Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fire Fire Go Away

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the Northridge Earthquake. I hadn't been in LA that long and suddenly, I'm in my bed, at 4:30whatever in the morning, the ground starts shaking and I'm positive we're at war. I'm from New York! I was never in an earthquake before. I was never in a war zone either but I had no freakin idea what was happening. And no one told me how loud it would be. Finally I realized Okay, this is an earthquake. It was a co-worker who told me when I experience my first earthquake to tell myself This is going to end. That helped me get through it. A few seconds during an earthquake is a very long time, and every second you feel somewhat calm is something to be grateful for.

Back then I was a typical New Yorker. The reason my co-worker gave me that advice? I was a cocky jerk who said something dumb like, "I want to experience an earthquake to see what it's like." Well, by the time that earthquake stopped and I had ridden out some gnarly aftershocks, I was like Karen Hill in "Goodfellas" when she said I've seen enough helicopters for one day, thank you. I had had enough. Trust me. I know it's unlikely but if I never have to go through a big earthquake again, it'll be fine with me.

It made me consider moving back. Which was confusing for me because even though I hadn't become the overnight success I was supposed to be by that point, I actually had come to kind of like LA. I loved my roommate Adam who had an amazing car and liked to drive all over the place showing me stuff: The Sunset Strip, The Brady House, El Matador, Poquito Mas... As a result of those Saturday excursions, LA was revealing itself to me as a beautiful, strange and exotic place. But home beckoned after that quake. I missed places that delivered at all hours, all night bars, the seasons. Yeah, it was nice here most of the time but I craved the crispness of when football weather began or the first snow.

But the truth was I hated being cold. Sure the first snow was always so magical and beautiful but then suddenly it would be January and there'd be slush and it would be freezing inside your clothes and just watch "Inside Llewyn Davis" when his pants are wet while he's sitting at the diner if you want to know what I mean. I know in that moment he's in Chicago, right? Doesn't matter. I had had that experience in New York and Boston plenty of times. The way I saw it, the way I knew it, cold was cold and even though I came out here for a career move, an added benefit was no longer having to sit on my hands on the subway to keep them warm.

In the end I didn't move back. The earthquake shook me, sure. And I wasn't the overnight success I had hoped I'd become. But truth was I liked it here. There were possibilities here. And it was beautiful. It was, in ways, amazing. The terrain? There was nothing like it back home. The colors at sundown blew my mind. And in one moment you could be at the beach, another, in the mountains. It was different, majestic, hopeful and exciting. I liked those qualities so I stayed.

But with great beauty comes a real trade off. That's what I've been thinking of today. There are people risking their lives trying to get this thing under control. Homes have been lost. At least 1700 acres have already burned in the Colby Fire. And they're now saying wild animals might start running out of the foothills. It's scary. It's sad. And now LA is my home! You feel different when something's happening on your homefront. Back east is no longer a consideration for me. I don't think I'm that cocky jerk I once was. This is the real deal, these are my neighbors and I feel so badly for all those people, animals, what's being lost. I pray for all of everyone who has to deal up close with any of this and all I know is...

This is going to end.

*Photo by Cyndi Wyatt

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Inexpensive Dates: Echo Park

I love Echo Park. It's the perfect place to go on a date. Whether it's the first date or the 21st, Echo Park's a nice stretch, not expensive, and there's so much to do. It's also nice for walking and certainly appeals to this native New Yorker. There are a lot of stores in which to browse, cafes for eclectic people gazing, and lawn art to admire. There is of course at times a bit of a dark side -- a little pollution, some polluted people -- but I don't know, doesn't bother me. And there's a lot to do. Like a lot.

I have hand-picked a few suggestions to give you a taste of what Echo Park has to offer for when you're taking someone out and would like to have some money left over in your wallet the next morning.

First off: Parking. Unlike the rest of LA where parking is usually SUCH a pain in the ass, Echo Park parking is easy. The main thrust of the action resides in two stretches: the first is between Logan and Rosemont on Sunset and the second is a few blocks on Echo Park Avenue between Scott and Lucretia (though there are stragglers beyond in both directions). You can find a bunch of street parking on Echo Park Ave., around the lake of course, and also west of Rosemont on Sunset. There's also easy metered parking (though some only take coinage). Finally there's a public parking lot behind Sunset between Echo Park Ave. and Logan that's not expensive.

