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Sibling Revelry in an Edible Tour of the Town

December 13, 1987|RUTH REICHL

Pacific Dining Car, 1310 West 6th St., Los Angeles, (213) 483-6000. Open daily, 24 hours.

Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 624-2378. Open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Deli World Cafe, 125 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (818) 572-6588. Open daily, 8 a.m.-9:15 p.m.

Matsuhisa, 129 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 659-9639. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, for dinner daily. Dinner for two, food only, $40-$65.

St. Estephe, 2640 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach. (213) 545-1334. Open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday-Saturday. Dinner for two, food only, $60-$100.

My mother claims that when she was growing up, her family ate the same thing for dinner every night. I personally find this hard to believe, but a constant diet of hamburgers (made, she assures me, with the very best ground sirloin), peas and rice may explain my mother's complete lack of interest in food.

What is harder to explain is how my mother's two children, growing up in a house where food and money were not considered fit topics for discussion, came to be such passionate eaters. My brother, in fact, is the only person I know who enjoys eating as much as I do. We are not big eaters exactly, but we are frequent eaters, and nothing makes us happier than a day filled with a lot of little meals. The more meals, to my mind, the better.

My brother now lives halfway around the world, but last week he came for a visit. It was his first time ever in Los Angeles, and I wanted to give him an edible tour of our town. I'll spare you the entire itinerary--he was here for four days--but a single day's worth may prove helpful next time you have a food lover in tow.

My brother thinks going out for breakfast is fun. Normally, I'd take first-time visitors to the Polo Lounge or Hugo's, but I took my brother to Pacific Dining Car instead. "This isn't how I imagined Los Angeles," he said-- and that, of course, is the point of the place. Walking into this clubby room, which may be the city's most convincing argument for the power breakfast, is something of a shock to a person expecting palm trees and calm breezes. On this morning, all the big comfortable booths were filled with men in suits--businessmen and politicians who smiled benignly as large plates of food were set before them. We ordered some hearty American stuff--roast beef hash and pancakes and coffee and large glasses of juice.

But I wanted him to see another urban side of the city, so after breakfast I took my brother for a walk through the Grand Central Market. It was quite a change from the sedate suits we had seen at breakfast. The market bustled as people bargained for mangoes and pig's ears, trying to outwit the various vendors. We stopped at the dried chile stall to look at the wrinkled pods, so much heat waiting to be released. At another stall we stared at the various kinds of crema-- big creamy piles of that South American sour cream that seems to change each time it crosses a border. As I was trying to discover the differences between them, my brother disappeared.

But I knew exactly where to look for him. In our family, we believe that if there's a line that has anything to do with food you should probably stand in it. So I was not surprised to find my brother queuing up at the taco stand in the center of the market. There is almost always a line here, and while we waited I tried to talk Bob into trying morcilla-- blood pudding. In vain; he walked away munching happily on a hefty tortilla filled with carnitas .

From there we went east again to Monterey Park, a stop no food lover should miss. This is Chinatown on a grand scale, a whole community that seems dedicated to the art of eating. There is food everywhere--but nowhere is it quite so overwhelming as at the huge Hong Kong supermarket. To really get a look at this place, climb up the stairs to the little deli that overlooks the scene. "Are we still in America?" asked my brother, surveying the food stalls and the tables filled with people happily plying their chopsticks.

Of course we had to have a little bit to eat. And then, because everything was so good, a little more. Before we knew what we were doing, we had munched our way through a bowl of noodles, some raw marinated crab and a little container of steamed spareribs.

It seemed time to take a break--so we went to the Huntington Gallery. A few hours of strolling through the gardens, of course, left us feeling a bit peckish, and as we made our way through the roses (still, incredibly, in bloom) I considered where we should go for lunch. I wanted the sort of restaurant you find only in Los Angeles, a place where the food would be interesting and unlike anything my brother had ever tasted before. So I took him to Matsuhisa.

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