Nathan Lane and I have the same dream: to buy a condo near The Grove ... The Grove as in the shopping area next to the Farmers Market in Los Angeles, Calif.
It’s “Utopia,” he told Ellen DeGeneres on an episode of her talk show. “It’s got everything. It has an Apple Store.”
Well, I don’t so much care about the Apple Store, with the exception that my children would come visit me just to go to the Apple Store. But he’s right about The Grove. It’s got everything ... it’s the most beautiful outdoor shopping area I’ve ever seen.
Lane said he loves L.A., having recently moved there. He loves it even though he’s not a vegan and hates traffic. I’m with him there.
During a family trip this summer, I fell in love with the city all over again, just as I did about 30 some years ago when I first flew west.
It was the first trip for my children, Amanda and Leland, who had only met one relative in their lifetimes out of the big bunch that lives in California. And, now they, too, are California dreamin’.
What is the attraction to a city full of glitz and glamour and money and shiny cars? For me, it’s not so much the glitz or the glamour or the money or the shiny cars ... but, more the friendliness of the people who live there. I was constantly amazed at the smiles and the helpfulness everywhere we went.
OK, I did like the glitz and glamour. I loved being part of the Hollywood scene the night “The Transformers” had its premiere in West Hollywood. I have to admit, I was impressed with the shiny limos that emptied out stars onto the red carpet. But I was more impressed that the stars — Shia LaBeouf, Jon Voight, Tyrese and Josh Duhamel — crossed the street to shake the hands of fans and to sign autographs. Voight actually took the cell phone from a young woman who was telling her dad that Jon Voight was giving her an autograph. Voight said hello to the surprised guy on the other end of the phone!
I enjoyed the crush of people at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, taking photos of their favorite footprints. We all chose our favorites. I loved staring downward on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, picking out brass stars of the famous; and I enjoyed walking up the same steps the stars ascend inside the Kodak Theater where the Academy Awards are held.
So call me star-struck. I always have been.
Another highlight was a tour at Paramount Theater, the only studio from which the famous “Hollywood” sign is visible. We saw actual editing of that night’s “Entertainment Tonight” and we ran into Mark Steines, the show’s co-anchor.
We saw a parking lot that at times has been filled with water for the parting of the Red Sea in “The Ten Commandments” and for a scene in “Patriot Games,” as well as the lake in which Diane (Shelley Long) was looking for her engagement ring from Sam (Ted Danson) in the final episode of “Cheers.”
We visited the soundstage from the now-defunct “Soul Train” and also the set from the yet unnamed J.J. Abrams film project due out Jan. 18, 2008.
We got to take home a film canister each: Amanda and Leland each chose one from “Heroes,” one of their favorite television shows. And we saw Oliver Platt wandering around, eating his lunch from a paper plate.
And, if stars are something of interest, there are more than a few television shows to watch being taped. We got to see “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. His guests were John and Elizabeth Edwards, Maz Jobrani, a comic, and the band, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. (Better luck next time ... Robin Williams was the guest the week before we were there!)
Call the studios or check out Audiences Unlimited, (800) 339-7469 or log onto www.audiencesunlimited.com. You can also log onto your favorite television show to check on ticket availability.
California’s beaches are plenty, and the drive up the Pacific Coat Highway (PCH) is a pretty one. We had one “beach day” during our visit. We started with a drive through Marina Del Ray, where yachts and other boats seem to be a staple, then we headed to Venice Beach, a spectacle in and of itself — not for the beach but for what goes on near the beach.
Venice Beach is known for its body builders at “Muscle Beach,” which is actually a fenced-in gym area where musclemen can show off.
Ocean Front Walk, a sort of concrete boardwalk, is the place to see the action. There are lots of street vendors selling jewelry, art, incense and more. Henna tattoo artists are plentiful. Street performers gather big audiences on Ocean Front Walk. A guy walking across broken pieces of glass and a group of gymnasts, who tumbled through the air over several people, caught our attention.
Zoltar — you may remember him from “Big” the movie — will tell your fortune for a fee.
We stopped for lunch at Jody Maroni’s Sausage that has specialized in “haute dogs” and handmade, all-natural sausage since 1979. Some of the choices include Duck Sausage, Orange Garlic Cumin Chicken Sausage, Pork Apple Maple, and Venetian Chicken with Basil and Sun-Dried Tomatoes. Check it out at www.jodymaroni.com.
