Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bergamot Station: With 30 Galleries All Aboard With Free Admission

My friend Carrie and I decided to go for an artsy lunchtime excursion last week and stopped by Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. The art gallery complex (a defunct trolley station which ran from the late 1800's-1953) boasts a smorgesboard of 30+ galleries featuring modern art installations, photography, sculptures, sketches and paintings as well as jewelry, fine-art paper and a charity boutique filled with designer and vintage clothing.

The good thing about Bergamot is that you don't really need to know what specific exhibit is going on because, with 30 options, chances are, you'll run into something pretty interesting. Highlights from our recent visit included cardboard furniture from various artists including Frank Gehry (Bobbie Greenfield Gallery) and the 2nd Annual L.A. WEekly Biennial exhibit of top selections from L.A. area art schools (Track 16 Gallery & Minispace) and the Flow exhibit of artwork painted on limited edition surfboards (Frank Picutres/Off Main Gallery).

Getting arty worked up an appetite and we lunched outside at the Bergamot Cafe. Featuring your basic cafe fare (soups, salads and sandwiches), we both ordered the 'Bundle Of Joy' half sandwich/half salad combo ($7.39). My greek salad and roast beef & avocado sandwich wasn't amazing but wasn't bad either. You can probably find other better eateries nearby but for its on-premises convenience (and selection of fun boutique sodas...I had the Bundaberg Ginger Brew $1.79) the cafe is totally doable.

Getting there is easy, there's plenty of free parking and free admission where you can just wander from adjacent gallery to adjacent gallery until you're all arted out. Closed Mondays and Sundays, but it's definitely an interesting weekday excursion you could fit during your lunch hour or Saturdays for a more leisurely arty walkabout.

Bergamot Station
Bergamot Cafe
2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica
Hours: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. (Tuesday - Friday)
11 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. (Saturday)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Crazy Fish Sushi: Crazy Good Prices

After my sushi-licious splurge-fest at Katsuya last week, I needed to downgrade my sushi spending for my next outing so Chaya's suggestion of Crazy Fish the other night was perfect. Known for generous, fresh, creative--and totally affordable-- sushi, Crazy Fish has sporadically been a favorite spot of mine since college but for some reason I alternate between spurts of Crazy Fish obsession and spurts of forgetting about it. I haven't eaten here in over a year so I'm glad Chaya reminded me of it.

It's located on the corner of Olympic Blvd and Doheny, but if you come after 7pm, just look for the small crowd outside (they don't take reservations so expect a little bit of a wait.) Inside the corridor-shaped spot is Beverly Hill's version of hole-in-the-wall (pastel painted walls with stencilled fish, formica tables, bright lighting). They have some hot udon and tempura dishes but it's all about the sushi rolls here; there are over 20 creative--if not authentic--rolls to choose from (in addition to more traditional spicy tuna and spider rolls etc, there's also the Oy Vey! sashimi platter with salmon and red onions and the smoked salmon and cream cheese Jewish Roll.)

Chaya ordered a spicy tuna roll with avocado and cucumbers while I got a modified Kinta Roll (I switched spicy tuna with spicy yellowtail with no mayo, which is then wrapped in tempura-fried seaweed and drizzled with eel sauce). They were big, messy and totally delicious. There were other rolls that piqued our interest (Sno-Cone Roll: albacore-scallion wrapped in cucumber, Crazy Fish with yellowtail, salmon, tuna and asparagus, shrimp tempura roll topped with tuna) but with about 12 gigantic pieces with the diameter of a sliced tennis ball per order, we were too full to order more after our one roll each.

Our total bill was $17 for two heaping rolls and a pot of green tea; leaving both our tummies and our wallets satisfied. My ten bucks was doubly well-spent when I realized that my Kinta Roll cost less than the $10 bottle of Voss water we were charged at Katsuya.

Crazy Fish
9105 W Olympic Blvd, Beverly Hills,

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Calling All Fishermen: Gladstone's Free Lobster Dinner Deal

If you have some talent with lobster nets, head over to Gladstones this month. During the month of October (which is apparently Spiny Lobster Season), anyone who brings their own live lobster catch to the Malibu restaurant, the chef will have it cooked and served with two sides, sourdough bread and a cup of their tasty clam chowder--entirely gratis!

