Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Baby Birds in My Neighborhood

It was early am, on a drizzly late May morning in Echo Park. I sat trying to catch a picture of the teeny tiny itty bitty baby hummingbirds no larger than my thumb humming around the perimeter of our cul-de-sac.

Just a few days earlier a person amongst our group of friends was killed on his motorcycle just several hundred yards from this peaceful idyllic perch.

Rest in peace, Gabe. I got nothing else today.

Hemingway's Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

When vacationing, there is nothing more that D enjoys than a late night cocktail and a cigar.

We discovered this lovely cigar lounge in Cabo called Hemingway's, where they have a lovely drinks menu, a massive and well stocked walk-in humidor, a large, festive patio and a tequila bar that in my experience in unrivaled.

All three nights we were in Cabo we visited Hemingway's. It wasn't just the cigars that drew us in. It was also the friendly staff and the complete absence of frat boy knuckleheads. Hemingway's closes early, to avoid the riff raff strolling in drunkenly. So if you want to sip a tequila and smoke a cubano, go before 10.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Corners of Los Angeles: What Has Craigslist Done For You?

The concept for this series came to me a couple of weeks ago, sitting in the passenger seat, camera in hand, stopped in traffic. If one has the leisure of paying more attention to their surroundings than the traffic signs and signals, one has the ability to watch flow of humanity through an intersection in urban Los Angeles, or record what gives neighborhoods character in such a vast concrete universe. The concept has come to fruition partially at the request of my friend living in Iceland, and our mutual wonder at the stark contrast between the bloggy observations that can occur in her world versus the type that occur in mine.

So, installation one.

At the corner of Sunset Blvd and Siverlake, heading down the hill from the boulevard and into deep Silverlake. I was dying to get out of the car and scribble all the wonderful things Craigslist has done for me, but alas, the light turned green.

Saturday Evening at the Esperanza in Cabo San Lucas

On Saturday evening, we headed to Esperanza, one of the top luxury resorts, to check out the grounds and watch the sun set. This place had the security of Fort Knox. Our taxi was stopped at the front gates far from the top of the driveway (and by far, I mean about a mile and a half). Our names were requested to check against the guest list of the resort. When the guard discovered we were not guests we were durn close to turned away. We informed him we simply wanted to explore the property as part of planning our next trip to Cabo and wanted to walk the grounds a have a drink. The guard had to call and ask permission, write our names down and the name and licence plate of our driver. WHEW!

Now the Esperanza is an Auberge property, and at least from the short view I had, all that an Auberge property entails. We had a beautiful walk around the main common area and took in the view over the balcony. Far below lies The Restaurant, sitting on the edge of the world as the Pacific Ocean splashes salty sea spray on the far tables. This was so beautiful I took several identical photographs.

We made our way to El Bar, and brought our champagne to the fire pit.

We unknowingly sat next to Emmet Smith and his wife, who were immediately accosted and harassed by a woman from Ohio with bright green eye shadow and a matching dress. Eventually, Emmet's party moved to the bar so they could converse without the interloper commenting on their every word. They were amazingly gracious. I suppose one develops that skill as celebrity develops. Many pro-footballers were in town for Eli Manning's wedding. There were rumors of parties thrown by NFL players all around the town and all the single women who had been invited were giggling with glee.

At the airport, I saw Peyton Manning from afar and convinced myself that he is short. D walked by him nonchalantly to give me some perspective on Peyton's height, and he is indeed about 6'4" or so. Not short. This is D standing back to back with Peyton.

I live in Los Angeles, and star sightings are not few nor are they far between. Frankly, most celebrities hold little interest for me. A professional athlete, though? Now that is a superhero. A god or goddess among humans. For this I will allow my jaw to drop and my pulse to race, if just for a mid-western minute.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time. ~Steven Wright

When living in a city entirely based on car culture (exceptions given to Critical Mass groups and those subject to public transportation), we see our neighborhoods in a very particular and distanced way. Driving by quickly, through the windshield or side window, abstracted by whatever weighs most heavily on our minds at any given drive-by moment. Last Friday we did a walk about with our friend A in our own neighborhood, and not only had a wonderful hot summer evening kind of time, but saw things from a very different vantage point.

