Thursday, July 23, 2015


As you perhaps know, I run two separate blogs, one about walking, one about food, and inevitably there some convergences from time to time, posts that could fit into either or both places.  This is one of those.

A couple of days ago I had lunch in LA’s Koreatown with my fellow traveler, writer and urban explorer Colin Marshall, who lives in the area.  I combined the lunch with a walk, though I walked by myself since Colin’s a committed cyclist, which I am not, and also because he had to go off and get a haircut.

Will it surprise you that Koreatown is undergoing some serious gentrification? And of course a change in the food culture is always a major indication of that process.  

We happened to go past the Line Hotel (that's it above, and further above)which had become a bit of sixties slum by all accounts, but now it’s a hot and happening “design-forward” destination, containing two (yep count ‘em) restaurants from Roy Choi, the LA wonderboy.  The menu in Choi’s restaurant Pot offers the “Beast Mode Seafood Plateau” - oysters, shrimp, assorted crab, hamachi, uni & scallops for $96 (and yes, there’s probably a second marijuana reference in there), and yes, I understand that Choi gets a certain amount of flak from old school traditionalist Korean eaters.

But we weren’t headed there – we were going to Cassell’s Hamburgers, now inside the restored and refurbished Normandie Hotel.  And in fact some purists are vaguely disturbed that Cassell’s was there at all.  It was established in 1948 a little ways away, and had a see-sawing reputation over the years.  The owner Al Cassell worked there until he was well into his 80s.  

Now it’s under new ownership and has become a kind of minimalist hipster diner, with a studiedly simple menu and a range of craft beers. 

Colin had the Cobb Salad (it's not as small as it looks below - that's a trick of the wide angle perspective) and I had the Grilled Ham and Cheese sandwich with tomato jam, though afterwards I wished I’d had a burger.  The best thing about the sandwich – some of the cheese is deliberately left sticking out of the sandwich so it gets fried gets fried as the sandwich is cooked.  It’s hard not to love fried cheese.

As tends to happen when a couple of writers-slash-urbanists get together we talked of many things, and I certainly told the old story of how, when I first moved to LA, I really wanted to see the Felix the Cat sign on the Chevy dealership down by USC, and how it was ten years before I actually get there. 

But I didn’t mention, and in fact had pretty much forgotten, that I’d had a similar urge to see (I’m not sure what you’d call it exactly) the ghost or the specter or the simulacrum of the old Brown Derby restaurant.  The original was built in 1926 on Wilshire Boulevard, a “programmatic” building in the shape of a Derby, not that anybody (me included) has a very clear of what a Derby hat looks like anymore.  It was there that Bob Cobb invented the Cobb salad (did I mention something about convergence?)

The building was demolished in 1980 and I knew there’d been some half-hearted attempt to create a Derby-like or maybe Derby-lite element to the mini-mall that replaced.  Yes, I knew all this but I wasn’t thinking about it at all as I walked along Wilshire Boulevard after lunch, and suddenly there it was.

Frankly, it’s more of a dome than a hat: there’s no brim.  It looks pretty odd from ground level and doesn’t look much less odd when you’re standing beside it.  I gather it’s been a bar and a music venue, but it seems to sit empty most of the time, which is surely a shame.  Maybe nobody wants to eat in a building that doesn’t like much like a hat.

In fact as I walked along Wilshire Boulevard there now seemed to be all manner of intriguing restaurants, the HMS Bounty, which is evidently a place to consume food and grog.

OK, its become HMS Bo in this incarnation.

And here was this vastly intriguing sign, advertising some kind of sandwich joint: who wouldn’t be attracted to a hip Benjamin Franklin with a bit of Korean script behind him? Though actually I think he looks quite a bit like Larry David.

It makes you want to have another lunch and go for anther walk.  I almost certainly will.

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