Monday, August 28, 2006

a short commentary on the disney concert hall.

disney concert hall, southside

i don't really know all that much about the walt disney concert hall, except for that it is an impressive alien on the downtown landscape. i can only imagine that when frank gehry first conceptualized this piece, he was gazing a stray, crumpled up piece of paper (probably an earlier, rejected design), or maybe the wadded up foil from the lid of some reheated leftovers as he worked into the night.

i haven't made my way there for a concert yet, nor have a sprung for the self-guided audio tour. i can tell you that even at 8 o'clock in the morning, the glare absolutely radiates off of those stainless steel walls; i had the most extraordinary case of vertigo standing on the sidewalk looking up at it. the sidewalk in spots was hotter than a frying pan--i started to tan. funnily, it is slightly claustrophobic, yet somehow calmer and steadier up on the roof, and inside is as placid and almost conventional as the exterior is not.

ah, the infamous flickr slideshow, or for the impatient, the complete flickr set.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

fern dell, i heart you.

ferndell bench

if i had to name the one stretch of nature i love the most in los angeles, i think griffith park would just edge out the coastal beaches along the PCH. the park is over 4000 acres of land along the eastern santa monica mountains, making it the largest municipal with urban wilderness in the united states. although there are definitely well-developed areas of the park (griffith observatory, the greek theatre, autry museum, la zoo, and travel town), much of it is left free to be explored through hiking, biking, running and horseback riding trails, camping areas, or just left to be. how can i not love a landscape where morning walks finds me greeting sleepy coyotes waking up for the day, just around the corner from where "rebel without a cause" was filmed, or where i can go stomping from one zip code into another--not really know where i am going but *up*--and just as my male hiking companion says, "sometimes i just want to get really buffed and start wearing women's blouses" who should appear from just below the fire ridge but kd lang? i mean, really--you would heart it too if this happened to you (and it can!).

ferndell walkways ferndell stream

i have to say that one of my most favourite places within griffith park is just at the very edge of the los feliz/western canyon entrance, fern dell. it is quite literally a dell full of ferns--fifty different varieties at last count, along with a thick tangle of tropical trees and plants that fight for space amongst cedars and coastal redwoods planted along a lively brook that hosts a number of crayfish within it, and colourful blue and red dragonflies around it. the dell is always ten degrees cooler than anywhere else underneath its shady canopy, and although early morning walks often find it gray and foggy, i've encountered oppossums, squirrels and deer drinking from its rather clear depths. yes, yes, i know, it's very snow white, but it's very charming. although i am quite enamored by this bit of natural beauty, i do know its truths and am more than charmed by it, i am gleeful in sharing them to all and sundry (you, tg, you, and whoever else may be reading). you don't really have to look too closely at the winding paths and footbridges that follow the brook, the fakey wood railing that keeps you from falling into the water (theoretically), and the well built up stone beds to know that there is a certain manufacture about it, not to mention where in the world would you find hibiscus bushes naturally growing next to cedar trees? here's the rub: the crystal clear waters of the stream that i tra-la-la along were actually a by-product of the cooling system used for the giant telescope housed in the griffith observatory, which is directly above fern dell. instead of just letting the flowing water go to waste, it was channeled into this lovely little haven, landscaped and fern dell was born. (this however, is no longer the case, and there are currently plans to renovate the whole water system....) oh hollywood, your Oz-ness is everywhere.

the trails tables

at the very edge of fern dell, there is a picnic area and a little snack bar that has been there since i was a young'un. however, it has recently been taken over and reinvented into some sort of childhood fantasy of What Snack Shacks Should Be Like™. the little wooden hut has been cleaned up and furnished with antler light fixtures with sweet little lightshades, quirky hanging flowerpots and fairy lights. the menu has been revamped to include snaildogs (hot dogs wrapped in spiralling pastry), meat pies, fruit pies, healthy sandwiches, and fosselman's ice cream treats. and craziest of all, not only are there vegetarian offerings, but vegan ones as well. okay, so maybe that's not really any childhood fantasy of anyone, but it's pretty fantastic all the same.

