Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Open Mic in Encino

Last Saturday, I read my piece "Tony Takitani" at an open mic. Sponsored by the California Writers Coalition, it was held in the mammoth Barnes & Noble in Encino. I've always thought it was great that book stores hold so many events, but there are definitely some downsides. After all, it's a sharing of private space and any event has to compete with the raison d'etre of a bookstore, better known as commerce, especially on a busy Saturday night, especially during the oh-so festive Christmas season.

Barnes & Noble decided to tuck the open mic way back in the hobby section. It was the kind of open mic where anyone who wanted to perform was welcomed. That night included a comic singer and two stand-up comedians. And a persistent Book Browser. Who kept creeping closer and closer towards the stage. While one of the stand-up comics was performing.

Maybe the browser was hoping for that unspoken social contract which says, "if I act oblivious of you, you will act oblivious of me". Or he might actually have thought he was invisible (this is LA). Unfortunately, he wasn't invisible. Especially to the stand-up comic. A confrontation ensued.

If the comic thought he'd humiliate the Browser into submission, it just didn't work out that way. This is LA. Everyone in LA is a performer. The Browser embraced his chance at improv. Jumping in with both feet, the Browser became the classic straight man and a comedy duo was born. Much to the comics chagrin.

Many thanks to the California Writers Coalition for hosting the event. They're trying to get some much needed community money from Chase so if you're on Facebook, please click on http://apps.facebook.com/chasecommunitygiving/charities/968447.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Food Poisoning

Why is it that whenever I get food poisoned in LA, it's always at the American food restaurants and never at the ethnic ones? You'd think it was the other way around, with so many of the ethnic restaurants getting B and C inspection ratings, but nope, it's always at the American food restaurants. And I eat out at the ethnic restaurants a helluva a lot more too. And it usually involves beef.*

*Of course, I don't eat a lot of sushi -- that's a story in of itself...and sushi is barely ethnic anymore, sort of like pizza and spaghetti...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

American Food

Food and LA. I love eating here, so many restaurants, so many different kids of food, so many places to try. But when I think up a list of all my favorite places to eat, the list is filled mostly with ethnic places, usually Asian. Which leaves me surprised. Why are there so few great American food restaurants? Not the expensive, must-reserve, Frenchified or Italianized places, but the every day eating joints where you can pop in anytime for a really satisfying meal.

I do like Pann's — it's one of my favorite places and a near perfect dining experience: great Googie architecture, great atmosphere, comfy booths, nice service, good comfort food. Musso and Frank is near perfect too. And there's Langers. Greenblatt's too. And I like Milk a lot. Du-par's has a fantastic Monte Cristo sandwich and their French dip isn't bad (but their service can be pretty annoying and the other dishes ho-hum). Phillipe's is fun. The Counter burger places are great too. And Fab Hot Dogs. But now I'm starting to run out of names, and for such a huge metropolis with so many restaurants, it seems like there should be so much more.

Often, I'll end up going to a place that gets mentioned in LA Weekly and I'll have a sandwich and think, "Wow. I could be at a Vietnamese banh mi place in the SGV. The food would be 80% better and I would have spent $5 - $10 less." A lot of the good American food places tend to be very specific too: like good only for breakfasts, good only for hamburgers, nice for Cincinnati-like chili (Chili John's) etc. There should be more places like Du-par's, only much, much better with less expensive choices. And the experience shouldn't be so inconsistent or so stressful. Like at The Golden State — getting a table can get rough, and the food can be really off (I once got sweet potato fries which were mostly black from having been burnt, and soggy, which defied my expectation because you'd think burnt food would be extra crispy — I mean, if you can't get your basic side right, what's the point of existing at all?). Oinkster is pretty inconsistent too (never go during the off hours, like 4 in the afternoon). Or at Father's Office, where the food is always fantastic, but the fight-for-your-own table situation so rough, the side to every meal is indigestion (last time we went, we had to play tag-team with another desperate couple — each couple stationing themselves at opposite ends of the restaurant, ready to swoop at the first signs of an emptying spot). The same at Apple Pan. The busiest Chinese dim sum houses give you numbers. Which is showing respect and consideration for your customers. After all, hospitality is as paramount as good food, isn't it?

