Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Means Free Public Transit

Heading out on the town for New Year's Eve?  If you want to keep it safe (especially with those DUI checkpoints more than likely to be around town), Go Metro! 

Metro is offering free public transit on buses and trains from December 31, 2009 at 9pm to January 1, 2010 at 2am.  And after you've had a night out, get yourself out of bed to head out to the Rose Bowl.  Enjoy the Rose Bowl Game and Rose Parade.  It'll cost you the regular fares ($1.25 one way and $5 day pass) to use the convenient Metro Gold Line, but as we noted in our Here for Roses?  Enjoy Gold (Red and Purple) Lines post, there's a free shuttle.  Beats paying those parking prices (and do you really want to drive the day after New Year's Eve celebrations?). (More info at Metro.) wishes you all a happy and safe time ringing in 2010!

-Charity Tran

Photo by retro traveler from the ExperienceLA Flickr Pool.

More than just a food truck

In my last post reviewing top cultural moments of 2009 in Los Angeles, item #2 was the rise in food trucks servicing hungry Angelenos. Well, chalk another one to the list. "Vesuvio," a food truck offering traditional Southern Italian fare will be hitting the streets of LA in the New Year.

Founder Matt Giangrande contacted ExperienceLA and informed us of the latest food truck to enter the mobile restaurant business. Initially, my reaction was, "Not another one." But after a brief conversation with Matt, I found that the story and inspiration behind "Vesuvio" was much more interesting than some guy simply capitalizing on an opportunity to make a few bucks.

Matt hopes that people will find this food experience a little different from most other food trucks. While many of the food trucks offer fusion menus, "Vesuvio" looks to bring authentic, Southern Italian food to the game; food which Giangrande grew up eating, and which his grandmother made.

"Many people think of Italian food, and they think of spaghetti and meatballs," he offers. Of course, we know it's more than that, but I think the idea here is that food is more than what you put into your mouth. It's an experience, and a reflection of a culture.

According to Giangrande, Northern Italian cuisine has more French and German influence, with more butter and cream based dishes. In Southern Italian cooking, you'll find more tomato-based recipes and heavier use of cheese, due partially to a greater Spanish and Arabic influence.

One of the menu items I'm looking forward to tasting is the Arancini (pronounced Ah-rahn-CHEE-nee), a deep fried ball of smoked mozzarella, parmesan cheese, rice, Italian salami, herbs & spices...umm, I heard deep fried cheese. Sold.

Aside from sharing foods which he grew up with, the founder of "Vesuvio" aims to provide a reflection of the Neapolitan way of life. Food was an opportunity for Giangrande's grandmother to welcome family and friends into her home. With "Vesuvio," he hopes to create a commonplace for neighbors and strangers to gather.

"Whenever I go to Italy to visit family, I am amazed by the amount of interaction in the streets. Complete strangers will chat each other up, scream at each other, root for their soccer teams...and this is the norm, not the exception."

Is it possible that one day, the streets of Los Angeles will look like those of Italy, with people milling about and chatting with strangers? Not likely, but folks are certainly gathering in the streets waiting to taste the delights of these food trucks. Hopefully, "Vesuvio" can deliver on more than just the food, and people gather just to gather and be neighborly. Perhaps I'll see some of you out there.

(photo courtesy of Vesuvio)


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Here for Roses? Enjoy the Gold (Red and Purple) Metro Lines

Whether you're rooting for Buckeyes, Ducks, Longhorns, or the Crimson Tide at the Rose Bowl  - or in town to see the Tournament of Roses - the Gold Line is a great way to get to Pasadena and enjoy L.A. sights.  While you're at it, explore with the Metro Red Line and Purple Line too.  Need some reasons why?  Read on! 

Skip the Parking, Free Shuttle
If you drive, it will cost you $30 to park for the Rose Bowl game and $40 for the BCS game. (Metro's The Source).  But at $1.25 for one way, one line (or $5 for a daypass), you can hop on the Metro Gold Line light rail.  Four Gold Line stations (Del Mar, Memorial Park, Lake, and Allen) are within walking distance from the parade route.  For those attending the Rose Bowl game or the BCS game, Metro is offering a free shuttle.  Just get off at Memorial Park station and walk over to Parsons.  Need more information on the shuttle and walking from stations for the parade?  Visit Metro's Go Metro to 2010 New Year's Celebrations! page.

Sight Seeing on the Gold Line
Here are some notes and suggestions.  Where possible we've linked to more information on 

Sierra Madre Villa Station:
Hang out at Victory Park or go shopping at Hastings Ranch Shopping Center.

Lake Station
Visit the Carnegie Institution Observatory, Ice House Comedy Club, or take advantage of the daypass by hopping on the Metro 485 and enjoying a play at the Pasadena PlayhouseCamelot starts at the Pasadena Playhouse on January 8th if you'll be in town for awhile.  Get your shopping fix on at Lake Avenue Shopping District.

Memorial Park Station

Visit Museums and Theatres including Armory Center for the Arts, Memorial Park, Levitt Pavilion, Norton Simon Museum, Pacific Asia Museum, and Pasadena Museum of California Art.  Shopping?  Old Pasadena and Paseo Colorado Shopping Center is off this stop too.

Del Mar Station
Visit Central Park or enjoy some ice skating at the Pasadena Ice Skating Rink.  More shopping is available at the Old Pasadena Shopping District (see One Colorado).

Mission Station
Enjoy the Meridian Ironworks Museum or stop in to see the architecture of the South Pasadena Library.  There's also shopping at the Mission West Shopping District.

Highland Park Station
This station offers the Highland Park Recreation Center and the LA Police Historical Museum.

Southwest Museum Station
Visit the Southwest Museum or check out the Audubon Center at Debs Park, the Lummis Home, or Sycamore Grove Park.

Heritage Square/Arroyo Station
Check out Greayer Oak Park and roam around in the history of Heritage Museum Square

Lincoln Heights/Cypress Park Station
Spend some time at Cypress Park or enjoy the gardens at the LA River Center and Gardens.

Chinatown Station
Chinatown offers a wide-range of cultural foods, shopping, and destinations.  It's the perfect place to go sightseeing.  Check out Chinatown Art Galleries, the architecture of Old Chinatown, and Los Angeles State Historic Park.  See Chinatown destinations on ExperienceLA.

Union Station
From Union Station itself to the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument and Olvera Street, there's plenty to see off of Union Station.  You can even enjoy the classic French dip sandwiches at Phillipe's a few blocks away.  Also check out the Chinese American Museum

Little Tokyo/Arts District
In addition to the arts district, check out the Japanese American Cultural Community Center, the Japanese American National Museum (they're hosting a Oshogatsu Family Festival!), and the MOCA-Geffen Contemporary Museum

Mariachi Plaza
Visit Hollenbeck Park or the Mariachi Plaza.

Metro offers a downloadable Gold Line guide.  You can download it here (pdf).

Need More To Do?  Enjoy Red...and Purple! 

We don't mean the red and purple likely to adorn the floats at the 2010 parade, there's a Metro Red Line and Purple Line accessible at Union Station.  Both Red and Purple Lines can take you from Union Station and into attractions in Downtown, Hollywood, Thai Town, and Korea Town.

Civic Center (Red and Purple)
Sight see or take in a show at the Music Center.  The Music Center is home the Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.   Close to the Music Center is the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).

