The First and Last of a Perfect Paella

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Last fall, I had the privilege of trying Chef Jonathan Vasquez's cooking at Smoke.Oil.Salt, a Spanish restaurant on Melrose Avenue, before it unexpectedly closed. I'd never even heard of the restaurant before I ate there. In fact, I had only known about it through making a mental note of its name from passing by. It was easy enough to remember. Why? Because the alchemy of (1) smoke, (2) oil, and (3) salt is what makes any cuisine sizzle and sing!

I have a particular soft spot for Spanish cuisine. It's a very approachable cuisine. I've only been to Spain once–Barcelona; 2005–but will never forget my first meal there. I was strolling along the street when I caught sight of a man at a sidewalk cafe, tucking into a plate of crispy fried eggs and french fries. It wasn't particularly special, or even traditionally Spanish, but those rich orange yolks, glossed with olive oil, called out to me. It was just the right thing, cooked just the right way, in just the right place. 

Smoke.Oil.Salt's pan con tomate hit me with that very same feeling. From my seat at the bar, I watched the sous-chef rub a large slice of rustic bread with garlic, grill it, and then carefully spoon a mixture of freshly grated tomatoes on top. He delicately lashed it with olive oil and sprinkled a few fresh thyme leaves on top. Then, with a very sharp knife, he made two swift cuts and produced three pieces on a slate serving board. I was impressed with its sublime simplicity. I could taste the quality of the bread, olive oil, and tomatoes. 

I knew that great things were still to come. 

The pièce de résistance was the seafood paella–a masterpiece in a cast-iron skillet. The perfectly cooked squid ink rice was a glistening ebony backdrop for the blistered cherry tomatoes, pickled onion, grilled prawns and squid. Small, frilly bunches of lightly dressed cilantro leaves adorned the paella, which was crowned with a fried egg. Every bite brought out a different element of the dish–crisped edges, piquant flavors, unctuousness, or smoke. I could taste the care and passion and focus that the chef had for cooking. 

My friend Nathan, who was dining with me that evening, was on a cleanse and therefore picked away at his salad while I was trying to suppress the sheer enjoyment of my meal. I could sense that he knew he was missing out on greatness.

"I'm sorry," I apologized. "Is this torture for you?"

"Yes," he replied. "Your eyes are literally rolling to the back of your head after every bite."

"You should just have a bite."

He hesitated, already filling up with guilt. 

"Food is energy! Your body will burn right through it by the time we walk out of here!" I exclaimed, putting on the pressure.

He took his fork and gingerly scooped up a sliver of pickled onion and a few cilantro leaves that had a couple of grains of rice clinging to it.

"Oh, come on!" I laughed.

"I can't!" he wailed. "I might eat the whole thing if I do! We'll come back when my detox is over."

Not too long after that, I read news that Smoke.Oil.Salt shut its doors for the last time. I told Nathan the sad news. We still mourn for that pan con tomate and paella to this day.

Haircuts with Calista Sanderson at Andy LeCompte Salon

ANDY LECOMPTE SALON
616 N Almont Drive
310.273.4100


Anyone who knows me knows about my history with bad haircuts. I can't tell you how many times I've wailed to my best friend: "My hair is holding me back!!!" And her replying: "Agree." I have fallen victim to the news anchor haircut so much so that every picture of me in my twenties is essentially the same haircut.

Behold Exhibit A:

Because my hair is so thick, most stylists feel the need to "take out some weight" by adding a million layers or straight-up taking a razor to it. This style ends up being top heavy with stringy ends and results in what my friend Preston has once dubbed "octopus head" because the bottom layers kick out like octopus tentacles. (At one point, he suggested that I look into getting a weave as I grow out the layers. Yes, he was being completely serious.)

Having layers has been such a traumatizing experience that I now play it safe by asking for one-length chops. However, this proves to be problem too because my hair ends up feeling like there's a 20-pound cape on top of head. I need shape, but not layers. OK... How???

Finding a hair stylist you can trust is no easy task. As I was researching salons and stylists in L.A. on Instagram, I kept coming across the same trendy, choppy, ombré "beachwaves" look. I actually tried beachwaves in my hair for about a minute last summer and decided it was far too much work to achieve.

Needless to say, I'm an anti-trendy person. I'd rather subscribe to the style school of Christy Turlington and Stephanie Seymour than, say, Emily Ratajkowski. (I still wear Manolo Blahnik kitten-heeled mules, for example.) At the same time, I want to look "now" yet also "timeless." 

