Saturday, December 22, 2007

HFF On the Road: Los Angeles, Ca

I don't know what it is about Los Angeles dining that I like so much. On paper, there's nothing. Fewer fresh ingredients, restaurants focused as much or more on quality of atmosphere and "scene" than on seasonality of its product, and a propensity for restaurants in strip malls.

But getting past the plastic veneer of Los Angeles dining, I think you find restaurants committed to a level of service and quality of product that is on par with anything in San Francisco or New York and without all the baggage.

Basically, I think Los Angeles benefits from its role as the redheaded stepchild to the country's more esteemed culinary cities. When lower expectations are combined with ready availability of people looking to throw money at restaurants, something positive is born.

Say what you will about Kirin, Chaya, Tsunami, or Hime, I know of no sushi restaurant in the Bay Area that has been as good as my numerous sushi outings in Los Angeles.

On this last trip I stumbled into Sushi Masu on Westwood Blvd (at La Grange). I sat at the bar and had excellent saba (fresh, not pickled), toro (melty and delicious, close to the quality of the stuff I had at Matsuhisa), and a vegetable roll (good, but heavy on the pickles). I also had a dish of softshell crab sauteed with fresh vegetables. This was crisp, deeply textured, and rich with umami. Pretty freakin' great.

As this was a mini-trip, my culinary adventures weren't as extensive as previous visits, but my trip to Wakasan (also on Westwood Blvd., right next to Sushi Masu) was enlightening. Presenting a daily omakase menu (and only an omakase menu), Wakasan presents around a dozen courses of izakaya food for $30. Perhaps the best dining value I've encountered. As I was fairly intoxicated by the end of the meal, I don't think I can recall every course, but they included an excellent sushi course, a pickled mackerel dish as well as a grilled mackerel dish, chicken skewers, the best goddamn ebi-fry I've had, and a soft semi-set savory custard with chicken, shrimp, and mushrooms. The food was all fresh and home-y, some of it a little bit weird (the custard was questionable for me), but all very very interesting. And I also left dinner stuffed. Tell me where you can get a dozen courses of artfully prepared Japanese food for thirty bucks..... and I'll show you Wakasan, because I guess that's where you can get it.

Point is, all this fine sushi put me in an excellent mood, so much so that being accosted by a man asking if I "can spare some change for a homeless man with AIDS" didn't particularly phase me. Hell, you had me at "Can you spare some change." I wasn't annoyed until he informed me about his time as a lab researcher on a government military base where they were splicing human DNA with aliens to create supersoldiers. I rolled up my window and hit the road.

Another spot of note was Mexico City on Hillhurst in Los Feliz. Good, cheap, Mexican restaurant offering a bit more than the typical budget Mexican enchiladas and chimichangas. My cochinita pibil (though a bit overdone) was pretty tasty.

On my drive back north I stopped in Kettleman City and ate at a Taco Bell for the first time in at least five years. Pretty much my first non In-and-Out fast food experience in at least that long. And you know what? It was surprisingly alright. A nicely spiced chicken and rice burrito and a simple bean burrito (admittedly heavy on the tortilla) for less than three bucks? Fuck, why the hell not? Can't think of anything else that easy to eat as you zip from east Hollywood to Berkeley in five hours, can you?

Okay, popcorn shrimp from Long John Silver's, but that's pretty gross. Let's be honest.

So give LA a chance, SF foodies. It really is pretty damn good and the service is nothing if not deferential. Despite what you might think, there's no snarky attitude to be had.

Probably because everybody's spirit is already crushed.

Go to LA. Eat sushi.

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