The magical realism of our local liquor store is both a landmark and a beacon.

One of many of the Los Burritos chain:

No one in a car would know they have a mascot. Go figure.

The Gold Room. One of the last local hold outs against the encroaching hipsters. Is there a reason the word "roach" is embedded within the word "encroach"?

I never even knew this taco truck was here. And it was here three nights last week. It is just far enough off the boulevard that it might fly under an autoists radar.

Apparently, time travel is for sale in Echo Park. Where or when do YOU want to go?

The Echo. The current heart of indie music in Los Angeles.

Is there a subliminal message here? Purposefully, or just coincidence? And what is the message?

And finally, we arrive at Taix. The best French sports bar I have ever been to.

Playing at Taix that night was this woman, whose name escapes me. Her music is a lovely little cross between Jewel and Hope Sandoval.

Next act up, Fifty Cent Haircut. They were great. I would buy a CD.

An Anniversary at Ella in Sacramento

Randall Selland is a much needed culinary maverick in Sacramento, Ca. He initially opened the wonderful Selland's market on H Street between mid-town and the Sac State neighborhoods. Selland's has a gourmet deli with reliably delicious prepared foods, a small grocery section and a small but impressive boutique wine shop.

Next, he spearheaded the opening of The Kitchen restaurant on Hurley Ave. The Kitchen offers demonstration dinners, with only one seating a night serving a maximum of 50 people. The Kitchen is renowned for the quality of its ingredients, the execution of its menu and the attentive and personal service. It is now considered to be the best restaurant on Sacramento, and high on the list of destination restaurant in all of California.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the night we met, the Dear Husband (DH) and I decided to dine at Ella, the third star on Selland's expanding constellation of exciting offerings in Sacramento. Ella is located downtown in the least seediest section of rundown K Street mall, right around the corner from both of Sacramento's nicest hotels, the Hyatt and the Sheraton Grand. Because I knew I was going to be in town on business for an entire week around this special date, I made the reservations more than a month in advance. We were so much more than not disappointed.

The atmosphere and decor of Ella is a cross between a Parisian Street market and the lobby of the Delano hotel in South Beach, Miami. Sheer white curtains hang from the ceiling, imparting a fresh breeziness to the open room and high ceilings.

The upper walls and ceilings are covered in purposefully shabby shutters of various dark shades. Large, stacked work tables at various places are covered with baskets of cutlery, piles of linen, and glass jars of lovely white flowers. We dined close to one of the worktables, and the heady smell of stock was a lovely late-springtime influence on the atmosphere.

To start our meal, we shared halibut, shrimp and scallop ceviche with wild arugula and yucca chips. Wonderful, light and acidic just the way a ceviche should be and well balanced by the sweet starchiness of the yucca chips. You don't see any yucca chips because the DH inhaled them.

The grilled calamari with garlic marinade and potato radicchio salad followed. The squid had some nice spice on the outside which made them ever so slightly spicy, and the potato salad was very very simple. You could really taste the potato, they were not drowned in a vinegary sauce or a heavy mayo. And the dish had a perfect tube to tentacle ratio on the plate.

On to the main event! If there is ever a side dish of artichokes anywhere near a restaurant I am eating in, I must have them. I must. I ♥ artichokes! And this side dish was delectable. Baby spring artichokes with monte olive oil, garlic, thyme and basil. There was some foam. In any restaurant worth its salt these days, there is foam. Foamy, foamy foam.

For a main curse, DH ordered the beautiful halibut. This halibut was served pan roasted with a nice crispiness, with giant rock shrimp, dill and English pea tortellini. This was just a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. I liked it very much.

I ordered the Petaluma chicken breast. I know the rule of thumb when eating at a restaurant known for stellar cuisine is to NOT order chicken. But, but, but. I love chicken. And our waiter assured me the chicken here is a sleeper hit, cooked sous vide with fava beans, English peas and wild mushrooms. It was tender, it was juicy, the accompaniments were yummy. It tasted just like chicken. Good chicken.

