Tuesday, February 28, 2017

SUCCESSFULLY AVOIDING A COQ JOKE IN THE TITLE


Over the weekend I made coq au vin.  It was OK but it wasn’t great and I don’t really know why.  Did I not use enough wine?  Or was the wine not good enough?  Did I cook it took long or not long enough?  I just don’t know.  And I was even following a recipe, one that had appeared in the New York Times French cookery supplement, by Melissa Clark.  


The recipe seemed pretty straightforward and I followed it pretty closely,  although I was confused by one line.  As expected, the recipe tells you to brown the chicken pieces before you pour in the wine, but the instruction is as follows: “Heat lardon fat over medium heat until it’s just about to smoke.”


But how could you possibly know when fat is “just about to smoke”?  I can tell you when it’s NOT smoking.  I can tell you when it IS smoking.  But unless you have the psychic ability to see into the future how can you tell when it’s about to?  These professional cooks have gifts the rest of us can only dream of.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

DRESSING FOR DINNER

It’s an odd and ambivalent thing isn’t it, that when you go into what appears to be some anonymous little restaurant and you see glowing reviews from major magazines and newspapers that have been framed and mounted on the wall, well you know you’re probably in for some good food, but on the other hand you also know that you haven’t made a “discovery.”  The word is already out about this place and you’re just following the crowd.


And so it proved when I went to Cacao Mexicatessen at 1576 Colorado Blvd, in Eagle Rock - one of those order at the counter, take a number and go sit down places.  It looks invitingly modest, but it has reviews from the LA Times and LA Weekly proudly displayed on the walls.  And why not, although it must be said these reviews weren't exactly hot off the press.



People will tell you that the must-have dish is the Carnitas de Pato – duck confit, avocado, vinegar onion, radishes chile oil.  And they’re right, and really, seeing duck confit tacos on the menu, how could you NOT order them?


Mind you, the menu indicates that they do strange and wonderful-sounding things with sea urchin – that’ll have to be next time.

There are also Mission fig mole fries - “house made French fries, topped with Mission Fig Mole poblano sauce.”  Gotta say I couldn’t honestly taste the figs but French fries in a thick spicy sauce is surely good enough for anybody.


It was all good.  And then, afterwards, taking a little stroll, with the Mexican goodies starting to digest inside me, just across the street and round the corner from CaCao I saw this car wash, closed but still in business, I think, and with this extraordinary sign. 


Shampoo and dressing? Really?  Shampoo I understand, of course, but dressing? What kind of dressing?  Balsamic, thousand island, blue cheese?  Does anybody want that in the interior of their car?  Well, apparently some must.  It’s times like this when I realize I still have a lot to learn about LA eating and driving culture.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A WALK ON MOM'S SIDE


It was Nelson Algren who, in A Walk on the Wild Side, wrote. "Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own."

I am in the clear with the first of these rules, although if you’d ever played cards with my Uncle Frank, you might well have thought he could and should have been called Doc.  The third rule is a subject for another time, but until last month I could safely say that I’d never eaten at a place called Mom’s.


And then I went to Pahrump, Nevada where Mom’s is regarded by many as the best place in town to have breakfast.  It took a little finding but a local pointed me in the right direction, “It’s up the hill by the jail” and so it was.

The breakfast was good, the place was friendly, and those potatoes you see below were a knockout. 


However it was the men’s bathroom that I’m really going to remember. It looked like this: all custom cars, and a fake (perhaps homage to) Von Dutch. 



I know there’s a widely held opinion that if you don’t like the look of a restaurant’s bathroom, you’d definitely better not see the kitchen.  Sounds reasonable.  But I really liked the bathroom at Mom's, and if there’s as much attention to detail in the kitchen as in the bathroom then I think Mom’s is onto a winner.

Anyway, this Mom’s business has been on my mind recently, partly because I’ve been listening to music by Carl Stone, not least an album of his titled Mom’s, released in 1992.



Carl Stone, should you need bringing up to speed, is an American, avant-garde, electronic composer who uses sampling, looping, musical fragments that go in and out of phase, repetition, and endurance.  The overall effect is amazingly, sometimes mystically, uplifting and transporting.  I gather he divides his time between California and Japan, where he’s on the faculty of the Department of Media Engineering at Chukyo University.

But here’s the psychogourmet part: a lot of his compositions are named after restaurants, many of them from Los Angeles.  The compositions on the album Mom’s are titled Banteay Srey, Gadberry’s, Shing Kee, Chao Nue, and of course Mom’s.

I’ve been trying to research these restaurants, and my research is admittedly patchy, but I’ve not been able to find a Los Angeles restaurant named Shing Kee – though there’s certainly one in San Francisco.  (In fact I discover from Mr Stone himself that the Shing Kee in question was in New York's Chinatown, but the restaurant is gone). And there are a lot of places around the world named Banteay Srey (it being a 10th century Cambodian temple) but again I haven’t been able to track one down in the City of Angels.  Internet know-it-alls may be able to help me out here.

On the other hand I do know that Gadberry’s was a barbecue joint in downtown LA, on Broadway, though it’s long gone.  And Chao Nue was a northern Thai restaurant on West 9th Street, though I can’t find a review later than 1990.

However Mom’s Bar.B.Q is still there on the Imperial Highway in Westminster.  Hurrah! It doesn’t look exactly the same as in the album cover image (which is hardly surprising given the passage of time), but it sure looks like the same place.



I claim no acquaintance with Carl Stone beyond Facebook, but I do find his postings there more interesting most, since they consist largely of photographs of his meals, many of them eaten in Japan.  This kind of thing:



And I also just found on Facebook (and it didn’t take much finding – Stone himself put it there), this quotation from Jonathan Gold:  "Spicy Asian cooking is to Carl Stone what the Immortal Beloved was to Beethoven, what opium was to Berlioz - an eternal source of inspiration."


