Monday, September 24, 2018


Want to see what my dining experience was like on the Southwest Chief?  Well of course you do.  Best to start by saying it was nothing like this, much as I wanted it to be:

It was more like this, a breakfast bagel:

Or this microwaved cheeseburger, which was actually pretty decent:

Or cheese and crackers, that's two kinds of cracker, three kinds of cheese, Vermont Sharp White Cheddar, Mini Baby Bell and Tillamook Cheddar (which is hidden under the Vermont Sharp).  Mmmm:

Or how about the turkey and bacon club with creamy Swiss? This definitely tasted better than it looked, though admittedly that may not be saying much.

By the time you get to Chicago you’re ready for some real Chicago fare.  A Chicago Dog at Tiny Tap on the river:

The Dogzilla at Byron’s:

It was terrific, though it looked even better on the sign:

And this which was probably the most enjoyable thing I ate in the Windy City; whitefish and shrimp ceviche with potato cakes, at the Berghoff Bar:

And then back on the train, heading for Los Angeles, and more of the very similar:

Friday, September 21, 2018


If you find yourself in Chicago you might very well see this fine mural of Muddy Waters, one of the godfathers of Chicago Blues:

I can’t remember who first said that the Blues is an empty, transparent vessel into which you pour yourself.  The rudiments are simple, can be quickly learned, and the moment you start playing you reveal yourself completely. If you have the soul of a suburbanite that will show.  If you’re touched by the Muses, that will immediately show too. 

And so it is with the martini glass, a transparent, empty vessel into which the bartender pours his or her soul.

Yes I have been in Chicago. I was alone and in the evenings I was enjoying some “melancholy man sits alone at the bar with a martini” moments. This one was at the Congress Hotel.  

It was so-so. As hotel martinis often are.  There may be a few guys working in hotel bars who pour their souls into their work, but they’re rare.
This next one was at Miller’s Pub, on Wabash Avenue, made by an old and caring Latino guy, and considerably better.

And the one below was consumed at the Exchequer, also on Warbash and made by an East European female bartender.  

I suppose the non-standard martini glass could be considered subversive, and the cocktail stick in the shape of a sword could be knowingly kitsch, though I’m not sure.

But then, and hold onto your cocktail napkins, I went to Rudy’s Bar and Grille on Madison Street – (also “Home of the famous Martini Milkshake” which I didn’t investigate).

And I was asked by the woman behind the bar who’s name was Ally (it was on the bill) whether I wanted my martini shaken or stirred!!  Holy Wabash! That’s an absolute first, a hit right out of the park before we’ve even started. I was also asked what kind of gin I wanted – Hendricks, and if I wanted my olives stuffed with blue cheese (I did not).  It looked like this:

It was so good, complete with the oh-so-necessary and oh-so-rare gin meniscus (which I know you can't really see in my picture). It was just wonderful, everything a man or woman might ever want in a martini.  I don’t know Ally and she doesn’t know me, but if her soul is as fine as the martini she made, then she is one of the Chosen.  The drink cost $14.50, and yes in other circumstances I might have said ouch to that.

And you know a part of me realized that it was folly to go back to Rudy’s the next night, I knew there’d be disappointment, but I did go back.  And when I sat down at the bar a fellow patron told me it was martini special night, but I didn’t know what that meant.  I wasn’t served by Ally, it was another woman, and I wasn’t offered a choice of shaken or stirred, or of gin or even of olive.  And it came with no meniscus.  It looked like this:

In most other circumstances it would have been considered a very superior martini.  And since it was martini special night, it only cost $7. Can you put a price on your soul? Yep about $7.50.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


I'm going to Chicago for a spree.  I think it'll be good, but I think it won't look like this, alas:


Let’s imagine, for reasons too complicated to explain, that you happen to own a largish Hulk Hogan cake pan (maybe 15 inches across) that looks like this:

Actually I’ve always thought it looked like Will Ferrell. And let's imagine one day you think to yourself, “You know, I’ll bet I could use that thing as a jelly mould.”  Even as you think that, you’re pretty sure it’ll never work, you’ll end up with a big mess, but heck, it’s only jelly.

