Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Needless to say, Chameau, literally “Camel,” where my wife and I went for dinner last Saturday, does not compare to Benny’s. However, Chameau's modern take on Moroccan cuisine does have merit and the decor is worth mentioning (and dismissing).

The interior is an amalgamation of Marrakech and Pan Am chic. (I'm not sure what Pan Am chic even means, but I do know that the center of Chameau's ceiling was sculpted like the interior of a jet fuselage with a brown fringe rug extending through it.) Sequences of rectangular lamps of loud primary and secondary colors hung over our table and ran parallel to the fuselage. The walls were decorated with several modern Moroccan tiles and latticework as well as some rugs with orange and brown rectangles. Screens with either geometric or dromedarian motifs hung from the ceiling and separated the tables on the wall opposite us. A large camel was also engraved into the screen on the back wall. Christian Liagre would not be impressed.

As for the food, Chameau served a nice appetizer of pan fried sardines with onions and harissa, a dish rarely seen in Los Angeles. My wife thoroughly enjoyed her very fresh, nicely seasoned vegetarian appetizer platter of beets, sweet carrots, tomato pepper salad, eggplant salad, pickled red onion, and whipped goat cheese. My wife’s trout was stuffed with a mousse of preserved lemons and served with roasted artichokes; her dish was distinctive and very tasty as was pretty much anything that the kitchen’s preserved lemons touched. My sea bass was served in a tagine with vegetables over a bed of couscous. The couscous itself was lemony and light and without the graininess that makes my wife regard the Moroccan staple as sand. The fish and vegetables however were bland. The desserts of cinnamon date ice cream and a light, crispy “bastilla au lait,” i.e., fried dough in crème anglaise were good and due to my continued lack of self-control lasted only a few short minutes.

339 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles
(323) 951-0039


In the late 1990s, during my three years of law school in Washington, DC, my hang-out was Café Riche. We just called it Benny’s, for its proprietor. To this day, Benny’s remains the most soulful, interesting, and bizarre café I have ever visited. Benny was an exceedingly temperamental polymath of unlimited generosity and energy and occasionally shoddy business dealings. He was an engaging if not always intelligible conversationalist (though he spoke several dialects of Arabic as well as French, Russian, Spanish, English, and reputedly Greek), a proficient drummer, and above all, a brilliant chef with pure Gallic instincts and a love of his native Algerian cuisine.

Benny’s entire “clientele” was a collection of misfits, distinguished only in the degrees of our respective capacities and interests in masquerading ourselves on the stage of mainstream life: some of us got deported, and some of us work for multinationals. Many of his customers were Moroccan and Algerian immigrants, a few Benny knew from his fishing village while others were new to Washington and looking for a taste of home. They engaged in heated but quaint arguments which seemed to pit Benny’s older generation of French loyalists against the somewhat younger generation of Algerian and Moroccan nationalists. Their arguments were always in Arabic and their subject matter none-too-clear, perhaps even to themselves. But their friendliness and passion sealed my interest in all things Maghrebi. (It is also because of them that I do not recoil from having a Ricard in the U.S., publicly.)

My associates and I regularly went to Benny’s at different times and for different reasons, usually for dinner, a drink or a late coffee. With the exception of one month in the summer of 1998, there was no menu, and there were no regular hours of operation. There was also no staff. If we ate dinner at Benny’s on a weekend, more often than not we would end up tending bar to the Adams Morgan revelers who more often than not were expelled at some point of the evening for some inexpiable sin. Generally, those expelled failed to understand and ultimately offended Benny’s vague, but powerful romantic notion of eating a long drawn out meal or drinking among friends while having an engaging conversation. Practically, this could mean looking for a moment of calm after leaving Cities on a busy Friday night and making the mistake of ordering a cappuccino. “Please leave, my friend” was Benny’s admonition. If unheeded, throwing a liquor bottle would be his diktat.

The interior of his small restaurant had a bar and a few tables. His hundreds of books in many languages filled the walls, and he wanted his customers to treat the café as a library. The décor consisted of the oddest of bric-a-brac, and a large “Fuck you!” was drawn in chalk toward the top of the dining room’s brick wall.

