Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday Book Signing

Clay and I will be at the Barnes and Noble bookstore at Denver West on Dec. 3 from 5:00 - 7::00 p.m. signing The Gyros Journey. Our ethnic restaurant guide makes the perfect stocking stuffer, so please come join us for an evening of holiday cheer, shopping, and tips on where to dine this season.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Monday, September 3, 2007

One Dish at a Time: Food Writing Workshop

With the help of our friends at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, Joey and I are offering a one-day food writing workshop, Creative Food Writing: One Dish at a Time, on Saturday, October 20th in Denver:

This one-day workshop is designed to help writers craft delectable prose that enables their readers to experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of the culinary experience. Beginning with a discussion of effective structure and approaches to food writing, Clay Fong and Joey Porcelli will also analyze the work of authors such as A.J. Liebling and M.F.K. Fisher, identify helpful research resources, and address the ups and downs of professional writing for restaurant reviews and dining guides. For lunch, participants will visit a local restaurant and sample a variety of foods.

The afternoon will be spent reviewing the meal, writing in-class exercises and exchanging constructive feedback. By day's end, participants should have a better understanding of the structure of memorable food writing, as well as a means of finding their culinary voice. Both experienced and inexperienced writers welcome.

More information is available at:

Letter from Burgundy

Our London-based correspondent, globe-trotting Angela Crossman, recently spent a week in Burgundy. Here are her impressions, both culinary and cultural:


Along the edge of the hillside two giant snails glided head to tail casting shadows down on the vineyards and darkening the mid afternoon sky above. They were gods. Their antennae commanded the clouds to open up and release their nectar. Only their Ecstasy mattered as balloon sized droplets fell, drowning all human, plant and animal life below.

Oh, but the human. That slippery skinned sloth. Yes, him...he who'd sooner seduce the collective mind than share even a few feet of the vine lands that sourced their own heavenly liquid. For the task, these humans brought in one Immanuel Kant. Post IK, aesthetics were universal; beauty not just in the eye of the beholder. But alas, universal in the experience of all humans did not include the snails and their stormy fetishes. Bottom line...raindrops were out.

(despite protests in various small British towns)

It happened just like that.

The next day the snails began their journey out across the horizon and before they twitched their slime coated antennae, the water balloons began to fall unsummoned. Sizzle, crackle. As the drops slammed down on the snails shells and tails and heads, they made unfamiliar noises and drew streams of smoke from the tongue-textured skin. Clear hot butter! Hot cooking butter.

The butter rained down for forty days and forty nights, turning the snails into escargot and ruining that year's Chardonnay grapes so that they had to sell them all to Napa Valley producers.

And here begins my tale of a week in Burgundy...

As you recall, last year at this time, my family was in the Loire Valley, aka a tourist friendly introduction to wine tasting and chateau visiting. Birthday week 2007 we decided to spend in Burgundy at the Chateau de Creancy, only half an hour from some of the most expensive roots, crustaceans and chlorophyll in the world.

Our trip began in Paris where we rented a car and drove two and a half hours southeast. Actually, it was my father who drove while my mother and I slept. Since this was the only time all week that there was only one driver in the car, it might have been a truly enjoyable part of the trip for my dad. We arrived mid afternoon.

Chateau de Creancy is home to Fiona and Bruno de Wolf who purchased it in a dilapidated state and took the greater part of a decade to renovate it for habitation. It had been a German headquarters in WWII, Fiona told us with a grimace. Now it has a happier raison d'etre, welcoming guests in grand style within six rooms on the second floor, the rest of the house mostly open for use except for the rooms occupied by the owners.

Yellow butter is also the color of the main building of the chateau, while the adjoining sections are a beige toned cream. The top of the chateau is tiled in warm brown, unlike the cool slate rooftops I had seen so often in the Loire Valley. Directly around the chateau are manicured lawns and hedges, rose bushes and cherry trees, while further off behind the house the property is more natural with thick ancient trees snaking upwards in all directions shading the driveway out to the road.

