Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Sad Postscript - The El Coyote Boycott

According to several management-level sources at El Coyote, Marjorie Christofferson has submitted her resignation, both as a member of the restaurant's corporate board and as an employee. "Margie submitted her resignation today," manager Billy Schoeppner told me last Thursday. "I just got off the phone with her. She was crying."

This is the emotional result of the boycott of El Coyote launched by elements of the local gay community in response to Margie's personal, $100 donation to the "Yes on Proposition 8" campaign. So, the question is, does this mean the boycott's over?

During the largest protest against the restaurant, I asked many of the 200 protesters picketing enthusiastically on the sidewalk during prime business hours what they were after: what were their "demands" were before they would return to El Coyote? "Margie needs to resign," was the unanimous answer. So now she has. But various posts on other boards about the issue have expressed the opinion that "as long as ANY of the money I spend at El Coyote goes to the Mormon church, I won't spend my money there." It has been asserted on some other boards that: Margie is secretly the owner, because she's listed as the corporate contact with the state of California; that her family is Mormon, and because it's a family business, that means 10% of any money spent there is tithed to the church. I did some deeper digging, interviewing members of the staff, family, and longtime friends. Here's the real scoop.

"El Coyote is not Mormon. Margie's family isn't Mormon. They're all drinkers, except Margie!" Billy repeated to me over three days, over and over again. I thought this curious; Mormonism tends to run in the family. How did she end up the only one? Billy asked another manager, Larry; Larry asked Margie's husband Chris. Word came back. There were three Salisbury siblings: Blanche and the twin brothers George and Jim. Blanche and her husband founded El Coyote; George founded El Cholo. Jim married Margie's mother, Grace, and when her sister Blanche passed away, ownership of the restaurant passed to Grace. One of Margie's older cousins attended Brigham Young University in Utah, where he converted to Mormonism. Margie, at her cousin's recommendation, also went to BYU -- where she also converted. Jim (a life-long drinker and smoker) converted to Mormonism just before he died. Margie's cousin later left the church, leaving Margie (aside from, possibly, her two daughters) as the only practicing Mormon in the family.

As far as Margie's recent corporate involvement, El Coyote is run by a small, family-held corporation. Grace is its president and CEO. Margie has functioned as its Secretary. That's why she was the listed contact with the State of California. When she gave her notice as an employee, she also submitted her resignation from the board to Grace.

So there it is. Margie's out the door. I wonder who will be coming back in? The only possible rationale for continuing to boycott the restaurant (aside from not liking the food -- de gustibus non disputandem est, is I'll say about that) is that she might inherit a portion of it someday. True, she's the current owner's daughter. She also has siblings, so (and I am not, nor do I want to be, privy to anyone's will over this) maybe she'll get a piece of it someday. Is that justification for a boycott? Should your livelihood be imperiled for something one of your nieces, or nephews, or children did, or might do in the future? That seems absurd to me.

El Coyote has given thousands of dollars over the last few weeks to GLBT causes and charities. The restaurant is now -- believe it or not -- being boycotted by various right-wing groups for doing so. Mormon wards as far away as San Diego have sent groups to the restaurant in support of the restaurant's supposedly "anti-gay" policies. But of course, those Mormon's ain't drinking margaritas. Business is off dramatically, even considering the current economy. Waiters and waitresses -- many of them gay -- are having their shifts cut back.

The gay community has made an important, and nation-wide, point about civil rights, separation of church and state, and the power of the gay pocketbook. El Coyote has done everything it can -- and Margie has given up her lifelong job -- to make amends.

So could someone please declare victory achieved, and the boycott over? My local diner's in trouble.

Have a Bibimbap-y Christmas - La Korea @ Farmer's Market

Los Angeles Farmers Market
6333 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA

Stall # 510
(323) 936-3930

If you're like me, and you live in Hollywood, you're going to be spending a little more time at The Grove than you'd like. Schlepping from the Apple Store to Crate and Barrel, bags and shopping list akimbo. That case you got for a stocking stuffer just won't fit your mate's old iPod, you're considering a new iPod (your household's third) Your blood sugar is dropping, blood pressure rising. You look around for Grove food: all too sit-down-y. You go to the historic Farmer's Market, but you're not sure what to grab, quickly, that won't knock you on your shopping ass for the crucial next two hours.

