Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wheels on Fire: Vizzi Truck's Inspired Cuisine Hits Sawtelle

Ordinarily one would not expect a “scene” on a Tuesday night on Sawtelle Boulevard. But the small fleet of food trucks that I noticed last Monday night when I went there for my evening walk after dinner was enough to entice me to return on Tuesday night, without having eaten.

I had to cover an event at work until about 7:30 and Shiho had a meeting in Pasadena, where she sadly, already had dinner. But she agreed to meet me for the working girl wind-down. I got there first and surveyed our choices. About seven trucks were parked on Sawtelle near the Olympic Collection and Nijiya Market. There were a number of the now-typical Asian fusion taco trucks, including the ever-present Nom Nom. There were Middle Eastern wraps, traditional American BBQ, and Happy Cup Ramen, a truck that served its wares in real ceramic bowls to eat with on kid-sized tables and chairs.

Exotic produce at Nijiya Market. I wouldn't know what to do with these - but there are some guys parked down the block that would!

It seemed like serving shaved ice to Eskimos to have so many Asian trucks on Sawtelle, which is known as “Little Osaka.” Fabulous restaurants abound, from traditional Japanese curry (Hurry Curry is my favorite) to the Euro-bistro elegance of Sawtelle Kitchen. Which is why Vizzi Truck, with its “coastal inspired cuisine” caught my eye as something a bit different.

Working girl wind-down. All I need is a mojito.

Upon my perusal of the menu, they pretty much had me at “white truffle popcorn with sea salt” and “gazpacho moderna with heirloom tomato, Serrano chili, and Meyer lemon.” But I wanted Shiho’s vote, as I was going to share this late nosh with her because of my stomach’s way-past-dinner-curfew. When she got there, we walked the trucks and Shiho decided that indeed, Vizzi was the “shizzi.” (Sorry. Thought I’d try and be hip, only succeeded in being soooo 2003. With the same level of excitement that I get when I discover an extra 25 percent off sale at Loehmann’s, I started my rapid fire ordering only to keep asking her, “Are you sure you don’t want a taco?”

At the end of my frenzied exchange with the friendly proprietor Chad, we ended up with a box of the truffle oil popcorn, half a pint of gazpacho, a carnitas taco with blackberry salsa, and lemon thyme and macadamia bleu cookies.

Popcorn is the new potato chip here: my taco rested on a tiny bed of fiery red pepper kernels, which was pretty and tasty. I pressed half of my half-pint of gazpacho on Shiho. Although she kept protesting that she had eaten dinner at Gelson’s before her meeting, she said the soup was very good. She also liked the popcorn - which we both tried to stop eating a couple of times and failed. But the favorite nosh was the buttery cookies. I was a bit surprised - and a little relieved - that the "bleu" meant blueberries, not cheese. I guess I've been in West L.A. too long!

My kingdom for a bowl of gazpacho... especially one this fresh!

This gastronomic shangri-la is not without its dark side. A couple of Los Angeles city councilmembers are not happy with the food trucks, which purportedly rack up parking tickets that they absorb as an operating expense. They also have expressed their concerns that food trucks mean unfair competition to neighborhood restaurants. Earlier in the summer, they authored motions for discussion that would among other restrictions, forbid trucks from parking in metered spots within commercially zoned areas. Since almost every parking spot in L.A. - at least anywhere anyone wants to be - is graced with a parking meter, this may pose a problem for twitter-pated truck followers who may have to hunt high and low for their favorite chuckwagon.

This taco's "the berries".

The truth is that food trucks are good for local businesses. They bring an increase in traffic to the areas where they park, a boon in today's economy. Their patrons have the opportunity to become familiar with new parts of the city they would not ordinarily frequent - or spend money in. They also end up patronizing the local businesses – like Shiho and I did. We didn’t feel like trying to balance our mini-banquet on our laps while sitting on overturned wastebaskets, so we got a table at Beard Papa’s, where she also had coffee and a green tea cream puff.

