Friday, April 30, 2010

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: Runyon Canyon

I firmly believe that claiming to hate LA is simply a failure of imagination. We have amazing food, great culture and fantastic weather, what's not to like?

Yesterday, on an impossibly blustery but pristinely clear afternoon, JMT and I hit the slopes of Runyon Canyon for some cardio amidst the wildflowers and it was one of those times where I was struck by how lucky I am to call Los Angeles home. What can I say? I was raised by hippies. I see flowers and blues skies and it instantly takes me to my happy place.

While there were none of Runyon's usual star sightings (on a recent trip up the mountain I ran into the very unsweaty cast and crew of "The Hills" filming an upcoming episode), the Hefner-rescued Hollywood sign winked at us from the east.

My new favorite artsy-fartsy shot: The sunglass reflection image. Oooo. Ahhh. Ohhh.
One day, I'd like to have a house in them thar hills.

Wind-whipped and triumphant...
This is the view from the top.

As if I needed another reason, Runyon always makes me love LA a little bit more.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Best Thing I Ate Today: Joan's on Third's Turkey Meatloaf Sandwich

You wanna know how good my Turkey Meatloaf Sandwich from Joan's on Third was? So good, there's no picture to accompany this post. I got that excited. One bite and everything else in the world melted away until all I could do was open wide and savour.

Joan's on Third is an LA culinary institution so exceptional, they have their own Wikipedia page. Walking in, it feels very Hamptons meets Hollywood. If Ina Garten every got Barefoot in the City of Angels, this place would be right up her alley.

The problem with Joan's is it's addictively delicious but prohibitively expensive. Two sandwiches with a beverage can set you back over $30. God forbid you want a side or something from the cheese case. You might have to take out a second mortgage.

But every bite is worth the lein they're going to put on you.

This afternoon I met my friend Stacy for lunch and found myself elbow deep in $12 worth of sumptiousness with their Turkey Meatloaf Sandwich.

Served on your choice of bread, I opted for the crusty french baguette which arrived smothered in chili aioli, creamy, spicy and faintly sweet with just the slightest hint of chipotle, topped with mixed greens, cooling tomato slices and some of what could be crowned the best turkey meatloaf in Los Angeles (though Basix is running neck-in-neck for that title). The densely spiced, garlic-studded meatloaf has a souffle-like quality which melts into the aioli and bread, making each bite swirl with flavor and texture as crust gives way to tender meat.

Since it's the end of the month and I'm on a budget, I refrained from my usual side order of roasted baby carrots, which I like to pile onto the sandwich the way you might with chips on a $5 dollar foot long. Instead, I used Joan's house pickles, dill chips and white onion slivers to lend an added dimension.

It was total sandwich rapture.

Joan's on Third
8350 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 655-2285

Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock's Pseudo-Scandal

Extra, Extra, read all about it:

“Sandra Bullock Blind Sides Julia Roberts”

“Julia Roberts Furious at Sandra Bullock”

“Sandra Bullock Stole Julia Roberts Career...and Cover”

Seriously, people?

After yesterday’s big reveal of Sandra Bullock’s People magazine cover announcing her divorce and secret adoption, the headlines some websites and news outlets choose to focus on were ridiculous. I won’t even dignify the organizations who deemed “Sandra Bullock Adopts a Black Baby” a newsworthy headline, but everyone else got all in a tizzy because Julia Roberts had been displaced as the cover girl of People’s annual Most Beautiful People issue in favor of Sandra beaming at her new baby boy.

Why the big hoo-hah over a little editorial switcheroo?

Because everyone loves a good celebrity catfight.

“[Julia’s] a bit envious of Sandra,” one outlet reported.

Hmm, what do you think she’s more covetous of? The dissolution of her marriage or the ho-bag women who keep coming forward announcing they slept with her soon-to-be ex husband, Jesse James?

