Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Getting My East Coast Italian Fix on at Monte Carlo Market

That's Italian!
When I first came to LA I crash landed into the City of Dreams sight unseen. In truth I think I really came out here to prove to my friends I was mature enough, well-adjusted enough, to live somewhere other than New York. They were convinced that in order to get what I really wanted in terms of a career (and they thought I was way to reliant upon my family) I needed to make a bold move. So I planned it, I had it all set up. I took on a very serious demeanor. These were heady times. Which meant I talked about it for months. I was moving to LA. Me. Woody Allen in drag. I'll be there 6 months or I'll stay because I'll be an overnight success, I would say. Every day I'd spin my head around, looking at Manhattan misty-eyed. I was nostalgic with every coffee cup, Upper East Side mini dog, each punked out artist on 8th. When I'd shut my eyes from the wafting dust, dirt and germs spilling up onto the street through the grates from the subway I'd think I'm going to miss this. I had many long good-byes with friends whom I treated as though I would never, ever see again. I did reckless things too, as though this was the end I should just live it up. The time before I moved was in essence the only time anyone has ever moved from one place to another. No one had ever done anything harder or braver. I was not young and joyful and excited about conquering the world. This was something I had to do to be successful, for my art, for my craft. I'll miss you all! I'll miss you New York! I'll miss you Gray's Papaya! I'll miss you upstanding cab drivers, my soul brothers! I'll miss you smelly C train. I'll miss you COMFORT ZONE. When I was alone I looked very serious. Very sad. Like something important was underway and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. As the plane lifted off, contemplative and still, I gazed out the window and watched the island of Manhattan get smaller and smaller. Finally I had to turn away. I couldn't bear it any longer. This was a momentous occasion requiring great sacrifice. Great bravery. Godspeed, Cynthia. Godspeed.

Upon arrival I was picked up by my friend's husband and we drove on the 405 into the valley. Our stop on the way home was El Pollo Loco - he needed dinner and it was close to their house. These were sweet and generous people. They let me stay in their daughter's room who in turn slept in their room. Their house was in a section of Burbank that was close to an Ikea and the 5 freeway. Every day it was hot or raining. There were no people around. Just parked cars. When I had the guts I'd get in my rental car and drive around, trying to find something that looked normal. Looked fun. Or at least edible. I ended up spending a lot of time at that little house. This couple was super cool and super nice and maybe the best thing in this Godforsaken country. Despite their kindness, despite the fact they seemed normal, I was completely and quietly feeling rather out of my mind. As if it were a mantra, the line 6 months is a hell of a long time turned over and over in my head.


After one month I knew I should leave their house. Not to go back to New York. Not yet. That would be way too embarrassing. Instead I moved in with the only other person I felt comfortable around at that time. He was an acquaintance who had a cool job as a p.a. over at The Warner Brothers lot which sounded like nirvana to me. He was funny, smart and drove an old Cadillac Eldorado. He was also about to become one of my all-time best friends in the whole wide world: Adam. So down Olive I drove with my silly belongings to his place. This place. The most generic apartment complex in the world:

The nearest food was...

Remember Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) standing outside his new home in some Phoenix type suburb after he had joined The Witness Protection Program? The sun was bright. Nothing remotely pretty or with character was anywhere in sight. He explained how one night they wanted to get Italian. So they went to some nearby restaurant. He ordered pasta with marinara and they served him egg noodles with ketchup. Suddenly that scene had new meaning. I just came out here to be discovered and prove people wrong. I hadn't even killed anyone or sold really good coke. Good God will someone please tell me where's the good food at?

Luckily Adam had been here longer than I. He too was from New York, near The Bronx, was good friends with one of my closest friends in NY -- who had amazing taste; especially when it came to Italian food. I knew I could trust Adam if he said there was a good place to go and eat. In fact he had already done important reconn and knew where to take me.

One of the first important places Adam introduced me to was Monte Carlo Deli Market. Recently I found an occasion to make a return visit. Just driving up Magnolia, memories came rushing back. Good food memories. And the place hasn't changed. Not one bit.

