LA does Friday night right
by New York Post, August 13, 2012
One of the best things that can happen when you travel is visiting one city and feeling like you’ve taken a trip all over the world. Another of the best things is visiting a city with so much swagger that it could give other cities, even your own, ideas on how to evolve.
So Los Angeles deserves our thanks for one of the finest Friday nights we’ve had this year.
We started downtown at the Los Angeles Food & Wine festival’s Andrew Zimmern-hosted Asian night market. Zimmern was actually cooking a Flintstones-sized rib there. Yu Bo flew in from Chengdu to make ma la dumplings steps from the Staples Center. Kogi BBQ parked its truck. Between Kogi and the Fukuburger chicken and donuts, the grilled tuna from the Picca/Mo-Chica crew (who do indeed remind diners of the overlaps in Peruvian and Asian cuisine) and the skate with sambal from the Spice Table’s Bryant Ng, LA’s hot crop of flavor-over-frills chefs were representing their city well.
But after circling the night market a couple times, we left for dinner. Though other chefs warned us that maybe we should visit another night — given that Ng, his wife Kim Luu-Ng and key members of his staff were all at the night market — we headed over to the Spice Table, the Little Tokyo restaurant that specializes in Southeast Asian food.
This is the food of the streets, food that fuses ideas from many countries, food you find in hawker stands where you sweat through your clothes while you sit outside and eat huge bowls of soup and mounds of rice as you watch old men grill meat on charcoal.
Even without Ng in the house, the Spice Table was superb. The chicken and beef satays were tender, moist, full of Asian flavors and charred exactly right. The Hainanese chicken over rice and the laksa, with its rich coconut-seafood gravy, satisfied constant cravings we’ve had since visiting Singapore. We also loved the fried cauliflower with fish sauce — crispy, light and funky. And the kaya toast reminded us that coconut jam on buttered toast with an egg/soy sauce/white pepper dipping sauce would work just fine for breakfast, dinner or dessert. Think of this as the Southeast Asian version of salted caramel.
After dinner, we headed to the Sayers Club in Hollywood. To get inside, you walk through a Papaya King and an unmarked yellow door, but this is no PDT-style speakeasy. It’s a cozy room that feels like a full-on nightclub/performance space, and it’s part of Sam Nazarian’s SBE empire.
It was jazz/hip-hop night (the Sayers Club often has rock nights, too), and DJ Bizzy kept the crowd bouncing, smiling and drinking with a smart, soulful playlist that had us at Rob Base and Run-DMC. (One night later, we saw the versatile Bizzy playing Calvin Harris and Avicii at David Arquette’s Bootsy Bellows club while Arquette himself put on a bizarre, interpretive puppet show.)
The Sayers Club crowd was ultra-diverse, with a mix of cultures, fashions and ages that you just can’t get from the single-minded “image promoters” less creative nightclubs hire. That led to an in-the-moment, of-the-moment vibe where people were actually having fun. Unlike the bored, distracted folks you often find at big bottle-service clubs with dozens of “VIP tables,” iPhone use was kept to a minimum.
And when a band led by Tony Royster Jr., perhaps best known as Jay-Z’s drummer, hopped on stage, the appreciative, attentive crowd danced and clapped and raised their glasses. There were all-American-looking guys dressed up in white suits and exotic ladies purposefully dressed down in denim on the dance floor for every single song. There were short Asian gals in high-high heels cavorting with tall handsome fellas who looked like they had just put on a fedora after playing pickup basketball.
This is what we wish Fort Greene was really like. Why isn’t there a spot like this in New York, steps from the new Barclays Center arena, curated by, say, Yasiin Bey (can we just keep calling you Mos Def, please?).
Royster and friends play at the Sayers Club every two weeks. Jay-Z opens up the Barclays Center with eight concerts in September/October and will become even more of a Brooklyn icon when the Nets start their season. Let’s make this happen in Brooklyn, Hov.