Friday, July 10, 2015

Tourists in Tinseltown (LA)

I was always puzzled by the duality of this dog eat dog city curled like a cat amongst the California hills, built up towards the sun and shrouded in smog. Hollywood was Jekyll and Hyde: the bad boy that charmed one minute and caused heartbreak the next; the mean girl who gave an unexpected invite to her party. 

You didn’t want to entertain this “too cool for school” smugness, but at times it was hard to resist. My relationship with LA was one that I didn’t reminisce over often, but once in a while, the romance of this city snuck up on me.

Elan Hotel (8435 Beverly Blvd)
I couldn’t rave more about the Elan Hotel than if I had glow sticks in my hand and techno music blaring in the background. The staff was a delightful and accommodating band of brethren from the time we checked in to our (free) late checkout the next day at 2pm*. Elan held the charm of a boutique hotel, while remaining surprisingly affordable, offering free continental breakfast in the sunny lobby (as well as wine and cheese at 5pm), free wifi, parking ($23 a night), and my AAA card saved me $43! Elan was also within walking distance from stalk-worthy restaurants like Bazaar, Animal, Son of a Gun, and LA’s famous Farmer’s Market.

Farmer's Market window shopping within walking distance
*We were there on a Monday, so the same flexibility might not apply on weekends.

Runion Canyon (2000 N Fuller Ave)
Only about a 10-15 minute drive from the hotel, we easily found free parking about a half a block from Runion Canyon’s entrance. Several trails were set before us like a choose-your-own-adventure book and we decided to take the high road. Admittedly it was quite the climb, but our trek was worth a glimpse of the smog-snuggled city and a level gaze with the Hollywood sign.

Quality Food and Beverage (8030 W 3rd St) 
The place was pretty much empty, except for one regular who was chatting up the waiter about how good his granola was. Jazz was playing, but not that horrible Muzak junk. I’m talking soulful rhythms that lulled me into past decades and a quiet trance of comfort, similar to the ease of relaxing in a favorite relative’s kitchen. 

Quality was the classic luncheonette’s modern sister: clean, straightforward and confident in her skin with the simple, classy appeal of wood trim and crisp, green awnings.The menu was fitted with homemade breakfasts, sandwiches, burgers, and a couple of chalkboard soup specials. 

I went for a cheeseburger (feta), medium rare. Quality came through, not with a brick-sized, pre-formed patty, mind you, but a nice, thin, equal opportunity burger that allowed all of the ingredients a fair share of the spotlight. There was nothing I hated more than a “fat guy in a little coat” burger = a gigantic wad of meat on a barely-there bun, blocking out any other topping with its burly beefiness. But here, a solid foundation was layered with equal parts beef, bun, and cheese, creating a burger worthy of the name, Quality.

Fonuts (8104 W 3rd St) 
How very LA. Baked and steamed donuts. And vegan, no less. But the whole “never judge a book…” and all that nonsense. Plus, I’d read an article a while back on Fonuts’ owner, Waylynn Lucas, so we when we came upon her miniature dollhouse of a space, fitted with only a tiny, vintage stove masquerading as a coffee station and a few trays of wayward donuts, my curiosity was peaked.

Normally, I wouldn’t use the word “curiosity” to describe vegan food. It was usually more like, “suspect” or “disgusting” (especially when it came to ruining a perfectly good donut!), but I was about to eat my judgmental words.

I chose two Fonuts: one sweet (chocolate/hazelnut) and one savory (rosemary/olive oil). Ok, so first of all, there was a reason why the word “moist” was still around, even though it was kind of disgusting because sometimes there was no better way to describe something so juicy and flowing and lubricated, and ok, you get the point…but OHHH SOOOO MOIST!! When broken in half, the chocolate/hazelnut looked like well-watered, nutrient rich soil sowing seeds of toasted hazelnuts. And the rosemary/olive oil was an unctuous, herbaceous masterpiece. Hands down the best olive oil cake I'd ever tasted.

I noticed they’d sidestepped the vegan vendetta in a couple of options like the maple/ bacon and chorizo/cheddar, but even these members of the line-up had me suspect. There was no way these Fonuts could be healthy. Baked? Steamed? Good for you donuts? I wasn’t buying it. They were just too tasty, too special, too decadent…there had to be something like ground up babies in the batter. But I guess that was the east coast cynic in me, because in reality, wasn’t a vegan donut the epitome of LA? Fonuts were a tangible version of LA’s dueling dichotomy, a town of juxtapositions. Healthy Donuts ; Tinsel Town and the Boulevard of Broken Dreams; Jekyll and Hyde. 

And the city I hated to love (because I had to admit it…Viva Las Vegan!).