Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cafe 101 Coffee Shop

Here’s how the eavesdropping played out: “blah, blah, blah cake in a jar” and with that I was pulled into the conversation. I politely asked for the details in order to experience this for myself. Cake in a Jar is a fun dessert from Cafe 101, the hip homage to ‘60s and ‘70s coffee shops. It’s in the lobby of the Best Western on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood. I had to sit in a booth by the stone wall, as it reminded me of the long-gone Ships Coffee Shop with their stone wall and toasters on every table.

Knowing I was on the verge of having Cake in a Jar, I started with the Grilled Tandoori Salmon Sandwich with regular fries and sweet potato fries. The salmon was delish, with lettuce, tomato and a cucumber yogurt, served on toasted pumpernickel. I didn’t get to toast the bread myself, but I bravely dealt with it. They also serve breakfast all day, so you know I was eyeing the breakfast burrito for my dinner!

The Cake in a Jar is chocolate cake with caramel icing and walnuts, served in a pint-sized Ball canning jar. I recommend it warmed up with the vanilla ice cream. Yum! I quickly understood the exuberance of the initial conversation where I was introduced to the treat. It was definitely worth the four miles I had to run as rationalization.

Oh yeah, and the music at Cafe 101 was a hoot! Talk about pulling one from my songbook, their mixes could have been my mixes. Billy Squier, Kraftwerk and Supertramp, along with the Eagles and Rolling Stones and other random bands I’ve already forgotten, all musically mish-mashed throughout the meal. Good times and good tunes!

Click here to go to their Web site.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Old LA Zoo

It was Christmas Day, and part of my orphan Christmas tradition is to meet up with a couple of friends, go for a hike in Griffith Park then take a spin on the Merry-Go-Round. This time, the friend who’s the trail aficionado decided to not join in, so I suggested a short route from the MGR parking lot around the Old Zoo. Huh?! Old Zoo you say?! Yes, there is an Old Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park, and the remnants of it are surprisingly accessible and family friendly. There are even picnic tables in one of the old bear grottos, and lots of welcoming green grassy areas nearby.

Very near Shane’s Inspiration playground, on the drive up to the golf club house, there is a sign marked Old Zoo. Park in the lot and follow the service road. After a short walk, you’ll spot cages and pens abandoned when the new Zoo opened in 1965.

Here you see a sign on the fencing around what was once an animal’s home. It reads “Site of the Old Los Angeles Zoo: This Griffith Park canyon area served as the City’s Zoo from its founding in 1912 to 1965, when the Los Angeles Zoo moved to its current location about two miles north of where you are currently standing. Many of the walls, grottos, and other enclosures you see today were built in the 1930s by County Relief workers and Works Progress Administration (WPA) crews. Once, bears, lions, monkeys, macaws, goats, elephants, reptiles, and turtles, among others, lived here and the sounds of their growls, roars, calls, and clamor filled this canyon. Although these historic enclosures are no longer appropriate for housing animals, they can be home to memories of family visits to the Griffith Park Zoo, as well as an opportunity to better understand developments in the zoological sciences. Please enjoy and respect the buildings, walls, and habitats that you will discover today.”

I’m not sure which animal resided here, but it seems shockingly small. And, I’m still trying to figure out where the elephants and lions lived, as they would need a larger space. I'm hoping the grassy area belonged to one of them. I think you’ll be startled at the standards of the time, and hopefully appreciate the expansion and renovations going on at the new Zoo. I saw the work on the new elephant habitat when I was there earlier this month. As the sign suggests, take the opportunity to see how far we’ve come in understanding the needs of our animal friends.

Click here to go to Griffith Park's Web site.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nyala Ethiopian Cuisine

I was heading west via Wilshire from downtown for a meeting. As usual, I was ravenous. What to eat, what to eat?! As sort of a knee-jerk reaction, I made the turn on Fairfax toward Little Ethiopia.

If you are unfamiliar with the area, there are maybe 10 Ethiopian restaurants and markets, mixed in with thrift stores and adult day care/assisted living facilities, on Fairfax between Whitworth and the crossing of San Vincente and Olympic. I’ve eaten at several Ethiopian places on this strip, and Nyala is my go-to due to their yummy vegetarian buffet.