Pershing Square (Red and Purple)
Check out Pershing Square and the beautiful Central Library.  Nearby shopping includes the Fashion District, Jewelry District, and Santee Alley.

7th Street/Metro Center (Red and Purple, also transfer point to/from Blue Line)
This station is close to a LA Vistior Information Center, 7+Fig and Macy's Plaza shopping and food.  Head south down Figueroa and you can also find yourself at the L.A. Live plaza to enjoy food options and the GRAMMY Museum.

Wilshire/Western (Purple Line)
Grab the Metro Rapid 720 from Wilshire/Western and explore Museum Row.  Get off at Fairfax to experience the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Broad Contemporary Museum of Art, Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, and Craft & Folk Art Museum.  You can also take the Metro Rapid 720 further to experience Beverly Hills/Rodeo Drive, Westwood/UCLA offerings like the Hammer and the Fowler Musuems, and 3rd Street Promenade.

This station is a convenient walk to Barnsdall Art Park and Hollyhock House.  With the LADOT Griffith Observatory Shuttle you can head over to experience Griffith Park.  A quick walk up Vermont and you can enjoy shopping and food in Los Feliz - including a 24-hour eclectic dining experience at Fred 62 (order the Bossa Nova). 

Make a stop at this station for Thai Food dining and shopping along Western Avenue.

Convenient to catch a show at the Pantages Theatre (it's across the street from the station) and a quick walk to explore the Hollywood Walk of Fame (just look down at the sidewalk), the Henry Fonda TheatreArclight Cinerama Dome, and shopping at the Amoeba Music.

In addition to the Hollywood Theatre District which includes the Egyptian, the El Capitan, Grauman's Chinese (where all the celebrity foot/handprints are), and Kodak Theatres, explore entertaining museums like the Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, and the newly open Madame Tussauds.  The station lets you off right at Hollywood & Highland Center for quick/accessible shopping.  More of the Hollywood Walk of Fame can be seen in this area as well.

Universal City
Grab the shuttle and head into Universal Studios theme park or just enjoy Universal CityWalk for shopping and sightseeing. 

North Hollywood
Experience the richness of art through the NoHo Arts District and the El Portal Center for the Arts

Check out's Interactive Map for more destinations and information.  As always please check transit time tables and plan your trip (and all of its connections) accordingly!

-Charity Tran

(Photo by simonela from ExperienceLA Flickr Pool)

Monday, December 28, 2009

2009: What a year in L.A.

It's hard to believe 2010 is just around the corner. One of the things I look forward to at the end of each year is reading the many "best of lists" that get generated. It's interesting to see what/who made the lists, but also what/who got the snub. In either case, it makes for good conversation and is always fun to reflect on the year that was. Here at ExperienceLA, we decided to compile our own review of 2009. Our topic - what else - top art and cultural events of 2009 in Los Angeles.

So, in no particular order:

#10 - Grand opening of the NoHo gateway. The North Hollywood arts district turned 30 years old in 2009, and the opening of the gateway welcomed a new energy to the neighborhood. Council Member Tom LaBonge, along with the CRA/LA (Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles), artist Peter Shire and members of the community celebrated the gateway's completion, the first of three public art installations for NoHo, back in July. As a resident of the area, I must say the revitalization of NoHo is exciting. The NoHo Commons offers a great place to meet up and hang out with friends before or after a show at one of the many nearby theatres (not to mention the HOW'S grocery store is one of the better grocery shopping experiences in LA). And I can see great live music with the monthly "Hear NoHo" music festival. I heart the valley.

#9 - Cirque du Soleil's Los Angeles show. Ok, it's been in the works for some time (2 years since it was first announced), but it looks like the Kodak Theatre will have a new, permanent resident come 2011. Things are finally moving forward in the development of a dedicated and original Cirque du Soleil show for Hollywood, which is expected to create new jobs and draw in more tourists. The program will be performed year-round, with an estimated 368 shows per year over 10 years. The inaugural season is expected to start sometime after the 2011 Academy Awards. Perhaps we'll see some Cirque du Soleil street performers along Hollywood Blvd. with the other characters.

#8 - Opening of the GRAMMY Museum. Well, technically this opened at the end of 2008, but we got to fully appreciate it in 2009. Situated in Downtown LA on the LA Live complex, the GRAMMY Museum celebrates all forms of music, the recording process and the history of the GRAMMY Awards. It contains four floors of interactive exhibits and experiences as well as a 200-seat theater for special, intimate performances. The museum also provides educational programs that look to inspire children through music. Earlier in the year, the GRAMMY Museum participated in a simulcast of the Michael Jackson memorial, which took place next door at the Staples Center.

#7 - Michael Jackson, The King of Pop. Speaking of Michael Jackson, we couldn't talk about major cultural events in Los Angeles and not mention this. The world paid tribute to the life of an amazingly talented man and his contributions to music this summer. Here in LA, we celebrated through impromptu street dances, gatherings at his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Michael Jackson exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum, a mass performance of Thriller in Downtown on Halloween, and the premiere of "This Is It" at the grand opening of the Regal Cinema movie theaters at LA Live and across the city. You can read about XLA blogger, Charity's reflection on the Michael Jackson memorial or her experience of the movie premiere.

#6 - Los Angeles Lakers: NBA Champs. Sticking with the LA Live theme, how 'bout them Lakers? Their '09-'10 season is off to a great start, and we're optimistic they'll keep the trophy here in LA.

#5 - Holiday Celebration turned 50. 2009 marked the 50th year of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission's annual Holiday Celebration. That's quite a milestone for an event of this nature. Six full hours of live music and dance performances from around the world, this year's event was accessible all across the world! Those who weren't able to attend the live show at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (which is free to attend every year), could watch it on KCET, hear it on 90.7 FM, or stream it on

#4 - 75 Years of Original Farmers Market. The Original Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax celebrated its 75th year in 2009 with an eventful season. One event was the Taste of Farmers Market. Market goers were treated to yummy samples all throughout. It was such a success, they're considering turning it into an annual event. w00t w00t!

#3 - Metro Gold Line Extension. In November, the MTA opened its Gold Line Extension into East LA, making the city a little bit more connected, and allowing people to expose themselves to a great community. A day-long celebration was held, with free rides for all to explore along the route. Stops include Union Station, Little Tokyo, Pico Aliso Station, Mariachi Plaza, Soto Station, Indiana Station, Maraville Station, East LA Civic Center and Atlantic Station. The line opened to mixed reviews with expressed appreciation for a much-needed service and concerns for public safety. For me, it was a positive experience as it introduced me to a part of Los Angeles I wouldn't have considered exploring, but now believe is a gem of a neighborhood in LA County.

#2 - Rise of the Food Trucks. We've had the taco trucks for years, but this year felt like everyone and their parents were getting into the Food Truck craze in LA. From Kogi to LA Fuxion to Nom Nom Truck and more, this piece of LA culture gets Angelenos lined up for some tasty mobile food. Smells like a reality show. Hmm...

And last but not least...

#1 - Gustavo Dudamel arrives. Seemed like you couldn't escape this guy's face and name all summer. The Venezuelan-born Gustavo arrived in LA  this fall and brought with him an electric energy that drew out the masses. A free, sold-out concert at the Hollywood Bowl (read more from XLA blogger, Charity) attracted celebrities, LA Phil concert regulars and first-timers alike. His first performance at the Music Center was simulcast to an audience of about 1,500 on the Music Center Plaza - this was in addition to those who watched the performance from inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Maybe it's his youth, or that hair, or that infectious smile that attracts his fans and gets all types of people excited to see an orchestra perform. For me, I can't be more thrilled to see what he's done so far, and what he will continue to do for the world of classical music.

With any "best of" list, there's bound to be something that was missed. So, I welcome your input. What other hot cultural events happened in 2009 in LA?

Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

From Din Tai Fung to Ozomatli

Most days I find myself appreciating the diverse cultural opportunities of Los Angeles in their individual or regional contexts - whether it's discovering tamales in East LA or having a crazy unexpected adventure exploring Downtown on foot.  But last Saturday I had an even greater appreciation for Los Angeles and how much it has to offer. 

My day began in a holiday traffic drive to one of my favorite Los Angeles restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley - Din Tai Fung in Arcadia.  Luckily, I wasn't driving.  But I will speak on behalf of my friends Melissa and Ian to say the journey was worth it.  It's so good my friends and I have created a club.  The sole purpose of this club is to gather and make plans to eat delicious soup dumplings (um...and spend time together....).  Unlike traditional dumplings, these dumplings contain soup.  So you have to be careful to wait the proper amount of time before devouring (patience really is a virtue).  Be forewarned that this popular restaurant always has wait times. 

We followed up our late lunch of pork and shrimp dumplings, sauteed spinach, chicken fried rice, and tea (with red bean dumplings for dessert) to roam around the store next door and then to JJ Bakery across the plaza.  JJ Bakery is worth a trip just to see their beautiful cake displays.  My friends and I did that - and piled our trays high with cakes and mochi and other sweets.

My evening was a Downtown experience of a birthday dinner and an Ozomatli concert at Club Nokia.  I hopped on the Metro Red Line (no traffic!) and roamed over to Pete's Cafe and Bar in Historic Core Downtown where I met up with friends for my friend Zach's birthday.  After a delicious dinner where I ordered a Hellman burger and blue cheese fries, we roamed out to Club Nokia for day two of Ozomatli's two-day gig at Club Nokia.  (In between they even had a children's program at The GRAMMY Museum).

Ozomatli with its mix of Latin influences and integration of hip-hop and rap was a perfect evening concert.  There was dancing in the audience and on stage.  The band had little choregraphed dance movements and even brought out some Ballet Folklorico in beautiful costumes.  There was also a string quartet - which I adore, especially when integrated into mainstream music.  I love music that is inclusive, opening itself up to the power that comes from bringing different influences together, and I find that is done so well by Ozomatli.  I was definitely dancing and Ozomatli had the floor of Club Nokia dancing out the door - literally.  After the band had made its way to a jam session on the Club Nokia floor, the crowd joined them in a conga-line style exit. 

Maybe the joy of my LA experience on Saturday was just as much related to the distinct groups of great friends - made over time from different aspects of my life - as it was the events I attended.  But with Din Tai Fung, J.J. Bakery, Pete's Cafe, and Ozomatli on the agenda with awesome people - where can you go wrong?  I obviously didn't. 

-Charity Tran

ExperienceLA Holiday Billboards

billboard closeup by plushcattechMy First Billboard by plushcattech
I am one of the few people in Los Angeles who loves advertising, commercials and marketing even though I'm not working in the field.  I love to view flash ads online, Superbowl commercials and billboards during my commute. So when I was given the chance to design the holiday billboards for ExperienceLA, I was ecstatic.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Promotions around Los Angeles

Here are some partner promotions currently going on around Los Angeles that aren't specifically tied to ExperienceLA, but we thought we'd share them with you, our readers. It's the holidays after all, and who knows, one of these might come in handy as a last-minute gift. We're just sayin'...

Go Metro on the Silver Line

Metro recently launched its Silver Line - connecting people from the South Bay (beginning at Artesia Station) and San Gabriel Valley (being at El Monte Bus Station) to Downtown Los Angeles.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Than Just Kicks: Clash of the Customizers Exhibition

While I've always thought about shoes as art, I've never really looked at the shoe as being a possible blank canvas where an artist can bring an idea to life.  Whether you're more of a newbie to this world like me or already entrenched in the world of customized sneakers, the collection featured at Clash of the Customizers Exhibition will probably leave you impressed and never looking at shoes in the same way again.  (Left: Goddess Ayra Tara by Yoakustoms)

Running until December 27, 2009, more information, photos, and video about the exhibition after the jump.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Awww... Nuts!

'Tis the season to enjoy great holiday favorites such as the Nutcracker Ballet.
Having a hard time choosing? Here is a quick run-down of the Nutcracker performances in the Los Angeles Area:

Events with a twist on the Nutcracker Theme:
Be sure to check out other great holiday events at!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Holiday Tamale Trolley

Growing up just east of East L.A., I have been quite accustomed to thinking tamales synonymous with the holidays. It's right up there with hot chocolate, peppermint mocha coffees, candy canes, and cookies. There's just something comforting about unwrapping that corn husk and seeing the steam rise from the masa. Like opening up a present with delicious rewards.

While we would get them homemade from our neighbor across the street, not everyone has that option. With the roll out of the Eastside Extension of the Metro Gold Line, getting these delectably filled foods is a little easier.

Check out this list of tamale vendors within walking distance from a Metro Gold Line Eastside station.*


El Rinconcito del Mar Bakery
(bakery only; not sold at restaurant)
2908 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, 90033

Los Antojitos
2122 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, 90033


Cinco Puntos Mexican Foods
(market only; no restaurant facilities)
3300 E. Cesar Chavez Avenue
Los Angeles, 90063

Tamales Lilianas
3448 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, 90063
(also at 4629 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles; 323-780-0989)

El Gallito Restaurant
(in El Mercadito)
3425 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, 90063


King Taco
4504 E. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, 90022


Las Delicias
287-A S. Atlantic Blvd.
Los Angeles, 90022

Catching the bus? Here are more options within a local bus ride away from a Gold Line Eastside station.*


La Mascota Bakery
2715 Whittier Blvd.
Los Angeles, 90023

La Indiana Tamales
1142 S. Indiana St.


Juanito's Tamales
4214 E. Floral Drive
Los Angeles, 90063


Sandra's and Lolita's
(to go only; no restaurant facilities)
5390 Whittier Blvd.
Los Angeles, 90022

-Charity Tran

*Suggestions provided by Metro.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Grinch Will Steal Your Heart

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is no doubt a family holiday favorite - from the book, to the cartoon film, to the live-action movie with Jim Carrey.

It also makes the perfect family-friendly holiday musical.

John Larroquette enters as "Old Max" retelling the story of when he was "Young Max" (portrayed by James Royce Edwards) and the Grinch (Stefan Karl) was up to his anti-Whoville holiday scheme. No need to retell the story most already know, but there are great elements that make this musical an enjoyable family experience.

The audience/show barrier is lifted often. Larroquette, Edwards, and Karl's character portrayals directly interact with the audience. Stefan Karl's performance as the Grinch is hilarious here, particularly in numbers where he's being quite the ham to the audience and both Old/Young Max alike warns us not to encourage him.

The stage is a holiday splendor of familiar Who-ville images seemingly lifted from Seuss' books into real life in all that musical stage spectacular. It's the perfect setting to bring the family into the beautiful historic Pantages Theatre.

And of course, the story is as heart-warming as ever - warmly lit by the singing of the Whoville cast, especially Cindy-Lou Who and her heart-changing interactions with the Grinch.

The show evokes the warmth of the holiday season for Human, Grinch, Dog, and Whoville citizens alike.

-Charity Tran

Usage of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! image and name is authorized. TM & ©1957, 2009 Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cuteness Overload at the Royal/T

Too Cute It's Scary by plushcattech.
Cute Overload at the Three Apples Exhibition of Hello Kitty (Photo courtesy of plushcattech)

Starting off my week-long birthday celebration, I went to Three Apples, the 35th Anniversary Celebration of Hello Kitty Art Exhibition at The Royal/T in Culver City. Ever since it opened, I've been meaning to go to the Royal/T, so when the Hello Kitty exhibit came around, I brought my Hello Kitty-obsessed friend (her first tattoo is Hello Kitty) out into the city.

It was the last weekend of the exhibition, and everyone in town must have procrastinated because the line went on for a whole block with people at the front waiting for over 2 hours! We decided to tough it out and were rewarded when we found that they were letting people in to see the exhibit and visit the cafe, but that the line was for the store (we happen to be avid online shoppers).

From the first peek in the front window display to the art work in the back, it was wall-to-wall cuteness! There was a Hello Kitty guitar, surfboard, TV, and dresses to name a few of the many unusual items at the exhibit.(I didn't see my fantastically fast Hello Kitty rice cooker, though.) We decided to enjoy the rest exhibition while waiting for a table at the cafe where we had the Hello Kitty Kawaii High Tea and Hello Kitty-shaped waffles. We also saw some great Hello Kitty Fashion as there was going to be a fashion show later that evening. I had to miss it since I had tickets to see John Cleese at the Alex Theatre.

While my friend's mother had "poo-poo"ed her choice in tattoo, stating that Hello Kitty was not real art, but rather a business gimmick, at Three Apples, we found that Hello Kitty was in fact truly an inspiration for art.

-Tiina Vuorenmaa

Gladly Helping to Pay His Alimony

John Cleese (minus a tooth) by plushcattech.
John Cleese showing his age.

As part of my week-long birthday celebrations, I decided to see John Cleese in his Final Wave to the World (Or the Alimony Tour, Year One). I had missed out on seeing him at the Carpenter Center, but got a great seat at the Alex Theatre in a quaint, but happening area of Glendale.

Being a Monty Python fan since high school, I was extremely excited to see a member of the influential British comedy group .And I was not disappointed. At the start of the show, I was treated to an slideshow presentation breaking down how much his ex-wife earned being married to him (He owes $30 million up-front, with $1 million a year for the next five years). Mr. Cleese then regaled his life story from childhood and unusual relationships with his parents(his mother was the first to understand and appreciate his warped sense of humor) to his extreme luck at getting work (the tone-deaf comedian was actually in a musical on broadway! ...lip synching.) and meeting the members of Monty Python. For the second half, John Cleese was fascinated on the reactions to black humor from the black knight scene in "Holy Grail" to the TV series "Fawlty Towers" and "A Fish Called Wanda".

The show satisfied my hunger for interesting information into the lives of the members of Monty Python and I would gladly help Mr. Cleese pay for his alimony (in this fashion) again.

An interesting tidbit of information: "Fawlty Towers" was based on a real hotel owner named Donald Sinclair, also the name of the eccentric hotel/casino owner played by Cleese in "Rat Race".

-Tiina Vuorenmaa

Delicious and Informative Morsels: SixTaste Little Tokyo Tour

Negitoro Don by plushcattech.
Negitoro Don Sample (Photo courtesy of plushcattech)

Ending my week-long birthday celebration, I went on the Six Taste Little Tokyo Food Walking Tour. It had been many years since I had visited Little Tokyo, and I was refreshing my memory of Japanese customs as well as getting to know more about Los Angeles.

Overall, the food was delicious and our tour guide was very helpful and well-informed, but the number one thing that impressed me the most was the close proximity of MOCA, JANM and JACCC to Little Tokyo. I mean walking close! And here I thought that everything was far apart because "nobody walks in LA!"

Our first stop was Spitz, a kebab restaurant with the best garlic aioli sauce. Wait? I thought this was a Little Tokyo Tour? Spitz showed the diversity of Little Tokyo, and even had that slight "academia" feel (it's run by college grads as well) with its recycled art and furnishings. Next stop was the courtyard/park in front of the JACCC, Japanese American Cultural & Community Center where we had sushi from Oomasa and enjoyed the hidden Japanese garden with blooming Tsubaki (Japanese Camelia), my favorite flower. We then tasted the soft and subtley sweet mochi from the oldest shop in Little Tokyo, Fugestu-Do. Our tour came full circle and back to the Japanese Village Plaza where we sampled mochi-lato (gelato instead of ice cream) at Mikawaya, imagawayaki (a traditional Japanese dessert) at Mitsuru Cafe, and ended our tour with a negitoro-don from the first Wakasaya in Los Angeles (the chain of Wakasaya restaurants are in Hokkaido, but the owner lives here in LA!).

On the way through the whole tour, we were treated with juicy morsels of Little Tokyo's past, including mail-order brides, apple pie and fire towers. While I already know I'm coming back for more hazelnut mochi-lato and negitoro-don, I found the history of Little Tokyo and the surrounding areas to be the highlight of the tour. Oh! and now I know I can go to all those great events at the JANM, JACC and the Aratani Theatre and add a little shopping on the side!

-Tiina Vuorenmaa

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Your Local Farmers Market - A Conversation with Craig Deihl from Cypress in Charleston

As Thanksgiving approaches, what better time to visit your local Farmers Market for your holiday feast and on ExperienceLA we try to have a complete list of farmers markets in LA County sorted by day. Always a special treat is the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market which in past year's has opened early the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as a way to better manage the number of shoppers. You can spot the LA chefs with their helpers and wagons. Most are wearing their chef jacket, and here is a recent one of myself and Wolfgang Puck.

Watching chefs buy their produce and interact with the vendors has introduced me to several chefs and their restaurants in LA. Thus, whenever I travel, I check to see where and when is the local farmers market as a way of introducing me to the local food scene. And if you have cooking facilities where you are staying, it is especially fun to shop for locally based produce and poultry and figure out something to make from a rgional cook book. Thus, while in Charleston, I timed our arrival so that we could visit the Charleston Farmers Market which occurs on Saturday in Marion Square. The day we selected was one that featured prominent local chefs demonstrating their use of locally procured ingredients, and thus we met Craig Deihl, executive chef of Cypress Restaurant in Charleston as he prepared three locally inspired dishes, including produce provided by Lee Burbage from Joseph Fields farm.

After seeing the cooking demo, we got onto Open Table and made a reservation for Cypress for Monday night while in town for the Blackbaud non-profit conference. While walking down Bay Street to Cypress, we passed a must visit Charleston foodie destination, Charleston Cooks! Maverick Kitchen store, where you can pick up some regional cooking souvenirs. Cypress restaurant is a great example of blending the old with the new in this adaptive reuse of a building where a stunning interior decor is set-off by the exposed brick. A visit to Cypress is an opportunity to enjoy Low Country cooking exemplified with locally sourced ingredients. Figuring out what to eat was simplfied from the choices offered on a three course menu for $38 and the portions were larger than expected. At the Charleston Farmers Market, we had watched Craig Deihl prepare his signature dish candied bacon which would be on pulitzer prize food critic Jonathan Gold's radar if he was reporting from Charleston.