What ultimately drew us to Benny’s was his food. (It certainly was not the service, reliability, or even consistency). His mussels, paella, salad that tingles, suckling pig, duck, loubia (or Algerian bean stew), and couscous with lamb and vegetables remain unmatched for their richness and soulfulness. It was the quality of his food and the personality of his restaurant that allowed me to enjoy a most memorable dinner with my grandfather who had a glass of wine, eight times, as well as, strangely, my very conservative former legal history professor and her even more conservative husband. (They were also misfits.)

Ultimately, it was Benny’s disdain for paying taxes and his enjoyment of cocaine that led to his restaurant’s replacement by a Cluck U Chicken.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bad Lettuce Dinner

BLD, the newish offshoot of the much-lauded Grace (which Steve unfairly despises), is everywhere we look these days. Everyone from The New York Times to Irene Virbila has decided to crawl up chef/owner Neal Fraser's ass to sing his praises for reinventing the casual dining scene in L.A. We think it's a load, but we cannot argue with the convenience of the place, which is open late and is on our corner. Plus, the room -- formerly a grim little spelunker's paradise -- is now light, spacious, and inviting with a good vibe. Accordingly, we eat at BLD when we can't think of any other place to go; however, while it does the trick and is pleasant enough, we wouldn't actually drive there. The important thing is that we can get a decent salad there in a pinch -- and that's how it became "Bad Lettuce Dinner" in our household, courtesy of Anthony after Steve complained about having to endure another dinner consisting of salad and, uh, salad. (And yes, I do cook for Steve -- frequently and with pleasure -- but when he spends his lunch hour gorging on tacos with his work cronies, a salad-based dinner is often the most appropriate coda to his otherwise unhealthy day.)

In all fairness, a few things at BLD are indeed worth leaving the house for. Steve and I are both fans of the well-proportioned butter lettuce salad, with its flavorful balance of fresh greens, consistently sweet cherry tomatoes, smoky bits of bacon, and a light but kicky blue cheese dressing. I also like their tuna salad over greens, which is prepared with roasted garlic aioli, celery root, and pistachios. Although these ingredients sound interesting, the ultimate execution is merely better than the average tuna salad, but not transcendent. It is, after all, just tuna. Recently, Steve ordered a special salad of frisee with bacon, blue cheese, and pear, which happened to be "very good." (I wrote "great" and my curmudgeonly lesser half just corrected me.) But Steve genuinely does like their Spanish Scramble, an egg dish with chorizo, manchego cheese, and piquillo peppers. He orders it sin lomo in the interest of restraint. The problem is that it's only available in the mornings, and we tend not to go out for breakfast.

I used to order the innocuous curry chicken salad, which happily is not a mayo-fest (unlike their crab salad, which is Steve's worst nightmare not involving raisins). I think it's best to order the curry chicken over greens instead of as the sandwich it's intended to be because the lame bread with which the sandwich comes isn't worth the calories. Lately, I've been ordering the caesar salad with grilled shrimp, which is a nice, light dinner option. The shrimp is flavorful and well-seasoned (though it does walk a tight line); the caesar itself is a little bland, but generally is not overdressed, which is good enough for me most nights.

Steve's occasional go-to is the serrano ham and manchego panino with piquillo peppers and honey. I give it an "e" for "eh." Although serrano ham with manchego is an objectively good combo, the piquillo peppers overwhelm and it is hard to love a panino with such mediocre, dry bread -- especially when the sublime panini at 'ino loom so large in one's culinary consciousness. If I'm going to eat wheat, it better rock. Other things we've tried haven't been worth repeating -- the aforementioned crab salad (which is sickeningly mayorific), the braised pork sandwich (fine but dull), and the burger (which Steve says is bad and overseasoned, but I have not yet tried). Anthony likes their "Self-Constructive Dinner" (shouldn't it be "Self-Constructed Dinner?"), a handy little arrangement in which you can select your protein, sauce, and Cartman's all-important side dishes; but I found the chicken option a little greasy for my taste.

