Food and film go hand in hand for Elvis Mitchell, the former movie critic for the New York Times and current head of the Film Independent at LACMA series. “At best you want to be transported when you’re doing both,” he says. “Like a great movie, I end up really concentrating on food, if it’s great food.” Mitchell, who hosts KCRW’s The Treatment each week, still calls both coasts home, flying between the two every week or so. But with his new gig at LACMA, he’s becoming reacquainted with the L.A. dining scene, even finding himself addicted to the chile relleno at Ray’s. When he first moved here over twenty years ago, Mitchell was just excited to have an In-N-Out near his apartment. “It was a straight shot. I could either drive to In-N-Out or walk over to Fatburger,” he recalls. But his current dining repertoire is more thrilling than fast food, straddling star-filled industry haunts like the Tower Bar, smoke-filled Koreatown restaurants, and revealing who has the spiciest “short ends” in town. Find out Mitchell’s dining secrets in this week’s L.A. Diet.
Wednesday, November 2
My morning ritual is, I sit out on my porch, I read the newspaper, and I eat a peanut butter sandwich with a Mexican Coke or old-school Dr Pepper with cane sugar in it. And I smoke a cigar. Brown and sugar. I try to damage any healthy consumption with either tobacco or sugar. There’s a place at the Farmers Market that makes their own peanut butter, Magee’s, and I pick up bread from La Brea Bakery. I also drink American Breakfast Mighty Leaf Tea, it’s one of my favorites. I order from the website. I think I get a metric ton of it at a time. I fire up the cigar after. It’s just how I prepare for the day. That’s the equivalent of running out and putting on a Scorpion jacket in Drive.
I don’t always do lunch because I’m running around in meetings. But for dinner, I went to Chuncheon Dakgalbi near Vermont and 8th for chicken kalbi. I love the Korean restaurants here. In New York, they feel so enormous and touristy, like they should be in some kind of Korean revenge movie. Here people go and sit, [and there are] some where you can still smoke. You’re inhaling all the carcinogens from the pans and smoke. They put this burnt black pan on the burners on the table, and start putting in vegetables and cook it all up. And then the chicken. They ask how spicy you want it, and if someone I’m with says they’re tough, I say, “you’re not as tough as you think.” So we get it medium. After the meal, they bring these tiny paper cups with frozen yogurt. And that’s kind of perfect. It’s an enormous amount of food, and I often get carry-out and leave it on the curb for a homeless person. So if you see takeout on a curb and a spent Cuban cigar, you know where I’ve been.
Thursday, November 3
I got up early, started the day the same way. I had my peanut butter sandwich and a Dr Pepper. Kids, don’t do this. It’s so bad. But no cigar that day. It’s like watching a $50 bill burn.
For lunch I went to Loteria at the Farmers Market. I had an incredible mole. Anywhere that you can combine chicken and dessert, I like. I love that smell of the mole caramelizing over the chicken. And I had that watermelon thing they do there, the agua fresca. Yeeeees! In L.A., no one drinks at lunch.
I had a screening that night so I treated myself: Chick-fil-A. Wow. The new one in Hollywood. It was a mob scene. But I do love Chick-fil-A. I got waffle fries, a spicy chicken sandwich, and a shake. I like those meals where you can feel the blood thickening in your veins from all the horrible, horrible things that you’re eating. Home after that. I was dizzy from the Chick-fil-A.
Friday, November 4
I had a recording at KCRW that day, so I met a friend at Rae’s in Santa Monica. I thought I’d do something healthier than the peanut butter sandwich, so I had the pancakes. They’re great pancakes. This place reminds me of a real New York diner. It’s just a sliver of a diner, an old-school coffee shop. You see all the regulars there.
It was a busy day, and I tend to not do lunch. In L.A. I feel like it’s bad to drive after lunch. Another difference between New York and L.A.: In New York, I probably do lunch more because I would walk after.
