Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sun Salutations at Runyon Canyon: Runyon's Free Outdoor Yoga in the Park

With a full-time job looming in my near future, I'm spending the last of my fancy-free freelancer weeks crossing off fun activities off my to-do list which have somehow remained undone despite my 10 month office vacation. Ever since I saw a grassy field full of down-doggers near the Fuller entrance while hiking at Runyon Canyon, I've always wanted to try a session of the outdoor yoga class.

The daily 10:30am classes aren't really advertised (my googling popped up a feature on and a Runyon Canyon Yoga myspace page but not too much else) so I didn't know if the class was even going to be on for sure when I showed up yesterday. I needn't have worried; when I arrived, about 50 other outdoor yogi's were already spread out across the grassy knoll with their yoga mats.

Who are all these people who can take a 10:30am mid-week class? Judging from the attire, it was an equal mix of wannabe actresses (bathing suits and skimpy boy shorts), college students (hollister &/or abercrombie sweats), yoga-lovers (shirtless guys in hemp-looking yoga shorts) and other random freelancer types (wearing a variation of my boring yoga uniform of workout pants from Target and a tank top.)

The green area is expansive so there's plenty of room but the entire field is on a slight incline so the yoga exercises are performed on a bit of a slope. I found the least steep patch of space and unrolled my mat.

Already appreciative over the fact that I'd be breathing fresh air during my vinyasas and looking up at a palm tree fringed blue sky during my up-dogs, I didn't have--or need--high expectations on the actual yoga class. Especially because, did I mention it's free? However, Nicole, our certified instructor for the day was really good; for beginners considering the class, she demonstrated each pose and routine and explains correct body placement and breathing rhythms in great detail so it's easy to follow along. For regulars/intermediates: the class was still challenging with optional advanced poses, and besides, crescent pose and warrior 3 is definitely harder when you're doing it on a 5% incline.

With distractions such as the picturesque outdoor scenery--and a few pesky bugs (not too bad but I'd imagine quite annoying in the summer)--this ain't you're typical new-agey, chi-balancing yoga class, but it was a fun way to add the sunny outdoors into the mix with yoga; the hour class ends with a savasannah where you're lying down with your feet on the grass and your face in the sun--how SoCal-style can you get?

The class was only an hour long, but it was good exercise. I saw a few ambitious types lace up their shoes for a post-yoga hike up the hill but I wasn't quite ready for a double-dose of Runyon yet and headed back to my car instead.

Runyon Canyon Yoga
Daily at 10:30am
Free! (well, they welcome donations, but at the end of the class I saw maybe 3 people out of the 50 drop a couple of dollars in the bag)
Fuller Entrance of Runyon Canyon
Parking: A total bitch. Allow an extra 10-15 minutes beforehand to find a spot.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sculptured Pecs in Malibu; Getty Villa's Roman Statues & Outdoor Garden

Closed in 1997 for 9 years, the Getty opened its Italian villa doors again in early 2006. After multiple last-minute attempts to check out the Getty Villa, we finally got our act together and called a week in advance for tickets (they're free but attendance is limited with tickets only good for certain time slots each day.) I gotta say, for how much fore planning it takes to get the tickets, I was a little underwhelmed by it all.

The grounds--a replica of an ancient Italian villa buried under the ashes of Vesuvius--are definitely a more fitting backdrop to view the largely Roman and Greek statues and artwork than the modern Getty Museum, but the meticulously clean and orderly villa lacks much personality. I was more interested in the gardens than the artwork and we joined the audio tour of the gardens. The individual headsets magnifying what the live tour guide was saying were great but the guide's information centered around Italian history more than what we were looking at, and we soon lost interest and broke off to view the gardens on our own.
The petite herb garden looked nice but would have been more interesting if it came with plaques highlighting the names and uses of the different plants and the main garden with a rose bush flanked reflecting pool and the sparkling Pacific in the far distance was picturesque but there were no benches to sit and enjoy the space. Overall, the grounds were pretty, but more in a faux-authentic, Disney-fied way.

Inside, the majority of the original artwork has been moved to the new Getty and the remaining art focuses primarily on Roman, Greek and Egyptian sculptures, artifacts and paintings.

The Getty Villa is one of those things that's been on my to-do list for a while, so I'm glad I checked it out but if you're curious on what it looks like without really wanting to be bothered to book advance tickets and drive up to the Pacific Palisades, the pictures here pretty much cover all the highlights of the Villa.

