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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Seven-Day DTLA

First meal
I just had a week-long business trip in LA, stayed downtown at the Freehand Hotel.

By the end of the week, I had eaten every kind of vegetable known to man, and some that even stumped the waitstaff; I got a ton of freely given Vitamin D, an eyeful of tats and man-buns, and an unsolicited dose of human warmth and friendliness.

Amenities basket

I knew I was in California the minute I stepped into the lobby, warm with earth tones and potted cacti, stylish guests, the smiley greeter, and the vivacious Mallory at the front desk whose knowledge of LA restaurants and natural wines was unsurpassed.

Fatal room flaws—there is no coffee set up. Black mark, very black, as black as the Dunkin' Dark Roast which I was forced to procure across the street. Especially because the hotel coffee service does not start until 6 am. Just not working for the EST guests.

No shower caps. Really? What is it? A reduction in plastic? A nod to greenery? You’ve got your greenery covered, Freehand, with all the lights in the room set on timers to go off automatically. You can barely get through a shower without having to reset the lights.

Okay, but the rooftop pool makes up for it, funk music is blasting at all times. Servers have blue and gray hair and pink army boots and large star-shaped drop earrings. The deck is filled with pasty white newly arrived East Coasters who have thrown off their earthly bonds of khakis and blazers and are fast asleep in the sun. Like a tray of croissants warming in the oven.  The pool floats are in the shape of pizza and pineapple. The DJ carries his dog.

Morning runs all but one

Grand Street
You can run around in DTLA and always find something fascinating. Go straight up the hill on Grand where you find the Music Center of LA, ballet, opera and symphony, Grand Park home to the civic center, lots of steps, lots of fountains and lots of steel; the lobby of the stately Millenium Biltmore Hotel,  the impressive LA Times Building building, which is soon to suffer the fate of The Boston Globe in the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale. 
Millenium Biltmore Opening 1924

A perfect LA Saturday

From the top

Up with the birds and straight up with the Uber to the tippy top of LA, Griffith Park Observatory where views and tourists abound. What do the visiting French students make of this bust of James Dean?
Qui est-il?
His hair was almost as nice as Bryce Harper’s. I ran down to the Los Felix neighborhood whereupon I found Starbucks Reserve (an "immersive theatrical shrine to coffee passion," per the website) at Avocado and Hillside. Back on the hotel elevator I met Cindy the yoga instructor who invited me to her class starting in 5 minutes. Location—Poolside, rooftop. Mats provided. An hour of naturally hot yoga, with the skyscrapers and the headstanders.

Brunch with Audrey
From there dearest friends took us to a classic outdoor brunch at The Alcove where we met their Audrey Hepburn look-alike daughter and her beau Daniel. The waiter described our bottled water as Bougie.

That night—cushioned seats in the second row, loge level, home plate at Dodger Stadium to see my Nats play! Dodger Stadium is big and old and new and its fans have a ferocious level of intensity that belies the California mellow vibe.  

Meet the Prez

So our connection, a high school classmate of my husband’s with whom I bonded at the last reunion, is a childhood friend of Mike Rizzo. The one President who matters in Washington, the President of the Nationals. Riz, as they call him, came up for a personal photo session after the game.

Eating our way through the garden

They're adding vegetables to my eggs Benedict

The first night we were eager to have some real Mexican food. Chica’s Taco Bar was recommended. Down and out and small and rough edged and four kinds of hot sauce in plastic squeezy bottles. So far, so good. But the chicken taco featured chick peas and feta cheese, the fish taco was topped with Caesar salad, and the beef tacos had radishes on top. Come on now California!!

A straw of steel,  as green as the drink

Second night, Colori Kitchen (or Calorie Kitchen, as I prefer to call it) is your basic, exposed brick, old school Italian, all the bread and oil you can eat, spaghetti,ravioli, the usual suspects.

Then we really ramped it up for the next three nights. Botanica, where the vegetables tasted as if they had just been pulled out of the ground and rinsed. The only protein was a baby clam or two, and we were mystified and amazed by a side of “sunchokes." Are they potatoes or artichoke hearts? No, they are the root of the sunflower plant, dummy!
A sampling--fattoush-y salad, chopped spring vegetables, sumac breadcrumbs, roasted garlic labne & za'atar vinaigrette; Romesco, seared spring vegetables, charred leeks, smashed potatoes, almonds, cilantro; Sungold tomato and ricotta tartine, the first tiny tomatoes of the year with marjoram & fresh ricotta on Bub & Grandma's bread.

Kismet, highly recommended as one of LA’s finest, coolest, hippest. Watch out tapas haters and only children, if these restaurants are any example, we are moving universally to the land of small plates. Sharing is mandatory. Fried cauliflower with caper yogurt, kobocha squash with peanut citrus, and aleppo pepper; avocado with puffed wild rice crispy lentils and coconut vinaigrette.

You get the idea here about LA cuisine, no food travels alone, it is always "with" or "&" another; and it's hard to buy a calorie.

Sugarfish—Yum. Sushi where you are advised by the chef to Trust Me. In fact there is a “Trust Me” and “Trust Me Lite” on the menu.  You are also advised by the chef on several other counts. "Hand rolls should be eaten right away."  "We politely decline requests for extra rice." The rice is served warm to create a “melt-in-your-mouth sensation beneath the cool fish.”