Fiona and Bruno were every bit as interesting as the house. He, a Frenchman, had been in the antiques business and she, an Englishwoman, had worked at Southey's before they both gave up their jobs and moved from living outside Paris to Burgundy. Good taste can often be accounted for.

Inside, the chateau combines the very old, the old, the renovated old and the very modern in perfect harmony. Five star bathrooms, an avant garde painting and some technological items make up the very modern. Mirrors and statues and iron wall lamps make up the old, all beautiful pieces I'd love to take home with me. Don't worry, I didn't.

The very old was everywhere and sitting in front of the fire one could spend hours looking for details, like an iron Fleur de Lis in the center of a wooden door or the "nunnery" folds on the curtains, which referred to the only way the French nuns were allowed to make their habits more fashion-friendly.

After leaving our luggage in our rooms we went into town for a quick meal at a hotel in the next town so we could get to bed and start early the next morning. Escargot pizza was on the menu, though not available that evening.

Tuesday was spent in Beaune. On the ride out, I found myself noting the differences between Burgundy and the Loire Valley. Burgundy has more trees, more hills and is a more natural looking terrain. Fewer chateaus are visible from the roadside, those same white cows seem to be on the dole and less inclined to work, oh and in Beaune, the vineyards are cut up into innumerable plots with vines planted every which way, in contrast to the precise vine rows and geometric carved plots of Sancerre.

Surely if I were comparing Burgundy to Tuscany my description would be different. I tried at one point to see if I could imagine my impression of Burgundy unbiased by previous experience. Kind of like trying to imagine yourself as one of the observers in Einstein's train and platform thought experiment. Good luck!


The Hospice in Beaune was an old hospital that also produced wine, which given the contents of the on site "pharmacy" was probably used for medicinal purposes as well as to accompany French cuisine. Wish the pharmaceutical company I work for had some nice pinot noirs on offer...

For lunch, we ate at Les Caves des Arches, a wine cellar, modern and bright, beholden to off white wall paint and a wide strip of wood running along the center of the ceiling with light flooding out and cascading down the sides of les arches.

Can you guess what I had for an appetizer?

Every Christmas eve my family dines on Escargot a la Bourguignonne, soupe a l'oignon gratinee, and Buche de Noel. Last year, I officially took over responsibility for making the Escargot, so I have a vested interest in le petit-gris.

From the Escargot entree at Les Caves des Arches I offer the following takeaways: (a) add a bit of garlic to the butter, not a bit of butter to the garlic (b) use flat-leaf parsley instead of curly (c) use lots of parsley (d) mix chopped walnuts into the butter (e) if possible, use fresh butter.

After lunch my mother and I took a mini-siesta in the car while my father drove us to Pommard. In Burgundy 101 we learned that, although there are signs everywhere indicating the residence of one producer or another, very few of these producers actually sell to the passing public out of their homes. To ask is to faux pas.

Technically, I had been responsible for planning the trip apart from lodging and transportation.

Picture three lost Americans driving around tiny one way streets trying to find someone to let us buy their wines...

Finally, we found Cave de Pommard where it was permissible to deguster the wine and purchase directement. Although, not a producer, unlike other wine distributors, the cave bought wine from producers and aged it themselves. Aside from Fiona and English weather, there were two other English influences on this trip. Not to scare you, but they were both cuisine related. One of the owners of Cave de Pommard was English. Well... as English as a person can be and still talk about wine as a "living being like you or me."

As part of the buying process, we were shown vats of 2005 Grand Cru which still hadn't been bottled yet. Despite resistance, we convinced them to risk delaying the bottling by giving us a tasting. True to its reputation, the 2005 showed the signs of a warmer summer, full and ripe fruit. We arranged for a shipment to the US after bottling.


As you may remember from my Istanbul trip last summer, I am a Myers-Briggs "ENTP." From time to time, I remind people that I am a "P" to justify the complete lack of planning. Spontaneous discovery, no? Can't tell you what my parents are exactly, however, I am positive they are not "P." Very certain. Came down Wednesday morning for dinner and a day in Chablis had been planned from A to Z. A for Alain, the man we were to ask for at William Fevre.