I'd like a renaissance of American food. Not the cute interpretations at $20 a plate, but just good, classic fare, a nice blue plate special for $5.99. Last week, I spent an hour on the web looking for a basic caramel apple recipe — what I could find were the ones that advised you to buy candy at the store and melt it (telling you to buy the ready-to-use caramel wrappers is not a recipe)*. This is why I'd like an American food renaissance.

As an aside, here's an unscientific observation. The most demanding, enthusiastic and busy LA Yelp restaurant reviewers seem to be Asian. As a correlation, I often find Caucasian diners at American food restaurants to be not very discerning. Like I was at a nouveau Swedish restaurant and everyone around me was raving about the Swedish meatballs — I thought the meatballs were hard, not seasoned very well, and the milk gravy pretty appalling (I sighed and thought, "I could be eating the meatball plate at Ikea for around $6 — I would have gotten more meatballs, paid about 20% less, the food would have been more authentic, and tastier, too [I'm not saying Ikea food is gourmet or anything]."). To add to this, when I was in college, my fellow diners and I would spend hours complaining about how truly awful the dorm food was (mostly cheap cheese on carbs). The only diner to protest was Caucasian, and she said, "This is a lot better than what I got at home." Our hearts broke for her. So I wonder. Is the Asian food here so much better because Asians grow up eating good food at home (and I mean recent immigrants)? Certainly, there are a huge number of Asian immigrants concentrated in a very small area, but if they weren't so demanding, I'm sure the state of Chinese food in the SGV would be as blah as the state of the American food.

*I did finally find a wonderful recipe at Real Mom Kitchen. The caramel is to die for. Really.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Hummingbird Wars

Now that we've installed a hummingbird feeder near our living room window, I've been able to find out a lot of interesting things about these birds. Like how vicious they are. And how smart.

First off, hummingbirds are pretty territorial. Once a hummingbird establishes a feeding ground, it's death to any and all who enter. Usually, one bird will just chase off another, but every once in awhile, it's a vicious duel. I saw a bird get slammed against our window. I felt like we were in the middle of the desert, watching a turf war for water. The sad thing is, the birds end up fighting more than they drink.

Around our little feeder, the dominant bird is a little red-throated fella I've named Ollie. Around three to four inches long, he's about the size of Nigel (who I've written about before), but totally different in character: nervous, anxious, a tad bit psycho. Ollie has an ex — her name is Matilda, an elegant ladylike thing. One day, Ollie was having a drink at the feeder when Matilda shows up. He gives her this look: "Of all the hummingbird feeders in this 'hood, you have to show up at mine." Our other regulars are Tiny and the Masked Marauder, so named because of his iridescent head and his bolshie attitude.

One morning, the funniest thing happened. I was exercising in front of the window that overlooks the feeder, doing that Jane Fonda thing where you extend your arms and move them in circles. Ollie comes by for a hit of juice and takes one look at me and shrieks, "Bloody hell! A giant bird's taken over!" I must have looked like a massive pre-historic hummingbird! He was so freaked out, doing quick flybys to see what the Big Bird was up to, sweatin' his little wings off. We have one of those hummingbird feeders that have detachable plastic flowers that go around the little tube that the birds are suppose to feed from. Ours has four flowers, two of which we can see from our living room window, and two that are hidden from view. Well, ever since I scared Ollie with the Big Bird imitation, he's been feeding from the most hidden flower in hopes that we can't see him (he's really scared of me).

Now the person who takes charge of the feeder is GD — he cleans and refuels the thing every few days. One day, as an experiment, GD took the plastic flower off the far tube in hopes that Ollie would use one of the other flowers so he wouldn't be so hidden away. So, along comes Ollie ... he goes to his favorite "flower" ... he sees that the flower is missing! In shock, he flaps his wings around ... and then, in total fury, he throws himself against the window, looks right at GD, and screams "*@#!!@#*$#@!(@#$" before flying away. He actually knew it was GD who'd taken the flower! Can you believe it! He was so furious with GD — even I've never been that mad at him! Thank god for the window or else Ollie would have thrown a punch (or whatever the equivalent bird thing is).

