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.