Although Chablis is made with Chardonnay grapes, it is nothing like buttery US Chardonnay wines. In fact, they are so different that William Fevre produces a Chablis just for export, which is rounder, fuller, more buttery. The classic Chablis doesn't taste fruity tastes like stone, some would say flint. Les Clos, the best known of the Grand Cru Chablis wines is grown on oyster shells.

The Les Clos climat is 24 hectares supporting 30 producers, William Fevre owns 4.11 hectares. Although 2005 was also considered a good year for Chablis, these wines were fuller and fruitier and altogether a different beast from the classic Chablis rather than just a superior version. After trying several Premier Cru and Grand Cru across a number of years, we pinpointed a preference for 2004 Les Clos and one of the Premier Cru.

A preference developed with very numb tastebuds...hopefully we won't have a nasty surprise when we drink what we purchased.


Thursday I spent in bed with a bad headcold. At 5pm we went into town to pick up my friend, Daniella, from the train station and have dinner.

At this point you are saying, but this is all about wine and escargot...what about the mouche???

Part 4b

La mouche appeared at approximately 9:45pm on the table to the southeast of my dinner plate. We were dining at Le Pre aux Clercs located in an 18th century house across the street from the Palais des Ducs in Dijon.

The chef, Alexis Billoux, is one of the "Jeunes restaurateurs d'Europe" (Young Chefs of Europe) Part-way, through the meal, the grey-haired chef emerged to greet the customers. My mother looked incredulous: "If he is young, that bodes well for us!" Reading about the restaurant online this week I realized that the man we saw was probably Jean-Pierre Billoux, his father.

Two minutes, three minutes went by and the mouche still wasn't moving. The waiter arrived to clear the dinner plates and bring the dessert. As he was changing plates, I spoke up.

"C'est une mouche. Pas de chocolate."

The waiter's eyes bulged as he swiped away at the shiny black nugget. Viola!

The chocolate fondant was delicious.

Part 5a: Romanee Conti 2005 (or, how to part with a lot of money very quickly)

Prior to our trip to Burgundy, I did do two pieces of research. Actually, the first piece of research was done for me by a French guy. It is amusing how it all came about. In January I went to a birthday party for a friend of a friend and at the end of the evening, when waiting for my friend to leave, I struck up a conversation with a cute French banker from Bordeaux. For obvious reasons, I raised the topic of my upcoming trip to Burgundy. Banker from Bordeaux knew next to nothing about wines from Burgundy, BUT before we left, he offered to do some research and get back to me. “Since you are a banker, will you give me the information in an excel spreadsheet?” I worked for a bank; I am allowed to be cheeky. “No, I prefer powerpoint.”

A few days later, I was in Paris and received a voice message from BB that he had finished his research. “I am ready to present.” But bien sur, we must meet for a drink.

Over a glass of red wine in a pub, we reviewed the findings. Over sixty pages worth. Bordeaux banker had researched everything about the region and put it all on a USB stick for me to take home, including tourist attractions, restaurants and maps. A second date followed, but that is a different story altogether.

The second piece of research I did was to speak to on of the senior managers at my company. An avid wine trader with a small fortune vaulted in a cellar far beneath the English soil, he gave me lots of suggestions as to which wines and producers to seek out. His last purchase was Romanee-Conti 2005, which is worth more than I make in a month. Too expensive for him to drink.

The Romanee Conti vineyard is 1.8 hectares that produces Grand Cru wines made from pinot noir grapes. It is a monopole within the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (DRC). DRC is located within the Commune or Village, Vosne-Romanee, which is turn is within the Canton, Nuit-Saint-Georges, which is in the Department, Cote-d’Or, in the Region of Burgundy. And, by the way, Nuits-Saint-Georges is in the Cote-de-Nuits, which is part of the Cote-d’Or.


That is why I mentioned that the Loire Valley was a beginner’s guide to French wines.

Burgundy is the PhD course.

