Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Weekend Roadtrip: SF to LA

As much as we didn't like living in Los Angeles during our college years at FIDM, my boyfriend and I do like to take weekend trips there once in a while to eat and shop!  I have always said LA is great to visit, but not to live - at least not for us; we love the cool weather of San Francisco too much.

So, with a four-day weekend, I booked a room at the W Los Angeles in Westwood, he rented a fuel-efficient car from Enterprise, and we left for the I-5 at 9:00 am.  Originally, I was going to rent from Silvercar because they had a $50 off promotion for new customers with code AFF-FTD, but then realized it would not be wise on gas since we planned to venture from West to East, North to South, and beyond (gasoline prices in LA are now relatively on par with SF).

Brought my April's InStyle Magazine to read on the road #SayItWithColor

Day 1: Thursday

We got to LA around 3:30 pm and headed straight to Din Tai Fung's newest location (opened last November) at Americana at Brand in Glendale.  We ordered our usual: house chicken soup (so good it's like chicken soup for the soul!), vegetarian Shanghai rice cake (I hate eating rice, but I LOVE rice cakes!), and THREE juicy pork dumplings (comes with 10 pieces each).  Tip: Ask for more ginger for your dumplings.  I like to mix that in a bowl, not the dinky sauce dish, with more vinegar than soy sauce.

Din Tai Fung in Glendale

House chicken soup

Juice pork dumplings and vegetarian Shanghai rice cakes

Black tea with sea salt milk foam on top

As we were walking to Din Tai Fung, I noticed a couple of stores that caught my eye so I stopped by briefly to browse after we finished our late lunch.

Le Papillon, exclusive gifts and jewelry

Special Cakes by Ruben

My kind of cake for someday...

Another window masterpiece by Ruben

By the way, I was expecting LA weather to be in the 80's, 75's at least, but in reality, temperatures were in the low 70's, sunny and WINDY.  It was impossible to wear my sunhat because it would fly away!  I had to stop by the FIDM store to pickup some license plate frames, so I bought a FIDM hoodie as well since I did not bring a jacket on this trip.

Downtown Los Angeles

Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM)

Hope Park, part of FIDM campus

Hope Park, part of FIDM campus

Federal Reserve Bank of Los Angeles, across the street from FIDM
Used to see men carrying AK47's as their trucks entered and left this building

Had to change and put on a hoodie

Next, we headed to the hotel to check-in and freshen up before going out again for dinner.  They sold out of the type of room I booked so they upgraded us to a suite!  This W Hotel is right by UCLA in Westwood, in a residential area so we were lucky enough to find street parking for all three nights.  Hotel parking would have been $38.50 per night.

W Los Angeles - Westwood

Our suite 1414

For dinner, we kept it simple since first days are always the most exhausting.  We decided on Tea Station in San Gabriel (their headquarter location) and I ordered my favorite tea-flavored beef stew with a large pot of hot rose milk tea.  Tea Station is one of the rare places that actually uses rose petals in their tea leaves, instead of rose buds or worse - rose syrup.

Day 2: Friday

Bottega Louie in Downtown Los Angeles is probably my favorite restaurant in LA, more so for their high ceiling, open-space layout, and an eye-candy selection of macarons and French patisseries than their food, which is still good and healthy.  It is only two blocks away from FIDM.  How I wished we had this during our FIDM days!  They opened in 2007, the year I completed my bachelor studies.  For breakfast, I chose the egg-white scramble with the Earl Grey Créme tea I get every time.  I love this particular earl grey from Art of Tea because it is organic with a hint of French vanilla - a perfect morning brew!

Feast your eyes on this as you enter!

This gentleman has serious skills

Love tall ceilings, reminds me of Restoration Hardware

My must-have at B.L.: Art of Tea's Earl Grey Créme with hints of French vanilla

My protein breakfast: egg white scramble with avocado, tofu, and tomatoes

Grand macarons

More French patisseries

B.L. now has cupcakes!

Back counter with larger cakes and tarts.  Special celebration, anyone?