Many people claim the beef between the mega stars stems from The Proposal and The Blind Side, two roles Julia originally filled which eventually went to Bullock. The Proposal went on to gross over $300 million, making it one of the biggest success in Bullock’s career, and The Blind Side, which earned $287 million, won Bullock an Oscar. Meanwhile, Julia’s career has cooled a bit in recent years, a situation sure to be turned around when Eat Pray Love opens August 13.

We think the whole thing is nonsense cooked up in people’s minds. Considering this would have been Julie’s fourth Most Beautiful People cover, it’s not like she’s missing out on her big day in the sun.

What’s so vexing is the idea that whenever two actresses are involved in anything in Hollywood, it’s automatically assumed they’re at odds. If Matt Damon had bumped Ben Affleck or George Clooney off the cover, no one would be talking about it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sandra Bullock Announces Divorce and Adoption

My most recent post for

This morning’s news that Sandra Bullock would be divorcing her philandering husband, Jesse James, wasn’t so much a surprise as a relief. How many times have we seen the wife of an adulterous, unfaithful skeezyball dutifully stand by her man despite his horrendous, unforgivable behavior?

Way too many.

Today, Sandra struck a blow for women, feminism and female pride everywhere by having the strength and courage to come forward and say, “This is not okay. I will not be treated this way.”

Bravo, Sandy. Bravo!

These are the kinds of life lessons that will undoubtedly make Bullock a great mother to her new adoptive baby boy, Louis. There’s no better way to teach than by example and Sandra set an admirable example today.

Without question, her divorce must be unspeakably painful, not just because of the humiliation of James’ dalliances, but because the love they shared was obviously very deep, despite his inability to keep it in his pants. Whenever another of his numerous mistresses came forward recently, it was the memory of Sandra’s Golden Globe and Oscar speeches which echoed in everyone’s minds.

She very publicly (this year’s Oscars were watched by over 41 million people, the Golden Globes, 17 million) and eloquently declared the affection and respect she had for her husband. When she said “There’s no surprise that my work got better when I met you, because,” her voice cracking, “I never knew what it felt like for someone to have my back. So thank you,” there isn’t a soul alive who wasn’t touched, because that’s what we’re all looking for in this lifetime.

When she won the Oscar, Sandra said, “We are all deserving of love.” Whether that loves comes from her little baby boy or a new man who may come into her life, we wish Sandra only the best because she’s worthy of someone who really will have her back next time.

The Best Thing I Ate Today: Mexico

If this post is a little wonky, g'head and blame the scrumptious watermelon margaritas that washed down my happy hour dinner.

On a recent Runyon hike, I ran into Komisha, a friend from USC who I hadn't seen in years. Rather than passing like ships in the night along the trail, we decided to catch up on the last decade over half-priced ceviche and margaritas on the terrace of Mexico in West Hollywood.

This evening, at the end of a pristine day, with the sun shining and a cool breeze blowing, we kicked off their 5-8pm happy hour by attacking a basket of fresh chips served with tart tomatillo salsa, heavy on the lime and cilantro, and smoky salsa negra.

Needing something extra to sop up the tequila hitting our very empty stomachs, we asked for an order of guacamole, unprepared for the magnitude of what would arrive. It was phenomenal! Super chunky and incredibly fresh, I wouldn't be surprised if Mexico mashes each serving to order. It was a meal in itself.

A watercress salad with jicima, cotija cheese, and tortilla strips was light and peppery, though I picked out the overpoweringly large pieces of red onion.

Halibut ceviche and carnitas tacos. The ceviche was bright and tender, the tacos were succulent and spicy.
One of Mexico's waitresses used to work with me back in my Avalon/Spiderclub days. She very kindly brought us a bevy of desserts, including a remarkably tasty gluten-free chocolate chip mini bundt cake, ancho chile truffles, and a divinely decadent caramel macadamia nut blondie that was not only the best thing I ate today, but the best thing I've had all week.

This is how you end a happy hour. Nothing says style like a sombrero.

8512 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 289-0088

Hollywood Bites Review: "Harry Brown"

"Harry Brown" is an unyieldingly dark film that's taut, blood splattered and gritty. And it stars Michael Caine. Say whaaa?

