Showing posts with label Los Angeles Restaurants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Los Angeles Restaurants. Show all posts

Nawab of India: Curry With My Grandfather

My grandfather grew okra for me. He tended the bushes carefully, harvesting and freezing it so he'd have some when I came to Texas to visit. I'd walk out to the back porch, move the cases of Coke bottles off the deep freeze onto the painted cement floor. Lifting open the freezer, I'd marvel at the bags of frozen okra closed with a twist tie. I'd realize I didn't go home enough.

I live in Santa Monica now and still miss my grandfather; but I can always eat okra at my favorite Indian restaurant, Nawab of India.

Gracias Madre: Thank You for Good Vegan Food


I love hearing anyone's personal stories about their connection to food. Although I'm not a vegan, I played with some on TV. I traveled around the world interviewing over 100 of those nuts for a project. After listening to them, I was never in the mood for meat. The rest of the crew and I always ate vegan.

My main beef with most vegan restaurants is the lack of flavor. However; Gracias Madre in West Hollywood is exceptional. Their sunny patio is a free source of Vitamin D. The whole restaurant is a gorgeous carrot dangling in front of you.

Michael's on Naples & Chianina: How to Throw A Block Party

Two loving grandmothers often vie for our attention. A promoter can make a cruel million by tossing Bubbes in a boxing ring to battle it out. In this corner, sponsored by Jean Nate, weighing in at 101 pounds.... 

I'm using Chef David Coleman to allegorically stir the pot of that duel. He nurtures two families, or eateries, steps away from each other in Long Beach, California.  First, there' s Italian Michael's on Naples. This is your exotic grandmother -- the one that smoked and took a lover that summer in Paris. A block away lives steakhouse Chianina, your pioneer granny that drove a wagon out West and struck oil. Maybe killed a lover along the way. 

Chef Coleman whisks between both joints with the agility of a new-hipped octogenarian. 

Tripel: A Gregarious Gastropub

I wonder how I'll do tonight. I win a great parking spot near the beach and walk to the nearby bar. A star shoots over the Pacific Ocean. I have a good feeling. I'm here to get lucky. 

Entering Tripel, the quiet of the Playa del Rey night is switched off like a light. My eyes adjust to the dark and I scan the room. I stride to the bar and squint to read the blackboard, hoping to look cool and not like I need glasses. I want to recognize a beer like a familiar face, but these are fun beers with long, clever names, crafted by thinkers. I worry I've stepped into an inside club.

Then buzzing patrons provide an electrifying amuse bouche. I smell garlic and sense comfort. 

Acabar: Behold The Beauty With A Brain

I pull open the glitzy golden doors of the restaurant and her beauty takes my breath away.  But I want brains behind the blonde. The exotic seductress pulls me in close. Her luscious lips brush against my ear, making me tingle as she whispers, The way you do anything is the way you do everything.

Her name . . .  Acabar.

After spending some time together she proved that she can carry on a conversation as brilliantly as her gleaming shell.

I hope she has stamina, because I can dine all night.

Nobu Malibu: Life's A Beach

Menu wiht chopsticks sticking out
I look good wet.

Just before reaching shore I dove underwater, then arched my back and exhaled up out of the chilly Pacific, getting my land legs back as I walked a bit unsteadily out of the surf. I wiped the sea water off my face before it could sting my eyes, pushed my open palms across my forehead, and used my fingers to comb my hair back.

My tanned body carried some of the glisten from the sea. I glanced over my shoulder at my beautiful boat, happy to have it but hungry for the food of the sushi gods, Nobu.

Large blue ship at sea

Approaching Nobu Malibu was like walking up to a venerable fortress. By the time I swung the wide wooden door open on its pivot, I'd slipped off my backpack and into a tight t-shirt and loose pants.

Hotel Bel Air: Wolfgang Puck -- Fairytales Come True

Brunch becomes a legendary meal with Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel Air, tucked away in a fairytale hideaway replete with live swans floating by like an unattainable woman, or a fluffy dessert.


Quiet, tree-lined Stone Canyon Road sweeps you up and away from trafficky Los Angeles into Puck's perennial midsummer day's forested land. Valet parkers disarmingly dressed as cricket players whisked my car off to a seemingly better place. I sniffed as I strolled through the gardens to the restaurant. Is the air better up here? It seemed sweet, fresh and inviting.

The hotel gives Puck's food a fantastic opening act. He carries the rest of your movie star dining experience like the blockbuster he is.

Jazzy Joe LoPiccolo plays you softly into the main dining area with his appetizingly unobtrusive live guitar music. Tables are nestled next to thick vines of luscious candy-colored bougainvillea. The main seating area is under a sun-diffusing canopy, resulting in flattering, soft light as if placing the diners in a well-lit movie. This is a room and an event worthy of a special occasion like Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, or today.


Propose here, grow old together here -- just pull your director's chair up and tuck in. The fun bartenders will shake you awake with a Bloody Carrot cocktail, or a tequila-spiked Bloody Maria. As I sat a moment while my table was being readied, they stirred everything with a smile and squeezed in a wink.


I love that for me at least, their dirty martini had a dirty joke sidecar.

I need brunch to be a meal that supports a total lazy Sunday habit and not make me think. I'm willing to eat at my desk and work through lunch and then roll my sleeves up at a shabu shabu dinner, but the languid, mid-day brunch is sacred.

This is the weirdly-timed meal that straddles breakfast and lunch. If you're an early riser and you've already wolfed down eggs by the time this meal rolls around, they offer sweet blintzes here, and pancakes.

