail program. The food menu may pay homage to purebred Italian history, but their futuristic drink menu can go head-to-head with just about any young gun in SoCal. Try the smoke in the water, a martini at heart but an Instagrammer’s dream in presentation, served over a fishbowl-looking base lined with dry ice to make the drink look like a medieval potion. There’s a gin and tonic that changes colors before your eyes, spritzers served in simply the coolest glasses, and so much more on this dazzling list that assures you this place may have been around for 30 years, but has unquestionably ‘gotten with the times.’
Then there’s dessert, where at Mi Piace, there’s always room for chocolate soup. Described as part souffle, part molten chocolate lava cake, it looks like the former and tastes like the latter. Every bite is like an entire chocolate bar just went and melted on your spoon, with vanilla gelato and fresh whipped cream pairing like a charm. But it doesn’t stop there. Creations like the almond rocha cake and the Mi Piace special—chocolate and raspberry mousse layered between white cake, wrapped in white chocolate and topped with French raspberry marmalade—are made to look beautiful and taste even better.
Mi Piace is located at 25 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91105. Open 11a – 11p Mon – Thu, 11a – midnight Fri, 8a – midnight Sat and 8a – 11p Sun. Avg. out-the-door price for appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$90/person. For more information, call (626) 795-3131 or visit MiPiace.com.
The long walk up the driveway of the famous Laurabelle A. Robinson House already encompasses more real estate than most people will own in their lifetime. Experiencing many of Pasadena’s finest restaurants serving up signature dishes across this breathtaking property, however, takes food festivals to a whole new level. There’s sometime truly special about biting into braised short rib whilst looking out over a private infinity pool and onto the sun setting behind the canyon.
This sense of allure has allowed the annual Festival of Fall to go 45 years strong, bringing together some of Pasadena’s finest for an evening of extravagant food and drink in the historic Laurabelle A. Robinson House (read: one of the grandest mansions you will ever see). This fundraiser event, which begins with a food festival and leads into a live auction, benefited AbilityFirst, a nonprofit organization dedicated to programming and support for children and adults with disabilities.
Circling around the mansion’s front entrance were Mi Piace, with decadent truffle mac ‘n’ cheese, Sushi Roku, with an intriguing tuna hand roll that incorporated fresh arugula and Parmesan, Celestino Ristorante with excellent Bolognese and Bone Kettle, serving impeccable fried rice. Walk through the mansion’s vast garden, which includes a blissfully fitting pumpkin patch, and arrive at a built-in outdoor bar taken over by Golden Road Brewing. Serving alongside them were Lawry’s and Tam O’Shanter, serving their iconic cuts, as well as NOOR with melt-in-your-mouth ravioli.
Another stroll took you to the basketball court, occupied by the likes of Roy’s Restaurant, El Cholo Café, Julienne Fine Foods & Celebrations, Gale’s Restaurant, and one of the night’s true standouts, Bacchus’ Kitchen, whose fried chicken tacos were truly something else.
A nature walk past the putting green and over a manmade stream took you to the main stage, where tables for 500 were set up amidst one of the grandest views in Pasadena. After a fun liquid nitrogen demonstration by SuperCool Creamery, emcee Jeff Michael of CBS2News took the mic for the live auction to begin. An opening donation of $15,000 kicked off strong support for AbilityFirst that continued through the night’s end, raising more than $260,000 in total.
The event honored LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger with the AbilityFirst Champion Awared, and included testimonials from numerous AbilityFirst participants and their families. Auction items included everything from experiences with the night’s participating restaurants to Tuscan getaways and yes, even a live puppy.
Festival of Fall will undoubtedly continue its momentum to 2020. For more information, visit AbilityFirst.org/events/festival-of-fall.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.