Sunday, February 26, 2012


I’ve been thinking a lot about cheese lately.  Perhaps too much.  In order to lower my cholesterol I’ve been eating a lot less cheese.  It’s worked very well, cholesterol down and I haven’t missed cheese nearly as much as I thought I would.  But it does mean that I’ve forced myself to avoid cheese plates, turn away from cheese counters, and certainly never dare to buy a copy of Culture magazine, “the word on cheese.”  And so I’ve missed articles with titles such as “Nigerian Dwarf Goat: The breed’s small stature belies big benefits for cheesemaking” and I very nearly missed “5 Cheese Questions for Jonathan Gold.” 

Actually, by my reckoning, only 4 of them are really about cheese.  The fifth one is “In all of your experiences as a food critic, what is the worst thing you have ever eaten?”  And the answer isn’t cheese.  Full article here:

The hot news among LA foodies is that Mr Gold is moving from the LA Weekly to the LA Times, no doubt a big deal for the man himself and perhaps for the publications, but the common reader assumes it’ll be a change of venue rather than of form or content.  No doubt I'll be proved completely wrong.

The best thing about Gold is that he knows his stuff, is able to turn an exotic phrase, but remains essentially unpretentious, so that when Culture asks, “You're eating cheese, what are you drinking?”  He replies, “I would like to say an old Maury, because it is amazing with cheese, but it is usually a modest Alsatian Riesling with just a bit of sweetness - or really, whatever is left in my glass at the end of dinner.”  A fine descent into bathos.

T’other night the Loved One and I went to Loteria, a well-scrubbed, and occasionally chaotic Mexican restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard, and I’m afraid I let my cheese urges got the better of me.  Perhaps they’d been repressed too long.  Certainly I’ve never found it easy to resist the Chicharron de Queso, thinly sliced cheese melted on a griddle until it resembles pigskin.  

And then I had the Queso Panela a la Plancha con Nopalitos which was a slab of seared panela cheese cowering under a heap of cactus paddle salad with salsa verde.  This sounded more fun than it actually was, and if I’d thought about it, I’d have realized it didn’t really sound all that much fun in the first place.  It’s said that queso panela is great for absorbing flavors but it is essentially a bland little number, and mine lay rather inertly under the cactus.  The Loved One had beef tongue with tomatillo sauce, and I had food envy.

We wondered if perhaps the Mexican heart isn’t really in cheese making. My copy of The World Encyclopedia of Cheese (Harbutt and Denny) devotes just one page to Mexican cheese, and says that cheese was unknown in Mexico until 1521, so I guess they managed just fine without it for a good long time.

I wonder how they’re managing in Afghanistan. This isn't quite as irrelevant as it might sound.  The World Encyclopedia of Cheese only mentions Afghanistan in passing in a less than one page entry on the cheeses of India, and they may have missed a trick.  I’ve been rereading Peter Levi’s The Light Garden of the Angel King: Journeys in Afghanistan, first published in 1972, with a revised version in 1984 (and some editions add With Bruce Chatwin to the title).  On page 182 Levi eats “a delicious crumbled cream cheese,” on page 188 he has lunch of “cheese and brandy,” and by page 194 he’s hooked: “we bought a solid round goat cheese about a foot across and two inches thick … it was one of the best country cheeses I have ever eaten.”  Not prepared to leave it there, he has a footnote about the cheese, “it would hold its head up even in Paris.  Considering all that is being done for less interesting communities in Afghanistan, it seems a pity no one has thought of marketing Nuristan cheese.” Well, yes.

A personal aside: about a decade ago when I occasionally wrote for the London Independent an offer came through, would I like to go to Afghanistan as a guest of the Afghan raisin industry to see the progress being made in raisin production?  I didn’t immediately turn it down.  “What’s the worst that could happen?”  Loved ones described exactly the worst that could happen, and then I did turn it down, not least because I suspected raisin production wasn’t inherently fascinating in Afghanistan or anywhere else.  Had the offer come from the Afghan cheese industry it might have been a different story.  I haven’t been able to find a picture of Nuristan cheese but here’s one of Afghani Kishmish Panir (cheese with raisins).  I imagine it tastes quite a lot like queso panela with raisins.

Friday, February 24, 2012


So my copy of the new Lucky Peach magazine has arrived, and frankly it worries me a little.

Why does it have to look so simultaneously ugly and so over-designed?  Why does it have to be so self-consciously “punk”?

Above all why does it have to be so gosh darned dirty-mouthed and testosterone-fueled, as if it creators just want to make absolutely sure you know that they’re real men and not some gauzy, fruity gourmets?  Somehow it seems like they’re overcompensating.

But then, even as this stuff worries me, I suddenly encounter this passage in an article by Anthony Bourdain.

“You hear this all the time on shows like Top Chef.  A chef will claim to cook with ‘love’ (a proclamation that I, as a judge, often found worrying, summoning, as it did, possibilities that the contestant had rubbed his knob around in the sauce ...)”

