SHOP: Edible Holiday Gifts, A.D.

In and around the Arts District are lots of places that sell wonderful edible holiday gifts. Here’s just a few ideas to consider:

Frances Bakery CanelesFrances Bakery & Coffee: In Honda Plaza next door to the Arts District’s nearest (and favorite) post office is Frances Bakery & Coffee where I just had my first (followed by my second, then my third, then …) canelé, a French pastry with a moist, spongy custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust. It is my NEW favorite dessert (at least, until I walk by The Pie Hole, and then run inside to get a slice of their amazing maple custard pie!). Shaped as a striated cylinder only two inches in height, while found often in Parisian pâtisseries, it is actually a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France. Made from egg, sugar, milk and flour flavored with rum and vanilla, the custard batter is baked in a mold, giving the canelé its characteristic shape, crust, and texture. While I’ve not yet tried the bakery’s own unique take on the popular cronut (a flaky fried croissant in the shape of a donut), I’ve heard that their Nutella version is the best!

photo 1Bread Lounge: Bakers Ran Zimon and Ziv Wagner deliver their own unique Mediterranean take on classic French and European baking that work well with the American palate. Every day, it seems, I’m surprised with one or more new creations. Perfect for the holidays, their shelves are currently filled with great gift items: Eggnog Cake with Dried Cherries; Banana Bread with Chocolate & Pecans; Valencia Chocolate & Orange Biscotti; Almond Squares; Feta Crackers; Going Nuts crackers; Sablé au Beurre (butter cookies); several flavors of their Natural Fruit Confiture (I like the peach-and-raspberries version); and jars of my favorite spice, Za-atar. Of course, their crusty, chewy baguettes, seed and olive sticks, multigrain loaves, ciabatta, brownies, rolls, and pastries (my current fave is the Kouign Amann!) are a welcome addition to any holiday gathering! They even have wonderful flavored butters and spreads, quiches, salads, soups, and sandwiches!

maple custardThe Pie Hole: You and your loved ones deserve the very best pies in Los Angeles. Pre-order your holiday pies NOW from The Pie Hole. Normally closed on Monday, the shop will be open on December 23 for pre-order pickups only during 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Note that, while open on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM, The Pie Hole will be closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Urban Radish: I just shopped this morning at our local grocer and Urban Radish’s “Made In LA” gift baskets look great! Prices are reasonable, starting at $25, and if you ask at the register, the always-smiling staff can help you make your own.

There are many other great places in the Arts District to buy edible holiday gift items, too. How about gifting your favorite beer in a growler from Angel City Brewery? Pour Haus Wine Bar also sells bottles of wine, as does Joe’s Downtown Market. Get a bag of coffee from Handsome Coffee Roasters, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Novel Cafe, and The Pie Hole. Most also offer commemorative merchandise for sale, too.

GO: Spring Over to Chinatown

If you’ve been to Chinatown in Downtown Los Angeles, you’ve probably attended an art opening on Chung King Road near Hill or eaten “slippery shrimp” at Yang Chow on Broadway. However, if you haven’t trekked beyond these, you’re missing what’s emerging on the neighborhood’s south side.

Over the years, I’ve frequented many establishments in Chinatown and most recently, have found myself on North Spring Street near Cesar Chavez Avenue for the following places:

  • Authentic Thai Cuisine – I say it’s the best Thai food in DTLA – love their tofu Pad Thai, brown rice, and delivery service to the Arts District!
  • Spring Street Smokehouse – great barbecue and selection of craft beers!
  • Spaahbulous – $20 for a one-hour massage of your feet and more!
  • Caveman Vintage Music – cool guitars and vinyl that I discovered during the “first annual” Springfest on April 15, 2012, which sadly has not repeated 🙁

[As an aside, just around the corner is where I often print banners for my clients: Sam’s Signs, which offers inexpensive prices and fast service.]

643-North_ColorIn addition to Roy Choi’s Chego in Far East Plaza on Broadway, 643 North is my latest reason to head outside of the Arts District and over to the south side of Chinatown. Just steps away from the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles on Olvera Street, this contemporary Italian gastropub quietly made its debut in September. In addition to a full bar, it offers a reasonably priced – and very tasty – menu featuring seasonal small and larger bites, pizza, sandwiches, and bowls (salads and soups). The atmosphere with a cool vibe stands out against the area’s otherwise dingy and dark options — the clean industrial design by Los Angeles-based Raveled Studio is welcoming and light in comparison.

643 North’s bar includes 12 rotating craft beers on tap (a flight of four is only $12), seasonal and signature cocktails, artisanal wines, and “Build Your Manhattan” and “Build Your Martini” options: choose your spirit (gin; vodka – potato, wheat, rye; bourbon or rye whiskey); choose your vermouth (dry white, sweet red, aromatic); choose your bitters; and choose your garnish (ask bartender Adam Acuff for his favorite concoctions!). In addition, it is stocked with a unique selection of aperitifs and digestifs, available separately or in flights. After-dinner coffee cocktails are mixed using freshly ground, freshly brewed beans from Demitasse Roasters in Little Tokyo (a place that I also love); of course, 643 North’s regular drip coffee uses the same beans.

