Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles’

There are a lot of things that you can do with $50. If you find yourself in Beverly Hills with $50 to burn, one thing you should probably do is purchase the fois gras appetizer at Bouchon.

Bouchon is the brainchild of Thomas Keller, the man behind a famous restaurant called The French Laundry. Apparently, this man is a big deal in the food world. judging by the cover of one of his recent books, he seems like the kind of person I’d like to hang out with.

We went to Bouchon at the suggestion of our friend Chris and his girlfriend Nicole. This was the fancy night out of our trip to LA. We started the night off with cocktails at Spago. It made me feel like I should have been making some sort of deal with a Hollywood mogul. “Well, now that you mention it, our blog would make a great movie!”

Bouchon was one of those high security places, where once you get past the hostess, you’re still separated by a long hallway from the dining room. Frankly, we were surprised they let a couple of yokels like us in there.

Our table was outside and we were frigid. Black and white photos make it look cold, right?

Voila! The appetizer that turned out to be the main event.

It was served with little strips of toasted baguette and a bowl of salt to sprinkle on top.

This is how I approach a serious meal. Head down, eyes on the prize, stuffing my fat face.

We couldn’t quite finish it all. I’m not sure if this comes across, but this was a preposterous amount of fois gras for two people. Some people feel guilty about eating fois gras. My attitude about fois gras is a little different than those people, becuase I feel guilty about not wiping the jar clean with my index finger. But even though we left a little behind, I still feel like I got my $50 worth.


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I’m not very good at comparing meals. A distant, yet perfect meal tends to lose out to the one in front of my face. This is what I love about eating. Every time you sit down, there’s a good chance you’ll experience what may seem to be the best thing you’ve ever eaten, even if that’s not actually the case.

I remember once feeling like a particular peanut butter sandwich was the best thing I’d ever eaten. A few months ago, it was Dai Due’s biscuit with sausage and gravy. Later today, it may be something else. I’m okay with this.

In the case of Animal, I’m not going to fall into the “best ever” trap, even though I am tempted to. I will say this: Animal was one of my favorite meals of all time. (I’m not saying it wasn’t one of the best—but that would miss the point.)

Food has nothing to do with rationality. There’s no best and there’s no right. For me, there’s just the ongoing fear that I’ll end up hungry, forced to pick away at some low-fat salad topped with skinless chicken. (Anxiety rules most of my life. Food is no exception.) So I try to make the most out of every meal. After all, you can’t just skip around from dish to dish the way you can with mp3s or TV channels. It’s a one-shot deal, at least until the next meal a few hours later. You may as well enjoy yourself and not worry to much about being right.

These days, a lot of people are telling us what we should (or more often, shouldn’t) be eating. It’s telling that this advice is often described as how to eat right. It’s all done in the name of virtue. But the problem with these finger-waggers is that they take the fun out of food. They flip the lights on, unplug the stereo, and say, “Party’s over.” To these Culinary Ascetics, eating has nothing to do with taste or enjoyment. It’s a moral exercise in self-denial.

All of which brings me to Animal. Why was it one of my favorite meals ever? Because Animal points a middle finger in all the right directions.

First there’s this little disclaimer on the menu: “changes and modifications politely declined.” Animal is not trying to please you. They’re trying to change your life. You should let them.

Then there’s the spartan look of the place. Notice the absence of anything on the walls. Nothing superfluous. Nothing to distract from the food. Not even a sign.

Animal’s menu features a lot of small dishes that are best shared. So in fact, what I said earlier about not being able to skip around from dish to dish? That’s actually not true here.

Our meal started off with what I assume was some sort of practical joke, by which I mean there was no meat involved. Remember this restaurant is called Animal. It is a celebration of the carnivorous lifestyle, of the refined meathead school of cooking. So this dish, while delicious, was a bit like watching Michael Jordan play baseball. Impressive, but ultimately a diversion.

Next was a dish that is near and dear to our hearts: chicken liver toast. This interpretation had a smoother texture than the one we fell in love with at the Spotted Pig, but we had no complaints. The real food had begun.

Next up: fried pig ear, topped with a fried egg. This was the highlight of the night. I was so excited for this one I forgot to take the customary glamour shot before we dug in. Ever since eating this, I like to just say the phrase “fried pig ear” around vegetarians from time to time. Throws them off their game.