The other first course we had was Craig's charcutterie plate, all made in-house, which ranks among the best we have had of this new wave of restaurant prepared charcutterie. On the plate was bresola, lamb bacon, head cheese, and mortadella. After dinner, Chef Diehl stopped by our table to chat and we talked about what it takes to prepare cured meats in this fashion. It brought to mind Novella Carpenter's story of dumpster diving in West Berkeley on Fourth Street to feed her two pigs as discussed in her Farm City: Education of an Urban Farmer book and presented at the LA Central Library Aloud series. But here at Cypress in Charleston, no need to dumpster dive, as Craig has a partnership with a boutique pig producer to provide food waste to feed his future pigs for his charcutterie. This venture has proven so successful, that he has now launched a charcutterie CSA for those who want a steady supply of Craig Deihl's cured meats. The first production run sold out.

Since I am on the road, the pictures that I have been uploading to flickr have been from my Motorola Droid phone which look quite good for a mobile phone, as you can see from the Frozen Souffle S'more dessert from Cypress above. Soon you will find my various picture sets, including what we at at Cypress, from this Charleston, South Carolina trip on my ExperienceLA flickr account along with a Charleston Farmers Market set among my flickr collection of farmers markets.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Support Your Local Arts Organization as They Connect with You Online

The idea for ExperienceLA began when the Internet was only 4 years old in 1998. Thus, when it was finally launched in July 2003 with opening of the Gold Line to Pasadena, web 1.0 was a known platform and using the Internet for marketing was beginning to hits its stride. The ExperienceLA project has gone onto experiment with different forms of social networking to increase awareness and to help the more than 1,500 cultural partners market themselves on the Internet. I've watched the National Arts Marketing Association teach its members how to use various Internet and social marketing tools, and I myself have spoken at the National Main Street Conference earlier this year in Chicago. While in Charleston, South Carolina, I have had the opportunity to observe how Blackbaud is seamlessly weaving social networking into their annual conference which attracts over 1,000 nonprofit professional from throughout the United States, including several of the major Los Angeles art organizations. To follow the Blackbaud conference on Twitter, use #bbcon.

I was given the opportunity to sit in on one session of the Blackbaud conference of special interest to Los Angeles based art organizations, and that was on eCommerce and Marketing Strategies for Arts and Cultural Organizations given by two Blackbaud staff professionals. The main take-away from this session was encouraging arts organizations to better understand their audience and to break it down into segments so as to target a specific audience. Then with so many social marketing tools, how best to have such tools be supportive of each other without overwhelming their supporters. With the end of the year coming, and art organizations continuing to be significantly impacted by the economy, trying to put these lessons to work to engage their supporters and even attract end of the year donations, is especially important.

The Blackbaud conference has a number of their sessions online over the next several days and will be archived on their site. Blackbaud is the premier non-profit donor datasbase company, but the importance of a quality database for marketing and development purposes would be its own subject to be discussed at another time.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Beyond the concrete jungle: Los Angeles Parks

Observatory View
Griffith Park Observatory (Photo courtesy of Intellichick)

We recently asked ExperienceLA fans to tell us where some of the best parks are in Los Angeles to help us populate our weekly poll. Within a short time span, we received a great list of suggestions. Unfortunately on our poll, we can only show 4 choices at a time. However, a list this great must be shared. So, without further ado and in no particular order, here's a list of best parks in LA as suggested by our fans:

Dalton Park, Azusa
Hansen Dam Park, San Fernando Valley
Marie Kerr Park, Lancaster
Griffith Park, Hollywood
MacArthur Park, Los Angeles
Echo Park, Los Angeles
Point Fermin, San Pedro
Runyon Canyon, Hollywood
Fryman Canyon, Hollywood
Debs Park, Northeast Los Angeles
Placerita Canyon, Santa Clarita
East Canyon, Santa Clarita
Rica Canyon, Santa Clarita
Vasquez Rocks, Agua Dulce
El Dorado Parks, Lancaster
Jesse Owens Park, Los Angeles
Unidad Park, Historic Filipinotown
Elyisian Park, Los Angeles

We know there are plenty more great parks. If you don't see your favorite park on this list, please tell us about it so we can add it to the list, and feel free to attach a photo too! See, we do have some natural beauties here in LA :)


Sunday, November 01, 2009

An evening with Steve and his banjo

A night of music, comedy, and even a little bit of Chinese feminism. This is what fans who attended Steve Martin's first public performance in years at the Walt Disney Concert Hall were treated to last week. I'm more familiar with his comedy, admittedly, but thanks to my husband, was highly interested in his banjo skills. And I must say, "WOW!" That man is just as talented on his banjo as he is with his wit and humor. And he surrounds himself with equally talented musicians.

The tour supports Martin's first full-length bluegrass album, "The Crow." The CD has been nominated for several awards and is critically acclaimed. After seeing and hearing his performance, I can understand why. (In fact, we walked away with our own copy of "The Crow.")

The evening opened with the beautiful Abigail Washburn. "Thank you, God, for making Steve Martin a banjo man," she said as she began her set. And that was how the night went. A little bit of good humor mixed with beautiful, spirited and soulful music which included standard bluegrass and original tunes. The most interesting piece of her set must have been the bluegrass import of sorts- a Chinese feminist piece which Ms. Washburn performed entirely in Mandarin. It was a moment that expanded my somewhat limited world. I had no idea that Chinese music included the banjo, but thoroughly enjoyed this performance and appreciated how it opened my mind just a little bit more.

Following Abigail was Steve Martin with the Steep Canyon Rangers. The crowd enthusiastically welcomed back to the stage the great comedian. And then, the music started. The show they gave was one of the best I've ever experienced musically. The chemistry between the Steep Canyon Rangers and Martin was so apparent. There was much respect for one another's talents, and they truly enjoyed playing together. Pardon the cliche, but it was really a "toe-tappin' good time."

A few jokes were sprinkled throughout the evening. At one point, when the SCR took on the spotlight for a moment, Steve asked the bass player if there was a beer for him. And sure enough, there was...stored inside the bass itself. It was evident this is how these guys roll. Pure fun and entertainment.

Like Abigail's set, Steve performed some standards, including the energetic classic "Orange Blossom Special," which had me at the edge of my seat. I watched in awe as the bands fingers' flew so effortlessly and intelligently across the strings of their respective instruments. I was impressed at how easy Steve made playing the banjo appear. I was inspired by the violinist to get out my own fiddle and learn "Orange Blossom Special" (which, Steve decided that evening, was written by him). The night ended with a playful, bluegrass rendition of Martin's "King Tut." Then the crowd rose to thank Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers for the musical treat we were given.

This was my first live bluegrass concert experience, and certainly will not be my last. I walked in with an eagerness and lack of expectation. I walked away with a whole new appreciation for bluegrass music, and for the banjo as an instrument of not only fast-paced and lively music, but also an instrument of calm, sorrow and peace. With that, I leave you with a little bit of "King Tut."


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Historical LA Restaurant Thoughts Inspired by Jonathan Gold and William Grimes at Aloud

The other day I attended the Aloud Central Libary Foundation discussion by Jonathan Gold and William Grimes (picture to the left) comparing the culinary restaurant history of Los Angeles and New York City as moderated by Evan Kleiman from KCRW Good Food and Angeli Caffe. I have often reflected that the food and restaurant scene today in Los Angeles is so different than what I knew growing up in LA on the westside during the 1950's and 1960's.

