‘Would you date a guy with a really camp voice?’ I ask as we pass a tall, smartly dressed young man speaking to his friends with certain flair. ‘Ummmmm, would I date myself, you mean?’ he answers with a sly sideways glance, ‘why yes, yes I would.’ I try to protest that he doesn’t sound that effeminate but I’m cut off. ‘Sometimes on the phone people think I’m a woman, you know. Like, they’ll ask my name and when I tell them they say, “oh, that’s an interesting name for a woman”’. I howl with laughter on the fourth floor of Westfield, tripping over my penny loafers with glee.
My best friend moved to the other side of the world. Not to get away from me (right, pal? TELL THEM) but to carve out a new life with her husband. She’s like that – adventurous, driven and devoted. She also matches me, pound-for-pound, when a plate of food is set in front of her. No mean feat. We share a romance with food; a love for cooking it, eating it, writing and obsessing about it. We both hate runny eggs and both love… well, most other foods. She’s not big on pork, but that’s ok, as it balances my passionate and excessive consumption. When I’m blue, she cooks for me. When I’m exultant, she cooks for me. On weekdays ending in ‘ay’, she cooks for me. When we worked in the same building, our productivity plummeted as a result of regular tea/yoghurt/vending machine/crudités breaks. I sat by her side as Maid of Honour on her wedding day and greedily enjoyed the spoils of a considered, and spectacular, matrimonial feast. She waited patiently when I was vegan, tolerated me as a vegetarian, encouraged me as a pescatarian and now, frets about me as a glutton. I miss her. I’ve been lucky to visit her twice since she fled my clutches and each time we easily picked up where we left off. And ate a lot of hot pastrami. I love her a lot. Like I love sandwiches a lot. Far from the madding crowds, she takes me to grand, tragic, on-the-up-again Downtown, Los Angeles. If she had blindfolded me in, say, Hollywood, spun me around and around in circles then whipped the blindfold off in Downtown, I would have sworn I was in NYC. Or, at least, on the set of Seinfeld or something. But there we were, on the eerily quiet streets, passing the run-down early 1900s movie theatres and playing a round or two of ‘Hipster or Hobo?’ Baco Mercat is a fancy sandwich shop and bar snuggled in the bosom of this exotic, Gotham City landscape. Our waiter is sassy, dropping an F-Bomb here and there and making me feel like an idiot in the most charming way. On his recommendation we each order a Vinegar_Based Sweet & Sour Soda ($3); the pear and meyer lemon varieties from a list of fifteen flavours. They are indeed vinegary and sweet and sour – an absurdly appealing mix of tart, fetid and irresistible. We share the “Cowgirl Creamery” cheese plate ($19), a top-shelf selection replete with candied pine nuts, honeycomb and pickled golden beets. But we’re here for the ‘baco’ flatbread sandwich. I’m pretty sure people have been wrapping bread around meat since people were monkeys, and the baco renovates this ancient art to modern masterpiece. I order The Original – pork, beef carnitas, salbitxada ($10) and my buddy, The Meatball – raisin, pine nut, tomato ($14). Both come served in a bowl, the famed flatbread piled high with the chosen fillings – so high I have to chip away with a fork before grabbing it and taking the whole lot on a messy journey to my mouth. The chunks of pork are satisfyingly fatty, the lard softening a potentially tough equal-measure of meat; the beef is yielding and prickly with heat. Heaped with tangy, sweet, nutty Salbitxada sauce and with minimal rocket/arugala, I want to order a second helping immediately upon finishing the first. It’s a sandwich to break my heart. Lucky then that the broad sitting opposite me is the woman to help mend it. As much as I miss sharing the same city as my best friend, exploring Los Angeles and it’s sprawling, glorious eating options with her is delicious consolation.