If you pastried it up since sunrise, Puck's fairies have savory flavors such as a Black Angus burger slathered with Shallot-Jalapeno Marmalade so fantastic that it must be made my some kindly old grandmother they have chained to the canning vat in the kitchen.

You can also have oatmeal and fruit if your pacemaker rats you out for just looking at the Chilled prawn cocktail with spicy tomato horseradish and herb aioli or the Huevos rancheros con black beans, ranchero Salsa, avocado and cotija cheese.

The menu is simply presented on two facing pages -- choose one course from the left and one from the right. An icy glass of champagne or a crisp Bellini, included in the brunch's $68 price, is slipped into your hand to make sure you sit back and chillax.

I got a foreshadowing of dessert in the sweet and savory breadbasket baked by whimsically talented Pastry Chef Cassie Ballard.


I was brunching with my 5-year-old niece, and as soon as she spotted the unicorn-horn baguette Chef Ballard stuffed in the basket, she gave the baked goods a tiny but mighty thumbs up.

I started with Tortilla soup with crema fresca, grilled chicken, avocado and Guajillo chilies. I lived in Dallas where Chef Dean Fearing fearlessly introduced con mucho gusto Southwest flavors, so I am protective of what he accomplished. I'm ready to kick the ass of an offending interloping chef who misinterprets this lovely Mexican soup.


But one look followed by one spoonful and I was ready to kiss the ass of Hotel Bel Air's Chef Sonny Sweetman. That sweet man got it right. He must have stirred in the cumin while slow dancing to Bolero. The grilled chicken was so tender that it was hard to tell it from a chunk of avocado.

The texture of this soup is so important -- the tortillas have to be ground so fine that you have no idea they are even in it. They must have churned through a powerful blender stolen off a jet made by Rolls Royce. I grabbed the edge of a crisp tortilla strip and dragged it through the broth of roasted chilies to pick up all of the other components.

I was glad to not go into the kitchen and have a come-to-Jesus meeting over Southwestern cuisine on a Sunday, mostly because I was too comfortable in the cozy private both overlooking the lush, fern forest of a garden. The swans would miss their view of me.


Just as this classic restaurant has been updated in beautiful good taste, the Maryland Blue Crab cakes bumped up against mounds of basil pesto aioli and tomato relish are a call back to the classic days when crab cakes still starred Crab.


These were no has-been crab cakes, you know the type -- stuffed like an aging star's face with filler and sawdust. The crab meat was as loose and lovingly chunky as a slutty overweight actress. I could have given each forkful a name had I eaten slower. The thick slashes of basil pesto aioli held my bites together as I bid them adieu and into my mouth. The hard time Chef Sweetman served in Maryland restaurants paid off.

Our table was being handled with precision by Jennifer. She knew every detail about every dish; she let us know what was coming with each course, preventing us from making the dreaded menu item double-dip. Her lips turned up into a smile easily, and often. Her accommodating, professional attitude was as refreshing as a bite of warm strudel after being lost in the Black Forest.

My niece shrieked as she innocently pulled a chocolate muffin out of the basket that had been savagely bitten in half by an ogre and then casually tossed back in the basket. But all was well -- it was just an ogre in her father's clothing.

The Egg white frittata filled with asparagus & sun dried tomatoes, goat cheese and caramelized shallots is whipped into a middle-of-the-road compromise of a dish.


The eggs were soft and light, obviously fluffed by the wings of hummingbirds fluttering nearby on the edge of the good Bernardaud china. Creamy goat cheese is such a good pairing for herbed egg dishes.

We ordered the Thai style chicken salad, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts, Napa cabbage & ginger-lemon grass dressing, and it was good. The dressing was the star but she was a little heavy for a delicate Thai girl salad. It made me long for Puck's Chinois Chicken Salad.


I might have preferred the Lobster Cobb salad full of avocado, chopped egg, point reyes blue cheese, smoked bacon and balsamic vinaigrette. If I'm going to Fatty Heart Attack Hell, I want to ride a rich lobster gurney whose wheels are greased with bacon.

Honey-haired beauties have long swum in the hotel's pool, including Marilyn Monroe, seen here in these round golden globes of Hotel Bel Air Benedict: poached eggs atop a white cheddar biscuit swimming in maple hollandaise.


Like a new starlet from the Midwest, the eggs are fresh off the farm. The rich, orange color of the yolks came spilling out like hot sunshine.

A sweet hint of maple lingers a bit, a delicate balance to the tart sauce. A thin layer of tomato coulis spread onto the in-house baked, oh-so-much-better-than-an-English-muffin biscuit, makes this dish the girl with something extra.

My Pan roasted Alaskan halibut with wild field mushrooms, wild sorrel, English peas and Meyer lemon sauce had been made with commitment.


It was crackly on the outside and buttery smooth inside, fearlessly prepared. This fish hit a skillet that was so hot it made a loud sssssssssssizzle, startling the jam-making granny.

This chef knows how to fry fish, fried-chicken crispy.

Jennifer slid graceful, swan-necked glass teapots onto the table to gently segue us into dessert.


Laying back in the cushioned, private booth, images of tanned pool boys hand feeding maidens popped into my head as fresh as the plump, juicy, local berries Jennifer brought, which I plopped into whipped cream.

The quenelles of raspberry sorbet resting on a baked meringue disk are like a chubby little pink princess dancing at the ball, standing on the top of her daddy's shoes.


