Saturday, November 21, 2015

Why You Totally Have the Wrong Impression About Mexico City

Upstairs at El Pendulo bookstore
Despite my love of Mexican food and several great trips to Tijuana and Ensenada, I have to admit I hadn't really been dying to visit Mexico City. I assumed it was impossibly congested with crazy traffic like Bangkok, horribly smoggy like Beijing, and far more dangerous, dirty and chaotic than other big cities.

But since I needed to spend a few days in Baja covering the Los Cabos film festival (seriously, I was working!), I decided it was time to finally spend a few days in DF, as the locals say (like our DC, it stands for Distrito Federale).

I was incredibly surprised to find out how wrong my impressions were, so I wanted to share my experiences with readers who might not be sure about traveling to Mexico City. I planned the trip on my own, and didn't get any comped meals or rooms.

Disclaimer: I'm just an American tourist and food blogger, not an expert. If my impressions are wrong or naive, feel free to let me know, politely. 

Misconception 1: Crime 
Certainly the biggest concern is whether it's dangerous to travel there. Obviously after four days, I'm no expert in Mexican crime, cartels or anything else like that. But I'd say that for an American tourist (or any other kind, really), the crime is no different than most other major cities. I know there are kidnappings of high-powered figures, and, mostly outside of Mexico City, horrific murders. But like gang activity in L.A., it's extremely unlikely to affect tourists. Like in Oaxaca and the Yucatan, there is no U.S. Government advisory in effect advising of problems in Mexico City.

In fact, I felt safer than in places like Barcelona and Rome, where pickpockets and bag slashers abound. The usual precautions remain: Keep an extra credit card and your passport in a safe or locked bag at your hotel or Airbnb in case you lose your purse or wallet. Try not to call attention by loudly yammering in English on the metro or streets, or constantly displaying an expensive camera. But those common sense suggestions go for just about anywhere.

There's a large police presence everywhere in Mexico City, and in the evening police cars often circle the streets with their lights and sirens on, seemingly just to show people they're around. I think this is a good thing, right? Anyway it seems better than NOT seeing police keeping an eye on things. But it can be pretty cacaphonous between dusk and midnight, when things quiet down.

El Pendulo bookstore in Polanco is a great place to browse, rest your feet and have a cup of tea or full meal.
Misconception 2: It's chaotic, and the traffic is terrible. 
There aren't as many "walk" crosswalk signs as in the U.S., but it's still not particularly difficult to cross major streets. Just watch the signals for when the opposing traffic has a red light, and follow a local if possible. Like in L.A., rush hours can be trafficky, so that's a good time to take the Metro instead. You might have to stand for a few stops at busy times, but it's not horrendously crowded like Tokyo.
I was afraid the city might be hard to figure out, but even without a phone it was no problem (Like ancient vagabonds, we used the Streetwise Mexico City map we bought at the beautiful El Pendulo bookstore in Polanco.) It helps to read a guidebook first -- we picked Mexico City: An Opinionated guide for the Curious Traveler because it's compact and recently published. With only four days to explore, we stayed mostly in Condesa, where our Airbnb was, Roma, Centro and Polanco, so naturally our experience was skewed more towards those more upscale and very walkable neighborhoods. Just watch out for uneven sidewalks.

The leafy view from our apartment could have been in Paris. 
Misconception 3: It's incredibly smoggy.
My throat tickled a bit from time to time, and due to the altitude, the three flights up to our apartment sometimes left me winded. I'm not sure whether it was Mexico City's efforts to get polluting cars off the road or we just lucked out with weather (around 80 degrees and cloudy or breezy), but the smog seemed no worse than, say, Pasadena or Riverside. Honestly, you won't even notice once you're strolling the tree-lined streets of Condesa.

Misconception 4: It's dirty, trashy, public bathrooms are scary, etc.
Totally wrong in our experience -- maybe outlying areas are rougher around the edges. Public toilets at the Mercado Medellin, in the Metro, museums and everywhere else were uniformly immaculate, and it seemed as if workers were constantly washing everything down with bleach. Be sure to carry several 5 peso pieces for public bathrooms and Metro tickets, though.

