Tag Archives: santa monica

I took a sightseeing tour of my own neighborhood

IMG_20140822_153958

The famed RastaBus. SCREAMfmLondon

I hear talk that sightseeing tours are a great way to explore unfamiliar neighborhoods in big tourist destinations full of historical landmarks, just like Hollywood. I wasn’t sure what I’d take away from one, considering I happen to live in the aforementioned big tourist destination full of historical landmarks that is Hollywood. Maybe I’d learn something new and come away with a fresh perspective? Maybe it would suck and be boring. I was down to find out.

I set off on an “A Day in LA” tour hosted by the RastaBus — a tri-colored van, carefully decorated with “One Love” bumper stickers and peace signs, that played one reggae song at the very beginning of the day.

At 10 a.m., we clamored onto the bus from our starting point at the Santa Monica Pier. It didn’t take long for my boisterous fellow riders to commandeer the sound system, start blasting “No Diggity” and pop open a few bottles of champagne. Whenever I’d previously encountered a RastaBus in the wild, the passengers have always been really drunk and exceptionally annoying. But the thing about annoying, drunk people is that it’s much more fun to be with ‘em than against ‘em. So, I filled a red Solo cup and kicked back as we headed up the Pacific Coast Highway.

IMG_20140817_112307_149

Brunch on the water at our first stop on the Malibu Pier. SCREAMfmLondon

Malibu

The first stop was definitely the best part of the whole damn thing, and it was totally an anomaly. This is kind of deluxe treatment is highly atypical for a RastaBus tour, I assume. I just happened to be rolling with some well-connected sightseers who managed to surprise us with a hook up for free food. Individual results may vary.

We were dropped off at the Malibu Pier, where we were served an elaborate array of breakfast food at Malibu Farm, a ritzy farm-to-table restaurant located at the end of the pier. After weaving our way through fishermen with their wriggling mackerels, we were escorted into the Surfrider Room, a private dining area on the second floor of the restaurant that overlooks the gorgeous Malibu beaches.

We were treated to fresh-squeezed orange juice and local syrah rosé wine. Quinoa oatmeal with pomegranate and chia seeds. Swedish mini pancakes with homemade whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Vegan chop salad. Grilled chocolate and whole wheat olive oil cakes. And my personal favorite: a fried egg sandwich made with bacon, arugula and baby potatoes on top of country wheat toast.

Next time, I’d skip the rest of the tour and come straight here.

IMG_20140817_113222_932

Malibu Farm’s fried egg sandwiches that made it all worthwhile. SCREAMfmLondon

Beverly Hills

There was supposed to be a tour of celebrity homes, but we mostly just peered up at Will Smith’s and Prince’s houses as we headed back eastward on the freeway. Seriously, that was it. Oh, and the tour guide also pointed out some scenery that appeared in a panoramic shot of “Two and a Half Men.” You know, just the essentials.

We drove in abject silence to a backing track of old school East Coast rap (for some reason) toward Beverly Hills, where our driver shared some fun facts about Rodeo Drive and offered to let us stop to walk around for a while.

“Keep driving!” someone yelled from the front of the bus. “Unless anyone has a black credit card we can use.”

The Grove

We had a scheduled lunchtime stop at the Grove and Original Farmers Market, where we had about 45 minutes to explore by ourselves. It’s a cool place to hang if you have a pocket full of cash and longer than 45 minutes.

As we left the Grove, we took Melrose Avenue followed by Sunset Boulevard, and our tour guide finally began sharing some information about the area via the RastaBus intercom system.

I was glad to finally hear from him. I was beginning to worry that he had fallen asleep at the wheel. Unfortunately, just as I feared, most of his information was pretty basic. Like, he explained who Judy Garland was. I kind of wished I was giving the tour myself; I’m full of useless historical and pop culture trivia. It took a lot of self-restraint to keep from interrupting his monologues.

IMG_20140817_152312_971

Griffith Observatory. Not pictured: nachos. SCREAMfmLondon

Griffith Park

Our next stop was the Griffith Observatory, where we were given another 45 minutes to wander aimlessly and not really accomplish anything. I must admit I was getting a little tired of being forced out of the pleasantly air-conditioned bus into the actual great outdoors.

Since there isn’t much science you can accomplish in 45 minutes, I headed straight for the café and emerged with a plate of nachos. The Café at the End of the Universe is significantly less cool than it sounds with a name like that, but they did sell me a plate of tortilla chips covered in fake cheese, guacamole and pico de gallo, so what more can you ask for?