I recommend La Korea, at the northeastern end of the market, near the Gumbo Pot and Dupar's. If you know me you know I loves the Korean food, and while this is several miles from the wonders of Koreatown, it totally satisfies the lunch jones in a way that few other cuisines can. Its menu is reassuringly small; not too many stress-inducing choices to make (which is my main complaint with Loteria... I never seem to quite get what I expected, and other people's plates look so much better), and all in the $6-8 range. The La Korea menu features grilled meat, either chicken, pork, or beef, served with steamed rice and choice of two side dishes. The side dishes are right there, so you can just point. Or, perhaps you're new to Korean food? If so, I recommend the bibimbap. Don't be scared by all those b's, it's pronounced exactly the way its spelled.

Bibimbap is literally "stirred meal" in Korean. It's a bowl of steamed rice with an array of ingredients on top; think of a fresh-Mex style "burrito bowl" but with Korean meats and veggies, instead of rice, beans, lettuce and guacamole. In a Korean home, the rice would likely be topped whatever is leftover from last night's meal. In restaurants, it's often a selection of the Korean banchan, or side dishes, and that's the case here: cucumber salad, julienned carrots, bean sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, and lettuce. It really should have a fried egg atop it all... ask, and I'm sure you shall receive. I forgot to ask, and my photo model arrived egless.

While you're waiting for your meal, it's only few steps over the EB Wine Bar, where they are always cheerfully pouring some microbrew draft beers and well-chosen wines by the glass, for 5 or 6 bucks. I suggest you treat yourself to one, you've earned it and it'll go really well with your lunch. That's a Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir...

Your bibimbap bowl is served with the veggies and meats arranged like pie slices atop the rice, along with your choice of tender, thin, freshly grilled beef (the ubiquitous, soy and sesame seed-seasoned beef bulgogi that is to Korea what carne asada is to Mexico) or chicken. They'll give ya pork if you wish (as pictured below), or, rumor has it, grill up anything you bring them from Marconda's the famous butchers next door. I'm totally doing that next time I visit!

Of course an all-veggie, or veggie and tofu, version is available, too. Be sure to take a small tub of the chili paste-sauce from the counter. At your table, drizzle sauce on your bowl (don't worry, it's quite mild) and stir it all up. You've just created a light but filling dish, fulfilled your vegetable-servings requirement for the day, and added some delicious grilled protein to boot. And you've now partaken of one of the staple dishes of Korean cuisine.

My only gripe is that the chili paste is not nearly hot enough for my taste. I get around this by borrowing from the extensive selection of bottled heat at the end of the Gumbo Pot counter. True, La Korea is not quite up to what you'll find in Koreatown, but it beats the hell out of Cheesecake Factory. And if you eat here enough, you might save enough money left over for that third iPod.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The -- Okay, MY -- Final Word on the El Coyote Boycott

The time has nearly come to move further discussion of the El Coyote Boycott off of my food blog, and get back to describing the sweetness of a caramelized onion or a perfectly charred steak. El Coyote has become just one part of a much wider political, social, and legal issue, which I'm interested in and will continue to discuss over at In fact, if you go there now you can see some pictures and discussion of Saturday's big rally downtown... where I saw quite a few familiar faces from El Coyote.

But since there's been such impassioned discussion on this board, I'll allow myself one last post on the subject.

I feel like I've been trying to be a voice of reason during what has been an emotionally upsetting time for regulars of the restaurant, be they gay or straight, and for the gay community that surrounds it. I truly appreciate the civil dialogue that's cropped up in the comments on my last two posts.

Last Thursday, I had a plan to dine at El Coyote in the early evening, but then heard about the planned demonstration there at 7. After, believe me, a lost night's sleep, I decided that I could support the freaked-out staff of EC and honor the protest at the same time, by showing up long before the protest started (so as not to cross a picket line), and then chatting with arriving protesters, when I left as they were arriving. I was helped in walking this tricky line, and developing coping strategies, by the best political strategist I know. Bly's take on boycotts is a must-read.

My group of six sat at the infamous Tate table (where Sharon Tate ate her last meal the night of her murder at the hands of the Manson Family). Billy, friend to every El Coyote regular, came by our table to thank us for our support in being there on what was going to be a nightmarish shift for the staff. We sucked down margaritas, fortification against the screaming, chanting, and horn-honking that could be heard coming from outside.

