Sunday, April 30, 2006

Vacationing in a Hammock in West L.A.

The genesis of our vacation started over drinks (naturally), when Noah innocently mentioned he was a whizz in the kitchen and would be happy to whip up a meal for us at some point in time. Not one to turn down an offer for a well-cooked meal--no matter how vague of an offer--I pounced with questions (demands) "Really? When? Do you make everything from scratch? What do you want to make for us? How about this weekend?"
"Sure, I just need a theme"
After pondering a Hubcap Themed Night (in honor of my tire woes...see below), we decided the novelty of eating round-shaped items might wear off somewhere between the homemade mini-pizza appetizers and donut desserts. Then, inspiration hit; I announced I wanted to feel like I was on vacation, a vacation that involved a hammock.

"Vacation in a Hammock" dinner party was born!

Luckily coming up with a theme was the only contribution expected out of me...I wasn't even asked to bring chips and Trader Joe's artichoke-parmesan dip (my go-to staple when expected to bring a somewhat 'fancy' party snack) to the tropical-inclined soiree.

Chef Noah, took care of everything... yay, guests weren't even expected to politely offer the obligatory "um, do you need me to help wash the veggies?" type menial cooking tasks, instead, he threw together a couple of mojitos (with homemade peppermint tea brewed syrup and fresh sprigs of mint) and ushered us to chitchat in the living room while he cooked away...only taking a short break to fondle the boob of our life-sized hula girl.Chef Noah's hammock-inspired menu included shrimp & mango skewers, steak with homemade chimchurri sauce (which I could have drank, it was so good) and fried! Tobie Sims waits impatiently for scraps to fall onto the floor and into his mouth but alas, the food was too tasty so there are no scraps left on our plates for our hungry hula dog. Aahh, delish food and a dinner party with leis and a coconut monkey centerpiece for ambience--we pretty much captured the essence of vacationing in a hammock.

With our bellies full, we wondered out loud why we didn't go all out and hang a bunch of hammocks in Cira's living room to pass out on.

I don't know how much the food was (thank you again Noah) but it's good to know that you need less than $20 to recreate the ambience of Vacationing In A Hammock at home (Party City rocks):
Leis: 99c each
Life-sized Hula Girl with moveable joints: $4.95
Coconut Monkey: $6.95

Monday, April 24, 2006

Saints & Sinners & Local 72/Pussycat Beach Lounge: Denying Drinks at 'Sybil'esque Bars

For our monthly ‘catch up over drinks’ night last Friday, Carrie and I wanted a)BUDGET (her 5hr after-work drink-a-thon in Studio City the night before ended with an $80 cab ride back to Venice—damn the far off Valley!) and b)RELATIVELY MELLOW (my 5hr after-work stint up to Santa Barbara for a concert and back the night before ended with only 4hrs sleep so I could get to work on time in the Valley the next day—damn the far off Valley!)

We found two split-personalitied bars that (sort of) fit our criteria. We also inadvertently found a third underlaying theme to the night, c)A NIGHT OF TRYING TO DENY FREE DRINKS

We started at Saints & Sinners in Culver City. The kitschy ‘heaven’n’hell’ themed bar is pretty slick for the nondescript, no-man’s-land strip along Venice Blvd but also has a little bit of the Eastside Silverlake grit to balance it out. It was only 7:30pm but the bar was already pretty happening with a random mix of locals, party-hardy happy hour dudes and stylishly grungy Venice crowd. Perhaps the layout is an indication of how well the bar knows it’s crowd; save for the tiny, silvery-white, semi-private back room (Heaven), the Hell’ish area of the bar—with it’s brimstone-evoking indoor firepit and curvy, black vinyl seating—takes up the main lounge area, and is appropriately filled with the more rowdy hell-raisin’ patrons.

Happy Hour was still going on ($1 off drinks) but I had recently profiled the bar for and awesome owner/bartender Chip took care of our first round...even better! He does a good pour—filling glasses with plenty more of the sinful stuff than the tonic. Drinks are reasonably-priced; vodka tonics around $6, signature drinks around $9…you pay a couple more dollars for their witty names (Evil Dewars, Holy Water, Hellfire). The bar takes drinking way too seriously to serve food but they do carry a few take-out menus. We were handed a Thai Express menu--not in the mood to mix green curry with vodka, we regretfully declined partaking in another free round to appease our growling bellies.

Saints and Sinners is Sybil in a good way: kitschy yet edgy, casual yet sexy, mellow yet loud, neighborhoody yet trendy, a scene without being sceney.

