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JewishJournal.com

February 29, 2008

Eating his way to the spiritual center of LA

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/eating_his_way_to_the_spiritual_center_of_la/

For the LA Weekly‘s Jonathan Gold, who last spring became the first food critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, eating is a spiritual experience, a journey that has led him to the many dark counters and illuminated eateries in this town. Through eating, Gold, who is Jewish, believes he has found the true identity of a city with more than 100 spoken languages and 600 religious denominations. I wrote a short profile of him for the current issue of UCLA Magazine.

There’s just one problem when trying to grab lunch in Westwood Village with L.A.‘s culinary connoisseur: He can’t think of anywhere to go. “There is sort of a disconnect between the words ‘favorite restaurant’ and ‘Westwood,’ ” he says. “But I’ll think about it.”

Gold settles on Flame, a Persian restaurant a few blocks south of Wilshire Boulevard, a corridor that he says makes up for the Village’s lack of choices — there’s Ambala Dhaba for Indian food, Sunnin for Lebanese and Junior’s Deli serving up Jewish soups and meats. This will be Gold’s first of several visits before he reviews Flame, which after the meal he determines offers a common Persian menu executed to near perfection.

He typically frequents a restaurant under review five times over the course of a month to get an in-depth sense of what the restaurant is about; in one notable case, he ate at the Nice Time Deli in San Gabriel 17 times.

“It was a Taiwanese place. I absolutely hated the food,” he recalls. “There is a certain sweet, smoky taste that is very off-putting — almost like liquid cigarette smoke. They like mucousy texture. There is something called bitter melon, which is like cancer medicine; you eat it and your eyes pop out. ... But I recognized that they were cooking it exactly how people liked it.”

Gold’s taste is curious and critical, sensitive and incisive. Take, for example, this portion of “Home of the Porno Burrito,” one of 10 columns that earned Gold the Pulitzer.

“The potato taco may be El Atacor’s enduring glory, but its fame in the online world comes mostly from its Super Burrito, a foil-wrapped construction the size and girth of your forearm, which drapes over a paper plate like a giant, oozing sea cucumber or, perhaps more to the point, like an appendage of John Holmes,” he wrote. “It is impossible to look at a Super Burrito without marveling at the flaccid, masculine mass of the thing. It is probably even harder to bite into it without laughing.”

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