Archive for the ‘los angeles’ Category

Bob and Sakiko's New House

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

Bob and Sakiko’s new home is the Amestoy house, built in 1906 by John B. Amestoy (picture ), member of a well-known pioneer family who owned the Rancho Encino in the San Fernando Valley, now the city of Encino.

The architect for the house was Samuel Tilden Norton, an early Jewish resident of LA, who designed a number of buildings across LA in the early 1900s, including the Greek Theatre.

The house is in the Colonial Revival style, specifically the “foursquare” variant, with a high-pitched roof, narrow clapboard siding, wood molding at the ceiling level throughout the house, and paneled front door.

An Assessor’s report from 1915 reports a single two-story residence with brick foundation, nine plumbing features, ornamental buffet, fireplace, and barn. The 3,285 sq. ft. structure included four living rooms and kitchen on the first floor and five bedrooms and bathroom on the second, with “three wooden floors”.

The house maintains its original floor plan as well as those original wooden floors, which although now refinished still bear the scars of decades of use, including a period as boarding house. It was extensively restored by Ed Sutton, the owner from 2000-2004, and the house is still known as “Ed’s House” by the locals.

The Amestoy house is located in the Harvard Heights neighborhood of LA on the hills southwest of downtown, near Western and Venice, and lies within the Harvard Heights Historical Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), just south of Koreatown. Originally a middle-class streetcar suburb with a Greek flavor, the area evolved a more inner-city character after the War. Starting in the 90s a gradual gentrification process began; this block of S. Hobart Blvd. is now sprinkled with well-restored houses, the Amestoy house among them.

1656 West 25th Street: another house designed by S. Tilden Norton

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

On December 1 we participated in the 21st Annual Holiday Home Tour & Progressive Dinner in Historic West Adams . Groups of 20-30 toured six classic houses, mostly on W. 25th.

One house of particular interest was the Bernays Family Residence at 1656 West 25th Street, since it was designed by S. Tilden Norton, the architect that designed our house. The two houses share the American Foursquare/Colonial Revival style, and have many features in common such as the front attic gable and porch extending halfway across the front of the house to the right. And this house, like ours, was turned into a rooming house in the ’70s and ’80s, with up to 30 occupants, before being lovingly restored.

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Western Heights, the neighborhood to our west

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Western Heights is the neighborhood right to our west—bounded by Western on the east, Arlington on the west, Washington on the north, and I-10 on the south. When we were looking for a house we ran into this area, which contains some of the most fabulous, large-scale, sumptious century-old homes anywhere in LA.


Hirozen, Japanese Restaurant Extraordinaire

Friday, December 24th, 2004

Hirozen is the little Japanese spot in a strip mall at Orlando and Beverly in West Hollywood, a five-minute drive from our house. Although it was once one of our favorites (I even talked them out of a Hirozen shirt which I still have), inexplicably we hadn’t visited them for probably two full years until our visit last night.

Hiroji Ohbayashi, the owner and chef, has been busy innovating and creating and—still—cooking, as he was last night. The Today’s Special menu is a cornucopia of old and new favorites, brilliantly walking the line between traditional and modern. We’ve always loved the sweetish Nasu Soboro (Eggplant with Ground Chicken), a simple old Japanese pub dish that Hirozen does gloriously; Bob thinks it’s just the right thing to go with sake. Zucchini Flower Tempura is a deserved favorite.

At the table next to us sat a beautiful lacquered black platter with luscious broiled chicken pieces, a tower of tempura, and elegant mounds of hijiki and Japanese potato salad. I discreetly asked the waitress what that was and nearly fell off my chair when she told me it was the “teriyaku tempura combo plate”. Only Hiro could take the tired old stereotyped combination plate from Japanese restaurants in the 60s and update it this vigorously and sophisticatedly and humorously. I spent so much time gazing longingly at it that I almost forgot to ogle the would-be starlet picking it at with her studio executive boyfriend. Seized by a sudden craving for the hijiki and potato salad, I strong-armed the waitress into bringing me a small sample.

Lately we’re stuck on sashimi platters whenever we eat Japanese and here we went for a simple plate of striped bass, kampachi, and aoyagi, which was presented perfectly and was astonishingly fresh. We also had the shiitake stuffed with grilled tuna, a festival of contrasting flavors and textures, your Japanese izakaya staple “ika natto”, and another old favorite, crab meat chile relleno with salsa. We washed this all down with some perfectly serviceable warm sake. It’s winter, after all.

I hear that Hiro is spending time consulting for Japanese restaurants opening up in Las Vegas and elsewhere. That’s great for them and him, but I sure hope he doesn’t stop innovating and cooking great food at his fine little ten-table restaurant, without doubt one of the finest Japanese eateries in our beloved city of angels.

The very earth on which we stand is crumbling

Sunday, October 31st, 2004

More excitement than ever now around West Hollywood: now we have our very own earthquake! This one woke us up.

Another reason to live in West Hollywood

Sunday, July 18th, 2004

A West Hollywood city ordinance overrides any no-pet clause in your apartment lease if you have HIV/AIDS.

Christoph Bull, organist extraordinaire

Saturday, March 13th, 2004

It’s impossible to miss Christoph Bull in the organ scene here in Los Angeles. I think I first heard him play at one of the weekly concerts at First Congregational Church, which lays claim to having the largest church organ in the world—actually, three organs controlled through a single console. After playing some of my favorite Bach and Reger pieces in his clean, powerful style, he asked the audience for a theme to improvise on, and ended up choosing mine: “Michelle”, on which he did a great job. That reminds me: he promised to send me the recording on a CD and never got around to doing that. He also played a concert at the new organ in the Catholic cathedral here.

