Just spent a long weekend in the City of the Angels to check out the food and wine scene and get in some culture too. Not just the Arts kind, but the Frozen Yogurt kind, too.
The big story, or controversy, in LA about Fro-Yo is Pinkberry. Remember the name, because I suspect you are going to see a whole lot more of them opening across the nation.
Pinkberry is the 2-year-old brainchild of South Korean Shelly Hwang who came to America in 1992 for business school at USC. Shelly turned her dream, to open a single frozen yogurt stand, into a mini-chain; there are already 28 locations in southern California and four in New York.
The Pinkberry location I visited, a pastel-colored walk-in on Sunset Boulevard, offers two flavors of frozen yogurt – plain or green tea – to which you can add up to three toppings (candy trappings, or for the health-conscious, a selection of fresh, or previously frozen, fruits, including pomegranate, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, black berries). A medium-sized cup with three toppings is $4.95.
The fro-yo is clean tasting, somewhat soury – but a pleasant soury – and has none of the sugary, or artificial flavors, that one often finds in commercial frozen yogurt. The tart treat, which has a cult following, is often called "Crackberry," given its addictive quality.
Marketed as “frozen yogurt,” Pinkberry ran into a controversy with California’s Department of Food and Agriculture over the definition of Frozen Yogurt; Pinkberry’s version either does, or doesn’t, contain enough live bacterial culture to qualify for the title. The jury still appears to be out.
According to a story on Wikipedia, the LA Times sent samples of Pinkberry’s frozen product to a lab and reported that Pinkberry did contain active yogurt cultures, just not enough of them to call the product Frozen Yogurt.
Apparently, Pinkberry's Fro-Yo had 69,000 bacterial cultures per gram; the National Yogurt Association maintains that refrigerated “yogurt” products must contain at least 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture, and frozen yogurt products must contain 10 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture.
As I didn’t head to Los Angeles for culture anyway, I wasn’t upset to learn all of this; the bottom line is that Pinkberry makes one helluva tasty, appealing, frozen treat. In fact, it is sufficiently addictive that we drove out of our way on two successive days to have one.
Check Google, or www.pinkberry.com to find a location in Los Angeles or New York.
Something cold… then something HOT!
The espresso is damn-near perfect, what geeks call a “Godshot.” Intelligentsia’s espresso is a blend of Arabica beans from three coffee-growing regions, including Ethiopia. It is dark, it is delicious, it is addictive.
The pastries, muffins and croissants at the West Sunset Boulevard location need work, but their deficiency is compensated by the outstanding coffee, the funky setting, the fabulous, dedicated barristas who LOVE their work, and who LOVE talking about coffee with patrons.
This may have been what Starbucks was like at the beginning, 30 years ago, when barristas on duty where there because they LOVED good coffee, wanted to share their vision of what makes a “Godshot.” Certainly the staff at Intelligentsia make the grade in flying colors; I didn’t meet a barrista with as much passion for the Art of Coffee Making on my last visit to Seattle, which claims to be the most coffee-centric city in America.
Intelligentsia is at 3922 W. Susnset Blvd., LA, 90029.
But Wait … There’s More!
The BIG treat in LA this visit wasn’t for the mouth – it was for the eyes. I took the 1-hour (or so) self-guided audio tour of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the LA Philharmonic.
The stainless steel-clad building, with its loopy, droopy, highly polished roof and sides, is the work of Frank Gehry, whom I had to pleasure to meet this past summer (see my napaman.com archived story on Hall Winery, St. Helena).
From every angle, from every elevation on the self-guided tour, you see something that you can’t see from the street. There is no doubt in my mind that the tour IS THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO FOR FREE IN LOS ANGELES!
I can’t even fathom why they don’t charge a buck, or two, for the privilege of being able to take the tour – but it’s totally free!
Many napaman.com readers will be familiar with Gehry’s best-known architectural achievement, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, but few will know that he actually designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall BEFORE he built the Guggenheim! As sponsors of the LA music hall ran into financial difficulties, their project was completed AFTER the opening of Gehry’s Bilbao masterpiece.
Also for the record: the curvy-walled Guggenheim in Bilbao is covered in reflective sheets of titanium; the Walt Disney Concert Hall is covered in (almost no-two-alike) sheets of stainless steel.
Here are a few additional shots from my hour of bliss touring the WDCH, as locals call it:
I love the garden that Gehry planned and executed on the upper reaches at the back of the concert hall; I especially love the fountain, shaped as a rose, that he crafted out of broken Delft Blue china as a visual poem for Walt Disney’s’ widow, Lillian, who ante’d up the first $50 million to get the concert hall designed and built in her late husband’s name.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is smack downtown at 111 S. Grand Avenue. Call 323-850-2000 for information, or check out the website http://wdch.laphil.com/
The free self-guided audio tour is offered most days from 10 am to 2 pm, but check this page for the date you’re thinking of visiting: http://www.musiccenter.org/vtc/toursched.html
Can You Believe It… There’s Still More!
While you’re in the neighborhood visiting the Walt Disney Concert Hall, walk one block northeast to the stunning Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels, the 5-year-old Catholic Cathedral. Wow! A modern-day update on a 2,000-year-old concept.
The first Roman Catholic Cathedral to be erected in the western US in 30 years, the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels is the third largest cathedral in the world.
Spanish architect, José Rafael Moneo, fueled with a budget of $300 million, designed a dynamic building with virtually no right angles. This geometry reputedly contributes “to a feeling of mystery and an aura of majesty,” according to Cathedral spokespeople. And also to expense, according to any architect or contractor, you might ask.
The Archdiocese, aiming to fill the Cathedral with striking elements of contemporary art, contracted leading artists to create original works. Of particular note are the tapestries, which hang on three sides of the sanctuary. They are mind-boggling. Created by artist John Nava, the tapestries retell important stories and actually help to reduce echoes in the 11-story house of worship.
Of three tapestry groupings, the most prominent is the Communion of Saints along the south and north walls of the nave. Twenty-five fresco-like tapestries depict 135 saints and blesseds from around the world, including holy men and women of North America canonized by the Church.
Using modern digital imaging and Old Master tapestry-making techniques, artist Nava made weavable digital files, which were sent to Bruges, Belgium, where they were turned into woven tapestries.
One other art highlight is the crucifix behind the altar, created by Los Angeles sculptor Simon Toparovsky, who happens to be a close personal friend. Simon chose to create a Christ of human proportions and size – so that worshippers could truly relate. As such, his interpreted Christ is 6’ 6”, made out of bronze cast over a sculpture made of wax, burlap, clay, wire, foam and tubing.
From Musts … to Busts...
Sorry to say that the big disappointments on this LA visit were the Food Venues. We had high hopes for our dinner at several high-profile restaurants, including Osteria Mozza, Mario Battali’s new cult culinary mecca, featuring a Mozzarella Bar. Mario’s partners are Nancy Silverton, the hot-shot behind the ultra-successful La Brea Bakery, and Joseph Bastianich, a hyper-successful New York restaurateur and wine guru, both close friends of Battali.
I had dinner at Otto, one of Battali’s New York restaurants, three weeks ago and many of the dishes at Osteria Mozza are summer reruns in flavor or fashion. Mario’s food is starting to taste very corporate, like there is not a real chef in the kitchen, just someone following a road map.
And if you were down a quart of oil when you got to Osteria Mozza, you certainly would be topped up a quart by your dinner’s finale. The amuse-bouche is a pinwheel slice of mozzarella drizzled with olive oil, studded with an olive. Our first course is a selection of great tasting items from the Mozzarella Bar, but each is heavily drizzled (make that OVER-drizzled) with olive oil.
Pasta courses are just okay, prepared with excessive olive oil. There is so much oil, in fact, that if you close your eyes and taste the guinea hen and the braised beef, you would be hard-pressed to identify which you were eating. Oil covers all kinds of cooking sins (poor cuts, imperfectly prepared food, etc.) but when there is too much of it, this is itself a sin.
“Roasted potatoes with rosemary” come from the kitchen soaked in oil. These are “roasted?” Other contorni ordered, like turnips and flageolets, are also liberally swimming in oil.
And just when you thought you might find a course without olive oil comes the dessert menu with this offering: olive oil gelato! I kid you not.
This ice is actually on the menu at one of Mario’s New York restaurants and while it is good, it is not worth the price of admission nor the potential surgery that your gall bladder may require after finishing a meal in which every single course, every single dish, appears to be a product placement for some mysterious “Got Oil?” campaign that hasn’t yet surfaced on TV.
For those who won’t take NO for an opinion, you will find Osteria Mozza at 6602 Melrose Ave. Tel: 323-297-0100.