Friday, August 25, 2006

Jamoca Almond Fudge for my Luke Wilson-esque Jawline: Wise Wisdom Teeth Relief

The best $1.69 I've spent this week. Well, the only $1.69 I've spent this week.

Me and my freakishly puffy, Luke Wilson-esque jawline have been under self-imposed house arrest since my wisdom teeth extraction on Monday.

Going a little stir-crazy in my 450 sq ft apt, I finally found a reason important enough for my first public outing all week--Baskin Robbins.

Braving imagined scenarios of the general public shielding their children's eyes, looking away aghast or staring in spite of themselves at my monstrous, gravity-defying swollen cheeks which have temporarily rendered me with no chin, I donned on a hopefully cheek-hiding hat and headed straight for the store to order an ice-cold, soothing Baskin Robbin's kiddie cup--no cone since I can't bite crunchy objects yet. The ice-cream melted in my mouth like sweet, pain-numbing liquid-vicadin for my inner-cheeks...mmm. Despite the fact that I picked a flavor with hard nuts that I have to spit out (Jamoca Almond Fudge), ordering the delicious blend of fudge and 'jamoca' was definitely the wisest thing I've done since losing some of my wisdom earlier this week.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Debut of Adventure Sundays: Santa Anita Hike & Din Tai Fung Dumplings

When Chaya and Chrissy asked if I was in for Adventure Sunday, even without knowing what that entailed, I was in. How could I turn down something called Adventure Sunday?

Their proposed activities to make Sunday more Adventurous started off with a hike in the Arcadia's Santa Anita Canyons followed by "the best dumplings in L.A.". An unorthodox pairing but Chrissy has talked up these dumplings for a while and if hiking beforehand is a good excuse to drive to far-away Arcadia to enjoy the dumplings, so be it.

According to Chrissy's Wild L.A. hiking book, the Santa Anita Loop is listed as one of L.A.'s top hikes to take out-of-towners --and why should tourists be the only ones exploring the best of LA? The hike also earned 5 stars and many positive comments on the same website where I found our Malibu hiking & dirty pond swimming adventure a month ago.

Never really going east of Los Feliz for spots like Home, Alcove and Good Luck Bar, driving to Arcadia via the 405, 10, 110, and 210 freeways seemed like a mini-adventure in itself.

We exited the 210 off Santa Anita Ave and headed up the windy mountain to Chantry Flats. There aren't any "yes keep going, you ARE supposed to drive up the mountain for a ways" signs so just as you're wondering if you've gone too far up the mountain, yes, keep going, you ARE supposed to drive up the mountain for a ways. You'll soon see a parking lot with a small Chantry Flats sign on your right.

The map we got from the general store gave us three hiking options, a nice 4 mile roundtrip hike to some waterfalls and back, a 5 mile waterfall-less but still picturesque loop with 12 river crossings and old cabins or an ambitious 9 mile loop which encompassed the waterfall plus more. We opted for the waterfall hike with the option to continue on with the 9 mile loop if Chaya, Chrissy, Rachel and myself all suddenly had a personality change and became psycho-obsessed hikers.

Immediately, the woodsy--and thankfully shaded--surroundings make this mountain hike very different from the typical dry, hot and unshaded L.A. canyon hikes (a la Runyon). The fun rock-hopping creek crossings and changing terrain past the time quickly and we made it to the waterfall in 45 mins.

In a delusional, "we're so outdoorsy!" moment, we decided to forge ahead with the 9 mile loop. Multiple uphill turns and twists lead us through deeply shaded woody areas, up along narrow (and apparently poison oak-lined trails) mountain ridges with beautiful views of next door neighbor mountain ranges, back down towards wood-shaded creeks and abandoned cabins from the early 1900's and more uphill hiking until we got to Spruce Campground.

According to our poorly scaled map, we had maybe 1 (or just as easily 5) uphill miles to go before the half way point. With our growingly loud growling tummies, we decided to turn back. We trudged back quickly, fueled by the thought of dumplings. Towards the end, we ran into a park ranger who said when we turned back we were only 1/2 a mile away from Sturdevant Camp (the halfway point) which has an amazing view overlooking all the mountains. Darn. Oh well, next time. Besides, by turning back early, we were still 1/2 a mile closer to dinner so we didn't regret our decision. The last .6 miles is pure 60 degree incline agony. Dumplings, dumplings,

We shot down the mountain back onto 210, 2 exits later (Baldwin Ave) we were at the famed Din Tai Fung Dumpling House. This Taipei-based restaurant--who has a team of dumpling-masters in the glass-encased kitchen handmaking fresh dumplings to order--is known for their exceptional dumpling wrapper consistency, best compared as that perfect, al dente bite of fresh, homemade pasta. The ever-present line is intimidating but goes fast (the line in the photo is the equivalent of 20 minutes), and faster still if you can't wait and have to go next door for a fruit smoothie made with real fruit (my peach icy was good but Chrissy's ice blended cantalope juice was better. 2 for the price of one! $3.75!)

