Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Original Farmers Market

The Original Famers Market is located on 3rd and Fairfax in Los Angeles, just south of the CBS studio.  It first opened in July 1934 and has become a landmark and major tourist attraction since. The market started when a dozen nearby farmers would park their trucks on a field to sell their fresh produce to local residents. The cost to rent the space was fifty cents per day.  Tourists soon discovered the impromptu Farmers Market, marveling at the array of fresh produce available even in mid-winter, and the Farmers Market grew into a more formal complex of produce stalls.  The crowd is now a mix of tourists licking ice cream cones and Hollywood locals who still come here to buy meats and produce.  It is also a destination for food enthusiats in search of the market's ethnic cuisines as well as its specialty food markets and prepard food stalls.  

Hollywood's famous have been going to the Farmers Market for years. Walt Disney sat at a Farmers Market table while he designed Disneyland, and it is said that James Dean ate breakfast here on September 30, 1955, shortly before getting into his Porsche and going for the last drive of his life. Today, groups of writers, directors and Hollywood executives gather for breakfast meetings, and not long ago, the Los Angeles Times listed the Farmers Market as the best place in Los Angeles to spot celebrities.

The Farmers Market features more than 100 restaurants, grocers and tourist shops, and draws more than 3 million visitors a year.  You can't go wrong taking some time out to visit the market!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Third Street Promenade - Santa Monica

There is a three-block stretch of 3rd street in Santa Monica has been sealed off from traffic, tuning it into a pedestrian shopping and dining mecca, which is called the Third Street Promenade. The Promenade's roots date back to the 1960s when three blocks of Third Street were converted into a pedestrian mall. While most people in LA drive, on the Promenade you can always find a crowd of happy pedestrians enjoying sunshine or moonlight, along with the shops, movies, and restaurants.  And best of all, it's free to roam.

In the center of Third Street are free-standing pavilions which resemble Victorian greenhouses, with aged brass roofs.  Colorful flower boxes bloom on many ledges and bright flowers dangle from the old-fashioned, powder blue street lamps. The promenade has a growing number of intriguing book shops, antique stores, and unique memorabilia shops.  Movie going is another main attraction with 3 different theaters which offer a total of 17 screens.  There are also restaurants which range from fast food stands to upscale nightclubs.  Some notable spots in the area include Border Grill II, Bob Burns, Fama, Mesa Grill, and Wolfganf Puck's Cafe. 

Street performers and entertainers are a frequent sight on the street. On a typical Saturday night in the summer, singer-songwriters, classical guitar players, magicians, clowns, hip-hop dancers, lounge singers, session drummers, and other artists line up approximately 40 feet 50 feet apart from each other all along Third Street.  

This is a great place to people watch and hang out if you're both a local and a tourist. You're guaranteed to find something you like!

Capitol Records Building

The Capitol Records Tower is one of the most distinctive landmarks in Hollywood, California. The 13-story earthquake-resistant tower, designed by Welton Becket, was the world's first circular office building, and is home to several recording studios. It is designed so the wide curved awnings over windows on each story and the tall spike emerging from the top of the building combine to give it the appearance of a stack of vinyl 45s on a turntable.  The building is located just north of the intersection of Hollywood and Vine and is the center of the consolidated West Coast operations of Capitol Records—and was nicknamed "The House That Nat Built" to recognize the enormous financial contributions of Capitol star Nat "King" Cole. The building houses the Capitol Studios, a recording facility which includes an echo chamber engineered by guitarist Les Paul. The first album recorded in the tower was Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color.

The blinking light atop the tower spells out the phrase "Hollywood" in Morse code, and has done so since the building's opening in 1956. This was an idea of Capitol's then president, Alan Livingston, who wanted to subtly advertise Capitol's status as the first record label with a base on the west coast. The switch activating the light was thrown by Lyla Morse, Samuel Morse's granddaughter.  In 1992 it was changed to read "Capitol 50" in honor of the label's fiftieth anniversary. It has since returned to spelling "Hollywood".

In the 1974 disaster blockbuster film Earthquake, the tower was shown collapsing during a massive tremor. Thirty years later, in an homage to Earthquake, the tower was again depicted as being destroyed, this time by a massive tornado, in The Day After Tomorrow.