The food truck culture also encourages conversations with the chefs, something that isn’t usually available at this price point. On the way back to our cars, we met Chad’s cousin Chef Dave and sous chef Zach, who were relaxing on the sidewalk before pulling up stakes for the night.

Dave and Zach said that they patronized the local grocers and businesses regularly for supplies. We raved about the food, especially the cookies, which are a family recipe from Dave’s Hungarian mother-in-law. They told us that they were looking forward to the OC Foodie Fest coming up on Saturday and that Shiho should submit some of her artwork to show on their monitors along with the work of other artists that they promote. It was a great L.A. moment, when creative people with diverse interests got together to share ideas and a common goal: to make the city a better, more artistic, and definitely better-fed place.

I have to say that today’s food trucks are healthier than many other choices that people make, catering as they do to vegan and organic preferences. When the chefs aren’t putting a lighter spin on the traditional “roach coach” fare with grass-fed beef sliders or falafel with a Southwestern twist, they totally eclipse the idea that you are eating food off a truck, and serve restaurant quality creations like Vizzi’s Bistro Salad garnished with shaved fennel and dried figs or sushi that you "design" yourself with the help of the chef and a friendly ninja.

Too old and tired to Twitter, I’ll take my chances and be delighted at the unexpected sight of a brightly painted truck and depending on my hunger level and what lane I’m in, I may pull over for a bite.

In the meantime, my food truck fetish is limited to whatever I can find on the street when I happen to be at one of my haunts, the Third Street Promenade, Chinatown, or Sawtelle. That being said, I’m already planning a second visit to Vizzi next week. Chad says that they're park there every Tuesday night. I’m hoping that the “soup of pan roasted butternut squash, simply created with onions, carrots, maple sugar, cumin, chilis, roasted squash, and finished with a touch of cream” is on the menu. And from the looks of this gourmet recipe, maybe I should "dress for dinner."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

No Place Like Home... Except Maybe Phoenix

One of the best things about visiting Phoenix is the wide open space. You can enjoy views of mountains and clouds relatively untainted by buildings, wires, and such. Not that I have anything against buildings, wires, and such. But they aren't nearly as soothing as a view of Piestewa Peak (formerly Squaw Peak) or the colorful desert landscape.

Mexican Bird-of-Paradise, a fiesta of color. I didn't take this photo.

You can take GMS out of the city but you can't take the city out of GMS. While I do enjoy Phoenix for its bucolic charms - like chicken fried steak emporiums - I was delighted to find that since my last few visits it has become a foodie haven, with up-and-coming gems like Postino Central, a place that would be right at home on 3rd Street or Culver Boulevard. Foodies, winos, and hipsters flock here for a variety of gourmet nibbles that complement an array of wines, including the first "wine on tap" to be served in the city.

The lyrics from Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" are painted on a bright yellow wall: "How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?" Our mid-afternoon snack at Postino's was so good that we didn't miss the pudding.

David ordered a wheat beer and I opted for the cucumber honey lemonade, which was definitely the most colorful beverage in the place. The first sip tasted like I was drinking the juice out of a jar of bread and butter pickles but after that, it was truly fabulous and refreshing.

Bug juice, all grown up.

Although the summer heat doesn't usually put soup on my to-do list, the clever heading of "Soup of the Moment" got my attention. I enjoyed the chicken and wild rice soup, which was satisfyingly earthy with mushrooms, but there was bigger game ahead. And I mean big.

The desert might have taken billions of years to develop. But we'll settle for the "Soup of the Moment" at Postino.

Despite the fact that we could choose four different toppings for the bruschetta, I envisioned four polite little oblongs of toasted bread with artfully arranged toppings, just enough for a taste. I was pleasantly surprised when our one-armed server delivered a wooden board that held huge slices of fresh and light sheepherder bread. His left arm was in a sling, probably from hefting one too many orders of bruschetta like ours, which was topped generously with warm artichoke spread, brie and apples with fig spread, roasted peppers with goat cheese, and albacore with gaeta olives.

