Monday, July 28, 2008

I was a Teenage Supertaster!

Ever since I was little, I have always been a "picky eater". When I complained that food is overly salty, bitter, smoky or sour, people would insist that it was "just fine". The butter wasn't rancid, the meat wasn't spoiled and the milk wasn't "off". It took a blind taste-test differentiating between six different kinds of soy sauce and an ugly showdown during which I dared my own mother to eat the mold off the cheese for my family to stop questioning me.

Even as an adult, I have had an unnatural revulsion for broccoli, which is probably the only thing I had in common with George Bush, Sr. On one particularly long and arduous train trip, I had the misfortune of sitting next to a broccoli farmer. Like someone who thinks a lesbian just hasn't met the "right" man, she was convinced that if I only prepared the vegetable correctly, I would change my mind.

"Have you ever had Broccoli Florentine?"
"Have you ever tried it with cheese sauce?"
"Have you ever had broccoli with soy sauce?"
"What about cream of broccoli soup?

Finally my husband, God love him, stopped the endless interrogation by asking me, "But have you ever tried shit a la mode?"

It doesn't stop with broccoli. My wine afficianado family has never grasped my distaste for the fruit of the vine. It was especially odd because I love champagne. Up until a few years ago, my family still tried to pour me wine at dinner and bought me expensive vintages as gifts. Again, maybe I just haven't had the "right" wine. After one brother took me to a wine bar in San Francisco, I will admit that the "buttery chardonnay" did not make me grimace and run for the nearest spit bucket.

The list goes on - brussell sprouts, and even dark chocolate are unpleasantly bitter. Another freakishly picky food issue I have is with raw meat. I am frequently convinced that it has gone bad. My husband sniffs it and tries to explain to me that that is what raw meat smells like. I sniff it again and it smells rotten. He declares it perfectly normal. We go back and forth until finally it goes in the trash or he eats it himself. And to his credit, he hasn't died yet.

Finally, one day my husband watched a television special and announce that I was a "supertaster". I fit all of the criteria - coffee, dark chocolate, red wine, cruciferous vegetables, were all unpleasantly bitter to me. So I started checking it out. The final proof I needed was when Wikipedia mentioned that supertasters are also able to detect when meat is going bad faster than the average taster. I wasn't crazy after all! Well, maybe I am crazy, but at least not about that.

Over at Blogsoop they had a radical idea -- what if food bloggers were supertasters? They sent out tasting strips to food bloggers. They discovered after sending out taste strips that 80 percent of food bloggers reacted to the strips.

Miss Lindsay of LAist and I gamely stuck our taste strips in our mouths and were unimpressed. Paper. It tasted like paper. Then it was like gleaking over something sour, but in reverse, my entire mouth puckered up and I had to run into the bathroom. We both were sick for hours and could nt shake that awful taste, no matter what brand of mint we bought. Now I just have to dye my tongue blue and it's official.

although some would disagree

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Where to eat in Leimert Park

Ackee Bamboo serves up delicious Jamaican food in a cozy diner atmosphere.

Cafe Soul fries some of the best catfish in town.

Mama's House for catfish, smothered meats, greens, and chicken wings the size of bats.

M&Ms Soul Food a breakfast classic, with some of the best yams in the city.

Shabazz Good Foods is the place to get your bean pie. The fish sandwiches are pretty good as long as you're there, but it's all about the bean pie.

This is a review of the Crenshaw and Adams location of Phillip's BBQ.

Phillips is a legend, a monument in LA BBQ. And this one is the original. Some people claim that the sauce at the Leimert Park location is far superior to the sauce at the other two locations. Tender ribs slathered in those complex, multilayered sauces - who cares if you have to eat standing up?

And yes, Phillips still has signs everywhere.

Papa West is a new brunch spot in the location that was formerly Augustines.

The "rogue" M&Ms is closed now

Newly opening in its place is Creole restaurant New Orleans Vieux Carre.

Next-door to the M&Ms at Crenshaw and MLK stands a distinctly South LA phenomenon -- the Louisiana Chicken/Chinese restaurant.

The atmosphere at 5th Street Dick's Coffee and Jazz Emporium is easy and comfortable. The original location closed in 2000 when Richard Fulton passed away, but was re-opened around the corner on Degnan in 2005. There is always a welcoming vibe, whether everyone is gathering around to watch Dave Chapelle together, or hosting an impromptu dance lesson. The air-conditioned room provides cool respite on a hot day, and they make a mean banana-berry smoothie.

