Text by Paola Corini
Photographs by Luca De Santis
The story of Michelin began in 1889, thanks to two French brothers, André and Édouard, a Scottish wife, rubber and the dream of modern transport. Thirty-five thousand copies of the first Red Guide (which was blue until 1931) were printed, with the following prophecy: “This guide was born with the century and will be just as long-lived”. The free guide was for the odd thousand French automobiles on the road and was a practical survey of petrol pumps, garages, mechanics, hotels and restaurants. In 1926 Étienne Michelin, Édouard’s son, created the stars for good country eateries.
A restaurant boasting three stars “is worth a special journey”, two stars “worth a detour”, and one star “a very good restaurant”.
How a manual passing judgement on the cuisine tasted during a car journey can become popular is a story that has been repeated over the centuries, and it’s the type of thing that California bids to be done again.
Jonathan Gold was born in Los Angeles in 1960 and was studying art and music at UCLA when he decided to go after a strange and very precise ambition (which he described as a rather reasonable
alternative to graduating): his aim was to eat, at least once a week, in every restaurant in Pico Boulevard. Pico is a fifteen-mile-long strip of tarmac, stretching from Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica to Central Avenue in Downtown L.A.
Gold started with a fried manioc in a Latino pupuseria and gradually went westwards to round off with fries and chili from the Mexican joint near the beach.
In a few years he became a top journalist for the Los Angeles Times and in 2007 he would be the first Pulitzer Prize winner for food criticism articles. Pico slices through different neighbourhoods and seemed to him one of the most dynamic streets in the world for “pan-ethnic” food. This is how Gold rounded off one of his articles in September 1998: “Was Pico really all that it had seemed to be? Or had I moved onto another scene?”.
Still today, it’s worth taking a detour straight away wherever Gold goes, to learn the menus of third-generation 30-year-olds who probably have an equally as precise ambition: to make the traditional “rustic cuisine” of their exotic families into culinary landmarks that are worth the special journey in this
metropolis where the car reigns supreme. Los Angeles covers an immense area, and at times you can forget all about its ocean, unless you decide to set up home by the sea, because Venice is still a place that can be loved. The same way you can still love the rugged Topanga canyon, where we dream of living now and then. Or Sunset Boulevard as it flows down through the hills of Los Feliz and Silver Lake like a sweet, multi-lane waterslide. But what we couldn’t get enough of were the days in Downtown L.A. We never got bored of going back to S Santa Fe Avenue, in the morning when Bread Lounge brings out its freshly baked Balkan Boreks, sprinkled with sesame seeds and cooked until they’re golden-brown, or at night when the diggers carried on their demolition of the pillars of unknown highways that probably led over the river. The other Los Angeles scene we wanted to haunt for a million different reasons was the lozenge-shaped area going from Downtown to Los Angeles River called the Arts District.
Read the full story in Issue N.1 of Cartography