Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Just Call Me a LA Public Transit Girl...

So it's official. I just bought my first monthly Metrolink pass and will continue to do so.

Over the weekend, I finally got my car back after two months of staring at the ceiling whenever bedridden, getting over the shock of $7000 worth of damage (which, thankfully, the other guy has to cover), and other inconveniences any car accident entails. Originally, I had only planned to temporarily take the train until I could get my car back. But in the past two months, I've somehow come to really love the 20 minute commute to Union Station (power nap, anyone?). And the subway transfer on the Red Line... where else can I glance at the reflection in the window of the train that frames perfect strangers in a living portrait?

Granted, I've always loved public transportation, having had to rely on it over in the East Coast - I just never thought I'd love it in LA as well. One of my favorite moments occurs when spotting familiar faces in the streets of downtown. Oh, you... you're on my train. And though we pass one another without a word, there's a flicker of recognition - and perhaps, even acknowledgment.

I do have to say that I did try driving to work again. I love driving and find it to be meditative, but after spending an hour wanting to shake my fist at all the inattentive drivers behind me - an euphemism for what I really felt, it was anything but therapeutic. Case in point: one lady almost hit the center divider while digging around the floor of her car; another time, a guy was more interested in wooing the girl seated next to him than on driving his Mustang (so not the appropriate time to be getting all googly-eyed).

So... I'll be peacefully driving my car to the parking structure at my train station and having my daily power naps, thank you very much.

-Sarah Koo, ExperienceLA Arts/Cultural Marketing Intern

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lunar New Year 2007

I headed off with my family on Sunday, February 18th to the Lunar New Year Festival in Pasadena (literally across from the Del Mar Gold Line station). We had fun times playing games to win prizes, looking at the arts and crafts, enjoying the performances by cultural artists of different Asian backgrounds. There were plenty of events for the kids to enjoy including pictures with Ronald McDonald at the McDonald's booth and coloring activities. Even the teen to twenty-something had a line-up of fresh bands making their mark in America after sold-out performances in the Phillipines and Japan. My sister and I took pictures with South Border of the Phillipines and Supe of Japan. The following is a slideshow of my flickr pictures from the event:

Don't forget all the other great events ringing in the Lunar New Year in Los Angeles:
-February 24: 108th Annual Golden Dragon Parade - Chinatown
- March 2: Kidspace Welcomes Author Oliver Chin - Pasadena
- March 3: Lantern Festival 2007 - El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Groundwork Coffee in Downtown LA

I started drinking coffee as a kid mixed with milk, then graduated to coffee with half and half as a teen, and then only black coffee in college. While attending grad school at UC Berkeley in the mid-1970's I discovered Peet's Coffee which was instrumental in later showing the way for Starbucks. But it wasn't until I travelled in Japan in the late 1970's that I really began to understand what quality coffee was all about. Japan was buying the best coffee in the world, and they would make it a single cup at a time to be enjoyed in their coffee bars. I would savor a single cup, while listening to jazz and writing in my journal.

Thus, while checking out the newly opened Groundwork Coffee at 2nd and Main next to PitFire Pizza in Downtown Los Angeles, I realized that that this store was raising the bar with regard to the sale of whole bean coffee and the brewing of single cups. Last October 23rd, Amy Scattergood from the LA Times, wrote about the best roasters in Los Angeles, and Groundworks Coffee was one of nine artisal roasters featured in the article. What caught my attention in the store, and also in the article, was one coffee listed at $150 a pound. In her article, Amy mentioned that if available one should try the Esmeralda Especial Geisha from Panama.

Earlier that week I had already bought a pound of $17 coffee from Costa Rica at Groundworks, and prepared it in my French Press. This was great coffee, and thus, I had to sample the Panama Esmeralda Especial Geisha. Not only can one buy a single cup of the Esmeralda for $5.50, but it is prepared in a innovative coffee machine from Washington called the Clover. Ty McNulty, the manager of Groundworks described the Clover as a machine that combines the mechanics of the French Press with a Vacumm Brewer coffee maker.

