food day

Dana Goodyear, in her excellent 2009 piece about Jonathan Gold for  The New Yorker, quotes Robert Sietsema, who describes an average day of eating for Gold:

Not long ago, Sietsema said, Gold visited: “He and I went on a typical binge. We started with porchetta sandwiches, then went to David Chang’s new bakery for foccaccia with kimchi, then we had salty-pistachio soft-serve ice cream, cookies, and coffee milk. Then we went to a pizzeria famous for its artichoke slice, where we also had a Sicilian slice, and then we took the train to Flushing and visited a new Chinese food court and had half a dozen Chinese dishes there. Then we went to the old food court down the street, visited three more stalls, and had a bunch of things, including lamb noodles, and then Jonathan had to go to dinner somewhere. After dinner, he stopped by my apartment, and we went to Ten Downing, where we ate another three-course dinner.”

Which I found, of course, impressively epic.  I think it was this article that made me more aware of the ‘food scene’ in a way that I hadn’t been before (though I had the San Francisco coffee, burrito and bar scenes pretty well covered, at one point being able to quickly list my 10 favorite dive bars in the city (I didn’t go to any other kind) in reverse order.  Those were the days.).  One of the fundamental points of the article, that Los Angeles, due to its somewhat isolating landscape, is the an “anti-melting pot,” a place where one can “get true, undiluted regional cookery” is something I have oft repeated when singing the praises of this city.  That, and the fact LA has one of the largest if not the largest percentage of foreign-born residents of any city in the United States at any point in United States history (plymouth rock is not a city).  Something like that.  Anyway, point is, probably the best way to experience Los Angeles is to spend a day travelling around and eating.  And so, with my dear friends M and VH in town, that is what we did.

left: rice wrapped in lotus leaf, right: char siu bao – pork filled bun

First up was NBC Seafood in Monterey Park for dim sum.  The three of us have been having a long-standing discussion about what constitutes ideal dim sum – indeed, if ideal dim sum even exists as such.  Basically it stems from a statement VH made that dim sum is always good, but never outstandingly perfect, or even ‘the best’ dim sum, and furthermore the ‘best’ dim sum doesn’t exist, only good or very good dim sum that is nevertheless can not ever be the best in relative or absolute terms .  Later M modified this to claim that dim sum, at its best, had in character a unpretentious ‘ordinariness’ about it, and so dim sum at its best would not be some sort of extraordinary experience; that is, the perfect dim sum is, ironically, dim sum that is not perfect.  I had never had dim sum before, but was simply interested in the philosophical aspect of this discussion (there were other additions to this conversation, with RT saying something about it being ok not have relative superlatives, and E saying that in this formulation dim sum as non-existing ideal is similar to communism).  And so, we made plans to have dim sum, at NBC Seafood, as I mentioned above, before I bored and confused you.

We had probably 12-15 different things.  I quite liked the congee, the shrimp dumplings, rice wrapped in lotus leaf, a pork and shrimp dumpling (Shaomai?), fried taro, and even this fluffy bun that was filled with pork (Char siu bau?).  Oh and the black sesame balls (Jin deui?).  I’m not confident with these names, as indicated by the question marks.

clockwise from top left: turnip cake, pork of some kind, fried taro (yum), black sesame balls

Overall it was a lovely, long experience.  I felt completely full, and thought that I might have a light dinner at most.  Little did I know…

Next, we stepped outside to a Vietnamese coffee place that shall go unnamed due to their napkin-stinginess.  In any case, I personally didn’t have coffe there,  though M’s friend M did.  I did buy a water.  More to the point, we sat outside an ate doughnuts the Michelle brought from The Donut Man.  VH and I shared their famous strawberry doughnuts, which were not too filling because they were more strawberries than dough.  The dough took in a lot of the strawberry juice and it was very good (sorry, didn’t think to take pictures).  She also got a boston creme doughnut, which is my favorite, so I picked away at that too until I ate like half.  I was then given the rest of the doughnuts to eat the following day or two.  Ok, so *now* I was full and done eating for the day.

Or at least for a while.  We retreated to my place to hang out with Peeky and play with a rubik’s cube.  But soon it was happy hour.  Wanting to be even more happy, we headed over to Blue Cow because I heard Steve Livigni talk about the barrel-aged cocktails he was making there, and wanted to maybe try one.  Blue Cow ended up being in the same plaza as Starry Kitchen, a foodie vietnamese fusion place that I don’t like (although their very peppy and annoying owner did just throw a cannabis dinner, so that’s something).  Anyway, the place was full of suits drinking and doing whatever they do after work.  It made the experience more ethnographic on the whole.  Also, they were showing the apparently inescapable Heat-Thunder game.  I tried not to pay attention, lest Chris Bosh ruin my appetite.

pink eggs and ham at Blue Cow (beet marinated deviled eggs with Mendocino Mustard, double smoked bacon & candied jalapenos)

On to the drinks, and food.  They only had one barrel aged cocktail actually, and that had tequila in it, so I didn’t get it.  Instead I got the Allagash beer cocktail that had “allagash curieux, spicebox whiskey, gran classico, apple juice.”  It tasted about what you think it would taste like – creamy and chocolatey from the beer, sweet from the apple juice, and a bit of a kick from the whisky.  Not bad; would return if it wasn’t located where it was located.  We also had some fried potatoes and “pink eggs and ham” :”beet marinated deviled eggs with Mendocino Mustard, double smoked bacon & candied jalapenos.”  Those were very creamy, and good, and cute.  I didn’t try them with the bacon, obvs.

