I recently had the privilege of working with the DTLA Downtown Center Business Improvement District to write a special report on the Future of Urban Retail. If you haven’t noticed it yet, DTLA is quickly becoming THE place to go for restaurants, entertainment… AND NOW…SHOPPING! The report takes an in-depth look at DTLA’s 8 key districts and profiles what’s hot in DTLA retail right now along with what’s going to define the personality and excitement of these districts in the months to come. Stay tuned…the story just keeps getting better!
Last night I attended a “Fireside Chat” with Hal Bastian and Brigham Yen. the two men who have been the most passionate voices and citizen activists in the renaissance of DTLA . The lounge-y lobby of The Standard Hotel was full of residents, the just curious, and the big investors who all hung on Hal’s and Brigham’s every word .
Hal recently launched his own firm, Hal Bastian Inc., after spending the past 20 years in commercial real estate followed by 13 years as the Director of Economic Development for the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID). While at DCBID, Hal was instrumental in bringing residential and retail development as well as friendly dogs and their owners to the streets of downtown that were once, not terribly long ago, deserted after 6 p.m.
Brigham told us about how he got his love for DTLA which started when his dad took him on a Greyhound Bus trip from Utah to Denver to Chicago to New York with each city destination getting another “really” in front of the “big.” His dad would preface their arrival at each destination by saying, “Son, this is a (add 1 REALLY for Denver, 2 for Chicago and 3 for New York) big city!” At one point Brigham was hired by Hal to work for the DCBID and now he focuses on DTLA real estate as well as his blog, DTLA Rising, where he uncovers all the latest news on what inquiring minds want to know about new developments, retail construction and renovation within each of the downtown districts.
Hal and Brigham, in many ways, reflect the two generations that are the embracers of the DTLA lifestyle–babyboomers and millennials. Both demographics have already discovered why downtown is so great. At the same time Hal acknowledges that the future of downtown must include better public schools such as Metro Charter School, that was started by DTLA parents a few years ago, along with more parks and activities for young children such as the annual Halloween Party in the FIDM Park. The goal is to make it attractive for parents to continue to live downtown when their children reach school age. Hal argues that young parents who work downtown might rethink the time they could lose with their kids due to commuting vs. the trade-off of the house and the back yard (not to mention upkeep!).
Brigham, a Cal Berkeley grad, said he could never understand why his Bay Area friends were always so down on LA. While he realized as a college student that Los Angeles was still lacking the city vibe that he found in San Francisco, he still wouldn’t give into the jibes. He described an enjoyable moment of vindication that came the other day, when he ran into two old friends from the Bay Area, one of whom owns several restaurants. Brigham said that he asked him, “Hey man, what are YOU doing here in DTLA?” “I love it here,” his friend replied, “There’s so much cool stuff happening.” For Brigham that was one of those ultimate reassurances of knowing that what you’ve been working so hard for has materialized.
Hal gave us a great quote from Teddy Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I could think about this one for hours. Which of these two pictures is better? I don’t think it matters. I think we just embrace the change.
The photo above shows what the DTLA skyline will look like when the 1,100 Wilshire Grand Tower is completed at 7th and Figueroa in 2017. This photo was pulled from Brigham Yen’s DTLA Rising blog.
So yes, we can certainly compare one era to another, but we also revel in the uniqueness of our city. It’s not just the old and it’s not just the new, it’s how the pieces are all working together like the Broadway Trade Center building, formerly May Co. Department Store, formerly Hamburger’s Department Store. This structure bordered by Broadway, Hill & 8th Streets has been purchased and is going under a major renovation. No one has the definitive on what or who will occupy the building but the rumors are all intriguing. I’ve heard that one floor will be the world headquarters of Beats by Dre which is owned by Apple. Another inside scoop is that the ground floor will be a “world’s fair of mindfulness.” There have been talks of high-end retail, residences and creative office space within this structure which takes up nearly an entire city block. Most importantly, this building is just a spectacular piece of 1906 Beaux Art architecture that’s been a long time coming in being re-appreciated.
Hal loves to tell how long it took to convince a grocery store to come downtown and finally Ralphs agreed. 7 1/2 years later, this store does $1 million a week in sales and is the #1 take-out deli in the entire Kroger corporation (parent company of Ralphs). While on the topic of grocery stores there were cheers from the audience for Whole Foods that’s currently under construction at 8th and Grand and Trader Joe’s that agreed to build, not exactly downtown, but rather in the new University Village project by USC. And we were reminded to be grateful for City Target and Smart & Final Extra…both incredibly clean, well stocked, and super helpful. Except, and I ask your indulgence here… I still don’t like the idea of having to bag my own groceries the way they expect you to at Smart & Final. And while I’m on the subject, I think we’ve all gotten pretty good about bringing our own bags BUT, If I did happen to forget my bags, I am really annoyed with the ten cent, or whatever it is, charge after I’ve spent $50+ on groceries. Why don’t all the stores who have to abide by this new law have a jar for charity and if you have to buy a bag, put a donation in a jar for the homeless–don’t make me have to give it to the store!
Now back to the chat: Brigham said people used to say that LA “had no soul” referring to no appreciation for the history of the city and vibrancy of life in those historic areas. Let it be said, the soul of LA is awakening. It’s happening in the revitalization of the old and the boldness of the new, including the Broad Museum and Plaza along with new residences and fun places to congregate like Pez Cantina at 400 S. Hope.
No conversation about DTLA is complete without a discussion of the homeless, the lack of affordable housing and the scarcity of owner-occupied buildings vs. rentals. These are conditions that affect every income level and the complexion of the city. The housing issue is under constant discussion by the city while the County of Los Angeles as well as the State of California needs to step up and get more involved. The care of the homeless should not just be left to the City of Los Angeles to figure out. Drugs, alcoholism and mental illness are conditions for which the County Health Departments must find solutions and provide relief. Unfortunately it’s the urban locales that bear a disproportionate number of these cases which lead to homelessness.
The Midnight Mission is one of the most active resources for the homeless in DTLA . They bring together DTLA residents and volunteers for an annual event in The Old Bank District that gets everyone involved in supporting the great work of this 100-year-old center dedicated to helping the homeless get off the street and become productive citizens.
“Vacant parking lots suck the life out of the city,” was one of my favorite Hal Bastian observations of the evening. He’s so right but I never thought about it that way. Of course this led to one of the other items on the wish list of everyone who cares about DTLA –more green space. Grand Park has been a tremendous asset but south of that there’s a big need. I must say, though, that I have a hummingbird feeder on my 8th floor balcony and I’m visited daily by a shimmering green little avian . When I look out my window and down to the trees on the street below, I sometimes catch a yellow butterfly flitting among the tree tops . Just think what we could have if a few more parking lots were turned into parks! I’m anxiously awaiting what we’ll see when the building across Hill street, which I see out our window, finishes the pool and community deck. I have high hopes that I’ll be looking out on planters and trees.
Which leads me to what Hal and Brigham shared about the 5,000 new residential units that will all be completed by the end of 2015. Only 68 of those 5,000 were for-sale units and they were in The Barker Block in the Arts District. The reason for this disparity, according to Hal, is that lenders are still stinging from the real estate fallout that resulted in so many short sales and foreclosures. They want to go for occupancy first, which hopefully will be followed by residents being offered the eventual opportunity to buy.
Here are a few more of the good things that we learned:
Elysian Park just above DTLA has tennis courts, baseball fields, picnic areas, an awesome view of the city and great hiking trails. Hal is working on getting a corporate sponsorship for a DASH bus to take downtowners back and forth to this lovely place. Knowing Hal, he’ll make sure dogs are allowed on the bus, too!
DTLA is the hub of a multi-billion dollar mass transit system. Union Station is a pretty impressive confluence of transportation options.
And with all this good news, instead of taking Uber home, I decided to walk and see for myself what the streets of DTLA were like on a relatively “quiet” Thursday night. Who knew that Bill Nye the Science Guy would bring out a crowd that stretched down Broadway and wound around 7th Street.
It’s always fun to discover something going on–like Bill Nye the Science Guy– that you didn’t even know about. And the gorgeous high ceilings in Clifton’s that were visible by night gave me a peak at what this long-awaited, multi-level restaurant and bar has going for it in the way of a landmark restoration and destination attraction to Broadway.
As I walked I started thinking retail…remembering Hal’s and Brigham’s claims about everything that’s been opening on Broadway including the newest: a Gap Factory Store, and the others that have come along in the past year or so such as Acne Clothing, Aesop, Tanner Leather Goods, Oak, and Urban Outfitters. “What else haven’t I noticed?” I wondered.
