View more photos in Anne Fishbein's "99 Things to Eat in L.A. Before You Die" slideshow.
The theme of this issue is somewhat morbid. We’ll admit to that. We were going to call it "99 Things to Eat in L.A. Before You Move to San Diego," but it didn’t have the same ring of finality. You could probably drive up from San Diego if you were really, really in the mood for a maple-bacon biscuit but from beyond the grave? I’m afraid our metaphysics isn’t quite up to that one.
And as long as we’re on the subject of metaphysics, we will also confess to being a bit judgmental, because judgmental is what we do around here. If we’re suggesting that some things — 99 things — are on this particular list, we’re also suggesting that others are not. A Tito’s taco: Eat before you die. A Pink’s hot dog? You’re on your own.
See — you’ve barely started reading and we’ve already absolved you of the responsibility of standing in line behind Leonardo DiCaprio. You’ve already recouped the entire cost of the issue, and then some.
To eat, perchance to dream, in no particular order.
Eat before you die? If you get it from the wrong guy, blowfish can be what you taste rather immediately before you expire — tetrodotoxin, the nerve agent concentrated in the innards, is enough to paralyze a charging bull elephant, and is rumored to be the agent used to turn men into zombies. Usually, we satisfy our fugu cravings at Dae Bok, the Koreatown specialist that cooks the blowfish into a spicy, garlicky stew, but everybody should experience, at least once, the translucent petals of fugu sashimi prepared by Hiro Urasawa in its early spring season. But be warned: If the toxins won't get you, the size of the check just may. Urasawa, 218 N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 247-8939.Bulgarini's Goat's Milk Gelato
Los Angeles is a world capital of so many things, including, it turns out, goat's milk ice cream. Delicieuse, in Redondo Beach, is the most obvious source, sporting reams of literature about the health benefits of goat's milk and eight flavors of ice cream made with the stuff, all of them delicious but none of them particularly goaty. And then there's Leo Bulgarini, the Zen gelato master of Altadena, who amps up the strong, animal taste of his goat's milk gelato by tossing goat cheese into the mix along with a handful of toasted, unsweetened cacao nibs for maximum pungency — it's petting-zoo gelato, gelato you can almost imagine nibbling on your sleeves. Leo recommends that you pair it with a glass of rose prosecco from Valdobbiadene. Bulgarini Gelato, 749 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena. (626) 791-6174.Romanesco
If you've been to a local farmers market midwinter, you've probably seen these things — lumpy, glowing, pale-green vegetables, the size of footballs bisected on their horizontal axes, plunked down near the counter at any Weiser Family Farms stand. If you're at the Pasadena farmers market, there may be a Caltech student or two nearby, admiring the peculiar geometry of the vegetable; fractal pyramids flowing in tight logarithmic spirals, cruciferous Fibonacci series, galaxies expressed in the medium of cauliflower. Nudge the postdocs out of the way and take one home. Made into a salad with pureed anchovies, roasted whole with a dribble of olive oil or sliced and sautéed with garlic and capers, the nutty, deep-flavored Romanesco is the queen of winter vegetables. weiserfamilyfarms.com.San Nak Ji
I have read more about cephalopod nervous systems in the last couple of years than most of the people of my acquaintance, and I'm still not sure about the morality of eating this dish — which is to say, the tentacles of a humanely dispatched octopus, served chopped and still wiggling on a platter. The predominant school of thought states that the tentacles move purely by reflex, like beheaded chickens or the twitching frog legs many of us encountered in high school biology. Another theory, which begins to make sense when your next bite starts to crawl up your chopsticks, claims that the octopus brain is rather decentralized, and that the suckers adhering to the roof of your mouth are still very much alive. Imagine a dish so delicious that it occasionally outweighs pretty serious ethical concerns. That's san nak ji. Masan, 2851 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown. (213) 388-3314.Sherry Yard's Kaiserschmarrn
Everybody who hasn't been to Spago since the 1980s knows exactly what to get there — pizza, chopped Chino Ranch vegetables, and pasta with goat cheese and broccoli. They're the dishes that made California cuisine famous, that fed Hollywood and made Wolfgang Puck America's first celebrity chef. Except that Spago hasn't really served those dishes in a while: Puck's and Lee Hefter's palates lean more toward the Austrian palette than toward the pizza party, and the one dish that has remained on the menu for the last dozen years has been the beet layer cake with goat cheese and pumpkinseed oil. Which leaves longtime Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard's Kaiserschmarrn, an ethereal, fluffy pancake served with strawberries. What does Tony Curtis have in common with Emperor Franz Josef I? Do you even have to ask? Spago, 176 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 385-0880.Tito's Old-School Tacos