Still, I must give Bad Lettuce Dinner props for a number of things, such as offering Epoisses -- a creamy Burgundian cow's cheese with which I fell madly in love on the portion of our honeymoon that we spent in the Loire -- on their excellent, comprehensive cheese menu. They also offer charcuterie made by Fra'mani, apparently a big deal in the foodie world and something that makes my husband happy. Also delighting my husband (and by extension, me) is the generally good wine list. And the last time I was there, my friend ordered fries and, while they were not Carney's level, they were still pretty terrific -- thin and crisp and salty.

My biggest gripe with BLD is the service. Although the pretty servers appear to try hard and are friendly enough, they very rarely get things right. Recent annoyances include touting the special black bean soup, but serving black-eyed pea soup; bringing out whole salads and charging accordingly even though half salads actually were ordered; and never remembering the wheat-free request of no croutons, please. It's the little things that make a restaurant great and this kind of nonsense does not help BLD's case.

Tonight, still a little sick and on antibiotics, Steve and I decided to get out of the house for a quick Bad Lettuce Dinner. With an hour wait (fair enough, it was 8-ish on a Saturday night), Steve decided to pop his head into his beloved Hatfield's next door to see what was up. Super-cool Karen Hatfield was gracious enough to get us a table (and a lovely one at that) in a mere 15 minutes even though her restaurant was fully (and well-deservedly) booked. We ended up eating and spending more than we planned, but you know what? It was totally worth it. So, Bad Lettuce Dinner, you -- like Mark Bittman, Jonathan Gold, and Padma Lakshmi before you -- well, you can suck it.

7450 Beverly Blvd.

Los Angeles
(323) 930-9744

Friday, January 19, 2007

Chung King: "The Worst Restaurant in the World"

I have long been of the opinion that Chinese food is an oxymoron, but I did not start this way. When I was 19, I enjoyed a memorable lunch at one of those establishments along Canal Street where chickens hung in the front window and the perfunctory English menus listed far fewer items than their Chinese counterparts. I still recall the robust, exotic flavors that were unlike any meal I had previously experienced.

In the past 14 years, no Chinese meal reached those Canal Street heights. All of the Chinese “food” that I have eaten has been fried, either in a deep fryer or a wok, and served with some repugnant syrupy sauce, inevitably leading to gastroenterological knots. I hesitate even to confer the status of “food” on what is served in Chinese restaurants because it is hardly evident that fried-fry meets even the minimal levels of nutritiousness for which Hostess strives. My one return visit to Canal Street was a disappointment, and the hanging birds in the window now struck me as fetid.

Still, I have continued to indulge the fantasy that the Chinese food I’ve eaten, regrettably and always due to situational confinement, wasn’t really Chinese at all, but an American take on it—the equivalent of a doppio.

Los Angeles, which has the largest population of Chinese of any American metropolis, would seem the ideal place to debunk my theories and reservations about Chinese cuisine. So with nothing to do last Christmas Eve and traffic clear, we went to Monterey Park not to test Mark Bittman’s hypothesis that Chung King “puts just about every other Sichuan restaurant in the United States that [he’s] familiar with to shame,” but to explore whether real Chinese food can be at all desirable.

If Tom Tancredo had written A Clockwork Orange, Chung King could well have been the Korova Milk Bar. No one in the restaurant spoke English, or at least betrayed a rudimentary knowledge of it. The English of the menu’s translation was either overly cryptic, referring to items as “delicacies” and “casseroles” or a warning, such as “pig’s intestine.” Its atmosphere was akin to an underfunded hospital. (The glass on our tabletop was broken and by the end of the meal, a loose shard lacerated my wife’s elbow, causing us to end our meal not with dessert, but with a complimentary fistful of Band-aids from the panicked waitress.)

