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.