September 19, 2011 § Leave a comment
I enjoyed Thomas Pynchon’s latest, Inherent Vice, when it spilled forth from the reclusive author a couple years back. A hazy noir set in early-1970s Los Angeles, Inherent Vice nails a few of the city’s traits and myths in a way that few visiting writers manage. A New York Times Magazine blog post about cities in fiction (“real-world cities made better than real”) this weekend highlighted a couple of passages from the novel, including one describing the narrator’s peregrinations in search of food on Pico Boulevard.
They went down to Pico and headed toward Rancho Park. This street was a chowhound’s delight. Back when Doc was still new in town, one day around sunset — the daily event, not the boulevard — he was in Santa Monica near the western end of Pico, the light over all deep L.A. softening to purple with some darker gold to it, and from this angle and hour of the day it seemed to him he could see all the way down Pico for miles into the heart of the great Megalopolis itself, having yet to discover that if he wanted to, he could also eat his way down Pico night after night for a long while before repeating an ethnic category. This did not always turn out to be good news for the indecisive doper who might know he was hungry but not necessarily how to deal with it in terms of specific food. Many was the night Doc ran out of gas, and his munchies-afflicted companions out of patience, long before settling on where to go to eat.
Only after re-reading the passage did I recognize a sly reference from one master to another. Like a latter-day Baudelaire, food critic Jonathan Gold has made famous his jaunts up and down Pico in search of new tastes. For those that have never heard the tale (also mentioned in the New Yorker profile from three years ago, IIRC), Gold’s arcades project involved trying every single eatery on the street, ranging from downtown all the way to beach, from moles and Oki dogs to Korean goat soup:
For a while in my early 20s, I had only one clearly articulated ambition: to eat at least once at every restaurant on Pico Boulevard, starting with the fried yucca dish served at a pupuseria near the downtown end and working methodically westward toward the chili fries at Tom’s No. 5 near the beach. It seemed a reasonable enough alternative to graduate school.
Essential Gold reading and despite his more frequent forays into chef-driven concerns in recent years, a manifesto maybe. Fortunately, Gold revisited his Pico days a couple months ago, dishing out a top 10 for newcomers. Of course, El Parian and its consistently wonderful birria sits atop the list, as it should. (Dino’s is a nice pick as well, but the chile- and chicken fat-soaked fries might not always impress your date, no matter how good they taste at the table.)
Despite the fact he hasn’t lived in Los Angeles for more than 40 years, Pynchon may be coming back. Robert Downey is supposedly set to reprise the role of stoner P.I. Doc Sportello in a film adaptation by Paul Thomas Anderson. And perhaps even a cameo from the popular Mr. Gold?