Tag Archives: Los Angeles


Pompeii dog

My fascination with ancient Rome probably is in-built in my very Roman name, but it started in earnest when I read, as a child, “Quo Vadis” by Nobel Laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz. The adventures of Licia, the covert Christian in love with a pagan Roman, her runs in the catacombs and the, more or less, true to life descriptions of ancient Rome, resonated with me and captivated my imagination.

Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background

My first trip to Pompeii was also as a child and walking along the cobblestones where I imagined carriages driving by, real bread being made in the ovens and real people sleeping in frescoed bedrooms are all vignettes that stayed with me. I fell in love with the famous Pompeii dog and children and never mind that no dog or bodies were inside the casts that were made mostly in the 19th century, by filling the vacuums the ashes had created.

The myth of Pompeii endures because it’s impossible not to be moved by a site where the past comes alive so tangibly – yet, what we see today was heavily bombed during WWII and quite a bit of restoration took place. Pompeii has come to represent all those natural (or man-made) calamities that have haunted mankind through the centuries.

It’s the myths of Pompeii and the art that this ancient site inspired, from Victorian paintings to Robert Rauschenberg that are being explored in a new exhibition at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades. There are very few artifacts from the archaeological site but, rather, a plethora of art pieces and artifacts that take the viewer through depictions of Pompeii through the centuries, all the way to Hollywood, interactive visual and audio material and, all in all, a very different and unexplored take on a very dead city.

The exhibition “The Last Days of Pompeii” – Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection opens on Wed Sep 12 and runs until January 7, 2013.



Filed under Los Angeles


Drawing: kathimitchell.com

Remember the time when food truck was synonym for “roach coach”? A greasy spoon to be found at amusement parks and construction sites? A place where you wouldn’t eat unless it was out of sheer necessity? How things have changed in the last half-dozen years. Fancy painted trucks specializing in Korean BBQ, Indian dosas and everything in between are a Los Angeles born and bred fad. And a pretty successful one at that.

Trucks named Garbage Plate or Schmuck Truck have Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, location schedules and thousands of devotees.

A friend mentioned a lobster truck a few nights ago and, when a lobster roll craving struck, I braved the crowds, the trendiness factor and engaged in hand to hand combat to get a parking spot on Abbot Kinney in Venice on a Friday night where, between 6 and 9 pm, it’s food truck central.

I have come a long way from my first lobster, served to me at the age of 13 on a bateau mouche in Paris. The lobster and I had a pretty unfair fight, with instruments utterly unfamiliar to me and I ended up not knowing what a lobster tasted like until much later in life. And it wasn’t until a few years ago, on a trip to Rhode Island, that I was introduced to that Maine staple, the lobster roll. For those unfamiliar with it, the lobster roll is lobster meat sandwiched in a buttered and toasted hot dog bun, the meat typically having been mixed with celery and mayo, with small variations depending on where you are along the coast.

Tonight, miserable after my mother’s departure and dreading the empty house, I thought I deserved a roll or two. After securing a coveted parking spot, I walked to the very end of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, to that space called the Brig, and tracked down the Lobsta truck, unmistakably red. All around it, the Kogi and Philly steak trucks were positively mobbed but I stuck to my plan. At the Lobsta truck, that also serves Clam Chowder and Crab Rolls, the roll comes with either butter or mayo and I opted for butter: large chunks of lobster with warm melted butter drizzled over it, inside a soft bun, lightly buttered and toasted. Pretty heavenly and $12.

On my way to the Brig, I also noticed the Roll ‘n Lobster Truck. Not content with just one roll and in the interest of research for you, my LA readers, I backtracked and ordered a roll from them too. $12 buy you smaller chunks of lobster, tossed with large rounds of celery and some mayo. The brioche bun was divine but, all in all, even if this version might be more traditional, I would go with just simple seafood and butter.

After two rolls, I managed to resist potato rounds on a stick, cupcakes, snow cones and everything else I walked by. All in all, $24 plus a soft drink could have bought me more than rolls eaten standing on the side of the road but, you know, when the craving strikes..



Filed under food, Los Angeles


Photo credit: playingdressupwithkellie.blogspot.com

If you are in the mood to sift through some old bric-a-brac, second-hand clothes, hand-made jewellery but can’t face the daunting task of circling the whole of Pasadena Rose Bowl (or, simply, it’s the wrong Sunday for that), a fun, much smaller alternative is the Melrose Trading Post that takes place in the parking lot of Fairfax High School every Sunday, from 9 to 5.

