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Quest for Fire: Out of the Flames 

L.A.'s best roasted, grilled sizzled and wood-baked cooking

Tuesday, Feb 7 2006
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Log-o-philia


Mark Peel may be the most prominent chef in the country whose reputation largely rests with his prowess on the grill, and his Campanile may showcase more shades of fire and heat than any restaurant on Earth. Salmon grilled atop cedar planks takes on the cigar-box fragrance of that wood, and leg of lamb is sometimes flavored with the smoke from smoldering herbs. Rack of lamb is sometimes grilled directly on fresh rosemary, which is a different thing entirely. Thin, broad sheets of veal scallopine pick up all the heady fragrance of the cured oak logs burning beneath them. Sometimes there are even grilled live oysters, put directly over the flame just long enough for their shells to open and their liquor to swell with the essence of smoke. Grilled-fish soup is a sort of deconstructed bouillabaisse, a dish involving four or five sea creatures, each with a different cooking time and a different capacity for heat, taken off the grill and combined at the last moment — a feat of kitchen virtuosity with the same degree of difficulty as a 360-degree slam dunk. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 938-1447.

The Right Flank

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Charles Perry, the well-known arbiter of both medieval Arab cuisine and Summer of Love Haight-Ashbury, likes to talk about the diet of his 1960s roommate Owsley, who was well known as an LSD millionaire. Owsley, who ate nothing but flank steak, had come to believe that all vegetables were poison. If you had access to as much high-quality windowpane as Owsley, you might harbor sinister thoughts about broccoli too. Argentineans may eat more vegetables than Owsley, but not much: In The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin marveled that “the Gaucho in the Pampas, for months together, touches nothing but beef.” At the Buenos Aires–style Carlitos Gardel’s, the idea of an appropriate salad runs to matambre, the classic Argentine roulade of cold flank steak rolled around roasted red peppers and chopped boiled eggs. As with almost any Argentine restaurant, the menu revolves around its parrillada, a cavalcade of charcoal-grilled meats — sweetbreads, blood sausage, skirt steak, short ribs, Italian sausage — served on a smoking iron grill, accompanied only by a small bowl of well-garlicked chimichurri and a large plate of mashed potatoes. Don’t miss the garlic fries. 7963 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 655-0891.

Old Flame

If you spend much time watching period Asian movies, you will remember scenes of dark inns, a scrim of pale steam, a crew of women tending an ancient grill, prodding battered cookpots licked with yellow flame. The classic Koreatown tavern Dansungsa is nothing like a relic of the 19th century. In fact, its ambiance is supposed to recall a Seoul movie palace of the 1940s. But the guttering flames, the strong Korean spirits, the big, smoky plates of baby octopus and barbecued pork ribs and eel, the charred skewers of grilled garlic cloves, shrimp or hot dogs, the crudely delicious kimchi, all seem as if they came from another time and place. The spicy cabbage soup, which comes along with your first soju or beer, is served in a bowl so battered that the only possible explanation is 15 rounds with a chimpanzee. 3317 W. Sixth St., Koreatown, (213) 487-9100.

Tacos al Carbon

If you’re into tacos, at one time or another you’ve probably noticed the conflagration outside El Gran Burrito, a stand tucked away near LACC. Like most great Los Angeles taco places, El Gran Burrito is less notable for the food served inside the restaurant than for the food served out back on evenings and on weekends, when the big grill is set up under an awning, and the aroma of charred beef permeates the air for blocks. El Gran Burrito is Hollywood’s entrepôt of carne asada, grilled beef, snatched from the fire, hacked into gristly nubs, and made into tacos in less time than it takes you to fish a couple of dollars from your jeans. They are grand tacos, sizzling hot, oily, glowing with citrus and black pepper. In the world of food, a truly fine taco may be as close as you can get to nirvana. 4716 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 665-8720.

The Other Red Meat

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