I made GD put the flower back, but Ollie hasn't forgiven us. I haven't seen him in a couple of days. I think the Masked Marauder has taken over the feeder. Which is fine with me because Ollie was a little too psycho for my tastes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Confession: I've always hated baseball. I hate playing it and I hate watching it. Playing the game is excruciating (because I suck at anything where you're actually supposed to put yourself in the way of a ball coming at lightening speed — I mean, how stupid is that?); watching the game is just plain boring. But sometimes a game is more than a game, like here, in L.A. Baseball is the Dodgers and going to a Dodgers game just one of those things that you do. Especially when your neighbors offer you free tickets.

Pretty darn good tickets, too. But, as I soon found out, where you sit at a baseball game doesn't make too much of a difference. Because people are right: you don't go to a baseball game for the game — you go for the atmosphere, the spectacle. And it's hard to explain without actually going to a game. Like there's the guy sitting a row above you who gives you a napkin because he can't bear to see you making such a mess with your hot dog. It's all the people hoping and praying they'll catch a foul ball. The woman dancing up a storm trying to get on the Jumbotron. The countless beach balls flying around and the poor ushers playing tag trying to confiscate them. Why?

"Because," our young girl usher explained, "if you're playing Beach Blanket Bingo, you're not paying attention to foul balls, and if you're not paying attention to foul balls, one might just bean you, and we don't want that — I'd rather get beaned myself than have you get hurt."

"Did you hear that?" the young man sitting in front of you cries. "She'll take a foul ball for me! I think I'm in love!"

You jump, you scream, you sing, you do the Mexican Wave over and over again — and in the background there's a game going on. It's really the strangest communal event.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Serb Fest 2009

It's Fall in LA, which only means one thing: ethnic festivals galore. Greek, Japanese, Korean, Asian, Serbian. Serbian? Seeing the banner blowing in the middle of downtown Alhambra, we had to go.

For a festival, it was pretty low key and noncommercial. Held last weekend at the Saint Steven's Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, it was really more like a local parish fund-raising event than a festival. Admission was only $2, which gave you access to a small food tent, a bar, and entertainment. The food was pricey, with dinners around $11, and the only Serbian beer was really from Montenegro, but the food was good and everyone was having a good time (I think we were the only people who didn't know anyone there). The festival also had a separate children's playground with bouncy castle type things -- but the admission was $20!

Here's a picture of one of our favorite items at the festival, a Serbian fruit cake that was a lot like a trifle. I guess Serbians really like their sweets because there was a whole pastry hall with a great selection of desserts from cheese pastries to strudels.

After having our fill of lamb sandwiches and dessert, we headed back down to central Alhambra and had Vietnamese iced coffee at Banh Mi Che Cali (theirs is pretty good -- they also have great French baguettes you can buy like at a bakery). Where else but in LA can you have Serbian food one minute and Vietnamese the next?

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Is LA a Chinese tea mecca? I'm beginning to think so. It certainly benefits from the large, discerning Chinese population. To my delight, more and more sophisticated tea shops are starting to open and here are some of my favorites.

Bird Pick Tea: In the center of Old Pasadena, this is a wonderful place to shop, browse, and drink tea. They have a nice selection of very good quality Chinese teas and very elegant teaware. But more interestingly, along the side window, there are huge glass containers of things like dried lotus flowers, roses, longan, etc. — simply steep in hot water for a healthy, delicious tisane.

The tea is served at a bar where there's a limited menu, from pots of hot tea to iced tea lattes. What I really liked was that you can order a selection of snacks, which includes delicious dried plums. With a large pot of tea, a selection of three is only $2 more.

Bird Pick is actually a chi chi tea outlet of Wing Hop Fung, aimed for the Caucasians. Even the fixtures in the bathroom are ultra chic. One big plus of Bird Pick is that they let you buy as little as an ounce, which is great if you want to try a new tea (or if you haven't been paid in awhile).

Chado Tea Room: In Pasadena and the Fairfax District of LA, Chado is a tea room where you can buy tea. They have an extensive selection of excellent teas at fair prices, but the staff isn't really the friendliest.

Haven't tried the tea room, although the Fairfax room is always tempting.

Ten Ren Tea & Tea Station: I haven't quite figured out Ten Ren. It seems to be the retail tea part of Tea Station, a tea parlor and restaurant. Fantastic teas, but a limited selection. I usually go to the San Gabriel store for a refill of Jasmine tea. Ten Ren has about 9 different kinds, ranging from ~$12.60/lb to ~$100/lb. My favorite is the one for ~$37. Unfortunately, like so many places, the smallest amount you can buy is 4 ounces. Ten Ren also has something called King's tea, a proprietary blend of oolong and ginseng. Can't say I'm that big of a fan of that one.

Tea Station itself is always fun, buzzing with a good crowd of young and old. Great tea shakes and strange concoctions. Who knew tea could be so fun!

Aloha Boba Tea House: Located in a big retail complex in Monrovia, it's one of my favorite places to relax. Order an iced milk tea, sit outside, marvel at the great view of the mountains. You can also buy loose tea, tea sets, sandwiches and ice cream. Great staff.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Some of My Favorite Things

Well, actually, it's more like "some of my favorite places" in the greater LA area.

Tozai Plaza (15460-15500 S. Western Ave and 1741-1751 W. Redondo Beach Blvd ): This is a small strip mall in Gardena. I love it because it's like a crazy bit of everywhere. The actual structure is neo Asian, but the businesses range from a Japanese udon house (Kotohira [they make their own noodles, which they sometimes replace with packaged if they run out]) to Marie Callender's. Don't feel like udon? How about the Korean soft tofu house at the corner or the pho house next door? The strip mall seems to be particularly popular with the local police during lunch hours.

Marukai Pacific Market (1620 W Redondo Beach Blvd, Gardena): A Japanese-Hawaiian market that's for club members only. Luckily, you can get a day pass. They have great produce and meat, including beef from Harris Ranch (cut to Japanese tastes) and Kurobuta pork (amazingly good). As a bonus, there's a branch of the MamMoth Bakery inside. They have the best sandwich bread! And pretty good curry donuts. (How ironic that the only bakeries that have really good sandwich bread these days are Asian! Usually Japanese or Korean.)

BTW, Tea Station has a large branch next door: explore Marukai, buy some bread, and then relax with nice cold iced milk tea!

Regency Academy Cinema (1003 E. Colorado Blvd, Pasadena): This is one of those theaters that show second-run films. That sounds like you'll be watching movies from the 90s, but that's not the case at all. The movies are only a couple of months old. And if you go in the afternoon, tickets are only $2! Just saw Moon there and it was great! (Was it so enjoyable because I only paid $2?)

Of course, the Regency is not the Landmark (my favorite theater); there's definitely a whiff of a college film club here (without the obsessive love and care—the staff didn't even bother to frame the film correctly, so a portion was in the curtains and the credits were above the screen). But hey, $2!

Nicole's Gourmet Foods (921 Meridian Ave, South Pasadena): This is a French deli. They don't carry a huge amount of stuff (like at Monsieur Marcel), but what they do carry is fantastic, especially their selection of chocolates and dried beans. They also have frozen croissants (the kind you have to bake when you get home) and wonderful terrines and mini quiches and cheeses, and all else wonderfully French. Nicole's is so French, I found myself wanting to say "une tranche de pate"! Who would have thought you'd find a piece of France in South Pasadena!

Friday, August 14, 2009

10 Reasons Why I'm Glad To Be Leaving My 'Hood

1. Neighbor who screams bloody murder at her yakky dogs and plays her music super loud whenever she wants to score (usually sometime around midnight) and hires gardeners who like to throw their garbage into our property.

2. Landlord who rivals Mr. Roper.

3. A house that stinks in many, many ways, literal and metaphorical.

4. Sirens screaming up and down Laurel Canyon, up and down, up and down, up and down...

5. Press helicopters chasing Britney Spears.

6. Police helicopters tracking down "Prometheus", the local arsonist.

7. Sun going down two hours earlier than everywhere else because of the hills.

8. The homeless man in the white van who steals water from the front yard.

9. Our Amityville ghost who keeps screaming at me, "GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!"

10. All the honking, skidding and crashing right outside the door because idiots drive way too fast down a winding, mountain road, smashing right into the cliff wall.

10 Things I'll Miss

1. The local police officer who advised us to mace anyone who comes to the door.

2. Getting confused and saying Mt Vesuvius instead of Mt Olympus (the hoity-toity suburban development on the hill above us).

3. Arsonists who know their Greek mythology.

4. The local Country Store and the groovy, hippy guy at the counter.

5. The super nice lady at the laundry.

6. Louise and her dog Mac, who likes to kick up dirt at anyone he feels threatened by (which is everyone except Louise).

7. Having lunch out on our tropical patio and watching the hummingbirds.

8. Greenblatt's, and Milk.

9. Shopping at Bristol Farms amongst the D-list celebrities and super hot model/actors.

10. Calling Hollywood home.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Doong Ji Naeng Myun Display

You simply have to go check out the Doong Ji Naeng Myun display at the Galleria Market in Koreatown. It's a huge plastic bowl of naeng myun and it's got these gigantic chopsticks wound around noodles that move up and down, up and down. The noodles look absolutely real! And the chopsticks seem to be moving by magic (although if you investigate, you see that the chopsticks are powered by a clever transparent plastic column hidden inside the waves of noodles — very Wizard of Oz). And don't forget to look inside the bowl, where there's yummy broth and all the traditional garnishes. Made me want to eat a bowl right there and then.

The display is near the check out, in front of the mounds of Doong Ji packaged noodles. And the Doong Ji noodles seem to be at a promotional price because I seem to remember they used to be over $3 but are now around $1 - $2. I picked up two packages, one for the mul naeng myun and one for the bibim naeng myun. Doong Ji is by Nong Shim, so I figure it can't be too bad. Can't wait to try them!

3250 W Olympic Blvd
Koreatown Galleria

Los Angeles, CA 90006
(323) 733-3800

Update: Finally tried the Doong Ji mul naeng myun and it is good! Even comes with dehydrated cucumbers and liquid broth (the powdered ones are always unpleasant). Definitely getting more before the sale ends.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Armenians in LA

I was intrigued that Armenians had such a large presence in LA. What I didn't know was that LA Armenians are from all around the globe, not just from Armenia, and that they tend to stick together in a national/ethnic kinda way. Like the Armenians in Glendale are from Iran. And the ones in Pasadena are from Syria and Lebanon. Interestingly, Hollywood Armenians are directly from Armenia, and Armenians born in the US live in Montebello.*

*Facts from Ethnic Los Angeles by Roger David Waldinger and Mehdi Bozorgmehr

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


(Stats from someone obsessed with the preponderance of helicopters in the Greater LA area:


Population: 3,849,378
Helicopters: 17*
People per helicopter: 226,434


Population: 146,518
Helicopters: 4*
People per helicopter: 36,629

As you can see, Pasadena has many more helicopters in ratio to people than LA: so what gives, Pasadena? (We've taken to calling the helicopters the Pasadena Air Force.)

*Helicopters owned by the police. (I bet the figure doubles if you include helicopters used by the media.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spring is the Dominion of Birds

With spring well on its way, I feel like I'm living in the middle of a gigantic aviary. Surrounding the house, a dozen different birds zoom about, from doves building nests to small sparrowish birds fighting mid-air for precious territory, their wings fluttering against each other like a thousand swords clashing. Or perhaps they're mating. Courtship can seem more battle than love, anguish a certain hue.

