Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Two Restaurant Rule

Do not read on an empty stomach.

It begins like this: I'm waiting for the elevator at work talking to my colleagues about the
Farmer's Market. It's a Friday afternoon, and so we are all headed there for lunch. We are unanimously on a Brazilian food kick - so the plan is to meet at Pampas Grill. 

The elevator arrives, and I climb inside with a woman who works on our floor. Though I've seen this woman time and time again for the last three years, we've never spoken more than the word, 'Hi' to one another. Usually in the restroom. But she turns to me and says, "Brazilian?" So I explain where we are headed and how we've been looking forward to this lunch all week. 

The woman is prompted to tell me her Rule: She commits to trying two new restaurants every month. Generally they are chosen based on reviews she has read, I think she said in the L.A. Times. This got me thinking.

Two new restaurants a month. I'm pretty sure Jamie and I do this without trying... It's not like this is a difficult feat in Los Angeles. But still - I decided to be more aware of it, if not more deliberate.

It has been a couple of months since the aforementioned elevator ride, and sure enough, Jamie and I have eaten at many restaurants new to us. (And after last night's adventure to the Westside Tavern, I decided it would be fun to document where we have been.)

STREET is Susan Feniger's latest foray, and as she describes it: "Even though I've had formal training as a chef, the single greatest influence on my life's work has been through the food I have sampled from street vendors throughout the U.S. and around the world. These unsung chefs cook food that excites the palate with unexpected flavors and exotic ingredients."


Jamie ordered the Singapore Kaya Toast (thick coconut jam on Malaysian white toast with soft fried eggs drizzled in dark soy and dusted with white pepper) and I enjoyed the Mediterranean Breakfast (toasted olive bread with warm feta, sliced avocado, cucumber, fried sage and marmalade -- it comes with marinated tomato, but I obvi held it). Our friend Sarah ordered the All American (eggs, Smokey Mountain bacon, wood oven country potatoes, toast and marmalade) and for the table, I ordered Jaggery Sugar Stuffed Paranthas (sweet flatbread griddled with butter until the sugar inside turns to caramel; split open and topped with fried bananas.)

If aesthetics matter to you, this place should pass your test. Though maybe I'm partial because of all the burnt orange in the place... There's indoor and outdoor seating, half the menu is vegan-friendly, they have an impressive selection of rare beers, and according to Out Traveler, Feniger is the finest lesbian chef in the world!

Shout out to Kathleen for sending us to STREET!

Jen and Sarah under the orange umbrella

Simpang Asia is an Indonesian Cafe and market down in the Palms part of town. Our friend Caroline - who also likes to try new restaurants! - had her birthday dinner here. I had the Nasi Uduk Jakarta (aromatic rice enriched with coconut and a hint of lemongrass, turmeric yellow fried chicken, tofu and tempeh, shredded egg, and veggie tamarind soup) and Jamie had the Nasi Rames (spiced chicken curry, tofu and tempeh, and beef rendang). We also tried the Siomay Bandung (steamed fish cake with egg, tofu, cabbage and potato, served with peanut sauce). Though I did not care for the soup, everything else was unbelievably delicious. I would go back there for the rice alone! 

One cool thing about this place is the grocery store right beside it. It is a traditional Indonesian market with everything from teas to noodles to milk fish. At the risk of appearing culturally insensitive, we took a lot of photos in the market.

From L to R: Joe, Lori, Jason

For dessert we all shared the two desserts they offer: Pisang Bakar (grilled banana with chocolate sprinkles and cheese) and Roti Bakar (Indonesian sweet grilled cheese bread with chocolate sprinkles and condensed milk).

Pisang Bakar

Earlier in August, my family was in town from Colorado. One evening we all met in Surf City, USA - Huntington Beach - and spent a LOUD evening overlooking the PCH and the ocean. This place also had indoor and outdoor seating, killer fire pits, and your traditional SoCal Mexican fare. I had some shrimp enchiladas and Jamie went for the cheese enchiladas. (Jamie: remember when you asked the waiter to hold the cheese, and he said deadpan, That's what an enchilada is.) 

