Monday, December 18, 2006

L.A. Foodie Blog

All Kinds Of Yum is a neat blog about all things food in L.A., especially Fairfax and East. Check it out. And thanks Julie!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Even More Chinese Food

Leave it to the New York Times to hone in on good Chinese food in Los Angeles. I find it fascinating that the writer takes the opposite stance I usually hear from New Yorkers that there is no good Chinese food in L.A. (I've found it's usually the first complaint when the discussion turns culinary.) Since the Times' articles over time often become unavailable to non-paying customers, I am taking the liberty of copying the article below for posterity. To see the original while it lasts, go here. (By the way, none of the ones I have covered are listed, and let's face it, the areas the article covers are considered by most to be the real Chinatowns of SoCal.)

by Mark Bittman
Published: December 3, 2006
THERE are probably more Chinese in Los Angeles than in any metropolitan area outside of China. (The same very likely could be said of Mexicans, Iranians, Koreans, Japanese and more, which is what makes Los Angeles the best international eating city in the world.) Fifty years ago, most Chinese immigrants were concentrated in a typical downtown Chinatown, which still exists, but more as a relic than a vibrant community. In the last few decades, in typical Southern California fashion, the Chinese have claimed a freeway. It is the portion of I-10 known as the San Bernardino Freeway. This road runs through the San Gabriel Valley, straight east from downtown, all the way to Jacksonville, Fla. (to the west, it runs only 10 miles, to Santa Monica). And for its first 50 miles or so, from Los Angeles to San Bernardino, it is a modern-day Chinatown, a string of multiethnic communities that all have a large, dynamic Chinese population. There is strong evidence of this in the chains of Chinese supermarkets, the likes of which exist nowhere else in the country. (In these stores, announcements are made first in Mandarin, then in Korean, then Vietnamese; then Spanish, and last English. Really.)

There is equally strong evidence in the restaurants of Alhambra, San Gabriel, Monterey Park and other nearby communities. Before World War II, this was an area of horse farms, orange groves and the like. Now it looks like every other new, freeway-oriented section in the parts of the country that have been overdeveloped in the last 20 years.

Yet these places are not without charm. You can see it on the Main Street of Alhambra, where you will, if you follow my advice, drop everything, and rush to eat at Triumphal Palace. (Don’t you love this? “Honey, let’s go to Alhambra and eat at the Triumphal Palace.”)

The restaurant follows in the tradition of popular places such as NBC Seafood, Mission 261 — about which, more in a moment — and the ill-named New Concept. Their menus are large and long — several pages, at least — and often feature esoteric and very expensive ingredients such as abalone, shark’s fin and bird’s nest.

For my money — and though it’s upscale by comparison, it doesn’t take much — Triumphal Palace is the best of the lot, with food that is full-flavored, intricate and subtle, sometimes almost tame. The roast duck, which looks like every other Chinese roast duck you’ve ever had, is so good I suspect it’s not “roast” at all, but fried in clarified butter; it’s that crisp, tender and flavorful. It needs nothing, and certainly not the accompanying marmalade-like substance, which you should not allow to touch the duck. Other dishes are similarly simple, and just about as good: stir-fried Dungeness crab with scallion and ginger; pea greens with mushrooms and the distinctively flavored dried scallops; a pretty dish of chicken slices, huge shiitakes, ham and gai lan (Chinese broccoli), served in layers.

For all of this, Triumphal Palace is perhaps better known for its dim sum (served every day at lunchtime) than for its dinner dishes. Like many of the grand West Coast Chinese restaurants, from Vancouver on south, the dim sum is ordered from a menu — you’re invariably given a short pencil and a printed sheet, to tick off what you want — cooked fresh and served hot, rather than being hawked from steam carts. (Still, the problem of everything coming at once can only be solved by staggering your order.)

Six of us — one of whom now claims she will be married here — shared 24 dishes (about 18 of which came within 10 minutes), and while all except the predictably sad desserts were good, some were incredible. These were barbecue pork belly, firm cubes of slow-cooked, crunchy-skinned fresh bacon that, I swear, were a dead-on replica of a dish Alain Ducasse used to serve at about five times the price; Chiu Chow-style dumplings, with thick, chewy, slightly crisp rice-flour exteriors filled with (could it be?) jasmine-scented meat; deep-fried carrot cake, in fact a savory-sweet custard-filled dumpling; boiled baby bok choy in fish stock, which, like the duck I’d had at dinner, contained some secret ingredient that was the Bomb; and a wonderful layered creation of pan-fried sticky rice with egg.

On a recent Sunday morning, the place was packed, as usual. The design is faux Deco-slash-modern, not horrible, but with the inevitable stark lighting. Still, the walls are of wood, there are tablecloths, and the chairs are padded and comfortable. At dinner the napkins are cloth, and the plates are changed frequently.