Everything's bigger in the desert. Even the appetizers.

My low-level Japanese food warning light had been on for a couple of days, so we headed to Hana Japanese Eatery on Missouri Street. David, who was spoiled by ready access to great Japanese food during 20-plus years of living in Los Angeles, has raved about Hana since it opened three years ago. With a menu that includes a full sushi bar and homey favorites like gyoza, kaki oysters, pork katsu and homemade tsukemono, it is the best Japanese restaurant in Phoenix and possibly in the entire state of Arizona.

GMS's"Hashi-Cam" attacks fried oysters and tempura.

We chatted with Lori Hashimoto and Lynn Becker, who with Lori's family, own and operate Hana. Lori twitters food trucks in L.A. regularly and Lynn told us where all of the good Asian markets were within a 20-mile radius. I'm pretty spoiled at home with cities like Gardena and Westminster that offer a comprehensive picture of Asian cuisine with streets full of markets and restaurants. The lack thereof in Phoenix makes a place like Hana a real oasis.

Back to basics. Hana's ramen with yakibuta pork and miso broth.

Thus fortified with tastes of the gastronomic hustle and bustle back home in L.A., I was once more ready to marvel at the natural beauty that surrounds the fifth largest city in the United States. And maybe go for another chicken fried steak.

Too busy taking pictures of food to get nature shots. I did take this one.

Friday, August 20, 2010

By The Time I Got to Phoenix... I Was Cooking

Looking back at my vacation, I didn't do anything all that different from what I do at home. I shopped at Trader Joe's, ate gelato, and sought out the latest and greatest new eateries. The one exception is that I got to cook more than my schedule normally allows while visiting David in Arizona.

David is my version of "The Most Interesting Man in the World," a character in the latest Dos Equis ad campaign. The absurd taglines, such as "He's a lover, not a fighter; but he's also a fighter, so don't get any ideas" and "He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels," could easily be applied to the retired Air Force colonel, who is one part bon vivant - albeit one with an Oklahoma drawl that brings to mind Foghorn Leghorn - and one part action hero.

Boy, I say, boy... have you ever seen a rooster fly an F86?

Really. His calling card does not boast his last rank in the Air Force but simply reads, "David E., Unemployed Fighter Pilot." He flew Sabre jets in the Korean War, an experience that landed him and his fellow fighter pilots the chance to be featured in flying footage in the 1958 film, "The Hunters."

No fighter pilots were harmed in the making of this film. One of them, however, says that he had to keep Robert Mitchum in cocktails at the premiere - on a first lieutenant's salary in 1958.

His many interests include woodworking (his bookcases are oddly reminiscent of a cockpit... and it works!), history, holding forth on the issues of the day, crying over the Dodgers, and cooking.

Now one would not think that a boy living on a farm in Oklahoma who watched his dad fire up a steak on the same forge he used for shoeing horses would someday learn to make Beef Wellington. But that's what we made one night on my visit to North Phoenix, where fine dining is often characterized by an Italian restaurant with a logo that looks like it was stolen from a Chinese restaurant and a place that since 1985 has served 746,481 chicken fried steaks.

Wherever I hang my hat... there's gravy. Thanks to Texaz Grill for the photo and for providing me with the 696,732th chicken fried steak.

Beef Wellington is a celebration of all things politically incorrect: red meat cooked fairly rare, goose liver pate, and antiquated English titles. Although it was popular for its showiness at dinner parties in the 1960s, it is astonishingly easy to make. David took two filets and seared them in a hot oven until they turned a lovely mahogany brown. They were then placed in the refrigerator to await their suits of puff pastry while I chopped leeks and mushrooms for the savory coating.

Beef - it's what's for dinner, in all of its bovine glory.

