Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Livin’ la vida Foodie

“A foodie is… a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and alcoholic beverages. A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out of convenience or hunger.” - Wikipedia

Let me start here by saying I’m not much of a foodie. I’m more of a foodie-by-default. My foodieness is a product of my stepson and his dad, my husband.
Sam, the stepson, is a chef at a very fancy L.A. restaurant, one of the finest and most renowned in the city. He was a foodie-in-the-making when I first met him at age 15, when he and his dad spent lots of time together exploring restaurants around Los Angeles. By 16 I had him pegged as a future chef. He’s innately talented with food and very passionate about cooking (and a hell of a lot of fun at the holidays).
Sam and his older brother Dave, also a foodie, live about 40 minutes from us, and when Dan goes to see them there is always a restaurant involved. We had the best pho tonight. Tried this Italian place Dave heard about. Went to another ramen place down on Sawtelle. We had Thai food in West Hollywood that was so spicy, Sam couldn’t feel his face.
Then they start throwing around the famous chefs’ names. Tried Roy Choi’s new place tonight. Nancy Silverton’s pizza place was one of the best. We went to Michael Voltaggio’s restaurant, it was amazing.
So I mostly get to hear about the foodie life, but occasionally I get to tag along. I enjoy a well-prepared meal, and appreciate the culinary arts thanks to Sam. But I hail from Ohio, where dining out is a filet and baked potato (I tease, because I love them), and I'm not the most adventurous diner out there.
Here’s the thing about Los Angeles. L.A. foodie culture is just kooky. Sometimes I think restaurant guys sit around getting high, trying to think of the weirdest way to get people talking about them. Take for example the recent trend of "communal seating". This is where you go to the most popular restaurant in town and there are only long counter-height tables with stools and you have to sit scrunched up next to a total stranger, because your companion is either across from you scrunched up next to a total stranger, or next to you with a total stranger on his other side, and you can hear everyone’s conversations because they are scrunched up right next to you. Try to eat a meal with your elbows pinned to your sides, I dare you. I went to a communal seating restaurant exactly one time. After that, whenever my foodies wanted to take me to a new place the first thing I would say is they don’t have those obnoxious tables, do they?
Early in his career, Sam worked at one of Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s infamous “pop-up” restaurants called LudoBites. This is where he opens a restaurant for about 8 weeks and 8000 people try to get reservations and 300 succeed. That’s a lower admission rate than Stanford, people.
So the thing now, apparently, is to be a really big-deal chef and then open a restaurant that is SO EXCLUSIVE that not only can people not get in, but once they get in they’re not sure they’re in the right place.
Allow me to give you an example. Last year, a friend of Dan’s was able to get the four of us into a fiendishly exclusive place I will call Clandestine (because I want to help them stay secret, of course). The Chef was all the buzz, and the restaurant served (almost) nothing but petite cuts of beef that you cooked yourself, yakiniku style, at your table. Grilled tongue. Throat sashimi. I’m talking every part of a cow, and supposedly – if you were a real foodie – you would be able to appreciate the difference between Outside Ribeye and Inside Ribeye. There was no liquor license so you had to bring your own beer or wine, and if the Chef thought your bottle was worthy, he would allow you to share it with him. This was one of the gateways into getting his business card, which would give you the chance to come back again.
But the thing that blew my mind was, the signage and window paint outside the restaurant all said Teriyaki House. I thought there had been some kind of navigational error: aren’t we going to Clandestine? What’s this teriyaki business? This is one of the most exclusive, you-have-to-know-a-guy places in town and there’s no sign? In fact, the place looked run down and a bit shady. But once you’re in, there you are, paying $140+ a head to cook your own food on a grill in a poorly-ventilated room and get the chef drunk. My foodies loved it. I did not get it AT ALL. I couldn’t tell Outside from Inside Ribeye, the cow throat made me want to puke, and the whole experience made me long for a filet and baked potato. Which is saying something, because I’m really not a huge red meat fan anyway, and there were EIGHT BEEF COURSES. It was the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a Judd Apatow movie and you would think he made it up. Dan, Dave and Sam accepted business cards from the Chef. I passed.
Which leads me to Valentine’s Day 2015, the catalyst for my story. Dan managed to get us into Petit Trois, the latest creation of the aforementioned Chef Ludo. It’s right next to his Trois Mec, which has recently won raves as L.A.’s best new restaurant. Petit Trois doesn’t take reservations, but on Valentine’s Day they handed out a few through one of those special credit card promotions and Dan jumped on it. He was so excited; we would be the first among our foodie-group to eat there. It was a surprise for me.
We tooled along Highland in the Hollywood area and Dan pulled into the parking lot of a shabby little strip mall across from a Mobil station. It was anchored by Yum Yum Donuts. The other stores were a dry cleaner, Tasty Thai, and Rafallo’s Pizza.
I was very confused.
Especially when I saw the valet stand in front of the Thai place.
What the ---?
Then I saw the valet sign: parking for Trois Mec and Petit Trois. I’d heard about Trois Mec and got super excited.
“Oh my god, Dan! Are we going to Trois Mec?”
“No, Petit Trois, but it’s supposed to be just as amazing.”
“Okay, but…” I looked around. “Where is it?”
He pointed to the Thai place.
That’s right. And Trois Mec, L.A.’s Best New Restaurant, the one you have to email for a “ticket” (not a reservation) two weeks in advance, has a bright yellow sign reading Rafallo’s Pizza above the door.
Petit Trois, at least, did not have communal tables. But it did have the next worst thing: no tables. All of the seating was at a counter along the wall, where you sat hunched on barstools. Hard, wooden barstools. The whole place was no bigger than my living room and packed with beautiful hipster foodies who did NOT have reservations and did not mind waiting an hour or more for a seat.
We sat down in ten minutes, thank God, at the most intimate part of the counter: the two stools at the far end. What happened next was simply one of the best meals of my life. I cannot emphasize how brilliant this food was, every bite, from the artisanal bread to the dinner omelet to the floating island dessert, a cake-like wedge of meringue surrounded by crème anglaise and pralines. Ludo himself brought our appetizers. The wine was excellent; we tried a glass of each red (I highly recommend this, it's way more fun than ordering a bottle). There was nothing weird or shocking here, not a cow throat to be found. Just pure, elegant, perfectly prepared food, and I would gladly wait an hour or more to sit on the barstools and dine there again.
I’ve lived in a few places in the USA, and I could be wrong, but I don’t think there are secret restaurants in Cincinnati or Orlando. We went to a teeny-tiny place like Petit Trois in San Francisco once, but they had their name on the door, and you didn’t need to know a guy to get in. Listen, I love living here, I really do. But when it comes to foodie culture, I’m always going to be that Ohio girl thinking “is this for real?” and probably writing about it. 
Because come on. Eight beef courses? Maybe I should give Judd Apatow a call.

Hey, don't I know that guy with the bronytail?


  1. Leanne, as always, your writing cracks me up and is spot on! Congratulations on this latest blog post. Keep 'em coming! And, btw, let's have a reunion with our old pals at The Dish one day soon! XXX

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