Category Archives: Dining

Et in Arcadia Beard Papa

So taken were the NiceWork mobile crew by the image of Beard Papa in Arcadia, CA, that they were compelled to arrest their northward progress on Alec Baldwin Avenue so they could bring you, the reader, a photographic record of his genial face. The signage is that of a gourmet sweet shop also known as Muginoho (麦の穂).

Evidently more  than Eggos are et in Arcadia. But what? What does Beard Papa serve?

A Woman in Red, passing by at the time of the shoot, trailing an empty shopping cart, did nothing to dispel the mystery.

Pictures taken, the crew climbed back onto the NiceWorkWagon and fled the scene, leaving the Woman in Red speechless.

Total elapsed time: seven minutes, thirty-six seconds


Et in Arcadia Eggo

In truth, they were et in Woodland Hills.

Photo taken near the corner of Colorado Street and Michillinda Avenue (outside Coco’s Family Restaurant) in Arcadia, California. October 23, 2009, 12:30 PM. Coordinates: 34.14804, -118.067708. Click on the photo for further information.

I Want Pie

I beseech thee

Is it really so much to ask?

Evidently yes. Good pie, we now understand, is hard to come by.

At the conclusion of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous short science fiction story “The Nine Billlion Names of God”, the stars “without any fuss” go out one by one in the sky overhead. So it was, back in the Old Country of Illinois, except it was not stars that winked out, but Baker’s Square (née Poppin’ Fresh) Restaurants, our go-to places for pie. For a season the year before last, it seemed we had no sooner pulled into the parking lot of one of the many in the chain of franchised pie-shops, eager for key lahm pah, than a furtive hand turned the “OPEN” sign in the window around to read “CLOSED,” and, after a moment, re-emerged briefly with a Magic Marker™ to add the heart-chilling word “FOREVER.”

One by one Baker’s Square Restaurants went pfft and darkened like spent light bulbs.

But HOPE lived. We had read or heard or intuited or dreamt that out West there were “Pie Joints aplenty.” Lemon meringue was not some vague misremembered childhood fairy tale, but a present reality, shining like a yellow beacon from the direction of the setting sun.

Oh? Really?

Dupars, you say? Coco’s Family Restaurants, you shamefacedly offer. Marie Callender’s Restaurant and Bakery, you add with a glimmer of hope.

Yes, yes. By strict dictionary definition, I suppose you will find pie there.

And yet…

¡Escalofriantes Cabezas de Hueso!

Is that 'Wildfire' on the sound system?We went out to eat the other day, this time hunting for Mexican. We figured, here we were in California after all, and so why not have something besides Japanese food?

For our test cocina we selected Abuelita’s Mexican Restaurant located on a twisty, turny mountain road deep in the Land That Time Forgot: Topanga Canyon. (Just down the street from Froggy’s.)

See the pretty wildflower in the makeshift vase, the dark wood, the honest, rugged, varnished slab of a table. It was a time-bending trip back to seventies homespun style. Unlike in the seventies though (when people elected to become restauranteurs with the sole qualification of liking to eat), the food was good: Carne, pollo, arroz, pesca, frijoles refritos. You name it (especially in Spanish) they had it — and, what’s more, for a trifling fee they would bring it hot to your distressed rustic table.

Cheerful, noisy eating and drinking occupied us for the usual amount of time allotted to those life-affirming activities when I chanced to gaze upwards and felt my attention snag on the paper mats hung from the ceiling to diffuse the lampglow:

¡Ay! ¡Qué lástima!

What have we here? I wondered. I stood to look closer at the intricate patterns snipped into the colorful paper mats. It was then that I knew fear: ¡ESCALOFRIANTES CABEZAS DE HUESO!

Cabezas de Hueso de Papeles

The Fun Squash

She will have squash, squash, squash until Daddy takes away her T-Bird.A trip to the Calabasas Gelson’s — one of a local chain of semi-fancy-schmancy food stores — to purchase a pound of shrimp destined for tempura provided the occasion of merriment. Amongst the gourds stacked stadium-seating style in the produce section we found that which has been missing from our lives until this afternoon: The Fun Squash.

Mexicans have long known the happy secret of spaghetti squash, or as they call it, calabaza de los tallarines. Indeed, they have been extracting fun from the “fun squash’ since long before Hernán Cortés first set foot (pie) on their unguarded shores. Lately, in response to the insatiable demand for amusing vegetables in the United Strates, Mexico has begun to roll great herds of spaghetti squash up the avenues (arriba de las avenidas), across the border (a través de la frontera), and right into the heart (corazón) of their namesake city, Calabasas.