As soon as it was placed on the table, I greedily ate the tiny nugget of gold perched atop the apple tart. It was just enough for me to claim that I will always have gold coursing through my veins. The pastry was as flaky as this town, only the caramel sauce kept it together. The molten chocolate cake oozed sin, and I ate it up.


The banana ice cream covered the shiniest star of the course: thin slices of ripe banana that had been kissed by a sugary angel and then brûléed to a brilliant candy crunch.

I didn't want to leave. But the proverbial clock struck midnight as the valet opened my coach door. I crawled in and it turned back into a pumpkin as I drove down the winding canyon. My fantasy screeched back to reality in a halting traffic jam on Sunset Boulevard. Noisy firetrucks tended to an accident most likely caused by horrible driving wicked stepsisters.

To see my niece watching her first, live and private performance of Swan Lake with a front row seat made me believe in fairy tales. A moment like that can make me believe in everything.



If anyone finds a slipper in the garden, I dropped it.

Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel Air. 701 Stone Canyon Road, Los Angeles, CA 90077 (310) 472-1211

Hinoki & The Bird Wears The Emperor's New Clothes

It was the obvious place for a door. I turned back to the valet for a hint, but he was driving away in my car. I hoped he was a valet as I ran my hand along the wide panel of a wall and pushed. A section gave way. I felt like I had passed the first test and made it inside one of the hottest restaurants in Los Angeles, Hinoki & The Bird.

Walking down the steps and into the dining room, I entered the backstage of a busy theater production. The hostesses had just pulled on their hunky boyfriends' over-sized shirts, and nothing else, and rushed off to work. These tall, glamorous women I'd follow anywhere, led me through the dark room, past a forest of Hinoki trees lining the walls like dancers waiting in the wings.

I arrived before Tom Landry, with whom I was dining, took my seat and enjoyed the great view of the stage show running in the open kitchen. I mentally applauded as a chef held a melon high in the air and deftly peeled it. I didn't see a lone, rogue, flashy star, instead each chef busied themselves manning their own station.  They wear black Henleys with a tiny red bird silkscreened on the right shoulder as a glint of exciting detail hopefully reflected in the cuisine.

Both Tom and I have huge appetites for life, fueled by great, adventurous food. He was just back from San Sebastian, Spain where he tasted two-count-em-two of the world's 50 Best Restaurants, Arzac and the forking fantasy Mugaritz. We had a lot of ground pork to cover.

We were excited to come here, we'd grown hungry as we shielded our eyes from all of the bright, flashing stars jumping out from reviews of Chef David Meyers' restaurant.

As I sat waiting about ten minutes, I got thirsty, but I distracted myself guessing which of the plentiful, young, bustling waitstaff would bring me food and drink. Mine caught me off guard by walking by my table six times.

He recharged my excitement as he filled my water glass, promising to guide me through my meal, explaining the spices and techniques used to prepare each item. The menu reads like a brothel full of exotic beauties from around the world, with many regions and ethnicities represented. But the house is clearly run by an elegant, Asian woman who has accessorized her dishes with miso, lemongrass and chili.

Once Tom arrived he sipped a refreshing, friendly Bird Cup cocktail, their take on a Pimms Cup, with muddled citrus, cucumber, mint and ginger. We huddled over the menu with our waiter like a group of guys deciding which girls to ask to dance. Cheerleaders are immediately asked, but there are some shy girls who, if given the chance, really tear that floor up. We high-fived our decision to avoid the popular selections and sample the more obscure offerings to give them a chance to shine.  

We ordered three fun plates: crispy marinated chicken with lemon aioli, fried oysters with black garlic aioli, and the chili crab toast with spicy cucumber and coriander. Our waiter was quarterbacking this meal, and we trusted his suggestion to send in a fourth player from the Inspiration section, coconut-curried mussels, sausage and cauliflower. Sausage made in-house sold me.

Soon the mussels were placed on our small, wooden table along with a thoughtful bowl for shells. The herbs lavishly heaped on top presented a fresh look for a mussels dish and released a flavorful, promising aroma. Nutty bread was crammed on the side of the bowl. 

Mussels with cauliflower and cilantro

My favorite part of mussels is dredging bread through the sauce, not caring if it drips on the table on the way to my mouth. But this bread had already been soaked in something oily, and on both sides. Dipping it was like kissing someone who had just been kissed by someone else. This dish was very good, but in the next moment the course of the meal took a turn I couldn't control.

Our fried oysters were dropped off onto our table, like an unwanted child abandoned at a bus stop by a parent late for work. Tom and I flashed each other a quick look of resolute understanding that we had to take these oysters in; they needed us.


Suddenly our conflict was complicated when a small board holding triplets of toast heaped high with crab was wriggled into our crowded house. The delivery person muttered cucumber as if hastily pinning an identification note on the jacket of a waifish child. I knew we had to love it too, like the others.  


Although concerned about the welfare of the other dishes, we kept eating the mussels. The broth was spicy from the chilies in the fennel-laced sausage, which was ground up and hiding in the bottom of the coconut milk broth. The mussels were steamed gently, resulting in plump, bouncy bites. I loaded cilantro and thinly shaved cauliflower on each bite and enjoyed the new flavorful crunch.


I watched a waiter carrying a plate of fried chicken circle our table three times. I knew it was ours, the tables around us had either eaten or were empty. He scratched his head on his way back to the expeditor, they chatted, then the waiter timidly brought the chicken over. We all worked together and made space for our exploded family.


