atin' Well, LA Style
It had been a long time since we had eaten as well as we did in Los Angeles. When we arrived we'd been in the USA seven months and had some pretty good food. In New York and DC there are plenty of good restaurants but our budget didn't take us to any of the famous ones. Mostly we ate in modest places and mostly we had modest tasting meals. A few times we stumbled onto food that really impressed us. More often, we were a bit disappointed, such as at a Morrocan restaurant we tried in Arlington, VA. On the other hand, because we were in apartments, we often cooked for ourselves, and sometimes made pretty good dinners. But sometimes we just made very simple things too. After heading south we had some wonderful home cooked meals but mostly we made do with satisfying but unremarkable chainfood. In Mexico we had a few good dinners but mostly we ate "catch as catch can" which meant wherever we could find anything to eat. Nothing really changed in LA except that the highs came much more often and there were few lows. Why? It was just a combination of having some very good hostesses and a little bit of luck.
Let's start right off with our first meal in LA. It involves some name dropping, so forgive us. Look carefully at the above photo. Although it is in bad light, you'll undoubtedly recognize the people on the left and right. Standing next to Gerry is his Aunt Zelda. Who is next to Jan? That's where the name dropping comes in.
After arriving in LA from San Diego we immediately drove over to Gerry's Aunt Zelda (who lives in Bel Air, the hills above Beverly Hills) where we had a long, long chat and then, when hunger set in she wanted to take us out to eat at a favorite of hers. We drove down the hill from Bel Air to Pico Boulevard and because the restaurant's name, "The Milky Way," is on a very discreet sign, had a bit of trouble finding it. The co-owner and main hostess, pictured above next to Jan, seated us and helped us make our selections. She is a bit over 80 and has run the restaurant more than 20 (or was it 30?) years she told us. The restaurant serves Jewish food and specializes in blintzes and latkes, which we had. They weren't the style Gerry's mother used to make but they were delicious. Several times the owner came over and we had a chance to talk with her. A delightful person. Her name is Leah Adler and she is the mother of the movie director Steven Spielberg.
Just in case you don't know, Jewish food, in this case, means kosher dairy food. According to Jewish dietary tradition, meat and milk may not be eaten together. As a result, kosher (religiously observant) restaurants either serve meat dishes or milk dishes, the latter usually referred to as dairy restaurants. Jan was happy to be eating at a dairy restaurant because that meant that she could have cream with her coffee!
A few days later with Aunt Zelda we went to Little Tehran (it is not actually called that), a concentration of Iranian businesses and restaurants on Westwood Blvd, just south of UCLA. We picked a restaurant at random and were well rewarded. Smells and emanations of Iran! Perhaps the nun-e-barbari was the best. Too bad we couldn't eat there every other day.
We had two great Chinese meals in one day, courtesy of Gina and Thomas Chong. Life is full of funny coincidences. When we first moved to Hong Kong in 1981 they helped us get settled and we became friends. About four years ago they decided to leave Hong Kong and came to LA. Gina ended up working at Caltech in their Information Technology department. On our first Sunday in the area we had a happy reunion. First they took us to Montery Park, a city 5 miles east of downtown, for a dim sum brunch. It's a favorite of Jan and a pleasure for Gerry. The place made us feel like we were back in Hong Kong: cavernous, very noisy, almost all Chinese, and all Good Food. Jan was exceedingly happy to find her favorite dessert: steamed white buns stuffed with sesame paste. After brunch we went for a hike in Griffith Park and after the hike went back to Monterey Park for a fabulous Chinese dinner. Then, to jump ahead a bit, on our last evening in the area we were treated to steamed fish Gina-style. Gina explained that she learned to cook from her family's amah (maid and nursemaid). They obviously had a pretty good amah.
Two more of our fine meals were oriental; both of these were accidents that we were glad happened. One was in a little Japanese Sushi cafe. We were driving to Hancock Park and wanted a quick and inexpensive lunch. On the way we stopped at a post office we located on the map and then nearby happend on a little treasure. In addition to more than ample servings each piece on the tray really tickled our palate.
Then there was an exceptionally fine Korean meal that we had in a downtown hotel. We were meeting an old Caltech colleague and he suggested it as it was near his office. He hadn't eaten there but had heard good things about it. Oh, did we wish we had bigger stomachs. It was too good to not eat it all, but that was what we had to do.
Not every meal was gourmet. Gerry went by himself for old times' sake to Tommy's, a little hot dog and hamburger stand on Third Street, less than a half mile from our motel. Many years ago, yea, even decades ago, it had a cult following: the best place for a late night snack. Unfortunately they or Gerry has dulled with time, as it didn't really cut the mustard with him.
Since we are talking about food and disk space is (relatively) cheap we thought we'd include photos of a place that we did not eat at and an ad for a drink that is not our favorite:
This isn't even a restaurant. Just an advertisement for Thai Beer painted on a wall. It's here to let Dave and Udom know that LA has what they need.