Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Smog Angeles (Part 1 of 4)

Here it is, the first installment of The Zone Goes To Los Angeles. Suffice it to say that my children's first impression of the City of Angels was the horrible air. They couldn't believe "Hollywood" was so polluted. However, they did love the beach, and I loved what little I saw of Malibu.
The drive at the beginning of our trip presaged all the driving I would do throughout the entire trip. We drove from our home to Miami (2 hours) to catch a direct flight to LAX. It was a good plan to fly non-stop to the West Coast. We arrived in L.A. early enough in the afternoon to get some things done. AAA was our first stop, and it was very close to our hotel. Moose and I picked up our packet of L.A. maps and information. He proudly announced to the AAA clerk – and everyone else we met in L.A. – that I would be appearing on Jeopardy! We zoomed down Sepulveda to our hotel, Radisson Los Angeles West Side. The studio contracted a great rate for contestants so it was hard to pass up, even though Wine Guy would have rather stayed somewhere more central. The west side location allowed us to explore West L.A., Marina del Rey, Venice, and Santa Monica.

Speaking of Venice, we managed to snag a reservation at Joe's for dinner that evening. Joe's gets top ratings in several categories from Zagat's (the little red dining guides that are foodie bibles): Most Popular and Top Food. We arrived at the beginning of dinner service and were seated in a lovely courtyard. Wine Guy and I each ordered the prix fixe dinner and some other small dishes for the boys. The waiter offered them things like plain pasta and grilled chicken, but my boys were having none of that! They wanted heirloom tomato salad, tuna tartare and the like. The service was attentive and fast, especially as the boys started to fade (and fuss) from exhaustion. All in all a good culinary start for the family that travels "by its stomach" so they say.

Day 2 dawned sunny and smoggy. We motored over to Susina Bakery for some coffee and pastries to fortify us for the morning's activity, the Hollywood Bowl. The baked goods were pretty good but frightfully expensive for what we got. Nevertheless, we headed up into the hills to catch a free dress rehearsal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. I was excited to go because I had seen the Bowl once before, briefly, when I was 15. We got great seats way down front and proceeded to read our L.A. Times and eat our goodies to the strains of violin soloist, Sarah Chang, playing a Brahms concerto. The boys weren't interested in sitting still so they took great pleasure in running to the very top of the 18,000-seat ampitheater! They ran up and down a few times and left us alone. It was bliss! After the rehearsal, Wine Guy navigated us through the old Jewish area, the Fairfax district, past Henson Productions and Kermit the Frog, and down to Little Ethiopia. We enjoyed an authentic Ethiopian lunch at Nyala, complete with that spongy, sourdough-y bread, injera. The food was interesting but fair.

By this point the boys were tired and whining and wanted to swim. We ran back to the hotel, changed into swimming stuff and drove out to Venice Beach. We managed to find a prime parking spot, although with a 1-hour meter. It was enough time to see the boardwalk spectacle there and dip our toes in the (cold!) Pacific Ocean. We drove back to the hotel for dry clothes and headed back up the beach to Santa Monica for dinner. We had a reservation at the Border Grill, the restaurant made famous by the "Two Hot Tamales," former Food Network stars, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. I'll be frank: Border Grill is completely overrated. The Mexican food was neither creative nor authentic. It was barely better than Taco Bell. The service was indifferent and chaotic. The room was so dark that you needed a candle or flashlight to read the menu; and, it was deafeningly loud in there. Border Grill was a portent of things to come: an overrated restaurant of a celebrity chef relying on her reputation instead of her culinary skills. [See my comments about Rick Bayless in Chicago; link to follow.] On the way back to the hotel, we detoured through Marina del Rey to see the inlet and the fabulous boats.

The next day we escaped the smog of the city for Pacific Palisades. WineGuy got us tickets to see the newly refurbished Getty Villa. J. Paul Getty modeled his Malibu villa after the Villa dei Papiri (Papyrus House) excavated in Herculenium, near Pompeii. It is a 2-story museum dedicated to the study of Ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art. The interior is cool and quiet despite the hot sun outside. There are lovely gardens: an inner Peristyle (courtyard), the East Garden with a beautiful blue mosaic fountain, and a magnificent Outer Peristyle with a reflecting pool. The Villa's antiquities included beautiful sculptures and urns and the most intricate mosaics all over the walls and floors. There is also an outdoor ampitheater that is generally used for staging ancient dramas, in which my "gladiators" struck their own poses!

We surprised ourselves at spending the entire day at the Villa; there was so much to do. The family took a guided tour of the museum's highlights. We had a lovely lunch at the museum's café. Later on, Wizard and I took an architecture tour while WineGuy took Wild Thing and Moose on the Children's Tour of the galleries. A great thing about these guided tours was the wi-fi audio system used by the tourguides and guests: the guide spoke in a normal voice, and there was no shoving to be at the front of the line to hear or see. Really smart! Walking around all that antiquity in all that heat really wore us out, so we drove back to the hotel and rested for a while. Dinner that night was at a Los Angeles institution: In-N-Out Burger. The little critics loved the milk shakes, liked the burgers, and hated the French Fries. For dessert, we found this little paletería, a Mexican popsicle and ice cream shop, called Mateo's (in the 4900 block of Sepulveda). Paletas are Mexican popsicles usually made out of fresh, tropical fruits like mango, mamey, maracuya (passionfruit), guava, ñance, etc. Mateo's featured mouth-watering sorbets made from these fruits; they were cool and refreshing after a hot day.

(Apologies for the date stamp on the photos. The photos are from my film camera; my digital camera was being repaired. I had the photo center burn a CD with my 35mm photos.)


Robin said...

This sounds like so much fun. I'm looking forward to hearing about the rest of your trip.

I wondered about In-N-Out Burger. I didn't get to try it on our last trip out to California, in spite of the fact that everyone kept recommending it.

Paige said...

Aww....I met my husband at Nyala, and Joe's was our special occasion restaurant for years (until we moved away from the west side and couldn't hack the drive anymore!) Bummer about Border Grill--it was good, once upon a time, but now really only worth going for margaritas and nostalgia, I guess.

Mom of 4K said...

That looks like it would be a great place to spend a day, just listening to the orchestra, munching on cheese, bread, fruit, drinking wine :) Ahh, the life...

Christina said...

I am loving this report on your trip to SoCal! You know the amazing thing is, as a native I can tell you that the smog is actually *better* now than it was in the 70s when I was up
there a lot.

Ahhh In-n-Out. It's still a treat for us to go there as the closest one to my house is still 10-15mins out of my normal driving directions. We stopped by one Wed night after a football scrimmage in Mission Viejo and I savored every bite of my burger. The shakes really are the best and yes, the fries are a love' em or hate 'em thing. I look forward to the next installment!