Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Two Easy Things to Cook

I decided that it was time to be helpful instead of vitriolic. I love to cook. I've been cooking for myself pretty regularly since I was 19 or so. I was pretty shitty at it for a while. But here's the thing: you get better. The more you're around food, read about food, and cook stuff, the better you get at it. It's not a switch you turn on or off, it's a skill set that gradually evolves.

Some basic rules:
1. Cookbooks are your friend. But they're your friend in the context of giving instruction on cooking and the basic framework of recipes, they aren't procedural dogma for working toward the Platonic ideal of "spotted dick," no more than reading the Joy of Sex will make you f like a pro.

2. Be cautious with recipes. It will behoove you much more to learn how to cook, say, a chicken, or a pork loin, or a tomato sauce in the general sense and experiment with accompanying flavors than to just grab a recipe card and make "Grandma's Crazy One-Pot Chili" or "Tex-Mex Party Drumettes" or "Creepy Uncle Joe's Boob-Shaped Meat Loaf." A notable exception to this is baking, where ratios and measurements are much more integral to the chemical process of cooking.

3. Pay attention. The price of good food, just as it is for democracy, is vigilance. Under-set kitchen timers by at least 20% and keep tabs on what's cooking. Don't just toss it in the oven and go watch "The Hills."

4. When in doubt, use more fat and use less heat for longer. This'll prevent burning, sticking, and drying out. You'll be less likely to overcook and you'll retain a lot more flavor. By no means a universal rule, but a good reference.

And now.... two easy things to cook.

Roast Pork Tenderloin
Perhaps the tastiest (and most suggestive) cut of meat you can find at a reasonable price. Roast pork tenderloin will turn heads and get you laid. The best part? Even if you're just cooking for one, cold leftover tenderloin thinly sliced on a sandwich is also freaking delicious.

The basics:
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Trim excess fat or any weird hang-y bits from the tenderloin (shouldn't be too much). Rub tenderloin with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Place in a roasting pan and put the pan in the oven. That's it. A basic one-pound tenderloin will take about 40 minutes to cook. Take it out of the oven when there's just a sliver of pink left in the center, or if you're using a thermometer, when it reaches about 160 degrees in the center.

The variations:
Pork tenderloin is pretty damn flavorful on its own, but it also takes well to bastes and marinades. A freakin' awesome one is to just put the tenderloin in a ziploc with a brine of water, salt, and fresh rosemary and/or lavender for several hours (do it in the morning or even the night before). Rub the tenderloin with olive oil and more fresh rosemary/lavender before roasting. Another good option is to make a rub out of mustard, olive oil, pepper, and French herbs (herbes de Provence or fines herbes). Mix everything together (use enough olive oil to dilute the mustard and go heavy on the herbs) and slather.

You'll see a lot of recipes online for tenderloin that involves orange juice, Coca-Cola, or other sweet marinades. Give it a go if you want but those sound pretty gimmicky to me. Pork tenderloin doesn't need to be all whored up like that. It's classy.

The ultimate variation:
Mix cherry or plum preserves with salt, pepper, vegetable oil (the one instance where I suggest a neutral oil like canola instead of olive), and enough vinegar to temper the sweetness of the preserves without being harsh. Just add a little bit at a time and taste as you go.

With a sharp knife, cut the pork tenderloin lengthwise, about 2/3 of the way through. Spoon the fruit mixture into this cavity and truss the tenderloin back up either with twine or toothpicks. Brush the outside with oil, salt, and pepper and roast as above. It might take a little bit less time.

Added bonus? Simmer the leftover fruit mixture for a few minutes and spoon hot over slices of tenderloin when you plate it.

The accompaniments:
Keep it simple. Cook some wild rice or rice pilaf (see below) and steam some broccoli (drizzle with olive oil or melt a little butter on the broccoli prior to serving). Easy, plug and play, healthy, and sexy.


Pilafs in various forms exist in the cuisines of dozens of cultures. There's a reason for that. It's a simple way to make rice (or quinoa or couscous or teff or whatever) extra tasty.

The basics:
Chop up some onion (about one whole small onion or 1/2 a large one) and a clove or two of garlic.

Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to a thick-bottomed saucepan. When the oil's hot, add onion, garlic, and a bit of crushed red pepper. Saute until translucent and aromatic. Add a cup of rice (or any grain) to the oil and saute until lightly browned, maybe about three minutes or so. There's no harm in cooking more than you need, as pilaf is great the next day either cold or reheated.

Add a splash of white wine and deglaze the pan (this means scraping the bottom of the pan with your spatula [make sure to use plastic/wood if it's a nonstick pan]) to get all the tasty bits off the bottom. Give the alcohol a minute to cook off and then add chicken or vegetable stock. Different grains use different amounts, so check the instructions. For white rice you'd add two cups liquid to every cup of rice. For couscous, add equal volume liquid to grain.

Cook according to the grain's instruction. For rice, bring the liquid to a boil and then let simmer, covered, until the liquid is absorbed (~20 minutes). For couscous, bring the liquid to a boil and then turn off the heat, leaving the pilaf covered for 10 minutes or so.

Fluff with a fork and serve.

The variations:
Pilaf takes to pretty much anything you want to add to it. In most cases I'd recommend cooking any vegetables separately and stirring them in at the end. Most will cook much quicker than the pilaf mixture requires.

For extra-fancy pilaf, chop some fresh parsley. Stir in about 2/3 of the parsley when you fluff the pilaf and top with the remaining parsley when serving.

For extra-delicious pilaf, stir in a couple tablespoons of butter right before serving.

The ultimate variation:
Instead of using olive oil, chop up some bacon, prosciutto, sausage, or other fatty pork product and cook in the saucepan until the fat is rendered. Remove the meat and set aside on some paper towels to drain. Cook everything else as instructed, but using the pork fat instead of the oil. Also, instead of using stock, use water and add salt and pepper to taste. When done cooking, stir back in the meat along with some fresh rosemary and sage.

The accompaniments:
Pilaf makes an excellent side dish for any protein. I also like to use it as a base on which to serve soups or stews. For something semi-homemade that actually is semi-homemade, serve a good canned soup, stew, or Tasty Bite Indian meal, on a bed of homemade pilaf.

Pilaf can also be a meal on its own. Just stir in more vegetables (broccoli, carrots, and squash are all good options) and top with a sliced chicken breast, salmon filet, or, hell, stir in some of that leftover pork tenderloin all diced up.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Food Disneylands; or Why LA Live will be a Disaster

That massive grey behemoth adjacent to the Staples Center has finally opened its doors, kinda.

For those of you unfamiliar, it's LA Live, a massive dining and entertainment complex developed by AEG, the operator of the Staples Center.

LA Times architecture critic Christpher Hawthorne savaged the design and concept in a recent review. His disdain is justifiable: while paying lip service to downtown revitalization the complex is in fact just another destination shopping center, blocked off from the surrounding community. You drive there, you park your car, you stay inside the complex, and you leave. You don't integrate yourself with the surrounding community. You don't patronize businesses in the neighborhood. Drive. Park. Shop. Leave. That's it.

The financial backing for LA Live is enormous. It will become ESPN's de facto HQ as every SportsCenter will be broadcast from its new studios there, though it will keep its official offices in Bristol. The Ritz-Carlton is putting a hotel in and there will be apartments and extensive convention space.

LA Live could indeed be a success as a destination, akin to the Anaheim Convention Center/Disneyland megasprawl in Orange County. But that's just it, it'll be a place that people go to for whatever business/pleasure purpose they might have and then leave. It won't "revitalize downtown" anymore than Disneyland "revitalized" Anaheim. Disneyland created jobs and provided tax revenue, but it didn't turn Anaheim into a new San Francisco, or even a new Long Beach.

Revitalization is a process that is largely organic. All that cities can do is provide good soil and enough water and sunshine, everything else will grow out on its own. When commercial monoliths get into the revitalization business you get terrariums, not gardens.

Downtown Culver City became a revitalized restaurant mecca in a largely organic way. The city renovated the buildings, made sure to build lots of parking, and provided incentives to businesses to relocate, but it didn't allow for any large scale redevelopment by any one particular group. It also mostly maintained the basic integrity of its street layouts, keeping the area open and vibrant with a sense that you're still in a city.

The Culver City restaurants are primarily independent operations and are set in the midst of a community of retailers, production companies, city offices, Sony Pictures, and Culver Studios with architecture firms and art galleries on its eastern fringe. People often patronizing three or four different businesses in the course of an evening out. Most importantly, this downtown core is surrounded by housing, whether it's the single-family bungalows of Culver City to the south or the working class (but gentrifying) multi-family dwellings of Los Angeles along Venice Blvd. to the north. In short, it's a downtown the way downtowns used to be and Culver City deserves credit for providing a welcoming environment for developers without letting them crap all over the community (c.f. 3rd St. Promenade, The Grove).

This is what makes for revitalization: a reason for people to get out of their house and be in the community. The Culver City resident can walk to Trader Joe's, Albertson's, a dozen great restaurants, dry cleaners, printers, two movie theatres, two houses of the legitimate stage, a post office, City Hall, hospitals, schools, and several parks. The same can't yet be said for the Downtown resident and LA Live isn't going to change that.

A quick look at LA Live's tenants reveals a who's who of major chains and restaurant groups: Fleming's Steakhouse, Wolfgang Puck, ESPNZone, Trader Vic's, Yardhouse, and Katsuya. With LA Live's no doubt skyhigh rents these are the only businesses that can afford to move in. These aren't businesses that are going to attract foodies or culinary tourists. They aren't businesses that will attract LA residents on any regular basis. These are businesses that will be patronized by out of towners who are at LA Live for conferences, concerts, or sporting events. If I live in Beverly Hills and want to eat dinner before a Lakers game, why would I do it at LA Live instead of at one of the scores of better restaurants between my house and downtown? And if I live in Beverly Hills, why would I go to Wolfgang Puck in LA Live when I could go to a Wolfgang Puck down the street?

