“west LA”: santa monica, venice, brentwood [LA pt.ii]
As you head west through LA, LA gets much more, well, LA. The cliches are realized, as lovely as they are, the studios, THE SIGN, poking out on your right glimpsed between palm trees and buildings as you speed by in your car. (And speaking of cars, can I just say hear that anything you heard about driving in LA being a nightmare is from people who don’t live in a city? Driving there is almost tranquil. People drive a little slow, in fact. I don’t understand where the bad reputation comes from.) There are the fancy neighbourhoods to the north, the houses on the hills, the tourist-swallowed “Hollywood” that has no traces of anything related to the making of TV or film, Melrose and more. You pass them all in your trek to the coast. Here’s where you want to visit and what to eat on your way to the water and when you actually get there.
If you live in Toronto, the strips malls around Sawtelle and Mississippi in West LA will remind you of those in North Scarborough. Ours have Pho 88 and exist to house bubble tea shops and 168 Bubble Tea, theirs has Blockheads and FuRaiBo among dozens of other East Asian restaurants and shops. FuRaiBo is an Izakaya and once you’re seated you notice that the restaurant is a series of enclaves–you sort of peek around and between wood pillars at other parties in similar, airy caves. It’s a crowded pub vibe and there’s always a wait. They’re famous for their chicken wings but everything is fried to perfection, including the silken tofu, eggplant…the mackerel and the chicken skin (so I hear… ahem). Even if you’re stuffed when you leave, you have to walk down the street to Blockhead’s if you haven’t experienced their “snow cream” before: Hawaiian shaved ice + ice cream. You pick the flavour of ice, the toppings, the sauce, pretend you can finish a small size but it’s a portion that’s enough for three. Prepare to wait, but it’s an experience.
At the other end of the spectrum, if any of this is on a spectrum of food and fine dining establishments, you will not wait or stand and eat at Tavern, of course, one famous chef Suzanne Goin’s California restaurants. To be in the gorgeous space is reason enough to visit, and every dish upholds her restaurants reputation for serving the best possible ingredients and having them almost speak for themselves. A farro salad is sick with the freshest spring asparagus, peas and zucchini. Steph’s snapper on saffron rice (I totally tried some) was perfection. The “snickers” dessert was transcendent–we ate in silence, crunching, licking, eavesdropping on the conversations to either side. Tom Cruise is probably about to do Broadway. I’ve said too much.
I would go to the lovely outdoor “mall” that is the Brentwood Country Mart to sit in the courtyard and eat Sweet Rose black sesame ice cream, or to dine at FarmShop, you might go for the dozen fine shops or for RediChick’s famous rotisserie chicken to-go. Either way, it’s worth stopping at on your way to the Santa Monica pier, which needs to be seen right at dusk. It’s another cliche, to walk right to the end of Route 66 but it’s oddly quiet at the water’s edge, black by 9pm, despite throngs of tourists. Everyone just takes it in and peering under the pier, where somehow there is more light, reflected from the fair above, you get the grandness of the whole thing, or I did. Then we got back in the car for the whole reason we went west that day, to dine at Gjelina in Venice.
If I didn’t covet the homes on the streets around Abbot Kinney in Venice (and my GOD do I covet every one I saw on this one little street…these are the homes of my dreams), I would want to live there just to be close to Gjelina. I’d dine there nightly, only having to order one item from the vegetable plate and a glass of wine in the courtyard, instead of having to order half the menu having only once chance to experience it all. We made our way down the menu and while it was all good, the top (smaller plates) was great. Properly grilled king mushrooms and cauliflower from the wood oven beat out squash blossom pizza and chitarra pasta. Definitely dine al fresco if you can get a table.
On another day, we went to Venice and Abbot Kinney to check out the boutiques and simply stroll. Of all of the Intelligentsia’s, the one on Abbot Kinney is the one with syphon coffee and the one that’s made to look like a factory slash coffee-lover’s mecca. A seat up high at the back gives you the best view and it seems even the doors to the parts that you don’t want to see are purposely built on the sides so that what happens backstage doesn’t interrupt your view of the performance. It was the perfect way to unwind after pressing our noses to the invisible wall surrounding the Eames residence (we went after hours to peek from afar if nothing else) and after an afternoon at the Getty Villa up the coast. The tours of the Getty Villa are a quick and entertaining way to learn just how much architectural, historical and horticultural detail surrounds you–do both the architecture and the garden tours. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any recreation like it.
Places that were on my list and I simply couldn’t fit in on the west-side: Father’s Office and A-Frame, both for their delicious reputations and also for their unique twists. I know, you’ve been and they’re awesome, right? I know. Sigh.