By the time we reached the oysters they were cold. The oil had used the time to sneakily gather on top. Our seldom-seen waiter swooped in like a salesman letting us in on a great deal. We were lucky tonight: He'd not seen such a generous portion of fermented black garlic being offered with the aioli.

I wanted it to revive the oysters, but they'd flat-lined. I held their limp, dead bodies on my tongue for a moment out of respect. No garlic flavor said a timid hello or a sweet goodbye as I swallowed.

The poor crab toast! I could hear it crying on the wooden plank, getting limp and soggy like a dejected old man drowning his sorrows in a mushy quagmire. I wanted to put it out of its misery, but we were already mentally spinning plates.

I respect food and a chef who honors their craft and their preceding reputation. I want a good restaurant not only to prosper, but also live long. Something had misfired in the communication between me, my waiter and the kitchen to explain the rapid-fire, premature ejaculation of food. 

We didn't finish the really delicious mussels, ate what oysters we dared, then reached for the drowning crab. The once-crisp toast bent from the wet weight. Something chemically must have occurred as it cooled -- there was no flavor other than the fresh, cool cucumber.

I nervously offered Tom an inflationary million for his thoughts. He shook his head, searching for words and to loosen subtle flavor. We'd had plenty of time to discover even hinted at or hidden tastes. I'm not new at this - I challenge flirty undertones to turn my taste buds into a Jeopardy question. I was having aha moments back when Oprah was still having seconds.

It was then I realized we were eating the Emperor's new clothes. Tom and I both wanted to have the meal we had read about on Huffpo, in The New York Times and LA Weekly, where the chef seemed to open a vein and serve the reviewers some secretly sensational meal. I wanted to slam my fist down on the table like when Harry met Sally's orgasm, I'll have what she's having!

I was getting discouraged, but persevered. Concerned about the pace of our meal, we consulted the waiter. I honestly don't know what happened to the guidance he promised; we felt abandoned and avoided. I reminded him that we hadn't even ordered entrees and asked if he was concerned that our four plates had been served is such mind-bendingly rapid succession. He wasn't. 

I gently shared that we didn't want to finish our remaining fun plate -- the fried chicken still looming on the horizon -- and have a wide-as-a-hillbilly-tooth-gap of time between entrees. That weren't yet ordered. He recommended grilled salmon, as he believed it didn't get enough deserved attention. In retrospect, I should have gone with my gut and ordered the sumptuous-sounding caramel braised kurobuta pork belly with radish and mustard greens. But tonight, apparently, I was going to dance with every wallflower in the room. For our second entree we chose the BBQ pork.

So many !!!!s had been bandied throughout Lala-land about the food, the service and the room. During my wait and dinner, I observed three independent elements under this one roof. First, the floor managers gathered on the patio, then near the kitchen window, then near the bathrooms in sequential, serious-looking tête-à-tête détentes. They didn't seem connected to the waiters, who hung out by the kitchen window, jumping into action if food popped up, like surfers happily goofing off until the next decent wave. The third group, the kitchen staff, kept their bandana-headbanded heads down and stayed on task behind the open kitchen. I wanted to sit in that kitchen and eat. 

Chef Myers' show pony, Hinoki scented black cod, sweet potato and pistachio, pranced on almost every table. The fish is covered by a smoldering, jagged piece of the Hinoki wood, perhaps singed from a flash in the pan. It rushed steaming by us, with a distracting double-slap of sensory sensations -- hear the sizzle, smell the food -- like fajitas. It added smokey regret to my already bumpy road less traveled.

My attention returned to our food. Fried chicken is my guilty treasure. But I was the one at fault, leaving it unattended for half an hour. If it were a dog locked in car, we would have been thrown in jail. I reached out and tore into the skin, expecting it to feel soft and wilted like an old lady's flabby arm, but it was still crunchy and crispy -- just hearing it crackle was almost enough of a taste for me. Neither the skin nor the very dry meat held any delicate flavor hidden in Haiku or subtitles. I tasted very little lemon in the aioli; however, there was a lemon on the plate and I squeezed that on a bite, resulting in no great affect.

We decided not to harden our arteries further on this particular chicken, and as our table was cleared, I tried to remember the details the waiter had given about the salmon. The menu lists the food but isn't descriptive, and he rattled the list off that he knew well, really really fast. He explained that the gentle grilling sort of roasts the fish. I think. Before it's grilled, it's marinated in mirin and some other stuff. I knew I should have ordered the sambal skate wing. I love skate, even with the bone, and don't find it often.

Our salmon plate looked disheveled when it arrived, not cared for nor skillfully prepared. I figured that a chef had quit, yelling, You do it then! as he stormed out. He knocked the expeditor unconscious and a bug-eyed dishwasher with spastic culinary dreams threw stuff on the plate and shakily shoved it through the window.


My first bite of salmon was alarmingly dry. This was turning into the type of meal where I'm already thinking of my trip home, and what drive-throughs I pass. Thankfully when I reached the thicker center, it was still moist. Had they used a piece of fish that was the same thickness throughout, there wouldn't have been unexpectedly thin, dry edges. As I ate it, the salmon had a back flavor, maybe from tea, that made it taste like the kind of attic dirt you find on a lamp and if you rub real hard, eventually a genie shines through. You still taste metal, but you get a wish.