After sauteing the leeks and mushrooms, we stirred in a can of good old-fashioned goose liver pate. I suppose you could substitute a "healthier" version made of nuts or lentils, but I would experiment first to make sure the seasonings were compatible. After all, you wouldn't paint the Sistine Chapel with Magic Markers.

"You! You left the cap off the blue one!"

Once the pate mixture had cooled slightly, David spread it onto a sheet of frozen puff pastry that was slightly stretched a bit with a rolling pin. By this time, the filets were also brought down to a temperature where they would not make the dough soggy.

Wrap star: Note the careful cuts at the edge of the filet to ensure a perfect fit. The chef is destined to find his second calling as a professional gift wrapper at Macy's during the holidays.

My contribution to the final enrobing of the beef was a tiny cattle horn insignia made out of a scrap of dough. But it shrank during baking into a tiny Ken doll-sized moustache. And the other Wellington decided to pop open at one end, exposing a beefy shoulder a la Jennifer Beals in "Flashdance."

Go on, admit it... you cut up your sweatshirts too.

Because this was a home cooked meal, the menu had to have at least one homey imperfection. We had picked up frozen potato knishes the day before at Costco. To David, meat without potatoes is an aberration. So we served the beloved Eastern European pastry alongside the Wellington in an effort to achieve multiculturalism on a plate - and to use more of the gravy we had made from the filet drippings.

Food + dough = vacation dinner extraordinaire. Christo would be proud.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Vacation: All I Ever Wanted

After the last concerned colleague asked me if I was doing alright, I decided that perhaps I was remiss in not posting anything on GMS soon after my adventure at the Brotman Arms. Fortunately, I was due for a much-needed vacation.

Don't worry, folks. I never waterski in a tutu without adult supervision.

This started with time with my favorite nephews, Seiji and Kenzo. I do try to wean them away from their tendency to gravitate toward restaurants that offer toys as an appetizer when we go out, which is becoming easier as they become junior foodies in their own right. When I asked them where they wanted to go, they unanimously answered, "Little Tokyo" and when I asked them what they wanted to eat, they also answered without hesitation, "Strawberry Cones." The Japanese pizza chain has become a fast favorite, with its exotic crust of mochi flour and array of unorthodox toppings that include various types of shellfish, corn, teriyaki chicken, walnuts, and mayonnaise.

Alas, the possibility of Japanese pizza was crushed when we entered the Little Tokyo Market Place a little bit before noon to find the Strawberry Cones kiosk tented and Beard Papa's - our default choice for dessert - closed. My nephews, ever astute when it comes to matters of the kitchen thanks to my sister, explained to me that if one shop had to close, they both had to close, due to the fact that they share an oven.

Although impressed by their ability to provide the latest updates on the equipment woes of Little Tokyo restaurant owners, I had to find another option for fickle pint-sized appetites and fast. Jolene was going to tag team me and pick them up from Kinokuniya Bookstore where we had planned to end up after eating lunch.

The only other options in the center were a Vietnamese pho place and the food court in the Korean market, which seemed the most kid-friendly option. We marched down to booth that appeared to serve more American fare. When asked to order, Seiji immediately asked for a cheeseburger. Kenzo nodded for the same. So I ordered their food and two "bulgogi tortillas" - they meant "tacos" - for myself.

Unfortunately, the burgers were a bit of a disaster. Since I rarely eat them myself, I had not thought to warn the boys of the sauces and condiments that automatically appear on a burger unless a cook is told not to include them. So I spent the better part of lunch scraping relish-flecked dressing and plucking pickles off of their burger patties. I felt badly because Kenzo manfully ate most of his bun, which he enjoyed because of the burger drippings. Seiji tried to eat the meat from which I could not fully remove all traces of dressing, but looked tortured. They would have been happy to advance to yogurt, but I knew they had to have some "real food" first. We went back to the charbroiler and got corn dogs, which they wolfed down eagerly.