Ordering the majority of the menu, we dug into 6 trays of 10 dumplings each between the 4 of us. Oh, plus shrimp noodle soup and two sauteed plates of broccoli and spinach. Between the chicken, fish, vege (cabbage, shiitake mushroom and silver noodles) and their signature juicy pork, the house specialty dumplings were my favorite. A tender pork and leek meatball swimming in its own broth, encased in an individual yielding pasta parcel. While there is a trick to eating these without dripping away the yummy juice, (directions are on the chopstick wrapper), my preferred way was dip it into the ginger/vinegar sauce and plop the whole dumpling in my mouth. We finished off with dessert dumplings--sweet red beans inside the steamed, mochi-like wrapper. (For more dumpling descriptions and pics, check out Hungry Hedonist's detailed review.)

Yeah, we may have gorged on an unnecessary share of dumplings, but they were small, surprisingly light and quite delish--not to mention twice as tasty when you know you've already pre worked them off on a hard 8 mile hike. This was definitely a strong debut for our proposed monthly Adventure Sundays.

Big Santa Anita Loop: $5 for parking pass
Din Fan tang Dumpling House: $60 for way too much food for 4 people (which, granted we did finished)
1108 S. Baldwin Ave. Cross street: W. Duarte Rd, Arcadia. 626.574-7068
Boba Tea and Juice place next door: $3.75 for two real fruit smoothies
Adventure Sunday: $23 per person!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Free Al Fresco Cinema Nights

With summer's blockbuster duds in full season (Miami Vice, World Trade Center) and no upcoming movies enticing me to the theater anytime soon (although I have hopes for The Science of Sleep and The Last Kiss hopefully?), I've decided to get my movie fix outside of the local multiplex--literally "outside" the local cineplex.

L.A.'s warm summer nights are perfect for al fresco movie watChing and these three outdoor cinema series around town make a nice alternative with actual good movies, free admission and even a BYO option (even if you have to sneak it in). The Hollywood Forever Cemetery asks for a $10 donation but the other two cost $14 less per person than the $14 ArcLight movie ticket (and that's before popcorn and a slurpee!) Yup, they're free!

CINESPIA @ HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY: Every Saturday night during the summer.
This has been on my to-do list for a couple summers but for some reason, I've never got around to it (maybe it's the rumored long lines or the hard-to-organize-for-a-Saturday-night activity). Playing everything from Pyscho (last weekend) to Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure (July sometime) and The Warriors (September 2nd), the films are a mix of cult classics and grandious movies fitting to watch under the stars. And above them too. (Many of the stars you're watching on screen are also buried there; Rudolph Valentino, John Huston,Jayne Mansfield to name a few.) This weekend is the John Wayne classic, The Searchers. Movies start at 8:30pm with gates open at 7pm for pre-flick wine and cheese picnicking and DJ-tunes. Since I haven't been there, check out Metrobogging LA's experience for a first-hand account and tips.

SANTA MONICA 'DRIVE IN' AT THE BEACH: Every Tuesday night during August and September at the SM Pier.
The weekly summertime series isn’t your typical drive-in—leave your car at the lot and cozy up on the sand with a beach lounger instead. Noteworthy remaining films on the calendar—“Rocky” (August 22nd), “Anchorman” (September 5th), the 1927 Fritz Lang classic, “Metropolis” (September 12th), scored by a live orchestra and the closing film, "An Inconvenient Truth" on September 26th. Screenings start at sundown (around 8PM) but come early to catch the sunset and a prime sandy spot. Admission is free (although tickets are required), but gain karma points by donating to the Arts Fighting Cancer charity. Proceeds from beach chair rentals and tasty concessions (caramel corn, funnel cake) also support the cause.
Pick up free tickets at any Santa Monica Visitor Center: 1920 Main Street, 1400 Ocean Ave, Kiosk at 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica

SAN GENNARO PRESENTS CINEMA AL FRESCO: Every Friday night during Month of August at Hancock Park @ the La Brea Tar Pits.
This one I found accidently while randomly looking up italian restaurants "just because" (me? obsessed with food? shocker). Doors open at the 6pm for live italian music with screenings starting at sundown around 8pm. We've already missed two great films, 'Cinema Paradiso" and "Il Postino", but the remaining two films are "Pinnochio"" (August 18th) and "The Italian Job" (the original one with Michael Caine) on August 25th. Italian-themed picnic dinners are available for purchase or you could come with some mozarella breadsticks and chianti for a make-your-own italia noche.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Another Reason to Move to Venice: Nikki Local 72's 'Venice Residents 25% Discount Night'

Despite the last time I visited Nikki Local 72 in Venice, when the casual beach lounge turned into Friday night at The Avalon at the strike of 11pm, I decided to give the place another chance; one reason was because it was only 7pm, so I figured we had 4 cheese-free hours to enjoy the otherwise fun spot, but mainly it was because the tasty bar food I had last time was as memorably good as the stilleto-heeled table-dancing party-goers were bad.

