So how and why does one go about eating at every restaurant in the Zagat Guide? Start with a dose of crazy, add a pinch of insanity and top off with a bit of inanity.
At the beginning the reasons for doing this were anything but noble. Why The Monster did it? Yes, to explore, to break out, to see a city, to acquire knowledge, to be useful, to be a resource, to eat well. But also because The Monster didn’t know what else to do. The Monster was completely and utterly lost and staring straight into a future that was doomed to be a disappointment. Maybe The Monster had peaked, and this was the inevitable descent into a life of late night reruns and mismatched socks. Maybe the feather duster and Chevy S-10 pick-up truck were a harbinger, The Monster’s place at the table wasn’t at the head, or even with the adults, but playing king forever at the kiddie table…
LA is nothing if not a playground for invention. Couldn’t sing, couldn’t play an instrument, wasn’t mechanical, mathematical, overly analytical. Astronomy or astrology or vegan ethics were of no interest. Cults a nonstarter unless The Monster lead them and that seemed like a hell of a lot of work. Sports were great, The Monster was average. Nobody hands out ribbons for reading lots of magazines or trophies for really enjoying your vacation. Like photography, never take pictures. Art and architecture fascinate to the point where The Monster will buy coffee table books then never look at them. However, giving the same books as gifts, lavishing praise on something The Monster never once even flipped through makes sense in the hope that the book will forever be forwarded on without anyone ever peaking inside.
But along the way this became about so much more. A testament to finishing and finding happiness, a way to thank Papa Monster who introduced me to my love of food and due to cancer now lives without being able to eat but never complains, a way to thank Mama Monster for her unyielding support, a way to show Mrs. Monster adventures at every turn.
It is and was about experiences that never would have happened otherwise, memories that never would have been shared, laughter and love that would not be known. A city-wide adventure that was as much about growth as it was about eating.
There were meals accompanied by talk and meals shrouded in reverent silence, meals alone and meals with fabulously large groups. Some were gastronomic operas, others death metal feeding frenzies. Everyone one is cherished.
Step 1) Buy A Zagat Guide. When The Monster started this game in 1999 Zagat was the undisputed king of restaurant reviews the world around. The internet wasn’t yet populated with websites like Yelp and Citysearch, the idea of blogging was just created that year, and the explosion of shows about restaurants, chefs and all things eating were still in their infancy. Zagat was the compendium of the dining scene.
A trip to the bookstore (remember those antiquated places?) was in order. Leafing through the first guide was an invitation to adventure, a call to exploration, a ticket to eating well. There were unrecognizable city names within Los Angeles (Atwater Village, Pico Rivera, Lakewood, Downey, La Canada Flintridge, Rowland Heights, Saugus, Stevenson Ranch) a surfeit of cuisines (Afghani, Argentinean, Belgian, Cuban, Ethiopian, Indonesian, Israeli, Malaysian, Nepalese, Persian, Peruvian, Polish, Polynesian, Scottish, Tibetan, Turkish, Venezuelan, Vietnamese) and a daunting task ahead that never once seemed possible.
Step 2) Eat Poorly. In the early years choosing where to go was easy. What was close and cheap. The Monster had neither the time nor the resources to do much else. After eating at a restaurant a little dot would go by the name indicating that it had been crossed off the list.
Perhaps forty restaurants were hit the first year. Buying the guide the following year was a lesson in humility. More new restaurants had opened up than places visited. Meaning there were even more places to go than the year before.
Step 3) Prepare A Battle-Plan. Fairly soon it became obvious without a systematic approach to finishing this would never happen. Driving to Arcadia and having lunch was out of the question unless a new strategy was employed. Thus, the rules of the game were born. At least one cooked dish had to be ordered at every restaurant. So a typical lunch might consist of an appetizer at one restaurant, a main course at another followed by an appetizer at a third. In between would be exploring a new area of town that otherwise would never be visited. As many as five restaurants would be hit in a single sitting in this way. Dinner with friends meant The Monster had to choose the location even if it entailed traversing the city in rush hour. Every meal at a restaurant already crossed off was a missed opportunity that wasted both precious time and money.
Step 4) Pick Out A Restaurant To End The Journey. Without a goal in sight, a place to aspire to, a means to which this would have a finite end, the adventure would be impossible. An iconic LA institution had to be picked, a place that would not close given there was no way of knowing how many years this would ultimately take. With that restaurant in mind (and it changed once due to circumstances detailed later) the hunt began in earnest.
Step 5) Update, Eat, Update Eat. Every year in September when the new guide came out was cause for unbridled excitement and nervous heart-ache. The goal was to go through one extant guide, so using older versions was out of the question. The idea was to have eaten at every restaurant within the guide in that given year. Too many places would naturally close and no new places would be added if the 1999 Guide or 2004 Guide was the benchmark. Hours were spent updating one guide to the next, seeing what places had closed, what had opened, and how many restaurants were left. Almost every year the idea seemed more daunting, more impossible, more remote. The number of places left would invariably go up, not down. Not quitting was a yearly battle. For what ultimately was the prize?
Step 6) Figure Out The Prize. Why this ultimately became important is the reason The Monster will soon finish off this grand adventure.
Step 7) Reach The end. Welcome to the final twenty restaurants. Hope you enjoy as much as The Monster has…