Loading...

The Braise of Winter 

One-pots from some of the city’s choicest kitchens

Wednesday, Feb 7 2001
Comments

Photo by Anne Fishbein

In these cooler months — when the temperature dips down below 55, appetites increase, and the need for coziness manifests — there’s nothing like a piping-hot bowl of something braised or simmered or slow-roasted in a big pot for hours. For over a month now, I’ve made a project of eating the one-pot meals of winter in some of the city’s best restaurants: daubes and ragù; bouillabaisse and cassoulet; short ribs, beef bourguignon, coq au vin, chicken curry — all hot and hearty foods that warm the cockles of the heart and stick to the ribs. Literally. Such, indeed, is not the dieter’s path, and I have the few new pounds to prove it.

When I first set out on this all-in-one-pot sampling mission, the dinner excursions were just like going out to eat, with everybody at the table ordering what they wanted, the only caveat being that it could be construed in some way as a one-pot meal. Our decisions went something like, “You have the short ribs, I’ll have the bouillabaise, and so-and-so’s stuck with the coq au vin.” (Don’t get me wrong, I like coq au vin, but it is a trick to find a good version.) Thus, at any given meal there would be two to four one-pots at the table. In a subtle way, this defied the very spirit of vat-cooked food, and soon enough, even in the finest restaurants, we began asking to be served family-style, with the various dishes set on the table so we could at least all eat out of the common pots, which really is what this hefty, homey, heartwarming food demands. There is something social in the reaching and the passing and the clash of competing spoons — these family-style free-for-alls wound up being a lot of fun.

Location Info

Related Stories

  • Petit Trois Opens

    Petit Trois, the long-awaited space next door to Trois Mec, will open tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. Owned and operated by the Trois Mec team — Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo — Petit Trois aims to offer  Bar a la Carte, described as the traditional French bar experience.  "I...
  • Surprise! Americans Drink More Wine Than the French

    Congratulations America! We're officially bigger winos than the French. According to the Organization of Vine and Wine, the U.S. became the biggest internal market in the world, volume-wise, as of 2013. We won this coveted title by consuming 29.1 million hectoliters (mhl) of wine - not including vermouth or special wines,...
  • David Lebovitz's Latest

    David Lebovitz has the kind of life any foodist would aspire to. Ten years ago, after a long career in the kitchen at San Francisco's Chez Panisse, he up and moved to Paris. And now, with one of the top food blogs on the web and a pile of books under his belt,...
  • Milkfarm

    If your idea of the four food groups is cheese, charcuterie, bread and wine, Milkfarm in Eagle Rock is set to become your new grocery shopping central.  Leah Park Fierro, formerly head cheesemonger/manager of the Cheese Store in Silver Lake, opened the cheese-and-charcuterie haven April 7, inspired by the little specialty shops...
  • SoCal Meets Old World: Stone Brewing Co. and Green Flash Announce Plans to Brew in Europe

    This summer has been full of interesting expansion news from several California breweries, including Lagunitas in Petaluma — which recently opened a Chicago tasting room — and Sierra Nevada, which has an expansive North Carolina brewery that is already releasing product. But none of the announcements made in the last...

Ten years ago, veal osso buco seemed to be the all-in-one dish of choice in many upscale restaurants. Five years ago, lamb shanks, caramelized and big as cavemen’s clubs, were sailing out of good kitchens like hotcakes in a breakfast house. This, however, seems to be the year of the beef short rib. A chunk of meat on an inch or so of rib bone and â layers of fat, the short rib comes from the chuck (or upper shoulder) of the beef, or from the “short plate,” which lies just south of the brisket. Tough and fatty to start with, these smallish squares of inexpensive beef have been transformed by slow, moist cooking at the hands of the city’s best (and most patient) chefs, into an intense, madly flavorful, quintessentially meaty winter treat.

Other one-pot trends include a proliferation of excellent bouillabaise and good cassoulet. I also found a dreamy ragu, an unforgettable chicken curry and a legendary goulash.

At Spago in Beverly Hills, listed under Wolfgang’s Childhood Favorites, the reigning one-pot is rindsgulasch mit spaetzle, or goulash. This is an Alp of a meal: big and solid and no-nonsense, chunks of beef smothered and slow-cooked in Hungarian paprika, served with squiggly, chewy spatzle, that curious cross between pasta and a dumpling. This goulash is nothing fancy; its meatiness and basic starch appeal is single-minded, even borderline austere. No carrots or potatoes or mushrooms deflect the carnivorian focus. There’s enough protein in that bowl to satisfy a family of four. But this goulash is an apex of its genre, and since I first had it two years ago, I’m surprised how often Wolf’s childhood goulash comes to mind: a bowl filled with meat, so basic that it’s mythic.