When we left, we talked, one-on-one, with some of the 175 protesters. All were understandably angry and frustrated; after all, 52 percent of Californians in our true-blue state had voted to take away equal rights granted to them by the constitution and the Supreme Court of California. A gentleman who gave his name only as Tom said he felt betrayed by manager Marjorie Christofferson's donation to Yes on 8; that whether Margie was an owner or not, his money, spent here over decades, was going to people who voted to taken away his civil rights, and he could no longer support the restaurant. He opined that if Margie was just an employee, she should be fired for her views. I asked if he would be comfortable being fired from his job for his political views. He said, "If I was a white supremacist... yes." This was of course impossible to formulate a suitable response to; there's no denying the emotion of being oppressed. We left, watching a sad scene of protesters harassing confused and frightened folks -- tourists, regulars, whoever -- leaving or trying to enter the restaurant, chanting "shame on you" and other, choicer epithets. As strongly as I feel about the wrongness of prop 8, this, I thought, is clearly not the way to win the hearts and minds of voters.

I went back to El Coyote on Friday night. There were still some protesters out front, maybe a dozen or so. But to my surprise the restaurant was pretty hoppin' inside. It was just... different. A straighter crowd. Much straighter. In fact, the management told me, and my conversations around the restaurant confirmed, that though there were a lot of extra-supportive regulars, like myself, there were also a lot of Mormons and other Yes on 8 supporters coming out to make their own statement.


I don't think this is the desired effect of a boycott.

Backlash against this boycotts has begun, from the most recent comments on my own blog to Tim Rutten's Op-Ed in the L.A. Times to the national media: I watched a debate on CNN
Sunday night where a pro Proposition 8 spokeswoman focused on "the hateful boycotts" and "harassment" of "Mormon employees of businesses" by the gay community. (I won't even tell you what Mike Huckabee was saying on Fox News!) This type of activity allows the H8ers to debate debatable tactics, rather than confront the larger issue of civil rights.

El Coyote has made every possible overture to the community short of "firing" Margie (the founder's niece), by making large donations on behalf of the restaurant to gay charities and even, as reported in the L.A. Times, gay and straight employees gathering personal donations totaling an amount five times greater than Margie's controversial 100 bucks.

Now, I'm not gay and this is not at the deepest level "my battle." Nevertheless, I will humbly offer to those of my fellow El Coyote regulars who happen to be gay this proposition: that El Coyote is not the enemy, it is an old friend, deserving of forgiveness. Do you really want to stay away while El Coyote -- a place where gay and straight used to hang out and speak the truth as only El Coyote margaritas can make you speak the truth -- stay away while El Coyote -- El Coyote??? -- transforms its business model into a hangout for Mormon families and Yes-on-8'ers?

Instead, why not take all that justifiable frustration and turn it into time and money donated to your local Repeal 8 campaign, energy at the phone banks during the next election battle, letters to legislators explaining, simply, that the majority does NOT have the right to deny civil rights to any minority group of law abiding, tax paying citizens.

I urge my gay friends to come back to El Coyote. Spend your time there doing as you have always done: relaxing, getting loose, and chatting -- nicely, please -- with the tourists and youngsters and oldsters in this diverse establishment, be they Mormons from Utah or bigots from the south or local blacks who voted for 8. Tell them how much this means to you. Tell them how human and compelling your stories are. Make El Coyote about what you're fighting for: love, not hate.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

El Coyote Boycott News

I was out of the office yesterday, and so was unable to report on yesterday's meeting between management of El Coyote and local members of the gay community upset about the revelation that a member of El Coyote's family ownership had made a personal, $100 donation to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign.  I can be saved the time of describing the meeting blow by blow, as there is a factually correct account of it posted on

What the report fails to communicate is the level of upset among the El Coyote staff present.  Each and every one I spoke to was visibly shaken, some crying openly.  Each one stated clearly that although they disagree with Margie's personal position on the issue, that it is not the position of El Coyote as establishment or its management, so they do not understand the boycott.  They truly wish everyone could just get along, and allow individuals have their opinions without threatening the well-being of the entire establishment, a gathering place for a uniquely diverse community.  I tend to agree with that sentiment.

That said, it is not surprising that the meeting went the way it did, and it need not have done so.  One important element is missing from the reportage that helps explain why it turned ugly so quickly.  When Sam asked Margie if she would be willing to donate an equal or greater amount to Repeal Prop. 8, she deferred to management.  Management stated "We know Margie is so upset about this, and she would take back the donation if she could."

But when Sam pressed his question, Margie refused to donate a C-note to the opposite side, which would have effectively "taken back" the donation.  The deeds did not match the rhetoric.  I suspect that if Margie had agreed to do this, to put some meat into her apology, the issue would be dead.  But, sadly, it is not.