The revitalization of downtown by LA Live is either a lip service lie or a pipe dream. True revitalization of downtown means more art walks, more grocery stores, and more businesses open after 9PM, not a mini-Vegas destination bubble for Lakers fans from Torrance and out of town conventioneers.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Why I Hate Yelp! Part X (I've lost track)

Instead of going on yet another tirade, let me introduce an actual story from an independent businessperson of my acquaintance:

I am mad at Yelp. First they called me incessantly and after repeatedly telling them I had no money to advertise they insisted on still talking to me because "there were ways I could promote my business with them that didn't cost money." So I did, I sat on the phone with the guy for an hour only to end up with a sales pitch for a $300 a month advertising plan and him basically calling me dumb for not wanting it.

Now mysteriously 3 of my 5 star reviews have been removed. When I looked into it, this is the response they give:

Reviews may come or go for a few different reasons:

1. A user may have removed his or her review.
2. Yelp may have removed the review for violating our Review Guidelines or Terms of Service (in which case we will typically notify the reviewer).
3. Yelp has a system which automatically determines which reviews show for a given business. Just as your Yahoo or Gmail email account doesn't deliver every email (spam, etc.), we don't show every review. This protects both business owners (by suppressing reviews that may have been written by a malicious competitor, for example) and consumers (by suppressing reviews that may have a definitive bias, having been written by owners or their friends). It's important to note that these reviews are not deleted (they are always shown on the user's public profile) and may reappear on the business listing page in the future.

Note: Our support team cannot manually restore reviews that are not currently displayed, should you contact us about missing reviews you will receive the information above.

And now, a mini-tirade:

It's amazing that a site that operates so disingenuously can be as popular as it is (though financially untenable). It's another example of Yelp!'s remarkable business model: gain traffic at all costs, be obstinate to the point of insulting toward businesses, turn around and ask those same businesses for money.

What's with the disjointed logic in the Yelp! form letter above? "Just as your Yahoo or Gmail account doesn't deliver all email." What the hell? Of course it does! There's a folder full of offers for "V1codin" and entreaties to "give her the gift she's always wanted: your dick" that I can read through if I want to. I self-censor my emails, Gmail just makes it easier to do with the spam folder. Yelp! censors its reviews, plain and simple. It decides for you which reviews you should read for a business.

And, based purely on original research, Yelp! is a helluvalot more likely to remove a perceived "pro" bias review than it is to review a "malicious" review. Notice, once again, that there's no mention of removing "factually inaccurate reviews." If the ultimate goal is to have a functional, effective resource for information on businesses, shouldn't this be the first thing you correct?


If you're a decent human being, don't use Yelp!, please.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Biodynamics: Worthwhile Geomancy

I'm no believer in biodynamics. I wouldn't've been in the 30's when it originated and I'm decidedly not now in an age where slapping on a Demeter Biodynamic label increases the value of your vineyard's acreage a squizillion-fold.

That being said, Joe Eskenazi is seriously missing the point in his SF Guardian article.

I encourage you to read it. It's somewhat enlightening as to the history of biodynamics and sheds some light on a largely occult-based practice that has gained considerable traction in grape growing (and, actually, agriculture in general in many parts of Europe). But for those of you not interested in reading, he essentially decries biodynamics as"voodoo on the vine" and no better than organic farming (at best) and an eerie occult practice whose adherents are a half-step away from Heaven's Gate members (at worst).

Here's the thing: everything he says in the article is, as far as I know, 100% true.

1. Biodynamics does involve a lot of elaborate "preparations" for vineyard management that do involve things like cow blood dilutions and mouse ash dilutions and on and on. However this is little different than the widely-accepted (in Europe) practice of homeopathic medicine, the basic premise that like treats like. Homeopathy does involve the human consumption (in heavily diluted doses) of, amongst other things, crushed up honey bees, arsenic, and belladonna (better known as poison nightshade). Basically, if you have a mouse problem in your vineyard, douse your vineyard in a dilution of mouse ashes; if you have a bee sting, ingest a dilution of powdered honey bees. Is it bullshit? More than likely. Does it have its psychological, procedural, and placebo value? Sure.

2. Biodynamics is not "ultra-organic." It's decidedly not. In some technical ways biodynamics isn't organic since biodynamics (rightfully) allows for the use of sulfur dioxide in the wine-making process, something which the USDA does not. Biodynamics is simply a schedule of generally accepted procedures whose adherents submit for evaluation by a third party regulatory board to receive certification. Just like organic produce, the MPAA ratings system, the State Bar, and on and on and on and on.

3. Most people don't know what biodynamic means. This is true. The vast majority of wine drinkers, waiters, sales reps, and even retailers have little if any understanding of biodynamics. This should change. It should change specifically because it's misleading (as is organic labeling in wine). Virtually all quality small production wineries practice relatively sustainable farming practices. Many producers, organic or otherwise, practice some degree of dry-farming. Many farmers plant cover crops. Almost all use only non-chemical pesticides, though they'll keep the big guns on hand if something should severely threaten their vineyards. Think of it as the homeowner with the shotgun above his bed. He's not out shooting folks every night, but if there's a threat to his home and family, it's coming off the wall.

4. Biodynamics is no better than organic. Sure, that's true. And hell, just to repeat it, biodynamics is no better than simple sustainable low-yield grape growing practices.

But my response to Mr. Eskenazi is, "So what?"

Other than the ignorance of consumers, there's nothing damning in his article. So that's my response. So what? So some people believe in something weird and mystical based almost entirely in occult speculation. That sounds like, well, any religion. Or societal convention. Is believing that having an union between two people that is recognized by state or religious institution somehow a more legitimate expression of love any different than believing that harvesting on the full moon yields fuller fruit flavors?

Only within their respective contexts. It's all constructs, so go along with it. Love is what's in your heart and tastiness is what's in your face, everything else is just a label.

Eskenazi's doing the journalistic equivalent of saying, "pssh, you believe in God? That's stupid. You believe in an omnipotent creator living in a palace in the sky? You're a retard." He's simply missing the point.

What if I were to tell you to free your mind from your worldly ties, spend a good amount of time each day sitting silently, breathing deeply, and clearing your mind, and wearing comfy pants? Sounds good, but would you do it? But what if I tossed you a copy of the Tibetan Canon and "Richard Gere's Zen for Dummies." Startin' to sound a whole lot more appealing, no? I mean, did you see American Gigolo?

And sure you could just decide to lead a good life, try to be a net positive for the world, and enrich the lives of those around you, but being a Christian just has a better ring to most people. And hell, if believing in a magic spaceman who's going to throw the mother of all massives in the next life for true believers is a deal breaker for you to be a decent human being, than I guess I'll roll with it. No skin off my back,

My point? If ascribing to biodynamics is what it takes to get consumers to purchase responsibly farmed produce and growers to pay closer attention to their crops then, well, I'm okay with that. Most things are 80% crazy, but if it takes 80% crazy to produce 20% quality and the 80% crazy doesn't get in the way of others living their lives, then fuck it.

Great expose Joe Eskenazi. Way to attempt to show that ascribing to a belief system that's a net gain to the world is a sham. I think that makes you a net drain. Cheers.

Though I still won't see anything that's been within ejaculation distance of Mel Gibson. I have my own belief constructs to stick to.

Monday, November 17, 2008

These Things Must End

1. "What kind of martinis do you have?"

There are two kinds of martinis, gin and vodka. Or rather, there's one kind of martini, made with gin, and then there's also a "vodka martini." You can then request your martini to any degree of dryness and, grudgingly, I'll let you order a dirty martini. But not a filthy martini. Filthy martinis are for whores.

But just because a drink is in a cocktail glass, that does not make it a martini. And that's right, it's a cocktail glass, not a fucking martini glass. I know that cocktail glass is oh so exciting and reminds you of those old "don't drink and drive" ads from your childhood but it's really mostly an historically anomaly with little functionality.

Now what's my opinion on cocktails appended with the suffix "-tini?" I'll allow it, because it really sounds breathtakingly stupid.

A martini is a drink that puts hair on your chest. It's gin lightly diluted with ice and tempered with a splash of vermouth. That's it.

2. People over the age of 22 who can't cook.

I'm not expecting you to make a perfect souffle or an unbroken aioli. But if you can't make an okay omelette, a respectable pasta sauce, a flavorful roast pork tenderloin, or a not too-dry poached salmon, what the hell have you been doing with your time?

This isn't the 1950's where you lived at home with mom and dad, then lived for four years in a dorm, and then lived in a boarding house for the year or two before you got married and had a wife to cook for you and beat. And women, you're no longer part of a generation who basically spends most of her childhood learning to cook and most of her young adulthood finding a husband to cook for and beat you.

Most of us are going to be unmarried well into our thirties and if you don't know how to cook simply and healthfully for yourself you're going to get fat, doughy, and/or spend a lot of money going out to eat. The best way to get better at cooking? Do it more often.

To further this end, stay tuned for simple cooking tips in future installments of HFF.

3. The Food Network

Briefly, very briefly, the Food Network was a compelling channel about cooking, food, and food history. Now it's a collection of annoying white women (and a few ethnic women who all look remarkably like Rachel Ray) giving tips on how to open up cans and mix ingredients up in a pot mixed with shows starring fat reactionary white guys screaming about how you should love eating a fried mayonnaise sandwich topped with bacon.

Actually that sounds pretty good, but you get my point.

With the enlightening food shows moving over to the Travel Channel or back to their roots on PBS, the Food Network has outlived its usefulness, becoming the cable television equivalent of recipes on the back of Knorr dehydrated broth packets.

Once again we've shifted to taking the path of least resistance, presenting programming that serves not to educate but instead to validate ignorance and laziness.

And there you have it! Join us next time on Horny for Food for the harrowing conclusion of "The Adventures of Bronco Daisy and the Curse of the Wizard's Staff."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Beaujolais-fest '08!

It's November, despite the 80 degree heat, and nothing says November like the annual retreading of the mind-numbing topic of "what wine to drink with Thanksgiving dinner."

The three wines most often written about are:

1. Beaujolais Nouveau
2. Rose (of all kinds)
3. Pinot Noir

I don't disagree with the three recommendations above, though I think that the Beaujolais Nouveau response is more a matter of gimmicky coincidence than any real quality inherent in the wine. In fact, Beaujolais Nouveau is pretty much garbage and always has been.

A bit about Beaujolais. It's a region in France adjacent to Burgundy (some actually consider Beaujolais to be a part of Burgundy). Unlike Burgundy's pinot noir, Beaujolais produces the grape gamay noir. True gamay is produced very little outside of Beaujolais and most domestic wine that is billed as "gamay" is actually one of a few mediocre late-ripening pinot noir clones used primarily in jug wine. There are a few acres of authentic gamay in California and there's starting to be some remarkable domestic gamay in a Beaujolais style.

The gamay grape shares something of a similar flavor profile as pinot noir, with nice plush fruit, good acidity, and soft earthiness. Gamay tends to ripen more, presenting more fleshy berry fruit and doesn't take to the minerality that pinot noir can. Beaujolais will never produce wine as elegant as top Burgundies, but wines from Beaujolais-Villages or one of the Cru Beaujolais villages present fabulously complex wines for a fraction of the price of a comparable Burgundy.

But what of Beaujolais Nouveau? It's what's called a "vin de primeur," a harvest wine that's quickly fermented and consumed within a matter of weeks with virtually no aging. It's a vin ordinaire from the crappiest grapes in the region (you're not going to subject your top vineyards to such treatment). Something simple and quick to celebrate the end of the harvest while you wait for the good wine to be released the next year. Until after World War II it was only ever consumed locally. Seeing an increasing number of tourists from Paris and London coming out to Beaujolais to take part in the harvest festivities, a few savvy negociants came up with the marketing ploy of the "freshness race" for Beaujolais, codifying the worldwide release date for the third Thursday in November. The wine saw a massive surge in popularity in the 1970's and 1980's, particularly in Germany, Japan, and the United States, where light fruity wines were particularly popular. And where people love a good gimmick.

It should be noted that environmentalists are calling on a boycott of the Beaujolais Nouveau, and not just on taste grounds. It reaches world markets on the same day because of costly air shipping, producing a much higher carbon footprint than the more conventional transit method of container ship. I support this.

If you do insist on drinking the Beaujolais Nouveau, then chill it a bit and guzzle with turkey and stuffing. Hell, pour it on your freaking plate. It's like cranberry sauce and gravy in one!

I would recommend highly foregoing the nouveau and get a nice Beaujolais AOC or Villages wine which will also be stellar with your Thanksgiving dinner.

I will be having an 06 Wild Hog Pinot Noir, which I've deliberately held onto from last year's release. Should be good.

Other good nouveau alternatives? Roses are always nice, particularly something in a more lean Old World style in the manner of a Bandol. Crisp aromatic whites in the vein of a southern Rhone or sweetly minerally wines from Germany and Austria. Non-fruit bomb zinfandels from the Russian River or a well-made plush merlot from pretty much anywhere will also be good fits.

Drink up, eat well, boycott Beaujolais Nouveau.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Local - Los Angeles, Ca

In my limited experience in LA, I've found that there's a dearth of simple honest, restaurants that still have an air of refinement and distinction in execution. I'm talking restaurants like 900 Grayson in Berkeley, Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, or the Chow consortium in San Francisco. A place where I can get simple home-y food made from top quality organic ingredients without absurd prices or getting elbowed in the face by absurdly skinny blonde women in ten-inch heels and misappropriated DVF dresses.

I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds right.

Local, a new-ish nouveau diner on Sunset Blvd. about a half-block from Silver Lake Blvd, fills that void. Offering burgers, sandwiches, and a salad bar using almost entirely sustainable, organic, and "local" ingredients.

The restuarant's uber-casual and almost all the seating is outside, either at sunny tables along Sunset or seating under the covered side patio. Most importantly, in an area rife with chic hole-in-the-walls staffed by gloomy hipsters, Local is pretty damn friendly.

I had the vegetarian Reuben, a delightfully messy pile of sauteed mushrooms, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and dollops of Russian dressing, grilled and served with a pile of spiced thin-cut fries. Girlfriend Charlie had the BLTAC, a grilled BLT with avocado and cheddar on brioche. Also awesome.

Other menu items that looked compelling included the "albondigas" pork burger, egg-less tofu egg salad, and a heritage pork "sloppy joe."

Of note is that Local has a pork burger, turkey burger, quinoa burger, and goat cheese stuffed portobello croquette burger, but no beef burger. In fact there's no beef on a menu that, while offering lots of vegetarian options, is by no means animal-shy. I support this wholeheartedly.

The real highlight looks like it might be the organic by-the-pound salad bar which includes their house curry chicken salad and many other items that go beyond iceberg lettuce and flavorless tomatoes.

Local's open daily for breakfast and lunch (including a great-looking weekend brunch menu) and is open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday, offering dinner entree variations on their lunch staples still for very reasonable prices hovering around $11-$12.

Simple, interesting, tasty organic food in a casual and friendly space for not a whole lot. Go there.

2943 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angles, Ca 90026

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fresh & Easy - Trouble for Trader Joe's?

Sorry for my delay in posting. It's been a flurry of activity this October.

First, an interesting little review of the unassailable Father's Office burger. The most notable quote here is "When you have meat of this quality it should be served as a steak or at least a steak sandwich."

I can't agree more. A burger is a fucking burger. It's ground up and flavored and just, well, it's just not the best showcase for top quality product. That's where burgers came from, a chance to extend and improve mediocre or questionable meat. A spicy tuna roll is made from the mediocre scrapings of tuna mixed with a spicy sauce to mask its shitiness. You wouldn't make spicy tuna from o-toro. Basic chuck is all that you need for a good burger. Anything else is a waste of quality meat. Kobe burger? What the fuck! Hell, a sirloin burger is retarded. All that these products do is allow us to indulge in the exotic and/or conspicuously consumable under the protective layer of easily accessible food. It's like putting foie gras on a burger or caviar on a pizza. It's just silly. These things are best on their own. Great beef is best seared rare with a little salt and pepper. That's the point. That's what cows die for.

Moving on.

I'd heard of these markets called "Fresh & Easy" but had yet to visit one. Fresh & Easy is Tesco's attempt to enter the U.S. market. If you don't know Tesco, then you're one of the many Americans who doesn't realize that there are many many multinational corporations that aren't based in the United States. Tesco is the world's fourth largest retailer, being a major supermarket chain in Britain and having a significant presence throughout Europe.

Fresh & Easy launched last year in Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada. They took an interesting approach. Rather than launching flagship stores in major cities, Fresh & Easy slipped its way in to the country in the sprawling suburbs of Orange, San Diego, Riverside, Imperial, and southern Los Angeles counties. Even now, stores are barely present north of Manhattan Beach. Hell, its first store was in Hemet and if you didn't have to look up Hemet on the internet when you heard that you're a better man than me.

I found myself on a semi-spontaneous road trip east on I-10 with girlfriend Charlie to the desert town of Indio and in so doing found myself stumbling into what I've decided is my new favorite grocery store, Fresh & Easy.

It is unfortunate that I have to drive through the shitbox that is the Inland Empire to get to California's Desert Cities. The desert is a stunningly weird and beautiful place and the only thing keeping me from visiting it more is that ninety minutes of driving through continuous sprawl. We passed six Targets. Six! And that's just what was visible from the freeway.

Fresh & Easy sort of floats in a void of its own. It's way smaller and cheaper than Whole Foods but decently bigger and more comprehensive than Trader Joe's (and in some instances cheaper). Like both those places, Fresh & Easy offers a large selection of premade and semi-prepared foods, but is much less reliant on the freezer section. I dig this. I like fresh pre-made stuff, but not so much frozen/canned. I think this is a perfect match for what busy young families and professionals want. I love to cook. I like to cook from scratch if I can. That being said if I can compliment my meal with a pretty tasty fresh pre-made side of creamed spinach for $1.50, why not? Plus, Fresh & Easy sells food of this type in quantities that can reasonably be consumed by two adults in the course of a meal, as opposed to Trader Joe's which sells food in quantities that're way too much for one but not enough for two.

Fresh & Easy offers a large organic selection while not making it the focus of their operations. It also offers largely store-branded items coupled with some specifically selected name-brand products (much like Trader Joe's).

The most interesting thing that I found about Fresh & Easy is that they openly sell their late-dated products at a discount. What was once the bastion of grocery outlets can now be purchased in the store in which it was intended. And you can get a helluva a deal on food that's still quite fresh. Basically, Fresh & Easy has a section where food a day or two away from its sell-by date is sold for 50% or more less than its retail price. It's still perfectly fine, it just can't sit in a fridge for a week before you eat it.

I like this a lot as it presents some great money-saving options for people who are buying dinner for that evening. Basically, it encourages frequent shopping for fresh food.

The last very cool thing about Fresh & Easy is that they're opening stores in "food deserts." They're becoming the only retailer in neighborhoods devoid of quality grocery stores, including Compton and Glassell Park in Los Angeles and (soon) Bayview/Hunter's Point and East Oakland in the SF area. When you present fresh, wholesome, unpretentious food at very good prices in neighborhoods underserved by quality retailers, you're helping the world in readily appreciable ways.

So find the Fresh & Easy nearest you (it's probably Manhattan Beach) and shop. Shop I say!

P.S. The Salton Sea is fucking creepy as hell. It's like a giant meth lab full of pelicans. I highly recommend a visit.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Two Follow-Ups

#1. Here's an old article from the LA Times I stumbled across that deals with the finer points of BYOB laws in California: http://articles.latimes.com/2003/nov/12/food/fo-matters12.

Some of the points are a bit out of date, for instance the ABC changed its policy and license-holders can NOT be held responsible for damages caused by patrons leaving drunk from their establishment, provided that the patrons are of a legal drinking age. This rule was changed because it put a restaurant in the catch-22 of neither being able to have a drunk patron on their premises nor being able to send him on his way.

It does highlight the basic ridiculousness of our liquor licensing system and how it can spell the death of an otherwise prosperous business. It also puts too much in the hands of one little douche bag with a grudge or a hatred of alcohol.

#2. I don't know in what esteem the OC Register's food section is held, but in an indicator of the bizarreness of the LA Times review of Charlie Palmer, the Register gave it nothing but plaudits in its review. This goes to show nothing other than that you should ignore fucking restaurant reviews and decide for yourself. Critics are no better or worse evaluators of dining than the average intelligent consumer. Strike that, they're usually worse.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

I Miss Michael Bauer

I know that it's of record that I'm not a huge fan of Michael Bauer, the San Francisco Chronicle Food Editor and primary restaurant critic. I find his palate predictable, writing style predictable banal, and his lips too firmly planted on Pat Kuleto's ass. Still, he seems like a nice enough guy and the one time I actually waited on him he left me a generous tip and bumped our restaurant up half a star on his follow-up review. Can't really complain there.

And when compared to LA Times food critic S. Irene Virbila, Bauer looks like William-fucking-Faulkner.

"Miss Irene," as restaurant folks in LA like to call here (despite the fact that she's married) sounds like a royal bitch.

Read her recent review of Charlie Palmer's restaurant in the South Coast Plaza.

Somehow she turns what sounds like a mediocre experience at a neglected offshoot in a celebrity chef's empire into a personal attack on Mr. Palmer himself. Should the chef whose name is on a restaurant be more hands-on in the kitchen? Sure. In most cases are they? Fuck no. It's image and branding Miss Irene. You can't replicate something great. The closest anyone's gotten is Thomas Keller's Per Se in New York which managed to achieve three Michelin Stars but still isn't mentioned in the same breath as The French Laundry.

In fact, it's a credit to Keller that he didn't market himself recklessly. All his restaurants receive good to great reviews. His organization seems to be doing something right. But that's the exception, not the rule. And last I checked, Charlie Palmer's a celebrity chef in the same way Govind Armstong is. He's not. Hell, he doesn't even have a Wikipedia article.

So you had a middling experience at the new Charlie Palmer's. Who the fuck cares? You yourself seemed to enjoy at least a handful of dishes and nothing that you disliked sounded overly egregious. So there was too much mushroom soup? Darn. So the desserts were overconceived? Whooptido. Pate was middling? Fair enough. Those are legitimate, but small complaints. You loved the wine, you loved the service, and you enjoyed a third of the food. Those things added up equal an okay review, not a column of vitriol worthy of Horny for Food.

Though I don't think you can turn a phrase quite as well as I can and your restaurant reviews are sorely lacking in profanity, ethnic slurs, and titty references to be considered for enshrinement in these hallowed pages.

Most importantly Miss Irene, your prose is about as turgid as it gets. Your reviews read like something a middle-aged housewife would write in her "Restaurant Reviews" lesson in a night school journal writing class. It shows a pitiful level of engagement and critical thinking that is barely Yelp!-worthy, let alone appropriate for one of the most important newspapers in one of the most dynamic restaurant markets in the country. Its proper place is glued on a piece of construction paper with ribbons and glitter next to washed out flash photographs of turkey-necked fifty-somethings holding up glasses of Bandol rose in a "Girls' Night Out to Dinner" scrapbook.

For the love of monkeyballs what did Charlie Palmer do to you Miss Irene? Did he steal your wallet? Impregnate your daughter? Pull out, leave town, and refuse to cuddle? What?

His restaurant's in South Coast Plaza! What were you expecting? Seriously. What were you expecting? It's a goddamn shopping mall in Orange County! And it's a chef who, aside from one James Beard "Best Chef New York" award over ten years ago counts Wine Spectator honors as his most significant achievements. And we all know that you get a Wine Spectator Award that same way you get to host the Olympics:

Bribery and human rights abuses.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Ta Mère Est Belge!

Am I the only one who’s been drinking Belgian beers since high school?

That’s an exaggeration, as the only beer I had prior to college was one Coors Light at a shitty house party.

But still, I’ve been drinking (and loving) Chimay for about a half-dozen plus one years now. Also was drinking Orvel, Westmalle, Stella, Hoegaarden, Duvel, Delirium Tremens, and all the other readily available Belgian beers for a long time. Belgium makes rockstar beers. Fabulous fucking beers. And many many different kinds of beers. Every neighborhood seems to have its own style.

I’m not knocking Belgian beers. I have something else to knock.

Why the fuck does every single upscale bar in LA have a fucking hard-on for Belgian and Belgian-style beers?

To be fair, you also can’t swing a dead racehorse penis in the Bay Area without hitting a new Belgian-themed gastropub. It expanded more slowly and organically up there though. A Luka’s here. A Trappist there.

There are numerous bars and gastropubs that will only serve Belgian/Belgian-style beers. That’s like a restaurant only serving French wines. It shows a myopic view of the culinary world under the guise of pretentious class.

What bothers me the most is this attitude that somehow Belgian beer is superior to other premium beers. That somehow because it comes in a corked bottle and is served in a quaint glass that makes it an elegant experience—something superior to a quality pint of porter with a plate of chili cheese fries.

And why would you serve only Belgian beers? Despite their diversity, you’re still limiting yourself. With the exception of the mass market Belgians like the aforementioned Stella Artois and Hoegaarden, you’re dealing primarily with robust, high-alcohol ales that knock you out after a glass or two. Session beers they aren’t.

And that’s the beauty of beer: swilling pints with friends over the course of an evening. It’s not wine. It’s not something to be savored as slowly as wine. It’s meant to be drunk, gulped, chugged, and enjoyed in broad strokes, just like the food you drink it with. Pizza. Fish and chips. Burgers. Fries.

How do they drink beer in England? Proper pints. In most cases, 20 ounce pints. In Germany (outside of Berlin anyway)? Half-liters, and in Bavaria the one liter “Maß,” while not necessarily the default serving, is almost universally available and enjoyed by tourists and locals alike. The Czech Republic? Half-liters. Australia? Seven gallon gravity-tapped backpacks. And in America the 16 ounce pint used to be the universal. These are the proper beer-drinking countries of the world. Hell, Belgium serves most beers in a half-liter too, but try to get yourself a half-liter of Maredsous in California and some sideburned bartender in thick-rimmed glasses will look at you like you’re an uncultured, unhip lunatic.

With the Belgianization of our beer experience has come the shrinking of our beer servings (why can’t I get a goddamn proper pint in an upscale restaurant?) and after that comes the worst trend of them all… beer pairings.

I’m pretty laissez-faire when it comes to pairing wine with food, so the thought of nuanced course-for-course beer pairing is rather nauseating. Beer is great with food. In many instances better with certain foods than wine is. A pint of real pilsner with a dozen oysters hits the spot better than any sauvignon blanc for example. A schwarzbier with Black Forest ham on rye. A well balanced pale ale with pretty much anything.

I like a Belgian beer the same way I like a scotch: a glass or two every now and then. It’s not a go-to. It can’t be. You’ll go broke and get hammered.

And it sucks that the growing pretentious beer crowd has got me thinking about Belgian beer the same way I think of Courvoisier cognac, Rolex watches, and Grey Goose vodka: faux-upscale beverages for those whose conception of class begins and ends with the advertisements in GQ.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Icy Scythe of Bureaucracy

Restaurants fail for lots of reasons. Location. Concept. Overhead. Arrogance. Incompetence. General crappiness. Or just good old fashioned shitty luck.

Or some restaurants could just fail from good old fashioned retarded hubris.

Last week saw the collapse of two restaurants due to run-ins with our friends at the ABC.

For those of you unfamiliar, the Alcoholic Beverage Control issues and regulates liquor licenses in the state of California. When opening a restaurant in California, your best hope is to buy an establishment with an already existing liquor license. Woe be to the restaurant that seeks to start from scratch in an un-licensed space.

For you see, the ABC is a massive self-perpetuating bureaucracy that needs all the hoops it puts in place to survive. The more hoops, the more opportunities for fines and processing fees. And all because we're a nation founded by Puritans, went through a dozen or so years sans-hooch in the 1920's, and then nobody stopped and said, "Hey wait a minute, this is irrelevant and pointless now."

So what brought down Vinoteque and Goa? Underage drinking? Unchecked sex? Nope. Simple flagrant violations of simple rules.

Vinoteque had use restrictions on their license, including limitations on how late they could serve alcohol outside and how late they could have live music. They violated these restrictions. They were warned. They again violated them. So they lost their license.

I'm not sure what the owners expected. The ABC isn't in business to make it easy to have a liquor license, but I suppose anyone who decorates a space in the style of 1993 must be okay playing fast and loose with the regulatory body that secures their livelihood.

In Goa's case, they were operating under a type "47" liquor license. A 47 is a license for eating establishments that serve alcohol. Which means restaurants and pubs, not trendy nightclubs open to all hours with celebutantes and swarthy douchebags vomiting on each other on Wednesday nights. Apparently Goa never did get their food program in order. Another restriction on 47 licenses has to do with dancing. An eating establishment with live music (a "cabaret") needs to have a clearly delineated dance floor. This might sound like an irrelevant nuance, except that it's put in place so that restaurants can't use the more easily-obtained 47 license to backdoor themselves into becoming a nightclub.

When there is so much at stake financially, why the hell wouldn't you obey the rules? I'm all for anti-authoritarianism but I'm also all for profit and flaunting your lack of conformity at the risk of your livelihood seems ridiculously silly. What point are you trying to make besides "fuck you ABC?"

It could very well be that these establishments were doomed to fail anyway. There was always something off about Vinoteque and nightclubs in Hollywood have a history of disappearing after a year or two, but why hasten the demise by being an arrogant prick?

Play by the rules, get people liquored up, and close when you're supposed to. And then make money. If you want business without regulation, go to Somalia.

Or open an investment bank on Wall Street.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fucking Sliders Motherfuck Ballsack

I'm fucking tired of sliders. I cannae think of a more pretentiously ridiculous and retardedly annoying trend in the history of dining since the Romans stuffed a llama inside a bear inside a grapefruit.

The only good sliders is the mid-90's Jerry O'Connell vehicle on Fox.

Sliders are that rare instance of cuisine sliding "up" on the class scale. This is a phenomenon normally reserved for Italian food and drink where the wretched waste-cuisine of the underclass becomes luxury cuisine in America because we decide that anyone with an accent and wearing a suit sans-tie must know something we don't. In this manner we get grappa, the skin-melting distilled remnants of wine and brandy production, that costs a hundred dollars a bottle.

Here's the usual process by which food finds its way to the masses. Thomas Keller at the French Laundry goes (between blowjobs from Vestal Virgins) "Hey, you know what would be good with these mixed greens? Some fresh peaches and candied pecans." Once that happens, all the court and retainers of the Cal Cuisine palace have seasonal fruit and nut salads on their menus. Then it trickles downhill to TGI Friday's and Chili's before finally finding its place on the menus at McDonald's' worldwide.

The slider took the reverse path, starting as a novelty pre-fast food fast food gimmick, remaining there for most of a century, and then entering the national public consciousness thanks to an epic movie from 2004.

As an aside, on a fraternity-related trip to Minneapolis I ended up at an all-black strip club with several prominent alumni brothers, after indulging in a venti cafe mocha (as it were) one of the brothers decided it'd be a good idea to take a taxi cab to the White Castle drive through at last call. That cab ride cost about $200.

There's a reason that tiny hamburgers remained the bastion of a medium-sized fast food restaurant chain for so long and didn't cross the blood-brain barrier into the mainstream until about 2005.

They fucking suck.

Is this a case similar to that of Miller High Life, PBR, trucker hats, moustaches, or Dickie's? Where a proud symbol of blue collar America and/or homosexuality becomes an ironic emblem of hipster douchebaggery?


I don't care if it's lamb, or pork, or Kobe beef, or Wagyu beef, or fucking beef massaged by fucking strippers with fucking gold-plated areolae--IT'S STILL A TINY FUCKING HAMBURGER FOR LIKE WAY TOO MUCH MONEY!

In one instance, a restaurant served a single slider, a small pile of french fries, and a 2oz. milkshake on a plate and called it haute cuisine. I call it bullshit with a cherry on top.

Recently I had a "chicken and waffle" slider. It sucked. It was dry and gross. It was cute to be sure, but so is oleander and oleander will kill you.

"Oh look Harold, isnt' that cute? It's a tiny hamburger! That's darling! I want a dozen of them! Isn't that great? Ooooh! It's like I can eat a hamburger in just one little bite. That means it's not a real burger! It's like negative calories! What? You're sleeping with your secretary! I can't belive you Harold!"

And that's how sliders break up your family.

I hereby call for a boycott of all slider-serving restaurants nationwide, except for White Castle.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Concept vs. Conceptual: An Analysis

Before I dive into what will surely be a dry and whimsical observational discussion peppered with profanity and/or sexual allusions, I must pour a little out for the late David Foster Wallace.

I haven't read Infinite Jest, and probably won't as my patience with novels ends at about the 300 page mark, but I've read much of The Girl with Curious Hair and am a big fan of Wallace's reporting and essays.

I guess as a writer I like to think that the madness and brilliance of those I admire is something crafted, reasoned, and assembled on the page. Yet what should just be the literary artifice of a master craftsman is so often revealed (at least in part) to be the shouts in the dark of a tortured mind.

That was far too serious, wasn't it?

Moving on....

I'm not going to say this is an uniquely LA problem with restaurants, but it's definitely most clearly manifested in Los Angeles. The restaurant with a concept versus the conceptual restaurant.

Every successful restaurant has a concept. Hell, every successful THING has a concept, whether that thing is an electric sports car with a practical range, gimmicky frozen "yogurt," or a tv show about philandering ad executives in the 1960's.

If you don't have a healthy concept you're doomed to failure. Bacaro is a Venetian-styled wine bar. Ford's Filling Station is a gastropub for the power lunching set. Bar Pintxo is, well, a bar that serves pintxos.

Restaurants run into trouble when the conceptual aspect of the restaurant is the master of the restaurant aspect of the restaurant. All concept no execution can be a restaurant's greatest failing.

I ate recently at South on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica. Everything about how that restaurant/bar markets itself iis "southern" themed. They force all sorts of kitschy southern lingo and references on you, yet you step inside and all you get is another characterless douche-y Brentwood bar. And the chicken and waffle sliders (a concept I loved) ended right at the conceptual. Dry, flavorless fried chicken between a pair of serviceable mini-waffles served with syrup and "gravy" on the side. Lame.

Fraiche conceptualizes itself as an organic Cal-Cuisine haven when in fact it's just another uninspired expense-account draining lunch spot.

And then there's Table 8 which declares itself to be a celebrity chef-driven trendsetter despite having a chef that nobody really cares about, a menu steeped in overplayed drivel, and a strong reputation for not paying their bills. I mean seriously, I keep pretty close tabs on the food world and Govind Armstrong is a legend purely in his own mind.

Conceptual restaurants, like conceptual art, are best enjoyed while stoned and wearing a beret. Maybe then I can come to understand why I'm privileged to bay $16 for a shitty hamburger or $12 for a glass of grocery store wine simply because it's served on a plate once owned by Richard Pryor or wrapped in a map of Armenian brothels.

A good concept can (and probably should) be as simple as "a comfortable place to eat good fresh food and enjoy well-priced wine" or "a neighborhood pizzeria offering an alternative to delivery chains" or even "mediocre vegetarian food served by Hare Krishnas." These are all solid concepts that often yield successful restaurants

But here on the spendfree shores of Los Angeles everybody needs to stick their finger in the pie, so we end up with places like Rush Street Grill, which has the concept of "Chicago," yet with no fat poorly facial-haired cab drivers in Bears jerseys to be found, or Gyenari whose concept is basically "Koren bbq for a lot money."

If you spend all your money on bells and whistles to the neglect of the actual food, you might find that people will stop coming back. But I don't know how true that holds in Los Angeles where people will spend incomprehensible amounts of money just to be seen in the right place.

Everything else is secondary.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

HFF On The Road: I-5

I drive a lot. I drive a whole helluva lot. Primarily for work, though for a few other reasons too. Sometimes when I'm out on the road I don't have time to sit down and eat in a restaurant. I try to make sandwiches and bring snack bars with me but inevitably some days I need to get food quickly and cheaply on the road. And it usually needs to be portable enough to eat one-handed while I drive.

In short, I'm rediscovering fast food.

First thing's first though. Trader Joe's has some excellent inexpensive on-the-road food. For instance the little prepackaged containers of celery and peanut butter. Classy Handi-Snaks. Trader Joe's bread, particularly the California-Style Complete Protein Bread and the Whole Wheat with Soy & Flax make sandwiches with excellent structural integrity. Add dill sandwich pickles, organic mayo and yellow mustard, and a hefty handful of baby spinach or arugula, slice on the diagonal and you've got yourself a freakin' great sandwich.

In the world of snack bars, Odwalla Bars are tops for balanced nutrition (Berries GoMega and Chocolate Chip Peanut are both excellent) while Clif Builder's Bars are great for caloric density. Odwalla Bars have the added bonus of remaining relatively intact in a hot car. The primarily palm oil based chocolate on the Builder's Bars starts melting into a soup once your car hits 75 degrees.

On to fast food.

Fries and a grilled cheese. Add a milkshake and I actually have enough food to get me through the day. Only problems? Usually very long lines at peak lunch hours and you can't eat an animal style sandwich in the car.

Del Taco:
What can I say about Del Taco? Del Taco's simply the best fast food value out there. Cheap, portable, and much of their ingredients made from scratch daily. I think of Del Taco as the In-n-Out of Cal-Mex fast food. The best thing at Del Taco are their Tacos al Carbon, a reasonable approximation of Mexican "street" tacos with meat, cilantro, and onions. These aren't too portable for the drive so I'll usually opt for a Chicken Mole Burrito or the old Bean & Cheese standby.

Taco Bell:
Mediocre even by mediocre standards, Taco Bell nevertheless can provide quick and portable nutrition. Stick to bean & cheese or chicken & rice burritos. Remarkably good for you if you forget about the sodium content.

Carl's Jr.:
Tried these guys out for the first time in a long time on my last I-5 drive. The chicken sandwich was bland and not very portable, but I do appreciate their "natural cut" (i.e. skin-on) french fries and the excellent fried zucchini.

Long John Silver's:
Great if you can ever find one. Perfect road trip food as much of it is offered in "popcorn" size.

Another good bet if you stick with either the snack wraps or the popcorn chicken option. Potato wedges are a nicely greasy alternative to french fries. Don't try to eat a bucket of chicken wings on the highway though. Your upholstery and your colon will thank you.

Jack in the Box:
Jalapeno poppers. That's it.

McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's:

I would include smoothie places in the mix here but I can't find many Jamba Juices in LA and I don't trust anything named "Robek's." I'm curious to try the protein smoothies that Starbuck's is offering now. Seem to be pretty good for you and pretty cheap.

When it comes to road food it's all about nutritional density. A burger or chicken sandwich on a bun with a bunch of nutrient void lettuce and tomato isn't all that great (or easy to eat). But a chicken, bean, and rice burrito offers a pretty well balanced meal that's pretty good for you. Always skip the soft drink, even if you opt for iced tea or Diet Coke, both are shitty. Bring a reusable bottle of water with you, or swing by the drive-thru Starbucks for a real iced tea or coffee. Also, skip fries unless you really need the simple carbs. Better to get two burritos then to waste your calories on monotonous and (mostly) bland french fries.