the trails berry pie the trails peach pie

i wish i was hungry enough to try out one of their vegan savoury pies, but we did stop to try the pies on offer--mixed berry and peach that day. although our slices were all smooshy, it was nice to know that it was because they still warm from the oven. i am not sure if the fruit was fresh or if they were fresh frozen, but the flavour of both was quite intense and there was still a little bite left in the texture of the peach (gloopish for the berry). the best part was the crust, which is the thinnest crust i've ever had on a pie, but still flaky, sweet, and buttery, scented with a dusting of cinnamon sugar that lent itself well to the warm fruit. mmmmm. along with a couple of glasses of homemade lemonade, they hit the spot. perhaps not the best pie in los angeles, but definitely the best pie i'd had in the nicest snack shack in the bestest park. evah.

oh, you know i love my flickr slideshows....

the trails
233 fern dell drive,
griffith park.

Monday, August 21, 2006

questions of curiosity.

people tend to want to break up with significant others in public spaces, usually restaurants, because supposedly you'd have less of a scene and it's neutral territory. if you were breaking up with someone in los angeles, where would it be? what restaurant and why? would you end on a high note and go someplace nice, would you go somewhere familiar because it would be easier, or would you go someplace loud so if there's a scene, no one will notice?

on the other hand, if you think you were going to be told to shove off, what restaurant would you like to be in for that final interaction? personally, i'm not sure if a fast food restaurant would be a good place, but i'm thinking it might be appropos. and put you off eating junk food anyway, so it could be a good thing.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

the dowager empress, queen of the 'b's.

empress pavilion custard tarts

i didn't want to have this photo as the header, but you know how i feel about asian restaurants with marginal health code ratings. suffice it to say, i'm more than okay with it, and apparently so are the thousands of people who throng to empress pavilion in la's chinatown.

empress pavilion is, imo, the queen of the dim sum/yum cha trolley palaces, in los angeles. there are no doubt more innovative, interesting, and tastier dim sum places in the region, but for sheer volume, consistency, and quality in the face of its popularity, it ranks right up there at the top. weekdays host a large crowd, but nothing near as much weekend brunches, where being seated 'within the hour' is considered reasonable. the crowds and waiting time can swell to the point of absurdity, but instead of eating elsewhere, i've noticed that many people will actually just start ordering dishes from the adjacent takeaway shop instead of giving up their place on the list. it is so ridiculous that my cousin and i are hatching a plot to rent the space directly across from empress pavilion--we are going to recreate their façade faithfully, down to the brass letter, only call our place "temptress pagoda." we're going to take in the overflow and/or completely confused clientele, then just run over to empress's takeaway joint and serve their dim sum in our place. bwaharrrr.

here's some tips: go for breakfast. no, really. come here at 9am, it's never crowded--it's just me and a bunch of old chinese men having their morning tea and dumplings. the selection isn't quite as varied, but it is as fresh as it's going to get. if you come when it's crowded, make nice with your waiter and you can ask for specific dishes, which he'll bring from the cart for you. maybe. or, if you are delegated to a far reaching corner, make free to leave your table and chase down a cart for what you want (don't forget to bring your ticket for trolley lady to mark). it's probably quite a bad mannered thing to do, but i haven't heard anyone complain, nor has anyone chastised me for doing so (just keep it to a minimum unless you are really, really hungry. chances are they know well enough not to mess with a famished one). grab your dessert early, especially their faboo dun tat/custard tarts--they do run out.

and now, a bunch o'thumbnails for you to click on of things i have snagged from the cart lately....

steamed dumplings:

empress pavilion char siu bao empress pavilion steamed scallop and pea shoot dumpling empress pavilion steamed scallop dumpling empress pavilion har gow empress pavilion cheong fun empress pavilion steamed scallop dumpling

char siu bao/roast pork buns--good, a little sweet, nicely fluffy; scallop with pea shoots--scallop sweet and tender, pea shoots an interesting vegetal element that adds just a bit of earthy flavour; scallop dumpling; har gow/prawn dumpling--slightly bland, but prawn nicely cooked, tender; cheong fun/minced beef with a mild seasoning in a rice noodle roll, served with a sweetened soy-based sauce--the rice rolls is not too sticky, and doesn't overwhelm the filling; scallop and prawn dumpling.

