Sideways-inspired roadtrip!

Hollywood films always inspire me to take road trips. I've made a pilgrimage to the Amityville house and Grey Gardens. This trip to the Solvang/Santa Barbara-area was inspired by Sideways, and didn't require a plane ticket. It doesn't take arm-twisting to get me to leave Los Angeles. I'm always hunched on the springboard, waiting for an opportunity. Pulling away from the city, I can feel the proverbial claws releasing with each mile.

Breakfast in Santa Barbara
Eggs Benedict

 sampling wines and gourmet olive oil

Robert, appreciating the statues dedicated to great men
Sunstone Winery

with friends Gus and Jiwon Zdanovich
organic vineyard

catching the sunset


Guns and Roses and Steak Fries

Last month I sang the praises of many L.A. delis to prove that we've got power lunch nosh spots as good as any New York one. Not to mention celebrity sightings galore. But it didn't feel right to simply give Canter's a passing mention, given my one-sided love affair with the place. And when I say one-sided, I mean it. They are renown for their "aging waitresses from hell." Love them.

While I've never sampled it myself, I hear crack is quite addicting. And if one could transform the feeling of well-being it gives a person into an actual flavor, it would be the steak fries and ranch dressing at Canter's. To call it addicting would be an understatement. The false sense of well-being it provides is the reason why I treat myself to the place on my birthday. I'm sure part of the warm and fuzzy feeling comes from the vintage interior, almost reminiscent of a big cafeteria or truck stop from the 50's. Giant booths that swallow you up, lots of brown, lots of orange. And I love the sound of clinking classes and silverware in a large room. Except at weddings, where you're wearing Spanx, which physically restrict you from feeling true bliss.

Plus, Guns N' Roses got their start in Canter's Kibitz room, where they played regularly at the beginning of their career. In case you've been living in a cave for the past quarter century, that's huge.


The White Witch of Los Angeles

credit: Sera Timms

I will give her credit for one thing and one thing only. She thought of a cool name for her website. GodIsMyBoyfriend.com. Hardy har har. Not that it actually means anything.

But don't tell Los Angeles that. Homegirl gets all kinds of coverage in the L.A. Weekly, not to mention the fact that the city of Los Angeles must be throwing her enough coins to keep her operating. Maja D'aoust is "The White Witch of L.A." What does this mean? It means she can have photos taken of herself prancing in gauzy white dresses, declare the dust and dirt on the camera lens to be orbs (after development of course, since nothing actually happened during the photo shoot) and take your money to do, like, spiritual stuff with it. Like put it in her pocket. Then go buy other new white dresses to prance in.

I'm not mad at her. We allowed this to happen. People refuse to believe in God because of the talking snakes and the parting seas being "unrealistic," but then hail "The White Witch of Los Angeles." It just goes to show that some people long to be "different," simply because they're desperate for attention. So I say you go, Maja D'Aoust. You take all their money and you swirl and twirl in those gauzy white dresses and you wave your hands and you mumble over that burning sage. Take them for all they're worth, even if the rest of the country is laughing at us.

You go. You go Glen Coco.


Robert DeNiro's Fungus

Recently, I ate at Robert DeNiro's restaurant to...eat at Robert DeNiro's restaurant. 

The mid-century modern design at Ago didn't veer too far into Palm Springs territory. Avoiding splashy colors, they used a New York Bistro color line, with dark greys, mahogany and navy. The result was airy yet crisp. But it's my dish that I need to talk about. Never had I seen so many truffle shavings on one plate. Not even in the Piedmont region of Italy during truffle season. When there, servers taunted me with visions of just-picked local truffles, only to find tiny black specks on my pizza slice. As with most dishes with less-than-desirable amounts of truffle, you get that heavenly aroma, but can't find the taste. Then there's Ago, with generous potions to made up for all that "Look at the stupid American in Italy" brouhaha.

While many return from celeb-owned restaurants with bragging rights related to star sightings, it was all overshadowed by the great food. And in my case, it was overshadowed by fungus. 


The Nosh Pit

I realize that as an East-Coaster, I have to look at "East Coast-inspired" hotspots in California with a grain of salt. Like the "Hamptons-inspired" club, The Colony. Which is not even on the beach and is filled with girls sporting jack o' lantern heads and wearing "dresses" that I'm pretty sure were originally shirts. Anyone who's been to the Hamptons knows that Lily Pulitzer dresses are de rigeur, not stuff that would end up on this blog.

