Wednesday, January 24, 2007

olson's scandinavian deli.

olson's scandinavian deli

my knowledge of things scandinavian is limited to furniture design and IKEA (i'm pretty sure the tack för besöket! on the receipt means "thanks for visiting" though); however, thanks to IKEA i've come to appreciate a good lingonberry or two, and a nice elderflower cordial. truthfully, i don't find myself...gravitating towards the culture of sweden, denmark, nor norway, but there is something quite appealing about what woefully little i do know about these countries and their respective culture, even if it's just a little tord boontje, a lot of moomintroll, and like, way too much sondre lerche.

i was fascinated, and way too thrilled, when i learned a few months ago that i live a hop, skip and a jump from a scandinavian deli. i didn't think something like this existed in my neighbourhood, and in fact has since the late 'sixties when bertil and helene ohlsson first set up shop on pico boulevard. olson's scandinavian delicatessen and gift shop is tucked up next to an auto body shop (really, what isn't in this certain stretch of pico?), in a building i must pass every day, but never noticed, despite the flags flying outside. i'm actually quite ashamed that i never noticed it before; everything about it screams for my attention--the handpainted signage in a vintage font, advertising a family run business specializing in foreign foods and possibly strange trinkets. really, it should have been like a siren's song. still, i'm glad i've finally found it.

olson's olson

the shop itself is divided in two sections--one that seems almost abandoned, with open boxes of various tinned and bottled food items, sitting next to christmas items, folk art, music cds, and more than a few dalahästs. there's half a dozen kinds of pickled herring, a chiller case with lefse potato bread, an entire shelf dedicated to salted licorice. the comestibles seem to have just come in, but some of the gift items look like they've been there for years; frankly, i could probably spend a couple years perusing all the odd items. there's a man in the corner who excitedly reverts from speaking english to possibly swedish when he sees a cod roe paste he's been looking for, gesturing to his friend that he might have to buy a case of the stuff. in the adjacent room there's a young man from the auto body shop, waiting for his sandwich from the deli to be made (a meat sarnie will only set you back $3.95, a meat and cheese combo $4.95). there's various cheeses, homemade liver paté and european-style cold cuts. the man behind the counter (mister olsson?) offers me a taste of the rullepølse, a danish spiced meat roll. it is fatty, but such a gorgeously thin slice of pork, cool and lightly herby, that i think that i will buy some for some open-faced sandwiches at a later time. i also pick up the house made pickled herring salad with beets, and a nice chunk of gjetost, a norwegian brown cheese made from goat's milk with an almost caramelized edge to it. i mosey on over to the chest freezer and open it; inside are dozens of hand labelled white paper packets of homemade meatloaf and swedish meatballs, potato sausages, frozen lingonberries, butter ring pastries and--just in time for christmas!--lutefisk. oh, where is lisa oslo foodie when you need her?? i pick up a coil of potato sausage ("a crazy minnesotan creation," i'm told), and will return later for some swedish meatballs. man cannot live on ikea swedish meatballs alone.

olson's notices

i love this place; there's an air of the run-down about it, but it still manages to have a healthy inventory. there's nothing manufactured about it--most of the signs are handwritten, the deli meats and cheeses are hand carved and individually weighed, and the folk behind the counter are friendly enough, knowledgeable, and there to serve you. while i was looking around, i became acutely aware that this wasn't a venture that would be passed on to another generation; when the owners pass on, olson's deli will probably just be another note in pico boulevard's history. i hope that day doesn't come soon; having just found it, i think of it as a treasure box of items i have yet to discover, and of spoken histories not yet told. the place wasn't exactly bustling, there seems to be a loyal clientele. i count myself as one of them.

olson's window

tack för besöket!

olson's delicatessen
5660 w. pico boulevard (x-street spaulding)
la 90019.

google mapped!

update: ryan at losanjealous is embarking on a quest to master pico boulevard. i add olson's to the list of all things pico.


Thursday, January 11, 2007


one of my favourite signs: the electric company's art-deco era neon sign on beverly drive, beverly hills.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

open all night: canter's.


when i was younger, we'd inevitably end up at canter's deli after a night of clubbing, enjoy a post-mortem of carbs and more carbs, sometimes stumble out at the break of dawn to sleep away the hangover. now it isn't the first late night choice it once was, and seems more like the actual hangover, but it still holds a place in my heart; no matter how long i've been away, the food always looks and mostly tastes the same, the decor remains untouched, and the same characters work there. everything--from the items in the bakery display to the barflies in the kibitz room--look like they've been there since the late fifties but in a completely unfaded way; they haven't been sitting there since then, i've just travelled back in time. or, time stops the minute you walk in the door. it's my own personal ghost world.

canter's deli counter

canter's bakery counter

look, there's enid. it's not the best bakery in town, but there's an appealing quality about the squares of cheesecake with the plasticky gloss of cherry filling, the giant bearclaws, and piles of crumb-dusted rugelach, marbled ryes, and coffee cakes. the main room is 'sixties naughahyde banquette and fluorescent lighting perfect, with waitresses who have worked there since then or longer, the crowd is still somewhat lively and convivial. the side room that leads to the lounge, however, is another story. still vinyl-boothed and artificially lit, but in a somewhat dimmer way, like a photograph beginning to fade. it's always less populated, and almost always manned by the younger male servers (and by younger i mean mostly in their forties than the women in their sixties). there's a very transitional quality about the room as people wander into the kibitz room to listen to local bands, or to go outside for a smoke. no one seems inclined to stay very long, including the servers. it's like a quiet bus station lobby on late weekday night, in los angeles of 1974. jack webb would eat here. he probably did.

canter's back room

the menu is a little all over the place and expansive. they've got typical deli platters, sandwiches, boiled dinners...chicken milanese and eggplant parmesan? guacamole and quesadillas? obvs a menu like this isn't going to be stellar throughout, but it's not horrible. a little pricey, but it's late night, it's decent, and there's something quite comfortable about it. the staff is generally efficient and genial. possibly the only smiling face you'll have seen all day. $10 for a sandwich of just meat and bread (although a generous portion of meat on generally fresh bread) and all the pickles you can eat isn't so bad when it comes with unspoken empathy and kindness. and foodwise, there's always some happy surprise. the chinese chicken salad is really good. you can't go wrong with a fried baloney sandwich. i'm a big fan of their knishes, blintzes, and even the matzo ball soup, which is really just a tumor made of matzo sitting in chicken fatty broth. mmmm.

canter's matzo ball soup

not a leaden baseball, but not quite light and fluffy; could be hotter, but the chicken stock is good, if plain. and it comes with a side of warm saltines, which is magically delicious.

cyrano at canter's

canter's deli is never fine dining, but still an experience all the same. wouldn't be los angeles without it.

canter's menupage

419 fairfax (x-street rosewood)
la 90036

google mapped!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


hancock park davids

remember this house? it looks like we'll finally get to see the inside of it on e! channel's high maintenance 90210, which premiered late last night. the series follows employees of an exclusive placement agency that house of david™s owner norbert young is one of three people from whom brian the butler gets interviews; judging from the e!online bio page, mr. young will be regularly called upon. whooo! need to see the pool, which apparently features mr. young's face in mosaic tile.