Is this post making you feel lethargic and overstuffed (with words), yet still wanting more?  Imagined how we felt.  Again, I thought I would try a couple things at dinner, but not go overboard.  Again that didn’t happen.

We decided to go to Aburiya Toranoko, an izakaya place next to the Lazy Ox. And we ordered like ten things, and beer, and I had a cold sake.  We started out with fried shishito peppers.  The peppers are a bit sweet, but they were charred a bit on the outside and mixed with a soy sauce, which was simple and worked very well.  They also were topped with bonito flakes that danced because of the heat.

Then came two types of agedashi tofu: their regular one and one that was mixed with uni.  Both were good, but the latter was something really new and different to me.  It had a very clear uni flavor, but the texture was completely smooth, really as if it were just soft tofu.  That was amazing.

agedashi tofu in front, uni agedashi tofu in back

Next was a delectable and photogenic monkfish liver pate, decadent but light and sweet also, a crab roll which was beautiful and fresh tasting, and a kind of stuffed cucumber roll which I don’t see on the menu now.  All came with elaborately crafted pickled vegetable garnishes; they were unexpectedly pretty.  We also had a   okonomiyaki pancake, which I didn’t like as much, maybe cause it was greasy and the rest of the meal was very not greasy.  Oh, and chicken livers.  Jesus, we really ate.  As mentioned, I also had a cold sake which I think is called Mizuno Shirabe, though it might have been a different one.  Usually, I expect and almost want sake to have very little flavor; that was *not* the case with this one.  It was sweet (but not too) and actually complex; if I was actually fancy and good with words I would talk about the different notes it had, but let’s not venture into dangerous territory.  It did have notes though, several.  Definitely some notes on that one.

monkfish liver on the left, crab roll on the right

The only things this placed had going against it were a) the dave matthews-blues traveller-90s soundtrack.  Not cool.  and b) not only was the inescapable heat-thunder game on, but the heat won the championship while we there, and there were heat fans at the bar.  Were they bros wearing white tank tops?  Yes, of course they were.  Anyway,  I was pretty exceptionally full at this point, somehow more so than everyone else, but over dinner M had regaled us with stories of mysterious and beautiful young Korean mafia people who sold shaved ice that was also, incidentally, really good.  And so, why not, let’s go to korea town and have some goddamned shaved ice.  The night was young.  The place was Haus, and was filled with fashionable young k-town kids getting dessert and watching k-pop videos on mute out of the corner of their eye.  I was somewhat mesmerized by the videos, which are like N’Sync videos on steroids, not to subscribe to a Western progressivist cultural aesthetics in which Anglo-American political, economic and cultural forms ‘precede’ those of the ‘developing’ world which is, by definition, in a less advanced, perhaps primitive, technological and culture state.  Anyway, we did indeed have the shaved ice, preceded, for good measure, by a piece of their “crepe” cake, which was alternating levels of chocolate and cream with ice cream on the side and was very good but then I like all sweet things.  The shaved ice was also good, and had a texture so smooth and was so room-temperature stable as to make it not quite like ice at all.  Clearly they had done something to this ice to make it like this.  It was topped with fruit and red bean.  I could see the appeal, but I wasn’t necessarily a convert.  I would go back to Haus though, as it’s quite the scene.

shaved ice

So there you have it: dim sum, speciality doughnuts, craft cocktails, americanized izakaya, and Korean mafioso shaved ice, all in the space of 10 hours, which also allowed for a lengthy break to play with toys and cats and such.  I think M even got a hike in, in the morning  And I probably spent less than $60 the whole day.  I could see the appeal of doing this sort of thing all the time.  I leave you with pictures and  a very intense video from a band that was the food of M’s thoughts during her brief stay in her favorite city.

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3 Responses to food day

  1. lesbonsbonsdesraisons says:

    I’m stuck in the Phoenix airport, and this really made my bleary morning. Grazie!

  2. vh says:

    a phenomenal day. let’s have another one just like it, but completely different.

    and also: there’s definitely such a thing as bad dim sum. it’s just that after you pass a certain threshold of acceptability, it’s all quite good and there’s not much experiential difference, even if the place tries to be fancy about their dim sum. and also maybe most places pass this threshold..

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