I grew up in a middle class family in the original Truesdale tract near Mar Vista playground. For a family of six, going out to dinner was a special occasion, and thus the restaurants I recall are very limited. If you wanted Chinese, and it was only Cantonese in those days, it meant a trip to downtown for Chinatown or the Produce Market area where you would find our old favorite Man Fook Low on San Pedro Street. I remember the owner giving us lychee fruit for a holiday treat. We did go sometimes to Chinatown which seemed so exotic, and I can't remember which Bamboo Lane restaurant.

If we wanted a fancy meal, and usually this meant getting together with relatives, then our destination was Lawry's Prime Rib at their original La Cienega location. This was roast beef heaven watching the silver carts making their way around the room. I remember my cousin as a youngster, who became a very successful restaurant owner, wanting the adult portion, and not the child's plate, and making a big fuss. Even in those days, the portions were enormous. I think eating at Lawry's influenced him. He got the adult portion, but I can't remember whether he ate the whole thing.

In the summer time, we spent several weeks on Balboa Island, which was out in the middle of nowhere of Orange County in those days. Thus, it was a big deal when the owners of Lawry's opened Five Crowns in Corona del Mar. It became an institution, and this was probably the highest form of gourmet cooking that I experienced growing up. Newport Beach had other memories for me, as in 1969 I did go on to work for Far West Services owners of Rubens, Coco's, and other restaurants as a bus boy at the old Ruben E. Lee on Newport Bay. I think this floating ship finally came to end an several years ago, after plans failed to turn it into a museum. I learned more about what it takes to run a restaurant while clearing tables and washing dishes.

Anyway, with my last paycheck from the summer of 1969, I took my parents to Scandia on the Sunset Strip and I was surprised that Jonathan Gold did not mention Scandia as an institution of fine dining from post WW2 this along with Perino's and Chasen's in his comments as an LA foodie institution of its time. I did return to Scandia in the early 1980's for a very special proposal meal with Karen. This was white table cloth dining for its time until the new wave of dining buried it in the late 1980's.

There was much discussion about ethnic food at the Aloud event, and going back to West Los Angeles in 1960, you really had to go out of your way for Mexican and Japanese food. I recall going to Casa Escobar on Pico in the early sixties having great tacos at the unheard high price of 75 cents. In the mid sixties, we discovered Tito's Taco's with their 25 cent tacos, and this one of kind outpost is still going strong. With regard to Japanese, it was either Little Tokyo in downtown LA, or one could head over to Crenshaw to find sushi. Here I was at 7 years of age with my mother eating sushi in 1960. The sushi chefs were stunned. I have read books on the sushi history of LA, and I think that people have forgotten that sushi may have made its first appearance on Crenshaw Blvd. and not Little Tokyo. Another interesting restaurant at the Crenshaw mall, was the Pearly King (or Queen) doing real English style Fish and Chips. This was fun finger food.

Where the Westside Pavilion expansion now stands, there was an original fast food hamburger place called Scott's at Pico and and Westwood next to the Picwood Movie Theatre. Way before McDonalds found its way to West LA, this was the big treat when we would do Saturday school outings before another Magic Flute at the old Philharmonic at Pershing Square. As a family, if we wanted restaurant hamburgers, then we would head out to Woody's on Sepulveda near Jefferson. I suspect we went there once a month. I would actually sprinkle the peanuts on my burger.

For the truly exotic dinner, there was Kelbo's, a tiki bar on Pico serving Polynesian style food. Again, this was a fun place for a family dinner. The original burned down, and the next one after that featured a fire engine display. Just the other day, I made it to the new Trader Vic's at LA Live, and it brought back these Kelbo memories.

As a child in 1950's, it made a big impression on me when my father took me to Tommy's, the Original Pantry, and Philippes. All are still going strong and retaining their mystique. Near the corner of Barrington and National, we had our own little delicatesen for lox and bagels. We usually did take-out, and they had the range of Jewish deli coldcuts. Don't rember the name, but it lasted well into the late 1960's. Going to the big LA deli's, was a long drive even in those days. And Junior's did not exist yet. And before it became known as Trader Joe's, we had Pronto Market on National near Overland, still in its original location back in the early 60s. Yes, I grew up on Trader Joe's food.

Finally, I need to add that my father, was a restaurant pioneer ahead of his time. Back in the days of the White Front discount department store on Central Avenue at 76th (in South LA) around 1959, he built and opened the WF restaurant directly across the street, which if you saw it, you would have recognized it as a forerunner of Sizzler. His idea was to hire the best chefs, and cook quality steaks at low prices, in a cafeteria line environment. I do have an architectural drawing of this restaurant, which I will scan and post later. This restaurant lasted for a few years, and to this day, there are still very few sit down restaurants in this part of LA. Warren Hollier was general construction contractor for the WF restaurant and went onto become head of Public Works under Mayor Tom Bradley.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"This Is It" at the Vista Theatre

While the chaos of the Lakers Ring Night and the "This Is It" premiere hit downtown, I jetted out of the area on the Metro Red Line to Sunset to meet up with my friend Cela to see "This Is It" in a less chaotic setting. Her husband had opted out of not attending last minute so I was more than happy to take his spot (sorry Jeff). Despite my penchant for historic theatres (like the movie palaces in the Historic Core) and having been by the Vista a number of times to eat at nearby El Chavo with friends, I had never actually been inside the Vista Theatre - which turned out to be an almost perfect setting to watch "This is It".

The Vista Theatre, located on Sunset in the Los Feliz area, is a historic theatre with Egyptian-style design and bright colors. It almost felt like we were getting a dose of the "Remember the Time" video while we were watching the documentary unfold on the screen.

"This is It" follows the tour that would have been...and what a tour it would have been! The documentary highlights the creation of the tour and its rehearsals. The show would have featured not only Michael Jackson's most famous hits and dance moves, but elaborate stage production of lights and special effects and video recordings for extensive mini-movie-like transitions for songs like "Thriller" and "Smooth Criminal". While there might be some doubt as to the magic of documentary film editing how fit Michael Jackson was for the show, it appeared in all these ways that he was ready to go.

One of my favorite moments occurred in a particular number where he provided vocal stylings (his crew were all fans, especially evident in the dancers who idolized him) for a song that were amazing. He closed with jokingly saying, "I'm just giving you guys a feel for it..." as if there was so much more that was ready to be created by this man who met an untimely end.

The documentary enables the Michael Jackson fan to not only remember the music that they already love from the artist that they love, but to also get a rare surface-level glimpse of the man behind the artist. In this glimpse you see the human side of the pop-icon through his message of love and his interactions with his crew.

In many ways, "This Is It" is a gift and that gift is feeling as if you're right there with the rest of the crew seeing the show unfold. It's unfortunate that the tour wasn't able to take place, that we're not able to know what could have been to Michael Jackson's career and legacy in its light. But in light of the documentary of the tour's making, I hope audiences step away with what so many already know - that this man was an amazing artist - and what I think the documentary aims to show - that despite all of his enormity of talent and the body of work he left behind, he saw himself as a human being in this world, just like you and me.

