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This, That, and The Other Thing

Hello, it’s me!!

I am starting my own blog because even though I am retired I feel I still have plenty to offer. I have a couple clues how to do this and I will make up the rest as I go along. I want my blog to reflect not only how I feel about three of my passions – books, art, and food, but also a little about this new chapter of my life.

I want this to be enjoyable for me to write and for anyone who happens to read it. Although I have to warn you, I have opinions, informed or otherwise, and look forward to expressing them.

In my blog posts, I will write about “this and that” and end the posts with “the other thing,” which is the unique element that enhances or detracts from my overall experience. I wanted to end this introduction with “I hope you enjoy my pithy bon mots,” but my son thought that sounded too pretentious, so I’ll leave it out. Happy reading!

Barbara

 

Featured post

Republique

 

Republic is listed as #19 on Jonathan Gold’s 2017 101 Best Restaurants. My first impression was a little disappointing because I was unaware that this place had communal dining. This arrangement makes conversation difficult, and the dining experience not as intimate. Jeff, Mickey and Erin seemed fine with it though.

We ordered small plates to share which increases tasting opportunities for which I am always appreciative. The potato and leek beignets were delicious. They were bite size so you got that burst of flavor from the gruyere and horseradish aioli. We ordered the Foie Gras Torchon Toast because we thought we should.  Cauliflower with charred cucumber, yogurt, crispy falafel and mint. was pretty tasty. The Prime Dry-Aged Ribeye Cap was served with California green asparagus, maui onions, chanterelle mushrooms was excellent. The pasta was Corn Agnolotti with brown butter, parmesan and basil. We ordered it as it seems cooking in brown butter is the latest “in” thing. Mary’s Organic Roasted Chicken was baked and served in a skillet with brentwood corn, green and yellow wax beans, sungold tomatoes, and roasted jus. What a convenient coincidence that it was carved in fourths.

Dessert is always a treat no matter what dinner is all about.

The food was very good but there were no OMG moments. Jeff said that maybe because we have eaten in so many fine restaurants in the past and have had  diverse dining experiences, the bar has been raised too high. Number 19 or not, it’s only one person’s opinion, and it’s all subjective anyway, right?

The entire weekend was an early birthday celebration from my son.  Laurel Point, The Last Bookstore, Hotel Figueroa, Republique and a fabulous Sunday brunch prepared by my son’s loving hands. Bloody Marys accompanied by Jennifer’s famous charcuterie tray – a watermelon salad with arugula, feta cheese and berries – granola with fresh fruit, nuts and almond milk – eggs baked in a ramekin with cheese and herbs, followed by a cup of that really tasty Nespresso coffee.

The Other thing – When I texted Jeff the next day to thank him again for the great weekend, he said, “You’re welcome. Glad you enjoyed it. Next time it’s Bestia (#17 and Providence (#2).”

 

 

City Doings

There was so much going on last weekend with my son that I have to break up my blog posts. So in Jeff’s neighborhood, this is what was going on. Friday night, after a lovely limo ride from Costa Mesa, Jeff, Mickey and I went to Laurel Point for dinner. It is on Ventura Boulevard walking distance from Jeff’s apartment. It was a warm night, so we sat on their covered patio.

This was probably our most relaxing time as the weekend had just begun. Dinner was very tasty. As appetizers, we shared a half dozen Oysters, Spicy Tuna Roll and Roasted Brussels Sprouts.  Good so far, huh?

Jeff ordered clam chowder and the Caesar salad with crispy chicken for his entree. Mickey and I broke the sharing rule and both had the John Dory. It was pan seared with pressed lemon butter and served with market vegetables. We broke another rule and did not order dessert.

FYI – It’s Lobster Mondays at Laurel Point.. You get a 1-1/2 pound lobster for $39. I can’t remember the last time I had lobster.

Then lunch in Downtown Los Angeles on Saturday at the totally renovated Hotel Figueroa. It was originally built in 1926 as a YWCA. It is Spanish Colonial and located 7 minutes from Staples Center. There are 3 bars and 2 restaurants (Breva and Veranda) conceived by a James Beard award nominee.

We were a little early for lunch at Breva so we had cocktails in the cozy lobby.  Cocktail waitress was not having her best day, but our waiter at lunch was very friendly and on the ball.  Lunch entrees were very good but we must have been really hungry. I have no photos. The table settings were beautiful – fine china with delicate flower designs. The dessert was worth a photo though just to show off the plate on which it was served.

