Playa del Rey

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Playa del Rey translates to “Beach of Kings” (at least according to Wikipedia). You can’t fault the name, since it was named in the 1800’s before there was LAX, or the Hyperion waste treatment plant loomed right on the shoreline. Nice stuff, really, charming.

It’s cynical of me to point out the unfortunate industrial establishments in the area, as they seem to have little effect on the bohemian residents of this little area. Tanner’s Coffee Co. is a sleepy little coffee shop in the free WiFi vein of coffee shops. There’s even a convenient power strip sticking out from underneath one of the couches. It’s no Starbucks. Unfortunately, it’s no Starbucks so there was also a group of 3 old men that were getting their band together –or back together.

I was very surprised by the air traffic from LAX. I know it’s a bustling, International airport, but it’s impressive to see the frequency of take-offs from both of the strips. Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines both have some incredibly unfortunate looking custom paint jobs on some craft.

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The rest are in the Flickr set here.

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Return to Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens

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The last time I went to the Huntington Library was, apparently, over a year ago (March of 2010).  Last time, many of the flowers weren’t in bloom, and I only hit up one of the buildings on the property.  My battery also died half way through the rose garden last year, so you can imagine, I was a little frustrated.  I will say this though, the weather in March is definitely better for walking the entire property.  This year was cut short by lack of stamina, rather than lack of Nikon power cell charge.
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One of the pavilions was filled with antique furnishings, including a Frank Llyod Wright table from one of his Illinois homes, and this really fascinating Tiffany lamp.
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These roses are called “Julia Child” roses:
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The rest of the rose photos are on Flickr.

Click here to go to last year’s blog post for Huntington.

Norton Simon

Went to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena last Sunday for the first time and I left there very impressed with the collection. They have a significant amount of late 19th and early 20th century art from Europe. Rodin statues litter the front lawn, and the halls are dotted with Degas. There were a few Van Gough, Monet, and Manet paintings as well. There was also a casting of Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” in the center of one room under a large, circular skylight that really made the sculpture more impressive than any photograph I’ve ever seen. (The photo on Norton Simon’s own website is particularly dull in comparison to the real thing.)

The conditions inside the museum were not ideal for photography (but were great for viewing in person) but the grounds outside were also very nice.
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The rest are on Flickr

No, I don’t know why I take so many photos of ducks.

Beverly Hills Concours D’ Elegance

Beverly Hills has an annual car show, mostly devoted to classic cars, but this year was a terrible disappointment.  On Rodeo Drive, between Wilshire Blvd. and Brighton Way, there was nothing buy a giant marketing presence for the new-to-the-U.S. Fiat 500.  Nothing really says “classic car show” like a bunch of tricked-out Fiat 500’s “available soon” with an espresso bar and a spot where you could test drive on Wilshire.  The majority of the rest of the cars were all based around the premise of celebrating 150 years of Italian unification.  The classic cars on display were Fiat’s (of course), Alfa Romeo (Fiat), Lancia (Fiat), Ferrari (Fiat), Maserati (Fiat), Bugatti (VW Group), and Lamborghini (VW Group).  There were a smattering of old American and British cars represented, and an oddly vacant stretch of the Northwest bound Rodeo Dr.  Considering how closely many of the cars were huddled together, it might have been nice to spread to the unused area.  Last year’s Jaguar-themed event didn’t seem nearly as ill-conceived.

The fact that it was overcast did not help matters.  I ended up snapping mostly junk and bailing on the event after 45 minutes.
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Path of Oaks

This past weekend I took another trip to explore this friggin’ huge state. A friend did the drive up, so I was free to shoot from the window. It was 90 percent garbage, predictably, but there were some nice coastal shots, and views of the rolling hills inland. Carpenteria/Montecito/Santa Barbara were very pretty on the drive up, and the sky was clear (last few trips have been foggy or overcast) so you could see the channel islands and the offshore oil rigs. Hooray for oil rigs.
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When we arrived in Paso Robles it was too late to go to any vineyards, but we checked in to the hotel and then wandered around the streets downtown. Dinner was at Il Cortile –a well reviewed Italian restaurant in the downtown area. The food was outstanding. I think I’ve only had wild boar once or twice, but this wild boar ragu is now my favorite way to eat wild boar, ever. No pictures, because I’m not some hapless twit on Yelp.

