Sunday, December 30, 2012


In today’s LA Times travel section there’s a piece titled “Reimagined: After upheaval era, Moscow and St. Petersburg tap culinary traditions – with a twist,” and yes that’s some pretty sad writing right there, but we know that journalists seldom write headlines for their own pieces.

No, the real sadness comes when the author, Sasha Vasilyuk, visits a traditional Russian restaurant  in St. Petersburg, named Russkaya Charka.  Vasilyuk writes, “I looked at the menu: bear cutlets, elk stew, veal tongue.  These guys were serious about their fare.  So I ordered a Pozharsky cutlet, a tender chicken fillet coated with white bread chunks.’”

There's bear and elk on the menu and you order the frigging chicken!!!  That is very, very sad.  Some people don’t know how to enjoy themselves.  Others know how, they just prefer not to.

Friday, December 28, 2012


 As the year ends, people, or at least food writers, are inclined to take stock and declare what were the best things they ate or drank over the last twelve months.  I always find this surprisingly hard.  I can never quite remember whether I ate certain things six or twelve or eighteen months ago. 

Fortunately, in the age of the digital camera, images are encoded with the date they were taken, and looking through my iPhoto library I’ve come across various images of some of the food and drink, and other gourmet-related items that I thought were worth photographing this year.  Of course, taking a photograph is no indication that the food was especially good - the better the restaurant, the less inclined I am to make an idiot of myself by taking snaps. 

The above muffin, for instance, eaten in the British Museum in London, looked bizarrely picturesque but didn’t taste especially interesting.

So, pressing on modestly, here are a couple of contrasting cups of coffee.  The very fancily-presented one above, is from Urth Caffe, in downtown Los Angeles: anything looks more organic when it’s got an image of a leaf on top.  The one below is an anything but fancy cup of joe from Lori’s Diner in San Francisco. 

But again, anything tastes better when you’re sitting in a booth with red sparkly upholstery.  And in fact quite a few of the meals I remember best from this year were eaten in diners.  The one below shows breakfast at Sherman’s Deli in Palm Springs – nothing like half a pound of egg salad and half a pound of chopped liver to start the day.

And then, at the Mad Greek CafĂ© in Primm Nevada, below, I had this feta and spinach omelet – the highlight actually was the bread, the sourest sourdough bread I’ve ever tasted.  The potatoes were pretty great too.

The Mad Greek also provided the Loved with an opportunity for some low level lewdness.

And here was probably the most surprising thing I ate this year – Thai style cockles. 

 As a Yorkshireman I’m used to having my cockles boiled and then saturated in vinegar.  These, which came in a can, seasoned with chili, soy, salt and sugar, were really great once I’d put aside all my expectations about how a cockle should taste. Apparently it’s called "hoi klang" in Thailand

Somewhere along the line I had the above chocolates with images of cocktails printed on them, but I have no memory of what they tasted like and if I hadn’t taken the picture I might have forgotten about them all together; they sure look great though.  I hope they tasted the same way.

And this was also the year that I became mildly addicted to the Blood and Sand cocktail served at the Dresden restaurant in Los Feliz, you know the place that features in the movie Swingers.    

The Dresden seems to keep its Blood and Sand recipe pretty close to the chest.  My understanding is that it’s usually a whisky drink but the Dresden waiter I spoke to seemed to think it was made with rum.   Either way it’s a fine concoction, and really a perfectly unisex concoction, certainly colorful and fancy but by no means a girly drink.  

 And finally a small celebration of a dying form, the great, overelaborate American restaurant sign.  Again, I realize there may be no correlation between the mightiness of the sign and the quality of the food.  The wonderful example below is from Nicely’s in Lee Vining, Ca, where I had a perfectly decent roast turkey dinner, but it wasn’t as spectacular as the sign.  How could it be?

 And in Ventura I came across the sign below for the Hong Kong Inn, and I confess I didn’t make it inside – it was the promise of the “Polynesian Review” that deterred me, but it’s definitely on my list of places to go back to one of these days.  I’ve got to have something to look forward to in 2013, right?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


The artist Richard Prince (that’s him above, the one who isn’t topless) once bought me a sandwich, for which I was, and remain, very grateful.  It was in the local diner in Rensselaerville, upstate New York, where he had a home at the time, and I think still does. I had a grilled cheese sandwich and I can safely say it was the greasiest grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever eaten, not that I intend that as a criticism.

Maybe what I needed was a fizzy lemon drink to wash it down and cut through the fat.  Maybe, belatedly, Richard Prince has had the same idea.  At this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach he’s launching a drink called, Lemon Fizz, making it in collaboration with the AriZona tea people.  They say it’s “a slightly carbonated beverage that contains natural lemon flavor and is sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and sucralose."  OK, so that sugary glop might not have cut through the grease so well after all.  And it would surely be improved by a giant slug of liquor.

The can, above, looks particularly fine, showing young Prince in the days when his hair was bleached a post-punk white.  Strangely enough he seems to have about as much hair now as he did back then.  The pic below is by Terry Richardson.

As with all things Prince, I’m never sure that his accounts of his own past are really to be believed, or whether it’s all some sort of art prank, but if you go to a piece of his prose titled “Tell Me Everything” you’ll read that his mother, a former spy, had a second career as one of those women who hands out food samples in supermarkets. 

Prince writes, “My mother ended up working … as a food demonstrator. She would dress up like June Cleaver and stand behind a little folding table and try to hand you a piece of beef jerky. She always kept kool-aid in small paper cups ... ‘doctor's’ cups ... just in case you didn't like the taste and flavors of what she was trying to demonstrate. She said the ‘refreshment’ was her contribution, her ‘brain child’ to the job.”

 As an Englishman, the deeper semiotics of Kool-Aid have always rather passed me by.  If it was available in England when I was going up it certainly never made it into our house.   I associate it far more with the Grateful Dead and Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test than with any childhood beverage.  Above is the rather sober edition that I first read; modern editions look much more "psychedelic."  We do know that American spies were big fans of acid, and I also know that Richard Prince has a fine collection of acid-related books.  Coincidence?  You be the judge.

You can see more of the Richard Prince’s deeply wonderful book collection here: