Dining Out: End of Session Block Party

The Itis.

It’s like a food coma, but beyond, miles into the land of catatonia. The term was first popularized on the excellent animated show “The Boondocks,” in an episode about a restaurant that served soul food so greasy and so good that you sat on a bed instead of at a table, because you were certain to fall asleep for a couple hours afterwards.

Funny how it came up on what turned out to be my last stop on the annual End of Session Block Party, a potluck where legislative offices put out food and invite all comers.

(Disclosure: I ate food that I did not pay for.)

That stop was at the “Miss Universe” layout in Assemblyman Warren Furutani’s, D-South Los Angeles, office, a collection of food from around the world, from Chinese pot stickers to Mexican.

So maybe there wasn’t much work going on Tuesday afternoon (or any business at the Capitol’s cafeterias). But that’s the point, according to the event’s lead organizer, Donda Sholl, secretary to Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita.

“August is a landmark month for us,” Sholl said. “It’s the end of the bill session, whether we have a budget or not. For us, it’s the end of a long, hard year that started in January.”

The tradition was started by former Sen. John Vasconcellos, and involved only one floor. When he termed out in 2004, Sholl took over organizing the event, which she said has taken on a life of its own, growing bigger each year. She said that about one in three Capitol offices participated, with members and staff paying for the food themselves.

 Like other Capitol staffers, Sholl noted that she’s not getting a paycheck while there’s no budget, and that morale has been low. The Block Party provides a break, she said.
“There’s nothing to do with politics. This is hospitality and meet-your-neighbor. I’ve been here almost 12 years, and I met people yesterday who have been here longer than I have.”
Nevertheless, partisan differences remain – in terms of cuisine. Republican offices generally went with more traditional fare. Smyth’s office has a tradition of putting out big tubs of KFC – something one Democratic staffer poo-pooed, but which remains popular with some. Though Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, bucked this trend by offering up a bratwurst bar.

Swedish meatballs were also popular. In my opinion, the ones put out by Sen. Jeff Denham’s, R-Merced, edged out those offered by Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Chico, because they were creamier and more authentic (I’m half Swedish).

With so much food to go around, it was impossible to sample everything (and there was lots of good stuff I don’t have space to get into). So, I followed word-of-mouth. One popular stop was a set of four, homemade salads – including spinach, pasta salad, and a particularly tasty Chinese chicken – offered up by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Mountain View. Also notable was Bobbie Sardo’s gaspacho soup in the office of Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa.

Overall, my very informal (and Itis-hampered) survey came up with two clear winners, shown here in photos. For entrees, it had to be the huge spread of Thai food put out by Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D–Long Beach, from the recently-opened Bangkok 12 on 12th St. We’ve been meaning to check this place out, and will have it in this column soon.

For desserts, I didn’t make it to several key stops, including the root beer floats in Assemblyman Chuck DeVore’s (R-Irvine) office. But I still think there was a clear winner – the red velvet cake in Assemblyman Isadore Hall’s office (D-Compton). Moist, creamy, deeply awesome, I took two pieces, and ate them long after the Itis had kicked in.
“I hope when I’m not here any longer, someone will carry this on,” Sholl said. “Even today, people are still on a little high.”

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