This landmark is very significant in Hollywood and can be seen from miles away.  It is worth the trip for an up close visit!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Musso and Frank Grill

Musso & Frank Grill is a restaurant located on Hollywood Boulevard. Their actual website is under construction however they have a fan site with 7 Chapters of history and stories.  Opened in 1919, it is steeped in Hollywood history, having been the hideout of a host of famous Hollywood celebrities from days gone by. It is named for original owners Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet.  As Hollywood's oldest eatery (since 1919), Musso & Frank is the paragon of Old Hollywood grillrooms. In its heyday it was a popular destination for Hollywood's elite, including movie stars, film directors and producers and the great writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Bukowski, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway drank here during their screenwriting days and where Orson Welles used to hold court. Legend has it that Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, and Douglas Fairbanks raced each other down Hollywood Boulevard on horseback, the loser having to pick up the dinner tab at Musso & Frank's.

We went on a Thursday night, around 7ish, the restaurant was actually pretty empty but the bar was packed.  We scored 1 bar stool so we shared it/Grete stood.  The bartender was nice and anxious to make us a drink...whatever we wanted.  Grete chose a Grasshopper and I had a Cosmo.  They are known for their martini's but I'm not a big fan of straight up martini's so I went with the Cosmo.  I tried Grete's drink, a little too sweet for me.  It reminded me of the Girl Scout cookie, thin mint.  My Cosmo was good but nothing special.  If I were to go back, I would bite the bullet and try a dirty martini.  If it's going to be my first one might as well be at a place that is known to have the best in the city.

Their dinner menu looked good but we didn't get any eats.  They have nightly specials.  The special that night was prime rib and it reminded me of classic Hollywood which overall sums up the vibe of this place.  If you're in the mood to get glammed up (you don't have to) and relive the old days, Musso and Frank's Grill is the place to go.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Palm's Thai Restaurant

I was a little disappointed when I went to Palms Thai. It is a Thai restaurant located in Thai town (in Hollywood.)  The restaurant is know for having a signing Thai Elvis perform, however he wasn't there when we went.
We went on a Thursday night, around 8:30ish.  It was packed inside and seating was cafeteria style.  The hostess seated us at a table in the middle of the room and we looked at the extensive menu.  It was slightly overwhelming with so many dishes, but that is almost typical of a Thai restaurant.  We finally settled on two dishes, me the Kee Mao Noodle which is Flat rice pan fried noodles with chili, bell pepper, basil leaves, tomato, and onion served on a bed of lettuce, and Grete ordered Spicy Noodle Soup which is rice noodle with shrimp, squid, ground pork, BBQ pork, fish ball, imitation crab, and bean sprout seasoned with lime juice, chili, and ground peanut. I've had my dish before (sometimes known as drunken noodles) but I haven't found a place that I like in California.  Grete really had no idea what she was ordering but liked it because it had a lot of seafood.

My dish came out first, had we known the portions would be as big as they were, we would have only ordered one dish.  We both really enjoyed the noodles.  It was actually the best I've had since leaving Boston.  Grete's dish came out not that long after mine.  I thought it was fairly good but Grete thought it was too spicy.  We ate dinner while listening to an acoustic guitar performer playing James Taylor covers.  We left with a lot of leftovers which we enjoyed the next day for lunch.  

Overall, the food was good, but not really worth going to unless you're in the area and you can catch the singing Elvis.


I previously posted about Empress Pavilion, the Dim Sum restaurant in Chinatown, but didn't really touch on all there is to do in the LA Chinatown

The area that encompasses Chinatown was originally Los Angeles' Little Italy.  In the 1920s and 30s, Italians began moving out of Little Italy to elsewhere in the city. When the Italians moved out, the Chinese began moving in.  In the 1930s, under the efforts of Chinese American community leader Peter Soo Hoo Sr., the design and operational concepts for the Chinatown evolved through the collective community process, resulting in a blend of both Chinese and American architecture. The Los Angeles Chinatown saw major development, especially as a tourist attraction, throughout the 1930s with the development of the "Central Plaza", a Hollywoodized version of Shanghai, containing names such as Bamboo Lane, Gin Ling Way and Chung King Road. Chinatown was designed by Hollywood film set designers and a "Chinese" movie prop was subsequently donated by the legendary film director Cecil B. DeMille to give Chinatown an exotic atmosphere. Today, this section of Chinatown is less frequented by ethnic Chinese residents and dayshoppers, though it is where several benevolent associations are located.