fried dumplings:

empress pavilion wu gok empress pavilion jow har gok empress pavilion prawn rolls with taro empress pavilion nori-wrapped prawns empress pavilion mango prawn roll empress pavilion pan fried pork and vegetable dumpling

wu gok/chopped pork, prawns and vegetables in deep-fried taro pastry--slightly oily, but nicely light in texture, not gummy; jow har gok/prawn turnovers in glutinous rice pastry--also slightly oily, but not gummy; an interesting prawn wrapped in rice paper roll, then garnished with a ring of fried taro pastry--the prawn was plump and juicy, but the rice wrapper slightly too dry, could have used a dipping sauce; deep-fried cigars of minced prawns wrapped in nori seaweed--excellent, very shrimpy; mango and prawns wrapped in rice paper then dipped in an egg batter and fried--sweet, tender, quite good when warm; pan fried meat and chive dumplings--slightly oily with a slightly too thick wrapper, but bursting with chives and minced pork.

non-dumpling dishes:

empress pavilion jook empress pavilion chinese broccoli empress pavilion rice in lotus leaf empress pavilion ngau yuk empress pavilion see jup pai guat empress pavilion roast duck empress pavilion char siu

congee/jook/rice porridge--this one was chock full of dried scallop and preserved vegetables, a perfect breakfast item; chinese broccoli with oyster sauce--still crispy and very green; fried rice with mushroom, prawn, chicken and roasted pork, wrapped in lotus leaf--they have the sticky rice version, but prefer this as it's not so heavy (however, it is tricky to eat); ngau yuk/steamed beef clumps--meatballs seasoned with ginger and chives, light and tasty; see jup pai guat/steamed pork ribs seasoned with black beans, garlic, salt, oil, sugar, and pepper--oily, piggy, tender and salty; roast duck-a little fatty, skin not too crisp, but the meat quite tender; char siu/roast pork--super fakey colour, a little too fatty, but not-overly seasoned and quite tender.

obviously i like this place. although there's nothing i can think of (besides the dun tat/custard tarts) i must insist upon, there's nothing on the trolleys i'd actively avoid--even the bowl of guts is pretty tasty, although heavingly large. it is solidly dependable (the guts and the restaurant). this of course, does not even begin to cover the selection--i'll be back to try the rest. maybe you'll join me?

see the flickr slide show.

empress pavilion
(in the chinatown bamboo plaza)
988 n. hill street,
los angeles 90012.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

surfas fracas


grrrrr. my local favourite restaurant supply place/gourmet garage is being muscled out by the city it helped revitalize. surfas stocks a combination of basic industrial restaurant supplies, commercial baking supplies, high end tableware, and exotic gourmet food items and recently they've added a café, which comes highly recommended. the café never really did anything for me, and the store's stock--or lack thereof--can be highly frustrating, but it's nearby, the staff has always been cordial, and despite it not having things i really need, it often has a thousand things i really, really, really want. like chrome cupcake stands, orange enamelled tagines, and economy buckets of goat's milk butter. if they leave, then my penchant for baking things like pistachio almond cakes and lemon pound cake with a basil-lemon sugar crust will be severely curbed, as i purchased key ingredients at surfas.


read about it at curbed la, eating la, or on surfas website.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

monastery of the angels.

monastery tower

very little about hollywood surprises me, but i do admit that finding out that there was a monastery around the corner from the 101 did startle me. then to find out that it was home to cloistered dominican nuns was more of a shock than mel losing his religion on the PCH (although, i just found out there's a cloistered nun who's a voting member of the academy. ha! i wonder what she thought of "brokeback.") well, heck. this was worth visiting.