Triumphal Palace has taken the place of Mission 261 as My New Favorite Restaurant, but the latter — in an adobe complex, at least some of which was the city hall of the (no sarcasm here) lovely center of San Gabriel — has a couple of astonishing advantages. First off, it may be the best-looking Chinese restaurant in the country, with its whitewashed walls, oak-beamed ceilings and internal courtyard. Second, you can enjoy your dim sum alfresco, and to sit outside on a sunny Sunday morning eating two dozen spicy, high-quality little dishes is about as close to paradise as I’ve been.

And if it is not quite up to the currently high level of the dim sum served at Triumphal Palace, it remains very, very good. What I found disappointing at Mission 261 was dinner, which had fallen a long way from its own lofty standards of just a couple of years ago. Still, the shrimp with scrambled eggs, the steamed fish, the braised pork — these remain winners.

Sadly, it seems that almost all of the large, fancy Chinese restaurants east of Los Angeles start out with a bang and then taper off toward mediocrity. With the smaller, less ambitious, perhaps more regionally loyal places, consistency is more predictable. This is certainly the case with Chung King, an unlikely dive on Garfield, one of the more important through streets in Monterey Park.

I’ve been a semi-regular here for about five years. The food is strictly Sichuan (Chungking is the largest city in Sichuan Province) and, honestly, it puts just about every other Sichuan restaurant in the United States that I’m familiar with to shame. You know how some Chinese restaurants have little chili symbols next to the hot dishes? Every dish in the entire first column of the menu here, with — literally — one exception, has a little chili symbol next to it. Fully half the dishes are blazingly hot — they must go through a coffee-sack of dried peppers daily — but tamed by the mouth-numbing sensation of floral-scented Sichuan peppercorns. This is a mind-body experience not to be missed: your body, abused with chilies, is crying “Please stop,” while your mind, entranced by the incredible flavors, keeps directing the chopsticks from plate or bowl to mouth and back again.

I’d go here with four or six people, so you can order a variety of dishes (ignore the steam table set up in the back unless you’re trying to spend less than five bucks): the brick-red boiled pork in hot sauce (oh, boy), fried chicken with hot pepper (do not make the mistake of ordering chicken with chili and peanuts, which is more the standard kung pao), fish slices in small pot (“only” an 8 on the 10-scale of heat), and maybe something tame like one of the great rice-crust dishes, which are essentially mild stir-fries served on freshly made rice cakes.

Non-Chinese speakers may have a problem here (even the English “expert” has trouble), but among the other customers are certain to be plenty of fluent Chinese-and-English speakers, willing to help. At least that’s how I’ve gotten by. (Note that it is cash only, though it would be hard to spend more than $20 a person anyway.)

Chang’s Garden, a little farther east and nestled right under the mountains in scenic Arcadia, is not quite as ugly as some of the other little joints around, but it’s ordinary-looking enough and, like so many restaurants in Los Angeles, it’s in a strip mall. I was steered here by my friend and sometime-guide Carl Chu, who knows more about Chinese restaurants in America than anyone, and whose “Chinese Food Finder: Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley” is indispensable for the adventuresome eater.

The food at Chang’s Garden is Shanghai style, which means often quite sweet and usually quite fatty; the sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf, for example, has a nicely braised rib tucked inside the pocket of rice; the scallion bread is as crisp and greasy as a slice of good pizza; pork lacquered with brown sauce is almost but not quite sticky-sweet — in fact it’s nicely balanced.

But some dishes show the subtler, more sophisticated side of Shanghai cuisine: I especially liked the mildly delicious shrimp in tea leaves, and the fish chowder — I’m quite sure the broth was made from meat, unless there’s some especially meaty fish out there I don’t know about — with loads of fish meat, egg and scallion.

Finally, there’s Foo Chow, in the original downtown Chinatown, one of the few Chinese places left in Los Angeles proper that won’t make you want to hop in your car and head east to Alhambra. Jackie Chan’s “Rush Hour” was filmed here, but clearly with help from a brilliant set designer, because the place is, well, a dump. However, it’s inexpensive almost beyond belief, and it boasts the most cosmopolitan crowd I’ve ever seen in a Chinese restaurant. Furthermore, there are some dishes here you won’t have elsewhere, especially the selection of creations made with red wine sauce (the wine is a kind of rice mash); while the chicken in red wine won’t make you forget coq au vin, it is delicious, though it cannot vie for a second with the fried eel, which is first marinated in red wine and then deep fried; it’s irresistible.

