Another Quickie in L.A.

The work being done on our home—if you think I mention it ad nauseam, try living through it—has a couple more months to go, making ambitious travel unlikely. My husband, Adam, and I want to keep an eye on things, and we’ve also entered the fun part, where we actually see progress being made. But L.A. doesn’t really count, and we had two home-related tasks, so away we went for two nights, with many stops.

Task #1 was a fountain for the backyard—I’d love something antique and fabulous, but they’re priced accordingly. Garden Temple in Studio City makes simple plinth-and-trough fountains, and the owner was setting one up later at his warehouse in Van Nuys. We added that to the Day 3 itinerary and continued onward.

Next stop: Harbinger, where we hoped to find grasscloth wallpaper, but the only one we really liked was on the wall—and no longer in production. Fun store, though; we wished it was on our radar when we started the decorating process.

I can only go so long without food, and because we didn’t know of anywhere else in that area—and were loathe to drive out of the way—we headed to Petit Trois. The L.A. outpost is smaller than the one in Sherman Oaks, with a dozen counter seats inside and some tables in the parking lot, and again, the food was excellent. I wouldn’t normally order a salad with mesclun, having lost the taste for it, but we saw the goat cheese salad waiting at the pass and—well, look at it. Naturally, there were also fries, although I requested that they skip the raw garlic scattered on top.

As he handed us the check, the server recited a speech about how the service charge gets distributed among the entire staff, and if we wanted to tip him directly, too, that was up to us. It didn’t feel like a choice. I understand that simply raising prices scares off some customers, but this smelled like a bait-and-switch, and the exchange ended the meal on an unpleasant note.

Adam wanted to look for clothes at Douglas Fir, a menswear store in Beverly Grove, because he has yet to fully accept that Santa Barbara men rarely dress up. It was a little fashion-y for me, and I drove the proprietor crazy by pooh-poohing everything Adam tried on, but he found some nice stuff. And then we walked over to the Mud Australia store, where I needed to replace a bowl that I broke one month after receiving it as a gift. (Sorry, Mom.) I never thought Mud’s stuff seemed all that special when I looked at it through the window of the Manhattan store, but it’s more delicate than I expected, and I love these bowls.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot for one day, but we were exhausted. Despite having tried at least a dozen L.A. hotels over the decades, we’ve never really found the one that feels like ours. When visiting from New York, we were enchanted by the beachside location of Shutters and the cocoon vibe of the Bel-Air, but now we live near the beach in a cocoon-like town. And we don’t need a resort; we need a base from which to explore.

So that’s how we ended up downtown again: Hilton’s Conrad brand recently opened its first West Coast property in a new mixed-use development called The Grand, and in a big city, I find a nice, boring business hotel—especially one that hasn’t been worn down yet—to be a delightful respite.

The Grand is a lot of architecture. It was designed by Frank Gehry, and I suspect only someone of his stature could get away with the choices. It hardly benefits from the juxtaposition against Gehry’s marvelous Walt Disney Concert Hall across the street or even the nearby Broad museum by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, both of which are far less ambitious in terms of scope—the Grand also includes apartments and a forthcoming mall—but seem more fully formed, like a singular vision rather than design by committee.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall has only improved with time. I especially enjoyed it from the hotel’s tenth-floor lobby.

Is there a hotel that makes a worst first impression than the Conrad Los Angeles? Putting the lobby above street level to keep out the riff-raff is one thing, but no matter how you approach, you feel like you’re at a service entrance.

The lobby and its restaurants are lovely, though. We didn’t spend a lot of time there—a drink one night, breakfast one morning—but they appear to be popular with people working nearby.

And the pool is long enough to swim laps in, if you can handle the water being heated to 85 degrees.

Because we booked through American Express, we got upgraded from a junior suite to a corner suite. The rate, including taxes and fees, was around $500 a night—a steal for a high-end hotel these days, presumably because the Conrad is still new. A year from now, I won’t be able to tell you anything about the room, other than it had a great view, but that’s fine.

