Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Little Film: Oktapodi

I'm just going to take a minute to mention a little animated short that I'm really excited about. I work at Dreamworks Animation, and last year, they brought in ten or so guys from France to be trained for several months before moving to India to head up Dreamworks' studio there as animation supervisors. These little guys (little in age, as well as stature: they were just out of school, having graduated from Gobelins, a very prestigious animation school in Paris) with their backpacks, frequent cigarette breaks, and kisses on both cheeks, were an adorable addition to our campus.

Towards the end of their stint in LA, Dreamworks screened all of these kids' final project films from Gobelins. All of them were impressive, but one stood out. Oktapodi is a madcap 3-minute story about what happens when you separate two octopi in love on a Greek island. It's really wonderful: from the Greek music, to the lovable octopi themselves, the dreamy Mediterranean architecture, to the clever, fast-paced story. It was clear that it was well beyond a simple student film, and now it's nominated for an Oscar! How cool is that?!

Now, it probably won't win. Pixar has a contender in the Best Animated Short Film category, Presto, so there goes that. But, I think it's good to point out: while Presto had all the resources of the most renowned animation studio in the world behind it, Oktapodi was made by just six students. Pretty awesome.

I really liked Presto and a couple of the other nominees as well, but tomorrow I'll be rooting for our boy Julien and the other five, and their two lovelorn octopi.

You can watch the entire film (that's right, all three minutes of it), here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Bazaar, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Foam

foie gras lollipops with vanilla cotton candy

I should note going in that this is not my world. This kind of ostentatious scene is pretty much the opposite of Tannaz. I've never seen any reason to make an effort to try to get into an establishment that makes it difficult to do so. There are enough fantastic bars, restaurants, and clubs in town who meet my friendly smile with one of their own. This crazy Hollywood elitism that the whole Sam Nazarian enterprise seems to embrace, and nurture, just reeks to me. (That Sam Nazarian happens to be my dad's cousin's wife's cousin notwithstanding. Though, Sam, whatup cuz?)

Having said all that, there's a bit of subversive glee in being the riff-raff who infiltrates the beautiful people's party. And Lesley was positively gushing over the place during 11 in 11, and her opinion holds some clout for me. And Chef Jose Andrés is kind of a big deal. Regardless of the scene, the food in this place, in all its bizarre innovation, is touted to be out of this world. So, what can I say? I was curious. (And then, of course, Miss Irene goes and gives the place four stars in yesterday's LA Times. Curious, and as of yesterday, even more excited.)

So, was The Bazaar ostentatious? Probably. Over the top? Definitely. Did I love it? Absolutely.

avocado tempura with ponzu foam, codfish buñuelos with honey aioli

You just get caught up in the whimsy as soon as you walk in and are confronted with the surreal Bar Centro. Imagine Alice in Wonderland meets TMZ. Visual stimulation is overwhelming, from portraits projected on walls that slowly turn from man to monkey, to giant chandeliers tilted to the side as if swept by a rogue gust of wind. Strange and beautiful people lounge across mismatched chairs, sipping a martini with a sphericized 'olive' at the bottom. One side of the vast space devoted to the restaurant is a Moss museum-cum-shop: lots of strange and modern tchochkes on display that at least lend some self-awareness to the unique Hollywood culture that made this place.

As soon as we walked to our table in the Rojo area, though, the vibe changed. More understated, Rojo feels like the most stylish tapas bar plucked right out of Barcelona. Low ceilings amplify the chatter of the bustling full house, a bar on one wall serves out jamon, queso, y vino, and ebony woods, red accents, and chalkboards with funky bull drawings give the place a very slick feel. (There's also a Blanca dining room, which, oddly, is supposed to be the modern contrast to this traditional one. With its pale furnishings and soft light, it seemed more like the seniors' corner to me.)

