A Small Bite of LA

February 19, 2017

IMG_9511You’re unlikely to find prettier food than what they’re serving at  the ultra-hip Destroyer in Culver City; it’s a true feast for the eyes. Whether you will consider it an actual feast is another matter.  The chef Jordan Kahn (his previous restaurant was Red Medicine), likes to introduce odd ingredients to one another, and my own sense is that they often don’t get along.  English peas, job’s tears, gooseberries and frozen cream made an exquisitely interesting salad, but I found his take on the now-ubiquitous steak tartare, despite its delicate airs (that’s it down below)…

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rather heavy.  Beneath those feathery vegetables was ground beef (along with a fair amount of naked beef fat), blobs of smoked egg cream, oddly slimy pickled mushrooms and radishes. 

Here’s how he serves roasted baby yams:

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wrapped up in lettuce, with avocado, yogurt and lemon and dusted (like so many dishes) with tarragon powder. 

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To be honest, my favorite dish (the one that seemed most conventional, and most like a meal), was the least photogenic: a big bowl of riced potatoes with chicken confit, roasted lettuce and hazelnut splashed with yuzu. I will leave it to your imagination: it was both delicious and substantial.

Had a really wonderful dinner at Wally’s in Beverly Hills, that began with these adorable mini-bagels (the bagels were remarkably light, and spread with sprightly lemon ricotta rather than cream cheese), and smoked salmon.

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Then there was this spectacular salad. The burrata, persimmon, beets and pomegranate were very content to snuggle up witheach other.

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I loved the pot of clams and spot prawns, roasted in a wood-burning oven and topped with curried lobster butter.  As you might imagine, Wally’s has a memorable wine list. (No wonder Beyonce and Jay Z like to dine in the private dining room!)FullSizeRender (15)

Had a lovely meal in the high airy atrium at  Spring.  It’s the perfect place to lunch downtown: I can’t get this textbook version of salade nicoise out of my mind.  Yes, it’s a simple dish, but it was in perfect balance, a tangle of  yellowtail tuna, olives, tomatoes, anchovies, green beans, tiny potatoes, celery and fennel that made each bite distinct and different from the one before.

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Lovely dessert too:

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Two more little tidbits.  I couldn’t stop eating the red endive and fennel salad I had one night at the counter at Osteria Mozza; A few shards of cheese, and then the sweet and sour dance of a date and anchovy dressing. I liked it even better than the endive and blue cheese salad at Flora in New York, and that’s saying something.

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Finally, I have to mention the completely appealing smudge of fresh English peas at Jar.  (I’m so partial to the restaurant’s  Jidori chicken, rich with lemongrass and garlic, that I dove in before I remembered to snap its picture.)

The peas reminded me of a dish the late Michael Roberts pioneered (at the LA restaurant whose name will now not be mentioned). Long before the current craze for innovative guacamole he was constructing his own sly version out of frozen peas. Jar uses fresh peas, which is even sweeter.

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Looking Backward: New York, 1948

February 16, 2017

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When I’m in need of escape, I often troll through my collection of vintage restaurant guides.  Today I’m taking a little journey through Lawton Mitchell’s Knife and Fork in New York. 

It was 1948. Jackie Robinson had just broken into the major leagues. The subway carried two billion riders every year. And on Broadway, Marlon Brando was starring in A Streetcar Named Desire.

When the show was over, people might stop in for a bite at El Borracho:IMG_0647

Where they were sure to grab a few of these (in those days everybody smoked).images-1images-2

Beforehand, they might opt for a little tidbit at everybody’s favorite deli (topped off, of course, with a piece of strawberry cheesecake):

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In the mood for something unusual? There was always the possibility of the exotic tortilla.  Note the pencilled in prices!

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Signor Pepe’s Pizza

February 13, 2017

FullSizeRender (9)Franco Pepe travels the world, preaching pizza.  He is an earnest man, a perfectionist, a control freak, who makes every chef he visits nervous. Every single ingredient must be up to his standards.

When he leaves his small Pepe in Grani pizzeria in Caiazzo, outside Naples he travels with his own wheat; nothing else will do. He’s fussy about tomatoes; they  must be Piennolo del Vesuvio tomatoes (he has them preserved in jars).  Anchovies, of course, will only do from Cetara and Signor Pepe prefers the olives from his hometown. As for mozzarella, here’s Chi Spacca’s chef, Ryan Denicola, on the subject. “We got buffalo mozzarella from four importers, and he rejected them all.  They were too soft inside. He won’t use mozzarella unless you can see the layers in the cheese, like rings in a tree.”

