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