So... while I think the boycott is misguided, and its energy could be directed toward any number of larger, more complicit establishments, I understand and respect the anger and frustration of the community, and the need to make a visible protest of a visible target.

I had plans to dine at El Coyote tonight, at about 7:00... when the protest officially begins.  I will honor the protesters by not crossing that picket line.  But I will not boycott the restaurant before or after the protest.  The gay (and Other) staff, nearly all long-serving, dedicated employees, and truly wonderful people, depend on my dining dollars to feed their families.  Suggestions posted elsewhere that employees should "get other jobs" truly don't understand the nature of the restaurant: it is a family place in every sense, where owners, customers, and especially staff treat each other like family.  One might as well suggest these employees "get a new mother and father."

You may see me in El Coyote the next few days... you will also see me at the Repeal Prop. 8 rally at City Hall on Saturday.  I truly feel that's a more appropriate place to display our displeasure at the passage of Prop. 8.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Politics Meets Food -- The El Coyote Boycott

My novel, MY NAME IS WILL, is a cautionary tale about the danger of mixing politics and religion. I gave our friend Margie, the niece of the owners of El Coyote, a copy last week, but I doubt she's read it yet; now she's learning the lesson the hard way.

Margie appeared on a list of donors to the Yes on Prop. 8 campaign, which has led to calls for a boycott. Now as you know, I spend a lot of time at El Coyote, and I've spent some time here defending its kitchen. I'm going to spend a little more time defending it against a boycott.

Margie is variously described as the owner or the manager of the restaurant in various blogs and e-mails currently making their way around the 'net. My understanding is, she's possibly in line to take over someday; currently just an employee. When questions come up about the menu, or prices, or my and others longstanding request for some seafood, any seafood, she invariably refers us to the managers, Billy or Bobby. Billy and Bobby are both gay. In fact, I'd guess (with my fairly accurate straight man's gaydar) that a solid majority of the staff of the restaurant is gay. On any given night, particularly a Thursday (which has become an unofficial "gay night"; always amusing when I sometimes go there with Kent while Sa's at her belly dance class!) a majority of the clientele is likely to be gay as well.

I'm sure she's not going to need to hear from me about the mistake I think she made donating $100 of her own money -- and listing her place of work as"El Coyote Cafe" -- when I go there tomorrow or Thursday for dinner. But I hope that the boycott call doesn't hurt their business. Some of the wages that her family pays to all those gay employees no doubt made its way into the No on 8 coffers. I'd hate to take money out of the bank accounts and ti- takings of Billy and Bobby and Roberto and Jose and allof our other gay friends there, just because another employee (however closely related to the owners) prefers to donate differently.

We've talked with Margie quite a bit. She's the nice, tall, willowy lady who comes around with ice water and asks how you're doing. We talk about movies, current events, and, yes, politics. She's a Republican. So is almost half the country, and about four in ten Californians. She's also a lifelong Mormon (is there any other kind?). She was very excited about my book, and asked for a signed copy; I warned her it might be a little "racy" for her taste, but she wanted it anyway.

Perhaps when she reads the book, she'll get some reinforcement of the concept that toeing a church line on political issues is a slippery slope. But I think maybe she's already gotten that. From an apology letter posted online at shutupIknow, where there is some heated discussion of the issue:







Was Margie on the wrong side of this issue? I think so. Does the restaurant where she works deserve to be boycotted for it? I don't think so, but if you do, I'd at least go hear her out before deciding.

I leave you with a photo of one of the clearly-oppressed staff of El Coyote a couple of Halloweens ago. That's Roberto, affectionately known as Betty...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Killing Time Until The Polls Close -- Houston's

I had big plans today.  I was going to work the Obama phone banks, then try to find somewhere where I could get a classic American hot dog and a slice of apple pie.  I was going to photograph it for you, to get you all warm and fuzzy about the U.S. of A. so that if you hadn't voted yet, I could inspire you to go out and do so.

I worked the phone banks, me and Donald Sutherland.  I was calling Virginia and Ohio.  People were mostly very nice, and many had already voted, and voted for Obama.

But then do you have any idea how hard it is to find someplace in Beverly Hills that serves hot dogs, apple pie, and martinis?  Did I mention I needed a martini? 