In the 700 Block of Broadway I came across a project in the works. The store used to be Rainbow and I actually bought a sundress there for $10 the first summer we lived downtown. The dress held up pretty well but it looks like some deeper pockets have an even better idea for what they want to do with this space.
I have high expectations for what I see happening here .
A block further south on the corner of Broadway and 8th, I noticed some art had gone into the three store fronts along 8th street (but tonight there was paper covering these windows so we’ll have to see what’s next). Here’s what it looked like on Thursday:
Next to Farago was a new shop and I loved their honesty. The name is LA EX and the tagline is “The Tiny Flagship Store.” I will definitely check them out this weekend.
In the same series of shops, the guy who used to make keys and repair shoes at The Broadway Exchange has a much nicer storefront now on 8th at Broadway.
As I walked past all these examples of what Hal and Brigham talked about, I realized that it’s a unique experience to be living in the midst of so much change. I’m looking forward to the fist episode of the TV show Hal is working on with Ryan Morris, the producer of the late, great Huell Howser’s TV show about California points of interest. Hal is the perfect guy to take this on–especially with all the new material that DTLA is giving us. Watch for “What’s Up Downtown? with Hal Bastian.”
I look forward to keeping up with all of Brigham Yen’s posts about what he’s hearing around town and hopefully continuing to discover one or two of my own.
We’re here for a reason and the only reason I can think of is to make this world a better place. Thank you Hal and Brigham for your passion, drive and commitment to this city we call home.
I also reflect on the sentiments of the play we saw at The Ahmanson, “The Trip to Bountiful,” and how fond memories can come from the city as much as they can from a small town upbringing. Home is indeed where your heart…and your soul is. I also write about why the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is such a special place for us.
Thursday Nights at Grand Central Market is the topic of my article today in The Larchmont Buzz. I’m glad Jay and I were able to get over to the market the other night because now I have to get busy packing. I leave on Monday for Florida where I’m attending Chain Store Age‘s Executive SPECS Conference. We’ll stay in the West Palm Beach area until November 7th when we leave for Santo Domingo, the capital of The Dominican Republic. It’s going to be an entirely different downtown experience working at a school for 500 children, many of whom are orphans. We’ll be helping to install a computer lab and then spending the rest of our time playing with the children at this school as well as spending time with the children at a few other schools and orphanages in the area . The Dominican trip is very much inspired by Nick who at 13 years-old wanted to help kids in the Dominican Republic knowing how much baseball is part of their culture. Nick collected used baseball equipment from his little league teammates and sent it over to The Dominican. For our trip the Notre Dame High School team is donating between 15-20 used baseball gloves for Jay to bring with him on the trip. He better be sure there’s ice over there to put on his elbow!
In the meantime, work will be finishing up on the loft we purchased in the Eastern Columbia Building. We plan to move in on Sunday, November 16th. Before and after pictures will be coming!
As Southern Californians, let’s all tip our hats to California Chrome who might just show the world that a horse from the town of the stinky cows has a chance at being the first California horse EVER to win the U.S. Triple Crown! California Chrome’s win at the Kentucky Derby on May 3rd made him the only California horse to take the Kentucky Derby since 1962 –and the others were all the way back in 1955 and 1922. California Chrome’s next race is the 139th Preakness Stakes on May 17th which will be the 6th race in his 5 race winning streak.
Did I say, “Tip our hats?” What image better says “Race Day” than an undulation of remarkable hats? Yes–it’s time to celebrate with a hat! So to honor California Chrome’s Derby win and his prospects for the future, I headed straight to CLADE, Maya Reynolds’ downtown menswear store at 600 S. Spring Street, knowing that Los Angeles milliner extraordinaire (Azita) Ariane Azarpira would be there this past Thursday night during the monthly Downtown Art Walk. (Yes I know, it’s Saturday and I’m a day late on my Friday post!)
Owner/ designer Maya is a big collector/ wearer of Ariane’s hats and she introduced a men’s hat line to compliment her expressive menswear collections for clients that include musicians, artists, actors and others who don’t have to conform to tradition. And now Maya has added a few women’s pieces into her shop, which is akin to a Victorian- era closet on steroids. Happily, I discovered that Ariane brought all her new spring/ summer women’s hat creations to CLADE for Art Walk night. With wine to sip and cheese to nibble on–the men make quick decisions while the women turn the minutes into hours of exploring their alter-egos.
