January 22, 2005

damn the food is good in LA

So we went to LA to meet up with friends and go hike in the Mojave... but as you may have read, the west coast was having a two-week monsoon while we were there. Torrents of water coursing down every street -- i got a shoeful of water when I was fool enough to step around my car to fetch out the luggage. The shoes didn't dry out for 5 days because it was so damp everywhere. The pool in tallasiandude's parents' backyard was overflowing and full of silty water. Roads were closed in the mountain passes, hell, even in the LA canyons; we drove up Laurel Canyon right before they closed it and there were trees that had just pulled right out of the muddy hillside and fallen into the street, and piles of mudslide everywhere. So, um, we didn't hike.

Instead, we ate. Lord, did we eat. Most of the time we didn't even have enough time between scheduled meal events to even be hungry again. Let two food whores loose on a city like Los Angeles and it's gonna get ugly.

First hedge & I tried to find a congee palace, which seemed to have gone out of business since the review was written. Then we tried to find a dumpling place recommended by Jonathan Gold: closed just as we arrived. Then, just as we were about to gnaw off limbs from driving around the San Gabriel Valley for two hours, we found Chang's Garden, another well-reviewed Shanghainese place. And then we ordered food for seven. We had some sticky rice in lotus leaves, mustard greens with edamame & tofu sheets (I love this dish), dry fried long beans & pork wrapped in fried bread, and the best pork dish I've had in years: Tung Po pork, which is luscious savory unctuous fatty meaty squares of pork braised in a rich thick dark soy & star anise broth. Lord have mercy, it's fat-licious. The waitress who took our order tried to talk us out of it, telling us it had a lot of fat and shaking her head with concern; we told her we live to eat fat, yes please, bring us the fatty pork dish. And then the waitress who brought it gave us a big smile and told us it was her favorite dish in the restaurant. We have to agree with her. We ate at Chang's Garden a second time due to further restaurant-timing snafus, and had chicken braised with chestnuts, a seafood soup in a lovely light broth, yu hsiang eggplant, and xiao lung bao soup dumplings -- all terrific, but none as spectacularly delicious as the Tung Po pork.

On the way out of the Hawaii supermarket we found a woman with a strange round cast iron cooker with small round holes, and a sign describing the sweet fillings available: cream, coconut, green bean paste, red bean paste, taro. She filled the holes with batter, then after a while, topped some with filling, then to serve them she fished an empty cooked cake out and put it over the filling on the first cake, making a sandwich. We had cream and taro flavor fried cakes, little hot crunchy rounds with steaming hot soft crumb and sticky sweet filling -- yum.

We ate at Sasabune. Our one deviance from unwavering loyalty to the "Trust Me" sushi master was unsatisfying, and we will never again be so foolish. This time the best things were the simplest: a piece of fucking unreal yellowtail and a piece of lightly cooked butterfish (same as black cod?). Every time it's similar, and every time it's different, and the anticipation of every new mouthgasm is almost as much fun as the actual 'gasm itself.

We ate at Mei Lung (also in San Gabriel) and had wuxi spareribs, more tofu & greens, noodles with spicy bean/meat sauce, and more xiao lung bao almost as good as the ones at Chang's. You got to love a place where soup dumplings are thicker on the ground than grass. We ate at Dai Ho, reknowned for its spicy beef noodle soup, which was not the droid tallasiandude was looking for, but hit the spot nevertheless for rain-sodden travelers. Dai Ho is manned by a soup nazi proprietor who tells you what you can and cannot eat, so i guess we were lucky to get our bowls. We supplemented with soy-marinated whole squids, salty preserved mustard greens with shredded beef (my favorite side), cabbage pickles, and some very nice seaweed.

We ate at Grace, a fancy-pants place, for hedge's birthday, and I gotta tell you it's a treat to eat highfalutin' food with not just one but many people who are willing to let you snack off their plate. Best of show was tallasiandude's starter, which was braised pork belly with dense little pastas, and his entree of seared scallops with an accompaniment of red wine reduction, farro and greens, which worked really well despite being non-traditionally heavy accents for scallops. There was a crisp light crab salad with mixed citrus vinaigrette & radish sprouts, and a duck prosciutto frisee salad, and a fantastically flavorful filet of wild boar with spaetzle & cabbage. And a cocktail that was basically a vodka mojito made with thyme & mint, something I am so going to try once spring returns to Boston -- that little note of savory from the thyme makes it all much more interesting.

We had tea and pastries at Jin, cowering on the tiny porch rather than reclining on the outdoor round couches beneath the palms, because of course, monsoon. The best were the macarons, which really do seem to be the dessert of the moment -- there were huge pyramids of them in the window at Boule, the new bakery outpost of trendy Sona, neither of which we were able to patronize this trip. Passionfruit & rosepetal macarons, little cakes that were tasty enough but gorgeous to the eye, and handmade chocolate micro-truffles filled with fleur-de-sel caramel or scented tea. All of it fine, none of it worth the price, but perhaps I would reconsider my position had I been on one of those couches bathed in a Santa Monica breeze.

And after my Las Vegas dinner at In-N-Out, we got up early to catch the flight home and stopped for breakfast at the 24-hour Korean restaurant, Ginseng. No one in the place at 7am except for two hot chicks who clearly just got off work in one of the bars or clubs. Spicy beef and scallion soup for me, plain beef broth soup for tallasiandude, and the requisite pan chan that make life worthwhile. A day that starts with pickles and spicy soup and rice is a good day indeed.

Posted by foodnerd at January 22, 2005 07:19 PM
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