Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Inexpensive Dates: Let's Start Downtown

Seems to me that dating on the cheap, which is far different than a cheap date, actually requires more thought, more research and a willingness to have fun that is not wholly dependent upon alcohol. Not only that but it accomplishes something that I think is very cool: it shows a lot about the person who planned the date. It lets someone see how creative you are, what interests you and what secrets you know about the city in which you live. So yes, you can impress your lady or gentleman by taking them to a fancy restaurant overlooking the water. But when it comes to dating, especially in LA, that's a little ho-hum compared to what probably would cost you a fraction of the price.

Have a drink by the pool at Hotel Figueroa
In other words, LA does not have to be cost prohibitive when you're going on a date. In fact in doing my research, I've been told of so many good inexpensive dating ideas in so many different parts of town that I can't fit it all into one post. So I'm breaking them into neighborhoods. God willing, by the time I'm done, I will have covered everywhere from Downtown to Santa Monica (and all that is in between).

To begin, let's start with the egg. Eventually we'll get to the chicken.

On a 2nd date at Mo-Chica. They were nice enough to pose for a picture. Aren't they cute?
Downtown LA, depending where you are, can be pure sexy. I truly believe this. If a dinner date is what you had in mind, there are a bunch of places that won't break the bank. I'm a huge fan of Mo-chica, an outstanding Peruvian restaurant on 7th between Grand and Olive, that has been written up on just about every best list LA has to offer. I recommend splitting one of their ceviches (like the Albacore or Yellowtail - $14). Entrees are usually 14 or 15 bucks each and the quality could easily be found at any fancy dancy restaurant anywhere in the world. Not the choices though - the menu is outrageously special and particular to the chef and owner Ricardo Zarate. Mo-Chica is authentic and a true gem of the city.

One of their more unique dishes and my absolute favorite is the Estofado de Alpaca - that's alpaca stew. 100% outstanding. And how often do you eat Alpaca? I mean, really, talk about an icebreaker. (tip: if for some reason you find yourself hungry any day between 2:30 and 5pm, you get a 20% discount off your entire bill).

I think fun can also be had going to Wurstkuche and The Pie Hole for a 1-2 punch.

They're across the street from each other in the Arts District, a block away from Little Tokyo. Even though you can't make a ressie at Wurstkuche and there's usually a line, it's okay. You might have fun chatting while on queue (I'm English now) and once you get inside you get to eat delicious crazy sausage (they have rattlesnake & rabbit sausage, I'm serious) fantastic fries and there's beer on tap... Classic type sausages (like the brat) go for 6 bucks and the real exotic types go for 8. It's also a fun communal kind of hang out. In other words, it's usually buzzing and hopping inside and at night there's a dj.

Once you're done with dinner, you might want to get some fresh air, walk across the street, and dig on some pie. The Pie Hole, open until 11, has great pie and coffee. Mmmm... pie and coffee. Sweet pie slices are 6 and under. And just so you know, The Pie Hole also serves savory pies. Those cost 6.75 or less. So, if sausage ain't your thing, make it pie for dinner. Frankly I see this restaurant as a win-win situation.

Over on Fig, you can pop into Colori.

Colori Kitchen
Well, you can't really pop in unless your plan is to wait on line for an hour. Trust me and make a ressie. This place is popular because it's cheap and GOOD. So there's a bit of hustle and bustle, but it's excellent for a reasonably priced totally autentico Italian dinner. (they have a bone in NY steak for 22 dollars that is delicious. Personally though, I'm much more into Risotto ai Funghi di Bosco for 15 bucks. Molto bene).

Afterwards, the Hotel Fig really isn't that far away. Stop by for a nightcap. I do think this is one of the more romantic hotels in the city with the lights, the pool, the Moroccan design...

Cozy up, snuggle up, get a room...?

For things that have NOTHING to do with eating and drinking...