Next up, Carrie suggested the new bar Nick’s Local 72 Market (you can detect the Sybil-ness of the bar even by the mouthful of a name it has). It’s located right near the beach in Venice in the former space of the Globe. They’ve revamped the space and knocked down some walls to add video murals of palm trees whispering in the wind and other beachy vibes yet has kept Globe’s industrial feel with lofty ceilings, exposed beams and minimalist clean lines. Above the bar area, 3 huge flat screens were airing a baseball game. With the clashing sportsbar/casual beach bar/trendy Hollywood’ish club elements going on simultaneously—it’s hard to tell what exactly Nick’s Local 72 Market wants to be.

But we were too hungry to be concerned with the confused aesthetics of the bar. We grabbed a window seat and immediately ooh’ed and aah’ed over the tasty and cheap food menu. We decided to share waffle fries with a trio of sauces (the bleu cheese suckered us in but the spicy ketchup was also good), spicy buffalo wings (again, the yummy bleu cheese sauce) and a refreshing seafood ceviche with a really good lime dressing. Each item was only $7 or under.

Totally focused on our conversation and rotation of fries/wings/ceviche, we were totally caught off guard when our waitress hesitantly comes over to us offering a bucket of champagne and strawberries “uh, this guy over there wanted to buy you a drink…” Silence as Carrie and I both weighed out in our minds if the free champagne was worth having to talk to a sketchy, cheesy dude. “um…thanks we guess….is he weird?”. Her raised eyebrow and slight shrug indicated that yes, he was. But she assured us that he was as harmless as he was weird. That was good enough for us! Besides Carrie was done with her white wine and my strawberry lemonade vodka concoction was too sweet so we needed new drinks anyway. We endured a 2 minute weird but harmless conversation with the weird but harmless dude before he shuffled away (without either of our phone numbers if anyone's wondering!)

When the manager came over to uncork out bottle, he mentioned that the newly opened lounge (April 1st) was originally going to be called Pussycat Beach but they ended up with 72 Market (the address), added the Local (presumably to keep some street cred with the Venice peeps) and then also Nick’s (coincidently Nick is the name of the main investor).

We proceeded to people-watch as the crowd got less Local 72 and more Pussycat Beach as the night wore on; it’s the only place in Venice I’ve been too with stilettos with short shorts combos, stilettos with booby halter dresses and stilettos and sequiny tube tops. It was amazing enough just seeing stilettos instead of flipflops but at the stroke of 11pm, we had somehow transported ourselves from mellow sportsbar/beachy bar/mellow Hollywoody lounge to Avalon on a Saturday night.

Simulated lapdancing (halter dress & stiletto girl) and drugged-out, trance-dancing (hippy’ish curly head guy) were both happening within 5 ft of our table.

Somehow though, the fantastically ridiculous Sybil’ness of it all—confused atmosphere, confusing name and cheesy yet entertaining clientele such as hoochie mamas in laidback Venice and clientele who actually send buckets of champagne and strawberries—all came together and it worked. Maybe just for that night, but we had a great time. And for the drinks that we did pay for, along with the food, our total bill was only $40.

When you add the extra 2hrs of people-watching entertainment, we definitely got a bargain, if not entirely mellow, night for only for $20 each!

Saints & Sinners: 10899 Venice Blvd. 310.842.8066
Nick’s Local 72 Market: 72 Market St, Venice

Friday, April 21, 2006

Valley Girl Part 2: Cutting the Cheese in Studio City

In addition to being the strip mall mecca of sublime sushi, Ventura Blvd has also satisfied another of my food loves.

Unlike other areas of life where there’s good cheesy (John Hughes flicks, 80’s song sensations Careless Whisper & 99 Luft Balloons), bad cheesy (pick up lines, men driving yellow ferrari’s) and beyond redemption cheesy (The Hoff's music video) when it comes to actual cheese, all cheese is good cheese.

Look out for Artisan Cheese Gallery’s cute little yellow storefront on the corner of Laurel Canyon & Ventura. Inside, the cheese emporium showcases a staggering selection of over 300 revolving artisan cheese options. Here, when you ask for goat cheese, is it cranberry chevre, bleu cheese chevre, chevre with peppercorns, raw goat cheese, Italian, French, Spain or Indiana plain goat cheese, paprika chevre or applewood smoked log chevre? You get the idea.

Much like a classy wine store, the staff can also help guide wannabe cheese connoisseurs with samples to broaden their cheese horizons. Just tell them what you like, and they’ll offer up samples of likeminded cheeses to complement your taste.

Although it must be noted that expertise doesn't come cheaply. The prices are unmarked so I don’t know if it’s indicative of prices across the board, but while you can get a chunk of the lovely, buttery St. Andre triple-cream brie, at $25/lb, you can also get a slice-of-pie sized wedge of it at Trader Joe’s for about $4.50.

