Through my eyes: Santa Monica & Venice Beach, LA

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One of the best things that’s come from starting this blog is that I’ve “met” some awesome and inspiring people. I got super excited to read that one of those kindred souls was packing up her life and flying off to LA to start an adventure around the world, and for the past few weeks I’ve been jealously and vicariously following Bec’s adventures on her site My Bloggable Day, while lamenting to my husband that “this girl just packed up and left with her boyfriend, why can’t we just do that?!” Anyway, she had some killer shots on both her Instagram account and her blog of her time in Santa Monica, which reminded me of my time there 6 months ago…

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Sunny Santa Monica. Even in winter. It’s a really beautiful spot, particularly when you’ve had enough of the Hollywood scene and you just want to get out and relax a little. There are still a few of the beautiful people walking and jogging and doing push ups in the park areas, but for the most part, it’s just a beautiful stretch of pier and sand 🙂

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And then, there was Venice Beach. It was like Santa Monica’s cooler, more hipster cousin. I really liked it there, it was like Fitzroy had moved to St Kilda Beach…

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It was probably my favourite area in Los Angeles that we visited, and the first place in the city I’d go back to if I were to return; great food options (like the most delicious peanut butter breakfast I had at Another Kind of Sunrise), heaps of street art, book shops, artists selling their wares along the beach strip, and Abbot Kinney Blvd.

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And the street ballers. Having grown up around basketball courts, there’s something that feels so good about hanging out by the courts in the sunshine, hearing the ball pound against the pavement, the water and street musicians providing the perfect soundtrack for a perfect morning on the other side of the globe…

Eat, drink & watch sports here: The Happy Endings Bar & Restaurant, LA

The Happy Ending Bar & Restaurant
7038 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, Los Angeles
http://ni7033.wix.com/happy-ending

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Ahh Wednesday. That time of the week where I’m starting to struggle, being two days down and three to go, and wishing I was really somewhere else. But not Hollywood. Let me be very blatantly honest here and say that I just wasn’t a fan of Hollywood. It felt so fake, repetitive, boring. I quite liked other parts of LA, like Abbott Kinney Blvd down Venice Beach way, adored Greystone and would’ve loved to have seen Koreatown. But Hollywood? Meh.

Our saving grace was The Happy Ending Bar across the road from our hotel. When husband pointed it out, laughing, I was mortified, until we got closer and realised it was actually a sports bar (thank goodness). And a properly gorgeous, booths and wooden detailed, warm and welcoming sports bar at that! We spent a bit of time there, just kicking back and relaxing, and we decided to stay on one night while watching the Bulls play and get something to eat, too, which turned into an unexpectedly amazing dinner of a few small dishes, including the pulled pork and slaw sliders and buttermilk fried chicken skewers below.

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Good service, great food, fantastic happy hour prices, dozens of TVs to watch all your favourite sports, cosy and welcoming vibes, it was no wonder we spent such a good chunk of our time in LA there, and I’d recommend you do, too.

 

Happy Ending Bar on Urbanspoon

Eat here: Eggslut & Tumbras at Grand Central Market, LA

Grand Central Market
317 S Broadway, Los Angeles
http://www.grandcentralmarket.com/

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Another weekend, another opportunity to sit back and relax and brunch in peace. Even more so this weekend, given that it’s a long weekend for Easter! Hooray for extra lazy breakfast days! Wish I was back in LA to enjoy another breaky at the market…

Our arrival into LA was somewhat, well, mental. We flew into LA from Australia, landing at around 7am, went straight to our hotel in Anaheim for a quick shower and change of clothes, and went straight to Disneyland. We had 3 days there. Then we hired a car, after 3 Disney days, to drive from Anaheim to LA. Mental!