Getty Villa
310) 440-7300 for advance tickets
Tickets: Free
Parking: $10

Monday, October 20, 2008

Artsy Politics: Ronnie Conal's "No Spitting, No Kidding" Exhibit at Track 16 Gallery

I've been on an artsy kick lately (hitting up Bergamot Station, the Getty Center and John Lautner's architecture exhibit at the Hammer in the past couple of weeks), and also on a bit of a political kick (thoroughly into TV's presidential debate season), so I was excited to check out L.A. political artist, Robbie Conal's "No Spitting, No Kidding" exhibit opening at Bergamot Station's Track 16 Gallery this past weekend.

I wasn't familiar with Conal's work prior to the exhibit but was intrigued when I read a profile describing him as one of Shepard Fairey's inspirations and contemporaries. Apparently, Conal has quite a following; several hundred people--a good mix of older, serious artsy-fartsy folks, casually curious art appreciators like me and black-rimmed glasses-wearing Westside 30-somethings--turned out for the event.

Spread throughout 5 large rooms in the 6,000 sq foot gallery, the exhibit is a retrospective showcase of his work over the past 25 years. The eye-catching collection includes large, goopy oil paintings of political figures with pithy slogans (my favorite is the above portrait of Reagan sandwiched between the words CONTRA and DICTION), smaller charcoal-on-canvas caricatures of iconic political personalities and splashy mural-sized collages skewering our obsession with pop culture (American Idol, Michael Jackon and even Alf and the smurfs get an artistic shout-out.)

I could explain the clever and visually arresting art pieces in more detail, but they say 5 pictures is worth five thousand words...

The opening reception invite touted a surprise musical guest by a "Hollywood Bowl" headliner. The amps and guitars set up in the corner clued me in it wasn't going to be the Philharmonic but I was stoked when L.A. Latin/hip-hop/punk band Ozomatli greeted the crowd. The surprise bonus concert capped off a great night of complimentary booze and conversation-starting artwork. Ozomatli played a breezy 6-song, 40 minute set, including a band-&-audience group serenade of 'happy birthday' to artist and birthday boy, Ronnie Conal. The fact that the high-energy concert was inside an art gallery--usually a venue that encourages hushed tones--made it even more fun. Even better was seeing the gray-haired art-crowd contingent enthusiastically bopping their heads to the punky, 8-piece band and grabbing flyers to the 2am afterparty at an undisclosed location in downtown L.A.

The exhibit runs through November 22nd. Whether you agree with Robbie Conal's political philosophies or not, his visually arresting artwork is worth checking out and a great excuse to visit the greatly underrated Bergamot Station art galleries.

Ronnie Conal "No Spitting, No Kidding" Art Exhibit
Track 16 Gallery, Bergamot Station
2525 Michigan Ave, Bulding C-1, Santa Monica
Tuesday through Saturday, 11 AM to 6 PM

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Whatever Floats Your Boat: A Session at "Floatation Location's" Sensory Deprivation Tank

Yesterday, I headed to Venice’s Floatation Location to redeem my gift certificate my friend Melissa gave me for a complimentary ‘float session.’

Although sensory deprivation water tanks are purported to be an ultimate relaxation inducer—their website lists benefits including alleviated stress, diminished depression and anxiety, released muscle tension, deep meditation and even freedom from habits, phobias and addictions—the Floatation Location is not for the pampered Burke Williams Spa attendee. Tucked away in a non-descript mini-mall along Venice’s beachfront walk, the bare-bones space has more of a vibe of a home office/reception area...but with two doors leading to a set of super duper bathrooms equipped with a shower and enclosed metal bathtub contraption.

Don’t let the grungy setting sketch you out; the tank is filtered, drained and cleaned after every float session, and the near ton worth of Epsom salts kills off any lingering bacteria from the previous floatee.

Owner Chris Rymarz greeted me and gave me the low-down; “you take off your clothes, shower off any lotions and soaps on your skin then go float in the tank.” He handed me a set of ear-plugs (to protect against salt-crystals in your ears after the water evaporates) and explicit instructions to keep my face dry (so the salty water won’t run into and sting my eyes or nose) and left me to it.

I had no idea what to expect (a coffin-like capsule? A giant dunk tank like at a fair?) but the float tank is like a regular bathtub enclosed in a 5ft-high metal contraption with a refrigerator door opening. I opened the door to find a dark but shallow bath.

I sat down in the 14” deep tub and close the door. Complete darkness.

Being inside a pitch black box is surprisingly not claustophobic at all, the darkness makes the space around you feel more vast and outer space-like than tight and enclosing. The warm water is only about a foot deep, but with 800 lbs of Epsom salts dissolved into the oxygenated water, I had the buoyancy of a cork; as a laid down, my limbs and torso automatically floated to the top. Lined with a black interior, it’s too dark to see anything and there’s no difference if my eyes are open or closed. With my ears half submerged underwater with earplugs, all I can hear is the sound of my own breathing (which automatically shifts to a slow, deep inhale, exhale) and my heartbeat.

Laying on top of water is really comfortable, but I’m a fidgeter so I rotated between the various poses Chris recommended; arms out to the side in a yoga Savasanah pose, arms bent by my head in a ‘hands up or I’ll shoot’ position and entwined behind my neck in a ‘reclining in a deck chair’ pose. Relaxing my mind took a bit longer, but I slowly embraced the nothingness and entered a calm, dreamy state.

Thoughts drift in and out of my head then soon, I feel ready to get out. I have no sense of time and worry it hasn’t been long enough (I want to get my gift certificate’s worth) but when I check the clock, I’ve been floating in oblivion for 70 minutes. I can still feel my achy, knot-filled shoulders and I'm pretty sure the float hasn't cured me of my bad habits, but I feel both super relaxed and refreshed.

It’s hard to explain the experience but the closest description is as if you were sleeping, but also awake so you can consciously enjoy the feeling of snoozing. Floating might not for everyone, but it's an interesting-enough experience to try if you want to block out the world for an hour or so.

Floatation Location
Hours Vary, call for an appt: 310 255-1905
$50 per session

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Flying Pigeon, Crouching Dim Sum: Flying Pigeon's Dim Sum Bike Ride

The majority of my motivation to exercise is linked where my friends and I can dine out afterwards (I go to Runyon if I have a craving for Blu Jam Cafe's deliciously eggy-cheesy-bacony croissant sandwiches, feel like a sunset dinner at Reel Inn? Then, a hike and swim at Point Dume is in order, Din Tai Fung's juicy dumplings way out in Arcadia? Well, there must be a hike somewhere near there...)

This Sunday, I satisfied my craving for Dim Sum by joining Flying Pigeon Bike Shop's organized bike ride down to Chinatown for some chinese-style brunch. The newly opened store is located in Highland Park, an area so far away from my apt in Venice that I had to look up where that is (it's near South Pasadena), but at 9:15am on a traffic-less Sunday morning, it took Chrissy and I only 25 minutes to drive there.

Due to a mention on Daily Candy earlier that week, there were about 16 of us that showed up for the Dim Sum Bike Ride. The crowd was cool; no hardcore bike riders, just mainly Eastsiders interested in getting some fresh air and eating dim sum. Adam, the super-friendly and knowledgeable owner, hooked everyone up with a bike (free of charge, participants only need to pay for the Dim Sum meal.) The Flying Pigeon store is stocked with their namesake 'Flying Pigeon' bikes imported from China. These retro-looking, Cultural Revolution-era designed bikes are the most popular selling bikes in China (80 million sold and counting), and therefore, the biggest selling bikes in the world. They come in black, red, orange, yellow, pink and green. Set up fully loaded, the bikes are equipped with a sturdy bike basket, wheel lock, vertical kick-stand, a robust bell and a cool, battery-less bike light which gets activated by pedal-power. The bikes come with one speed but unlike beach cruisers, have brakes and a more upright posture. Being a 5'4 shorty, the 28" wheels were a teeny big for me, but that's what tippy-toes are for, and it was fine.

After a test-run in the back parking lot, we're on the road!
Avoiding major roads, we cruised along a bike route that took us along the Gold Line train, on a bridge overlooking the L.A. river and down through Chinatown. The easy-moderate bike ride took about half an hour--easy enough not to break a sweat, but long enough to make you feel like you earned the Dim Sum meal.

Flying Pigeon rotates their dim sum destinations weekly. This Sunday, we were headed to Empress Pavilion--one of Chinatown's most popular dim sum spots. They don't take reservations, but another perk of joining this Sunday's Flying Pigeon Bike Posse, is that the bike shop called ahead and made prior arrangements so instead of the typical 45 minute wait, we had a table waiting for us when we arrived. The zero wait is pretty much worth the bike ride alone. Dim Sum is unbelievably cheap and fast; waitstaff come around with carts of steamed buns, vegetables, dumplings, banana-wrapped sticky rice, bbq pork etc and diners can just point and order right then and there. Our gluttonous table pretty much ordered triples of whatever was displayed in front of us. Faves included the steamed bbq pork buns, shrimp har gao dumplings in rice paper, chinese broccoli and egg custard dun tarts. Our bill for twelve of us was just $11 each, including tip.

