North America Dispatch #64: Adopted by Fijians, Moved by Koreans, and a Defense of Apple Pan
Culver City and Los Angeles
It’s showtime at Fiji Market (10305 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, California; 310-559-9218). As I recounted in report #63, I’d arranged with the disembodied husband of a smiling Fijian grocery counterwoman for said wife to whip me up some Fijian victuals. I arrive at the appointed hour and find husband (in the flesh!) and wife giddy about this unfamiliar transaction, which seems to have broken up the doldrums of market management.
This encounter is so far off their script that the happy Fijians don’t know how to handle me. Apparently never having prepared food as a commercial endeavor before, they bestow my order as if I were family, with such heartfelt hospitality that I, a perfect stranger, feel almost embarrassed. Money has not been mentioned. I offer $20, and, eager not to linger on financials, the husband hastily nods and abashedly scrunches the bill into his pocket, immediately resuming his heartfelt sendoff.
I leave with about 15 pounds of takeout containers. There are three dishes, in all, whose names (as dictated by the owner) I’ve noted on this scrap of paper:
Portions, as expected, are enormous. I now find myself the owner of a vast pile of tubers …
... a sea of thick, gurky taro leaf in coconut cream …
... and countless plump segments of crudely hacked fish peeking from beneath piles of wet English cabbage.
It’s ingenuous, artless, sturdy cooking whose soul is in its grounded earthiness. I have been plunged into the full, unfiltered Fijian experience, as if I’d magically appeared in someone’s home for lunch. And I couldn’t be happier.
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Apple Pan (10801 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, California; 310-475-3585), a venerable greasy spoon, is controversial. Some Angelenos love it, often with an apology, but many deem it utterly generic. I’d never eaten there, because natives beg me to save limited digestive real estate for the city’s really good offerings.
But I was craving baseline, and what’s more baseline than burger, fries, and pie? Indeed, do photos exist that can more deeply stir one’s red-blooded American heart than these?
There are those who summarily reject french fries made from frozen, burgers made from preformed patties, ice cream with low butterfat content, and generally any food item prepared from ordinary, unrefined ingredients. While I have an abiding respect for strong food preferences, I feel sorry for these ingredient materialists, because they miss realms of deliciousness.
Some of us are used to our food hitting certain buttons and striking certain notes. Nothing at Apple Pan clears the gourmet’s high bar. Their fare can’t possibly do for you precisely what ground-to-order sirloin and hand-cut fries will do. But one must learn to sometimes drop expectations, and be submerged in an experience.
I’m more concerned with what’s done with ingredients than with their individual characteristics. The goal of cooking (as with any art) is to produce a result exceeding the sum of its parts … so why get hung up on the parts? To me, poor ingredients brilliantly applied are preferable to terrific ones applied even slightly less deftly.
All kinks have long ago been worked out of Apple Pan’s system. These guys produce a flawless rendition of what they aim to produce, and that’s only a problem for those whose expectations are fixed and inflexible. There is personality and perfection in Apple Pan’s cooking that only a snob could fail to appreciate.
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I’ve been slightly obsessed with a little restaurant called Korean Folk Cuisine (4251 West Third Street, Los Angeles, California; 213-384-7147) without ever having tried it. I spied the place while driving by during my last visit to Los Angeles, my chow-dar redlined, and ever since then I’ve nursed a groundless conviction that they serve North Korean cuisine. It’s been a top priority to check out on my next trip … and that means now!
I was half-right. It is definitely great … but it ain’t North Korean. Just straight-down-the-middle Korean victuals, prepared with uncommon care and aplomb, and served by a happy crew of nice women. I’d need a few more meals to be sure, but Korean Folk Cuisine (I’m guessing a better translation might be “Korean Soul Food Restaurant”) is a strong contender for being my favorite Korean restaurant.
Most righteous panchan (freebie appetizer plates).
Oh, sublime luxury: pajun (crispy pancake) served as gratis panchan!
Stir-fried octopus in spicy sauce. Superb.
Raw oyster, boiled pork belly, and, pickles, all for wrapping up in raw napa cabbage. A voluptuary experience like no other.
Near-perfect haemul pajun (seafood pancake).
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Thi Nguyen is crazy about the cold, refeshing, palate-and-soul-cleansing hand-pulled noodles at Ma Dang Gook So (869 South Western Avenue, Los Angeles, California; 213-487-6008), and he drags me there after the Korean banquet for what he bills as nothing less than a spa treatment via noodles.
Naengymul (spicy cold noodle).
Here are three shots of soybean-milk cold noodles:
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Habayit (11921 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, California; 310-479-5444) looks like a good falafel place. I snap a photo as I drive by: