Indulgent would be the right word to describe my weekend in Los Angeles. A group of girlfriends stayed there for a long weekend to celebrate my friend Nancy’s bachelorette, which is the perfect excuse for fine dining and eating, dressing up in heels, and splurging on spa and shopping. I had missed LA and found that it was still functioning as I left it five years ago –the fancy restaurants that required reservations, the themed lounges with tall and beautiful people, Little Tokyo and its colorful and cultural mural, and the predictable traffic to get nearly anywhere. The city is the exclusive playground where indulgence and gluttony are encouraged. Sinful, yet irresistible.
I am the first to arrive into Los Angeles. That Thursday, I planned to connect with my friend Han (and former Los Angeles roommate) and stay with her until I met up with the rest of the bachelorette party on Friday afternoon. For dinner, we luckily grab a table at the popular and crowded restaurant Animal. Due to the Foie Gras ban taking place in California July 1st, food enthusiasts are milking every opportunity to savor their final foie gras moments. At the Animal, we get two of those moments: seared, silken foie gras over a biscuit coated with maple, bacon gravy and smoked foie gras mousse served with sauteed, crispy veal tongue. To balance out the meal, we order a round of fried soft-shell crab and a salad of broccoli and a deep-fried poached egg. Yes, it was fried on the outside and perfectly poached in the center. As I used the foie gras mousse as a spread on my baguette, my stomach sighs with guilty pleasure.
My friend and I continue our conversation over to the The Edison lounge in downtown Los Angeles. There is a fun, speakeasy vibe and plenty of hidden, dark corners lit only by the large Edison lightbulbs dangling overhead. A live jazz band plays 1920s-esque music with the lead singer shimmying on stage in a long, backless white dress and later in the evening a fringe, swing-worthy number. I sip on My Mistress cocktail and note in awe how fit the live burlesque dancers are as they twist and kick in rhythm to the music.
The rest of the weekend feels like a delicious blur of eating and other fun instances.
Bottega Louie, the popular bakery and restaurant, opened in 2007 so it was my first time encountering their famed macaroons and baked treats. I started my day with a hearty cup of French Onion soup, a flaky ham and cheese croissant, and a salted caramel eclair. This is Los Angeles’s version of a healthy breakfast, of course. Given the fact that I had also devoured a beignet with raspberry jam filling, I could not bring myself to eat even one small macaroon. My friend insisted on buying me a box of five for me to take along.
The SLS Hotel, which is only a couple of blocks from the Beverly Center Shopping Mall, is one sexy, chic hotel. The inside lighting is dim, white and black chandeliers hang alongside glass deer heads with antlers. The lobby also houses a horse statue lamp and a smaller pig carrying fresh apples on its back. My friend and I each take one. The maze of hallways smell like floral scented lotion. I am lucky enough to stay in the suite with the bride-to-be. The bathroom is covered in a dark, sliding glass door, the furniture is a spotless leather white, and the beds are covered in a heavy, down comforter. At Ciel, the hotel day spa, everything is glowing white –the ceiling, the drapes, the furniture, and even the hand statues along the wall holding white flowers. Eerily peaceful. I pick fun, tropical colors for my manicure and pedicure: mint green for my hands and coral pink for my toes.
Walking past the colorful and noisy crowds at The Bazaar, we are taken to a quiet and dim room –SAAM The Chef’s Tasting Room.
Jose Andres, the chef of SAAM’s testing menu, concocted a 20 course meal filled with molecular gastronomic delights and surprises. Some of the items, such as the oyster and jamon on a spoon, are bite-sized palate cleansers. Most of the meal fluctuates between light, Asian-inspired dishes such as the scallops with carrot “paint” and Spanish themed items like the patatas bravas shaped as a french fry on top of a paper bag (street food) and Iberico ham (jamon) rolled up with fish egg. Although I have dined Alinea in Chicago, this was my second prix-fixe experience at a restaurant specializing in molecular gastronomy. I know not every dish can be a home run, but I love the surprise element of what’s in store and appreciate that every component and order of its arrival was carefully thought out –like the tracks on an album.
The memorable ones for me were: Kaviar Kir Royale, cassis currant shaped as caviar eggs that floated a top the champagne; the Philly cheesesteak, a thin slice of kobe beef a top a crispy, cracker pasty oozing with Vermont cheese; Uni and Eel Risotto, a rich pasta thickened with creamy uni; Cotton Candy Foie Gras, vanilla spun sugar that coats the thick cube of foie gras in the center; Dragon’s Breath, popcorn doused in liquid nitrogen; the Not Your Everyday Caprese with light-as-air mozzarella balls; and dessert with incredibly sweet Japanese peaches and Frozen Apricot with an Amaretto filling. Three hours and 20 courses later, six stuffed and dressed-up young ladies let go of any desire to party and promptly went straight to bed in a food stupor.
For the next morning, brunch at SLS is no joke.
Even though I’m sure we were still digesting SAAM’s dinner, we still couldn’t help picking at the beautiful buffet spread. Juicy prime-rib, caviar and trout roe, agua frescas of watermelon and honeydew in fruit-filled glasses, gazpacho, cheese and charcuterie, and a dessert display.
My favorite dessert: a silky flan nestled inside an egg.
On Saturday night, we stood in front of the VIP line at the exclusive Greystone Manor club. I was unsuccessfully trying to ask for some guy named “Heartwell” to an unsmiling bouncer. Even though I’d rehearsed what my cousin told me to say, someone well-versed and connected in the club scene, I was not the smoothest operator at name-dropping. It turned out that my contact was able to make a connection via text, and after plenty of girly flirting while standing in line, we were able to make it inside. It wouldn’t truly be a hot LA club if we didn’t have to work to get inside, I suppose. Once we made our way into the spacious lounge, we were met with burlesque dancers onstage and swinging from the ceiling, cold fog enveloping the crowds, colorful laser-like lights slicing the air, and spontaneous confetti throughout the night. We waved around styrofoam glow sticks and danced until 2am.
Our last stop before LAX airport was Porto’s Bakery in Burbank. After eating all weekend based on pure gluttonous cravings, I had forgotten the feeling of hunger. Inside Porto’s is a mad-house of two theme park-sized lines: one for the bakery and one for the savory food. Although, I could reference the menu and order from any of the lines. I could only think of two things that I wanted from Porto’s –the guava cheese pastry and their popular potato balls. Seeing other people and friends order boxes filled with potato balls and other sweet treats to bring home, I grew greedy and did the same. 6 potato balls, 8 guava and cheese pastries, 1 pork tamale, 1 chorizo empanada, and a blended Dulce de Leche Latte. Go big before going home.
Back home in the Bay Area, I spend the next several days reminiscing over Los Angeles through the form of edible souvenirs. I had a flaky and creamy guava cheese pastry for breakfast each morning and a pre-dinner fried, creamy potato ball with its delicious minced meat. I sampled 1 or 2 macaroons from Bottega Louie every night. Sinking my teeth into each flavored soft macaroon of Earl Gray, raspberry (my favorite), salted caramel, vanilla bean, and strawberry gave me sugary chills. When the last stash of my LA food is gone, I silently mourn the end of my indulgent ways. At least, until my next vacation.