Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 47: Cafe Habana, Malibu

Finding ourselves childless for the day, Mark and I decided to drive up to Malibu and have lunch.  The drive was gorgeous -- the surfers and paddle surfers were making the most of a good swell before the next barrage of rain comes.  We parked in the cross creek shopping center on the south side, where massive renovation is underway.  We walked across to the fancy new Cross Creek shops, where the lumberyard used to be.  It is still referred to as the lumberyard, even though it is an incredibly posh collection of shops and restaurants and there is no lumber anywhere in sight.  Cafe Habana is situated in among Tori Burch, Kitson, and James Perse.  It is lovely, with casual beachy/tropical decor - a large heated patio and an indoor restaurant with a bar that has a lot of history (it was imported from Deadwood, S.D.)  We were seated right away on the patio, thank god because I really needed some caffeine and some food.  The name puzzled me -- threw me off a little bit because I was expecting Cuban food, but we were presented with chips and salsa and a menu that was 95% Mexican fare.  The bottom line is, I didn't really care.  The iced tea was OK.  (Marmalade on Montana Avenue still has the best.)  The fish tacos were good.  They came just in time.  I ordered mine with no cream sauce, Mark had his with the works.  He raved about them, but wasn't sure if it was really the tacos or just the fact that he was starving, and so happy to have them.  The restaurant choices are pretty limited in Malibu, so I'm happy to know Habana is there, and look forward to going back again soon.  Maybe we'll have a mojito at that Deadwood bar, right after we buy an $800 outfit at Ralph Lauren's RRL boutique...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 46: Aquarium

Today Kalli and I drove 25 minutes south, took Beckett and Giacomo to Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.  When the kids were younger we were members here.  It's a great place to go and while away 2 or 3 hours checking out the amazing exhibits.  And when you're a member you don't feel compelled to stay for any length of time -- you can just pop in for an hour or two when you need to get out of the house and the kids need some entertainment.

The aquarium has so many incredible displays: Southern California/Baja, Tropical Pacific Gallery, Sea Otter Habitat, Lorikeet Forest, etc.  My son's favorite is Shark Lagoon, where kids can touch tiger sharks and stingray.  Down the ramp there is a huge window to view all the big guys -- Black-tipped reef shark, sand tiger, saw fish, and a few other ominous looking medium-size sharks.  This is a picture of Beckett and Giacomo watching the big guys: 


In Lorikeet Forest kids can carry a cup of nectar, and the birds come right up to you (one landed on my head!)  -- they are not shy.  We saw a Sea Lion show, watched the adorable Sea Otters rolling around and playing together, and checked out massive crabs, tiny, spiny dragonfish, jellyfish, sea anemonies.  We simulated whale sounds on a machine.  We got sucked into the gift shop, where I told Beckett he could spend some of his Christmas money if he wanted.  He bought a mood necklace, Giacomo got a shark tooth necklace and then the guys flattened out a penny with the impression of a dragonfish on it.  Our day was complete.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 46: Abbott Kinney

Named for the conservationist and developer who developed "Venice of America" complete with a pier, canals and gondoliers, Abbott Kinney was quite a character, and the street Abbott Kinney is now an eccentric, charming part of Venice.  It is far and away my favorite street in Los Angeles.  There are galleries, restaurants, junk shops, chic boutiques.  But the quirkiness and the charm of the artsy/grungy side of Venice hasn't been lost - as chic and groovy as it has become, it still has a lot of flavor.  I love the run-down house next to Lilly and Primitivo with various kids and cats in the yard. This is not the white-washed stroller-pushing crowd of Montana Avenue, it's a little artsier and funkier.