Perhaps I’m not lavishing enough praise on these places in general; when in Los Angeles, I tend to forget that the average Chinese food here is better than the best Chinese food in 90 percent of the rest of the country. So if not every dish in a given restaurant is a winner, I feel as disappointed as I would if Ferran Adrià let me down. But come here, get in the car, drive out the freeway, and start eating; the occasional disappointment will be overwhelmed by the frequent ecstasy.

VISITOR INFORMATION All restaurants are open daily.

500 West Main Street, Alhambra; (626) 308-3222. Dim sum about $15 per person; dinner $25 to $30 per person.

Mission 261
261 South Mission Drive, San Gabriel; (626) 588-1666. Dim sum about $15 per person; dinner $25 to $30 per person.

Chang’s Garden
627 West Duarte Road, Arcadia; (626) 445-0606. About $20 per person.

Chung King
206 South Garfield Avenue, Monterey Park; (626) 280-7430. Cash only; $15 to $20 per person.

Foo Chow
949 North Hill Street, (213) 485-1294. About $15 per person.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


According to the LA Times, doughnuts have had an haute cuisine makeover in Beverly Hills. Were they spelled "donuts" before? The article also claims that cupcakes are all the rage these days here in the Southland. Where? Has anyone graced any of these supposed cupcake eateries?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

More Chinese Food

I was taken to lunch at The New Moon at 107 W. 9th Street downtown (no not Greenwich Village...downtown Los Angeles), and it was quite good! The decor was clean and hip, the food ranging from not bad to excellent, the prices easy. I especially recommend the eggplant dish. Not a huge eggplant fan, but was trying to make nice with the person treating me who insisted on the dish's excellence, and dang if she wasn't right. Smooth, great flavor, a big hit. The chow fun wasn't as good as Mao's (see previous post), but the chicken and shrimp dishes were slam dunks. And the service was friendly...and fast.

There is another location in Montrose at 2138 Verdugo Blvd.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

More Late Night Eats

From today's Los Angeles Times, an article all about it...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Spankin' Shoe Sighting

(Photo courtesy of mjlamble on flickr)

Lan Bui wore these last night to Halloween Vlogfest 2006. (Thank you Yahoo, Zadi and Steve, and others for making this event happen and Lan for letting me know about it!) Lan got these purple, snakeskin pearls in the Southland shoe desert at Ross in Orange County! Who woulda thunk it?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Language Lessons 3: In search of an alternative to the bread in the fridge

I was craving an alternative to toast for this Sunday morning's breakfast, since the bread we have in the fridge, Whole Food's Organic Miche, I find to be sort of heavy and dull.

HUSBAND: What do you want for breakfast?
ME: I was thinking about pancakes. Too bad we didn’t get any fresh eggs at the market yesterday.
HUSBAND: You want me to organize you some eggs?
ME: Organize me some eggs?
ME: Is that how you say it in German? Organize me some eggs?
HUSBAND: Yeah, well, sort of. I mean, you don’t really say it like that, but you can.
ME: You can or you don't, which is it?
HUSBAND: Well, you can if you’re inspirated.
ME: Inspirated?
HUSBAND: Yeah. Inspirated.
ME: Inspirated.
HUSBAND: Creative with the language. Like thief language. I’m going to go organize me some eggs, it’s like let’s go steal some eggs from the farmer.
ME: Do you feel like driving and parking?
HUSBAND: No, not really, but I will do for you.

We ended up having toast. Sometimes in L.A., even when the bread is not that good, as in life, simplicity trumps other pleasures.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Language Lessons 2: Public Servants in L.A. vs. NY

The Language Lessons series used to be on my first blog This is for all you foreign nationals out there and the folks who love 'em...

Commenting on the sharpness of my elbows in bed this morning, my German husband said:

Husband: You're like the exterminator.
Me: I kill roaches?
Husband: No, like Schwarzenegger.
Me: Ooh. The Terminator.
Husband: Oh...well, no, he's no longer the Terminator. Soo, he's the exterminator. Like an exboyfriend, he's the exterminator. I'm not bad, eh?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

In search of practical yet stylish shoes....

This one is mostly for the girlies, I'd say. I saw, and better yet, tried on some very comfy, cute clogs at my friend's house the other day, and she told me they came from Clogmasters. They had quite a bit more style and origninality than the samples on the website. Am I telling you about the store that has dozens of great, practical, cutting edge style shoes, many of which are on sale, as I saw when I was in downtown New York last week? No. But hey, it's a step!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Late Night L.A. Eats

When I first arrived in L.A. after years in New York, one of the biggest shocks came after a performance of mine one night. A few friends gathered about to do the ritual congrats, and I expected, like an April flower expects rain, like a first introduction expects a handshake, like a lit candle expects to melt that we would go out for a bite after. Tis the custom in New York, where I'd been a performer for quite some time. Nope. Too late, moaned one. It was just after 9. Already ate said another apologetically. At what time, like 6?? Ok for a mother of 3 or something, but these were other performers! I couldn't wrap my head around it. Then came the second shock. My boyfriend at the time, a Roman whose habits and love made him game for joining at least, and I set out to find a place to eat, and we couldn't find a thing open. I didn't have a place with a kitchen yet, so buying groceries was out. Back home in Manhattan, there would be dozens of places to choose from (not to mention about the same number of friends who would join as dinner companions). Many a night like these in various parts of town helped me develop a favorite list of late night Eateries.