I do have a couple of suggestions for whoever designed the room. The east- and south-facing floor-to-ceiling windows in the main room only had gauzy draperies, so you couldn’t escape the bright light for much of the day. (In the morning, using a computer was virtually impossible.) Also, the “nightlight” button in the bathroom lowers the bedroom shade, too; we each tried blaming the other for that. And one last thing: the sofa jutting out past the wall reads as cheap.

Dinner the first night was at Gigi’s, a sexy little bistro that’s Hollywood-adjacent (near Mozza is how I’d think of it). The energy was exactly what we craved: stylish people in a glamorous, buzzy room, despite how the photo makes it look. I wish we could get a baguette like that here. It was hot, and the butter was soft.

Having driven a lot on the way in, and knowing we’d be driving a lot on the way out, we spent our lone full day in L.A. walking. Our main destination was the Hauser & Wirth gallery in the Arts District, and to be honest, the walk there wasn’t all that interesting (and I like walking just about anywhere!). The highlights were mainly architectural.

Can you imagine trying to hire people when you’ve named your company Tyrant King? (It’s an ad agency.)

Luckily, we had another stop on the itinerary: Little Tokyo Market Place, a supermarket inside the breathtakingly ugly Little Tokyo Galleria. While I was taking this photo, a possibly homeless woman announced that Adam and I look like brothers. No disrespect to my husband, but I can’t encourage straight people enough not to do this to gay couples.

The supermarket offered fun takes on English, as expected.

Obviously, I spent some time exploring the flavors in the potato chip aisle.

More than anything, we left wishing we had access to this breadth of food. (So many rice cakes!) Supermarkets in Santa Barbara pretty much carry the same stuff, particularly in the produce aisle. Look at the variety of mushrooms….

Out in the mall, Adam bought some inexpensive bowls at the shop near the supermarket, and I perused the corn dog selection at Smile Hotdog.

Hauser & Wirth—in an old flour mill turned into a hive of galleries and areas to gather—is a triumph of space-making. The art on view wasn’t my thing, but then I remain unconvinced that sitting in a pyramid can lead to a healing experience. As is often the case in museums repurposed from old buildings, I spent more time looking at the floors, ceilings, and views.

Friends had recommended Manuela, the restaurant inside the gallery, and the food was terrific. If you go, get the biscuits.

The gallery’s bookstore is amazing. Or maybe I just loved how books were shelved to show the front. I could stare at that wall for an hour.

On the walk back to the hotel, we sought out the Isamu Noguchi plaza at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. I have a soft spot for Noguchi, because as teenagers, my friends and I often hung out at his more successful “California Scenario” near South Coast Plaza. While this plaza was a bit sad, the brutalist building was pretty great. And then we found ourselves in what is apparently L.A.’s smoking district, followed by a “five-story mural of a dancing Anthony Quinn from the movie The Pope of Broadway, painted by Eloy Torrez” in 1984. While looking the mural up on the Calisphere website, I learned that we totally missed—perhaps because it’s somewhat worn away—the mural to the left. Painted by Frank Romero in 1984, it’s “entitled ‘Niño y Caballo (A vision expressing freedom and joy),’ and it is of a nude boy riding a saddle-less horse in the light of a full moon.”

The main reason I was fine with staying downtown again was so we could more easily go to Damian, one of the restaurants in chef Enrique Olvera’s Casamata group. We loved his food at Atla in New York, the One & Only Mandarina outside Puerto Vallarta, and (to a slightly lesser extent) his Mexico City flagship, Pujol. So we were excited to meet friends at Damian for dinner. It’s across from Bestia, and rather hard to find (unless you know to look for the fuchsia light). Everything was fine, but possibly due to the fact that we leaned heavily toward the vegetarian and gluten-free (which meant ordering a zucchini tlayuda), nothing popped except Olvera’s famous guacamole with herbs. I’m still committed to trying his Criollo when we go to Oaxaca in the fall.

We were a little trepidatious about going to Wallpaper City & Flooring in Santa Monica because of reviews like this: “First of all, the employee was eating a sandwich and talking to us the mouth full. Asking in very bad manner what we do here and when we wanted to see a wallpaper they wouldn’t roll it out. Bad service and when we left, this wonderful employee also Gave us two fuck-you fingers.” But the staffer who helped us was a delight, and even though we left empty-handed, the selection of vintage grasscloth was impressive.