Being Aussies, driving on the other side of the road was interesting. So was getting used to the fact that over there, people drive through red lights, legally, if they want to turn right and no one else is coming. Also, husband gets motion sickness, so he drove which left me to navigate. For someone with absolutely no sense of direction, my map reading game is surprisingly strong; what the maps don’t tell you, however, is which areas are safe and which are kinda dodgy. I may have navigated us through some of the dodgier areas. Anyway, we made it to LA with minimal fighting and no real wrong turns. Our hotel room wasn’t gonna be ready for a while (we left first thing in the morning) so we drove straight on to Central Market for breakfast; I’d heard that Egg Slut was amazing, and I wanted it.

 

Egg Slut
http://eggslut.com/

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First stop for “real” food (AKA not Disneyland food). All the hype surrounding this place seemed to come to life when we got there – solid line around the stall (took us around 25 minutes which wasn’t too bad, considering) and a film crew; standard morning at the market!

I felt like a complete tool asking the lady for a “slut” when she asked for my order, but that’s what all the cool kids were getting… As you can see up top, the Slut is a  perfectly coddled egg on top of a smooth potato purée, poached in a glass jar and served with a demi baguette, for USD$9.00. I thought that as pretty pricey when I ordered, but it was a deceptively filling meal and a decent sized baguette. And it was amazing! Seriously, I can’t remember eating a better egg breakfast in recent memory… the potato was so smooth and creamy, the egg yolk was the perfect sauce, even the baguette was perfect!

The other beauty you can see is the bacon, egg and cheese breaky roll. I didn’t eat this, someone else did, but it was so attractive and sat right in front of me at the counter before someone came to whisk it off to it’s rightful owner, I thought it needed to be documented as well.

Truly delicious breakfast, fantastic service, wish we’d been able to go again!
Eggslut on Urbanspoon

 

 

After breakfast stop number one, which I really didn’t share much of, husband took a turn to pick the next stop – tacos.

Tacos Tumbras a Tomas
http://www.grandcentralmarket.com/vendors/36/tacos-tumbras-a-tomas

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We noticed this place on the way in and figured it must have been amazing because the line was long, but moved quickly, and we couldn’t overhear anyone speaking anything but Spanish. We got a pork and a beef taco,  for all of a few dollars, and they were magic. Super soft meat and a LOT of it, unbelievably tasty, extra soft tortillas which they doubled up on (thankfully), quick service, amazing meal. Don’t overlook this place – you really need to try the pork tacos!

 

Tacos Tumbras a Tomás on Urbanspoon

 

As for Grand Central Market itself, it’s a fantastic little market area with the most incredible range of food, both ready to eat and fresh produce to take home. The heavy Hispanic influence is obvious from first entry, reflected in the great selection of meats, fried fruits, exotic spices and the like available. It’s a great place to spend the morning, and as a traveller, I’d have loved accommodation with a kitchen so I could have taken some of the produce home to cook up! Absolutely loved this market 🙂

Greystone Mansion & Park, LA

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Greystone Mansion and Park. Looks beautiful, doesn’t it? Calm, peaceful, romantic even. The type of place you could see yourself and your love sitting happily, holding hands, staring into each other’s eyes. Not at all the type of place that’d make you want to strangle your spouse with your bare hands, right? Wrong. Let me tell you a fun little story…

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So, husband and I had made it through 17 hours of transit and three days in Disneyland and driving from Anaheim to LA and a few days in Hollywood. We had one last day in LA and I wanted to get away from Hollywood Blvd and see something different. Enter Greystone Mansion and Park. Couldn’t tell you how I first found out about this place, but I can tell you I was intrigued by the promise of the stunning gardens hidden away in Beverly Hills and the beautiful Tudor style buildings, the picture perfect setting featured in films like The Prestige, X-Men, Rush Hour, Richie Rich, The Bodyguard, Ghostbusters and Austin Powers: Goldmember. I checked it out on the map – seemed to be a simple enough walk from Rodeo Drive, just over 4km. Easy. We walk around 15km every Sunday morning at home, with a psychotic Beagle cross pulling us along – 4km with just the two of us and all the time in the world, no worries!

