Nickel Diner in L.A.
In the canon of Foods That Change Lives (Or Possibly End Them In The Process), you'd have your garden variety fried fare: french fries, fried chicken, tempura. Then there's the chocolates of the world, and, of course, whiskey. Belonging to a category all its own, however, is the mighty bacon. decadent and fragrant, the very best part of the pig sheared, sizzling, and slippery with its own juices. It's democratic in nature, too; even my friend Kelsey - herself a staunch (though not stodgy) vegetarian - admitted an affinity for the stuff before she axed meat altogether. It's the one thing that most people can agree upon, and one of the only pleasant ways to wake up in the morning. I'd drag myself out of bed at any ungodly hour if awakened by the smell of a few strips cooking on the stove.
Even after completely overindulging in the stuff this weekend, I can never get sick of the sweetest of meats and today I found a variety of new ways in which to shamelessly give in to unabashed hedonism. It's no secret that bacon is totally having a moment, right? You can't throw a scale in any direction without hitting someone bearing a devilish grin, eyes aglow: "I just tried bacon-wrapped ______. And it's life-changing." Much like the baptism by fire at the roiling depths of a deep fryer, even the most unsavory flavors can be absolved if penance is paid at the altar of Bacon. Oh, and contrite were we too, heads bowed at the back corner booth at Nickel Diner in Downtown L.A. (5th and Main).
Day two of our gastronomical journey through the City of Angels found us sipping mint-infused lemonade and an egregiously overpriced can of Diet Coke at Nickel, whose menu boasted a variety of typical hip-diner fare. But we weren't there for poached eggs or a short stack. No, we were awaiting something so bad it should be the eighth deadly vice: Bacon Maple Doughnuts. Chewy with a hint of crunch around the edges, the doughnuts are smothered in a semi-opaque glaze and sprinkled with generous clumps of bacon. The effect is less discombobulating and more revelatory: a marriage of flavors destined to find one another and bask in the languorous bliss of eternal love. And predictably, we were equally smitten.
A few blocks down on San Pedro we found yet another nostalgic dish wrapped up in a shiny bow and presented as new. In this case, it's the palaron with kumquats and Cream of Wheat at Lazy Ox Canteen. Essentially pot roast and mashed potatoes, this dish hit all the crucial elements surmising a childhood favorite and then bettered it: a shivering roast of beef is doused in a red wine sauce and presented on a bed of Cream of Wheat - yes, that Cream o' Wheat - the childhood breakfast of champions. The result is unexpected - tart kumquats, earthy brussel sprouts, and meat cooked to juicy perfection. It's a fantastic update to the stuff you used to drown in A1 and ketchup on a Wednesday evening.
Though not on Jonathan Gold's list, I took the liberty of directing Ashley to a hole-in-the-wall dim sum place on the outskirts of Chinatown. If I'm ever able to concoct my own collection of Must Eats, dim sum would be near the top of that list. And the best place I've found is ABC Seafood (708 New High Street, Los Angeles). (Full disclosure: I've yet to exhaust the possibilities lurking in Monterey Park / Alhambra yet, so take this suggestion with a grain or two of sea salt.) Don't let the B rating fool you; this place makes the kind of steam buns you'd rhapsodize over at parties after a couple of cocktails (to the chagrin of nearby guests). Airy clouds of steamed dough, obese and slightly sweet, surrounding a pocket of BBQ pork. The whole thing is roughly the size of a fist, but you'll want to consume them by the fistfuls after foraging to the savory center for the first time.
Our final stop took us north of downtown to the shaded avenues of Los Feliz. Little Dom's (on the corner of Hillhurst and Avocado) is the type of neighborhood establishment that looks like it belongs in New York, but the menu is resolutely southern. Our intended entree was the oyster po' boy, a New Orleans go-to that had found its way onto the menu 3,000 miles away. Delicately fried oysters tossed onto a bed of arugula atop buttered french bread. The bacon, in this case, was a mere garnish; the real spotlight belongs to the mollusks. Faintly flavored by sea water but hardly fishy, it's the type of sandwich you'd likely find in a neighborhood establishment in the French Quarter, but a sunny outdoor table in Los Feliz will do, too.
But what better way to end the day than in the same manner we started it? I spied the cocktail menu at Little Dom's and gave it a quick once-over. While the libations posted are inventive and enticing, what stopped me dead in my tracks and resulted in a heady pre-pre-dinner drink before 2pm was the Bacon Old Fashioned. Bourbon house-infused with applewood smoked bacon and paired with maple, bitters, and a fresh orange peel - it's an old fashioned for the classicists among us, but with a twist to satisfy the aperitif savants. A mouthful of smoke mellows quickly to the familiar brown sugar notes of the bourbon, while a slow wallop of sweetness in the form of maple stops just short of dominating the conversation - thank the bitters. It's restrained and riotous all at once, a potent combination of two of God's greatest gifts to humanity: Bacon and Bourbon.
The first taste...and it's a hit.