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We flew into Orange County’s John Wayne airport at around 10:00 PM pacific time on a
Thursday night. When I looked out the tiny window of the 747, the sky was morphed into an
orange, dark purple, ultraviolet blue cascading cloud that covered the surrounding black
silhouetted mountains on the outskirts of this sprawling City of Lights. My ears were popping; I
was tired but excited about the journey that was ahead of us. We ended up at a rental car
place just five minutes from the small airport. After throwing our bags into the trunk of the mid
sized Ford Expo, we entered the address into Google Maps on my phone and began the hour
drive into LA.
|A Very Optimistic Trip To LA
The destination was Su Casa, a boutique hotel right on the board walk in Venice Beach.
After winding down a few side streets and backing out of the wrong parking lot, I decided to call my connection at the hotel. “Hello can I
speak with Rafi?” “He’s not in right now. Can I help you?” came the reply. “Yes, this is The New York Optimist. I am here to review your
hotel but I can’t seem to find it.”
“Not a problem”, he assured us, “in a few minutes just look toward the end of
the parking lot and I will be standing on the corner”. I got out of the car to
meet Sammy, a very cool and laid back artsy-looking Latin man in horn
rimmed glasses. With a squint he said, “I am sorry but I was not informed of
your arrival.” A mild pang of anxiety overcame me which Sammy noticed and
said, “not to worry we will straighten everything out and take care of you”.
We walked over to the next tiny street and down the narrow sidewalk to Su
Casa. The smell of the ocean lingered in the air and a few people passed by
on the boardwalk.
Feeling awkward, I stood in the lobby as Sammy tried to rectify the situation.
(As it turned out, our secretary had forgotten to make a final confirmation
and had also forgotten to write down the confirmation code for our room,
which is why Sammy was a little confused). He came from behind the desk
and said he had a room available but needed twenty minutes to prepare it. I
asked if there was a place to have a cocktail and wind down from the six
hour flight and he directed us to a bar a block down the boardwalk from the
hotel which was famous for up-and-coming music talent. We soon found out
that the The Doors played some of their first gigs here. This picked me up a
bit as I am a huge Doors Fan.
The bar looked like something out of a go-go surf movie that Frankie Valli and Annette Funicello might have starred in except it wasn’t as clean
and commercial like the surf shack bars that were mainly created on sets. We sat in the outside seating area surrounded by motley mix of hippies,
drag queens and what seemed to be a few male models or actors while we sipped our vodka sodas. Before I knew it Sammy was waving to us to
come back ,alerting us that our room was ready for occupancy.
I started to climb the stairs to the second floor of Su Casa as a beautiful French lady was coming down at the same time. She told Sammy that
she wanted to order something in a heavy accent then disappeared. The room was small but well-designed. The queen size bed was dressed in
white with a number of big overstuffed pillows; a black and white photo of a surfboard hung above the bed. A smile came over my face as I
inspected the rest of the room. There was a custom style kitchenette with stainless steel accents and the bathroom had an enclosed shower. The
water pressure was strong. (This one of the first things I like to check for when staying any place abroad). In the morning, we came downstairs to
find Rafi at the desk. He apologized for the confusion with the room and then went on to tell us about Su Casa and the long list of things to do
and see. After checking out a few of the other rooms which were all cleverly designed and arranged with beautiful views of the beach, lunch time
We were scheduled to have lunch at The Venice Ale House ,
a recommendation from a big shot over at Playboy Magazine. It was literally a few steps away from Su Casa on the corner of Rose Ave. The
Venice Ale House was a treat indeed. After meeting head chef, Emilio Oliva, the owner/GM, Spoon Singh, sat us at one of the outdoor tables on
the boardwalk. Spoon was gracious and hospitable with a big California smile that reminded me of the character Jack Tripper from the sitcom
It was a typically gorgeous L.A. day. A Rastafarian on roller blades came skating by with a guitar playing some Jimmy Hendrix licks while we
sipped our first bloody mary’s of the day (Man, those were some good bloody mary’s!). Spoon came over to the table to see what we were in
the mood for and before I could utter a word, chef Emilio was at the window motioning to wait for his suggestions that he was preparing
especially for us.
I sat there enjoying the sunshine wearing a pair of cheap sunglasses I had just purchased from a
Vietnamese lady who also sold scarves and t-shirts on the boardwalk. She had some interesting
suggestions about where we could purchase some medical Marijuana a little further up the
boardwalk. “Yes, I think I like this place”, I thought to myself.
Venice Ale House specializes in deliciously fresh,wholesome and organic cuisine.
Emilio did not disappoint. This food was yummy! Here’s what Emilio served for us.
Soup of the Day Rustic tomato soup w/ toast
Vegan Chopped Salad:
shredded carrots, beets, quinoa, roasted red peppers, garbanzos
cucumbers, avocados, market greens & vinaigrette
Seared Sea Scallops over red garlic mashers & spinach
Grass-Fed & Finished Beef Burger served with rosemary roasted reds, market greens, tomato,
onion, & garlic aioli Burger Toppings: cheddar, bacon, sautéed crimini mushrooms, caramelized
Grilled Wild Salmon Sandwich
avocado, sautéed onions & spinach, garlic aioli, on sourdough,
served with rosemary roasters & market greens.