That’s right, Caine, giving a turn reminiscent of his role in 1971’s “Get Carter,” stars as Harry Brown, a recently widowed ex-Royal Marine who goes on a vigilante killing spree to avenge the murder of his last remaining friend by a gang of local teenage thugs in East London.

Beginning with hyper-realistic first-person footage, seemingly shot on a Flip Cam or cell phone, of teenagers smoking heroin from a light bulb before going for a joy ride and repeatedly shooting an innocent mother walking her infant in a stroller, “Harry Brown” is varnishless. Violent, bloody and merciless, the film can be painfully, overpoweringly silent, using only ambient noises and the sound of Harry wheezing with emphysema as he plunges into the dark night of the soul.

Delving deep into Charles Bronson-“Death Wish” territory, first-time director Daniel Barber is unflinching in his portrayal of a man whose life is filled with loss and loneliness. Shooting the film in a gun-metal grey hue, through graffiti riddled concrete caverns and in the flickering TV light of a drug den, sunlight is as absent from the film as hope.

While Caine is his usual brilliant self, Emily Mortimer is unfortunately cast as Alice Frampton, a police officer investigating the murder that send Harry over the edge. Mousey and gentle, she’s not believable as a cop walking the roughest beat around, but her tenderness is the only in the film and it’s occasionally a welcome, necessary addition.

Dark, disturbing and unsettlingly realistic, Caine gives a master class on elevating material. This vigilante story has been done many times before but it usually ends up closer to The Rock’s "Walking Tall" than Eastwood’s "Gran Torino." Thanks to Caine, this is one of the few credible exceptions. But it’s still a beast to sit through.

Hollywood Bites Review: "Please Give"

How do you make a mammogram funny?

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener manages to, opening her new film "Please Give" with a perky soundtrack over images of breasts being smushed into a mammogram machine.

It's cheeky and touchingly human, just like the film that follows. It's also a little self-indulgent and overly personal, just like the film that follows.

Holofcener ("Walking and Talking," "Lovely & Amazing," "Friends with Money") has made a career documenting the female side of neurotic, well-to-doers who combat issues like self-esteem and fidelity, all featuring her muse, Catherine Keener. In their fourth tale of rich people problems, Keener stars as Kate, a New York mid-Century antiques dealer tortured by the success she and her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), have achieved by reselling furniture purchased from the families of the recently deceased. To combat her bourgeois guilt, she over-compensates by handing out fives and twenties to homeless people and attempting to volunteer with the less fortunate, which only leaves her in tears, whispering "It's just so sad."

A large part of her unrelenting torment rests in the other side of the wall in the family's stunning Manhattan apartment. They've purchased the adjoining residence but have to wait for their elderly neighbor, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), to die so that they can live every New Yorkers dream and expand their living space. In an effort to ease a tense situation, they host a birthday party for Andra, who is both tragically fragile and hilariously blunt, and her granddaughters Mary (Amanda Peet), a tanning bed addicted aesthetician, and Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a mammogram technician. The fallout from that dinner creates the film's tapestry of sorrow, regret, joy, fear and kindness.

"Please Give" spends a great deal of time staring at everyone's least favorite subject, the end of life. Kate spends her days surrounded by haunted relics of other people's lives while Rebecca is constantly forced to confront the naked possibility of death and disease, and Mary decrees "Things get worse, not better." It's a tough subject to tackle but Holofcener handles it with tact and grace, reminding the audience that hope is always around the corner, as is destruction. Darkly funny and refreshingly honest, the movie is like your drunk uncle at Christmas dinner; uncomfortably funny and repellently familiar.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Best Thing I Ate Today: Tender Greens

After a three month absence from the gym thanks to a nasty bout of tonsillitis, I finally made my triumphant return today. At least, I thought it would be triumphant, until I almost fainted during boxing class and could barely do 15 curtsy lunges without feeling like my legs were going to fall off.