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What the map didn’t show us was the massive mother of a hill we’d need to walk up to get to said mansion and park. Let the games begin. It’s meant to be winter, why is it so bloody hot?! Jean were such a bad option… Arghhh this is sh!t!! Why did the one cultural thing you picked out to do have to be at the top of a friggin hill?! I know, I hate myself, I’m sorry, but we’ve come too far to go back now and it’s not like we’ve seen a cab! And so on and so forth…

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Anyway, we finally got to the top of the hill, and luckily for me, it was beyond beautiful. Husband was happy to enjoy the beauty from a comfy bench he found in the middle of the gardens, while I wondered around, camera in hand for a little while… I wanted to die a little walking to get there, but it was totally worth it when we got to the top!

Getting back down was another story; apparently there are no cabs in LA, so we walked, I shit you not, another 5 or so kilometres from Beverly Hills back toward Hollywood, before we finally found a taxi. All that stuff people say about needing a car to see LA because it’s not a walking town like New York? For the sake of your marriage and your sanity, LISTEN TO THEM!!! Also, prioritise a visit to Greystone Mansion and Park when you visit LA – it’s a hell of a lot more beautiful than the concrete and characters of Hollywood Boulevard, and the view is incredible…

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Eat here: Another Kind of Sunrise, LA (breakfast/healthy)

Another Kind of Sunrise
1629 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice Beach, LA
http://www.anotherkindofsunrise.com/

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FRIIIIDAYYY!!! Woooo! I love weekends! I also really love breakfast. I’d give up this weekend to be back in LA for a morning to enjoy breakfast at Another Kind of Sunrise…

This place is a gorgeous little cafe tucked away on Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice Beach. It’s been around for a little while now, and it’s got a great following – Chef Lela Buttery has set up an amazing menu catering to the health-conscious locals, full of organic, environmentally friendly and locally sourced ingredients.

There’s something for everyone, with gluten free muffins, paleo granola, and a great range of tea with almond and soy milks available – that last point may not mean much to you, but after 6 weeks in America, this was one of the ONLY places offering lactose free milk alternatives! But that’s another story…

Anyway, I went with a little bowl of heaven, the Peanut Butter Cup..

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Peanut butter puffs, cocoa crispies, peanut butter and cacao nibs (USD$5.00). You also get your choice of milk to go in there, but I hate soggy cereal, so the lovely lady helping me out gave me some extra peanut butter instead – happy! It was a deceptively enormous bowl, so if you’re after a good breakfast in the area, $5 is keeping you full for the best part of the day! There’s also heaps of great shopping around, so grab yourself a breaky bowl and work it off walking Abbot Kinney and carrying your shopping bags around 🙂

Read this: L.A. Son by Roy Choi. Then, cook this: ketchup fried rice

L.A. Son
by Roy Choi

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Roy Choi. You know who he is. He’s the dude who started the food truck revolution with his Korean BBQ taco truck, Kogi. He’s the guy who helped bring the movie “Chef” to life. He’s brilliant, and he’s just put his memoir out, and it’s something you need to be reading.

I picked up a copy at Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York, about half way through our recent trip, and dug straight in. If you’re expecting to read about Choi’s meteoric rise to the top of the food truck game, you’re out of luck; this book is about what happened way before that. It’s about Choi’s sometimes unconventional childhood and early years, his battle between being the good Asian kid he was expected to be and the kid who got up to no good. It’s a brutally honest account of years of alcohol and drug abuse, of gambling problems, of running in different gangs, of being lost, of soul searching, and finally finding his calling and his way. Maybe we haven’t all walked that same scary, dangerous path, but it’s a story I’m sure most of us can relate to, that being lost and doing all the wrong things to try to find your way. I’ll be the first to put my hand up and be the first to say I could sure as hell relate, particularly with the cultural expectation (Italian, not Asian – similar in a lot of ways, though).

Each chapter of the book was another chapter of his life, each chapter ending with a bunch of recipes pertinent to that part of life, recipes from the family collection like his mother’s kimchi, to “student food” like melted cheese instant ramen, to some of the stuff he’s a bit better known for today, like his tacos.

One of the recipes that caught my attention, and I can’t tell you why, was the ketchup fried rice. It just sounded so damn good and unpretentious and a bit of fun! As usual, I can’t follow a recipe to the letter, because I’m a stubborn Italian who hates measuring ingredients and like to add my own twist and don’t always plan ahead so I rarely have all the ingredients called for (like kimchi), so I took the rice I had left over from red beans & rice night, the recipe’s basics and screwed around with it a bit, added some extra veggies because then it’s healthy so I can justify eating more of it, and mince pork because this is carnivores kinda house, that sort of thing. Here’s what I came up with…

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Makes 6 serves (aka dinner and left overs for a few days)
– vegetable oil
– 600g pork mince
– 3 spring onions, finely diced
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– 2 carrots, finely diced
– 3 sticks celery, finely diced
– 2 red capsicums, finely diced
– 1 zucchini, finely diced
– 2-3 cups rice, preferably day old left over rice
– 2 tbsp soy sauce (I like the dark stuff)
– 6 tbsp ketchup (I really love this stuff)

1. Heat a large wok over high heat, add a little vegetable oil and cook up the pork mince. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

2. Add a little more oil to the wok, around 2 tbsp, and add the spring onion, garlic and all the veggies. If you want to use kimchi/have it in the house, here’s where you’d throw in a tablespoon or so. Once the veggies start to get a little colour, throw them into that same bowl as the pork mince and set aside again.

3. Once again, add a bit more oil to the wok and throw in the rice and stir fry until it starts to get a little crispy. Then you can add the veggies and pork back into the wok (there’ll be a bit of liquid at the bottom of that bowl from the resting pork mince, so it’s best to spoon it into the rice so you can get rid of the water and not accidentally throw that in, too).

4. Add the soy and ketchup and stir it up until it’s all combined and the colour is even, then serve it up into shallow bowls.

5. Fry up and egg to throw on top (the egg yolk and ketchup to magical things together as any self-respecting Aussie should know from extensive breaky sandwich experience), and if you should so wish, top it all with some thinly sliced spring onion tops and toasted sesame seeds.

I’ve never been that big a fan of fried rice – like, it’s cool if it’s there, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it. No shit, this is one of the best rice dishes I’ve ever had. He may tout it as trashy-ass, f@$%#d up shit, but it is damn tasty. It’s easy, cheap, simple enough for a weeknight dinner, it’s not all “confit this” and “reduction that”. It’s just good food. Make it. You’re gonna love it.

Shake Shack vs In-N-Out

Shake Shack versus In-N-Out. East coast versus West coast. Burger versus burger. Let’s not stuff around with this; the time has come. Let’s compare.

 

IN-N-OUT

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Order: double double animal style with a side of fries.
Location: 7009 Sunset Blvd, LA
Wait time: over 30 minutes
Notes: Animal style was a winner. Double patty was a necessity. Nice crust on the patties. Choice of lettuce was incompatible. Crappy fries.

 

 

SHAKE SHACK

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Order: Shack burger and fries
Location: Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.
Wait time: 5 minutes
Notes: good sized patty which was cooked well (not over cooked, still a little pink inside), great flavour. Shakesauce FTW. Most appropriate choice of lettuce. Surprisingly good fries.

Bonus points for the killer frozen custard which I completely destroyed, lactose intolerance be damned (double bonus points to the Lacteeze tablets which cushioned the blow).

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VERDICT:
Seriously? Are you kidding me? This is not even a competition, as far as I’m concerned – Shake Shack had In-N-Out completely covered! The patties were tastier, the cheese was better, the lettuce choice made more sense, the special sauce dominated. Also, the fries were a ton better; no one likes average, undercooked fries with their burger. It’s just cruel. And I felt like the Shake Shack burgers were prettier and more Instagram ready. Makes life easier as a blogger, just saying! Danny Meyer, kindly bring your burger game to Melbourne – we’re ready for it!!

Now, let’s open the floodgates… what team is everyone else on?!