Lauren is in town visiting from Brooklyn, and now that the airports are closed down on the east coast due to a huge blizzard, she is staying at least another 3 days.  We strolled around Abbott Kinney, getting a coffee at Abbott's Habit.  We walked South to E Cookie, a great boutique for lingerie, jewelry, and pretty blouses.  Across the street to Surfing Cowboys, an unusual vintage shop with old skateboards, surfboards, stools made of driftwood, mid-century modern funky furniture that you would picture in some cool couple's house in Laurel Canyon in their sunk-in living room in 1965.  Lauren bought a couple of cute tee shirts and considered a Farrah Fawcett collage that ultimately she realized might not be the most practical item to transport home.  We strolled around some more and wound up at Gjelina with my friend Nnogo.  Ahh, Gjelina - the smell of cheese, the cute young waiters, the funky lighting fixtures, the crowded uber-trendy (not easy to get a reservation these days, but I managed to get an 8:00 table).  We shared burrata, lentils, squid -(Lauren got the last order - it made her night) sublime mushroom pizza, a bottle of cab, a sick butterscotch dessert that could put you into renal failure -- just the saltiest, sweetest, most buttery bowl of perfection...I'm still salivating just thinking about it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 45: Ice/Tavern

Our good friends who moved away to Fargo came back for some sunshine (we had 48 hours of it!)  We took our buddy Jack to ICE to break him in, as it was his first time ice skating.  Jack was a trooper -- he got right back up every time he took a spill, and did not seem to be fazed by getting completely soaked.  Christmas eve Mark and I snuck out with another friend visiting from Brooklyn who is a real foodie (she's a producer on the Food Network).  We took her to Tavern in Brentwood,in the former Hamburger Hamlet space on San Vicente.  It's a lot fancier now. Tavern is a collaboration between chef Susan Goin and Caroline Styne. It is divided up into three rooms: the larder (the casual take-away area), the bar and the atrium that are less casual.  My husband wasn't thrilled with the limited menu (we sat in the bar area) but between the regular menu and the bar menu we ordered a bunch of tapas style dishes to share, as well as a few main courses, and we all thoroughly enjoyed dinner.  The bacon wrapped dates were decadent and delicious.  The shrimp were delicate, cooked perfectly.  Lauren ordered gnocci to share, prepared in a rich sort of gravy with tongue (so not anything I would have ever ordered --) well it was delicious.  We ordered a syrah from Sonoma (can't remember the name) that I really loved.  The crowd was a very mixed bag that night -- a couple came in and sat next to us wearing matching fuzzy santa hats that I would probably be pretty embarrassed to be seen in outside of a second-grade play.  Home to power wrap some massive Nerf guns and shields, a football, a few books and assorted boy loot and stick them under the tree.  All in all, a great Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 44: ZJ Boarding House

ZJ Boarding House is one of the coolest stores in Los Angeles, maybe the world.  This place not only has a clientele, it has its own subculture.  I love those movies about the early days of skateboarding (Lords of Dogtown, Dog Town and Z Boys) chronicling the culture of the 70's, the inception of skateboarding, the creation of the actual boards, and the lives of the eccentric, charming, talented guys who rode (Stacey Peralta, Tony Alva, Bob Biniak).  I was one of those kids in the 70's, but many miles away in New York, riding from the top of our town to the bottom with a troop of long haired boys who were part of my posse.  I wasn't amazing, or famous, but I sure was having fun!  We - Charlie, Dave, Paul, Evan, Eric and I, lined our boards up against the wall in Dave Callahan's house, grabbing them one by one (ala rifles in "SWAT") and rode down Dave's driveway, down Calumet, down Villard, zig-zagging our way down to the Hudson River.  People would yell at us and say, "get out of there, boys!"  I was quite offended every time.  Our parents grew grey hairs worrying.  We were having the time of our lives.

Today, I went to ZJ Boarding House with my boys.  Beckett was so excited because Grandmom is buying him a new board, which he gets to custom design.  We were helped by a gentleman named Florine ("Flo") who helped Beckett select a board, trucks, wheels, and screws.  It was really neat to see him take the non-stick surface stuff, adhere it to the board, drill holes, attach the trucks, screws, and wheels.  For a child to whom choice is very important, this was an awesome interactive experience.  All throughout the assembly, Flo chatted with us about all the different skate experiences he had, cool skate parks, some of which his friends helped design.  He pointed out the dude behind us chatting with his friend loitering around and said he rode for ZJ's team and won in a category of the X-Games.  Aidan and Beckett were in awe.  It's all come full circle now - Beckett will be the one having the time of his life, and I will be the one worrying.  Still, seeing the joy on his face as he strode out of the store with his new board, we were all jazzed.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 43: Savon - I mean CVS

