Chili coming up again
Not in the way you think, although Mrs. Olsen's (on the beach in Oxnard) says on its menu "Our chili speaks for itself—sooner or later." But today I was looking back on some of the previous chili discussions on this board and not finding nirvana.
Beginning when I was quite young, any time I went to a restaurant that served chili, I wanted to try it. I might have been eating breakfast, but if chili was on the menu, it was on my table. I love chili, and all chili is different—except at chili cookoffs, where everything is a variation on the same tired Texas version, and the only virtue seems to be spiciness.
I came from the midwest, and grew up on what turns out to be more or less the Cincinnati version, although I didn't realize that was so until much later. Cincinnati chili in LA? Forget about it. Okay, Chili John's is superficially similar, mainly thanks to the spaghetti, but the spices are somewhere else. While I have roots in the midwestern style, really good Texas chili can ring my bell. New Mexico Green Chile Stew can be a religious experience, but try to find THAT in LA.
I can't really have much of a conversation with anyone who thinks that the slime they put on Tommy's burgers in chili. No common ground there. I can tolerate Fatburger's chili, on the other hand, although I'm not really sure why. Slaw Dogs, a random choice, doesn't try hard enough. The Hat's chili I didn't really notice when I ate it. The burger joints' versions are generally perfunctory.
But what I'm working up to is that I just had a surprisingly fine bowl of chili at lunch today, at the last place I would have expected it: the fourth floor bar at Neiman-Marcus in Beverly Hills. Go ahead, throw your elitist spears, I understand. But damn, it was fine, served with grated cheese, chopped onions and a dollop of sour cream (eww). I wolfed it down with great pleasure.And it was so guilt-free that when I finished, I couldn't even see my reflection in the bowl. It cost $10.50 and was probably the bargain of the menu.
I've tried Tub's (just okay) and I used to go to Chili My Soul. (The owner promised to make a Cincinnati for me eventually, and I've never forgiven him for dying.) I tried Chili addiction, which was decent when it opened, but went downhill faster than Sarah Silverman's material.
So I'm wondering if the eclectic diners here have found some other chili around town that I ought to experiment with. Are there other upscale department store lunch places that are secretly turning out something fine? When I was young, there was a hardware store in Bedford, Indiana which had a lunch counter chili that was world-class. Is there a chili counter in a three-day tire store somewhere in the valley that has eluded detection?
Or should I just go cook for myself?