Weather warmed up to the 80's so we headed to Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park / Mount Hollywood for some sight-seeing views of Los Angeles.

It was too bright to look up!
So I pointed the camera towards the sky and snapped whatever was above.

Mount Hollywood

Griffith Observatory

View of LA and downtown from Griffith's terrace

This pendulum proves that the Earth is round and rotates

The beautiful painted mural on ceiling where the pendulum hangs

As we were walking towards the observatory building, I noticed two hummingbirds chasing each other from one bush to another.  When I was little, my grandparents' house had a lemon tree in the backyard where hummingbirds would frequent it.  Nowadays, these beautiful birds are a rare sight, so naturally, I stopped for several minutes to try and capture them in flight with the camera on my iPhone.  It was not easy since they fly so fast and the sun was glaring on my screen.  Call it luck, or potential photography skills:

One of the little hummingbirds I met at Griffith Observatory

Another place I almost always have to visit is The Huntington in San Marino -  207 acres consisting of a library, art gallery, botanical gardens, and tea rooms - what more can I ask for!  You can spend a whole afternoon in its vast and beautiful landscape, which includes a Chinese Garden where I saw Simon Doonan with another gentleman once (perhaps Jonathan Adler?), both were wearing baseball caps.  Construction is still going on since last year; I hear they are building a new café.  However, since the last time having tea at their Rose Garden Tea Room, I do not care for it as much so I didn't bother with it this time.  Their tea service is unique in that it is a buffet, but in recent times I find their sandwiches to be too "prepared" because it is always too cold as if they made it a day in advance.  The tea is always good, and my favorite is their seasonal strawberry kiwi black tea.

Their gift shop is my favorite museum store, and I always manage to find something I like, want, or need!  This time, I really wanted to take home this book called Dinner with Mr. Darcy, which is a collection of recipes from many of Jane Austen's novels (but I looked through it and found that I would never cook things like pigeon pie).  If I were to purchase this book later and elsewhere, it would serve more as décor than supper preparations.  Nonetheless, this book is so darn pretty!

I want it simply for its DESIGN!

For lunch, we had afternoon tea at Chado Tea Room in Old Town Pasadena.  In all the previous times we visited LA, we stayed in Pasadena, which I consider to be Southern California's Burlingame.  This tea room is very serious about their tea.  Their tea menu is a bound book, detailing each type of tea and its origins.  My usual blend of earl grey alone had 11 varieTEAS!  Service was great; our waiter allowed me to smell each tea I was curious about before settling on Vivaldi, which was a black tea flavored with "fruits from all four seasons."  I was happy that they let me substitute my dessert for a vanilla float that was drizzled with tea.  Sandwiches were good, but on the drier side (best is still Dartealing in Downtown San Francisco).  Chado Tea Room has two other locations in LA: downtown inside the Japanese American National Museum and Hollywood.

Front cover of their tea menu - it's really a published book

Their tea menu, this page has 11 choices for earl grey!

Chado Tea Room's retail area

Vivaldi flavored black tea with milk, of course

My afternoon tea set with sandwiches, a scone, and dessert (below)

Vanilla float with tea poured over and topped with strawberries

Evening was still early so we took a stroll through Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, then stopped by LACMA's famous Urban Lights by Chris Burden (2008).

"Make LOVE Not DINNER" ~ Agent Provocateur

Since my boyfriend was craving Korean food, we went to our favorite spot from our college days: Ham Ji Park in Koreatown.  The restaurant was still as busy, smokey, and the barbecue pork ribs were as delicious and tender as we remembered!  Now they even give you a large bowl of salad, which I enjoyed more than the side dishes.  As always, they provide a large pitcher of iced rice tea, which is another another reason why we love this restaurant!

Ham Ji Park, Koreatown

Dinner: salad, soup, sides, barbecue ribs, and iced rice tea!