During the daytime, it might be fun to go window shopping on Olvera Street, see what's what. Get a taste of old LA.
Olvera Street
And do one of those Angels Flight flights on Hill to Grand for only 50 cents a pop. Why not, right? You can take a nice walk at the top, around The Disney Concert Hall, which I think is one of the most stupendous structures on the planet. And if it's Thursday, MOCA is free from 5 to 8pm.

When it gets nice and cold outside - December? - think about iceskating in Pershing Square.
Carlos & Ellen, Pershing Square, on a date
That's on Olive & 5th. The price to rent the skates is $8 and you'll have to shell out 1 buck for a locker. There's music playing, other lovers out in the rink, families too... it's all a pretty sweet deal and atmosphere. And might I add that cold weather is a great excuse to put your arm around someone to keep them warm. If you think this isn't a good idea because you're a klutz, I relate. But something you should realize is that nervousness and the mere fact you're trying is very endearing. Besides, what someone does when you do fall is a good sign whether they're the right one for you. Am I right? I put this up there in the category of Worth The Risk.

Maybe afterwards, to soothe all those sore muscles from the ice, how 'bout getting a couple's massage?
Pho Siam
Pho Siam is in a weird location, near Chinatown and really close to Echo Park. Though the neighborhood is nothing to write home about, inside is a little oasis where these wonderful Thai women knead you around like pretzel dough until you're as relaxed as a lotus petal floating on water. Because it's a couple's massage you might want to have a certain comfort level with your paramour. But let's face it, you're almost naked, side by side, getting a rubdown. What more do you need? Barry White on the ster-e-o? A couple's massage is $50 per person. While I don't think that cost is too high - especially for the quality of what you're receiving - if your budget is say 30 bucks for the two of you for the whole night, this just will not do.

So how about something for free? If you think ahead or happen to be reading this the 2nd Thursday of whatever month you're in...

The Last Bookstore, 2nd Floor, Art Walk
Check out LA's Downtown Artwalk. I'm a HUGE fan (you'll find many posts about it here). It is so much fun, walking around, popping your head into this gallery or that...
Holding hands, looking at art. There ain't nothin wrong with that.
Maybe you want to cap the evening off with something sweet? How about while trolling around the galleries you check out Big Man Bakes, my favorite cupcake downtown. Or perhaps get a late night nibble at Nickel Diner.

My husband in front of The Nickel Diner. Photo by Carlos Michel.
In fact, that was the first date my husband and I went on when we got back together after the big break-up and before the big marriage. We kissed on the corner of something and something, popped into The Nickel Diner because he knew I liked bacon, and we sat across from one another, staring into each other's eyes, over a maple bacon doughnut ($2.75). Nothing spells romance like bacon. I really mean that.

Next stop, Echo Park.


Mo-chica is at 514 W. 7th Street, LA, CA 90014. 213-622-3744. If you have a KCRW card, you get %15 off (excluding alcohol).
Wurstkuche is at 800 East 3rd Street, LA, CA 90013. 213-687-4444. If you have a KCRW card, you get 15% off (including alcohol).
The Pie Hole is at 714 Traction Ave., LA, 90013. 213-537-0015.
Colori Kitchen is at 429 West 8th Street and 800 Figueroa Street, LA, CA, 90014.
Figueroa Hotel is at 939 South Figueroa Street, LA, CA 90015. 213-627-8971.
Olvera Street is about 2 blocks from City Hall.
Pershing Square is at 532 South Olive Street, LA, CA 90013.
Pho Siam is at 1525 Pizarro Street, LA, CA 90026. Call to book an appointment at 213-484-8484.
LA Downtown Artwalk's website
Big Man Bakes is at 413 South Main Street, LA, CA 90013. 213-617-9100.
Nickel Diner is at 524 South Main Street, LA, CA 90013. 213-623-8301.

Parking downtown can be a bit of a pain in the butt. You can though drive around for lots and probably stumble upon a decent price. If possible, think of taking the Metro line. Check HERE for more information.


Friday, September 20, 2013

This Weekend in LA: Parachute Market

Huge fun. A quarterly and seasonal design fair takes place this weekend that I am definitely going to. About 40 vendors - indie local designers - will be showing off and selling their most fabulous creations and vintage finds at Parachute Market.