Babe and Ricky's Inn was founded in 1964 on Central Avenue, and moved to its current location in Leimert Park in 1997. Laura Mae Gross, who locals and musicians call "Mama" is a darling who will even give up the secrets to her fried chicken if you're nice, but don't step out of line. The bartender is super-friendly, and the bands are like family. The club is only open Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Around 10:30pm a big soul-food buffet appears, with black-eyed peas and hot links in a spicy jezebel sauce. The buffet is rounded out with greens, juicy fried chicken and festival bread that is a nice surprise.

The sign says it all

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Meet me at 59th and Lex

Bloomingdale's diner is the perfect spot for ladies who lunch. 59th & Lex appears upon first glance to be only a glorified coffee bar for a quick break from the 40% off sale. This little diner is actually so much more than your typical department store lunch counter. The sandwiches and salads are delicious and the service is sheer perfection. These ladies would expect nothing less. Named after the corner on which the original Bloomingdales stands, the name 59th & Lex has been known to confuse friends from New York. The primary fare is just what you would expect for the properly manicured - light lunches and sinfully rich desserts. Just because you're watching your waistline, it doesn't mean you can't splurge once in awhile right? After all, it is a special occasion. It's always a special occasion when you just got your hair done.

The mango chicken salad is crisp, refreshing and filling. Goat cheese and mango are an unusual combination, but really work. Although pecans would make more sense with the fruity, creamy dressing, the walnuts do pair naturally with the goat cheese. The salad jumped the shark with the addition of sundried tomatoes. It was flavorful and acidic enough already.

A tuna salad sandwich is one of those simple dishes that is somehow often screwed up. The tuna at 59th and Lex is never screwed up. It is cool, lightly seasoned, and does not betray its true fish nature. The tomato is ripe and the lettuce is Romaine. All is as it should be. It is kind of strange that on this visit they brought half sourdough and half white bread. Maybe they serve so many soup/salad combos that they make sandwich halves in an assembly line. Or maybe the waiter forgot to ask what bread we wanted and didn't want to have to deal with the crazy girls in the corner again. The fries are usually very good, but on this occasion, at least half were disappointingly limp.

The shrimp bisque is rich and creamy, but lacks seasoning. Something like a litle curry powder or saffron would give it character. The french bread is soft with a nice crust and it is difficult to resist eating the entire plate

For years I have been confusing waiters with bizarre behavior like ordering too much food and picking at it in order to write reviews. On one visit, my friend and I talked over each other, asked the waiter questions, discussed our options, then shut our menus with finality. The waiter looked down at our expectant faces and held his pencil poised over the notepad, "Are you ready to order?" We blinked at eachother, "We just did." After repeating the order twice, soon our table was overflowing with plates that jutted out over the edge. The waiter said, "Your Chinese chicken salad will be right up." I looked at the already crowded table in panic, "We ordered a Chinese chicken salad???" A smile crept over his face and I realized he had totally punked me. Good one.

59th and Lex is known for its fish and chips. One recent lunch hour, when a distressed diner wailed over the specials page, "What? No fish today?" and the waiter replied, "Yes, we have salmon" I could tell he was new. The cod is surprisingly unfishlike, and the batter is light yet crispy.

Another reason I love this diner is that they have this little corner nook that is often vacant, so you can hide and do weird things like pose your food for the best lighting. The banquette beneath the slatted wall pitches forward a little, so unless you feel the need to be ergonomic, sit against the solid wall

The cheesecake was fresher and more moist than the chocolate cake that day. It had a smooth, creamy texture, but was not "real" New York cheesecake, which I find to be kind of dry and powdery compared to West coast cheesecake (Ain't no cheesecake like a west coast cheesecake cause a west coast cheesecake don't STOP!).

I lusted after these shiny lily pad serving dishes, but they were ridiculously expensive. I still want them. Maybe I will register for them the next time I get married.

The ladies who lunch and their perfect coiffures

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gordon Ramsay Does the Predictable!

Why is everyone calling this an upset? I called this one with about 5 contestants left. You could see the fire in Christina's eyes every time a challenge was posed. She is like a racehorse chomping at the bit, fully in the zone. Every time. Sometimes she fucked up, but it was lack of experience rather than the laziness, burnout, bad attitudes and possible mental conditions of the other contestants. It's better to get someone you can train to do things your way before they have learned bad habits somewhere else (or got some serious baggage. Serious.)