The best Japanese-styled crepes were Genki Living in Diamond Plaza in Rowland Heights.  We drove half way there on the 60 freeway before I thought I should check Yelp to make sure they are still there.  Of course, they moved!  New location is in Garden Grove, so we just ordered drinks from Ten Ren instead.  Ten Ren is the parent company of Tea Station, and it was previously called Tea Station at this location.  I never liked this location though because their food tasted different than the other Tea Stations.  Unfortunately, I succumbed to my better judgement and ordered my usual hot rose milk tea with less sugar.  The drink was even sweeter than sweet!  I poured much of it down the sink at the hotel, and turns out it was made with syrup - yuck!

Day 3: Saturday

We wanted to walk around The Grove and The Original Farmer's Market, so we chose to have breakfast at Marmalade Cafe.  This restaurant was really charming with outdoor patio seating and interior decorations to look like an Italian bistro.  I ordered the Stacey Breakfast with grapefruit juice.  My only complaint was that service was extremely slow.  It took 15 minutes to get my juice, which I knew would not be fresh-pressed so I have no idea as to why it took so long.  My breakfast plate took another 30 minutes to arrive, and when it did, food was lukewarm.  Our waiter asked us several times if we werere doing OK while we were waiting.  I almost wanted to say, "No, where's our food?!"  Instead, I remained patient and pleasant .n_n.

My Stacey's Breakfast with grapefruit juice at Marmalade Cafe, The Grove LA

I wanted to visit Little Tokyo to see if anything has changed, and because I love Japanese goods.  We walked around Little Tokyo Village and the Japanese American National Museum.  Surprisingly, the only thing I bought was the Bath Roman Bihada "White Lily" (previous mentioned in my post about konjac sponges), which I ran out of at home.

We played some claw clip arcades at Yes Plaza in Rowland Heights.  These are not your ordinary games.  Of course there are your plush prizes, but one section of machines contain premium prizes, one with a Louis Vuitton Damier Speedy 25, the second had an iPhone 5S in gold, and the third encased a huge Hello Kitty plush.  All you have to do is pick up the round ball weight and drop it in the chute.  Easier said than done!  Nevertheless, it was fun to try and quite entertaining to watch other people.  Photos of past winners with their prizes were posted inside the machine.  Some people were so good, they won with only $1.  We started talking to a guy name Rolly there who was a numerous-time winner.  So they say, the trick is to press the button before it touches the carpet inside the machine - it's all about the right timing (as with everything else in life!

Obviously, I have ways to go before I get a handle on this...

Next, we walked around Westfield Santa Anita in Arcadia.  They have expanded the mall with a promenade to include Charming Charlie's, Chico's, Coldwater Creek, Soma Intimates, Talbots, Teavana, Williams Sonoma, and Hai Di Lao Hot Pot.  The broth selection and menu at this hot pot was not too enticing so we went to Jazz Cat in San Gabriel, which never fails!  I used to always get the milky rose broth until they started offering the milky lavender.  When it comes to shabu shau, the quality of Jazz Cat's beef is unsurpassed!

Have been coming here since college - a must each time we visit LA!

My personal hot pot with milky lavender broth

After dinner, we wanted a drink from Half & Half Tea House also with a location in San Gabriel.  First I asked them if their almond milk tea was made from real almond tea or syrup - it was syrup.  Next I asked if their strawberry milk tea was made from real strawberries or syrup - syrup.  Then I asked if their lavender milk tea was syrup - syrup AGAIN (Come on!  Lavender tea does not cost that much and lavender is very potent so it would only require very little in each cup!).  They guy said the only flavor that is not syrup is taro, but I did not want any starch after finishing a meal.  I finally just got a hot oolong milk tea with grass jelly, which they charged $0.50 extra for it being hot.  We do not understand the hype about this place, and I don't think we would go back.  We agreed: Tea Station is still king!

Day 4: Sunday

Since my brother had asked me to bring back some cheese rolls from Porto's, we had breakfast there to keep it simple.  I ordered myself a chicken empanada, an almond "danish," which is really an almond croissant, and a guava "smoothie," essentially a slush because it was not blended with anything else but ice.  I tried one of the famous cheese rolls, but could not understand the hype of it either.  Perhaps it would have tasted better fresh from the oven or toasted warm, but then again, I was never a fan of cheese.