1. Mao's Kitchen. See the Chinese food posting for details. We discovered Mao's that night mentioned above.

2. Kate Mantalini's
9101 Wilshire Blvd. (near Doheny Dr.), Beverly Hills CA; Tel. 310.278.3699
I've had dinner there until midnight.

3. Toi
There's one in Santa Monica and one in Hollywood on Sunset. Kooky Rock n Roll decor, decent food and open every day from 11am-3am.

4. Swingers
One in Santa Monica, one in West Hollywood. Open 6:30am-4am every day.

There is always also something open in Silverlake.

Of course there are others (like Canter's!! Which is better for entertaining abuse and nostalgia than food, but then again, I haven't really been into a pastrami sandwich since I lost all my baby teeth, so I am not the best judge), but that's my short list for East, West, and in between.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Time Differences: Beyond EST-PST

There are several ways in which time differences manifest themselves in Los Angeles vs. New York, other than the former being 3 hours earlier. Here are some to perhaps adjust to.

One of the obvious and most cliched is time it takes to get places. For those in the outer boroughs who drive, you may be accustomed to long commutes. However, once in Manhattan, you can buzz about to a lot of places by foot or public transportation, in an average of 10-30 minutes. In Los Angeles, a short distance is within 20 minutes by car. Average is 45 minutes. A long distance is an hour or an hour and a half plus. This has a significant effect on social and cultural life in Los Angeles. With much more planning and time needed, both happen less.

Another time difference in Los Angeles, I have found, is the hour that people think it is ok to call you, especially on weekends. While lying in bed with my husband in Manhattan yesterday, a lovely Sunday late morning, I was taking in the bliss of the first respite from the noise that has been a constant all week downstairs on East 19th Street, where we are staying. I explained to him that this rare pool of calm is one of the reasons why there is an unwritten rule in New York City, in my experience anyway, that calling before noon on Sundays is a no no. The same can be said about 11ish on Saturdays, and before 9ish on weekdays unless the party being called is known to work at night, in which case weekend hours apply. Exceptions are if the two parties (the caller and the callee) have a morning appointment, if it is totally acknowledged public information that the party being called is the rare NYC early morning person (better find out first), or if it is an emergency (a real emergency--not my boss, lover, mother, neighbor, etc. is such an idiot, can I tell you for the eighth time why they are such an idiot, from my cell phone while I am stuck in traffic, a problem which I found some Los Angeles colleagues to mistake for an emergency). I was stunned when I first moved to Los Angeles when a few (not just one) new friends called at 7:30 in the morning as a habit, even on weekends, as though it was totally normal. Want to go for a hike? No. Can I just talk for a few minutes, I really need to talk? No.

I have not adjusted--I have made people adjust to me, and have turned off my ringer and set my phone volume on low. A normally very social, communicative correspondent, I have had to do it to stay sane.

In New York, time is marked by seasons. In Los Angeles, while yes, there are subtle fluctuations in light and temperature, and many Los Angelenos don mittens and warm boots in January in a weird display of climate confusion, and the last couple years the City of Angels has gotten a bit chilly in winter, let's be real, it's about 70 and sunny somewhere in the L.A. basin, if you get in the sun, just about every day of every year. I missed the warm sun when I moved from LA as a child to the east coast. As an adult many years later in L.A., I miss the permission to change my mood and pace throughout the year. I don't think one is better than the other, I think it's more about pros and cons and individual taste. However, they's about the same as apples and oranges.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Transplant Homesickness Remedy: A True Story

The other night I attended a dear friend's wedding in Hunter up in the Catskills. It was Labor Day weekend and pouring cats and dogs (more like elephants and rhinoceruses, it was very wet). The wedding of 2-3 hundred guests took place outdoors in a tent with grass as the flooring, and many shoes were sacrificed. Forewarned about the storm and the circumstances, I made the the fashion forward choice of Ugg Boots and couture silk suit. It cost me howls of laughter from my husband who tried to disguise the humiliation he was trying to inflict with words like "cute", but earned me respect an hour later when his Italian leather shoes were soaked to the soles.

