Dan Ahdoot has carved out a particular niche for himself: He wants to be the funniest comedian that knows the most about food. (Not “the funniest comedian” or the person who “knows the most about food” but the person who is best at having that very specific combination of talents.) So, of course, he wrote a book, Undercooked, which dives into his obsession with food stemming from his Iranian Jewish upbringing — though he never set out to be an author: “I don’t have an ascot,” he says. “I can’t be an author.” Instead, it came about because Ahdoot, who also stars in Cobra Kai, was trying to write a movie about food. But, he says, “it was stupid,” and the writing made more sense as a collection of essays. This week, he celebrated the book’s release while stopping by some classic L.A. spots, as well as visiting a few new places during one very unexpected detour.
Friday, March 17
I don’t usually have breakfast. This is not dogma. There is a war on breakfast, thanks to the coolest, newest food trend bombarding me on Instagram, podcasts, and dinner parties: intermittent fasting. Unlike paleo, the Whole30, and Ozempic, intermittent fasting is here to stay, and it’s making me lose friends at a fast clip. I can’t stand the odd food windows they give themselves. “Hey, Dan, let’s meet for lunch at 3:48 p.m. I’m going to order on the drive over, so the food is ready when we get there because I haven’t eaten since 6:36 p.m. last night. I have 12 minutes to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” They show up all jittery from 15 cups of uncut black coffee. “Good to see you, now don’t make eye contact with me as I dislocate my jaw so I can shove a stack of pancakes, a rib eye, and 12 cannoli into my gullet. You’ll have three minutes to talk to me before I go into a deep sleep for 14 hours so my body can digest the 10,000 calories I just gavaged. This is the key to living a longer life.” Who wants to live like this?
So I don’t do breakfast. I get out of bed, turn on my espresso machine, and make a cappuccino with whole milk. I LOVE good coffee, but this is new to me. For the longest time, I was a Nespresso guy. But then, I got a sponsor for my podcast that sends me a bag of coffee beans every month, so I needed a machine that takes whole beans. I researched a bunch and settled on a $2,500 espresso machine. I calculated the cost per pod of a Nespresso, divided by the cost per bean required to make an espresso, and it turns out that, in 175 years, I would break even. So, before pulling the trigger, I DM’d the company on Instagram, and they said they’d give me a free machine.
A confession: I’m addicted to Influencing. I’m not famous to the point where companies are reaching out to me to give me free stuff. But I’m famous enough that if I reach out to them, they usually respond. And I’m the child of immigrants, so I can never say no to free stuff. And I’m not just talking about big-ticket items like the espresso machine. I have gotten tuna fish, hot honey, sparkling water — things that cost under $10, and I will set up lighting and cameras and give them the post I promised in exchange.
I make my cappuccino, then open the front door to find four bags of groceries. One of my pandemic holdovers is not going to the supermarket ever again. I used to be so pompous about it: I want to touch, smell, and listen to the avocado I’m about to buy. Now, I’m like, Have at it, Gary. I have faith in you.
I go for a five-mile hike every morning. This is the only thing that stops me from weighing 500 pounds because I like food and alcohol a lot. I walk outside my door and go up the hill, then down.
When I get home, I record an episode of my podcast I’ve been DYING to lock down: Ralph Macchio. In it, we tell the story of when we had dinner at a steakhouse on Long Island. He sent me a picture of a 2012 Sassicaia the morning of the dinner. “Took this out of the cellar for tonight!” he texted. This is a $400 bottle of wine. So, unbeknownst to Ralph, I got to the steakhouse early and gave my credit card to pay for the dinner. Ralph arrived, and we opened the wine bottle, and it was corked. He was embarrassed. “Dan, I’m so sorry. I wanted a special wine for you.” Then he called over the sommelier. “Johnny! Bring me the wine list! We’re going all out.” Little did he know, I was on the hook for the insanely expensive wine he chose.
I have a show at the Laugh Factory at 11 p.m. I hate eating before shows, but this is way too late to perform on an empty stomach. I never drink before shows, either, just a bottle of water. So I put together a boring, low-budget salade niçoise: a handful of arugula, a hard-boiled egg, some olives, and some green goddess dressing, which is the most presumptuous of dressing names.
The show goes well. The people laugh. I walk home at around midnight and decide to get a drink at my neighborhood joint, a restaurant called Horses. Terrence, the wine director, pours some Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley in Oregon. I drink it, walk home, and go to bed.
Saturday, March 18
I’m being interviewed by Mark Bittman today! I’ve always been a huge fan, and apparently, he liked my book, so now I’m an even bigger fan. The interview goes great until his last question, where he asks, “What did you have for dinner last night!?” He is expecting some cool foodie answer about how I went to the new hip spot in town and had some yada yada. Instead, my disappointing answer is “a boring-ass salade niçoise.”
Also, I realize it was just St Patrick’s Day. I’ve always wondered if it’s possible to get drunk on Guinness, but I’ve never acted on it. I figure since I’m writing my Grub Street Diet, I might as well try. I show up to an Irish bar in my neighborhood called the Village Idiot, order a corned beef and cabbage special, and drink five pints of Guinness. I get kind of drunk but more full than drunk. My experiment is inconclusive.