Today, Joni and the kids and I made gingerbread houses, as is our annual tradition.  I bought the candy at CVS (used to be Savon).  I don't have much to say about CVS.  When my sister and I were fighting my mother used to say, if you don't have anything pleasant to say, then don't say anything at all.  So, about CVS I say nothing at all.  I used the candy I bought there to give the kids for these creations.  After we left Joni's house the rain FINALLY let up, and I shot this rainbow from my front porch.  Tomorrow I'm hoping to break out my sunglasses!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 42: The Aero Theater

I love the Aero Theater.  In the middle of gentrified Montana Avenue, the poshest shopping strip in Santa Monica, sits the funky old Aero.  It's not modern, the popcorn's not great, the movies range from cool to cult classic, to totally avant garde foreign films.  In truth, I seldom get to go to any of these groovy events.  But I love that the Aero is there, offering cultural fare that flies in the face of Disney and the big Hollywood theater chains that are governed by box office.  Here are a sampling of some of their shows for December:

Thursday, December 27:30 PM EXPERIMENT IN TERROR & DIE! DIE! DARLING with Stefanie Powers In Person
Friday, December 37:30 PM APPLAUSE with Paprika Steen In Person
Saturday, December 47:30 PM THE SEVEN SAMURAI
Sunday, December 54:00 PM THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Wednesday, December 87:30 PM SOUTH OF THE BORDER with Oliver Stone In Person
Thursday, December 97:30 PM WHERE THE DAY TAKES YOU (IFTA Anniversary)
Friday, December 107:30 PM GOODFELLAS & MEAN STREETS

I once took the boys to see Fiddler on the Roof when they were 5 and 8.  Although we didn't make it all the way through to the end, it was pretty fantastic.  Hopefully over winter break we will make it to at least one show. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 41: Kate Mantilini

OK we're two days into Christmas break, it's been pouring for days and I'm all out of ideas.  So today I took two hungry boys, cashed in a gift card I've had in my purse for a year, and drove to Beverly Hills, to Kate Mantilini.  Kate Mantilini is a classic Hollywood watering hole, which has withstood a shaky economy because it has high-end comfort food, and the quality has always been great.  On the front of the menu it reads: "Kate Mantilini was my Uncle Rob's mistress in the 40's.  She was a fight promoter.  My mother said (before she passed), How could you name this wonderful restaurant after such a terrible woman?  My husband, Harry, said, 'No one will be able to spell it!'" ~Marilyn Lewis.  Russell and Aidan raved about the excellent mac and cheese.  The waiter re-filled their Sprite and Arnold Palmer right away-- they were thrilled. I had one of the best sandwiches I can remember, lemon chicken on rosemary grilled bread which came with a tri-colore salad.  There was an actor/comedian at the next table whose name I couldn't think of.  It's still bugging me.  

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day 40: Main Attraction

At the Main Attraction on Main Street in Santa Monica you can get a manicure/pedicure and sit in a massage chair for $25.  Coming from New York, this is inexplicably cheap.  Not that it really seems like a huge bargain, but in New York for some reason it is twice as much, and you may or may not get that massage chair.  Lots of things go on in the back room - you can get waxed, plucked, threaded.  I didn't go to the Main Attraction today, but my toes looked so gnarled yesterday in yoga, with their patches of leftover polish from 2 months ago, it was really taking away my focus.  I hope to go tomorrow.  It's right across the street and down a block from Panini Garden.  And also in the same block as Ritual Adornments.  Good block.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 39: Ramen

