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LA (DOWNTOWN): THE BEST OXTAIL RAVIOLI AT NEW DRAGO CENTRO

By Nora Zelevansky / January 30th, 2009

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(Celestino joins the table, as these lovely ladies and I snap photos and pretend we're tourists–Do you like how my shirt kind of matches the water glasses?)

Some people envision an "Italian stallion" with rippling golden muscles and a swarthy seductive gaze.  Me, not so much.  I prefer a man whose passion is pasta.  SO, I hopped over to (and eventually rolled out of) Chef Celestino Drago's newest eatery, Drago Centro, Downtown this week.

If you're already a fan of his other locations, you'll be pleased, as the food is divine and the space is wide open and spacious.  Downtown's fine dining restaurants can sometimes feel corporate, I think, but this manages to escape that stuffy vibe.  (Or maybe I just drank too much wine?)

Speaking of which: Centro's charming sommelier, who searches out lesser poured wines (which, you know, we like since we're all about the hidden gems) is rife with knowledge, but not pretension.  FYI–he said if he had to drink one wine for the rest of his life it would be Riesling because of all the variety, so maybe we should adopt that position for table talk too?  I just LOVE a Riesling.  (Did that sound convincing?)

Anyway, I ate my way through a boatload of bread (I couldn't help it–the olive oil gets me every time), Buffalo Mozzarella with garlic oil and tomato puree (good for the lactards like me, who shouldn't do cow cheese), I Carciofi grilled artichoke salad with bronte pistachios, Oxtail Ravioli with celery roots and broth (which was flavorful and light) AND desserts from Doughnuts with Ricotta Cream to a homemade cookie plate.

But the highlight of the evening was definitely chilling out with Celestino himself, who–instead of being affected or, well, absent from the restaurant entirely–was front and center, hilarious and sweet as could be.  Actually, Celestino's family–some siblings from Italy and others from LA (with restaurants too)–were all in attendance.  Turns out the lot of them–six boys and two girls–grew up in Sicily, where his mother (reportedly an outstanding cook) prepared meals with ingredients farmed on their own land.  Um, can I move in?  (Not that I didn't love your "Daddy's Special Soup," Dad, but Campbell's Chicken Noodle and Tabasco does not a farm-to-table dinner make).

So that's where "Italian Stallions" come from.  I'll drink Riesling to that.

Cheers!

xo – N.

LA (and beyond): THE BEST FROCKS (ON SALE)

By Nora Zelevansky / January 29th, 2009

0109BlogPicsDolanA0109BlogPicsDolan3A0109BlogPicsDolan2A0109BlogPicsDolan1A The perfect frock is invaluable in LA: paired with lovingly worn flip-flops and sunglasses in summer and textured tights, boots (back away from the Uggs, dude, it’s never that cold) and, for me, an unbelievably amazing Leigh & Luca scarf in cooler temps.  Last season dresses almost eclipsed jeans, at least in my closet.

So, it’s no surprise that Cali born and bred designer Jodie Dolan would have an enviable handle on the immaculately chic, but still Cali-lite, day-to-night, sassy, romantic, high class little frock (okay, and tops too–I couldn’t help but add one above).
Well, as indicated on her site, Dolan’s dresses are available all over LA.  But today and tomorrow (1/29-1/30), she’s having a sample sale. And her sales are NOT to be missed at 75%-off (click link for deets).
Seriously, I grabbed three dresses last time.  And, for the record, I never wear them with Uggs.
xo – N.
P.S. Look out for Dolan’s newest venture, Left Coast (a collection of inexpensive tees), which should ship in April!

LA (COSTA MESA): THE BEST NEW UPSCALE PIZZERIA

By Nora Zelevansky / January 28th, 2009

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Poor Costa Mesa. Unlike its famous (and infamous) siblings, this O.C. town has never hosted an MTV reality show or even Snoop Dogg.  Luckily, now David Myers (of Comme Ca, Boule and Sona fame) has opened Pizzeria Ortica, so C.M. has it's own claim to fame.

