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!
Why does summer always tease me into thinking I’m a kid out of school with nothing but lazy days and plenty of time to figure out how I want to spend them? Don’t I wish! The M-F/ 8-7 reality means there are only so many hours to take advantage of what summer in the city has to offer. Fortunately, being in DTLA, there’s always something going on and 4th of July in Grand Park really had the city showing off its best. While it gets pretty crowded at night, we loved walking through the park mid-day and seeing the festivities getting started.
The Park, with City Hall in the background, looked beautiful.
There were two music stages, one with a DJ and one with live music starting at 4 p.m. I’m sure the night was totally happening but we were perfectly happy to roam during the peaceful, sunny early afternoon. Friends asked us to join them that evening for the long-standing tradition of fireworks at Wilshire Country Club just a few miles west on Rossmore between Beverly and Third.
A few weeks ago we got a group together on a Friday night to check out EAT, SEE, HEAR at the Autry Museum in Griffith Park. There’s a great lawn where everyone brings low beach chairs and/or blankets, tons of food trucks show up and you watch a movie on an outdoor screen. We sawThe Big Lebowski. Dogs are welcome but we left Coco home for this one.
Not great photos, but these 2 guys were dead ringers for The Dude and Walter… and, not to forget the deadest of all, Donny in the can.
Last Wednesday night we needed to pick up a few things at Urban Radish for a party Jay’s catering this weekend. Happily the shopping trip coincided with Jazz Night at Urban Radish market with the Kyle Crane Trio on the patio. There’s a different dinner menu every week– I tried the grilled trout wrapped in prosciutto and Jay had roast pork with a sweet marinade. We missed out on the full selection of sides by getting there closer to 8:00 pm but the charred romaine , soba noodles, and organic multi-hued cherry tomato salad were all delicious and since we arrived late, the portions were extra generous.
Wine tasting is also part of Jazz Night and UR has a great selection of bottles at the perfect temperature to buy and take to your patio communal seating table. These gatherings are relaxed “downtowner” get-togethers–particularly for those who live in the Arts District. A full course meal is $15 . The Curran Grenache Rosé from the Santa Ynez Valley was as good as any we’ve ever tried… described as “A very pale salmon shade. Loaded with flavors of strawberry, mango , white peaches and green apples and exotic cardamom in the nose. (A) crisp wine with a firm backbone.” at $22. And best of all, Coco was happy to be among other contented canines chilling under the tables.
Another evening we were invited to our friends’ house in Hancock Park where Jay got to be co-grillmaster–the one thing that he misses about living downtown. It was a perfect Los Angeles evening where the breeze picks up at sunset and then everything calms to a still by the time the moon rises. The lights strung across the picnic table, the pea gravel under our feet, the candles flickering, the freshness of the produce, the aroma of the grill, the fragrant trees surrounding us, and even the raccoon who ambled along the fence at one point–reminded us we’re as Mediterranean as it gets without spending 13 hours and 46 minutes en route.
And not in chronological order, but we celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary on June 30th. It was a Monday night and rather than go out, we decided sometimes the best celebrations are the ones where you just stay home. It was a beautiful night and we had the upper terrace of the Eastern Columbia Building all to ourselves. We took a picnic and set it up on the little bistro table where we could look out on the lights of the city. We grazed on cheese and crackers, sipped a Sauvignon blanc, had a salad and dipped a crusty Bread Lounge baguette into the “good” olive oil and balsamic that we usually save for company. We finished the evening off with the sweetness of strawberries and blueberries bought the day before at the Larchmont Farmers market. The sweet, simple pleasures of summer…so far.
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.