I'm sitting in the State Library of Victoria, a grand old structure in the heart of Melbourne, Australia. Like much of my hometown, the state library is both familiar and foreign. I grew up coming here, on school excursions and later as a teenager for homework research. But it's been a quarter-century since I was last in this building.
I've spent a lot of that time wracked with homesickness for Melbourne, but today I'm acutely aware of a new homesickness, one I'm likely to carry with me for years (if not forever). Today, for the first time, I'm homesick for Los Angeles.
It's been only 72 hours since I left, though the move was months in the making. Still, the blur of packing and logistics shielded me somewhat from the enormity of what I was doing: Giving up the best job in the world.
What would it take for you to give up the best job in the world? Lots of things — things that are personal, professional and, yes, even a little political. But mainly they are family things: a father I've not spent significant time with since I was a teenager, siblings I miss terribly. It's a move I was considering before I came to L.A. and that I put off in order to seize the incredible opportunity of this job. I'm so glad I did.
Some of my motivation is just a yearning to know what it's like, after all these years, to go home. My son is still young enough to make the transition without too much disruption. I'm still young enough to start over again, perhaps for the last time in a life that's been constructed of starting over again and again and again.
The feeling I have now reminds me a little of the feeling I had in my first weeks in Los Angeles. My husband and son and I arrived, blinking in the white L.A. sunshine, on Mother's Day of 2012. Aside from one short trip for my L.A. Weekly job interview, I'd never been to Los Angeles, and my first few weeks on the job were terrifying. The city was so huge, so overwhelming.
Restaurant criticism is a very strange gig, in part because the ethics and anonymity require that you separate yourself almost completely from the people you cover. That can make it hard to find community in a new city. But if my first months in Los Angeles were lonely and strange, they were also exhilarating. It was the food that propelled me forward.
My first year in L.A. coincided with some incredible moments for the city's food scene, among them the opening of Bestia and Trois Mec, and our initial taste of Miles Thompson's immense talent at Allumette. It was in those early months that I had the pleasure of first covering Micah Wexler, then cooking with stunning creativity at Mezze, years ahead of the high-end Middle Eastern restaurant boom. Two of my earliest reviews for L.A. Weekly were of a ramen joint in Torrance and a pre-Hispanic Mexican restaurant in Baldwin Park, each of which gave me a lesson in the wonderful and wide-ranging international food of Los Angeles. I wrote about Michael Voltaggio's brooding, modernist ink., which was, at the time, the hottest table in town. The ego and talent and fashion and drama inherent in that restaurant made for such rich subject matter — I remember the thrill of writing that review and the understanding it gave me of the utterly enthralling conversation to be had around eating in L.A.
The rest of the world is waking up to the truth that Angelenos have known for years: This is the most exciting food city in America.
It's been an incredible honor to take part in that conversation over the last half-decade and to witness the rest of the world waking up to the truth that Angelenos have known for years: This is the most exciting food city in America. I'm sad about leaving for so many reasons, but one of my greatest regrets is that I won't be around to cover the Great Out-of-State Restaurant Invasion of Los Angeles, to ask whether the city will benefit from its new status as a bandwagon that far-flung chefs are eagerly piling on, to parse what the Changs and Bloomfields and Nomads might add to the scene. Do I sound a tad protectionist? It's possible. I'd love to have the chance to be proven wrong.
I'm also heartbroken that I'm missing out on so many homegrown developments. There are restaurants that have opened in recent weeks and months that I didn't get to visit — Jorneymen, Dialogue and Voltaggio's latest project, ink.well, to name a few. Others will open shortly that I'll be watching from afar, wondering if they're as great as they appear to be — Jessica Koslow's Tel, the long-awaited brick-and-mortar iteration of Guerrilla Tacos and Jessica Largey's Simone among them. It may sound self-important to say that I feel guilty for leaving before getting to these places, but I do feel that way.
I owe Los Angeles a great debt. I owe the chefs of the city a great debt for giving me such incredible fodder over the years. I tried, in my reviews, to repay that debt, to pour as much honesty and thought and serious consideration as possible into each piece. I know it probably didn't always feel that way to those being considered, but it's how I approached every single review, from my controversial assessment of Otium to my four-star rave about Evan Funke's Felix.
I'm confident, though, that L.A. Weekly will find someone else who can do all of these things and more. In the meantime, you'll see my byline here for a few more weeks, as we count down the 20 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles, and in our annual Best of L.A. issue. (My final review, however, of Vespertine, ran last week; I can't think of a more complex, fascinating and weird way to bow out.)
Is it odd for me to thank a whole city for sharing itself with me, for being such a huge and important part of my life? I hope not. Thank you, Los Angeles. It's cold here in Melbourne, and the tacos suck. I miss you like hell already.