I have been a die hard Anthony Bourdain fan for a decade now. Over that time, I have seen many other food personalities come and go but he’s remained my favorite due to a few key traits. He is actually a literary person so he narrates his travels with a serious wordsmith’s flair. He genuinely cares about places and people in the world beyond the semi-shallow layer of life foodies dwell in. I am one of those foodies but I always appreciate when people show me more than the thick slab of foie, but also the life and times that surround it. When Bourdain delves into politically harsh geographies that aren’t necessarily pretty for television and manages to do so with sensitivity while also showcasing authentic local cuisines, I feel bloated by a well-told and relevant story and not just the copious amounts of food. Lastly, he’s not afraid to dive into the funky stuff, unveil his non-political correctness in a world sterilized by it (especially in food circles) or belly up to the bar fully soaked in his particular vices for all the world to see. That’s human, and oftentimes also leads to being humane.
Crab grilled cheese
This past weekend I discovered his show Parts Unknown on my streaming Netflix so I binged on four in a row. I quickly realized that he has also influenced some of my habits and rules surrounding foods, particularly the following:
- When in a new territory that you may only visit once, order a bunch of dishes that you want to try without regard to strategy or hunger and try it all.
- If you are intrigued by something, then by all means try it no matter what you’ve heard or what stereotype or cultural biases create a conflict upon your table.
- Sometimes you hit eureka with a dish you think you will love and sometimes you miss it but the potential delicious discovery around the corner always makes the trying worthwhile.
- Go where you want to go, do what you want to do, eat what you want to eat and enjoy the heck out of life while you still have it.
- A meal just isn’t a meal without a great glass of wine, compatible cocktail or indigenous liquor and every nation in the world has a distinct version of this.
- Don’t always believe the hype but go with your gut when it comes to finding good food.
- Never be a snob – real good food can be found just about anywhere.
Never have these rules applied more to me than when it comes to Thai and Thai-fusion style food. Although I love all types of cuisine, Thai food brings out the adventurer in me. Whereas I know what fishes I like with sashimi or general types of pasta and sauce for my Italian restaurant sojourns or the spice mixes in my Indian dishes, etc. when it comes to Thai, I honestly never know what I am going to order until I read the menu.
Jitlada has been around for a while and boasts a traditional Thai restaurant environment with the ambience you expect from Thai restaurants: dingy interiors full of ornate ritual tchoctkes on the walls, loads of hipsters sharing steaming pots of Tom Ka Gai, lots of wooden mirrors, and candle and toy shrines in the restrooms. A menu that goes on for days offers anything you could possibly want from traditional pad thai noodles to exotic and strange silkworms to famous, spicy curries that are known for their flame-ability. I chose a chicken pad thai because the Cute Gardener is not a fan of the overly spicy and then I went gonzo by ordering the kidney fish curry which Jonathon Gold touts as one of the top dishes you need to eat before you die. I also picked a simple salad of blanched watercress and braised pork belly. The kidney fish curry definitely stood out with a murky briny funk richened with ground shrimp and red snapper but the egg omelet that accompanied it was too salty to help me relieve my tongue from the all-consuming heat.
Leftover kidney fish curry on brown rice
Of course, all-consuming heat aside, I still managed to eat the rest of the curry at home the next day atop organic brown rice over a period of two hours so that each bite’s heat would fade before the next. I am one of those people who truly is a glutton for spice punishment, craving its addictive tang when it is done right in dishes like this one.
This past weekend, the CG and I visited TLT after a trek through an exhibition at the Hammer. TLT used to be The Lime Truck, rolling through the streets of L.A. dispersing over-the-top stoner and comfort food to the masses. It became so popular that a brick and mortar was opened, very organic-fast food-style in its streamlined graphics and communal dining room set atmosphere, yet highly impressive with a menu that does a roster of things extremely well and just packs in the customers because of this. The menu is actually more representative of a Thai and street food fusion place with items like pork belly sliders, crab grilled cheese, chimmy (churri) noodles with peanuts and sambal and even chorizo laced breakfast burritos. All of that tasted great, but the coup d’etat for me lay in the pork belly nachos, in which I found my own nacho nirvana. Number one now in my book reigns this basket of on-the-spot fried chips that are puffed and crisped perfectly with no sogginess by the bottom of the pile. These chips come smothered in a luscious sweet cheese sauce, pico de gallo and generous chunks of pork belly cooked tender and juicy with a caramelized bite. A complete surprise.
Perhaps, these forays into exploratory eating will open up my horizons with other cuisines I love—inspiring me to follow my mental book of Bourdain rules in the French bistro or the gastropub. The taste buds are now itching for the new, the brave, the bold, and the out of the ordinary.