The Groundworks website describes the Panama Esmeralda as: "We roast this coffee very lightly to preserve the stunning fruit and ripe berry aromas that are the hallmark of the Geisha. The brilliant acidity highlights the sweet berry flavors and crisp green apple notes of this cup." Just as I finished savoring the delights of this coffee, who should walk in this newest Groundworks Coffee, but Amy Scattergood herself, strolling over from the LA Times which is one block away.

I can definitely say that this cup of coffee was the best I have ever had, anywhere in the world. It was unlike anything I have ever tasted, as it reflected the uniqueness of the bean, how it was handled, and roasted. So if you are in the area, spend a few extra bucks for this, and if they are all out, try some of the other specialty coffee roasts stocked in this store and their other outlets. It had a long lingering finish that has been imbedded in my taste memory . You will definitely find yourself coming back to sample the other coffees brewed in the Clover Machine by the cup, and to take home a pound to brew at home.

With regard to the other 8 artisal roasters that Amy featured in her article, I would suggest those also be sampled by coffee lovers. Several months ago, I had a great brunch at Ammo in Hollywood and the coffee was served in a French Press. The coffee was wonderful, and I asked who was the supplier, and they said Supreme Bean from North Hollywood. And Supreme Bean is on Amy's list. She knows her coffee.

Theatre: Please Take a Number

Writer/actress Nia Orms knows about the agonizing trek in getting the government to give up their money. It's not an easy task and Orms takes the shared experiences of those seeking welfare to create a poignant one-woman show, aptly titled Please Take a Number. She tells the stories of seven individuals who have nothing in common except surviving on a not-so-giving system.

Former girl-next-door turned neighborhood crack-head the character Jenny starts the show by providing stats on how many people are welfare recipients. We follow her inside a New York welfare office where the rest of Orms' characters will be waiting for their number to be called, each with their story to tell. Using nothing more than quick on-stage changes of clothing, Orms transforms into each character. She morphs easily from Jenny, who wears black socks sans shoes, a worn out sweater, and has bad teeth, to 16-year-old single mother Alexus, wearing a light brown side ponytail hairpiece, carrying her backpack and baby. For this second character, receiving welfare is a temporary stop until she gets it together.

Orms continues her transformations throughout the show, revealing a memorable cast of characters, each with specific facial features, assorted personalities and differing accents. One such character is aspiring Boricua actress Josie Santiago who, with no formal training, creates 'dacting', a combination of dance and acting where she uses her body to make her point and has been scamming the welfare system for over 5 years. She's convinced them that she has a bad right eye which makes it difficult to apply and keep a job. The most heart-wrenching of Orms' characters is the soft-spoken Sudan immigrant. Orms strips away Alexus' fiery attitude, Jenny's sweetness, and Josie's vivaciousness to reveal this character's gentleness and the tragic story of a young woman who has left her country after her family is viciously slaughtered.

Orms does a fantastic job diving into her characters and adding a face to those unseen statistics Jenny quotes in the beginning, ultimately showing the audience that people in the system can be those who are down on their luck waiting and hoping for a break.

Please Take a Number closes this Saturday, Feb. 24th.

-Mary Emerita Montoro, Contributing Writer

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Altar Boyz at the Wadsworth Theatre

I had a spectacular experience watching the off-Broadway production Altar Boyz at the Wadsworth Theatre last night. While the show's description on ExperienceLA aptly covers the general basis of the show - "a musical-comedy spoof about a fictitious Christian boy-band on the last night of their national 'Raise the Praise' tour" - it does little justice in encompassing the actual experience of the show.

The show is hilarious.

From its musical numbers to the moral dilemmas of its cast of characters - five hearthrob boys (Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan, and Abraham respectively) from Ohio sent by God to save the souls of others through song and dance - there's not much that doesn't leave you grinning (or bursting out into laughter, like most of the audience watching with me).