Now, anyone who is even partially responsible for Boule's Fleur de Sel eclairs is a GENIUS of epic proportions in my book (literally one of my favorite desserts of all time), so A. & I stopped into Myers' Pizzeria Ortica for lunch on the way down to San Diego this past weekend.  And I was psyched that we did: A. started with Charred Octopus (which he always loves).  I'm sometimes on the fence about the tentacle-touched foods, but this was so tasty and the consistency wasn't intense. I had the Roman Style Braised Artichokes with shaved ricotta salata, which were incredibly flavorful and delicious.

Pizza-wise, I thought the crust was nice and chewy.  My order was actually totally out of character for me, but yummy: Salsiccia e Finnocchio (which you know I didn't even attempt to say) with house-made sausage, caramelized fennel, mascarpone, red onion and buffalo grana.  Andrew's choice, Salame Piccante e Funghi (Margherita with spicy salami and mixed mushrooms), was even more up my alley. I could have eaten that for days . . .

And, speaking of eating for days, some unrelated info: if you don't know, it's Restaurant Week here in LA.  So a good time to sample some new spots for lower prices.

xo – N.

LA (SAN DIEGO): THE BEST BLACK-TIE TOBIKO

By Nora Zelevansky / January 28th, 2009

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I guess I shouldn't be shocked.  I mean caviar is traditionally black, but when A. & I were in San Diego this weekend, we had dinner at a sushi/pacific rim fusion spot called Japenga.  The sushi was totally decent, but, for me, the real stand out was the all black tobiko sushi.  It tasted fresh and it looked swanky and awesome.  I loved.

Anyway, just a little mention.

xo – N.

Q & A: Itinerary Question, LA Pastimes For Less Mobile Guests

By Nora Zelevansky / January 27th, 2009

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(Image of BCAM elevator by Michael Robinson Chavez, The Los Angeles Times)

QUESTION:  (posed via “Ask Lifestyle Questions!” by Rachel on 1/26)

We have guests coming into town and we are looking for fun LA actives that don’t require too much walking. Is there anything you can recommend, that for this type of LA visit?


ANSWER: Usually people consider LA’s car culture a drag, but, in this case, maybe we found a silver lining. See? I knew there was a good reason for all that traffic.  Well, you know . . .

Anyway, as a food lover, I have to point out that trying unusual/new restaurants in lesser known hoods is always a good sit-down activity.  In LA, odd or new neighborhoods are never exhausted and just sitting oceanside in Malibu or in towns like Manhattan Beach can feel like a visit to the beach for someone who might not otherwise get to go.  Is that really obvious?  Probably.  But, even in an area like Silverlake, Echo Park or Eagle Rock, A. & I will often grab Sunday lunch and then go for a drive in the hills; the houses are beautiful and most people from outside LA don’t even really know about the east side.

But, anyway, for non-food related suggestions (which will inevitably include food references because I can’t help myself), most institutions supply wheelchairs.  (Obvious again?  Sorry . . . ). The new BCAM building at LACMA is a great destination, for instance, because your less mobile guest can hop in a chair and get pushed around this amazing new contemporary art space.  And, actually, the large central glass elevator is the site of a Barbara Kruger piece (so you can be transported and experience art at once).

I’m also a huge fan of Huntington Gardens, where I know you can rent a chair. It’s beyond beautiful there (and it’s LA, so it’s actually warm enough to be outside–MIRACULOUS for cold weather dwellers). Also, you can make a reservation to have high tea at the restaurant there, which you gotta love.

Also, maybe this seems too average, but I think Arclight’s Cinerama Dome is the best movie theater I’ve ever visited–don’t you?  And this is Hollywood, after all.  If you can grab a movie there, you’ll also be in the vicinity of Thai Town (including Palms Restaurant and the famous Thai Elvis impersonator).  Now that’s LA.

xo – N.