If you like to cook, and I do, Monte Carlo has everything you need. I say this to those of you who wish they could eat at Rao's in Harlem, know what Arthur Avenue in The Bronx is, and love that scene in The Godfather when he's slicing the garlic into the olive oil to emulsify. If this resonates with you, you are my audience, you are my people and you need to check Monte Carlo out.
Monte Carlo Interior - pastas, cheeses, olive oils, Stella D'oro
I don't even like these things but they look so right
If you're too lazy to cook, they understand.
Cheese, Meat, Love
San Marzano Tomatoes EVERYWHERE
Even The Mr. Coffee looks imported
That's the Pope next to the Chianti. As God intended.
Of course now that I've lived here for a 1000 years, Monte Carlo isn't the only Italian supermarket I go to. I've found a billion places that satisfy all my jonesing whether it be for Chinese, Indian, Peruvian, you name it. And because I know my lay of the land, sometimes where I end up going simply comes down to proximity. For instance, if I was on the West Side, I'd go to Bay Cities for imported Italian cheese, meats, olive oils. If I needed some real deal pizza, I might swing by Lamonica's in Westwood. Or if I was in The Valley, I'd pop on over to Joe Peeps on Whittsett and Magnolia. That being said, this past weekend when I was making an eggplant parm in honor of James Gandolfini, I couldn't imagine going anywhere but Monte Carlo to shop for my ingredients.

There's nothing like your first, you know? And for me, my first foray into realizing I'd be happy in Los Angeles happened right here at this place in good ole' Burbank, U.S.A.. Maybe I'm not so much like Woody Allen. Or maybe there are many sides to me. Perhaps I'm also a little like his partner, the one who's driving his Rolls down Sunset with the roof off, snapping his fingers. He really looked happy, didn't he? I don't know. But if you ever find yourself in Burbank, swing on by. It might be just be the hit you're looking for. If not, NYC is just a plane ride away. And now there's a Rao's in Vegas.

Monte Carlo Italian Deli is located at 3103 West Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505. They're open 7 days a week. For information on hours of operation call 818-845-3516.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Beastie Boys and That Impala

I love Sunday. Especially after such a nice weekend. We went to a wedding last night and got all misty-eyed. We danced to "Fill Me Up Buttercup" and "Rock Around The Clock." I had to take off my shoes for the ride home. Which means I'm a little tired today. Kind of taking it easy. It's all about cooking, cleaning, relaxing - and it's really nice outside. Sort of encouraging my slow-going demeanor. And slow thinking. For one of the recipes, grilled peaches with burrata, I forgot the vinegar. I always forget something. So off to Trader Joe's I went.

It's not uncommon to run across gorgeous cars in LA. It's a great place for an older car because aside from The Rainy Season, the climate is perfect for preservation. The desert is really ideal. Palm Springs always has these Frank Sinatra car moments. But this morning, I was lucky enough to see this piece of art:

The owner could not have been nicer. Told me the story about about how he bought his Impala (I never even asked the year). He said he got it a little while ago. He was single, going through some major life changes and suddenly had a lot of energy and needed to occupy his busy mind. He somehow came across this car, convinced its owner, an older woman, to let him buy it even though she said it was cursed -- she had assumed so because her son had it and had passed away. Once he bought it he went to work restoring it right away. He said it had been in pretty bad condition.

Now this isn't what this man does for a living. He's a handyman and an electrician. But I've concluded if he's as much a perfectionist about wiring and fixing fences as he is this car, he might be worth a call.

I believe he said within a year of getting it, he crossed paths with his high school sweetheart. She was divorced, he still single and they decided to basically pick up where they left off.

They're now married.

I have no idea really if it has anything to do with The Beastie Boys but cars and music, as you know if you've read this blog at all, go together in my mind and today, it's this car and that song. 

I don't know... 



Friday, June 21, 2013

FUN at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia

As a Jewish girl from Westchester it's essential I have Chinese food as often as possible. But since moving to LA, I haven't really had that many good Chinese food experiences. This fact is ridiculous considering I currently live 10 minutes from Chinatown and 15 minutes from Chinese Food Disneyland otherwise known as The San Gabriel Valley which is also otherwise known as SGV. SGV is filled with some of the best Chinese restaurants IN THE COUNTRY. I just was too busy or lazy to go there. Until the other night.
Monday night our house guest, in town from San Fran on a job, introduced me to Din Tai Fung. Or as it is written in the Torah...


