In the heart of Beverly Hills, ironically tucked away under a corporate office building and a suburbia-inspired parking structure, lies the locally known restaurant Via Alloro. The earthy tones and sparsely placed desert vegetation lend itself well to the dry southern California air, and the understated decor and outdoor booths with pillows make a passer-by think of a simple (if not slightly done-up) Mediterranean cafe. Any fears of encountering the ordinary are quelled by a friendly hostess who meets you just before you get up to her podium, and clobbers you with a beautiful smile. “Inside or outside?”
Between the lunch and dinner hours the chefs, clad in white coats, come out front and chat around a small table. I notice the tiny Italian flags embroidered on their collars, and I have the suspicion that they are happy and love what they do. Only blocks away from Rodeo Dr. and the Bel Air Real Estate Agency, one can imagine the clientele that frequent this restaurant. But the environment is surprisingly comfortable and downright pleasant for the recession-bruised common folk and Hollywood socialites alike. You, whoever you are, sit down, sip wine, and feel happy.
In my opinion, food that is born in the the dry places of the earth is the best type of food in the world. Tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, olives, eggplant, basil, lemon, bread—-food that is good for the blood, the skin and the soul. I generally resist the occasional impulse to take pictures of my food and annotate the pretentious descriptions that the menus have to offer, but this was an occasion when presentation was naturally perfect (and I forgot my camera anyway). A seafood salad not too drenched in balsamic vinegar, white rings of calamari, perfect scallops and crisp shrimp mixed with cold mussels and clams, lying on a bed of arugula, roasted bell peppers and celery. A perfect snack on a warm coastal desert afternoon. We aspiring foodies always congratulate ourselves on our discoveries of whole, simple food. And we smile with satisfaction and harbor a slight sadistic grimace for all those not enjoying the same gift. But there is always the desire to share the experience with others. This is the type of food that one eats slow, with conversation and without a pressing schedule. And a complementary dry Cabernet doesn’t hurt, either.
I have always liked spending a little time in Hollywood to absorb the absurdity of it. There is a strange appeal. This is, of course, the mother of all movie sets, where people come to act, to pretend, to fashion a persona. And it is just cool to blend in for a while; to catch a glance of the Hollywood sign in your rear-view mirror, to drive through the manicured landscaping of Beverly Hills, to see one beautiful person after another frowning behind huge sunglasses, to be surrounded by billboards splashed with the latest shows and movies. One seems to develop a slightly skewed, even deviant, view of the world while spending time here, one seen through the media of TV and film. But it is fun.
In the middle of the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, a perfect place to see live music in an outdoor setting is the Hollywood Bowl. Carved out of the hills, it is surprisingly quiet and inviting, especially during intermissions. In fact, a suited army of security guards stroll around, with earpieces for added intimidation, to ensure no one talks or moves.
The show this night was the LA Philharmonic playing pieces of Elgar, Beethoven and Wagner, led by conductor Bramwell Tovey and master cellist Daniel Müller-Schott. One of the unique charms about this venue is that anyone can bring in their own food and booze. So we sat on wooden benches, got out our bread and olives, and sipped some old vine Zin while blending in with a crowd of classical music lovers, and finding a way to truly appreciate the talent that was being showcased. Not bad for a Tuesday night. This kind of experience makes the drive from San Diego worth every mile.
By the way, I’d like to thank Jessie for showing me Via Alloro and the Hollywood Bowl, two great places so close to home. I hope to get back soon.