Clothing, jewelry, art (wearable and otherwise), textiles, furniture -- lots and lots of gorgeous, interesting, provocative, cool stuff will be on display and ready for purchase. You'll find designers such as Brendan Ravenhill, Brook & Lyn, Kathleen Whiteaker, Cast and Combed, Victoria Morris Pottery and vintage giant A Current Affair.

As stated, it's quarterly and seasonal. This weekend participants will be paying homage to the Fall Equinox. Not sure what that's going to mean for us in terms of what everyone brings to the table but it will be interesting to find out.

So you don't drop while you shop a food market, curated by Kinfolk Magazine, will be on hand. Doling out the goods, amongst others will be Horse Thief BBQ (I hear their brisket is very tender) Sweet Clementime, Moon Juice and Bling Bling Dumpling. If it's a dumpling, I will try it! Oh, and Handsome Coffee will be there as well. As you may know by now, I need my coffee.

There's free valet parking as well as street parking. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time by going to Brown Paper Tickets or you can buy them at the door for 8 bucks. A percentage of all ticket sales go to Inner-City Arts, a fantastic organization providing art education for inner city children in the heart of skid row. So freakin cool.

Parachute Market is this Saturday and Sunday, September 21st & 22nd. The address is 405 Mateo Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013. Again, tix are 6 bucks online and 8 at the door. Saturday the hours are 12-7. Sunday, 12-6.

See you there and...

Jewelry by Cast and Combed. Photo by JUCO


Monday, September 16, 2013

A Prayer for Jerry Sharell

Sundays our house is always tuned into KJAZZ. We do the crossword -- New York Times, we've never been able to make the leap to the LA Times Crossword -- and without fail we listen to Jerry Sharell's radio show Sundays with Sinatra on 88.1. My husband loves Frank maybe as much if not more so than my father had. He even created a Facebook page dedicated to Jerry and his love for Frank and the show.

And so it makes it even more shocking and horrifying to learn that Jerry was victim of a bizarre and violent episode this weekend. Home in Woodland Hills, his girlfriend's ex-husband took Jerry and his girlfriend hostage over a 5 hour period, finally assaulting Jerry with a machete. How unbelievably sick is that? It's a total nightmare. Jerry's girlfriend, also injured, finally got away and was able to get help. The ex-husband slit his own wrists before being apprehended. Both Jerry and his "alleged" assailant are in critical condition in the hospital.

Sharell, now in his 70's, is a former music exec, known for his work in the 1970's and 80's with artists such as Linda Ronstadt, The Cars and The Eagles. These days he seems to be dedicating much of his musical know-how and passion towards his wonderful show. I can't tell you how much fun it is to listen each and every weekend.
Jerry Sharell
Such an amazing talent, such a great voice, he's brought such joy into our home. It breaks my heart something like this has happened. I pray for Jerry and his family.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thievery Corporation - Indra

Photography by Paul Gibert
Just had one of those LA experiences tonight. I'm stuck in traffic. It's a parking lot. I have no idea why this is happening. I just wait and wait. It's a little frustrating. I'm hungry, this is annoying, why now? Why here? I need to eat!!!!!!

Another thought overrides: someone might be hurt. I know. What a downer. But it's true. So I do a little prayer, leave a message or two for a friend (with my blue tooth - come on!), listen to the radio and try not to obsess over the fact there are just too many people who live here. That's my theory about accidents. It's bound to happen. It's not just careless driving and text messages - of course there's a lot of that - but there's a reason they call them "accidents." And when you have this many people all cramming themselves into this freeway or that, they're bound to bump into one another.

Every. Single. Night.

I get closer and closer to the accident. It doesn't look terribly serious, thank God. I move past and suddenly it's now all behind me. All the cars. The people ducking into this lane and that, trying to buy back 1 minute here, 2 minutes there. And here I am now. Free. No cars in front of me. Those behind me, getting smaller and smaller. Hardly anyone is to my right or my left. I'm blissing out on the open road.