Quail has become one of Eliza’s favorite dishes lately. This one was fried. This was roughly when we stopped speaking to one another, focusing instead on licking all silverware and plates clean.

Pork belly sliders on brioche bun. Now things were getting weird. Do these guys have some kind of pleasure map of our minds? Seriously Animal. Get out of my brain. You’re starting to freak me out.

You may be the type of person that likes fois gras. You may also be the kind of person that likes biscuits and gravy. But even if you are both of these, you probably never thought about just putting one on top of the other. Well, Animal did. This is what I mean when I say that Animal points a middle finger in all the right directions. They’re not even going to humor you by discussing whether or not one should eat fois gras. They are instead going to blow your mind by putting it on top of a biscuit and gravy. Check and mate. You’re welcome.

I only recently learned of the existence of something called poutine, which according to Calvin Trillin is the unofficial national dish of Canada. It consists of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Animal’s version was topped with oxtail meat. We had begun to lose steam, but this dish inspired us to soldier on.

We ordered only one entrée. In retrospect, it was utterly unnecessary. We ate only enough to confirm what we had realized early on in the night: Animal represents everything we love about food. It’s audacious, relentless, and unapologetically excessive. A meal eaten at Animal is a celebration, an endless parade of food. Just make sure you don’t bring anyone who wants to rain on it.

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Rental Bizarre

Air travel consists of two basic activities: waiting in line and waiting in a chair. As soon as you finish one, you do the other until you arrive at your destination. The trick is knowing when to stand and when to sit. Once you’ve mastered that, you’re ready for the big time.

On our recent LA trip, we had an unprecedented experience while standing in line at Enterprise. Just after joining a line of 12 or so people, six identically suited Enterprise agents swarmed out of the back office and manned nearly every computer terminal. We got through in no time. It was one of my best standing-in-line experiences of all time, if a bit surreal.

Things got weirder. Our agent ushered us over to what seemed like an airplane hangar full of rental cars. We were then personally escorted into the hangar and given our choice of tiny cars. (Went with the Hyundai, to show all those Hollywood types we meant business.)

We kept looking around and wondering, why are there so many people working here? Why are they so damn friendly? On what planet have we landed? It felt like this was the rental car version of Home Plus, the polygamous family business in HBO’s Big Love. Eventually, though, we stopped asking questions and started appreciating the fact that our waiting was finally over.

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We heard about Father’s Office from several people. It made Jeff’s best burgers of 2009 list, and I’m sure many others. Like In-N-Out, it was also recommended by a mostly-vegetarian friend. (It occurs to me that I should start asking all my vegetarian friends where they get their favorite burger.) Anyway, this thing was in a class by itself.

To start, we had a basket of sweet potato fries. Sweet potatoes are one of the few foods that Eliza doesn’t like, but even she loved these. They are served with some sort of garlic mayo, or aioli if you want to be fancy. Apparently, they won’t give you ketchup if you ask, but if someone gives me anything resembling mayo with fries, ketchup is the farthest thing from my mind.

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think they know what a good burger tastes like, and those who have been to Father’s Office. I’m not sure what else to say about it. Jeff did get a better photo of it, though.

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Last weekend, we took a trip out to LA to visit some friends. Naturally, we planned pretty much every waking moment around meals. It made me wonder: Did we start this blog because our lives revolve around food or do our lives revolve around food because we have this blog? In any case, when you go to LA, you obviously stop at In-N-Out burger immediately.

The place was a total madhouse, both in front of and behind the counter. I took a few shots of the controlled chaos in the kitchen. Yes, I was that creepy guy taking photos of strangers in a fast food restaurant.

This location is right next to the airport, so you get buzzed occasionally by commercial jets.

There’s a lot of love for In-N-Out in this world. I work with a guy who’s a gluten-allergic, vegetarian, food-restricting maniac and even he breaks all his rules when he gets the chance to eat at In-N-Out. So what’s the big deal, you may ask yourself? As you can see from this photo, the secret ingredient is California sunshine.

We each had a Double Double Animal style and Eliza even went for the animal style fries. I’m generally skeptical of putting anything on top of fries, but after tasting hers I regretted my decision. It was a fitting beginning to a long weekend of gluttony.

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