A bit of a neighbourhood institution that started in the late ’90’s, I never made it there, always too ensconced in my New York Times on Sundays, walks with the dogs and other low energy activities (read: lazy couch potato). But when the sun is relentlessly shining and can only energize and shame you into not sitting around, even I find it in myself to drive to the other side of town for a bit of exploring.

The $2 entrance fee goes to benefit the high school, whose partnership with the Greenway Arts Alliance is responsible for this flea market. My exploration started in earnest with lunch, immediately making a run for the food court, right outside the school’s front doors. Despite BBQ smoke wafting and calling me in, my mother and I opted for a sinful Nutella and fruit crepe, prepared right in front of our eyes. There are plenty of small tables in the courtyard and, to make matters even more pleasant, a jazz trio of elderly men softly playing in the background.

The pleasant food court

So fortified, we tackled the stalls. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but had I needed empty frames or mirrors, I would have come up a winner. The clothing skews much younger and hipper than I normally wear (polyester 60’s dresses and denim hot pants were aplenty, as well as tiny fur coats) but some of the jewellery definitely caught my eye. A stand of old photographs was busy although I find the thought of using other people’s family photographs on my walls a bit disconcerting. I suppose it’s a way of inventing one’s ancestry, here in a city where re-inventing oneself is an actual requirement.

Provencal furniture and 50’s modern seem to be still very much in vogue as well as the usual pottery, crystal and glass crap that is customary at these swap meets – I always think I will find a treasure but have come empty-handed so far. If you are into gloves, a stall full of them will intrigue you.

And now allow me for my Larry David moment – I can see where the etymology of swap-meet comes from, with barter being an acceptable form of payment in days of old but why do people keep on calling these markets swap-meets? Nothing is being swapped and you are not going to meet anyone. Only hard cash being handed over. Can’t we stick to flea markets (the clothes still look as if flea infested) or even the charming English car boot sale?


Filed under Los Angeles


Anticucho black cod

Peruvian food has become extremely trendy and Picca offers a riot of flavors in what, I would imagine, is a personal and modern take on Peruvian food.  Ricardo Zacate, who first opened Mo-Chica (see review) in a funky part of town, has now graced the West side with Picca Cantina, which is garnering accolades and wonderful reviews.

Let’s start with the location, on that stretch of Pico Boulevard better known for kosher establishments – the stand alone building also hosts Sotto (check out the review), the excellent Italian eatery. Upstairs, however, is a modern cantina, with an open kitchen, sleek design and sleek customers to match, the latter handled with firmness and a smile by the capable hostess.

The noise level, once the restaurant is full, is beyond any reasonable conversation but my party and I were seated in a semi private room upstairs, around a sturdy and unusually large wooden table, and we were afforded an acceptable decibel level. Our server was professional, did not feel compelled to tell us her name and steered us through both the drinks and food menu with dexterity.

And what a menu it is. The  multitude of dishes are tapas size and meant to be enjoyed family style. To try the whole menu would require many reservations and a sizable savings account but the effort would be worth it.

My only other  experience with Peruvian food came courtesy of Mo-Chica (check out the review), possibly a more down to earth version of the food Mr. Zarate cooks at Picca, so I can’t say whether  what I ate resembles anything served anywhere in Peru. To accompany the various Pisco sour cocktails we ordered, we started by nibbling on Jalea Mixta, lightly fried seafood with a tartare sauce; Chicharrones de Pollo, fried morsels of chicken with salsa criolla and Papa Rellena, a Peruvian version of a jacket potato filled with slow cooked beef and a boiled egg. All three dishes were delicious, with the first two pleasing to less adventurous palates while the Papa Rellena will never make me look at another baked potato the same way. It was that good.

Egg, in the form of fried, made an appearance on another beef dish, a sort of stew, that was also excellent but the name of which I haven’t retained. If you do see it on the menu, do not hesitate though. The Ceviche Mixto also features thinly sliced potatoes in a citrus sauce and, if you are a fan of raw fish, the albacore tuna is a must. My personal favourite was served on a wooden board: Anticucho Black Cod with crisp sweet potatoes – a beautiful presentation and the buttery flavor of cod enhanced by a slightly sweet sauce. Seco de Paxo turned out to be duck leg comfit in a black beer sauce over cilantro rice. Despite my aversion for cilantro, at that point in the evening I was game to try anything and the duck was tender, flavorful  and highly unusual. As I said, bold flavors are the trademark of this restaurant.

