Nathan McCall: The Butcher of Hillhurst Avenue

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Thu, May 19, 2011 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Nathan McCall and Karen Yoo - KEVIN SCANLON
  • Kevin Scanlon
  • Nathan McCall and Karen Yoo
I am sitting with friends at a Korean restaurant, lunching on boiled monkfish and sweet wild-raspberry wine. My cellphone rings in my pocket. From the rhythm of the buzzing, I know exactly what this is about. The goods have arrived, beautiful stuff. The guy is holding part of the shipment for me, but he can't promise to hold it any later than late afternoon. The price is high. I am assured it is worth every nickel.

My friends, the ones eating monkfish, assume that I was talking to a dealer. In a manner of speaking, I was. The man on the other end of the line was Nathan McCall, who runs McCall's Meat & Fish with his wife, Karen Yoo, and I had just scored a massive pork shoulder from a Heritage Berkshire hog.

When I rubbed the shoulder with salt and fennel pollen, stuffed its crevices with garlic, rosemary and vacant-lot wild fennel, and roasted it for four hours at low heat, it was the best thing that had ever come out of my oven, and at a party the next day it evaporated as if it had never existed.

McCall, whose lithe build and genial sneer make him look more like a sensitive indie guitarist than a butcher, was a line chef at three-star Daniel among other places, and there is always a recipe scrawled on the chalkboard on a wall in his tidy Los Feliz shop. McCall's is busy all day -- he and Yoo understand the Los Feliz need to eat extremely well, but in small, Pilates-compatible portions.

If you stop by on a late Thursday afternoon, maybe to have a look at the pig's head back in the walk-in, or the 65-day dry-aged rib eyes that look like roasts carved out of petrified wood, you will see a stunning array of customers who all seem to be the same guy: married Eastside industry guys in their 30s, skinny jeans and scruffy beard growth, coming in to pick up their cooking projects for the weekend -- pork bellies or fat geese or shining pink snapper; clams so fresh that they scoot across the crushed ice; glowing arctic char or the first Alaskan salmon of the season; sausages, grass-fed steaks and baby lamb chops for the grill.

McCall, a new father who may qualify as a marriage counselor as well as a meat cutter, has ideas for most of them, special things in the back for some and baby pictures for all, the beatific bro of all things meat and seafood, a shining beacon of cool.

This story is from this week's People Issue. To read more, see our cover story.

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