Friday, January 22, 2010

Tuna salad traditions at my favorite LA haunt, Joan's on Third

“Where would you be the mayor of?” Josh of Food GPS asks me during our carbo-loading dinner at Border Grill. We are discussing Foursquare, the mobile application that allows users to tell their friends where they are at any given moment. Frequent patrons of a certain location can earn “virtual badges” and become the “mayor” of that location if they visit it more often than other Foursquare users.

[Translation: It’s the ideal application for dorky social networkers who feel compelled to tell everyone what they are doing at every single moment of the day. (Including when they are showering, brushing their teeth or eating a burrito.)]

I contemplate Josh’s hypothetical question for a moment (I don’t subscribe to the app or to such overt dorkiness), before giving my snarky answer.

Anthropologie.” I joke.

He smiles politely – not sure if I’m kidding. (Though, to be fair, I’m not sure if I’m kidding either.)

I snatch up tortilla chip from the basket on the table and give more thoughtful consideration to the question. Where do I go the most? And then it hits me.

“Actually, probably Joan’s on Third.” I say with conviction.

This time Josh’s smile is genuine – anyone would be happy to be the mayor of Joan’s on Third, the casual open-air café and gourmet marketplace in West Hollywood that is actually worthy of the long lines and crowds congregating in and outside the restaurant. With its pristine white surfaces, hint of epicurean haughtiness and pleasantly chaotic atmosphere, it’s the type of place that seems more suited for Soho in New York than the often tragically trendy Los Angeles.

Which, of course, makes it all the more appealing to its (mostly) posh patrons.

What Josh doesn’t know is that even though I’ve been to Joan’s on Third more times than I can count on my fingers and pedicured toes, I’ve only eaten there once – for a brief nosh session with one of the café’s signature lemon bars. On every other occasion I’ve been dashing in and out with an order for my work superiors or, now that I’m no longer working as an entertainment industry pion, a container of their tuna salad for my lunch.

I imagine that the cafe’s staff recognizes me by now. They probably silently exchange glances when I walk through the swinging glass doors, my pace quick and purposeful as I make a bee-line for the to-go counter.

“It’s the girl who always orders a third of a pound of tuna salad with a side of pickles.” I envision them whispering to one another. “Is that all she eats? Does she sit in her apartment alone, eating the tuna with a fork while she watches ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and pines for Patrick Dempsey?”

I often want to tell them, “I’m not a cat lady! It’s for a sandwich! I’m using it for my sandwich tomorrow! With bread!”

I don’t though. I order it with a sheepish smile, briefly contemplate adding on one of their caramel marshmallows or $1 chocolate dream cookies, and then am on my way as soon as they call my name and hand over that familiar white bag.

It wasn’t until this Monday that I finally broke my sad sack tuna salad to-go tradition. After a particularly harrowing Bar Method class at the studio down the street, Sook of Yutjangsah and I trampled through the rain to have a real sit-down ladies’ lunch at Joan’s on Third. Never mind that we were sporting workout clothes and soggy tennis shoes – nothing could defer us from our mission: Me, to finally eat at the place I would be mayor of, and Sook, to finally try the restaurant that I can’t stop gushing about.

While it would seem likely that I would want to order something different than the tuna salad I collect from the café on nearly a weekly basis, the lure of the popular tuna melt is too great for me to handle. The sandwich with aged Vermont cheddar and tomato on a French baguette ($10.50) sounds like the perfect remedy for the grey skies dampening the cityscape outside – especially with a shared pint of the soup of the day, garden vegetable.

The hearty soup is practically stew-like with its meaty pieces of mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions, and tomatoes. I could easily make a meal of the entire pint with the accompanying pieces of freshly baked baguette. As it is, splitting it with Sook affords me only enough room to savor half of my generously sized tuna melt that more than does my signature order justice. The warm crusty baguette and subtle bite of melted cheese makes a mockery of the cold tuna sandwich I make with slices of Milton’s Whole Wheat bread. Sook is equally impressed with her turkey club and its generous slices of thick-cut bacon ($10.95).

Sook and I finish our "ladies who lunch in wet sneakers" with magic bars – a half shortbread/half brownie concoction that is topped with caramel, pecans and chocolate chips ($1.95). It’s a triumphant cap on our lunch of firsts, and as we parade out the door, leftovers in hand, it’s hard for me to remember why I don’t dine in more often.

As it is, I’ll probably continue with my tuna salad to-go traditions – a less indulgent way to enjoy my favorite Los Angeles locale. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I start up a vegetable soup for-the-road tradition or, when the spirit moves me, another post-Bar Method lunch with my sneaker-wearing friend.

Joan’s on Third
8350 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 655-2285


Jenn said...

It's been forever since I've been to Joan's on Third. I miss their Chinese Chicken Salad and Chocolate cupcakes. Yum!!!If it weren't for the rain, I'd head there right now.

yutjangsah said...

I am so glad you introduced me to Joan's because that sammie and that magic bar were ridonculous. But it's a major problem now bc yesterday after Bar class I was SO tempted to stop and repeat our glorious meal. We're going to have to make this a regular routine - bar f/up with Joan's. It's a powerful one two punch.

Esi said...

Mmmhmmmm, I am so one of those dorky people. Anyway, love Joans and love that I can go there in a sweaty tee, a bandana, and cutoffs (after moving) and have a delicious lunch amidst the beautiful folk.

Diana said...

Jenn - Their Chinese Chicken Salad is a good one!

Sook - Yes, we will definitely need to repeat the Bar + Joan's scenario. I've got a hankering for a new tradition!

Esi - Hah, I would be a 4square dork too if I had a smartphone! As it is, I'm just a bitter Motorola Razr user stuck in the 20th century. ;)

Ashley said...

Ok, this is the next place we meet. Enough of this Urth, M Cafe stuff. It's Joans time!

Anna A. said...

You're so funny! I describe such a vivid (moving) image of your b-lining self. The tuna salad sound nosh-a-licious.

LetMeEatCake Eat With Me! said...

I'm so glad you gals had a fun time! And i'm so glad you enjoyed the tuna melt. It was fun hanging time though lets hang when i'm not working =). Tuna and pickles...i'm going to ask around and see if that is what they are all refering to you as hehe

Pandalicious said...

I've only been to Joan's once, due to my friend telling me how it's better than Urth Caffe. They do have really good tuna salad sammies!!

I'll have to check out the lemon bars.

Gastronomer said...

One of the zillion things I'm missing out on living so far east! One of these days, I will find my way to Joan's and enjoy a cupcake with Nastassia ;-)

Diana said...

Ashley - Agreed. They have a grilled cheese sandwich on the menu that I hear is fantastic (and buttery). We are doing brunch there the next time we go!

Anna - The best part about it (the tuna salad) is that they don't use very much mayo!

Nastassia - It was so fun seeing you too! We need to plan a meal together soon!

Amy - The lemon bars are amazing -- and I don't even typically like lemony desserts!

Cathy - Do it! And let me know when so I can join you. :)

Kristen said...

Found you through Bar Method's retweets (I'm kristmjo). I'm pretty sure you are my long lost Bar Method LA counterpart...Greetings from Chicago from another Bar Method/food lover. Awesome blog!

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