It's at that last location where you'll find The Echo Park Farmer's Market, from 3 to 7pm every Friday.

It's not a huge Farmer's Market but it has a lot of fun stuff, is great for strolling and you'll come across good tastes like the Kombucha from Better Booch, a specialty local Kombucha maker. I happen to think Farmer's Markets are great walking and talking dates, which if you're free on a Friday afternoon, why not? To that end if it is a day date, one of my all-time favorite (and inexpensive) things to do is go on the pedal boats at the newly restored Echo Park Lake.

This place is so much fun and beautiful and goofy. It only costs ten bucks a person (unless you're from the Echo Park zip code and it's Wednesday, then it's $10 for the two of you). Pedaling right up to that fountain is pretty awesome and you'll get wet so don't be too prissy about your outfit. There are ducks on the lake, protected lily pads and cute people like yourselves, wearing their life jackets and risking it all. 
Early in the relationship it's good to find out how you and your potential life partner work as a team in a sea vessel 
It gets busy on the weekends so be prepared to wait, but luckily Square One has set up shop at the boathouse. Most everything costs under 8 bucks and the bacon is delightful. 
Square One at The Boathouse
They have Intelligentsia coffee and for lunch they offer a varied selection of sandwiches and salads. What I like about this place is it has the perfect balance. They've got the healthy Kale Salad but they also have hot dogs. And I'm not going to snub my nose at the frozen banana with milk chocolate and nuts. Nothing wrong with that. ($3.50 and a lot of good memories).

If it is the outdoors that's up your alley but spending money is not, go for a hike. Nearby Elysian Park is not nearly as overrun as Runyon, has tons of beauty and IT'S FREE!

I come here with my dog all the time and all I can tell you is he's in love with me. It's not that difficult to find either. When you're on Echo Park Ave., just go right at The Chevron onto Morris and you'll take a right up Morris Terrace.

But not everyone wants to work out on their dates. Sometimes just sitting down and eating sugar with a new love is the sweetest way to "break bread." Thankfully one day I happened to stumble into Valerie, a new bakery by lauded LA confectioner Valerie and her husband, Stan. Well... let the confectioning begin...

Valerie has AMAZING petit fours. I mean award winning: Champagne, Ginger, Macha, Lemon and no one is going to suddenly say Valerie is inexpensive but these are! In my humble opinion, all you need is two: one for me, one for you.
That's 8 to 9 bucks for the two of you, in and out. It could be just the sweet bite you need to get you there.

Another dessert idea, if that's your thang, is Pazzo Gelato. I've been going to the one in Silverlake for years. This one's right next to the Citibank on Sunset.

There's almost always Madagascar Vanilla and Almond Fig (yum). And both the gelato and sorbetto are heaven. Pure heaven. Fresh Mint Chip might not sound as exotic as their more elaborate flavors but trust me if they have it, that's real fresh mint in there and it's good for you and your breath. If you want to go dairy-free try the sorbetto. Peach, Toasted Coconut or Rhubarb are to die for. They are many interesting flavors and they have a reputation for the unique (ie.: Fleur de Cactus). And they've got a little Happy Hour deal. From 4 to 5pm every day each scoop is $1.50 with a 2 scoop maximum.

Now both these spots though close by 6pm. So if it's sort of at a later moment you might want to share some sweets with your new sweet...
The Brite Spot
Sugar is served up to 3am at The Brite Spot, Wednesday thru Saturday. (Sunday thru Tuesday it's open until midnight). You can be like a bobby soxer and split a milkshake here for $6 or a Rootbeer Float for $5. And I happen to be of the belief that a diner is a great place to hang out with someone new or not so new. Diners are intimate, they're relaxed, music's playing, and usually some drunk people (maybe you) are sandwiched in a booth nearby for some entertainment value. And if this is a really good date, think about it: A diner's a great place to get your first breakfast.

Speaking of food...