'Philly Cheesesteak': white-cheddar stuff air bread with wagyu beef

The menu is all tapas, combining traditional Spanish standbys with lighter modern takes on the course, the latter allowing the chef to bring in chemistry and get a little weird. Our party managed to marathon through 14 different items, and for the most part, each was beautifully prepared and distinct. There were small, produce-based options, like the delicate roasted cippolini onions with clementines and sunflower seeds. There were Japanese turns, like the avocado tempura with ponzu air -- not at all greasy, green buttery goodness peeking through a near-transparent film of crisped batter; and the toro 'nigiri', a sheet of fatty tuna balanced with watermelon instead of rice, with jalapeno, fresh wasabi, and soy air. These airs and foams and things, they serve a purpose. In the lobster medallion dish, tradition met technology to create the best Spanish taste memory I've never had: the lush lobster was sweet with fruity olive oil, and the paprika foam on top was the perfect way to distribute the spice's strong but eminently Spanish smoky flavor. The lamb loin, topped with a truffle gelee and blanketed in potato foam, may have looked strange, but its flavors were pure comfort food: imagine the most tender filet (the lamb had hardly any gaminess) with mashed potatoes that were at once decadent and airy. Circus fanfare came in the form of a cart offering caviar in a cone and foie gras on a stick (wrapped in vanilla cotton candy, natch). (It was at this point that the sophisticated older couple at the table next to ours took our their cameras (well, her camera and his Blackberry), to start snapping pics of our food.)

As we were finishing our last courses, our waitress asked us if we'd like to enjoy our desserts in the Patisserie, the frilly pink pastry area next to the bar. We opted to stay in her care, and thoroughly enjoyed the warm chocolate mousse (such good chocolate) with pears, pear sorbet, and salted hazelnut praline plus two other delicious desserts, though we were well past full at this point.

veal cheeks with California oranges
So, would I go here every night? No. For one, though the prices are not quite as exorbitant as I thought, it does get spendy. For another, the space and the food are special enough to save for an occasion. But when I do come back, I don't plan to repeat the other night's gorge (not that I regret it). Instead, I'd go simple: maybe a quiet afternoon tea in the Patisserie. Though, what I'd really love is to sit in the red room, with some red wine, excellent cheese, their lauded pa amb tomaquet, and a plate of their jamon iberico, perhaps going large with the bellota. Technology and spectacle be damned, I'm here for the food.

[Please enjoy the photographic stylings of my dining companion, Erin Ramos, here.]

Saturday, February 14, 2009

a beautiful day in the neighborhood

what's more gorgeous than los angeles the day after it rains? nothing.

even billboards look amazing.

lucky there's no laws against taking pictures while driving. yet.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Highland Park is Popping: Cafe de Leche

Do you ever think about what it takes for you to consider living in a certain neighborhood? For me, it's always been two things: a friendly coffeehouse and a good bookstore. Local independent bokstores are hard to come by in Southern Cali, but Cafe de Leche is doing its part to make Highland Park eminently livable.

A friend of mine, affectionately known as The Miss to her high school students in Boyle Heights, is considering moving to the area, so she gave us a little tour. We walked through the sloping streets around York Boulevard, the city's main drag. Some blocks consisted of big, stately houses, others housed some smaller homes. York combines shops where you can buy water and piñatas with a hip bar and now, Cafe De Leche.

The aesthetic is at once slick and welcoming. Clean space, one brick wall, beautiful mural across the opposite one, and an orange bicycle mounted on one wall.* A kids' play area towards the back, because, guess what? The hipsters are having babies. There are little Latin nods throughout the space, with Spanish labels on the coffee accoutrements and sweets from wonderful Porto's bakery. (And speaking of coffee accoutrements, they have a tall bottle of sugar syrup along with everything else, for easy dissolving in your iced beverages. So very civilized.)

Cafe de Leche's friendly vibe starts with the ladies behind the counter. When my drink order fell through the cracks, they made it up to me with a flaky guava pastry on the house. It was delicious, as was my cappuccino (which, according to Eating LA, is made with Intelligentsia beans).

Highland Park is new territory to me -- I don't know much about the area. But, with Cafe de Leche holding fort on the corner of York and Ave 50, I believe the Miss can call it home.

Cafe De Leche is at 5000 York Boulevard, at Avenue 50.
* Is this a coffeehouse trend? I'm sitting in Massimo's Mudspot right now, and they've got a bike on the wall, too. Hmm.