Allie Hsiao, the girl who took me to The Promised Land
Let's show that picture again:

They look so innocent, so unassuming. But these pork & crab soup dumplings called xiaolongbao are some of the best and juiciest morsels of goodliness I have ever had in my life. Everything is hand-made and fresh and the broth inside is such a downright welcome explosion of hot damn that I think I was happy for like 3 days.

We ate other stuff, too.

Remarkable Braised Beef Soup (it's basically brisket, Taiwan Style) 

These kick-ass green beans. So fresh, so deelish. Oy.
These Vegetable and Pork Dumpling in Spicy Sauce. Should have gone with the Shrimp & Pork. Glad there'll be a next time!
We also kind of just liked being there.

I love typos.
Here is the cutest waiter ever.
In competition with the cutest hostess ever.
There are two Din Tai Fungs in Arcadia. I guess we were in the older one. The restaurants are basically side by side; a duplication decided upon because when there was only one the wait was too long. And even though I've seen reviews about people who still had to wait a long time, our wait was 20 minutes and once we ordered -- you order like you're ordering sushi with a pen and a little list -- our food came out within minutes.


The steamed dumplings - Xiaolongbao - were originally made as a side business just to keep Bingyi Yang and his wife Penmei Lai afloat when their oil business was going under. Sometimes the side business becomes the business business as was the case for these two. The buns were so popular they decided to create a full-out restaurant and Din Tai Fung was born. Then in the early 90's a New York Times article called Din Tai Fung "outstanding" and selected it as one of the best 10 restaurants in the world. You kind of can't get better than that.

These 2 restaurants in Arcadia are the only ones in the U.S. but they join many Din Tai Fungs around the globe: Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia*, Japan, Korea and of course Taiwan, where the original restaurant can be found. The one Allie went to in China had a special that night of pork & truffle dumplings. She said they basically melted in her mouth. I don't think you'll find anything like that here but you will get awesome food, served fast, and you will be happy.

Oh and one last thing, do what Allie said: Order more than you think you can eat because you will eat it. Not pictured were these amazing fried noodle cakes, perfect for when you're really hungry or really hungover. Or just like me. A Jewish girl from Westchester who needed to get in touch with her roots.

Let's just see them one more time...

Din Tai Fung is located at 1108 and 1088 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, CA 91007. And I just called. They do Take Out. Now I'll never move back.


*you best get your tuchus there, Tiffany.

Friday, June 14, 2013

LA's Downtown Art Walk is Insanely Fun

Oh my God you guys, LA's Downtown Art Walk - I went last night and I am beyond BEYOND in my head about how much fun I had. AND I WENT BY MYSELF. First, my husband and I had plans to go together which he forgot and instead went with our friend Carlos to Post Tenebros Lux at Cinefamily (which he loved). I texted a few of my lady friends to see if any of them wanted to join me. Nope. None were available. And to top it off I had worked that day - it wasn't terribly hard - but I felt a little tired and was thinking that evil, horrible, I-wish-I-never-had-this-thought-but-I-have-it-all-the-time: I should just stay in.  And then, as the sunny day was dying down (and I took a vital shower) it dawned on me WHAT THE HELL? As my Aunt Betsey says, "I can sleep when I'm dead." In other words...

I went downtown.

What a brilliant BRILLIANT move on my part, if I do say so myself. Here's the thing, which you may already know, I'm doing this blog SO THAT I LEAVE THE HOUSE!

LA can be a lonely, myopic place. Either you're working like a dog or freelancing where the work comes in drips and drabs like a runny nose on a summer day. So you're isolating with a group of people and working your ass off or you're not working your ass off but you're still sort of working and more often than not, you're isolating at home.