Finally, Bottega Louie, the opposite end of Colori Kitchen—everything is light and new, the pizza is thin, the pulpo is thick, the atmosphere is airy and spacious, the hostess is glamorous.

LA observations sought and unsought

On two evenings out we were treated to spectacular displays of PDA. Intertwining legs and arms, long meaningful gazes, lip-locking passion, without surcease. The couples had no idea where they were except with each other. They seemed oblivious to everything and everyone around them. The audience, that is.

There was a gorgeous woman with black hair at the poolside bar, she wore a blue and white striped cotton shirt dress, and sported $500 sunglasses and red lipstick. As the sun set, her hair was blowing in the breeze, and the sun acted like a spotlight on her face, and the breeze acted like a wind machine in her hair, and it was just like being on a set. In fact we were on the set of DTLA.

Like this one

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Wholly Weekend in New York City

Photos by H. Darr Beiser

The Abominable Easterman, Fifth Avenue, Easter Sunday

There is never a bad time to go to New York City, but last weekend seemed like a particularly good time. Friday was Good, Saturday Passover, and Sunday Easter. We saw the full moon rising while we watched the sun setting from the World Trade Observatory, we found the perfect hole in the wall in Chinatown, we went to a great exhibit at the Met Breuer,  and then we saw The Easter Parade.

Easter Bonnets

We stayed at the Andaz Hotel, the Hyatt’s boutique line. Primo location at Fifth and 41st, right across the street from the NY Public Library. The lobby was darkish and deeply hip, with a reception desk that floated, island like, in the middle of the room. Check in and check out were mystifying.

Reading Room, New York Public Library

Super cool guest room, a glass closet, double sinks with clear counters, a very large “three-way” shower. By this I mean an overhead shower, the shower on a stick, and, get this, a shower for your feet, really, with a “sitting area.” Pedestrian-centric or ritualistic?

Friday we went to Chinatown to meet Franky who had come in from Memphis for the weekend. He had been advised to go to the Gavin Brown Gallery  Afterwards, we had excellent walk-around snacks of Samgak Kimbap (eel, and salmon covered in a triangle of seaweed.) Sat down to watch handball in the park, it was like watching a play on a cement stage. On the Lower West Side the boys allowed me to go into one store, the impossibly hip Gentle Monsters sunglasses boutique, so alluring that they even joined me.

We met Peter and Cousin Fred back at the Hotel’s Bar Downstairs, dark, subterranean, and unbearably loud. But we pretended we were in Madrid and ordered manchego, octopus, and olive tapas.  Dinner at the always reliable Joe Allen necessitated a walk thought Times Square, which my New York Native cousin equates to a walk through Hell. Hustling Disney characters have taken over. I think I would rather have the old Times Square with the peep shows. Easter Weekend it was just filled with Peeps shows.

Times Square-Happiest Place on Earth?

Saturday morning, we had a nice 40-block walk up Fifth Avenue to see Life Like Sculpture, Color, and the Human Body at the Met Breuer.  The exhibit which shows sculptures of human figures from the 1300's to today was fabulous, and had just been featured in a New York Times Review. Speaking of human bodies, Franky had a major celebrity siting, David Hockney was in the museum.  I mean David Hockney was in the museum. 

Bethesda Fountain, Central Park with Bethesda Brothers

We walked through Central Park, and it was as nice a day as this spring has been willing to provide. So there were hordes of Passover and Easter tourists, and natives in search of a spot of sun. We got sucked into the break-dancers’ hustle, and went voluntarily to Strawberry Fields, and the Bethesda Fountain.

The Oculus

"So go downtown, where all the lights are bright, downtown, waiting for you tonight." Heeding Petula, we went downtown. We wanted to see the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub, better known as The Oculus. Spectacular from the outside and striking inside.  Except…it's basically a large (365,000 square feet) mall owned by Westfield. In that setting maybe a little retail therapy is in order. But really? A mall?

One World Trade Center

We wanted to show the boys World Trade Observatory, so we went at sunset. I could spend hours there. Good thing, because I did. Super crowds, many of whom came in, plopped down and looked at their cell phone screens instead of out the windows. We had drinks at The One where three beers were $54.00. But hey, you're paying for the view.

We found a treasure for dinner. (Well, the New York Times found it, but we Googled it.) Wu’s Wonton King in Chinatown. You could order from photos on the wall or the menu, or point to one of the dead ducks hanging in the window, or you could ask a table of millenials next to you, as we did. But whatever you chose, do it quickly. Efficiency and speed are the name of the game at Wu's. We all sat on one side of a table, just like the scene at the end of The Christmas Story.

And then Sunday to wake up only blocks from the glorious St Patrick’s Cathedral, where at 10 a.m., the legendary Easter Parade begins.

Voguing Celebrant

Finally brunch at Park Avenue Tavern, nothing much, but it came with free hearing. We met our cousin who has lived in Manhattan for 40 years and says he still sees something new in New York every single day. An "I πŸ’—πŸ’— New York" person, like myself.
I πŸ’“New York