In this picture, you see my favorite dishes: the cooked cabbage/carrots/potatoes, the yellow pea stew, and the red lentil stew. I call the red lentil “sloppy joe” for no other reason than that’s what it reminds me of. The rolled up spongy thing over the sloppy joe and veggies is injera, and sponge is the operative word. You tear off pieces and use it to pick up the food, and it sops up all the luscious juices. Injera alone is the reason to try Ethiopian food! I also had collard greens, couscous and some veggie soup from the buffet, but the trifecta above remains my faves.

Click here to go to their Web site.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

El Coyote Mexican Cafe

So, I could show you another huge, yummy burrito, but you've seen that before. You've surely seen one here on this very blog!

No, for El Coyote Mexican Cafe, I'm showing the wonderful, wacky interior before I talk about that burrito! I love the multi-colored pepper lights and the mirror artwork throughout. It looks like this even when it's not Christmas! I also smile at the fancy-dressed vaquero mannequin in what was once a phone booth by the bathroom. The waitresses wear the traditional dresses with the rickrack trim, which only adds to the experience!

El Coyote dates back to 1931 and has probably been a hopping happy hour spot for its 75+ years. Although my group took the sodas and water route, our whistles were definitely wetted for the hot and fresh chips and salsa to start. I barely had stomach room for my jumbo veggie burrito with the works (sour cream, guacamole and ranchero sauce) after inhaling the chips. Two surprising options on the menu were the ostrich meat, and spaghetti as a side dish. Is this a new - or an old - tradition?

Sorry, I have to say it. El Coyote is a howling good time!

Click here to go to their Web site.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Getty

My Santa Monica appointment ended early, and I was heading back to the SGV via the 405. Once I saw the little white tram coming down the hill, I decided that a visit to The Getty was on the horizon.

As it was way past lunch time, my first stop was the Café. One of the specials was a grilled gouda ciabatta with garlic frites, inspired by the Rembrandt exhibit per the sign on the counter. I took the bait, and it was delish! After devouring the wheel of warm gouda, CD-sized fluffy bread and double-dutch order of fries, it was time to see the galleries that inspired my meal.

Drawings by Rembrandt & His Pupils: Telling the Difference was fascinating. Rembrandt's illustrations were paired with his students' work of the same subject. Until recently, scholars thought the student work was actually Rembrandt's, and this show points out the differences in the styles and techniques. I was inspired by his use of the "Wite-Out" option of his day, and the reworking and redrawing of some of his pieces. It was as if he corrected his errors and kept going, not quitting or scrapping his accomplishments, and it all turned out just fine.

My next stop was to see The Medieval Scriptorium exhibit. To summarize, it was the Complete Idiot's guide to illuminated manuscripts. I learned that illuminated meant painted in the Middle Ages. Some illuminated manuscripts were how-to books, so the pictures had to make the instructions easy to follow. Other manuscripts told a story, and artists had to come up with new ways to illustrate. Some artists had to create images of things that they had never seen. Imagine painting an picture of an alligator if you'd only heard it described! In another example, we see where an artist had only a small space to tell a story, and how the main character appeared twice in the image to show the progressing events. Excellent use of what was available.

Finally, I had to see van Gogh's Irises while I was in the 'hood. Irises is one of my faves. He was in an asylum when this was painted. Even while deeply depressed, he created this beautiful image.

While taking the tram back down the hill, I realized my visit was all about making the most of what you have. Rembrandt and his redone drawings, illuminated manuscript artists optimizing what little space they had to tell their stories, and Vincent thinking that painting could keep him sane. Wow! And it all started just by seeing the little tram that could.

Click here to go to their Web site.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Walt Disney Concert Hall

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is the jewel in the crown of LA's Music Center. Opening in 2003, it seems to have reinvigorated the classy music performance scene downtown. At least in my humble opinion, it's now cool to see and hear classical tunes.

I was the lucky +1 for a Master Chorale concert at Disney Hall last night. I dolled up to enjoy a wonderful night of music. Christmas music was slated, the bulk of it non-traditional by today's standards.
I was looking forward to hearing my favorite instrument, the pipe organ. All the stops were pulled out for this concert, and the audience even got to sing-along with the professionals! As the guest of a Master Chorale Board family member, I chose to not take a photo inside the auditorium of the awesome presentation. This external shot will have to do for now.

Although the organ isn't always part of the schedule, go to Disney - and the Ahmanson, Chandler and Taper venues - when you have the chance. As the Music Center, these four facilities offer musicals, plays and opera, plus the Philharmonic and the Master Chorale. I may not "get" it, but I always enjoy it!

Click here to go to their Web site.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

LA Zoo

You know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen...yes, these are Santa's famous reindeer from the Reindeer Romp at the LA Zoo!

