Gin. Dry Vermouth. Shaken (or stirred) with ice, then strained into a stylish though somewhat impractical glass, with either an olive or a twist of lemon peel dropped in at the end.
With such a brief recipe, could the quality of the Martini Cocktail actually vary that much from establishment to establishment? The answer is, of course, “GOD yes!” And the martini served at Los Angeles’s venerable Musso and Frank is the finest I have ever had.
We were celebrating my recent graduation from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, whose founding faculty included Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith. While I was studying there, I also received a bit of financial help from the Mary Pickford Foundation. Pickford, Griffith, and Fairbanks, along with Charlie Chaplin, founded United Artists 1919, and they were all regulars at Musso and Frank, which opened that same year. Chaplin’s favorite dish was the grilled lamb kidneys, and an “oft-repeated, but unverified story“ has Douglas Fairbanks racing Rudolph Valentino down Hollywood Boulevard on horseback to get to the famous bar and grill.
One of the great things about living in Southern California is the proximity of open space to just about all developed areas. I live in Los Angeles, and am rarely more than a 30 minute drive from a solid hike in the backcountry. Today, the hiking destination was Las Virgenes Canyon, a hilly area on the west side of the San Fernando Valley.
For much of the year, the SoCal backcountry is yellow, dry, and crunchy, but for a couple of months in the spring, after the winter rains but before the summer heat, there’s a little water and the hills are green flecked with yellow mustard grass.
All you can hear during the hike is the wind, frogs, and the birds. There are hills, ponds and wildflowers for as far as you can see. If you are a bird enthusiast, then bring your binoculars or a budget spotting scope. Oak trees and rocks provide excellent nesting sites for hawks, owls, and other birds.
On today’s hike, I encountered all sorts of creatures – frogs and swarms of tadpoles in small seasonal ponds,hawks, small mammals, and even a very large rattlesnake poking his head out of the bushes on the side of the trail. There’s nothing like almost stepping on a rattlesnake to liven up the senses. From then on, every stick lying on the trail becomes a potential snake…
Yesterday, my father was up here in LA, visiting me and picking up his visa for an upcoming trip to Shanghai. Lunchtime was coming up, so naturally I checked the Twitter feed on my phone.
The new rage here in Los Angeles is food trucks that park somewhere in the city, and then tweet their location to foodies citywide. I scanned my list of food tweets – Korean bbq tacos, the Indian Dosa Truck, etc., – and then a tweet caught my eye. “Try our new fois gras burg!” from the Grill Em All truck, parked just a few minutes away in Hollywood.
That seemed to embody the LGA maxim, “If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth overdoing.” So we hightailed it out there. And, wow. Let me tell you – you have not lived unless you have tried the fried egg, potato chip, and fois gras burger they call a Lars (named, I assume, for the esteemed Mr. Ulrich).
Gents, next time you’re in LA, check it out.
Quam bene vivas refert, non quam diu.