I went to Houston's at the Westfield Century City mall.  I don't, as you know, post bad reviews.  So I won't say much about it except to say that while they didn't have hot dogs, they also didn't flinch when I ordered extra arugula on my left wing liberal California arugula eating chardonnay drinking cheesburger.  And after requesting olives for my martini, twice, they finally located some.  Okay, here's a picture of the burger, and the martini.

Now on to the serious stuff.  Get out and vote if you haven't already.  If you have, and you're scouring the internet looking for early results... you, like I, will have to wait 'til polls close in Virginia at 4:00.

That's 45 minutes from now.  It's relocated to That's where I blog about Everything But Food, and I just posted a recap of my recent trip to Washington D.C., and the reading of my novel at the Folger Shakespeare Library.  There are some photos to inspire you about great presidents past, and perhaps great presidents future.

Happy Election Day!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Closer Noodle - Mishima

8474 West 3rd Street, #108
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Google Local Info

I seem to spend more and more of my life these days at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, for the general poking, prodding, screening, testing, and tweaking that comes with middle age. (Since when did 47 become middle age, anyway? If I wasn't so tired all the time , I might protest!) Of course I always park at the Beverly Center and walk the two blocks, saving ten bucks or so for parking. And, since I was trained as a child to expect treats after visits to the doctor, I always take myself out to lunch on the way back. But where are you gonna go for lunch at or around Bev Cen? CPK? How 80s. Grand Luxe Cafe? Yuck. PF Chang's? Double yuck. Chipotle? Well, yes, but I'm middle aged, so I rarely have a burrito for lunch anymore.

I go to Mishima. Tucked deep in the corner of a strip mall on Third Street just west of La Cienega, it's a squeeky clean, reasonably priced, impeccably tasteful cafeteria of the type you expect to find in Little Tokyo, not on the Westside. It is, as my friend Kent would say, "sooo Japanese," from the minimalist, brushed metal sign out front to the cool marble bar that offers counter seating inside.

I first discovered Mishima when searching for Udon noodles, and there are some who maintain these are the best in town. I wouldn't argue. They're thick, tender on the outside with a springy, manly resistance on the inside. The variety of broths are few and simple: tender flank steak, pork, chicken, or tempura. The traditionally mild and subtle flavor can be juiced up with the chili powder or seaweed-and-sesame sprinkles on the table.

Other faves: the curry udon is rich and hugely satisfying comfort food for a rainy day. Also available here is an excellent bowl of Sansai vegetable udon, Japanese mountain vegetables that include a variety of mushrooms, greens, and herbs that I guarantee you don't know: honeywort, bog rhubarb, shuttlecock fern, or spikenard, anyone? The names are unfamiliar, but if you like veggies but are bored of broccoli, green beans, peas and carrots, these are delicious and different. Other items on the menu range from soba noodles, sushi and sushi combos to rice bowls, from bento boxes to light and delicious salads of albacore or soft shell crab.

The only things on the menu more than ten bucks are big bento boxes and combinations of soup and rice bowls (like the one pictured here, of plain udon noodles with a bowl of slightly sweet, tender miso pork don with onions and mushrooms over rice) that are easily big enough to share; nearly everything else is in the $5-9 range.

Add a $3.75 pint of draft Kirin Ichiban, and that not-painful but certainly-invasive last procedure recedes into the distance, a memory now pleasantly clouded like a Japanese mountain landscape... a landscape abundant with bog rhubarb, who knew?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

When You're Feeling Shellfish -- Hungry Cat

Hungry Cat‎
1535 Vine St
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 462-2155
MC, Visa, AMEX

I'm about a year behind the cutting edge. I've been meaning to get to Hungry Cat, around the corner from the Arclight Cinemas on Vine and Sunset, for many months now. I can't believe what I've been missing.

I finally made it for a celebratory lunch on the day my novel was released--

What's that you say, you didn't know I wrote a novel? Why yes, I did. It's called MY NAME IS WILL, A NOVEL OF SEX, DRUGS AND SHAKESPEARE. The Washington Post says it has "nuance and panache," the New York Sun praises its "intelligence, humor, and high stakes, and Publishers Weekly calls it "clever... deliciously irreverent... irresistible." You can read all about it on my website or just buy it by clicking here:

But I digress.

Lately I've been having this insatiable desire for oysters. Perhaps it's because I was reading the work of a friend of mine recently that is on a decidedly shellfish theme. Maybe it's because I'm afraid the oyster ship is leaving the docks due to global warming, (as two different articles - this one and this one -- in Sunday's L.A. Times seem to suggest. When I was in New York a few months ago, I made sure to visit the famed Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, where one can suck down fresh oysters of literally dozens of varieties, washed back by a perfectly chilled martini, in a historic and wood-panelled building of glorious old-Manhattan ambience.