Chung King has received lavish praise for its signature dish, salty fried chicken cubes with dried hot red peppers. Since our proficiency in English was of no use here, we ordered the chicken and put our faith in Jonathan Gold’s recommendation of the “great, multiflavored beef casseroles that are so spicy they attack the nervous system like a phaser set to ‘stun.’" This is the same Jonathan Gold whose ill-heeded advice has led to such notorious misadventures as Al-Watan and Juanito's. For his part, Bittman liked the rice-crust dishes, and the language barrier left us ordering the version with three “delicacies.”

The fried chicken cubes happened to be good. But Chung King’s accomplishment here was to serve deep fried, spicy, salty chicken nuggets—very tasty and at least enough chicken not to be fried-fry, but still nuggets of chicken. Gold’s daughter bestowed the title of Worst Restaurant in the World on Chung King for the chicken, but I disagree. The casserole and the rice-crust stir fry would be the restaurant’s undoing.

The braised beef casserole was a large, spicy broth with pieces of beef the shape and size of a human fist and the color and texture of raw liver as well as assorted, unnamable vegetation. The beef was so sodden that it could not be cut prior to eating it. It had to be swallowed whole. The severity of the beef’s sliminess could be used to rebut Plato’s argument that the Forms are unattainable and unknowable. This sliminess had the unforeseen benefit of depressing the gag reflex and forcing the swallowing process. Even now, I am convinced that beef once possessed a cardiovascular function.

The rice-crust with three delicacies and its numeration remain a mystery. The rice-crust was like a fresh version of a dieter’s rice cakes, stir fried with more vegetation and some fish in a strong, viscous sauce that was redolent of lemon. The dish was flavorful and interesting: the lemon and spice saved it from being conventionally bad. But it wasn’t enjoyable either, and I am still pondering how and why one would come up with such a peculiar dish.

To borrow my wife's delicate expression, Mark Bittman and Jonathan Gold can both suck it.

Chung King
206 S. Garfield Ave.
Monterey Park
(626) 280-7430

Top Chef: Padma Can Suck It

This week's "Top Chef" episode distinguished itself from previous airings by including the now-requisite reality television explosion of inappropriate behavior. While I understand the impulse to want to crush the deeply annoying Marcel, the behavior of the otherwise likable Cliff (pinning Marcel down, and fratboyishly attempting to rally the other chefs to shave off that ridiculous Ed Grimley-inspired hair of his) was cringeworthy, disturbing, and, to borrow a phrase from Anthony Bourdain earlier in the season, utterly "Flintstonian." Although I was sad to see him go under those circumstances, Cliff's mediocre sirloin with pureed lentils dish otherwise would have heralded his departure. Ah, c'est la vie, Cliffy boy. If you want to go to Hawaii for free, you're going to have to get Bonnie to adopt you and take you for the winter holidays.

But I digress. I do, after all, have a point here.

When the panelists at the judges' table decided to boot Cliff after the "incident," Padma Lakshmi noted that it was "ironic" to be sending him home for his bad behavior, as they would have sent him home anyway for his lackluster sirloin.

But see, that is not so much ironic as it is coincidental, Padma. Do you want to know what is ironic? That Salman Rushdie's wife does not know the definition of irony.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pattaya Bay

A friend visiting from “Back East” was looking for something unlike the typical New York experience. Getting a late start on Saturday night, our options were limited since L.A. closes at 10 pm. We ventured to the Thai Town section of East Hollywood where one can usually dine well at any hour. We settled on a favorite of mine, the Pattaya Bay Thai Restaurant, which is located in a misshapen, unsightly, southward facing strip center on the west side of 1727 N. Vermont Ave.

My wife and I went there for an early dinner one Sunday after reading a nice L.A. Times review. The restaurant is ugly and dirty, and though not a dump, it definitely earns its B rating from the Department of Public Health. It has a karaoke stage and an outsized television. At a nearby four-top, one customer bore a striking resemblance to Sloth Fratelli, both physically and linguistically. (His associates also spoke in grunt so it was fine.) In ordering, we hewed closely to the Irene Virbila playbook. We were enamored by the spicy, green papaya salad that was suffused with lime and fragments of dried shrimp. The larb, an interesting dish of ground chicken with red onions, plentiful cilantro and chili and what the restaurant translated as “spicy & sour dressing,” was thoroughly enjoyed. Finally, we liked the chicken in green curry with creamy coconut milk, soft eggplant and green chile paste. Everything was very fresh.

