Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Taste of L.A.

Remember the nuclear devastation of Los Angeles in Terminator 2? Karen and I saw that movie in L.A., and we were the only two people who chortled over Linda Hamilton's dream of mushroom clouds. That's how much we liked L.A. Of course, that was before we lived in Texas, and that was also before we lived in the land of "Oh, God, please let that be a new restaurant, because our town really doesn't need a seventh auto parts store!" Without further ado, here are eight things I miss from Los Angeles, all food. (Sorry, Beth & all those other vegetarians out there, but I like meat.)
Mr. Creosote
1. Baci D'Alassio from Il Fornaio restaurant in South Pasadena. Think of Baci as two chocolate-hazelnut macaroons fused base-to-base with a dollop of semisweet chocolate. Here's the recipe, and here's a picture. 2. Fried smelt at Cafe Santorini in South Pasadena. Oh how I love my little fishies. I really, really don't want to look up the mercury content of smelt on Fanatic Cook's mercury chart. (Hah! They're not on the chart. They must be mercury-free.) Imagine a huge dish piled high with lightly battered smelt, fried to a golden crisp, sprinkled with finely chopped Italian parsley, and served with no shortage of lemon wedges. You eat these bad boys whole -- head, tail, fins, bones, everything. The crunch is part of the experience. Oh, lordy lordy lordy lordy. 3. Creme brulee at Cafe Santorini. Perfect creme brulee should have a warm, flawlessly crisped top, and a smooth, cold center. No damned bubbles. If there's bubbles in the puddin', the cook don't know WTF about creme brulee. Here's the Cook's Illustrated recipe -- I haven't tried it out yet, but I will very soon. My beloved has a yen. Karen, a creme brulee purist, hates to discover funky flavors on the first bite (Funky = anything other than vanilla). But I like a surprise. My favorite-ever creme brulee at Cafe Santorini featured a strong hint of bay leaf. 4. Basturma at Sahag's Deli on Sunset. Basturma is the king of cold cuts, the ur-pastrami. Food critic Jonathon Gold called it "less a foodstuff than a force of nature." It has the beefy intensity of bresaola, but the spice rub (hot paprika, fenugreek, and garlic) packs a wallop. Eat some basturma and give your unsuspecting Dearest a deep, deep kiss for a food sex memory that will last a lifetime. Here's Sahag's address. 5. Peking Duck at Quan Jude in Rosemead. World famous for their Peking Duck, Quan Jude sports photos of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon dining at their Beijing restaurant. You can eat any part of the duck here -- they even have duck tongue aspic on the menu (trust me -- stick to the Peking Duck). Here's the address. If you've never had Peking Duck, this needs to be on your list of Things I Must Eat Before I Die. The whole point of Peking Duck is to render the duck skin of its fat and elevate it to crispy snips of heaven. The skin is served with a bit of meat, a bit of green scallion, and a dollop of plum sauce (or is it hoisin?) all wrapped in a thin, rather tasteless pancake. The pancake ain't the point. 6. Pommes frites at Benita's Frites on the Santa Monica Boardwalk. Pommes frites are the basturma of French fries. 'Nuff said. What's so great about Benita's Frites? Not only do they get the frites just right, but they also have the greatest dipping sauces. My favorite was the sundried tomato aioli. Here's a write-up and a recipe, but I can't believe it's that easy. 7. Vietnamese iced coffee . . . anywhere. This stuff is ubiquitous. You can't walk into a Vietnamese restaurant and not get perfect iced coffee. Here's the idea: aqua regia-strong espresso combined with sweetened condensed milk, served over ice. Take a look at this pictorial essay. True fact: my evil wife once got my office staff addicted on this stuff to increase productivity. Who needs coca leaves? 8. Banh mi at any Vietnamese restaurant. I can think of many fine sandwiches: beef tongue on rye; hot pastrami on rye; Philly cheese steak sandwich. They all have their place in the Great Order of Sandwich Being, but even the best Jewish deli pastrami can't compete with an average banh mi. They're that good. Banh mi come in a variety of styles, but they all consist of a French or Italian roll slathered in mayo and/or liver pate, layered with cold cuts (thinly sliced roast pork is my favorite) and produce. It's the produce that makes the banh mi: cilantro, thinly julienned carrots and cucumbers (lightly pickled in nuoc cham), and a few julienned strips of hot green peppers. Assemble the sandwich and heat it up so that the crust gets crusty. Like great creme brulee, a perfect banh mi will be warm to hot on the outside, cool on the inside. Read more about banh mi at this link. You know what all of these things have in common? I can't eat any of them. (Well, I could eat the basturma without any bread, but where's the fun in that? And Peking Duck without the pancakes . . . the Chinese already think we're barbarians.) While living in L.A., I got up to my all-time max weight, 178 lbs. Take home message to me: be happy you're not living in L.A., or else you'd have ended up like poor Mr. Creosote. D.


Blogger Jim Donahue said...

When I was kid, my grandmother made what I still consider the best french fries in the world.

Her secret? Lard.

Mmmmmmmmm... wonderful lard.

