Tuesday, April 27, 2010

And Where do You "Where To"?: Quddus

I ran into the popular MTV-VJ Quddus, so I asked him:
Where does he "Where To"?

"The Dresden, this really quirky, unique place," Quddus said. "It's got a really old couple that's played there for years - Marty and Elaine. They do a residency - they play there just about every night. They have guest vocalists and guest instrumentalists come in. It's kind of like walking into a Quentin Tarantino movie. It's just so weird and left-field, so I really enjoy The Dresden."

Surprisingly, I haven't checked it out yet, but it's now officially on my list of places to visit!

The Dresden Restaurant
1760 N. Vermont Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90027

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Where to Drink: Indulge @ The San Antonio Winery

Washington, D.C. may have its politics, and Miami may have its nightclubs, but Los Angeles has its wineries. Wait a minute. Did I just say…wineries? I did. Aside from celebrity sightings, sunny beaches and awesome weather all year long, Los Angeles offers one of the quaintest, most historical wineries in California: the San Antonio Winery.

Although the winery has been around for more than 90 years, I recently discovered it when my good friend Helena hosted her birthday party there. I was a bit skeptical at first as I drove through an isolated, industrial section of Downtown, wondering where I was. But the confusing twists and turns were worth it, as I finally stumbled upon a pretty oasis of mission-style buildings amidst wine barrels, blooming flowers and green foliage.

The winery is divided into two sections – the wine tasting room and the Maddalena Restaurant. I recommend visiting the wine tasting room first, where you can enjoy up to five complimentary tastings (and you didn’t hear it from me, but if you really want more, just ask from a different wine assistant or return at a later time). If you choose to purchase any wines, the store will kindly hold your order while you visit the restaurant.

After a few tastings under your belt, you should have no problem selecting a wine to accompany lunch or dinner at the Maddalena Restaurant. The difficult decision will be which hearty, Italian meal to choose, as there’s a vast selection of dishes, ranging from vegetarian pastas to succulent steaks, suiting all budgets. My favorite was the Chicken Marsala, covered in a rich tomato sauce with buttery pasta and sautéed spinach.

The San Antonio Winery is a great destination for groups of friends. Not only can you bond over wine tastings, but each person can pick whatever they want to eat at the price range that’s suitable for him (or her). Everyone can then reunite to enjoy a festive feast in a spacious yet quaint ambiance. Thank you, Helena, for introducing me to this Los Angeles landmark!

Pictured below: The wine tasting room and the wine store. The more wine you buy, the more of a markdown you get on the already discounted prices. In fact, many of the wines here are cheaper than even BevMo prices.

Pictured below: While the menu changes frequently, the mouthwatering selections of the day delicious are conveniently displayed in the front of the Maddalena Restaurant.

Pictured below: My good friend Helena celebrating her birthday. The San Antonio Winery has large tables and semi-private rooms to gather for any special occasion.

San Antonio Winery
737 Lamar St.
Los Angeles, CA 90031

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Where to Be Merry: Inspiration @ The Annenberg Space for Photography

Most people who know me know that I’m "cheap." If I can get something discounted/for free/without spending lots of money, I’m thrilled. And with the IRS sucking every last penny I have out of my bank account this tax season, I’ve been especially economical regarding my social outings. I’ve been fervently on the hunt for activities where sacrificing cost does not mean sacrificing quality, sophistication, edge or value.

My zealous quest has led me to The Annenberg Space for Photography, a sleek, state-of-the-art center that offers hours of stimulating entertainment for free. Photos from around the world – from prominent photographers to novice beginners – gracefully hug the walls, beckoning visitors to fall in love with their stories, their subjects, their convictions. While the settings and the tones vary, the underlying goal of the center’s exhibits is always the same: it’s to enlighten, to inspire and to connect the viewer with a greater part of humanity.

Take, for instance, the current “Water: Our Thirsty World” exhibit. I was deeply moved and humbled by the 60+ photos that reveal how a society’s access – or lack of access – to water shape cultures, politics and lifestyles. To see how ravaging floods in India have damaged cities, or how tribal Gabra women in Kenya must walk five hours each day for drinking water opened my eyes to the dire conflicts and tension surrounding water.

I highly recommend checking out this exhibit the next time you find yourself in Century City. And gentlemen, do consider this place for date night. It’s inexpensive, it inspires stimulating conversation and it will make her think that you’re smart and worldly. This is solid advice coming from a lady herself.

Pictured below: The featured photos at the center are truly thought provoking, mind-opening and awe-inspiring.

Pictured below: Several striking photos from the current "Water: Our Thirsty World" exhibit.

Pictured below: There's so much more to do than just glance at photos. The center has lecture series, interactive-touch screen technologies, digital video presentations and even a reading room.

The Annenberg Space for Photography
2000 Avenue of the Stars, #10
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Where to Eat: Pintxos (Not Tapas) @ Bar Pintxo

Bilbao is a quirky little town in Northern Spain, with even quirkier inhabitants. During my three-month stay there, I learned many important life lessons. I learned that the town isn’t really a part of Spain; it’s part of the Basque Country. I discovered that there’s no such thing as Santa Clause; there’s only Olentzero. And most importantly, I found out that the small plates typically served with wine aren’t called tapas; they’re called pintxos.

So when I stumbled upon a cheery Santa Monica bar named Bar Pintxo, my heart hesitantly leaped for joy. I was wary. If this joint had the audacity to give itself a Basque name, then I certainly needed it to transport me 5,000 miles away back to my beloved Bilbao.

Upon entering, I was instantly greeted by a tiny bar section, where customers tightly crammed together, teetering on stools and delicately balancing cups in their hands. To the back, I noticed a handful of tables, all patronized by groups engrossed in intent conversations. From floor to ceiling, bottles of wine and imported goods covered the wooden shelves, adding to the lively, inviting atmosphere. Like the Bilbao bars I had frequented, Bar Pintxo was excruciatingly tiny and undeniably filled with an infectious gaiety. It was a winner!

Ok, I was convinced that it felt authentic, but what about the cuisine – was that authentic, too? I ordered several pintxos (the fresh tomato, Serrano ham and grilled bread was amazing) and a few of what were called “tapas” (gambas al ajillo rocked my world). Overall, I was content, yet what impressed me the most was that the majority of these great dishes were available for reasonable prices during the daily Happy Hour.

So if you’re up for a bona fide Basque cultural immersion minus the 15-hour flight, travel expenses and language barrier, I say make a trip to Bar Pintxo!

Pictured below: The warm earthy colors, soaring ceilings and exposed wooden beams are truly reminiscent of Bilbao’s rustic bars.
Pictured below: The tortilla Espanola. What more could I ever ask for, save for an invigorating glass of wine and this traditional Spanish dish!
Pictured below: Jamina and I, who both spent a semester abroad, give Bar Pintxo two thumbs up for its authenticity and for its daily Happy Hour, from 44 p.m. - 6 p.m.

Bar Pintxo
109 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401