A yogurt packed with granola and freshly-cut fruits at La Morenita fruit stand in Mercado de Medellin
At food stands in the Mercado Medellin and Condesa tianguis open market, plates were covered in plastic, fruits were cut to order and produce for sale looked like it had been washed and then polished. We didn't eat at the actual sidewalk stands only because we were usually en route to a different restaurant, but they looked perfectly fine.

Obviously there's significant poverty in Mexico, and the beggars on the sidewalk in more touristy areas are certainly tragic. But we actually never saw a homeless person -- I'm sure there must be a homeless population on the outskirts, but I think the city tries hard to make central areas pleasant to visit.

A few more tips on navigating the city:

Transportation: Yes, the city is huge, but many of the neighborhoods tourists will visit aren't incredibly far apart. We took the metro everywhere because it was so cheap (5 pesos = 30 cents) and often moves much faster than the traffic. It was easy to navigate and works exactly like the Paris metro. Since we were having phone issues, we weren't able to use Uber as much as we might have if we had a working phone with an international data plan, though we made do with the wi-fi at bars and restaurants.
Uber is so cheap in Mexico City that you might as well use it a lot to be able to pack in more activities, but the metro is even cheaper and sometimes goes faster. If you want a cab, have the restaurant call one for you or go to a taxi stand. We were told not to hail them, but with Uber there's no need. I tried to tip the Uber driver, but he refused. There are also EcoBici rental bikes everywhere, which could be fun for tooling around one of the parks. I wouldn't want to take one on the main streets, but there are plenty of bike paths and quiet areas to try them out, like the Avenida Amsterdam oval street that used to be a horse-racing track.

Water: Like everywhere in Mexico, it's not recommended to guzzle water straight from the tap. We used small amounts for tooth brushing with no ill effects, and the Airbnb provided a large jug of water. In most restaurants, there's a law that purified water must be available for free. Just ask for agua de garafon or point to the large water dispenser sitting on the bar and you'll save a few dollars a day on bottled water. We drank fruit aguas everywhere with no problem, though I have no idea if they use purified water to make them.

Customize your trip: One reason I wasn't in such a hurry to get to Mexico City is I just wasn't sure how many Frida Kahlo paintings and Mayan artifacts I was in the mood to see. But you can build a trip around any interest. My partner wanted to see the James Bond exhibit and the Zocalo and the Grand Hotel where they filmed "Spectre," so our trip was heavily 007-flavored. You can easily do a food trip, architecture trip or photography trip even if pre-Columbian art isn't your thing. But the wonderfully subversive Diego Rivera murals at the Palacio National (free admission!) are well worth a visit no matter what.

The Pyramid of the Moon is a LONG walk from the entrance to Teotihuacan park
Visiting the pyramids at Teotihuacan: If you have a full day available, you can get out of the city and visit the 2000-year old pyramids at Teotihuacan. Is it possible to take public transportation to Tethuouican, about 30 miles from Mexico City, and be back in time for a meal, a shower and drinks appointment at 7 that evening? Theoretically, yes, but you'll be very tired, even without climbing the 246 ft. tall Pyramid of the Sun. Expensive organized tours apparently stop at lots of shops and don't get there any faster, and I don't think you really need a guide to the pyramids. Taking the public bus from Autobuses del Norte station is quite simple and comfortable: here's good instructions on how to do it.
Leave as early in the morning as possible, preferably on a weekday -- before 9 is ideal -- and take a hat, sunscreen and at least one bottle of water per person or buy some at the entrance, as no water or snacks are available inside the park. Consider taking a picnic or having a big breakfast and taking some snacks. There are restaurants outside the park but once you walk to the pyramids you might not want to keep walking around, since the park is a mile or two long with numerous stone staircases.