Not sure if the Peruvian craze will continue or if Picca and Mo-Chica will keep on being the only game in town but if you are in for something different from the usual tapas, are in a festive mood and don’t mind a sign language conversation while munching on some pitch perfect and interesting food, make a bee-line for Picca and you won’t be disappointed.

Picca, by the way, means “nibble”.




Leave a comment

Filed under life in Los Angeles, Los Angeles, restaurants


Image: flowtv.org

Excellent news. If you ever doubted the Californian man, he of high cheekbones and impossibly blond hair, toned and tanned abs, carefree attitude and that I-just-woke-up-this-way kind of beauty was an invention of Hollywood surfing movies and Calvin Klein ads, let me reassure you, he does exist and doing very well.

A couple of hours spent on the Malibu Pier beach will be enough to validate my assessment. Up until a few years ago, my friend Silvia, a few days after landing in LA, would invariably ask “Can we go to that surfers’ beach?” It was best friend’s code for “I want to go see some surfer dudes before I go back to Italy”. And I happily obliged.

There are very many surfing beaches, depending on what board one uses, long or short, what kind of waves one wants, the level of difficulty and many finer points any surfer would be more than happy to discuss. But the Malibu Pier is indeed a premium spot – right in the heart of Malibu, next to the lagoon and the Colony of movie stars’ abodes fame, impossibly beautiful specimen abound, parading on the sand, black wetsuits dangling from their waist, copper skin and perfectly bleached hair from countless hours spent in the sun, gleaming teeth and chiselled cheekbones. Where do they make them exactly?

More entertaining still, it’s to watch them dance on the waves, with a grace and a lightness that probably required years of practice but seem engrained in their being. And, indeed, to spend time on such a beach doing more than just sunbathing but taking an interest in what goes on in the water (forbidden to mere swimmers to avoid hapless tourists being whacked on the head by a board) will reveal glimpses of a culture that has always been synonymous with  Southern California.

The old man, trimmed and dark, face shaded by a wide-brimmed straw hat, proudly points his granddaughter falling in the foam and his son, a renown surfing teacher, slicing the wave he has caught to alight gracefully nearly on the sand. If you have ever tried surfing, you know how hard it is to even find the balance to stand on the board, let alone becoming conversant with the waves. The most dedicated will be in the water in the middle of winter, before heading to the office, mapping storms and tides. There is a meditating aspect to surfing, way out there, far from any noise or voice, other than the clamoring of the waves, just with yourself, testing the limits of what you can do.

As to me, I never even bought a board, perfectly happy to discuss the finer points of surfing from the comfort of the beach, away from the freezing water and a step closer to understanding this uniquely Californian way of life.








Filed under Los Angeles


In case you haven’t noticed, recently it was the 50th anniversary of Norma Jean Baker’s death. Marilyn Monroe. Words and pictures and tv shows abounded in the last few weeks, most notably reviewing the case of her death, accidental or otherwise. While I am at work, I think my mother must have gobbled up too many of these shows, because yesterday, apropos of nothing, she came out with “Would you take me to see Marilyn Monroe’s grave site?” Say what?

I am not one for cemeteries. Countless visits to Paris never inspired me to trudge to Pere Lachaise and even when staying in Highgate, London, I never made it to the famous graves. The Hollywood Forever cemetery, sprawling green hills where many beautiful and famous are laid to rest, will attract the likes of me only because of their movies on the lawn programming. But how can you refuse one’s mother? A brief internet search informed me that Ms. Monroe’s latest abode is not at the Hollywood Forever, as I suspected, but at the Pierce Bros. Memorial Park, right in the heart of Westwood.

And sure enough, located behind the Wilshire corridor’s skyscrapers and not too far from UCLA, is this quiet oasis of green, enormous Jacaranda trees and simple crypts dating back to the ’30’s, with  more contemporary and much more lavish granite tombs in a newer addition (that is where you will find Farrah Fawcett, for example). It’s actually quite serene – not that I have given much thought to my burial (or cremation as the case may be) but this is a cute little place where to end up, if one really must.

Another use for lipstick

Marilyn’s tombstone, I believe arranged by Joe DiMaggio (the source of this tidbit is my mother and her tv shows and wholly unverified by me), is simple: just her name and the two dates book-ending her life. One or more women felt inspired to dab bright red lipstick and kiss the marble. Some flowers were left in the tiny vase. That’s it. Not sure what I expected but, if she is looking from somewhere, I think Marilyn would be pleased with the location and the little bench right nearby (erected in somebody else’s memory), where a stream of young girls kept on replacing one another, paying their respects to a star who, if alive today, would look incongruous within the parameters of our skinny and toned female ideals and where an airhead (real or made up) has little place in what we find attractive.