With lunch out of the way, Seiji and Kenzo raced each other to Cherry On Top, the most recent iteration of the self-serve frozen yogurt bar to hit Los Angeles. I am pretty much over the whole yogurt thing after too many flavor orgies where my five or six dollops of different flavors all ended up tasting the same to my frigid tastebuds and the variety of toppings offered all began to look the same. But when you are six- and eight-years-old, you are like a kid in a candy store at a yogurt bar - literally.

Earlier in the day, I was puzzling over the fact that my nephews, who don't even have all of their permanent teeth yet, have logged a number of cavities disproportionate to their tender years. As I watched them fill their cardboard cups of yogurt, I realized why this was happening. Any health benefits that are touted as froyo's superiority to plain old ice cream are nullified by the choices of toppings that kids prefer - namely every gummy candy known to the Western world.

Both of the boys used the cookies and cream yogurt as a base, then each chose another complement such as vanilla bean or chocolate. Then, to the chagrin of Seiji, who hates it when his little brother copies him, they each ladled on a quarter pound of neon gummy worms, sour belts, canned mandarin oranges, and a dollop of sweetened condensed milk.

Note the one without the brightly colored candy on it. And don't tell S + K about the oatmeal cookie I had after my workout.

Each of the boys has his own ritual for yogurt consumption. Seiji has his own technique, a la Cold Stone Creamery, and blends his froyo, candies and all, into an unrecognizable mass.

Seiji says, "Whip it... whip it good."

Kenzo likes to pick his gummy worms out one at a time and eat them first. Then he starts in on the other toppings, also using his fingers. When I suggested using his spoon, he tactfully countered, "Good idea, but... no."

Brain by the Culver City Unified School District. Body by Kenzo and his healthy appetite.

My nephews are among my most favorite - and most interactive - dining partners. So what if I have to scan their meals for undesirable ingredients, make sure hands get washed before they eat, or choke down a McDonald's yogurt parfait now and then. I get to watch them taste, explore, and form opinions on what is a daily necessity and a sensory pleasure. And for better or worse, I get to leave "the grown-ups' table" for a while, which is a vacation in itself.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Brunch at the Brotman, July 31, 2010

I had come back from the semi-weekly five mile hike with Jose, relaxed with coffee and magazines at Starbucks and was blithely packing up goodies for the volunteer picnic at the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum. Before heading to that event, I was going to have dim sum in Chinatown with my friend Linda, her husband and niece. It was basically, a stress-free morning with fun things to look forward to.

I was drying off in the shower when I suddenly felt a strong, pressing pain in the middle of my chest. At first I thought it was a muscle spasm, then realized that weren’t many muscles in that part of my chest that I would have taxed by raising a towel over my head, so I looked up heart attack symptoms on the Internet. Some of them seemed to mirror what I was feeling: uncomfortable pressure that went away but came back again with a bit of lightheadedness.

I went into the kitchen and told Jolene and Hiro what had happened. In the back of my mind, I thought I would just tell them and then drive myself to Little Company of Mary in Torrance. She offered to drive me but was anticipating guests in a few minutes, so Hiro was dispatched to take me to an emergency room. I figured that Torrance was an unnecessary trip so he looked up hospitals in the area and we went to Brotman Medical Center on Venice Boulevard. This turned out to be a better choice because it happens to be walking distance from downtown Culver City and my favorite restaurant, Tender Greens. But there was much to do before I could think about sitting down to a steak hot plate with spinach, hazelnut, and goat cheese salad.

The ER waiting room was far from packed, but the place seemed sparsely staffed. The two or three people ahead of me appeared indigent, if not homeless or mentally ill, a motif that was to continue as I witnessed the travails of fellow patients that afternoon. But I filled out the necessary forms and was finally admitted.

We went into the triage area and they took my temperature and asked me a few questions. They led me to a bed and sent Hiro to wait outside. A technician took an EKG and told me it would be several hours so I sent Hiro home.