Eating: That's a whole other blog post! Check back soon for some of our favorite tastes and what's on our list for next time.

Mexico City is one of the world's great cities, and if a trip to Barcelona or Madrid isn't in the cards, you can have a similar experience in DF with just as much great food and art for a fraction of the price. We can't wait to get back and experience more neighborhoods and even some Frida Kahlo. So what are you waiting for? Let me know in the comments if you have more tips.

Here's a post from last year from a travel blogger who had many similar impressions: Why I was So Dead Wrong About Mexico City.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Even Before Clifton's, L.A. Had Crazy Themed Restaurants

Here's a story I did for EaterLA timed to the recent re-opening of Clifton's about some of Los Angeles' craziest early theme restaurants, from pirates to jails to questionable African fried chicken huts. Read the full story at

The Jail Cafe on Sunset where El Cid stands now. (Courtesy LAPL)
Even before the woodsy Brookdale Cafeteria opened in 1932, theme restaurants were an essential piece of Los Angeles's dining culture. The city is famous for dining establishments shaped like tamales, hotdogs, airplanes, and doughnuts. Some theme restaurants enriched the experience with garishly costumed waiters and entertainment, though they seldom attempted to link the fare with their outlandish facades. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Soylent 2.0 Makes Me a Modern Woman

Soylent 2.0 comes in a plain white bottle.

I'm probably the last person in the world to be a good customer for Soylent, the meal replacement drink beloved by coders who refuse to leave their computers long enough to even greet the pizza delivery guy. I think about food a LOT, and I basically NEED every single meal to be at least delicious and/or healthy, even if it's simple or consumed while working. I also have no trouble remembering to eat, ever, so obviously I will never make a lot of money as a coder.

I first heard about Soylent in this New Yorker article and it intrigued me mainly because it was so damn weird. But since I do eat lunch at my desk every day, and I'm always up for trying the latest thing, when the Soylent company offered to send me a pack of bottles, I said, "Why not?"

Oh yeah, and let's just get this out of the way: it's definitely made of people. That's a thing now.

Here's what happened.

The bottle: Soylent 2.0 comes minimalistically packaged in plain white plastic. (It's also available in a powder.)
If you want to know what the ingredients are, you'll have to go to the website. Some of the main ones are soy protein, sucralose (Splenda), and a prebiotic fiber (from oats and some other stuff). It recommends chilling before drinking, so definitely do that. But it doesn't have to be refrigerated until it's consumed, so I guess that's the advantage over buying a bottle of juice with protein at the market and risking it going bad if you forget to use it or don't refrigerate it. The only thing the bottle says is that it has 400 calories, which should be enough to get you to the next meal. It's not designed to be a weight loss drink, although I suppose it could be if you used it to replace higher-calorie meals.

And now, the taste: Chalky milk, basically, like plain soy milk with protein powder mixed in. It's not noxious or repellent though -- the flavor is basically the absence of flavor, kind of a milky bleak nothingness.

Is there any way to improve it? The Internet is full of people trying to "hack" Soylent. I dumped a shot of espresso in there, figuring coffee improves pretty much anything, and the bleak nothingness kind of sucked up the flavor of the coffee so I could barely taste it. Then I added a packet of Stevia and chugged the rest. Basically I think if you need to add a banana, Stevia, cinnamon and cocoa powder to make it palatable, as some have recommended, why not just make a healthy smoothie with fresh ingredients? Or, this is a crazy suggestion, but like, make a sandwich or something.

Did it keep me full all afternoon? This is really a key question since if I could just stop thinking about food all day I might actually be able to get some work done. I don't snack after dinner or eat fast food so afternoon grazing (and a desk job) is really my only impediment to dropping a few pounds. If there was a substance that completely removed my desire to snack, I might endure it no matter what it tasted like.