Yes, BYOL (bring your own lobster) and get a free lobster dinner with all the trimmings. The deal ends at the end of this month so you have 20 more days to catch your very own live crustacean. Call Gladstones for more info: 310/454-3474

1700 Pacific Coast Highway, (cross street Sunset Blvd), Malibu

Sunday, October 08, 2006

"Two Turntables and a Microphone" in Downtown LA: L.A. Weekly's Detour Music Festival

Last night Chrissy and I attended LA Weekly's 1st Annual Detour Music Festival in downtown L.A. Headliners Beck, Queens of the Stone Age and Basement Jaxx were accompanied by 15 other Myspace-favorite acts including OH! NO! OH! MY!, Blonde Redhead, !!!, The Like, Of Montreal and DJ sets by Kid Millionaire, VHS or Beta and Shepard Fairey (Complete lineup here).

I'm a fan of the musical medley you get from multi-billing festival lineups, but recent outings to Coachella, Weenie Roast, Acoustic Christmas etc have become a labyrith of stringent security don'ts, mainstream sponsorship booths, overpriced beer gardens and way too many people. Maybe because this was the first annual concert with a smaller turnout or the lineup just attracted a more mellow crowd, but everything about Detour (from easy & close-by $5 parking, short &/or no lines, friendly security peeps who let you stand on street signs and the like to get a better view) was relaxed and about the music-- just what good concerts are supposed to be like.

Saran Wrap Car and Glowing Seahorse Art Installations

Yes, there's still the lineup of booths, but alongside the questionably religious act of recruiting concert-goers--the Kabbalah Center; with a sign on their booth offering a free red Kabbalah string "just for signing up now!"--there were also non-run-of-the-mill booths hawking cool, non-concert related clothing such as $10 Indian silk dresses and skate/street label Royal Cheapskates as well as a booth highlighting the pro-tree planting charity, TreePeople (which received a portion of the proceeds from the concert.) You could also feed yourself between sets without spending the equivalent of a concert ticket (which was a very reasonable $35); affordable food stall choices included $3 pad thai, $4 fried artichoke hearts and $2 for delicious custard puffs from Beard Papa.

The festival started at 2pm, but we didn't get there until 7pm; just in time to catch Basement Jaxx's frenetically-happy set, eat a Beard Papa Cream Puff and find a good spot for Beck. His 1hr set was a condensed version of his show at the Wiltern which I saw a couple months ago (complete with the puppets, dancing bears and dinner party set up), but with loud and clear acoustics, a grand entrance with Loser transitioning into back-to-back songs covering his entire discography, new songs from his new album, The Information, a long encore and a 'Snakes on a Tour Bus' short featuring his puppet alter-egos, I thought this show was tighter and more energetic than his Wiltern show.

Although we were only a couple blocks from Skid Row, with two outdoor stages flanking City Hall, another DJ stage inside an old church, art installations displayed outside the courtyard of the CalTrans Building and the Downtown LA skyline providing a twinkling backdrop to the concert venue, it was really cool to be able to enjoy a picturesque and bustling Downtown during night-time.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Chi-town: Eating, Drinking and More Eating Highlights

I recently took a long weekend mini-vacation to Chicago with my friend Melissa a couple weekends ago. I've visited Chicago a few times for work in the past but have never had the chance to explore the city.

Neither of us did much research on Chi-town before our trip and I wished I had asked around more for suggestions beforehand. So, next time you're headed to Chicago, here are a few Chicagoan highlights which we stumbled upon while we were there. (We stayed in downtown Chicago by the Loop but mainly went out in Wicker Park.)

SHARING A CAB FROM MIDWAY WITH A STRANGER: Opposed to the rushed and rude LAX taxi stand guys, the Midway Taxi guys are friendly, fast and will do their best to help you save money on the fare; if you want, they will pair together single travelers traveling into the city together for a cheaper fare so make sure to ask. ($22 for a ride into the city alone, $14 if you share with a stranger). It's about 5 bucks more from O'Hare, but you can also share there too.