And to stretch the analogy further, I am still in the first month of the PhD course…even after the trip. The day before I left for Paris, I made a presentation to the same senior manager at my company. Afterwards, we were discussing my trip again, and he mentioned that he’d love to have photos of the Romanee-Conti vineyards.

Mission Possible

On Friday morning, my family drove to Vosne-Romanee in search of DRC, cameras loaded. Drove right through it without seeing a single diamond crusted leaf. Circling back and down a dirt-covered road, we pursued the first seemingly local character into his tractor shed to ask instructions. My flawless french (ha ha) was answered in english.

As we followed signs leading up and up into a town on the hillside, we had to stop again and ask a passerby for directions. Again, the response came quickly and in english. A few more feet and we started up between the green plots headed towards a small tractor which veered off to the right and stopped. On command, dad braked and I got out to ask the man where the Romanee-Conti vineyards lay. Ever so kindly, he pointed out the plot of land that I was standing aside and traced its entire border in the air with his finger.

While he was pointing out La Tache and Romanee St-Vivant, my stealth crew snuck out of the car and snapped everything insight: up angle, side angle, upclose, panorama. Mission accomplished. In the process we took note of how green and wide the leafs were. How full the branches were. How well spaced the vines were. The healthiest, happiest vines in the world. And wines too expensive to drink.

Part 5b

The punch line of Part 5b is that Virginie and Thomas Collomb dined at El Bulli the last week of August 2005.

Anything sound familiar?

After our little photojournalist adventure Friday morning, we arrived in the town of Nuits-Saint-Georges for lunch. Culinary tourist traps lined the main square, so we decided to stick to a recommendation from Fiona despite a half hour wait. We opened and closed our umbrellas in response to the drizzle, as we walked through the town to kill time. Lunchtime closings are non-negotiable. There wasn't much to see, so we went for a drink.

Seven tables was a good sign. At least La Cabotte had the advantage of being able to tightly control the quality of the meals served. An early reference to El Bulli (on a bookspine shelved above our table) further engendered hope. Completely merited. The meal was delicious- especially the frog-leg tempura- and presented in a variety of original containers such as chemistry beakers and old-fashioned jars for preserves.

Into my dessert, the chef inserted a sparkler that threw off golden beads like a welder's torch. I shielded my eyes until everyone insisted that I have my photo taken. Blind people can't look at birthday photos.

The El Bulli coincidence came out after lunch when we were left alone in the restaurant and asking Virginie and Thomas who did what and how they came to open the place. Thomas, we discovered, was responsible for the creativity in presentation. My mother wanted to know where he studied. "Auto-didact." We oohed and aaahhed admiringly. "I taught him." Virginie smirked, patted her husband's cheek and walked off.

In the car on the way home my mother and Daniela slept while I counted napping cows.

Part 5c

More mouche.

Friday evening Daniella, my mom and I showered and powdered and perfumed and slipped into our evening wear and high heels. Somehow my father did a great deal less and ended up looking just as elegant. Where is the justice?

Abbey de la Bussiere dating back to the 12th century has caused quite a ruckus in the region as of late. The Abbey was bought by an englishman who, despite few locals cheering him on, managed to renovate the abbey to Relais et Chateaux standards and win a Michelin star for the restaurant in the first year. We were told that now the local competition is running scared.

To rub it in, on the Abbey website, visitors are reminded that the Abbey was founded in 1131 by an Englishman, Stephen Harding, third Abbot of Citeaux.

Upon pulling into the driveway behind the Abbey, we were greeted by a plump, smiling young woman asked if we were the Crossmans and led us into one of several sitting rooms upstairs with colorfully upholstered furniture and a fireplace. Here, we shared a bottle of wine, while I opened my birthday presents. Wine art. A painting made from the metallic seals of wine bottles. They couldn't have given me a nicer present at that moment. After about an hour, a young man, also cheerful, came to bring us to our table.