If you have been following my blog, you have know that I have recently eaten in some great restaurants with mixed reviews. Some important element has gone awry the last few times. Happily, Ella was firing on all cylinders. The food was breathtaking and the service could not have been more perfect. Our waiter was attentive and amusing but not overly present. He timed each course to perfection and kept the champagne ice cold and the glasses just full enough. I wish I remembered his name because I would like to write a letter to the manager telling them what great job he did and how much I enjoyed his service. It was truly a perfect evening in every way.

And the Lakers won. It doesn't get better than this.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Furiously Seasoning

No, this is not a food post. This is a shameless plug for a wonderful new band called the Furious Seasons. A small 3-piece at this point, although they are toying with adding a drummer. Their self titled CD has already won critical acclaim and a small following of fans.

A video for my personal favorite song, A Painful Filling below, was produced and directed by Ray Chang.

An acoustic session was filmed in the writer/singer/lead guitarist's house, with two videos and a short interview conducted by The Black Watch's John Frederick.

So Long Great City:

Put It Down:

The interview:

This is a shameless plug and a completely subjective and unabashed adoration of this new band because the second guitarist, Jeff, is my brother in law. The violinist, Ray, is my tennis coach. And the singer/song writer/lead guitar is none other than my dear husband.

Enjoy! (Or don't, whatever.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Egg Poaching: A Personal Specialty

I have seen and used a variety of egg poaching devices. Ultimately, the poached eggs I am happiest with are the ones that I cook the most simply. Using one small pan, a bath of very hot but not boiling water and splashes of aged balsamic vinegar. My simple step-by-step process follows.

Start with a small pan, about the size and shape of a crepe pan. Fill with water and bring to a rolling boil, preferably on gas. After it comes to a rolling boil, turn the heat down and wait til the water is barely without movement.

Add a couple splashes of aged balsamic. I use this because it both keeps the egg whites from feathering and adds a beautiful flavor, even without salt. Next, drop in your eggs gently. This morning I used two extra large organic free range brown eggs. I frivolously bought these at Whole Foods and they are beautiful specimens.

I like to let the white set before messing with the eggs. Then to get the top part cooked, you can either baste the top by tossing hot water over the top of the egg or you can gently flip the eggs using a wide slotted spoon.

Eggs cooked with balsamic do have a funny brown balsamic scuzz on them, but it is really delicious and goes nicely with any savory dish. These would be nice for eggs benedict, or for supper with a tossed green salad. I ate this egg on its own with a sprinkling of sea salt, as a remedy to my post Mother's Day eve hangover. They say simply cooked eggs are one of the best hangover remedies you can eat.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Flipping Out for One Kid, One World

Let me introduce you to the beautiful and much commented upon flip flops handmade by a women's cooperative in Africa. These are sturdy, beautiful and unique. I have started to wear mine out and about now that spring hath sprung, and I receive at least one envying comment on them every single time.

green & white beading on my bizarrely short, wide feet

Tracy McCubbin of One Kid, One World brought back these stunningly lovely flip flops from her last trip to Kenya. She is now making these available on a donation basis to anyone acquainted or connected with One Kid, One World, her organization that works to help children in war torn and poverty stricken areas of the world. For more information on the organization and upcoming events, please navigate to their website:

black & white

Now, about those flips! I suggest you get them while you can from Tracy, because a buyer for a currently unmentionable shoe website is getting ready to place a wholesale order. This will make the flips more expensive and your shoe fetish funds will not be funneled through One Kid, One World. Ultimately, either way these shoes support a worthy cause.

gold & black

If you are interested in a pair, please email me. For now you can procure a pair of these in any one of the three color combinations shown above for your $40 donation. These can be a little hard to break in at first, being that the bottom is made of used tire. However, given several short wearing sessions, these literally mold to your feet and become incredibly comfy AND beautiful. Patience is a virtue, and so is beautiful footwear.