The Other Thing – So many restaurants, so little time. It’s such fun to be a foodie. I’m no expert on anything food related but I know what I like. Dining (not just eating) is one of my favorite things to do. There are a lot of people out there who only eat to live. I think they are missing something.

EATALY L.A.

 

Located in the newly renovated Century City Mall, Eataly occupies multi-levels at one end. It was a Sunday and crowds were everywhere. Eataly L.A. is a duplicate of the one in New York City. It seemed to me that it was a contemporary version of Mercado Centrale in Florence, Italy. The one in Italy though is an incrdible feast for the eyes down every aisle and on every corner. The only area here with any semblance of color is the vegetable and fruit market. This is a place where you need time to stroll and savor what is going on. It would need to be on a week day – less hustle and bustle and more interaction with the vendors.

We ate at Terra, a wood burning Italian Grill.  It is on  the roof (which I think is actually a 5th level) and has a great view of Century City and beyond.

Melanzana for Jennifer. It was a whole roasted eggplant with raisins, capers, pomegranate, agrodolce. Mickey ordered the Verdure Alla Griglia – wood fired organic seasonal vegetables. It did look spectacular. Jeff had the Big Eye Tonno – seared wild tuna, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and fines herbes. For me it was pasta. Ravioli Primavera was house-made spring pea ravioli with mint and lemon.

We never pass up dessert no matter how stuffed. Mickey shared a very mocha infused tiramisu served in a canning jar. Quite tasty with an unusual presentation. Jeff had mixed berries, and Jennifer chose a chocolate chocolate something.

This is an intriguing shopping and dining experience if you give it some time. We might have had more traditional Italian food if we had eaten on the 2nd level at La Pizza e La Pasta. They were making the pasta fresh as we walked by.

Level 2 has La Scuola di Eataly, Italian Sweets, Il Gelato, Lavazza Coffee, and The White Moustache where you make your own yogurt with local fruit, granola and White Moustache yogurt.

Besides La Pizza e La Pasta, Level 3 has “prosciutto and cheese heaven”, the local food market,  a bakery, fresh produce, La Piazza wine bar, Il Pesce Cucina fresh fish market, and a wine store.

The Other Thing – I need to give this place a second look. I know I have missed a lot.

 

The Last Bookstore

 

Located at 453 South Spring in downtown Los Angeles, this place is like a city of books!! Two floors are filled with thousands and thousands of books of every genre invented by man. Old and battered books, new best sellers, CDs, DVDs, record albums, scientific journals, wizardry, fantasy, science fiction and futurama – all under one very large roof. This is where all the vintage books go to be adopted or die a quiet death. If you can’t find what you are looking for here, maybe it does not exist.

There is no rhyme or reason to the stacks. There is a tunnel of books, a pile that is crooked, some defy gravity in their attempt to look interesting. It was such fun wandering around – and of course taking lots of photos. It would be easy to spend all day here.

I must mention the 7 book clubs that meet there every month. The names are intriguing. True Crime Tuesdays, The Afrofuturism Book Club, Poetry in the Labyrinth, LA Lit Fic, Feminist Book Club, The Thing in the Labyrinth, and Victorian Literary Parlour. Their marketing postcard reads “Book-Inclusive, with Snacks/Bevs & Professional Moderators”. Wouldn’t you like to be the fly on the wall during one of these meetings.

The Other Thing –  The place was packed with people of all shapes, sizes, ages and degrees of enthusiasm — and this interesting elderly man who was very much into the fantasy section….

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Garlic & Chives

The 2017 edition of Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants shows Garlic & Chives as #93. As a food critic for the Los Angeles for a number of years, he uses this numbering system to rate restaurants in the Los Angeles area, with a few thrown in from Orange County.

I am not sure exactly what criteria Mr. Gold uses to determine which will appear in the annual culinary publication. This was my conundrum when having lunch with Julie at Garlic & Chives this week. Our expectations were high, but we were disappointed. Perhaps we expected too much from a restaurant listed as #93. But still – it was in the book. We ordered 3 items items to share – coincidentally the same 3 that were listed in his review. These were also recommended by our waitress when we told her that this was our first visit.

Salmon Belly battered in garlic seasonings and fried crisp, served with house special sauce. The picture in the menu showed large pieces of salmon. In actuality, they were thin strips so heavily battered we could not taste the salmon. The sauce was quite tasty though. See all those peppers? We requested no peppers.

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The Baked Corn Cheese was baked in a hot skillet and topped with mozzarella. This is supposedly a Koreatown dish, but there was nothing special about it. It tasted like it came from a can.