The best part of the evening was watching my three year old nephew Brian absorb the frenetic energy of a beachside bar on a Saturday night and go a little nuts. 

Brian (L) and Daniel

Thanks to our friends Paul and Jess, we went to a "talent show for the best makers of food and drink in California." Quaint and (my favorite) enclosed by exposed brick, this little place is a part of the hip stretch of Fairfax. Burgers, dogs, beer and Scoops - simple and done well. I had a Spicy Dog with caramelized onions and fried sweet potato wedges, and Jamie got the Chicken Apple with sauerkraut; Paul and Jess went for burgers. I attempted to enjoy a beer that evening (because of their extensive selection), but as usual, I didn't like it and had Paul finish it. 

Chicken Apple (L) and Pork

Scoops, if you have never heard of it, is a gelato place in Hollywood/Silverlake with unique flavors including Brown Bread, Strawberry/Balsamic, and Pistachio/Saffron, as well as some "traditional" flavors such as Horchata, Peanut Butter/Chai, and Salted Caramel. (Not to mention it's pretty great for celebrity sightings... during my last visit there, Weird Al showed up with his kids.) Well, The Golden State has a small selection of Scoops right there at the counter - so we were able to follow our meal with some deliciously odd frozen treats.

Jamie didn't come to this German Gasthaus
 with me, but I think I ate enough sausage and sauerkraut for the both of us. The infamous beer selection was wasted on me, but the bratwurst and German fried potatoes went down nicely with my old lady vodka drink. To any local readers: try this place (and call me if you're going). But be warned: the parking situation can be annoying. There is a small lot and it's bound to be full when you get there.

I deem this one 'winner of best restaurant in a mall though not really in a mall.'
They deem this: 'chef-driven yet affordable interpretations of California Tavern Cuisine alongside a complementary selection of fresh cocktails, craftsman beers and thoughtful wines. Encompassing 10,400 square feet and 300 seats, Westside Tavern is designed to be used as a casually upscale gathering place."

It's totally connected to the Westside Pavillion (which allows for plentiful, free parking) on Pico at Westwood. This place is special to me for reasons other than the menu and the parking, though. Jamie and I went last night and met up with some of my nearest and dearest friends from back east - a couple of whom I hadn't seen in far too many years. (Shout out to Amy, Michelle, and David!) 

The best thing about last night's group - aside from the amount of laughter we shared  - was everyone's appetite and willingness to sample A LOT of the menu. I'd say we ordered about 12 things "for the table" in addition to our individual entrĂ©es:

- Farmstead Cheeses & Cured Meats Board
- Crispy Ricotta Filled Zucchini Blossoms
- Grilled Three Cheese Sandwich with Tomato-Basil Soup
- Nueske's BLT with Soft Fried Egg
- Spring Pea & Ricotta Pillow Pasta with Wild Mushrooms and Bloomsdale Spinach (this was my main dish and one of the best pasta dishes I have probably ever tasted)
- Lamb French Dip 
- Balsamic Steak & Roasted Onion Salad (Jamie's beloved dinner)
- Grilled Salmon with Sweet Corn and Summer Squash
- Warm Sticky Toffee Cake with Mascarpone Cream
- Peach Cobbler with Butter Pecan Ice Cream
- Bread Pudding with Vanilla Malt Ice Cream
- Some yummy cocktails


Tonight we are off to Little Toni's in North Hollywood. Though it is practically in our backyard, neither of us has ever been. 

I can't wait to try the pizza!!!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

And we're live!

Thanks to our dear friend Allyson who works at E!, jen and I got to attend Thursday night's live taping of the SYTYCD 100th episode.
(Yes, we know how lucky we are.) (And yes, we know this picture is backwards.) 

Because of the celebration, most of the choreographers and tons of dancers from Seasons 1-5 were in the audience - literally sitting right in front of us. So for all of our So You Think You Can Blog followers, we put our mental note-taking skills to the test so we could deliver the goods about our beloved show and dancers.  

Here are some fun facts from the evening...