Right now I'm in the latter category. Which is why I created Opine LA. It makes it so while I'm in the freelance mode I am required to leave my home NO MATTER WHAT. The result is you get to learn about all the cool, rich, amazing and interesting stuff going on in LA and I get to be around PEOPLE!

Yet the real result of this whole enterprise has been that I've fallen in love with this town all over again. In fact, last night was just another shot in the I Love LA arm.

What a scene the art walk is. An amazing scene. There are all these super cool, hip, people walking around and there are also the usual downtowners. That includes tourists, people working, cops, store owners and homeless people. It makes for quite a mix:

I love the mix. And the art, well, some of it was horrible and I will not post what I did not like here because the life of an artist is hard enough - no one needs discouragement. But some of it was kind of downright fantastic.

At MIA Gallery
At The Lounge
And I'm not only obsessed with yellow, I swear. I went into Arty where I found the work of Stephen Rowe. Have you heard of this guy? Wonderful big, grand pieces. Some reminiscent of Jackson Pollock (one of my all-time favorite artists) some that evoked nature and the layers underneath the evolution of self. That's right. That's my interpretation. Screw it!

Beautiful, right? Stephen Rowe's art at Arty on Main
Stephen Rowe, the artist
The one behind him is about the first snow. There are words underneath many of his images and you can kind of see writing poking through like leaves under water.

Wherever I was, whatever I was looking at, I had fun. Hive Gallery was an all out party.

Hive Gallery on 7th & Spring
And of course some of the places I went into were a little like a Woody Allen movie where there'd be a lone musician and some strange art and high-falutin talk and you know what, I didn't feel snobby about those spaces either. I kind of appreciated them! Ever since I moved here that Woody line about LA's big contribution to culture being the legalization of right on red bugged me. But that was the 70's. Today when we open up our galleries everything seems so wild and imperfect and sort of left-turn-y (not right turn-y) whereas in NYC it's so normal to see the best and the this and the that. Here it's more of an event, it's certainly more accessible and the REALLY great work has a chance to breathe, be appreciated and stand out.


Olivia Barratier, the artist
This little Lady here, Olivia Barratier, what a freakin cutie. She was showing her wares for the first time at Robert Reynolds Gallery on Spring. Both those links will give you a good idea of what  Barratier does. But here's a teeny taste:

In terms of atmosphere I must say my favorite gallery was probably MIA.

Entering Machine Inspired Art (or MIA) on Main
They had awesome music playing, a mix by a guy from the band Una which was about to perform.

Inside Machine Inspired Art (MIA)
The party was just getting started
But I was tapping out so I skiddadled before the going really got going.

So long MIA!
Never underestimate the power of a good cup of coffee. Nothing will help you with the last leg of anything like that High Octane.  I opted to try Spring for Coffee. On, that's right, Spring.

I'm not a big "Pour" girl. I think you know, give me a cup of joe, let's just not talk about it. Well, let's talk about Spring for Coffee in that, go if you like good coffee. And maybe you'll see this guy with the curly mop top. I liked his hair. I felt it was a part of the Art Walk. I dubbed it Hair Art.

But coffee, while magical, still wasn't something I could actually BITE into.

I just want to go on record and say I did wait until I got home to devour - with my husband - this little mother fu...

Sweet Big Man Bakes it was good. I got a Mounds one for later. Today in fact. It's to be my reward for when I finish this post. FYI Big Man Bakes is, no lie, maybe one of THE BEST CUPCAKES I've ever had in my life.

I'm just going to cap this off with a few more images from my expedition. I want my cupcake.

Last Bookstore
At Machine Inspired Art
From The Last Bookstore
No idea what was happening here
At The Hive
From The Last Bookstore
From The Last Bookstore

From the new store Kinetescape on 7th. They just opened this week.
Somebody's watching me

•Big Man Bakes is at 413 South Main between 4th & 5th. It's closed Sundays. There's a parking lot attached. Just say BIGMANBAKES. Free parking with validation for 15 minutes.
•Spring for Coffee is at 548 Spring near the corner of 6th.
•LA's Downtown Art Walk takes place the 2nd Saturday of every month. The next Art Walk is scheduled for July 13th. 

Have a great weekend and ENJOY!