LA: a weekend of favorites
A few years ago, the NYTimes declared that all the Brooklyn kids now dream of LA, and it was a ridiculous statement, and we laughed. But then everybody we knew moved to LA and we visited and realized that they might be on to something. While the red-carpet-so-many-freeways-why-is-everyone-a-scientologist vibe still exists, there's also a ton of tiny galleries and delicious bougainvillea everywhere, and if one can live in an adorable stucco apartment and eat fresh citrus and have a perpetual tan, well it's hard to beat that.
And so we took the loveliest of lovely long weekends to visit the sister-in-law (hey girl!) and came back wondering if it was too late to join the movement.
The Getty: Everyone knows of the getty, but sad to say I hadn't been since I was a child and we made the trek from SF for a Van Gough exhibit (...during which a very tiny shriveled old raisin of a lady took a shine to me and loudly took me into her confidence that they were all fakes; I tittered, security did not). In any case: it's not a close drive from most things, but get yourself up there. Skip the tram and walk the winding road. The art itself is obviously fantastic: we roamed from medieval triptychs with the most rich colors I've ever seen to a visiting Greek sculpture exhibit to a curation of David Hockney collages. But the building itself is mesmerizing -- angles and surprise gardens and views of the city. In the future I might try to come in the evening, spend an hour or two wandering the halls, then grab a glass of wine and take it all in from the patio.
Echo Park: The neighborhood in East LA is hip as it comes, but the Park itself is a total treat unto itself. Gentrification has arrived relatively recently (rumor has it that when they decided to drain the lake a few years ago, an unreal stache of guns appeared), so it still retains a beautiful cross-section of visitors. Sellers of all kinds of Mexican snack roamed, couples bathed in the sun, dredlocked white men ran, and a ridiculous number of lily pads were blooming with flowers, the way they only do in LA.
MOCA: To be honest, not the first place we thought to go, but we had a few hours to spare, the Broad had already run out of tickets (!), and the location right near Central Market (more below) couldn't be beat. And so we wandered in, and it turned out to be the exact type of museum that if we lived In LA we'd find ourselves in every few months. Small enough to be accessible and absorbable, but with an impressive collection that included John Chamberlain, Joan Miro, and a whole roomful of Rothkos. Perhaps more exciting were the two current shows: Laughing from the Outside, a curation of playful pieces from the collection, and a deep retrospective of Anna Maria Maiolino, including incredible installations of unfired clay.
The Huntington Library, Art Collection & Botanical Gardens: The moment we decided to go to LA, the sister-in-law declared this the number one thing we had to see, besides her. Such a gem, I couldn't believe I hadn't heard of it -- envision sprawling gardens (I could spend hours in the cacti alone!), an old books collection (including an ancient copy of Canterbury Tales, a Guttenberg Bible, and always my favorite, Audubon's giant bird book), lots of history of science stuff with a bend to astronomy, and beautiful buildings. A dream of wealthy eccentricity and now a perfect afternoon treat.
Silverlake: LA's version of Williamsburg (or the other way around? chicken and the organic heritage farm egg?). Start at the Intelligentsia coffee - beautiful tile floors, icy beverages and pretty people abound - then wander down and up Sunset, poking into boutiques like Mohawk General Store and APC.
Venice: So LA. Skip the boardwalk, and hit up Abbot Kinney. Are some of the stores and restaurants the exact same you'd find in NY and frankly most big US cities at this point? Yes, but it's jam packed and there's great energy and so many finds, and you're in LA so go.
Hot Cactus (or The Cactus Store): I realize that a cacti store in Echo Park might possible not be considered on the same level of, say, The Getty, but hear me out: it was tiny, it was charming, it was filled with cacti. When I picked out what I thought was a small, unassuming, if slightly unusual variety, it turned out to be $95 and a rare Czechoslovakian variety that I had been brought to the US by way of Argentina. (Though: turns out they just opened a spot in the LES in NY, so you could go there too, but would you get the full experience?)
Grand Central Market: When staying at the Ace, Central Market is always stop #1. Perpetually packed and filled with both old standbys (Mexican spices!) and ridiculous new spots (a pb&j bar for real, kill me), it's got it all. If you've got to pick one though, make it Tacos Tumbras for their carnitas. This incredible LA Weekly article outlines how the family-run spot manages to serve nearly 1,000 tacos a day (!) and is still expanding. Pro tip: two tacos is plenty for two people, just get yourself an extra few tortillas and a cheap beer from the Chinese place on the northside of the market, and you're good to go. And before you head out, swing by G&B for a fizzy hoppy tea (exact explanation beyond me, but something about citrus hops and red tea and carbonation) or an espresso with a sidecar of cortado.
Sqirl: I basically started this blog two years ago in order to proclaim my undying devotion to Sqirl. I realize it's been written about literally everywhere, and now everyone is like "whatever, grain bowl" and yes, there's always a line as far as I can tell, BUT it. is. so. delicious. Jessica Koslow knows what's up and the menu is fresh and interesting and playful, and every time I leave with new ideas. Go: order the sorrel rice bowl, order the crispy rice with avocado, order the famous ricotta toast with jam, and do not forget a turmeric tonic (yes, yes I know) or one of her crazy coffee drinks and a minimum of three pastries because I think desserts are her secret under the radar best thing ever.