I think there’s something about a hat that makes a statement about the mood of its wearer, festive, intellectual, sporty, brooding, whimsical, hip, mysterious, edgy, or, in some cases, just plain goofy. Sometimes you’ll hear someone say, “I just don’t look good in hats.” I think the truth of the matter is you have to be willing to explore your personality with no preconceived ideas. While California Chrome pursues the Triple Crown, I invite you to sip a mint julep read California Chrome’s Wikipedia story to find out what DAP really means on the silks of California Chrome’sjockey, Victor Espinoza–and pursue your own crowning moment with a new summer hat!
And for the first 25 people that:
1) Comment below by telling me what hat you think I bought and which other one you think I should buy AND 2) You’ve subscribed to my blog
You’ll be invited to a hat party at our Downtown L.A. loft with Ariane to personally find the perfect hat for you! The choices are (these are just a few of the many that Ariane has created):
1) The Diane Keaton
2) The Wild West
3) The Purple Velvet
4) The Multi-Stripe
5) The Summer Floppy
6) The Hand Painted Floral
7) Ariane and me with a white Panama fedora
Hats are like friends–you make an instant connection…and you rarely have just one! Be one of the lucky ones to come to our hat party with the gorgeous, gracious and amazingly talented Ariane who will help you find that perfect hat for your personal summertime style-and she’ll show you just how to wear it, too! So let me know your favorites and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get on the invite list.
Faith & Flower is like a model without make-up–stunningly beautiful without being intimidating. Rarely does a new restaurant exude such grace on its first Saturday night with every table seated. From the minute we walked in the door we were swept up in the charm and elegance with a welcome undercurrent of relaxed casualness throughout the evening.
Our waiter, Peter, with a charmingly messy ponytail, dapper bow tie and rolled up sleeves of his denim shirt took us into his care the minute he saw us perusing the little hard-cover black book menus looking for the wine selection. He told us he would send over the sommelier with the wine list and then he let us know that the menu was meant to be enjoyed “family style.” I so much more like that term than “small plates.”
It didn’t take long for us to decide on Sautéed Monterey Calamari; Oxtail Agnolotti made with Butter, Tangerine Salsa, Beef Tendon and Chicharrones; English Peas and Gold Beets; and Glazed Tender, Boneless Short Ribs. Kudos on the creativity, presentation and deliciousness to Executive Chef Michael Hung, formerly of San Francisco’s Michelin-starred La Folie.
Fahara, the lovely and attentive sommelier, guided us through the wine options in French and California whites as well as Pinot Noirs. We settled on a bottle of Cargasacchi, a Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir –which she decanted into an antique glass vessel which helped awaken each of the four levels to the wine: earthy, silky, woody and bright. Sure, we could’ve opted for one of the great values on the wine list but who wouldn’t be seduced to indulge with this kind of ambiance and service– $84 was kind of a splurge for us, but you can also easily go larger, too.
There are a few small elements of the restaurant that are works in progress–the veranda that you cross to the front door has huge potential for sipping and nibbling on a warm summer night with the vines taking hold on the overhead trellises. Inside, there is a glassed-in marble area that’s soon to be a full raw bar with fresh oyster shucking and all varieties of shellfish–a signature feature when Faith & Flower eventually opens for brunch.
The name Faith & Flower comes from the restaurant’s location on Flower Street but also it’s an acknowledgement to the history of Los Angeles in the early 1920s when this street was allegedly named “Faith.” It embodies the old and the new elements that have come together in what must have been an expensive renovation of a previous restaurant that was in the ground floor of this building just east of Figueroa.
During our meal, management briefly stopped by and asked how our evening was going and made what was already a perfect evening even better by bringing us something else to try–the Roasted Young Carrots and Brassicas, Smoked Yogurt and Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette. I’m not a carrot fan but these tender whole baby carrots were so good they could’ve been dessert.
Tonight we passed on dessert but the menu created by Executive Pastry Chef Ben Spungin (Bernardus Lodge) is another reason to bring us back. Maybe after an event at L.A. Live–a high table in the bar with a glass of champagne and something artistically composed and decadently sweet to indulge in?