Mr. Olivier Elzer seemed too young to be a Michelin starred chef, but his creamy full face had already worked in several cities apart from his hometown of Alsace, including Paris and Lyon. The food combinations and presentation were more creative and more aesthetic than those of Le Pre aux Clercs in Dijon, also Michelin starred. And, my god, those waiters!

Throughout the meal, we were served by four different waiters, three of the male persuasion. Over the course of several hours, our rapport grew and we developed a few on the spot jokes involving food and various other subjects. The one that really broke the ice, however, involved two little mouches who appeared around dessert time (do french flies have a sweet tooth?).

"Look," I said pointing to the two little ebony beans laying in front of me. "Mouche. Deux mouches. Y pas de chocolate." At that point Daniella and my parents lost it. As did the waiter. Bless him. He held one finger up in the air and whisked off to the kitchen. Meanwhile, the female waiter came and in the spirit of continuing the lighhearted mood, I pointed out the same to her.

Silence. She assumed a very serious look and stared down at the flies as if she could exterminate them by emiting lasers from her eyes. As we watched, breath held, she raised a cupped hand and moved in on one of them.





Wham. She pounded down on the table, barely missing the fly. Shoulders shrugged and she went off back into the kitchen.

The male waiter returned and after swatting once or twice at the flies with a thick white dinner napkin, put our dessert down and walked off again.

He returned with a sparkling extravaganza worthy of Walt Disney World, which had the added benefit of smoking out the flies.

I'm not sure if the story made it to the chef, who came out to greet us and wish me a happy birthday. Anyway, his Michelin star was safe with me....

(almost done...)


You may wonder if I have written this epic novel with the objective of establishing the correlation between Michelin star restaurants and flies.

I have not.

It is basically about having you see a bit of Burgundy through the eyes of this beholder. Hopefully, I have been successful.

Saturday, we went to Beaune to see the local market, laid out in the middle of the town and snaking down the streets which spiraled out from the square like a crustaceans shell.

Those fruits! Those colors!

Buckets of honey and jars of foie.

My parents left Daniella and I to shop, while they visited a Gaulic ruin an hour or so away.

Asparagus, bananas, celery, dishes, eggs, fish, game, haricots, irises, jasmine soap, korn, lemons, magret de canard, noix, onion, plums, quelles que CDs, rabbit, snails, tails, umbrellas, vin, wine (did I say that?), x (no idea), yeux (lots of them looking at everything), zebra (just kidding)

After shopping and lunch and more shopping, my parents picked us up and we drove back to the chateau.

That evening, I stayed home to write, while the three of them went to a neighboring town for dinner.

Escargot pizza for all

But unfortunately...

No chocolate mouche.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Upcoming Gyros Journey Events

Clay and I will be signing books this spring at the following locations:

April 28 - Barnes & Noble Bookstore - Denver West – 2 PM
May 12- Borders Bookstore - Boulder #407-29th St. Mall- 2 PM
May 19- Borders Bookstore - Broomfield #415-Flatiron Crossing Village-2 PM
May 26- Borders Bookstore - Longmont #441-1101 S. Hover St.-2 PM

Join us for some tasty food and book talk.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Vancouver Ramblings

Walking around Vancouver the last few days, it quickly dawned on me that this is one of the most culinarily diverse cities in North America. I began my dining adventures with dinner at a slightly downscale Burnaby/Metrotown eatery billing itself as a "Chinese restaurant." What made this Chinese restaurant unique however, was the fact that was nearly completely devoid of Chinese food, although won ton soup and fried rice were on the menu.

Everything else was Korean, including the complimentary dishes of pickled daikon and relatively mild kimchi. The won ton soup had a rich and salty broth and the dumplings resembled diminutive potstickers with bright ginger overtones. For my main course, I had a filling bowl of thick noodles topped with a seafood and onion-laced black bean sauce. Satisfying and inexpensive, I was pleasantly surprised by the fare offered at this "Chinese" restaurant.

