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Lost in Translation: Eating LA

I’m back from spending almost a week in LA for an unofficial spring break. As Janelle Brown, the formerly SF-based author (now situated in LA’s Los Feliz hood), said to me for a recent 7x7 interview: LA and SF are like yin and yang—they fit together perfectly.

Thus, when in LA, I ban my black knee-high boots, slip on some flip-flops; forgo my penchant for pappardelle with pork sugo for a pile of greens; and generally, find myself wanting to eat exactly opposite of how I eat here. Of course, in the name of research, I’ve been to Lucques, The Hungry Cat, AOC and Mozza (all could land in SF without a blip). On this trip, I had a reservation lined up at Il Grano on Delfina chef Craig Stoll’s high recommendation, but at the last minute, opted out to spend that night eating very good sushi at Hirozen.


Egg salad and an iced tea at Pain Quotidien.

The 80-plus-degree days were spent camped on patios with my friend Danielle, eating salads at places like Le Pain Quotidien, Tender Greens and M Café—one of my favorite LA spots, which is everything I am not: a microbiotic vegan who hangs out with the likes of Lisa Bonet (who by the looks of it, hasn’t cut her dreadlocks in years) and dewy, wanna-be-actresses talking in depth about their acupuncturists/therapists. There, Danielle and I always order the kale with peanut sauce, chopped salad with avo, quinoa with beets or a veggie burger with tofu cheese (something I would scoff at here). And I always leave thinking, If only this place was in San Francisco, I’d be soooo healthy! But knowing deep-down that with the fog and the scarf that’s permanently around my neck, it just might not translate.


Bu San offers snails, kim chee and very,
very fresh prawns.


The other thing LA has is Koreatown, which is around 12-square-miles and offers up a whole world of 800-plus eateries that could leave you exploring forever. From Jonathan Gold’s excellent Koreatown Top 40 list (the man can write, the man can eat), my friend Josh and I selected Bu San sushi for dinner. There, we had snails as part of the pan chan and prawns plucked from a tank, heads ripped off and sent to the deep-fryer, gleaming bodies presented to us still twitching. The prawns tasted a tad metallic, and oddly alive. If alive is a flavor.

For dessert, we went to Ice Kiss to hang out among a bevy of Korean teenagers and dip into an obscene amount of shaved ice, plus mixed fruit and red beans, all topped with whipped cream. Kind of Baskin Robbins on acid. We capped off the night with (more) sake at a bar-and-lounge that we were curious about, located up the stairs in a building off a bustling hidden plaza. Called Gaam, the cool yakitori and sake bar had a wooden ceiling that soared stories above us (the pretty, hip Korean server said she thought it might had been a church once). Wrought-iron windows were thrown open to let in the warm night air. Can I repeat that again? The warm night air. Can we get that on order?


The ruins of an Intelligentsia espresso
topped with whipped cream. (Purists: Don't hate me.)


Admittedly, I did one thing that was very SF: stop for an espresso at Intelligentsia. (Third Wave coffee: Check. Tattoos on serious barristas and amped up clientele: Check. Fixed gear bikes: Common, it’s LA.). Or maybe very Chicago, considering that Intelligentsia is a Chicago original. Ironically, as I was walking in to get an espresso, I ran into Janelle, who was sitting outside with her laptop working away, just as I bet the former Missionite would have done at Ritual, had it been open when she lived here.