Uneducated maybe, but certainly not a airhead, I think Marilyn would be bemused by the throngs of females of all ages who keep her myth alive. Because it’s women who are drawn to her movies, her rag to riches story, her sad ending. She might not be the poster child for anything we apparently stand for but she left an image of unabashed sexuality not to be ashamed for, and the impression that a strong mind  can get you anywhere.

Three Italian young men took pictures and, upon hearing me speak Italian, asked me if I knew where Roy Orbison’s tomb was. Not a clue but their Lonely Planet stated he was also buried there. A funeral in the Persian section of the cemetery was wrapping up and I felt like I was intruding by peeking at grave stones of people I didn’t know. Although, we all knew Marilyn – she gave women, in her own way, a legacy of independence. And that is no small achievement.



Filed under Los Angeles, women's issues


The reasons why I fell in love with Los Angeles, one day at a time, are many and varied. And then there are those sudden moments when I am reminded why I love living here.

We don’t really get Summer thunderstorms on the West Coast – the closest we get to is a gusty wind, humidity in the air and a few, lonely drops of rain. Exactly what happened yesterday. While the sun was getting busy going to sleep, a rainbow briefly graced our sky which was exploding in a riot of colours. I rushed out and took pictures before everything went dark.

And, in the process, fell in love all over again.

1 Comment

Filed under Los Angeles, Travel, Uncategorized


Image from vintagevectors.com

The corner of Orlando and W. 3rd St. in Los Angeles has become a happening one. If, until a few years ago, the only bright spot was Joan’s on Third, the ever popular eatery, now the swanky Churchill hotel has appeared on one corner and Magnolia Bakery, of Sex and the City fame, on the opposite. And then there’s Son of a Gun. Brought to us by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, the masterminds behind Animal, the pair tries to do for seafood what they did for meat, i.e. make it very interesting.

With only a few concessions to a couple of salads and a chicken sandwich (which I saw coming out of the kitchen and looks fantastic, something I would actually order), the entire menu is devoted to seafood. Unfortunately, because the prices are somewhat steep, ordering the entire menu was out of the question but that was my first inclination when I read it.

The L-shaped room is not as minimalist as Animal and it’s filled with maritime memorabilia, with the shortest part of the L devoted to a long, communal table with stools. The tables are a bit too close together, easily promoting conversation with your neighbours and it might not be the right place for a romantic dinner or a first date. It’s also extremely loud. But, oh the food! Everything we picked, did not disappoint.

Most of the dishes are on the small side and it’s worth checking with the server as you might end up hungry if you only order a couple of items.

My friend and I started with poke, served nearly raw, cut in little cubes, marinated with ponzu and served with yuzu and white nectarines. Everything melted in my mouth. This is where the difference between restaurants who serve only top-notch ingredients and those who don’t becomes apparent: the freshness of the fish, the intense sweetness of the yuzu and the pitch perfect flavor of the nectarines cannot make a dish fall flat no matter how hard a chef might try.

The lobster roll, that I had noticed flying out of the kitchen while waiting, is a tiny rectangular of brioche, brushed with butter and toasted, with a slit on top filled with the lobster/mayo salad that has made this East Coast staple so famous. I could have eaten five rolls in a row without missing a beat. The octopus salad was also a standout – tender octopus, grilled and paired with mirepoix and chili.

And then it was time for the Peel and Eat Shrimp boil – half a pound of boiled shrimp served in their shells with a lime mustard sauce. Sounds uninteresting right? Half of the fun was eating with our hands and getting messy (hot serviettes and lemon wedges are provided) and the other half was seeing how such a simple dish could be brightened with the right marinade and a sauce so well-balanced I wish I could have bought a bottle to take home.

What I like about both restaurants is their integrity – only the freshest and best quality ingredients are served, with no fuss but just an apparent joy of cooking them. This means it won’t be cheap but it’s worth every morsel. On the good side, the restaurant purifies and carbonates tap water themselves – which is served in simple glass bottles with jam jars standing in for glasses – and only charges 10c a person for it. No shelling out $7 for some Scottish Highlands water in a fancy bottle.

For desserts, only a few ice-cream selections are available, probably also excellent, but I had purchased a chocolate flourless cupcake with Swiss meringue topping from Magnolia that our server was gracious enough to let us eat, even providing us with plates at no charge. Lunch service is friendly, girly and efficient.

PS – This girl is going on a well deserved 2 week vacation. Might blog occasionally but probably not, unless I can’t fight the urge. Will bring you back news, tidbits and suggestions from the motherland upon my return. Enjoy your Summer!