Ever since coming back to L.A., I've been looking for the same experience; or even a place where you can get a decent half-dozen and a cocktail. They are surprisingly few; I had pretty much resigned myself to McCormick and Schmick if I was downtown, or if I was home here in Hollywood -- believe it or not -- Hooters. But a post on the Los Angeles Chowhound board, as usual, directed me to the right spot.

Hungry Cat is conveniently located across from the rear entrance to Border's at Hollywood and Vine. Just a two minute walk from the Arclight Cinemas, where it seems I spend half my life. It's smallish, elegant, minimalist in the New York/New Hollywood brushed-nickel style. An actual raw shellfish bar stands to the right, guarded by iced lobsters; a cocktail bar to the left; tables with banquettes along the wall, and a modest patio out front. Servers are helpful and chatty. You can order from the full menu wherever you sit.

The place is operated by Suzanne Goins, the same chef who brought you Lucques and AOC, so this is, in short, no Hooters. I'm warning you now, it ain't cheap: $15 for a half dozen oysters, $30 for a dozen. But LA Food Crazy is all about getting good food at fair prices; the prices here are fair, because the food is exquisite. A nouvelle California version of the classic New England Lobster Roll (an item I have looked for in California in vain) comes served not on a squishy roll but on a perfectly toasted boat of sourdough. It's $23 (for a sandwich, you think!), and it looks small, but it's actually a lot of food, and a LOT of delicious Maine lobster, for the price. I've had several dozen oysters here by now, all delicious. Hungry Cat doesn't have the variety of the Oyster Bar in NYC, featuring only two or three varieties, mostly West Coast, daily -- the quality is stunning, as are the homemade dipping sauces.

On my novel-release day, I celebrated with the small, $45 seafood platter for two, pictured above. It's as awesome as it looks. Four oysters, four giant steamed prawns, four giant grilled prawns in herbed butter, half a snow crab, two varieties of clams. We were stuffed. One day we sat at the raw bar and watch the chilled salads being prepared. I have yet to sample them, but they look delightful.

My only gripe: the full bar, which features an excellent array of primarily French wines by the bottle and glass, serves a generous and exquisitely chilled martini. But for some bizarre reason, they do not serve "big, name" brands: i.e., no Ketel One, Grey Goose, or even Stoli. They serve a couple of smaller, "artisinal" (this is becoming one of my least favorite foodie buzzwords) brands (Ice, Monopolovia) that I personally don't care for. AND... they serve them in a bizarre little demi-tasse glass, with a sidecar. Sorry, but when LA Food Crazy wants oysters and martini, he would PREFER them served in a proper martini glass, thank you very much.

Still, for a quick, elegant bite of seafood before a movie at the Arclight, and if you're feeling a little flush, Hungry Cat's the place to go.

And then walk out the door, directly into the Borders across the courtyard, and buy my book. You won't regret it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

If Not For the Decor -- La Parrilla

La Parrilla

Three Los Angeles locations:

3129 W Sunset Blvd 
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 661-8055

1300 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90017-1705
(323) 353.4930

2126 Cesar Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90033-1823
(323) 262-3434

MC, Visa, Amex

I've been meaning for years to make it to one of the branches of La Parrilla, consistently mentioned by local Chowhounds as one of the top sit-down Mexican restaurants in L.A.  You know this is one of my favorite genres of foodie experience.  A few weeks ago, I finally made it to the branch on Sunset Blvd. in Silverlake.

There is so much wonderful to say about this place.  A stone-faced abuelita hand-making fresh tortillas at a station near the entrance: always a good sign. Guacamole made fresh at tableside.  Also, always good.  Our one fear, when we saw no bottles of booze on the wall, and wine margaritas on the menu, was that there was no tequila.  Our waiter, whether legally or not, promised us tequila, and the margaritas were in fact good and strong.   By all accounts, La Parrilla serves up decent versions of classic tacos, enchiladas, chiles rellenos and the like. 

But parrilla means "grill" en español, and that's where La Parrilla shines.  Find the selection of molcajetes and parrilladas.  A molcajete is a mortar bowl usually used for grinding ingredients (like your tableside guac).  Here they also come overflowing with various meats from the grill.  We had the "Azteca," featuring tender, moist grilled chicken and perfectly cooked carne asada, nopalitos (grilled cactus, which I've never had before... delicious!  Somewhere between a roasted bell pepper and an ortega chile), a grilled slab of mild panela cheese, and grilled scallions, all doused in a delicious, smoky, and delightfully spicy red chile huajillo salsa.

