I’ve just taken down my old website and switched over to a WordPress engine. I’ve cut and pasted all my old reviews into individual articles and in so doing noticed how many of them are specific to a place and time in my life when I wrote them. Sometimes I reference my “girlfriend” who is now my wife. It predates me having a child. I was hosting my own reviews to maintain my copyright on the writing, not just giving it away to places like Yelp or Foursquare, or social media systems that make their money on hosting our collective intellectual property.

I didn’t post the reviews of places that are closed, even though some of them were funny. I wanted to keep them up for my own reference, and also a reminder to post some more reviews of not just restaurants but events, venues, stores, people, philosophical concepts, and more.

A long time ago I wrote movie reviews and enjoyed letting loose with my opinions, using the review as a journal entry in my life. The problem came when I started working for and with the very people I was criticizing or mocking. I took it down, but still missed the format. I used the review process as a way of clearing my head of the short term dross so I could do my other creative work. I’d like to get back to that short form work for the same reasons.

August 30, 2015

I knew nothing of Zara until I went to Greece and everyone – EVERYONE – in Athens was walking around carrying a little blue bag from ZARA. On a whim we went inside and were blown away by the styles and fit of the clothes. My wife is a normal, fit woman with hips and broad shoulders and no implants. Therefore she has an impossible time finding clothing from many stores that actually fit. Not at Zara. Their models skew towards a more European shape than a west coast model, and therefore Zara isn’t for every woman. But if you’ve been annoyed at most of the fashionable stores because you feel somehow misshappen, give Zara a try. The same goes for menswear. I have no need to wear baggy anything. I look best when I wear something that fits. Because of genes and marathon running I have an athletic, long upper torso and average length but muscular legs. To make matters worse, I despise logos on my clothing and I like things to fit. I dress my age and have no need to compete with the myspace crowd. They’re fucking idiots, anyway. Nothing more pathetic than thirty year old men wearing Enyce pants and Sean John baggy Polo shirts. And they wonder why they’re still single hanging out at Hooters with their backwards baseball caps. Zara is my solution. Their shirts are cut to an athletic fit and their pants are actually pants, not just dresses stitched in the center. Best of all, Zara is incredibly well priced. Much better than other chains like Banana Republic or Anthropologie.

Sadly, Zankou chicken is not the only great, family owned restaurant whose owners were killed in a grisly bloodbath. But that doesn’t take away from the amazing quality of the food! Zankou chicken remains open for business. Their chicken shawarma is damn hard to beat, served in generous portions with tahini, pickled beets, and pita bread. Served by the plate, as a gyro, or on the bone, Zankou chicken is the middle eastern version of El Pollo Loco and both are incredibly satisfying.

1716 S Sepulveda, Los Angeles
5065 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
5658 Sepulveda Blvd, Van Nuys
1415 E Colorado St., Glendale
also Pasadena and Anaheim

I was turned on to Woody’s first by my mother-in-law whose route to work takes her through the Crenshaw district past all the best barbeque joints in town. Woody’s pumps out a smell so good she’s tempted to break koshrut for a plate of their meaty goodness. Second was Jonathan Gold’s Counter Intelligence, who rates Woody’s as his second favorite barbeque in town, just behind Woody’s cousin’s place, Phillip’s. When Phillip’s is closed its one day, Woody’s jumps to his number one slot. My wife and I were surprised on our first visit that Mr. Gold failed to warn us there aren’t any tables; both Woody’s and Phillips are take-out only with no nearby picnic benches either. The lines are long but the wait isn’t as most of the food has been smoking and simmering all day and is just waiting to be cut and slathered with sauce. Woody’s is freakin’ outstanding. The pork ribs slide off the bone and have a smoky, savory flavor that is so damn good you’ll completely forget about all the parasites pork meat can contain. Their collard greens were actual greens, not hidden under tons of garlic or pork. The chicken links were super tasty and when covered in a mixed mild/spicy sauce still had super flavor combined with kick. The corn bread muffins were dry and unimpressive, but they include two pieces of white bread to mop up their delicious sauce. (It is altogether possible they included the white bread as a racial insult, but I doubt it.) In all truth, J.R.’s is still my hands-down favorite, but Woody’s has such a distinctly wonderful taste it’s good to have around to keep J.R. on his toes. A half rack of ribs, collard greens with two corn bread muffins, and a pound of chicken links was $30 – steep but 3 could have eaten well for it. One day I’ll invite the other two people.

