I've always been one to "Work hard, play hard" -- but when I get called in to work weekends that easily turns my mantra into "work hard, play hardER!" on the days I do have off. so that's exactly what I did this past Saturday, when I easily crammed 2-3 days worth of events and outings into one 24-hour period of fun, thrills and, of course, food.
A little snack and an abridged five-hour sleep later, I hauled my surprisingly-not-sore legs to Venice to meet up with Sonja, Caroline and her friend Mei-Mei at Gjelina. Having arrived in the Abbot Kinney area a little early, I decide to indulge in a post-run affogato at Intelligentsia. After one sip and one spoonful, I think espresso+ice cream should be a part of everyone’s well-balanced breakfast!
After that blissful drink, Caroline, Mei-Mei and I plopped our butts down at Gjelina (Sonja ran a little late). I’m not usually one to bag on restaurants, but what’s up with the attitude? From the curt hostess who sat us down in the most dysfunctional and fugliest table on the nearly-empty patio (turquoise, rusty AND wobbly) and not letting us switch to another four-top due to reservations (Caroline and I found that questionable, since she called a few days before and was told reservations allowed only for parties of six-plus.) And then there’s our fedora-wearing hipster waiter who was impatiently hovering around us early on while we waited for Sonja, providing abrupt replies to our questions interspersed with “are you ready yet?” and practically disappeared after getting the order down (I don’t believe he even checked up on our table.) Well, sorry if we weren’t celebrities or hobbits (I spotted Elijah Wood and Dominic Monaghan in semi-private area of the restaurant,) but a little TLC at the table goes a long, long way.
As for the food, it was on the OK-to-good range – nothing that I’d make a destination for. I got the chickpea and Israeli couscous stew with spiced yogurt and harissa sauces – more on the lunchy side of brunch but it satisfied my hunger and was a hearty-but-not-heavy dish. Sonja, Caroline and Mei-Mei got poached egg dishes, and the latter two’s were more liquidy than I expected (how bout giving the eggs a little wiggle and water drainage before slapping it on top of a bed of grits and mushrooms so they don’t turn into soggy-soup?) On a good note, I did enjoy my La Chouffe Belgian blonde ale – toasty aromas with flower undertones and a little spiciness on the mouth while being totally quaffable. But yeah, while I won’t totally write Gjelina off, it’s not a place I would actively recommend if my pals and I are looking for a place to eat (esp. for $30 for brunch!) … if anything, I might steer us towards Tasting Kitchen, Lemonade or 3 Square nearby.
Unable to resist the calls of the numerous food trucks staking their spaces Abbot Kinney, our group succumbed to Marked5 (five items on menu, $5 – including tax – for everything) and tried their Torakku Beef burger. I had a bite and thought it was alright but messy with the rice patties (though my lack of interest may be because I had a belly full of chickpeas, couscous, brussel sprouts and beer.)
Remembering the Royal/T Three Apples party going on that day, Caroline and I went to Culver City to check out the Hello Kitty craziness. It was a madhouse indeed… with all sorts of Hello Kitty and tokidoki merchandise (designers from both were there doing signings) and numerous collaborative/tribute art with other artists. But it was still fun look at the pieces, and Caroline bought some funky-punky items and we chilled later on with some iced teas at the café. But definitely one of the more chaotic exhibition openings I’ve been to and bummers we couldn’t get our stuff signed by Simone though.
Still having a bit more time to kill for the day, we opted for some beers and snacks at Library Alehouse – which I’m glad to finally visit so I won’t confuse it with downtown’s Library Bar anymore. Both of us got the $7 five-beer sampler and let our bartend, Danny, pick some of the four-ounce samples for us. Good stuff, I liked the Hazelnut Brown Nectar and Hop Head Red he picked – and of course I am pleased to sip on Allagash White (already gone by the time I took photo, heh) and Racer 5 IPA. Our dishes were also nice bar bites, I had the sesame-seared ahi tuna that was the perfect bite at the moment, very light and the wasabi and ginger went nicely with the hoppier beers. Caroline got the chipotle shrimp quesadillas; solid stuff, but I was floored by the ripeness of the tomatoes in the accompanying salsa.
Finally happy from food AND service, we headed to the beach to join up with our friend Siel a.k.a. GreenLAGirl for the Blogger Beach Clean-Up that she co-organized. It was great meeting up with fellow bloggers and put it towards something good, even if only for 20 minutes and Caroline, Yolanda and I only wound up getting two ice cream scoops’ worth of trash in that timespan. But it was nice to know that Santa Monica is actually a pretty clean beach, and that every little step counts toward making the planet a greener and healthier place to live. And of course, meeting all sorts of bloggers I already know (e.g. LAist's Zach Behren and Jennio) and a plethora of new ones.
While there was a happy hours afterparty for the beach clean-uppers at Pourtal, I decided to head east to check out the opening of the Giant Robot exhibition going on at Japanese American National Museum (free admission that day is a definite perk!) to check out the various Pop-Asian arts, from lighthearted cute to hauntingly dark. It was also nice seeing the rest of the museum too and to be reminded of United State’s own version of concentration camps during World War II. It seems like free drinks and food were being offered at the lobby reception, but I skipped 'cause of the lines and I already had other nosh plans.
Finally, supper time, and I already knew what I want to check out – the bar bites and dessert menus at Drago Centro, which has gotten good buzz lately. To start, I picked their mozzarella-speck-pepper-arugula rolls which just alright, and an amazing duck confit pizza that had a good amount of the fatty meat, not too shabby w three thin and crispy slices for just $4. I also tried one of their cocktails, the L'Erba Bleu - Buffalo Trace bourbon with fresh grapefruit sour. Sweeter and fruitier than my preference, I really can't complain since it's only $5 and I can see it being a decent gateway cocktail for someone who insist on not liking Bourbon.
The highlight of my meal definitely came with desserts, which I was very eager to try after reading LA Weekly's profile of pastry chef Jashmine Corpuz earlier this month. The la crostata di noci ($9) was heavenly -- a not-too-sweet walnut tart topped with parmesan gelato and crisp, surrounded with marsala syrup and grapes. I felt it was the perfect lovechild from the elopement of cheese and dessert courses. Pair it with the coffee-ish Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and you got one killer combo to end your meal with (and yes, I was tempted to DIY a beer float with the parmesan gelato, opted out of it--in hindsight I wished I asked the bar for a shotglass so I can do a mini version.)
And so ends my weekend-in-a-day. Despite the ups-and-downs encountered with the different events, overall it was fun and I'm glad it ended on a high note. After 13+ hours of being out and about (and I am not even counting the 2-3 hours in the Nike+ run) I'm definitely ready for a good night sleep and take my Sunday of work in stride.
Many more photos from my day here
Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea
1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Marked5 Food Truck
8910 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA
2911 Main St
Santa Monica, CA
525 S Flower St
Los Angeles, CA