Los Angeles

teachersdesk.jpgAs I have mentioned, I am a teacher in the LAUSD and this year the budget cuts cost me dearly. I lost the auxiliary class I have taught for the last nine years, and though this class added the stress of an extra preparation, it also padded my wallet, which made it a little easier for me to inure myself to teaching four one-and-a-half-hour classes each day with only two scheduled breaks, twenty and thirty minutes each. Gates and locks define the boundaries of the campus and these gates and locks are not to be opened until the school day ends, so this means that for the last nine years, I have been almost literally chained to my desk.

Not once in nine years have I ever “met a friend for lunch” or gone off campus to “grab a bite.” Since there is really no time to do anything but teach my classes, answer student questions, and make small talk in the bathroom line, I practically live in my little isolated realm. I have packed my little island with the essential modern conveniences like a fridge stocked with berries, Greek yogurt, organic peanut butter, whole grain bread, cheese, water, juice; a kettle to boil water for my coffee and oatmeal; and my iPhone so I can enjoy the promise of at least some contact with the outside world during those two luxurious breaks I get.  A colleague of mine once asked whether I was hiding a Murphy bed in my book closet.

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Ricotta toast 2If you should find yourself visiting a much-more-hip-than-you relative in the much-more-hip-than-where-you-live section of L.A. called Silver Lake, stop in at a wee restaurant called Sqirl. It’s worth the humiliation of being the least hip person in the neighborhood on a Friday afternoon.

Sqirl is famous for their jams (like Santa Rosa Plum and Flowering Thyme, or Shady Lady Tomato) but the menu rocks with lots of other treats, some vegan, some decidedly not, like the Famed Ricotta Toast, which was my pick. (I loaded it with Snow Queen Nectarine jam.)

I told my daughter I could eat it every day for breakfast. She pointed out that if I did so I would end up the size of a house.

So, no, I won’t be having this every day for breakfast. But I will have it again next time I cross the hipness border into Silver Lake.

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stlouisstyleribsandbakedbeans.jpgWhen I originally conceived of taking a self-led tour of the LA food trucks with some friends it was to see who was trying to capitalize on the success of Kogi BBQ, the crossover Mexican-Korean taco truck, and their use of Twitter to let people know their current location.  Supposedly Kogi is the originator of the hip and cool LA food truck and, as some have told me, has the best food of all the taco trucks. My plan was to find trucks that had just rolled out, are newly popular, or ones that I know nothing about and see if Kogi would hold up against the rest.

My food truck team consisted of seven diverse and discerning palettes including a maitre fromager, a chef, a pastry chef, a hungry stoner and a guy who makes the biggest sandwiches I’ve ever seen, but seems to gain no weight.  We started our glutton-fest at Barbie’s Q who was parked at T-Lofts in Santa Monica (11500 Tennessee) where food trucks hang out every day.  The big green truck has a pin-up girl and the slogan “A Rollin’ BBQ Joint” on the side and is a clear representation of the owner.  John, who insists that the pin-up on the side is not his daughter, takes everyone’s order while standing in front of his truck so he can shake hands and show off his fluffy white mustache.  The St. Louis ribs were sweet, juicy, and did the fall-off-the-bone thing that grosses out my vegetarian girlfriend. It was my favorite dish of the day (out of the two dozen things I tried). We also tried three kinds of deliciously simple sliders (chicken, pork, or beef, sauce, and a bun), potato salad that was thankfully dill heavy and mayo light, and some baked beans that were best consumed when poured over a slider.

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FrontofGrillWhen relatives come for the holidays in the words of the Eagles, it can be “heaven or it can be hell”. In our case it was delicious!

My favorite Aunt and Uncle escaped the blistering cold of NYC during this past holiday season and came to visit my family and get a bit of LA sunshine. My uncle is a man who loves his food. It is second only to his wife, my aunt who he’s been married to for 32 years and he is still as gaga and giddy as a love struck teenager. It is quite beautiful to behold. As is his wide eyed appraisal of a good menu.

It is fortunate, indeed, that my uncle has done very well financially so he can indulge in both of his passions; spoiling his wife and satisfying his taste buds. Living in NYC and traveling the world they eat in the best restaurants so needless to say when they come to LA, we eat well. Since they stay at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and enjoy driving in LA traffic about as much as we do, we confined our restaurant hopping to Beverly Hills.

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Gjusta-HaulBreakfast this weekend was punctuated with a pronouncement from The Mom. “The best fish I ever ate”, this from a women who has been eating cured, smoked, salted, baked salmon for 94 years. I may be a native Los Angelena, but you can’t deny eastern European roots when it comes to a love of cured fish.

The silky texture with a touch of resistance, the fishy flavor transformed somehow, depending on the method of curing, into a deeper sense of the sea. And with kippered or baked salmon a perfect solidity of texture imbued with a hint of smoke and black pepper.

Los Angeles is rapidly growing into a world-class eating destination.  That peak fish experience didn’t come from a mail order delivery from Russ and Daughters in NYC or a couple of peachy orange translucent slices begged “under the table” slices of Wexler’s smoked salmon still unavailable by the pound to take home.

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to Gjusta, the new Gjelina food hall project from Travis Lett, Fran Camaj and several culinary and managing collaborators.

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