LA in L.A.

ONE OF the things I have always appreciated about living in Los Angeles is that it allows people to travel “back home:” you just have to know where to find your pocket of it.

Yesterday, for some reason, after a lot of hoop-jumping errands, I wanted a bit of New Orleans — my mother’s home. So I traveled to the New Orleans Fish Market where she used to go when she was feeling a little bit that way too, I’m sure.

Couldn’t decide between a po’boy or gumbo.

I looked at the fish and picked out a bag of Camellia-brand red beans then, finally I placed my order. I found a seat and then time-traveled back across the decades. My mother buying shrimp and crab for jambalaya or gumbo or an etouffee. Eye-balling everything. The mental exactitude of my mother; the patience of the fish monger. “Crab boil? More file?” — They’d do the entire back-and-forth in shorthand.

As my order was being prepared, we got to talking: I asked the gentleman behind the counter if they carried cream cheese.

“Aw, darlin’. We don’t any more. Used to but by the time it would get to us from New Orleans it’d be spoiled.” A pause, and then a smile: “You know, not too many people here still ask about Creole Cream Cheese, darlin'”

(Yes, they call you ‘darlin’ too.)

This is what I ended up with:

I’ll be back. Best bowl of “home” I’ve had in years.

Another hidden beauty of L.A.


Pop-Up Art

LAST WEEKEND, a group of friends and I descended on the Fashion District after hours for a dining adventure. During the day Fred Eric’s Tiara Cafe turns out solid breakfast and lunches for the Fashion Institute folks, but at night it has been recently inhabited by Long Beach-based chef Gary Menes.

Le Comptoir at Tiara Cafe, a pop-up, was set to serve dinner until late this month. His stay was extended to January so we were told. Menes’ work is both exacting and fluid.

It’s art on the plate.

And we took care of it — all

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.