Further evidence of culinary eclecticism (or perhaps confusion) was on display at the curiously-named Pittsburg Restaurant at 1687-4500 Kingsway. Peering into the window of this modernistic restaurant, I noticed that it had a large Asian clientele tucking into meals from all over the gastronomical map. The menu had everything from New York strip steak to noodle soups to Monte Cristo sandwiches. One item on the menu caught my eye, the "chef's recommendation" of a Hainese chicken meal.

Originating in Hainan, the smallest Chinese province, this version of chicken is simple yet satisfying peasant fare. The lunch began with a serving of a brothy soup without much more than a few slivers of meat and vegetables. However, the stock was quite heady with the meaty taste of oxtail. The entree consisted of chilled steamed chicken with a minced ginger dipping sauce and sides of baby bok choi drizzled with oyster sauce, salted peanuts, and sticky rice. While this was a reasonably light repast, this $9.50 Cdn lunch's simplicity and delicate flavors made it a true standout.

Later I needed change to board the Skytrain downtown, so I popped into Burnaby's Crystal Mall. Resembling a clean and well-lit scene out of Blade Runner, this retail center is packed with Asian eateries and foodstuffs of nearly every description. Bakeries offered up almond-scented cookies alongside two-bite-sized egg custard tarts. Pyramids of gleaming citrus stood alongside vigorous stalks of Chinese greens. The food court offered sushi, rice bowls, and noodles, and I even contemplated stopping in at an herbalist. I would up going into a store simply marked "Japanese Foods," and in this case, it was an accurate moniker. Loading up on wasabi peas and rice crackers, I also had change for the train.

For dinner that night, I had a fair shawarma platter at the Falafel King in the West End, followed by a visit to the Bulgarian-inflected fillo restaurant (see entry below). Downtown the next day, a friend and I had a so-so lunch of Indian butter chicken. My friend returned to work and I went back to read at her West End apartment. Tiring of accidentally dropping wasabi peas between my friend's couch cushions, I put on my coat and strolled down to the False Creek Ferry dock where I paid $4 Cdn for roundtrip passage to Granville Island.

The brief trip (it probably took longer to walk from the shore to the floating dock) brought me a stone's throw from the Granville Island Public Market. This covered market is a gastronomic paradise with shops specializing in local seafood, fresh B.C. produce, meats, and everything else ranging from Pez dispensers to cheeses from all over the world.

Since I knew I was going to have a late dinner, I decided to get myself a little snack. I started off with a glass of fresh-squeezed cantaloupe juice with a wild coho salmon spring roll at the Fraser Valley booth. The juice was quite refreshing and not-too-sweet, but the spring roll worked better in concept than in execution. It was a bit dry, especially compared to the best I've ever had at San Francisco's Slanted Door, and the smoked salmon tasted a bit more of of salt than wild fish. I had much better luck with the two oysters on a skewer at Celine's - these were fine fat Pacific shellfish, perfectly grilled.

Northwest Sweet

For the last few days, I've been ambling around Seattle and Vancouver, which beats hanging out in snow-covered Boulder. I've had the good fortune to sample some extraordinary chocolate, as well as visit a restaurant specializing in fillo, including sweets.

Dilettante Chocolates is a Seattle institution. Although I find the name a wee bit peculiar, I'd always try and purchase a few of their chocolate bars from their coffee stand at the Seattle/Tacoma airport, usually after sampling a bowl of Ivar's clam chowder.

Meeting up with friends on Wednesday night, I had my first exposure to one of their Mocha Cafe locations, which features a stunning array of treats for the cocoa lover. Visitors can purchase everything from salmon-shaped chocolate bars to sinister three-foot tall chocolate Easter bunnies straight out of Donnie Darko. Light meals are also available, but the main draws are the chocolate drinks, ice cream parlor treats and pastries.

While Starbucks' may have given up on selling super-rich hot chocolate, Mocha Cafes offer no less than seven different varieties of molten hot chocolate, ranging from white to Ephemere dark, which is Dilettante's signature cocoa base, used in everything from truffles to cakes. You'll notice the picture of the truffle box - the reason you don't see the truffles themselves is that my friend and I ate them before it dawned on me it would make for a good photograph.

