Right, so it's late at night, I've just finished writing this weeks Chownews, and I've been thinking about food for hours straight, so I do what I always do. I make lists.
So let's play a game.
Now, the usual, "name your favorite restaurants" game is, I've found, pretty crappy. The prompt is too airy. And, in the end, how the hell do you compare a $200 high parisien bistro with El goddamn Taurino?
This is much more focused. This is our version of the Desert Island Records game - you know, what ten albums would you take with you to that desert island? (This one tortures me late at night, especially when I've been drinking.) It's a lot more focussed of a question - you have to pay attention to want to hear over and over again, what ten would be able to get you through your damn life.
So - Desert Island Restaurants. If you had to be on a desert island with just ten LA restaurants (illogically, you can imagine that there are little wormholes from your island just to those restaurants, so you can consider the LA crowd ambience, if you want to.)
1. Ten restaurants.
2. Just to stop fistfights, one - at most two - can be from not-here. This means anywhere.
3. Here is defined as SoCal.
So: what ten? Consider: what you're willing to eat all the time. Forget objectivity. Forget greatness. Forget respectability. Look deep inside your heart and admit - straight out - what ten restaurants you'd really want.
It's OK if the list reveals more about you than it does about greatness of food in LA.
1. Flossie's Elegant Down-Home Southern Cooking, because it's beautiful and happy and they make perfect food.
2. Zankou Chicken. No kiddin'.
3. El Gran Burrito. For some goddamn reason, I eat here more than anyplace else. Don't know why. Maybe it's the open air, the crowds, the particular zest in the damn food, it makes me feel right.
4. Guelgezetza. Because a good mole is one of the most gloriously overwhelmingly lovingly complicatedly holy things in the world, and because they make 4 or 5 different good moles.
5. L'Espalier, in Boston. Best meal of my life - but unlike some of the expensive-French-etc great meals I've had, this place I could eat at every week. Mushroom ravioli with walnut and asparagus in a brandy/veal reduction with walnut foam. No kiddin'.
6. Ocean Restaurant, in San Fran. Hong Kong Seafooder. Haven't been there in years, but the way it was when I last ate it. Fish and shrimp still jumpin' in the tanks - simple preps to perfection. Garlic salt fried flounder. Ahhhh...
7. Saffron, in San Diego. Thai soups. Kind of like Samnalung Noodle, if it were run by Alice Waters. Samnalung would be here - just because I need a good noodle soup place, and Samnalung makes me happy - but Saffron has an absolute control of freshness and zests. Samnalung is all one good calm flavor. Saffron is 20 flavors in tense harmony. Samnalung is, er, harmonious integration. Saffron is dynamic equilibrium. For thai, I prefer dynamic equilibrium.
8. Mandarin Deli in chinatown. Because the hand-thrown noodles, the damn zesty seaweed salad, and the puffy fish dumplings I could eat every day of my whole life.
9. Ghangzou Palace. Whatever. Can't spell it. Samo recc'd it. Sichuan place in SGV. My god, the flavors! My tongue still burns from it.
10. La Brea Bakery. Have you ever *had* the walnut bread there? I paralyzed a man with joy with a hunk of that stuff.
I've noticed that many of the restaurants I would call me favorite in LA - Yongsusan, Chung Ki Wah, Helene's, Brodard's - aren't on the list. 'Cause, you know, I love Korean BBQ, and I love my people's crepes, but if I have 'em more than once in a month and a half, I'm spent.
Maybe I should just admit that, deep down, meat scares me.