-Nigel drives a big, blue Bentley with a vanity plate reading:  SYTYCD

-Will, from Season 4, drives a silver Jag. 

-Katee, from Season 4, drives a Honda.  
(You can discover so much just walking through a parking lot!) 

-Cat Deeley looks just as amazing in person, and seems just as nice. 

-If you become friends with a page, you can get moved to kick ass seating right beside the judges.  

-Most of the dances were pre-recorded the previous week.  We were kind of disappointed by this, but luckily we got to see the them tape the two dances that will be on next week.  (no spoilers...)

-The solos were live and it's very fun to do the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 countdown!  

-It's equally as fun to participate when Cat tells everyone to welcome their "JUDGES!!!"  

-Toni Basil paints her toenails blue and talks incessantly through the taping.  
(jen was not pleased to be sitting beside her.) 

-Shane Sparks texts incessantly through the taping.  

-Brian Friedman wears long (ugly) Victorian blazers and tries to (very loudly) predict who's going home during the taping.

-Katie Holmes was definitely not performing live.  
(But I'm sure everyone figured that one out themselves.) 

-Jamie peed in the stall beside Comfort.

-Jen said hi to Gev. 

-Benji, winner of Season 2, turned around during the taping and said to Shane Sparks and Lil C "hey you urban guys, can you keep it down." Luckily, the "urban guys" laughed.  

-Joshua, winner of Season 4, did the head nod at jen.  

-All of the dancers from past seasons were sitting together and appeared to be genuine friends. At one point, they all passed around a copy of the show's recently-released workout DVD and made fun of each other posing on the cover.  

-Twitchington shared a minute-long hug.  

-Jen shared an "emotional point" with Kayla.  

(okay, not that emotional.)

-Travis, much to jen's dismay, was not in the building.  

-Jason & Jeanine, who were rumored to be dating (by Christine), don't seem to be.  After he was voted off, she continued dancing in the confetti and never went over to console him.  If they are in fact dating, he should dump her.  

-Mia Michaels is stunning.  

-Pasha, from Season 3, is a great dresser and went on stage to dance with an audience member before the taping.  

-Kerrington bought her dress at American Apparel.  

-No cameras or phones were allowed (unless you're Shane Sparks) so we have no proof of any of this.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Cotton Anniversary

The month of June holds a lot of meaning for a variety of reasons: we celebrate Father's Day, Flag Day, Juneteenth, Mary Kate and Ashley's birthday, National Donut Day, the first day of summer, and the invention of the toothbrush (in 1498!)... just to name a few.

But two years ago, June became an even more special, unforgettable month for me - it was when someone with the screen name of 'Jamesey' sent me a message on MySpace. You all know the happy ending of that little exchange, so let's jump ahead to the weekend of June 21, 2009 - our second anniversary.

Jamie surprised me with a trip to
Ojai (pronounced oh-high) up in Ventura county. All I knew when we left Saturday morning was that the bikes, the dog, and our bathing suits were coming! I didn't know if we were camping or pet-friendly bed and breakfast-ing or what! (One of the few surprises that Jamie has actually pulled off.) ; p

After cruising up the 101 and across the 33, we entered... Shangri-La. And by this I mean... a gated community of rolling estates! We drove along the twisting and turning roads of the Oak View neighborhood and finally reached our very own Zen Bungalow. (No really, that's what it's called.) We explored the place and all its amazing features - wrap around balconies, breathtaking views, and even a record player with a decent vinyl collection - and eventually got Katie all settled in. 

It wasn't long before we were unpacked and ready to go see downtown Ojai. We took a drive into town and had a really yummy lunch at the
local pizza place. Jamie said it reminded her of places from back home. Afterward, we took a quick walk on the main strip, but could not stop thinking about our gorgeous little retreat that was waiting for us! So we grabbed groceries for dinner and headed back to prepare ourselves some salmon, broccolini and baby potatoes... Mmmmmmm. (Full disclosure: I was in the hot tub while Jamie cooked.) Following some wine and Fred Clause, I believe we passed out in our jungle-themed room.