To answer the question you ache to ask, while we have not yet followed the instructions on the label for maximizing our squash experience — the cutting, the baking, the gentle teasing out of the tendrils with a fork — we have confidence that the promise of the label and nickname will be fulfilled if only because we have already gotten more fun from this purchase than we ever would have expected from an ordinary food item.

Saved by the Frog

Go ahead. Touch it...Ha ha! He almost got you!When I visited L.A.’s Venice Beach years ago it seemed the very soul of SoCal youth culture. Pretty girls in extra-short short-shorts whizzed to and fro on inline skates licking ice cream cones. Skateboarders, cyclists, scooterers and sunbleached guys bearing boogie boards swirled around, lost in a breezy mixture of health, youth, hedonism and earphones jacked into their Sony Walkmen (a precurser to the iPod).

We dropped by yesterday to see how time had treated the place. Did Venice Beach still exude the old exhuberance?

Our initial elation — induced largely by our having just found that rarest of Venice treasures: a free parking place — wore off quickly. Pretty youth, it seems, had aged and relocated. In its place was the largest collection of fat — really fat — young people I’ve seen this side of a Minnesotan Oktoberfest. The bright colors had give way to various shades of black: dark black, faded black, Dorito-crumb covered black, taco-sauce stained black, black with kettle-corn bits. A passé hip-hop style defined the shambling crowd. A low-rent carnival atmosphere defined the wretched tourist-bait shops despoiling the promenade. If the minimum wage laborers of China wonder where all their massive output of skull-insignia trashware goes, they can find the answer here on Venice Beach.

Even Rip Cronk’s famous Venice Beach mural, Venice Reconstituted, has been ravaged, but not only by time; mostly by the spray cans of addled Venetians. Once emblematic of the unbound spirit of the place, it is now disappearing. Twenty years of sun and sea exposure pale the upper portion. Vandals have obscured the bottom. Even the Venice Venus’s inline skates are gone, buried under layers of idiot scribbling.

I’m glad I hadn’t brought my cameras, so I couldn’t yield to the temptation to take pictures of the awful awfulness of the once-merry playground. I’m sure you have awfulness aplenty within commuting distance of wherever you live and hardly need another memento mori. Besides, I’d rather remember how Venice Beach looked in more innocent days.

Great guacamole.Deflated, we made our way back through alleyways to our lucky parking place — which immediately filled as we pulled out — and left the animated corpse of the 90s behind us. We would have been bummed if the word were still in use.

Fortunately the day was saved as we hurried home via Topanga Canyon Road. Topanga Canyon is a stasis field of grooviness. Age cannot wither it, nor custom stale it. Here the Age of Aquarius has refused to give way to the Age of Capricorn.

We pulled a death-defying U-y and screeched into the dirt lot of the eternal 70s style Froggy’s Fish Market & Restaurant. All distressed wood, dim light, industrial windows, and frog-themed decoration (see the picture at the top of this post). Dress code: beyond casual. A couple of mahi-mahi tacos later and our cheer was repaired.

All Things Nice

AromatherapyThree cheers for Penzey’s. The Milwaukee-based spice merchant has blazed a Silk Road all the way to L.A., or to be more accurate, Santa Monica. The camel caravan had already stopped in Torrance, true, but that’s a bit of a hike from our home here in The Valley. St. Monica, on the other hand, is but a hop over the hill and always well worth the trip, Penzey’s or no Penzey’s. We ♥ Santa Monica.

Sure, we could order these great spices by mail, but the sensory experience of the physical stores is not to be missed. Find the one nearest you and trek. The stacked crates, upended dinghies, and glass jars of spice that you find in all their outlets — plus a cute lil country kitchen section in the St Mon store, complete with old-timey fridge — are a treat for the eyeballs, but it’s the nose that gets the royal treatment here. From the moment you enter right up to the moment you are cleaning up the powdered cloves you spilled when you got home you will be sniffing like Hollywood partygoers on a Friday night. All over the shop are sample jars of the wares. Pop a top, draw in the fragrance of, oh, Cassia China cinnamon say, and meditate on the goodness of God, or, if you are atheistic, on the goodness of Agod.

None of my photos of the St. Mon Penzey’s came out except the one above taken through the window. Hyperventilation had made me dizzy.

Rosey-fingered Dawn, acrylic on canvas board, 2009Commercial Break: Daughtergirl, flush with her Urban Light LACMA triumph, now offers her original artwork for sale through good old Etsy.

You may view a larger reproduction of this fine deKooningesque figural study HERE.