My Favorite Things, Part 3
The Ivy is a New Yorker's perfect dream of Los Angeles, splashed with sunlight, decorated with amusing American kitsch, populated with lunching actresses, agents and New York magazine editors in town to take the pulse of the city. Corn chowder is, of course, the ultimate Midwestern dish. The Ivy's version, devised by a practically teenage Toribio Prado before he decamped to found the Cha Cha Cha empire, is wholesome Americana as reinvented by an immigrant from tropical Mexico with his nose pressed up against the window. This corn chowder sizzles with gentle chile heat, brightened with a sunny hint of anise and a sweet bit of diced red pepper. Here, the most Midwestern of ingredients masquerades as a Mediterranean prince, just like Los Angeles' zillion red-tiled fantasy-Spanish bungalows. 113 N. Robertson Ave.; (310) 274-8303.
This seafood salad, dressed with a sweet mixture of mayonnaise and what used to be called "chili sauce," was the height of West Coast cosmopolitanism before World War I, a big-city dish served in every restaurant of distinction between Seattle and San Diego. James Beard claimed shrimp Louie for Portland; some food historians think it first appeared in San Francisco. The dish used to be identified with Los Angeles, at least to the extent that tourists thought of it as a local delicacy. Though it still shows up now and again at old-line coffee shops, shrimp Louie is basically as extinct as mock chicken or Welsh rabbit. Still, collectors of culinary antiques may still find shrimp Louie, a pretty good one, preserved alongside finnan haddie, jellied consommé, avocado cocktail and other curiosities of the '20s California kitchen, on the menu of the Musso & Frank Grill. 6667 Hollywood Blvd.; (323) 467-7788.
Spago, it is well-known, introduced new-wave pizza to the world, and Ed La Dou was the restaurant's first pizza jock. La Dou went on to develop the pizza menu for the California Pizza Kitchen chain before he opened his own place, Caioti, transposed from its former location in Laurel Canyon to Studio City. Caioti's pizzas are perfect exemplars of the new-wave breed, crisp, thin-crusted, speckled with char, and topped with stuff that has never seen a pizza oven before. The BBQ chicken may not be the greatest of La Dou's pizzas -- I am personally fond of a prosciutto, melon and Gorgonzola pizza he took off his menu more than a decade ago -- but it is probably the most imitated pizza in the world. With a Mediterranean structure, American flavors and a home-grown California lightness, it is a pizza that could only have been born in L.A. 4346 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; (818) 761-3588.
Deep-fried catfish are almost as inescapable around here as personal trainers or the VW millennium Bug. Thai chefs cut catfish on the vertical axis and fry it up like so many curry-smeared potato chips; Chinese chefs deep-fry catfish and serve it with little dishes of pepper salt; Mexican chefs in East L.A. deep-fry catfish and serve it with lemon wedges and tortillas; African-American chefs filet catfish, dust it with cornmeal and pepper, and fry it until it is crisp as a Pringle. Sizzling catfish first swam its way into the realm of the Chardonnay drinkers a dozen years ago when Wolfgang Puck started serving it with a citrusy ponzu sauce at Chinois, and since then it has made its way onto the menus of practically every expense-account restaurant in town with high-brow Asian aspirations. Shiro, a Japanese-French bistro unaccountably tucked into a Midwestern-looking South Pasadena streetscape, serves so much of this ponzu-steeped stuff that it might as well rename itself Shiro: The House of Sizzling Catfish. Its version of the dish -- imagine a whole catfish the size of the shark from Jaws, stuffed with ginger and fried to a crisp -- is everything you could want from a bottom-feeder. 1505 Mission St., South Pasadena; (626) 799-4774.
When Claudio Monteverdi and his friends mistranslated texts about the nature of Greek drama 400 years ago, they accidentally came up with modern opera. When restaurateur Lawrence Frank misconstrued in the '30s something he'd heard about the famous roast beef at London's Simpson's-on-the-Strand, he inadvertently came up with American prime rib as we know it, big, pink roasts glistening from silver carts, carved to order tableside and served with Yorkshire pudding, a baked potato and salad from a spinning bowl. The actual ranch-days meat tradition of Los Angeles may have involved something like the oak-grilled steaks still served in Santa Maria, but Lawry's prime rib is as truly Angeleno as the Tudor mansions and yawning Norman cottages of Beverly Hills. 100 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 652-2827.
A full century before the invention of the Brie-and-grape quesadilla, Los Angeles County was one of the most famous agricultural regions in the world, well known for the sweetness of its citrus, the succulence of its avocados, the lushness of its wine grapes. Thirty years later, the physical culturists appeared, the bodybuilders and science-and-health faddists who were the spiritual ancestors of Joe Weider, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dr. Barry Sears. When physical culture meets agriculture, the result is health food -- and in the realm beyond spirulina, mung-bean sprouts and brewer's yeast, some of it even tasted good. In the realm of health food, the venerable smoothie is first among equals, a mixture of fruits, ice and various health-giving powders whirred in a blender -- with bee pollen, too, if that's your thing -- that can taste even better than an actual milk shake. The Beverly Hills Juice Club, perhaps better known for a mean glass of wheatgrass juice, makes smoothies that even committed carnivores can enjoy. 8382 Beverly Blvd.; (323) 655-8300.
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