We also got a parrillada.  Same idea as the molcajete, but this is served on a small portable grill that comes to your table and continues to cook, char and caramelize your food as you plow your way through it.  We ordered the chetumal, an amazing array of grilled goodies: two skewers of shrimp al carbon, melt-in-your-mouth pork loin, chicken adobado, sliced red potatoes, a couple of whole jalapeño chiles.  All this is served with some of the better whole beans I've had in LA (with plenty of bacon to add flavor), Spanish rice, and a bowl of melted cheese sauce to add to whatever bites you wish.  Throw some of that together in your fresh, handmade tortilla, and holy guacamole, is it good.  And each of the molcajetes and parrilladas serve two to the point of stuffed... at $11-15 per person, that's a hell of a deal. 

But there's a "but..."

The decor sucks.  It's been described as "Tijuana chic."  That's being generous.  The layout of the place is bizarre.  You have to negotiate a seemingly endless maze of candy counters and carts to get to the seating area.  The lighting is harsh.  The requisite piñatas and plastic parrots look like they're beginning to rot.  And if you want to enjoy your food, don't even glance upward at the nasty drop ceiling; the oozing water-damage stains and general filth and squalor there might well put you off what is arguably the best sit-down Mexican fare in town.

I'm going to have to go check out the other locations; if I can find one a little less skanky, I'll become a regular.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Believe It Or Not -- Carl's Jr.

Carl's Jr.
Bazillions of locations

Odd -- perhaps even shocking -- that my re-entry to the blogosphere after a long hiatus  should be about a formerly right-wing Christian apartheid-supporting fast-food joint with one of the more obnoxious ad campaigns in television history.  If this seems out of character, you're partially right.  I find all that stuff abhorrent.  But hey, the supremely evil, gay-hatin', John Birch-lovin' founder Carl Karcher was ousted as CEO years ago, and he died in January, and when it comes down to it, it's all about the food.  And for my taste, Carl's simply makes the best fast food burger out there, always has.

I've always had a soft spot for Carl's. It was my first job, during my junior year in high school. I washed trays, I took out garbage, I made fries, finally I got promoted to the burger line, where I learned intimately about the design and construction of the Carl's hamburger.  They are flame-broiled, and that's how I like 'em.  The buns on the Famous Star and Super Star are sesame-seed, and that's how I like 'em.  The lettuce is leafed, not shredded, and that's how I like 'em.  Don't get me wrong, In-N-Out's fine, but their plain bun, griddled patties, and prosletyzing soft-drink cups just aren't my type.  Plus their limp fries truly suck. 

In addition the burgers, Carl's has also had some kick-ass alternative sandwiches.  I still lament the loss of the California Roast Beef Sandwich, with its swiss cheese and ortega chile.   I celebrated my last day of work at Carl's by eating three of 'em on my employee discount.  Fortunately there is still the Santa Fe Chicken Sandwich, which is just plain delicious, with that spicy special sauce and the selfsame ortegas.

But what got me wanting to write up Carl's here is their new Chili Cheeseburger.  Yeah, the one with the totally gross commercial of the guy with chili all over his face.  For some reason I expected that the burger would be built on Carl's oxymoronically smaller "Big Burger" (formerly the Happy Star), so the first time I ordered one I got a double: a freakish amount of food!  The burger's built on a Famous Star base, with a big beefsteak tomato slice, sliced (not chopped, another big burger preference of mine) onion, pickle, and mustard.   And the double is based on a SuperStar with chili.  If you know the SuperStar, you know that's two meals' worth of burger even before adding chili, which brings it up to a whopping 1050 calories and 61 (count 'em!) grams of fat.   But face it, you're not getting a chili cheeseburger for the health benefits. 

What makes a chiliburger is the chili itself, and the Carl's version is unexpectedly excellent.  It's finely-ground beef in a tangy and surprisingly kicky sauce; entirely comparable to the chili at the Original Tommy's.  And given that the burger at Tommy's is griddle-cooked on a plain bun... well, I know it's just a matter of taste, but I am willing to utter the ultimate heresy: I think the Carl's Chili Cheeseburger is BETTER than Tommy's.

Let the flaming (or in this case, the flame-broiling) begin.