For the most part, the birds ignore me as part of the useless background. And sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't be a bit more helpful. Like when I'm watching the doves squeal frantically as they carry heavy sticks from one side of the property to the other, having to rest on a lower limb to gather strength before making that last surge up to their building site. It's hard to resist helping, piling up a handful of sturdy twigs at the base of their site and hoping they'll see my act as helpful and not hostile. But it's hard to know and ignorance brings inertia, so instead, I sit on my garden chair, reading my book, finally falling deaf to the hum of birds until, from my peripheral vision, I see color and motion, and I look up, face to face with a hummingbird. Startled, I can't help yelping. The bird jumps back a foot — I expect it to fly away, but it doesn't, hovering midair, staring at me with great curiosity, a beautiful little rust colored thing — and it's strange, how I get this funny feeling I'm in a Disney cartoon and laugh as the bird flies away.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dan Sung Sa

One of the things I love about living in LA is Koreatown. And what I love about Koreatown is that it's vast, not just in size, but in the variety of its offerings. Department stores, florists, rice cake shops, coffee houses, bars, bakeries, restaurants. And the restaurants run from the banal to the latest exports from Seoul. In between are the time capsules, like Dan Sung Sa. Stepping into this tavern is like stepping into Seoul circa 1970s.

We went last night and had a fun time drinking lots of soju (which is the main point of going to places like Dan Sung Sa) and eating things like hagfish. What's hagfish? Some sort of primitive eel like thing, I later found out. I got it because the waiter insisted it was a much better option than eel. At first, I figured he was just trying to get me to buy a much more expensive dish, but then he told me the eel comes pre prepared from the supplier and the only thing the cooks do is nuke it. Well, just the thought of nuked eel made me blanch so I said, okay, I'll try it. Yes, it was much more expensive at around $12, but wow, it was worth it. Tasted sort of like really savory, crispy pork, and it's served with perilla leaves, which you wrap around the little pieces. The perilla leaves are brilliant because they add a nice astringent, minty flavor while taking away some of the grease. Mmm! Mmm! Good!

As we left for the night, we witnessed some great comedy at the parking lot. Two groups were waiting for the valets to deliver their cars. One very drunk guy says to another guy, "Look, Sir, your car is nowhere here. Because you didn't bring a car!" The other guy patiently explains that his car isn't at the parking lot because the valets have to bring it, but no, the drunk guy is soooo sure he knows what's going on and keeps insisting, "Sir, you didn't drive your car here! I know what's going on! See! No car! Your car isn't here! Sir, let me explain this to you! Look! No car!"

Now that's atmosphere.

BTW, I noticed on places like Yelp that a lot of people are upset by the fact that people smoke cigarettes at Dan Sung Sa. Yes, it's illegal, but you have to understand what you're getting into at places like DSS and just go with the flow. Remember, you've stepped into a time capsule. If you suddenly find the opportunity of going back to the Roaring 20s and visiting a speakeasy, would you complain that they're serving liquor?

Dan Sung Sa
3317 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 487-9100

Friday, March 20, 2009

Trader Joe's

This month, a Trader Joe's opened up in my neighborhood. I'd been to a TJ once before but wasn't too impressed. But since a TJ was now going to be within walking distance of the homestead, I thought I should give them another try. I'm glad I did. TJ, for those of you who aren't familiar with one, is a grocery chain that specializes in selling its own brands of food, everything from beers to frozen coissants, at reasonable prices. The problem with TJ is that their store brand items are totally hit-or-miss. Like their cheeses: sucks. I bought a Monterey Jack that wouldn't melt and was tasteless. Their "Parmesan" cheese crumbled so badly, it was impossible to grate, and had an icky taste. Their gyozas aren't much better: I tasted the Thai vegetable gyoza and the filling was gluey. Yuk. And I'd stay away from their toilet paper or tissue, unless you're seriously into self-harming or get off sandpapering your body parts. I dunno — that works for some people. I'm not judging.