Porto's in Glendale, rear entrance with metered parked

Place was packed like the market during Thanksgiving time

Porto's menu on the wall

Porto's mini cakes and tarts

Box of a dozen of the famous cheese rolls

My breakfast: chicken empanada and guava smoothie

With a little extra time on our hands, I had to stop by Ikea in Burbank to pick up some photo frames for a project so that I would not have to drive to Palo Alto when I get back.

Then we headed to our Rose Tree Cottage in Pasadena where I was fortunate enough to squeeze in a reservation that morning.  The night before, I was in the hotel reading Where Los Angeles Magazine and they wrote:
"Hong Kong has the Peninsula hotel.  London, Claridge's.  And L.A.'s premier afternoon tea spot is Rose Tree Cottage."
Last stop: Rose Tree Cottage, Pasadena

Yes, photography is strictly prohibited inside

Get ready with your pinkies up!

That was enough to get me to want to book a reservation on the spot (but it was midnight)!  So the morning of our last day, I called Rose Tree Cottage when they opened at 10:00 am to try and make a reservation for two at 1:00 pm (seating times are limited to 1:00 pm, 2:30 pm, and 4:00 pm Tuesdays through Sunday) and the gentleman said he was waiting for another party to call him back, and suggested I call again in half an hour.  I did just as he asked and luckily, he made room for the two of us.  We got there quite early and were the first ones there so we rang the doorbell and was welcomed in to browse the retail section of the "cottage."  We were soon met by the gentleman who I had spoken with on the phone, whose name was Edmund Fry, the owner.  They had Barbour jackets for men and women, but I was content with my Barbour Calvalry Polarquilt Jacket I purchased in London, so I simply stood by while Edmund was diligently helping my boyfriend try on several styles.  Supposedly, this place sells the most Barbour jackets in the United States (the only Barbour store in the U.S. is New York).

Shortly after, I ventured into the rest of the retail area of the house, and found a very unique Peter Rabbit Easter egg made of tin with a gold finish on the inside.  The egg sits slanted so that you can clearly see the full image of Peter Rabbit while resting on a flat surface.  The empty egg was $12.50, but I have loved this cottontail since childhood and Easter is coming, so I had to get it for myself.

We were seated promptly at 1:00 pm.  This afternoon tea experience was completely new to us - in a good way.  Edmund, wearing white gloves, began by pouring us Belvoir's Elderflower Cordial with a slice of strawberry in the glass.  During our small chatter with Edmund, we discovered he used to work for Fortnum & Mason in their tea department! F&M is my favorite in the world for teas; I bring back a whole suitcase every time, enough to last me two years!

Milk, tea, and everything else was brought or poured for you.  Everything was made from scratch and baked in-house.  To start, there were delicious miniature Yorkshire puddings with roast beef.  Finger sandwiches: asparagus with egg salad, English cucumber, and Scottish salmon.  Blueberry scones were freshly baked, and both the apricot jam and cream was also made that morning!  For dessert, we were served a yummy traditional sticky toffee pudding, a petite dried fruit minced pie, and a small Neapolitan pastry.  We were so full, we could not finish everything - I felt bad for wasting quality food!

Besides the Peter Rabbit Easter egg, I also took home a bottle of Belvoir's Elderflower Cordial to serve for my Easter brunch.  I love elderflower beverages, which can be hard to find in the U.S.  F&M makes a really good green tea with elderflower, which I of course brought back with me from my last trip to London.  As we departed and thanked our host, a tabby cat came in the front door.  His name was Bob, and Edmund said ever since he gave him some cream, Bob never left!

Almost forgot to mention: I would no doubt go back to LA from time to time, but two things I really do not miss about Southern California - smog and hard water!  (Normally, traffic is another dreadful thing about LA, but even with all the places we went this time, we did not get stuck in traffic on the freeways.)  Living in SF, smog and hard water never crosses your mind until you leave it.  The hard water made my skin so dry that even constantly putting lotion on my hands, my skin still felt rough!  Another reason why SF will always be home .n_n.

End of the long weekend and back to the rat race on Monday

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