This Tuesday when I took the bus to the ice rink in El Segundo, I noticed a billboard advertising our local hockey team. It read “We are all Kings.” I imagined the creatives at the ad agency as they pitched it. There’s the obvious wordplay, but what makes it so appealing is the very American implication that the potential for greatness resides inside each of us. “Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream?”
I dream of Park’s
Living downstairs from the Uber Chef, a CIA-grad trained in fine dining, I spend a lot of time criss-crossing the city’s boroughs in search of the best ethnic food. We always find it. Usually, I learn afterwards that Jonathan Gold has already been there. Such is the case with Park’s BBQ, which currently tops my list of places to eat out in L.A.
On my birthday I gathered a group of friends together and the Uber Chef called in a favor so that we got to eat upstairs. Chef ordered for everyone, and within minutes we were assaulted with a battery of panch’an, including items I hadn’t seen on my recent visit and which apparently don’t make their way to everyone’s table – like spicy, raw crab. Chef ordered beer and shōchū, then stone pot octopus and stone pot rice.
“Don’t touch it!” Chef instructed my friends, and we all waited eagerly until the rice had a chance to get crusty on the bottom of the pot. Then one of the servers whisked it away and came back with it dished up on small plates. We also ordered the pancakes, both the scallion and the kimchi (the latter of which I could eat all night). Of course the wait staff piled our grills high with pork belly and beef, which we dipped into sauces, rolled in lettuce leaves and stuffed into our mouths until we could stuff no more.
Duck, duck, and more duck
Another recent addition to my list of great ethnic finds in L.A. is the Beijing Duck House.
While the Yelpers may be right – maybe there is better duck elsewhere – I’ll cast my lot with Jonathan Gold, who recommends ordering the duck and the soup made from the carcass, which is what we did.
My dining companions that night included the Uber Chef, a manager/owner at one of L.A.’s top dining establishments and a former French Laundry sommelier. As on previous dining excursions with the Uber Chef’s clan, we ordered a lot of food.
(Though we did not partake of the sea cucumbers, the live fish stew, the sea intestine with garlic, the “spice beauty hoof “(!?), or the “spicy hot bullfrog.”)
In addition to two ducks and the soup, we ordered fried rice, tender sautéed celery with lily bulbs (of which I am now a huge fan) and “pepper salt spareribs.” We filled our hoisin-lathered pancakes with green onions and duck and slurped up our soup until we could slurp no more. There was not much left of the duck – two heads, sliced neatly in half, and two drumsticks – but I plunged them into the soup, which I took home with me and ate for a week afterwards. I can’t recall the exact number, but our bill was around $100.
People Who Do Dumplings
Although I have a list of to-try dumpling spots in L.A., most of them, like Din Tai Fung, are off the beaten path and require 45-minute drives (like the one to the San Gabriel Valley where the Duck House is). On a return trip from Hollywood, we were passing through Beverly Hills when the Uber Chef and I both realized it was lunchtime.
“Where can we eat something yummy and affordable (read: ethnic) around here?” I asked. He tossed out a few suggestions, and we landed on dumplings at Bao. Although the steamed buns could have had a little more umph, the dough was perfect – light but chewy with a hint of sweetness. We ordered pork and shrimp shumai (excellent), crispy cucumber salad (solid), and the radish cake (over which we dueled for the last bite).
On my recent trip to Sweden I visited one of the new and highly popular dumpling houses. I’ll give it an A for effort, but it was proof that making a delicious dumpling is not as easy as it looks. While Bao might not have made Jonathan Gold’s Top 10 dumpling houses, each item was simply and well executed and far superior to a lot of the other dim sum I’ve eaten in my life.
Unlike most of my ethnic eating adventures with the Uber Chef, we did not dim sum ourselves into a stupor. But as we left, I uttered these familiar words, “It’s a good thing this isn’t right by our house.”
Yes, this is the downside of L.A., that everything is so spread out and often involves a freeway. It’s also what makes the city such a great place to eat. This article by another recent immigrant from New York recently made the rounds among my friends on Facebook. It eloquently sums up what I love about the L.A. dining scene. (It also mentions three of my favorite spots: Night + Market, Guisados and Baco Mercat.) One of the author’s points is that all this space drives down rent prices, which is one big reason why L.A. is arguably the country’s most egalitarian restaurant scene. That, combined with the notion that, hey, this is Hollywood! If a prostitute can marry a millionaire, virtually anyone can open an eatery. All it takes is someone with a stove and pipe-dream and we all get to eat like kings.