LA (ARCADIA): THE BEST CHINESE NEW YEAR CHOW

By Nora Zelevansky / January 26th, 2009

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(lantern pic from Reuters)

Maybe this post should actually be called, “The Best Reason To Trek To Arcadia,” but whatever.

For my grandmother’s bday yesterday, we headed for soup dumplings at Arcadia’s famous Din Tai Fung. Honestly, amazing.  Juicy pork dumpling (with broth inside) are, of course, the tastiest mofos around and the string beans are surprisingly amazing too (especially if you’re craving some veggies to balance out all that meat and dough).  BUT, also, yesterday was Chinese New Year’s Eve, so we ate Shanghai Rice Cake (Nian Gao) which is apparently a **good luck** tradition) in honor of the day!  (Image below–sorry, we couldn’t wait to eat before we snapped the picture, but SO yummy).

Anyway, welcome The Year of the Ox, which symbolizes prosperity through hard work . . . which sounds about right, no?  Service to our community, right, Mr. Pres?

Actually, I just looked it up (cause I’m crazy) and Barack was born a Year of the Ox himself.  Fortuitous, no?

xo – N.

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Q & A: Beauty Question, Mistral For Less/Shea Butter?

By Nora Zelevansky / January 24th, 2009

QUESTION: (posed via "Ask Lifestyle Questions!" by anonymous, 1/24)

Two related questions:
1) Mistral soap is wonderful but kind of pricey. Any place/website to get it cheap(er)?
2) I have REALLY sensitive skin, but Mistral works really well. Is it the Shea Butter? Is that particularly good in your experience for sensitive skin?
Thank you. Love the blog.

ANSWER: Thank you!! Dude, it IS pricey.  Probably because they meticulously create the soap in San Diego, but develop the fragrances in Grasse.  Amazing.  The best deal I EVER got on Mistral was on Daily Candy Deals and I went wild, but–when you aren't discovering those surprise discounts–I have two suggestions:

1. Sign up on Mistral's site and become a member.  They send you weekly deals (and actually they're having a 30% off sale right now on lotions, I think).

2. For Mistral AND a million other things, my friend Rachel just introduced me to this BRILLIANT website: wwww.retailmenot.com. You just go to the site and search whatever you're buying from AVIS rentals to, well, Mistral and they give you the coupon codes.  I mean, how genius is THAT?

As for shea butter, in my experience it is AMAZING for sensitive skin.  There are always exceptions, but it has been a lifesaver for me.  In fact, just thinking about it makes me feel warm, cozy and happy:) Shea butter has also created this amazing industry for African women and female-owned businesses have been built around it, as it can only be found in Africa.  So, actually, by buying that lotion, you're doing a good deed.  Can't beat guilt-free shopping . . .

xo – N.

Q & A: Art Question, LA Gallery Tips

By Nora Zelevansky / January 24th, 2009

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QUESTION: (posed via “Ask Lifestyle Questions!” by anonymous, 1/24)

Can you give me some tips on good LA galleries? I’m coming to LA soon and would love to scout a few for fun…Thanks.

ANSWER: Okay, I LOVE this question because–not only will I give you some gallery tips–but I’ll indulge my crazy obsession with shops and food too and tell you what else to check out, while you’re in each area.  I’M INSANE, but whatever.  Tonight (Jan. 24)–BTW–happens to be an “Art Night,” where a bunch of galleries stay open late for openings etc.

First, they offer a relatively comprehensive guide–although not complete–to LA galleries at www.artcollecting.com, so you can definitely check that out.  But clearly you’re not going to hit every space in la la, so I would recommend three major contemporary gallery clusters: Chinatown, La Cienega (Culver City) and Bergamot Station.