So I returned with my friend. At 11pm, the restaurant had several customers but was not lively. Not taking any chances, I ordered the same dishes as before and my friend added pad thai and a dishwater of a soup called Tom Yum Kung–Nang.

While awaiting our food, we watched a short Thai man who wore a large white napkin like a mangled ascot and the same ill-conceived mustache that one sees in central Ohio sing a rendition of When The Saints Go Marching In. Actually, he just repeated the song’s signature verse and when that proved too much even for him to bear, he added his own line or taunt, as it were, that the New Orleans professional football franchise would emerge victorious in the Super Bowl. No one in the restaurant paid any attention to him, and he received no applause. Another man then took the stage and gave a searing performance of George Harrison’s Something, albeit with a thick Korean accent. Again, no one paid any attention and he received no applause.

Nursing a cold, all I could really taste was the fire of the chiles and that foul soup. I can't wait to return.

Pattaya Bay
1727 N. Vermont Ave.
Los Feliz
(323) 666-0880

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Our love affair with Hatfield’s began seven months ago based on the Gray Lady’s chronology. Over six weeks or so, I had watched the space at 7458 Beverly Blvd. metamorphose from an unintentionally kitschy Chinese restaurant to a modern, minimalist dining room. We had read about the sterling credentials of the Hatfields themselves, who in our dumb luck leased a vacant space one long block from our home to open their gem. Our plan was to get in early and ingratiate. If this tiny restaurant became a hit, we wanted to make sure we could always a get a seat.

The restaurant is nestled in the center of contiguous storefronts in the middle of the block. To enter it, one ascends a short stairwell onto a veranda where there are a few choice tables overlooking Beverly Boulevard and then enters the white, subdued dining room. Upon then being greeted by Hatfield’s smart and genuinely warm staff, one can begin to enjoy the award of a temporary respite from Los Angeles’ clamor and vulgarity.

Since our first visit on the restaurant’s opening weekend, my wife and I have been entranced by Quinn Hatfield’s vision of a modern, ingredient-driven French cuisine or what should be modern French cuisine. Hatfield’s excels at fish and seafood. It can be innovative, as in the case of its charred Japanese octopus with roasted fennel, and red wine olive puree. Or it can execute a classic like sea bass in a gribiche sauce.

But the kitchen’s heart lies in its foie gras. For the first several months, only a terrine was offered. It was always delicious regardless of its differing presentations. Then one night, a resplendent sautéed version appeared on the menu accompanied by golden lentil puree, royal trumpet mushrooms, and petit grapes. I inquired into what prompted the sudden change. I was shuffled toward the back to meet the self-effacing Quinn for the first time, who quietly replied that he finally had confidence in his staff to tend to the kitchen so that he could concentrate on sautéing the liver (and apparently step out of the kitchen for half a minute). But it was clear that as his confidence grew, so did the quality of the restaurant.

The chef is a tactician who stays in the kitchen and works hard. Last fall, we had a late dinner there with friends, as did Mario Batali. For an infant of a restaurant and the husband-&-wife chefs who are well under 40, it is a tremendous compliment that Batali showed up. Still Quinn would not come out of the kitchen to introduce himself, at least while we were there, which was until 11:30 pm. In this dubious era of celebrity chefs, Quinn Hatfield’s quiet devotion to his kitchen is much more meaningful and--dare I throw out that dreaded, clichéd word--soulful. As a postscript, I have learned from a possibly reputable source that Batali praised Hatfield’s as the best restaurant he went to in 2006 in Los Angeles (though it is unclear if he went anywhere else.)