The roasted or grilled or whatever BBQ pork saved me a Taco Bell driveby. Subtle flavor was released like freedom in each bite. I dipped some in the spicy sauce offered, some I ate brazenly bare, waving my fork gleefully in the wind. It was moist and tender. Tom and I literally chewed the fat.


The little plate to the left was a crime scene. Someone had tried to cover up the bodies of some freshly grilled/murdered, rubbery mushrooms with shredded scallions. They scattered sesame seeds on top to throw the search party dogs off scent. I was stunned that a chef would send this plate out. It made me think of schoolchildren I saw in Costa Rica last week all dressed up in plaid uniforms but barefoot. They were ready, just not well-prepared.

I needed dessert to be simple and fast. We both loved the donuts at Mozza, so in their honor we ordered the matcha donuts, dipped in koji milk. The gentle green color and the delicate flavor of the matcha represents everything gentle that I love and respect about Japan. Once in my mouth, America popped up in the too-thick outer layer of a crystal-y sugar crunch. Inside that, we found the simple, soft donuts. The koji milk drowned out any hyper-sweetness.


Our waiter gifted us with a fun mochi ice cream. The surprise of the occasionally hot shisito pepper dust on top cast a shockingly fun pop of color over our otherwise mediocre meal.


The mochi was trapped in caramel sauce that was deliciously, impossibly gooey. It's the kind of sticky your mother warned you about, and I hope to find remnants of it in my teeth, days later.

Our time at Hinoki was ending. Tom's an inspired designer, with princely good looks and matching polo-playing skills. I took my eyes off him and we both admired the beauty of the room, glad to see Chef Myers' example of abandoning the Starck white, bright rooms to nestle down into a warm, inviting cuddle. 

Our meal didn't match the promise that the wood-wrapped room held. At first, we were tiny birds sitting deep inside a precious Japanese box, waiting to be fed. Now, I felt hangry -- not full and a bit upset.

The check came on a little Hinoki wood plank branded with the tiny house bird. My eyes met Tom's and we silently mourned that precious detail not being carried throughout the experience.

When I got home, I flipped on the kitchen light and grabbed an apron. I remembered that the devil is in the details as I reflected on my dinner, and I glanced down to see that the devil had hopped on my blue slacks in the form of tiny, white pills of cotton fluff from the restaurant's white napkin. It's going to be hard to get all that off. I heard a collective moan reverberating throughout the city as the other mostly dark-attired Hinoki diners also discovered the linty parting gift from the linens. Dark clothes deserve dark napkins.

I only half-scrambled the eggs. It was late and I was starving, with no time to saute onions or slice mushrooms. The citrusy, woodsy aroma from the freshly cracked pepper rode up with the steam and hit me before I tore the tarragon into the bubbling skillet. I carefully rolled the omelette onto my plate as if I were turning the page of a good book.

I don't expect every meal to pop out of a fantastic cake and expertly dance with the skill of a stripper holding lit sparklers with her nipples. But I wanted more from the buzzing title Hinoki & The Bird, which had drawn me in. I didn't find this book compelling, so I put it back on the shelf and moved on. The library is so big. 

Hinoki & The Bird. 10 Century Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90067. (310) 552-1200

Pink's Hot Dogs: Los Angeles -- Get in Line!

Gasp in Paris at legendary Lasserre when you taste their foie gras-laced pigeon, but faint when they glide the restaurant's ceiling open. They pop you like champagne, and spray you into the Paris night, making you one of the bubbly stars.

But that magic is weather dependent. I love reliant, good ole Pink's Hot Dogs in rain-deprived Los Angeles, where you also dine under, and often with, the stars.


I eat like a long-single middle aged woman writing a personal ad. I easily go from blue jeans to a ball gown. I like cozy nights snuggled up to a fire at home just as much as dancing the night away! I too, like long walks on the beach, as long as there's a restaurant at the end with valet parking.

Hey you, liveried Parisian footman: Raise that silver domed dish, let the birds within fly out and away, spelling my name in the sky. Hey you, lady with liver spots: Pull that Hoffy hot dog out of the vat, just as you've done since 1939, and stop it's wiener jiggle by soothing it into a white, fluffy bun.


You can speed down La Brea Avenue, hell bent on avoiding traffic and that homeless man. Blink and you'll miss Pink's small storefront; however, glance over and catch the Holy Hot Dog Grail short line of people waiting for Pink's, and you will screech your car into their narrow drive with the skill of a sex-starved Andretti.


Pink's wraps a weenie in bacon that keeps lines wrapped around the block. They don't care how big a star you are; everyone cues up, snakes through the ropes, reads the menu and changes their mind ten times before reaching the counter -- at Pink's pace. I lean out and peek ahead, cursing the family of six tourists in front of me, making me regret that crucial mistake that delayed my departure from home. From now on that cat feeds itself.



Sociologically, the same people that choke once they reach the ordering spot at Pink's are the same undeciderers who leave their bewildered mate at the alter. Geez, you had all this time and you don't freaking know? Are you effing kidding me? Sure, maybe you're not ready. Maybe you need to sleep with a few bridesmaids or eat a Martha Stewart dog or take a walk on the wild Rosie O'Donnell Long Island Dog side. But at the end of the day, at the end of the line, you have a lot of people waiting for you to make up your mind.

I'm not afraid of commitment and step up to place my standard order: a Guadalajara Dog (relish, onions & tomatoes, topped w/sour cream, a Chili Cheese Dog and a Tamale (chili, cheese & onions).  Sometimes other items jump on my tray, but I am a drunk immigration agent and look the other way.