A ninety-minute production, the show is jammed-pack with references that poke fun at almost every subject it touches (religion and pop's pop culture especially). The actors shine in their abilities to execute well (and mock) boy band dance numbers and sing - with incredibly straight faces - hilariously memorable songs such as Girl, You Make Me Wanna Wait, Church Rulez, and Jesus Called Me on My Cell Phone. A must-see while it's running in town - Altar Boyz will be at the Wadsworth Theatre in West LA from February 13th-February 25th!

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator

Pan African Film & Arts Festival

With an attendance of over 200,000 people, the Pan African Film & Arts Festival is the largest Black History Month event in the US. In a fun, family friendly environment, audiences enjoy cinema, art, music, spokenword, panels, workshops and parties. All ages, genders, ethnic groups and lifestyles are welcomed.

In addition to the films, PAFF hosts over 100 fine artists and unique craftspeople whose works highlight the beauty of the African aesthetic. Hurry and check out the festival before it ends on February 19th.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Camerata Singers of Long Beach

On Sunday, February 11th at 4:00pm I attended the Camerata Singers of Long Beach concert entitled A Winter Meditation: Wind, Rain, Heaven, and Sky. The event was located at the Convenant Presbyterian Church in Long Beach. The singers are under the musical direction of Dr. Jonathan Talberg.

The Camerata Singers of Long Beach provided an enjoyable program with a variety of music that showcases the group's range of talent and skilled repetoire - from a beautiful rendition of the traditional Danny Boy to the complex tempo shifts found in The Hymn to St. Cecelia (Benjamin Britten) to the powerful African-American spiritual by William Dawson entitled Soon Ah Will Be Done.

The Camerata Singers of Long Beach are a pleasure to listen to, their broad selection and talent ensures a little something for everyone. Their next performance is at the Carpenter Center, CSULB Lower Campus on Sunday, April 15, 2007 4:00pm.

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Christopher O'Riley Giveaway!

So there's one more great last minute giveaway happening at ExperienceLA. This one's presented by UCLA Live for the Christopher O'Riley concert as he celebrates the music of Nick Drake. Drake was considered to be one of the most influential acoustic songwriters in British music.

You might recognize O'Riley as the host of NPR's "From the Top". If not that, then you might recognize him from his piano arrangements of Radiohead and other alternative pop artists. UCLA Live is giving away five pairs of tickets, so enter now before this giveaway closes early next week!

-Sarah Koo, ExperienceLA Arts/Cultural Marketing Intern

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Interview with Allison Samuels

Allison Samuels - Photography by Ian GittlerI was very excited to speak with first time author and veteran Newsweek reporter Allison Samuels, who recently published Off the Record: A Reporter Unveils the Celebrity Worlds of Hollywood, Hip-Hop & Sports. When I found out that her book discussed individuals who have a relationship to the hip-hop culture, I knew I had to meet her. Let me tell you an open secret, the best writers are reporters because they will dig deep in the tomb and rattle out the bones of truth. I live for that. Samuels is a seasoned reporter who can pull out the truth so quick her subject won't know what hit them. "I felt the stories needed to be about the scene and place and not so much the stories I do in the magazine, but more of an outtake of the story," said the Atlanta University graduate. "I had so many stories I told at parties and people would say, 'you have to write this down'. When HarperCollins approached me, I thought, well I do have something [of] worth."

Off the Record serves as a cautionary tale with straightforward advice on what to expect when your goal is to be famous. The book reads like a who's who in sports and entertainment, revealing the different experiences of African Americans in the celebrity world. Some of Samuels' interviews are based in the early beginnings of highly successful African Americans in the entertainment industry who had no clue what to expect. Through these interviews, she lets her readers in to the vulnerable moments of these first celebrities, before the Hollywood factory machine took over. She praises actresses like Angela Bassett and sports stars like former Chicago Bulls shooting guard Michael Jordan for their abilities to deal with the media. Then, there are the others like comedian Eddie Murphy and former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson who could have used some much-needed guidance.