This neighborhood is very convenient to the Metro Gold line, if you so choose to venture out on LA's booming public transportation system.  There is a page dedicated to the adventure through Experience LA - Chinatown.

We decided to drive there on a Sunday afternoon.  It was hard to find parking, the streets were crowded, and there were a lot of people out.  We walked the streets looking in the shops for deals on knick knacks, got lunch, and had a drink.  We didn't get a chance to go into the museums, however I recommend if you go to Chinatown, try to check out some of the historical monuments and attractions.  Every 1st Saturday on the month there is a walking tour of Chinatown for $20.

Art galleries are also becoming a big attraction on Chung King Road.  On art opening nights, which occur on Saturdays every few weeks, throngs of LA art enthusiasts come to check out the latest in a the new galleries.  It’s a strange and somewhat romantic scene, with the alley’s lanterns and worn-out gallery facades, as if pulled from some derelict 1950s movie set. Yet, it’s a scene that has become a new center for art in Los Angeles. Some describe it as a displaced Westside arts district — hip, edgy and young. And while the art is breaking boundaries, the galleries are still paying tribute to the culture of Chinatown; many have kept the original storefront names.

All in all, Chinatown is a definite must stop on a tour of LA. There is plenty to do and see, it will keep you busy for quite awhile.

ArcLight Cinema - Hollywood

The Arclight Hollywood is a 14-screen movie theater on Sunset Blvd.  It prides itself on being a different kind of theater, even having a whole website dedicated to describing the arclight experience.

Each theater has reserved seating. When a customer buys a ticket they select their desired seat. The seats in the ArcLight's theaters are wider than average and feature arm rests that are wide enough to support usage by patrons on both sides of the arm rest simultaneously.

Unlike the majority of contemporary theater chains, there are no ads or movie trivia displayed on screen prior to the feature presentation. The only promotional material shown before showtimes are trailers and a brief ArcLight "feature presentation" logo.
At showtime, immediately before the trailers begin, an employee (called an Usher Greeter) introduces the film to the audience and states the ArcLight's policies regarding quality assurance, i.e. two ushers will remain in the theater until a few minutes after the film has begun, to ensure that the picture and sound quality are acceptable. They also inform the audience to turn their cellphones to the silent function, and to refrain from texting. Five minutes after the scheduled start time of a film has elapsed, further seating is prohibited, reducing interruptions.

The ArcLight Hollywood concessions stands strive to serve high quality items, such as all-beef hot dogs, gourmet chicken sausage on baguettes, premium bottled water, decadent chocolates, fresh popcorn with real butter, and caramel corn made on-site.

ArcLight is almost unique among contemporary theaters, as the large lobby area also holds a gift shop with books, magazine, art, clothing items, music, and other entertainment-oriented items. In addition, there is a full-service café and bar, which serves lunch and dinner, and is available with or without purchasing a movie ticket. A smaller bar is located upstairs, which is mainly open on weekends or during special events, and which has a more limited menu. Both feature indoor and outdoor dining areas.
In addition to special event screenings, the ArcLight regularly holds "21+" screenings in which patrons must be 21 years old or older to be admitted and patrons may consume alcoholic beverages purchased from the theater's bar.

ArcLight Hollywood is known to be a good place for celebrity sightings because of its Hollywood location, quality of picture presentation, and myriad of special screenings and events, which often feature Question and Answer sessions with actors and directors.
We went to the ArcLight Hollywood for a special screening of Red Dawn.  We had to stand in line for over an hour but since the tickets were free it was worth it.  We didn't get to the bar before the movie but the experience of the movie theater was noticeably different.

