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September 15, 2009

Which way to good food?

What Mr. A and I were craving, culinarily, Sunday night: dinner at a tiny, cozy, hole in the wall place that served the kind of food you can't find almost anywhere else but other places like it. Russian, Cambodian, something along those lines. Something interesting and, well, East Village-y.

The trouble is that Mr. A and I had decided to drive up to Santa Monica for the evening, and neither of us knew the local offerings.

We stopped randomly in front of a restaurant that will remain unnamed. From the outside it looked fabulous -- tall windows that begged for a curious gaze inside. It was packed, and the diners seemed happy. But the menu at the door wasn't exactly fetching. Big prices and tiny creativity.

On the corner, I noticed a tall woman in stunning heels trying to hail a cab. I approached her.

"Excuse me, are you from around here? Do you know this area?"

"You mean am I a local? Yes I am."

"We were wondering if you could recommend a place to get dinner."

"What are you looking for?"

"Something off the beaten track, delicious, cozy, and unpretentious. Ideally, something ethnic but not Mexican, since that's all we're finding."

"What kind of ethnic?"

"We're open minded. Whatever this area is known for. Vietnamese--"

"Eastern European," Mr. A suggested.

She looked pained.

"I'm sorry. But I can't think of anything. And that's bad. Because I live here, and I'm a chef."

"You're a chef!? That's awesome! Then just tell us something you like, anything!"

"Yeah. But lemme think... oh God, I just can't think of anything like that around here. Oh, I know what you should do! Go to Abbott Kinney. There's an Italian place, a French place, there's that new place that just changed its name, that's really good. It's all organic, or almost all organic. What do I know."

"Okay, sounds great, thanks!"

"Do you know how to get there? You just drive south and -- where's your car. Are you driving? How 'bout I show you. I'm headed that way, anyway. I was waiting for a cab, but my feet are killing me. It's these heels. As long as you're not terrorists or something. But you seem harmless."

That's how we ended up meeting Kate, chef to the stars. She took us to The Tasting Kitchen on Abbott Kinney and told the host to take good care of us. Since a table wasn't ready, we waited at the bar and offered her a glass of prosecco. That's when she told us about her life, her travels, the cookbook she's writing.

When our table was ready we parted ways and ended up having a great meal. The quail was extremely tender, the green beans had a spicy peanut thing going on. All very nice. But the bread. Oh my god. I have never eaten bread like that. The crackly crust gave you a workout - just enough to make you really feel good about tearing into the soft, (w)hol(e)y center.

Moi, mid-bite:

And immediately after:

Results: Asked a local for advice, and had cocktails with a globe trotting chef-to-the-stars. Only in L.A., daaaarling.
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