Hell yes. Sometimes a dirty mouth and a shot of testosterone really gets the job done.  Not sure about those sandals though, Tony.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


So the Simpsons reached episode 500 on Sunday, which calls for more than a small celebration, and if the Simpsons no longer holds the central place in the culture it once did, well what the heck does?  We were having small bets here at Psycho-Acres about who the show’s guest stars would be – my money was on Lady Gaga – oh me of little faith.   It was so much better than that.  It was Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame.

It’s hard to imagine that Assange is much of a foodie, though the story goes that when he was in the middle of writing his autobiography for Canongate he talked about writing a whole series of books including a cookbook.  The mind reels.

Sunday’s LA Times ran an interview with Matt Groening, conducted in “a Oaxacan restaurant south of Hollywood not far from where he lived in the days before the series made him an international household name.”  Well, “south of Hollywood” is a pretty vague description and I certainly don’t know where Groening lived in his pre-household name phase, but I did know, and this interview repeated, that he used to eat at Astroburger on Melrose Avenue.

In the interview he says, "I had this vague idea of invading pop culture.  I remember hanging out, just down this street, in Astro Burger with, Gary Panter and Byron Werner and scheming how to do it. Gary had written an art manifesto about it and Byron said, no, that we were sell outs, as we split a burger three ways."  As you see, the question of whether Astro Burger is one word or two remains contested.

Anyway, if “this street” is to be taken literally then the restaurant has to be Antequera De Oaxaca, street parking, no alcohol, quiet noise level, according to  Perhaps they’ll erect a small plaque, “Matt Groening ate here on the occasion of Simpsons 500.” Or not.

I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody somewhere is writing a Ph D on the Simpsons and food (Ph Ds seem to have been written about the Simpsons and all kinds of things) what with the doughnuts, Krusty Burger, the Gilded Truffle, the Frank Grimes lobster dinner, Lard Lad, the episode where Marge was a food blogger, “oh no she’s making him a sandwich,” and hundreds of other incidents.

And of course there’s the episode when Homer became food critic for the Springfield shopper, and he and Lisa went to the Springfield revolving restaurant, Sit-N-Rotate.  In fact we’d seen the restaurant before in the episode when Seymour Skinner took Patty on a date there.  Ah, seems like a million years ago.

Since Springfield can and does contain just about everything it’s hardly surprising that it contains a revolving restaurant, and as regular readers of this blog may know, we Psycho-Gourmets have a special fondness for restaurants and bars that revolve.  Yes, yes, I know, all restaurants and bars revolve if you stay there drinking long enough.

And it seems that Matt Groening may be a fellow enthusiast.  Here he is again in that LA Times interview. "Once at Fox 20 years ago, they asked, 'What would you like to see? We'll do anything.' I said, 'Well, how about a 600-foot-tall statue of Homer Simpson in West L.A., and at midnight he tilts his head back and laughs uproariously all over Los Angeles?' And you could eat lunch in his head, which would turn 360 degrees. They said, 'Be more realistic.'”

A cartoon show that runs for 500 episodes – now that’s what you might call unrealistic.

Now I’m not absolutely certain that Matt Groening’s a foodie, but there’s some circumstantial evidence here.  Ferran Adria’s forthcoming book El Bulli: Food for Thought, Thought for Food has a cover image drawn by Matt Groening.  That’s got to be good for a few free appetizers, though not at El Bulli, alas.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Above is that Venn diagram of what the Jewish Angelinos eat, compared with what non-Jewish Angelinos think they eat.  Can it really be that they don’t eat pickles?  Anyway, you can find the complete article here:

John Venn was the eponymous inventor of the Venn diagram, used to demonstrate set theory.  He was a student and later a don at my old college – Caius. He was there about 120 years before I was, and there is now a stained glass window in his honor, though that didn’t arrived till a good decade after I’d left.  It’s in the dining hall, scene of some extremely grim dining experiences and one or two good ones, as mentioned elsewhere in this blog.

Anyway, pursuing my goyish interest in the food of the chosen, I happened to eat breakfast a couple days ago at Nate n’ Al’s Deli in Beverly Hills.   I think it isn’t a kosher deli, but it’s certainly Jewish.  As a matter of fact this was the place where the Loved One and I had breakfast the morning we got married.  I even remember what I ate that day: sturgeon, the only time I’ve ever had it.  I’m probably due to have some more.

Pity I didn’t think of it at the time.  On this occasion I saw there were kippers on the menu and ordered them instead.  My dad was especially fond of kippers: he had them on Fridays as a nod to my mother’s Catholic leanings.  Back then when I was a kid I couldn’t cope with kippers – too many bones.  Now I’m man enough to tackle them.  At home my dad always had his kippers poached, but these were fried and came with fried onions, and I suspect my dad wouldn’t have gone for that, but I thought these were pretty damn good.

I ordered them with poached eggs (actually the other way round – I ordered eggs and the kippers were the “side”), which fitted perfectly on the English muffins, and I had cottage cheese as well, which may have been a bit goyish, but it worked for me. 

You know, once upon a time, back in England, eating my smoky bacon crisps with my dad, I wouldn’t even have known what goyish meant.  And now Jack in The Box has introduced the bacon milkshake.  Leviticus must be rolling in his tomb.