As the sweet celebration wound down, probably earlier than otherwise would have happened due to the weather, I put some mental puzzle pieces together to recognize a woman whose tiny studio I had sublet the summer before, but whom I had never personally met. She was So embarassed because of the mice that had accompanied me on my sublet. She swore it had never happened before, this mouse issue, and I should confirm it with my friend, she would know. I played it down as no big deal, but my husband and I have for a year referred to that apartment squeamishly as "The Mouse House." Not that I don't think mice are cute. I have even attained infamy by rescuing a domestic rat in New York and taking it in as a pet. It was just very close quarters in that tiny studio, and the mice made noise and went in my clothes and food, and that crossed some kind of line for me. She apologized again and again, offering an explanation that the mice came due to some construction that was happening and must have only been there when I was there because they were gone when she was back from her tour. I quipped, "Oh, so they are refugees."
She replied ingenuously, "Wait...are you talking about that guy who brought anthrax into the building? I'm talking about the mice."
"Refugees from the construction...," I said, assuring her I was talking about the mice, but what was that about anthrax...?
She explained that some refugee had come from a foreign country and had brought anthrax into her tiny 4 floor walkup in the Village, giving everyone a good scare. I am glad I didn't know about it, as it would have given me a good scare, too.
Do those of you who have been feeling homesick feel a little better now?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

NYC souvenir

This is the kind of souvenir I wouldn't even have thought of as a souvenir, the kind of thing that I take for granted in NYC, and then I see it and go, "Oh yeah..."

Monday, August 28, 2006

Good cheese

Please forgive my long absence. In-laws in town and working on our bagel tasting outing video have been big distractions.

This blog could almost as easily be called Life Beyond Good Cheese. When my husband and I came back from living in France earlier this year, we lamented the loss of good daily cheese, especially at affordable prices. Even in NYC, there is good cheese to be had, yes at a price sometimes, but sometimes not, and there is are massive selections to offset the economic pain. Like at Murray's on Bleeker. Even at Citarella in the Village, we found a very passable Manchego at a reasonable price. L.A. proved to be rougher. The only solace we have found has been an Argentine parmesan at Whole Foods, which is just fine and one of the few quality for the money choices there. There are goat cheeses at the Wednesday Santa Monica farmer's market (maybe at other local farmer's markets, too) that are quite good for the price. And I hate to admit because I am not a fan of the store (people seem to love it or disdain it), but someone brought a Manchego from Trader Joe's that was quite good and cheap. Someone recently also recommended the Cheese Store in Silverlake. Someone else recommended Rawsome in Santa Monica (on Rose below Lincoln somewhere), but we tasted their yogurt, which costs a small fortune, and could not get excited about spending that much cash for their merchandise, thanks anyway...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Language lessons

Difficulty in understanding each others language between Europeans and Los Angelenos is to be expected (see Language Lessons on Such difficulty between New Yorkers and Los Angeleno, however, might come as more of a shock. Above is a personally rendered approximation above of a cartoon I once saw, the original of which I have been unable to find (apologies and thanks to the cartoonist of the original!!), which serves to illustrate this point.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tip of the Day

Don't try to get more than one thing outside your home or office done in one day.

New Yorkers and many Europeans who come from cities are accustomed to running around town getting stuff done. Lots of it in one day. It is simply not healthy to do this in Los Angeles, and more often than not, impossible. Maybe, you can get two things done, but don't make it a lifestyle. The distances are simply too enormous, driving, traffic and parking too insidiously fatiguing (and expensive between gas prices and parking), and shops generally close earlier. You may live in one of the rare neighborhoods where you can walk to do things, so you can get a few more things done than most people. Power to you. Do not be alarmed if, when walking, two blocks feel like two miles back in your home city. L.A. does not have the same kind of urban pulse that propels you along, as though you are on a moving sidewalk. It's more like a scene in a Western shot in wide angle lens with the particles in the air creating wavy billows and a sense of being alone in vastness. You have to be self-motivated, self-directed.

Big tip to help you deal with this Tip of the Day (in case you haven't thought of it, which you might have, since you are here--good for you!) : internet. For communicating, shopping, researching. I am shocked at how many of you transplants I talk to who don't use it! It's like you're used to getting your information directly from people or something!! Well, let me tell you, that is generally harder here. For most of us, there is no guy downstairs or around the corner to ask. Welcome to the internet, for which my New York Minute impatience is thankful every day.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Chinese Food Part 1

"There is no good Chinese food in L.A.," is a plight I hear often from New Yorkers (no, not other Europeans because it is simply not embedded into the culture, tradition, and daily life as much outside the little island called Manhattan). While I can offer no solace regarding speed of service--when new in town, I ordered steamed white rice and broccoli on the run here expecting a 5-10 minute wait, right? And had to negotiate the lady's 45 minute time estimate down to 25 minutes--aaackk!!-- I CAN steer you to some pretty darn good Chinese food here in the Southland.