Sadly, the answer was no. I consumed a packet of cheese Goldfish immediately after drinking it and I don't even LIKE those, but I needed to taste an actual flavor in my mouth, even if that flavor was fake cheese. The rest of the afternoon and early evening I had an apple, almonds, dried apricots and a cheese stick -- the usual amount of snackage. The only thing that can prevent this desire is eating a lunch of something like a hefty piece of salmon or chicken, brown rice and veggies -- basically having a full, healthy dinner at lunch. That, and possibly forcing the entire office to never have any snacks around, ever.

What about that prebiotic fiber? Ever since a disastrous experience with an entire pan of roasted Jerusalem artichokes, my insides quake at the words "prebiotic fiber" and I try to avoid foods with added chicory --like Go Lean Crunch cereal, for example. Thankfully, the type of fiber Soylent uses is somehow more sophisticated and it had no ill effects on the digestive system.

So why DO people drink Soylent instead of just grabbing a smoothie with protein powder? 
Hell if I know. The cost is $2.42 a bottle -- somewhat less than a smoothie, but more than say, a scoop of protein powder, some kind of milk, a banana and some cocoa, which is probably pretty delicious. It's got a more complete array of vitamins and fiber, which might be important if you're using it to replace a significant number of meals, but not at all important if the majority of your meals are actual food.

Personally, I don't think drinking any meals is a very good idea, and I don't think juicing is that great, either. I think humans need to chew fruits, vegetables, nuts and other real foods, preferably at every single meal. If you don't have time to do that, you're likely doing something wrong. But if you're one of those people who forgets to eat, by all means try some Soylent, your body will probably thank you for the protein.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Need a Space to Pop Up? Check Out PopKitch

Caterer Marcos Rodriguez, a Wolfgang Puck alum, has opened PopKitch in an Alvarado St. mini-mall. It serves as the headquarters for his catering operation, convenient to Downtown L.A. offices as well as to Silver Lake and Echo Park. But like so many great L.A. mini-mall locations, it's also available for use as a pop-up restaurant or for other food events such as cooking classes. The storefront location features an open kitchen and serving counter, and can seat at least a dozen people, possibly more. Check out PopKitch for healthy, multi-cultural catering or ask about using the Alvarado space for a variety of food uses.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Clifton's Cafeteria Re-Opens in Downtown L.A.: Don't Miss the Details!

The re-opening of Clifton's in downtown L.A. is one of the biggest events of the year, for everyone from tiki cocktail aficionados to historic preservationists to downtown revitalization advocates (ok, there's a lot of overlaps in those groups.)
Photos of Clifton's Cafeteria's wonderful restoration and re-opening after four years of rebuilding are everywhere. The stuffed bears! The rock walls! The giant tree!

The first and second floors will open (hopefully) this week including a cafeteria with much-improved food, seating area and bakery on the first floor and woodsy bar and cozy lounge on the second floor. Eventually there will be a tiki bar on the fourth floor with decor from the late Bahooka Polynesian restaurant in Rosemead, a sit-down steakhouse from chef Jason Fullilove and a speakeasy style bar in the basement, near the still-illuminated neon that was discovered during renovation and hadn't been turned off in decades.

"Edison" owner Andrew Meieran acquired the 1932 gem and has been laboriously restoring and redecorating for four years, but thankfully, he saved many of the vintage kitchen items that are now on display along with critters from the Natural History Museum and the giant tree in the middle of the restaurant.

Owned by a devoutly religious family since the beginning, Clifton's had never served alcohol, but a woodsy new bar on the second floor will now dispense classic cocktails from behind an antique bar with a burl wood counter.