Xoia (pronounced Soya) is a funky, cute place, with great interior design and a delicious Vietnamese menu with a teeny bit of Mexican thrown in. My favorite are the Vietnamese Crepes with Lemongrass Beef. That's $9.25. Also the Crispy Tacos, 3 for $6.75, are delicious and satisfying (I love the Pork/Shrimp). And not for nothin but the Vietnamese Ice Coffee will kick your ass.

I loooooooooooooooooooooove Guisados. This is hands down one of my favorite taquerias in the whole damn city. I don't find it outrageously romantic but the food is so good, who cares? And there's this great outdoor patio with twinkly lights. Try the Tinga de Pollo (stew-y, rich and delicious) and Calabacitas tacos ($2.50 a taco). I must say there are a few downsides. Guisados is at 1261 Sunset Boulevard meaning, it's almost downtown. Therefore if you're where all the action is you'll have to drive to Guisados if you want some tacos. Secondly the parking lot is rather small. If you can, park on the street. Finally, I'm not the only one who knows how good Guisados is. It's kind of famous. So you might be waiting on line for a bit. Oh well! Time to get to know how you both handle waiting.


I just went to Sage for the first time recently and I have to say, it's a really great place. The reason I said "I have to say" is I'm not a health nut. I'm ashamed/proud to admit I'm a carnivore or rather an everythingavore. To purposely go to a strictly vegetarian restaurant almost never appeals to me. Therefore "I have to say" I was pleasantly surprised. Sage is lovely and fun. It has a lot of life to it. Even when I didn't go I'd always take notice how many people were in there. It looked pretty hoppin' from the outside. I wondered, do I have to get healthy to step inside? The answer is no. But you can be healthy for the hour you're on your date and not go broke eating fresh, well-prepared vegetarian.
Girls on a date at Sage
I had the Soul Bowl. It was downright delicious. Tons of stuff in there: Kale, quinoa, roasted sweet potato, crunchy okra that I loved... Super filling, too. I could've split this with someone and made it a meal - though let me tell you, try to suggest that on the first date and you might come across as a little cheap. Speaking of moola, it didn't break the bank at $12.95 for my meal (this was lunch). Dinner prices are $14 for most entrees and around 8 bucks for most apps. And it's a bring your own wine spot. Give it a go. If you really need meat, just know you can always hit an In and Out on the ride home.

Still lunch or dinner (or breakfast for that matter) might be too big of a commitment for you. Many people meet for a cup of coffee - just to see if they want to take it further. If you're going to do that, I strongly suggest you at least have a good cup of coffee or go to an interesting place. That way if you're not into your date, you're happy you drank the coffee or discovered a new hang-out. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a huge Tierra Mia fan (on Alvarado, north Sunset) but I'd also like to suggest Fix
The outdoor patio at Fix in Echo Park
This is such a cool cafe. I had an ice coffee there and loved it. It wasn't hot coffee with ice dropped into it but cold coffee. For the record, that's the way they should do it. Otherwise it gets soupy and thin and gives you a stomach ache. Hokay. Fix is way up there on Echo Park Avenue. My suggestion is to park where a little more stuff is going on, like around Flounce, Chango and Valerie, and actually walk up the avenue to get some fresh air on your way to caffeinate together as a couple for the very first time. On the way, there's some pretty awesome houses with such fantastic lawn art, you'll be impressed:
Lawn Art provides interesting Landscape Chat
Another coffee place but one that has more than the eats and the java, is Stories. It keeps you right where everything is happening on Sunset and offers an insight into your paramour's reading taste - which could be good to know. 
The coffee's not the point here. Stories has a great outdoor patio and browsing at books and sneaking glances above Che Guevera postcards is cinematically sexy. Plus there's a parking lot in the back.
Stories patio. They have little events here, too.
Of course if you've done the walking, you're caffeinated, you ate... how about checking out some good stores?
Origami Vinyl
Think about perusing the records at Origami Vinyl or the trinkets, clothing and art at Vlad. Actually the latter currently has some art up on the wall by my friend Jason Hadley that is very cool. I also recommend popping into some thrift and vintage clothing stores. Try something on. Even if it doesn't look good, the on/off motion implies there is a willingness on your part to be naked. Two places that come to mind immediately are Sunday's Best Thrift Store and Flounce. Sunday's Best is at 1547 Sunset Blvd. and it's one of the nicest thrift stores in LA: Small, attentive customer service and it's well-organized. But I have a very big soft spot for Flounce Vintage on Echo Park Ave. They have beautiful and very feminine clothing circa 30's, 40's on up.
Slipping into something more comfortable at Flounce in Echo Park
Nothing like putting on a swanky little Bette Davis number or a floppy Carly Simon hat to get your mojo moving.