The next day was Eberle, which was near the hotel. They really like boars at Eberle, and had not one, but two metal sculptures featuring boars. Their wines were pretty astounding considering the price, and several were done in the Rhone style, or featuring Rhone varietals like syrah, grenache, mourvedre, etc. There’s an interesting site on the Rhone/Paso connection here: http://www.rhonerangers.org/

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The next stop was Robert Hall, which had some pretty stunning grounds, even with the barren vines. I’ve had Robert Hall before, the cabernet sauvingon is pretty ubiquitous in stores, but this was the first time I tried their Rhone blends, and their viognier (bought a bottle of crisp, dry viognier).
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After lunch, the next stop was really, really, really, far –Tablas Creek. The tour of the vineyard was also painfully boring, and the middle-aged couple on the trip were very irritating. Each question launched the guide in to a rambling, meandering telling of some trivial bit of info that could have been expressed in a sentence or two. The upside was that I got to see how they graft American root stock on to the Vineferea clones from France.
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Three wine tastings is usually my limit because you just can’t taste the differences in the wine afterward. My friend wanted to go to one more though, Villa Creek. Which make wines that are completely not my style. Those are high alcohol, high fruit wines that really beat you over the head. They lacked any of the refinement or subtlety of the other wines.
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Dinner that night was at Artisan. The place was more New-American and the menu had some really intriguing options. The gouda and porter fondue with andouille, broccolini, and crostini was a great appetizer that I split. Then, for whatever reason, I had pasta for the second evening in a row, but this time with some very tender rabbit, and a rabbit sausage. The food in this town does not disappoint.

The next day was J. Lohr, which is conveniently located on Airport Rd. just a short drive from the Paso Robles Juvenielle Hall and the ancient municipal airport. It was so scenic I didn’t want to ruin it with a picture… J. Lohr’s 08 Petite Sirah was great, but their 07 wasn’t nearly as good. The 07 had cabernet in the mix, while the 08 used grenache in the mix. The grenache really rounded out the wine, while the cabernet didn’t seem to help at all.

Lone Madrone had a quirky tasting room on the 46 in a psuedo-folksy-farmhouse style. It even had two goats, three chickens, a rabbit, and two small dogs. The lady in the tasting room informed us that Tablas Creek and Lone Madrone shared the same winemaker. Tablas Creek was where the winemaker worked to satisfy his bosses seeking truly French-style wine, and Lone Madrone was his private vineyard that left him free to experiment. Having tasted at both wineries, it seemed that the wines at Lone Madrone offered a freer expression. Mixing and matching all kinds of things –like “Barfendel” a mix of Barbera and Zinfandel grapes. The personality of these wines was more New World/Californian, but without any of the negatives of Villa Creek. When oak was used, it was used sparingly, and it was neutral (new oak gives CA chardonnay it’s uhh… distinct… flavor. As the oak is used more and more, it becomes neutral and has a subtle effect on the wine.)

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Continuing on 46, we stopped at Linne Calodo. Which was well reviewed, but ended up being a little disappointing. The wines were more like Villa Creek, with that inky, strong fuit and alcohol combination. The tasting room was nice though. Then it was back on 46.
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The sleepy, seaside town of Cambria would be the final stop, for lunch.
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The rest of the photos are in this Flickr set.

LA Auto Show

I went to the LA Auto Show again this year.  Unfortunately, a lot of other people decided to go to the LA Auto Show on that Saturday as well.  That was unfortunate.  I’m also convinced that I contracted a head cold from The Unwashed Masses.  Oh well, gave me plenty of time to go through my photos on Thanksgiving and make a blog post.  There were some really nice cars there this year, and a lot of disappointing cars.  With all the fuss made about the Buick Regal I was really surprised by how cheap and plastic the interior is.  The Chevy Cruze had a better interior –and an available touchscreen navigation you can’t get on the “premium” Regal.  So what’s the point, Buick?  Mercedes, BMW, and Audi did not disappoint with their offerings and everything felt really top notch inside and out.  The real surprise was the Kia Optima, which seems to blow past many competitors.  Also I saw the Cadillac Urban Concept and it’s just as cartoonish in person as it is in the pictures.

