Eat Vegetarian

On Mother’s Day we tried OOAK, the new Asian Vegetarian restaurant in Culver City. We had pumpkin soup and shaking beef (actually mushrooms). The Cantonese food and the service were excellent. I asked for the meaning of the word OOAK. It’s an Internet acronym for “One Of A Kind.”

OOAK, Culver City

This made me reflect on the advantages of a vegetarian diet, that has been popular in the West since the counterculture 60s. That means eliminating any meat (beef, lamb, pork, veal, chicken) or fish from your food intake, eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. When fish and seafood are allowed, that is a pescetarian diet; when eggs and dairy products are included, that is called ovo-lacto vegetarian. No animals are killed when eggs and milk are produced, however, fish are killed for us to eat them, and, as a friend of mine says: “I don’t eat anything that had eyes.” The Macrobiotic diet, inspired by Zen Buddhism, allows fish.

OOAK, Culver City

A vegetarian diet is sometimes chosen for ethical reasons, “do not kill living beings,” even though arguably plants are living as well; but it is also beneficial to your health, reducing animal fat, proven to cause cancer, high-blood pressure, and other diseases.
During the past few years a vegan diet has been promoted as even healthier; that means no animal products at all, no eggs, no cheese, no milk, no yogurt. But often, in order to simulate the taste of meat and cheese, soy products and other substitutes are used.
Even more extreme is a diet of raw food. In addition to no meat or animal products, there’s no cooking, as the heat removes some enzymes from vegetables.

MAKE OUT, Culver City

For me eating meals of fresh fruit, salads and steamed vegetables, cooked lentils and beans, feels healthy, but it’s not a religion. I believe in what novelist Barbara Kingsolver says in her 2007 non-fiction book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, that eating grass-fed beef and organic chicken is okay, and environmentally responsible. Reading that book was eye-opening, and it set me on a path of healthier eating. I love making blended vegan soups with a variety of cooked vegetables and spices. For more on this subject, you may read my article Souping for Health in Cultural Weekly.

MAKE OUT, Culver City.

See below some Westside restaurants that offer vegan, vegetarian or raw food.

SAGE, Culver City

Among the fast food chains, I like Veggie Grill, inexpensive and tasty. Recently I tried Daily Harvest, a vegan food delivery service of fruits smoothies, cooked vegetable soups and legumes.  I really liked it.

SAGE, Culver City

Of course, you are able to make vegetarian food choices at most restaurants; just eat salads, vegetable dishes and legumes. Indian, Thai, Chinese cuisines have delicious vegetarian specialties. My favorites are Szechuan eggplant and Baingan bharta (mashed eggplant).

SAGE, Culver City

OOAK. Asian Vegetarian Cuisine
9540 Washington Blvd, Culver City

SAGE. Plant Based Bistro
4130 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City

MAKE OUT. Raw food
9426 Washington Blvd, Culver City

VEGAN JOINT. Since 2006
10438 National Blvd, LA 90034

ANNAPURNA. South Indian vegetarian
10200 Venice Blvd, Culver City

INDIA SWEETS & SPICES. Indian vegetarian, since 1986
9409 Venice Blvd, Culver City

REAL FOOD DAILY. Organic plant-based
414 N La Cienega Blvd. LA 90048

GRACIAS MADRE. Mexican Vegan
8905 Melrose Ave. West Hollywood

Text and Photos by Elisa Leonelli

Terra opens at Eataly

Terra, the new rooftop restaurant at Eataly in Century City, opens Thursday March 29 at 5pm. They will only serve dinner at first, until 11 pm, later also lunch.
The word Terra in Italian means Earth, soil.

Terra terrace, iPhone photo by Elisa Leonelli

As you enter this 11,000 square feet indoor and outdoor space, the first thing you see is the huge wood burning grill. Nicola, the son of Eataly’s founder Oscar Farinetti, explains that the concept was to have a fire pit in the middle of a restaurant. Their specialties are grilled meats (beef, pork, lamb) and vegetables (artichokes, asparagus, beets, carrots, zucchini). There are also pasta dishes, of course, and fish.

Terra grill, photo by Elizabeth Daniels

The large terrace with cushioned seating has a wooden Botanica Bar serving gin drinks. A variety of gins are imported from Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Hawaii, Scotland, and other places. A tasty snack is arrosticini, a typical dish from the Italian region of Abruzzi, skewers of grilled beef, pork and mutton. An herb garden is also on the terrace, as well as a covered seating area for dining.

