Regular readers know that Danielle Oteri is a New Yorker through and through. The girl takes no guff and tells it like it is. Who knew a little Los Angeles sunshine and French fried chicken would mellow her out so much?
Who would have guessed that one of the most outstanding meals of my life would come from a truck in Reseda, a gritty suburb of Los Angeles, best known for being the hometown of The Karate Kid? Not me. But given my experiences in LA, it actually makes perfect sense.
Los Angeles, in the eyes of this dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, is absolutely, beyond compare, magnificent. Surprised? So was I the first time I visited, and all the snide remarks I was raised on here in Gotham began to relax like ice cream after it has been out of the freezer just long enough for your spoon to easily slide in.
Just as New York is not Times Square, LA is not Hollywood. And though it is a company town, the plastic actors (famous and wannabe) are a small segment compared to all the writers, carpenters, makeup artists, set designers, and wildly creative people who really make the movies. The supposed lack of culture is simply bad PR, probably on the part of New Yorkers. A trip to the Getty Center, built high in the Santa Monica mountains from white shimmering travertine, feels like a visit to God’s house.
The great paradox of Los Angeles is that for all the artifice it’s accused of having, it doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. LA doesn’t hide its strip joints and homeless people like New York tries to do. LA doesn’t adhere to any European grid, even though its seaside landscape closely resembles Italy’s Amalfi coast. Instead, it sprawls where it needs to, toward the beach, around freeways and up through the canyons. LA is like that one weird kid in high school who was so unapologetically bizarre that she was actually considered cool.
Given its “let’s do lunch” reputation, the food culture is not the scratch-it-off-your-list compulsive experience it can be in other cities. In a city where you absolutely must drive, the best food is naturally found on trucks.
Which is how on my last trip to LA, I found myself driving through Reseda with my sweetheart, humming Tom Petty, musing about where Mr. Miyagi hid his Japanese patio so in need of waxing, and squinting at traffic lights in search of the LudoTruck, which serves fried chicken made by Ludo Lefebvre of Top Chef Masters fame.
After circling around a Korean supermarket, we finally spotted the bright red truck in the parking lot behind the Saint Catherine of Siena church. Folding chairs and tables from the church were set in the center of a circle of food trucks, including the Grilled Cheese Truck, Coolhaus, Mandoline Grill (banh mi and Vietnamese tacos), and of course the LudoTruck.
The vibe was mellow and friendly with a mix of people running the full gamut of LA. Kids tore around the tables as their happy parents ate a great meal in peace. Once again, surprise—there was Ludo himself sitting there at one of the tables, typing into his phone and graciously accepting a meal from the Mandoline Grill guy, who grinned from ear to ear as he set down a plate of glistening, cilantro-flecked food.
We introduced ourselves to Ludo and I ended up taking a picture with him. (We were in LA, after all). We went with his recommendation for the chicken breast, fried in buttermilk batter, seasoned with herbes du Provence, and accompanied by lavender biscuits.
There are a lot of claims out there for the best fried chicken and I have my qualms with relentless declarations of “the best” when it comes to food in general. But I can tell you this, sitting outside in on a folding chair, with Ludo’s chicken, a bottle of water, my sweetheart, and the moonlight over Reseda, life has rarely tasted better. The normal sense of urgency I accept as natural was washed away in LA, and I gained an unusual, surprising, almost perverse sense that everything is going to be all right.
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