The bar space at Faith & Flower makes everyone look beautiful. It’s large but still intimate and the glowing candles, reclaimed doors that panel the walls and the black & white, Robert Vargas mural of a sultry woman’s face lure you in and could quite easily get a hold of you for a very long time. There’s a certain cocktail that we noticed people experiencing involving an empty snifter that’s “treated” with a liquor that emits invisible vapors. Your server holds the snifter with a thickly folded napkin over the top–a thin straw sticks out which one sips. In the center of the table is a stout tumbler of a caramel-colored slightly viscous pour. First a sip of the vapor, then a sip of the liquid–then a sigh… the next thing you know, that report that’s due on Monday has totally loosened its grip on you. Michael Lay (Restaurant 1833, Rose.Rabbit.Lie.), who helms the bar program as Lead Mixologist, gets all the credit.
We sat along the center banquet–it was a row of rightly-spaced two-tops that evening. We told the two gentlemen next to us not to miss the Agnolloti. They didn’t spend as much time as we did over dinner…I had the feeling they had somewhere to go. Being the chatty one that I am, when they left I asked them what their plans were for the rest of the night. They told us they are reggae musicians and they had a gig to get to. Sharing a bit of conversation with them was just another one of Faith & Flower’s pleasant surprises.
We have favorite restaurants for various reasons but when we’re asked these days what our overall favorite downtown restaurant is, it’s hard not to say The Factory Kitchen. Why do we love it so much? Partly because it’s so much fun to Uber over there with friends who’ve never been, and watch their faces as the driver heads down what appears to be an alley to nowhere. There’s a vertical neon sign that marks the spot but if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to end up at the L.A. Gun Club at the end of the street.
But once up Factory Kitchen’s worn cement steps and inside the door of this old red brick former factory building, you’re welcomed by a room full of people. That’s the first impression which, I think, is all in the design. The space is open, the floor is concrete, the chairs are a little modern, the simple tables are made from reclaimed wood–but what really stands out is the community vibe of the restaurant where the people, food, and beverages are the standout ambiance elements–not the decor.
The menu has one of the most creative and varied assortment of Italian dishes that we’ve ever seen. It’s experimental but not “out there.” Among the dishes we love are the delicate little soft cheese stuffed sweet & spicy peppers. Factory does an amped-up version of a dinner salad with field greens, spring onion, radicchio, dates and goat cheese with a champagne vinaigrette. And frittura — puffy, light baby leek, beer batter chick pea fritters go really well with that first glass of wine.
There are two must-have entrees–the mandilli di seta, described as handkerchief pasta with ligurian almond basil pesto. Be careful, though, if you’ve sworn off carbs–should you succumb to a taste of this as a shared plate, don’t be surprised if you wake up in the middle of the night craving another mouthful of these delicate, house made thin sheets of pasta with their cloud-like filling! The other crave-worthy entree that makes you wonder “How DO they DO this?!” is the porchetta. This rolled pork belly cooked with aromatic herbs, fennel and their version of the holy trinity–carrots, celery and red onion; is almost a religious experience as the flavors of the pork and juices come together with those crispy pieces of pork fat. Did I say “religious?”–this one might require confession!
Side plates are as tempting as all the other menu options. our favorites are the cipolline, warm, balsamic-glazed small onions; ortaggi all’ agro which is a righteous combination of steamed kale, green chard, spinach and shallots cooked in ligurian olive oil; and the patate novelle-crisp on the outside and soft on the inside oven-roasted new potatoes with fine herbs.
The well-curated wine list represents a tour of Italy’s wine regions with a few hop-overs to California. Beers include Milano lager and some options from DTLA’s own Angel City brewery. The full bar has some inventive cocktail options –the Sweet Jane with barrel aged genever, rhubarb and lavender honey and the Italian Stallion made with fernet branca, lemon and ginger. I have no idea what either of those liquors are but someday I may be adventurous enough to find out. .. If you’ve ever tried them…let me know!
The restaurant scene is really Jay’s area of expertise having opened and/or managed several restaurants in his younger, and dare I say, adventurous, days–and, as anyone who’s ever been in the restaurant business knows, the reality of running a restaurant is most aptly stated in a soundbite made famous by a man who all sports-minded L.A. boomers would recognize– the late great Jim Healy, who played this Tommy Lasorda quote repeatedly on his radio show:
So with this valuable insight on the restaurant business, you know that Jay has the ability to be empathetic to the challenges restaurants face while also holding them to high expectations. So for Jay to put any restaurant on this list, they have to show they can make everything come together–food, service and the vibe. Several of the restaurants on this list have been around for a few years. One, Starry Kitchen, has moved from a pop up to (we hope) a permanent home–but we haven’t been to the new location yet. This is our go-to list at the moment but we’ll update every time we have something to add and the time to write it. With the variety of restaurants we’ve discovered downtown, including Factory Kitchen; one of our new favorites in the Arts District; we ‘ll be giving you lots of delicious reasons to come back for updates to the list. For the first go-around most of these restaurants are walk-able from what we consider the epicenter of the downtown renaissance: 9th & Broadway.