At the cafe, I opted for a Ephemere ice cream soda, made with premium vanilla ice cream and rich chocolate. It had a much darker chocolate taste than any other ice cream drink I've ever had, and it was just as flavor-packed as any chocolate cake. The creaminess of the vanilla helped offset the dark intensity of the chocolate base which wasn't overly sweet and had a heady strength resembling fine espresso. My companions went for dark and moist chocolate tortes, which were the equal of the superlative ice cream soda.

Up in Vancouver, a friend took me to the Acacia Fillo Bar in the bustling West End. Specializing in dishes prepared with the light pastry found in baklava, this delightful and reasonably-priced cafe offers fillo-wrapped omelets, meat and vegetable turnovers, fresh-baked croissants, and of course, desserts. Service is impecabble as the incredibly suave owner sees to it that you have an experience wrapped in Old World hospitality.

My friend and I stopped in for dessert, and we shared a chocolate mousse with berries wrapped in fillo and a bird's nest, shredded and sweetened fillo topped with glazed strawberry and Belgian cream. While some might find the bird's nest a bit sweet, I was partially drawn to it as I remember reading about it in one of M.F.K. Fisher's books. We stopped by a few days later for breakfast, where I had a banzita, a flaky and fillng quiche-like tart filled with leek and feta cheese. My friend enjoyed her wild mushroom omelet, and raved about the sweet yams that came on the side.

Lastly, I stopped in at Daniel Chocolates, a Belgian chocolatier located in the heart of the Robson Street shopping district. I picked up a box of chocolates for folks at home, and if the candy bars I bought for myself and my friend are any indication, they are at least the equal of Dilettante. Where do you get your chocolate fix?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

L.A. Food Noir, Part II: The Pacific Dining Car

L.A. is the ultimate film noir city, and one theme that seems to underscore nearly all L.A. noirs is the strong tie between corruption and power. Think Noah Cross and his dirty water dealings in Chinatown or L.A. Confidential's Dudley Smith, the crooked cop whose allegiances shifted between the mob and the LAPD.

One locale that figures prominently in neo-noir writer James Ellroy's works, including L.A. Confidential, is the Pacific Dining Car. This is the round-the-clock restaurant where Dud Smith made deals with cops and gangsters alike, and Denzel Washington took Ethan Hawke here in Training Day to confer with "The Wise Men," a group of powerful detectives and attorneys.

With an allure like this, I couldn't resist walking from my hotel to the restaurant's location on the edge of downtown. I arrived early for breakfast, and the atmosphere was one of quiet, luxury, and discretion, even though it was clear that the front section of the restaurant was, unsurprisingly, once a rail car. The veteran hostess offered me a copy of the L.A. Times to read as she led me to a large table in the back.

I noted that most of the clientele were dressed in power suits and were obviously discussing matters of great import or at least involving great deals of money. The portrayal of the Pacific Dining Car in Training Day as a place to make deals was dead-on, as I watched a prominent attorney pay his respects to a community leader, who then returned to his conversation with a former political appointee about City Hall issues.

Although I didn't order the baseball steak (a thick cut of top sirloin) that Denzel recommended to Ethan, I did opt for a $16.95 breakfast of top sirloin and two eggs. As I waited for my meal, the attentive waiters made sure that my fine china cup of coffee remained topped off and they set the table with several small silver dishes filled with jam for my wheat toast and a portion of ketchup-based steak sauce.

The steak and eggs arrived, and it proved that the kitchen knew its stuff after 85 years of being in business. The prime grade steak was a perfect medium rare and the eggs had a consistency that was neither too firm or runny. Instead of potatoes, I had several slices of flavorful tomato that were nicely set off by a few sprinkles of pepper.

It was a decadent meal that nicely fit into the wood-paneled mens' club feel of the place. While I wouldn't want to spend $16.95 every morning for breakfast, I considered part of my tab went towards sitting in a famed noir location as well as providing me with an insight into a true power breakfast spot. And by the way, the food was better than Kate Mantilini's.