My friend Edgar Varela and I visited recently to sample the menu. We tried several menu items – all of which were very good:

  • Roasted mushroom medley (shitake, oyster, lobster and crimini) topped with goat cheese and shredded arugula
  • Braised spicy suckling pig served in a bowl with pickled onions and habanero peppers accompanied by in-house baked ciabatta
  • White pizza topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, applewood bacon, crème béchamel, sharp provolone cheese, and white truffle oil
  • Scottish salmon pizza topped with wild-caught salmon, pesto oil, goat cheese, arugula, red onions, capers, and crème fraiche
  • Ossobuco ravioli stuffed with braised veal, heirloom tomatoes and broccolini served in Parmesan broth and topped with grated cheese

We also sampled some of 643 North’s signature cocktails: the smoky Red Hot Cherry Pepper includes mescal, sweet vermouth, and cherry liqueur. Currently, the seasonal cocktail menu includes Smokey the Pear (High West Campfire whiskey blend and St. Germain) and Go Figure Self.  For more details on 643 North’s cocktails and bar menu, read Edgar’s post at

The BEST part about 643 North? In addition to chef Oz Ramuco’s menu accompanied by 1980s music (love!), there is an outdoor bar (rare in DTLA)! Upcoming is a planned outdoor beer garden on the south side of the building (location of the 2012 Springfest). The staff is great, too. In addition to Ramuco and Acuff, the 643 North team includes restaurateur Michael J. Ourieff (who also runs Michael J’s Catering Kitchen) and manager Jessica Hasslinger.

Both Edgar and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND 643 North. Run – don’t walk – there today (or ride your bikes, like we did – if you must drive, there is parking on the street and several nearby lots, too).

P.S. Socialize with 643 North on Facebook and Twitter, too!

643 North
643 N. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 687-8888

(Photo Credit: All photos below are by Melissa Richardson Banks of Downtown Muse ( unless otherwise noted. Please credit accordingly)










ALSO RECOMMENDED: North Spring Street & Chinatown

Authentic Thai Cuisine
637 N. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 613-1115

Spring Street Smokehouse
640 N. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-0535

Caveman Vintage Music
650 N. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 625-9999

668 N. Spring St., Ste. 223
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 596-7421

Far East Plaza at 727 N. Broadway St., Ste. 117
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Sam’s Signs
701 N. Main St. Ste. 101
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 680-2669

BUZZ: It’s not MY mommy … it’s UMAMI

UMAMI BURGER logoBiting the heels of a wonderful rumor shared today about Erewhon Market possibly coming to One Santa Fe by blogger Brigham Yen is that Umami Restaurant Group may be opening a Umami Burger in the Arts District! Yee haw, love their truffled beet salad, and I am hoping to just just walk down the street to get one!

photo credit: Chomping Board

photo: Chomping Board

The company’s latest location is expected to replace the former District BBQ & Lounge located at 738 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles, CA 90013, which quietly shut its doors this week (in the meantime, the front remains open for New York Snow). Cross your fingers!

EAT: Lonely Hearts Day in the A.D.

Aw, the life of a new singleton. Never been a big holiday person, so even when coupled up, Valentine’s Day hasn’t meant much to me … unless there’s chocolate involved, then it becomes my FAVORITE holiday (ha!). Well, 2013 V-Day is looking much brighter this morning because I just found out the following:

Traxx square logoBEST BET: Chef/owner Tara Thomas of Traxx at Union Station has created special Valentine’s Day cocktails tonight from 6 PM to 9 PM. Tell her or a bartender that “a woman walks into a bar …” and you’ll get 50% off your first drink!

Traxx at Union Station
800 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles 90012; (213) 625-1999

The Lonely Pie (photo credit:


LONELY? The Pie Hole is stocking up on a mini-version of its ever-so-popular-but-rarely-available Lonely Pie (chocolate, potato chips, chunky peanut butter and an Oreo crust … I’m in!). Even better, co-owner Matt Hefner tells me that there’s two NEW pies just for today: My Bloody Valentine (blood orange cheesecake) and Black Heart Whoopie Pie (chocolate cake, marshmallow, and pretzel filling).

The Pie Hole
714 Traction Ave., Los Angeles 90013; (213) 537-0115

Date bar by Ziv Wagner NEED A DATE? Get a date bar at Bread Lounge. Manager and baker Ziv Wagner made special date bars just for today that seem like they might go well with coffee, or at least, with that bottle of wine that you might chug at home tonight while watching re-runs of “The Bachelor” (might be my plans!).

Bread Lounge
700 S. Santa Fe Ave., Los Angeles 90021; (213) 327-0782

Church & State Val Day 2013 His & Hers Cocktails

WANT TO DRINK? Even if you don’t have a reservation for chef Tony Esnault’s saucy aphrodisiac dinner, drop by Church & State to see if you can wiggle up to the bar for His and Hers specialty cocktails. Take your pick: “His” includes whiskey, rum, and beer; “Hers” contains gin, house-made grenadine, fresh thyme, and sparkling wine.