When you go to sample a Moscow Mule and hand-carved roastbeef sandwich, don't miss all the period details that were kept and polished up, like the slicers, orangeade dispensers, art deco coffee urns and more. And don't forget to look down at tiled floors and ground-level dioramas, sure to be a hit with the kids. And finally, the jello. It's back, but in gourmet form, with lavender mousse and edible flowers this time around.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Baroo: Did This "Free-Style Experimental Kitchen" Just Usher in the Latest Hot Neighborhood?

pork belly taco

If you are driving east on Santa Monica Blvd. and you overshoot the mini-mall that is home to Baroo, "a free-style experimental kitchen" of Korean-influenced fermented foods, you will probably find parking just a little ways past Wilton Place. You will traverse a short stretch of sidewalk that's home to at least three businesses catering to Oaxacans, a dubious nightspot known as Gold Diggers, the doorway to the exceedingly sketchy Harvey Apartments and a small, non-threatening gang of guys and their large flashy motorcycles. At least you certainly can't say that east Hollywood has become too gentrified.

the kombucha fermenting area

The mini-mall is deserted at night except for the blank white lighted sign in front of Baroo. For some reason I thought I had already read an article deeming Baroo "the most hipster restaurant ever," but maybe I imagined it. It was probably this Eater article instead, What's Up With This Bizarre Fermentation Restaurant in a Hollywood Strip Mall?

Inside the small cafe is a communal table, shelves stocked with fermenting potions in various stages and a counter piled high with notable cookbooks, a nod to tradition and technique also seen at places like St. Martha.

If Sqirl is too bougie now, but you like the vibe and want even more fermented veggies in your grain and egg bowl, then this could be your spot. I confess, I have not yet eaten a full meal there, but I couldn't resist posting some early impressions from a small gathering I attended.

I'm not even sure if the pork belly tacos we tasted are on the menu, but they certainly should be, since they were Hoisin-intensive, fatty in the best way, mildly spicy flavor bombs. Natto wraps, on the other hand, are not the strongest fermented soybean product I've ever tasted but are still most likely a taste that appeals to a select few.

On the blackboard menu, only an oxtail pasta dish has meat in it - most of the bowls are composed of a number of unusual-sounding ingredients (roasted Koji ink cream, Jobs tears) and grains, possibly with an egg on top. Several Kombuchas are brewing on the shelves with innovative flavors like Rose and Elderflower, along with a slew of pickles that can be ordered in a $2 tasting plate.

Open just three weeks, Baroo is headed by chef Kwang Uh, who worked at New York's Picholine and Daniel and staged at Noma, then opened this simple yet innovative restaurant with his friend Matthew Kim. I'll certainly be back soon to what those Jobs Tears are all about.

East Hollywood: It's the next frontier. De Sano Pizza knows that already -- and maybe soon, everyone will.

Baroo, at 5706 Santa Monica Blvd, is open for lunch and dinner every day except Sunday.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Get Roy Choi's Food While Chilling on the Couch With the Munchery

Ever have a craving for Pot's kimchi-fried rice, but you're so fried from work you absolutely can't move a muscle, except for the one that opens an app on your phone? Or how about cheezy short rib ramen? Chef and serial entrepreneur Roy Choi has partnered with food delivery service Munchery to offer two dishes for home delivery that epitomize his over-the-top, throw a lot of ingredients together that all manage to taste amazing cooking style. Even if you're not hungover, the fried rice makes the perfect quick lunch of dinner. My recommendation would be that one egg mixed into the fried rice is probably just right, while two is just a bit de trop.
Munchery, which is five years old in San Francisco but just launched in L.A. a few months ago, is currently delivering mostly west of Western but plans to add Eastside areas soon. If you're not in the mood for fried rice or ramen, they have a large selection of other entrees and sides to choose from, and everything is cooked fresh each day near L.A. We also tried orecchiette with prosciutto and burrata and chicken with broccolini and black rice. Both were terrific, but but don't mistake this for those austere diet food delivery services -- the restaurant-quality meals don't stint on the butter. Each entree ranges from $8.95 to $11.95, making it pretty similar in price to services like Blue Apron where you cook the meals yourself with ingredients that get shipped across the country. Sure, it would be great to cook every meal at home from scratch, but if you're super busy, these services are a godsend. Delivery to your home or office is $2.95 within a specified window between 4 and 9 pm or $4.50 on demand.
Go to to see if you're in their delivery area and get a look at this week's the menu items.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Maré on Melrose: Your New Favorite Secret Summer Patio

This month's Larchmont Ledger review was Maré on Melrose. Go to the neighborhood paper's website to see how many forks it got.

