You know all about the clam chowder and baked beans, the French dip sandwiches and the Dodger dogs. But the cities represented by Sunday’s Super Bowl contenders have cuisines that are far more complex and interesting than those old-familiars.
“With our immigrants from Latin America and Asia, we’re a very different city than most cities in America,” said Los Angeles-based Roy Choi, whose Best Friend opened recently at Park MGM — and who, as the founder of the Korean taco truck, knows a little something about ethnic influences. “We’re actually the complete antithesis and mirror image of a city like Boston, because our roots are not European.
“L.A. food to me is just daily-life food. We’re a very immigrant-based city, but that culture spreads across through all people; it doesn’t matter race and color. Anyone can relate to a milkshake and hamburger, and to a spicy Korean stew or Malaysian
fried rice. Because of our cultures, that defines the way we eat and the way we live and the way we kind of cross lines and kind of pollinate each other.”
Paul Wahlberg, chef and owner — with his actor brothers Donnie and Mark — of the Wahlburgers chain, said Boston cuisine has been flavored by immigrants from Germany, Italy and Poland.
“So there are these different things you can find in these places, and it’s amazing,” said Wahlberg, who has a restaurant in the Grand Bazaar Shops. “In Fall River you have Portuguese, with chorizo and linguica. We were in Dorchester, where there was a huge Polish population. A teacher I had in high school will visit me in the restaurant once in a while and bring me stuffed cabbage.”
Boston native Matthew Hurley, executive chef of Cut at Palazzo, agreed.
“The West Coast is very ethnic, but I look at New England as more Irish, Italian, Eastern European,” he said. “My parents were Irish, so we had corned beef and cabbage. There were pierogies, because we had those Eastern European neighborhoods.”
But a city’s food, like cities themselves, is constantly evolving.
“It always shifts,” said Alan Mardonovich, executive chef of Le Cirque at Bellagio. Mardonovich, a native of Orange County, California, who goes back frequently to visit family in Los Angeles, said at age 37 he’s seen an evolution in his lifetime.
“You had French, and then you went through your California coastal cuisine, and then it kind of went through the food-truck-strip-mall-type jazz spot,” he said. “Now you have legitimate sit-down eateries that have pretty high expectations and pretty reasonable prices. And even on the high-end level, you’ve got people coming from out of town setting up shop in Los Angeles, and that speaks volumes. It’s always been a younger demographic, but very savvy.”
One of the biggest influences on Southern California cuisine, Mardonovich said, is the easy availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Year-round produce, it’s a luxury,” he said. “You have that accessibility, that direct contact with the farmer that’s going to grow you something very specific.”
Choi does make one concession: “We ain’t got any lobster rolls or chowder, though.”
As for the game, they’ll be backing the hometown teams.
“With all of the politics of football right now, it’s hard to support it wholeheartedly,” Choi said. “I like the game itself. I grew up around the Rams and Raiders; when I was a kid, the Raiders were in L.A. I grew up around the Rams and all the teams from Pat Haden to Vince Ferragamo to Jack Youngblood.
“We need this one. (After the the Dodgers lost to the Red Sox in the last World Series), we can’t lose to Boston; no way. If Boston takes this one, we’re going to look to the NBA finals and the Celtics and the Lakers.”
“I know it’s going to be a tough game,” he said. “The Rams have a great team, a young team, explosive. A lot of the Patriots players are excited about it, but they know this is not a given.
“How we grew up as sports fans to what we see today, there’s a big difference. Back in the day you saw teams like the Cowboys, the Steelers, the Dolphins, these great teams. The Patriots had great players that we loved, but you usually had to find somebody to support in the postseason. And now we’ve been very, very fortunate.”
He’s planning to serve a special burger in his Boston restaurants Sunday — the Five Ring Burger, which he said was designed by Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Along with the turkey bacon and sriracha ketchup, it’ll be stacked with five thick-cut crispy onion rings.
“And God willing,” he said, “it’ll go right through the Super Bowl and we might have to make a slight change.”
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.Las Vegas Sands operates Palazzo and The Venetian.
Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.