TomatoMania Tasting At Loteria Grill

Do you know how many different tomato varieties there are? Well, neither do I but I think a safe answer is lots and lots. If you are anything like me then you want to taste them all, and have a few of your favorites keep coming around.

But how to accomplish this massive feat?

Well, Scott Daigre of TomatoMania and Chef Jimmy Shaw of Loteria Grill helped more than 100 TomatoManiacs get a little closer to that goal this weekend. They hosted a tomato tasting event.

The idea was simple. Show up with one perfectly ripe, correctly identified homegrown tomato and add it to the tasting table. Well people did just that. In fact there were so many tomatoes that I stopped keeping track of all the varieties at about 85. That’s 85 different kinds of tomatoes!

tomatomania at loteria grillThe event was held at the brand new Loteria location 6627 Hollywood Blvd. which is going to become Sups! new hang, so look for me there. That’s because the folks at Loteria Grill were perfect hosts. And, boy did they know how to make their guests happy and get everyone’s taste buds primed and ready for the tasting. They did this in true south of the border Loteria style; with plenty of tomato blessed amuse bouche for the maniacs to sample.

There was a creamy tomato soup, served shooter style in shot glasses. Which, of course was very appreciated by the still wired shut Sup! This soup was creamy and substantial, but never lost that sweet shock of acidity that defines really good tomatoes. Too many creamed tomato soups fall victim to what I call the fat-tongue disease… all fullness with no tingle.

And what would a trip to Loteria be with out a few chips and great tasting salsa. Of course chips would count as a â€œchew food” so I had to pass. But Jimmy did not disappoint me in the salsa department because he provided three distinct and sophisticated salsas. He was even nice enough to offer me a straw too, so I can safely say that they were all delicious. Though my favorite was the smoky Chipotle Ahumada. I am sure it was great with the chips, but I saw many of the culinarily astute slathering salsa on top of the hot moyetes that were being passed around.

A moyete is a sort of open-faced Mexican breakfast “bruschetta”. It is traditionally served on French bread (yes you read that correctly) with refried beans and queso. Salsa is the perfect accompaniment too.

tomato tart from Chef Jimmy ShawBut I saw jaws dropping once the tomato tarts hit the dining room. If I were manibularly mobile my jaw would have been on the floor too. Because these tarts were bright and sassy! Representing all the colors in the tomato rainbow. As my jaw could neither drop nor chew I had to placate my tummy by watching the others enjoy. Which was a surprisingly satisfying experience. I could tell just by looking that these tarts let the tomato do the talking. There was no “tarting up” of these tarts. Nope, they were ingeniously simple. It takes real talent and real restraint to let so few ingredients speak so clearly. I could just tell they were a marvelous foil and the perfect follow up to the intense and deeply nuanced salsa I had tasted.

As good as the food was, People were here to taste the mighty tom in its sparest form. Raw, and on the end of a toothpick! Salt or no salt…that was up to each individual maniac.

But Scott knows how to keep a crowd wanting more. So before he let us loose on the piles of tomatoes lining the edges of the restaurant he wanted to make sure he accomplished his primary goal. That goal is, of course, Scott’s passion. Tomatoes: Growing them and making sure you can grow them too.

He had an entertaining and informative presentation. Then took questions from the audience. This was no neophyte group of garden-variety tomato lovers. Nope these were the real deal gardeners. So their questions were pointed and direct. In fact most of it sailed a bit above my head.

But I did take away one kernel of useful information. Tomatoes plants like sun. It nourishes the plant through its leaves. However the fruit does not need sun to ripen. In fact tomato leaves are designed to shade the ripening tomato.

So if you are like me you can quit sitting your tomatoes on a sunny windowsill to ripen. Because they can accomplish that last bit of ripening all on their own without the blazing (damaging) rays of the sun. I am not saying they won’t benefit from a few days on the countertop. But I am saying it can be someplace cool and protected and you may see even better results. I still won’t put mine in the fridge, but that is another lesson for another day.

tomato tasting sippitysup tomatomania loteriaLest you think that Sup! was just some amazingly attractive wallflower destined to sit by and watch, as others tasted their way through the bounty of some of the best Los Angeles gardens. Rest assured. I had a purpose in being there. In fact I even had an “official” duty. I assembled and passed out a survey of sorts. Granted a very unscientific bit of delving into the tomato tastes and practices of the assembled maniacs, but I was able to pull some interesting information out of the maniacal group of hardcore tomato-lovers.

It seems there is some agreement on “favorite or must-grow” varieties. Which surprised me because with so many types in this world I expected more people to say that they never plant the same thing twice. Then again I am not a gardener with the skill and dedication of these people.

In no particular order many people said that they rely on Yellow Pear, Sun Gold, and Sweet 100 to be the stars of their gardens. Momotoro, Green Zebra, and Paul Robeson were also highly favored, and considered to be standards.

When we asked about new varieties that interested them, or perhaps a favorite from the tasting that day. Predictably we got answers all over the board. But there were several toms that appeared on multiple lists, and are worth mentioning. These include: Gardener’s Delight, Persimmon. Sweet Tangerine, Purple Brandywine, Jenny, Chocolate Stripes and White Currant.

Looking at that list (though I am no expert) I see a lot of what I would define as “sweet tomatoes”. Though when I asked people if they preferred “sweet tomatoes or tomatoes with a big punch of acidity”, they were pretty evenly divided (almost exactly in half) on that decision. So It’s hard to know what to make of that bit of information.

I guess this info might be suggesting that people like “sweet tomatoes that have a bright bold hit of acidity”. Which makes sense.  I know I do!

There was a clear winner in the texture department. First off, people like tomatoes with “thin skins” and “few seeds”. Quite a few people stressed those criteria. People also clearly prefer succulent and juicy. One person said they like a tomato that requires “standing over the sink in order to eat it like a peach”. I am almost sure this answer came from a gardener, because there is no more pure way to enjoy the “fruits” of the garden’s labor.

But, foodies must have been well represented in the group too, because several mentions were made about the bold, crisp varieties. These people loved the distinctive crunch of certain tomatoes, especially in a salad. And while they were not in the majority, I certainly agree that when I eat a salad of mixed tomatoes– I absolutely require at least one variety with a bite like Green Zebra.

There were all sorts of growing tips, as to be expected. People were anxious to share their successes. But I don’t really feel qualified to attest to the reliability of some of these practices. Besides Scott has addressed almost all these ideas here already. So do a search for TomatoMania on SippitySup and see what an expert advises. If you don’t see what you are looking for, leave a question in the comments section. I’ll make sure Scott reads it or I’ll try and answer myself if I can.

My last section of sanctioned nosiness was devoted to (yes, you guessed it) cooking with tomatoes. People were less forthcoming when I tried to get particular recipes or preparations out of them. I was particularly interested in sauces. Skins, or no skins, spiced at time of canning or left plain and more versatile, frozen or “put up” in jars? Did they follow a time-honored recipe or wing-it as I do when making a sauce?

a collection of heirloom tomatoesAs a cook, I was interested because a very good, very reliable tomato sauce is a mandatory building block in the kitchen. I guess I wanted to know how others handle that very important (to me!) issue. But also as a cook, I think I understand wanting to keep some things very close the chest!

Besides, we are at the shank of the season. Nobody is thinking about how to stretch out the last of these beauties. Because at this point it feels like these perfect jewels of summer will just keep coming, and coming… ripe and ready. Maybe they’ll even last forever.

Ah, but were that true…


Greg Henry