Saddle Peak Lodge in the Springtime

When I am writing a review of a restaurant and I have mixed comments I always wonder whether to start with the good or the bad. On the one hand, the bad always colors the rest of the review and if there is something spectacular I don't always want that overshadowed. On the other hand, I wouldn't want any of my 2 readers to feel that a failure on the part of the restaurant was dismissable. As I sit here and consider our Mother's Day Eve meal at the Saddle Peak Lodge, I am weighing how I want this review to be read, and what I want my 2 readers to take away from the review. Because literally every single morsel that entered my mouth was so sublime, I decide to lead with what worked last night. The food worked.

The first food brought to our table was an amuse-bouche, a pureed roast tomato soup. I could have licked the inside of the cup. Other diners were served theirs in a test tube-like container. They must not own enough to have one for everyone when the restaurant is full. I like to think that the demi-tasse actually provided me with more soup than the schmantzy test tube. Deep thoughts.

For starters, we shared two orders of the Santa Barbara spotted prawns with grilled ramps (the culinary equivalent of the Snuffaluffagus) on a bed of lovingly olive oil dressed arugula. Ramps? Always lovely. Prawns? Grilled just right, tender and butterflied for easy access. But the stand out flavor in that appie was the high quality olive oil on the arugula.

For mains, both D and Mom ordered the flat iron steak. The components of this dish were both creative and toothsome. However, the three components seemed like separate dishes, as opposed to one unified offering. But still, so SO good. Quebracho wood grilled prime angus flat iron steak, cooked to perfection. They do not make the mistake of undercooking the meat at Saddle Peak like the kitchen does at many carnivorous restaurants. It was served with a marrow bone. (D gave me his, he is afraid of anything this exotic.) The marrow had been taken out and mixed with a touch of pureed potato, stirred to a whipped consistency, then poured back into the bone. We were thoughtfully provided a spoon to scoop out this wonderful liquid, but the spoons should have been smaller or my tongue should have been longer, as I couldn't quite get every last droplet. Also on the plate was a creamed swiss chard, which I thought a stellar choice to replace the ubiquitous steakhouse creamed spinach. The texture is heartier and the flavor more robust than spinach, yet still has the same effect on the plate. The Yukon potato, bacon and comte terrine was basically layers of potato, bacon and cheese. Nom.

On my supper plate was the Chef’s wild game trio. Moving from left to right, elk, quail and buffalo. Although I was informed my dish did not come with sides, each of the three were well accompanied with the following: elk paired with wild mushrooms, quail atop pureed potatoes, buffalo with spinach. Perfection. This dish, moreso than the flat iron steak, seemed like a complete piece as opposed to separate components. I ordered it cooked to the chef's suggestion, medium-rare, and found medium-rare at Saddle Peak to be exactly to my liking whereas in many steakhouses medium-rare is a touch too bloody for me. I ate everything on my plate except the quail bones.

All of our food was splendiforous. The setting was so lovely. We were escorted to a patio table under the trees without asking.

A heat lamp was provided at exactly the right temperature to keep us warm but not too toasty. We watched the sun set over the Calabasas hills, and enjoyed the warm glow from inside the beautiful dining room after dark.

I hate to malign such a wonderful experience with complaints and negativity so I will keep it brief. Our server sucked. It was never the message that she gave that sucked so much as the method of delivery. She was short to the point of rudeness and informative in a darn close to hostile manner. From start to finish, I was shocked that she has a job at Saddle Peak or anywhere else where they clearly care so much about their diner's experience. This review is an interesting juxtaposition of the review of Providence. I found the food at Providence during my recent visit unremarkable, but the service made the experience so wonderful I will surely overlook the lackluster food and visit again soon. And also here, angry, inattentive and deceptive service will not keep me away from Saddle Peak. If I am approached by the same server next time I will simply ask for another. Saddle Peak is not to be missed on any possible opportunity to dine there. My only regret is that it is too far away to pop in for a casual mid-week meal, and that the bar area is really too small to eat in.