In these blistery days, Spago’s endlessly imaginative chef de cuisine, Lee Hefter, is apt to add other braised-meat dishes to his ever-changing menu. Hefter has mastered the art of cooking meat long hours at very low temperatures. I recently had his slow-braised short ribs, which were dark and sticky, lacquered (almost candied) in their meaty essence, with the great mineral richness of having been cooked on the bone; these ribs were served with truffled grits — grits with lots of butter and shaved black truffle, a combination delicious and witty. Also, look for Hefter’s slow-cooked brisket — it all but melts in your mouth — and his braised short ribs with tiny round pastina, another textural cold-weather epiphany.

Campanile’s winter dishes have a certain refined quality, even at their heartiest. Chef Mark Peel’s braised veal short ribs could define sophisticated all-American cuisine; the dish is Mom’s meat, potatoes and green vegetable taken to the highest levels of both quality and technique. These rich, tender caramelized ribs are served on horseradish-spiked mashed potatoes with a snarl of dark, vitamin-rich bitter greens — chard or cavalo nero or dandelion, depending on what’s available at the farmers’ markets that week.

Similarly, Peel’s fish stew is a civilized, somewhat tempered version of the more rustic Provençale soupe de poisson and/or bouillabaisse. Campanile’s roux-based soup — the liquid or bouilla component — is the color of butterscotch, delicate and beautifully balanced rather than robust in flavor, with an excellent assortment of “baisse,” those items that are lowered into the “bouilla,” or boiling soup: clams and firm-fleshed fish, shrimp or langoustine, mussels and scallops. The stew is served, as is traditional, with toasts, and only a paltry daub of rouille. (Rouille is a saffron- and sometimes red-pepper-flavored mayonnaise. In France, rouille comes to the table in veritable tubs to be both smeared on toasts and spooned into fish soups and bouillabaisse with a sensuous abandon, but Americans have yet to adopt these naughty, high-cholesterol ways; in all my sightings of rouille, amounts have always been trifling.)

Related Content

Related Locations

Now Trending

  • Brilliantshine Opens in Santa Monica

    All summer long, cocktail-loving Westsiders have been eagerly anticipating Brilliantshine, the new spot from prolific mixology masters Julian Cox and Josh Goldman, and it's finally here. On Tuesday, Aug. 19, the watering hole will officially open its doors in the Santa Monica courtyard behind Tinga, former home of the popular...
  • This Chef's 7-Minute Egg is Worth the 444-Mile Drive

    Have you ever had a seven-minute egg? Wait. Have you ever heard of Nevada County? Well, it’s between Sac and Tahoe, and if you’re up for about a seven-hour road trip and you're willing to believe me that this place is nicer than Tahoe, and about an hour closer, well,...
  • 10 Fancified Versions of Kids' Meals in L.A.

    First of all, there is absolutely nothing wrong with liking, loving, even obsessing over childhood favorites – hello, Kraft macaroni and cheese. Sometimes, nothing tastes better than a Rice Krispie treat, even laden with margarine and jet-puffed miniature marshmallows (although salted, browned butter is nice). A trip down culinary memory...

Slideshows

  • Ramen Yokocho Festival in Little Tokyo
    Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles became a ramen paradise over the weekend as part of the Japanese cultural festival Nisei Week. Everything was hot -- from the food, to the weather, to the scene. All photos by Danny Liao.
  • Pollo Loco at ChocoChicken
    ChocoChicken is a restaurant dedicated to chocolate-flavored chicken. It sounds like a joke. And when Adam Fleischman, founder of the Umami empire and monetary force behind many other L.A. restaurants, announced in January that he’d be opening a concept based not around mole but actual, yes, chocolate-flavored chicken, many of us treated it as a joke. It is not.
  • Daw Yee: Mission of Burma
    L.A. has a very small pool of Burmese restaurants; among them, Daw Yee does not boast the most extensive menu. Nonetheless, Daw Yee, in Monterey Park, is fascinating for one big reason — namely, that it gives L.A. something unusual: a Burmese restaurant that caters to younger diners.