All posts by la_gregory

No Pizza For You!

Who knew Los Angeles had their own version of Ali “Al” Yeganeh, the real life Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame. The soup chef’s tyrannical rules and mercurial personality has a Los Angeles counterpart just around the corner from our pad here in Silver Lake: Paul of pizzeria Pizza Paul. There’s no man whom we both fear and revere like Paul. One day he’s the friendliest and most jovial fella, throwing in a free two liter bottle of soda pop to accompany your most delicious order of pizza and spaghetti (he might also make the best damn cheese and salami sandwich that come in John Holmes dimensions of 9″ or 18″ sizes). The next day he’s abruptly telling you there’s no delivery over the phone, and barking at you to “come and pick it up if you want it!”, slamming the phone to punctuate your ordering faux pa. It was during one of the recent Laker playoff games when we dropped by for a pickup order (we quickly learned Paul hated taking delivery orders, so we converted to pickup customers) we witnessed what Paul does to punks who cross over the unwritten rules of his establishment…
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Am I buggin’ ya?

Some folk detest insects, finding the many legged creatures a nuisance and/or frightening. Personally, I love the little buggers. Growing up in a LA suburban hood surrounded by oak trees, desert valleys, creeks and chaparral, I fearlessly (and often stupidly) observed and played with an assortment of local creepy crawlies that included fire ants, black widows, scorpions, praying mantis, tarantulas, pillbugs, caterpillars, and other assortment of six and eight legged animals. Many which were…ahem…”encouraged” to get their fight on in a precursor to UFC bouts, I was a childhood backyard Don King. Gang turf wars between Argentine ants and Fire ants make for epic battles between immigrant and native ant populations. Outlying areas of LA are home to sizable hives of honey bees, a couple of which I’ve had frightening encounters with while trail running (the sound of a swarm is unlike anything you’ve ever heard and makes for record running times). I’ve only been recently introduced to the yelp-inducing house centipede living closer to downtown, and I still think potato bugs /Jerusalem crickets are life from another planet. LA is definitely an entomological soap opera for those with a keen eye and careful foot.

And pretty soon, LA will be an entomological buffet of sorts. Chef Zack Lemann will be cooking his special brand of culinary dishes this Saturday and Sunday at the 18th Annual Bug Fair at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Perhaps they can offer a “you bring it, we cook it” option for insects that day, chinese seafood restaurant style. Bring your appetite and chow down on some “crispy Cajun crickets and poached wax moth larvae appetizers” to your heart’s content.

Heaven Knows He’s Mozwah Aballah Now?

Morrissey.jpgWorried about LAX security in the face of these most dangerous of times? No need to worry, anti-terrorist Homeland Security is keeping their watchful eye on each and every suspicious foreigner entering our beloved shangri-Los Angeles. Suspicious men like Los Angeles resident, Stephen Patrick Morrissey! As reported by The Register:

Leading miserabilist and former Smiths front-man Morrissey has fallen foul of the Homeland Security dragnet, according to BBC radio reports. It is not yet clear whether or the US officials involved had listened to Meat is Murder, or whether they thought they had a match on notorious Manchester terror mastermind Anwar al-Morrissey.

Morrissey is now a resident of Los Angeles, and was reportedly detained for some time at LAX airport. The BBC quotes him as saying that there was some problem with his passport, and that he was briefly suspected of being a terrorist. But he’ll have been used to that in his musical career. And now he’ll have one of those letters from the Department of Homeland Security saying he’s not – but we doubt that’lll cheer him up much.

That’s “Louder Than Bombs”, not “I’m Wearing a Bomb” fellas.

The Pink Lady of Malibu

pinklady1.jpgDid any of you know about the 60-foot-high image of a naked woman that once graced the entrance of a Malibu Canyon tunnel in Malibu Canyon? No, neither did I! Snooping around on Snopes, I ran into this keen as beans true story about a 1966 landmark that brought traffic to a halt way before Chaka was even suckling as a wee tagger-to-be. Lynne Seemayer (now Lynne Westmore), then a 31-year-old secretary from my hometown of suburban Northridge, worked for months to erase the tagging/graffiti that adorned a tunnel entrance at Malibu Canyon Road and went on to paint a nude buxom beauty with housepaint and brushes! Graf muralists recognize!

