Oxtail birria tacos, vegan gombo, comforting tofu, political raw vegetables and vegetable peels. I'm Laurie Ochoa, executive director of LA Times Food, for Bill Addison with this week's tasting notes.
Respect was LA Barbecue
Kevin Bludso sits in the back of his Bludso's Bar & Cue between lunch and dinner on a weekday afternoon and talks about the rich history of Los Angeles' barbecue traditions, from the places that sustained early jazz musicians and lovers, those from the Scene attracted Central Avenue to old places: Woody's, Phillips, Leo's, Gadberry's, Mr. Jim's and so many more. Bludso insists Los Angeles isn't getting enough credit for his influence. "We've had grill people going back 30, 60 years, from everywhere, Memphis, Arkansas, Kansas City," says the masterful pitmaster and TV cooking show host and judge ("Fire Masters," "The American Barbecue Showdown"). "Woody Phillips just passed away but his restaurants are still here and I'm trying to get him into the Barbecue Hall of Fame. Every show I do I fight for LA Barbecue.”
These days, Bludso, who was born and raised in Compton, spends more time at his lakeside home in Texas, where he spent childhood summers with his great-aunt, whom he called Granny, and learned the barbecue life. But on this day he's back in LA, checking into his restaurant on La Brea Avenue and getting ready for a special Saturday night oxtail dinner.
As we chat, Bludso Executive Chef Jimmy Weathersbee presents a beautiful platter of brisket, collards with pork, and mac 'n' cheese with a gorgeous crust. With him is Stanley Hernandez, a 22-year-old pitmaster-in-training who has risen from dishwasher to his position. Hernandez was able to spend some time with Bludso earlier and would like to thank him before his shift ends. “He has the instincts,” says Bludso. "And he wants to learn."
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When it comes to grilling, Bludso looks back and forward, trying to pass the tradition on to the next generation.
A few days later, I'm back at Bludso's for the dinner event, where oxtail is served four ways - traditional Southern, Jamaican jerk, smoked curry, and even Birria-style in a taco. "I love oxtails. i love birria So that's my twist, which puts them all together but also smokes the oxtails," he says in the introduction to his oxtail birria recipe in his Bludso's BBQ Cookbook, out this year. "Come on, it's a no-brainer."
The place is packed with Bludso's family, friends and regular customers, who all have different answers when he comes to their tables and asks which oxtail shape they like best. Aside from the oxtail, I'm drawn to his spicy Creole cabbage, which I'm later delighted to discover in the new cookbook, along with tales of his childhood as a police officer's son and "Black Panther-supportive mom." The book also includes a defense of his hometown (and the location of his first barbecue restaurant) entitled "What Everybody Has Wrong About Compton."
Weathersbee, the chef who ensures the food meets and exceeds Bludso's high standards, hears the enthusiasm for the Creole cabbage, pauses for a moment and says, "I think we need to put that on the menu."
Does Vegan Gombo Go With Fried Chicken?
Here at the LA Times, most of us still work from home, meeting with co-workers when we can for lunch, coffee, and occasionally catching up at each other's homes — like we did with Food Editor Daniel earlier this week Hernandez have done. The beautiful new Times Test Kitchen, which we are slowly beginning to occupy, awaits the return of the staff. Ben Mims and Julie Giuffrida have started testing recipes and doing photoshoots in the kitchen, and we've started inviting chefs into the kitchen to demonstrate recipes.
One of the first to bring his restaurant cooking to the kitchen was Alta Adams chef Keith Corbin, who will appear as lead writer on Tuesday at the LA Times Book Club, chats with Hernandez about his new memoir, California Soul. Jervey Tervalon spoke to Corbin about growing up amidst tragedy and violence and how he found cooking as a way out. And in The Times Test Kitchen, as he made a vibrantly flavored "vegan gombo" — red miso paste replaces the roux — I spoke to Corbin about what "California Soul" cooking means to him.
"Soul food from California?" he said. “We took a kitchen that has been around for a long time and redesigned it. That means a lot because when I think back to my enslaved ancestors, before they were brought here, they cooked what they grew, they cooked what was around them, they cooked what they caught, they cooked what was in season. So let's focus on what California is producing as we follow the diaspora from West Africa through the Caribbean to the South.”
The restaurant to try this week: n/soto
Bill Addison's review this week focuses on n/soto, the more affordable, izakaya-inspired sequel to Niki Nakayama and Carole Iida-Nakayama's two-Michelin-starred n/naka. I love that Addison talks about why "fewer restaurants these days are masquerading as izakayas," places to eat and drink that, in some people's minds, "can belie the finesse of the cooking." But he points out that, like Echo Park's Tsubaki, n/soto "engages in a truer essence of izakaya." I had the opportunity to dine at the restaurant last week and agree with Addison that "meeting n/soto on its own terms can lead to a series of intriguingly intricate delights".
One of the best dishes: n/naka's tofu. "No warm batch," Addison writes, "is quite like the next—some come firmly to the rim of the little ceramic pot, others are pleasingly milkier—but the effect of the dish is always comforting."
Food bowl ready to start
The near-complete schedule for this year's LA Times Food Bowl, a month of cool events for food-obsessed Angelenos, was released this week. Highlights include the night market at Paramount Pictures Studios, held over three days, with one night dedicated to grilling, including a BBQ burger block party, as well as a Saturday night dumpling tour with Jenn Harris previewing the second season of The Bucketlist. Also looking forward to dinner at artist Glenn Kaino's exhibition A Forest for the Trees from Minh Phan's Phenakite (winner of last year's Restaurant of the Year).
'Dirty' chicken and caramelized duck
Stephanie Breijo has details on new restaurant openings, including Josiah Citrin's Augie's on Main, where Mélisse chef casually serves dirty chicken - baked jidori chicken coated in panko, preserved lemon and confit garlic. Also opening is Mr. T's by Parisian chef Tsuyoshi Miyazaki, featuring uni rice with confit egg yolk and caramelized duck.
From raw vegetables, vegetable peels and grocery store scanners
No matter who you choose in the Pennsylvania Senate race between Dr. Mehmet Oz and the Lt. gov. John Fetterman, it seems clear that in the battle between Team Raw Foods and Team Vegetable Tray, most will go with the Vegetable Tray. Oz first released his weird tirade in April against the high prices of raw food and was ridiculed for his odd combination of vegetable purchases and drinks. "Guys, that's $20 for crudité and that doesn't include the tequila," he said. Earlier this week, Fetterman reignited the crudité fever when he tweeted, "In PA we call this a...vegetable tray," and later offered to make stickers that read, "Let 'em eat crudité." On Wednesday, Oz addressed the issue by saying he was "exhausted." .”
It was all reminiscent of other political food blunders, like Cynthia Nixon's ordering of a cinnamon-raisin bagel with salmon and capers while running for governor of New York, and George HW Bush's astonishment at a grocery store scanner, which prompted many to do so To believe that the elder Bush had not recently set foot in a supermarket. But as it turns out, Bush may have been unfairly criticized. According to an AP story in 2018, "Reporters later learned it was a special scanner with advanced features, including a scale for weighing products -- unusual at the time -- and the ability to read barcodes, even if they're torn and were confused. ... Marlin Fitzwater, Bush's press secretary, devoted four angry pages to the incident in his memoir [and] called the AP story the crackdown on the [original] Version 'the bravest story of my years in the White House'."