Everything I know about Los Angeles I learned from watching Curb Your Enthusiasm. So I guess you could say my perception is a tad skewed (or right on?). It’s been one of those U.S. cities still unknown to me, its streets and hills and people a mystery to this New Yorker. I jumped at the opportunity to spend this past weekend there, tagging along with Yuji on a business trip.

Friday, 12 pm

Arrive at LAX and touch down to discover rain splattering the runway and airplane window. I thought this was unheard of in this city but apparently the forecast was calling for rain two out of the three days of my trip. Yuji and I flew separately—he booked his flight through work, me with miles—and miraculously took off from JFK and landed at LAX at the same moments coordinately seamlessly through text messaging.

2 pm

We cruise into downtown LA rather than checking into our hotel so Yuji isn’t late for his first meeting with a client. This means I have 2–3 hours to kill in downtown Los Angeles. My first impression is that this downtown neighborhood reminds me a lot of Vancouver circa 1998, a city near which I lived for two years (I was just outside of Victoria). It’s not just the rain, which lets up, but the desolate downtown of tall buildings and little sidewalk traffic and rundown theaters and homeless people mixed in with occasional signs of gentrification and bright blue sky. And knowing that just beyond these downtown borders lies much wealth and hip coffee shops, mountains and tall trees and the Pacific and joggers.

With an outdated LA Architecture and Design guide I set out from Broadway and 9th Street to spend my first three hours ever in Los Angeles. (Well not entirely true, I was here once sixteen years ago but don’t remember much). Pleased to spot this famous Banksy graffiti from the parking lot.

I wander through the toy district and a street lined with a dozen head shops and go toward Little Tokyo where I discover the name is an understatement. I stop for a green tea and a brief respite to check the map.

From there I venture to Union Station, on the recommendation of a friend who’s enamored with its Spanish-Mission-meets-Art-Deco architecture. This is the site of the city’s founding and original Mission and square. It is a beautiful building from 1939 in which one can board an Amtrak train to exotic places like San Diego or Riverside.

It’s a short walk from Union Station to Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall on S. Grand Avenue between 1st and 2nd. A Gehry is a Gehry is a Gehry but I wanted to see it anyway. I approached it from the north and west, passing by City Hall where I was at first surprised to see a large tent encampment before quickly realizing this must be Occupy LA. My fellow brothers and sisters! I stopped and chatted with the folks at the Information tent.

I head to the Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners’ First Interstate World Center—the tallest building on the west coast—where there’s a small protest taking place on the plaza out front. I approach one of the young guys holding a sign and ask if Bank of America is inside these buildings. Thinking that I was looking for a Bank of America branch or ATM he replies, looking a little disappointed, “No, sorry, m’am.” He starts asking if I’m aware of the $700 billion bailout and Americans suffering and I scrunch my eyebrows a bit and take off my sunglasses and explain yes! Of course I know! I am the 99%. He looks relieved and introduces himself and I’m on my way.

By the time all this is done I head back to meet Yuji after his meeting and before going on to the next one we’re both starving and stop for a quick bite. We stumble upon a hole-in-the-wall taco joint with a B rating, in other words, just what we’re looking for. We order two pork tacos con todo for $1.25 each and with a full mouth I turn to Yuji and say “this is the best taco I’ve ever had.” And whether it’s the hunger or the run-down atmosphere with old men chowing down on tortas at the smll counter, I mean it.

Friday 5 pm

We drive from downtown to West Hollywood for another one of Yuji’s meetings and I go with to stroll along the shops on Robertson and take in the Los Angeles sun setting. Stumble upon yet another Banksy.

Friday 7 pm

Check in at the Maison 140 in Beverly Hills and take the concierge’s recommendation for dinner at a local restaurant where we spot Piers Morgan and Star Jones. I feel like I really am in Beverly Hills.

Saturday 9 am

Because of the jet lag we both wake up by 6 or 7 and head into Bev Hills for breakfast at the lovely Il Fornaio. No star sightings which is fine by me (who wants to see stars in the daylight anyway). The waiters are old world, the eggs are fluffy, and the the light streaming through the windows is soft and bright. No rain!

12 noon

Head to Santa Monica with my uncle Jim who’s driven up from Fullerton for the afternoon. We stroll the pier and the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and I nearly get sun burned. We have lunch at a nondescript French joint on the promenade across from the Apple store where I’m denied the new iPhone because surprise they’re all sold out.

3 pm

Now starts the really fun part: cruising around town looking for Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra houses in Hollywood and Silver Lake. We stop at the Hollyhock House and admire the view from atop the hill. We head north and east to Silver Lake Boulevard where there are nine (nine!) Neutra houses on one block. Yuji and I fall in love with the neighborhood where there are actually people outside walking dogs and strolling and biking and the houses are small and beautiful.

Perhaps my favorite part of the day was our drive along Mulholland Dr. from west to east back to the hotel at sunset.

8 pm

The moment I was waiting for all week: dinner at Animal. I first read about Animal in this New Yorker article last year. Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo opened Animal in 2008 on North Fairfax Ave. in this Jewish neighborhood of West Hollywood. We arrive for our reservation a little early and wait at the bar inspecting the menu to figure out what our meal will be. Veal brains? Pig ear? Something called foie gras loco
moco? We eventually settle on chicken liver toast; baby kale with pecorino and lemon chili vinaigrette; pig ear with chili, lime, and a fried egg; bbq pork belly sliders; and the pièce de résistance, a big plate of poutine with oxtail gravy and cheddar. The waiter was impressed at how much we polished off. It’s not the lightest fare, but it was delicious, particularly the pork belly and poutine. Animal reminded me of a west coast version of Marlow and Daughters with its local, sustainable meaty goodness and laid back vibe.

Stuffed to the gills I still insisted on a nightcap of pie and coffee at the famous Canter’s Jewish Deli and Restaurant which happens to be right next door to Animal. What luck! I wanted to visit Canter’s ever since it appeared in an episode of Curb with Marty Funkhauser and Larry David. I only managed two bites of pumpkin pie due to all the pork belly and other animal parts in process of digesting.

I’ll have to reserve reporting on my next 24 hours for the next post, 72 Hours in LA: Part 2.