I’m in LA watching Dad as Mom had two days of either meetings or functions and he likes to have one of his girls (or my aunt or her daughter who came to replace me during my NYC trip) with him at all times. He will “suffer in silence” for a couple hours alone but it’s the kind of silence you can hear in Jersey and a few hours after that in LA. Hilma comes at 3:30 so that leaves quite a few waking or dozing hours before her arrival. Mom was gone from 7AM to 4:30PM yesterday so I just hung out with him.
The day started at Mayberry, the first time we’ve been since he decided–a fickle fellow, my father–he didn’t like their pancakes. Much of my life revolves around the search for the perfect pancake. This led to a new (self-)job description on Facebook: pancake technician. I figure if manicurists are nail technicians and housekeepers domestic cleaning coordinators, I can be a pancake technician even though pancake facilitator would be more accurate.
He was tired from a little workout before breakfast and snoozed on the couch most of the day. Around two, he wanted a snack so I got him a mango and papaya. He observed that the knives “wouldn’t cut butter” and set out to sharpen every knife in our kitchen. Then more napping and no office work (he still sits at the computer going over the books for our industrial property) and mail opening.
I could see at once the mail included ten pleas for money, three catalogues and subscription renewals for public radio and the Economist, to which Mom has never subscribed. It takes two hours to get through that weekly and Mom just retired from all public and private positions a few months ago so had no time for a weekly over and above the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal and New York Times on weekends as well as some online reading in those publications during the week. But Dad wanted to see for himself, so I got him his magnifying glass to confirm that no rent or dividend checks had come. On the upside, there were no bills, so he broke even yesterday.
I had intended to go to the Improv at Hollywood for the 10PM show of Comedy Gives Back, this year to benefit Malaria No More: Comedy Gives Back. It was an impressive lineup but I was confused about Mom’s schedule and too tired to head to Melrose at 9:30. Flying from New York to LA after over two weeks on the day of a time change is not something I plan to repeat as it’s made the transition much harder and I conk out at 9PM.
So I decided to try the Happy Hour at Pearl Dragon on Sunset. I was AWOL from the family for a decade and thus unaware that the House of Lee closed its doors over a decade ago. The House of Lee was noteworthy both because it was the only Chinese restaurant in the Palisades and also the only with a full bar. The food was disgusting and greasy with enough MSG in one meal for a year. But it was a bit of an institution and if you go to Wikipedia’s entry on Pacific Palisades, you’ll see House of Lee: Wikipedia PP.
The Pearl Dragon bills itself as “Asian fusion,” but most people go for the sushi, which is indeed excellent. But it’s pricey, even for WLA or the Upper East Side. At Ginza in Manhattan on 61st and Lex, a block from my place, the sushi bento box is 13.50 and includes six pieces of nigiri, a California roll, soup, salad and two of their exquisite shumai. The Pearl Dragon sushi lunch is 17 or so and doesn’t include shumai (plus the salad dressing sucks). But the fish is as good as anywhere I’ve been in LA and it’s a nice to-go lunch.
The only other time I’ve been to Pearl Dragon was for a martini one afternoon Dad was being difficult and I had to deposit two checks across the street at Wells Fargo. So I was unaware that dining at Pearl Dragon simulates eating in a pitch black kitchen by candlelight post-Hurricane Sandy.
Lest you think I am exaggerating for effect, let me assure you that in the main dining room, you need to use the flashlight on your iPhone to read the menu. This is beyond mood lighting or “ambiance,” as my server said to me when I asked if they had an electrical problem or if it was always like this. She told me the owner (who turns out to be a Pali High classmate of a FB friend of mine) “likes it this way.” How very odd to want to experience the tragedy of blindness, but the world is populated by many people whose preferences I do not comprehend.
I think they should give out Advil with your meal because in just five minutes, I could feel myself getting a headache as I tried to read Facebook on my Mac. Needless to say, if you’re dining alone and want to read the paper or a book, you’re shit out of luck.
But power outage lighting is just the beginning of this House of Lee successor’s problems. The service is terrible. It takes a long time to get a second drink, though the busboy regularly and enthusiastically refills your water. The Happy Hour menu, which your server communicates verbally, is limited: 1) four sushi rolls (hand cut is a buck extra) for 5 dollars each and 2) small sake for 5 (not much of a discount) and Kirin. My California roll was mediocre and I positively disliked my spicy tuna roll but ate it anyway because I was ravenous. The eel avocado roll was quite good.
But post-2008 and the economic downturn, I’ve noticed that happy hour food offerings have expanded dramatically. Even a Santa Monica fine dining institution like Michael’s, which in the 1980s helped launch Nouvelle Cuisine (and with 72 Market Place in Venice, a favorite of Bruce Paltrow’s), has an all-night happy hour with exquisite small plates ranging from 6 to 9 dollars. And you can actually see your dining companion or read a magazine if you’re dining alone. The house wine for 6 is more than respectable and I need to start going there more often.
I have posted a list of Santa Barbara Happy Hours and feel blessed to live in a town, small, sleepy and New Age-y as it is, with a stable of restaurants where I can eat well nightly without exceeding my food budget. (After rent, food is my biggest expense in life, so I still spend a disproportionate amount of my income on restaurants and bars, but I do so modestly.) All this to say, this ain’t much of a happy hour and the large sake isn’t even discounted, nor are there well drinks or wine specials. So for three rolls and three small sakes, the bill came to 32. That’s a lot for one at happy hour, whether in Manhattan or WLA.
