When I first moved to Los Angeles, hot food was such a fad that one restaurant rated its dishes from 1 to 10 stars; if you could actually eat the 10-star dish on 10 occasions, you got a free meal. And your name on a plaque on the wall.
There were 10 or 15 names on the wall, and I thought, "If they can do it, so can I." So I ordered the 10-star dish.
"Are you sure?" asked the waiter. I nodded. He gave me a look that I interpreted as awe and brought me the dish.
It was very, very hot. I probably could have eaten it--except that it tasted just plain awful. It was, and is, astonishing to me that 10 or 15 people had not only eaten the dish but ordered it again.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 16, 1991 Home Edition Food Part H Page 39 Column 3 Food Desk 2 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Lamb Frankies--In "Our Hall of Flame" issue in the Food Section of May 9, lamb frankies were incorrectly identified as being served at Chutneys. They are, of course, one of the signature dishes at Bombay Cafe, 12113 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Los Angeles. The phone number is (213) 820-2070. Our apologies.
Today, people looking for real heat don't have to put up with awful food. There are lots of places serving fiery food that is absolutely delicious. What follows are some of our favorites.
LA SERENATA DE GARIBALDI
The food here is never painfully hot, but the cooks create an amazing array of chile sauces, each with its own distinct flavor. My favorite dish here is the fish enchilada in chipotle sauce.
1842 E. First St., Los Angeles, (213) 265-2887.
Since this is a classic Thai cafe, there are virtually dozens of hot dishes from which to choose. But I really like the clean flavors of the squid salad, the rings of squid set off against whole pieces of jalapeno peppers, and then cooled with herbs and lettuce. This is the greenest heat you'll ever taste.
5176 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (213) 660-8006.
The most surprising hot dish I've recently had was served for dessert in the very sedate dining room of Checkers Hotel. Mascarpone ice (it has an interesting edge of icy sourness) is topped with a sauce of peppered berries. I was expecting something mildly piquant, but this is a sauce with enough bite to leave your lips stinging.
535 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 624-0000.
If you can't take the intense heat of Chutneys' lamb frankie (it's an Indian lamb sandwich), you can always temper it with one of the fresh chutneys served at the restaurant.
2406 S. Barrington Ave., West Los Angeles, (213) 477-6263.