The crew are buskers, slinging their dogs as performance art right in front of your mouth-watering eyes. They never judge, work as a team and happily crank out tray after tray of food with the same precise snap-happiness the hot dogs themselves give at first bite. Pink's has lasted longer than many of the stars' head shots hanging along the walls like trophies in an African Hunting Lodge.


The tamale and other Mexican food should be part of any order. I brazenly wear a white shirt, a foolish laugh at the futility of their tiny napkins vs. my chili skills. See my own dad in the background here? He's the geezer slinking away, disguised in shades, a fake beard and gimme cap, denying he knows me. Or to get another Polish Dog.


Sip wildly sugary drinks like Grape Crush and Bubble Up and get hopped up as you sit in the back parking lot at plastic tables. The umbrellas throw shade and keep God himself from reaching down and snatching your sinful 12-inch Jalapeno Dog.

Pink's has earned its reputation as the best hot dog stand on the West Coast. You have to stay hungry to survive in Los Angeles. That's why we are all so thin. Get fat and you don't get cast in a movie or asked out -- you get dropped like a hot rock, and forgotten.  Just ask.... oh, what was her name?

Pink's, providing perfect hot dogs. Time stands still, and you still stand in line.

Pink's Hot Dogs. 709 N La Brea Avenue,  Los Angeles, CA 90038 (323) 931-7594.

Chinois-on-Main: Santa Monica -- Every Day's A Holiday; Every Meal's a Feast!

Wolfgang Puck and Barbara Lazaroff opened Chinois in 1983, bringing the world the first Chinese-Californian fusion. Actually, the first such fusion was the California Railroad built by Chinese workers, but the resulting food was terrible.

Susan Swerdloff outside Chinois-on-Main, Santa Monica

Chef Puck is truly Shakespeare's Puck, a clever sprite who conjures up delicious drama by stirring the pot. I dined last week at his Santa Monica legendary restaurant, Chinois-on-Main, and had an elaborate experience that was all about institution. Greeted and seated by Bella, who has been there since 1983, I dined with famed Los Angeles restaurant critic Jay Weston and one of my first friends in Los Angeles, circa 1988, the ever-lasting beauty Susan Swerdloff. We were soon joined by Chinois'  most stunning dish, co-creator Barbara Lazaroff.

Her name sounds exotically delicious, like a spice you have come to Istanbul to find. You whisper the name to vendors in the Grand Bazaar, using curvaceous hand gestures as a common language.

She breezed through Chinois front door in a swirl of a hot pink coat, which was whipped off at our table side to reveal a deliciously-foreshadowing raspberry colored dress that had one purpose, to tempt us into wanting dessert.

I hoped the dessert was this luscious. While Wolfgang created the cuisine, she designed the room, and still produces the show every night. She is as beautifully put together as anything on the menu -- good jewelry exactly coordinated with couture dresses, her signature long tresses and gracious generous spirit which flows about the room making you glad to be there.

The very moment we were seated, we were in a winter production of  Midsummer Night's Dream, starring Puck and his most brilliant guest stars, whose orchestral prologue commenced from the open kitchen with the rumblings of his time-seasoned woks.

Chinois-on-Main Kitchen

Tradition, timing and loyalty is Chinois' specialty. To last in Los Angeles is a miracle. This city is as temporary as a pretty woman hooker, poised to be literally tossed aside by an earthquake. Judy Garland was torn down and thrown away at nineteen, the same fate as every film set once principle photography is wrapped. We botox our faces, plump up our lips and drop to our skin tight Gucci-clad knees in a vain effort to beg the city not to get rid of us. We are not done.

Jay Weston has been doing Los Angeles a flavor for forty years with his Restaurant Newsletter reviewing and reviving eateries worthy of his passion for food. (Email him to subscribe - $70 per yummy year!) Jay was at Chinois prior to it being opened to the public, before even the stoves were connected, at a private party. The meal was prepared on temporary gas ranges set up outside in the alley. Hollywood's glitterati had no idea that their Roasted Cantonese Duck might had been glazed next to a homeless man. The show must go on. Dining with Jay is thrilling because he shares these tales and the whole fried catfish. I'm hungry for both.
 
We needed no menu; we either knew what we wanted or we sat back anticipating Bella's orchestration of our meal. Now a partner, she has been running this room since 1990 and stands guard seven nights a week. When I noticed that her eyes aren't weary, she said she is buoyed every night when she sees the room stuffed with eager-to-feed diners, and she is revitalized, eager-to-please. 

We were here to eat and they knew it. I like to dine at and review a restaurant somewhere in between the honest, up-front Jay, and the wig-and-wit disguised Ruth Reichl. I fear my meal might be affected by the chef's fear that I will pepper my review as liberally as he peppered my scallop; however Jay finds that it's best to let them know we are there. He told me they can't change the menu.

Puck's dishes were dispatched like well-equipped soldiers to our table with rapid-fire precision. Fanny Bay oysters so lightly fried they seemed baked, were kept afloat by curried cucumber sauce. It's amazing they didn't sink under the weight of the salmon caviar.


Chewing each bite is my jaw's applause for such good food. Luscious offerings flowed onto our table like Ziegfield girls parading on stage in a review. As a costumer might have wrapped a showgirl in mink, here they served us tempura-wrapped tuna, like an unwed starlet tenderly trying to conceal a scandalous pregnancy, or a perfect asparagus spear.


I quickly dredged each bite through the champagne mustard truffle sauce as if I wanted to drag it off and teach it a painful lesson.