And of course, when in doubt skip the fast food altogether, plan ahead, and bring a couple sandwiches and some trail mix. You'll be better off.

Plus if you bring a couple empty milk jugs and you won't have any reason to stop until you run out of gas.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Interesting Blog Discovery

Found a kindred spirit in the blog world when it comes to Yelp!

He could stand to be a little more profane, arrogantly self-righteous, but nobody's perfect.=^)


Monday, August 25, 2008

As if I Needed More Reasons Why Yelp! Sucks....

I've been on the Yelp!-hate bandwagon for a very long time, so it's wonderful to see the increasing attention that's being focused on Yelp!'s shady business practices and general shitiness.

Check out this post from EaterLA.

The basic gist? A proprietor complained to Yelp! about a factually inaccurate negative review and rather than ameliorate (or at the very least ignore) the situation, Yelp! actually removed a POSITIVE review under the dubious justification that they thought it was written by the proprietor. They also tried to sell her an advertising package that would deemphasize negative reviews.

Yelp! is also engaging in extortion-like practices. After a restaurant receives a flurry of negative reviews, Yelp! salespeople call the business offering to "fix" the situation in exchange for their advertising fee ($350/month) which will move the negative reviews to the bottom. Extortion by itself? No. But it is questionable because it opens up the opportunity for salespeople to load-up a site with negative reviews and then call to sell the service of deemphasizing those reviews.

For an extensive discussion of this topic, check out this article from The Register.

The first thing to remember is that Yelp! makes no money. Their expenses far exceed their revenue so they're trying everything they can to fix that.

The problem is they have two primary revenue streams:

1. They make money on general advertising generated by traffic to Yelp! To facilitate this, Yelp! pushes the social-networking aspect of their site so as to encourage users to spend a lot of time on the site and visit regularly.

2. They make money from the businesses that appear on Yelp! by selling them a variety of services at a range of prices that allow businesses to determine to a significant degree how their page appears.

It should be noted that Yelp! makes no claims to change the orders of user reviews for advertisers other than to allow the advertiser to select which review appears first. This is contradicted by numerous anecdotal claims by business owners, some of which are catalogued in the Register article linked to above.

But here's the conflict, businesses get pissed off about inaccurate/misleading/vindictive reviews, but Yelp! doesn't want to do anything about it since they don't want to alienate their users. This in turn alienates the businesses who then don't want to advertise. You see, why would you advertise on Yelp! if you have all positive reviews? Alternately, why would you give Yelp! money if you see it as an unregulated venue for malicious pricks with no real understanding of your business?

Thusly, why would any business give Yelp! money?

Enter the "rogue salespersons" who decide to target businesses that have received recent negative reviews (greatly streamlining their saleswork) and offer to push the negative reviews to the bottom. There are still no reports of negative reviews being removed, the terminology used in most articles is "deemphasized" or "suppressed."

Essentially the only way Yelp! can secure their second revenue stream is through either ignorance (rarely is there a restaurant of any particular esteem that has bought Yelp! advertising) and increasingly, extortion.

Businesses need to know that very few people actually make decisions based on viewing Yelp! It's basically a glorified phone book, especially outside of the SF Bay Area. Citysearch and Metromix are much simpler guides for the basics and also have their own editorial content.

Yelp! is exploiting the excitement/anxiety/fear/hype over "Web 2.0" to get money from businesses who might not be particularly well-versed in how the internet works. They might not know that 50,000 hits on a website doesn't mean 50,000 people will visit your restaurant. In most cases it doesn't mean 50 people will visit your restaurant.

So here we have for the first time my codified anti-Yelp! credo. Adopt it and help to bring an end to perhaps the shadiest major site on the internet.

1. Do not use Yelp! for any legitimate purpose. If you want to read it for research or to make fun of Yelp!ers then please do, but don't ever decide whether you'll visit a business or not because of Yelp! reviews either solely or in part.

2. Do not visit a business that has sponsored Yelp! They're collaborateurs. This should be surprisingly easy since as I mentioned before very few esteemed businesses sponsor Yelp!

3. Suggest that businesses remove their "People Love Us On Yelp!" stickers. Tell them that there's a growing group of disgruntled foodies who are starting to see this as a negative indicator. Kinda like the Hobo Code for "dishonest man lives here."

4. Always include the exclamation mark when writing about Yelp! I just think it makes Yelp! and Yelp!ers look silly.

Who's with me?

Monday, August 18, 2008

There's No Good Bread in LA

If any of you read the title of this post and immediately got "To Live and Die in LA" stuck in your head, high fives all around.

Those of you who know me know that I'm not a big bread guy. It's not that I'm anti-carb or anything like that. I just find bread, most of the time, to be utterly pointless. Bread is largely empty calories, full of starch and low-quality protein. I put all my sandwiches on various Trader Joe's high-fiber, high-protein breads because, hey, you need some bread on your sandwich and it might as well be doing something for you.

So it may surprise some to hear me say that I miss bread. I miss Acme. I miss Metropolis. Hell, I even miss Semifreddi's. Bread is not held in the same esteem in LA that it is in SF and Berkeley.

But it's not for a lack of there being bread. The zero-carb craze is over and moderate carb consumption is back in. Sandwiches are big right now. Burgers too. Yet even the $16 Berkshire pork burger at BLD was sandwiched between a dry flavorless (though not inexpensive) bun.

The same with Father's Office's esteemed burger, which is stuffed between what looks like a Costco-caliber French roll.

And as much as I enjoyed my drop-in at Sheddy's, the sliced baguette that came with my cheese and charcuterie plate was stale.

Bread's something that served the very useful roll of providing a lot of inexpensive calories. It's the Western world's rice. Which also is to say that we don't really need it any more in the developed world. So if I am going to eat what is essentially unnecessary calories, it'd better make itself necessary and add to the dish.

There's a fear at restaurants here I think to do what needs to be done to all sandwich bread, namely slather it in butter/oil and throw it under the salamander. This makes bread much better on a sandwich. Failing that, you should at least smother your roll in a nice fatty spread of some kind: aioli, remoulade, whatever. Bread's purpose is to absorb. Sure bread absorbs liquid fine, but it absorbs fat awesomely. Don't be afraid of fat. Throw it on there. Just eat less overall. I get at least half my calories from fat and I'm 5'8" and 145 if I'm lucky.

My Berkshire pork burger at BLD would've been even better if there had been an awesome aioli or spicy remoulade smothering that shit. It also would've been better without the thin-cut fries. Seems like a good idea until you realize that they go cold in about 30 seconds. The pickles were phenomenal.

Basic rules about bread:

1. Bread is delivered FRESH every day. Bread should be made in a bakery. If your restaurant does not have an actual bakery as part of its operation, you should buy your bread from a bakery.

2. Bread should not be used a second day for any fresh purpose. Those fresh purposes are primarily sandwich buns, cheese plates, and table bread. Luckily, old bread can be used for croutons, bread salad, bread pudding, bread and broccoli, and much other awesomeness.

3. When in doubt, skip it. Seriously, you don't need the bread. I eat cheese by itself all the time.

Am I missing something? Where is the Acme of Los Angeles? I'm told it's La Brea Bakery, but they sell par-baked bread for restaurants to finish off themselves. Why would you do that? You don't pay a Thai masseuse to get you 80% of the way there and then you have to finish off yourself, so why pay your baker if he or she's not going to get the job done? I want the firm hand of a specialist involved from initial mixing all the way to the money shot.

Customers who want "warm bread" served at the table are ignorant petite bourgeoisie with no understanding of how bread works.

Please please please, if you know a good bakery in LA, let me know. And I mean a bakery that bakes bread. White bread. Levain. Whole wheat bread. Baguettes. Rolls. Real, honest bread.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I Don't Want To Go Here

I don't care if Tapas and Wine Bar C is revealed to be the next French Laundry (unlikely), nothing except for morbid curiosity at the ill-conceived c-f that it probably is will ever get me to set foot in it.

From its ".biz" domain address, ramblingly pretentious website copy, predictably precious French maid costume-bedecked servers, and rectal prolapsingly-obvious wine list, Bar C represents that certain segment of Los Angeles: the ignorantly elitist, faux-riche, consumer monkeys.

I'm sure I've mentioned this before: Beverly Hills has the LOWEST per-capita income of any city in the country with a population over 10,000 people and a median home price over $1M. Everyone lives beyond their means and acts wealthier than they are.

But first, the actual text from Bar C's home page:

As one of the few theme bars in La we offer a wide and varied selection of wine and liquor as well as beer for the less discerning. In addition to this our cuisine is prepared by one of LA's finestest chefs. Fred Iwaski with thirty years experience at some of the most renown establishments such as Spago's, Chinos and Highland Grounds. Elegant decorum defines from a modern swanky atmosphere to attractive hostesses filled as French maids, we cater to any client looking for a night alone, with friends or business partners. Only to accentuate this all ready sensory overwhelming is highly attentive service.

I'll refrain from caring too much about the many many errors in grammar, spelling, syntax, and rampant Engrish. These are forgivable. Although I would like to know what goes into filling attractive hostesses as French maids. How do I get in on that action? What is not forgivable, however, is the ignorance and arrogance proclaimed herein.

One of the few theme bars in LA? Have you been to LA recently, or do you live in a bomb shelter directly underneath Bar C and only surface at night, never to leave the premises? This is an entire city of theme bars.

Beer for the less discerning? Why are you insulting your customers? If you're going to offer beer for your customers, making them feel like a slob because they don't want to drink vodka or boring wine from your boring wine list is not the best strategy.

Speaking of boring wine list....

For those of you who didn't click on that link, it's basically two pages of wines that even your grandmother would recgonize. It's all big, expensive, name-label California and French Wines for people with more money than sense, or really more debt than intelligence. The cheapest wines are also $12 a glass ($60/bottle). And that's for Chalone and Acacia pinots noir, wines that are readily available at your neighborhood BevMo for $18.99 ($12.99 ClubBev!).