Quads quivering, stairs my new nemesis, all was made right by seeing Jesse, one of my true blue homies, and Zach--ahhh, Zach. We like to call Zach "Bag of Snakes" in homage to the rippling muscles of his back which look like a bag of angry snakes when he starts throwing hooks and upper cuts. Add that to his azure eyes and a jaw so square, it belongs on a drafting table, and what you get is one magically delicious man. Unfortunately, he isn't the best thing I ate today.

After he gave Zach a good stretching (what, me jealous?), Jesse and I bid him and his Bag of Snakes farewell and set off for the new Hollywood outpost of Tender Greens, a restaurant committed to sustainability and local produce, which serves massive plates of some of the best, freshest salads I've ever eaten. A frequent visitor to the West Hollywood branch, I've been yearning to try their new digs at Sunset and Vine. How can you not love a chain restaurant that specializes in salad?

We decided to go halfsies on the steak salad, but with seared albacore substituted for steak, and a plate of their new offering, "Sexy Things," a quartet of composed salads surrounding a lemon dressed bounty of organic mixed greens.

The Albacore Steak Salad...
Seared albacore, butter lettuce, radishes, golden and red beets, and chives in a garlic-laced, horseradish vinaigrette, that's the perfect balance of tangy, buttery, fresh and earthy.

Our Sexy Things...

While the sunflower and strawberry offering (lower right) left both Jesse and I cold, I rarely enjoy fruit mixed into a savory dish unless there's an aged cheese involved, and even then I'm quite particular, the bright, lemon and mint flavor of the mung bean salad (upper right) was ravishing, golden lentils and sweet potatoes (upper left) were deliciously dense and oniony, and the cannellini bean and black kale salad (lower left) had a wonderful balance that was both reassuringly buttery yet quietly bitter.

They might not have been as sexy as Zach, but they were delicious, nonetheless.

I have a feeling the best thing I'm going to eat tomorrow will be the banana that eases my already aching muscles. Someone pass me the Epsom Salts.

Jon Favreau's No Iron Man According to Robert Downey Jr.

In "Iron Man 2," Jon Favreau’s character, Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s chauffeur and assistant, has a greatly expanded role. But it wasn’t just his role that was expanding during filming. According to Robert Downey Jr, it was his waistline.

“There’s three Happy Hogans in the movie,” Robert begins, grinning wickedly. “There’s the Jon Favreau who was in excellent shape, boxing every day, and made it into the ring for the scene where he gets his ass handed to him by Scarlett [Johansson]. Then, midway, he’s struggling with a MediFast but occasionally binging on pizza and saying, ‘This is crazy, I gotta get back to the gym.’ By the time we were doing reshoots, they were framing him out of shoots,” he hoots. “Here’s the thing though--”

“Oh! Here we go,” Favreau interjects, laughing. “Now the nice [stuff]. Kiss me on the cheek after you’re done with me. Throw me a dollar and a towel.”

Way to keep it classy, gentlemen. "Iron Man 2" opens May 7th.

How to Keep Guacamole Green

My weekly AOL Kitchen Solution. This week: Keeping Guacamole Green. My apologies for the way I deliver the word "fiesta." They asked me to make it sassy.

Private Chef Sasha's Cowboy Caviar Soup with "Hot Dog Croutons"

After the premiere episode of "Private Chefs of Beverly Hills," I've gotten quite a few requests for the Cowboy Caviar Soup recipe featured on the show. It's remarkably simple and so very easy to make. Especially if you're not making it over a campfire like I was below (tossing chicken sausages and jalapenos, aka the "croutons," into a saute pan where they'll turn a golden brown crisp).