And for dessert , Emilo surprised us with his delightful Mushroom Risotto
A regular at the Ale House, an exotic blue parrot made its way over to us
to be petted and adored. This trained bird really knew how to get attention
steal the show.
After being completely satiated by the fabulous lunch, we decided to stroll down the boardwalk to take a look at the other local wildlife.Venice
Beach reminded me a lot of the artists that sell their hand crafted goods in Union square or on St. Marks St. here in New York.. There were
graffiti painted canvases, miniature handmade guitars, spiritual stones, jewelry. We rented bicycles and rode all the way down the winding
bicycle path along the beach.
A number of outrageous homes bordered the boardwalk and I couldn’t help but think of the crazy parties that must go on in them. I also
wondered what being so close to the ocean might do for one’s mind and soul. From the looks of things, many of the people I met seemed to be
very down-to-earth and peaceful, but there was an underlying edge to them that told me not to push their buttons—(similar to New York except
the edginess here is completely visible at first glance)
While riding,we came across a skater’s park where professional skaters were carving out the dips and turns with great ease. I pulled out my flip
camera to catch the action and it was more than impressive.
After about an hour of getting the cardio going, it was time to head back to Su Casa to freshen up and get ready for the evening’s events. A
nice hot shower really eased out the muscles and made me feel brand new.
Next stop was dinner at Top Chef’s Fabio Vivianni’s first flagship restaurant in America, Café Firenze. (Stay tuned as we are slated to have Fabio
as a guest in the dining section where he will outline some of the tastiest Italian dishes with his own personal touch). The hour drive northwest
through the hills and valleys to Moorpark was fun. Café Firenze stood out among the flat landscape and reminded me of a castle in the distance.
When we arrived at Café Firenze, Fabio’s partner Jacomo greeted us with open arms.
The impossibly high ceilings, dark woods, moody lighting and black leather seating made you feel like you were in the manor of an eccentric land
shark in the mountains of Italy.
Fabio came to our table live wired and full of energy with his Italian accent and boyish charm that made us feel right at home. We felt we were in
his private quarters as he brought us dish after dish of mind-blowing culinary magic. With each dish came one of Fabio’s great stories, and lots of
laughs. Frank Sinatra played in the background, the perfect music to set the mood for this amazing experience.
This goes down as one of the best meals of my life.. Here goes:
Fresh imported Burrata cheese (flown in 2x/week from Calabria, Italy) w/ twenty-five year old balsalmic, basil and roasted sundried tomato
Gamberoni in Camicia: Grilled Jumbo Shrimp
-Pancetta wrapped jumbo shrimp filled with gorgonzola over parmesan polenta, garlic sauteed spinach, 25 yr.
Roasted marinated artichokes over white tuna carpaccio "Fabio's version of sushi"
Sogliola in Padella: Sole Checca Style
-Skillet Sole with sauteed cherry tomato, roasted cauliflower and basil
Fabio calls this dish: "Mayhem break loose in the ocean"
Manila clams steamed open tossed in light garlic and roasted zucchini and parsley sauce
with handmade pasta only made of flour and water.
Escolar with sage, candied meyer lemon, green olive and red onion caponatta
Got "down and dirty...ticket to hell" with
Gnocchi Cinque Terre: Gnocchi Pesto (melt-in-your-mouth delicious!, best ever!!)
-Potato Dumplings, basil pesto, pine nuts, parmigiano cheese
"500 years of history..like his grandma sitting at the table"
Meatloaf made of Kobe beef, short rib and rib eye, truffled mash potato, veal reduction
Ricotta and Limoncello cheesecake, greyere, raspberry, Meyer Lemon simple syrup.
Impossible to feasibly fit anything else in the stomach and feeling higher than a kite on food and wine, we hugged Fabio goodbye like a family
member . Even though this was only our first meeting, I knew this was the start of a long friendship.
Beyond the food, Fabio and Jacamo know how to run a great restaurant is run. There is no pretentious attitude here…just amazing quality food
and service in a romantic, inviting setting. This guy knows his business and does not need to put on heirs.
So far, my impression of California is “nothing but nothing but good” to quote Lefty from the movie Donnie Brasco. After this meal, anything else
that would take place during this trip would be good, even if I was stranded in East LA with a gang of Mexican's forcing me to eat day old tacos
on a rock, this trip would be hard to top!!
But wait there’s more, so much more!
The next day was tourist time and we decided to take in the sights.
Malibu, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, map of the stars homes that could make you a hypnotized blabbering fool in the midst of L.A.’s mass amounts of
wealth and fame.
That evening it was time to head to our next destination, The Topanga Canyon Inn, to bunker down and get some rest. Owner Warren Roche has
hand built this paradise high in the hills of Topanga canyon surrounded by lush trees and foliage.The Topanga Canyon Inn is an oasis untouched
by the fast-paced beat on the Hollywood strip below.
Warren is a retired studio musician who decided to build a Mediterranean style mansion
on the side of a cliff, which in itself is more impressive than the skyscrapers that fill NY.
I may be exaggerating a bit but I am a city guy with a limited experience of the woods and forest living. But that’s not what was so impressive to me,
it was the angles this huge
inn is built upon. To give you an example after weaving up through the hills of Topanga Canyon we reach a precipice where the driveway to this
awesome structure begins driving up the entry way was like being turned upside down in a compression chamber filled with salt water. It was out of
control, literally an out-of-body experience.
Warren came down the hill to greet us from his home which was even higher up the hill.
Soft spoken and down-to-earth, Warren showed us the lay of the land and brought us into the main house along with some of the other guests that
were also staying at this mountain mansion. The clay-looking hand-made walls were adorned with the beautiful and well-crafted art of his young
and gorgeous wife. (I was here to write about him and his establishment so chances are I wouldn’t be mentioning the art if it was no good or poorly
made, but let me tell you this work was fantastic, so great in fact that
I will be featuring her work in next week’s edition so look out for it).
Warren and his wife and family of six children were a sweet and interesting bunch. All the children are home-schooled, and based on the intellect
levels in this house I would say they are better off than most of the children that attend public schools in this country. We sat at breakfast with the
other guests listening to their stories, but no story was more intriguing than tell Warren and his wife’s.
The dynamic between the two of them was heart-warming and I was inspired to think of moving into a country setting as an alternative to my busy
That afternoon we headed back down to fraternize with the normal people.
(That’s a joke good luck if you think you can find anyone that’s normal in this town).
How can you tell what normal is? I certainly don’t have any idea what this word means). We met friends at a popular farmer’s market called The
Grove that borders an upscale, outdoor mall. Errol and Erin with their adorable 2 year old son, Cullen. This brilliant married couple are brimming
with talent. Erin is a talent agent / publicist for the big acts like Phish and Dave Matthews. Errol is a studio guitarist who tours with big acts like
Christina Aguliara and Stevie Wonder.
He’s even jammed with Prince. We headed over to their house in Eagle Rock while the sun began to set. Under the towering palm trees that line
the streets, the dusk rolled in over the mountains in the near distance. The weather here is incredible and the effects of it are breathtaking. I don’
t think I have ever seen skies in these colors. (I was told the smog has something to do with it). We sat in their lovely and cozy living room as their
son sang and played us his rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb and several other popular children’s tunes on his baby size piano and microphone
Errol then suggested we go to the backyard and jam out in his man cave, a little bungalow with leather recliners which he turned into a music
studio. We played for at least an hour, blues improvisational stuff that was a lot of fun and our small audience seemed to enjoy the show. He let
me play his Paul Reed Smith a guitar. It played like charm.
We were then off to dinner at Malo, a popular Nuevo-Mexican spot in Silver Lake.
Malo struck me as the type of place you pull up to in a low rider, real LA style music pumping with the girls in tow. Seriously though, Malo was
another home run on this trip . Doris greeted us with a lovely French accent and hip outfit with a hipster hat to boot. We started with Malo’s
famous margaritas. And there is good reason they are famous; Each one had a deliciously distinct and unique flavor, definitely not your average
Angelina: Gran Centenario Rosangel Tequila, Hibiscus Simple Syrup, Lime Juice and Chili-Lime rim
100% Organic Puro Margarita aka "Perfect": 4 Copas Blanco Tequila, Agave Nectar and Organic Lime Juice
Spicy Cucumber Margarita, a "spicy and fresh take on the classic": Casa Noble Silver Tequila, Cucumber, Agave Nectar and Tapatio Hot Sauce
Medicina Latina, "a margarita with a ginger kick": 4 Copas Reposado tequila, Ginger Agave Nectar and Lime Juice
Then it was time to eat and from the looks of things, our crowd was ready for a feast.
We started with Salsa flight and Chewy Chips (Malo is famous for the undercooked chips which are part crispy, part chewy)
· Burnt Habanero & Creme (super spicy!)
· Serrano Chile & Tomato
· Chile Negro y Chocolate (newest one)
· Pico de Gallo
TACOS- 2 per order:
· Ground Beef & Pickle
· Vegetarian Ground Beef & Pickle
· Shrimp & Bacon
soft shell- open-faced on corn tortilla
· Carnitas (pork)
· Baja Shrimp-(fried)
Oaxaca Shrimp, a Malo Favorite, served with flour tortillas:
shrimp sauteed with pasilla chile, chipotle and cream
· Organic Vegetarian Spanish Rice
· Organic Black Beans
· Fried Plantains with creamy & spicy salsa
After Dinner and more than several tequila cocktails, we were ready to meet more friends at the rooftop party of the Le Petite Ermitage hotel. A
large group of eccentric party revelers lounged the night away as the chic LA breeze combed everyone’s hair in a windblown style only mother
nature could muster up!!
LA is going to be an adventure in which I will revel in and I promise you Optimist readers that The LA Optimist will be nothing short of