monastery statue of st. dominic and our lady of peace monastery statue of st. michael

i'm not sure i understand the whole concept of how the monastery was founded, but you can find its history here. the building in which the monastery is housed used to be a mansion, but was bought by the order in the 'thirties; i'm not sure exactly how large the building is, as i've only been in the courtyard, but it is impressive in its simple, austere, spanish-influenced style. the small garden of contemplation has a beautiful statue of st. dominic visited by our lady, and another of st. michael; it is peaceful despite being just yards away from the busy traffic. although the style of the statuary, the architecture, and the calm really make you feel like you've stepped back into time (and maybe into another world), you only have to look into the empty parking lot to know you're in hollywood, baby, because the corner is almost always occupied by a covered mercedes benz G-class G500 SUV. um. i can't even venture to guess who in the order owns that whip. but i do know how they pay for its upkeep....

monastery pumpkin bread

in the grand tradition of many a sequestered order, the dominican nuns bake and handcraft confections that they sell in their modest gift shop. the monastery is best known for its pumpkin bread, which is a hefty almost two pound loaf of tender, lightly spiced, lightly sweetened, cakey bread, studded with walnuts and baked fresh every day. at US$7 a loaf, it sounds pricy, but is actually quite a bargain, considering the quality, care, and sheer enormity of the giant loaf.

monastery candy

however, i am drawn in by the handmade chocolates and confections--the chocolate and peanut butter fudge, truffles, chocolate-dipped caramels, and coconut fruit bars. i am absolutely taken in by the mint meltaways, cubes of milk or dark chocolate infused with potent mint oil that you pop onto your tongue, then let the heat of your mouth melt the smooth chocolate away. you don't get an immediate jolt of mint, but instead you start to feel the coolness fill your mouth and slide down your throat; once all the chocolate is gone, a lingering sweet, minty essence remains. bliss.

monastery candy 1

my friend michael didn't think that these chocolates would knock see's candies off the top of his list, but these really did it for me in their simplicity, quality, and the sheer quirkiness of it all. also, each box is labelled "better than the best"; clearly, either these nuns haven't taken a vow of humility, or they really know their product has no equal. or, perhaps, these women hidden behind the monastery's stucco'd walls are just another part of the whole hollywood machine, and know how to sell the dream. cheeky monkeys. gotta admire the humour in that.

the monastery of the angels
1977 carmen avenue,
hollywood 90068.

(gift shop open monday through saturday, 8.30am to 5pm)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

daikokuya qu'est-ce que c'est

do you have a soundtrack running through your head? i generally do (which accounts for a lot of things, i reckon). i have found myself driving around downtown, late at night, with a particular sound and tattoo--it's dark, sinister, heavy, yet buoyant; quirky, kitschy, and retro, yet very of the moment. maybe a little futuristic, too. think a sort of mash-up of talking heads' "psycho killer," television's "marquee moon," franz ferdinand's "take me out," about a half dozen songs from say hi to your mom, and um, pink lady's "UFO." it's not about the lyrics (i am notorious for mishearing lyrics--sometimes deliberately), but you know, i'm relating to those pinky grrlz:

Shinjirarenai koto deshou keredo
Uso ja nai no uso ja nai no honto no koto yo
Soredemo ii wa chikagoro sukoshi
Chikyuu no otoko ni akita tokoro yo

(This has got to be unbelievable
But it’s not a lie, it’s not a lie, it’s for real
But it’s OK, I’ve been getting
A little sick of Earth men lately)

los angeles and its inhabitants are feeling me these days. is it the heat? life on mars? sad saturn lifestyle? like always, like never before? or, maybe it's just the atmosphere in general that makes me think "blade runner" truly is just 13 years away.

