I have to confess, I have inside information when it comes to this. A friend of mine grew up in California. She is also a well known food critic, so if I couldn’t get a decent meal in California, there was something wrong. I met Layne in Buenos Aires a few years back where she captivated my imagination with a project she had started and referred to as “Taxi Adventures”. Someone seriously needs to give Layne her own travel show, but while the networks have foolishly ignored her, the rumour is there’s a book in the works based on her taxi adventures.
My first meal in LA was certainly not from Layne’s list of suggestions, and was more out of necessity, cheapness and jet-lag that I took advantage of the free breakfast at “Denny’s” that came with signing up the “The Best Western” customer loyalty program. I won’t go into details, but lets just say that I’ve learnt my lesson, and will avoid Denny’s in the future.
Anyhow, Layne made a number of suggestions with respects to eating in LA. Unfortunately being there for only the weekend, I was not able to sample all of them. Of her suggestions, I was able to try two. Firstly Tommy’s Chilli Cheese burger from the “original” and in Layne’s opinion, the best Tommy’s hamburger stand on Beverly Blvd.
I found it no problems (thanks in no small part to the advice she and others had given about getting a rental with a GPS), and as I wasn’t very hungry, decided to walk a bit down Beverly Blvd. I have to confess, it wasn’t quite the glitzy glamorous LA I had been expecting. This was definitely the low socio-economic side of town, and very obviously heavily Hispanic. In fact, most of the signs in this area were in Spanish, and I only heard English spoken when I went back to get my hamburger. After walking about 7 or 8 blocks, I decided I was hungry enough and headed back. I asked for exactly what Layne had suggested, a chilli cheeseburger. I was asked if I’d like fries with that, and remembering the lessons I’d learnt from Morgan Spurlock, declined. She seemed to look at me a bit weird, but I wasn’t that hungry. I waited about 1 and a half minutes before my burger was un-ceremoniously dumped on the counter in front of me. I found a bench near-by and examined what I had been given. The meat paddy was a big thick slice of beef, it had a thick slice of tomato, and some pickled cucumbers, all of which was drowning in a mixture of thick, rich chilli sauce and melted cheese. It tasted very decadent; the rich chilli sauce was just hot enough, but not too hot, and combined with the cheese, it oozed out everywhere. I now understood why people generally have chips with it. Deep fried potato chips would make the perfect dipping implement to clean up the fallout as you attempt to consume the burger. Definitely worth checking out.
The Second was to eat as many bagels as possible from the “Brooklyn Bagel Bakery”. Now we have pretty good bagels back home, and to be honest, it’s not something I’d regularly go out of my way for, however, I enjoy them from time to time. The Brooklyn Bagel Bakery was just a few blocks up from Tommy’s Hamburger stand, so it felt a little like deja vu when I rocked up to roughly the same place on the second day. I walked into the bakery, and started to look at my options. I was second in line, and as I had picked out the bagels I wanted, first the cheese and onion, then the cheese, one by one the woman in front of me who was obviously planning a big party, cleaned out the bakery of those flavours. How rude. I ended up settling on an onion bagel and a jalapeño bagel. I also purchased some cream cheese to go with them, and decided to try to find myself a near-by park to eat my lunch. I decided not to switch the GPS on this time, but instead to just drive down Beverly blvd. Block after block I kept driving, and no park did I find. I did notice though that as I travelled, the houses slowly became more grand, until I felt so far from the scenery of the bakery, I could have easily been in a different country. The run-down units and street full of homeless had given way to pristine tree lined mansions and fancy cafe’s. This is the more glitzy side of LA that I was expecting. Eventually after driving many miles (yes I am getting into some Americanisms as it confuses them when you talk about kilometres), I eventually found a tiny square of grass that could almost (if you squint hard enough) be called a park. I parked the car and sat on a bench in the “park” and ate my bagels with cream cheese. They were very nice, and compare favourably with those from home. I actually regretted not buying some more for my adventures the next day.
After my lunch I decided I needed a coffee (and maybe some dessert). So I walked a few blocks up and found a cafe called “Shaky Alibi” that looked promising.
I had decided to set my expectations for coffee fairly low as I know that it’s very hard to compete with Melbourne for coffee, unless you’re somewhere like Italy. Having said that, my expectations where lowered even more when they bought me a cappuccino in a soup bowl. Even with my expectations lowered, the coffee struggled to meet them. At the end of the day it was a source of caffeine and being an addict, I wasn’t likely to refuse it.
However, they also had waffles, and the awesomeness of a waffle covered in home made dark chocolate ice cream, and bananas, and the chattiness and friendliness of the servers managed to take my mind off the coffee.
As grateful as I am for Laynes suggestions, I do always like to discover one or two things for myself as well. I noticed in one of the guide books in my Hotel room a reference to a place on Santa Monica Blvd called “Bar Pintxos”. As I am a big fan of Sheryl Crow, and having the annoyingly addictive melody “until the sun comes up over Santa Monica boulevard” rattling around in my head, I decided to check it out. I also wanted to see how authentic pintxos were done so I could see if we were getting something similar at “Naked For Satan” (a pintxos bar that has recently opened up in Melbourne.
I sat down at the bar, and after ordering a local beer started browsing the menu. I struck up a number of conversations with other patrons at the bar, and we compared food as they bought it out. LA people seem to be very friendly. All the food was delightful, the mushrooms were particularly good as well as the garlic prawns (although I probably shouldn’t have had them before going out to tango), and I couldn’t help thinking that “Naked for Satan” was relatively authentic in that they are charging quite dear prices for tiny amounts of high quality food. I guess it comes down to a value judgement in the end, and for me pintxos will always be a special treat for when I am feeling rich.