I was driving through the vast cultural wasteland that is Sherman Oaks as I left my accountant's office, and wondering what I could blog about.  Then I saw it.  A sign for ramen.  My son Aidan and I are a little obsessed with ramen.  I told him I am not going to worry about him in college at all now that I know he knows how to make his own ramen.  I hung a hard right into the mini-mall and pulled up to Koraku Ramen.  The menu was really interesting.  I thought about ordering the Tenshin Men - a shrimp omelette with ramen over a soy-sauce based soup.  This entree would combine my love of eggs, and shrimp, and ramen...sounded too good to be true.  It might be really weird and disappointing...I wavered.  I started to realize that almost every other item on the menu had pork, which sort of bummed me out (I have never been a fan of the "other" white meat.)  The waitress informed me they could make any dish without pork.  Whew!  I ended up ordering the House Special ramen, which had all sorts of exotic vegetables in it, and eel to boot.  When I got to the car (I'm a big car eater,) I realized this is possibly the least driving-friendly meal, but I had to get over the hill on the good ol 405, so this is just the reality I had to deal with.  I also realized I couldn't chow down on much of this soup right now because it was piping, piping hot.  After a few sips I decided the flavors were great.  And then I saw the side container which I opened up - the ramen is separate!  I was loving the ramen bowl, and i hadn't even added the ramen yet.  Needless to say, after the ramen was added it was a perfect bowl of food.  I slurped a little before I got on the freeway.  Over the hill, after I got off at Wilshire (doh, should have gotten off at Sunset and avoided all this congestion) at a red light I slurped a little more.  At my next appointment I slurped up even more, never even getting halfway through the takeout tub.  I can't wait to go back to Koraku.  I'm starting to like the Valley. A little.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 38: Palisades lights

Beckett and I took these pictures on the way home from the Palisades tonight.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 37: Main Street Farmer's Market

We've been coming to the Sunday farmer's market on Main Street in Santa Monica for years.  When the boys were little they used to ride the ponies.  They used to climb the trees - now it's not allowed because the poor trees couldn't take it anymore.  Now we settle down on our blanket with omelets and pancakes from the Omelet man and the pancake people.  The pancakes are fluffy and delicious, and as big as your head.  Afterward, I like to shop around and load up on veggies.  There are flowers, tamales, luscious heirloom tomatoes (not in the winter, but when they are in season).  There are almonds, dates, figs, excellent homemade cheese -- Sunday I bought sage cheddar.  There are eggs, mushrooms, a great coffee and tea stand with 5 or 6 different varieties of hot coffee.  My son always snickers when he sees "Bitches Brew."  There is live music which is usually a child-friendly sort of peppy/folksy group that the little kiddies like to dance to.  There are lots that offer Farmer's market parking down on the beach, and if you bike over, there is a free bike check.  Sometimes, since L.A. is not a walking city, nor is it a city with decent public transportation, it can be a little alienating.  But coming to the Main Street farmer's market is on top of my list for things that really make Santa Monica feel like a community.  It's a place where people interact, and smile.  Oh, I forgot to mention the man with the mini pecan pies - a round three inches of heaven on a plate.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 36: Fig

Autumn offered to turn me on to happy hour at Fig so I would have material for my blog.  Twist my arm.  The stars aligned as I happened to be free from 5:00 to 7:00.  Fig is a lovely bar/restaurant inside the Fairmont hotel on Wilshire and Ocean (Fig's entrance is on 2nd Street) that opened about a year ago. I love the comfort factor - instead of a formal restaurant, the management has gone with a casual place that's part wine bar, part California bistro. The chef is Ray Garcia, whose focus here is fresh, local ingredients.

The happy hour deal starts at 5:00.  The technique is to order up a storm before 6:00 and everything is half price. Drinks, and anything on the menu. We sat at a tall communal bar table.  We didn't want to sit at the bar, because as Autumn pointed out there is a big cheese platter selection (you can order a set flight of cheeses or create your own flight) but if you sit too close it starts to get a little smelly.  After you've ordered before the stroke of 6:00 you are free to linger and enjoy your spread. Kalli and Rose joined us and continued ordering where Autumn and I left off.  We had a drink, some cheese, bread, olives, which snowballed into croquettes, potato dumplings, a beet salad, a charcuterie plate, and a few mozzarella balls.  We got caught up, laughed about the smelly cheese, and getting caught on camera speeding tickets (the ultimate L.A. nightmare!) We toasted Rose on the eve of her birthday.  Mark has a deadline to meet, so I had to leave at 7:15 to go home and help him with the boys.  Also, this semi-lactose-intolerant gal had overdosed on cheese, and it was time to go home and have some peppermint tea and detox.  Nikita showed up just in time to take over where I left off.  Great company, amazing eats, damn good wine.  I was sorry to leave.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 35: Panini Garden