Hollywood

Cruising through Hollywood, the tour guide actually shared some interesting information! Did you know that the blinking light atop the Capitol Records Tower spells out the word “Hollywood” in Morse code? I did not.

Shortly, my tourmates grew jealous of my uncanny ability to locate and devour nachos under strange circumstances, so they insisted that our driver stop at Chibiscus Asian Café and Restaurant on Sunset for some food. We called the restaurant from the van (“Hello, there are about 13 of us, and we’re coming in right now.”) and filled the entire small space with our raucous presence. I watched K-pop music videos while everyone else ate ramen.

And, then, very awkwardly, I said, “Hey… Would it be weird if I asked you to leave me here?”

They didn’t seem to think so, so I ditched the RastaBus and hiked back home by myself rather than sticking around for the ride back to Santa Monica.

And, well. I did learn the thing about the Capitol Records Building.

IMG_20140817_162103

View of my ‘hood from the RastaBus. SCREAMfmLondon

Here are some cool tours to take in LA that will circumvent the RastaBus experience:

Pamela Des Barres Rock Tour

Rock groupie Pamela Des Barres guides groups around Hollywood and Laurel Canyon, reading excerpts from her book, “I’m with the Band,” which details her escapades with Led Zeppelin and other classic rockstars.

Esotouric Literary LA Tours

Tour the hangouts of famous Los Angeles writers, including a jaunt to Charles Bukowski’s favorite liquor store, a Raymond Chandler-themed gelato shop and settings from James M. Cain’s “Mildred Pierce.”

Dearly Departed Tours

Creepy tours include the classic Tragical History Tour of celebrity death locations, the epic three-hour Helter Skelter tour of the Manson Family murder locations, and a horror movie location tour, among others.

Esotouric True Crime Tours

These morbid tours dig into LA’s most famous crimes, including the Black Dahlia murder, the serial killings of the Night Stalker and “hotel horrors” at hotspots like the Alexandria and the Cecil.

Advertisements

Theater: CityShakes presents ‘Romeo & Juliet’

IMG_20140724_200335_413

Colin Martin begins the City Shakespeare Company’s production of “Romeo & Juliet” as Mercutio. SCREAMfmLondon

It was a hot summer night in Santa Monica, and the audience was pressed closely together on rows of wooden benches lining the either side of the stage — pressed even tighter when Romeo scooted us over in his efforts to hide from Mercutio and Benvolio at the Capulets’ ball.

Last week, the City Shakespeare Company concluded its latest run of “Romeo & Juliet” with a semi-modern interpretation of the classic story.

“Romeo & Juliet” is always, at first, the ultimate tale of rebellious teenage love against all odds. Until you get older and begin to recognize it as a valid example of why 13-year-olds should not be making important life decisions.

The CityShakes interpretation did an impressive job illustrating both perspectives of the story. David Hartstone and Megan Ruble are expressive and passionate as Romeo and Juliet; both actors had moments onstage where their true innocence (and irrationality, really) shone through. Likewise, the supporting cast (Gilbert Martinez as Father Laurence and Mallory Wedding as the Nurse in particular) represented the outsider’s “adult” perspective on the romance that ends in tragedy.

Wedding as the Nurse was perhaps the most entertaining part of the play. Her interpretation was unique and gave unusual life to a character I would have otherwise considered unremarkable. Wedding’s stylistic choices were really amusing as the Nurse toed the line between wise and ridiculous, serving as a big sister-like figure to Juliet and a solid contrast to Juliet’s youthfulness and naiveté. Wedding would make a great Polonius — just sayin’.

Although the playbill states that CityShakes’ “Romeo & Juliet” takes place “now” in “Anytown, USA,” there was only a little bit of evidence to support this. The biggest anachronism was Paris (Daniel Landberg), Juliet’s would-be betrothed, who still carried around a large sword strapped to his waist. As Paris is clearly the most oblivious character in the play, this only further emphasized how out-of-touch he is from his surroundings. So, it worked, whether or not it was actually intentional.

Immediately following the performance, the cast and crew held a Q&A segment for the benefit of the high school students in the audience, which was a nice touch. CityShakes performances are especially great for students, parents and teachers because they are more traditional adaptations with minimal sets and costumes, but the actors express clear respect for the original text, which makes the performances clear and accessible.

The size of the theater (such that I probably could have reached out and touched Romeo during his dramatic final scene in the crypt) as well as the size of the cast (only seven actors, most of whom played two or more roles) make the experience feel all the more like community outreach. And the City Shakespeare Company really is a great asset to the community — it continues to offer simple, relatable and charming adaptations of Shakespeare’s classics. I already look forward to the next one.

Theater: CityShakes presents ‘The Merchant of Venice’

IMG_20140403_200221_725

SCREAMfmLondon

Underneath twinkling rope lights in the exposed-brick back room of a storefront in Santa Monica, the City Shakespeare Company brings to life “The Merchant of Venice” with a strong cast, effective stylistic choices and a beautiful performance space.

The company makes the most of a minimal set and places the audience on a few rows of wooden benches right in the middle of the action.

If it’s been a while since high school English class, the plotline of “The Merchant of Venice” essentially follows Antonio (Todd Elliott), who takes out a loan from Shylock (Peter Nikkos) in order to fund his friend Bassanio’s (David Hartstone) quest to woo Portia (Allison Volk), the heiress, under the condition that if the loan is not repaid, Shylock is entitled to take a pound of Antonio’s flesh.

Although typically considered a comedy, “The Merchant of Venice” throws in some intense dramatic scenes (Shylock’s attempting to forcibly remove the aforementioned flesh from Antonio’s chest in open court comes to mind, for instance). These moments are especially powerful in the intimate space: the audience members in the front row are directly confronted by Nikkos as Shylock during the famous “Hath not a Jew eyes?” monologue, among others.

But, really, this production’s excellence lies in its brilliantly-executed comedy. The supporting cast is as strong as the leads, and the jokes land effortlessly.

Daniel Landberg and Gilbert Martinez are particularly fantastic in their comedic ensemble roles. These two are instrumental in making CityShakes’ production of “The Merchant of Venice” as accessible and laugh-out-loud funny as it is. Additionally, Landberg scores the play with acoustic guitar-playing throughout and interjects a few original songs during key scene changes that help advance the storyline.

CityShakes’ production is so well done, the only real flaws come from the source material itself. “The Merchant of Venice” isn’t often performed in contemporary theaters — most likely because of the hard-to-ignore, heavy-handed anti-Semitism. Shylock is clearly portrayed as a villainous, vengeful Jew in contrast to the righteous and merciful Christian characters. During the play’s denouement, they tell Shylock that they’re going to force him to convert to Christianity, and that’s the happy ending to his story.

Considering these problems exist within Shakespeare’s text, the theater company does a fair job presenting the story and emphasizing mercy and forgiveness as the overall themes of this production. Although, even the play’s portrayal of mercy is questionable, since Shylock is unflinchingly hell-bent on revenge and has to be lectured about compassion by Portia. Director Brooke Bishop addresses this issue in the playbill, writing, “The Merchant of Venice is often thought to have been written from a place of hate — we invite you to watch out production from a place of love, and see what you discover.”

Still, the City Shakespeare Company’s “Merchant of Venice” is an outstanding artistic production. It is incredibly charming in its moments of comedy and romance, and thought-provoking in its most dramatic scenes. It is, altogether, definitely worth watching.

‘The Merchant of Venice’

1454 Lincoln Blvd.

8 p.m. Thursday – Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday

Tickets are $20, or pay-what-you-can at the door on Thursday

For more information, visit www.cityshakes.org.

Food: Favorite Los Angeles restaurants of 2013

IMG_20131221_154203_411-1

Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger at Plan Check Kitchen + Bar. SCREAMfmLondon

Food-wise, 2013 was a big year of personal growth for me. I had always considered myself a picky eater, but, as it turns out, I had just never tasted good food before. And there is no shortage of good food in Los Angeles. From dousing everything in white truffle oil to an unlikely affection for congealed pig blood, I have really stretched my dining wings this year. Here are some highlights from my favorite restaurants of 2013:

Umami Burger

Burgers used to be a food of backyard barbeques that could be bought for $1 at McDonalds. But ever since my first bite of an Umami Burger, I’ve known that they’re capable of so much more. Everything about these burgers is expertly-crafted and deserving of the hype that surrounds them: the crunchy onion strings and chewy bacon lardons on the Manly Burger, the creamy and gooey cheese on the Truffle Burger, the flavorful parmesan crisp and fresh vegetables on the namesake Umami Burger. I feel like I’ve spent half my year dreaming about, raving about and then eating Umami Burgers, and I’d do it again given half the chance. Additionally, Umami Burger’s rich and delicious truffle cheese-covered shoestring fries are solely responsible for launching my insatiable obsession with truffle oil. So, thanks for that.

Nong Lá

Bún bò Hue at Nong Lá. SCREAMfmLondon

Bún bò Hue at Nong Lá. SCREAMfmLondon

For years, I asserted that I didn’t like pho. And that I wasn’t particularly into soup in general. Nong Lá was an unexpected game-changer this year. I was somehow compelled to order the bún bò Hue, a spicy beef soup made with lemongrass, vermicelli noodles, pork patty and beef shank, topped with white onions, green onions and cilantro. The restaurant is charming and modern, and the meal was initially delicious, but the most surprising element was that I ended up wanting to eat bún bò Hue again and again, all the time. I even went to other Vietnamese restaurants and consumed other pho! So out-of-character! Nong Lá’s influence had a ripple effect through my diet: I thought, if Vietnamese food is actually delicious, what about Thai food? And Indian food? And Mediterranean food? Could it be that there is more to cooking beyond deep-frying? Could it be?! Yes, I suppose it could.

Spitz & Sidewalk Grill

Speaking of Mediterranean food, two of the best-tasting and least expensive restaurants I discovered in Los Feliz, coincidentally, serve Mediterranean food. At Spitz, the star of the show (besides the cocktails, because the cocktails rule) are the street cart fries – well-seasoned fries topped with garlic aioli, feta, onion, green pepper, tomato, olives, pepperoncini and chili sauce. At the Sidewalk Grill, I like to be the master of my own destiny and create a meal combining a chicken kabob wrap (lettuce, cucumber, tomato, pickle, hummus and tasty garlic sauce) with a side dish like tabouleh or a Greek salad. No joke, I once ordered a Greek salad. A Greek salad is just cucumbers, tomato and feta, friends. See how far I’ve come? I’m not the man they think I am at home.

Plan Check Kitchen + Bar

There isn’t really a good life-affirming story about Plan Check. It didn’t really change my perspective on food in any capacity. It’s just really, really good. They serve a weird pastrami poutine featuring gravy and cheese on top of thick, chewy fries that is just rich and delicious. And, really, the burgers at Plan Check are some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Something about the crunch-covered bun, the mini-skillet they’re served in to contain the juices, and the fresh (and unusual) toppings like pig candy and ketchup leather. It’s just really innovative and, most importantly, effective. The fresh-cooked cruller donuts covered in cinnamon sugar and served in cream and fresh fruit are pretty killer as well.

Sprinkles Cupcakes

IMG_20130913_180159_034-1

Sprinkles Cupcakes. SCREAMfmLondon

I hear gourmet cupcakes are a thing of the past. Talk turns to donuts as the next big dessert trend. I blame all those weirdos who pay $50 for boring cronuts (a donut-croissant hybrid). But nothing will ever replace cupcakes in my heart. I will love cupcakes forever, and Sprinkles Cupcakes have done right by me this year. This ritzy cupcakery is located in Beverly Hills and has become famous as the home of the 24-hour cupcake ATM. I enjoy making a game of the cupcake schedule, trying to coordinate a trip on days they’ll be serving up the best treats. The pumpkin cupcake is particularly great (but only seasonal!). The moist cake is more muffin-like than super sweet, and the cream cheese frosting is a perfect complement. My passion for fancy cupcakes will never die.

Has my palate matured with age? Did I just destroy all of my tastebuds with too many microwave dinners? Do they just not ship any good tomatoes to Reno? I don’t know what makes the difference, really. Probably a combination of the above-mentioned factors.

What’s on the agenda for 2014? So glad you asked, because I’ve got it all planned out:

– More vegetables you hated as a kid that turned out to be delicious later in life. Brussels sprouts! Asparagus! Avocado!

– More brunch. Day-drinking and dessert-disguised-as-breakfast in the early morning hours!

– More burgers. Literally every gourmet burger in the world! I’m coming for you!

– A wider variety of cultural cuisines. Korean barbeque! Thai noodles! Fancy ramen! Japanese food trucks! Spices!

– More fruit. Smoothies! Juice cleanses!

Wow, I’m excited. Basically, I have 235 places bookmarked on Yelp, and I’m not allowed to die until I’ve tried them all. Away we go.