Friday, May 26, 2006

Notes From La La Land ...

I'm back from L.A.

It didn't dawn on any of us (me and my colleagues, that is) until someone at the client site mentioned it yesterday as work was wrapping up, but the Friday of Memorial Day weekend is *not* a great day to have to travel. Lines? You haven't seen lines until you've seen the lines at LAX on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. But hey, I got on a standby flight this morning, which was a lovely thing. Otherwise, my flight would be landing in about 15 minutes, and then I'd have the joy of Chicago road construction ahead of me.

So, work was work. Whatever. The hotel was nice for what it was. I'm not a Courtyard by Marriott kind of gal (truth be told, I'm a bit of a hotel snob), but this particular property was very nice, very Craftsman-y (as in the arts style, not the tools from Sears), and very well located in the Old Pasadena part of town. The Westin downtown, that I stayed in the last time I was in L.A. for work, is right across the street from the client's office building, but everything in L.A. was booked this week because of some big medical convention. Terribly inconvenient for me.

And so the most remarkable part of the trip, for the girl who would be a chef if she wasn't a writer, was the food. This is for John, who likes it when I write about vittles:

Monday night's dinner for the four of us wasn't so special (it was at an Italian restaurant with a Moroccan decor - odd). The radicchio and endive salad was a bit too bitter, and the pasta was unexceptional but I managed to involve asparagus, so I was happy. And a glass of red Zinfandel always puts a smile on my face.

Tuesday night, our group was down to three and were all a bit tuckered, so we thought we'd head someplace casual, grab some bar food and beers and make it an early night. Apparently, "bar and grill" in California means something completely different than it does here. The menu was lovely, but not at all what I was expecting. Still, we sat outside and it was, as Gemma would say, "the temperature where there is no temperature." The menu wasn't conducive to my new vegan tendencies, but I got creative and ordered a side of grilled asparagus as my appetizer (and a colleague shared a bit of his salad with port-poached pears and candied walnuts and Maytag blue cheese) and then the potato gnocchi appetizer as my entree. Served in a wide, shallow pool of basil cream Champagne sauce, they were so light, they practically dissolved on my tongue. Sauvignon blanc was a nice choice with it. Champange would have been better, but there was none by the glass. I had no business having dessert, but it was the perfect night for vanilla gelato, and the server brought some mango sorbet for the table to try, as it's his favorite. Even the coffee was fabulous.

Wednesday night, the dinner contingent was down to two (a colleague was ill, presumably from the previous night's dinner) so I chose a nearby French bistro, as my colleague/dinner partner and myself had had Italian the two nights prior. Ooh, carrot rosemary soup. It sounded promising. I asked Dan, our server, if he would bring me a small taste, which he did, in a demitasse cup on a demitasse saucer (but he didn't make me use a demitasse spoon). Good thing I tried it. Too sweet. Not enough rosemary. So my colleague opted for the French onion soup and I indulged in the lobster bisque. I never order lobster bisque. It was outstanding. To carry on the lobster theme, I ordered the grilled shrimp and slipper lobster tails with mushroom risotto on a red wine reduction, which happened to come plated with grilled asparagus. A glass of Pinot noir. Fab. Neither of us had any business having dessert, but it was one of those business dinners that had nothing to do with business and instead became an enjoyable discussion of all things personal, so we lingered, he over raspberry sorbet (which he had the night before, as well) and me with a tarte tartin, which was really more like a charlotte, as the apples were very chunky, instead of thinly sliced. Coffee. Lovely.

Last night, L.A. Dave and I headed over to McCormick & Schmick's for seafood. Guests from neighboring hotels are brought a complimentary appetizer, so we shared a crab and shrimp cake, as well as some fried calamari. The chili mayonnaise should have come with a straw it was so good. (Yes, my vegan tendencies went right out the window on this trip. I tried. The first day's lunch with the client was as vegan as I could manage, but we live in a meat-lover's world.) I was going for a perfect average on the aspargus front, so last night's entree was the sea scallops in beurre blanc, with sauteed spinach, and mushroom and asparagus risotto. Sauvignon blanc paired with it nicely. I had absolutely no room for dessert, but we were celebrating Dave's book deal, so he selected the flourless dark chocolate cake and insisted I have a bite, which I did. It was good, but clearly one of those desserts that should come portioned on a spoon. You don't need an entire slice. You need one bite. Which is all I had. And it was plenty. With coffee. Perfect.

This week's client (in beautiful offices with beautiful views) had arranged continental breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks along with beverage service every day, so we never wanted to anything onsite. Breakfast the first day, in the Founder's Room, the most insanely large conference room I've ever been in, was laid out with china and silver and glassware and a lovely assortment of bagels and doughnuts and scones and fruit. Lunches were salads or sandwiches and assorted baked goods. Nice. Afternoon snacks were light: crudite and dip, fruit and cheese with crackers, but yesterday's snack cracked me up. We wrapped up our meetings early, just as the afternoon service was being wheeled in, so the project manager asked that it be taken to her floor and set out for her co-workers instead, but the snack was ... artichokes. Yeah, artichokes.

In the car on the way back to the hotel, I started laughing. "Who serves artichokes as an afternoon snack in a business meeting?" As if we were all going to sit around the table dipping artichoke leaves into drawn butter and scraping them against out teeth?

That's California.

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