Where to Dine With Andrew Zimmern
he tickets are booked, your time-off request is approved, and the weather forecast app is trending hard on your iPhone. You might even start seeing ads for barometers in your social media feeds. Wherever you’re headed, you are prepared. And if you’re anything like me, the first activity you are planning is where to dine! Skip hours of Googling, Yelping and reading Top 10 lists. Instead, look to Andrew Zimmern to help you out. As one of the world’s most well-traveled food explorers, Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern is an expert. In his new series on the Travel Channel, “The Zimmern List,” you’ll be able to get Zimmern’s personal dining recommendations where he literally serves as the viewer’s guide to each city he visits.
We absolutely love the idea of using TV shows like “The Zimmern List” as an opportunity to explore new travel destinations, create an engaging conversation with fellow viewers, and, most importantly, plot out our next dining adventure. Although devoted Yelp reviewers certainly have a leg to stand on, their elite status doesn’t hold a candle to Zimmern’s travel adventures. And having said that, it only makes sense to take what he says seriously and start booking reservations ASAP. We especially love this idea of using “The Zimmern List” as a travel gadget when we compare it to the solo task of conventional foodie research. While watching “The Zimmern List,” we were able to enjoy Zimmern’s recommendations collectively, where everyone planning to participate in the trip got to have their input on where to eat… and it wasn’t just me, the experienced diner. Sure, we hit pause throughout the episode to do a little social media perusing, but most importantly, I’d like to note that most of our pause moments on the show were to engage in thoughtful storytelling with one another, for example, posing the question, “What ‘s the longest line YOU ever stood in? And was it worth it?” and I’ll have you note, as a group consensus, most all lines that long are worth standing in. But don’t just take our word for it, we’ll defer to Andrew Zimmern.
Below, we highlight the opportunity we had to speak with Andrew Zimmern about his newest series, “The Zimmern List,” and through this Q&A it becomes even more evident that these shows give the reader access to industry credibility and how you might not even know it, but these travel shows are one of the best gadgets you can have access to when it comes to planning your next greatest culinary adventure.
Q&A WITH ANDREW ZIMMERN
For this interview, I wanted to focus primarily on Episode One of “The Zimmern List,” in hopes that it would inspire a day trip to LA, followed by a plane ticket to your next culinary delight… and you binge watching the rest of the series. For those of you who haven’t seen this episode, Zimmern went to Grand Central Market, Sqirl, Night Market + Song, Langer’s Deli and Kismet. Andrew Zimmern
As a fellow food enthusiast, I can relate to waiting in long lines, and seeing the line wrap all the way around Grand Central Market for Eggslut is crazy. Do you think this goes back to the energy of people coming together for a common purpose? What’s the general vibe in line? Do you make friends and share stories, are you checking in on social media, or is it like Black Friday with a touch of hangry? Andrew Zimmern
Andrew Zimmern: It’s all of the above except for Black Friday with a touch of hangry. Everyone is thrilled to wait in line at Eggslut because it’s a communal experience. As human beings, we crave those communal experiences. When you layer on top of that the satisfaction that one gets when you’re ordering one of their sandwiches or their famous steamed egg with mashed potato, the value proposition is so beloved by the customer, and nobody else has been able to pull off the quality of what they’re doing — there are a lot of different things in their favor. Add to that, there is a tremendous desire on people’s part to collect food experiences. There are very few places that I think are worth waiting in line for. Eggslut is one of them. Franklin’s Barbeque is another one. It’s just such a unique, crave-able, delicious meal waiting for you at the end of that communal experience of sharing time in line. You meet other friends; you share things on social, you turn around and talk with your other friends.
Absolutely. I noticed in viewing the LA versus the Austin episode; I definitely saw the similarity in the line sharing experience. Overall, can you recall a special moment or connection you’ve had while you’ve been waiting in line for food at some of these incredible places?
AZ: Oh my gosh. The three longest lines that I waited in were Eggslut, Franklin Barbeque and Red’s Eats in Wiscasset for their lobster bowl. All of them were a 90-minute wait. I made friends. In Red’s, I bumped into a friend of my fathers. At Eggslut I bumped into my friend Dave Beran, who just opened a restaurant in LA called Dialogue. The fun for me is you never know what is going to happen. I would also point out that the thing Grand Central Market has over a line experience at Franklin’s or Red’s is that a lot of people come in groups of two, three and four. Even the people that are solo turn to somebody and say, “save my space in line,” and they go to another booth and grab a loaf of bread, cheese, tacos and come back and share food while they’re waiting in line. It’s a wonderful experience for people.
