Friday, January 18, 2013

Down South (The Long Version.)

I'm just now getting around to this article because I've been readjusting to the homestead these past couple days.  My trip to Los Angeles was a whirlwind of fun, food and friends-- all good things.  I had amazing time exploring the Silverlake neighborhood, parts of Los Feliz, Beverly Hills and of course, Hollywood.  The southern part of the state never ceases to amaze me with it's abundance of just about everything.  It's an absolute sea of intersecting streets, cars whizzing by and glitzy L.A. glitter.  The absolute least I can say is that "the city" certainly has a whole lot going for it, especially for those who love getting lost in the anonymity of gigantic urban and suburban sprawl.  I must add that this trip was the first I've taken (and there have been so many) that I could fit my Northern Californian square self into this round, Southern California hole.  I thoroughly enjoyed the people and places we visited, even though everything was squeezed into three very short days...

As you all know, my initial reason for heading south was to meet The Fabulous Beekman Boys.  I convinced my friend Jeff to ride along as a cohort of sorts, the two of us rambling down Highway 5 listening to 80's music and discussing everything from children's manners to science fiction movies.  We left around nine in the morning, hitting hardly any traffic the entire way down.  The "grapevine" had the lightest powdering of snow- so light in fact, that all it had accomplished was to make the surrounding mountains look ashen and deserted, confusing passers by.  Is this snow?  Should we take a picture?  People were befuddled.  We were excited.  Excited that we had missed the closing of the pass the previous night and lucked out that everyone else had decided to take 101, leaving the road open and unclogged with traffic.

At the bottom of the hill, where the roads multiply by ten and stretch as far as the eye can see, we noticed that previous night's storm had blown the air crystal clean.  It's a rarity to come down the mountain and be able to see ocean sparkling in the distance.  Never have I witnessed a clearer skyline, with it's millions of palm trees shivering in the breeze.  This was the L.A. that people saw in movies, with the sun blazing and the mountains looming on all edges but the west.  We had missed rush hour by a good chunk up until Hollywood, where the cars began to slow.  As we chugged along through the corridor, it was awesome to look up and see the landmarks passing by in their old Hollywood glory.  The Chateau Marmont, the Capitol Records building, Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood Bowl... Such significant, fabulously famous pieces of history.  The two o'clock in the afternoon commute version of sightseeing!

We reached Silverlake in the early afternoon and found our digs for the weekend pretty easily.  Our hosts had so graciously provided two champagne glasses and a bottle of prosecco to greet us and keep us company until they arrived home later in the evening.  We had a glass and then set off on foot down the very (now infamous) wrong direction heading towards Sunset Junction.  We chuckled at the fact we'd taken the long route-- that's OK I said, we get to witness Virgil Street in all it's Thai food, flowering trees, barber pole beauty. *Tongue in cheek*  Finally, we wandered far enough to find our destination, at the meeting of Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevard.  We were starving (and famished from our 2 mile walk) so we popped into The Sunset Junction Coffee Shop to grab a bite.

"Sunset Junction Coffee Shop is Silverlake's neighborbood diner. As a contemporary take on the East-coast style diner, Sunset Junction Coffee Shop offers a number of breakfast, lunch and dinner classics, served all day, with options to suit any palette."

It was just us, a few hipsters and some electro-music-producing-Hollywood-types hanging out having a cup of coffee.  Except it wasn't just a cup of coffee.  It was the best dang coffee I've had in years, hands down.  No artificial sweetener or cream needed, just the perfect cuppa joe.  Turns out, they serve City Bean Coffee, a recipient of the "Best of LA" awards in house.  Mmmm so good.  Neither of us wanted to spoil dinner, so we kept it light for lunch:  Jeff ordered the "Junction Cobb" salad, packed with avocado, apple wood smoked bacon, blue cheese, marinated chicken, hard-boiled egg and fresh tomatoes, served over mixed-greens with house-made ranch dressing.  I decided to try one of go-to favorite comfort dishes, the "Chicken Quesadilla" with grilled chicken, tomatoes & lettuce, pico de gallo, sour cream & avocado.  Both plates were tasty and plentiful and both seemed very fresh.  I was impressed that they somehow managed to make a healthy quesadilla for me, free from grease and wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla.  Lunch ended up being a very relaxed, languid rest period for us, which is exactly what we needed.

Hours later as the sun was setting, our friends finally arrived home.  After extensive hugs were shared amongst us, we collectively decided that all of us were beat (us from our drive and them from their long work days).  The wind had turned from slight breeze to freakish gusts, so dinner plans had to be altered to accommodate the blustery weather.  We took our chances ordering a yellow cab, crossed our fingers and hoped that the exclusive Mother Dough would have room for us at theirs tables.  We were in luck that night.  I think we had beat the LA dining crowd by a couple hours, so we were seated immediately- thank goodness, since we were all starving...