I go home around 4 p.m. and decide to take a nap before going to a friend’s party. Bad move. The midday boozy nap never revitalizes. It only taketh away. I wake up feeling groggy as hell and decide to order Thai, just like they do in ye ole Dublin.
Sunday, March 19
Cappuccino for breakfast and leftover Thai for lunch. I have a show at the Laugh Factory in Long Beach at 10 p.m. This is a 50-minute drive from my home. When I get there, Katrina, the club manager, is hawking her daughter’s Girl Scout cookies. I buy a box of Samoas because I’m no fool. I pass on the free meal that the club offers comics because I’ve got a hankering for some good ramen. I do my show. They laugh.
I sit in the car and order the Shio-style ramen from Rakkan off Postmates, timed perfectly so that we both arrive at my home together.
On my way back, as I’m driving up the freeway doing about 75 mph, I hear a strange sound coming from the back of my car. BOOM! My tire explodes. I’m in the left lane, cars fly past me, and I see sparks in my rearview mirror. I Frogger my way to the side of the road, almost die a few times, and turn off at the exit. My car is making ungodly noises as I find a safe space to get off the freeway. I end up pulling over at an intersection, turn my car off, and finally exhale. My heart is beating like crazy as I survey the damage. The rear right tire of my car is no more; only a mangled rim remains. I call AAA to come pick me up, and they ask me where I am. “I’m in a town called Bell Gardens.” I give them the cross streets, and they tell me to stay put.
I need a drink, I’m starving, it’s 11:45 p.m., and it’s freezing. I look up and am flooded with a restaurant’s inviting red-and-green neon lights: Applebee’s. It’s empty save for four drunk dudes in their 20s. Full of jitters, I rush to the bartender, like a zombie from The Last of Us. I explain that I just got into a nasty car accident. “Can I get a Negroni quickly?” “Oh! Shoot. Okay,” he replies. “What’s a Negroni?” “You have gin?” “Yeah.” “Campari?” “No.” “Shit, okay, let me get a martini.” “Which vodka?” “Gin.” “A martini with gin?” “Yes, please. And shake it until you get carpal tunnel — I like lots of ice in it.” He serves me a martini on the rocks in a martini glass. Whatever, it’ll do. I take a huge sip and start to calm down.
I open the menu, and it’s one of those bummer chain menus that give you the calorie count next to the dishes, so you can make healthy choices, because that’s why people go to Applebee’s. The bartender tells me the Bourbon Street mushroom swiss burger is new and delicious. An all-beef patty seasoned with Cajun spices, black pepper sauce, and house-made garlic mayo, plus two slices of Swiss cheese, sautéed onion, and mushrooms on a brioche bun? Let’s. Fucking. Go.
As I wait for my burger, I notice the hammered dudes at the bar are staring at me. One of them goes, “Yo. You look like that dude from Cobra Kai.” I am the dude from Cobra Kai. “What the hell are you doing in Bell Gardens!?” I tell them about my car accident. I LOVE getting recognized. It’s the best. It’s always funny when people are like, “I’m sorry to bother you, but can I get a picture?” I’m always thinking, YES! BOTHER ME! IT’S ALL I LIVE FOR! LIFE IS EMPTY EXCEPT FOR WHEN I GET RECOGNIZED!
My burger is exactly what you want from something that was created in a lab by food scientists trying to engineer the perfect bite to tickle each and every one of your neurons. The brioche is pillowy and just sweet enough. A perfect complement to the Cajun spice that adds a bit of “laissez les bons temps rouler” to the mushrooms and onions. The meat is a perfect medium-rare. Guys. Applebee’s nailed it.
About 40 minutes have gone by. Still no AAA. Across the street is a casino called the Bicycle Casino. It’s 12:45 a.m., and Applebee’s is closing, so I figure I’ll try my luck at the blackjack table. I say my good-byes, take some pics, and am about to cross the street when right next door, I notice this building with strange glowing pastel signs on it and Mexican music blasting from the inside. I walk over, and it’s some Mexican dinner-and-a-show place called Premier Fiesta Mexicana. It has two stars on Yelp. I’m intrigued.
An old man in an ill-fitting tuxedo leads me into the main room, and it is wild. There’s a stage, a dance floor, and booths in stadium seating. It’s filled to the max with people on dates, families out, and singles on the prowl. An older lady in a quinceañera dress on steroids belts into a wireless microphone as she goes from booth to booth collecting tips. I order a Corona. When the singer sings her final “Mi Corazon,” the DJ plays a song that makes every couple rush to the dance floor and start grabbing each other’s asses. I Shazam the song. It’s called “La Bomba,” by Azul Azul. La Bomba literally means “the bomb,” but is slang for butt, I’m assuming. Or these people just love grabbing ass.
Another 40 minutes go by, and now this place is closing. The lights come on, and I call AAA again. They say their system is down, and it’s going to be another hour or so. Time for the casino.