Forseeing potential traffic jams (motorists were already stopping their cars along the road to gaze) and accidents caused by distracted drivers, Los Angeles county officials quickly decided that the Pink Lady had to go. Early eradication efforts failed spectacularly: firefighters were unable to wash the Pink Lady away with their high-power hoses, and the liberal application of paint remover only deepened the blush of her pink skin. (Seemayer had used house paint for her creation, a substance which proved quite difficult to remove.)

Sadly The Pink Lady only survived for 5 days, as “onlookers booed in disapproval, county workers blanked out the scarcely five-day-old Pink Lady with 14 gallons of brown paint.” She fought the law, and the law won.

“Coffee and Cigarettes”

Yesterday I diverged from my usual choice for cinematic entertainment venue , and saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at the Loews Cineplex in Santa Monica. Despite loving the film, I left reminded how darn awful typical chain movie theaters are. From the horribly unclean bathrooms that seem to be the breeding ground of new lifeforms, the uncomfortably cramped seats sponsored by Al Quaida’s movement of terror via thrombosis, and the inability of the projectionist to keep the picture center, the movie experience away from the Arclight Cinema (or the charming Vista, Egyptian and El Capitan) is almost always a disappointment. Fortunately the film kept me entranced and from noting any further crimes against cinema.

Speaking of the Arclight, on April 19th, one of my favourite filmmakers is coming out to do a special engagement Q&A/screening with the director himself. AFI is hosting Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee an Cigarettes”, “a series of short films disguised as a feature (or maybe vice versa).† Each sequence involves several characters just sitting around, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and discussing subjects as diverse as caffeine popsicles, Abbott & Costello, Elvis conspiracy theories, the proper preparation of English tea, the inventions of Nikola Tesla, the fictitious rock band SQ‹RL, Paris in the twenties, and the use of nicotine as an insecticide.† The cast is an extremely eclectic group of extraordinary actors and musicians portraying an equally eclectic collection of oddballs, with sequences strikingly photographed in black (coffee) and white (cigarettes) by Frederick Elmes, Robby M¸ller, Ellen Kuras and Tom DiCillo.î The cast includes Roberto Benigni, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, RZA, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, and Alfred Molina. The oddly coifed auteur will be there afterwards to drop knowledge on your ass.

On second thought…

Supposedly the only Ecuadorian restaurant in Los Angeles, El Caserio has always piqued my interest. With its nondescript strip mall location closer to the bad side of town and a large sign advertising a dead website and its ecuadorian-italian menu, El Caserio has been on my long list of “one day I should try” spots. With a humble but comfortable interior, we ambled in for a leisurely and late lunch, with almost the whole two-dining room restaurant to ourselves. A trio serving of toasty warm bread was dropped off alongside a sauce boat of what most resembled a watery salsa, spoonfuls of onions and diced tomatoes submerged in the theatrical blood coloured sauce. Aji is a chili-based condiment and ecuadorian culinary institution, meant to compliment almost anything eaten on the menu. Initially eye-widening fiery, the taste subsides into the sort of tasty heat that tempts your mouth for just one more bite. The menu offered a range of beef, pork, chicken, goat, seafood and pastas; disappointingly, the italian choices at El Caserio seem to be common pastas seen almost on any neighborhood italian menu. But of the ecuadorian choices, there are a few striking temptations that immediately caught our eyes. The first being the fritada criolla with llapingachos; fried pork “riblets” served alongside a cardiac arrest inducing combination of lightly pan-fried potato pancakes (think the love child of a latke and mashed potatoes) slathered with cheese and a fried egg draping it all. With each bite I considered how I’ve become a vocal fan of pork dishes just recently, with swine becoming a more common choice where once beef dominated. The ecuadorian preparation is simple, but like an italian osso bucco or french poulet frites it satisfies a craving for comforting tastes. Seco de chico is a goat stew served with a mound of rice and an accompaniment of fried plantains, the gamy meat cooked hours to a grandpappy’s gums-friendly tenderness.

Strangely, I left unimpressed, despite the believed consensus of all three other diners I was pleased and impressed with my meal. I think its simplicity underwhelmed me initially. But now thinking back, I think I really enjoyed each bite of pork, potato and egg, staples of the ecuadorian diet. I guess I was partly swayed toward indifference because of the sloth south American service which left us unattended after our food was served. Considering its almost midnight and I can still feel my afternoon meal taking a siesta in my gut, I know El Caserio isn’t meant to be a weekly destination. But I think I’ll go back one day when I finally pass the remnants of this meal, and try the humitas (corn tamales), caldo de patas (beef hoof soup), and any of the meat dishes that are served with a plantain and peanut butter sauce that I spied some other diners ordering. That is if I can hail down a waitress….

El Caserio Restaurant
309 North Virgil Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90004-3623

Jam Master Jay

I generally dislike KCRW when it comes to their musical selections nowadays (a little too programmed and corporate influenced for my tastes), but NPR and All Things Considered remains a favourite broadcast to tune into while driving. And even more so now that magician, author, slight-of-hand artist, and occassional actor (I loved him in Boogie Nights, The Spanish Prisoner and The Heist) Ricky Jay has his own ongoing commentary called Jay’s Journal. Bodes well for injecting some new viewpoints in an already excellent lineup of commentators. Too bad radio doesn’t allow much in regards to observing his magic tricks.

F*ck Urban Outfitters

Remember to vote tomorrow (March 2nd)! Besides voting for a democratic nominee (at least a few of us), there are some important bond measures in regards to our state’s economic and educational future that will impact all of us whether we stand left, right or center.

Rice is Nice!

An academic take on all things rice, the Fowler Museum at UCLA has been focusing on the cultural impact of the beloved staple starch in China, Japan, India, Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, and other Asian countries. I’ll be there for this next lecture (and ready to go get some korean food afterward):

The Taste of Rice in Korean Cuisine
UCLA Fowler Museum
Sunday, March 21, 2004, 1 pm

Presented by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee, freelance food writer for such publications as the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, and author of upcoming cookbook, Eating Korean.

Best of East LA Pizza

Its been awhile since I posted, but I think I’ve got a post that might appeal to a great many of us Angeleno’s: determining who makes the best pizza in East LA. We hosted a pizza party this Saturday, complete with blind taste testing, score forms, and our nerdy asses even created charts and graphs to go along with the results. We geeked out to the fullest so you can pick out a pie without the worry of ordering a dud in a cardboard box.

A major player was missing due to the downpour Saturday night (Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock), but Vito’s, Nicky D’s, Pizza Paul, Palermo’s, Hard Times and Mr. Pizza all delivered a six-shooter of cheesy-sauced dough to our doorstep to get the party started right. When all was said and done, a definite victor came out on top in our blind taste test. Guess who?

Tapas, japanese style

The Spaniards have tapas, the Brits have their pubs with fish and chips, and the Japanese have izakaya. These restaurants specialize in tasty tidbits (Musha, a Santa Monica restaurant that came highly recommended by former Tokyo denizens. Small plates of slow roasted pork with sweet potatoes and egg, japanese pizza-omelettes, and japanese gourd dip all made for a memorable meal.

Musha: 424 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, 310.576.6330

*Since I don’t want to clog up with the many photos I took, if you’re interested if checking out the tasty plates more closely, take a detour over this way.


As I was walking out of my favourite local chicken mole spot here on the Eastside (Alegria on Sunset) tonite, I was surprised and pleased to see the cover story of the most recent LA Weekly is about the amorphous cultural landscape known as KoreaTown. Apparently its in style now, with both the nightlife and food destinations now on the Angeleno barometer of places to see and be seen (did you know that KoreaTown claims the largest nightclub in all of Los Angeles?). I don’t really have a craving for korean clubbing and the practice of “booking” (a practice where club waitstaff play matchmaker and introduce men and women almost forcefully over $300 bottles of scotch), but I think Jonathan Gold’s list of Koreatown’s Top 40 eateries is quite keen.

Recommended by Rabbi Xiao

“Mandarin Deli?” Yes, as perplexing of a picture that combination of two words seem to paint, this small chain of LA chinese restaurants are indeed delis of a sort. No gefilte fish, Moishe. But can I offer you some boiled fish dumplings instead? Knishes? No can do, but they make a fantastic scallion cake that disappears quickly once one has married the flaky, oily pancake with a splash of vinegar and soy sauce. Tofu salad, made of “noodles” made from soy, slices of cucumber, and dressed in a refreshing cilantro dressing is a perfect prelude to any meal here. Or slices of cured beef and duck accompanied by preserved duck eggs, the asian persuasion take on classic cold cuts are an interesting and tasty appetizer. A personal favourite on the menu are the dozen or so noodle dishes, some dry (without soup) and others in rich broths. Almost every one of my visits include an order of the spicy chile noodle soup. The pork based broth’s coloration seems to signify the threat of a three-alarm fire. Like the feigned naughtiness of a Britney dance number, in actuality the soup’s hot factor is more imagined than real. The deep red broth is only caliente enough to induce a pleasing heat in the mouth, and the medium thickness noodles’ chewiness balance out the flavour to a slurp worthy experience.

But the real star of the Mandarin Deli menu is the fried potstickers. Somehow each potstickers is uniformly slightly golden brown and crisped on the flat bottomed side, while the top portion glistens in a moistened oily state that is the culinary equivalent of an aroused, baby-oiled Brooke Burke laying in a bed with the come hither look. In both cases, they’re going to get eaten. And eat them I do, splashed with more of the vinegar and soy sauce combination, sometimes with a healthy dollop of hot chile oil to take the experience to another level. Potstickers like these are meant to be scarfed down hot, burning your mouth the whole way down. But you’ll do it without regard because the taste makes each blistering bite worth it. Best of all, two people can walk away quite full for about $19. Now that’s a price that both LÈi Fong and Shlomo both can appreciate!

Mandarin Deli Restaurant, 9305 Reseda Blvd – Northridge, and, 356 E. 2nd St. – Little Tokyo

Rice ‘N Smooth

Mikawaya in Little Tokyo specializes in wagashi, which basically translates into japanese confectionary/sweets, but should really translate into “holy fuck cakes, this taste great!”. Most everyone in Los Angeles nowadays knows about the dessert treat mochi ice cream, glutinous rice paste shaped into balls filled with ice cream flava flavs like green tea, mango, and red bean (azuki), now served at most any japanese restaurant. It was at Mikawaya in 1993, a business that’s been in operation since 1910 (starting at 365 East First St, but now at multiple locations throughout LA), where mochi ice cream was created. But as much as I do like the east-meets-west combination of sticky rice and creamed ice, its really the traditional sweets that offer gastronomic satisfaction. There are two different categories of wagashi, nama-gashi and higashi. Its the delicate nama-gashi made of dusted sticky rice dough, with a shelf life of only a day or two, that is the ultimate japanese treat. These are chewy treats in a beautiful range of colours and shapes. Some are filled with red beans, lima beans, mung beans, or vegetable gelatin, while others are flavoured with citrus, shaped into little bird forms, stamped with kanji, or wrapped in shiso leaves (a wonderful play between sweet and salty, a treat for those who like tastes with a bit of depth and complexity). And the best part according to the pastry shop is: “…that the caloric value of wagashi is generally about one-third that of Western style sweets.” Making Sara Lee their bitch with each tasty bite, Mikawaya (118 Japanese Village Plaza, 90012).