In this entry, I will focus on two places on the Westside:

--Royal Star Seafood

One reason this place is so good is that it originated in Monterey Park, which my Chinese friend says feels quite like China. Royal Star is filled with Chinese and Jews, always a good sign. My NY/NJ Jewish friend Mike introduced me to the place when I was a new arrival, and we made it a tradition to close the place down by arriving at a NYC/European hour for dinner, like 9. (Like most L.A. eateries, they stop serving at 10, but wait! Before you start getting all choked up about never eating good mushroom dumplings or wonton soup in the wee hours, there's good news in the next entry!)

WARNING: The following ridiculous aside in NO WAY has any negative bearing on the quality of my experience or my high opinion of Royal Star, and you shouldn't read it, if you are too highly suggestible or squeamish. Ok. Stop reading, unless you are ok with the last couple sentences NOW. Ok, the rest of you. Here is the ridiculous aside that I cannot resist sharing. Mike and I have a special pet name for this restaurant. We have called it The B.O. Restaurant for years. Why? Because we are juvenile? Of course. But also because even though the food is so good and never made my highly sensitive digestion the least bit uncomfortable, the place had this remarkable smell of B.O. upon entering. We'd acclimate and forget about it after a minute, but we just couldn't figure it out for the longest time. We guessed it had to be in the cooking somehow, but how?? Then one night, I sprinkled some cumin powder in a pan with oil to start a stir-fry...and the "aha" came. It bears a remarkable similarity to manly armpits. I must say, it has made me hunger for my husband's musk in a whole new way.

-Mao's Kitchen
This Venice Beach eatery is such a find. Not only is the food interesting, cheap, fresh and delightful, but the decor is a bizarro conversation starter, and it's open until 10:30 on weeknights and 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays! I lived on the chow fun for about 2 years. I highly recommend the black wood-ear mushroom dumplings, and can say the only thing I had there that was no good was the garlic something--I think chicken. Too much oyster sauce or fish sauce and the chicken tasted fishy--truly yucky. The service, usually in the hands of foreign exchange and/or surfer punk types, can be maddeningly slow, but the kitchen is all Chinese. The owner Jake is also an awesome guy, and the people watching is excellent.

Soon I'll be going to Chinese food with my Chinese friend May and will hopefully have some recs east of the 405.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

More on Bagels

Here's a little something for those of you who think anything on the Left Coast is pretty much Los Angeles (or who go to or know people in Oregon)... Martin reports that
he and his recently transplanted sis just tried the Big-O, and it scores a big O. This disappointment is offset by this lyric he just sent me:

To the tune of You Go To My Head

They go to my head....
Like the doughy bread they boil in the Bronx...
Add some butter; they bring me out of my malaise -
Just watch the goys when they be adding the mayonnaise.


(This post originally published on June 21, 2006 at Julie brings up a good point in her comment about cupcakes (see comments under "Shoes, No Socks" entry on
Where to get them. She mentions a couple of places, although omits the Queen of Cupcake making, Magnolia Bakery.

Can anyone come up with an L.A. equivalent? I personally have not, however, I have found one for cakes. I had only one cake from Sweet Lady Jane in West Hollywood, and it stunned me a similar way that the first Magnolia cake I ever tasted did, the one I had at Abigail's 2002 Christmas party (by the way, Abigail's show is going on now in Hollywood, plug, plug), the one that made me forget for a moment that the only cake (I falsely believed) I liked was fresh, not too sweet, flourless chocolate. Alas Sweet Lady Jane does't carry cupcakes.

One note about cupcakes vs. muffins. Julie makes the distinction, a wise one I agree. That said, I don't like muffins, but I did have one at Hudson Bagels (see first or second post which waxes on about bagels) last year that blew my mind, so NYC has points in my mind in the muffin department. It didn't taste like squish bread mixed with children's powder-based punch the way most muffins I have bought taste. It was perfect. My friend Susan says that she and her friend used to special order muffins from Trader Joe's, however in Los Angeles! Some orange muffins that she thinks no longer exists. But maybe there is hope for you LA living muffin lovers...

Shoes, No Socks

(Please note that this post was originally published June 9, 2006 and comments to this entry made before July 2006 can be found on

Lucia (see Comment #6 from First post, "What's with the title…" on–By the way, has anyone figured out how to link to specific comments or if that is possible?) makes an excellent point about life in L.A., which is that one can go open-toe all year.