Full Album

Excerpts:
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Malibu

Went up the PCH to Malibu on Saturday to attend wine tastings with a friend.  Brought the camera along for a few snaps.  Inland Malibu is actually surprisingly nice to look at.  Cornell “Winery” (it’s really just a tasting room featuring wines of other regional producers) had a really cool building.  There was also a peacock.

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Then we stopped at a beach parking lot along the PCH on the way back to LA to get a few sunset shots. Just missed the sun setting though.
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The rest of the Flickr shots here.

Santa Barbara Weekend

I never really seem to have the time to do casual weekend trips around the Los Angeles area.  This past weekend, a friend and I packed up for a trip up the 101 to Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez Valley wine country.  It’s like Napa, but not as well known, and everything is much more spread out.  The first stop was Lompoc, CA.  A dusty little town, with a quiet main street.  There was a winery by the airport, Pali. My friend recognized the name from labels he had seen before.  Interestingly, the grapes they used came from all over.  Instead of being a purely regional affair, they blended grapes from all up and down the coast in to unique pinot noir and syrah blends.  Palmina’s tasting room was the next stop.  Apparently many of the wineries have selected to cluster their tasting rooms in an industrial complex near Route 246 and Route 1.  It’s locally referred to, lovingly, as “The Wine Ghetto”.  Palmina was the only one we stepped in to though.  The tasting room was dressed up like a stereotypical “Old World” Italian restaurant.  The wines they produce are all Italian varietals that they grow in Santa Barbara County.  They were all rather unique tasting –more than Californian grown French varietals.  The last winery for the day was Melville, on Route 246, on the way from Lompoc to Solvang.  I have tasted Melville’s pinot noir in the past, and really enjoyed it, so I was excited to see what the other varietals were like.  Oddly enough, I ended up enjoying their viognier the most.  Soft, but still dry, and very floral.  The pictures started in Melville (Lompoc really isn’t that scenic).

Then it was on to Solvang.  Solvang is a Danish-styled town that was really developed as a tourist attraction after World War II.  The area is charming, but kitschy.  Windmills, and fake building facades abound.  It is pleasant enough to walk through, and I got to have my very first abelskiver with raspberry sauce and powdered sugar.  The local high-end restaurant, Root 246, by Chef Bradley Ogden is also a real treat and the staff couldn’t be nicer.

Sunday was the last day of the trip, and the stop was Los Olivos.  I was really expecting a tiny, dusty town –much like Lompoc– but I was very blown away by the charm of Los Olivos.  It’s the smallest town, but hands down the best cared for town.  The center of town is peppered with cafes and wine tasting rooms –and of course, olive oil tasting rooms.  I eschewed the in town tastings and opted to go for vineyard trips.  The first was Fess Parker on Foxen Canyon Road.  Fess Parker’s grounds are beautiful, and the tasting room is very modern, but I really didn’t enjoy their wine as much as I had expected.  It felt very similar to my trip to Mondavi in Napa Valley.  Both have very pleasant staff, and both are beautiful facilities, but the wine… it just wasn’t quite up to what I felt they were charging for it.  Wine Advocate rates Fess Parker’s wines very highly, but my friend and I both agreed that we preferred the other vineyards’ offerings, particularly Melville.

Brander was the last stop.  I’ve had their sauvingon blanc before, but never tasted their other offerings.  Their other whites are quite good, but the only red I cared for was Bouchet, their Bordeaux-style red (50% cabernet sauvingon, 40% cabernet franc, 10% syrah).

The last stop was at the beach in Santa Barbara, it was very windy.  The wind actually helped me track the sea gulls because they were moving very slowly against the wind.

The full Flickr set is here.