Fred Eric is the unbridled id of cooking in Los Angeles, the madman bellowing in the tearoom, the boy most likely to exceed. His patrons include indie-rock managers and punk-rock magnates, Beastie Boys and riot grrls. The inventor of the Tacone, Eric is a mad genius whose paths sometimes veer in the direction of punk-rock karaoke nights, comic books about fava beans, and bite-size deli sandwiches more than they do toward the usual chefly pursuits. Somebody, after all, had to come up with mac ’n’ cheese on a stick, to find a better way to make a Pop Tart, to produce organic vegan munchies that are invariably more caloric and eviler than their meat-bearing equivalents.
I have friends who would rather munch on their own toenails than go anywhere near one of Eric’s restaurants, and I almost understand the aversion. As a matter of journalistic principle, I try not to hang out with chefs, but through the force of Eric’s will, I have found myself charging through Rio de Janeiro in search of miso paste, tasting wine with members of Devo and imploring baker friends to make perfectly round loaves of bread for him. When Eric hands you a forkful of food to taste, it could be either transcendently beautiful or awful. You’ve got to learn to trust the odds.
Since he concluded his apprenticeship with Patina’s Joachim Splichal, Eric has been more or less the official chef of L.A.’s demimonde, first at the Eurotrash nightclub Flaming Colossus, then as the chef at the Olive, the secret, smoke-filled restaurant that has been the prototype for every velvet-rope restaurant since; at his Los Feliz coffee shop, Fred 62, and at his terminally weird mothership, Vida, which was like the kind of restaurant Mary Ann and the Professor would have come up with if they had been bankrolled by Lovey Howell; at the bizarrely awful Airstream Diner (house-made corned beef even your Uncle Benny wouldn’t have eaten) and during an aesthetically triumphant stint at Dominick’s. Now he’s about to unleash two new restaurants on the city: Tiara Café and, near Staples Center, Liberty Grill, which may or may not be finished by the time the Lakers end their playoff run.
Eric probably enters into as many ventures as, say, Wolfgang Puck, but they have a way of going into turnaround before the first consommé is clarified, before the first halibut is poached. In that way, as well as in his cooking, which ranges from old-school French to trailer-park Vietnamese to haute Cuban without missing a beat, he is perfectly of Los Angeles.
Is Eric the Robert Evans of California cuisine? Will the almost-open Tiara, whose ambitions flit back and forth between Garment District cafeteria and high-fashion canteen, be his Godfather II? Your guess is as good as mine.