-Charity Tran

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Back to Back: Paul Shaffer and Gloria Gaynor at the Grammy Museum

No doubt that the GRAMMY Museum is one of my favorite new Los Angeles places and every time I go to an event or wander around their exhibitions of musical history, discussion, and interactivity, this knowlege is reinforced. My practically back-to-back event attendance at the museum last week with Paul Shaffer (Wednesday, October 21st) and Gloria Gaynor (Thursday, October 22nd) reminded me of a specific reason I appreciate the museum's offerings and programming: diversity.

There's something about stages. They're like a blank canvas, or a piece of unmolded clay, but instead of being host to a single, eventual output, a stage is home to the influx of continuous possibility. Having been at the GRAMMY Museum Soundstage for a number of programs, I know that the museum has had a number of guests from different genres and formats, from modern Latin music with FONSECA to the wordless and moving jazz stylings of Charlie Haden. But it was only when I attended two very different events in the same place on two consecutive days, did it really hit home the power held in this 200-seat theatre.

Both Paul Shaffer (to those who are unfamiliar, David Letterman's band leader and co-author of recently released memoir We'll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives) and Gloria Gaynor (singer of many disco era hits but perhaps best known for I Will Survive) had great interviews that touched upon nuances in their lives. Shaffer's interview naturally fell into reference of his recently released memoir as Gaynor's was obviously shaped and shadowed by the 30th anniversary of her hit song "I Will Survive".

Shaffer's interview with the museum's Executive Director Robert Santelli leaned more toward laugh out loud comedy - assisted also with his co-writer David Ritz on stage - with references to his musical career. His interview was peppered with stories of his time on Saturday Night Live, his relationship with the Blues Brothers, and humorous stories of the Letterman show (from Sonny and Cher to trying to rehearse with an elusive Sammy Davis Jr.).

Gaynor's interview with its many amusing, poignant moments leaned more toward inspirational. She appreciated the hard work she put in as a musician before being a star (unlike some young celebrities today) and an amazing story of how one woman's inability to catch a flight home eventually led to her seeing Gaynor's performance, and Gaynor's rendition of "I Will Survive" ultimately helping that woman stray away from commiting suicide.

Musically, Shaffer performed bits and pieces as it related to the story being told on stage. His was almost more of a piano and vocal soundtrack to the live interview. Gaynor's performance followed after her conversation with Gail Mitchell (as are most of the events I've attended), enrapturing its audience in covers of Barry Manilow's Somewhere Down the Road and The Police's Every Breath You Take. There was even a surprise guest performance with Days of Our Lives actress Nadia Bjorlin. Of course, I Will Survive was the big finale number complete with audience sing-along participation.

I hope those reading will take the time to schedule not just one visit to the GRAMMY Museum and its programming, but many. Perhaps not back-to-back on two consecutive days, but this is definitely a place that deserves more than a casual stroll. I believe I appreciate the museum more - and music more - because of the opportunities it hosts to experience music in so many ways.

For more information about the GRAMMY Musuem, visit

-Charity Tran

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Happy Birthday...Zombie?

Zombie Walk: The Zombie MassesMy friend Cela sent me a Facebook invitation to her husband's birthday party. It wasn't dinner and birthday cake. More like "Brains?"

The invitation was to join them on a Zombie Walk in Hollywood. While I've always appreciated zombies, I've never had a mind to be like one. But there's a first time for everything, right?

I learned the fine art of becoming a zombie with help from the wise-old internet and my friends. The key items: palor, bruises, and blood. I was a zombie jogger, trampled on with shoe foot prints.

This was a "Go Metro" friendly event. Everyone was to meet up at North Hollywood Metro station and take the subway down to Hollywood/Highland. As I was closer to Hollywood/Highland I milled around with some zombies waiting there while a friend applied blood on my face.

Around 5:00 the zombies started arriving...luckily it appeared to be an isolated incident and no brains were eaten (as far as authorities could tell...)


Flickr Set:

-Charity Tran

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tastes of Fall

Brown Butter Roasted Halibut and Fennel Sausage & Ricotta Flatbread at Bar Marmont

When I heard about the new fall items on Bar Marmont's menu, I decided to use it as an excuse to reacquaint myself with the old West Hollywood landmark (it's been years since I was last here). I also used it as an excuse to reconnect with a friend whom I had not seen in nearly a year. So, earlier this week, I made the trek from the valley over the hills to meet my dear friend at the Chateau.

We arrived a little early for our reservation, so relaxed for a bit at the bar. While there, we took a moment to chat with the bartender and soak in our surroundings. Mellow. The mood was low-key and mellow with the exception of our drinks (the Anejo Old-Fashioned is an interesting recipe), which were well-mixed and added just the right amount of kick that we wanted for our evening. A perfect blend for two people who planned on doing lots of talking and laughing.

When our table was ready and we were seated, we proceeded to order up: Cheddar Apple Salad with Pancetta and Pumpkin seeds (can't get more fall than pumpkin), Fennel Sausage & Ricotta Flatbread with Squash Blossoms (squash=fall as well), and Brown Butter Roasted Halibut with Almonds & Haricots Vert. Mmmm...we could feel our mouths watering.

It didn't take long for our food to come out. The presentation of our plates was simple and straightforward (I'm a big believer of less is more). While Executive Chef Carolynn Spence did a fine job of selecting ingredients that capture the essence of the season, sadly, we found our dishes to be over-salted. We wanted so badly to enjoy our dinner, and were looking forward to that explosion of rich, warm fall flavors full of spice that remind us of holiday cooking. Hidden underneath all that salt, we believed they were there.

Where the kitchen failed, the drinks, music, decor, atmosphere and company made up for. We sat back slightly disappointed in our dinner, but moved on to happier conversation about all that's passed since the last time we saw each other, recounted some memories and discussed the scandalous history of Chateau Marmont, all the while sipping on our Dorothy Palmers.

The evening wasn't a complete let-down. My friend and I got a chance to do some much needed catching up, and the bartender's mixology skills impressed me enough to keep Bar Marmont on my radar for mid-week drinks. Harry Cohn, founder of Columbia Pictures, once said, "If you must get into trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont." I would add to that, If you must discuss the topic of "trouble," do it at Bar Marmont."


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Win tickets to see Cirque du Soleil

The venerable acrobatic and clown troupe of Cirque du Soleil comes to L.A. starting October 16th under the Grand Chapiteau at the Santa Monica Pier. In honor of this, ExperienceLA wants to send one of our lucky readers to see KOOZA by Cirque du Soleil. Read on for details...

Think you know Los Angeles? Answer some trivia and be entered to win tickets to see KOOZA by Cirque du Soleil. Each Friday, starting today, we will post a new trivia question on our blog. Each correct answer will earn you one additional entry to the drawing. The final question will be posted on Friday, October 30, so check back weekly to increase your chances of winning! The final day to submit your answers is Thursday, November 5. One winner will be randomly drawn and notified by November 6. Good luck!

Friday, October 9 - ExperienceLA Trivia Challenge question 1:

Which theatre in LA County was built in 1920 as the site of the Pilgrimage Play? (hint: check out one of our June 2009 newsletters). Answer: John Anson Ford Ampitheatre

Friday, October 16 - ExperienceLA Trivia Challenge question 2:

How many miles of horse and hiking trails does LA County offer? (hint: visit our County Directory to find out.) Answer: 337 miles (also acceptable is 344 miles)

Friday, October 23 - ExperienceLA Trivia Challenge question 3:

What building is the only remaining example in Los Angeles County of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture? (hint: visit the Figueroa Corridor Itinerary on our Adventures Page.) Answer: Stimson House

Friday, October 30 - ExperienceLA Trivia Challenge question 4:

How old is the Original Farmers Market? (hint: Visit the Original Farmers Market page at Answer: 75 years

Email your answers to staff at with the subject heading "KOOZA." Answers can be sent weekly or all at once by November 5. Be sure to include your first and last name along with your answers.


