Oh America – the melting pot; a place where food cultures and national cuisines, clash, fuse together, and metamorphize to become something spectacular and new. Take the Scotch egg I had a Morrison, a Scottish-inflected gastropub in Atwater Village, a few miles up the road from where I live.
I grew up faced with bad Scotch eggs. I liked sausage and I could cope with hardboiled eggs, but put them together and they made me retch. I’m made of stronger stuff these days but I still don’t exactly seek out Scotch eggs. Some of them can be very bad indeed.
The Scotch egg at Morrison however contained a soft-boiled egg, which must be a really tricky thing to pull off in a restaurant, and the sausage is venison! ALL RIGHT!! It looked much like this, photographed artfully by my pal George Esguerra :
I’d never had anything like it, and I don’t suppose I’ll get it again unless I go back to Morrison, which I will probably do.
Across the street from Morrison is India Sweets and Spices (above), a supermarket selling delicacies, and indeed staples, from the subcontinent, and occasionally from Britain, e.g. Robinson’s Barley Water.
I wandered in, pre-Morrison, and bought a few things, including a packet of boil in the bag Smoked Indian Cottage Cheese, aka Paneer Tikka Masala. Now I had never tasted smoked Indian cottage cheese before, and even after having eaten the contents of this pack, I’m still not sure that I have. The pack looked like this:
But the cheese actually tasted like small lumps of polystyrene in a nondescript red sauce: the lumps squeaked horribly if your teeth sank into them. There was no hint of smoke. They were awful. The reality looked like this:
Not remotely like the image on the pack. Still, at least I can say I’ve eaten something I’d never eaten before.
Then at the weekend we went to San Diego and had breakfast in a place called the Field (above), an Irish pub brought over in pieces from the old sod, and reconstructed in the Gaslamp district. The chef was Hawaiian, and he came round and introduced himself, and I was able to tell him that the Rasher and Cheese Boxty I was eating - imported Irish bacon and Irish Cheddar cheese wrapped inside a boxty and topped with homemade white wine sauce - was amazing and it looked like this:
I had never tasted anything quite like it. OK, I’d had all the ingredients but never in this configuration, and a homemade white wine sauce for breakfast (though I did wonder whose home) just sets a man up for the rest of the day. It was wonderful.
Also In San Diego one evening, at a loss for what to eat, and not feeling all that picky, we ended up in a fondue restaurant that pushes “interactive” $45 set meals that include cheese fondue starter, salad, meat fondue mains, and chocolate fondue desserts.
I think a purist would argue that if it don’t contain cheese, it ain’t really a fondue – the Swiss even railed against Brillat-Savarin for his 1812 fondue recipe which they dismissed as scrambled eggs with cheese.
We settled for the starter and salad, and although I'd certainly had fondue before, I’d never had it quite this way: an electric hot plate in the middle of the table, a double boiler, the fondue constructed table-side by a slightly over enthusiastic waitress. We get a lot of over-enthusiasm in California, but it’s preferable to so many of the international alternatives.
But here’s the beauty part, the restaurant was part of a small chain called – maybe you guessed - The Melting Pot. Oh America, my newfound smorgasbord!