But all this could sound like work to you. Or just not up your alley. Maybe you want to relax, release the tension, get rid of your nerves while lying down. Amen to that. For a little serious R & R I highly recommend Echo Foot Lounge.
It looks like nothing from the outside but inside you will NOT be disappointed. 
The lobby at Echo Foot Lounge
Echo Foot Lounge is a cerebral, mellow space with an incredibly helpful staff who just want to reflexologize you into feeling happy. In a communal room, you will get a very lovely rub-down at a cost that is pretty much unheard of.  A custom 1 hour full foot and body massage is 30 DOLLARS! They also have a 30 minute massage for 20 bucks but I'm like, we're just warming up at minute 29. You do stay clothed so you might want to wear something that can be manipulated for the masseuse. The evening I visited, I went from anxious to noodle-ish and I think it made it so I was good company for the rest of the night. Because it was good for me. Which leads me to say even if you're not on a date, come here anyway. Treat yourself! You will feel fantastic afterward.

As for shaking that new and relaxed and improved body, how about going to hear some music? Everyone knows The Echo is a fine place to catch a show. Admission is free every Monday night in January and frankly most of the other nights won't cost you financial agita either. Just check out their calendar for what's coming up. Tickets are usually under $20 unless a big name is headlining (ie.: Lucinda Williams in February is $24-34 a pop).

Though if a more intimate atmosphere is more your speed, I found what I think is one of the most wonderful speakeasys in all of LA while researching this post. 
1642 is at 1642 Temple, right near a Tamale place and not near anything else. I mean it. It's not like you're at The Echo Foot Lounge and are going to stroll over here afterwards. You're going to have to drive.
That being said, it's worth it. Step inside and it's like the outside no longer exists. It's such a warmly lit atmosphere, they have such lovely little tables, and with candles lit on each. I also like the fact there is an insanely friendly and ingratiating bartender. For their more raucous evenings, they have an awesome open jam the first Thursday of every month, lead by Triple Chicken Foot. It's for old-timey music lovers and anyone can bring their fiddle and bow if they want to join in. Also on Thursdays, from 6-8pm, you get a tamale with your beer or wine as part of their Happy Hour. But honestly any night here is romantic and fun and in the best way 1642 reminds me of the most romantic haunts in NYC.

That about sums it up. I hope wherever you go, whatever you do, you find the love you're looking for very soon. These posts are so nothing stands in the way of you're finding that love. Even in LA.
Sexy is the attitude of Echo Park (art from Stories Books & Cafe)
When you go:

