I’m not sure what the sequence was. Let’s say it was this: we were going to Bellingham, Washington for Christmas (as we usually do) and just before we left, Tom Sietsema, of The Washington Post, ranked the best food cities in America and put Portland in at number one. Since Portland’s in between Bellingham and Los Angeles, it seemed like a good idea to maybe stop over there for a few nights before coming back. I pitched it Craig. He said “sure.” And then the great work began, the work of figuring out where oh where were we going to eat.
Loyal Amateur Gourmet readers, it’s time to come clean: I’ve been a bad blogger lately. It’s been a busy time for me here in L.A. but the hard part is that I really can’t get into why it’s so busy, just trust me that I haven’t really had time to devote to the blog. Can you forgive me? What if I share a bunch of really good things that I’ve cooked/eaten recently, will that make things better? OK, let’s try that. In random order….
That sandwich you see towering above you is called the Stella Hero from Stella Barra Pizza, where Craig and I went for lunch before seeing Gone Girl this past Sunday. The question isn’t “what’s in that thing?”, the question is: “What isn’t in that thing?” It’s got smoked ham, turkey, capicola (cured pork shoulder), tomato, Caciocavallo cheese, Giardiniera (a spicy pickled condiment), and lettuce. It’s a sandwich for the ages, served on warm crusty bread that’s a perfect foil for all the soft meats and cheese inside. There really isn’t a bad thing to say about it, except this: it took 30 minutes to get to our table.
Even though I’ve lived on the east side of Los Angeles for almost a year and I spend a good amount of time in both Eagle Rock and Pasadena, Highland Park–an up-and-coming neighborhood and home to my favorite podcaster, Marc Maron–has eluded me. That is until two weeks ago when I met my food writing friend Tien Nguyen (she co-wrote the Roy Choi cookbook L.A. Son and has appeared on my podcast) for lunch at The Good Girl Dinette, a place owned and helmed by Chef Diep Tran.
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.
The dish that you see above (Tiger Prawn Salami from Movida in Sydney, Australia) is not one of the Top Ten Dishes That I Ate in 2013. I put it there, though, to illustrate how well I ate this year and how difficult it was to narrow everything down to the ten best dishes. My year brought me to Birmingham, Alabama (the 7-layer pecan coconut cake from Bottega would be #11 on my list), Perth and Sydney Australia, New York, Washington, and all over the city I now call home, Los Angeles. In fact, you’ll notice that 6 of the 10 items on this list are to be found in L.A. and that’s not just because I live here. It’s because of all the cities that I visited this year, L.A. remains the most dynamic and exciting food-wise. Check out my list and see if you agree.
One time in grad school for dramatic writing, a teacher tore into me and called the play I was working on “sophomoric” and “juvenile.” Classmates called me afterwards to console me, and though I’m pretty much over it, sometimes I look back at that moment and wonder if she was right. In all of my efforts to be taken seriously, perhaps I was at my best when I made the Janet Jackson Breast Cupcake? Or Condoleeza Rice Pudding with Berries of Mass Destruction?
Take, for example, the dinner I had last week with friends in Brooklyn. I couldn’t get over the fact that two of the friends I was eating with were named Cara and Dara and we were eating at a restaurant called La Vara. Cara and Dara at La Vara. I told everyone I knew; I Tweeted about it. I told the waitress and the chef. At a certain point, you’d think I would’ve gotten over it, but no sirree. I find the title of this post endlessly amusing. In fact, I could just end it here but then you wouldn’t get to see the absolutely amazing food that we ate.
The first sign was the asparagus. It’s December here in New York and on the breakfast menu at Untitled at the Whitney, a Danny Meyer restaurant which we frequent whenever we’re in the city, there’s an asparagus omelette. “Asparagus in December?” I asked and then Tweeted something about it, prompting a sarcastic response from the very funny Twitter personage BoobsRadley: “Outraged!” Ok, ok, maybe it’s not something to be outraged about, but it is a sign that something’s a little off, especially when a restaurant’s proprietor is at the helm of such season-oriented restaurants as Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe.