What Now?

I’ve been sitting with this all weekend and now just finishing a short piece for the L.A. Times about photographer Richard Misrach’s new collection of post-Katrina photographs, “Destroy this Memory.” The collection of 70 photographs depicts the accumulation of text left on what was left of the built architecture of New Orleans, scrawled upon detritus and debris in New Orleans. I am most moved by the fact that despite the fact there is not one face, not one human form in the mix, I still feel as if I’ve been sitting inside a room of many. Haunting and gorgeous work.

photo: Richard Misrach from “Destroy This Memory”
credit, New Orleans Museum of Modern Art website

The Dissident Chef: “Growing Up Underground”

SO MANY stories don’t quite end “happily ever after.” As a journalist you get used to it. Chef Russell Jackson has been through an awful lot of hard knocks to arrive here — at 5 Embarcadero in San Francisco. It’s been a long, long road since his intimate storefront on La Cienega Boulevard on the edge of West Hollywood closed, leaving him without a clean, well-lighted place to call his own.

I did a lengthy profile about Jackson a few years back for West, the L.A. Times’ Sunday magazine when he was dreaming up a new concept, wanting to be back in the game again.

Snip here:

Russell’s was small and sleek, its menu vivid against the minimalist grey-white-black decor: baby back ribs on a bed of lentils and peppers; lamb chops marinated for seven days in annatto seed, roasted garlic, tequila and lime, served on a masa-dough biscuit. Not only did the restaurant offer a beer and wine list, but also a carte du soda pop.

It stood out in a sea of seared ahi tuna, angel hair pasta, Caesar salad and grilled chicken breasts. “Jackson is attempting a high-wire act seven days a week,” wrote Times critic S. Irene Virbila. “Not everything works all the time, but I’d much rather eat at a restaurant where the chef has lots of ideas and a real love of cooking than at a place where the kitchen sleepwalks.”

Back in ’06 when I started reporting the piece, Jackson was going to call the new spot NoCa and was trolling for investors, but in the intervening years much evolved – including a long stint of cooking “underground,” spawning a side business he dubbed “Sub-Culture Dining,” in which he and his brigade would “pop” up and cook for your dinner party of 5 or 30. Hence the sobriquet “The Dissident Chef.”

Jackson simply decided to extend the metaphor with his new restaurant Lafitte (a la, “pirate”), which breaks rules, takes chances and is full of plenty of whimsy.

Last Sunday night, I sat down to a six-course tasting meal that featured locally-grown heirloom tomatoes and sweet summer corn.

The menu was built around those ingredients complimenting each plate’s featured centerpiece, which included scallops, quail and for dessert a basil panna cotta garnished with tomatoes. The food was both inventive and brilliant.

Last minute prep

eau de vie w/ cassis

the “amuse”

dinner rush

scallops w/ sorbet

and yes, the magic of a beautiful room

Here’s wishing: long may the pirate flag wave. Happy journeys.

Gary Leonard ~ Take My Picture

A LONG time ago, before I knew I wanted to be a journalist — let alone what type of journalist I wanted to be — I was taken by Gary Leonard‘s photographs of Los Angeles. They told entire stories within a single frame. The images were the work of someone who pounded the pavement like most journalists looking for the next story, but they also worked on many levels — they went deeper than your usual “do we have art to go with that story?” sort of photograph. His weekly photo feature “Take My Picture” was a window, albeit one often obliquely angled, on Leonard’s L.A. The images were humorous postscripts, they provided context, they were the backstage pass at the SRO club date, they resurrected pieces of Los Angeles that had long gone missing. Leonard has shot for many newspapers, one of them, I worked for. As an intern, I used to see him, with his bulging camera bag, in the office talking to fast-moving editors en route to preform newsroom triage. It gave a me a sense of how he might operate in the world. Years later, I would see him. Everywhere. He was a ubiquitous feature at all manner of events — punk clubs, protests, sporting events, commemorations. But his take on things were always distinctly his own. Lately, I’ve been missing his weekly distillation of the week that was in L.A. He currently heads a gallery, “Take My Picture,” in Downtown L.A. His work will now find a fitting home at Kevin Roderick’s L.A. Observed.

– photo: gary leonard
credit: waltrrrrr via flickr