Cowboy Caviar Soup with “Hot Dog Croutons”
Serves 6


Cowboy Caviar Soup-
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups fresh black eyed peas
6 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon ground cumin
salt to taste

3 spicy chicken sausages, preferably jalapeno chicken (Trader Joe’s makes a great one), diced
1 green jalapeno, diced (optional, omit if you prefer less heat)

Cowboy Caviar Relish-
1 cup fresh black eyed peas
½ red bell pepper, finely diced
½ yellow bell pepper, finely diced
1 green jalapeno, finely diced
½ red onion, finely diced
¼ cup cilantro, finely diced
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine all relish ingredients and season to taste. Set aside while preparing soup. The relish can be made up to two days in advance and will only get better the longer it’s allowed to marinate.

In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, heat olive oil and sauté onion and garlic until beginning to caramelized, about 5-8 minutes.

Add black eyed peas, vegetable broth and cumin. Bring to a boil and season with salt to taste.

Allow to cool slightly before pureeing in batches until soup is creamy and smooth. Keep warm over low heat.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add diced chicken sausages and jalapenos (if using) and sauté until heated through, golden brown and slightly crispy.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls, top with cool relish and sprinkle with “Hot Dog Croutons.”

Below is a meatfree version of the soup being served at the premiere party I hosted for my friends. If you omit the chicken sausage, the dish is vegan. Hope you enjoy!

This is What Happens When You Sleep with The Fishes

My amazingly talented friends, The Fishes, gave themselves an art assignment at the start of 2010. Every day for one year, they post a ten second clip. Reed said recently that it's a reminder to take in the beauty of the little moments. I don't know if this video is particularly beautiful, but it's certainly a moment:

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Best Thing I Ate Today: Niko Niko and Ice Cream Plus

Without a man in my life to squire me around, I have to rely on my boy BFFs to take me on pseudo dates to movies or sushi. Long walks on the beach are optional.

Tonight, Mahdi swooped in to pick me up so we could head to the Westside version of our sushi standby, Niko Niko.
What looks better: the sexy man or the bento box behind him? The bento box. Definitely the bento box.
Dueling plaid with the guy sitting behind me. My shirt is a 70s hand-me-down from my dad so it's way more gangster.
Our beautiful Rainbow Roll (California roll covered in assorted fish) arrives...
Along with the Aloha Roll, spicy tuna, albacore and pickled jalapenos. Taste the fire!
Next, seared albacore with crispy onions in ponzu sauce. We both had to admit, the version we get at the Los Feliz Niko Niko is better, lighter and more refined, though both are delicious and feature melt-in-your-mouth albacore.
While Mahdi and his crazy body dismorphia refused dessert, I needed something sweet so we went to Ice Cream Plus, one of my regular haunts, for a scoop of their Oreo and coconut frozen yogurt. I don't even have to order it any more. When I walk in the owner just starts scooping. I'm their Norm.
An array of delightful selections in the Ice Cream Plus case. Just one of many reasons why they're one of my most solid go-to's for sandwiches, soup, froyo, fresh juice and smoothies.
Laughing hysterically as Mahdi imitates my super secret crush, aka: The White Tiger.

Niko Niko
1755 North Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Ice Cream Plus
8158 W. Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046

Iron Man 2 Nerves Keep Robert Downey Jr. Up at Night

What do you get when you take a relatively inexperienced director, a recovering train wreck of an actor and an under-the-radar superhero?

$585 million at the box office, glowing reviews, a career renaissance and a highly-anticipated sequel, that’s what.

In 2008, when the first "Iron Man" film headed into theaters, few expected it to create such a tidal wave of success. After all, it wasn’t Superman or Spiderman or even The Hulk, and it was directed by a guy best known for the indie cred of writing and starring in Swingers. Two years later, after the stellar performance of the first film, hottest commodity on the block, Robert Downey Jr., who plays Tony Stark/Iron Man, and director Jon Favreau are decidedly anxious about the expectations of "Iron Man 2," arriving in theaters May 7th.

At the press conference promoting the film, Downey Jr. scoffs when asked if he feels pressure about the release of the sequel. “You mean ‘feel,’ like its past tense? I didn’t sleep last night. I didn’t sleep last night! Jon?” he quips, shucking the question off to the director.