Terra Bar Botanico, photo by Elizabeth Daniels

Dulcis in fundo, a cart of ice cream is passed around at the end of the meal, only one flavor, fior di latte, with various toppings.
Appetizers, small plates, vegetables and salads are priced from $8 to $19. Pastas from $19 to $23. Main courses from $28 to $42.

grilled beef, iPhone photo by Elisa Leonelli

There is valet parking on Avenue of the Stars, just South of Santa Monica Blvd, and an elevator that zips you up to the 5th floor restaurant. Eating at Terra will definitely a pleasurable luxury experience for those who can afford it.

You may read in Cultural Weekly my articles about Eataly’s opening last November, and about a tortellini-making class at Eataly’s Cooking School this January.

Pasta Sisters in Culver City

Pasta Sisters finally opened on Sunday March 4, at Helms Bakery in Culver City, and it was worth the wait. It was an exciting experience to be there on their first day.

Pasta Sisters, Helms

My family and friends became fans of their storefront takeout place at Pico and Arlington, as soon as they opened, three years ago. We especially love their lasagne and eggplant parmesan.

Pasta Sisters patio

Now that they have a nearby restaurant with two outdoor patios, we will be able to enjoy their delicious food comfortably seated. The menu was expanded from their signature fresh pasta dishes, with the addition of several items, including beef stew and polenta (spezzatino con polenta Valsugana), a specialty of Padova, the Italian city in the Veneto region where the sisters are from.

Paola Da Re

Paola and her sisters Luisa and Patrizia learnt to cook from their mother Maria Giovanna. Paola is the chef, son Francesco, daughters Giorgia and Francesca help her run the family business. Paola credits the enthusiasm of their 40 employees and the optimism of her children for the successful opening of their new venture.


On my first day I tried panzerotti, an appetizer I never tasted before, fried dough with two different hot stuffings, spinach and ricotta cheese, Italian cooked ham and mozzarella. They were amazing. I look forward to going back many more times and trying all of their dishes.

Giorgia, Francesca

For more info on where to find authentic Italian food in Los Angeles, or prepare it yourself, you may read my articles in Cultural Weekly
Italian Bread, Modena style
Fresh pasta, Modena-style

Text and photos by Elisa Leonelli

Pasta Sisters staff

Alien Zoo in Century City

I was invited to experience Alien Zoo, a Virtual Reality pop up in the Century City Mall. It opens to the public Wednesday February 7 and runs until Friday March 2, from 12 noon until 8.40pm, every 40 minutes. You put on feet and hands sensors, a backpack and goggles, and the adventure starts. You fly on a pod immersed in fantastical landscapes populated by magical creatures: megaraffes, frogcats, megabats, a skyray, a giant mantis, and a scary monster, the Sicari. It’s fun and exciting, the ride lasts 12 minutes and children over 10 are welcome.
I won’t tell you more so as not to spoil the surprise, just go experience it yourselves. It’s worth the $20 ticket price. Call 424-603 2980 to book.

Click on the website of Dreamscape Immersive for more info.
Click here for schedule.

While in Century City you may try, for free, another Virtual Reality experience, a walk through the streets of Havana, at the CUBA IS exhibit of the Annenberg Space for Photography, open until March 4. Read my article in Cultural Weekly: Photographs of Cuba.

Unplug in West Hollywood

Unplug Meditation WEHO opening

Last night I was invited to the opening reception for the new West Hollywood location of Unplug Meditation, at 8500 Melrose Ave, in the newly renovated building at the corner with La Cienega. Beautiful and trendy people were in attendance; it was a cosmopolitan group, I heard French and Australian spoken. Founder Suze Yalof Schwartz introduced the teachers of various types of meditation. I was intrigued by one class described as Brain Massage. Other classes are called with the suggestive names of Aha Moment, Deep Calm, Discover, Imagine, Morning Intention, Soul Travel, etc.

Founder Suze Yalof Schwartz

I have been a frequent visitor to Unplug’s Santa Monica location at 12401 Wilshire near Centinela, ever since they opened in 2014. My favorite class is Sound Bath, where vibrations provided by a crystal didgeridoo and other ancient instruments wash over the meditators and guide them to higher states of consciousness.
Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, meditation is a useful tool to tune out the distracting noise of our busy lives, and focus on our inner self.

Studio managers T.R. Shepard, Deborah Brock

See list of available classes and workshops at this link.
New students may try 2-weeks of unlimited classes for $35.

Unplug Meditation. West Hollywood.