Mexican –Mas Malo Good margaritas along with classic as well as unique Mexican food. Ingredients are locally sourced and support the description on the website of “East L.A. style Chicano food.” You’ll find Mas Malo right in the center of downtown’s restaurant row at 7th and Grand. It’s a party atmosphere and the price of the margaritas is the rent you pay to hang out in this circa 1923 jewelry store turned restaurant with its baroque ceiling, art deco bar, contemporary furnishings and soundtrack with a pulsing beat, you’ll definitely want more than one maggie.
Peruvian – Mo-Chica Right across the street from Mas Malo. This restaurant used to be just a takeout counter in a warehouse-style food court near USC. Unless you’ve been to Peru, you won’t be familiar with much on the menu but go with what your server tells you are the most popular dishes and you won’t be disappointed. It’s most fun if you go with people who like the shared-plate way of dining so you can try a variety of the small plate offerings. If something piques your interest, be adventurous. Mary doesn’t like spicy and there were lots of choices on either side of the heat scale. Lots of good seafood options, too. There’s nothing fancy about this place with its cement floors and simple furniture but the staff does a great job of making sure you’re well taken care of. Cocktails with names like “The Dogfather,” “Addictive to You” and “Oaxcacalifornia Love” have ingredients as interesting as their names.
It all Started Here Bottega Louie is what opened the doors to proving that something very different from The Original Pantry could thrive through breakfast, lunch and dinner in Downtown L.A. On the other end of the spectrum from The Original Pantry that puts out good grub, Bottega Louie is the crown jewel of So Cal for all-day dining elegance. It’s a fantasy world of jewel tone macaroons sparkling behind pristine glass cases. Servers in white shirts, black ties and bistro aprons float trays of all varieties of artistically plated comfort food above their heads before gently landing the plates on marble table tops occupied by urban dwellers, workers and voyagers who can’t get enough of the ambiance, the food, the charm and the grandeur of the social and epicurean experience taking place in what was once a very large Brooks Brothers clothing store long before there was such a thing as casual Fridays. Whether it’s a perfectly soft-boiled organic egg in-shell served with house made pain de mie toast points, a BLT made with the best bacon you’ve ever tasted and the most delicate and flavorful bibb lettuce, heirloom tomatoes and avocado; or a perfectly arranged swirled mound of tagliatelle topped with just the right proportion of meaty Bolognese; you get exactly what you had hoped for and more when the selection you made first caught your eye on the menu. No, they don’t take reservations and yes, that big Louie-the-whatever-roman-numeral-it-is hostess table with the dazzling attendants guarding the gates to one of those coveted tables can be a bit intimidating–but don’t be deterred. The tables turn, the people come and go, the pastries look like museum curios and the bartenders make great drinks.
Pizza/Pasta – Terroni is our favorite neighborhood place to walk to at 8th and Main. We used to be able to always get a table but now they seem to be bustling every night. The 6,000 sq. foot space was built in 1924 as the City National Bank and much of the grandeur has been preserved . The bar is expansive and a great option when tables are full. The main dining room gives you a view of the open kitchen. The owners, Italians from Canada, first launched the more casual Beverly location a few years ago while Terroni downtown is a unique blend of luxe meets industrial. Warning: your pizza will not come sliced in wedges–part of the Terroni experience is to tear or cut your pizza as you creatively choose in whatever portions you prefer. A glass-enclosed room showcases house-cured meats. The entire Terroni experience is Italian immersion from the choices of Apristomaco (named for what they are intended to do) to the Italian phrases you’ll pick up if you visit il bagno.