I accelerate. Not really to make up for lost time. But because I can. It feels good. The night is beautiful and downtown is up ahead. Even from far away it looks tall and Diehard-ish and like its doing its job. Then this song comes on:

I'm not even sure I've heard it before. But it's sound is familiar. It reminds me of the soundtrack to so many evenings in LA, being on the 10, opening my windows, staring at the lights that make up the night - green, red, blue. I love it. As I move along, I think of people who are so cool, chatting, by some pool up in the hills, maybe overlooking the valley. Or skateboards at night in Highland Park. I don't know. My mind wanders.

And then I'm home.

Maybe I just listen to the same dj (Garth Trinidad) when I'm in my car at night! I don't know. But Thievery Corporation, Indra, regardless of the fact I'm supposed to be thinking about India, feels like night in my car in LA.

So I want to add it to my list.

Photography by Paul Gibert
For more information about the photography in this post, please go to

Thievery Corporation is playing with Massive Attack at The Greek Theater September 20th. Click here for Tickets and Information.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Slow Down and Drink Your Coffee: 2 Cafes I Love

Me without coffee
There are a tremendous amount of cafes to choose from in Los Angeles and anyone who is writing a screenplay, novel or television spec (or is pretending to) has spent endless hours nursing the dying foam of an hour old cappuccino at any one of those ever-so-tolerant establishments. So if you're from out of town and are wondering Who are all those people sitting around those wobbly wooden tables? That's who they are. They're the working writers, the want-to-be working writers, and the everyone else who make up LA's cafe population. Some swear by the familiarity of Starbucks while others insist on something a little more lauded and hoighty toighty (ie.: LA Mill or Intelligentsia). One thing they all have in common: They need their joe.

Fincas Cafe Ruiz, Tierra Mia
For me, when I go to a cafe, I often find myself close to home. I live in Highland Park and I tend towards either Cafe de Leche (they have Stumptown coffee. Nothing wrong with that) and The Highland Cafe, both located on York in the happenin' block of Avenue 50. My favorite of the two happens to be The Highland because not only do they offer good coffee (they serve Handsome) but there are three factors that really push it over the edge for me:

-  I like the interior which I find comfortable and relaxed.

- I feel a little cooler just by frequenting an establishment that sells Mexican Wrestling Masks...

- And they have these outrageously delicious homemade fruit danishes in the morning that will BA-LOW YOUR FREAKIN MIND. They make them in-house, they're called the Noname Pastries or Danishes, I think they're around 4-and-change and oh my God. Seriously. This morning I had a little bit of a strawberry one and a little bit of a mango one. They were still warm. RIGHT OUT OF THE OVEN and into MY MEMORY BANK AS ONE OF THE MOST DELICIOUS THINGS I HAVE EVER EATEN. 

This is the "It's worth the trip" pastry.

As for coffee, pure and simple, we were recently up in San Francisco and I had a cup of coffee poured from the Papa November coffee truck in SoMa and holy caffeine, it was out of this world. I really thought We don't have coffee like this in LA. I am so glad to report I was completely and utterly wrong.

A cafe has popped up in Echo Park that is owned and operated by the hardest working coffee aficionado in the universe: Ulysses Romero. He is the proud creator of a small chain of cafes called Tierra Mia. There are now six Tierra Mias in Los Angeles and it's my understanding the most popular are in South Gate and Pico Rivera. He's also now ventured up north, recently opening a Tierra Mia in San Francisco between Bernal Heights and The Mission. Papa Bear, I send you my love but watch out because Tierra Mia makes a damn good cup of coffee.

Now if you're a cream and sugar person, I say this understanding your whole thing and I just want to let you know something: you can drink this mother black.

I do not lie, you can and will notice their taste descriptions are right on the money. If they say there are notes of Tamarind Orange or Honey, you can taste notes of Tamarind Orange or Honey. I'm serious. And impressed.