DOWNTOWN CHICAGO LUNCH: We stayed at the House of Blues Hotel,(pretty pricey but cheaper on, garish (in a good way), tripping-on-acid style decor, ultra-friendly service and patient concierge desk which we hounded for suggestions before every time we stepped out of the hotel). Both concierge's we talked to suggested lunch at Rockit Bar & Grill , an upscale brewery a couple blocks from the hotel. Their roasted butternut squash soup studded with pomegranate seeds and truffle oil($4) and Southwest BBQ Chicken Salad($12)were so good that we decided to return for lunch the next day rather than try something else new; a big deal considering I'm typically all about exploring as many new spots as possible. Their brown sugar-dusted sweet potato fries and cheesy mac and cheese ($5 each)also helped persuade us.

WICKER PARK/BUCKTOWN (off the blue line on the L): I was told by several people that Wicker Park/Bucktown area is the artsy/edgy, Chicago-style version of L.A.'s Silverlake/Los Feliz. It's hard to equate artsy/edgy with sports bar-laden part of town but given Chicago is a sports bar-laden city in general, it was definitely the spot we found with the most bars, restaurants and boutiques that we liked, including;

Bongo Room: Chocolately goodness for breakfast. We couldn't decide between the chocolate-banana pancakes or the lemon pancakes with fresh raspberry coulis so we ordered one of each and shared. The veggie croissant breakfast sandwich we shared would have been better toasted but it's all about the pancakes here anyway. (Total bill $21) The wait is supposedly horrendous during the weekends but we got a eat immediately on a Monday morning. Check out blogger RachelleB's site for pics of the decadent-looking pancakes.*There's another location in downtown Chicago by the South end of Grant Park too.
Bravo Tapas & Lounge: We hit up one of the more shi-shi'ish spots in Wicker Park area for our last night. Generous tapas helpings of seafood salad, eggplant drizzled with Moroccan honey, seared scallops over mashed sweet potato and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, potato frittata and spicy papatas bravas were pretty good, if not amazing, yet ended up being a little pricey ($70 for two) but that also included our pineapple mojito and Rose Cava and a flamenco show.
Danny's Tavern IN BUCKTOWN: After a few misses (Celebrity: We were lured by the fun-looking neon $$$ signs outside. The sleek, try-hard loungey atmosphere was broken by the NFL game playing over the bar. And the crowd of suits hovering under it cheering. Cans: as in 'beer cans', yeah....a little too "frat-boy sports bar" for our liking and Lakeview Broadcasting Company it sounded like it had potential based on this citysearch review: but being located in Boystown, it was a little more gay and less coed as we would have liked), we finally found this fun Wicker Park bar housed in a cute little wooden house-looking exterior located on the corner of Damen & Dickens. The crowd was cool and the danceable tunes even better(soul/funk,salsa-tinged rock, reggaetone medleys and then more soul/funk); making a night of dancing at Danny's one of the highlights of our trip.
Rodan: Yes, named after Godzilla's monster nemisis. Our skater-punk waiter at Rockit recommended this Wicker Park spot. This diner-looking lounge had a three-piece band playing in the back area but was pretty chill where we were sitting by the counter bar. It wasn't super-mingley but had interesting people-watching (a hetero-guy wearing an arm scarf, a couple sightings of both sexes rocking the folded bandanna look)and fun drinks (I got a fruity vodka martini with boba balls).

Millenium Park: Gorgeous way to spend our last sunny afternoon in Chicago; a fanciful Frank Lloyd Wright metallic sculptured outdoor ampitheater, picturesque, side-by-side background lake and skyscraper views and snowglobe-like mirrored jellybean which reflected it all.