Everyone is there to have the Chinese Chicken Salad -- I think it was born here. You can probably get a Chinese chicken salad even at Mexican mecca El Cholo, but have the authentic one at Chinois.

I loved watching my great-grandmother Mimmy cook in her spacious kitchen in Linden, Texas. As an old lady, she moved through the room like a tornado -- a little ragged, grey, and a blur. But instead of resulting in the unpredictable disaster of a storm, I knew the meal would be wonderfully perfect. I asked her once what was in the soup she was making. She had a tiny, sweet voice that had seen hard times but only remembered the good, A little bit of everything in this kitchen -- and if you turn your head a minute I'll squeeze the kitchen dishrag in it. I hoped she would.

Their Chinese chicken salad might look like it has too much going on:
 

But no -- Puck's chefs honor the recipe he so brilliantly crafted. His salad might have fifteen layers of flavor, but as your fork picks them all up in a single bite, and you begin to eat it, you realize that they each have an important and separate role in the overall production. The flavors are like if the contentious delegates of the UN all shared a fat Maui doobie and mellowed out.

You are tasting masterful, purposeful food design executed by genies.

If you have one dish at Chinois, have the Shanghai Lobster. But don't have just one dish -- all of the food is served family style. Life is a banquet, and each night is a party at Chinois -- you're a guest and as Puck himself proclaims, live, love, eat!

This sumptuous curry sauce on this outstanding lobster dish lets you know that China not only borders India, but has crept in for centuries. I have no idea who the chef slept with to perfect the mystical flash-frying of the spinach, but I'm sure he walked funny for a week after the lesson.


I'm not showing you their legendary whole fried sizzling catfish, although me love it long time. This is LA, and we prefer to show you beauty. Here is the East Coast Black Bass:


This fish was stuffed with so much ginger that I knew the chef had both puzzled and angered the vendor at the farmer's market by buying every piece they had. The price of ginger must go up globally each time a Chinois chef shops. The fish was full of flavors that I didn't try to distinguish, I just bucked up and enjoyed each succulent forkful as if it were my last meal. The fried rice is better than others because it has grilled corn -- my advice to everyone else making fried rice: Step it up.

I am not going to call the marinated lamb chops a miss. We all found them too salty, but I took the leftovers home and changed my mind when I had it for breakfast the next day with an omelet. I think our judgement had been clouded by the ten preceding courses and we were just really full. It was like having six older brothers who went to school before you -- by the time you get there, the teachers are all bored with your family and you practically have to hold sparklers with your nipples to be thought of as special.
  
Like sisters sharing clothes, Chinois shares the magic of Spago's pastry chef/goddess Sherry Yard. A waiter threw his back out, struggling under the weight of the huge tray we were served that held every dessert they offer.

There was a sweet star dessert, quivering vulnerably in the corner, bruled Lemon Floating Island. I sternly cracked the brunt sugar shell like a virgin's hymen, then dragged each bite slowly through the thick, sour raspberry reduction like I wanted to reform this tart from her whorish past. The others at my table sat back and let me have my way with her soft, young body. They both were distractedly content to complacently pick at some deceptively light, warm chocolate cake, which might have been whipped into that fluffy state by a scorned lover in a secret dungeon kitchen.


Our meal ended. I pushed back from the table a bit to breathe and digest the night. Bella checked on us, knowing we were all right, but just to smile and pat us on the back reassuringly, There there, we knew what you wanted...

I looked around the warm, busy room. It was Monday night, and just as full as I was. If I came back Tuesday, it would be just as packed. Blessed, yes, but for good reason.

My great-grandmother Mimmy taught me about loyalty, You have to dance with the one that brung you. Los Angeleno diners are as fickle as the film business.  But Chinois is an anomaly of Los Angeles dining. Sure, if you build it they will come, but they're enjoying an extraordinarily long run because if it's worth it, they will stay.

Dining with an institution, at an institution, on food as fresh as it is legendary, is a rare chance, and one I recommend highly.

As I left, Barbara and Bella said goodbye. For the first time dining in my long and illustrious life, I felt as welcome leaving a restaurant as when I had first walked in.

Wonder what a meal at Chinois is like? Sit in a park and watch an old couple, perhaps who have been together for thirty years. Watch him pull a handkerchief out of his pocket and dust off the bench before his bride sits. See how tenderly she looks into his eyes as she pulls off a piece of a sandwich. They hold hands as they enjoy the view, perhaps one they have seen many times before, but each time it feels better than the last.

Chinois-on-Main: 2709 Main St, Santa Monica, CA 90405 (310) 392-9025.

Sasabune: Los Angeles -- Strictly Sushi

I don't remember where I heard the first whispers of a secret sushi restaurant, tucked away on Sawtelle Boulevard in West Los Angeles. No one even knew its name; but the chef's reputation for being the Sushi Nazi was spreading through the town, fast. A friend just told me to look for a tiny neon Open sign in a window, then brace myself and enter the world of Sasabune. Trust me.


It doesn't take much to get Los Angelenos to try a new place. Just tell them it's a secret and impossible to get into, or dangerous. I am shocked that no one has opened Crips and Bloods: Fine Dining Fine Streetfighting Fusion. We kill the chickens and each other, live every night. They'd have a three-year wait list.


