Monday, January 28, 2008

L.A. in Winter

One of the best things about rain in Los Angeles is how clean the city looks after a good storm. And one of the best places to see L.A. is Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area, a massive county park located a couple of miles from our home. Although most people think of Griffith Park as L.A.'s premier playground, for my money Hahn is far superior because not as many people know about it, plus its views of the city are nothing short of spectacular. We go there several times a year to marvel at the beauty of Los Angeles, especially after it has rained. Tim's very quick movie (fasten your seatbelts!), taken two days ago, shows the entire L.A. basin rimmed in snow. Happy winter!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ford's Filling Station

Downtown Culver City was pretty much a ghost town when we moved here ten years ago. Despite being the self-proclaimed “Heart of Screenland,” there was only one sad movie theater—a Mann multiplex across the street from Sony Studios—and absolutely no nightlife. Things have certainly changed since then!

Five years ago, a new Pacific movie theater opened, followed soon after by the renaissance of the live Kirk Douglas Theatre, now part of the Centre Theatre Group. But the really big news came in 2006 when Benjamin Ford, celebrity chef and son of actor Harrison Ford, decided to open his restaurant Ford’s Filling Station in the middle of Culver City’s downtown district. Before long other high-end and well-reviewed restaurants were springing up downtown and in Culver City’s newly artsy eastside. Suddenly our sleepy town had become L.A.’s latest hot spot, and all because of Ben Ford.

The food at Ford’s is wonderful: healthy American fare that’s a tad expensive but, oh, so tasty. My favorites are the flatbreads, salami platter and roasted chicken. Tim loves the “pub burger” and just about everything else on the menu! Ben Ford calls his restaurant a “gastropub,” where people can eat good food and meet other like-minded diners.

To celebrate the Filling Station’s two-year anniversary, Ford held a special dinner-lecture last night, where he talked about and introduced several new items to his menu. I made reservations for Tim, Karen and me as soon as I heard about it. The event was sold-out, despite it being a rainy weeknight.

We were, of course, among the first people to arrive. The restaurant is fairly small, so we could see everyone coming and going. Karen and I were chatting when Tim suddenly grabbed my arm. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes were bugging out of his head. There, scooting behind Karen’s chair, were Harrison Ford and TV celebrity girlfriend Calista Flockhart! In all the times we’d eaten at Ford’s, we’d never seen them, even though we’d heard they eat there regularly.

“Harry and Calista just came in and are right behind you!” I whispered in Karen’s ear.

The couple hugged and kissed the people seated next to us, but passed us right by. Apparently the restaurant was filled with Ben Ford’s friends and family—how we were able to get reservations, I’ll never know.

The dinner was fabulous. As appetizers, we had smoked lake trout (Tim), oxtail-stuffed cabbage (Karen), and chilled marinated leeks with tomato vinaigrette (me). For their main course, Tim and Karen each ordered the shoreman’s pie (lobster, leeks, sweet peas, and truffle potato), while I had roasted hen with champ (root vegetables), pea tendrils and roasted porcini mushrooms. Lots of sharing went on, but mostly between Tim and Karen as I don’t eat fish or red meat. There were several appetizers and entries to choose from, so our heads were spinning trying to see what everyone else was eating. Meanwhile, Tim, who had a clear view of Harry and Calista’s table, reported on everything the couple ate (chicken and beef).

Finally, after eating and talking for about three hours, dessert was served. Karen and Tim enjoyed their persimmon bread pudding, but I was sorely disappointed in my toffee apple ice cream (a cored and baked apple with vanilla ice cream down the middle). Still we all declared the evening a huge success, with Tim saying he got his money’s worth after the first course. I did him one better and said I was satisfied as soon as Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart walked in. By the way, they both look exactly like they do in the movies and on TV and seem to be very happy.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Where No One Has Gone Before . . .

As I’ve reported elsewhere on this blog, I’ve been a “Star Trek” (ST) fan since it first aired in 1966. I’ve seen every movie—some several times—and almost every episode of all five TV shows. Cartoon cels and photos (some signed) of ST actors hang on my office wall, plus I own copies of most of the hardback novels inspired by the series.

Tim, on the other hand, can’t tell a Klingon from a Vulcan. Still, after accompanying me on many “Star Trek” adventures over the years, even he has developed a reluctant fondness for some of the characters and plot lines. No surprise then that he agreed to go with me to “Star Trek: The Tour,” a traveling exhibit of ST memorabilia and sets being displayed in Long Beach for one month only. We were, of course, among the first people on line opening day.

Although I was excited to go, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought there would be showcases filled with phaser pistols and costumes, as usual, but this ended up being much, much more. Walking into the dome that used to house Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose, we were greeted by a good-sized replica of the starship Enterprise from the original (i.e., “classic”) series. Just beyond the ticket-takers was the actual Guardian of Forever, the oval-shaped time-portal from my all-time favorite classic Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever,” written by science fiction author Harlan Ellison. I almost started to cry, but was stunned into silence by the sight of the original Enterprise bridge just a few feet away. I could have easily turned around and gone home happy right then, but, no, there was so much more to see and do!

Hidden down a hallway and around the corner was Captain Jean Luc Picard’s quarters from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” complete with a wedding picture of crewmates Deanna Troi and Will Riker. Tim then called me over.

“Look, Babe, Jean Luc’s flute!” he pointed out, remembering how much I love “The Inner Light,” the episode where Picard learns to play the flute.