One long bike ride for the day was enough, so afterwards, we pedaled through Chinatown's art gallery alleyway, down the vendor-filled Olvera Street and into Union Station, where we got a train ticket ($1.25) to ride on the Gold Line back to Flying Pigeon. One of the perks of nobody using the public train system in L.A. is that there's no-one to complain if you can take up a whole carriage and load up a dozen bikes in the aisleway during the ride. The store is one block from the Highland Park stop so it was another 60 second pedal before making it back and returning our bikes.

The Dim Sum bike ride was a really fun way to explore the city by bike and by train (in this city, both are novelties in themselves) and as always, a good excuse to eat yummy food. Although you could replicate this on your own, it was fun biking in a group and less intimidating to be pedaling en masse on the streets next to speeding cars. It was also nice to have bike guides who've already mapped out and tested out the bike route for you, so instead of worrying about getting lost, you can just focus on not falling off your bike in public when making shaky turns.

Flying Pigeon does Dim Sum Bike rides every Sunday at 10am and plans to expand with other bike rides to Little Tokyo and nearby wine shops for some vino-tasting. Check out their website for additional details. No need to BYO bike, just your appetite.
Free! (They don't charge bike rentals, just bring approx $15 for Dim Sum)
Flying Pigeon Bikes: $299

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Swingin' Times in Korea Town: Hitting Balls at Aroma Center Golf Range

I was uncomfortably naked the last time I was in Korea Town, but on a slow Friday night, Ugly Shoe and I decided to head that way to hit some balls at the Aroma Resort driving range in Korea Town. I've been here once before years ago and still remember it well as one of those cool and random, "I'm not in L.A." activities. That's because the driving range is on the forth floor of an unassuming office building--and you whack the golf balls over a parking lot, deep into the net-protected night sky.

Finding easy street parking right outside the building, we headed up to the 3rd floor elevator to the front desk area where we purchased a bucket of balls ($10 for 143 balls, perfect for sharing between two without getting our biceps too tired) and rented some clubs ($2 each.) There were plenty of serious golfers wielding their complete golf set of irons and woods but as a beginner, I was fine with the recommended 7 iron. We headed upstairs to the 4th floor to hit some balls!

We found an empty tee station among the row of elderly Korean and Japanese men seriously swinging away. I haven't gone to many driving ranges, but this spot seemed pretty high-tech. Instead of a literal bucket of balls, we were handed a punch card that you insert into a machine. The machine automatically tees up your golf ball (it emerges from a small hole by your feet--the height of the tee can also be controlled with a pedal by the golfer) after every hit. The machine also keeps a tally of how many balls you have left so there's nothing to cloud your mind except how to whack the balls as far as they will go. Or, in my case, just simply connecting with the ball.

Ugly Shoe was a pro, lining up his tee and hitting the ball way to the end of the 150ft long net in one fluid motion. After a few (well, many) false starts with 360 missed swings and badly-aimed hits leaving the ball to just dribble off the edge and fall into the net below, I finally got the hang and at least hit it somewhere in the 75ft range. Hitting the balls were fun but the surreal surroundings makes this above par (sorry, couldn't resist) over other golf ranges.

As you're lobbing your balls over the car-filled parking lot underneath, all you see is Los Angeles' open city in front of you; tall office buildings and palm trees silhouetted against the hazy-purple night sky--the panoramic view broken only by flying white balls hurtling through the dark night.

Aroma Resort @ Wilshire Center, 3rd Floor
3680 Wilshire Blvd (cnr of Wilshire & Serrano, two blocks E of Western)
Aroma Resort
$10 for 143 golf balls

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Royal/T: High Kitsch High Tea

I've been wanting to check out Royal/T ever since I heard about the kitschy-weird cafe in Culver City with food served by Japanese girls in French maid outfits. When an old friend who's never been to L.A. came to visit last week, Royal/T popped up as a perfect venue to show my Kiwi friend an 'Only in L.A.' (and maybe Tokyo) experience. Set a few blocks east from the newly bustling downtown Culver City, the restaurant is easy to miss (despite the pink neon crown insignia and hedge-covered facade.) Upon arrival, we discovered it's actually more of a gallery/experimental space/shop/cafe shared within a spacious loft-style, communal space.