I thought your way of describing cabeza from Tacos Tumbras a Tomas to your viewers was very educational. I also thought your directions for eating a taco were really interesting — like how you eat the fillings with the fork and save the tortillas for the juices at the end, which totally makes sense, but have we all been eating tacos wrong this whole time? Or is this taco eating 2.0? Andrew Zimmern
AZ: When you get your traditional taco setup you have one or two ounces of meat in your taco that isn’t wet, right? There’s a little onion, a little cilantro, lime; you help yourself to the sauces. Whether those are tacos from Marisco or Oaxaca or any of the other regions in Mexico, you’re getting a smaller taco that’s drier. So you fold it up and eat it just like we all do. What they’re doing at that taco booth [Tacos Tumbras a Tomas] is they’re doing a larger amount of food in a style that is generically referred to, in the Mexico City area, as Tacos Guisado. Tacos Guisado are taco stands that sometimes have a small tortilla, sometimes a big one, but they’re braised meat dishes that are quite messy. They come from the traditional home cooked and stewed meat that were cooked in Mexican homes with a tortilla on the side. These Tacos Guisado are taking braised, stewy fillings and putting them inside tortillas. When you supersize them the way they do at that particular booth, picking them up is a disaster. You’re eating for long enough, that when you eat tacos like that, the best thing to do is to eat some of the meat and salsa and goodies out of the middle of it. Make the tacos smaller before you start picking it up. Everyone’s been doing it right. It’s just more practical with an overstuffed Tacos Guisado to eat some of the meat out of it first.
Q: Perfect. That was my follow up — is it specific to that location. That makes sense. Moving on to Silver Lake at Sqirl, seeing the menu items coming off the line made me immediately enamored with the restaurant. The thick cut slices of bread were magical and it reminded me of my first fancy toast moment at a Farmer’s Market in Long Beach. It also made me think of the avo toast trend and the conversation that surrounds that quasi-luxury menu item, and where it stands in the food hierarchy. I’ve seen real estate agents offering a year of free avo toast with the purchase of a home, to the Time Magazine story, Millionaire to Millennial: Stop Buying Avo Toast if You Want to Buy a Home. What’s the most you’ve ever paid for toast and what is it that makes toast so magical and accessible with places like Sqirl? Andrew Zimmern
AZ: Sadly, I’ve paid a fortune for toast at very expensive French hotels that I’ve stayed at in Paris—where dining à la carte in a formal dining room with butter and bread that they make there, along with a coffee, will set you back what most people pay for a very expensive lunch. Then again, as a lover of food, if someone is going to charge me 30 dollars for a coffee and toast, the coffee and toast better curl my toes. In that situation they did, so you continue to do it again and again. The magic of Sqirl is that Jessica’s vision was so tight and so concise and so ahead of her time – I mean you could make a list of cities across the United States of places that have done that sort of ripple that she was trying to do.
Now, the avocado toast phenomenon absolutely continues to blow me away. For something that is historically thousands of years old, I’ve seen so many articles about when it was invented and when it became popular. There have been great articles as of late. Two historians just placed it as an 18th or 19th-century development. What I find interesting is how the least expensive food, the food of the most humble origins in other countries that I travel in, when it’s put in the United States, becomes the becomes the most expensive item on the menu. I’m kind of exaggerating to make a point, but not much. If you’re in Mexico, Central America, Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia or North African or Southeast Asian countries where avocados are grown, especially in Central and South America, the avocado is such an inexpensive add-on. A half avocado is a garnish to everything, much like we put parsley on the plate. Every bowl of soup in Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia, comes with a half avocado. They’re delicious. If you want a really inexpensive lunch in those countries, you’ll sit down where you’ll get some tortilla, a half avocado, maybe some braised bone and vegetable in a bowl, and it costs a dollar. You take that same thing and put it in a restaurant in Silver Lake or Tribeca, and it’s 15 dollars. The same thing happened 12 or 15 years ago when shows like mine started. We’re taking people around the world as lovers of food. People were trying to expand what people’s vision of what food can be and should be. We’re taking them into countries, cities, tribes and locations where grilled meat is fresh, delicious and the least expensive food on the menu. Then you go to these fancy gastropubs. Friends will take me out to dinner, and the rabbit liver appetizer on the menu is 20 dollars. Of course, that has to do with the acquisition of fresh rabbit liver, which might be very expensive in the United States but inexpensive in North Africa or a small village in Guatemala. But the fact of the matter is, that American culinarian has appropriated a lot of these foods and used them as a point of sale. Popularity goes up; it’s a unique product; they can afford to charge the money for it. You go in and see the pig’s ears and goat kidneys and other things on the menu, and there is such a premium to be paid for them, and then a week later I’m in a little village in the Dominican Republic, and that’s the least expensive thing on the menu — it’s pretty surprising to me.
Incredible. And when you talk about Night Market + Song, rewriting the playbook for eating Thai food in the US, what are some examples of the old way versus the new way as it pertains to Night Market + Song? Andrew Zimmern
AZ: Let’s take an average Thai restaurant in America. It’s a mish-mash of regional Thai dishes along with a lot of dishes that are considered royal cuisine in Thailand. It’s a 200 item menu, much like a lot of Chinese restaurants, where not all 200 items are cooked very well. Everyone’s favorite Chinese restaurant in America, I joke around, has 200 items, 50 they do well. Once you find what those are you never stray from them. My favorite Chinese Restaurant in the Twin Cities, they have Sweet and Sour on the menu that is Chinese-American food served at a college campus dining center. But their roasted oysters steamed with black bean sauce are some of the best you’ll eat outside of going to Asia — it is a crazy dichotomy. On the flipside, they’ve recreated the best Thai food that goes with drinking beer and alcohol. It’s its own unique type of cuisine in Thailand. Night Market + Song has developed craveable dishes that adhere to a very very very tight playbook. Kris’s crispy rice dishes, kimchi, some of the other things that he’s doing are ones that come from his family experience. It has elevated him as a chef in a restaurant that has a very specific point of view with a much smaller menu. There are still plenty of choices, 25-30 items on the menu, but he doesn’t feel obligated to do it the way all Thai restaurants do.