I would love to be able to give you more information on Mother Dough, but I don't have it.  I guess you will all have to drive down to Los Angeles and hope you get as lucky as we were to snatch up a table during their short five hours of operation a night.  Trust me, you won't regret it.  Once you get a bite of their prosciutto, arugula and fresh buffalo mozzarella thin crust Neapolitan pizza, you'll be thanking me for days.  I'm pretty sure the pizzas are different every day of the week, depending on the availability of ingredients, with their crust being the absolute star of the show.  Absolutely delicious.

Once our bellies were filled, we commenced rambling the streets, in search of interesting watering holes or any other eye catching distractions.  We came across the Akbar, a virtual urban oasis resting unassumingly on the corner of Fountain and West Sunset.  Welcome to the Akbar, relish the lush surroundings, the Moroccan interior pillars, the richly painted walls and the sensual wall hangings.  They believe in the power of rock-n-roll, that variety is the spice of life and they abhor homophobia.  There are no words, except for "awesome" to explain the people, drink pours and atmosphere of this place.  I'd go back in a heartbeat.  Check it out if you are in the area.

That first night ended with a thud, on the couch and floor of our dear friends house, after our long day of travel, great food and thoroughly satisfying drinks.  I was so happy to be surrounded by loved ones, all cozied up in the cottage as the wind whipped furiously down Lucile and Melrose that even I thought, "Hmm... Maybe I could live here."  That says a lot, seeing as though I consider myself a fierce die-hard  northerner.  But maybe, just maybe?

Day Two: Up and at 'em! Look at these smiling faces.

On the morning of our second day, weary groans escaped our bedraggled bed-heads as we lie waiting for someone, anyone to make a decision about breakfast.  Were we hungry?  What did we feel like eating?  That familiar conversation you have the morning after a good night out, where no one wants to choose a destination out of sheer laziness.  After the fuzzies cleared, we headed back down to Sunset Junction, for late morning coffee and brunch.  We stopped in at Intelligentsia Coffee (us and about 100 other morning folks), dropped five bucks a piece on a cup (coffee- not espresso, not a mocha. Coffee) and quietly people-watched as we waited for The Black Cat to open for brunch.  I sat there, precious black coffee in hand, asking every two minutes, "is that a famous person?" or "who's that, are they famous?" and, "are they famous?" just to annoy my cohorts.  They chuckled and we proceeded.

The Black Cat sits across the street, modest and almost indecipherable, with nothing but a mirrored front window separating Sunset from it's chic interior.  When you enter, it's elegant semi-deco/parlor room decor is striking, with a large, dark wooden bar, emerald green leather banquettes and rustic, quirky art hanging on the walls.  One would not suspect that this place, this refined, quiet eatery, was the same infamous LGBT bar that plain-clothes police officers once infiltrated in 1967, then beat and arrested thirteen kissing couples, pre-dating the Stonewall riots by over two years.  It prompted one of the first civil demonstrations of our time in support of gay rights, deeming it rightfully so in my opinion, a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.  Pretty moving stuff indeed.            

*It was intriguing to be sitting there, ordering a bloody mary, bewildered by the building's presence in history.  And strange that in a place so small began the uphill struggle of something so big, a cultural battle that even today, 40+ years later, we are still fighting...*

The restaurant, to it's credit, makes some wicked good breakfast.  I ordered their creamy polenta, with poached eggs and basil pesto.  This was a unexpected combination for me, but I truly enjoyed the heartiness and texture of the two together.  The rest of the crew ordered the biscuits and gravy with chorizo and Sriracha hollandaise- clearly a standout on the menu, judging by the popularity at the tables around us.  I'd love to go back and see the place at night when the restaurant is full and the bar is jamming.  Rumor has it, the outdoor patio may be opening for the summer, which would make a lovely way to spend an afternoon in the sun.

By the time we finally hiked back up the hill to the cottage, everyone was in the mood for a nap.  I, on the other hand, was determined to get my rear in gear and haul it to Beverly Hills.  Destination: Williams-Sonoma, 339 North Beverly Drive.  Reason: The Fabulous Beekman Boys.  My entire reason for the trip in the first place.  Only 7 miles from our target, it took an hour to get there on city streets.  Not that we minded, again, it's a great way to learn the area.  Winding our way through parts of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, we found parking right below Bouchon (how fancy!)  We oood, we awed at the spectacle that is downtown, with it's ritzy shops and familiar restaurants.  So familiar in fact, we were reminded in blinding color of a town about 5 miles away from where I sit at this moment in Concord.  Weird.  Actually, reverse that.  That town 5 miles away from where I sit right now is almost the exact duplicate of downtown BH.  Without the famous people, ahem.

