A few weeks ago, I got an email from Elina Shatkin asking me for my 10 favorite dishes in Los Angeles, to be featured on Chefs Feed, an iPhone app that lets local chefs decide what your next meal should be. I loved the idea -- it's like asking a friend, "I want something good to eat. What do you recommend?" To me, that process is not unlike what happens at LOU (the wine bar on Vine that's nestled between a Thai massage parlor and a laundromat, and one of the only no-brainer picks on my list) in that I don't go into it knowing what I want. I leave that to the man behind the counter, Lou Amdur. Although he never meant for his wine bar to become anything more than a hangout for fellow wine geeks, he ended up with what I feel is one of the most solid dinner spots in L.A. Lou is unaware of this, but he is one of my heroes. I'd been drinking wine since I hit puberty but up until I met him roughly four years ago, I'd never actually considered what I was drinking. I had my wine epiphany the first time he poured me Puzelat's le tel quel, a particularly exuberant and funky expression of Gamay, and the reason we may be the only Thai restaurant that pours more Gamay than Riesling. What little I know about the man and his operation comes from conversations in passing at wine tastings and from me being slightly high on his wine and pestering him with my inane questions. I do know that he makes it a point to taste and reflect on wine every chance that he gets, and to only purchase wine he finds compelling. Lou knows a lot of nerdy wine stuff: farming philosophies, ancient grape varieties, soil types, the benefits of hand-harvesting, and why the phases of the moon may or may not affect the vines. Yet when asked why we should care about natural wines, he says simply, "Cause they're delicious."
All these are reasons I was sad to hear that Lou has sold his wine bar. In his most recent newsletter he mentions that he doesn't know when the last day of business will be. It may be as soon as the end of March or possibly a few weeks after that. Either way, don't wait. Run over there as soon as possible and get him to pour you his favorite Madeira of the moment.
Below, you can read what I had to say about LOU before I heard the news, along with four of my other picks for Chefs Feed.
Dish: Pig Candy
There are wines -- a certain pineau d'aunis rosé for example -- that are imported through New York in such minuscule quantities that they never even make it to the West Coast. Yet Lou Amdur has managed to procure not one, but two cases of it. This is why you go to Lou. If you need a second reason, it is the Pig Candy. Salty, fatty, sweet. Served cold on a doily. Like the Amaro of pork -- you can either begin or end a meal with it.
Dish: Club Sandwich #1
Restaurant: Rae's Restaurant
Always on white toast, always with mayo, always with fries. I add a side salad with ranch dressing on the side, not because I'm watching my weight, but because the ranch is really for dipping the fries, and I like to keep up appearances.
Dish: Duck Larb
Restaurant: Krua Siri
Cause sometimes eating spicy northern Thai food in your own kitchen every night of the week just isn't enough. The secret to good larb is the order in which you add the ingredients. Thai cooks can be lazy (I'm the worst). But if ever there's a time to not be lazy, it's with larb. Someone who knows their larb will appreciate the fact that you waited til the end to splash it with lime juice, and only then hit it with toasted rice powder. The results will not be obvious to the casual diner, but they'll be noticeable. It's about integrity. It's the same concept as painting the sides of a cabinet that aren't in plain view -- you'll probably never receive a compliment for doing so, but you do it anyway.
Dish: Devil's Gulch Pork Coratella w/ Burrata and Cardoons.
You know that episode in the first season of The Sopranos where Tony, Carmela and the kids show up to Vessuvio on a rainy night and Artie Buco tells them they have to eat whatever he feeds them and it ends up being the best meal ever? That's how I felt when my girl and I showed up to Sotto as they were closing one night and Chef Zach sent out this little flavor bomb for us. It's various pig parts cooked slow and low, seasoned assertively and accompanied by a cheese that you can't really get enough of.
Dish: Catfish Plate
The only good thing I ever saw on Yelp was a female reviewer stating, 'Flossie's Catfish is RIGHT. But it can get humid in there, so don't come after you get a press & curl.' The crust tastes like an old family recipe should -- utterly transcendent results from a deceptively simple recipe (I presume it's a cornmeal and Old Bay seasoning mix here).
For the rest, go download the app for free at www.chefsfeed.com.