Good on ya, and lets hope you can turn things around at the Gordon Ramsay in the London West Hollywood. Because Lord knows, last time was not what I expected...

Gordon Ramsay at the London: A How-to Guide
How to Dine at the new Gordon Ramsay at the London in West Hollywood:

Step 1: Make a reservation
This is surprisingly easy. Unlike the restaurants in Ramsay's New York London Hotel, The Gordon Ramsay is practically a ghost town. Maybe it's because Gordon Ramsay is not at the helm. Neither is the chef-who-cannot-be-named winner of this season's Hell's Kitchen. Who is at the helm anyways? For now, Andy Cook, formerly of Gordon Ramsay at the Conrad Tokyo and Josh Emett of Gordon Ramsay at the London New York, along with three sushi chefs.

Step 2: Find the restaurant
Drive up and down Sunset, always ending up on Holloway. When you see the Roxy, start watching for Clark. Because if no one bothered to tell you, like the website, or the person who took your reservation, or the person who confirmed your reservation, the sign for San Vincente reads CLARK. Now turn on Clark. Pass the restaurant on your left, remember that it used to be the Bel-Age, say a curseword and hang an illegal U-Turn. Turn into a driveway that is so understated it is practically invisible. Confuse the valets who don't know that the restaurant is open yet. (Steps 3-7 are below)

Step 3: Marvel at the wonderous decor
It is like ice cream parlour meets funeral parlour with a little Barbarella thrown in. It is impossible to gauge the theme or era of the decor. Edwardian space-age? The bloop-y lounge music makes it feel like The Milk Bar from a Clockwork Orange. For some strange reason it seems as if Michael Caine circa 1968 is about to round the corner any minute.

Step 4: Figure out the menu
In a take on the tapas-sushi-small plates craze, the menu is not divided into courses, but price ranges with little rhyme nor reason. Although the server states that the lighter courses are near the beginning, they are not. Hog's head and rack of lamb are not light dishes. Chilled pea soup and Caprese are not heavier dishes. There is also a tasting menu if you prefer.

Don't fault the server for not always knowing what is on your plate - they are not given tastings or even fed cheaper variations on your meal for their group meal. Some of them have never eaten anything in the restaurant before. In addition, the menu is often not descriptive enough, offering simply foie gras when what arrives is actually pate de foie gras.

The small plates, a variation of the bar menu at the London New York, have their problems. One problem is that small plates get cold very, very quickly. It is about surface area and heat dissipation, if I remember high school physics. Cold mashed potatoes are BAD.

Step 5: Take a chance
Duck tongues, really? Really? It is like something out of Monty Python, "I'll have the lark's tongues and kitten ears, please, with a side of peacock vomit." Maybe the weird decor is supposed to hint at a palace in Rome during the middle-ages The upside to the menu is that it gives people a chance to stretch their culinary boundaries a little and try something new. The downside is the precious little geometric shapes are sometimes laughable. Make sure to dine with someone who has a sense of humor, as this is going to be kind of funny.

Step 6: Don't sweat the small stuff
Your fork is on the wrong side of the table, your server doesn't know what's on your plate, no one refills your water glass, and when they do, the napkin that they shield the glass with has disgusting stains on it, you have to ask before your plates are cleared every single time, and the coffee takes forever to arrive. Relax. They are new here. Give them time. It's not like Gordon Ramsay is known for being a perfectionist or anything.

Step 7: Whip out your gold card
Prepare to shell out about 150 bucks a person, 250 bucks if you drank a lot, which definitely improves the experience. Hopefully the A&R guy from England is putting it on his room, because that is who I imagine you must be eating with. But it might be worth it this one time. Just for the fun of it. Now you know what duck's tongues taste like. Chicharrones. Almost exactly like chicharrones.

For my complete review with loads more pictures, go to LAist


Once upon a time Millie's was the only game in town. Sure, there was the House of Pies and the coffee shop on Sunset that is now some kind of brewpub -- but no one ever went there. Millie's had a strong family vibe. Everyone in the neighborhood considered it home. Most of the servers were local musicians, and everyone knew each other. Then new restaurants started popping up all over town, and when Millie's changed hands around 8 years ago, it was the final nail in the coffin. Millie's fell off the map.