Googling "best hair salon l.a." led me to the Andy LeCompte Salon. I clicked on each stylist's profile and Calista Sanderson's instantly resonated with me. First of all, I was captivated by her slate-blue CÉLINE eyeglasses and chin-length bob. Secondly, this line is everything: "Her women's short haircuts are modern and youthful, and her long layered cuts grow out beautifully, maintaining lasting shape." The hitch? Her haircuts start at $300, which I mentally prepared myself to pay because I've learned the hard way that, especially with haircuts, you get what you pay for. (Believe me, you could easily spend this on a bad haircut because you'd need to get another one to fix it.)

Calista is a total maestro with her scissors. After an in-depth consultation and listening to my laundry list of hair woes, she suggested using Olivia Palermo's long bob as inspiration. She carefully snipped away the chunky length in the back and brought it up to my collarbone, which is right where the last of my old layers hit. Then, she cleaned up the ends and blow-dried my hair. She combed through to check the haircut and finished by combing my hair upwards and lightly snipping through, as it, fell to give it movement. My hair felt swingy and fresh when she was done. Calista also gave me some styling suggestions, like twisting the front pieces with a curling iron for some bend or trying a messy half-bun and creating wisps with my baby hairs. 

I finally feel like I'm getting somewhere with my hair. Finally.

 

L.A. By Night: Mocktails and Matzo Ball Soup

I find that, while I enjoy exploring L.A. by day–meeting friends for lunch/coffee, or tagging along with my friend Bill on his various errands and activities, I don't make much of a fuss out of evening activities. Usually, Bill will want to cook dinner together at his place or, if I'm flying solo, I'll grab something like a soup or a salad. It's rare that I have dinner plans outside of that. L.A. isn't really a "let's meet for dinner" town, at least not in my experience. I mean, it could just be the fact that I'm more of a homebody than I realize. There's nothing I delight in more than being in bed by 11 p.m. 

After being together for nearly four years, my boyfriend is still unconvinced that someone my age isn't wearing denim shorts with stiletto heels and pounding tequila shots when she's in town alone. Let's see... I wear sweaters in the summer, can spend hours in a bookstore, and like to hold my coffee mug with both hands and go "Mmm!" after every sip. I swear, I have no idea what he's thinking sometimes.

This past Friday, I met a friend for a drink on the rooftop at Mama Shelter, the trendy boutique hotel in Hollywood. It was a gorgeously sunny afternoon. Tell me, is there anything better than catching up with a friend over drinks, while wearing sunglasses and feeling a cool breeze in your hair? She started with a Negroni and moved on to wine while I, on the other hand, opted for a mocktail called The Dirty Harry, a concoction made of pomegranate, jalapeño, and lime. (Alcohol, I've discovered, simply doesn't sit well with me anymore. I'm not a complete teetotaler, though. There are times where I'll rise to the occasion and have a martini or partake in a glass of wine–it just hasn't been as of late.)

After we parted ways, I decided that all I wanted for dinner was the matzo ball soup at Greenblatt's. (I've previously waxed poetic about my love for matzo ball soup here.) Of course, this isn't the sort of dinner idea that sells itself, hence, it's usually reserved for my #singlegirldinner moments. But the thing is: I really truly love coming to these non-trendy places that have been around since the 1920's. My usual order is a bowl of their famous matzo ball soup–broth only; no vegetables–with a side portion of Caesar salad. If I'm particularly hungry, I'll add a side of pastrami to that. This meal makes me feel cradled and coddled inside. I can't explain it otherwise. 

So, there you have it, folks: mocktails and matzo ball soup. A wild Friday night in L.A., indeed.

Satdha Plant-Based Thai Kitchen

SATDHA PLANT-BASED THAI KITCHEN
2218 Lincoln Boulevard
310.450.6999


One thing I've noticed about L.A. is how prevalent Thai restaurants are. I swear, I see Thai restaurants everywhere! That being said, one of my favorite Thai restaurants also happens to be vegan: Satdha Plant-Based Thai Kitchen, which is located on the edge of Santa Monica and Venice Beach. The food here is vibrant and expertly spiced yet also very clean and healthy-tasting. For such a casual place, the presentation is elegant and considered. My go-to dishes are the kukicha (twig tea), kale chips, tom yum soup with mushrooms, and pad thai with tofu, which is garnished with fresh garlic chives.