Last week Sakiko and I went to a concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall that he called “Organica 2004”. I was surprised at the huge turnout for an organ concert; that was probably due both to the popularity of UCLA’s music series, and Bull’s mastery of the e-mail medium: he’s the Howard Dean of the organ world, complete with his own website, although he doesn’t have a blog yet.

The organ console was down at the bottom of the orchestra pit and then raised dramatically, facing forward, to the level of the stage, spotlighted, as the concert began. On the screen behind the console were projected huge images ranging from shots of the actual pipes producing the sounds we were hearing above the ceiling, to real-time shots of his hands on the manuals and feet on the pedalboard, to abstract kaleidoscopic images.

Bull is trying to pull the organ into the 21st century with his Organica series. In addition to solid renditions of the classics, and performances of his own compositions, he did a beautiful duet with an electronic violin, and in the final piece, Toccata and Fugue in D minor which we’ve actually all heard a bit too often, he pulled off the amazing stunt of playing the organ at the same time as a synthesizer placed to his side.

You may be thinking that this sounds too weird and contrived to really be any good. But actually the effect was glorious and exhiliterating. And there’s more: Bull was actually singing some of the songs. He has an excellent voice, and his rendition of Lennon and McCartney’s Blackbird was ethereal. He turned half around, facing the audience, playing the organ with one hand and one foot, and sang to us.

Some may find this all contrived, but I it worked wonderfully. Christoph Bull is our new Virgil Fox.

Japanese-American National Museum

Saturday, March 6th, 2004

I visited the Japanese-American National Museum, in the middle of LA’s Little Tokyo, and was very impressed by their permanent exhibit focused on the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II. We had walked by it dozens of time but never bothered to go inside.

I had never heard the sad fact that when the US let the detainees out in 1944 they then immediately proceeded to draft all of the eligible males.

West Hollywood–gym heaven

Wednesday, January 14th, 2004

There must be more gyms per capita around where I live in West Hollywood than anywhere else on earth with the possible exception of Manhattan.

Right up on Santa Monica, a 10-minute walk, is 24 Hour Fitness, a capable if boring chain. That’s the main place me and Sakiko work out.

But the training we do once or twice a week with Mike is in training gyms. We started off at Todd Tramp’s at La Cienega and Melrose, also a 10-minute walk away, a testosterone-oriented place with the eponymous Todd sitting at the front desk looking oh so muscular. Later, we spent six months working out at the trendy Angel City Gym on Melrose, just an eight-minute walk from our house, right past the Epicurean School of Culinary Arts where Sakiko and I have taken a number of cooking classes. This is the gym where they have $5,000 pieces of original artwork on the wall for you to gaze at while doing your gluteal extensions. Or perhaps you’d like to go out onto the second-floor balcony, complete with gazebo, to do your end-of-workout crunches.

Later we moved to Workout Warehouse, on LaPeer between Melrose and Santa Monica, a twelve-minute walk, the grunge gym par excellence, where they make a point of not decorating. Lots of celebs here, though; we’ve seen Tim Allen, Raquel Welch, Keanu Reeves, Brendon Fraser, Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina), Jennifer Tilly (the divorcee Jim Carrey represented in Liar Liar), and of course the stunning Rachel Weisz.

Most recently we switched to Exclusive, at La Cienega and Holloway, a block north of Santa Monica; this one might be a fifteen-minute walk. Too soon to judge this place, but it seems very laid-back.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The other day we peeked into a building across the street from the iconic Urth Caffe and found it was a gym, Libby Healthworks. Above the Starbucks on Santa Monica is Body Works. I’d guess in a fifteen-minute walking radius of our house there’s probably a total of fifteen gyms.

Bush is in initiative mode now. And obesity is the topic of the moment. Why not announce an anti-obesity “vision” for America? He could start off with tax credits for gym membership, workout equipment, personal training fees, and nutritional consultation. Or maybe this is something the Democrats should pick up on.

Fat Chance, Fat Fish

Tuesday, January 6th, 2004

We just noticed a new “Japanese” restaurant a ten-minute walk from our house, at Robertson and Melrose: Fat Fish. We checked it out on the web and it sounded great: an upscale-istic fusion-ocious Asian French sushi bar with exotic green-tea margaritas, or something like that.

It could have been a bad sign that the place was completely empty at 6pm but then again that’s early for West Hollywood. No-one was at the entrance or noticed us so we walked in. We started off with some sweet and sour shrimp which any Chinese-American restaurant in the 1950s would have done a better job of. Service was perfunctory. The asparagus tempura was a soggy mess; perhaps they thought the elegant “presentation” (stacking them up like Lincoln logs) would make up for that. The “Tuna Trio”, a combination of tuna tartare, tuna sashimi, and seared albacore, looked and tasted like it had been put together by a guest worker hired the day before, which it probably had been. The “Ichi Roll” was some dry salmon meat and yellowtail wrapped up in some kind of unidentified covering and perhaps deep-fried? It seems unlikely it had been made that same day. We passed on the proffered dessert of tempura ice cream. After we gave them our credit card they took ten minutes to bring back the receipt to sign, then acted put out when we asked why it was taking so long.

We had a weird sense as we made our painful way through this meal that this was not a real Japanese restaurant. By Japanese, I mean menus designed and dishes cooked by people that trained in Japan and with Japanese chefs. Frankly, a Japanese restaurant would not dare to serve the crap that Fat Fish does. Later we found out—Fat Fish is run by some non-Japanese restaurateurs who are moving upscale from the low-ball sushi takeout business. Suddenly it all makes sense. Samurai on La Cienega is another sorry example of a non-Japanese Japanese restaurant. The kim-chi on the menu is a dead giveaway.

Next Fat Fish says they are opening another location in Westwood. It’s really too bad that there are so few enough people who actually know what Japanese food is supposed to taste like that establishments like this manage to stay open.