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The redeeming dish was the Pomelo Salad with grapefruit, shrimp, port, banana blossom, carrots, onion, mint and peanuts tossed with house vinaigrette. This was a nice blend of flavors and textures.

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In all fairness, we did not order any of the numerous entrees. The menu is quite extensive. Also, when you see Asians dining in an Asian restaurant you figure it must be pretty good.  Our experience, however, did not warrant our return.

The Other Thing — Since June is my birthday month, Julie started it off by giving me a lovely lemon birthday cake and a  little package that read “Your Birthday Week – Open a Gift a Day”. It looks very intriguing but I can’t open it until June 20th. Thank you Julie!!

 

 

Artsy Saturday

On a bright sunny day, me, myself, and I headed south for some cultural enrichment. My first stop was the Scape Gallery in Corona del Mar. I don’t really know that much about art but I know what I like. If it speaks to me in some way and is visually appealing then it works for me.

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My friend Caesar Alzate Jr. is one of the artists on exhibit. The gallery was closed for the entire Holiday weekend, but owner Jeannie Denholm answered the phone when I called the number on the front door, and she was kind enough to open for me. Her gallery is a delightful open and light space. It has been a focal point for art and related activities for 14 years. She has been active in the art business for 3 decades and has an extensive background assisting corporations and private collectors with art acquisitions and curatorial services.

Jeannie is pleased to show Caesar’s work. Two of his pieces have sold, with interest in 2 more. Entitled “Mano/Mono”, the featured artists in this exhibition use media in a monochromatic style. Since Caesar is color blind, he chooses to work in one color. In his multi-layered pieces, he uses paint straight from the tube, and with a heat gun, he vaporizes the paint. It is very labor intensive using thousands of layers. The results are amazing.

“We believe art is one of the key ingredients in creating a stimulating and satisfying home. Our strategic commitment in this area stems from this conviction,” says Jeannie. For more information about exhibitions and activities, visit her website at scapesite.com.

Now, off to the Laguna Museum of Art. Local art icon Tony Delap is having a one-man show, and it is pretty awesome. One of the docents told me that he was on site every day for the 2 weeks it took to install his works. So you know that everything is hung in the exact location he wanted. Tony is 91 years old and still producing art. Don’t we wish we could be doing the same at that age!!

To top off the day, I had a great lunch along with a cold refreshing  “Pear Mule” at Skyloft. I sat outside on the first deck with a view of downtown and the ocean.

The Other Thing – I had an enjoyable day on my own, and as my brother often says,”Sometimes you’re just your own best friend”.

Glen Ivy Hot Springs

Spent a beautiful sunny day with my daughter Kathleen being pampered, catered to and generally spoiled in our private cabana by the pool. All of this was courtesy of her Mr. Wonderful!! The photos speak better than any of my words.

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AND

The Other Thing – Two totally relaxed and contented females glad neither one had to drive home.

Cuban Film = Cuban Food

The Newport Beach Film Festival has added a Culinary division this year, and the film entitled “Cuban Food Stories” caught my attention. So on Sunday afternoon with my friend Jennifer we watched this interesting story directed and narrated by Asori Soto.

After 10 years living as an expat in the United States, Asori decided to return to his homeland of Cuba to search for the missing flavors of his childhood. It was a travelogue through the small villages of Cuba – most of which we have never heard – interviewing the locals and watching them prepare their traditional Cuban dishes. Cubans have lived off the land and the sea for generations. Many of the people interviewed had never before seen a camera.

Asori  Soto along with his producer and others of his team were in the audience for a question and answer session. The last question asked Asori was where would he go today in Orange County to get traditional and authentic Cuban food. He response was, “to Porto for a Cubano Sandwich!”.

How could we resist this. We looked up Porto on Jennifer’s GPS. The closest one is in Buena Park near Knotts Berry Farm, so off we went. Porto Bakery & Cafe occupies an entire newly-constructed, very contemporary building on Beach Boulevard. There is a bakery, a full coffee bar and a deli, offering everything Cuban under the sun!!

We are all about sampling and sharing, so we ordered the Cubano Sandwich cut in half and served with crispy plantain chips, Potato Balls (Papa rellena), Chicken Empanadas, Tamales filled with seasoned braised pork and wrapped in the lightest, tastiest massa ever. For dessert, there were so many sweets that it was impossible to choose. We opted for their freshly baked flakey puffed pastry filled with cream cheese…..simple but delicioso!!