To find the sweet little hidden restaurant Maré, start at Greenspan's Grilled Cheese shop on Melrose. Now walk confidently through to the kitchen at the rear. It may look like a dead-end, but the kitchen staff will point you to a heavy door that looks like it might lead to a walk-in cooler. Don't worry, you're not about to be deep-frozen: the door leads to the former Foundry chef's pleasant new all-patio restaurant that features a tightly-edited menu that concentrates on Mediterranean-style seafood and lots of seasonal vegetables.

A pleasant patio restaurant with no indoor seats

With polished service and fresh, assured flavors, Maré will hopefully stick around long enough to get some use out of the many available heat lamps. You emerge from of the grilled cheese shop's kitchen into a patio with a hostess station and waiting area. Reservations are available for parties of six and more only, so kill some time on the foosball table if there’s a wait.

While you’re considering the menu, an array of snacks is placed on the brown paper table covering: a dish of preserved kumquats and tiny olives, seeded baguettes, pickled sweet peppers. There are certainly worse ways to while away an evening than sipping rosé and dipping bread into the little wood dishes of dipping oil and pickles.

this pleasant spread greats diners on arrival

If you haven’t stopped by the Melrose Umbrella Company next door first, there are muddled fruit cocktails, like tequila with kumquat or whiskey with fig and oregano. For now the wine list keeps it super-simple with one house choice of each color, though it may eventually grow.

There’s something relaxing about the lack of choices at Mare. Order a selection of a pretty tray of crudités with two dips and an array of lightly steamed and raw veggies, a very Italian Riviera plate of small fried smelts, maybe a whole grilled branzino or a special like supple slices of raw scallops topped with plums, salsa verde and crunchy sea beans.

Almost every table gets one of the shellfish dishes: Mussels, shrimp or clams are available with a handful of broth variations from white wine to curry to corn. A bowl of plain spaghetti arrives alongside the mussels, along with a raw egg, and the diner is instructed to mix the egg, pasta and leftover broth to form a sort of a French ramen, a nice touch that makes for a heartier dish.

For dessert, choose between a few simple selections like sorbet, semolina cake with fruit compote or chili chocolate crepes.
raw scallops with sea beans and salsa verde

Maré’s slightly improvisational feel, enthusiastic service and reasonable prices make it a fine spot for a mid-city summer supper. With just a few more dishes on the menu -- perhaps a cheese and charcuterie plate – it could end up being everyone’s favorite secret spot.

Mare Melrose, 7465 Melrose Ave., 323-592-3226

Friday, July 17, 2015

Lamill Coffee Freshens Up Menu, Streamlines Premium Coffee Program

Silver Lakers pack Lamill to work, caffeinate and socialize

When Lamill Coffee Boutique opened seven years ago, EatingLA wondered whether it might be "too spiffy for scruffy Silver Lake?" Well, Silver Lake isn't so scruffy anymore, and since 2008 the area has seen the arrival of various new wave coffee purveyors such as Intelligentsia, Dinosaur, Caffe Vita, Sqirl, Go Get 'Em Tiger, Proof Bakery, Broome St. and many more. But Lamill's fanciful decor stands above the plywood aesthetic of the more minimal spots.
Lamill is one of the few coffee roasters that is actually local (Groundworks and Bar Nine are a few of the others), and over the years the Silver Lake Blvd. cafe has simplified its beverage program to bring it more in line with what the neighborhood prefers. Gone are the pricey and whimsical concoctions like "coffee and a cigarette" with tobacco-infused whipped cream -- more recently the cafe has moved to offering a half dozen freshly-roasted blends and single origin coffees available with three brewing methods: Clover vacuum brewing, hand drip or French press. Fortunately the excellent Hong Kong Milk Tea is still on the menu along with a dozen other tea selections from Lamill's own label.
Boursin omelette with roasted tomatoes
Chef James Trees (Hutchinson, Michael Mina, Whist) has given the menu a freshening up, with house-made pastries and maple espresso brioche donuts, a wide brunch selection and lunch and dinner entrees. When Lamill opened, the neighborhood was aghast a the prices, but now they're in line with the rest of the area. On the menu for breakfast and brunch are the ubiquitous avocado toast smeared with what must be an entire avocado; smoked salmon toast; a terrific, classic Boursin omelette; Eggs Benedict and chicken and waffles.
If you don't tend to think of Lamill as a place for lunch or dinner, think again -- try a croque monsieur, shrimp 'n grits, the Lamill Burger, steak frites or salads. There's also wine and six different craft beer selections. Lamill is open until 10 pm, 11 pm on weekends.