1. CHINATOWN–A box of Botan rice candy from any of the traditional Chinese bauble shops is a must for me, while wandering in and out of contemporary galleries on Chung King Road and Gin Ling Way.  (Yes, you can eat the inside wrapper).  If you wander the Gin Ling Way courtyard past bakeries and the famous wishing well, you’ll uncover even more spots.  Some of the original settlers and biggies: Sister, China Art Objects, Chung King Project, Flux Gallery and new addition Cottage Home.  On designated Saturday evening “Art Nights” (which are generally indicated on the Chinatown website), a bunch of galleries have openings simultaneously and serve beer and wine and people in skinny jeans and distressed boots just sort of mingle on the cobble streets–so fun!  If you hit the galleries on one of these nights and happen to get hungry, head to Yang Chow on Broadway (the closest to NYC-style Chinese food in LA, I think) and never mind the (fast moving) long line.  For drinks, art sceners tend to travel between Mountain Bar (which is a sight to behold in all its red glory) and, across the courtyard, divier Hop Louie.  If you prefer to check out galleries sober and without so many peepes, come during the day and grab dim sum at Empress Pavilion (shrimp & green pepper in black bean sauce–yum).  I always check out shops like Welcome Hunters (for lesser known designers–often European–and a sale right now), Lion’s Den (for limited edition sneakers and also graffiti art etc.) and Ooga Booga for artist books and local (often art world) designers.***

2. LA CIENEGA (BELOW VENICE)–This Culver City (adjacent?) stretch has come up more recently even than Chinatown, but some of the old Chung King Road and Santa Monica faves have already moved and set up shop here (like Peres Projects and Blum & Poe).  I got married recently at a new eco-event space called Smog Shoppe across the street (literally a converted auto shop with vertical succulent gardens–so amazing) and actually just interviewed the owners about the burgeoning neighborhood’s best spots for this month’s issue of C Magazine.  But I can definitely tell you that Mandrake is this hood’s Mountain Bar with a great indoor/outdoor thing and that the Smog Shoppe folks love–at a short driving distance–the miso soup at nearby Beacon, beer at Father’s Office (actually famous for their burgers) and wine at Fraiche (everyone is crazy for this more upscale spot).  Also, check out Royal/T‘s cafe, shop and exhibition space.  My father swears that the blueberry muffins are crazy good.

3. BERGAMOT STATION–So, this Santa Monica complex is the largest grouping of galleries in LA and is also home to the Santa Monica Art Museum.  Bergamot Station is like an outdoor enclave onto itself, where they sometimes host–not only openings–but large scale events and parties.  The cafe here serves totally decent lunch chow and the galleries are a bit more established and “known” than in the other spots.  Also, the BEST SANDWICH PLACE IN ALL OF LA (sorry for caps, but I mean it) is a five minute drive from here on Lincoln.  Head to Bay Cities Italian Deli and do not under any circumstances miss the meatballs or cannolis.  I always get some salt & vinegar Kettle Chips to go with my sandwich and spicy eggplant pasta too.  YUM.

One other spot I’ll mention because its good for a celebrity sighting is Beverly HiIls’ Gagosian (also found in NYC, Rome, London and Hong Kong).  I once saw Pamela Anderson perusing here.  Who knew?

xo – N.

***The Solway Jones show on Hill Street turned out to be the best last night, so definitely don’t miss that gallery, if you head down to Chinatown.

LA: THE BEST ART (in) LA

By Nora Zelevansky / January 23rd, 2009

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Thanks to my parents, I grew up in NYC's art world, puttering as a toddler around Soho gallery openings (avoiding the nasty wine cheddar cheese) and then meandering as a teen around MOMA black-tie events (wishing there was any food at all–even wine cheddar).  So, imagine my surprise when I went to my first LA opening (a Diego Rivera show at LACMA) and found a festive outdoor party, complete with mariachi band and burritos.  Ole.

I know outsiders often believe that LA's idea of culture involves Botox injections and a dip in The Playboy Mansion's grotto.  Just because it happens on Entourage . . . But, beyond even the deep cinematic history and UNBELIEVABLE Mexican food, LA has a huge burgeoning contemporary art scene. Last night, my mother took me to the opening of art la at Barkar Hanger in Santa Monica Airport.