I personally hate socks. I lose them, I buy cheap (can we hear it for the 3 for a buck on the streets of Manhattan? Yes, probably made in China. Not good. But buying socks in L.A.? Means driving, parking, premeditating. You Europeans may not relate to this. I find socks quite pricey everywhere I have lived on the Continent, but at least in many places they are awfully pretty). Don't need socks in L.A. Ok, a pair or two for boots or running shoes or if you are freakishly prone to being cold. Ok, maybe a couple more for those of you who have to actually wear a suit to work. I hardly know anyone in LA who has to wear a suit to work. I think it's safe to conclude that for most of us, socks are optional.

But what about buying shoes? I have hardly been able to make that work in Los Angeles. I strongly suggest buying them in New York or Europe. Better, hotter looking, cheaper. Let's go 8th street and 2 for 1 sales. And Italy, it only needs one word. It is King. Most shoes I have bought in L.A. are "fun shoes"–the rare impulse buy of black plether, knee-high boots when I was acting out my bisexual friend's (the one who "made" me get them) frustration in her asexual lesbian couple, the ridiculous $15 tangerine Candies that are so uncomfortable but so Practical Trollop, every girl in LA should have them.

I have managed to score a decent pair of all purpose, cute shoes in Los Angeles only once, and I still wear them occasionally after four or five years. But it was no easy feat (no pun intended). It was at a store on Montana Avenue (on the south side of the street, closer to the West end of the shopping drag, quite pricey, can't remember the name.) I was about to leave for New York for the summer. Realized I had no NYC summer footware–you know, sturdy, sexy, daytime or nightime, goes with everything, so you don't need to carry an extra pair when you are out from 11 am to 4 am. I saw this one pair on sale (are there any other kind worth buying? More on the Art and Sport of Sales later…). They were very arty with wood sculpted soles/heel, sophisticated, sexy sandle-y and very comfy. Delighted, I wore them to a party that night, and within 15 minutes, the front chipped off. I'd never had a shoe chip on me. Nails yes. Furniture yes. Paint yes. Shoes no. I wasn't doing anything exotic. I think I was walking up the walkway. Boom, there went the front of the shoe. I called the shoe store the next day, and one thing I can say about Los Angeles is the customer service, while a little slow and ditzy at times, is often very nice. She was very nice. Told I could come exchange them for another kind of shoe, I returned to the store; however, there were no others on sale, and these were not bargain people (the Lebanese gal down the block, on the other hand, I would learn a couple years later is a bargain person. She has an eclectic clothes shop, is a great conversationalist, and has ridiculous sales items in the back–like yummy velour yoga pants for 10 dollars. She loves people from New York. No wonder! But I digress.) So against my ethic, I looked at the non-sale items. The sales chick (I don't usually use that word, but she was not quite a full woman, not quite a girl, young, chirpy, fluffy hair…she was a chick) asked what I was looking for as I browsed. I told her I was going to New York, so I needed a great all-weather walking shoe. She pulled out a mule with a two plus inch stiletto heel. Hello. (said my look). She tried to convince me that a lot of clients come from New York, and many women find this shoe comfortable to walk in. Perhaps. But I was thinking walking meant from the Upper West Side to the Village in 90% humidity, potentially with a thundershower mixed in. I know there are some New York women who gladly do that in stiletto heels. Not I. I finally settled on a neutral toned leather flat that did show wear and tear after the thunderstorms, but I admit they are not bad. Full price, but…Wait til you get to New York, if you can.

On NY Bagels in LA--and an Ode to the Bialy

(Please note that this post was originally published on June 6, 2006 and comments to this entry made before July 2006 can be seen at

Photo couresy of (link don't work, so afraid ye curious ones will have to copy/paste.) Note the hole is filled with oniony goodness. Whether this disqualifies it from being an actual bagel is debatable, but bialies are always found among bagels–perhaps like the tomato, which is technically not a vegetable but always found in the vegetable section, so…

I was going to leave this as a response to Martin's comment (see comments for "What's with the title of this post?"at However, it became relevant enough to this blog's overall mission–and long enough–to qualify as bonafide guidance to living in LA, as well as a tip about bringing New York to L.A. (which used to horrify me as a kid growing up barefoot and tanned in Malibu. New Yorkers in L.A. looked like cinder blocks amidst rainbow colored blown glass, mashed potatoes on a plate of fresh berries…who were those weirdos in black who wore shoes on the beach, had glo-white chub, and said ridiculous things like, "Oooh Haarold, this woahtuh's soow coowld!" Little did I know that someday they would take over much of Malibu, and more stunningly, that I would have more in common with them than anyone I knew.)

