After eating at Asador Etxebarri, the extraordinary grill restaurant in the Spanish Basque country, last month, where chef-owner Victor Arguinzoniz works such magic cooking over charcoal that he makes himself, smoke is on my mind. I kept thinking about the different ways it can be used. It can be subtle or overpowering — or barely kissed with smoke, the way some of Arguinzoniz's dishes are. But it can also penetrate deep into a cut of beef, or illuminate the taste and texture of a fish.
At David Myers' latest, a Japanese-inspired spot hidden at the bottom of a residential tower in Century City, you'll see servers gliding to a table with the restaurant's signature dish. Chef Kuniko Yagi serves rich, oily, hinoki-scented black cod topped with a paper-thin piece of fragrant Japanese cedar glowing red at the edge. Start with an order of Singapore-style chili crab toast or the lobster roll in a bun imbued with Japanese charcoal. Try to grab a table on the rustic (and quieter) patio. The cocktails by Sam Ross are pretty terrific too.
10 Century Drive, Los Angeles; (310) 552-1200. Black cod, $26.
On the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Barney Greengrass is an institution, a homely little shop specializing in hand-sliced smoked fish. When Barneys New York opened in Beverly Hills in 1994, Barney Greengrass got a restaurant spot with a terrace and a view of the Hollywood sign. Have a combination platter for breakfast or for lunch. Or simply pick up some of the superb sable or Nova Scotia salmon and its signature smoked sturgeon to go, along with a cream cheese spread and plenty of bialys, the slender, less bready cousins of the bagel.
Barneys New York, 9570 Wilshire Blvd., Fifth Floor, Beverly Hills, (310) 777-5877. Smoked and cured fish, $15 to $39.
One of the new tenants in Grand Central Market is this Central Texas-style barbecue joint from Texans Wade McElroy and Russell Malixi. Three Ole Hickory smokers turn out ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken, all sold by the pound and served with two slices of white bread, dill pickle chips and slices of white onion. No sauce with this style of barbecue, except on the side. The beef and pork get a dry rub before they go on the fire. The brisket seems to just soak up that fragrant smoke, making a terrific lunch item. Take a note, jury members.
Grand Central Market, 324 S. Hill St., Los Angeles, (213) 625-0341. Brisket plate, $12, brisket sandwich, $11.