Bienvenido Gustavo Indeed

Bienvenido Gustavo ProgramI hadn't planned on attending the free event (sponsored by Target) at the Hollywood Bowl welcoming Gustavo Dudamel as LA Phil's new music director, but my friend Jeff had extra tickets to provide for me and my sister. My sister is a LA native, in town from Chicago, and had never been to the Hollywood Bowl before, so it was kind of an inaugural event within an inaugural event. But if I had to coin the evening, it was experiencing LA in all of the right ways.

Hollywood Bowl StashThere was the "feast" - the hodge podge of food brought by our group. My stash? Muscat Cannelli from Chateau St. Michelle and cookies. Jeff also brought a Muscat Cannelli, peaches, pie, and Kaviar - spelled with K and in a tube. Contributing to the cookie pile were Katie's sugar cookies, and my sister sliced up a grilled pork Banh Mi into four pieces.

There was the talent. The evening was a gamut of the talented known and unknown. There were the Hollywood celebrities, among them Jack Black and Andy Garcia introducing acts, famous acts including Herbie Hancock, and rising stars from the Silverlake Conservatory of Music and YOLA Expo Center Youth Orchestra (playing "Ode to Joy" led by Dudamel).

Fireworks at the BowlThere was the crowd, and the crowd was celebratory and proud. As Gustavo Dudamel stated in his closing speech, his pride in being both Venezuelan and American, his desire that there be no divide - no North and South America - you felt that sentiment in the crowd. There were no generational gaps, no musical divisions of style nor divisions of ethnic backgrounds - just people, just music, just celebration. Los Angeles is home to peoples and cultures that coalesce and remain distinctive all at once.

...and Gustavo Dudamel? Well, he's just an amazing conductor, representing Los Angeles in all the right ways. ¡Bienvenido Gustavo!

-Charity Tran

"Museums-Free-For-All" Event at the Norton Simon Museum

Free? Did you say "free", ExperienceLA?! I like free. 24 museums in Los Angeles and Orange County participated in a "Museum-Free-For-All" this past weekend (Oct. 3-4). Out of two dozen choices, I picked one that I've been meaning to go to for a very long time...the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena! For the whopping price of free, I got to experience an enriching and magnificent L.A. afternoon with my family.

After entering the museum and confirming with the information desk that it was free entry that day, my parents and I learned about art, history, culture, and the importance of really making sure the flash is off when photographing an 18th century piece of art. In a couple hours, we were able to tour a remarkable collection of European and Asian artwork. We started with the European art sections that spanned seven centuries from artistic greats like Raphael, Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, and Moore. Eventually, we strolled through the serenely pleasant outdoor sculpture garden and pond. We concluded our visit with the amazing South and Southeast Asian art that included Cambodian, Tibetan, Indian, and Nepalese works of art, exhibited both indoors and in an outdoor garden.

From Kushan stones to Kandinsky, the Norton Simon Museum's diverse and world-famous collection is worth the general $8 price tag...but if you like free (like me) and missed the "Museum-Free-For-All" weekend event, you can get free admission the first Friday of every month from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. (unless otherwise stated).

-Christine Tran
Guest Blogger

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Museum free for all

GRAMMY Museum - Walls at Exhibition Entrance
If you didn't have the opportunity to partake in last week's National Museum Day, you're in luck! This weekend (Oct. 3-4), 24 museums in Los Angeles and Orange County are participating in a "Museum-Free-For-All." This is a great opportunity to experience what Southern California has to offer in art, cultural heritage, natural history and science. Museums involved range from The Getty Center, and Natural History Museum of LA County, to the Craft and Folk Art Museum and Japanese American National Museum. For a complete list of museums, and to see what days they're participating, visit our partner site, Plan your day, visit an old favorite, or see something new.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

LA dining is truly an experience

You can always count on LA to offer unique and memorable experiences, and that includes dining. Granted, I haven't been to many cities by comparison to some, but I've visited enough to believe that statement. This city, with all its diverse communities, offers a rich blend of exciting flavors. That's not all. Maybe it's because we're in the land where movies are made, but it seems there are many restaurants where the overall production, hi/story and experience, and not so much the menu, are the selling points.

Take for example, Royal/T in Culver City. It's a cafe that also happens to be a gallery. Or, is it a gallery that also happens to be a cafe? It is, actually, LA's first Japanese-style cosplay cafe. When I was first introduced to it, my friends sold me on the fact that it was a gallery with really fun art and where the servers dress up in maid outfits...Oh, and they have good food too (their milk tea is a must!). It's true. Dining in that space and in that environment was such a good time, I found myself telling others about the experience before mentioning the food.

Now that I'm working Downtown, I've had the pleasure of eating at some of the establishments here. My latest and absolute favorite so far has got to be the Edison Room. It's a trip through time to the roaring 20's, where the servers don custom-designed flapper dresses and jazz musicians and burlesque dancers perform on stage. Old silent films play on the wall throughout, and patrons are surrounded by architectural and mechanical artifacts from LA's first private power plant. Don't look for this joint along the main streets, though. Its entrance is hidden in an alley!

There are so many more (I'm sure many of you can tell us about them too!). With next week's DineLA Restaurant Week, you can bet this foodie is planning her next culinary experience. Do I love eating in LA? Absolutely!


For a list of restaurants participating in Restaurant Week, visit
For information on downtown restaurants, visit

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Festival fun

Abbot Kinney Blvd. is one of my favorite spots in LA to simply hang out and soak it all in. Here, the sense of community is strong, and mom & pop shops seem to still thrive along with an eclectic mix of restaurants and galleries.

In such a large and expansive city, the words "community" and "neighborhood" can sound like an oxymoron. Along Abbot Kinney Blvd., however, the energy of a community exists and is real thanks in part to the Abbot Kinney Festival Association. Tomorrow, Sunday, September 27, the Abbot Kinney Festival celebrates its 25th year, and visitors will have the opportunity to see what it is that makes this boulevard special.

After 25 years, the festival has grown to be one of the largest of its kind in the region. Tomorrow's celebration is free, and will feature local artisans, live music, food vendors and family entertainment. The festivities kick off with a Family parade, and all are invited to participate by bringing an instrument or dressing up in costumes. The parade starts at the corner of 6th and California, and will end at the Inside Out Community Art Youth & Family Courtyard.

Complete festival information, including stage line-ups and food truck alley are available at the Abbot Kinney website. If you have the opportunity to make it out, be sure to stop by the information booth, where ExperienceLA will be located. We'd love to say hi!


Friday, September 25, 2009

Free Museum Day in Los Angeles

Plan a date with that special someone to a museum tomorrow, Saturday, September 26. The Smithsonian's Free Museum Day takes place across the country, but you can find local participating museums right here in Los Angeles. To take advantage of this offer, visit the Smithsonian website to download your Free Museum Day card. The card is good only at participating museums, and is only valid for Saturday. Be sure to read their restrictions. There is a one card limit per household.

If you can't make it out on Saturday, check out the museums that offer free admission all year round at