When you look at these pictures, you’re not going to believe me when I tell you I’ve been on a bit of a health and fitness kick lately. That’s right: five days a week at the gym, salads, chicken breasts, the works. My strategy, though, is to reward myself on weekends and birthdays and at dinner parties–haha, I know you’re rolling your eyes–which is how I can justify what you’re about to see. Because last week I turned 35 and Craig surprised me with dinner at a restaurant I’ve been dying to try ever since I first heard about it: Bestia in downtown L.A.
My shame was very great indeed. Din Tai Fung, the world famous emporium of soup dumplings, had opened up at the Americana Mall literally ten minutes from where we live in Atwater Village. I’d seen the sign go up when I was Christmas shopping, and–a few weeks later–I saw life through the windows. But any time I’d plead, “Soup dumplings? Din Tai Fung?” to Craig, there’d be some reason we couldn’t go. I was getting restless. I had to try it. So, right before Sundance, when Craig was still picking out his premiere outfit, I agreed to help him find a pair of shoes at the Americana if he’d agree to eat lunch with me at Din Tai Fung. A deal was struck. Soup dumplings would be mine.
[photo taken at Gjelina]
On my web browser I have a folder called “LaFOOD” and any time I see an article or a blog post about a restaurant I want to try, I save it to that folder. As you can imagine, after two years here, that folder’s grown quite unwieldy. I was just about to organize it for myself when I thought: “Why don’t I turn it into a blog post?” So what follows is a list of L.A. restaurants that I haven’t been to yet with links to the stories that inspired me to bookmark them*, organized by cuisine. Of course this list will grow and morph over time as I check off places and add new ones to my folder; but for now I think I have my work cut out for me. (* Note: some of the links are just links to the restaurants because I must’ve bookmarked them after hearing about them out in the world. Also, sometimes multiple restaurants link to the same article because that’s where I heard about them all.)
This is the place. I’ve been in L.A. for two years, stalking my way around the San Gabriel valley, slurping noodles at Tasty Noodle House and tearing into salted egg yolk pastries at Sea Harbour. Secretly, I was looking for a place that would put our favorite New York Chinese restaurant, Grand Sichuan, to shame. The only thing that was in the same ballpark was Chung King where I went with Zach Brooks last year. It was ok, but it didn’t blow me out of the water. I’d pretty much let go of the idea of supplanting Grand Sichuan since most of my San Gabriel experiences were Cantonese. Then, last week, I met up with Ganda and Zach for lunch at a place that Kat Odell recommended during my podcast: Chengdu Taste. And the rest, as they say, is history.
There are many cheesy, self-helpy things to say about going outside of your comfort zone and eating unfamiliar foods from unfamiliar cuisines as often as possible. Lately, though, I’ve come to realize that adventuring on the scale of Jonathan Gold and Robert Sietsema or, for that matter, Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern has to be in your blood; as much as you might push yourself, if you’re not drawn to experience new and exotic taste sensations, there’s not much that’s going to change that. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I like to break out of my routine, for those cheesy, self-helpy reasons, but would I prefer to eat a good roast chicken instead of drinking cobra blood in Indonesia? Why yes, yes I would.
Imagine being 27 years old and on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard when you find out that your relatively new restaurant in downtown L.A. has just been named by Bon Appetit the “Best New Restaurant in America 2013.” That’s precisely what happened to Chef Ari Taymor in August and his restaurant Alma is now on the lips of every food-obsessed person in the city (maybe even the country).
Being the wily person that I am, I immediately reacted to the news of Alma’s award with a jaunt over to OpenTable where I booked the earliest reservation I could: dinner for 4 on Saturday, September 7th at 9:15 PM.
Look, it’s Friday, and I need to get something off my chest. Two weeks ago? I ate the first pupusa of my life at the Atwater Village Farmer’s Market and didn’t tell you about it. I’m sorry! Things just got busy and I had to tell you about that toasted almond gelato and how to squeeze a lemon without getting the seeds everywhere. But look, here we are now, and it’s time to make amends. Let me tell you about my pupusa (isn’t that a Missy Elliott lyric?).
Last year, an article came out that I immediately bookmarked. It was on AsiaSociety.com and it was written by a man named David Chan who ate at over 6,000 Chinese restaurants in America to determine the best. His list of the 10 Best was notable because all of the restaurants were in California, mostly Los Angeles. As he explained, “More wealthy/professional Chinese settle in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, and they demand, and can afford, a higher quality of Chinese food.” #2 on his list was a place called Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant and last week, I made plans to lunch there with my fellow food bloggers (and former Clean Plate Club guests) Ganda Suthivarakom and Zach Brooks.