Souvenirs of a summer's day: I looked like a UPS package when they were through with me and was still finding EKG stickers on myself when I got home.

As odious as cell phones can be, having one was a boon that day for all of the patients in my room. The exception to this was that I could not reach anyone at the Adobe to tell them that I wasn't a total flake and had a really good reason not to show up with my two dozen deviled eggs and a pan of brownies stenciled with the Dominguez cattle brand in confectioner's sugar. But I was able to leave a couple of messages and had to eventually let it go.

Being in a hospital bed can be frightening when you don’t know what is going to happen. A doctor told me that they wanted to take some tests, so I settled in. Thankfully, after catching up on Oprah Magazine’s summer reading article, I began to get rather distracted by all that was going on around me.

After about an hour or so, I was taken away for a CAT scan, which was set up in a temporary trailer because they happened to be repairing the one in the hospital. It was very strange being carted off in a wheelchair to the trailer, although I was happy to go outside, if even for a second after being cooped up in the hospital during what turned out to be a beautiful summer afternoon. I asked the radiologist if he ever wondered why there were so few windows in hospitals and he said that it would make patients feel better if there were.

I had a CAT scan years ago but don't remember it as quite this scary. You have to be injected with a medium that allows them to photograph the organs in question, which in this case, were my lungs - birth control can cause blood clots in that area and they were trying to rule that out as the cause for my chest pain. I had to sign a release saying it was alright to use this medium, which contained iodine. Apparently, many people have an allergy to this element, which is present also in a lot of seafood.

The radiologist told me the side effects to watch for after he injected me with the medium through my IV. Unlike most side effects that seem to trickle in slowly or not at all, these hit me all at once as the liquid took effect and I slid into the CAT scan machine: a metallic taste in my mouth and a hot feeling in my pelvic area that made me think I had wet myself. Thankfully, it was over quickly.

The radiologist wheeled me back to the room, where I was to wait until all my test results were in and they would decide whether I needed to be admitted or not. I began to chat with my assigned nurse, Ani, who was reattaching me to the EKG machine. She was from Iran, a culture that piques my curiosity when I drive down Westwood Boulevard and peer into the cozy restaurants or listen to the melodic cadence of Farsi while shopping at Sunlight Gems or King’s Beads.

I asked Ani what her favorite restaurant in Westwood’s largely Persian neighborhood was and she lit up with recognition. She named a couple of places, Shamshiri Grill and Baran. She said her favorite thing to eat at home – khoresh fesenjan , which is chicken stewed in pomegranate juice- was not her favorite thing to eat at a restaurant. That would be kebabs, which she said were difficult to make. Being another single girl who leaves the intricacies of the grill to the menfolk, I agreed.

Ani also told me that restaurant review sites like Zagat and Yelp give bad reviews to the Iranian restaurants that Iranians find the most authentic and high marks to the places that these American transplants don't think are very good. I’m sure it happens with most ethnic restaurants, many of whom are trying to cater to an American palate, but it was eye-opening that someone would actually give voice to this fact.

I had recently read "Persepolis," a graphic novel of the Islamic Revolution by Marjane Satrapi. In the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was watching the story of this upheaval unfold on the news, children my age including Satrapi were living – and dying through it in Tehran. To me at that time, the turmoil of Iran seemed to be enacted solely by adults. It was shattering to learn that kids whose main concerns ought to have been schoolwork, friends, and staying out of mischief were also going through the takeover of the government by extremists, bloodshed and thwarted rebellion.

While I was frolicking with "It's a Small World" at Disneyland, the world of Satrapi and her classmates was getting smaller too.

I asked Ani how long it had been since she visited Iran and she said she went home three years ago. She said it was really awful how she and other Iranians were treated coming and going and that friends of hers were denied entry to Iran when officials there found them on Facebook.