The biggest problem, however, is the clientele. They should have a conspicuous banner or sign which warns childless customers that from 5 to 7, this is more PTSA meeting or post-AYSO soccer pizza party than civilized, upscale happy hour in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Los Angeles. I think such a sign would be permitted in Pacific Palisades, which is governed by a far more lax architectural board of review than the communist one in Santa Barbara.
Our ABR in SB is really wacko (or pernicious and obnoxious if one wishes to use less colloquial language). When Chick-Fil-A moved into the old Burger King in the Upper State area, the ABR attempted to thwart its opening due to CEO Dan Cathy’s stance on gays. Whatever you think of Cathy’s politics, the ABR had no business wielding its authority as a strictly architectural board.
To her credit, Helene Schneider, our liberal, pro-LGBT mayor called them on this ridiculous overextension of power and Chick-Fil-A opened this year, with people camped out in the large lot for the year of free meals.
I’m pro-LGBT everything and some 20 years ago–when AIDS was a death sentence–I worked as a volunteer AIDS counselor at LA Shanti on Hollywood and La Brea in 1991-2. In 2009, I was a driver for the Pacific Pride Foundation’s food pantry program once a week, and while I have not worked in the AIDS community since then, I try to support Pacific Pride whenever I can.
So I personally would not eat at Chick-Fil-A, in part because I don’t eat fried food except on very rare occasions at a fancy restaurant (squash blossoms at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood are a revelation). And the only fast food I eat is at The Habit, which isn’t really fast food.
But Chick-Fil-A offers some some grilled chicken options which I have no intention of trying due to Mr. Cathy’s decision to use his wealth and power–as well as his First Amendment right to free speech–to oppose marriage equality and promote a Christian agenda a la Values Voters Summit folks (who keep me voting on the left even though I should vote on the right out of self-interest) through his business. I have a real-life friend who knows him. She and her daughter were flown to the headquarters somewhere in the South for some weekend shindig I of course see as a mercenary PR stunt and tells me he’s a genuinely warm and kind man. But it’s my right as a consumer to withhold funds from a business which promotes an agenda I disdain.
Pearl Dragon doesn’t promote values I abhor: it just caters to families with no warning or indication on its website. My FB friend calls it Chinese Chuck-E-Cheese. I think they should just change the name altogether: Chinese Chuck-E-Cheese for the 1-2%.
Needless to say, I will not be going back. If I am desperate for sushi at lunchtime in the Palisades, I’ll just drive to Noma in Santa Monica and get their A lunch special for 13 dollars. Noma has recently undergone a bit of a change: they offer a premium sushi which is the highest grade fish but their regular sushi has slipped. It’s still fine but it’s not the best. The to-go lunch at Pearl Dragon is better, but I would rather spend my money elsewhere. In the Palisades, Beech is my new favorite place, with phenomenal sandwiches and nice wines by the glass for 8 dollars. It’s a darling place which used to be Il Sogno and before that Barerra’s, the pizza joint of my childhood rich with memories.
Of course, if you have children and want to feed them at 5-7PM, the Chuck-E-Cheese environment (minus the darkness) won’t bother you; you’re accustomed to living in a circus full-time. But for those of us not accustomed to roving bands of people under four feet, it’s a shocking experience. And I actually adore children up to 7 years old, though a friend with one of the cutest toddlers on Facebook, dubbed me #childrenscrooge for blaming LA traffic on children and all they bring with them (nannies, lessons, schools, playdates etc). But I like children in moderation and in small numbers. This is neither. It’s a nightmare.
It would be nice if the Palisades had a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s, but Gelson’s has a great salad bar, a Wolfgang Puck corner, and decent sushi (Whole Foods is better and so is Lazy Acres in Santa Barbara). There just isn’t room for another market, but Santa Monica is close and has more options than you could possibly eat in a given month.
I’m heading up to Santa Barbara when Mom gets home from her law school gig and meeting a Westlake girl nearly 60 I met on the FB page: “I went to Westlake before it was Harvard-Westlake.” She’s a proud hippie and we’ll post on the Westlake page (on which little old me has managed to make a few enemies due to my audacity in claiming that the Valley is hot and that commuting over the hill (the 405’s Sepulveda pass) sucks. Apparently no one has ever uttered these things aloud (though I pointed out any realtor in LA knows property values in the Valley are far lower for precisely these reasons, even in the fancy areas) and I’m therefore an elitist.
A good friend in NYC teased me this trip: “You are a bit of a lightning rod and seem to attract this sort of thing.” To that I can only say, I inherited a lot of my father, whose nickname on the federal bench was “Ordin the Ogre” or the “Bearded Bastard.” Another common phrase: “Ordin doesn’t get ulcers; he gives them.” You can’t fight genes and I don’t even try. My friend was of course referring both to the brouhaha on the public thread in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which the head of an obscure and irrelevant DC think tank on education attacked the speech Stanford’s president delivered to the incoming freshman and my tiff with the whiny, lightweight feminist recounted in what (shockingly) turned out to be my most popular blog in the history of Victorian Chick.
People think this is funny, so I’ll repost the link: Lauren Hermanson Slam.
(Here are two of my favorite pictures from the great walk yesterday.