and nowhere do i feel that more than when i'm in daikokuya; whenever i'm in there, blade runner is now. at the very edge of little tokyo, the shop is a dim, narrow space hidden behind a low hanging yellow awning and black noren (shop curtain). once you enter, you feel like you've been transported elsewhere--it looks like an american diner as imagined in tokyo back in the late 'forties, early 'fifties; however, there's a layer of decay that makes you think you are walking into that diner in the tokyo of today. the dark banquettes, red and black linoleum tile, and formica counter seating are utilitarian, but the random old advertising signs, a bookcase crammed with manga, scattered japanese toys, and rabbit-eared portable telly give it a vintage charm that owes more to sanford and son than say, pleasantville. not so much shabby chic as just shabby. however, it is in no way unclean or dirty, but rather extraordinarily tidy and oddly meticulous. very japanese. as is the staff, who are young, casual, friendly and slightly off in their own world, which is neither yours nor mine (no, they're not replicants). does it sound off-putting? i personally find the aesthetic very appealing, very 'spain under the time of franco''s how i've decorated my flat; it's probably why i feel very at home in daikokuya. very much a melange of the old, now, and new, as it was, as it is, and as it will, do i want to say 'world without end' right now or what. mmmm. maybe. not. but like the los angeles of 2019, apparently clashing cultures seem at odds, but are really just supersaturated into the grain of the place. 'tis what it is, baby.


daikokuya daytime

daytime, it's not a particularly busy shop; they open for lunch at 11am, and supposedly close at 2.30pm, but i know i've been there much later than that, and they've always obliged. the one-page menu is pretty straightforward--rice bowls, a few sushi rolls, a couple of appetizers-- but the main draw is the ramen (or raumen, which is the typical roman/romaji spelling of the word), chinese-style noodles. they are served in the traditional ramen-style of a large bowl of slightly chewy noodles with hot, meaty broth, a soy-flavoured egg, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and thin slices of tender berkshire (kurobuta/black) pork loin, then topped with a generous amount of green onion and sesame seed. or, you can get it tsukemen-style, where the noodles and toppings are served separately from the broth, which is used as a dipping sauce. a sadly typical afternoon visit finds me a little worse-for-wear, and appreciating the darkness and familiarity of the space (also completely loving the little but powerful airconditioning unit in the summer months). even in the oppressive heat--maybe even because of it, as we were all feeling queasy--the ramen sounded like the way to go, as the broth is a restorative tonic of soy and pork bones, simmered all day in a ginormous stockpot in the front of the kitchen, behind the counter. its murky depths will cure all that had befallen you the night before, my fine son, you can be sure of that (well, that, and um, penicillin, if it was a particularly dubious night).

daikokuya hiyashi chuuka

however, should a hot bowl o' ramen not appeal, daikokuya offers respite in the form of hiyashi chuuka, a cold noodle salad topped with julienned vegetables, pork loin, egg, pickled ginger, and nori, served with a sweetish soy dipping sauce. if the heat's beat you and your appetite down, this is something that will go down well--fresh, light, and healthy. you'll be able to face the rest of the day (and night ahead) after this.

daikokuya nighttime

hot daikokuya action really doesn't begin until the sun sets--it's hopping at 10pm and beyond. the dimness of the space becomes a warm, golden beacon in the dark city streets. it is bustling; you walk in and are immediately faced by a full house, and an empty chair that serves as an anchor for a clipboard and pen. add your name to the list, and wait. awhile. don't expect any sort of comfortable accommodation for any group larger than five four; be prepared to be moved to a new space on the counter if you're currently messing up an advantageous seating arrangement.

daikokuya raumen

here is when the ramen is king, but the other items on the menu are equally as satisfying--the tonkatsu pork cutlet is made from the same berkshire pork as the soup stock, oyako don chicken with egg on rice is tender and fluffy, and really, there's no way you can go wrong with a fried item. i'm guessing on that last one. i haven't gone through the whole menu as i find myself returning to the ramen, either traditionally done, or stamina-style (an extra ladle of pork fat, y'all! oink!), time and again. i want to be supersaturated into the grain, and be there until 2019 and beyond.


the website says it closes at 11pm or midnight, i've been there are 2am, so...? there's also a note on the site that says that they close when the stockpot is empty, so maybe they really mean it, even if the witching hour as passed. (and i secretly hope that stockpot never really goes empty)

327 e. 1st street
los angeles 90012