1 Comment

Filed under Los Angeles, restaurants


Photo: missalpha.wordpress.com

Please don’t think I am on a Starbucks bashing mission. I am not. I don’t love the place so I don’t patronize it but I don’t wish them ill. I recently noticed, though, that alternative coffee shops are not afraid to enter in competition with what used to be the mightiest coffee place in town. Driving around Santa Monica, I saw a bunch of high-end coffee places right across from the green mermaid, to prove that customers have become very discerning (and possibly a bit snobbish) about their coffee.

I am not on a Pain Quotidien bashing mission either. Really. But, after having had brunch at their Brentwood location (right next to Starbucks) I couldn’t help harping on how outrageously overpriced their food is.

Le Pain Quotidien, a Belgian chain, were the first to open bakeries cum restaurant spaces with a rustic look, communal tables and the idea of serving fresh and simple food, mostly organic. The pastries are in the best French tradition, their own made bread is very good and they can all be bought and brought home, together with jams, coffee and other edible and pretty packaged products.

The food is indeed good, in a simple and fresh way, especially the sandwiches made with their bread and the salads. The coffee, served in wide French bowls, is also excellent but, today, sitting at one of the long communal tables, I couldn’t help noticing that my two soft-boiled eggs, albeit organic, were priced at $7.45. Two eggs. Boiled. With the addition of two slices of rye bread and a small cafe au lait, my breakfast was nearly $15. I felt taken for a ride.

The French toast one of the other guests ordered looked appetizing and healthy, without the common addition of whipped cream and other heavy accoutrements but, even for a small eater like me, the portion looked extra small. European portions with Euro prices. And, when yet another guest asked if it was at all possible to slightly heat the pain au chocolat (you know, to moisten all that butter), he was told that it was company policy not to do that. It might be company policy but certainly not good business practice.

I work in the food industry and I am aware of the cost of food, especially organic food, and of the small margins that restaurants have to deal with. And the rent in tony Brentwood can’t be cheap. While I will gladly pay $40 for a fish or meat entrée at a good restaurant, over seven bucks for two boiled eggs is something I just can’t get over. Unless the chicken lived on her own private farm!!







Filed under Los Angeles, restaurants


At a time, many years ago, when the landscape of Italian restaurants in Los Angeles was, at best, desolate, Toscana stood out for the quality and authenticity of the food. Nearly two decades have passed and this Brentwood mainstay is still going strong. On a stretch of San Vicente Boulevard that has transformed itself into a sort of little Italy, so many are the Italian restaurants per square footage, Toscana is still the most discreet  and doesn’t show any signs of aging.

As its name implies, the menu is inspired by the food of Tuscany, perfectly embodied by a Fiorentina bistecca, that gigantic slab of meat that is rarely found in restaurants. But, in truth, there are dishes from all over the peninsula, including pizza.

A couple of years ago, the owners opened Bar Toscana, just across the entrance to the main restaurant, a long, rectangular room very tastefully and minimally decorated in dark browns and white. My friend and I chose to sit at the bar counter, rather than at one of the small tables or ottomans, to better view the bartender in action. The list of cocktails is eclectic in names and ingredients, with very many drinks fruit or vegetable based but the bartender will accommodate any requests and, in my case, to make a Pimms’ cup as it was intended and not according to his interpretation.

Because I am immensely boring and just cannot resist a pizza if it’s on a menu, I ordered a Margherita with buffalo mozzarella and an artichoke and arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette. I love the simplicity of Italian salads, elegantly dressed with gentle vinaigrettes that emphasize good olive oil – nothing against fancy emulsions but I am too often left with a garlic aftertaste or else the fresh vegetables are completely disguised by the dressing. What best way to have arugula than with olive oil and lemon??

The pizza is airy: the wafer thin dough is so light it melts in your mouth. The tomato sauce is delicate to better carry the fresh buffalo mozzarella, gently pooling in the center. As soon as I swallowed the last morsel, I would have been ready to have another 12” pizza (I didn’t). If pressed to find any faults, I would have preferred my crust to be slightly more charred. Oh, and the astronomical $19 price tag is not completely justified.

In addition to any dishes from the restaurant proper, the bar offers a menu of appetizing small dishes at more affordable prices.

By 8 o’clock on a Wednesday night, the bar was packed – the crowd is the Westiders one would expect, adult, well dressed, i-Phones lined up on the counter. And everyone trapped West of the 405.


Leave a comment

Filed under Los Angeles, restaurants