I had the screening of J. Edgar at LACMA that night, so after that I ran into a friend and we went over to Kate Mantilini for chicken pot pie. I love that hit of steam when you break open that crust, and the assault of chicken and vegetables. That and mashed potatoes, and water. Nothing with sugar.
Saturday, November 5
I had breakfast outside of the house. I went to Musso & Frank for flannel cakes, those really thin pancakes. I love sitting at the counter there. I love that room with the bar in it, but it would seem too self-consciously poignant to sit at that bar for breakfast. You’d have to be like some private eye tracking a couple if you sit at that bar.
For lunch I met a friend at his house. He made spaghetti vongole, which I couldn’t eat because it has clams in it. I’m allergic to seafood. So I had a couple of glasses of wine.
That night was the big Art and Film Gala at LACMA, which meant I didn’t get a chance to eat because I was running around, saying hi to people. I was a little nervous; it was a big, big deal. It was an extraordinary party for the sheer star power and influence of the people in the room. I just couldn’t believe the turnout.
After, we went to the Tower Bar. I had truffle fries and maybe a Coke. We closed the place down; we were there until at least 2:00 a.m. I just love to watch Dimitri [the legendary maitre’d] there. The soles of his shoes must never wear out because his feet never touch the ground. Part of the fun is just seeing who’s there. And to go after this enormously star-powered dinner, and we’re there in our tuxedos, and there was Bill Maher holding court. My bow tie was undone. It was very L.A. to me.
Sunday, November 6
I went to Dupar’s in the Valley for breakfast. I love that breakfast. I had a short stack of pancakes and a side of bacon. And some tea that tasted suspiciously like Lipton’s, but that’s okay because you don’t want anything artisanal at Dupar’s. There would be something wrong with the universe.
Met a friend for a drink at his place, and I suggested we get Phillip’s Barbeque to eat and watch football. We picked up a slab of short ends, which are the part of the rib that tapers down. I get two of those and put them together for a full slab. The meat is leaner and it’s sweeter, with hot, hot, HOT sauce. And it comes with a few slices of white bread, which you want to sop up that incredibly greasy, red, pepper-flecked barbecue sauce. We also got the barbecue beans and the mac and cheese, but I didn’t eat the mac and cheese.
This is one of those rare days where I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For dinner I went to Chun King in Monterey Park. I guess my tongue wasn’t numb enough from the hot sauce with the ribs. I got the fried chicken with hot pepper and rice. I don’t think they’ve seen a lot of people with dreadlocks in there, so they recognize me. I love that about L.A.: All the small places still run by families.
Monday, November 7
No breakfast because I knew I was going to have lunch. No cigar, no Coke, no American Breakfast tea. I had a non-brown morning.
Lunch was a meeting at Breeze in Century City. Everyone else had salads, so I of course had … the burger. The burger was pretty good, but I was underwhelmed by the bacon. It’s that bacon you get in hotels, it had that pork jerky feel that you can only get from hotel bacon. There was a nice horseradish sauce that was perfect for dipping the fries in. The best way to have a burger is to leave half of it behind. Unless it’s In-N-Out, in which case, I don’t. It’s not a rule unless you break it every once in awhile.
Then I had to drive over to the Eastside, and since I was over that way, I stopped by Yuca’s. Got a couple of those lovely pork tacos, and she knows me, so she always throws two big pickled jalapenos in the bag for me. Apparently she didn’t think I was sweating enough yesterday. I love that sensation of the pickled pepper when you bite into it. You have to tilt it just the right way so the juice doesn’t end up on your clothes. It’s a skill I picked up in L.A. that I’m glad hasn’t deserted me.
We had a screening of Steve McQueen’s Shame at LACMA, and by the time I got done it was like 10 p.m. I just went home and made a salad with some greens I picked up at the Farmers Market, with olive oil, made by my friend Joe Bastianich, and vinegar. I haven’t quite figured out my L.A. clock, and I’m eating at weird times. I end up eating late at night more than I would in New York.