Picnic in paradise.

I didn’t take a traditional summer vacation this year, so I had every reason under the warm California sun to be a tourist in my own town instead. Here’s the best of what I had a chance to see and do.

LA Magazine luau at the Fairmount

In June, various Los Angeles chefs competed for a chance to win a trip to Hawaii to participate in a prestigious food festival by creating a pupu and having diners vote for their favorite on Los Angeles Magazine’s website. Not quite a trip to Hawaii, but I did win two tickets to a cooking demonstration and luau at the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica. We enjoyed roasted pulled pork tacos with miso sauce, banh mi, and  a juicy Cabernet by nearby Semler Estates.

Enjoying that juicy Cab.

Ghostbusters at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

The Cinespia film screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery are completely unique to Los Angeles, and, long lines to get in notwithstanding, are among the best things about getting to live here. Films are projected on the side of a big white mausoleum, and attendees bring their picnic dinners to the grassy lawn beside it.

Not a scary place.

The curator probably reveled in getting the chance to include “Ghostbusters” in this summer’s program, and we were no less thrilled. We saw “Night of the Living Dead” at the cemetery last summer, and, while a very fitting movie, it’s not a movie I grew up with and feel affectionately toward like a teddy bear. I watched “Ghostbusters” as soon as I was old enough (which was probably not old enough), and many times after that, and I also have vivid memories of roller-skating to the theme song at after-school roller-skating parties and having to turn around and skate in the opposite direction as soon as the chorus shouted, “Ghostbusters!” Knees and elbows were bruised, and happily so.

This viewing was my most memorable, as was the picnic. We purchased an Italian feast from Pace restaurant in Laurel Canyon, including a fruit and cheese plate, a vegetable puree soup, rigatoni with sausage and roasted peppers, cedar grilled salmon, berries and cookies, and a bottle of wine, and it was all phenomenal. Slimer would have polished it off in a second.


Magic at the Skirball Center

The Skirball Center opened two entrancing exhibits this summer, “Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age” and “Houdini: Art and Magic.” On July 8, they threw an after-hours party with an impressive line-up of live music and magicians performing close-up magic for guests. It’s rare that I’ve had the opportunity to explore a museum in the dark with a hint of a wine buzz, and the circumstances really served to enhance the excitement of seeing the original dunking chambers, straight jackets, and promotional posters of the era, and much much more.

The Skirball courtyard by night.

The Expert at the Card Table

Soon after seeing the magic exhibits at the Skirball Center, we bought tickets to a performance of “The Expert at the Card Table,” a one man show performed by Guy Hollingworth and produced by Neil Patrick Harris. It’s the story, based on scarce knowledge and speculation, of how the real book of the same name came to be, a manual of sorts for using sleight of hand in gambling. Hollingworth’s skillful close-up magic throughout served to advance the plot, rather than merely accompany it, and I was completely mesmerized by his performance for the duration. With hopes that everyone close to me will get to experience this, I will only say that it was the best play I’ve ever seen, and if the opportunity arises for me to see it again, I absolutely would.

Rodrigo y Gabriela at the Hollywood Bowl

Rodrigo and Gabriela are acoustic guitarists from Mexico City who get more sounds out of one instrument than I ever thought possible. Their finger-work is very, very, very fast–not even binoculars could help me see–but the music was was magnificent. No singing; none needed. They were backed by the LA Philharmonic, and we got to see Dudamel conduct a couple of songs. I made a picnic of prosciutto, brie, and baguette, with a lovely dry rose to pair with it, and we stopped in to the Spare Room in Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel for nightcaps after, where I discovered my favorite cocktail ever: real butter-infused bourbon, cherry wine, and caramel.

Fireworks after the show.

MOCA: Art in the Streets

In August, on its closing day, I went to supposedly the first and definitely the largest museum exhibit of street art yet, at the Geffen Contemporary, which is basically just a huge warehouse in Little Tokyo in Downtown LA. My appreciation for the British street artist Banksy is well established on this blog, and I’m very accustomed to seeing work by other prominent street artists like Space Invader and Shepard Fairey between New York and LA, so I was really excited to see the show.

MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary space.

The exhibit was well curated, with a lot of vibrant and provocative pieces, the space itself even becoming something of a canvas, and the Banksy works were by far the highlight for me. His works tend to be poignant social commentary, stenciled onto buildings, and he’s carefully maintained his anonymity for years now. It has been a real race against time to go to the sites of new Banksy pieces before they’re painted over by the owners of the buildings he painted them on, or vandalized and written over by less respectful street artists with egos, so it was really nice to be able to see his art as he would want it seen.

Banksy’s “I Hate Mondays,” a commentary on Darfur.

Shakespeare in Griffith Park

I loved the premise of watching Shakespeare in Griffith Park in the dark, but I didn’t realize that unless you sit close to the stage, you might not be able to actually hear it. As such, I Googled the synopsis of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and passed around my phone, and we had a wonderful time and ate well regardless. The costumes and set were colorful and playful, and the actors put on a fine performance. I love open-air theater, and in southern California, I get to enjoy the company of my friends, and not of mosquitoes.

“The Merry Wives of Windsor.”


Of course I ate out.  It’s what I do when I’m not cooking.

A job ended on a dark afternoon in May, and that night, in the rain, I was taken to Providence for dinner. And thus my summer of food began–with perfect tartare, smoky chowder, and off-the-menu sweetbreads made just for me. Little did I know my dream job was about to find me.

I got my first garlicky tastes of AOC and Cleo, and not my last. I finally ate at the Foundry and fell a little in love with the Village Idiot, both nearby on Melrose. I ate at Boa with a former coworker with a pension for having his picture taken with celebrities, and held down the booth in his absence. I took in a Hawaiian style hamburger and a drag show at Hamburger Mary’s, followed by a long and thrilling day of West Hollywood gay bars. I experienced Supper Club, eating in the dark on a bed, with a grown man in a sparkly blue bunny bodysuit sashaying by. There were many brunches–Griddle Cafe, Larchmont Bungalow, the Hudson, Eveleigh, Kings Road Cafe, Blu Jam–and a few late night fixes–a gyro at Silver Spoon Diner, fried calamari at Bar Marmont, and a pizza pie and cupcakes at Bottega Louie.

I love Bottega Louie.

My summer of eating ended at Rivera, in downtown Los Angeles, where chef John Rivera Sedlar had resurrected the opening menu of his restaurant Saint Estephe from 1981, for the month of September. My parents were with me to taste the thirty year-old recipes (as well as some permanent fixtures like the Barbacoa cocktail and rillenos), and they were the happiest I’ve ever seen at a restaurant. I was happy, too, with my beautiful, tender, and fleeting “Painted Desert Salmon,” and in life.

Night life

I thought I’d seen it all when I worked and played in New York City, but I was certainly surprised and enchanted to find myself stepping into a wardrobe then descending a rickety spiral staircase into La Descarga on a warm May evening for a rum tasting event. The Varnish and Harvard and Stone do things a little differently, in a good way, too.

Knowing what I’m in for isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. I knew to wear jeans to Saddle Ranch because I like riding mechanical bulls, and I’m usually pretty good at it. (I wasn’t that night, even in spite of my usual, “I’ve never done this before!” to the guy with the joystick.) The short-lived Vodvil made for a fun night of trivia and music videos from my teenage years. And some of the first bars I ever went to in LA–the Edendale, Firefly, Cat and Fiddle–are places I still go to.

But it seems I spent the most time this summer at the Spare Room, sipping those County Fair cocktails. I was eventually told it was going to be taken off the menu to make room for more autumnal drinks, so I came in one last time. At some point during my second, the bartender showed me the glass jug of bourbon, with some curdled butter in it. It was time to say goodbye.

View from the top at Perch, which opened downtown this summer.