Every so often, I make the random jaunt to L.A. I usually make a respectable effort to put my feelers out into the local food culture there, which is not too hard to do. In a certain sense, L.A. is a true foodie mecca. Its a honey pot of agricultural abundance, ethnic food gut busting hole in the walls, Middle-eastern/Mediterranean food markets, raw food and all things fringe gourmets and the place where organic became “sceney”. I can’t begin to describe how explosively abundant this place is for all of our gastronomic fantasies. But L.A. also represents a huge paradox as a sunshine metropolis of tormenting traffic, insanely sterile cookie-cutter strip mall urban design, material girls, hair gel, obsession with all things vain and plastic, nonsensical local government and poor fiscal policies and its unyielding familiarity to some of the worst pollution in the country. You hope for a windy day here to blow the smog aside just long enough to get a view of the rolling canyons. I have a love hate relationship with L.A. and Orange County, my (sorta) homezone.
Prior to arrival, I do some research. I come up with a list of establishments I have hopes of visiting and believe my family would be so impressed with, but to my surprise, I am usually met with “What?! That’s on the East Side! You know how much traffic that means?” In Seattle, people will drive 2 hours North to Skagit Valley, on a Saturday a.m. with 1.3 hrs of sleep, to get fresh raspberry french toast from a place called “Calico Cupboard”. We don’t mess around. So it was quite foreign to me, the concept of limiting yourself a scrumptious meal based on something as temporary as “traffic.” But I did realize just how deep this trama runs during one of my foodie visits, which was at Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery. I talked to a young surfer-looking Ray-Ban sporting gentleman for a good while as he mostly recanted all his traffic and parking horror stories which eventually prompted him to move to NYC and never look back. Sheesh, this guys messed up. I just wanted to chat to someone while eating my sandwich, but now I get it, okay? Traffic steals your soul in L.A.
Anyway, I found and read up on Bay Cities and apparently this was the legit spot for sandwiches of the grinder genre. Upon walking in, I was immediately comforted by its familiar chaos. The kind that I’ve experienced mostly in delis in Rome and Naples. Its the kind of place where you take a number, keep your hands to yourself and listen carefully for your #, for if you don’t slam it on the counter within 3 seconds, they are already onto 6 numbers ahead of you. And be careful about taking pictures, they might ask you kindly: “Hey! You! No paparazzi, aiiiight?!”
Instead of all you see here, I went with the critically acclaimed: Godmother. With the WORKS. Oh man, talk about a heart attack on gluten. The crohns people shouldn’t even be looking.
Think every cured meat that exists then smother it nicely with olive oil, dijon, provolone, pepperoncini in between the chewiest buttery sourdoughy Italian roll, a heart attack and you’ve now been blessed by the Godmother.
A particularly noteworthy joint I attended was Asian fusion extraordinaire Lukshon in Culver City. Delish delights involved soft, moist marinated and cilantro dressed duck rolls, lemongrass & coconut cream tender short ribs, chinese eggplant fries w/ fennel raita, heirloom black rice w/ lamb bacon and fried egg and little precious custard and brittle desserts on the house! Our server was amazingly sweet and enthusiastic. Another observation about an eater L.A. trend is wine on tap, this place had several dazzling Cali whites on tap (wine in kegs, not bottles) including complex Asian-flavor food-friendly Rieslings. Yum!
On the weekend I heavily enjoyed Bossa Nova, a top notch Brazilian go-to for many L.A.lalers, someone told me to not mess around with anything but the ribeye steak and plantains. But that sounded kind of too safe and kinda boring. I’m an adventurous eater, so I went with a Coxinha (a typical Brazilian ”street-food” pyramid shaped delicacy of shredded chicken and cheese and then breaded and fried) and the Linguiça Frita (sausages!) with Yucca flour, fresh salsa and extra plantains.
Then for last supper, I visited Father’s Office. Which, has a sort of following and is obviously pretentious by its purposefully inappropriate name and office max marketing theme. Oh brother, give me a break. I don’t quite get its niche…yelp reviewers praised them mostly for their carmelized onion bacon burger w/ blue & gruyere, but as I learned during my visit that this burger (by the way trademarked, eye-roll please!) was the ONLY burger on the menu’ and like 3 other menu items including random things like ribs and bacon fried brussel sprouts. So bizarre. And if you go to the website, its increasingly more cryptic. They have no menu’ online, you think the tab for office supplies is a cute name for menu’. Oh no, its actually a link to get Father’s Office (FO) logo crap like shirts and a skateboard (?!).
Don’t ask for ketchup.
Exhibit A: “May I have some ketchup for my fries?”…”We don’t do ketchup, ma’am.” I was pretty baffled by the attitude, fluff and snobbery in this “office”. Besides the incredulous no-ketchup policy, they don’t permit substitutions or modifications since they assume their shit don’t stink (maybe I want sweet potato fries instead of boring ol’ showstring ones ). What the hell? What if I didn’t want some greasy egg oil glob of garlic aioli for these FRIES and BACON burger…sheesh!!! But I have to say, after all the grating irritation I was totally placated by the (trademarked??!) juicy flavor stricken burger and the malty, spicy seasonal Cali beers on Tap
A couple other places I visited were Salute Wine Bar and Versailles Cuban Cuisine. Oh man, Versailles was phenomenal. The kind of random vinyl table cloth restaurant on a strip of car dealership highway-kind worthy of every woo and yay known to Cuban pork and mojito heaven. Salute on the other hand was a total crap house. Un[wine]friendly Seaweed Beignets that tasted like salt balls wrapped in nori and cream puffs, pizza with like 3 pieces of porcini on stale dry dough, and pathetic sub-par wines on that you had to self-serve using a dispensing card to keep track of your overpriced 2 oz pours. And then this off-balance, scratchy dessert of pickled fennel, orange, (dry, chewy tasteless mush) sponge cake and dots of creme fraiche that really lasted like fish. It was terrible.
One of the absolute worse and reckless establishments I’d ever seen, and I’ve never met a wine bar that I didn’t like. But this, man no. Salute really should fire its chef or give him some serious culinary intensive therapy.
Otherwise, I encourage you the very same delicious stay in Los Angeles, just avoid Salute on Main St.