by Dan Johnson
Ask yourself, do you prefer to spend eight dollars eating a heaping plate of unpalatable food devoid of nutritional value or do your interests lie in the realm of getting a meager serving of delicious cuisine that delights the taste buds but leaves your stomach feeling neglected?
This is the axis mundi of 8.72, the prime conundrum that informs all other mysteries in the broader cosmology of cheap food in Downtown Los Angeles circa 2017.
Almost a year into the pithy world of economy gastro-blogging and I am no closer to proposing a master theory for categorizing the priorities of my intestinal lusts. I can only shrug off the ponderous meta-questions and suggest that dining frugal in Downtown is like white water rafting. It’s a constant exercise in navigation that toes a fine line between scenic splendor and the threat of drowning. When in doubt, stay out of the river.
As much as I dread the toilet-bowl busters that lurk in the high-quantity/low-quality stretches of the culinary rapids, I’ve come to fear the disappointment of high-quality/low-quantity food just as much.
We call it mealtime blue balls in the biz. It’s that sinking sensation when your meal arrives and you realize that the pixelated photo on the menu is only slightly smaller than the dish itself. The cold-sweat begins to drip down your forehead as you begin to work the calculus of fullness with variables for the size of your stomach versus the disproportionately small quantity of food with wild cards accounting for the availability of after dinner mints or available food items in your pantry.
Not that good food is without its joys. Take ET Thai for example. It’s the Southeast Asian delivery icon that’s launched ten thousand bong rips, fed hundreds of avant-garde indie film shoots and helped reduce a city’s worth of hangovers.
The name is an acronym for “Excellent Thai,” which is accurate. Their well-adorned, but unassuming Westlake brick and mortar next to the Monty serves up a delicious eight-dollar tofu spicy fried rice. The rice tasted of anise and the tofu was fried to a crisp perfection that preserved some semblance of moisture within the soy cubes’ pan-browned shells.
My was it delicious. Unfortunately, it did not do the trick for me. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I’m just a fat little piglet with a gluttonous belly stretched beyond the obvious dimensions of my trim frame. Maybe I’m a cheapskate. Maybe I’m a rude little skinflint who should have made his column 15.72 so I could stop denigrating the good name of fine establishments in the business of serving decent food.
Look, if I listened to all the insults others threw at me (or a quarter of the awful, soul-scathing shit I toss at myself in the darker hours of the day), I’d be a wreck. That’s no sort of way to live life. If I’m being completely honest, it’s that sometimes I’m too lazy to ponder the byzantine web of costs that unite chefs with food providers with distribution services with big ag farms and farm supply companies and water right negotiators. That’s that.
If I get cranky on any given day due to a perceived slight in meal portions it’s because I have a stomach, a penis and a brain and only enough blood to work one third of those at any given time. You do the math.
I award ET Thai a “1” on the binary, but wish they would dole out more than what I deserve, full well knowing that any relationship predicated on one party secretly hoping the other will change is a doomed proposition.