Anyway, it's well known that movie deals and comedy careers are made in the New York delis between Jewish bigwigs and their occasional goy counterparts. But I am proud to point out that there is some serious wheeling and dealing here in L.A., and most of these delicatessens have been here for more than half a century (practically ancient for Los Angeles). Great ideas and great sandwiches are born here too!


Canter's Deli - Seth Rogen & Michael Cera developed ideas in the vast orange and brown booths, and director Michael Mann would brainstorm and write for 6-hour stretches

Art's Delicatessen - Steven Speilberg, Jason Reitman, John Landis and CBS pres. Les Moonves are regulars. PS) The website hosts a Yiddish dictionary

Factor's Deli - William Shatner, Arthur Marx and Monty Hall have had brainstorms and meetings here

Nate n 'Al's - Larry King & his Brooklyn entourage eat here every morning. Charlton Heston was no stranger to the place either

Junior's Deli- This was a creative lab for Mel Brooks. And for street cred? NWA wrote lyrics in the booths!

Mazeltov Los Angeles!


Still the best pizza in L.A.!

the line extends pass the waiting room and onto the sidewalk
New York transplants are obligated to say, "There's no good pizza in L.A." in order to maintain their street cred. They don't want others thinking they've gone soft. I'm not a New Yorker and am not privy to such pretension, but I have my own pizza-related issues. Namely, that I've never liked it. Until recently that is. As a child, when our family ordered pizza I'd opt for the side of buffalo wings. Throughout college I'd endure countless comments from my cohorts. "What's wrong with you?" they'd gasp, as if I had an actual answer to that question. They were just as incredulous when they found out I had never watched Star Wars. I tried multiple times, but got too bored. It's the same with pizza.

In fact, I kept trying pizza at everyone's advice. I was sure I'd stumble upon that magical slice that would turn me over to their side. There was an Aladdin's Express on Broad Street in Richmond, run by a Muslim family from New York. I was actually impressed by their pie! As I enjoyed my giant thin-crust pizza slice, employees would roll out mats in the middle of the dining floor and bow eastward to Mecca. But I graduated college, moved to Los Angeles and once again found myself in Papa John's hell. I stumbled upon a frozen pizza in the grocery store. Gino's Pizza was only $1.19 for a single serve pie, so I didn't have much to lose. It was incredible, and I couldn't understand why it was so cheap. "Because it's disgusting, that's why," each consecutive roommate blasted. They hadn't even tried it, and wouldn't, assuming the cost meant the company was hiding a dark secret.

After 11 years in Los Angeles, I was invited to a dinner at Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock. "Eagle Rock?" I asked. I knew it was an up-and-coming neighborhood, but there is bad pizza everywhere, so why go there? "It's the best pizza in L.A., that's why." This unassuming Mom and Pop shop has been around for over half a century, started by Italian immigrants from Chicago. Our party needed reservations way in advance, and when we got there, the people waiting in line spilled from the indoor lobby to the outside benches. This place meant business!
I love an old school cash register
Consider this: Everyone says that even bad pizza is good pizza. So not many can be trusted when asked where the best pizza place is. Myself of the other hand, finds most pizza intolerable. So if I say the pizza is to die for, in addition to the rest of this city agreeing it's the best in the land, it must be. And Casa Bianca is. 

The crust is crispy, then chewy. The thin slices are loaded with gooey cheese and a savory mix of mystery spices that set it apart from all others. I can finally say that I love pizza. Unfortunately, this alone will not convince others that I'm now normal, but it's a delicious place to start.


FIG Santa Monica - Reminding us why we moved to L.A. in the first place

In my hometown on the East Coast, I'd to listen to Walk, Don't Run by The Ventures and imagine my future in California. In my mind, it looked like FIG restaurant in Santa Monica. Airy with big windows, offering views of swaying palms and an aqua blue pool. The faint sound of waves crashing in the background. Avocado slices on every plate.

The food is delicious without being fussy. I have to give credit to any restaurant serving the After School Special; a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. If you ever find your soul crushed by 405 traffic and clueless middle-aged women disfigured by plastic surgery, head to FIG. You'll remember why you came to California in the first place.