Echo Park Farmer's Market Every Friday, rain or shine, from 3 to 7, on Logan, just south of Sunset.
Echo Park Pedal Boats is at 751 Echo Park Ave. **
Square One at the Boat House is at 751 Echo Park Ave. Kitchen's open every day 8-3p. Coffee & pastries until 5pm. 213.481.8495.
Elysian Park is off of Morris Terrace.
Valerie is at 1665 Echo Park Ave. Open Wednesday thru Saturday, 8 to 6. Sundays 9 to 5. 213.250.9365.
Pazzo Gelato is at 1910 W. Sunset Blvd. 213.353.9263. Open until 6.
The Brite Spot Diner is at 1918 Sunset Blvd. 213.484.9800.
Xoia is located at 1801 W. Sunset Blvd.  213.413.3232.
Guisados is at 1261 W. Sunset Blvd. 213.250.7600. Mon thru Thursday, 10:30  to 9. Fridays and Saturdays it's open until 10pm. Sundays it closes at 5.
Sage is located at 1700 W. Sunset Blvd. Check website for hours.
Tierra Mia is at 1202 N. Alvarado. It's open daily from 6:30am to 10pm.
Fix is at 2100 Echo Park Ave. Monday thru Friday, 7 to 7. Saturdays & Sundays 8 to 7. 323.284.8962. They offer a full menu.
Stories Books & Cafe 1716 W. Sunset Blvd. 213.413.3733. Check site for special events.
Origami Vinyl is at 1816 W. Sunset Blvd. 213.413.3030. It's open 7 days a week, Sunday thru Thursday, noon til 9, Fridays and Saturdays it's open until 10pm.
Vlad the Retailer is at 2153 W. Sunset Blvd.
Sunday's Best Thrift Apparel is at 1547 W. Sunset Blvd. 213.986.5695.
Flounce Vintage is at 1555 Echo Park Ave. 213.481.1975. (p.s. I love that phone number).
Echo Foot Lounge is at 2148 W. Sunset Blvd. 323.452.FOOT (3668). Open Monday thru Friday, 12-8pm. Saturdays & Sundays, 10 to 9:30pm.
The Echo and Echoplex is at 1822 W. Sunset Blvd. 213.413.8200. Entrance to The Echoplex is at 1154 Glendale Boulevard (through the alley). For updates follow them @theechola
1642 is at 1642 W. Temple. Can't walk there from these other places -- or rather I wouldn't recommend it. 213.989.6826.


* First picture is from 1642 Bar.
**Echo Park is in the 90026 zip code

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Beachwood Cafe - A Nice Place for a Yummy Breakfast (and Horses)

This morning, I ended up having to kill a little time before meeting someone and found myself in my old 'hood, at The Beachwood Cafe. The cafe used to be a diner, and it was kind of worn out and done in and I loved it. Dark wood, flies that seemed like they knew your name, that sort of thing. So when this new, cheerful, CLEAN restaurant took over, it was a little jarring for someone like myself.

Yet enough time has passed and now I can say while I love the old, I welcome the new; especially when the first thing you see, parked outside the door, are horses.
Inside the memories of the old Beachwood diner seem to have finally faded. I don't fully remember it any longer. I do remember some of the staff and miss them. But the new staff could not have been nicer and I wonder if my waitress worked at the old one as well. Either way, she was fantastic. And the truth is drab and depressing is no longer my game. As much as I like that old greasy spoon feel, I'm publicly going on record to say I like clean stuff, nice people, good food and pretty walls. The Beachwood has all of that.
Yellow and blue are the predominant colors and the kitsch, homey wallpaper and unusual photos of dogs above the tables add light, energy and life. Even the floors are blue and yellow. I was wondering if this was possibly an alma mater color combo from the owner's university years past. (All hail The University of Michigan).

Regardless of how cute everything was...
I mean come on...
The food was delicious. I sometimes meet my little friend, Nancy, here for a pow-wow and vent-fest. She normally gets the tofu scramble while I go for the Nichols, a scramble comprising of spinach, onion, bacon -- guess who weighs less in this friendship?
Nichols Scramble, 11 bucks, deelish
Yet regardless of the fact maybe mine has a higher calorie count, whatever you get here is fresh and they care about their food sources. They make it very clear if you're eating chicken or bacon or a burger, it's hormone-free, grain-free... or put another way, it roamed, it laughed with its friends, it had a real life. They care where it came from, that it tastes good and that it won't mess with your health. And if you're a Vegan or Veggie they have lots of choices. Because it's hard to eat meat when you see this guy out your window...
But not that hard if you really like meat.