AIRPORT FOOD: Facing the equally disheartening prospects of skipping dinner on my 4 1/2hr flight home or worse, dining out of a Nabisco Snack Box, I hit up the food court at Midway. Lo and behold, saving airport travelers from crappy food was a Midway outpost of the famed Harry Caray's steakhouse. And, unlike McDonalds where LAX Big Macs cost more than one a mile away from the airport, the prices weren't jacked up either. It was crowded like a sports bar but I got seated right away. My gigantic chopped salad with chicken, pancetta, avocado, gorgonzola cheese and mixed greens in sweet herb vinaigrette ($10.95) was so delicious, I stayed and ate the entire heaping plate even though they had started boarding.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Brentwood Katsuya Sushi: Brentwood Chic with Brentwood Prices

Satisfying a rare mood to splurge--as well as our frequent mood for enjoying spicy tuna topped crispy rice cakes--Jess and I decided to try the recently opened Katsuya restaurant in Brentwood last night. Although famed sushi chef Katsuya Uechi's other two namesake Katsu-ya restaurants in the Valley have more of a stripmall, hole-in-the-wall ambience, by teaming up with designer guru Phillipe Starck for his latest Westside addition, the slick and stylish restaurant has more in common with the sceney spots such as Koi, Geisha House and Hyde where the chef's also lended his menu. Unfortunately, this new spot also has inherited the same slighty inflated prices as sceney spots such as Koi, Geisha House and Hyde.

The decor is quite stunning; outside, flaming torches mark the dining spot on the corner of San Vicente and Montana. Inside, sleek touches include white walls hung with glossy photos of shiny Geisha-red lips and heavy kohl'ed eyes, white leather sofas, 3 streamlined sushi and robata bars and a rock'n'roll-edged backroom with multiple silver-mounted mirrors and low cushy seating.

We didn't have reservations but were seated right away at the robata bar. Our waitress handed us an overwelming menu (in addition to four pages of cold, warm and hot dishes, the menu also includes a full selection of sushi and robata choices) but also helpfully highlights Katsuya's five most popular picks; seared albacore with crispy-fried onions ($16), yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno ($18), crab hand rolls ($12), rock shrimp tempura ($14), and the famed spicy tuna crispy rice cakes ($12). We took her recommendation on the last three--which all warranted their high recommendations; the hefty fresh crab rolls were wrapped in soft, black sesame-dotted soy paper, I don't normally like fried dishes but the delicated-fried rock shrimp were light and ungreasy and the only complaint about the spicy tuna crispy rice cakes is that there isn't enough of them (4 per serving).

Although the popular scallops with kiwi, udon seafood boullabaise and Katsuya roll also sounded good, we went with the grilled chicken meatball ($5) and steak-wrapped asparagus ($6) robata skewers since we were seated at the robata grill. The dessert of the day (purple potato mousse with brown sugar) didn't appeal so we went with the flourless chocolate cake a la mode, which was ok but not amazing.

The accompanying cocktails we sampled included the spicy-sweet Burning Mandarin (Mandarin vodka, citrus juices and Serrano chilies in a sugar-rimmed martini glass), Watermelon-Cucumber Mojito and White Grape Martini (all $11). Oh, and if you want water with your meal (free water that is), asking for "flat" won't suffice, make sure to specify "tap" or you'll end up unwittingly shelling out $10 for a bottle of Voss water.

Last night was a tasty dining experience, but with a $130 bill for two, you get the feeling that you're paying for the scene as much as for the food. Not to mention, also for some overpriced "flat" water.

**for more sushi pics, check out

1777 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

(Almost) Homemade Pizza & Banana Cake for about the same as a Domino's 3-for-$15 Special

In the need of a creatively thrifty yet activity-laden dinner date, I decided to plan a (sort of) homemade pizza-making party shindig last night. It only takes 45 minutes of shopping/prep time and about 15 bucks for your chance to explore your inner-pizza topping artistry.

Although you can use this simple pizza dough recipe, given my (lack of) culinary skills, I figured it was a safer bet to just buy my dough from a local pizza joint. I picked up a ball of dough at Paisano's in Hermosa Beach; most chain pizza places don't sell ready-made dough but many mum'n'pop stores are cool with it. I bought a couple balls of dough ($2 per ball; each yielding two medium pizzas) and also picked up Paisano's pizza sauce ($2.50)--like I said, I was almost making my homemade pizza from home. Perhaps sensing I needed help, the friendly folks at Paisano's even took me behind the counter for a quick lesson in pizza-dough shaping ( lift the dough from one end and gently pinch and rotate between your thumbs in a circular motion). $10 at the supermarket covered the toppings; bacon, pineapple, green pepper, red onion, pepperoni, olives and mozzarella.
If you have pre-made dough--and aren't concerned with a perfectly round-shaped pizza--it is super fast and easy. We were able to shape our dough and load it with toppings during the Bears/Seahawks halftime with plenty of time to spare. Meanwhile, to satisfy our appetizer munchies, and immature sense of humor, we also rolled boobie-shaped dough balls. At 350F; it's about 12 mins for the boob balls (roll them around in olive oil and then sprinkle with oregano-type herbs) and 20 mins for the pizza.
A Pair of Herbed Boobie Dough Balls