Their cheese sandwiches however are a bargain. Hearty-sized grilled panini’s on substantial pain de mie Breadbar bread, choices include roast beef with red onion jam, mixed greens and 3 blue cheese spread, grilled red pepper, artichokes, olive tapanade and asiago on kalamata bread, and applewood smoked bacon, sage, roasted gala apples and Ballard Farm cheddar (they’re big enough to eat half for lunch and save half for later, but the applewood bacon sandwich was so good, I downed the entire first half while still driving back to eat at my desk).

All for $8.95! But that’s not all! It also comes with a choice of small organic salad or hot & sweet pickles and a raspberry chocolate truffle. A three-course take-out lunch for less than $10!

See? Everything cheese-related=good.

"Is that a keg in your pants? 'Cause I'd love to tap that ass"

Cheesy everything else=not so much.

The Artisan Cheese Gallery
12023 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
Phone: 818-505-0207

Monday, April 17, 2006

PSA: Check Your FlyAway Hubcap is Really Yours; or Pothole Warning to Drivers along Glendale Blvd & Bellevue

Last Thursday night, I was driving home from Silverlake after drinks (Cha Cha Lounge--$1.50 happy hour Pabst!), more drinks (Silverlake Wine Shop winetasting night-$12 for 3 generous half-glasses of syrah) and dinner (Gingergrass; a semi-authentic, hipster-filled Vietnamese spot with a big selection of summer rolls) and driving along Glendale Blvd towards the 101 onramp when BOOM! phiissshhhhh...fuh-lump, fuh-lump, fuh-lump.

I flew over a giant pothole! Giant, as in I could have laid down in it with my futon.

It was 11pm and I was thisclose to the freeway and my bed, that I was tempted to carry on driving but thought I should inspect the damage before driving 80 mph for 30 more miles.

Darn. My front right tire was a sorry saggy puddle, the metal rim of my wheel was bent up and my hubcap had bounced off. I thudded to the nearest gas station and attempted to pump air into my tire in vain. The air was whizzing out of the hole as fast as I was filling the tire.

Changing my tire was the last thing I wanted to do at 11pm in a semi-sketchy area of town so yes, I actually fished around my car to find an old plastic shopping bag and bits of paper to try and 'plug' up the hole. Stuffing my wheel with rubbish from my back seat didn't work (surprise) so I decided to make a house-call to my brother who's apt. is only a few blocks away. I remembered to backtrack along Glendale Blvd. so I could pick up my missing hubcap along the way.

Back at my brother's apt, I changed my tire, and by that, I mean, I diligently held the flashlight for my brother's roommate and friend while they changed my tire (thanks heaps Matt and Tony!!). The stubborn lug nuts sealed tightly with grease took a while to loosen and the ghetto handcrank-style jack that came with my car also posed problems so it probably took a good hour to put on the spare.

Finally! Just after midnight, Matt tightened the last screw and I ceremoniously took out my flyaway hubcab to pop it back in....when Matt goes "um, there's a Toyota logo on your hubcap..."

I own a VW Beetle.

How did I get the wrong hubcap? I picked up the first (and only) hubcap I saw during my drive-by. How was I to suspect there'd be a bevy of hubcap casulties along Glendale Blvd?

I woke up early the next morning to drive by the same two block stretch along Glendale Blvd between Bellevue & Temple when A-Ha! I found my lone hubcap near a sewer grate about 10 ft from the pothole. blocking morning rush-hour traffic, I pull my car to the side and run out to fetch a...Alfa Romeo hubcap?!

If you are an Alfa Romeo or Toyota owner who accidently picked up a VW hubcap when looking for yours, please email me to arrange a hubcap exchange! (I was so flustered by the abundance of hubcaps, that I forgot to take them out of my car and back onto the Glendale curb for the rightful owners to pick them up--and for that, I apologize.)

Until then, I'll be the one driving around in a ghetto-fab looking VW Beetle with an exposed, slow-leaking right front tire.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Valley Girl Part, totally awesome Sushi!

Maybe it’s the sweltering heat, abundant strip malls, being over the hill, or the general bad rep of being home to all three, but I’ve never been a fan of The Valley. It just seems so far to drive…only to end up in the Valley.

Before last month, I’ve never had a reason to explore the joys of Studio City's Ventura Blvd before, however, in the past 6wks—since I started a freelance office gig at the Universal Studio lot—I’ve begrudgingly become a “valley girl” (but only from 9am-6pm).

At first I resisted participating in anything Valley-related—even bringing my own lunch to eat at my desk instead of leaving the lot—but after going stir-crazy at my desk, I’ve slowly ventured on Ventura…and have been pleasantly surprised.
Most of my Valley pleasure really has to do with food, because a) all my 818 area code exploring is limited to lunchtime hours and b) well, isn’t everything got to do with food?
Just the sheer sushi joint per square block ratio is impressive, doubly so when the majority are also above par and all really reasonable.

