On a High

The fun thing about hosting friends who have been to Los Angeles before is you can skip the obligatory touristy sites and spend your time eating and drinking your way through Los Angeles, which is exactly what we did when our friends Katie and John O’Connor visited from Tampa, Fla.

John and is one of the many great friends Kenley and I met while working at The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. John covered state government, including the fall of former Gov. Mark “I hiked the Appalachian Trail” Sanford and the unlikely rise of Gov. Nikki “It’s a great day in South Carolina” Haley.

In Columbia, the O’Connors were known for throwing renowned St. Patrick’s Day parties. They moved to Tampa earlier this year after John accepted a position covering education with NPR on a project called StateImpact Florida, and he and Katie recently celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary. (Kenley’s cover band, Kenley Young and the Restless, rocked their wedding reception.) You can check out the work John is doing here. And, if you live near Tampa and need interior design services, Katie works at MarketPlace Interiors.

Let’s just say they appreciate good food, good drinks and good music, and like to have fun!

Shortly after they arrived, we went to the High rooftop lounge atop the Erwin Hotel in Venice Beach for happy hour. We got there just in time to watch the sun set over the Pacific. As the sun went down and the temperature dropped, waitresses brought cozy couples blankets and turned on the gas lamps. John snapped a photo of Katie and me with the mural of former Venice resident Jim Morrison in the background.

We picked up Kenley from work and headed to dinner at The Bazaar. (You might remember that Kenley and I took my brother, Patrick, and his girlfriend, Laura, to Jose Andres’ restaurant in the SLS Hotel when they visited in April.) Andres embraces molecular gastronomy and the sensory experience, so it’s always an interesting dining experience. (Read more about Andres and molecular gastronomy here.)

I ordered the Mediterranean mussels with olive oil, vinegar and pimenton, which was prepared lata y conservas, which is a traditional Spanish canning technique. They were served in a sardine can and tasted tart and refreshing.

That was followed by Ottoman carrot fritters with apricots and pistachio sauce and stuffed piquillo peppers with Capriola Farm goat cheese. I was surprised that Kenley liked both of them. Lesson: If it’s a vegetable, fry it or stuff it with goat cheese and Kenley will eat it.

We also had Japanese tacos (stuffed with grilled eel, cucumber and wasabi), Butifarra Senator Moynihan (Catalan pork sausage with white beans and mushrooms) and seared scallops, which were all good but less memorable.

Kenley and I couldn’t resist ordering two of the things we enjoyed earlier, jicama wrapped guacamole and the croquettes de pollo (chicken béchamel fritters). They were just as delicious, but we were a little disappointed that the chicken was not served in a tennis shoe as it was the last time.

Katie couldn’t resist ordering the cotton candy duck liver, which came with four sticks of airy cotton candy in a block. The waiter advised it was best eaten in one bite.

The dish is a shock to your mouth. First you taste the sugar evaporating, intensely sweet, light and airy. Then there’s the cold, creamy, salty, dense middle that melts more slowly. If you don’t think about what you’re eating, it’s actually really good. John and Kenley thought about it too much.

I’m already planning to make reservations at Andres’ Tres restaurant for the next DineLA in January.

After dinner, we went to Bar Marmont, which is down the hill from the Chateau Marmont, the exclusive celebrity hideaway on the Sunset Strip. (The Chateau Marmont is where John Belushi died of a drug overdose. Lady Gaga stayed there when she came to L.A., and Lindsay Lohan lived there for two and a half years before she moved down the street to Venice.  It’s where countless photo shoots, magazine interviews and raging parties have taken place. It is alleged by some to have been the Hotel California the Eagles sang about. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

Several years ago when Kenley and I visited L.A., we might have sneaked into the Chateau behind some young guests. But it was immediately apparent we did not fit in. We were seated at a table in an empty dining room, ordered two very expensive glasses of wine and left, but we have a fun story.

The Bar Marmont is less exclusive, especially on a Monday night. You don’t have to sneak inside, but once there, you feel like you’re a VIP. The decor has an Asian theme with lanterns and clusters of butterflies on the ceiling. The vibe is rock ’n’ roll, with low lighting and a DJ in the corner. I ordered a pims; a Miller Lite just didn’t seem appropriate.

On Tuesday, we headed to Bar Bouchon in Beverly Hills for lunch. The café is in a courtyard below the formal dining room upstairs. (Read about our DineLA meal at Bouchon here.) We ordered soup and sandwiches, which come on amazing bread. Somehow a simple ham and cheese at a French restaurant is just better.

Our main reason for lunching in Beverly Hills was so we could go to Sprinkles afterward. The line at the famous cupcake shop was short! Katie and I ordered the pumpkin cupcake, which was far superior to the pumpkin cupcake I got at Crumbs about a week earlier. There were no raisins, and the cupcake icing wasn’t too overpowering, letting the spicy pumpkin flavor come through.

We took Sunset Drive, with a detour by the house where Michael Jackson died, to the Pacific Coast Highway. We stopped at Moonshadows for an early happy hour on the deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean. (There are several other restaurants with decks overlooking the ocean, but we keep going back to Moonshadows because the bedlike chaise lounges just make you feel so glamorous.) In the “it’s a small world” category, we ran into a couple who live near the O’Connors in Tampa. The couple invited John and Katie to meet them at the Beer Shed one Friday. Sounds like my kind of place!

Our next stop was The Cameo Bar at The Viceroy hotel in Santa Monica, one of Katie’s favorite places. The hotel interior was designed by Kelly Wearstler, who is originally from Myrtle Beach, S.C. The interior of The Viceroy is colorful, modern and luxurious, yet reminiscent of something from the past. Wearstler launched a fashion line this spring. Go to The Viceroy during happy hour from 4  to 7 p.m. and ask for the 7B47 menu, which includes food and drink specials for $7. And make sure to check out the ladies room.

For dinner, we went to Alibi Room, where we introduced to John and Katie to Roy Choi’s Kogi barbecue. John ordered the Kogi three taco combo. I think he is a convert. (Read more here about Roy Choi, one of the founders of the food truck craze and fusion barbecue.)

Our final stop of the evening was Oldfields Liquor Room, which was formerly Saints & Sinners. Saints & Sinners closed amid some controversy several months ago. It went through a face-lift and recently reopened as an early 1900s watering hole. Oldfields features hand-crafted cocktails made from local ingredients. Sounds good, except the liquor also is from the 1900s, which means it’s harsh. There’s no flavored vodka here. I ordered a drink with mescal and strawberries, which sounds kinda like a strawberry margarita. But the mescal had an intense smokey aftertaste. John had to finish it for me. The other drawback is that it takes 20 minutes to hand-craft each drink. I think I’d rather have the toasted marshmallow at Bigfoot West down the street. It’s owned by the same people, so the money is going to the same place.

Time to start planning a trip to Tampa!

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