The current--and inaugural--exhibit, Just Love Me, is an exploration of all things cute, or, more accurately, "kawaii". So this means we were dining under paintings of Bambi-eyed animegirls, ceramic statues of cuddly Sanrio-esque aliens and Louis Vutton initialed art prints from famed pop-artist Murakami (who recently had his own exhibit at Moca). For sale were hipster-friendly items such as photobooks of Japanese trendsters in Gothic-Lolita garb, weird plush toys and of course, french maid dressed action heroines.

Like the Tokyo-pop style french maid costumes, the food is a mix of Japanese & French, with a bit of Caifornian thrown in. Lunch items were a mix of sandwiches (my friend Pip ordered the spicy tuna tar tar with avocado on sourdough$9.00), salads (such as yuzu shrimp with asparagus, tomatoes and avocado) rice bowls (I got the Royal/T curry rice with chicken $9.00)) and the Royal/T High Tea with tea, small patries, mini quiche, Kappa Maki, California roll and Spicy Tuna finger sandwiches ($19.50) Pip's sandwich looked good but I didn't love mine. I was expecting curry-flavored rice with chunks of white chicken'n'japanese curry gravy but got a bowl of curry sauce with a chicken drumstick and a side of steamed rice. They had interesting drinks such as watermelon juice, ginger lemonade and a selection of teas.

I don't know what it is about cute costumes, but everything did taste a little better when served by a Japanese maid, or, in our case, we also had a perky brunette sporting fake pigtail extensions. Although more Sanrio/Alice in Wonderland than fantasy-rated, our maids/servers were still a fun novelty, and super friendly, even obliging requests from the couple sitting next to us for a photo-op. I chickened out and covertly took a pic of the maid from behind instead.

Although the food's just okay, I wouldn't be opposed to going back to Royal/T, the gallery and store space is interesting and it's still a more entertaining alternative than Starbucks or Zen Zoo Tea for grabbing a cup of tea.

8910 Washington Blvd, Culver City
Lunch with a drink: Approx $15

Lovin' High School Girls Who Stay the Same Age As You Get Older at the Drive In: Dazed & Confused Outdoor Screening

Apparently, I'm on an outdoor screening roll. Less than a month after my Hollywood Forever Cementary experience, I was invited to another screening event which--while not six feet under--was more of an underground affair.

This screening series--which runs every two weeks throughout the summer--is a combo of a drive-in (complete with audio piped in through car speakers and rollerskates'n'mini-skirted carhops) and a sit-in (a nice strip of astroturf is laid out for those who prefer to spread out on cushions and lawn chairs.)

A nondescript, rundown and total fire hazard of a rooftop parking garage served as the 'theater'. Upon the entrance ramp, viewers have the choice of driving up to the theater or parking downstairs if you want to watch sans car. Although I've never been to a drive-in before and was intrigued by commanding carhop service with the mere flash of my Prius' high-beams, we were meeting some friends so opted for the car-less, lawn-chair section instead.

Armed with enough blankets and cushions to recreate a harlem-style living room, we settled in at the front of the 'theater'. The featured film was Dazed and Confused so I was expecting to battle it out for blanket space amongst a legion of hipster stoners but the turnout was surprisingly--and pleasantly--small. There were maybe two dozen cars and about 80 people tops, sprawled along the astroturf in front of the screen.

Similar to the Hollywood Cemetery, doors open 90 mins before the screening starts and food and wine are encouraged, so there's plenty of time to pre-film tailgating. Too hungry for basic brie and crackers, we had picked up a Papa John's pizza along the way and downed our slices with red wine while simultaneously admiring the skyline silhouetted against the setting sun and wondering if the decrepid, adjacent apartment building was a crackhouse (while safe, the neighborhood had a level of sketchiness). For those not prepared with their own BYOPicnicking fare, rollerskating carhops are on hand to serve hotdogs, nachos and other snacks.

Promptly at 9pm, the projector--sitting on top of a vintage '50's Chevy--started whirling and the cult 90's film started. Dazed and Confused is one of those films where I've watched parts of it a million times, but haven't sat down to watch in its entirety in years. Viewing it in its full-screen glory is the ideal way to enjoy D&C's bam-bam-bam succession of quotable dialogue; for best line, it's a toss up between McConaughey's "Say man, you got a joint?...It'd be a lot cooler if you did." and Parker Posie barking "What are you looking at? Wipe that face off your head, bitch!"

Although the parking lot's cramped ramps would normally be a nightmare to navigate out of after the screening, due to the wonderfully small turnout, exiting the theater was a traffic jamless breeze.