Samuels breaks down the rocky relationship between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal when they played with the Lakers. She describes Bryant as the 'sweet faced Philly kid' whose biggest mistake was skipping college to go straight into the NBA. O'Neal, at this time, was a seasoned veteran who did not take too kindly to the young Bryant's cockiness. Samuels' draws a similar analogy with Angela Bassett and Halle Berry. When Berry won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2002 - the first African American woman to do so - an infamous quote by Bassett disparaging Berry's win took a life of its own and Samuels felt remorseful over the drama that ensued. "If people had read the article it was very clear what she said and what she meant. It was regrettable and I was upset for her. It was not my intention to put her in a bad position. You never know what is going to be taken a certain way and what's not. There is really no way to determine that."

A hot subject Samuels could not overlook in her book is the soon-to-be ex-Mrs. Bobby Brown. The moment Whitney Houston arrived in 1985 with her powerful voice belting out 'You Give Good Love' and 'Saving All My Love' she breathed new life in music. As we have seen in later years, Houston's popularity has been in considerable decline. "There was a lot with Whitney but what I was trying to do is chronicle my dealings with her. Obviously, there were many examples of how she [had] gotten even more out of control after I interviewed her. My experiences with her were enough for me [that] I didn't need to look at anybody else."

Samuels also mentions having chicken and waffles with former Book Cover of Off the Record by Allison Samuelssupermodel Tyra Banks, how Bill Cosby grieved over the death of his only son Ennis and on meeting 'the sexiest man alive,' Denzel 'Two-time Oscar winner' Washington. Samuels makes her writing both personal and available. She provides the sense that the reader is sitting right next to her as she connects with all her subjects. Samuels saw these celebrities take their first step into a world with no guidelines, watching to see who would be left standing with the least amount of bruises.

Allison Samuels will sign her book at Eso Won Books on Friday, February 9th at 7 p.m. and also at Vroman's Bookstore on Thursday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m.

-Mary Emerita Montoro, Contributing Writer

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Giveaways: Altar Boyz, They're Playing Our Song, Brazilian Carnaval, Berlin Blues

Giveaways: Altar Boyz, They're Playing Our Song, Brazilian Carnaval, Berlin Blues Many great giveaways currently up at ExperienceLA!
  • Altar Boyz (ends today!) at the Wadsworth Theatre

  • They're Playing Our Song at the Valley Musical Theatre

  • Brazilian Carnaval at the Queen Mary

  • Berlin Blues at the Autry National Center

Visit the ExperienceLA site to enter today!:

Monday, February 05, 2007

LA Cultural Week/end: Classical Music, 80's Clubbing, Mash-ups, and Late-Night Dining

I had a jam-packed week and weekend of evening events - from eclectic music events to a variety of late night dining to Hollywood clubbing options - it's been quite the whirlwind. It reminds me why I love living in - and experiencing - LA. There always something to do. Viper Room
Hello Stranger or Vagenius
Tuesday: At the Viper Room in Hollywood, I went out with my friends Matt, Elaine, and Frank to see one of my favorite bands play - Hello Stranger (formerly Vagenius). Frank managed to snag us a pair of drumsticks for souvenirs! Prior to the show, we ate at the Red Rock Bar & Eatery and after the show we went shopping randomly at a shop near the Viper Room.

Walt Disney Concert HallThursday: My friend Bill invited me to join him and our friends Jay, Nick, and Kevin for dinner and a LA Phil event in downtown. We had a delicious meal at the Taipan restaurant in the Wells Fargo Tower. After dinner we headed off to nearby Walt Disney Concert Hall with a classical concert by the LA Philharmonic featuring Sir Neville Marriner conducting Mozart & Mendelssohn and violin soloist Martin Chalifour.