Church & State
1850 Industrial St., Los Angeles 90021; (213) 405-1434

P.S. The featured photo in this post is one I took this morning when I discovered a newly installed artwork on the wall of the former Bloom’s General Store by street artist EENCH … it is a red painted Valentine with a REAL heart pierced by an arrow.

EAT: Romance, A.D. Style

Dotted HeartCOUPLES & SINGLES: Find your heart in the Arts District. Ranging from dance cards for singles to meals with warning labels to Shakespearean performances, you’re sure to find love “East of Alameda” on this Valentine’s Day. Check out the following (prices below do not include tax and gratuity):

Bring your lover to Eat.Drink.Americano. A five-course menu (chocolate banana boats depicted above look yummy!) by Michelin-star consulting chef Juan Pablo Torre is planned that will be paired with romantic Shakespearean scenes performed by the Arts District’s Archway Theatre. Seating for the dinner and performance begins promptly at 7:30 PM. $95/couple includes a complimentary rose and a glass of champagne.

923 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles 90013

RESERVATIONS: (213) 620-0781

Single this year? The One-Eyed Gypsy is hosting a FREE “Bootleggers Fox Trot: A Dance Hall for the Stylishly Single” from 7:00 PM to 2:00 AM. Grab your dance card and match its number with a mate to dance the night away (or at least, for a song!). Swing to the tunes of the Fox Hills Five Band and enjoy food and drink specials all night. RSVP at the Facebook event page. [Wait, did I tell you that admission was FREE?]

The One-Eyed Gypsy
901 E. 1st St., Los Angeles 90012

Church-&-State-ValAt Church & State, the Valentine’s Day dinner planned by newly named Executive Chef Tony Esnault intriguingly comes with its own warning label(!): “Consuming the aphrodisiac ingredients listed in red may affect your love life, hormones, brain chemistry, energy & increase blood flow.” The prix-fixe menu offers two to three choices per course (oysters and truffles, of course!), and is priced at $85/person with an optional wine pairing at $43/person.

Church & State
1850 Industrial St., Los Angeles 90021
RESERVATIONS: (213) 405-1434

Enjoy a seven-course Omakase (i.e., “chef’s choice”) menu at Zip Sushi Izakaya with a glass of champagne per person for only $70/couple.

Zip Sushi Izakaya
744 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles 90013

RESERVATIONS: (213) 680-3770

NOLA’s Taste of New Orleans is offering a King Crab seafood buffet with live jazz and a glass of champagne for only $90/couple.

NOLA’s Taste of New Orleans
734 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles 90013

RESERVATIONS: (213) 680-3003

ARTS DISTRICT ADJACENT: Romancing a tree-hugging hipster? Just across Alameda from the Arts District, inside of the Little Tokyo Mall, is one of DTLA’s best restaurants, which also happens to be vegan all year round. North of the Arts District, inside of Union Station, is an amazing eatery with ambience that recalls the glamour and wonder of train travel’s golden era.

For $48/person, Little Tokyo’s Shojin is offering an organic prix fixe menu of onion soup with crispy rice and creamy tofu; avocado cup salad and sweet candle sushi rolls; green pesto pasta; roasted stuffed tomato gratin, vegetables with white sauce; and chocolate cake.

333 S. Alameda St., Los Angeles 90013

RESERVATIONS: (213) 617-0305

concourseLove trains? Then head over to Union Station for a romantic meal at Traxx Restaurant where chef Tara Thomas has created a special menu just for lovers ($70/person). Each course offers two to three selections from which to choose, ranging from warm bacon-wrapped dates, rock shrimp and blood orange salad, to rosemary brioche bread pudding with blackberry coulis and cream. Yum … it may just inspire romantic train travels to places afar!

Traxx Restaurant
800 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles 90012
RESERVATIONS: (213) 625-1999

What are your plans for Valentine’s Day?

Just some of the beautiful organic produce (even PURPLE carrots!) delivered to me by the new “progressively sustainable produce delivery service” Summerland Produce, which is now in beta testing for its launch in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles. Their website’s not up yet (click the link above to LIKE their Facebook Page), but bookmark this URL for now:

Gorgeous organic Lola Rosa lettuce, part of today’s delivery by new Arts biz Summerland Produce in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles.

Beet aragula salad at Umamicatessen is the bomb … (Downtown Los Angeles)

Handcrafted food master Sarkis Vartanian of Daily Dose displays one of his ginger scones with homemade kumquat compote (Arts District – Downtown Los Angeles)

DTLA Insider Tip #3 from Downtown Muse

Organic fruits and veggies are sold to the public in the Produce District. This 25-lb box cost me only $14! Best place to go is “Better Life Organics” located ironically enough — behind McDonald’s near Central Ave. and Olympic Blvd.! (Produce District – Downtown Los Angeles)