There are several more screenings scheduled through September but although it's easily google-able, I did promise my pal who invited me that I wouldn't reveal too much info about the drive-in/sit-in theater if I wrote about it (yes, it's that great of an undiscovered L.A. gem). So sorry, no links to the screening series attached this time!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Taking It To The Grave: Cinespia Summer Screening Series at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

On Saturday night, I got to hang out at Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn and Julie Christie at the local cemetery. Well, me and about 700 other people. And it was Warren, Goldie, Julie et al, circa 1975 in the Oscar-winning film Shampoo.

Falling under the 'only in L.A.' category, Cinespia hosts outdoor screenings of classic films every weekend throughout the summer at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood's oldest cemetery and perpetual residence to over 100 celebrities, including Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B DeMille, Jayne Mansfield and Johnny & DeeDee Ramone. (Maps to star graves are available for purchase at the cemetery's flower gift shop. Yes, really.)

I’ve been wanting to go to their cemetery screenings for several summers now but just never got around to it. With my friend G in town, it was a good excuse to show an out-of-towner a "less Sunset Strip, and more ‘sunset over the gravestones and mausoleums’" side of Hollywood.

I've heard finding parking and a good spot along the nice grassy knoll (uninhibited by anyone six feet under) to watch the movie can be difficult, but with gates opening at 7:30pm and the film starting at 9pm, we arrived at 8:15pm and still easily found a cemetery parking spot ($5) and a cozy patch of grass amid the sea of fellow movie-goers stretched out on blankets and lawn chairs.
Revolving weekly DJ’s add pre-screening atmosphere with ambient music while the crowd tailgates cemetery style (food and alcohol into the graveyard is allowed and encouraged); neighboring movie-goers stepped up their picnic’ing prowess with atmospheric voltive candles, wicker baskets brimming with baguettes, cheese and grapes, real champagne flutes and we even spied a bottle of white chillin' in a sterling silver wine bucket. G & I held our own and Whole Foods’ed it with style; bleu and brie cheeses, citrus stuffed olives, turkey sandwiches, a cornucopia of mini pastries (mmmm, the baby banana cream pie was the best) and red wine, tasting mighty good out of our disposable paper cups.

Prompty at 9pm, the music stopped and lights on the large white mausoleum wall/movie screen dimmed as the opening credits started.

Shampoo was enjoyable enough but when you’re sitting outside in tanktop-friendly weather at 11pm with your barefeet on the grass, paper cup of red wine in hand and watching a 10ft high Warren Beatty projected on an outdoor screen flanked by palm trees, what’s on the big screen is kinda besides the point.

I highly recommend checking out a film at the cemetery this summer. Cinespia posts their screening line up the week before, and just added music-themed Sunday screenings in addition to the regular Saturday night screenings. Next week’s screenings are Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (Sat) and t.a.m.i. show (Sun), a concert doc filmed in 1964 starring performances by Check Berry, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, James Brown, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys.

Check out the upcoming film schedule at: Cinespia
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
6000 Santa Monica Blvd & Gower
Gates open 7:30PM, film starts 9PM
$10 Donation Tickets at the Gate
$5 Cemetery Parking

Friday, June 20, 2008

Main Street's Panini Garden Blooming With Free Wi-Fi

This is my third day in a row at Panini Garden on Main Street. In fact, I’m writing this blog entry from there now.

The first day, the sun was shining and my stomach was growling, so I was looking for a lunch spot with an outdoor patio within walking distance to my apartment. I considered Urth Caffe on Main, but lately getting a lunchtime table there requires the eagle-eyed table-pouncing much in the same vein as the insanely packed Father’s Office. I couldn’t remember the food at Panini Café from my visit several years ago, but did recall a back garden, so I decided to try that out.

Inside, the long skinny cafe is cute; warm sunlight filtering through the large front window, cottage yellow walls decorated with an assortment of floral paintings and cushion-topped wooden bench running along the wall leading to a shabby-chic back garden with mismatched tables and chairs amid lavender-filled flower pots, white-washed walls, generous shady canopies and an overflowing birdbath.

But what immediately caught my eye was the free wi-fi access sign in the front window. Score! As a frequent coffee shop hopper, finding my first free wi-fi spot on Main Street is a notable milestone. Their 8am-11pm hours were also very writer-friendly. Unless the food was horrible, I knew immediately I would be back.

Turns out I didn’t remember the food from last time because it’s not remarkably memorable. Not necessarily a bad thing; although the menu won't will set off a middle of the night craving for a panini, the food here is all reliably solid and definitely doable for repeat visits.