Writers are always looking for an office.  Aka, a totally casual place where they can loiter for hours un-noticed and undisturbed, while ordering little or nothing.  This means self-serve.  And NOT Starbucks - that's my husband's office.  Today I made it Panini Garden, one of my favorites.  I was a little bummed out to see their prices went up (9.50 for a panini).  I must say though I ate that thing so damn slow I almost stretched it out to two meals.  The front patio and indoor cafe are cozy, but the garden out back is so charming it's a Merchant Ivory film.  There are pebbles, cafe tables in the sun, a fountain.  The only thing missing is Helena Bonham Carter chasing after a blonde society boy.  I usually order a Tachino - turkey, mozz, tomato and avocado on rustico bread, with an iced tea.  You have to scoop the ice with a scooper out of an ice chest and get the iced tea yourself, so you sort of feel like you're at a house party.  I like a partial sun/shade table so when I'm getting too hot I can shift.  When I'm writing and I'm completely blocked it's a great place to eavesdrop.  And yes, in case you were wondering, everything I do revolves around food.
2715 Main Street
                                                                Santa Monica, CA 90405

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day 34: Mother's Beach

Today was a total weather fluke.  My 8 year old was invited to a party on the beach in Marina del Rey at Mother's Beach, just behind the Cheesecake Factory.  Who could have planned a more perfect day?  It is warmer today than it's been in months.  82 and sunny in the Marina.  There was volleyball, digging and volcano building, the kids had an impromptu mud fight, tug of war, and they all ended up in the water. As if all that wasn't enough, there was pizza, bbq, and a pinata.  The birthday boy, Peter took one final whack at Spongebob -- candy and little rubber gekkos rained down.  I am afraid to google the dirtiest beaches in L.A...I'm sure Mother's Beach, nested right in the marina with dozens of boats coming and going all day, is right up there on the schmutz-ometer.  I didn't want to be the only mother at the party saying my kid can only go in in a Hazmat suit.  So I let him play.  Let's just say he was ordered into a hot shower to do a surgical scrub when we came home.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 33: The Nutcracker

It's hard to sell two boys on the ballet.  Every year our friends the Novaks invite us to see Molly dance in the Westside Ballet's production of the Nutcracker at the Wadsworth theater, and every year we never seem to make it.  This year I vowed I would take my sons to see the show.  We rallied with Dana and Liv, made it in a nick of time (OK, we were late, but we almost made it in time).  

The Westside Ballet's production of The Nutcracker is a Los Angeles tradition 
The magical treedating back to 1973. Brought to life by falling snow and a Christmas tree that grows, Westside Ballet's Nutcracker is not only the longest running Nutcracker production in Los Angeles history — it's the closest to George Balanchine's original version in quality, integrity, and musicality.
I thought Beckett would really like it and Aidan would be luke warm, but it was the other way around.  Beckett, who stayed up too late at a sleepover lost interest early on, but Aidan stuck with it.  He really appreciated Molly's talent, even if there were moments when he was ready for the ballet to be over.  There was one dance where the ballerinas moved so swiftly up on their toes (which you could not see underneath the long costumes) Aidan said it looked like they were gliding on wheels.   Liv and Dana loved it.  As for me, I have always had a thing for Tchaikovsky's music, and for this show.  It was great to see all the younger kids getting to take part, and the more mature, experienced dancers who took center stage were very graceful and gifted.  Molly has danced in this production for several years, and has developed into quite a talented and poised performer.  It was a treat to watch her.  The show was a heavy dose of holiday confection.  I have sugar plum fairies dancing in my head.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 32: Bay Cities Deli

I would argue that Bay Cities Deli is the best Italian deli outside of Italy.  This Santa Monica establishment is so popular, when you come and take a number at lunchtime you will find you are knee deep in people who had the same idea.  You look, sadly, at the number counter and it reads "43" and your ticket says "52."  But don't despair, the guys who work behind that counter are pros, and they are fast.  The wait is usually not bad.