One last note: I won't bother explaining the no-posts-for-months thing. Suffice to say I've been busy. I hope you'll take a trip over to for the latest news and some very nice early reviews of my first novel, coming to a bookstore near you July 8, and available now for pre-order online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Oh, and one more last note: I'm thrilled to report that my favorite political blogger is back raging against the machine from a new site.  Check out

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Better Than It Sounds -- Lu Gi

I'll get to that hot pot in just a sec, but first, I have a big...


The release date for my first novel is set. Mark July 8 on your calendar!

MY NAME IS WILL: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare, from Twelve Books, is the tale two William Shakespeares: one, the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon at a randy age 18; the other of Willie Shakespeare Greenberg, a slacker and would-be scholar in 1980's California. Christopher Buckley, author of Thank You For Smoking, has called the book "Utterly delicious, original, witty, hilarious and brilliant. Shakespeare In Love on magic mushrooms."

You can PRE-ORDER IT NOW ON AMAZON.COM.  Or, wait 'til a signing event near you this summer.

Read more about the book on the publisher's website, here.  Be sure to check out my essay "Behind the Book.

Thanks for your attention during this shameless self-promotion. Now on to the food.

Lu Gi
539 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 457-5111
Open Daily 11a.m. - 12a.m.
MC, Visa
Google Map and Info

It's my first post of 2008 (been busy... did I mention I wrote a novel?), so I've been thinking back on 2007. Frankly, I'm glad to see its sorry ass in the rearview mirror. Good things happened; bad things happened. Is it just me, or does the good and bad always come together in bunches? The saying that it never rains but it pours is true enough, sometimes. But just as often life is like weather in the tropics... dumping rain one instant, blazing sun and blue skies the next.

It's the yin-yang thing.

Which is a long intro to a dish I've been meaning to write about for months, the yin/yang hotpot at Lu Gi in San Gabriel. In foodie circles, the hotpot craze peaked a few years ago, but most folks I know still haven't experienced it. This is still my favorite version of it, and it's worth the trip to San Gabriel.

In fact, it's extraordinary that I have yet to post about a single restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley. This is L.A.'s true Chinatown, with more varieties of regional Chinese cooking than can be found anywhere west of Hong Kong. You pull onto San Gabriel Blvd., and the smells of garlic and chili oil hit you like a truck, wafting out of the uncountable noodle houses and BBQ's and Sichuan joints. Lu Gi is just another in a string of brightly lit, functional strip mall eateries with big formica tables and a cooler filled with beer and sake and soju at the back.

For those unfamiliar, the hot pot is a Chinese and Mongolian version of Japan's Shabu-Shabu. You order large platters of thinly-sliced, raw meat: sirloin or ribeye beef, pork, pork belly (misprinted "pork believe" in the menu -- I DO believe!), chicken, tripe, whatever you like; and/or vegetables: mushrooms, cabbage, leafy greens, several varieties of tofu, several varieties of noodle.

A pot of boiling broth is set on your table. What sets apart the Sichuan hotpot is the spiciness of its broth. Whereas Japanese shabu shabu broth is mild, in many places just water that slowly becomes a broth as you cook your various meats and veggies in it, Sichuan hot pot is, like all good Sichuan, kick-ass spicy, a rolling boil of volcanic red chili oil and Sichuan pepper. You can get the "spicy" version of the hot pot, or if, like me you're feeling more yin/yang, you order the "yin/yang" hot pot. It comes in a specially-designed stainless steel pot with a divider down the middle. In one half is the wickedly spicy brew... in the other, a soothingly mild, savory white sesame broth.

You grab the raw bite of your choice, and dip it into the broth to flash-boil it. Tender beef only takes five to six seconds to cook. It's just a quick "swish-swish" (shabu-shabu, in Japanese) of the chopsticks. Tender greens take thirty seconds tops; a thick tofu cake a few minutes.

When your bite is cooked, you dip it into some ponzu or sesame seed sauce on the table, maybe take it with a little rice from a small stainless steel bowl, or maybe put it atop some noodles you've boiled up, maybe sprinkle it with some scallions. It's fresh, steaming, hot, tender, delicious.

Whether you're a sensitive palate afraid of spicy foods who just wants a comforting bowl of your favorite protein in a mild broth on a winter night; or whether you're a heat-hound with a head cold you want to blast out of your system; whether its good times or bad times; whether you're feeling yin or yang... a trip to Lu Gi is the perfect way to start off the New Year.