For those of you keeping score at home, that's roughly a SIX TIMES WHOLESALE markup. If you're doing that you'd better be a hotel on Sunset or not selling wines you can buy at BevMo.

And where might this altar to conspicuous consumption and poseur decadence be located? Surely it must be in Beverly Hills or West Hollywood? No? Malibu? Hardly. Well SOMEWHERE in Hollywood or the Westside, right? Nah, it's in Little Tokyo.

Which come to think of it makes a sick sort of sense.

Have you ever met somebody who's actually fabulously wealthy? That is to say, born into privilege, never really needing anything? These people don't buy gold Rolexes and Chateau Margaux Bordeaux, they've probably inherited a weathered Cartier from their grandfather and their family has a cellar of wines from Chateaux that don't even exist any more.

And they sure as hell don't go to Bar C.

If you want to fulfill your Asian chicks in maid outfits fetish, go to Royal/T in Culver City and spend less money and feel a helluva lot classier. If you want to chat with flirty scantily-clad women, go to Jumbo's Clown Room in Hollywood. And if you need more than that, go to the Body Shop, where a topless lap dance will still set you back less than the $30/person minimum at Bar C.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

HFF Quickie: Sheddy's - Los Angeles, Ca

What gets people to go into a restaurant or bar?

With the notable exception of "being in a very well-traveled area with a more-or-less captive audience," the answer to that question is one nobody knows and everybody thinks they know. And even being in a well-traveled area is no guarantee as well-traveled areas have higher rents and thus a lower threshold for inadequacy.

A successful bar is lightning striking in a bottle, even if you do everything right.

Sheddy's, a new beer and wine bar on Fairfax Avenue (near 3rd) is doing everything right. So maybe I can get some people in there.

Taking over an ill-fated tapas restaurant, Sheddy's is a very scaled-back affair. It still focuses almost exclusively on Spanish wines, but also serves three quality beers on draft (Murphy's, Abita, and Maudite). Most notably, Sheddy's serves a mix-and-match cheese and charcuterie plate in lieu of any more elaborate cuisine.

I say that's a good thing. Though when I went in they were out of almost everything. They still cobbled together a solid cheese plate.

The space is relaxed and cozy, with a lot of wood, cushions, and tables. It's convivial and neighborhood-y. Music is mellow and hip. It's the perfect place to go out with friends for some drinks. And, unless she's a stupid ho, if you take a date here I'd say you're 99% likely to seal the deal. You'll seem attentive, smart, and erudite. What more do you want?

Sheddy's is just in a tough spot. It's in a "drive-through" section of LA, just far enough from population and commerce centers to present an interesting predicament. That being said, it is a block from the WGA-West offices and a few more blocks from CBS TV Studios, which presents a lot of corporate and after-work possibilities. Most of these people probably live north and east of Sheddy's however, making that small track west that much trickier.

It really is the perfect place. Good wine. Great beer. Great cheese plate. Friendly service. Fair prices. Back patio that's very smoker-friendly.

Go to Sheddy's. Do it now.

361 S. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, Ca 90036

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

HFF Quickie: Red Lion Tavern

I've found my first place in LA that fills that crucial "relatively inexpensive laid-back place with good food" void.

Red Lion Tavern on Glendale Blvd. in Silver Lake is freakin' great. It's on a fairly low-density stretch of road (though conveniently across the street from Silverlake Wine and adjacent to Panty Raid), so parking's pretty easy, at least for lunch. There's also an excitingly dangerous parking lot adjacent to the Tavern.

The place is kinda like Hooters only instead of being served by vaguely hot young women with perky breasts, you're served by those same women twenty years later, sans perk. And they're German. Plus, instead of wings, you get several kinds of sausage.

Yeah you do.

The food is solid. Besides the aforementioned wursts (which come on a plate with mashed potatoes and warm sauerkraut), you can get all the other great German pub food standards. The schweinebraten is tender and tasty (the accompanying warm red cabbage is the best thing ever). The schnitzels looks good, as do the simple fish dishes.

And sure the food doesn't have the best quality ingredients and the place is a little dirty, but who cares when you're paying $10 for a well-rounded plate of tasty food? Add a half-liter of beer from the very solid selection of quality German draughts and you have the best $20 lunch in town. Skip the creepy dark bar on the ground floor and head upstairs to the biergarten for some serious al fresco dining.

But if you do dine on the patio, cover your beer with a coaster. You'll see why.


Red Lion Tavern

2366 Glendale Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Thursday, July 31, 2008

4th Street Bistro - Reno, NV

I'm going to say I've never thought to write about a restaurant in Nevada before. I still don't think to write about it, because let's face it Nevada is about as shitty of a shitfest that a Supreme Being or Science ever shat out onto this planet. And I've driven through the whole crappy state.

That does include Las Vegas. Just because every muscular celebrity chef rock star has stuck his dick in it doesn't make it a good place to be (c.f. Pamela Anderson). Las Vegas is a culinary destination in the same way that Heidi Klum is attractive.

It's (she's) not. It (she) just offers a creepy and overly made-up version of something you can find on any street corner in a major metropolis. Especially the corner of Highland & Santa Monica.

That being said, every now and then you'll catch Heidi on a good day and you'll actually remember why you briefly masturbated to her in the late 90's.

Point being, there might actually be a good restaurant in Nevada. And that restaurant is 4th Street Bistro in Reno.

In this instance, a restaurant might actually be benefiting from its pissbucket location in the armpit outskirts of Reno. In another part of the country its fresh, seasonal, and expertly cooked cuisine would blend in on the block with the various contenders and pretenders to the Cal-Cuisine throne. But in Reno, a city known best for bunny ranches and second-rate casinos (I mean really, the Silver Legacy?), 4th Street Bistro stands out as sharply and distinctly as Klum's prominently augmented breasts.

I was picked up at the Reno Airport by the extended family for a sojourn in South Lake Tahoe. Not wanting to have driven all over to the lame side of the lake for no reason, we decided to enjoy what fine dining Washoe County has to offer.

Was 4th Street Bistro great? Hardly. Was it good? Absolutely. Really freakin' tasty actually. A survey of the menu and a survey of the farmhouse-chic dining room and you just might think you're in Rivoli or Chez Panisse Cafe. 4th Street Bistro features all the heavy hitters, including "Liberty" duck, Niman Ranch beef, pork, and lamb, and "Heavenly Organics" mushrooms. The wine list is predictable but solid and the service is amateurish and overly-trained, but very friendly.

I started with an appetizer of pork belly on a bed of caramelized peaches and some vegetables or something. It was tasty, but the piece of pork belly was about the size of my thumb. And my thumbs are pretty small. Still, it was good.

Entree was a duck confit salad. This was also solid. The confit leg was as well prepared as any I've had. Crisp skin, juicy fat, and moist meat. The accompanying wilted salad was tasty and complimentary. The only fault was too much of an overly-vinegary dressing. And that's not really a fault, just a matter of taste.

Good, solid, tasty food. It's very well made and uses some of the best ingredients around. Without knowing too much, I'd say it's the last really good restaurant before you hit Denver (with the notable exception of Sweet Melissa's Vegetarian Cafe in Laramie).

Check it out when you're up in the mountains. Or, rather, when you leave the beautiful majesty of the mountains for the barren, sprawling, empty empty desert plain that is the great state of Nevada.

4th Street Bistro
3065 West 4th St.
Reno, NV 89523

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Downtown Culver City: The Good, the Bad, and the Sterile

When I moved to Palms I didn't realize that I'd be moving two blocks away from the giant Disneyland of restaurants that is downtown Culver City.

After exploring quite a few of them I've found a couple gems and a couple duds, but mostly I'm left with the impression of general sterility all around.

Some thoughts on "the Good:"

Ford's Filling Station - I think this is the best of the bunch. Ford's has innovative pork-centric cuisine with a nice clear theme. The space is well done without feeling too over-conceived. Avoid the pricier entrees and share a bunch of smaller plates, charcuterie, and flatbreads with your friends.

Bottle Rock - Stellar wine selection and good simple food makes up for high by the glass prices and friendly but inattentive service.

Ugo Wine Bar - A new direction and a committed young wine buyer have kept things moving here at this Enomatic-driven wine bar. Great happy hour with complimentary salumi. Call me old-fashioned but I still prefer sitting at the bar and having a glass of wine over machine-dispensed one ounce tastes, but it's a good spot to take friends.

S&W Country Diner - Heavy, hearty, and harried service. Great farm-style breakfasts in the heart of studio country. Pretty damn inexpensive too.

And on to "the Bad:"

Akasha - The epitome of over conceived. Nice space but too much going on and the food, while good, doesn't live up to the competition at that price range. Sit at the bar, have an organic pilsner, and enjoy a beautiful space.

Starbucks - I don't have anything against it (except for that guy in shorts, torn white t-shirt, and headphones mumbling to himself while rocking back and forth in a chair for a half-hour) and in fact go here a whole lot. I just don't like that it's the only coffee shop in downtown, unless you want to be trampled by toddlers out with mommy at Akasha's attached cafe. They're screaming for a Peet's.

Pacifico's Mariscos - I'm not one to pay much attention to health inspector letters, but Pacifico's definitely earned its "B." Besides shitty produce and bizarrely executed dishes, they also do that weird "hey let's have a sushi bar too even though we're ostensibly a Mexican place" thing. Bad service. Bad food (except for the fish tacos, which were great). Just bad.

Taqueria La Ballona - You know, maybe I just wasn't in the right mindset, but I was left feeling dirty and violated after eating my chimichanga.

My big complaint with Downtown Culver City overall is every place (except for Pacifico's and La Ballona) feels very clean, sterile, and high-concept. I sort of feel like every restaurant is a Cheesecake Factory or something in Downtown Disney or the Universal City Walk. This is unfortunate because they are largely independent restaurants with excellent food and excellent chefs. I just don't really feel welcomed or at home in any of these restaurants and they all lack any distinctive character.