Their namesake paninis come with a choice of soft (thick toast-like Tramezzino), medium (more baguette-like Al Forno) and crusty (ciabatta-like Rustico) bread, and chicken and turkey paninis are dressed up with things such as goat cheese, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, olive tepanade etc.

The menu also has tasty-sounding salads (Greek, Caprese, Nicoise, Spicy Chicken and more, $8-11 range) and daily soups with vegetarian-based broths. Breakfast junkies will appreciate the egg scrambles (eg. prosciutto, mozzarella and basil, $9.50) and morning sandwiches (eg. black forest ham and swiss on a croissant, crepe or bagel, $8.99) are also served all day.

I opted for the soup du jour and panini combo ($12.95), the mushroom soup was surprisingly really tasty, and the chicken pesto goat cheese panini came hot with a satisfying toasty crunch.

The next day, I came back with my laptop. The interior surroundings of colored brick walls, good lighting and easy-to-tune-out KOST-FM’ish music was very conducive for working away. Without the distraction of interesting people watching (the clientele here is a much blander group than my usual alternative Novel Café peers) nor an LA Weekly stand nearby, I breezed through a writing project in less time than I allotted for. My vegetable soup and croissant cost me $8.

Day 3, and excited to find a place with a good working vibe, I’m back again. In three short days, Panini Garden has become my home away from home. Living in a yard-less apartment, it’s nice to finally have a garden here in my second home.

Panini Garden
2715 Main Street, 310/399-9939
8:00am-11:00pm Everyday

Friday, June 13, 2008

Flake Cereal Restaurant: Breakfast Bar of Champions

When Flake --a cereal bar (with the best tagline ever by the way..."Flake: Wake & Flake". I love it!)--first opened a few blocks from my street, I thought "Who on earth would be so lazy as to dine out and eat cereal?" Um, apparently--when I woke up this morning with bare cupboards and no desire to hit up Ralphs for sustanance so early in the day--that would be me.

Working up my appetite for bran flakes and toasted grains, I biked the 5 blocks to Flake, where I found a surprisingly high number of fellow lazy breakfasters lounging out at both their sidewalk tables and wooden tables inside. Their chalk blackboard announces all the cereal and topping combinations a la Pinkberry; you can go as basic (Cheerios with fresh strawberries) or whimsical (complex blend of Reeses PB Puffs and Flax Plus Special K topped with shredded coconuts, Pixie sticks and fresh pineapples). For those who love blending different cereals together for the perfect bowl at home (Life and Nutty Nuggets--Ralphs's cheaper version of Grape Nuts) is a winner in my household), Flake a cereal mixologist's wet dream.

Overwhelmed by the choices, I went for simple; Kashi's Go Lean Crunch with fresh blueberries and skim milk. At $3.75, its both a total rip-off in that I could buy an entire box at the supermarket for the same price, and also a real deal, because, where else can you get a generous and delicious bowl of breakfast for under $4? (they're pretty hearty portions, and cereal somehow taste better when someone else prepares it for you).
Since their opening a couple of months ago, their menu has also expanded with pretty yummy sounding breakfast sandwiches and lunchtime wraps. Although I felt compelled to order cereal at a cereal restaurant, I was also lured by their 'Nutty Munkee' ($3.75), a filling english muffin sandwich with peanut butter, bananas and choice of honey, Nutella or preserves.

Sitting in their corner table, munching on cereal and perusing a complimentary copy of the L.A. Times, I was feeling a lot more contentment than I should be for just eating cereal; with the relaxed atmosphere, sunny orange and wood color scheme and large windows looking out to the street attributed to the enjoyable feeling of eating at a hypothetical artsy friend's kitchen nook the next morning after a fun night out with the girls. Or maybe it was the decadent, guilty pleasure feeling of luxuriously dining out for cereal that gave me such breakfast bliss.

Other menu choices that may tickle my fancy another time (yes, I think I'd come back) include their Sambozon Acai bowl with granola and bananas ($6.25), The Fatty (smoked turkey, swiss and avocado on a warm croissant, $6.50) and Poesideon's Wrap (tuna salad with Israeli feta in a sundried tomato wrap, $7.50) Can you tell I'm a sucker for cleverly-named sandwiches?

Overall, I went out for a bowl of cereal this morning, and to borrow a phrase from Tony the Tiger, I would rate my breakfast experience as g-r-r-r-eat.

Flake : 513 Rose Ave, Venice CA

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hiking Yosemite's Half Dome & Paso Robles Wine-tasting for $160.50!

