I just got back from a weekend in Los Angeles, visiting my good friend Harriet. Even though airfares are shockingly low at the moment I decided to drive. There's nothing that clears my head more than hitting the open road alone–moving forward through changing terrain, uninterrupted in my own little world for hours and hours on end. (Check out photos from some of my other roadtrips on Flickr.)
Once in LA, the theme of the weekend turned out to be Downtown/Little Tokyo and good inexpensive food. My first night in town we went for ramen at the legendary Daikokuya. This is one of those hole in the wall eateries where people line up for hours to get in. Normally I refuse to participate in that kind of lemming behavior, but I was fighting a cold and really wanted what I'd heard was the best bowl of ramen in town.
Even though we didn't get a table until close to 10PM, I have to admit it was worth the wait. For starters, the broth is not the usual clear fare, it's a dense buttery (and by butter, I mean pork butter) stock made from boiling pork bones and soy sauce all day long. And the pork itself is not just any pork, it's kurobuta (Berkshire) pork. Even the hard boiled eggs are pre-boiled in a secret sauce (the waiters were very cagey when I asked them about it) that impart an incredible flavor. The overall result was the most satisfying ramen I have ever eaten, all for a whopping $8.50. (I'd love to hear about any place that thinks it can top it!)
The next night we tried a much newer spot, the hip "exotic sausage grill" Wurstküche. I liked the simple raw industrial space and long communal tables but was even more impressed to find 24 imported beers on tap (I was very happy with my Belgian Tripel Karmeliet). The next choice was deciding from 21 varieties of sausage. As curious as I was about a lot of the inventive offerings (such as Rattlesnake & Rabbit or Duck, Bacon & Jalapeno) I went for a classic Bockwurst with two toppings (in my case caramelized onions and sauerkraut). My favorite part of the meal though were the crisp double-dipped Belgian fries which came with a choice of imaginative dipping sauces (I was intrigued by the Coconut Curry Mayo but ultimately couldn't pass up the Blue Cheese Walnut and Bacon). Not the finest or fanciest meal, but definitely a good concept, well-executed and fun.
The last notable meal of the weekend (not counting the numerous snack stops at Pinkberry) was breakfast at Square One. They have a great breakfast menu and do a flawless job of preparing the food, but my dining experience was overshadowed by being sandwiched between two tables engrossed in "industry" talk. I guess it wouldn't be a trip to LA if at some point you didn't feel like you were in a scene out of a Hollywood satire. At the table to my left was the idealistic young film student (fresh out of college and new in town) looking for advice from a seasoned screenwriter about how to break in as a writer-director. To my right were two cynical TV sitcom writers whose entire worldview seemed not to extend beyond the backlot. I had a hard time having my own conversation because the eavesdropping was endlessly entertaining.