Gjusta: The restaurant Gjelina is delightful: gorgeous salads and pastas and everything is bright and so damn LA produce-y but also satisfying. So, go there. BUT if you, like us, only have a few days in the city, go instead to Gjusta, their deli/fish counter/cheese counter/bread store sister. It might be the one thing in LA that consistently makes me want to move there: Wander into the bright space, grab a ticket, then debate the merits of an impeccable (but somehow light!) slice of mushroom pizza or a peach salad or a few of those marinated anchovies or a plate of proscuitto or a loaf of nori bread (!). Again, pastries are worth getting, even if you can only shovel them into your bag for your flight home. (Also: good gifts like jams and honeys and such -- they also opened a general store next door with pretty pots and aprons and miscellaneous hipster things.)
Kismet: Kismet, oh Kismet, oh Kismet. Deciding where to go to dinner in LA was hard. Lots of great options, but the spots I felt most passionate about were mostly breakfast/lunch (see above!), so dinners were tricky. Kismet felt like the new cool kid at school -- is she actually cool? Or just cool because she happened to sit at the right lunch table on accident? Luckily it turns out, Kismet is deeply, truly delicious and all the buzz about celebrities that eat there is just a distraction. People swear by the rabbit dinner; we decided against it and basically ordered the rest of the menu. Do not miss the spiced cashews with kaffir lime, freekeh fritters, eggplant with plum, or, according to the man who has referred to it eighteen times since returning, the lamb belly. (Also, fun fact: all the ceramics are by formerly-of-brooklyn Helen Levi, who does amazing stuff.)
Cassia: I was sold on Cassia the moment I saw a picture of their towering raw seafood tower with South Asian spices (envision: grilled vietnamese prawns with fresno chilis! salmon dip with roe!). Asian fusion is the most ridiculous 90s concept out there. And yet: there it was, in a big open restaurant in Santa Monica, and it was beautiful. One of those restaurants that begs to be a regular for your birthday parties and to take your out of town friends. A couple orders of the cold sesame noodles with blue crab, papaya salad with spiced walnuts, and enormous pours of txakoli, and it'll be a good night, no doubt about it.
Moonjuice: So I swore the only liquid diet I'd ever go on is the classic champagne diet, and I still standby that. However, somewhere in the last few months it's occurred to me that juice is just a beautiful thing, provided you also eat your normal seven meals a day. Moonjuice has gotten a bit of buzz on the lady-trend food circuit (an early issue of Cherry Bombe had a deep interview with the founder) and I was like yeah yeah yeah until I went and tried tonics that looked like gatorade and were stupid delicious and then a grapefruitish juice and one called beauty and I don't know, guys, I felt so good, it tasted so good, and I'm so glad I don't live there or else I'd have no money and so much juice. So uh, cheers.
Guisados: For a displaced CA kid, anytime you go back, it's taco time. (And anytime you don't go back, it's taco time + complaining time.). We did a whole bunch of recon and in the end, Guisados - a chain known for stewy style tacos - won the day, after Tacos Tumbras. We squeezed this in as an afternoon snack (see "seven meals" above), and conveniently they offered a sampler plate of mini tacos (oh and obviously more juice -- can't do without that agua fresca). Honestly: should've gone for like 4 sampler platters, they were delicious. (Also: if you go to the Echo Park location there is an adorable coffee shop called Eightfold just up the block and it is all whitewashed and 'zines everywhere and an excellent cactus collection, because LA.)
PYT: If you only have two days, skip. But if you have a few and, or just want to have a perfectly pleasant meal with the most perfectly lovely vegetables in so many varieties, and some nice cold wine and some nice hospitality: well that is a fair thing, and I'd recommend PYT. (Also conveniently located in downtown for those who are staying there and may arrive at strange hours.)
Winsome: Easy brunch goes LA. This was one of the spots where you go "Oh, I get it." This is why you move: is it as memorable as Sqirl, or as confident as Gjusta? No, but it's a neighborhood spot with excellent breakfast and pastries and nice coffee and well yes, a perfect cucumber juice thing. It's chill and at the next table there was a cute kid and there were ladies in cool LA clothes but like super cas, like this is just how they are.
For another time... For reasons of timing or availability or too-full stomaches, we missed out on the following places I would really, really like to go: Bestia (sadly had a major fire the week before we were there, but I've heard it's the #1 for many folks), Petit Trois (though a meal sounds great, I'd love to do a weekday aperitif, so french yes?), Baroo (grain bowls monk-style, I'm in), Jitlada (thai thai thai), Destroyer (the breakfast that I really really want, nearly changed a flight for this one), Mariscos Jalisco (seafood tostadas because seafood tostadas), Republique (a meal sure, but a perfect pastry in a perfect setting that I can do), Chengdu Taste (because damn this places sounds good), Luv2eat Thai (see: thai, but also best names of all time).