Last week I was in Los Angeles for an upcoming episode of Bizarre Foods America , which premieres Monday night at 9 p.m. on Travel Channel. The first episode of the new season is all about The Twin Cities, and I couldn’t be prouder of the show, our local crew, the fans who came out to watch, and the local stars that opened up their farms and restaurants to us. More on that in a moment.
First a word about Los Angeles. Amazing. The food scene keeps getting better and better. Ink Sak, Michael Voltaggio’s little sandwich shop down the street from Ink is about as good as fast food can ever get. Cheap. Insanely high quality. Fast. Imagine a piece of honorably raised real chicken, seasoned, cooked sous vide, cooled, fried, and nestled on soft but crusty bun. Seriously, perfect. He also has homemade cookies, fruit vacuum-sealed with lime, chilies and salt, housemade chips . . . one of the most impressive things I have seen in a long time.
Ink blew my mind for sure, but with dozens of cooks, an amazing staff and given how talented and committed this young man is I wouldn’t have expected anything less. His sandwich shop is almost harder to pull off in a sense; it certainly is the best casual sandwich joint I have been to in years and sets the bar for every casual eatery I can think of. He has done what people say you can’t do and I was really impressed. I went down the street three times in two hours just to eat everything on the menu. I also ate everything on the menu at Ink. This guy can cook, my friends. Get there.
I also went to Lindy and Grundy butcher shop, hung with Erica and Amelia, and made face bacon. The final result after curing and pulling the ears through the eye sockets is a chewy cartilaginous smoky blend of the best eating on the animal. It’s my favorite new food product of the year. Ludo has a new chicken sandwich truck, awesome stuff. Chosun Galbi is my new favorite Korean BBQ to take guests to. It’s pretty and service is efficient and they take reservations. I have some dives in K-town that serve better fare (just by a hair) but for total package for visitors in LA I recommend the place. Animal and Son of a Gun are worth every moment you wait for a table, and Vinnie and John are so earnest and talented, I loved hanging out with them, cooking, and eating. I won’t lie, I ate in a restaurant at SOAG but just walked in back door and ate in kitchen at Animal. Heaven.
Chris Cosentino and I got to grab a serious meal at Nobu one night. I am not kidding when I tell you that his LA restaurant keeps getting better every year. The fish there is as good as any place on the planet. We had a mushroom and white truffle salad that was crispy and so fresh that I couldn’t believe what I was eating. It tasted like fresh bamboo shoots. We found out later it was one of only a few portions they get each year of a rare foraged mountain mushrooms. Crazy.
My pop up at Royal T Café went very well, lots of celeb sightings. Warren Sapp even stormed the kitchen to scare me into feeding him faster and with larger portions. It worked. And a huge thanks goes to Ben Ford of Ford’s Filling Station for giving me some amazing bacon ice cream to garnish my dessert that night. Anyway it was a great week on the left coast and special thanks to my pals Lee Hefter and Ari Rosenson who saved my ass during service and to have two guys with that kind of experience cook with you on the line, the whole night, and take the evening off from running their 30 restaurants around the world was the nicest thing anyone has done for me in a long time. Thanks, guys.
Wine tip of the year: Get on every bottle of Soliste "Out of the Shadows" Syrah, Bennett Valley California 2009. Dana Farner the insanely talented wine and bev director of CUT in Beverly Hills selected this wine for one of the courses for a 19-course menu of amazing proportions turned out by Lee and Ari. The occasion was a dinner our networks ad sales team put on for some of our best clients, and I have to say it might have been the best meal I have had at that restaurant. That is saying something since I eat there every time I am in LA. Wagyu tartare with black truffle, truffle sabayon glazed grilled lobster, beef short ribs with raita and cilantro chutney, bone marrow flan with caper salad, crab and lobster Louis, roasted beets, Grilled domestic and Japanese Wagyu tasting . . . insane. But the biggest raves of night came from the wine geeks at the table who went bonkers for what Dana described as a “dirty good” bottle. Go get some, and get to CUT next time you are in LA.
OK, Bizarre Foods America , my new season, a special domestic season airs this coming Monday night at 9 p.m. I am back on Monday night, paired with Bourdain, just like the good old days, so fans will have hours of viewing pleasure. The show takes you to farms and streams to eat elk and turtle, to the lakes for monster carp. To the Hmong market, to Hola Arepa for some guinea pig, to Piccolo for a lesson in meat glue 101 from Doug Flicker, to a local VFW hall for a hot dish cook off, to Haute Dish where I cooked up a storm one night to see who would and wouldn’t like some offal hot dish, we even got to Travail and Blue Door . . . but the best stuff wound up on the cutting room floor, and I am embarrassed and ashamed and a little sad about it. So much so that I am going to steal the footage from the vault and try to put it up myself on a website somewhere in Kazakhstan.
What you won’t see, and I am just heartbroken’ is all of what we shot at Green Ox with Mike, our compare contrast hot dog scene at Gopher Bar’ and Tilia. Hysterical. Nor will you see the durian tasting that the lads at Travail set up for me as a joke but ended up being one of the coolest examples I have witnessed of how great cooking can do amazing things with horrific ingredients. Truth be told, we had too much good stuff and most of what you won’t see will be in the extended play version that is aired overseas. Strange, but true.
Enjoy, let me know what you think.