Los Angeles – the stuff dreams are made of according to my daughters, whose appetites for commercial American television shows, Disneyland and American popular culture in general seems to know no bounds. Personally, I was a little more ambivalent about it. Christopher Hitchens once said Los Angeles was “mostly full of nonsense and delusion and egomania” and I worried about the crime rate, the air quality and the general character of a city with such a reputation for superficiality and form over function, but in the end we were all in for something of a surprise. One thing I was excited about was finally meeting someone with whom I have been internet friends for over 10 years. Isabelle and I met on a message board for a shareware recipe program we were both using at the time and had managed to share our common interest in food and maintain a friendship over many years and an enormous distance – more than 13,000 kms to be precise. She most generously put her life to one side for the few days we were there and ferried us around, thrilling the girls with a trip to Disneyland and showing us things we might otherwise have missed.
The county of Los Angeles is enormous, with a population in excess of 10 million people sprawled over more than 10,500 square kilometres – and they’ve all got a car (or so it seemed). As per the words of the old Bert Bacharach/Hal David song, LA is indeed a great big freeway with the widest roads and most intricate spaghetti junctions I’ve ever seen anywhere and driving on them takes more nerve than I possess. I remember being unsettled by the drivers in Rome and Paris, but they seem cautious in comparison with what appears to be a permanent game of chicken on the freeways of the City of Angels. I will be forever grateful to Isabelle for sparing me the experience of trying to negotiate driving myself.
Our first day was spent fulfilling the girl’s dream of a visit to Disneyland. I’ve never been a huge fan myself, but have reviewed my opinion and now have nothing but respect. The production values of this entire park have to be seen to be believed. This is an utterly seamless presentation with never a hair out of place, not a thread loose on a costume, not a pleasant smile missing from a face, eye-contact always maintained. I simply cannot imagine how much work it takes to put this together and present it day in, day out, culminating with a truly remarkable and honestly enjoyable Grand Parade every single day. Astonishing, just astonishing.
While we did spend quite a lot of time checking out places of interest to the younger members of my entourage (or should that be “Entourage”? See, I’m not completely ignorant of popular culture.), I made sure to fit in a few spots that I wanted to see. We paid a visit to a local supermarket in Malibu – I love going to supermarkets in other countries – I think they give an everyday look into local lives. Very similar to our own large supermarkets in range, the prices are what astonished me – our US cousins pay significantly less for food than we do here. My eldest daughter was deeply envious of the range and affordability of spirits available in the supermarket and I must say I did feel a twinge of desire when I saw a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin for only $15, instead of the $50ish it would cost here. Oh, and apparently we are marketable when it comes to licorice. Who knew?!
Isabelle took me to a well-known restaurant supply store known as Surfas where I spent a happy, but slightly frustrating, time wandering in and out of the aisles and fixtures. This was the stuff that my dreams are made of and I could have happily crashed the credit card there and then, if only I didn’t have to worry about luggage weight on the way home. This store has a huge range of cookware, tableware, commercial and domestic kitchen appliances and specialty foods. I counted at least 10 different types of salt, as many different styles of rice and enough variety of chilli powder to keep a gastric reflux specialist in business for years. And the chocolate! I nearly died when I saw the price of Valrhona cooking chocolate which was being sold in 1 kilogram bags for about $14 per kilo. Tears were shed.
There is no shortage of great dining in Los Angeles and we happily lucked a reservation at one of the more popular spots in town, Mario Battali’s Osteria Mozza. A dimly lit, but very buzzy restaurant space, Osteria Mozza is not cheap but that clearly hasn’t held it back. The service was swift and snappy, although a little too snappy for my liking – the mains were brought out the second we had finished eating the entrees – but I forgave them because the food was brilliant. It is a mozzarella bar so we all made sure to have a cheesy entree and they were stunning. My youngest daughter opted for the Buffala mozarella wrapped in pancetta and served with a pizzaiola sauce, the eldest for the Buffala mozarella served with four dipping sauces – pesto, salsa romanesco, tapenade and a caperberry relish – but I think I was the winner with my selection of a Burricotta with braised artichokes, pine nuts, currants and a mint pesto. I thought I’d died and gone straight to heaven. I snapped a picture on my smart phone, but it really doesn’t do the dish justice because of the very poor light. You’ll simply have to take my word for it – a knock-out dish.
We managed to keep very busy for our 5 days in LA with visits to Warner Brothers Studios, the Santa Monica pier, Venice Beach, Malibu and Hollywood Boulevard – all placed right at the top of my daughter’s “must see” lists although, with the exception of Warners, they discovered that real life doesn’t always equate with television land. On our last day I force fed them a dose of culture with a visit to the J. Paul Getty Museum – a battle I was terrifically glad to have won. This is an exceptional museum with breathtaking architecture, astonishing collections, magnificent views and free entry thanks to a very substantial trust fund. If you happen to be in LA make sure it is on the top of your list.