I often overlook the Zoo when I'm needing a getaway from the hustle and bustle. So when a friend invited me to go for a stroll at the Zoo, and I knew it was Reindeer Romp time, I got away in a flash!

It was one of those rare LA days, sandwiched in a pocket between raining the day before, and more rain predicted for the next few days. There was a noticeable crisp in the air, the kind where a jacket is not optional. Like me, the animals were appreciating the sun and soaking up the warm rays.

As for that getaway, seeing such diverse creatures from different continents is almost like taking a trip. No need for a passport to enjoy the lions, tigers, bears (oh, my!), kangaroos, elephants, chimps, zebras, giraffes, hippos and all the other animals working on their tans. There are 80 or so exhibits at any time, so there's always something fantastic to see.

Just in the nick of time for Christmas, the reindeer were front and center for this visit. The North Pole is another continent, right?! Families were enthralled with Santa's support crew, appearing right before their wondering eyes. It was fun to hear parents explain why these reindeer weren't with Santa. The reindeer will romp through January 3. And, yes, Virginia, they get Christmas Day off.

Click here to go to their Web site.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chill - Coffee, Crepes and Frozen Yogurt

is a super-cool hybrid of seemingly unconnected themes: fro yo, coffee and crepes.

I went for the red velvet frozen yogurt - sold by the ounce - with some fruit and candy toppings. Very tasty! I also sampled the tart green apple yogurt. Yum. They had at least eight different fro yo flavors to choose from, and a large selection of toppings. I was content for the moment.

But, a friend ordered a dinner crepe with chicken, cheese and spinach. Here you see the Chill staffer making it. I was shocked to see a crepe made to order inside this supposed yogurt shop. It smelled so good on the griddle, that I was considering reconsidering my yogurt!

They're open from 7A to 11P, which means they're good for the morning coffee, afternoon snack or dinner. Give them a try when you're in the area to satiate the blood sugar whatever hour - or whatever craving - it may be.

They do not have a Web site at this time. Street address is 11706 Moorpark near Coldwater Canyon in Studio City. Phone is 818-762-0041.

Friday, December 4, 2009

DWP Light Festival

Are you feeling like a humbug about the holidays? The DWP Light Festival in Griffith Park is a sure way to snap into the spirit of the season!

This is the fourteenth year of lights and music along Crystal Springs Drive, right by the Zoo. The lights outline models of icons such as City Hall, the Observatory, LAX, Venice Beach and other LA attractions. Everyone is snapping pictures for their Christmas cards, and cheery music is pumped over speakers. I can count on at least one Elvis song each time. Blue Christmas is definitely my favorite, and his White Christmas works in a pinch. Great fun, and it's all free!

I've been going to the Light Festival for at least six years. Last year the DWP folks trialed a few vehicle-free nights, meaning you got to walk down the middle of Crystal Springs, as opposed to the horse path to the side inhaling exhaust fumes from the cars driving by. This year, after listening to feedback and deciding on a greener Christmas, they made more than half of the nights geared to pedestrians and bicyclists. Now until December 17, park at the Zoo and walk one mile each way under and around the lights. Much better photo ops! Then, from December 18 to 30, cars will be allowed to drive through the route, starting from the Los Feliz side of the Park. Walkers are back on the dirt path. Trust me, it's not as much fun on those nights, but it is still worth it if you miss the pedestrian nights. I'd definitely have a Blue Christmas without this event!

Click here to go to their Web site.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Los Tacos

Los Tacos is my go-to place for nachos, and my SGV equivalent of Tito's Tacos (see June 17th post), with horchata replacing the root beer and ice balls. Many of my "in the know" friends are fans, and one visit is enough to convert anyone.

I walked or drove by their neon signs many times heading south on Fair Oaks. I finally stopped in and ordered the large carnitas nachos to go. Dang! It was huge!! (The picture is the small order for reference.) And I was hooked.

Now that I'm in the club, friends proudly share that they cater their parties with Los Tacos. I sometimes run into people who test the waters with "you may know this little taco place over by the Huntington Hospital..." before admitting to being a fan. I proudly proclaim my fan-dom! Although Los Tacos bills itself as "the world's greatest tacos," I'll let you decide that for yourself. "The world's greatest nachos" -- now I'll definitely agree to that!

No Web site at this time. Located at the intersection of Fair Oaks and California in Pasadena, behind the dry cleaner. Phone is 626-795-9291.