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 dianemoss.blogspot.com). 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 guidetola.wordpress.com). Julie brings up a good point in her comment about cupcakes (see comments under "Shoes, No Socks" entry on guidetola.wordpress.com).
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 www.guidetola.wordpress.com)

Lucia (see Comment #6 from First post, "What's with the title…" on guidetola.wordpress.com–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 guidetola.wordpress.com)

Photo couresy of nybagelbox.com (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 guidetola.wordpress.com). 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’ĂȘtre)

(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 guidetola.wordpress.com --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.