Friday, February 25, 2011

I love noodles

If I ever have the unfortunate experience of having a "last meal" (I suppose we all will someday, right?) I would be hard pressed on an answer. Part of me would want my great-grandmother's recipe for aglio olio, which is basically linguine with garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes. It's a comfort food like no other, and my family has morphed it into further comfort status by adding chicken stock, mushrooms, and lots of parmesan cheese. I could swim in it.

However, my other favorite might be any other noodle dish on earth. I love them all - pad thai, chow fun, pan fried, pho, soba, chow mein, buckwheat, vermicelli, udon...I could go on forever. Which is why, to my utter delight, I was thrilled when Urban Noodle opened.

I wandered in one Sunday evening by myself after landing at LAX and realized I had no food in the fridge. There were so many tasty noodle dishes from which to choose I was stumped. Fortunately, the won ton spoke to me that night. It just sounded so comforting and perfect, and I was ready for a simple broth and squishy dumplings. I was informed that the dumplings were hand-made daily by the chef, which sounded pretty good to me. If I could rest my head on a dumpling pillow every night I would actually consider it.

The soup came and I noticed a twist - they had noodles in this version. Small, thin and simple, it was a nice surprise to this noodle fan. The bowl was steaming hot, and the broth was delicious - clean, flavorful, just salty enough, and rich with flavor. The veggies were fresh, with a little crispness left in them. I took a bite of the dumpling...let me stop right here. I love to be dramatic about my food. I often claim something is the "best I've ever had" with great relish and fervor. I kid you not - this WAS the best dumpling I've ever had. It had a porky filling that was bursting with taste. I actually looked at the waitress who was standing behind the counter and mouthed the words "OH MY GOD." The won ton itself was silky smooth and a perfect wrapping. I've never had such a simple soup taste so amazing. No MSG either.

It took a while for my soup to come out (was he making the dumplings right there??) so I was treated to a free dish of ice cream: Black Sesame, Ginger, Thai Iced Tea, or Vanilla Bean. I chose Black Sesame. Again, orgasmic. I almost fell off my chair. What I love about Asian desserts is that most are semi-sweet and delicate. This was a heady flavor, perfect after my meal. And fragrant. And black! Super cool.

So, as we get ready for possible snow in LA for the first time in a while, I highly recommend a bowl of this heavenly comfort to keep you warm and dry.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mas Malo es muy bueno

One of my favorite places to eat in LA is Malo in Silverlake. It has the perfect combination of hipsters, margaritas and cool. I was turned onto Malo by a friend who swore by their now infamous ground beef and pickle tacos. Excuse me, you say? Beef and pickles? In a shell? I know, the idea sounds ludicrous. But until you try one, you just don't know. Think cheeseburger in a crunchy taco. It's quite genius, actually. And delicious. I order nothing else. I always want to be adventuresome and try another option, but I can't. I love them that much.

So lo and behold, they open a Mas Malo right up the street from me. I think I died and went to heaven. Nothing will stop me from going to the spot in Silverlake, but to be able to have tacos and habanero cream salsa and chewy chips within walking distance of my abode is just heaven. I happened to go the week they opened this little jewel - I was with a MeetUp group, and we wandered the street looking for our second or third cocktail. It was packed, but we put our name in and waited out our time in the conveniently located Seven Grand just next door and up the stairs. (Let me pause here. The simple idea that I can have the ground beef and pickles after a few hours of boozing it up in a swanky, plaid-ensconced whiskey bar was almost too much for me to handle. Did I mention both establishments are within walking and stumbling distance from my house?? If this alone is not a reason to live downtown, I don't know what is.)