She said that her parents were going to be visiting Los Angeles in a couple of weeks and that she had just signed the final paperwork to set her American citizenship process in motion. She will take her test for citizenship in about a year and hopefully, would be able to bring her parents over as residents in another year after that.

I asked her what was on the exam and we giggled over remembering who the presidents were in World Wars I and II, who wrote “Poor Richard’s Almanck,” and the top two cabinet members in line to take over the presidency should President Obama become unable to do the job.

I told her about a recent blog entry where I had admired the eye candy of past American statesmen and presidents on American currency and she owned that yes, Alexander Hamilton was a hottie, and that she always hoards her ten dollar bills. I told her that I had always had a thing for Thomas Jefferson, whom she should remember as the third president of the United States. It's sure to be on the test.

By this time, the beds that Ani had been changing with clean linens while we talked were now being inhabited by new patients. When I was first taken to the examining room, an older gentleman was on his cell phone, roaring at someone on the other end. Later, he ate his lunch from a pile of Styrofoam takeout containers that were obviously not holding hospital food. Finally, he was wheeled away by a police officer.

His place was taken about an hour later by a worried-looking young woman and her much more serene mother. Although they drew the semicircular curtain around her bed area when her doctor arrived, I could not help but overhear some of the girl’s complaints, which had something to do with her chronically swollen feet. I made out the words “depression,” “Lasix,” and “God.”

I offhandedly mentioned to the technician who connected me to my EKG that I was hungry and was looking forward to eating at Tender Greens once I was released. He said that he had tasted part of a colleague’s meal from the restaurant and liked it. Minutes later, Ani appeared with a fistful of snacks: a plain ham sandwich on wheat with packets of mayonnaise and mustard, individually wrapped Chips Ahoy cookies, graham crackers, a banana, and one of those hospital-issue cups of cranberry juice.

I tried to only eat just the sandwich and drink the cranberry juice, but they only got my appetite going and I could not stop there. I compromised with the banana and one graham cracker. Even if this were to be my last meal, I would never let it be said that I ate Chips Ahoy on my deathbed. While I thought ruefully of the picnic I was missing, the food was restoring because I had nothing to eat since about 10 a.m. and it was almost 2:30 p.m.

Another new patient had shown up while I was eating, another older gentleman who I surmised had run afoul of the law several times. He looked like an ancient biker with longish hair and a beard. While being examined behind his curtain, he revealed that he had been a drug dealer, but how recently I could not tell. On his cell phone, he left messages for his regular physician and his lawyer.

Although the staff sounded attentive to his needs, during the one moment he was left alone, I heard a barrage of obscenities followed by, “I was born here, now I’m gonna die here.” This was countered by the mother of the girl with swollen feet, who calmly said, “If you do die, you’re going to go to heaven.” He did not respond.

I’ve had a few close shaves in my lifetime, but I always seem to be one of those patients with whom modern medicine cannot find anything the matter. I tested negative for any sort of cardiac issues, but it was recommended that I return immediately if it happened again. I will also have to find a cardiologist to take more exacting stress tests that the hospital was not equipped to perform. In a blur, I signed off on various forms, made my co-payment and flung myself out into the summer sunshine of downtown Culver City toward Tender Greens.

My kingdom for a cup of gazpacho. Hours before, I thought I had given it and bought the farm.

As I carried my flat iron steak – medium rare, always – mint lemonade, and gazpacho that I’ve been craving all summer to a table, I mused over what I would want for my last meal. I guess I would have to think about it, but I have to say that this combination comes pretty close.

Were I at death's door, I would still insist on medium rare.

I fell to my habit of mining bits of goat cheese out of the salad to eat with the Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. I dunked the uber-crouton – a slim oval of hard toasted garlic bread made satisfyingly greasy with olive oil – into the rusty gazpacho. I celebrated dodging a bullet – hopefully. And as good as the ham sandwich in the hospital tasted, I was glad that it ended up only being an hors d'œuvre, not the beginning of a whole new diet of hospital food.