Recently I became friends with an Amateur Gourmet reader named Peggy who works in T.V. out here in L.A. and who comes from a Taiwanese family. Over the course of our first lunch at Pizzeria Mozza, she casually mentioned that her family frequents the San Gabriel Valley (home of some of America’s best and most authentic Chinese restaurants) and that she’d be happy to show me around there the next time we met up. “We can even go to a Chinese supermarket!” she added and that was like the moment when you pull the handle of a slot machine and all the bells and alarms go off and coins start pouring out. As you all know, I love visiting unfamiliar supermarkets.
It’s one thing to ask a friend for a recipe, it’s another thing to pilfer their signature dish. For the past few years, my friend Diana has dazzled dinner guests with her take on Suzanne Goin’s Slow-Roasted Salmon with Cucumber Yogurt; a recipe that you won’t find in any of Goin’s cookbooks but, rather weirdly, on the Hollywood Bowl website. It’s such a winning dinner party dish because you get to serve fish to any number of people without having to stress; the slow-cooking in the oven guarantees a moist interior and also ensures that all of the fillets will be done at the same time. Top it with a yogurt sauce amped up with toasted cumin seeds and preserved lemons (more on those in a moment) and you’ve got a dish so good, it’s worth stealing from a friend (sorry Diana).
Sometimes there’s a salad that you like, but don’t love, and then you change a few things about it and suddenly it’s your new favorite salad. That’s what happened with this salad, a familiar combination of apples and fennel and walnuts and golden raisins and arugula. It’s one you can probably find in my archives and that recipe in my archives is good but not great. This one is great. What’s the difference?
We’ll Always Have Paris: With Meals at Restaurant Miroir, Jacques Genin, Le 6 Paul Bert, Little Breizh, and Chez L’Ami Jean
I had a reason for not wanting to go to Paris, this trip, and it was both very stupid and very sweet. Namely, I love Paris so much, I didn’t want to go there again without Craig. Lest you forget, we’d gone together to the Edinburgh Film Festival, he left that Sunday for the Nantucket Film Festival, and I ducked down to London where I ate myself silly and saw lots of theater. I could’ve stayed there for the rest of the week, reconnecting with him in Munich (where I am now) for the Munich Film Festival, only our friends Mark and Diana were in Paris that same week and kept imploring me to come join them. “You’ve already been to Paris without Craig,” said Mark. “What’s the difference?” It was a powerful point. And so, before I knew it, I’d bought a one-way ticket for the Chunnel and figured I’d continue my way from Paris to Germany with a stop in Strasbourg, right on the border of France. When you see what I ate along the way, you’ll agree that this decision should’ve been a no-brainer right from the start.
Taking someone out to lunch on their birthday is always a treat because, when you really think about it, you’re taking yourself out to lunch too. So, a few weeks ago, on my friend Diana’s birthday, I told her to meet me at Coffee Commissary on Fairfax at 12 PM on the dot. From there, I drove us the rest of the way to Beverly Hills where I surprised her with lunch at Bouchon. Considering where we took her for her 30th birthday, this was a fitting choice; it’s not Diana’s birthday if Thomas Keller isn’t involved.
A few weeks ago, for the Golden Globes, I did something I’d never done before: I served health food to a crowd. Now when I say “health food,” I don’t mean the punishing kind that makes you weep with displeasure (tofu on a bed of undressed arugula or something like that); I mean the kind of food that actually makes you feel good, light, refreshed, well-fed but not sick. In other words, the total opposite of the kind of food I normally serve to a crowd (see: chili, lasagna, Sunday gravy, etc). How did this all come about? It started at the farmer’s market.
When I first laid eyes on Craig, it was in the spring of 2006 at Joe on Waverly and he was with a guy slightly shorter than him working on a screenplay. I didn’t know they were working on a screenplay; mostly, I wondered if they were a couple or just friends. When Craig went to get water, we made eye contact. A few weeks later, totally randomly, he looked at my Friendster profile (remember Friendster?) and I sent him an e-mail. We went on a date. And another date. And now we’ve been together for almost eight years. And that screenplay he was working on with his friend (who turned out to be Mark Heyman who’d later go on to write Black Swan and to marry my good friend Diana)? It became a movie–The Skeleton Twins–that just premiered to wild acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Now we all know the concept of the student beating the master and I don’t want to imply that my friend Diana was ever my student or that I was ever her master (though I was her roommate, which is kind of the same thing with me); what I’d like to imply, however, is that Diana–who was a timid cook when I lived with her–is now giving me a run for my money. I remember her not wanting to make a salad in front of me, back then, because she thought I’d be judgmental. Since then, and since moving in with her husband, she’s had a chance to hone her chops and by all accounts her chops are very good. Case in point: check out her potatoes.