Our fountain quest then took us to Berbere Imports in Inglewood and Inner Gardens in Culver City; neither worked out, but I would go back to Berbere if I needed a big pot. If nothing else, we returned from this trip with an appreciation of how close everything is in Santa Barbara. Getting anywhere in L.A. took at least 15 minutes.

Adam’s list of L.A. restaurants to try included Monroe Place, a sandwich shop in Culver City. I was in a no-meat mood, so I ordered the vegan sandwich, which I would get again, but maybe with cheese and on non-whole-wheat bread. While we were there, who should walk by but Pierre Henry from Bree’osh, doing some recon on the new Des Croissants Paris patisserie next door. I see Pierre all the time at Bree’osh, but spotting him in Culver City—even though it’s only 90 minutes away—felt like a crazy coincidence, as if we had run into each other in another country.

On our way out of town, we went to the Hammer Museum in Westwood, where there’s a show of Bridget Riley’s drawings up through May 28. The black-and-white ones are magical. We’ll probably have to return to the museum, as it’s just about to unveil a major renovation. And we were close enough to the Eataly store in Century City that we had to brave the Westfield parking structure to stock up on pasta. We eat pasta at home so frequently that we’re desperate for different shapes, and while we could order it online, browsing the store is still fun after all these years. Eataly is one of the few places where I’ll let myself buy treats, prices be damned. This time, I picked up Fratelli Lunardi chocolate-orange biscotti (devoured before we home) and Fabbri candied ginger in turmeric syrup, which makes a delicious garnish in bourbon on the rocks.

Rereading this, I’m struck by how there were as many misses as hits during our visit, but that’s travel sometimes—that’s life sometimes—and I’m still glad we made the trip.

P.S. Fountain mission accomplished at the Garden Temple warehouse!

P.P.S. Siteline pays its own way, and no one knew I would be writing about this trip.


Previous travel coverage:
••• Sitting Pretty at the One & Only Mandarina
••• The Mysteries of Istanbul
••• Palm Springs: Midweek at the Oasis
••• A Summer Swing Through the Northeast
••• Why Is Everyone Going to Portugal?
••• Patagonia Made Easy
••• A Quickie in L.A.
••• From Penthouse to Pavement in Mexico City
••• Do Greek Islands Live Up to the Fantasy?
↓↓↓ Splendid Isolation at Utah’s Lodge at Blue Sky
••• Three Reasons to Visit Paso Robles Now
••• The Rebirth of the Cuyama Buckhorn



ES Corchero

Similar situation here; one of us either needs to stay home or we can’t travel too far because of projects at home, so this article is a wonderful reminder to go spelunking and find a few new gems (food, shops, history, art or whatever treasure your seek) in Los Angeles — and a wonderful reminder of why we live here. Your post also reminds me of something that always happens to us, be very strategic and limited in how much you plan to see/do. I always plan too much there and forget to allow recharge time. LA is quickly exhausting. Even just people watching in public space or enjoying a garden oasis in a coffee shop are well worth the time for additional stamina.


Now that we are mostly in LA, this article is very useful. Thank you. Can’t wait to visit most of these places.


Your experience on service charge vs tipping is a growing problem. The service fee description means it is a compulsory tax that they use to subsidize unfair wages. Why disguise it as a service fee? Because it’s supposed to make it more acceptable? Like you, it leaves me with a very bad impression and ruins an otherwise positive dining experience.

I am tired of these deceptions (and growing problem) and will not go back to restaurants that make me pay a mandatory service fee, plus expect a 20%+ tip (which is mandatory regardless of what they say). That’s a 38% markup on the menu prices! Not cool.


Often times service charges are calculated on top of the tax rather than just the food purchased making it even worse!


Item #5, the mozzarella dog , reminds me of the hot dog on a stick place in La Cumbre Plaza that closed 35 years ago. They made a good cheese dog.