The Celsius1414 Journal

Counter Intelligence

Cropped photo of cover from book Counter Intelligence by Jonathan Gold

It's a bit like playing the Russian Roulette of revered restaurant reviews, reading Jonathan Gold's Y2K collection, Counter Intelligence, overflowing with hundreds of tempting locations across Los Angeles. Many, alas, are no more. You fall in utter love with his always evocative and pleasingly literate descriptions, with dreams of dishes and ingredients and sights and smells and music...then the review finishes, and the question is posed — does this place still exist? Or has Fate dealt both it and you a cruel blow?

As evidence, a paragraph on Cemitas Poblanas, a Mexican place on Denver Ave. in South LA specializing in food from Puebla:

When you order a cemita here, the cook cuts a roll in half, tears out a little of the bread's interior to leave more room for stuff, and then presses it down on the iron griddle with a device that looks like a cross between a plunger and a giant potato masher, so that the edges crisp up correctly, then assembles the sandwich with the elaborate care of an ordinarily crooked contractor who suddenly finds himself working on a construction project for the mob. It is everything you could want from a sandwich — an essay in contrasts between the heat of the milanesa and the soothing coolness of cheese; the searing heat of the chipotle chiles against the bland smoothness of avocado; the solidity of the roll against the fragility of the meat.

Hats off! There's a new sandwich in town.

Google or Yelp awaits, if you dare. (Spoiler alert: ¡ay de mí!, pero no. They might have moved to Boyle Heights.)

Returning to the original Counter Intelligence, which I'm reading for the first time, I become intrigued by the entry on Chameli Vegetarian Indian Restaurant in Rosemead...only to find it closed as well[1]. The book becomes an irresistible, bittersweet admixture of poetry and obituary. And I'm only in the C chapter.

Meanwhile, you could play a relatively safer game and pick up a copy of Gold's 101 Best Restaurants book from a couple years back. (Or get an LA Times subscription to access their website or app.) Many of those places are still around. Alternatively, and for free, sign up for his Counter Intelligence newsletter for regular updates. Or check out his segments during KCRW's Good Food radio show/podcast.

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[1] There's always my very favorite Indian/Gujarati place, Ashirwad the Blessings, over in Upland. They're only closed on Mondays, and no 💔 to be found ever.