Anyways... When we arrived at the store, the line had began to snake around the gadgets area, giving us plenty of entertaining food toys to play with until the boys arrived.  And arrive they did, with smiles, handshakes, hugs and laughter.  It was such a wonderful treat to finally meet them after following their story for years.  They are both warm spirited fellows, who actually took the time to ask questions, share stories, and hey, even chat about blogging.  You can tell by the look on my face and the way I am absolutely clutching my (old and very well-loved) copies of The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook and The Bucolic Plague that they had just made my day with their kindness.  Thanks boys!

By about three o'clock, traffic had started to get rude and we were once again famished.  Our cohorts had enjoyed a nice long nap, the dog had been walked and we all needed an afternoon refresher.  We hung out for a bit at the cottage, then once again, decided to make the trek back down the hill for sustenece, this time taking a scenic route.  We saw the tip-top of the Silverlake neighborhood, covered in serpentine Euro-esque streets that overlook the whole of LA.  We had fun on our long, early evening stroll down the expansive ""Musicbox Steps", once famous for a role in Laurel and Hardy's 1932 classic, aptly named, "The Music Box".  It was such a nice way to spend a Saturday evening, rambling along telling stories with pals.

We eventually landed at El Siete Mares, or in my own words, land of amazing tacos.  This well-known Silverlake restaurant specializes in serving seafood in an outdoor atmosphere-- walk up to the window, order your food, sit down and enjoy.  This time we treated ourselves by sitting in their tiny indoor dining room.  This is not the norm, but on such a chilly evening, it was a much more comfortable option.  We had been warned:  these tacos will ruin you for life.  Was I afraid?  Absolutely not.  Was I so hungry that ordered a fish taco, a grilled prawn taco, beans, rice, salad and a cheese enchilada on the side? YES.  I'm not ashamed!  And I ate it all, every last bite.  Best fish tacos, hands down-- San Francisco, I apologize in advance.  The fish was moist and flavorful, dipped in a crispy, buttery crust that stayed intact, giving them the most satisfying crunch.  The red sauce on the enchilada was so good, we all began dipping our tortilla chips in it, after the enchilada disappeared.  It would be entirely appropriate to admit that I gorged myself that night and loved every minute of it.

We had every intention of leaving LA the next morning, after our night of fun with friends, friends of friends and friends of dogs.  That was the intention.  We were supposed to get on the road after breakfast and rejoin reality back in the bay.  Needless to say, that didn't happen.  Especially when Jeff found out that the Stanley Kubrick exhibition was at LACMA and wouldn't be coming to northern part of the state.  Whaaaaaaat?  How could miss that??  We didn't.  HAL says hello...

I took so many personal photos at this exhibit, but it feels wrong to share them online.  It's one of the most amazing retrospectives of an artist I've ever seen- and I've seen a ton.  If you have the chance to catch this show, please do.  It's mind boggling, gorgeous and fascinating.  Literally every Kubrick film; the costumes, scripts, set miniatures, posters, cameras, notes, photographs... Everything.  Incredible.

After our day of Stanley, we ate the trendy Umami Burger.  I had "the hatch", a melt-in-your-mouth cheeseburger with housemade American cheese and fire-roasted green chili.  Jeff had "the manly burger" which I believe was bacon lardo, beer cheddar cheese and housemade onion strings.  Jackie had the famous "Umami burger" which was smothered in shitake mushrooms, caramelized onions and topped with a parmesan crisp.  This is a classic LA staple type joint, full of funky people, unique decor and plenty of things to look at.  Oh, did I forget to mention?  We also ordered cheesy tater tots with blue cheese dressing and truffle fries with housemade ketchup.  Mmm.  Just thinking about them makes me drool.  Umami has four locations down south, so if you are in the area, find one and dig in.  Expect crowds because these burgers are pretty darn famous.

Our last evening, Sunday night, was spent at a local dive bar who's name I'm keeping secret.  It's one of those places you cherish, hold close to you and want to keep to yourself.  We sat around summing up our weekend, laughing hysterically and making new friends that perhaps one day we'll see again.  There were some star run-ins, or so we thought, and some serious late night Ramen enjoyment.  It was the perfect ending to a great weekend exploring the vast southern Californian city-scape.  I can't wait to go back.  I can't wait to see my friends again.  And I really, really want to eat more next time.

Be well,



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