Food and LA. I love eating here, so many restaurants, so many different kids of food, so many places to try. But when I think up a list of all my favorite places to eat, the list is filled mostly with ethnic places, usually Asian. Which leaves me surprised. Why are there so few great American food restaurants? Not the expensive, must-reserve, Frenchified or Italianized places, but the every day eating joints where you can pop in anytime for a really satisfying meal.
I do like Pann's — it's one of my favorite places and a near perfect dining experience: great Googie architecture, great atmosphere, comfy booths, nice service, good comfort food. Musso and Frank is near perfect too. And there's Langers. Greenblatt's too. And I like Milk a lot. Du-par's has a fantastic Monte Cristo sandwich and their French dip isn't bad (but their service can be pretty annoying and the other dishes ho-hum). Phillipe's is fun. The Counter burger places are great too. And Fab Hot Dogs. But now I'm starting to run out of names, and for such a huge metropolis with so many restaurants, it seems like there should be so much more.
Often, I'll end up going to a place that gets mentioned in LA Weekly and I'll have a sandwich and think, "Wow. I could be at a Vietnamese banh mi place in the SGV. The food would be 80% better and I would have spent $5 - $10 less." A lot of the good American food places tend to be very specific too: like good only for breakfasts, good only for hamburgers, nice for Cincinnati-like chili (Chili John's) etc. There should be more places like Du-par's, only much, much better with less expensive choices. And the experience shouldn't be so inconsistent or so stressful. Like at The Golden State — getting a table can get rough, and the food can be really off (I once got sweet potato fries which were mostly black from having been burnt, and soggy, which defied my expectation because you'd think burnt food would be extra crispy — I mean, if you can't get your basic side right, what's the point of existing at all?). Oinkster is pretty inconsistent too (never go during the off hours, like 4 in the afternoon). Or at Father's Office, where the food is always fantastic, but the fight-for-your-own table situation so rough, the side to every meal is indigestion (last time we went, we had to play tag-team with another desperate couple — each couple stationing themselves at opposite ends of the restaurant, ready to swoop at the first signs of an emptying spot). The same at Apple Pan. The busiest Chinese dim sum houses give you numbers. Which is showing respect and consideration for your customers. After all, hospitality is as paramount as good food, isn't it?
I'd like a renaissance of American food. Not the cute interpretations at $20 a plate, but just good, classic fare, a nice blue plate special for $5.99. Last week, I spent an hour on the web looking for a basic caramel apple recipe — what I could find were the ones that advised you to buy candy at the store and melt it (telling you to buy the ready-to-use caramel wrappers is not a recipe)*. This is why I'd like an American food renaissance.
As an aside, here's an unscientific observation. The most demanding, enthusiastic and busy LA Yelp restaurant reviewers seem to be Asian. As a correlation, I often find Caucasian diners at American food restaurants to be not very discerning. Like I was at a nouveau Swedish restaurant and everyone around me was raving about the Swedish meatballs — I thought the meatballs were hard, not seasoned very well, and the milk gravy pretty appalling (I sighed and thought, "I could be eating the meatball plate at Ikea for around $6 — I would have gotten more meatballs, paid about 20% less, the food would have been more authentic, and tastier, too [I'm not saying Ikea food is gourmet or anything]."). To add to this, when I was in college, my fellow diners and I would spend hours complaining about how truly awful the dorm food was (mostly cheap cheese on carbs). The only diner to protest was Caucasian, and she said, "This is a lot better than what I got at home." Our hearts broke for her. So I wonder. Is the Asian food here so much better because Asians grow up eating good food at home (and I mean recent immigrants)? Certainly, there are a huge number of Asian immigrants concentrated in a very small area, but if they weren't so demanding, I'm sure the state of Chinese food in the SGV would be as blah as the state of the American food.
*I did finally find a wonderful recipe at Real Mom Kitchen. The caramel is to die for. Really.