Archive for the ‘Worth the splurge’ Category

Peaceful Dining in L.A.

July 15, 2012

One of the biggest challenges of writing a book about Peaceful Places in Los Angeles is finding restaurants that qualify. If a place has good food, it usually means the dining room is always hopping and the challenge of getting a reservation is anything but peaceful unless your last name is DiCaprio or Spielberg. If the food is mediocre, you really don’t want to go there in the first place, no matter how pretty the candlelight or leafy the atmosphere.

I did find a handful of restaurants quiet enough to make the cut for my book. Inn of the Seventh Ray in Topanga Canyon with its creekside patio and thoughtful vegan-friendly menu is one. Sofi on W. 3rd Street, a hidden Greek oasis of bougainvillea-draped walls, moussaka and flaming cheese, is another. And I recently discovered the plant-filled patio at Hatfield’s on Melrose. The restaurant’s bustling open kitchen is fascinating, but sometimes you just want to enjoy the wonderful food in an intimate setting, and this small space provides it.

DineLA Restaurant Week starts tomorrow with 250 restaurants participating, from Lucques to Lawry’s Prime Rib. It’s a great time to try new places and seek out that rare combination of tranquility and delicious food. If things are not as peaceful as you’d like, at least your wallet isn’t empty and you get credit for expanding your Los Angeles culinary boundaries. Bon appetit.

Four generations at the Huntington

June 25, 2012

The Japanese garden at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens has always been a peaceful place, and its recent renovation hasn’t changed that. I highlighted the garden in my book, Peaceful Places: Los Angeles, as the spot to seek out when the desert garden or galleries get a bit too thick with admirers.

I wondered if the $6.8-million expansion would affect the garden’s gentle tranquility, but instead it has only enhanced it by adding more space. A ceremonial teahouse surrounded by a traditional garden now sits above the winding paths and original Japanese House, and there are more waterfalls and bonsai trees dotting the landscape. The raked-gravel rock and sand garden and viewing stones (stones found in nature and untouched by man) still provide quiet retreats off the busier Central Garden.

On a recent visit with my parents, kids, and 85-year-old neighbor, we all somehow managed to find our niches without anyone having to compromise. My dad reveled in the Visions of Empire railroad exhibit, Theo loved the bamboo forest, and my mom and neighbor marveled at the camellia forest and Australian Kangaroo paws. Jack divided his glee between the children’s garden and the Conservatory’s cloud forest.

And I stole a few moments of contemplation on a bench in front of the rock and sand garden, as lovely as ever.

Navigating Koreatown’s spas

April 30, 2012

“Number 15. Number 15, please.” The old woman in black-lace bra and panties navigates around the lounging bodies and loofah sponges. She is looking for me.
I’m Number 15. It’s mid-day at a brightly lit Korean spa in the basement of a historic building on Wilshire Boulevard, and I have checked my identity at the door.

For at least an hour or two, everyone who enters this little spa becomes, blissfully, just another number. Not a spouse, not a mother, not a daughter. Not a payer of bills, not even someone who needs to keep track of the car keys.
Spa Week has come and gone, but the dozens of Koreatown spas remain as an inexpensive and easy way to relax and detox in Los Angeles. At most of them, $15 or $20 gets you access to multiple Jacuzzis (hot, icy plunge, herbal tea and mugwort), sauna steams, and DIY body scrubbing equipment. For an extra $20 or $30, that nice woman in black bra and panties will scrub about a pound of dead skin from your body, wash and condition your hair, and send you off with a motherly pat.

I discovered Koreatown spas about two years ago while doing research for my book, Peaceful Places: Los Angeles. I disappeared into Beverly Hot Springs Spa on a Saturday afternoon and emerged a couple of hours later with a reinvigorated body and ready to tackle another chaotic dinner-bath-bed ritual with unusual relish.

I often get asked how it all works, so here’s a brief rundown on what to expect (followed by a couple of my favorite spas):
You check in at the front desk. A reservation is good if you’d like a massage or other service, but not usually necessary. You will be given a key and locker number. You will be told to shower and hang out in the sauna or Jacuzzi area until your number is called. Afterward, you can return to the Jacuzzis, or nap on a lounge chair (most spas have small quiet areas).

A few other things to know:
*You will probably see more naked women in one place than you ever have in your life.
*The massage/body scrub tables are spaced as close together as the tables at Starbucks.
*Expect unlimited quantities of cucumber water, hot barley tea, hair dryers, combs, and lotions.
*It’s not just for women. Most spas have separate facilities for men.

Here are two of my favorites:
Natura Spa, 3240 Wilshire Blvd. (213) 381-2288, Super clean, very bright, with a large (free) parking lot and a café on premise. The $80 body scrub and massage is terrific.
Beverly Hot Springs, 308 North Oxford Ave., (323) 734-7000,  The Jacuzzi area is a little dark with a Costa Rica-meets-Gilligan’s Island waterfall, but the massage rooms are private, unlike most other Koreatown spas.

Things to do in L.A. before you die (or move back to Iowa)

November 24, 2010

For a very brief window last month, it looked like we might pack up and leave Los Angeles, and I admit I was a little freaked out. Despite my East Coast roots, I have come to love this city and my never-a-dull-moment existence. So…instead of worrying about the usual tornado of things brought on by moving an entire family across the country (schools, property taxes, and adjusting to more than 6 overcast days a year, e.g.), I focused on all the places I must visit here before departing.

High on my L.A. bucket list (on par with a happy-hour Ray’s Mistake at the Tiki Ti and a hike up to Mount Lowe) was a stop at House of Silvanas in Hollywood. This little bakery-within-a-restaurant makes delectable buttercream cookies that can’t be duplicated elsewhere (except maybe their two other branches in Northern California and the Phillippines).

Silvanas taste like a lighter, ethereal cross between a French macaroon and a cream puff — you may feel the urge to put on an Enya CD or rent “Peter Pan” as you bite into one. They are sold in $10 boxes of 12 and flavors include strawberry, mocha, lemon, and plain buttercream (my favorite).

Even though we’re staying put for now, I ran over and picked up a couple of boxes this week. The little kiosk was still there inside Kusina, a turo-turo market (Filipino fast-food joint) near the corner of Fountain and Vermont Avenues. The braised pork stew at the lunch counter looked good, but on this day I had eyes only for the silvanas.

Check back as I compile and check off more items for my L.A. bucket list. I’m thinking beaches and burgers are next!