There are additional ArcLights in Pasadena, El Segundo, and Sherman Oaks.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Saturdays Off the 405

I've posted on both The Getty Villa and The Getty Center.  This is a place that just keeps on giving.  Saturday's Off the 405 is an event hosted by the Getty Center in Brentwood that brings together food, drinks, music, and art...oh, and a lot of people.  We went a few Saturday's ago. After reading up on the event online, we decided to try to get there fairly early but park a bit away from the Getty and walk.  Parking, which is usually $15 at the museum is free after 5pm.  The event starts at 6 however cars start lining up very early, clogging the road, the free way exit, and making it plain uncomfortable for all.  On top of that, once parking fills up they stop letting people in.  So we parked in Bel Air, about a mile away, walked, and were stress free.  Technically you're not supposed to park in Bel Air for this event and there are cops around blocking streets so do it at your own risk.

We arrived at the museum and waited in line for the monorail for about 10 minutes, the line moves fairly fast.  Once we got to the actual museum it was still early, about 6:30, but there were people everywhere, sitting down, eating and drinking.  This is yet another event where picnics are welcome, however outside alcohol is not.  They do have a cash bar where they serve wine and Getty-tini's.  We ordered some drinks and found a table to have dinner while the DJ was playing music in the background.  The band, which for the night was Best Coast, was supposed to start at 7, but in true LA fashion they were very late.  We walked around the museum for a bit and came out just as they were starting.

The sound was good, and people were really into the music.  Having walked around we really didn't have a great view of the band so we stood in the background listening to the music.  We left after a few songs, but enjoyed them while we were there.

As we were leaving there was still a long line trying to get in.  At this point, they were turning every car away and traffic was backed up.  They were even turning away people who had walked so if you do plan on walking, get there early.  Once parking fills up, no one gets in, even if people are leaving.

This is just another great event where you can go, watch the sunset, eat, drink, and enjoy the city.  Just keep in mind the logistics, it can be a pain to get there.  The next show is this Saturday, July 30th.

The Original Pantry Cafe

The Original Pantry Cafe is an iconic coffee shop and restaurant located at the corner of 9th and Figueroa in Downtown L.A.'s South Park district, The Pantry claims to never have closed or been without a customer since it opened in 1924, including when it changed locations in 1950 to make room for a freeway off-ramp. It served lunch in the original location and served dinner at the new location the same day.

The menu is pretty simple.  They have your typical breakfast selection and then steak and chops and salads.  Notably, they have a Gallon of Coffee on their menu as a side.  It must be for cops or other night workers that come in.
We stopped in on a Thursday afternoon, the cafe wasn't too busy so we sat at the counter in front of the grill. We went for a side order they call the "Set Up" which is bread, butter, and cole slaw.  Sounds weird, I know, but they are known for this side so we got it.  The cole slaw is creamy and sweet.  It is not the healthiest dish but very good and goes really well with the thick grilled bread. It was filling for a side but very fitting for the diner.  They boast about their generous portions and they're not lying.  Plan on taking a lot of food home or sharing.  This place is definitely worth the visit, even if only for a slice of pie and coffee.  Stop in and soak in a little bit of history.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Comedy Store

The Comedy Store is a comedy club located in West Hollywood, California, on the Sunset Strip.  The club has an interesting Hollywood True Story like history and an extensive alumni list.  It was opened in April 1972 by comedians Sammy Shore and Rudy DeLuca. The building was formerly the home of Ciro's, a hugely popular Hollywood nightclub owned by William Wilkerson, and later a rock and roll venue, where The Byrds were discovered in 1964. When the venue reopened as The Comedy Store in 1972, it included a 99-seat theatre, where Johnny Carson was one of the first comics to perform. As a result of a divorce settlement, Sammy Shore's ex-wife Mitzi Shore began operating the club in 1973, and she was able to buy the building in 1976. She immediately renovated and expanded the club to include a 450-seat main room.  

Beginning in 1979, The Comedy Store served for many years as the host location for the annual HBO Young Comedians specials. Also that year, stand-up comedians formed a short-lived labor union and demanded to be paid for their appearances at the Comedy Store.  For five weeks, several famous comedians staged a protest in front of the club, while others crossed the picket line. The comedians involved formed a union called Comedians for Compensation and fought for pay where they had received none before. They eventually picketed in front of the club when their demands were not met. Jay Leno and David Letterman were amongst those on the picket line.

