The Best Bagel of My Life

Plus: An Epic Cooking Day, Sugarsnap Cacio e Pepe, and Noah Galvin on Lunch Therapy.

Hey everyone,

A few weeks ago I had Ed Levine on Lunch Therapy and he said something that I couldn’t forget. After decades of writing about New York food — he is, after all, the author of New York Eats — he said the best bagel he’s had, maybe ever, was the one at Courage Bagels in Virgil Village here in Los Angeles.

For any born-and-bred New Yorker, this is almost sacrilege. The best bagel’s in Los Angeles? How could that be? For years, I was so desperate for a good bagel here, I resorted to making my own. But now something’s shifting: Tejal Rao wrote about it in The New York Times (“The Best Bagels are in California (Sorry, New York)”). How could I, a bagel obsessive, not seek out these bagels that are tearing our country apart?

So on Friday, at 1:40 PM, I arrived at Courage Bagels expecting an enormous line, and there were only two people in front of me. (This is a hot tip, for those who want to avoid the line.) I ordered two halves: one, “Run It Through The Garden” (cream cheese, tomato, cucumber, onion, caper, dill, lemon, salt, pepper, olive oil) and, the other, “Simply Delicious” (cream cheese, capers, salmon, olive oil, pepper, lemon).

My friends: there’s no contest. This is EASILY the best bagel I’ve ever eaten. I ate half of it in my car and took this picture to show you the underneath.

So deep, dark, and crackly — like the most wonderfully charred bread or pizza — but then, and here’s the important part, so light. This bagel wasn’t even remotely dense. It basically floated out of the container that they served it in. I loved it so much, that instead of eating the second half in my car, I raced it home so that Craig could try it.

Craig is anti-superlative — he hates it when I call anything “the best this” or “the best that” — but he quickly echoed my praise. “It really is the best,” he said, wanting more of it than I was willing to give him.

And so, if you live in L.A. and you love bagels and you haven’t been to Courage? You have no excuse. Get thee to a bagelry!

Now on to cooking matters…

Yesterday, I had a wonderful day of cooking.

I felt like an Italian grandmother, going to the farmer’s market in the morning and gathering up strawberries and basil and olives and radicchio, and then I spent the afternoon in the kitchen whipping things up for a dinner party… but in the most rustic, casual way.

So I made a pavlova out of Nicole Rucker’s wonderful book, Dappled.

I sliced rhubarb…

…and then stewed it with sugar and vanilla and a few berries until a knife went through the pieces easily.

I hand chopped olives with anchovies and garlic and capers to make Nancy Silverton’s olive tapenade from Mozza at Home. (The secret ingredients are orange zest and lemon zest; then you finish with lemon juice and olive oil and parsley.) I served that with Bellwether Farms ricotta and some homemade crostini.

For the entree, I made my famous spicy spatchcocked chicken with couscous and salsa verde.

For the couscous, I played with another Nancy Silverton recipe from that same book, adding radicchio — which gave a great hit of purple — and ricotta salata. Oh: and lots of dill.

The chickens I spiced and seasoned the night before — coriander seeds, fennel seeds, black pepper, kosher salt — and roasted them at 425 until golden and 165 on a thermometer.

With them, I served a salsa verde that I made by blitzing garlic, anchovies, capers, and lots and lots of herbs in a food processor with lemon juice and olive oil.

And then, for dessert, I served the pavlova by topping it with whipped cream, the stewed rhubarb and berries, and then some fresh blackberries and strawberries on top.

I gotta say: it was kind of perfect? The dinner guests swooned!

Here they are: Felicia Fasano, casting director extraordinaire, who’s our neighbor and new friend, Sammy Birch (a really talented writer), and Kate Berlant (one of the funniest people alive… who’s also been on Lunch Therapy!).

It was a most excellent evening.

On Friday, we met our friend Jimmy, who we hadn’t seen in a year and a half because of Covid, for dinner at Bar Restaurant and had a grand old time.

The dish that blew me away were these mussels which were served out of the shell, in the most scrumptious broth, next to a piece of toasted bread that was soaking everything up with French fries piled on top. Loved it.

On Saturday, I decided to use some sugarsnap peas that I had in the fridge… so I made Joshua McFadden’s cacio e Pepe with sugarsnap peas from his cookbook, SIX SEASONS.

Instead of making it exactly his way, where you make a cacio e Pepe compound butter, I used my own technique for cacio e Pepe… adding the slivered sugarsnaps in with the spaghetti at the very last second. Everything else was the same.

Phew! That was a lot of eating.

Guess who’s on Lunch Therapy this week? It’s Broadway star and Good Doctor doctor, Noah Galvin:

It’s a really lovely talk that covers Noah’s childhood on the road as Gavroche in Les Miz, his memories of cooking with his father — who made epic meals of Sunday Gravy that simmered for two whole days on the stove — and teaching his boyfriend, actor Ben Platt, how to make lasagna during quarantine.

CLICK HERE to listen.

Okay, that’s all for this week! If you want to receive Thursday’s newsletter for paid-subscribers only, here’s the discount code. Last week, I wrote about the cookbooks that I’d save in a fire.

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Until next time….

Your friend,