Everything is packaged to go so there was no fancy plating to photograph. There were large covered patio seating areas to enjoy your food there or take it home for later. We, of course, did both. I can’t resist showing you some of the cakes. The line to the bakery was by far the longest.

What a fun afternooon, and it’s always great when you can share it all with a good friend – especially with someone who loves food as much as I do.

The Other Thing – Porto’s is also located in Glendale, Burbank, and Downey. Check out their website at http://www.portosbakery.com. Be careful though, you might just end heading for your car.

HORAAY FOR INDIE BOOKS!

I am a lover of books – my favorite being mystery fiction, but I have been known to read best sellers, fantasy, non-fiction and poetry. I also admit to being a Stephen King fan. I have read every book he has written. I will never have a Kindle or any other e-reader. I enjoy the library and visiting independent bookstores. Call me weird but I just like the feel and smell of books.

My brother worked for a few months at the Lido Bookstore, located in Lido Marina Village, in the late 70s, and he said it was the job that has given him the most joy. I have visited it in its many entities over the years, so I decided to find out more about this independent bookstore operation. On April 2nd, I taped an interview with the owner, Dan Schmenk. Here it is.

Lido book Shoppe opened in 1972 and was owned for 20 years by a married couple who lived in Laguna Beach. He was a buyer for Norton, a major publishing company. A new owner took over in the late 1980s. He had 6 or 7 other stores and Lido Books was his first in Orange County. It closed the day after 9-11 and the space was empty for several months. When Dan stopped by one day to buy a book, he found the shop closed. Being retired for a while Dan was looking for something interesting to occupy his time. He contacted the property manager of the Village about taking over the empty space, and Lido Village Books was born.

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“It has been tough.” says Dan. “No one in their right mind will open a bookstore to make money. It is truly a labor of love!”

Dan and his wife Linda were English teachers for 30+ years. Their only qualification for book shop ownership was their love of books. I asked him about his demographic and the customers he serves. For the first 16 years, his customers were older – in the 45-75 age range and very loyal to Lido Books. In the last two years besides that demographic, the majority are in the 20-240 age range. A third of his sales are children’s books.

As an independent bookstore owner, his biggest challenge is to hire workers who know and love books, make themselves familiar with the books the store carries, be able to help customers choose the right books – ones specific to their needs. Dan feels very fortunate that his current staff meets all these requirements.

I asked Dan what sets his store apart from other independent bookstores and was surprised by his response. He feels that all independents are “in this together” in that they hand-pick books they stock and are actually curators for their stores. They refer to each other if they don’t have what the customer wants. There are only 3 indies in Orange County now, and I don’t imagine that the number will increase any time soon.

In the age of social media, he averages 10 website orders per month, and they are from the local community. His store averages 40 customers per day. In the 1/2 hour or so of our interview a half dozen people entered and 2 made purchases.

There are at least two events a month at Lido Village Books including author signings and lectures. Little Lido Kids Club meets every third Thursday for reading, live music and crafts. Attendance is from 20 to 50 children and parents. April 26th features the book “The Rainbow Fish” and May 17th is “How I Became a Pirate”. There are always raffles and special book discounts.

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The completely renovated Lido Marina Village has lured quite a crowd. It is aesthetically pleasing with lots of comfortably furnished conversation areas and a lovely view of the marina and the rich people’s yachts. The mix of retail stores and restaurants attract all age groups and appeal to many lifestyles and culinary tastes.  As for Lido Village Books, Dan said that in the last 12 months sales have more than doubled from the total for the previous 16 years! Visit the Village, buy a book, walk around, have something to eat, go back and buy another book.

Current fiction paperback and hardcover non-fiction are popular, with children’s books (including teen and young adult fiction) always leading the way. When asked about his most unusual requests, his answer was so surprising and shocking that I have decided not to mention it here. If you are curious, stop by and ask Dan yourself.

For the first 16 years social media did not play much of a part in the success of his business. But now Dan’s wife, who is in charge of all social media outlets to market Lido Village Books, has put them out there everywhere! Be sure to check out  lidovillagebooks.com, http://www.facebook.com/lidovillagebooks and @lidovillagebooks. Or if you prefer the old-fashioned way, call him at 949-673-2549. Be sure to visit the store at 3424 Via Oporto, Suite 102B, Newport Beach. Tell Dan that Barbara sent you.

The Other Thing – Saturday, April 28th is “Independent Bookstore Day”. So stop by anytime between 10am and 5pm and show your support. There will be fun for all!

 

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