There was a time when folks poked fun of the dining scene in Los Angeles.
Not anymore. Now, it’s not only the darling of food fanatics looking for authentic ethnic cuisines and exciting push-the-envelope places, but it’s also the location of choice for chefs around the country looking to open new ventures. That includes: San Francisco’s Tartine Manufactory, San Francisco-Mexico City Chef Gabriela Cámara, New York’s David Chang, New York’s Christina Tosi, and New York-Mexico City’s Enrique Olvera.
“EAT. COOK. L.A.: Recipes from the City of Angels: A Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy, captures Los Angeles’ dynamic dining scene with stories and 100 recipes from some of the area’s biggest names. Find everything from the “Egg Slut” by, yes, Eggslut; “Tomato Salad with Crispy Potatoes and Whipped Feta” from Sqirl; “Chanterelle Lasagna with English Peas and Parmesan Pudding” from Lucques; “Chinois Lamb Chops with Cilantro Mint Vinaigrette” from Spago; “Adobo Fried Rice” from Republique; and “Chocolate Sesame Cake” from Kismet.
The book is by Aleksandra Crapanzano, a screenwriter and food writer based in New York, who is a regular food columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
My husband and I drive to Los Angeles at least once a year for a long weekend that’s really all about how much eating we can cram in.
So I couldn’t have been more stoked to find a recipe from Chef-Owner Bryant Ng of Cassia in Santa Monica. We actually dined there a couple years ago, and devoured one of his dishes in this book, “Turmeric Grilled Sea Bass.”
I was even more thrilled to find out that this Vietnamese-style dish is flat-out easy to make. All you need to do is lay your hands on two whole fresh sea bass or branzinos, which I ordered easily enough at Cook’s Seafood in Menlo Park. Have your fishmonger butterfly them, removing the vertebrae and bones, and leaving the tail and head attached. The tail makes for a nicer presentation. And the head? Well, if you don’t know by now, the cheeks are the most succulent part of the fish. They’re tiny here, but still worth digging out for an undeniable treat.
A marinade of canola oil, fish sauce, garlic, Thai chiles, and turmeric gets buzzed together fast in a food processor. Then, it’s brushed on all over the fish, giving it a mustardy-golden hue, even after grilling.
We cooked ours one at a time in a fish basket atop the grill. You can also broil the fish in the oven or cook on a grill pan on the stovetop, if you prefer.
The whole fish is finished with a generous shower of fresh cilantro, mint leaves and dill fronds, a drizzle of olive oil, and a squirt of lime juice.
It makes for a magnificent presentation that has so much more bearing than plain ol’ grilled fish fillets. The skin is super crisp, and the flesh is smoky, earthy, citrusy, and just a little spicy. The flourish of herbs gives it all a breath-of-fresh-air vitality.
Best yet, I can savor it all the time now — even when hundreds of miles away from Santa Monica.
Turmeric Grilled Sea Bass
1/2 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons fish sauce
6 to 8 garlic cloves, peeled
1 to 3 Thai chiles
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 sea bass (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each), boned and butterflied
Handful of fresh cilantro or micro-cilantro leaves
Handful of fresh mint leaves, slivered if large
Handful of fresh dill leaves
Handful of fresh laksa leaves (optional; see note below)
Olive oil, for drizzling
1 lime, cut into wedges
Combine the canola oil, fish sauce, garlic, Thai chiles, and turmeric in a Vitamix or food processor and process until pureed. Brush the marinade onto the fish inside and out. Set aside for half an hour.
Grill the fish over medium-high heat, skin side first. After 4 minutes, or once the skin is brown and blistered, flip it. Continue to cook, skin side up, until the fish is barely cooked through, about 4 more minutes.
Transfer to a platter. Garnish lavishly with the herbs and drizzle with the olive oil. Serve immediately with the lime edges.
What You Need To Know: Red snapper or sea bream may be swapped in for the sea bass. Have your fishmonger remove the bones and vertebrae and butterfly the fish, leaving the head and tail attached. Laksa leaf is also known as Vietnamese cilantro and Vietnamese mint, and, yes, it has notes of both. If it’s hard to find, just add a few more sprigs of cilantro and mint. Thai chiles, also called bird’s eye chiles, are hot, so add, taste, add, taste until you find your happy point. to make them a little milder, remove the seeds. The fish can be grilled, broiled, or seared on a grill pan.
From “Eat. Cook. L.A.” by Aleksandra Crapanzano
Plus: A Visit to Cassia
More Recipes From Los Angeles Restaurants: Cranberry Roly Poly From Friends & Family Cafe