The Real Housewife of Bentley Avenue

One of the few good things about Kenley working some nights and weekends and me working part time is that when Valentine’s Day and my birthday fall on Mondays (they’re a week apart, if you didn’t know), we both have the day off.

Kenley fails to see how having V-Day and my birthday that close together is ever a good thing.

But since we didn’t get to celebrate Christmas or New Year’s together, we (mostly I) decided we should splurge.

We began our Valentine’s Day weekend on Sunday with a not-so-romantic but oh-so-good lunch at In-N-Out Burger, which owes its cultlike status in part to (you guessed it) “The Big Lebowski.” It was our second visit in two weeks. We would probably go more often if there weren’t always a line for the drive-through that extends into the neighboring shopping center parking lot.

How’s the burger? Better than McDonald’s, but not in the same league as Five Guys or Rockaway’s. “Those are good burgers, Dude.”

Sunday afternoon we were invited to a post-wedding party for our friends Carrie and Dave from Columbia, who got married in St. Lucia over Thanksgiving weekend. Carrie’s family lives in the Los Angeles area, and Carrie was nice enough to include Kenley and me in the celebration, which was held at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the water in Long Beach, about 30 minutes south of L.A. It was great to see familiar faces, and it was fun to meet some of Carrie’s friends who live in L.A. — all of whom, it should come as no surprise, could hold their own behind a karaoke mike.

On Valentine’s Day, we had breakfast at S&W Diner in downtown Culver City, which I’m sure will also become a favorite, partly because it’s cheap but mostly because they serve pancakes with Oreo crumbles and fresh strawberries! Kenley had the bacon-and-cheddar waffle.

They also had grits on the menu, which I had to test. I can make them much better.

A romantic day should include the beach if there’s one nearby, so we took Malia for a walk to the Santa Monica pier, where once again she got all the attention amid the small, yippy dogs, the buskers and the food vendors.

From the beach, we went to the Culver City ice-skating arena — something I wasn’t expecting to find in our new neighborhood. But it’s still not quite surfing weather out here yet.

We had pre-dinner drinks at Bottle Rock, a wine bar and shop similar to Cellar on Greene in Five Points. They offer $20 bottles of wine on Mondays, so another spot is added to my list of places we’ll definitely go back to. It will be a great place to take any of the wine-club girls when y’all come visit.

I had booked dinner reservations at a French bistro called Saint Amour, which was a very authentic French experience, complete with rude, French-speaking waiters. But Kenley’s mussels and frites were the best I’ve had since the Fat Hen in Charleston with Leigh and Dan several years ago. It was perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Tuesday was my first day working at the Loft. I’m working 12 to 15 hours a week to help earn my keep (and keep my discount) until I can find a full-time job. The store is in Marina Del Rey, which is a small resort town just south of Venice Beach. The store is expected to move in May and become one of a handful of new boutiquelike concept locations for Loft.

The following Sunday, we were invited to Kathy Bryja’s apartment for dinner. Kathy, a former features designer at The State, is an associate art director for The Hollywood Reporter. She and her fiance host a dinner for several couples every Sunday. You BYOB and drop $5 to $10 in a bowl, and Kathy and Justin cook. Not gonna find a cheaper meal than that in L.A. (not even In-N-Out Burger), and it’s nice to have a standing social engagement. We’ll go there Sunday to watch the Oscars, since you can’t actually get anywhere near the Kodak Theater on awards night.

In preparation for the Academy Awards, Kenley and I have watched all the nominees that are available at Blockbuster (still no Internet access for Netflix). Surprisingly, “Toy Story 3” was the one that made me cry. I found “The Social Network” interesting, “The Kids Are Alright” entertaining and “Winter’s Bone” depressing. As you can imagine, everyone here likes to talk about the movies, whether they’re in the biz or not.

I certainly never dreamed I’d be underemployed and living in Los Angeles on my 37th birthday. To celebrate, I planned a day around things you can do only in L.A. We had lunch at Fraiche, one of several restaurants in L.A. (and a couple in our neighborhood) nominated for the James Beard awards, the Oscars of the restaurant industry. I ordered a croque monsieur, which is probably not the dish that got the chef nominated, but it was still rich and decadent.

Kenley balked at paying $14 for what essentially is a glorified grilled-cheese sandwich. But at least I didn’t order the foie gras.

After lunch, we drove uptown to Hollywood because I wanted to at least see where the movie stars would walk the red carpet in about a week. The bleachers were set up on Hollywood Boulevard outside the entrance to the theater, but the only “celebrities” we saw were wannabe actors paid to dress in costumes and charge tourists to take photos with them. Kenley and I didn’t want to be mistaken for tourists, so we got out of there as quickly as possible.

Our next stop was Beverly Hills, where we waited in line for a Sprinkles cupcake, which is one of the first places the cupcake trend started. We also did some window shopping on Rodeo Drive. One goal is to buy something on Rodeo Drive before we leave this town. Kenley says it will probably be a sock.

For dinner, we went to Waterloo & City, also nominated for a James Beard award. It’s another gastropub, and I liked it much better than Ford’s Filling Station. I had vegetable pot pie and, for dessert, bourbon-glazed doughnuts.

But now it’s back to chicken fingers and microwave meals. We (mostly Kenley) have decided to stop the insanity; our splurging must come to an end. At least until we can afford that sock.

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