Day two began with breakfast under the tiki cabana. Nothing like fresh-squeezed orange juice and egg whites with zucchini from your own garden to start the day. I believe Air Supply was wafting from the living room and Katie was sitting beside us on her blanket. And if that's not a glorious memory, I don't know what is!!

We finished up and agreed it was time to go find the famous
Ojai bike path. Something to note the next time you find yourself wanting to ride there: Elevation. What a workout! Fortunately, there were countless photo opportunities (er, reasons to rest our legs).

After that cardio adventure, we headed back into downtown to wander around some more. We sampled the ice cream, the used bookstore, the local hippies at
Libby Park, and the blooming flowers of Rotary Community Park. We even drove through the stunning grounds at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa (which is, apparently, one of the 1,000 Things to See in the U.S. Before you Die, pp. 835-836).

Our night was filled with more fine dining, an embarrassing UNO tournament (embarrassing because of how severely I got my ass kicked), and starlit swimming. Hard to believe that tomorrow was Monday and there was a city we had to get back to. 

I won't say that, "All good things come to and end" because for me, that's just not true. Even in North Hollywood, I have my zen moments in our little zen bungalow... and despite the stresses of work, the economy, and loud neighbors, life with Jamie can feel like Shangri La.

Happy Anniversary. I love you.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Let the music take control...

Sorry we've been out of the blog spotlight for so long. But with a new season of So You Think You Can Dance comes inspiration, hence the blog update! If you guys, our loyal followers, (or those that we force to follow by putting you on the email list) are not watching SYTYCD, please do so. This show, as cheesy as it sounds, moves us. I've always loved to dance since I was in junior high. And even in my 30s, I find myself in the middle of a dance circle more often than you would think. One of the things I love most about jen is her ability to let loose on a dance floor. But it wasn't until I started watching SYTYCD that I discovered my love of watching dance. The passion, the choreography, the's all extremely moving. So give it a shot people. I promise you won't be disappointed.  

Anyway, in honor of a new season starting, I thought I'd post a blog about a fun dance-related activity we did back in March called A Taste of Dance. Because we were itching for our beloved art form, when we received the flyer in the mail for A Taste of Dance, we truly couldn't wait to check it out. Basically, it was an event going on at the Music Center in Downtown LA where you could "taste test" a variety of dance styles at just a dollar a lesson. $1 bought you a 20-minute lesson. And the most important experience necessary! So we biked to the subway, and headed downtown.  

First up was the Dunham Technique Warm Up. I think this one was both mine and jen's favorite. The instructor, Sarah Anindo Marshall, was incredible. Basically, she led a fusion of Caribbean and African dance with modern and ballet. In this 20-minute warm-up, we used more muscles than we had in years. The second we got home we researched the internet for places we could take a Dunham class, but our search came up empty unless we joined the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. And um, that's not really an option. So if anyone that reads this blog knows of any place we can take a Dunham class, please let us know!  

So since we were all warmed up, it was time to hit the various dance floors that were set up all around the Music Center. While crowds of people watched on, we attempted to Breakdance first. I did okay until we got to the backspin. After getting kicked in the head by a teenager, I excused myself from the floor. But jen stuck it out and actually did quite well!  

I was beginning to feel a little out of my element, but then we did the Praise Dance class which was much easier to follow. Very lyrical and expressive. We had a hard time following the Afro-Brazilian class, but my forte was Krumping. Lil' Tommy the Clown, who was featured in the movie Rize, taught us a routine and it was a blast! I still do the "krump clap" regularly in our living room.  

Christine and Starr met up with us and tried their hand at Chicago Steppin' and something else that I can't remember.  

All in all, it was a great experience and I can't wait to do it again. I'm pretty sure they have A Taste of Dance twice a year, so all you LA peeps should check it out! 

This experience also inspired us to try a Zumba class at the gym. Jen's not as crazy about it as I am, but I openly admit to LOVING ZUMBA! It's an aerobic class that combines movements from merengue, salsa, mambo, etc. into one kick-ass work out. Zumba is getting more popular, so I encourage you to find a class. At LA Fitness it's actually called "Latin Impact" but it's the same thing.  