Moving on to the iconic Langer’s Deli, you highlight the #19 menu item. Rightly so, Langer’s Deli is one of the first restaurants I think of when I think of must-have food from LA. But I can’t help but think that you can get that sandwich anywhere — or at least anywhere that Goldbely delivers since Langer’s is available through that online service. Anyone would believe the obvious that takeout versus in-restaurant dining is vastly different (in-restaurant is definitely better), but can you elaborate on the details that make that true?
AZ: First, of all, it’s true because I say it’s true. Let’s get that out of the way. Services like Goldbely are fantastic. People living in Omaha get a chance to have barbeque from Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, pastrami from Langer’s. However, the reality is that just like I say almost every week on any of my three shows on Travel Channel, the real magic isn’t recreating the risotto with tiny white fish cooked in it at the restaurant. The magic is going there to that restaurant and seeing the fishermen pull up with his nets with little fish and knowing that the fish are going in 20 minutes later when your risotto comes out. The experience is so much better when you actually go to the place. You get the full experience. For me, when I talk about dining, the food is just a piece of it. I want to be in the place with the servers and the customers. I want to smell the air, experience the room. The fact of the matter is that those things are really important. Everyone has restaurants where the food is, eh, nothing better than that, yet we go there week in and week out because of how it makes us feel when we’re there. We like the entire experience. The great thing about Langer’s — the guy slicing the meat, the double toasted rye, you could go on and on about all the things that make it special. I would challenge anyone in their own home, professional or home cook, to build that sandwich as beautifully as they build it there. Just sit at the counters, on those stools with your friends in the corner, and drink a cream soda and eat that fresh pastrami that just came out of the steamer. I don’t think you can replicate that experience at home. I pose the question on the show: Are there other delis? Is it Langer’s? Do they have the best pastrami in America? I happen to think the best pastrami in America is being made in St. Paul, Minnesota at a restaurant called Revival. That being said, the Langer’s sandwich with their slaw and everything is singular. It isn’t replicable anywhere else and it’s essential to the Los Angeles experience.
Something else that really stood out to me in this episode, which was clearly intentional, was your nod to the new generation of chefs in LA. Would you say that that strategy speaks more to what’s going on in LA right now? Are we at a turn of an era?
AZ: In all my shows, because I’m making the show with my production company, I make sure there is a firmly embedded POV in that show that ties together all the experiences in a neat little package. When I’m in a city, if I feel a vibe when I’m walking around and sniffing the air, and I go to LA a lot, I need to put that information out there. It is what separates shows like mine, like Tony’s (Anthony Bourdain), from just about anybody else. I would put David Chang’s new show, “Ugly Delicious,” in that category. The three of us, very different styles and subject matter, but when we go to a city or a restaurant, you get an unvarnished opinion of what is going on. I happen to think that what is making LA’s dining scene so exciting right now is that you have so many talented culinarians heading there because there is such a large audience of diners. Access to incredible foods is everywhere — whether it comes out of the oceans, farms or fields — it’s available. Now that consumers are in every neighborhood and every price point, you don’t have to be in a swanky 8,000 sq ft fine dining establishment. I remember when that was what the scene was like in LA, 30 years ago. Today, there is this beautiful middle ground where young chefs, entrepreneurs, most of them owners, can launch the restaurant of their dreams in Los Angeles because the customers are there — people who are excited about trying new things. When you look at Night Market + Song, while they certainly took a risk, it was a very well hedged bet. You have consumers who want to enjoy great food in an unpretentious, simple surrounding. They’re able to make the economics of the restaurant business work by taking small spaces, in some cases putting a lot of high style into it like Kismet which is sleek, airy, cool and romantic space. Or a place like Night Market + Song that feels, very intentional, like a small Thai drinking joint that serves food. They’re able to create their experience for their diners. They create it fully. When you look around, you see young chefs able to realize their dreams in LA where chefs in New York cannot do it. Try to find any space in New York where the economics work. It’s all frightening. That’s why so many great restaurants are opening up on the fringes of Manhattan, in Queens, in Brooklyn, in the Bronx, across the river in Jersey City where the food scene is blowing up because the rents are kinder. Young chef entrepreneurs can realize their dreams, and if I see something like that, I’m going to say it.
For all of your binge-watching needs, check out the rest of the episodes here.
Keep in touch with Andrew Zimmern’s incredible food adventures here. Happy feasting.