First of all, I'm a huge fan of this little airport: I used to work in an office there and loved watching small planes take-off, while scarfing noodles at Typhoon (where you can order bugs, BTW) or sushi at Hump.  Secondly, I have mostly attended fashion shows (Gen Art etc.) and Barneys Warehouse Sales at Barker Hanger (so positive associations), but I have never seen the space look quite this good.

Anyway, everyone was buzzing about the great energy at the fair.  And I just thought it was really exciting to see all these established and fledgling galleries from around the world descending on LA and further legitimizing the city as an art world hub.  It was like the festive vibe you find on Chinatown's Chung King Road or at galleries on La Cienega (just below Venice)–during a slew of Saturday evening gallery openings–was transported and magnified.

Plus, they served food, which you know makes art la good with me.

xo – N.

LA: THE BEST WAY TO APPRECIATE TOP CHEF

By Nora Zelevansky / January 22nd, 2009

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Do I sound hoarse?  It's probably just smoke inhalation.  No big deal. (Choke, choke).

It all started very innocently actually, while my husband Andrew and I were watching Top Chef.  First I should explain that, while I am deeply food obsessed, I have no cooking skills.  And, though he is loathe to admit it, neither really does Andrew. (Andrew, I know you'll argue with me, but, for goodness sake, one skewers class does not a celebrity chef make.)  Anyway, while Chef Andre may have a yummy "special pasta" in his arsenal to go alongside my new sauteed broccoli side (thank you, Tova), we are pretty much lost in the kitchen.

So, we were watching Hosea and Leah make-out (oops) and then cry about it like someone else was responsible (Is this The Real World? But there's no transgendered Mormon bi-sexual dancer!), when we realized that we were desperate for dessert.  Then, as we rummaged sadly through the fridge, Andrew had an inspired idea: Dessert Quick Fire Challenge á la Andre and Nora!

I was onboard immediately and took over the kitchen first, ingeniously combining oatmeal, granola, yogurt, butter, flour, Godiva Hot Milk Chocolate powder, brown sugar, honey and, OKAY FINE I ADMIT IT, a little bit of berry flavored, low-carb Fuze. Oops.  I lumped the concoction onto a baking sheet and slipped the "cookies" into our new countertop brick oven pizza thingy, which was a wedding gift, of course.  I don't know how to use it, but it looks cool.

ANYWAY, in came Andrew and shooed me out.  I could swear almost no time passed.  I heard him bang a few dishes around and complain that the oven wasn't working properly and the next thing I knew flames (yes, actually fire) were shooting from the broiler.  At least we think it's the broiler.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, Andrew put maple syrup, Hershey's syrup, granola, butter and a secret ingredient (which turned out to be Tapatío–I KID YOU NOT) on graham crackers directly on a buttered pan, shoved it into some random part of our oven and, thankfully, thought to check on it when he noticed billows of smoke emerging.   

"What was it?" I asked, after he put the sizable fire out, opened windows to let out the heavy smoke and ash filled air (so the piercing shriek of the smoke detector would stop) and stood staring sheepishly at the empty, charred pan.  "Well, I created two preparations," he began to explain in Tom Colicchio-speak.  "Obviously the presentation is shot, but maybe the flavor is still salvageable?"  Yes, Andrew, if you like to eat ash with accents of burned metal baking tray.

Andrew tasted the black muck, wretched and then, like a proper Top Chef who always has a Plan B, he served a dish of grapefruit slices with a brown sugar dipping pile instead.  And, yes, that combination is just as gross as you suspect.  Padma would have definitely pronounced it "inedible," as she shoveled down the rest of the dish anyway.  Gotta have something to puke, right?  Whoops.  Did I say that?  JUST KIDDING.

I didn't start a fire, but my "cookies" came out looking like piles of cat puke baked in the sun.  And they sort of tasted like that too, no matter how hard Andrew tried to fake it.  "I mean, I've had better," he admitted.

It just goes to show you: on Top Chef, the desserts get you every time.

xo – N.

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P.S. Only the shorter "Recaplet" is up on Television Without Pity, but the longer one should be up soon and they're usually genius.