BUT, I like their frozen tamales. Good flavor and so handy to have around. And, surprisingly, their frozen chocolate croissants work. Okay, they're really not croissants — they have yeast in it for god's sake — but they do bake up nice and crispy (although a tad greasy) and the chocolate isn't bad. I will also give them BIG bonus points because TJ included two bars of chocolate instead of a measly one (I get so upset about this, I actually joined the Facebook cause crying for the inclusion of two bars in every chocolate croissant). I also love the fact that it comes in such a tiny package (my freezer is minuscule) but bake up so big and fat and fluffy.

So, being a newbie to Trader Joe's, I have to ask: what's good at Trader Joe's? what should be avoided? Please comment!

Oh! Here's a fun video about TJ from Carls Fine films.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pastrami Heaven

Before moving to LA, I'd always thought New York was pastrami heaven. I now realize LA is pastrami heaven. In New York, pastrami is something you find in Jewish delis. And God forbid, you eat it in any other form except as a sandwich on rye with mustard. In LA, pastrami is everywhere. At hot dog stands, hamburger joints, taco eateries. And it's in everything, from burritos to double dips. A pastrami burrito? How good is that, you might ask? I have to admit, I haven't had any good examples. There's a famous one at the Oki Dog on Pico, but I couldn't see the point of it all (it was huge, with a lot of cabbage so it was like a pastrami stir-fry wrapped in a giant tortilla). Much more successful is the concoction at Oinkster, a huge pastrami sandwich on a bun dripping with red slaw and gruyere cheese.

Does that mean LA pastrami is inferior to New York's? Not at all. In fact, my all-time favorite pastrami is at Langer's. Langer's pastrami is sliced thick and framed with succulent fat — the prime rib of pastrami. And their rye bread is fantastic. I also like the pastrami at Greenblatt's, which is more like the New York deli kind, sliced thinner, a bit drier, but absolutely addictive. With Pastrami King now Pastrami Queen and Second Avenue Deli no longer Second Avenue Deli, there seems to be less and less things I miss about New York.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Swingers Coffee Shop

Last night the GD and I were eating hamburgers at Swingers and we were invaded by the most gorgeous, hip young guys you'll ever see. It was Night of the Living Dead, only, in this case, Night of the Unbelievably Gorgeous Twenty-something Guys. They were too short to be models so I'm guessing they were a mix or actors, musicians, and designers. Anyway, even for Hollywood, surreal.

Swingers is the coffee shop connected to the Beverly Laurel Hotel. Because they're close to Hollywood and because they're open until 4 in the morning, they have a reputation for good people-watching, especially around 2. They're also known for good hamburgers, which is why we were there (also, almost everything else was either too packed or closed -- why is Arby's closed at 9?). The menu is huge, from breakfast to steaks, all reasonably priced. The root beer float was only $3.95, which is the cheapest I've come across. Even DuPar's charges something around $6.00. And the atmosphere wasn't too bad either. Lots of cozy booths just big enough for two, a wrap-around bar, friendly staff, grab-you-own-menus-and-sit-yourself attitude. A really fun place.

8020 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 653-5858

Sunday, January 18, 2009

LA's Stealth On Ramps

Who would have thought you needed a map of LA highway entrances like you need a map of the stars' homes? Only in LA are highway entrances like secret nightclubs with members only passes. I'm used to highway entrances being announced with huge hoopla. I'm used to highway entrances looking like highway entrances. In LA, highway entrances come up slyly. You're on top of them before you know it, and the only way you know it's a highway entrance is because the GPS keeps screaming at you to turn left. Only then do you see a small "freeway" sign just out of your sight of vision. And even then, you don't trust the sign because the entrance is just a tiny road that looks like it's going to deadend into a private parking lot (or worse). No lights, no nothing. Just a dark curve, which, like a bad dream, merges instantly into a busy highway.

For a city that was built around the car, LA doesn't make much sense. Every nightmare scenario in my Driver's Ed class has come true, and then some. I hope Beijing looks at LA and goes screaming back to bicycles.