Lamill Coffee Boutique
1636 Silver Lake Blvd.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Ostrich Farm: Echo Park's Cozy, Stylish Spot Flies Under the Radar

Ostrich Farm's interior is simple but not austere

Some very good restaurants have opened in the area this year, and Echo Park's Ostrich Farm is one of the best of the lot. It was also a good chance to read up on why it's called Ostrich Farm, since I had heard more about the South Pasadena bird attraction than the Griffith Park one. In this month's Los Feliz Ledger, I gave it the top rating of four forks. Read the review:

Ostrich Farm is the swankiest place to open in Echo Park since since Allumette closed up a year ago. But where Allumette's ambitious, borderline-molecular dishes never quite seemed comfortable in the former Allston Yacht Club space, Ostrich Farm and its light touch with new American cuisine feels like the right spot at the right time.
seared shrimp and asparagus

Ostrich Farm proprietors Jaime Turrey (who ran the Monsieur Egg cart) and Brooke Fruchtman (a former LACMA exec) are first-time restaurant owners, but after five months they seem to have everything running smoothly, with a clientele that includes lots of locals of all ages and the occasional movie star.
The former purple-painted pupuseria is now a bright, white space with big windows looking out on Sunset, a long marble bar and sage leatherette banquettes. The only wall decoration is a block-printed tapestry, which combines with modern gold lamps, vases of baby's breath on each table and rough linen napkins for a stylish rustic look right down to the stubby wine glasses.
flatbread with grilled peaches and burrata

The menu seems simple at first glance, with a few flatbreads, the now-inevitable chicken liver toast, mussels and meatballs among the starters. But layers of flavors are revealed when you bite into the flatbread with grilled peaches, fennel and a generous puddle of burrata, which you'll want to snack on forever with a glass of rose or Sauvignon blanc. Grilled shrimp and asparagus, topped with shards of parmesan, looks basic, but the perfectly-grilled shellfish is a light complement to some of the richer dishes.
pork osso buco with polenta

Sea bass, rib eye steak, and roast chicken make up most of the entrees along with a braised beef pot pie and pork "osso buco" style. The pork is a bowl of pure comfort, with pillows of braised meat resting on a bed of pudding-like polenta decorated with broccolini, roasted fennel and roasted tomatoes. It's the kind of dish where each forkful is an experiment in combining salty, bitter, smooth and savory to create just the right flavor in your mouth. A soft-shell crab BLT sandwich special gets a little confused with layers of mayonnaise, roasted tomatoes and thick-cut bacon on sourdough bread but it's hard to complain about something so decadently satisfying.
The dessert list is small but more tempting than most -- salted dark chocolate tart sounds appealing, but we tried a cherry galette topped with whipped cream and a marzipan base, the ideal celebration of the current season's fruit. 
Sadly, Ostrich Farm is unable to use its rear patio for seating due to noise concerns
Ostrich Farm (named for the railway that ran to a 1880s Griffith Park tourist attraction), seems to have figured out how to be stylish without being pretentious and creative without being fussy. You could buy 50 pupusas for the price of a meal for two here, but right now, this is what the area wants.

Ostrich Farm, 1525 W. Sunset Blvd., 213-537-0657