Sarumi started Aces of Taste in Houston last November. A gathering of foodies, fashionistas and other individuals interested in coming together to try the food of a local chef or restaurant. After a successful few months in Houston, Sarumi decided to bring the idea to Los Angeles, and Odunbaku jumped on board.
Aces of Taste launched its inaugural Los Angeles gathering on Thursday, April 30th 2015 at a private home the pair scouted out and rented in Venice. The cost of admission was $65 for an evening of sushi made by RA Sushi Marina del Rey executive chef Terry Kong, and news of the event was spread by word of mouth along with Internet postings. 20 people, who Sarumi thanked later on in the evening for being ‘early adopters,’ signed up to see what Aces of Taste had to offer.
It was clear from the beginning of the evening that though food was a central aspect, building community was also a huge part of the occasion. The night began at 7pm with a social hour. Guests decked out in upscale casual attire checked in with IDs at the front door of the Venice home, tucked away in a cul-de-sac. Attendees were free to walk around, and murmurs of admiration for the beautiful spacious home could be heard throughout the various streams of conversation. A waterfall trickled peacefully on a side patio, and a fire pit in the front patio warmed guests as they sipped on their choice of dry sake, sweet sake or white wine.
Although many guests came with significant others or friends, some braved the evening solo, and all were able to mingle and join conversations amongst the communal vibe. The hosts migrated to the different groups that formed, welcoming everyone, while an ambient yet upbeat soundtrack played in the background.
During social hour, a tuna tartare appetizer was made available for guests to serve themselves. Made from raw tuna ceviche, cucumber and avocado, the creamy tartare complimented the crisp freshly made chips that accompanied it. While guests continued to mingle, executive chef Kong worked with two managers of RA Sushi Marina Del Rey to prepare the sushi dinner in house. Due to the logistics of booking, Kong and partners didn’t get to see the kitchen before the big night, and so they had to make sure they were prepared ahead of time.
Once social hour was coming to a close, the hosts announced that it was time to find seats. Tables were decorated with crisp white tablecloths and small Buddha statues, and printed menus gave a preview of the night’s meal. Before each dish, one of the chefs would explain the ingredients, with guests momentarily halting their lively conversations to listen.
Before the sushi rolls were served, an appetizer of warm garlic edamame arrived at each able. Strong notes of freshly sauteed garlic and hints of lemon packed a strong punch, and guests remarked upon the delicious garlic flavor as they used chopsticks to snag edamame from communal plates. Wasabi and ginger on each table allowed diners to cleanse their palettes between dishes or to dress up their sushi.
The first roll served was the ‘Viva Las Vegas’ roll, a towering mixture of tempura crab and cream cheese topped with spicy tuna, crab mix and a fried lotus root. Described as one of Ka Sushi’s most popular rolls by the manager himself, this roll was a bit intimidating for some, and nearly impossible to eat in a single bite. Once broken down into manageable bits, however, the warm, slight meltiness of the cream cheese juxtaposed with the creamy, cool mixture on top and the crispy lotus root made for a heavenly gastronomical experience. Sweet eel sauce drizzled over the roll balanced the savory flavors.
This was quite a filling roll, and so it was a little while before the next roll was brought to the tables. The Lobster Shrimp Roll. Made of lobster, cucumber and avocado rolled and topped with shrimp, this was a more manageable size. Though the roll itself was in some ways forgettable, the Asian pesto sauce it was served with lent a unique freshness and an interesting fusion twist.
The final roll to come out of the kitchen was filled with shrimp tempura, cream cheese and avocado, topped with flakes of spinach and beet tempura and finished with a sweet eel sauce. This may have been the favorite roll of the night, the cream cheese and avocado lent creaminess, the shrimp tempura lent a light crunchiness and the green spinach and red beet tempura flakes made the roll stand out both visually and flavor-wise, imparting an earthy flavor.
The final course of the evening was a dessert of various mochi plated with whipped cream. The ice cream wrapped in rice paper gave a sweet but not overly saccharin end to the night. Dinner was beautifully plated and guests left satisfied and pleasantly surprised by how full they were.
When the hosts thanked guests at the end of the night and handed them all gift bags (containing pasta and sauce made from a local chef and Ra Sushi coupons), Odunbaku asked if they would go to RA Sushi on their own in the future; the answer was a unanimous yes. Not only did Aces of Taste seem to benefit, so did the restaurant it paired up with.
Yet the food was not the only focal point of the evening. The delicious and well-prepared sushi was enthusiastically passed from guest to guest as they engaged in conversation with newfound acquaintances. Topics ranged from networking to politics, from Brazil’s Carnivale to the rankings of the world’s happiest countries. Many numbers, emails, and business cards were exchanged. And one thing I kept hearing from guests was how cool it was to meet new people they might never have otherwise come into contact with.
Sarumi and Odunbaku hope to make Aces of Taste a regular occurrence in Los Angeles. Neither Sarumi, a writer and marketing consultant, nor Odunbaku, a model and owner at DSR Fashion, have prior experience in the food industry, yet it is clear they know what they’re doing. Their plan is to continue to bring both veteran and emerging chefs and restaurants to people who might never otherwise be exposed to them. According to Sarumi, many past attendees of Aces of Taste in Houston voiced preference for dining in private homes over restaurants because of the intimate nature of the setting, giving people more of a chance to get to know eachother. If Aces of Taste continues its success here in Los Angeles, this city might just gain an unprecedented reputation for community, one dinner at a time.