Sunday, August 19, 2012

Californication Part 1: The A Muse Bouche Guide to LA

I just returned from my happy place. Of course it’s not really a “place” but rather a state of mind. But it just so happens I can much more easily access my contented state when I’m in The Golden State. Justin and I visited Santa Monica, Big Sur and Napa – with stops along the way in Malibu, Santa Barbara and Carmel. It was an accidental engagement-moon. “Engagemoon?”

I tried to be in-the-moment every step of the way. Justin too felt “unplugged” – especially at times when we were literally with no cell service. But first up on the itinerary, a destination with full-service: Oceana Beach Club Hotel. After some last minute deliberation because I really did procrastinate on picking an LA hotel, I chose the Oceana in Santa Monica. Friends and family had contributed lots of helpful suggestions including Shutters on the Beach (too pricey) and the Viceroy (too cool) and I was set on picking a place with that good hotel bedding, a relaxing pool setting and in-house bicycles.

The Oceana was 3 for 3 regarding my criteria, plus an added bonus: a room upgrade. When we arrived we were told we’d been upgraded from the original room I'd booked (at their least expensive rate) to a Signature Ocean View Suite, obviously overlooking the ocean. It had a balcony to boot. Needless to say it was much larger than our one-bedroom NYC apartment. And the suite even felt homey, with books strewn about and plants placed here and there. I credit Karma for the upgrade(s). (Also upgraded: our rental car. Hertz was out of regular sedans with sunroofs, so they granted us a Mustang convertible.)

room with a view
on-site bikes compliments of oceana 
On night one in LA we went to Abbot Kinney for dinner and ice cream, at Gjelina and Nice Cream respectively. Gjelina has a great reputation, which is well deserved especially in the pizza department. The Pomodoro Crudo pizza we ordered was absolutely delicious. We also ordered the Arugula, Shaved Sweet Corn, Cherry Tomato, Pecorino & Lemon salad and Grilled Radicchio with Balsamic & Sea Salt. In general I think the food out in Cali is fresher than here in The Big Apple. Nice Cream had a not-so-nice ambiance; it was rather sterile. But the gelato was delectable. I highly recommend the chocolate hazelnut, in a waffle cone.

Day 2:
We biked to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and along the beach for a bit. Then we went to the Huckleberry Cafe for brunch. (Thank you for the recommendation Megan!) We missed the breakfast menu, which ended at 11, so we ordered not one but two fried egg sandwiches (with bacon and Gruyere cheese), and sides of farro salad and string beans. And a chocolate chip cookie. And a glazed donut. Gluttonous? Clearly. Regretful? Just a little.

Obviously we were able to take the desserts to go. But the droopy fried egg sandys that we didn’t finish? The waiter at Huckleberry was absolutely shocked we were leaving behind leftovers. And this tended to be the reaction from servers everywhere in Cali whenever we over-ordered and under-ate. (My man has the tendency to have eyes bigger than his little tummy.) I really do appreciate the California mentality about wastefulness – I’m ashamed whenever we over-order here in NY, and I often hoard leftovers in the fridge, hoping we’ll eat them at some point. But alas, we usually don’t. So from here on out I’m resolving to be more Californian in my consumption habits.

ANYWAY after carbo-loading we went to Topanga State Park and ascended the Temescal Ridge Trailhead to “Skull Rock.” It was rigorous (and HOT) but with rewarding views including the unique sight of (surprise surprise) a rock resembling a skull.

fried egg sandwich at huckleberry cafe
“skull rock”
Post hike we hung by the hotel pool and ate guacamole & chips and drank Cupcake Prosecco compliments of our hotel staff. (Upon checking in Justin had mentioned our engagement, and the staff sent the bottle with a lovely note.) And I can proudly report that there were no leftovers of either food or drink. In the evening we went to Venice Beach for drinks at Hotel Erwin’s rooftop lounge overlooking the ocean. It was an awesome spot to see the sunset, and the vibe at the bar was very East Village. Then we returned to Abbot Kinney (which we liken to Smith Street in Brooklyn Heights) for dinner at the highly recommended restaurant The Tasting Kitchen. The food was excellent, including a standout condiment: balsamic aged longer than me: 32 years. My only negative review is of the dessert. We had the bread pudding, which was eh. Next time we’ll revisit Nice Cream.


P.S. Californication - 

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