If you think running around Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Diego searching for the absolute best food-and-wine experiences is a fun job, you're totally right. And it's even more fun when you get to do it with friends who also happen to be plugged-in food and wine experts. With their guidance, I got to pair sushi and old Burgundy, foie gras with sparkling rosé, and filet mignon with California Merlot—and that was all in one crazy night. My sidekicks included Peter Birmingham of Norman's restaurant (by all accounts L.A.'s best sommelier), Richard Betts (who flew from his job overseeing the cellar at the Little Nell in Aspen to join my road trip), Central Coast winemaker Morgan Clendenen and one of my favorite chefs on the planet, Trey Foshee of George's at the Cove in La Jolla. The pace was sometimes insane; on my last night in L.A., we stayed so late at Spago (one of the restaurants I adore most) that I didn't check into my hotel until after 1 a.m. But it doesn't matter how much time we'll have to spend recovering—it was worth it.
FRIDAY, 1 P.M.
My first day in L.A. I meet up with Nancy Silverton (founder of La Brea Bakery and co-founder of Campanile restaurant) and the excellent food writer Jonathan Gold. Our destination: Pacific Dining Car, a railroad car turned dinersteak house that's been parked in the same spot for 80 years. This might be the only 24-hour restaurant with a sommelier, Ron Washam, and a 25-page wine list with status French selections like Lynch-Bages. We could have had pancakes and the legendary 1999 Château d'Yquem Sauternes (though the less acidic 2004 Inniskillin Riesling ice wine from Canada's Niagara Peninsula would pair better with the maple syrup). But everyone orders the dry-aged beef, so we dig into a medium-rare New York strip steak cooked exactly right. Washam is out of Nancy's favorite, a Turley Petite Syrah, a wine so deeply purple she calls it a tooth stainer; instead we pick the powerful 2002 Copain Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah from one of California's most promising winemakers.