Friday: I had fun with 80's clubbing in Hollywood at the Ruby Clockwork Orange(which hostsCanter's Clockwork Orange on Friday nights among other great clubbing events!) with friends Jay, Jon, Jessie, Diana, and Jen. We mostly stayed in the main room of the Ruby which played 80's pop/rock, but we did spend time in its two other rooms: one which hosted hip-hop/trance/modern pop and the other which held some indie rock. The night out was followed by late night dining at one of my favorite 24-hour eateries in LA: Canter's on Fairfax.

Saturday: The day was spent at the Westminster Dog Park in Venice with Jay and his pet pug Ezri. The monthly pug meet-up Beverly Centerwas occuring on that day and we spent a couple of hours watching pugs of all shapes, ages, and sizes run around the small dog area. To our amusement, Ezri even found herself a boyfriend named Monty. We followed the dog park adventure in Venice with roaming around the Beverly Center (having lunch at CPK, shopping at H&M).

Later in the evening, Matt and Elaine invited me to a mash-up club called Bootie LA at the Echo night club every 1st Saturday of the month. I had never been to a mash up club before and I had a fabulous time listening to all the great mash-up mixes. My favorite mash-up (which I did get to hear) is Jay-Z's 99 problems vs. Nena's 99 Red Balloons. For those going "what's a mash up?" Here's the Bootie LA definition in brief: Also known as "bastard pop," a bootleg is a song that's "mashed-up." Usually, this means the vocal track of one song is mixed over the instrumentation of another.

After dancing at Bootie LA, we went to the 4100 Bar in the Silver Lake area, which is a lounge and bar with a great ambiance, long couch cushions, and an Asian-influenced interior design. We followed 4100 Bar with some late night eating at nearby Brite Spot Diner which features late-night eating in a cozy, casual diner style restaurant.

Sunday: After such a whirlwind few days, Sunday was thankfully a little bit quiet, but still filled with LA culture and outings. On Sunday morning I attended services at the historic First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. The church is home to the the world's largest church pipe organ and is the oldest Protestant church of continuous operation in the city of Los Angeles. Founded in 1867, the current gothic cathedral on 6th/Commonwealth was built in 1932 and modeled after the great cathedrals of Europe.

The evening was spent with dinner at Mel's Drive-in West Hollywood with Nick, Sarah, and Bill. I love the Mel's Drive-in diners (there's also a Mel's Drive-in Hollywood near Highland) for its classic diner feel and food.

Perhaps, needless to say, I close this entry with: whew!

-Charity Tran, ExperienceLA Web Coordinator

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Chefs Helping Farmers

On Monday, I received an email from Evan Kleiman, owner/chef of Angeli Caffe on Melrose and voice of Good Food on KCRW. She and Suzanne Goin are organizing a series of special dinners to help some of the farmers who sell at local Farmers Markets that have been hurt by the recent Big Freeze.

Since its inception, the ExperienceLA website has promoted Los Angeles area Farmers Markets as a place where the local community can connect, eat healthy, bring visitors into the area, and support the farmers and their workers that sell a variety of farm products. In the Wednesday LA Times Food Section, Suzanne Goin talked about her motivation in calling on her friends to organize these dinners that begin on February 8th. The restaurants involved in these fundraising efforts have a symbiotic relationship with these farmers who provide a steady source of fruits and vegetables that are incorporated into the daily menus of these restaurants. The farmers have also listened to the chefs on the type of fresh ingredients that they would like to include in such meals. However, the recent Big Freeze destroyed upwards of 80% of these crops, putting a financial squeeze on many of these producers.

The link to the special ExperienceLA webpage with these dinners will be updated as more restaurants decide to participate. As of this morning, the following restaurants are participating: Angelli Caffe, Lucques, The Hungry Cat, AOC, Grace Restaurant, Border Grill, and Canelé. I've already made my reservations.