Anyway, as sweet, as Martha Stewart-Would-Be-Proud-ish as this spot is, it's still, at the end of the day, on some level, just a diner...
Beachwood Cafe Kitchen
And while yes, you can have soy or almond milk in your coffee, at every table you can still have this...
Leading me to say, I don't really miss those damn flies.
Beachwood Cafe is at 2695 Beachwood Canyon, LA, CA 90068. Open Tuesday thru Saturday, 8-10p. Sunday 8-3pm. They also now deliver. You can park in the lot there or on the street. Information about their design can be found here:

As for the horses, my guess is they were from Sunset Ranch. At the top of Beachwood Canyon Sunset's where you can rent horses for about $40 per hour. Or maybe those three people who rode their horses just have horses instead of cars and that's how they roll and if so, that is very cool and awesome. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Russian Food in The Valley - Sweet Sour Goodness

Just had to let you guys know about a fabulous hidden gem of a deli in The Valley right by Gelson's at Laurel Canyon and Riverside. It's called Grandma's Deli and trust me, I ain't never had a grandma like this.
Yummy, delectable horseradish from the place where horseradish thrives and is appreciated, damnit!
It's not a big place, though it certainly is interesting inside. You might as well be on a little side street in Moscow. Everything's in Russian: the newspapers, the products, the people. It's all got the clunky odd lettering that is just south of Chinese to me (though in reality the truth is opposite. Beijing is Southeast of Moscow).

I love it and frankly, this is my heritage. While growing up, I was rarely made privy to the cuisine and culture of my father's relatives and ancestors but when I tasted some marinated roasted peppers one weekend at Grandma's it all came back. Like Ruskie boots in the hardened snow I felt like I was home... in that sort of way us mutts define home. Now I make a weekly weekend pilgrimage to this out-of-the-way storefront, exploring what I imagine to be the food of "my people."
My people apparently like Black Tea
There's really more food than you know what to do with at Grandma's and the majority is homemade.
Slaw and other Vegetarian Goodness
There are some things that are here all the time yet every now and again, there seems to be something new above and underneath the deli glass. You'll be likely to find Baked Sturgeon (which Anna, the owner, pronounces STOOERgin), Chicken Meatballs - some of my favorite, coated in a delectable sweet and sour red sauce, Beef Stroganoff, Stuffed Cabbage with Chicken, Beef Liver with Onion, and their number 1 seller, Veal with Onion, which even though I'm not a huge veal fan for many reasons, I had to try it. Anna asked me. And a word to the betting man, if I'm thought to lose my moral compass in the future, you'll know where to find me.
Liver and Onions
Chicken Meatballs - oy gevalt!
There are also desserts like small delicious little chocolate cakes with walnuts, blintzes and rugelach with raspberry. And you can also purchase different types of sausage and meats.
Blintz Krieg
Veal, Chicken Weiners, What's Not To Like?
By the way, Anna, the adorable owner (or manager - I'm not sure which!) who's lived in LA less than 7 years, is adorable, funny, warm and smart and seems very proud of the homemade fare that she has to offer. She's proud of what she's offering and works hard but doesn't look it. She treats you like I don't know - like you're special. It's nice to go into a place and be treated like a distant family member. You kind of can't wait for your number to be up. But when you're next in line, you end up listening to that strange language, the "da's" being said back and forth, while Anna's made-up assistant, brings forth trays of fresh made kabobs or breaded tender chicken filets, from inside the kitchen out into the store.

It's kind of awesome. My ancestors who know nothing of my existence would be proud.

So when you get a chance, drop by, grab some stuff to take home (there are no tables at the deli) and enjoy. If you love food and like sampling different cuisines, or if you're Russian and you miss home, you'll wish Anna was your Grandma. Let's face it, it's nice to feel taken care of and like the little babushka you really are, which you really are, deep down inside. You are.
Look at how happy that little babushka is!
Grandma's Deli is at 4818 Laurel Canyon Boulevard, Valley Village, California, 91607 in an outdoor mini mall. The entrance is either off of Riverside or Laurel Canyon, depending where you're coming from. It's open 7 days a week, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m, meaning there's just no excuse not to get your Russian on. Parking in the lot there is free and there is street parking. Also you'll probably get away with parking at Gelson's and crossing the street if there's no parking available - though as of yet, I've never encountered that. 818-762-8980.

(There's also a sister restaurant in West Hollywood on Sunset called Grandma's Deli Babushka. I haven't been, so of course I cannot say what it's like, but I'll report back as soon as I make a visit. The reviews online though look gooooooood. 7300 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA 90046. 323.851.2312).

*pictured up top, Anna's Special Veal. Check out her assistant, munching something awfully good in the background. I love it!