Bay Cities is great for lunch (they have outdoor tables, if you like dining al fresco on fugly Lincoln Blvd.), they have take-out, and they cater for any party or event you can imagine.  Apart from the amazing deli (marinated mushrooms, hot and cold Italian fare, amazing heroes to order on fresh-made bread), there is a whole store packed with jars, cans, and bottles of all different products, domestic and Italian.  There is a refrigerated section with homemade pastas and sauces.  There is a houseware section with great gadgets, dish towels, utensils and pretty provincial Italian ceramics.  The cheese counter is the bomb.  And there is a whole wine shop to boot.  I could spend an hour in this store easily.  Before my husband determined that he is a celiac and can have no gluten, he used to live for the Godmother sandwich.  A hero piled high with provolone, mortadella, salami, and five different other kinds of meat which I have blanked out.  Today I put together a care package to take to a girlfriend who had a little minor surgery -- some chocolate covered cherries to cheer her up, peppermint tea, honey, and breadsticks.  For myself, a chicken hero, provolone, lettuce, tomato, oil and vinegar.  And that bread.  I dream about that bread...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 31: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker

My son, Beckett and I were treated today to a great field trip (I chaperoned) to UCLA's Royce Hall to see the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker with 2 third grade classes.  We arrived at UCLA and Beckett announced I am going to play basketball here.  We waited outside with all the fidgety third graders, along with kids from other schools, excited for the show to start.  The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker is Debbie Allen's updated, funky twist on the old holiday tradition. The show was spectacular.  Narrated by three wise-cracking rats (Debbie Allen plays one, and the kid who used to play Urkel plays another rat) the show starts out with little Kara, who receives a nutcracker on Christmas Eve, filled with hot chocolate.  In the night the nutcracker comes alive, and he is fabulous - leading her on a global journey featuring dances from New Orleans, Russia, Egypt, and the urban streets of the USA.  Beckett's favorite number by far was a group of candy cane boys, including the tiniest member of the troop who looks to be about 4 years old, who did breakdancing and hip hop moves.  The choreography was fantastic.  The show was getting a few kinks out - they are performing for schools today, tomorrow they have their gala, then performing on the 10th for schools.  On December 11th they have two shows for the public at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.  They ran long - we actually had to drag the kids out before the show ended because we were running so late and did not want to have to pay the City of Santa Monica for overtime for the bus!


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 30: mini-mall nirvana

To counter the big box, corporate football-field largeness of Costco, across the street there is a mini-mall on Washington Bl. just West of Walgrove that has three excellent (and cheap!) restaurants.  The first is one I frequent - Tamara's Tamales.  Tamara started making tamales as a young girl. Her grandmother and other church ladies made tamales every Saturday to sell after Sunday mass. "I loved the process, the ladies and the environment, the sales, and mostly learning how to make them properly and well." And well she does.  With everything from chicken mole tamales, Nacatamal, Spinach mushroom to dessert tamales like pumpkin and cinnamon.  Get a dozen or so to go, put them in the fridge or the freezer and you won't have to deal with the grocery store for at least a few days and everyone in your house will love you.

The Thai place, Celadon is good - I have tried their pad thai to go, but noticed the restaurant is actually really cute and inviting.  The third place my friend Kate told me about today is Fresh in the Box.  It's fresh, organic Japanese food, and I was excited to get a lunch special to go.  The food is fresh, and it does come in a box.  She's not lying. (She is the woman pictured - maybe the owner - not sure.  She waited on me today.)  The prices are great - rolls range from 4.25 to 6.75.  Full salads are 5.95, half salads are 3.25.  There are unusual categories on the menu: Healthy-mate box, calorie-mate box, Party-mate box.  On the front of the menu it says "Home of brown rice sushi, organic salads, natural raised chicken and pork, low calorie brown rice oil.
They offer catering and delivery.  
13354 Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90066