Jonathan Gold's top 10 restaurant dishes of 2014, the alternative edition

Chicken neck tacos and blood soup not your thing? Here are 10 more great restaurant dishes from Jonathan Gold

It has come to my attention that a few Times readers found my list of the best dishes of 2014 disturbing. Not all of you, it seems, are as delighted as I am to live in a city whose attractions include chicken neck tacos, blood soup and jellied pigskin molded into the shape of carp, to say nothing of snails, pureed chicken livers, aged mackerel and sea urchin gonads on rice. The other dishes involve the possibility of lima beans, mushrooms and roasted lamb’s head. 

There isn’t much on the list that would be recognized as food by your Uncle Elmer in Dubuque. One correspondent suggested that the list was a practical joke. It wasn’t — the dishes are mind-blowingly good. 

Still, I recognize the need for some kind of alternative, a user-friendly list of wonderful dishes without the smack of the abbatoir about them. Even I don’t eat jellied pigskin every day, or even want to. In the spirit of reconciliation, may I offer an alternative top 10 dishes? I thank you.

French fries

Are you looking for the best French fries in Los Angeles? Because the French fries at Walter Manzke’s splendid bistro République are pretty close: cut in long, perfect blocks from fresh potatoes, steamed, slightly dehydrated in a low-temperature oven and then finally boiled in a bath of beef suet and peanut oil until they are tawny and crisp. You may be familiar with the process of French fry triage, where you eat what appears to be the crunchiest fry on a plate, then the next crunchiest and so on, until you are left with the pale, mealy also-rans that you hate yourself for eating. The fries at République are all the best one on the plate, crisp, slightly hollow and a bit creamy inside, straight and uniformly hot. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 362-6115, republiquela.com.

Lox, bagel, and cream cheese

Wexler’s Deli is not a riff on the delicatessen, an homage to the delicatessen or a modernist take on the delicatessen. It is a delicatessen, down to its bearded fish slicers, its location in the navel of the Grand Central Market, and its menu of phosphates, egg creams, and Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Tonic. It is the only delicatessen in town that smokes its pastrami and sturgeon on site — and it also smokes and cures its own salmon, which is wondrous to behold. You can watch the cooks slice almost transparent slivers of the fish to layer on cream-cheese-smeared bagels. If there is a better version of lox and bagels in Los Angeles, I have yet to taste it. 316 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 624-2378, wexlersdeli.com.

Green pozole

Jeremy Fox is a perfect creature of the Westside at the moment, a chef capable of pleasing the paleos and the gluten-free, the hedonists and the vegetarians, the farmers market freaks and the nose-to-tail dudes, sometimes all in the same dish. Once the prime mover of a restaurant attached to a Napa yoga studio, he nonetheless led Rustic Canyon out of its yoga-mat period — in large part due to things like his green shellfish pozole, which underlined the funk of boiled hominy with a thin, electric jolt of citrus and pureed chile, plus the brininess of tiny mussels and clams. 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 393-7050, rusticcanyonwinebar.com.

Crudités

Pete’s Café may have been the last regular-guy place downtown. Then, when Josef Centeno took it over, it kind of wasn’t anymore, unless you count the James Beard-influenced Americana as the kind of regular-guy food your great-grandparents may have enjoyed. The crudités, an updated play on the pickle plate that still comes before the steak at places like Taylor’s and the Dal Rae, is fairly spectacular: blistered okra, charred stems of broccolini and grilled cabbages, carrots and maybe a beet, laid out on a plank and served with a dunking bowl of ranch dressing. Your brandy old-fashioned will feel right at home. 400 S. Main St., Los Angeles, (213) 687-7015, ledlowla.com.

Cassoulet

Most of the time, Vertical is a regular wine bar, a place you might go for a plate of sliders and a glass of pinot noir. Sometimes Laurent Quenioux, a chef with avant-garde tendencies, takes over the dining room for what he calls Foodings, wild feasts whose components might include shot game, ant eggs, and a heart-stopping selection of French cheese. More rarely, the restaurant is devoted to Quenioux’s remarkable cassoulet, a glorious Southwestern French dish of Tarbais beans, preserved lamb, garlic sausage and duck confit, served in a huge copper pot. At such times, a bottle of deep-red Cahors is less recommended than prescribed. 70 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (626) 795-3999, verticalwinebistro.com. 

Pho baguette

Banh mi and pho are probably the two most famous Vietnamese dishes in Los Angeles at the moment, the ones that would come up first in a battle on Family Feud. You might find sandwiches and beef noodle soup to be basically incompatible. Chloe Tran at East Borough does not — her hoagie combines the spices and long-simmered brisket of pho with the French bread, chiles and pickled vegetables of a banh mi. A little bowl of beefy pho broth on the side transforms the sandwich into something like a Los Angeles French dip. Is Sriracha aioli involved? Do you even have to ask? 9810 Washington Blvd. Culver City, (310) 596-8266, east-borough.com.

Polpettine di gamberi

The downtown boom has seen a lot of new Italian restaurants, some of them quite grand. Antonio Tommasi and Jean-Louis de Mori, who opened Locanda Veneta and Ca' Brea, may be a fairly fancy crew, but their Maccheroni Republic isn't a temple of cuisine, it's a trattoria — the kind of place where it is possible to go for both lunch and dinner on a single day. If there is a reason other than veganism not to get the polpettine di gamberi, flat little disks of ground shrimp crisped in oil, I'm not sure what it might be. 332 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 346-9725.

Coq au vin

Tony Esnault is a Ducasse disciple, lured to Los Angeles by Joachim Splichal and awarded a rare four stars by my colleague S. Irene Virbila in 2010. For the last year, he has been at Church & State deep downtown, which he has transformed into a first-rate "French" French bistro — rather than California French — leaning toward the rustic. Winter nights are perfect for Esnault’s coq au vin: braised chicken scattered with lardons, garnished with mushrooms and pearl onions; the red wine in which the chicken has been cooked reduced to a profound, syrupy glaze underpinned with a deep bass note of thyme. And there are profiteroles for dessert. 1850 Industrial St., Los Angeles, churchandstatebistro.com.

Fennel panna cotta

We are back downtown, in that patch of real estate occasionally referred to as Centenoland. And we are at Josef Centeno’s flagship restaurant Orsa & Winston, given over at the moment to a two-month yakitori pop-up, but best-known for its ever-shifting tasting menus, which sometimes involve a sushi bar’s worth of exotic fish. If it is in the cards, you may one day again come across his panna cotta, creamy-rich but laced with the bracing, licorice-celery flavor of fresh fennel. The panna cotta is sprinkled with crunchy, slightly gelatinous soaked cypress seeds, occasionally called "mountain caviar’’ in Japan. 122 W. 4th St., Los Angeles, (213) 687-0300, orsaandwinston.com.

Steak tartare

Chopped raw beef is remarkably popular at the moment, including unusual variations enhanced with truffle oil or heart or oysters. Michael Hung’s terrific version at Faith & Flower takes a turn toward Korea, flavored with miso, black sesame and what tastes like seaweed, less a celebration of raw flesh than an explosion of umami. Does the restaurant resemble the world’s biggest Anthropologie store? Perhaps, but you’re there for the wonderful cocktails and food. 705 W. 9th St., Los Angeles, (213) 239-0642, faithandflowerla.com.

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