(323) 294-9443, 3446 W Slauson Ave, Los Angeles

Ahhh, the birthday dinner at the expensive tapas restaurant. You want to be a good friend and participate, but you know – you just KNOW – you’re getting fucked on the bill. Woe is the friend who arrives a little late to the event, orders a glass of wine and an entree, and then when the bill comes some schmuck at the table has the temerity to say “let’s just divide this up equally, OK?” Suddenly you’re thinking you should have had the Beluga-stuffed coelacanth glazed in real gold. Confession: this time, I was the schmuck. We’ve been to enough of these events that we brace ourselves for the bill and make sure that since we’re getting reamed on the bill anyway we might as well lube up and enjoy the ride. The wine flights are a unique treat – trios of wine served in two ounce glasses. The choices are lovely and I had a hard time choosing from many tempting combos. Some years ago my father introduced me to the virtues of the Rhone Rangers, so I went with flight 14, Wines of the Rhone Valley. For $24 this was an outstanding choice. There was an outrageously bold wine that apparently is the closest thing you can get to a chataeneuf de pape for less than a house. My wife had the World of Whites which featured an Austrian wine that was incredibly savory and peppery. Smelled weird, but was one of the most unique whites we’ve ever had. We were cautioned against the polenta, but the square that came with the pulled pork was super tasty though a little too buttery. The pork, however, was pretty much the best pig candy ever. The fig poppers were delicious but a little rich. Share this one amongst your table. My one real complaint is over the cheese plate. A sampling of domestic cheeses. Totally not worth it. The chevre wasn’t nearly bold enough, the cheddar tasted like something from Albertsons, and the blue didn’t burn one whit. Remember, “domestic cheese” is just another way of saying “American cheese”, a substance lacking in both flavor, culture, and taste, homogenized to death. Vertical Wine Bistro understands the best wine comes from surrender monkeys, they should look east for the cheese, too. It’s a fun experience, but if you go with a group make sure you order a lot so when the bill does arrive you can at least feel like you got your Benjamin’s worth.

(626) 795-3999, 70 N Raymond Ave, Pasadena (upstairs)

My experience of Triathlon Lab is a testament to the power of blogs and Web 2.0. I just completed my first season of triathlon, racing 5 events including Boise 70.3 and Santa Barbara Long Course. I started blogging at the beginning of the year, discussing my immersion in the field including training, product comparison, and my own personal growth. The triathlon community in Southern California is large for such an iconoclastic sport, but it’s still a tight-knit community of intelligent, opinionated people. Which is why it felt out of place that I had several bad experiences my first several times shopping at Triathlon Lab. I felt brushed off, ignored, and not taken seriously. Eventually I took it personally and blogged about my negative experiences. It came as quite a surprise that one of the owners personally reached out to me via Facebook (linked from my blog page), apologized for the way I was treated, and asked more details about my experience so she could address it as a customer service opportunity with her staff. I sent her a detailed report of my visits and spending experience, contrasted this to my positive experiences at Triathlete Zombies in Santa Monica, and thanked her for reaching out. That began a dialogue that has resulted in my purchase of a new 2008 Cervelo P3C triathlon bike. For those who don’t know, when you buy a bike you’re buying the shop as much as the bike itself. A good shop will do a proper fit, and then a follow-up fit to make sure the bike is right. Also, there is maintenance, tune-ups, and the never ending list of STUFF that gets added to the bike over time. The way the owner reached out, accepted responsibility, and then made up for the initial negative experience was enough to encourage me to forge this new relationship. The store is well stocked with a wide variety of gear, clothing, and staff. They have a considerably large bike shop and a solid spread of brands from entry-level and road all the way to pro level. I suggest talking to different staff members and finding someone you get along with and then coming back to them. Going in alone and browsing might not yield immediate gregariousness, but asking questions and getting to know the staff will make your experience better.