I don't think this is a Los Angeles-wide problem. Lucques is warm and inviting. So are Grace and BLD. I like Father's Office quite a bit, also Vinoteque and Bar Pintxo. Even Robata Grill, part of the Sushi Roku family, has more character than most of the restaurants in Downtown Culver City.

I know this is entirely subjective and probably largely unfair of me. I'm just trying to figure this out.

Maybe it's because this is an entire strip of restaurants that largely date from after the explosion of the Celebrity Chef era? A time where selling a concept was more important than selling a product, even at the highest echelon of restaurant? It's not one or two spots in a neighborhood with many older restaurants, it's a place where new restaurants are popping up monthly and there are still empty storefronts.

I associate being sold a bill-of-goods with chain restaurants like Hard Rock Cafe, not quality independent ingredient-driven restaurants, so it's an odd juxtaposition.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Not About Food - A Digression Wherein the Protagonist Ruminates on Life

My room is frequently darkened. The reason for this is threefold:

1. I'm usually at my computer in the morning and that coupled with a south-facing window allows for only modest direct sunlight seeping between the uniquely Los Angeleno slat-blinds.

2. Despite the very prominent presence of a light switch on my wall it does not actually activate any outlets and my lighting is provided by three smaller lamps spread out throughout my room. And I don't like desk lamps during the day time.

3. I'm usually at my computer sparsely dressed and this area being dense with multi-family housing a couple buildings look directly into my room. At best I'm an ambivalent exhibitionist inasmuch as I don't particularly care if I am seen in moderately compromising states, but I don't want to actively solicit onlookers.

A darkened room, I'm shirtless in gym shorts, and I'm listening to the most recent Two Gallants album (it's called "Two Gallants). This album has been growing on me with repeated listens. I wasn't too keen on it at first as it's rather mellow and lo-fi and lacks much of the harder punk-y edge of "What the Toll Tells." But the emotions are honest, the stories are pathos-riddled, and they put out a shit tonne of quality sound for a couple skinny white guys from San Francisco.

And Pitchfork and Prefix deserve cockslaps for their missing-the-point reviews of "What the Toll Tells" in which they're critical of the song "Long Summer's Day" for "borrowing otherness" because it's told from the perspective of a black sharecropper. This is what happens when you let cultural anthropologists become music critics.

Helluva live show too.

I've been called an asshole numerous times. I've been called mean. Arrogant. A dick. Sarcastic. I've been criticized for not caring about the feelings of others (unfair, I think). People who care about their feelings being cared for are rather selfish people, no? I'm told I don't admit when I'm wrong. This might be true, but could it be that I'm just not wrong very often?

I've made a lot of mistakes and I have been uncharitable to a lot of people. I think that that part of my personality has mellowed with age, as all things should, in the same way that we move from ketchup to mustard on our hot dogs and we begin embracing more complex flavors like the bitter fresh spiciness of wild arugula or the gooey stink of a nice ripe cheese.

As most long-time wine tasters eventually leave behind big and spicy reds and rediscover the elegance and nuance of whites. This is a clear indicator that Robert Parker (and most of the wine establishment) have palates that are still stuck in late adolescence.

I'm still as passionate, opinionated, and driven as I was before. I'm just more intelligent and (hopefully) nicer about it.

But back to the point. It's dark. I'm shirtless. There's indie lo-fi folk rock on the Altec Lansing inMotion. And I have a profound sadness deep in my chest. That sort of cosmic sob that never quite wells into tears but really should.

I don't know if this is that "fear and loathing" I've heard so much about. It might be angst. It's not existential ennui since it moves me to action instead of inaction. Maybe it's nausea. In the Jean-Paul Sartre sense.

Why am I being brought to near-tears by Wikipedia accounts of the 1992 L.A. riots? The unnamed black reverend who stopped rioters from cutting off the (rest of the) ear of a Guatemalan immigrant and drove him to the hospital is a more important hero than the man who stood in front of tanks in Tienanmen. He didn't care about making a statement or swapping symbolic acts. He cared about saving one stranger's life.

Why do I feel a profound sadness when I hear a woman talking seriously about why she prefers Pepsi to Coke?

Why do we latch on to insignificant loyalties like to which diabetes purveyor we throw our money?

My entire body aches whenever I hear somebody say "I don't know anything about that" in that smug or just dismissive way as if there are somehow things worth knowing about and things nor worth knowing about. That knowing about the falling out between Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov is more valuable than knowing about the feud between Eazy-E and Dr. Dre. That sitting in a room and reading Hegel in the original German is a more worthwhile pursuit than playing CounterStrike. It's all equally valuable and by that I mean all equally meaningless.

If you can find something to commit yourself to and be passionate about, that's the most beautiful and most human thing in the world. Anything that allows you to challenge yourself and drive your curiosity.

I don't like not knowing about things. If I don't know about something I try to find out as much as I can about it. Even if it's things that I'll never be able to do, like solve theoretical math equations or have a g-spot orgasm, I still like to know how they work. It's useful. It lets you talk to scientists or women and not sound like a clueless dweeb.

I experience vitriolic anger when I hear somebody say "the internet's going social." These are mostly paunchy middle-aged men who will never get it since they weren't the ones sharing info across the world on Usenet boards in the 80's or organizing their entire life via IM as soon as their parents bought a modem.

As if we haven't always been discovering new ways to interact with each other since nomadic human tribes first settled down into towns and cities.

And the work of art that has inspired my strongest emotional reaction that I can think of in recent memory? WALL-E. Until the humans got involved, then it got a little bit Disney-ish for my tastes.

WALL-E is curiosity robo-personified. And it's his simple curiosity about a tiny plant and a sexy collection robot that ultimately saves Earth.

I suppose I should have said "spoiler alert" before that.

The scene of the "deranged" penguin running off into the interior of Antarctica to die instead of to the sea or to the colony in Werner Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the World" was also rather heartrending. He just wants to know what else is out there. Isn't discovery, even in the face of death, preferable to doing the same thing you've always done? He might've been eaten by a seal on that very trip to get fish had he not gone running alone into the hills.

I become very sad when I see people living in fear of the array of information, opportunity, and experience that is available. I'm sad when I see the powers that be in the entertainment industry keep banging their heads against the same wall trying to make a business model work that hasn't worked well since we first got cable television and VCRs.

I like the term "don't try to reinvent the wheel" as if we haven't been coming out with new and better wheels all the time for thousands of years. Sure the basic function is the same, but a 22-inch alloy rim with spinners is markedly different from a solid disc of wood hewn from an oak tree.

I'm upset at knowing that we go from the intellectual, emotional, and physical orgy that is college and into a life where most of us will be increasingly obsolete desk functionaries doing tasks that we haven't yet found a way to automate.

I try to live my life as actively as possible. If you don't try it's amazing how passive it can get. It's very easy to let hour after hour of television or Wikipedia or meaningless long-term relationship or meaningless one-night stand wash over you instead of making your life into something meaningful, as small and insignificant as that meaning might seem to others.

Grow some tomatoes. Write an essay. Bake bread. Bake it again. Travel to a country where you aren't the dominant paradigm. Don't just eat a steak and drink a glass of wine--find out where that steak came from and how that wine was made. Try one of the many kinds of sausage that aren't breakfast links and one of the many kinds of coffees that come whole-bean roasted fresh from a local roaster and not ground in a can for $1.99 at Vons.

Pancakes made from scratch are better than Bisquick and take about one extra minute.

All that we are is the sum of our experiences, so if you stop experiencing you've ceased to exist.

And now I'll go back to being pissed off about restaurants.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bacaro L.A. - Los Angeles, Ca

"Shit, I'm in South-Central, mackin' on bitches in them bike shorts, smokin' 'dro, and cravin' some serious dessert panini and Slovenian wine flights. Where can I go?"

If you're like me, you ask yourself that question pretty much every day of your life. And twice on Sunday.

Thankfully there's now an answer. South-Central has their own wine bar: Bacaro L.A. And it is pretty much the best place ever. I dropped in here with Girlfriend Charlie after picking her up from LAX.

I should say that Bacaro is actually on Union Street just off of Hoover, about a mile north of USC and a half-mile south of I-10. The neighborhood is pretty okay. It's no more stabby than 51st & Telegraph in Oakland or most of Echo Park. But as far as Wikipedia is concerned, that's South-Central, or the more politically correct "South Los Angeles."

Started by a pair of USC grads who combined their mutual loves for wine, drinking, and Venetian wine bars into a chic little faux-dive on a quiet block in an unjustly maligned LA neighborhood.

Co-owner and wine director Santos Uy, who cut his teeth on wine tastings at Silverlake Wine and as a sommelier at AOC, presents an eclectic and ever-changing wine list featuring wines from all over the world including Slovenia, Hungary, and Portugal. Bacaro also has draft beer including Peroni and Chimay White Label.

The interior is fun and casual, with an entire chalkboard wall being devoted to the by-the-glass list and the cheese menu. Bacaro also features a nice selection of assemble-and-serve small plates of both the hot and cold variety. Highlights include white bean and heirloom tomato bruschette, polenta squares with roasted eggplant and tomato tapenade, and a dessert panino of chocolate and fresh strawberries. Small-plates are priced at $7 each or three for $19.

They've begun to build a name for themselves with their monthly "Beefsteak" dinners where $25 buys you all-you-can-eat roast beef, bread, butter, seasonal veggies, beer, and red wine. Dinners sell-out quickly so book well in advance.

I'm always excited about locations and events that move the enjoyment of wine out of that pretentious and rarefied realm of sleazy fat executives and withered rail-thin ex-trophy wives and into the world of the young, earnest, and hip while still maintaining a commitment to quality, value, and globally-focused wines. Bacaro is as honest as it gets. Check it out, drink heavily, and tip well. It's a treasure.

Bacaro L.A.
2308 S. Union Ave.
Los Angeles, Ca 90007