So please tune in to this season's SYTYCD, and in the words of C+C Music Factory...everybody dance now...da da da da...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Counting blue cars...

No, our latest blog is not an ode to Dishwalla...but it is about counting cars so to speak. Last night, Jen and I participated in the 2009 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. We've gotten out of the habit of blogging lately, but I have to say, after the experience we had last night, it's time to start talking.

I'll start at the beginning. The last two years, we've participated in the United Way's HomeWalk, a 5k that raises money and awareness to prevent homelessness in Los Angeles. At last year's walk, we got recruited for HC09, and we've been looking forward to helping ever since. So what is HC09? Well, basically, every two years all the homeless people in LA need to be counted in order to get the proper federal funding they deserve. In 2007, 73,000 people were counted. That number is so large, I don't even know how to process it.

As the count started approaching, I remembered that I had signed up to be a team captain, meaning I needed to recruit just 4 other people. No problem, right? I've got tons of friends. Um. Yeah. Not as easy as I thought. I sent out roughly 200 emails asking for volunteers, and got only 4 replies - two of which were a "no." This hit me pretty hard. One of my goals this year was to help more. Give back. Make a difference in any and every way that I can. And it was hard to accept that just because I'm in a giving mood this year, everyone else may have other priorities and be giving back in other ways. So basically, recruiting was a bust. But luckily, a few people came out of the woodwork, and I met my quota. (A big shout out to Lauren, Alex, Roxanne, Russell, Catherine, Jessica & of course jen.)

Cut to the night of the first count. Jen, Lauren, Alex & I signed up in the San Fernando Valley. We drove out to our deployment center and got geared up to start counting. We sat through a short training session and lined up for our assignment. Basically, they were handing out 3 types: walking, biking or driving. Since it was the coldest day of the year, we were hoping for a driving assignment, but by the time we got to the front of the line, it was slim pickin's. We almost got sent to Sylmar, but luckily, we got one of the last local assignments. Problem is, it wasn't in one of the safest areas, so they decided to send two men with us. Fine by me!

We loaded into our cars, with the two guys, and drove to Pacoima. Now when I signed up for the count, it never crossed my mind that it might be dangerous. Homeless people don't hurt you. But I wasn't factoring in the neighborhoods we'd be walking through. Lauren mentioned right away that Pacoima was known for its gang activity. But there's safety in numbers, right? And there were 6 of us. Wearing black. Wandering the streets at 10pm. Waking up every dog on the block. And definitely turning heads. Hell, if I saw a group like ours walking down the street, I would call the police. But we marched on...

Then, a white car drove by. What are you looking at? We're volunteers. Yeah, I know it's late and we're on your turf, but we're helping. I swear. After a few minutes he drove by again. And then a third time in which he asked if we were vampires. (I wish!) Then, a girl in his car asked us what our problem was. Ugh. I don't want to get in a gang fight. Homelessness is all I'm trying to fight. Obama told me to! We b-lined for the car.

After an hour, and no sign of a homeless person, I started feeling useless. If I wasn't counting anyone, was I really making a difference? Despite the training that "zero IS a valid number," I was feeling like a failure. And then, low and behold, we spotted an RV. Is there anyone in there? I don't know... Don't shine the light in it! Well, there are sheets hanging in the front window. Surely someone's in there. Let's count it!

And that is as high as our count got. 1. I guess I should be overjoyed that our count was so low. That means there aren't that many homeless people on the streets in Pacoima. That's a good thing. But I feel like I've been taught the whole points know, the higher the number, the better. I had to take a deep breath and realize that in this case, a lower number was a good thing. So we drove back to the deployment center and called it a night.

As jen and I drove home, we debriefed. The weather, the late night, the could-be gang bangers, the low tally...was it all worth it? You betcha. Even though my mind had been all over the place the whole night, I know that we were just 6 of the 3,000 people counting. I realized that I was just a small part of a greater picture. Our one RV was going to boost the count and get these people the funding they need and deserve. I made a difference. And I will keep on doing it. Oh, the things we'll do for Obama.