I recommend you also try DEN Meditation, on LaBrea at 3rd St.
They offer 21 days of unlimited Classes and 3 Workshops for $50
For more info read my article QiGong at DEN Meditation.

Text and photos by Elisa Leonelli

Movie Studios-Culver City

After the news that Amazon Studios will be moving into Culver Studios at 9336 Washington Blvd, we looked into the history of this movie studio.

Culver Studios (c) Elisa Leonelli

It was built by silent movie producer-director Thomas Ince in 1918 on a lot acquired from Harry Culver, who founded Culver City in 1917. It was owned by director Cecil B. De Mille from 1925 to 1928, then by RKO-Pathé from 1933 to 1950. For several years it was leased by David O’ Selznick, producer of Gone with the Wind (1939). In 1950 it was purchased Howard Hughes, who continued to lease it. In 1956 it was bought by Lucille and Desi Arnaz for their Desilu Studios; they renamed it Culver Studios in 1970. It was acquired by Sony Pictures in 1991 and its 13 sound stages have housed the production of countless movies. See list and history at this link.

MGM Studios Colonnade (c) Elisa Leonelli

And here’s the history of the most legendary movie studio, MGM, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, that was not located in Hollywood but in Culver City, which in 1936 was dubbed “The Heart of Screenland.” It was built in 1915 as Triangle Studios by Thomas Ince, who moved its Inceville here from the Pacific Coast Highway at Sunset, then sold the lot to Samuel Goldwyn in 1918. Its original colonnade entrance along Washington Blvd in Greek-revival style is still standing. In 1924 it became MGM Studios, after the merger of three companies: Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Studios, Louis B. Mayer Productions. In 1981 it merged with United Artists into MGM-UA, it was sold to Lorimar in 1986. In 1989 Warner Bros, who had bought Lorimar, sold the lot to Columbia Pictures, that had been acquired by Sony, the Japanese tech giant. Sony Pictures spent $100 million to completely renovate the historic studio to its former glory, including the 1938 Thalberg building.

Culver Hotel (c) Elisa Leonelli

Harry Culver built the Culver Hotel in 1924 in Renaissance revival style, renovated in 2013, with 46 rooms and a lively restaurant.

The Helms Bakery was built as the official bakery of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.

No longer standing is another movie studio in Culver City, the Hal Roach Studios (1919-1963)

In the parking lot in front of Culver Studios, construction has started for a retail and restaurant complex called The Culver Steps. It is scheduled to open in 2019 like the giant 500,000 square feet Ivy Station in the parking lot of the Expo station that closed in February.

Sony Studios, Culver gate (c) Elisa Leonelli

Text and photos by Elisa Leonelli

Chocolate on Robertson

At the September 27 SORONC Townhall meeting about the Robertson Great Streets plans, I was impressed by the heartfelt speech of a young man, David, who introduced his handcrafted chocolate to the neighbors. They are open to the public on Saturdays from 11am to 4pm, and offer free samples. So yesterday I went to visit their factory, Letterpress Chocolate, at 2835 Robertson, the same storefront where Sue Leedom used to sell her Mollie’s Cookies, next to Fred’s Bakery, recently remodeled by new owner by Avi Kadmon.

David Menkes with a tray of cacao beans

Letterpress is a technique of relief printing from plates. David used to be a graphic artist, and does all the designs for his artisan chocolate packaging. The logo is inspired by an old US airmail stamp. It means that he comes from the mountains, flies all over the world and brings back chocolate beans.
His wife and daughter work at the family business, where they manufacture small batch, bean to bar, chocolate in different flavors, single sourced from small farms in Belize, Tanzania, Trinidad, Ecuador, etc.

David Menkes with wife Corey and their daughter

This reminds me of the Lavazza coffee that I have been drinking since moving to the US in 1972, to make sure that every morning as I wake up I smell and taste the same flavor I am used to, having grown up in Italy. I buy Lavazza at Bay Cities, World Market and Vons. It comes in cans and in 12oz bags in several flavors, plus 2 single origin coffees: Santa Marta, Columbia and Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. A couple of years ago I received a Nespresso machine as a birthday gift, but I load refillable pods with Lavazza. To me this Italian coffee beats the taste of the Swiss brand by far.

Stop by to meet David on Saturdays, taste the various samples, ask him to introduce you to his wife and daughter, who are busy in the back making and packaging the award-winning chocolate they ship all over the world. And if you wish to buy some bars of your favorite flavor, they cost $10 to $12 each.

Text and photos by Elisa Leonelli

For more blog posts on Robertson businesses click here