Recently an old local came into town, and feeling nostalgic, we returned to our old haunt. I couldn't believe it. There was al fresco dining, so the seating was not as cramped, and the wait was not so long. The servers were still super cool and the food was -- better. Much better. I remember one day 15 years ago when I wanted fresh avocado for my omelette, and my friend walked over to the produce stand on the corner to pick one up for me.

Not anymore. Fresh fruits and vegetables are in abundance at Millie's. The Avocado is at that rare peak of ripeness that only lasts 2 days. The fruit salad was sweet and the fruit was tender and soft without being gushy. Everything was at its peak.

The Devil's Mess:

There is plenty on the menu to please carnivores and vegans alike. Low carb, low-fat, and even biscuits and gravy -- they've got it all. I am particularly fond of the scrambles with toppings, which they call a "mess" I don't know why phrases like "garbage plate" and "mess" are so appealing. It's either the little kid or the biker in me.

If I had to categorize their food I would call it a cross between California Fresh and American Regional. Besides Southern biscuits and gravy, they serve a hangtown fry, corned beef hash, chilaquiles, and a salmon benedict.

But the regional favorite I had to try out on my last visit was the chicken friend steak. Like eggs benedict, it is a true test of a kitchen's skill. And they came through. The pounded steak stayed crispy even under the blanket of thick (and rich) gravy. The potatoes may appear a little burned, but they are just right. Their biscuits are light and fluffy, like angel's breath.

My most recent dining companion, LAist's own Lindsay, chose the Eleanor R (Two eggs over-easy, cheddar cheese, over a layer of rosemary potatoes, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream) for which I was grateful. I had been curious to try that dish. But the name made me think of Eleanor Rigby, which made it seem too lonely. Maybe they should change the name to Eleanor G (I think you're swell...") Later I learned it was named for Eleanor roosevelt. Again, everything on the Eleanor R was excellent. The only complaint was that the eggs arrived cold. My own eggs weren't really hot either, but I spend so much time taking pictures and yapping with waitresses I've become accustomed to eating cold food.

The chocolate chip pancakes were killer, even if I could only try a little bite. They were light and fluffy without being too thick and heavy. Lindsay was not so impressed. She felt the use of dark chocolate was a bit much. And supertasters are sensitive to that kind of bitterness.

For those of you with special dietary needs, Millie's offers The Angel's Mess (tofu scrambled with vegan sausage and casein-free soy cheese. Served with your choice of bread and a delectable fruit cup). The tofu scramble (colorful seasonal vegetables, tofu marinated in a sesame ginger soy sauce served on a bed of soy sauce) does not specifically say vegan, but that would be my bet.

They also have some delicious-looking oatmeal, omelettes, and a variations on a special called "the regular" which is kind of like a "Grand Slam".

Overall, I was extremely impressed by the quality of the food, the cooking skills, and the good service. That coffee cup was never empty. The variety is practically on the level of Jerry's Deli. It is rare that I look at a menu and want to try practically everything on it. I will be back soon to check out the intriguing Jackie G (Three scrambled eggs with cream cheese, scallions and sherry wine).

Of course, I only eat at Millie's on weekedays. It is a brave diner who attempts to hit this place on a weekend, when the crowd, true to the name, are always milling about.

The most man ray menu in town

see you next time!

Monday, July 7, 2008

4th of July in Leimert Park

4th of July the parking lot behind Vision Theater was home to Leimert park's annual jazz festival. Music, dancing, and shopping were main attractions.

But the real question was - what was there to eat? Marilyn's had a stand there, and it was nice to not have to wait in a line around the block for once. The turkey leg was probably the best thing I've eaten in awhile. The sides were satisfactory, but paled in comparison to the tender turkey.

Shabazz had the wings and fish cooking, but we were more interested in the bean pie man. Although this cobbler looked out-of-sight, the blueberry pie is a rarity and you've got to get it while you can.

The sun was merciless, so we took a break in 5th Street Dicks for some smoothies and ended up hanging out in the AC to watch Dave Chapelle with everybody.

There is a promising new creole restaurant opening up in the site of the "fake" M&Ms.

Dray's BBQ is there at the Farmer's market every Saturday morning. We picked up some ribs and a tri tip sandwich for the road.

People showed varying degrees of patriotism via T-shirt