Taking advantage of my rare Susie Homemaker mood--as well as my bunch of overly ripe bananas--I also decided to make banana cake from scratch for dessert. I perused and picked the recipe with the most positive comments, simple ingredients and basic instructions (this one has only 3 steps). Cutting the sugar by half and shaving off some of the butter, the recipe yielded a super-moist, not overly-sweet and heaps banana-ry banana cake; tasty enough to earn requests for 2nd and 3rd helpings. Even if, like me, you're not a 'cookin'in'the'kitchen type of person, with this basic homemade pizza and banana cake combo, you can totally fake it for a night.


Not Sharing Tapas @ Vinoteca Brazilian Tapas Wine Bar

I haven't dined in Los Feliz for a while but after enduring a particularly taxing 2hr cross-town commute from Santa Monica to Silverlake during rush hour, Melissa and I were too hungry to drive any further without eating first. Based on a friend's suggestion, we headed to Vinoteca Farfalla in Los Feliz--a Brazilian tapas and wine bar offshoot from Farfalla Trattoria next door which mixes Italian charcuterie platters with South American dishes from other next door neighbor Tropicalia. Although it's probably pretty known and popular on the Eastside, it's unpretentious and intimate enough to still feel like a secret neighbor spot for the rest of us.

Hungry from the daytrip-length drive, we skipped the intimate cocktail tables (not enough room to fit our anticipated large orders) and sat at the bar. The corridor-shaped bar's exposed brick, wood bar counter and chocolate-colored walls felt instantly cozy. With close to 50 by-the-glass wines (almost all priced $12 or less), and many more options by the bottle, Vinoteca's winelist is impresssive. Melissa ordered a glass of Prosecco while I picked the Primitivo Muga off the blackboard purely based on the name (there's a tapa's spot on Abbot Kinney called Primitivo that I really like), luckily, it also happened to one of the bartender's recommendations.

Although the plates are made for sharing, with Melissa being vegetarian and me not able to turn down Brazilian-style meat--and us both starving since the long drive delayed dinner plans--we each ordered appetizers as well as our own individual mains even though the entrees were listed as "for two to share". My white fish and shrimp ceviche in cilantro-lime and corn chips in a super-sized martini glass was a little on the salty side, but strangely addictive enough that I still ate three-quarters of it. Melissa's Insalatina Brasiliana, a heaping appetizer of baby greens, avocado and hearts of palm was so filling, she never made it to her veggie combo main. She had her entire veggie combo entree with black beans, rice, polenta, grilled veggies and plantains boxed up to go.

I, on the other hand, had no problem eating for two and was able to also dig into my Braziribs entree; the braised, boneless shortribs coated in peppery spices came in a mini-skillet over pan-fried polenta and was topped with a wonderfully doughy cheesy-bread ball.

Although stuffed, we could have been swayed if there was a standout dessert, but the ho-hum selection (creme brulee, chocolate cake, tiramisu) didn't leave a sweet enough impression. We decided to skip dessert and order the banana-chocolate bread pudding with caramel-whiskey sauce on the side (as good as it sounds and only $5 for a heaping wedge) from The Kettle by my apt instead (sustenance after our post-dinner drive home from Los Feliz to the South Bay, we figured).

Vinoteca is definitely a good spot for a casually sophisticated dinner, and judging by the clientele, an ideal date spot (everyone besides the two women next to us were a couple). The bill came out to $78 including three glasses of wine; which--bearing in mind we ordered double the food we should have for just the two of us--translates to a pretty affordable dinner for four.

Vinoteca Farfalla
1968 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz