Circle of Food: Food Postcards from L.A., Ventura

26beach.com - Venice

smoked salmon royale

While I know I have a southwest soul, my physical body craves the ocean ions and marine layer. Tucson’s brutal summers even with the monsoons deplete me. So it was with great joy that I was able to fit in a few days in L.A. and Ventura and lucky me, while there – it rained!

Having lived in L.A. for 30 years, I was so ready to leave but enjoy visiting as several good friends live there and these friends like to do what I like to do – eat, imbibe, explore, walk, explore without demanding schedules.

My dear friend Christine planned the most perfect trip and did all the driving. Here are the hot spots:

Venice Beach
26Beach – Oh to be young, hip and thin like the majority of patrons at this Venice Beach bistro. However, the six of us oldies but goodies all fit like a glove into a tight booth talking and drinking and eating ample portions of marvelously prepared food from the uber long menu. My head hurt perusing pages of delectable offerings. I ate something with the word “jerk” in it. Trying to remember…lots of chicken, grilled veggies, scrambled eggs topped with jerk sauce…a hot mess of a dish washed down with watermelon juice and champagne in a mason jar. Others ordered burgers (more than a mouthful), flatbreads and egg-ish casseroles like the one pictured above — smoked salmon royale. A gathering of BFFs over delicious food — life is good.

Okay, so it was noisy and some of us can’t hear well so there are no stage whispers. I don’t remember how the topic came about but SR started talking about her panties just as the busboy started clearing the table. I’m sure he’s heard worse but he heard every word and she seemed oblivious. He spent an excessive amount of time clearing the table all the while the grin on his face got bigger and bigger.

Eggslut in Grand Central Market

Now that’s a bun!

Food Crawl
On Monday C. drove downtown to Grand Central Market which like the rest of downtown has experienced a renaissance of sorts. We meandered through the market ending up at EggSlut known for gourmet eggs. We shared almost perfect soft scrambled eggs with chives, cheese, avocado on a brioche bun slathered with Siracha mayo. The bun reminded me of my bubbie’s challah, not the store-bought faint yellow stuff without substance.

The shocking thing about EggSlut and other restaurants in GCM is that none of the food preparers wore latex gloves like they do here in Pima County. I watched a guy making our sandwich with his bare hands and wiping his dripping forehead with the back of his arm while drinking what looked like a bottle of beer.

Afterwards C. drove me around downtown which was unrecognizable from my previous visit. The Broad (museum) was being prepped for opening next to Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall and across from MOCA. What an amazing art enclave where I would love to visit another time. With more vertical living spaces and Metro stops, it didn’t feel like the L.A. that I used to know. Then we drove around the Arts District which formerly was a bunch of industrial and abandoned buildings adjacent to Japantown.

Pok Pok Chinatown

best Thai noodles ever

From there we went to Chinatown which still looks like Chinatown with new high rise apartments but I’m told most of Chinatown has moved east to Monterey Park. In the Far East Plaza, we stopped by Chego! for Korean fried chicken but the Roy Choi joint was closed. In the same plaza sat Pok Pok Phat Thai, a little hole in the wall serving a limited choice of mouth-inspiring Thai noodle plates. Chef Andy Ricker is renowned for bringing Thai food to Portland and New York. I missed Pok Pok during my vacay in Portland earlier this year so was thrilled to find it in Chinatown. While this locale only has a few stools and picnic tables, a sit down restaurant + lounge Pok Pok will be opening soon down the street.

Hey, Chef Andy, what about Tucson? We are long overdue for a damn awesome Thai joint or two.

at The Line Hotel in Koreatown

fresh & fabulous

Still in search of Korean fried chicken and/or Roy Choi food, we went to The Line Hotel, a sleek recently opened hotel in Koreantown. The Pot, another Choi restaurant was closed on Monday, so ate at The Commissary located on the second floor of this stylish hotel. It was like eating in a greenhouse with a glass see-through ceiling filled with plants and puffs of clear sky.

We shared a grilled lettuce salad with grilled peaches and olives and everybody’s darling dish – avocado toast — but this version boasted goat cheese and smoked salmon. I can get used to that rendition.

Then we walked on Beverly Blvd, one of my most favorite Los Angeles streets where just window shopping avante garde furniture stores, home décor and high-end eyeglass frames gives me a major buzz.

Ventura or Bust                                                

Eat at Nata's in Sherman Oaks

Portuguese sweet bread

Before heading out of town, we ate breakfast at Nata’s Portuguese Bakery and Café in Sherman Oaks. Old worldly, the fare was made and served with care. The bakery case brimmed with pretty pastries and Portuguese sweet bread.

Ventura or bust

deserted Ventura beach

I wanted to fall asleep listening to the ocean. The sound of pounding waves is both energizing and relaxing. We headed to Ventura to browse through the historic downtown before going to The Inn on the Beach where all the rooms faced the ocean and seagulls outnumbered a handful of people frequenting the beach.

Eat at Rice by Mama in historic Ventura

Eat me said the pumpkin curry

That night we drove back downtown to dine at Rice by Mama, a recommended Thai restaurant. Since Tucson has zero decent Thai restaurants – I eat Thai as often as possible elsewhere. I cannot recall exactly what we ate but our plates were practically licked clean. I do remember my Thai mojito made with lemongrass syrup, mint and Soju and the unusual pumpkin curry. The brown rice was red, the color of merlot with a nutty taste. Throughout the restaurants mounds of this magical rice dotted every table.

The next day demanded a long early morning walk on the beach where warm waves lapped at our toes. Can I bottle that?

Ojai and Santa Paula
Instead of taking the 101 back, we opted for the back way through Ojai, one of my favorite small towns filled with resorts, shopping, oak trees, music festivals, alternative classes and Bart’s Books, an open-air bookstore where you can buy a book when closed and throw the money in the slot. We ate lunch at Osteria Mondo Grappe, again another excellent choice with fresh food and attentive service plus the best balsamic vinegar served with a floral olive oil for the bread.

From Ojai to Santa Paula lie ranches, abundant green farmland and curvy roads. Santa Paula also has a quaint historic downtown and railroad museum. We stopped for coffee and dessert (sour cream strawberry-rhubarb pie) at Rabalais Bistro, a bakery/coffee house with a NOLA twist. Chicory latte, anyone?

Amazingly there was hardly any traffic on the I-5 into the San Fernando Valley.

Well, I just got into town about an hour ago
Took a look around, see which way the wind blow
Where the little girls in their Hollywood bungalows
(L.A. Woman / The Doors)

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