“I’ve never done a sequel before,” Favreau replies earnestly, “unless you count me [having less than five lines] on 'Batman Forever.' For me, there wasn’t the same pressure that you’re used to feeling, especially coming up with smaller movies where you’re throwing a party and you don’t know if people are going to show up. Here, we knew people were going to show up, we just wanted to make sure everybody had a good time and this was going to be as fun, or more fun, than the last party.”

More "Iron Man 2" coverage to come soon...

The 2nd Annual Grilled Cheese Social

This weekend, LA hosted their annual Grilled Cheese Invitational. And I wasn't invited.

But I did get the nod to attend Amy Jo and Jason's second annual Grilled Cheese Social which was a rollicking good time.

Even though my offering, The Fungus Amongus (Havarti cheese and sauteed mushrooms with truffle oil), lost first place by one measly vote to Cardiac Arrest (cheese and bacon on a glazed donut), it was still a hootenanny that left me drunk on cheese and butter.

Crimini mushrooms, tossed with Italian parsley, pink Himalayan salt and fresh ground pepper, were layered between two slices of cheese.

Then the bread was buttered (heavily) and laid in a skillet over medium heat to get that slow, golden brown.

Just before serving, The Fungus Amongus was drizzled with truffle oil. You should never heat truffle oil because it burns off the flavor. When it's off the heat and on a plate, dash your dish with the oil to permeate it with that delicious, earthy taste and smell. And remember, a little goes a long way.

Amy Jo and Lizzie make me a cowgirl sandwich.

One of the fifteen or twenty competitors, second place finisher: Trailer Park Power Bar, grilled mac and cheese. Holla!

The winner, which snatched victory from my clutches by a single vote. Now I know how Al Gore felt in Florida. Next year, I'll be gunning for the number one spot.

The fixin's for The Great State of Hockey, an homage to Minnesota. Way to keep it classic.

Lizzie and Jason in his magical tiki lounge.

Everyone's a winner at Amy Jo and Jason's!

After my crushing loss at the Social, I headed to Benno and Amy's for my second gathering of the day. Even though my arteries were screaming at me (TOO MUCH BUTTER), I couldn't resist Amy's spread (that's what he said). Her guilt-free quinoa salad, grilled artichokes, roasted fruit salad and a kale salad tossed with pomegrate seeds, dried apricots and parmesan cheese in a bright, lemon dressing, were just what I needed to Ajax my body

Kale is slowly but surely becoming my favorite vegetable.

Hmm, maybe next year, a kale grilled cheese? Who could resist?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Best Thing I Ate Today 4.24.10: Chan Dara's Pad Thai and Cucumber Salad

Last night, after hitting Space 15 Twenty with Erin, Caroline and Rachel for some less than mindblowing art and a whole boatload of hipsters, I met up with my old friend Adam for dinner.

It's been years since we've had a chance to catch up, so we set off in search of an easy, quiet place within walking distance to grab a bite for me and some coffee for him. Not as easy as one might think on Saturday night along Cahuenga Blvd. We went from Stout (I love their 3am Chicken Burger) to Caffe Etc., to Kitchen 24, to Groundworks, before finally coming to rest at Chan Dara.

Starving, but more interested in conversation that perusing a menu, I went with the oldest Thai Food Stand-By in the book: Pad Thai. And it was surprisingly good.

I began my meal with cucumber salad, which is totally crack-a-licious to me. I could eat an entire barrel of the stuff and then take a bath in the leftover vinegar, I find it that irresistible. This one was spicy and sweet thanks to chili and rice wine vinegar. I ate half and spooned the rest over my main course, letting the sugary, fiery tang infiltrate my noodles.
A heaping plate of Vegetarian Pad Thai. Chan Dara's includes raw vegetables like red cabbage and carrots, giving the dish a fresh, lightness it often lacks.
Adam and his coffee. He's watching his girlish figure.
What better way to spend your Saturday than with an adorable, charming, wonderful man and a big ol' plate of noodles? Surely there's a dirty pun there, but let's keep it classy, people.