When I was last at Hudson Bagels (if link used,scroll down to "On the radar",bottom of page) in April, I was wondering whether I could take some to my family in Los Angeles where I was going in a few days. Just then, a woman next to me said she needed a dozen because she was about to get on a plane to Los Angeles and wanted to take them to her family. This kind of synchronicity is more common for me in New York than anywhere else, I think because New Yorkers talk so much. I, of course, told her I had the very thought, but didn't know if they would survive the flight. She, like Martin, buys them just before she leaves and says they last to the next morning's breakfast just fine. How exciting! Sadly, we had to spend the night before traveling on 86th and CPW and had to wake up too damn early to get our bagels. Next time!

As for bialies, I have the great fortune to have had an au pair from Queens (is that a little like saying a homie from Paris?) from age 6-9 who instilled in me that bialies are the superior of all bagels (or bagel family items, for those who are iffy about whether they are tecnically bagels). Had I never tried one, I may well have believed it by virtue of the fact that said au pair had long hair, charm and great persuasion over my tastes. Trying one sealed my belief for life. I still look at them with reverence whenever I see them in the shop, like the crown jewels of the selection, in equal proportion to the suspicion with which I regard chocolate chip bagels, wheat-free bagels, and everything on it bagels.

There was one place when I was a kid that had great bagels–or I thought they did–I hadn't lived outside LA yet. My mom used to take us there in the wee hours of the night after a show at the Music Center or when she just had a hankering. It is still there? It's called the Brooklyn Bagel Bakery. Anyone know if the bagels are still good? They did have bialies. And I loved them. Added 11/14/06 It is still there. Find out how we like the bagels on our upcoming video coming soon to this site!

What’s with the title of this blog? (i.e. our raison d’être)

(Please note that this post was originally published on June 5, 2006, and the many comments to this post made before July 2006, can be found at our previous incarnation at --sorry, linking doesn't seem to work...).

There are two elements of this blog title that may peak curiosity beyond that which is just about the oft mystifying place known as L.A. One is the notion of “New Yorkers and other Europeans”, which implies that New Yorkers are Europeans. I am borrowing from a saying I heard after the last presidential election, a New Yorker’s apology to Europe, an appeal to the continent to the east that they kindly understand New York City is not representative of the rest of the U.S., that it is in fact an island off the coast of Europe. I know New Yorkers are their own breed and that there are many breeds within the breed and that the same can be aptly said of Europeans. However, there are certain commonalities between the two cultures that are striking and that I have observed cause them to have similar bewilderment about life in Los Angeles. Surely there are differences, like New Yorkers being used to speed vs. Europeans who have never used delivery so why get worked up about the fact that it hardly exists and when it does takes so f’ing long? So, ok, sometimes the blog will be more relevant to one culture than the other, but I think you’ll find it is often a two birds, if not of a feather, of similar feathers, with one stone kind of deal.

The other element in the title that might have folks asking questions is the bit about “life beyond good bread.” This stems from the fact that a large number of people with whom I have spoken over the years here in L.A. admit to this place, compared to New York and much of Europe, not having very good bread. Simple. For example:

1. There’s the debate about pizza, which is in the bread category because of the crust, which seems to be a big issue for a lot of transplants. Some New Yorkers blame the water, some Italians blame the soil that grew the wheat or even some metaphysical lack of love of food in LA compared to the home country. The reality is that for many, being able to get guacamole, no cheese, or east asian pan-fry on top of their pizza doesn’t make up for the loss.

2. There’s the bagel discussion, namely that there’s just not the same great bagels here as in New York City, and even if there are places in L.A. that boast H and H, those bagels have most likely been frozen, and they’re still a specialty item as opposed to something the likes of which you can get on the fly almost anywhere in Manhattan. I can personally attest to the fact that I have never tasted anything that approaches the quality of my far West Village neighborhood favorite Hudson Bagels.

3. There’s the wistful look of people when they say I have been in France for the year and the Europeans who live here as they reminisce about the bread back home–the stuff that is a food, that was the staff of their life before they encountered a place where it wasn’t so, this place where bread is often even maligned for being the cause of unwanted bulges and worse (gasp), wheat allergies. Most will admit that it is rare but possible to find such bread in a few places in Manhattan (as opposed to, say, Paris, where it is quite common)–like Bouley. But is there a Bouley equivalent in LA? I certainly haven’t found it. I personally have yet to find a place where I can buy great bread here. La Brea Bakery was a revelation when it opened more than 20 years ago, but at that time, I was a kid who had never lived outside Los Angeles and didn’t know what real bread was, unless it was made at home. I suspect it was also better back then. It hadn’t mass produced to the point of being available at Ralph’s (a large grocery store chain for those of you who don’t frequent Los Angeles). Someone (a recent New York transplant) just recently recommended Joan’s on Third. Curious to hear opinions.

All that said, there is life in LA beyond good bread, and this website aims to help you find it.