The job action was not legally a strike as the comedians were classified as "independent contractors" and were not under contract with the club.  Mitzi Shore argued that the club was and had always been a showcase and training ground for young comedians and wasn't about profits. She alleged that comedians came to the club and could work on their material in front of casting agents and other talent scouts who would possibly hire them as professionals if they were good enough. The comedians at the club became unhappy when the club was expanded several times and it was perceived that Shore's profits were quite substantial. Shore also paid the rest of her staff, including waitresses and bartenders. Several of the young comedians who had moved to Los Angeles to make it big were so poor they could not afford 3 meals a day or even housing. Jay Leno briefly lived in his car upon first arriving in LA and performing at the club.

After the strike some comedians were no longer allowed to perform at the club, including Steve Lubetkin, who committed suicide in front of the building by jumping off the roof of the Continental Hyatt House next door. His suicide note included the line: "My name is Steve Lubetkin. I used to work at the Comedy Store." Lubetkin hoped that his suicide would resolve the labor dispute. He also cited Shore as the reason he no longer had a job.
The union ceased to exist as of 1980, although from the time of the job action onward, comedians in Los Angeles were paid for their shows. This included the Comedy Store and the Improv.

In 2005, Sammy Shore's son Pauly Shore starred in the TBS reality show Minding the Store. The series followed Shore as he pretended to take control of The Comedy Store and attempted to "revitalize" it. 

The alumni includes many of the greats: Tim Allen, Robin Williams, Damon Wayans, Bob Saget, Eddie Murphy, and many more.

We went on a Wednesday night for their 9 o'clock stand up show.  The charge is $15 but we actually ended up getting in for free through a facebook promotion that Liz found.  The show is 16 headlining comics and goes well into the morning, usually until around 3.  The comics started off entertaining.  We actually had a surprise show by comedian Sarah Silverman who was trying out some new material.  The night before John Stamos was unexpectedly there to do the same thing.  As the night wore on, the comics got less and less funny and we left after the 13th performer.  Overall it was a good night.  Even if we did have to pay, it would have been well worth the money. If you're in town and have time this is a show worth checking out. 

Note: History of The Comedy Club courtesy of Wikipedia

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sprinkles Cupcakes

Sprinkles Cupcakes is a Beverly Hills, California-based cupcake bakery chain established in 2005 by Candace and Charles Nelson. It is considered the first cupcakes-only bakery.

Candace is described as taking a "sophisticated" take on the classic cupcake, using ingredients like sweet buttercream, pure Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, and Callebaut chocolate. She also creates offbeat offerings like vegan and gluten-free cupcakes and even dog-food cupcakes. The cupcakes are baked daily and are free from preservatives, trans fats and artificial flavors.

We went on a Thursday afternoon, there was a line out the door.  The store is small, simple, and elegant.  There are a lot of varieties of cupcakes but I went with a classic favorite, red velvet.  Grete opted for the salty caramel which sounded just as delicious.  We ordered and received our cupcakes 5 minutes later in a cute little box.  We wasted no time biting into them.  We ate the cupcakes within minutes outside of the store.  The red velvet was good but I loved the salty caramel.  Both were moist with rich frosting on top. 

There original bakery is in Beverly Hills however they now have 10  stores across the US with plans to open 15 more.  They have delivery, do cupcakes for parties and weddings.  The cupcakes here are much better than your everyday store bought cupcakes and are worth trying.

Friday, July 22, 2011

In N Out

In N Out...That's what a hamburger is all about...right?  Sometimes I can't get that out of my head, it's catchy!  When I moved to California, people kept telling me that I had to try a burger from In N Out.  I tried it, it was good, but it wasn't amazing.  But then it grew on me.  I don't know if it was the jingle, or the mystique of the secret menu, or the fact that they are everywhere.  Perhaps its something they put in those fresh pattys.  Whatever it is, if i'm on the road and want some fast food, In N Out is where it's at.

Founded in 1948 by Harry Snyder and his wife Esther, the first In-N-Out was in Baldwin Park and headquartered in Irvine, California.  The current owner is Lynsi Martinez, the only grandchild of founders Harry and Esther Snyder. There are currently 258 locations (as of March 2011) with no location more than one day's drive from a regional distribution center.