We just missed happy hour which ended at 7pm, but I found another reason to move to Venice Beach--Wednesday nights is 'Venetian Night' where proof of a Venice residence warrants you 25% off your food. As luck would have it, I was with Jess, a Venice-dwelling resident, so our dining pleasure automatically improved by 25% right there. (another great Venice spot on Abbot Kinney, The Otheroom, is also very Venice-centric; simply flash your Venice ID and skip past all the non-Venetian bar-goers waiting in line everytime)

We settled on the shrimp ceviche (which also has scallops, calamari and whitefish), nacho platter and buffalo wings, our bartender--who didn't know what kind of food experts he was dealing with--highly recommended the ceviche, which is made to order, but suggested 3 plates was a lot of food so we should pick one of the two. We politely dismissed his suggestion and decided to order all three. Again, he urged us to start off with two and order a third if we needed it. Humoring him, we just ordered the ceviche and the buffalo wings.

The generously-portioned ceviche came in an oversized martini glass, with the dressing possessing a perfectly lemony-lime kick. Yum! A definite must-order for future visits.

The buffalo wings had that good sticky-sauced yet crunchy fried coating consistency. The wings weren't too spicy but they also weren't too greasy or fatty either. Besides, it's all about the bleu cheese dressing. Creamy with small chunks of bleu cheese, the way I like it. After our wings, I also ate all the celery and carrots just so I could dip into more of the bleu cheese.

We took a break to comment on how we could still easily polish off a plate of cheesy, beany nachos when we spied our waitress walk by with a cast-iron skillet filled with a single, giant chocolate chip cookie, and we decided maybe it was a good idea we didn't order the nachos. the 'Half Baked' is a warmed-up, deep-dish, 7", half-baked giant chocolate chip cookie topped with two scoops of vanilla icecream and chocolate sauce people!

We were done and out of there by 10pm so I can't say for sure if the place still gets cheesy-bad late in the night, although the flyer we saw for 'Lingerie PJ Party, this Sunday Night' posted on their pillar makes me suspect yes.

Nikki's Local 72
72 Market St, Venice
Wednesday Nights: 'Venetian Nights' 25% off with proof of Venice residence.
Appetizers and dessert: $7 each without a Venice discount, $15.75 total with a Venice discount!
Several fun and fruity martini's: $9

Thursday, August 03, 2006

4-Course Lunching in Culver City: Wilson Restaurant

I finally had lunch at Wilson, the highly anticipated Culver City cafe/bar by Chef Mikey Wilson (Pinot Bistro, 5 Dudley) and partners Stefano DeLorenzo & Antonio Mure (Valentino and their own Westside Italian gems Piccolo and La Botte). The fresh and modern decor--lime, orange and white color scheme, white pillar lighting hanging from lofty ceilings, wraparound, floor-to-ceiling windows--matched both the mod vibe of the Museum of Design and Archetecture building which the eatery is housed and the colorful menu of farm-to-table fresh, organic-leaning ingredients.

Serving casual 'global cuisine comfort food', creative dishes included rabbit sloppy joes, chicken enchilada lasagne with pico del gallo and pulled pork with african spices. We ordered the intriguing-sounding B.L.E.T (Applewood-smoked bacon, butter lettuce, avocado, tomato and bbq eel) sandwich and had the chef surprise us with the rest.

The B.L.E.T. was a complementary mix of differing textures and strong flavors, but with so many other interesting-sounding items on the menu, I didn't love it enough to automatically want to order it over trying other new dishes on my next visit.

The escargot special was my favorite dish--drizzled with pesto and walnut-asiago type dressing instead of the standard buttersauce, the sauces were flavorful without overpowering the meaty taste of the plump snails.

We were also served the 'market vegetable lunch plate' (which changes dependent on the Farmer's Market's current freshest offerings). It was tasty pea puree topped with a delicious sweet corn polenta and wilted arugula. The dish was extra pleasurable because the dish probably wouldn't be normally something I'd order on a menu, and it translated way better via tastebuds than verbal description.

Just when we couldn't eat any more, out came the chocolate-cherry truffle cake--dense layers of fresh-sliced cherries, fudgy chocolate truffle and chocolate cake.

