Last night, I got into an Uber to meet a friend for dinner at a Thai restaurant called Si Laa –her pick. As the car was making its way to Beverly Hills, the song "Bibo No Aozora" by Ryuichi Sakamoto came on. (It's on the original soundtrack for the film Babel.) The melancholy piano and violin melody tugged at me. It made me think about the major changes that have occurred in my life the past few months–my mom's death, my transition to L.A., and so many of the unforeseen things in between–all unfolding like a bittersweet movie as this song was playing, making this the most emotional Uber ride of my life. Not a tear was shed, but it was certainly welling up inside of me. I asked the driver about his choice of music before I got out of the car. "Oh, I'm a film composer," he replied, before I shut the door. Of course he was, I thought, as I walked down the sidewalk toward the restaurant. The music was still lingering.
I like to tag along with my friend Bill when he goes about his Sunday routine, which always includes a trip to the Hollywood Farmers' Market, a wine tasting at Domaine, and a visit to Cape Seafood and Provisions. My favorite part of the day is when we go to Cape Seafood because of the element of surprise that's involved–we never know what we'll come out with or what we'll do with it. As a creature of habit, it's especially fun to go with Bill because he has a knack for coming up with the most spontaneous and creative ideas. In the past, we've made paella, halibut marinara, grilled squid salad, and gambas a la plancha, for example.
Last Sunday, we did our brainstorming aloud as we perused the shimmering wild-caught gems behind the glass case, but couldn't agree on the Dover sole or Atlantic cod. What to do, what to do...
"How about mackerel?" Bill suggested.
Mackerel? Mackerel is such a strong-tasting, oily fish. Unlike milder, white-fleshed fish–or tuna and salmon–mackerel was an unlikely choice, to be sure, but I was intrigued. What could we possibly do with it, I wondered.
"We could grill it..." he said, trailing off with raised eyebrows.
Hmm... Asian cuisine... Japanese! Chinese! It was starting to come to me. We could incorporate stronger flavors that can stand up to the mackerel's pronounced flavor... Like ginger–and garlic!
"Yes!" I said excitedly. "We could make a ginger-scallion sauce! And rice! It's gonna be perfect!"
This dinner took us no time to pull together. In fact, the thing that took the longest to cook was the rice. If rice is the most difficult part of your meal, you know that you're good to go.
1 whole mackerel, preferably wild-caught, scaled and gutted
1 cup of uncooked rice
1 small knob of fresh ginger, approximately 1.5 inches long, peeled
2 stalks of scallions
1 clove of garlic, peeled
Soy sauce, to taste
Sherry or rice vinegar, to taste (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Grapeseed oil or another neutral oil (if you only have olive oil, that's fine)
1. Cook rice according to instructions. (Bill adds a pat of butter to his.)
2. Preheat your BBQ grill.
3. Finely mince ginger, scallions, and garlic by hand or in a food processor. Transfer to a bowl.
4. Start by adding 1/2 teaspoon of salt at a time to the chopped aromatics and incorporate evenly. Stir and taste. It should taste salty.
5. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl–except for the oil–starting with 1/2 teaspoon each. Then, slowly pour the oil into the bowl until it just covers the ingredients. Stir to incorporate evenly. Season to taste and set aside.
6. Cut a few deep slits into both sides of the fish. Mackerel is already very oily, but feel free to lightly coat it evenly with oil to prevent it from sticking to the grill. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
7. Grill the fish for 7 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. The skin should start to char and crisp up. Be careful not to overcook as mackerel has a tendency to dry out.
8. Serve with cooked rice and ginger-scallion sauce on the side. (The ginger-scallion sauce is tasty on both the fish and the rice.)
8474 Melrose Avenue near La Cienega Boulevard
About seven years ago, I was working as a studio research assistant for Urs Fischer. At the time, my friend Mina Stone, who was then just "a fashion designer who liked to cook", came in a few days a week to cook lunch for the entire studio. I once asked her what her favorite cookbook was and she told me about Sunday Suppers at Lucques. She even kept a copy of it in the kitchen as reference for whenever she needed a burst of inspiration. We were blessed with Mina's dazzling lunches of seasonally-sourced vegetable dishes, braised meats, and soothing soups. This side gig of cooking studio lunches subsequently launched her private chef career and produced a cookbook: Cooking for Artists. I figured that if a restaurant's cookbook could effectively play a role in shaping someone's trajectory, well, that restaurant must be a very special place.
I've passed Lucques numerous times, but have been too shy to dine there solo. It's a very charming ivy-covered restaurant on Melrose Avenue that melds French tradition with laid-back California vibes. The high, vaulted ceilings gives the space an airiness while the crackling fireplace and convivial atmosphere adds warmth. It's been around since 1998 and has been long-considered an L.A. institution for its approachable sophistication. Thanks to an invitation, I finally had the pleasure of dining there last week and can see why it remains a solid favorite amongst the locals.
Our meal began, as you'd imagine in a French farmhouse, with rustic country bread, a slab of good butter accompanied by a little pile of sel gris, and a dish of roasted almonds and olives. For our first course, we chose a beautiful salad of shaved root vegetables and both ordered Chef Suzanne Goin's signature dish of braised shortribs with horseradish cream as our entrée, which was expertly paired with a bottle of Syrah by sommelier and co-owner Caroline Styne herself. The shortribs were fall-off-the-bone tender while the horseradish cream provided a sharp contrast to the unctuousness of the dish. To end, we had a panna cotta to share. It was the sort of dinner that hit all the right notes.
Had I not been treated to this dinner, I think Lucques would have remained in my mind as one of those restaurants you reserve only for special occasions because, on the way out, I noticed that they offer a #singlegirldinner-friendly bar menu, which includes spaghetti carbonara and steak frites with béarnaise sauce. Now, that's more my speed. I'd definitely return and happily perch myself at the bar for either of those dishes any day of the week!
8454 Melrose Place
The plant life in California is otherworldly. I don't walk around as much here as I did in New York but, when I do, I find myself stopping to marvel at front yard landscapes that feature cacti and succulents. Things that look like the kind of aloe plants you'd grow on your windowsill are as big as bushes and things that look like flowers have hardy, sculptural "petals". My favorite little nook is the garden right outside of the Isabel Marant boutique, a green oasis bursting with botanical forms of different sizes, shapes, and textures. I like to have a seat on one of the tree stumps when I need a shady break from the urban jungle that is L.A.