I am remiss in not yet praising Karen Hatfield, who runs the front of the house and is the restaurant’s pastry chef. Simply stated, her desserts and ice creams are explosively good and sophisticated, too. She is an expert at juxtaposing salty and sweet. I will just list a few of their desserts, copy-and-pasted from their website, so if there were a reader, he/she would get the point:

Roasted walnut praline tart,

chocolate shortbread crust,

espresso ice cream

Chocolate peanut butter truffle cake,
rosemary butterscotch ice cream,
cocoa nib brittle

Sugar and spiced beignets,
Venezuelan chocolate fondue,
ginger ice cream soda

We went to Hatfield’s on New Year’s Eve because we trusted that they, unlike their competition, would not indulge the restaurant industry’s typical New Year’s skullduggery of charging an irrationally high fee replete with the most cloyingly sweet of sparkling wines and then giving their most prized employees the night off.

So here we are again, back in the realm of the tasting menu with wine pairings. They offered two menus, but since the less expensive of the two was essentially a recapitulation of the regular menu, we opted for the wholly original “Menu Luxe,” which also pushed our Abramoffian agenda. The meal started with an elegant and very fresh hamachi tartar with celery leaves, crème fraiche, and Osetra caviar. This dish was a success because of the way the chef deftly played the caviar off the distinct taste and texture of the hamachi, which is also to say that the caviar was not there as a garnish or an empty luxury.

Next were diver scallops with marinated artichoke and puree, along with saffron vanilla emulsion, a variation of the aforementioned octopus dish. After suffering through Quince's apathetic take on this dish, Hatfield’s scallops were rich, intensely flavorful and cooked properly. They didn’t need the accompanying pyrotechnics.

After two light dishes, my arteries started trembling, as they knew their workload was about to become Dickensian. First was a roasted squab breast with roasted foie gras served with a small portion of crispy squab schnitzel. This dish was served with a glass of the 2003 Arbois, Jacques Puffeney, a complementary, idiosyncratic red wine from the Jura region of France. The final savory dish was a butter-poached fillet mignon with herbed spätzle. Just as this beautiful creation was placed on the table, Quinn appeared out of the kitchen for the first time all night. He approached our table with black truffles which he then generously shaved onto the fillets. I thanked him for what my wife and I thought was their best performance in all of our visits to Hatfield’s. He didn’t want to accept the compliment but politesse demanded it. And with that, he was back in the kitchen.

Now it was Karen’s turn. She brought out two desserts: a warm apple “upside down” spice cake with vanilla mascarpone and chimay ice cream, and a chocolate mille feuille with devils food cake with espresso ice cream. I am not sure how she extracts such flavor from each of these items, but she does. The chocolate was served with a Lambrusco Grasparossa, an Italian semi-sparkling red dessert wine which manages to be so tasty while, and I promise this is not a complaint, resembling carbonated Manischewitz.

A few other notes: the wine list has very interesting selections from some of the less obvious French regions as well as Austria, Italy and California. My wife loves the cocktails that the bartender, Matt, made. I have tasted a few of them: while not for me, they were good and not patently chick drinks. Matt sold his screenplay and will be missed. The restaurant’s head server, Hans, is an affable, civilized individual who knows his wines. I attribute his warmth and intelligence to the fact that he is a graduate of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

7458 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles
(323) 935-2977

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Quince Restaurant, San Francisco

Quince Restaurant

To kick off the New Year’s festivities, my wife and I sojourned to San Francisco to dine at Quince, the highly touted restaurant which in the praise I read sounded like the very embodiment of the great San Francisco restaurant. In particular, Jay McInerney’s comments on his wine & food blog compelled me to drag my wife to S.F. If “the menu at Quince made [him] drool,” well this is a place that I needed to try. So we made a 9pm reservation for a Friday night, and I left Los Angeles in smug anticipation. Upon our timely arrival to Quince, the friendly host cautioned us that the kitchen was backed up and dispatched us to a neighborhood hotel bar to await their call. We returned around 9:40 and finally sat down just before 10. There were several other guests standing with us in the front of the small restaurant awaiting their table, all of whom we recognized from the hotel bar.

We received the longer-than-expected menu and it was as McInerney described it. Had he not drooled, I would have. There was too much that looked too good to try. The pastas sounded delicious and very thoughtful. So with our one night in San Francisco, we splurged and ordered the tasting menu with the wine pairings. The meal started nicely with a very fresh, roasted Monterey Bay sardine with a wedge of citrus fruit (a tangerine maybe? I don’t recall). My wife does not eat sardines; I love them. This was good.