Last week, I decided to celebrate/suffer on my birthday by hiking up Half Dome (basically, a mile high hunk of granite rock) in Yosemite National Park. Because I just happily blew about $1000 the week earlier on a last minute trip to Costa Rica (more about that on my next post), Ugly Shoe and I decided to complete our hiking expedition semi-budget style.

Relatively last minute trip entailed little planning, which was fine on the fitness side of things but more difficult when it came to finding accommodations.

Training wise, although I wondered ‘Am I fit enough for a 4750ft elevation, 18 mile roundtrip hike?’ I was still too lazy to actually do any training to ensure I was physically ready--my one overly ambitious training session the Santa Monica stairs almost resulted in voluntary house-arrest since I could barely walk down to the street from my 2nd story apt for the next couple of days.

I started looking for accommodations a month prior to our Yosemite visit and discovered most hotel rooms in the Yosemite area are way overpriced—for example, Comfort Inn, Shilo Inn and Days Inn: typically in the $50-70 range in Anytown, USA were all around $150…and at that price, sold out!!) Most hotels are also booked solid months in advance (Who knew outdoor enthusiasts were so anally on the ball?).

It’s slim-pickin’s if you want to stay inside Yosemite National Park; you’ve got the semi-affordable Yosemite Lodge at the Falls & the historic Wawona Hotel (both $150+ but usually sold out 6 months in advance) the way pricey Four Seasons-nesque Anwahnee Hotel ($350-$1000) and the rustic Curry Village Camp Grounds ($20 per car if tent camping, $85-115 if renting a no-electricity, no-indoor plumbing hut).

Out of what was available, we picked Oakhurst Lodge for our first night; a no-frills motel lodge with a floral chintz bedspread and loud fan but free coffee and a AAA discount ($10 off our accommodations!)

Oakhurst is 16 miles from the Yosemite’s Southern Entrance gate, which translates to about an 1hr 15min drive from motel door to the base of Half Dome on the Valley floor.

Many others chronicle the hike in more detail, (I particularly like this one which gives a hiking timeline), but my three pieces of advice are;
• take the windy John Muir trail on the way up and the stairs-filled Mist trail on the way down (you’ll get soaked, but in a good, refreshing way, and the views of the gushing Nevada waterfall are amazing)
• Pack your lunch, then throw out half of it. You’ll eat way less than you think and enjoy the lighter pack. We shared a packet of beef jerky, two oranges and a Clif bar. Follow the maximum guidelines for water though, we finished our gallon CamelPak easily
• Buy cheapo suede gardening gloves at the 99c store! You’ll need them for the wire cables at the end, chances are there’s a pile of used gloves at the bottom of the cables to choose from, but the 99c investment will guarantee you have a left and right glove and save you from donning an ex-hiker’s sweaty, weather-beaten gloves.

It took us 4 hours to get to the top. I’ll let the pics do the talking regarding the view at the top. Worth it. I loved the patch of snow at the top and enjoyed the most delicious tasting orange ever up there.

The night after the hike, we stayed at Narrow Gauge Inn, a grandmama B&B located in the picturesque-sounding town of Fish Camp (2 miles from the Southern gate entrance). This was my birthday splurge accommodations and the fresh fruit-filled complimentary breakfast buffet and laser-beam intensity of the shower’s water pressure blasting off a 10hr hike’s worth of dirt and sticky sunscreen was so worth the extra $$.

The next morning, we cut across to the coast to Paso Robles—home to 200+ wineries--for some morning birthday drinking. It was a cheap birthday celebration; the majority of the wineries offer complimentary tastings.

We arbitrarily picked the winery pitstops based on convenience (most are off the main drag of the 46 highway), pretty looking grounds and if we liked the name of the winery. Our favorites were Vina Robles and Eberle Estates (where we bought a bottle of Muscat and where ex-Top Chef contestant, Tre Wilcox is going to host a dinner in the Eberle wine cellar in July). The steady stream tiny nips of alcohol perfectly balanced being non-tipsy enough to drive while relaxing our hike-tired muscles, saving them from achey pains on the drive home.

A big hike to commemorate that my legs still have it after 30 years and a pleasant wine-induced buzz on my 31st made this trip an awesome and affordable b’day getaway.

Oakhurst Lodge : $88 per person
Narrow Gauge Inn: $156 per person
Gas: 2 tanks in my Prius, $40
Yosemite National Park Pass: $20
Beef jerky, Clif bars and other roadtrip/hiking essentials: $15
Gardening Gloves: 99 c each
Wine-tasting: free!
Total: $320.98 for two, $160.49 per person

More visitor's info for Yosemite & Half Dome