My first sushi outing was at Katsu-ya Sushi, the granddaddy of sublime strip mall sushi joints. Yum crispy-rice cakes topped with jalapeno spicy tuna, which has since been replicated at a pricier cost at more shi-shi spots including Geisha House, Koi and Yi to name a few. We also had their crab soy-paper handrolls, spicy albacore sashimi with crispy onions and artistic cucumber-wrapped, spicy tuna & avocado plate. The only miss was the ‘peanut brittle’ looking plate of fried almond-crusted scallops, which looked way cooler than they tasted. Although it’s usually celeb-central here, my visit was more filled with industry execs and studio publicists. Well worth dealing with the schmoozy atmosphere from surrounding tables to enjoy the yum, yum, yum sushi.

Also got to check out Teru Sushi a block away. My temporary coworkers are apparently hardcore regulars and plates of colorful rolls started arriving at our table without us even needing to order. From the flurry of dishes, memorable rolls included the Crunch Roll (shrimp tempura & avocado topped with eel sauce & crispy tempura pieces), something named the No-Name roll with avocado & eel sauce again, Soft Shell Soy Hand Rolls, Tiger’s Eye (salmon-stuffed squid) and the BSC (Baked Scallops over California Roll). Half the rolls are under $6 while specialty rolls hover between $10-14. The fresh fish tasted great but I also remember the delicious-tasting rice had that perfect hint of sweet rice-wine vinegar flavor and sticky ‘al dente’ bite.

With the proximity to so many great sushi spots, I became a sushi-junkie within two weeks of working at Universal. While Katsu-ya & Teru are reasonable, they’re still too pricey to feed my near-daily sushi fix. Enter Sushi Dan Rockin’ Sushi. Yes, starting with the name, Sushi Dan many things going against it (hard to trust a sushi joint that isn’t just rocking, but rockin’). I'd give it addition points off for being in a strip mall but I've come to realize everything in the Valley is in a strip mall, however, Sushi Dan’s fa├žade is also a blah-colored, cinderblock block of a building.

Based on my friend Alissa’s recommendation, we met there for lunch. While rather low-rent, Sushi Dan is also good enough for C-list celebs (Andrew Keegan walked in right behind me and B-Lister Ron Livingston was at a table). Their lunch special has since made me a takeout regular. For $9.99, you get miso soup, 5 generous pieces of sushi (not cheapy tamago or krab meat either, but thick slices of tuna, albacore, shrimp, snapper & salmon) and a choice from their vast list of funky, ‘rockin’-style rolls. We got the Hot Nights roll (shrimp tempura topped with avocado, masago and eel sauce) and the Danny II Roll (spicy tuna in tempura seaweed and ponzu sauce). A week later, I went there again with Chaya and tried the tobiko-topped spicy tuna roll and salmon/mango rolls. There are heaps more tasty-sounding concoctions but I dream about my Hot Nights too much to stray and try too many others.

There are at least 8 other sushi spots within a couple block radius of those three places. I have two more weeks before my freelance gig is up to try them out as well before denouncing my valley girl status again.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Spa Week: Indulge for Both Charity and Softer Skin.

Seems like every day has been claimed as dedicated to a specific cause; National Breat Cancer Awareness Month (October) I'm down with, National Frozen Food Month (March) not so much.

April alone is celebrating National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, National Autism Awareness Month, National Facial Protection Month, Sports Eye Safety Month, Foot Health Awareness Month and I kid you not, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) Awareness Month amongst other dedicated causes.

Luckily, you can take a week off from thinking about how 'regular' you are for 30 days straight: Allure Magazine has come to the rescue by hosting the upcoming Spa Week--although, you can celebrate both IBS Month and Spa Week with a discounted Body Flow Detox Treatment at Beverly Hill's Vida Emanuel European Day Spa.

During the week-long pursuit of pampering that is Spa Week (running April 17-23), over 200 top-notch spas across the country--and 37 in L.A.--are offering their signature services at a major discount for only $50.

Top picks in L.A. include a 50 minute, custom cabana massage at Sunset Blvd.’s Argyle Spa, Jurlique’s hour-long, anti-aging Facial in Beverly Hills and the Valley’s Spa Loft offering delicious services such as Pumpkin & Mango Hot Rocks pedicure and Chocolate & Espresso Exfoliating Body Treatments.

The discounted treatments go towards supporting Cancer & Careers--a non-profit helping women with cancer--so for those on the fence about Botox can convince themselves to paralyse your face for wrinkle-free skin in the name of a noble cause!

Check out and book early to take advantage of the body bargains galore.