Chinese Dumplings – Peking Tavern When we want something cheap, fast and fun this is our other close-by walking option as it’s located in the basement under Terroni–enter door to the right of Terroni’s and walk down a flight of stairs. Don’t let the dying vine that never quite made it up the wire fool you (if they haven’t already uprooted it). They may not be able to grow plants in a basement but they damn sure know how to make dumplings. In fact, most of the time you’ll see one or two women; through the side window when you walk in; deftly patting dough into perfectly round dumpling skins ready to be filled as fast as they can make them. They have a great selection of beers on tap. The space is designed for optimal mingling with a long bar and high communal tables. Seems that most of the crowd would rather mingle than sit, so for us 20+ years- of- marriage boomers, tables for two have, so far, been easy to come by. The website describes the concept as Hollywood style Chinatown of yesteryear crossed with the old “hutongs” of Beijing. I wouldn’t know what an old “hutong” is but I know some great dumplings and a beer can be the perfect comfort food at the end of a long day! Six dumplings are about $6-$8. And if you want to make it a late night, There’s a really cool bar in the same basement as Peking Tavern built in what was once the vault of the former City National Bank.
Indian Gastro-pub – Badmaashis one of our absolute favorites. and one we have to Uber to–just a little further on the north end of town than we’d care to walk to at 2nd Street between Spring and Main. The heat scale runs the gamut with plenty of options in Mary’s mild and Jay’s spicy comfort zones. The choices center around Indian street food along with some traditional Indian dishes. Beer comes in cans and there’s a limited wine selection. Downstairs, the dining area is small but there’s also an upstairs mezzanine. Indian movies play on the curved two-story white wall that accentuates the high ceiling making this small restaurant feel spacious. Don’t miss the lentil soup (ask for a side of basmati pilaf to add to it) and the Bad Ass Chicken Tikka Masala! Get into the Badmaash irreverence and be sure to order a few items from the “#FoodPorn @BadmaashLA” column of the menu and if you’re social media-ly inclined, follow their suggestion printed on the menu and “Instagram that shit!”
Something totally different–Starry Kitchen The best –and maybe the only–Singaporean food you’ll ever have. Owned by this wild Vietnamese immigrant, Thi Tran, and his adorable wife/ chef extraordinaire, Nguyen. We discovered Starry when they had a pop-up location a block away from us but now they’re in the Grand Star Jazz Club (as Tran writes on the website) in CHINATOOOOOWN @ 943 N. Broadway. Tran will pepper all conversations with endearing F-bombs. And with crab season upon us, if you want the Spicy Crab you have to order it a day ahead. Be prepared for a dinner like none you’ve ever had. There are mild options but go with the mindset that this is going to be a rather spicy night in more ways than one!
Total Hipster – LA Chapter at Ace Hotel. Every boomer parent should have one of their 20-something kids employed by the hippest place in town. Thanks to Nick working “Upstairs,” the designation for the rooftop bar at Ace Hotel, they let us up the elevator as long as it’s not dark yet. And since Jay’s beard has grown in and as long as Mary keeps up with her colorist, we’ve been given excellent service in the restaurant. All kidding aside, Ace Hotel is the single most significant contributor to the transformation happening on Broadway between Olympic and 9th Street. And while the crowd is definitely hip–it spans all ages and demographics–OK, it’s mostly 25-35–but one night Mary took Jay’s 84 year-old mom there for dinner, and although there were no tables, they sat on the mezzanine, had a bunch of great small plate dishes and a couple of glasses of wine and got a big hug from their waiter when they left. The food at LA Chapter is outstanding, the service is exceptional, the space transports you to another era in keeping with the history of the building which was the original offices and theater of United Artists’ –the group formed by D.W. Griffiths, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks when they wanted to get out from under the control of the big studios. With natural light streaming in by day and the black cars pulling up to the curb at night, there’s a special energy in L.A. Chapter. For breakfast, if you’re a waffle fan, the Buckwheat waffle is ethereal and if you like your toast with a kick–wait till you try this fresh-baked 7-grain bread version with a big thick schmear of avocado laced with aleppo pepper. And staying on the spicy side of things, the Bloody Mary is de rigueur –even if you make it a virgin. And for mild Mary, who prefers to get her blood from her oranges–the Carnation, made with blood orange juice and sparkling rose’ served in an old-style champagne glass with a sugar-infused hibiscus flower– is the perfect Saturday brunch antidote to coming home after a long busy week on the road. Our easy commute home is just a walk past Tacos Mexico, the world’s busiest 24-hour taco stand, and then across the street to the Eastern Columbia Building which makes it tempting to just head Upstairs and lounge on Ace’s rooftop chaises or claim a comfortable corner with cushions and pillows and continue the day-drinking until Nick shows up for his evening shift and tells us it’s time to go home.