The company's dedication to fresh food is reflected in the adherence to never freezing their produce or meat patties. As the chain has expanded they have opened several distribution centers in addition to their original Baldwin Park location. The chain has developed a loyal customer base, and has been rated as one of the top fast food restaurants in several customer satisfaction surveys.

The In-N-Out menu consists of three burger varieties: hamburger, cheeseburger, and "Double-Double" (double meat/double cheese). French fries and fountain drinks are available, as well as three flavors of milkshakes. The hamburgers come with lettuce, tomato, with or without onions (the customer is asked upon ordering, and may have them fresh or grilled), and a sauce, which is called "spread" (a Thousand Island dressing variant).

There are, however, additional named items not on the menu, but available at every In-N-Out. These variations reside on the chain's "secret menu," though the menu is accessible on the company's web site. These variations include 3x3 (which has three patties and three slices of cheese), 4x4 (four patties and four slices of cheese), Neapolitan shakes, grilled cheese sandwich (comes with everything that the burgers come with except meat, plus two slices of melted cheese), veggie burgers (comes with everything that the burgers come with; is not an actual veggie patty, and does not come with cheese), and Animal Style, a house specialty that the company has trademarked because of its association with the chain. An Animal Style fry comes with two slices of melted cheese, spread, and grilled onions on top; Animal style burgers have mustard fried into the meat patties as they cook, and in addition to the lettuce and tomato it also includes pickles, grilled onions and extra spread.

The food is consistent and good.  The resturants are easy to find and a treat everytime I go.  If you're in California, you definitley have to have something from In N Out!

Side Note...In-N-Out Burger has expanded outside Southern California to the rest of the state, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Texas.

Hollywood Bowl

I've been to the Hollywood Bowl many times.  It's one of my favorite places in LA. The Hollywood Bowl season is June - September and is the summer home of the LA Phil.  There are concerts and musicals performed there that aren't in association with the LA Phil and are just as fun.  It is known for its band shell, a distinctive set of concentric arches that graced the site from 1929 through 2003, before being replaced with a somewhat larger one beginning in the 2004 season. The shell is set against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills and the famous Hollywood Sign to the Northeast. The "bowl" refers to the shape of the concave hillside the amphitheater is carved into. 

The cool thing about the Hollywood Bowl is everyone comes a couple of hours before the concert and has a picnic on the grounds.  There is always lots of wine and food, and if you're lucky to make friends you usually get to taste some exciting things.  We went last Friday to see Sarah Mclachlan play with the La Phil.  We got there earlier than expected because the scare of carmagedon cleared the freeway.  We stopped at the gift shop then miraculously found a table to have dinner at.  It was amazing that we actually found a table in the picnic area, you usually have to spread a blanket on the grass or ground.  I packed a dinner of strawberries, sandwiches, chips, and wine.  We were at a big table and it was only two of us so we invited a couple who was walking around looking for a place to sit, to sit with us.  They had lots of food and wine and offered to share, plus it made for great conversation.  It was incredibly relaxing sitting in the bowl while the sun was going down, drinking wine and talking to good people.  That is the beauty of the Hollywood Bowl experience.

We went to our seats about 20 min. before the concert.  Like most concerts it started a little bit late.  The Phil did two selections by themselves before bringing Sarah out.  I was ecstatic because they did Gershwin's 'I've got Rhythm'.  The crowd went a bit crazy when Sarah came out.  She sounded amazing with the orchestra.  It's the best I've ever heard her.  She played all of her favorites along with some new songs. We finished our wine and ate some chocolate while listening to the great music.  It was fantastic.

I bet you're thinking, this all sounds good, but I'd hate driving to and from the Bowl.  This is the 2nd great thing about the shows here.  They have shuttles from all over LA that take you to and from the bowl.  We take the Lakewood shuttle which is a few miles from our house.  For $5 we can relax on the way to the concert and sleep on the way back.  We don't have to deal with traffic, or parking, or anything.  It's stress free.  There really isn't a reason to not see a concert here. My dream concert at the bowl would be the Counting Crows.  If they ever play there I will fly back for it :)