Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Best Bites #6-Beatnik Brussels Sprouts

I want to tell you something that I am ashamed of.

And it’s shockingly NOT the fact that I have more than once opened an operational oven half way to a fully-cooked pan of brownies, to scoop off a bit of half-baked batter for myself.

Nope, it’s not that.

As a child I was a bottomless pit reader. Gifted with books as rewards for good grades or good deeds, my world was the size of the circle of illumination provided by an Itty Bitty Book Light. In high-school I found myself disappointed by so many classics, and completely changed by others. The Great Gatsby I could take or leave as a costume drama about rich people. But The Catcher In The Rye made my human heart sizzle away in a million exploding pieces like Pop Rocks.  Made me feel and hurt. Made me not alone.

But this is not what I am ashamed of.  I have made it this far in my life, the product of an activist family and a liberal arts education, without reading HOWL.

I have heard shavings and chunks of it here and there, and I know a little of its role in the cohesion of the beat generation. But the other night I found myself in Downtown L.A. after a white-hot nightmare of a day, in The Last Bookstore. This is a place you must go, because it is a true true book store and we as a nation no longer know how to erect and support and patronize and behave in these sorts of things. It’s so much more Noble than Barnes.
Sundown had not translated into cooldown, and there were big round fans set on the floor, blowing warmish air through the tall bookstacks, and around the feet of the visitors. I navigated around the stacks, and for some reason reached for the printed copy of HOWL. I opened it and begun.

These words that everyone else except for me has dutifully read, spilled out towards me like shiny netted fish, released with one slice onto the deck of my boat. My eyes couldn’t take in the page quickly enough, I couldn’t get enough. Starving hysterical naked, angelheaded hipsters, the ghostly daze of a Chinatown soup alley. I didn’t know what most of it meant, I had done no research yet. I could only swim in it, let it happen to me. Each word a rotating planet in the universe of its careful phrase, and all of it new to me. They were so graphic, so beautiful, so immoveable. A time of evolution and flight, described in a manner so fixed. There was not one word that could be replaced without destruction. Once again, my heart was made to blast apart and dissolve, Pop Rocks style.

Yadda yadda yadda…Brussels Sprouts.

Another recent night I was escaping myself for a while, and chose to exodus and eat at the bar of a restaurant downtown that I have only heard incredible things about, from the people you trust to know incredible things when they taste them. Baco Mercat has been widely discussed, written about, and lauded. Just like HOWL, I was the last person to this party. I had eaten Josef Centano’s perfect food at Lazy Ox Canteen, but never here.

They serve Bacos at Baco Mercat. Go fig.

A baco is a flatbread sandwich, and JC fills it with things like melting beef carnitas, oxtail hash, and unapologetic flavors like horseradish and sriracha. I had The Original, and I couldn’t even take you bite by bite, because I ate it so fast. But also, because I was completely distracted by the side dish I had ordered as an afterthought.

I don’t know what lifted my hand to touch HOWL, and I don’t know what lifted my voice to say “Caesar Brussels Sprouts.” I think perhaps I was feeling guilty about my ice cream to vegetable ratio lately, and Brussels sprouts seem like the most vegetable-y of vegetables. I would eat them out of duty, for my health, like a good little girl.

When you go to Baco Mercat, and they set this bowl in front of you, the smell will happen to you first. The unmistakable anchovy-garlic perfume that makes Caesar dressing such an all-tastebud event. Then you actually eat it. The intimidating orbs have been shaved into slivers, dressed in all that is Caesar, and tossed with mellowed red onion and flakes of pecorino. Pop Rocks Heart, all over again.

Served warm, this dish achieves several culinary paradoxes. It is salty-sweet, the sweetness of the sprouts brought to earth by the sheep-milk cheese. It is both delicate and hearty, a pile of thin strips amounting to a bowl of serious roughage. And it is an absolutely luxurious vegetable. It went from side dish to the center of my life in one warm, balanced bite. I pushed my delicious baco to sit in the shade behind my majestic Brussels, to wait patiently for my attention until I had finished.

I realize that I am the last person in the country to read Allen Ginsberg, and the last person in Los Angeles to eat at Baco Mercat. I happily sat at their lovely bar with my Brussels, thinking “I must tell everyone I know about this!” The next day, Bon Appetit magazine published their 50 Best New Restaurants. And Baco was on it. I am no longer needed.

But I shall add my little voice anyway. These are the best Brussels sprouts I have ever eaten, and possibly even the best overall vegetable preparation. Go and eat a warm salty bowl of paradoxes. Even if you have to travel very far to do it.

“…who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out
if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had
a vision to find out Eternity…”

 -HOWL, by Allen Ginsberg

Baco Mercat
408 S. Main St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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