I had to experience the Sasabune sensation. As I turned off Santa Monica Boulevard onto Sawtelle, I noticed that the long, dark street was like Japan itself, craggy and mysterious.  Bonsai nurseries next to import shops mixed with noodle houses that had no signs. I drove slowly, found the sign, parked, looked over my shoulder, and parted the half-curtains over the doorway as I entered. I expected to see a cockfight, or interrupt a deadly round of Japanese Russian Roulette.

As my eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room, I think I startled the waitress. The sushi counter had a chunk missing, possibly bitten off by an angry Godzilla. A handwritten sign was taped to the hostess stand: No California Roll, No Spicy Tuna Roll, Don't Ask.  

I took my cheap, metal seat at the small, un-clothed table. The buildup smashed with the slum decor made me expect weird stuff, illegal sushi -- possibly endangered species, or at least something that might kill me as my tongue touched a gill or an eyeball. I glanced around and saw another sign over the sushi counter: Do you want a menu, or do you trust him?

Sasabune was my first omakase, where the chef makes what he feels is right.  I wasn't about to trust this knife-wielding man, chef Nobi Kushuhara -- he looked like a shifty murderer. I popped the menu open as a defense barrier. I could feel the ridicule from the old Japanese waitress, her silent scorn sliding from her slitted eyes, emphasized by her thick eyeliner, and accented by her thick accent. I panicked and pointed at toro, my favorite raw fish of all -- the fatty underbelly of the tuna, softer than a stolen kiss.

When the spartan melamine plate arrived, I quickly picked up the sushi deftly with my chopsticks, but some of the rice fell away, loose. As I ate it, the rice was warm. WTF?! I shot a look over at the fraud of a chef -- he was outed as an amateur, unable to accomplish the simplest trick of compact, congealed rice. I wanted to storm out, but I flinched as he screamed something in Japanese, and slammed his knife down, barely missing a diner. He indicated another sign near the entrance.

I read his printed and posted explanation that his sushi rice was warm and loose, like your friend in high school's slutty grandmother who poured you real scotch and winked, begging you to dance. This was authentic sushi -- the hard pressed rice was adopted in Japan when sushi became a fast street food, mass-produced and sold on carts. He made the decision to bring it to LA, but on his strict, old school terms.
  
Omakase style sushi can seem cruel - you eat what he makes for you and you're grateful. One time I had just hit my dining stride, enjoying the flow of plate after plate after plate -- when suddenly the next course was my check! I felt like a frustrated wife, whose husband climaxed first. I wasn't finished. You're done if I'm done, chef Nobi said as he rolled over and went to sleep
 
Smash cut to 2012: Sasabune has now moved to a slick, modern space on busy Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. I feared they would lose what made them special, Chef Nobi's bossa-nazi style.
But as soon as I walked in the new location, this message told that he was even more cruel. I was delighted.


Sasabune does it right. The dishes are served in a logical flow. First sashimi, plain, sliced rice-less fish eases you into the experience. The tender fish, courteously lubricated in a tart sauce, slides down easily.


General/Chef Nobi dispatches your next course with instructions with his waiter, his soldier, who leans down and whispers all you need to know, Skipjack in ponzu. No soy.


I credit Sasabune for my sushi education. It's a dance -- never dip your food rice side down -- it upsets the intent. Your food is fresh from the sea, and you have a responsibility. Confidently grab your partner, turn it over, and just touch the soft, fishy head gently in the sauce. Chef dictates the tradition that demands you must place the entire piece in your mouth. Take it bitch, chef Nobi mutters.

Soon you're ready for the more advanced moves. Clam, mussel, baked oyster.


I decide to bravely ask my waiter a question. Sea salt on scallop? I ask. He smiles, whispers, Pink, and leaves, possibly pleased.


If the chef wants you to know something, the waiter translates. Ask, and they will tell you the method behind the butterfish and mackerel madness -- even why you are eating what you are in this particular month, even which sea the fish came from. Oils, sauces, seeds all make sense. If the waiter tells you to lick his goddamn foot, do it -- they are your master now.


You won't feel full or want to stop. You must finish everything on the premises -- Chef Nobi doesn't allow take out (yes, there's a sign). He wants the dish eaten here and now, exactly as he desires. He is horrified that you might devour it later, standing naked in your kitchen. You disgust me, he sneers, peeking from behind your fridge.

A friend once sneaked a tuna hand-roll in his jacket pocket. When he got it safely home, he extracted it carefully, as if he were removing the funny bone from a game of Operation. I felt too guilty to enjoy it. 


This plate arrives as the chef's last command. His warm, tuna hand-roll is a snowflake work of art, hand-raised, hand-crafted, individual. If I found out what was in it, I would be killed publicly as an example, and my picture laminated on a sign and hung in example effigy.

The waiter gives me a little time to catch my breath and bask in the after-glow from this intense sushi session. The check appears, the $75 fee for each person at lunch shattering any fantastic illusion that I had mid-meal that Sasabune would be anything but an expensive hooker.
 
LA diners are fickle -- always wanting a different experience. A new crop of chefs and themes are always appearing, promising tricks never seen before in this glitzy town.

I was eating at Sasabune last week with a friend, and we were marveling at how long the reign of terror Sasabune has enjoyed. Although both us are loyalists to Chef Nobi, she leaned in close to tell me of a new place, Sushi Zo, currently being mobbed by even the literally jaded chefs at Sasabune. She jerked her pretty blonde head toward the sushi bar. The chefs here, she whispered, all go there. And the chefs there...are monsters.

Arigato. I can't wait. 
  
 Sasabune. 11917 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA  (310) 478-3596