After our stroll up and down the Ocean Front Walk, we headed north, driving through Santa Monica, then we landed at Malibu for a relaxing couple of hours napping by the Pacific. Malibu is known as one of the Top 10 surf beaches and we had a chance to watch our share of surfers having their ups and downs. We knew this because we pulled into a place to park that was actually for Malibu Creek State Park. The parking attendant told us, “Basically this is the best surf beach. You can park in here for $10 ... or you pull back out on the PCH and park for free,” he said, slowly, lazily, so surfer dude-ish.
Some of the other beach cities in the L.A. region include Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, Playa del Rey and Zuma Beach.
For more beach info, go to www.beaches. co.la.cal.us.
Palm trees set the stage for the California climate.
When we made our decision to go to L.A., everyone wanted to eat at Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s famous restaurant. Puck opened the original Spago in 1982 in West Hollywood. It relocated to Beverly Hills in 1997. Spago’s cuisine is described as “contemporary American with global influences.” I’d describe it as incredible. It’s now in my No. 1 spot of “best restaurants ever” replacing The Inn at Little Washington, in Washington, Va.
We all know that in California it is who you know that is important. My cousin’s law firm represents all of Puck’s properties and it certainly did appear that we got the royal treatment.
Upon being seated at a lovely round table in the garden, the waiter brought over a bottle of champagne. Then, tiny appetizers (amuse bouche) began to arrive. The first of the amazing morsels was a tiny cone filled with spicy tuna tartare. Next up was fois gras with onion jelly on a pastry tart. Then, hamachi seviche. Next, house-smoked salmon with creme fraiche and salmon roe, followed by bacon en croute.
Then, a beautiful white ceramic bowl was presented to us, with a tiny scoop of heirloom tomato sorbet floating in basil oil and tomato water.
A pasta course was next, one of Wolfgang’s signature dishes: handmade sweet corn agnolotti with mascarpone.
My tastebuds were in heaven. I could stop eating right now and be happy. But, alas, it was time to actually look at the menu and choose our entrees.
Where, pray tell, would I put any more food?
I ordered rack of lamb. Others at the table ordered another signature dish, Grilled Prime Cote du Boeuf for Two with Green Peppercorn Sauce and Pommes Aligot. Tuna and halibut were other entrees, both delicious.
For dessert, there were tiny sweet-as-sugar strawberries and mulberries, both served with creme fraiche. Boysenberry souffle with boysenberry sauce and boysenberry swirl ice cream was probably the best anyone had tasted. Those desserts were actually ordered; apparently it was not enough. The waiter jokingly noted that as he brought a platter of cookies as well as apple streudel, one of Wolfgang’s childhood favorites.
Despite all the incredible food and the glorious atmosphere, the highlight of the evening was when Puck came to our table and shook everyone’s hand and asked us all how we enjoyed the evening.
A second highlight was that for the $889 bill (there were seven of us at dinner), the restaurant took care of about half! Yes, it’s nice to know people!
L.A. of course is known for its celebrities, and there is a fair share of celebrity chefs as well.
Two of the hottest spots in L.A. right now are Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza, owned by Chef Mario Batali of Food Network fame as well as several New York eateries; Nancy Silverton, known for La Brea Bakery; and Joseph V. Bastianich, a co-owner with Batali of NYC’s Babbo, Luppa and Esca, to name a few.
My cousin got us a reservation at the busy, loud Pizzeria Mozza. Tables are quite close together, and the energy is spirited.
The food was good, especially the fried squash blossoms filled with ricotta. The pizza, well, it was OK. Because Silverton is a bread baker, I’d say the pizza was a little heavy on bread and a bit light on toppings. Although, the toppings are quite interesting. Some of the choices include: fennel sausage, panna and spring onions; littleneck clams, oregano, parmigiano and pecorino; and white anchovy, tomato and hot chiles.
We dined at La Terza in Beverly Hills, where my cousin Diane is friends with the chef. So, we sat down and again, appetizers just started to present themselves! A plate of tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers. Sweet, fresh peaches topped with shaved porcini mushrooms — fresh porcini mushrooms! Grilled eggplant. A taste of the rotisserie veal that was one of the night’s specials. Yum. It was a busy Friday night, but my cousin asked if Gino (Gino Angelini is his full name) could cook for her, like he usually does. Sure, the waiter said, of course he will.
So that was the extent of the ordering. Five of the seven of us decided to let Gino cook for us.
First course was a seared scallop over lentils. Second course was braised veal agnolotti (must be the hot pasta shape these days in L.A.) in a cream sauce. Main course? Rack of lamb. Now, I love rack of lamb, but two nights in a row may have been overkill. However, I have to admit, I liked Gino’s rack of lamb better than Wolfgang’s. Thursday’s rack was served over fresh peas and fresh chickpeas. Gino’s rack, was served over asparagus cuts and a balsamic reduction. It just worked better.
A cheese course followed with a drizzle of honey and bread.
Only two of our party ordered dessert, so again, the restaurant decided we didn’t have enough to eat!
The waiter brought one of everything on the menu, each of which made its rounds. Tiramasu, a lemon tart with pignolia nut crust and cappuccino pot de creme. I kept the tiramasu in front of me a little too long. ... They were all delicious!
Not every meal was an elegant experience. But, that’s not to say they weren’t all fun in their own right. My cousin’s son, Jason, wanted us to experience the In-N-Out Burger.
The burger joint has been around since 1948, with freshness, quality and service its cornerstones. Harry Snyder, founder, had the idea of a drive-through with a two-way speaker box from which to place an order. It was unique for the day.
There’s not much to ordering at the In-N-Out, but Jason gave us a lesson before we went. You can order a double-double (two patties, two slices of cheese), a hamburger or a cheeseburger ... with or without onions. One trick however, is to know if you want to order your food “animal style.” That’s not on the menu, but Jason explained. Animal style is with special sauce and grilled onions. You can get your burgers and your fries animal style. Extra napkins are obligatory.
How’s this for a tour trinket: On the Helter Skelter Tour, you can take home a souvenir piece of the crime scene from the Tate/Labianco (Manson) murders.
A three-hour tour, devoted solely to the murders, is available once a month at a cost of $50. That cost does, however, include a donation to the victims’ fund. For info, go to www.Dearly DepartedTours.com.
Another Dearly Departed Tour is the Tragical History Tour. On this tour, you can see the Howard Hughes plane crash location; where Paris Hilton was arrested for shoplifting; the Black Dahlia alleged murder site; the Michael Richards meltdown site; as well as “last gasp” locations of River Phoenix, Frank Sinatra, Rebecca Schaeffer, Janis Joplin, Mae West and John Belushi.
The tour also takes participants to filming locations of the movies “Sunset Boulevard,” “Dead Again,” “Halloween” and “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” to name a few.
According to the brochure, the three-hour tour takes visitors to more than 100 locations “of either historical or hysterical significance. $35 per body. You couldn’t make it up!”
Hollywood Location Tours offers visits to the filming sites of “Chinatown,” “The Prestige,” “Dreamgirls,” “L.A. Confidential,” “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “The Entourage.”
There are many more tours, such as a tour of the Hollywood Wax Museum, a tour of movie stars’ homes, a Hollywood behind-the-scenes tour and a guided tour of the Kodak Theatre, home of the Academy Awards ceremonies.
Various production studios offer tours, such as Paramount, NBC Studios, Warner Bros. Studios and Universal Studios Hollywood.
We spent an afternoon at the Museum of Tolerance, a Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum. What a contrast from the bright lights and fun of Hollywood — but, so worthwhile.
The museum offers two areas, the Tolerancenter, which examines contemporary human rights issues, and the Holocaust Exhibit, which deals with the legacy of the Holocaust.
The goal of the museum is to “confront discrimination and promote respect for all.”
It was a chilling experience, walking through the gates of a concentration camp ... choosing two doorways, one for “women and children” and one for the “able bodied.” Then we sat in a “gas chamber.” I looked up and saw the spigots, from which gas would have spewed. It was as if we were sitting in the very same place as shown in photographs and the films of those poor souls gassed to death.
It was difficult to joke and to smile for a while after leaving. And I was thankful to walk out into the light of the day.
Other museums of note are: The Getty Center, an extensive collection of antiquities, paintings, drawings, sculpture and photographs; Autry National Center, galleries that explore themes relating to the history and culture of the American West; the Hollywood Museum, full of artifacts including costumes, sets, props and other movie memorabilia; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with a permanent collection of more than 120,000 works; Museum of Television and Radio, with collections of more than 125,000 radio and television programs and advertisements.
I rode by the famous three-block shopping stretch known as Rodeo Drive several times on the way to somewhere, but never had the opportunity to stop. I just watched as the stores with their famous names flew by ... Armani, Gucci, Cartier, Tiffany, Christian Chanel ...
Other shopping must-see areas include Melrose Avenue, West Third Street, Ventura Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard.
But I’ll take The Grove with its beautiful grounds and architecture.
Hey, Nathan, I’ll meet you at the Apple Store.