Today marks the first day, and welcome to it, of the Chinese Year of the Goat, seen in lavish home-cooked feasts or at San Gabriel Valley restaurants that might sneak in a dragon dance or two in the course of the evening’s festivities. Happy New Year to you all.
Also, Happy Goat Year! Is goat the most popular meat in the world? It probably is, at least if you believe the people who tabulate those kind of things. And although there is a distinct lack of goat in local Chinese restaurants -- even the halal places tend to feature grilled mutton kebabs instead -- our fuzzy, bearded friends can be found almost everywhere else in town.
Pick up a rolled goat belly roast at Belcampo downtown (but make sure you have the six or seven hours it takes to properly cook it). Pick up a fresh goat cheese at your local farmers market. Whomp a goat leg onto the barbecue this weekend. Or head out to a restaurant, maybe one of these:
How important is birria, stewed goat, to the identity of Jalisco state? Important enough that Guadalajara’s most famous soccer team is known as Chivas, or goats. Important enough that the weekend birria crawl across the countryside rivals any Texan’s quest for barbecue. Important enough that the trivial differences between the original and the Zacatecan version, found locally at Flor del Rio in Boyle Heights, can cause Jaliscans to sputter with rage. Me, I’ve been a partisan of the true-blue Jalisco birria at Pico-Union’s El Parian for more than 30 years, and I don’t expect to change my mind any time soon. 1528 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 386-7361.
When you order goat cheese at the La Cienega gastropub Scratch Bar, the dry, crumbly fresh cheese comes to the table under a kind of upside-down glass vessel, where it has been resting next to a small pile of smoldering dried timothy grass. ("The same hay the goats eat,’’ confides the waiter.) The top of the glass is smeared with pureed olives, which you are encouraged to spread on little rounds of toast. The waiter replaces the vessel over the sputtering haystack. You watch it refill with smoke. The cheese smells a bit as if it had been hanging out with the Marlboro man, but the rugged flavor seems to work. 111 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 289-8010.
Tar and Roses is pretty serious about wood, to the extent that nearly everything served in the Santa Monica restaurant has passed through the big wood-burning oven and the menu informs you exactly what kind of tree has been sacrificed in the preparation of your dinner. To tell the truth, the most delicious things there tend to be the charred, smoking vegetables, but if you call a week in advance you can get a whole roast kid. Bring lots of friends. 602 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 587-0700.
Citizens of certain other metropolises like to disdain Los Angeles as a city with an early bedtime, tucked in before 10 p.m. so that it might greet the dawn with yoga and great draughts of kombucha tea. Such people have obviously never visited Bulrocho, where you may treat yourself (or your fierce hangover) with nourishing black-goat soup 24 hours a day. The complex, red concoction of soft goat meat and deep, long-simmered broth, handfuls of shredded greens and half a dozen other things that only a student of Korean traditional medicine could identify makes you feel better just knowing it exists. 955 South Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 383-0080.
Seven courses of goat
You may have tried bo 7 mon, the fabled seven-course beef dinners served at Vietnamese specialty restaurants. (I like the version at Thien An, a small chain with locations in Rosemead, Westminster and Garden Grove.) But at Binh Dan in Little Saigon, there is also de 7 mon, seven courses of goat, including pan-fried goat, goat kebab, curried goat, goat soup, goat stew and goat minced with la lot leaves, and also goat-blood pudding. You will be drinking lots of beer with this. 10040 McFadden Ave., Westminster, (714) 839-7050.
What you should go to a Trinidadian restaurant for: doubles, like an oily, spicy chickpea sandwich devised by the devil himself. What you probably will get from that Trini kitchen: goat roti, which to say a robust, turmeric-yellow goat curry, gamy in the way only a goat can be, wrapped in thin, fresh flatbread and served with a thin scotch bonnet sauce hot enough to do real damage if you’re not careful. At Callaloo Caribbean Kitchen in Long Beach, you can get doubles, goat roti and, if you’re especially lucky, the golden, savory doughnut holes of love called pholourie. 4137 E Anaheim St, Long Beach, (562) 230-7530.
Have you ever cleaned a goat’s hoof? Believe me, you do not want to clean a goat’s hoof. Some kitchen preparations are best left to professionals. But should a hunger for goat hoof arise, and it does from time to time, you would be well-served by a trip over to Al-Noor in Hawthorne, whose paya, stewed trotters in thick curried gravy, could almost be called delicate. Almost. 15112 Inglewood Ave., Hawthorne, (310) 675-4700.
Goat’s milk gelato
When you find yourself in the upper reaches of Altadena, fresh from a hike up to Echo Mountain, perhaps it will probably occur to you that you are within striking distance of the inconveniently located Bulgarini Gelato. And if you can tear yourself away from the idea of the incomparable pistachio gelato, pomegranate sorbetto or L.A.’s best coffee granita, you should really try the goat's milk gelato with smoky toasted cocoa nibs. You may be tempted to dribble a bit of toasty pink prosecco over the gelato. Not a bad idea! 749 E. Altadena Dr., Altadena, (626) 791-6174.