Carl Stone’s latest album (and I’m not trying to come off like a big shot but I yes, I have it on vinyl, signed by the man himself in both English and Japanese) is Electronic Music from the Seventies and Eighties.  Thanks to liner notes by Jonathan Gold I now know that at least two of the titles refer to Los Angeles restaurants – Gold also makes a comparison between sampling sounds and sampling food (sounds coherent to me).  

The two restaurants are Dong Il Jang – Korean, and Shibucho – a sushi place, both still very much in business.  Below is chef Shigeru Kudo of Shibucho with Ron Wood.  Music and food make for some strange bedfellows, but I suppose we always knew that.





Monday, February 13, 2017

CLASSIC

Is there any such thing as non-ethnic food?  I’m going to say no.  I’m going to say that any food, however plain and middle of the road, has to be some kind of national, racial or cultural expression.


I’ve been thinking about this since I had lunch last Friday at a rather good diner in Santa Monica named Coogie’s Cafe. (Not to be confused with Googie’s).


Before I lived in Los Angeles, when I used to come as a tourist, I spent a certain amount of time in Santa Monica – and I ate at Coogie’s once in a while.  I even saw David Warner in there, one of my favorite actors, though he was reading the paper and looking grumpy, not that I’d have approached him anyway.  He didn’t look in the least like this:


These days I hardly ever go Santa Monica, much less Coogie’s, but driving past there last Friday it seemed as good a place as any to have lunch.  The first thing I noticed was that most of the clientele was white and old, while the staff appeared to be entirely not white – a mixture of Latino and Asian.  Now this is not very surprising - we know that if you peered into a great many Indian or Italian or even Japanese restaurant kitchens in Los Angeles (I have) you’d find Mexicans running a lot of the stations.  These guys are nothing if not versatile.
        
And so even though the menu at Coogie’s had a few Latino influences – nachos, quesadillas and what not, it was the meatloaf, the open-face turkey sandwich, the patty melt, the grilled three cheese sandwiches that really seemed to define it.


And so I ordered a tuna sandwich (that’s it above) – sourdough bread with lettuce, tomato, Monterey Jack cheese, served with a slice of pickle, a spear of carrot, and coleslaw on the side.  It seemed to me that on that day, in that place and at that hour, nothing could have tasted cleaner, fresher or better, and that nothing could have been more all-American.  We know they serve tuna sandwiches all around the world in one form or another, and yet this was a sandwich that couldn’t have belonged to any other ethnos.


And now I see that the Waitrose supermarket chain in Britain has decided to “rebrand” its range of “British” ready meals.  It turns out that some of them are made with New Zealand lamb.  They’ve decided to call them “Classic” instead.

Now this strikes me as essentially nuts.  If you go into an Indian restaurant in London, you don’t expect the chicken in the curry to have been flown in from the Punjab, do you?  But it still constitutes Indian cuisines as far as I can see.  Maybe it even counts as classic.





Tuesday, February 7, 2017

THE GLOBAL LIP

And another thing that might happen to you while you’re on a desert road trip; you might go into the Food 4 Less supermarket in Yucca Valley and see a bottle of Primrose London Dry Gin, and you might think to yourself, well there’s a lovely curiosity, a whiff of old England blowing in across the sand and mesquite. 



And you might buy a bottle and in due course build yourself a drink, and only then might you look more closely at the label on the bottle and see that Primrose London Dry Gin is “Bottled by the Clear Springs Distilling Company, Louisville, Kentucky.”  There’s no reference to where the stuff is made.  London?  Conceivably, though why not say so?  Louisville?  Perhaps.  But who really knows?  China? Bangladesh? Mexico?  Globalization, she’s a tough mistress.  Primrose London Dry Gin tastes just fine however.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

FOOD FROM THE ROAD

If you’re ever in Kramer Junction, California, may I recommended that you try the carne asada with cheese fries at the Astro Burger.  It’s a knockout even if it doesn’t resemble any carne asada you’ve ever had elsewhere. 


The menu offered pastrami and Reuben sandwiches too, but the waitress, referring to the unseen cook in the back who may well have been her husband, said (a little regretfully it seemed to me), “He’s not doing that today.”


*
If you’re ever in Furnace Creek, in Death Valley, you might as well try the meatloaf at the Forty Niner CafĂ©.  It’s not great, but they’re working under difficult conditions there in the middle of the desert, where good ingredients, and (perhaps more importantly) good cooks, are evidently had to find.  I suspect they may eventually come up with an industrial use for that gravy.


The tables are pretty cool though:


I wouldn’t mind getting me one of them.
*

Should you be in Pahrump, Nevada, may I recommend a taco or four at El Jefe’s #2 Mexican restaurant.  When you see birria on the menu you’re not going to pass it up are you?


I thought the birria taco was really surprisingly mild and under spiced, likewise these pork ones, but maybe the chefs know their customers to be a bunch of unadventurous gringos.  Sad!  I was tempted by the “bucket of beer” on offer but it being lunchtime I resisted.


*
If you’re in Primm, Nevada you’re almost certainly going to be inside a casino, in which case, if you’re in search of breakfast, let me point you to the Original Pancake House at the Primm Valley Resort Casino.  
          There was some kind of loud argument going on in the kitchen that could be heard in the dining room,  a loud male voice could be heard saying, “I’m not taking this shit from HER.”  
           But it didn’t affect the German potato pancakes, served with apple sauce and sour cream – yep, that was breakfast.  Of champions.


As was this martini, drunk the night before at the bar of GPs Steakhouse.