Menus change. This is from September 7, 2013
Their beans are all Latin American. Romero, who has fostered relationships with his growers, insures you're experiencing the highest quality, best tasting coffee. He is a true coffee snob and you benefit by his snobbery.

The place reflects the care and passion Romero feels for what he's doing. Tierra Mia has a sense to it that cleanliness is next to godliness and by God, I like my cafes clean. It's so rare! But it's also as if you've died and gone to Customer Service Heaven. I mean, come on. Just look at these guys!

I am an addict, but an addict with good taste who likes to be treated well. The people Romero employs are knowledgeable, professional and polite. They carry themselves with pride and you get the feeling it's an honor for them to serve you. Frankly, I love that so much, even if the coffee didn't taste so good, I'd probably go back to see that in someone's eyes.

But the coffee is that good. By the way, they're famous for their Horchatta Lattes & Frappes and you'll find pastries and such, many of which have a distinctive Mexican angle:

And yet I have rarely dipped my toe out of the cappuccino or cup of joe pool. Know that for the pour, they only offer it as an 8oz cup (which, by the way, will get you there). Also be aware you will have to wait like 4 or 5 minutes after you order since they take their time making your coffee just right. If you want a larger size cup of coffee they offer an Americano (espresso with hot water) but their espresso is so good you need not worry. No soupy, watery, acidic situation here. It will be delicious. I had one this morning.
As a result, I am now going to run around my block 70 times. Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Highland Cafe is located at 5010 York Boulevard in Highland Park. 90042. Their hours are 9am-5pm, Mon thru Sun.
Tierra Mia is located at 1201 North Alvarado Street in Echo Park. 90026. It's open 7 days a week. 6:30am to 10:00pm.

Me after my first sip


Monday, September 2, 2013

Galco's: The Best Soda Store Ever

Bold words in this post's title. And I'm sure I don't know every soda store in LA. But I do know this place is fun. It's cute. It's got charisma. It plays music from the 50's, 60's and 70's. And most importantly, it offers over 400 different sodas.

Did you know it was spelled like that? I totally thought it was Sasparilla.
Some people say it's over 500. Some say it's over 1000. Really, once you're over 250, is it really worth a debate?

At first when you walk in, it almost looks like a warehouse...

But then you turn to the left and you know, the Back in Time sensation begins. This is like where Richie Cunningham went to get his toy planes before he met The Fonz.

I mean come on! This stuff is great. And it gets a little greater. Because next stop is the candy. All old-fashioned labels. One makes you think of the 20's...

The other the 50's...

The other, the 70's...

Personally, I prefer the candy smokes:

And just look up. You'll find vintage tidbits just above eye level:

That there in that cut out is the owner John Nese. He'll answer any question you have. Super helpful.
I love all that stuff. It's fun, it's cool, I love labels. But what I come for, what I really want, is the soda.

You might be able to find some of the selection somewhere else, but not all of it. No way no how. They only feature smaller labels. No big mass soda hauls here. I LOVE THAT. I also love that it's a family owned and operated business which all the people in this hood know about. Especially the ones who grew up here. They'd come to Galco's all the time after games and such for good sammies. In fact for the longest time Galco's was primarily a grocery/deli type place. (And by the way, they still make fresh sandwiches which are supposed to be good. I simply haven't tried any yet). But about 17 years ago or so, the owner, John Nese, had an urge to sell soda, but only from little labels you may never have heard of or ones you weren't sure were still in business.

Making John the most rad punk rock soda salesman in the country.

By the way, they have beer, too. Tons of it. And cool stuff which I imagine is not in every shop:

You can also get your sake on at Galco's...

As for me, I'm a Ginger Beer gal myself.

It's spicy, it's intense, and if you breathe in the fizzies, your eyes might water up. IT'S FANTASTIC.

So into this label.
Galco's Soda Pop Stop is located at 5702 York Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90042. The store's open from 9 to 6:30 Mon thru Saturday and 9 to 4 on Sundays. Parking is not a problem at all. They have their own lot. There's plenty of street parking as well.