"It's not much but it's ours"

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


So, my theory that America’s greatest contribution to the world of cuisine is the sandwich is developing rapidly as proved by my first couple of meals on my return to Los Angeles.

Before that, however, Sybil helped me recover from my eleven hour flight with a restorative bowl of excellent ramen at a local food court. Another reminder of the things they do so well, here on the West coast.

But, on to those sandwiches.

First up, a short walk from my friend’s flat down Venice Boulevard to Howard’s, apparently, according to the sign on their frontage, famous for their bacon and avocado burger and a Palms stalwart since 1971. It’s places like this that make me really happy to be back in the U.S. The menu is short, the food is prepared fast but fresh to order with no muss, no fuss and, while I am sure there are better burgers to be had in L.A, I would kill to have a place like this anywhere near me in London.

Even better on day two of my visit, I was joined by my new chum, Aaron Tell for a taste off between two suppliers of a uniquely L.A institution the French Dipped Sandwich. Cole’s and Philippe’s both lay claim to have originated this slightly odd roast beef sandwich, which is dipped in “jus” before being served to make the bread soft.

There are many different stories as to how the custom began. Some tell you it originated with a customer who had bad teeth and could not eat the crusty sourdough bread. Others tell you it was just a way of using up stale bread. Whatever the truth of the matter, it is another proof of the spectacular ability of the yanks to slam great stuff between bread. Or, at least, Philippe’s was.

Our first port of call was Coles, recently refurbished and filled with a lunchtime crowd. It looked the part and the open kitchen was busy with men slicing shreds of beef from large joints and serving them between sourdough with bowls of extra jus for dipping. Unfortunately the beef was tough and the jus so salty, I had to drink two large glasses of water to take the taste out of my mouth.

Much better was Philippe’s, across town and on the edge of the city’s small Chinatown. If Cole’s had been busy, Philippe’s was mobbed with a holiday crowd and we had to join a line stretching out of the door. The sight of the servers dipping the sandwiches in vats of the jus and the smell filling the air made me think it was going to be worth the wait and when we finally found a seat to eat our selection of traditional beef and lamb with blue cheese, it proved to be the case. The “double dipped” bread was soft and deliciously messy and the substantial filling fell apart in savoury shards in the mouth. It’s easy to see why this place has been a local favourite for over a hundred years.

I am here for another two weeks and I have no doubt that there are going to be more reports of America’s great contribution to the art of the sandwich.

Happy New Year, everyone
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