1/21/08No time for getting dewy-eyed, though, as a line of people were already queuing up to be “transported” (i.e., beamed up) via the Enterprise’s famous teleporter. I got on line while Tim waited to film the video of me being beamed. (Either I’m in serious need of a diet or the old adage that video adds ten—or is it twenty?—pounds is certainly true—yikes!)

After spending an hour looking at the multitude of exhibits—everything from the mythological Sword of Kahless to the innards of the android character Data—we finally made our way to the back of the hall. There we discovered yet more people standing on line to ride in a couple of automated escape pods. Wanting to get our money’s worth, too, we joined the crowd.

I was too busy eavesdropping on the couple behind us (film students who were planning to shoot a short “Star Wars” parody using Barbie dolls) to really pay much attention to the ride. Then suddenly, after waiting for 45 minutes, I started to scrutinize the escape pods more closely. Not only did they bounce around, but they flipped end-over-end and upside-down. I could hear people screaming from inside—not at all my kind of ride!

My palms started to sweat as I fully realized what I had gotten myself into. At our turn, we deposited all loose items, including my purse and sweater, in a small bin and then proceeded to walk up three steps. The machine operator strapped us in and pointed to a button to push if we got too scared. He then lowered the hood, admonishing us to “Get those Borg!” (the worst of all Star Trek villains).

A large screen in front of us came to life as Lt. Worf began narrating the action. Soon we were lurching to the left and right as our pod deflected Borg torpedoes. Then, without warning, we flipped all the way around to the right. I screamed as something went flying toward my head.

“MY HAT!’ Tim yelled. He had forgotten to take off his baseball cap, which lodged itself behind the screen after missing my face. It eventually freed itself as we flipped 360 degrees backwards. Tim laughed as I held on for dear life.

Needless to say, we survived both the Borg and the pod ride. We next had our picture taken on the bridge of the newer Enterprise commandeered by Captain Picard and then decided it was time to head back to Earth.

I called Karen as soon as we got home. She agreed to go with me so I could experience it all over again before the tour leaves in February.

As they say on TV, to be continued . . .

Friday, January 04, 2008

Star Sightings 2007

One of the fun things about living on the west side of Los Angeles is occasionally running into famous celebrities. For instance, we saw actor Jon Voight on New Year’s Eve, while running through the Century City mall en route to one of our favorite restaurants, Houston’s. Tim and I both had babyback ribs on our mind and so didn’t pay Voight much attention, but I did notice he was unusually tall (for an actor) and far more handsome in person than he is on film. He was the third Academy Award winner we’d stumbled upon in a month, so we considered 2007 an especially good year for stargazing.

The year had actually started pretty well when I saw Rob McElhenney ( the “cute one” on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) buying furniture at the Pier 1 within walking distance of our house. He was with an attractive blonde woman, who helped him load various purchases into his convertible. A week later, Tim and I saw Fred Ward (Gus Grissom in the movie “The Right Stuff”) buying cold cuts at Gelson’s. It must have been after noon, but he looked like he’d just got out of bed.

Character actor David Paymer (Oscar nominee for “Mr. Saturday Night”) apparently attends the synagogue near our home because we saw him getting into his car there one Saturday. He looks exactly like he does in the movies.

Better yet was the time Tim and I were cruising my favorite science fiction bookstore in Santa Monica, when in walked Joss Whedon, creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and (more importantly!) the beloved but short-lived TV show “Firefly.” I looked around to see if any of the staff recognized him, but they didn’t. I could hardly breathe! Luckily he left after only a few minutes, because I was bursting to tell Tim.

“Guess who was just in here!!” I gasped. “JOSS WHEDON!!”

“Who’s that?” he asked unfazed.

“You Philistine!” I screeched. “Don’t you know the genius behind ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Firefly’?”

Still no clue.

Tim was all ears and eyes, though, when we recently attended a comedy writers event at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The guests of honor were James L. Brooks (Oscar-winning director and screenwriter for “Terms of Endearment”), Larry Gelbart (creator of the TV show “M.A.S.H.” and screenwriter for “Tootsie”), and Judd Apatow (current media darling and screenwriter of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”). We arrived early so we could get good seats, plus scope-out any celebs in the audience. The pickin’s were slim at best. In fact, I was just about to voice my disappointment when here came comedian extraordinaire Garry Shandling and newcomer Jonah Hill (the heavyset kid from “Superbad”). We were thrilled. By the way, the speakers were all brilliantly funny, but especially Apatow, who was obviously humbled to share the stage with such accomplished writers like Brooks and Gelbart. It was a wonderful evening.

Not all star sightings are on the west side, of course. The night of Tim’s staff Christmas party, we saw Academy Award-winning actress Diane Keaton taking photos of her family and friends in Downtown Disney. She looked exactly like Annie Hall!

“She didn’t even try to disguise herself!” I told Karen later.

Karen concurred. “Yeah, I’ve seen her around town a couple of times and she looks exactly like herself.”

Our biggest coup, however, occurred after seeing the movie “Beowulf.” As we were leaving, I thought I recognized someone who was entering the theater. Tim was his typical ten paces ahead.

“Babe!” I yelled, madly gesturing for Tim to come over. “I think I just saw Tom Hanks!”

Without missing a beat, Tim turned around and went racing after his prey. Returning two minutes later, he congratulated me on my catch.

“Good eye!” he said. “It was definitely him!”

I wonder who we’ll see this year. . .