So you get the pan and you get some pineapple slices and you add some “grape” flavored jelly and you put it in the fridge, and you hope for the best and you’re still thinking it’ll never work.  But look at this.  Out it popped without too much trouble.  Hey, sometimes I surprise myself as well as other people.

 I didn't have a plate that was anywhere near big enough to hold the finished article.   Many people have said, cut off the head and the body will die, but since this body was never really alive it didn’t seem such a big deal.  And yes, that’s lime sorbet adding the final touch.

Sunday, September 9, 2018


I’ve been thinking about spuds again, and the local Vons had these red white and blue potatoes – all-American and patriotic, though I understand there may be other countries in the world that have red white and blue in their flags

I started by boiling them.  And you know, even before I started I knew those blue potatoes were going to be a problem. I’ve cooked them before in “potato medlies” and I know they always cook faster than the other types.  And if I’d had my wits about me I’d have tossed them into the boiling water later than the others.  But I didn’t.  Call me a fool.  And then I sautéed them in goose fat with rosemary. Other than the blues being a bit soggy, they were pretty darned good, if I say so myself.

And then I saw something concerning that TV series The Deuce, the one about sex and porn in New York in the 70s.  Having seen some pornographers at very close quarters, it seems to me that Maggie Gyllenhaal is not the most convincing pornographer (pornographeuse?).  James Franco on the other hand is quite sleazily credible.

One of the show's writers, Richard Price, has been spreading the word that Campbell’s potato soup was used on camera as a substitute for semen.  He says, somewhat ironically, “I guess it took the stress off multiple takes of the ‘money shot’ although there was a certain risk in regards to excessive starch. I wonder if it boosted sales of canned vichyssoise in Times Square.”
           It seems to me there’s plenty enough real semen in the world without having to use fake stuff.  There’s long been a semen cookbook, and I discover there’s now a semen cocktail book.  Ah me.  I wonder if they're using soup on this cover shot.

So obviously I went out and bought some Campbell’s cream of potato soup. And really it was so bland that it didn’t much taste of anything at all, which I suppose was the whole point as far as the makers of The Deuce  were concerned.

On the other hand it did have all those little chunks of potato in it (one still had a bit of skin on).  I suppose it was somebody’s job on the set to pick out those chunks.  Oh, the glamor of the movies.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018


      And speaking of the importance of presentation when it comes to jelly, and the difficulties of finding the right kind of mould; a couple of winsome interns sauntered into the Psychogourmet Test Kitchen the other day, brandishing this can of Grass Jelly, an Asian, in this case Taiwanese, dessert.

It’s officially made from Platostama plustre, aka Chinese mesona, a member of the mint family though it tasted nothing like mint.  It was put in the fridge for 24 hours – nobody told me to do that, it just seemed like a good idea – and when it was opened it looked like this, which frankly wasn’t so very decorative:

Anyway what else was there to do except cut it into chunks, put in on a plate, pour a little cream over it, and hope for the best?

       It seems idle to say it tasted like grass because I have never eaten grass, but it certainly tasted very herbal; not much immediate flavor but an aftertaste that lingered for hours.

But you know, getting jelly out of a can seemed just a little unadventurous so I decided to make one of my own:  orange Jell-O poured over a can of crushed pineapple.

But you know, that didn’t look very adventurous either so I decided to add some food coloring. 

I poked about in it with a fork, and I had in mind that there might be some marbling, something like this:

But there wasn’t. 

And when it was chilled and set, it ended up looking sort of like a burned rice pudding though obviously it tasted nothing like that.

In fact it didn’t really taste much of either orange or pineapple, though it was good enough, and with a spoonful of lemon sorbet it definitely tasted better than the grass jelly though I’m totally well aware that these things are culturally specific.

Sunday, September 2, 2018


So we went to Cole’s (118 6th Street, downtown Los Angeles) which proclaims itself to be “Originator of the French Dip Sandwich.”  This is the beef, which seems to me the only true French Dip, but other options are certainly possible.

Philippe The Original, less than a mile and a half away, also makes claims to be the begetter of the French Dip.  I have no dog in that origins fight, but on the day it seemed to me that the Philippe version is slightly superior sandwich, although the vibe and the décor at Cole’s is much better.

Not least of the good things at Cole’s is this plaque in the gents:

Although now that I think about it, I’m sure that Charles Bukowski was the kind of guy who pissed everywhere.