If you’re looking for a great Japanese restaurant that serves everything you’re craving in beef steak, sushi, salmon, bento boxes, combo plates, and tempura, make sure that you visit T.O.T. Depending on where you look (the awning, your credit card bill, or online) Teishokuya Of Tokyo, or Taste Of Tokyo, or just T.O.T, the name makes it somewhat hard to find in directory listings. But like most of the really good restaurants in Little Tokyo they advertise amongst the local newspapers in vertical writing. If you want authentic food you have to brave the Nippon-shtetl barrier. The wait staff is exceedingly friendly and there are enough options to keep you interested for many visits. Fresh sushi, expertly grilled meats, and delicious soups. Fairly priced, too at about $15 a head.

(213) 680-0344, 345 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles

Tender Greens is a fabulous neighborhood restaurant in the blossoming “restaurant row” section of Culver City. A cafeteria style ordering system means your food is prepared in front of you, your salad and hot plates made to order. While Tender Green’s menu is extremely limited, what they do offer is outstanding quality ingredients, fresh vegetables, and high quality meats. I find their chicken on its own to be dry, so it’s best in one of their main course salads like the Chipotle barbecue chicken salad with creamy lime dressing. The flat iron steak, however, is dynamite on its own or in their big salad with beets and a horseradish vinaigrette.While normally I poo-poo the hippie California roughage crowd, Tender Greens is so consistently good I find myself treating it as a walk-in neighborhood cafe rather than a colonic destination like Leaf. The staff have the overly gregarious nature of people who eat all their vegetables and the aqua fresca and iced tea are a must-try. Given that you’ll want a dinner salad, drinks, and maybe a dessert, two people will eat for around $30.

(310) 842-8300, 9523 Culver Blvd, Culver City

Taylor’s is one of the last red leather seat, wood walled steak houses of Los Angeles. A wholly traditional beef menu of nothing but meat, meat, angina, meat, potatoes, and a side vegetable. The place is in a crappy ass part of L.A., which really only adds to the ambiance and decor. You can see fire and police retirements parties here, and the many fattening meals to expand the bellies and arteries of formerly fit men. The staff has changed along with the neighborhood; I thought I was ordering garlic fries, and got cottage fries instead due to a thick Hispanic accent (not mine, mind you). Nevertheless, my bone-in prime rib was good, a tad less pink than I was hoping for, but otherwise a nice piece of meat. The night before I had finished reading a lengthy article about aging meats by James Steingarten, the food writer for Vogue, and knew to ask about the aging methods of the restaurant. Steingarten is adamant about dry aging beef (see Nick+Stef’s, part of the Patina group food oligarchy of Los Angeles cultural landmarks) for at least 6 to 8 weeks, and then cooking to medium rare (just to warm on the inside). Taylor’s meats are wet aged for two weeks, meaning they are shrink wrapped in plastic to expedite the process. Ruth’s Chris does the same thing and all use USDA prime cuts. (A side note, Ruth’s Chris is named as such because Ruth got the restaurant in the divorce and continues to rub Chris’ nose in her settlement by making her name the possessive. i.e. “Ivana’s Mercedes”, “Tom Cruise’s children”, or “Meg Ryan’s film career”.). If you ask Steingarten he’d say it was garbage. If you ask me, it was a fine place to spend my 30th birthday, and my fiancee’s excitement over taking me to a classic steak house for my birthday was more than delicious.

3361 W 8th St. Los Angeles

Yet another gem hidden inside a crappy looking strip mall Tamara’s Tamales is an orgiastic cornucopia. Hand made from scratch daily the sheer volume, variety, and quality of tamales is mind blowing. To be fair, we’re talking about three tablespoons of ingredients impregnated into a corn meal womb and wrapped in corn husk. But at any given time you can choose from dozens of different kinds, exotic or traditional, haute or cold, meat or vegetarian, even fat-free and dessert. You can grab a bucket for your husks and eat-in, get them to go, or order by the dozen and freeze them for later. The only down side is that they’re not cheap. Each tamale runs an average of $4, the king crab is $7.50! If you and a friend get a decent variety you’re in for at least a $30 meal.

(310) 305-7714, 13352 W Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, CA