Try not to gasp when you walk in. My photo doesn't do it justice at all. The new space is an old jewelry store from the 1920s. I almost fainted when they told me the original vault is going to be a private tasting tequila bar. (I don't even like tequila that much...I just love the idea.) The menu is the same as the original in Silverlake (thank god) yet the space is bustling with energy not seen at the other. It's loud, it's gorgeous, it's a fun place to have dinner on any night.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Creepy and Cool

The Alexandria Hotel is one of the most interesting places I've seen downtown. It houses a new favorite restaurant, The Gorbals, featuring Scottish-Israeli Top Chef chef Ilan Hall (what a title!) in the old hotel kitchen. It's a streamlined space with long wood tables and modern, over-sized flower arrangements, a sweet little bar and food that's out of this world in strangeness, seasonal fresh flavors and presentation. I love it. But The Gorbals isn't the only oddity about the hotel; I'm convinced it's haunted. The hotel converted to affordable loft rentals. And lucky for me, you can wander the halls freely any night. Take the elevator up to the 7th floor just for fun; you step out into an endless hallway devoid of human life (except for the spiritual kind...I'm convinced). Even can hear music and televisions...

On the mezzanine is fascinating "bar" space that was clearly the old hang out in the 30s and 40s. The ceilings are low, ornate, and intricate. The bar is no longer used but you could tell it was well worn. On a Tuesday night, we wandered in to see open mic night and heard some pretty decent jazz and punk. A few residents chipped in a served homemade enchiladas, rice and beans. It was surreal. Behind the new bar (a sad substitute for the real one) is a door. I'm not sure who said to me one time "look for the ballroom" but off we went, in search of this mysterious ballroom. We opened many doors, none of which were locked. Until we reached one that was. And another. And another. The last one gave way a bit, and although still locked, we could see it. The ballroom. It reminded me of a French aristocratic grand hall with a fireplace at one end, windows along the wall, and impressive high ceilings. I took ballet for years and longed to dance in a room like this, practice my bar exercises while staring out onto the streets. When I visited the hotel again several weeks later, the doors were miraculously unlocked, for no apparent reason.

Can you see the ghosts? I sure felt them.

There was another ballroom on the first floor, a space in the lobby with old room key mail boxes no longer in use, and worn out rugs, paint, and a dreary ceiling. Here's a photo that shows how the hotel lobby was once a grand, opulent entryway.

Can't wait to go back...

Favorite things

I have some favorite things in downtown:

Angels Flight - the shortest railroad in the world. Actually killed an older man in 2001 after it derailed and slammed into the other car at the bottom. I used to ride this every day in 1997 when I worked as a temp in the CA Plaza buildings. The fare was $.25 and still is, I believe. Maybe inflation bumped it to $.30. It's fun and unusual and nostalgic.

The Grand Central Market. Best place for fresh, affordable fruits and veggies. Also great Chinese noodles and apparently the best taco in Los Angeles, though I haven't discovered the vendor for this. I heard a rumor...that's for another blog.

And my favorite, the Bradbury Building, famous for it's role in "Blade Runner" and numerous other films and television shows from 1950 - 2007. It's sophisticated iron work and glass ceiling make it one of the most breathtaking structures downtown. In my humble opinion.

Blade Runner

I can't say the entire reason I moved downtown was because of the great price I got on a short sale, or the amazing view from my windows. Deep down, I wanted to live in the city I fell in love with in "Blade Runner." This is my all-time favorite movie. Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer and Ridley Scott just got it right. It's a perfect film, filled with gorgeous cinematography, haunting sounds, memorable music, and brilliant acting. It's an homage to Los Angeles, using some of the city's most unique architecture and street scenes. I get both teary and goosebumps every time I watch it. I don't know why. I am very proud to be from Los Angeles. We get a bad rap for all the falseness and frivolity that oozes here. Los Angeles was recently voted the least-friendly city according to Travel & Leisure. I'd like to point out that most of the population in Los Angeles is not from here. That might have something to do with it. City dwellers are so preoccupied with their careers or their images that they have little time to acknowledge others. But, I digress...

I found a link on YouTube recently that juxtaposes scenes from the movie with the actual locations. I've always loved old photographs of the city compared to new ones. This takes it to a whole new level.


A typical sunrise in downtown often includes these colors. If you're lucky, and look to the West, you see a gradual shift in colors that ends with a deep, heather gray purple.

You can also catch a few black birds peppering the backdrop (crows? seagulls? pigeons?). I can stare at these colors for hours, but they only last minutes. In the winter months, this phenomenon occurs around 6am. It's the first sight that greets me as I open my eyes, and I consider myself incredibly lucky for this.