To appease longtime fans, Wilson also showcases several faves from his previous 5 Dudley restaurant (baby field greens with proscuitto, goat cheese and eggplant, cilantro-pesto crusted jidori chicken with wasabi mashed potatoes) as well as several of Chef Mure's pasta dishes from his Piccolo restaurant (I was secretly hoping we'd also get the potato and fig tortellini in parmesan fondue which I first tried at Piccolo. Pillowy packages of homemade pasta filled with starchy potato and sweet fig--so good that Jess and I are planning a dinner at Piccolo next week to get our fix).

With super-fresh ingredients and homegrown herbs and spices picked from their back patio garden (where diners can also sit outside), the vibrant dishes are as richly flavorful as they are visually appetizing. I never got the pleasure of dining at 5 Dudley but did enjoy the sophisticated menu at Manhattan Beach's Avenue (who's menu was created by Wilson) and am a huge fan of both Piccolo and La Botte so Wilson definitely has the pedigree. Between Beacon, Ford's Filling Station, Tender Greens gourmet takeout and now Wilson, Culver City is finally coming into its own as a dining destination.

8631 E. Washington Blvd, Culver City
Lunch & Dinner: Most dishes are under $20

5 Dudley Ave, Venice
Favorite Dishes:Seared scallops in truffle fondue, homemade black ink pasta with lobster, calamari, clams and scallops in a roasted tomato sauce, red beet stuffed ravioli with poppy seeds, brown butter and Parmigiano cheese.

La Botte
620 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica
Favorite Dishes: sea urchin & sea bass carpaccio, duck proscuitto with gorgonzola dressing, yellow corn zuppa with organic chicken, red beet tagliolini with homemade quail sausage and the creamiest, airiest panna cotta coated with a thick caramel topping

Midweek Malibu Solitude for $4:El Matador Beach

Yesterday, Jess and I donned on our bikinis and headed up PCH to El Matador Beach.

She had a day off and I logged in my 2 hours of work earlier indulging in a decadent 4-course lunch at Wilson, a restaurant I'm profiling for a magazine, but it still felt like we were playing hooky for a day knowing most everyone else was Dilbert'ing it in an office while we drove towards the beach for a spur of the moment, pre-sunset laze-about in the sand.

Just north of Point Dume, the semi-secluded El Matador does get its share of beachcombers during the weekend but is nothing like Zuma, Malibu Lagoon or any other more high-profile Malibu beach and it's relatively isolated during the work week, (we spied less than 10 people total and nobody in the water). High cliffs and a series of craggy mini-coves adds to the faraway, "I can't believe it's only 20 minutes away from Santa Monica" vibe.

Bring a magazine
camera (beautiful photo-worthy scenery)
optional bathing suit (most beach-goers are covered but the further down the coves you go, the more bathing-optional peeps you see)
and $4 (parking is self-paying and looks like it's rarely checked so it's tempting to just skip filling out and depositing money into the envelope, but the threat of bad karma convinced us to slip in the $4).

El Matador Beach
32100 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
Look out for the tiny sign about 5 minutes after the Point Dume turn-off

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Celebrating Doggie Style: Tobie's Birthday Puppy Party

It's kinda sad that the turnout for Tobie's (a puppy) birthday party was far superior than any b'day shin-dig I've ever organized for myself. On Saturday, a couple dozen of Tobie's (the b'day dog) and Cira's (the b'day dog's owner) closest human friends and dog acquaintances gathered at Cira's apt. to celebrate Tobe's 6th/42nd birthday.

To get into the canine spirit, we headed to Party City earlier that day to load up on dog-adorned decor (a wall mural, banners and hanging mobile depicting frolicking puppies, a regal-looking tinsel crown for Prince Tobie, doggy bags--get it?!--and a rainbow crepe-paper disco ball thingy too festive to pass up.

By the time I arrived bearing organic chicken'n'liver flavored dog cookies (Happy Birthday Tobie! please share with your puppy roomate Guyb), the puppy party was already in full force. Many pooch-lovin' party goers were already well on their way to being fully tanked thanks to Tracey's 100% proof plus Sangria and beer (humans), and pig ears and raw hide galore (the menagerie of Shi Tzu's, Malteses and Weiner dogs).

Tobie & Guyb

The rest of the pups

Although the bulldog-themed wall calendar came a close second, I'd say the giant pig's snout puppy treat was won for best/worst birthday present.

Tasty seven layer dip, super-potent sangria, interesting conversation about satanic sadist current events, "bawls", a couple of ill-placed deuces and pee pees (Nugget!) and pig snout snacks--Tobie's celebration into his 42nd dog year was nothin' but high class all the way.