This got me thinking about something Penn Jillette wrote when he used to have a column in Maxim magazine about candy.  He was reviewing Vosges Mo’s Bacon Bar, and he knew he should have really liked it but he didn’t, and he wrote, “here’s why: It doesn’t double the deliciousness to put bacon and chocolate together. It’s actually less good than having them separately. Bacon is so good by itself that to put it in any other food is an admission of failure. You’re basically saying, ‘I can’t make this other food taste good, so I’ll throw in bacon.’”

I think he makes a very good point.  When I was first starting to cook, whatever I made it had garlic, lemon and cream in it, and often bacon too – didn’t matter whether it was chicken, risotto, pasta sauce, it was all the same and I used to think it all tasted pretty decent – but I knew it wasn’t really cooking.  

Actually, lemon, cream and garlic probably doesn’t go so well with kippers, but I can’t help thinking some bacon would have been OK.  I could even have ordered some at Nate n Al’s.  They really just aren’t trying with this kosher business, for which I’m extremely grateful.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Slurping with Shirley and Charlie - indeed – try saying that quickly three times after you’ve had a couple of drinks.


Here’s a link to the latest of my Gourmet Live pieces. It's actually titled "Drinking In Shirley Temple and Charlie Sheen."

In the beginning it was titled “Eponymous Cuisine.”  I now realize I have been using the word eponymous incorrectly for several decades.

Jack Dempsey was indeed the eponymous owner of Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant, but Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant was never an eponymous restaurant.  Well worth knowing.  


Thursday, February 9, 2012


I ate last week at Fred 62 in Los Feliz.  Apparently the place was designed by two guys both named Fred, both born in 1962 – which seems as good an explanation as any.  I like it there, it’s a kind of superior diner (not all THAT superior), hipsterish but not offensively so, with automotive-styled interior, car head-rests on the back of the seats in the booths, Cadillac tail lights for lamps.  It’s the kind of place you go when you can’t think of anywhere else to go and you get exactly what you’re expecting, and you enjoy it.  What more you want from a diner, superior or otherwise?

I’d always known there was a sandwich on the menu called The Charles Bukowski, but I’d never ordered it. In fact I didn’t even bother to investigate what kind of sandwich it was.  I naively assumed it had to be ham on rye, because that’s the only food connection I could think of in relation to Bukowski.  So this time I ordered it.  It came looking like this:

Now, the first think to observe is that it’s not ham on rye: it’s grilled ham and melted cheddar cheese on sourdough.  And that was fine by me.  I actually think I like grilled ham and melted cheddar cheese on sourdough better than I like ham on rye – I think it’s got something to do with the melted cheddar cheese.

But I couldn’t help thinking that good ol’ Charles Bukowski would have been pretty snippy if he’d been presented with such an elegant, dainty little sandwich.  He was bitching about the gentrification of his part of LA back in the eighties, so gawd knows what he’d make of it these days.

Fortunately I am not Charles Bukowski, and I thought the sandwich was perfectly good, though I wouldn’t have complained if it had been bigger.  The thing in the little bowl is potato salad, which was actually more like cold mashed potato.

It seems that, like most serious drinkers, Bukowski didn’t care all that much about food.  He did apparently go to the Sizzler on Hollywood Boulevard, some sources say often, some say just once, but either way that doesn’t suggest a highly refined palate.  That Sizzler has now closed down.  And sometimes he went to Musso and Frank, though often just to drink.  I think that's where he is in the picture below - that looks like the Musso way of stacking bread - but I wouldn't swear to it.

We know from Ham on Rye that Bukowski, or at least his fictional alter ego Hank Chinaski, had a pretty rough childhood.  Quite early in the book he’s had a whupping from his dad, and he’s still feeling the pain when he gets called in to dinner.  He doesn’t want to eat:

“You’ll eat your FOOD!” said my father.  “Your mother prepared this food!”
“Yes,” said my mother, “carrots and peas and roast beef.”
“And the mashed potatoes and gravy,” said my father.
“I’m not hungry.”
“You will eat every carrot, and pee on your plate!”
He was trying to be funny.  That was one of his favorite remarks.

I don’t doubt that Bukowski had every right to hate his father, but somehow, in the middle of this argument, it does seem that dad is making the kind of joke a kid might be expected to enjoy, that might lighten the mood just a little.  Certainly some of my most bitter fights with my dad took place over dinner, and he certainly never made any attempt to lighten the mood.  Although, as in the book, I probably didn’t really want the mood to be lightened.  I wanted to suffer and feel victimized, though Bukowski would no doubt have thought my childhood was completely pampered.

I haven’t been able to find a picture of Bukowski actually eating: there are obviously plenty of him drinking, as you see here.  But there is the one above.  I don’t know the whole story of what’s going on here.  At first I thought that was a plate of food on the table, but in fact I now realize it's a huge ashtray.  There's a jar with with something that looks vaguely edible in it.  Olives?  Pickles?  In any case, Bukowski doesn’t seem very interested in it.  Understandably in the circumstances, he may have had other things on his mind.