And when he’s mixed the dough, he runs around whatever kitchen he happens to be in with a thermometer, searching out the perfect place to let it rise.

The result?  The most perfect pizza you will ever eat.

Signor Pepe spent last weekend in Los Angeles, teaching pizza classes at Chi Spacca. He was a wonder to watch, deftly patting out the dough, covering it with cheese and putting it into the oven for less than a minute.  At the very end each pizza is hefted on the peel, lifted to the fire and toasted on top, much as you would a marshmallow around a campfire.

The result? Simultaneously soft and crisp, the crust bakes up into something very much like a cloud, cradling whatever toppings Signor Pepe chooses to add.

FullSizeRender (6)My favorite was Il Sole nel Piatto (sunshine on a plate) with buffalo mozzarella, anchovies, basil, extra virgin olive oil and olives. The flavors simply exploded on the palate.

Fried into calzone, the dough becomes crisp, fragile and  virtually greaseless; I had a hard time believed it had ever encountered oil.

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Pizza Scarpetta.  In Italian table talk, fare la scarpetta means “make the little shoe.”  It’s what you do when you tear off a piece of bread and scrape the last bit from your plate.  And this pizza, with is stunningly intense tomato sauce, insists you eat every last tidbit. Fantastic!

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Onions. Cheese. Cream  By this time I was in a pizza coma, eating blindly, unable to stop.

Sadly, I neglected to photograph the “wrong Margarita,” which the chef makes by cooking only the mozzarella, then adding squiggles of tomato sauce and basil oil after the pizza emerges from the heat. A challenge and an exclamation from the man who many think is the greatest pizzaiolo in the world: “I will make it mine!”

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Eating Asian in LA

February 11, 2017

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That is the $18 chirashi lunch at Soregashi, a modest little sushi bar my friend’s Hiro and Lissa recommended.  Lovely food – great prices.

But I’ve been eating well everywhere in LA.  The day before that lunch, Hiro, Lissa and I dropped in at Aburiyaraku, a very trendy Japanese restaurant on La Cienega, where we indulged in this luxurious combination of poached egg, sea urchin and salmon roe; if there’s a more appealing spoonful of goo, I have yet to encounter it.

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The restaurant also makes its own tofu,

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arranges beautiful plates of sashimi

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and if you’re in the mood, will gladly serve you slices of raw wagyu liver

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Another night we indulged in Korean food at Gwang Yang BBQ,  the most serene barbecue outpost I’ve encountered here. Ensconced in the luxury of a private room, the waiter (you summon him with a buzzer), covers your table with lovely panchan,  the little side dishes that are the introduction to every Korean meal.

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You can move on to icy steak tartare laced with cool crisp slices of Asian pear

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Robust meat-laced pancakes

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and all manner of noodles before the waiter fires up the grill and starts cooking your meat.  What you want to try here is the galbi; it has a delicacy I’ve not encountered before, the garlic and sugar muted so you can really taste the excellent beef.

For an entirely different experience of Asian food, you might stop in at the always packed Pine and Crane in Silverlake, line up at the counter to order and then attempt to find a seat in the spare, sunny dining room.

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These pea shoots are a fine beginning.

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A fairly irresistible Taiwanese omelet….

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and very clean-tasting Dan Dan noodles.

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A Poet Cooks

February 8, 2017

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Gwendolyn Brooks would never have called herself a food writer. The Pulitzer-prize winner was one of the most decorated poets in American history. She published 75 poems before the age of 16, and was Poet Laureate of Illinois for 32 years.

She wrote only one novel, but it contains one of the most arresting descriptions of cooking that I know. 

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Brooks was part of the great migration; when she was six weeks old her parents packed up their Kansas life and moved the family north to Chicago. Having escaped Jim Crow she became part of the Chicago Black Renaissance, getting to know great writers like Langston Hughes. Brooks returned the favor, mentoring many young poets. Among her many students were poets Sonia Sanchez, Don L. Lee and Nikki Giovanni (not to mention members of the street gang, the Blackstone Rangers).

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