1/25/2006 05:57:00 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

We're bringing a film in to the Evans Theatre called Everything Is Illuminated. In the trailer, there's a scene where the hero, searching for a woman in Ukraine, is having dinner with his hosts. He tells them he's a vegetarian.

"What does that mean?"

"I don't eat meat."







They all look at him. "What is wrong with you?"

Looks to be a winner.

1/25/2006 05:58:00 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

Best fish ever: my dad's recipe for pickerel, which was basically to dip 'em in egg, then in flour with salt and pepper stirred in, then fry 'em. Mmmm mmmm good.

1/25/2006 05:59:00 AM  
Blogger Robot Buddha said...

You're killing me!

1/25/2006 06:27:00 AM  
Blogger Darla said...

Gee, thanks, Doug. Like I didn't miss decent restaurants enough already. Where we live, most towns have 3 restaurants: German, Italian, & Greek. If you find a bigger town, it'll also have a Chinese restaurant. The catch is, the menus are virtually identical.

So why did I gain 10 pounds when we moved here, & why am I having trouble taking it off?

Oh, yeah, now I remember. Chocolate. Pastries. Bratwurst. Argh.

1/25/2006 06:56:00 AM  
Blogger Pat Kirby said...

I'm sorry. Even with great restaurants, there is nothing, nada, zip, zilch, that would make me want to live in L.A.

I've only been there twice, passing through to somewhere else and all I remember is the stench...and the endless stretch of humanity like a plague on the land.

No offense, but L.A., ick.

Texas, ick too. (Speaking as a native Texan.)

1/25/2006 08:30:00 AM  
Blogger Beard said...

I am *so* with you on the smelts and the Vietnamese coffee...curses, I'm craving both now. I have the fixings for the coffee, but there are no smelt to be had.

1/25/2006 09:11:00 AM  
Blogger Kate R said...

I'm hungry--and for nothing available in this area. Thanks, I don't think.

Still boogery,

1/25/2006 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger scott said...

Mmmmm, Benita's. I'm partial to their regular aioli. IIRC, they have a spicy peanut sauce that's also quite tasty.

1/25/2006 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Jim, I've heard that about you and lard ;o)

Pat, I've seen that trailer. It looks good. As for pickerel, simple is always best.

Darla, don't feel too bad. I'd kill for a good Greek restaurant around here. I'd maim for a bad one.

Beard, you can by the stainless steel drip-through goodies online, I think, and make this stuff yourself. French press espresso would work. As for smelt, I've seen them in the market once since I came to the north coast. Bought 'em, fried 'em, ate 'em.

The rest o' youse, thanks for commenting! Keep 'em coming.

1/25/2006 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Kate R said...

a good greek one? ahhh, at last a chance to gloat--we have one of those. Tapas oh, yummmmm.

1/25/2006 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Suisan said...

Oh Good Lord. Kate's posting on her blog about borek and you're posting about bisturma??? Gah!

I'm so in need of a good Middle Eastern Fix right now: Muhamara, manti, borek, bisturma, lamejun..... Help! I need a fix!

Oh, and a lovely bubble-less creme brulee would be nice too. I'm partial to a coffe creme brulee, but eggy vanilla works too. Just not after bisturma.

1/25/2006 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Maybe I'll make fesenjan tonight. Then, for once, I can do a Walnuts post (heaven knows I give you plenty of Balls).

Fesenjan, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Persian cuisine, is chicken (or, better, duck) stewed in a sauce of ground walnuts, fried onions, and pomegranate juice. Yum.

As for: muhamara, manti, borek, bisturma, lamejun: I only know basturma!

Must . . . go . . . visit . . . Kate.

1/25/2006 02:40:00 PM  
Anonymous PBW said...

All the really exotic restaurants came after I left L.A., I guess. Sandwiches from Langer's, and tacos from Tito's -- I still get teary-eyed with fond memories.

1/25/2006 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Ah, Langers. Best. Kishke. Ever. Damn good pastrami, too.

Dicey neighborhood, but that never stopped us.

1/25/2006 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger Kate R said...

borek--looks like a smooshed snail. It's a tube of dough with yummy filling. yum.

1/25/2006 06:56:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

I read a couple of borek recipes online. Sounds like a spanokopita (spelling?) with cheese or meat filling instead of spinach/cheese.

I love spanokopita, but I do a fair job of it, so I don't miss it ;o)

1/25/2006 07:39:00 PM  
Anonymous ROF said...

A person can get fat(ter) just reading the "wrong" blogs!!

While attending a major convention in LA (maybe '82 or '83), a few of us searched out & ate "lunch" at a steak joint somewhere in the downtown area. It was one of those "you have to do this if you visit LA things." As I remember, it was a deep, narrow eatery w/ white enameled high tables. The steak was very good, as it should have been after waiting for more than an hour out on the sidewalk to take our turn at the trough. Of course, I can't remember its name. It sure wasn't foo-foo stuff, I can tell you that ;>)


1/26/2006 05:31:00 PM  
Anonymous PBW said...

rof wrote: While attending a major convention in LA (maybe '82 or '83), a few of us searched out & ate "lunch" at a steak joint somewhere in the downtown area. It was one of those "you have to do this if you visit LA things."

Sounds like Taylor's.

1/27/2006 09:29:00 PM  

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