The Bicycle Casino is — there’s no nice way to put this — where dreams that are already dead go to die more. Bright fluorescent lights, dirty carpeting, MUZAK. Mostly blackjack and poker tables. The seats at the tables are dirty mismatched office chairs on wheels. A handful are missing their armrests. Some have cigarette holes even though smoking isn’t allowed.
I play blackjack for about an hour and end up exactly where I started. Because it’s now 2:30 a.m., I’m hungry again, and the casino has a decent Vietnamese restaurant called the Phoenix Café. I get a bowl of pho and slurp in concert with all the other bleary-eyed slurpers beside me. At 3 a.m., I get the call from AAA: “Hi, this is George, your tow truck driver. I’m five minutes away.”
George gets my car up on his flatbed, and I get in on the passenger side with him. The front is cramped, and he’s twice my size. His body is flush against mine, but at this point, I don’t really care. I just want to get home. He plays gospel music and gets back on the freeway. Just as I think I’m home free, George starts to veer into the median. I look over, and he snaps his eyes back open. “George, you okay, buddy?” “Yeah, I’m fine. Sorry. Just been working all night and haven’t had anything to eat.” I reach into my tote bag and pull out Katrina’s daughter’s Samoas, which we eat as I interview him about his life in an effort to keep him awake.
Finally, at 4 .a.m., I arrive home to the cold bowl of Rakkan ramen waiting by my door. I put it in the fridge and pass out.
Monday, March 20
I get up around 11 a.m. After my intense night, I want nothing more than to stay in, not move, and to be grateful for my life. But I decide to make an excursion even though I have no car. I convince my friend Katie to pick me up and take me to the Valley so I could try these bourekas everyone talks about from a place called Borekas. Bourekas are a Middle Eastern version of a cheese-filled croissant. Although they came first, so it’s more like croissants are a French version of cheese-filled bourekas.
Little do we know, today is the L.A. Marathon, which slices the city in half, and getting from one side to the other is almost impossible. An hour later, we arrive at the nondescript strip mall in the Valley and get in line with all my fellow brown five-foot-seven Sephardic Semites (Katie is tall, blonde, Catholic, and gluten-free. She does not fit in.)
I order the cheese and za’atar boureka, and Katie gets a gluten-free pizza from Joe’s next door. (YES, New Yorkers. The famous Joe’s Pizza on Carmine now has an outlet in Los Angeles, and they make a gluten-free pie. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.) I’ve never really cared for bourekas, but these are cooked fresh in a pizza oven and have a dense, crispy exoskeleton that shatters into a million pieces with every bite: shards of phyllo embedded in warm gooey cheese perfumed by earthy za’atar. I’ve never been prouder to be Sephardic.
I’m beyond exhausted, so I go home and do my favorite thing in the world: watch Shark Tank reruns and lie down on the couch for hours. But then a text from my friend, Jillian, chimes in: “So stoked for tonight!” No, no, no, no, no! I totally forgot I’d made plans with Jillian and her boyfriend, Jason. They live in Arizona, and when they’re in L.A., I try desperately to blow them off. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but they just go too hard, and my liver needs a breather. Now it’s 5 p.m., definitely way out of the blow-off window, so I have no choice but to join them. Also, Jillian’s boyfriend is a professional hockey player. Not just any player. He’s the guy the team hires to beat up players on the other team. He’s missing his two front teeth.
They are at El Compadre pounding margaritas. It’s around the corner from me, so I walk over. I have a glass of mezcal, neat. “We want to go to a Dan Ahdoot–approved restaurant!” my friends say. “Wherever you want to go.”
I want to go to my bed and flip on white noise. At this point, I would choose that over Noma. Instead we go to Angelini Osteria, classic L.A., authentic Italian. We stop at my place, where I pick up a bottle of Brunello and a Rioja, and head to the restaurant. The food is fantastic. We start with a caprese, fried zucchini flowers, and octopus salad (yes, I watched the documentary, and I still order it). We move on to bucatini Amatriciana, pasta alla Norma, and a delightful agnolotti with braised veal cheeks. We finish the wines, and it’s time for dessert. “Can I get some limoncello?” asks Jason. “We only serve beer and wine,” the server replies. So I say, “Let’s get dessert and go to my place for after-dinner drinks.” Jason’s frown turns into a goofy, toothless smile. We end up at my place with profiteroles and drink Armagnac while listening to music and yelling about politics at each other. I’m glad I didn’t blow them off …
Tuesday, March 21
… until the next morning when I wake up with a wicked hangover.
I record an episode of my podcast, where today, for the first time in hundreds of episodes, I’m not the host. I’m the guest. I have my buddy Matt Katz, a hotshot WNYC reporter, interview me.
Lunch is my ramen from Rakkan that I never had. Still good! Later, I have a set at the Laugh Factory. It’s a special show for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. My people have had a rough year, so it’s fun to be in a roomful of laughing Iranians. People stay after for the traditional Persian New Year meal: dill rice with smoked fish. Despite being a proud Iranian American, I nonetheless go home to type the last of my Grub Street Diet and have leftover Thai food from a few days ago that I ordered in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
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