Next was a delicious oyster vellutata, literally, velvety oyster soup with potato, leek, sunchoke & black truffle. Quince paired the soup with a terrific, seriously dry 2004 Domaine Barat Chablis, a perfect complement. This richly flavorful soup somehow managed to be light and did not overwhelm. The oysters were plump and fresh and delicious. After the sardine and the notably delicious soup, my premature glee already felt vindicated.

But then it all fell apart. Next was roast sea scallop with porcini mushroom purée and a light prosecco butter served with a local Forman chardonnay. The scallop was bland. The thing just had no taste. Did they not taste the scallops they were serving? Nevertheless, I have no self-control, so I ate both my portion and my wife’s.

Meanwhile, about one minute after the servers cleared the plates of scallops, they brought out the first dish of pasta, as well as the next glass of wine. There were now four glasses of wine on the table and timely finishing them to keep up with what ended up being a 100-meter dash of a tasting menu was becoming a Sisyphean task.

Our first pasta was a garganelli dish with rabbit ragú and balsamic vinegar followed by pumpkin bigoli with squab, chestnuts, and rosemary. On paper, they both sounded great, but were languid. Pasta should be visceral and soulful. These tasted fine enough but were ineffectual and could not have been less compelling. Too much French influence, not enough Italian. Considering that they were served within seven minutes of each other, we were lucky we could distinguish them from each other.

What sealed this meal’s fate was the final course, the suckling pig with farro perlato, i.e., spelt & turnips. It was served 2 ½ minutes after the second pasta course, and we must have had about 6 glasses of wine on the table at this point. (All of the wines were outstanding; it's a shame they all ran together.) A great suckling pig to me has tender meat, with crispy skin and some spice. My favorite version to which I briefly became addicted was the masterpiece that Suzanne Goin served at Lucques. With some harissa and romano beans, her version somehow managed to be both refined and beautifully guttural, like the pulled pork one gets in a great southern barbecue pit. Yet here was Quince pitifully serving five different cuts from the pig. A small piece of bacon, a niblet of ear, and a few others. I wish I could call them overly precious but their tastelessness disallowed even that back-handed compliment. Serving five different things on one dish never works and at this point in time is just inappropriate.

The kitchen’s impotence and, by now, my inebriation saved me, because the kitchen furtively inserted raisins into the panettone bread pudding dessert. I did not see these morsels of evil and thankfully could not taste them. I have my wife to thank for identifying their pernicious presence.

I awoke with a serious hangover that was not cured until getting a seriously good Croque Monsieur at Tartine on Saturday afternoon before returning to L.A.

1701 Octavia
San Francisco
(415) 775-8500

Los Angeles

Los Angeles has some truly outstanding food that is not replicable anywhere else in the country, perhaps not even outside the geographic parameters of the 213 area code (El Parian, El Taurino, and Shan for example.) But for me, a formerly self-respecting native Clevelander, now effete, Francophilac, Bordeaux futures- buying Californian, it is very difficult to match the long drawn out summer meals with a surfeit of Chateauneuf du Pape at Yountville’s Bistro Jeanty. Or the skilled use of California’s plentiful, impeccably fresh produce at the Laundry and on Saturday afternoons at Chez Panisse Café. As much as I love the richness of the Los Angeles dining scene, the Bay Area just seems a leg up on pretty much everywhere, New York included.

The white Los Angeles dining scene is so consistently an expensive disappointment that I have stopped partaking, with a few exceptions. With the bounty at the Hollywood market every Sunday morning, how these L.A. chefs consistently produce such execrable results is almost a philosophical quandary. It’s like reverse alchemy with these people. Take the highly popular Angelini Osteria. If this bastion of mediocrity were in New York, it would be out of business in a month, even on the Upper West Side. (Well maybe not on the Upper West Side, but definitely within a one-mile radius of Bar Pitti).