Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Lazy Man's Way To Attend The Rose Parade

The Tournament of Roses parade on New Year's day is indeed one of the great spectacles of Southern California.  It probably has singlehandedly brought more migrants to the Los Angeles area than any other factor.  As I previously wrote, it might rain on December 31, it might rain on January 2, but it never rains in Pasadena on January 1 when the parade is telecast to an otherwise freezing country.  (OK, it did rain once in the last 60 years on January 1.)

But as worthy of an event the parade might be, it can truly be a hassle to see it in person.  I remember once getting up in what seemed to be the middle of the night, driving to Pasadena,  looking for parking on the residential streets, then being totally confused when looking for my seats, barely being seated before the parade started.  And many thousands of others camp out overnight to watch the parade from the curb.   (Despite the sunshine at parade time, temperatures can still get quite nippy overnight.)

However, as I subsequently learned, there is another way to see the parade in person, which is almost laughable as to the lack of time and effort that it requires.  The parade route is quite long and I believe it takes almost two hours for the parade to reach the end. If you catch the parade route after it turns north from Colorado Blvd. onto Sierra Madre Bl., you'll find that the crowd is only a few people deep. And the start of the parade doesn't reach that point until 10 am which means you can sleep in and still go to the parade.

A couple of times we actually watched the first half of the parade on TV, then drove over to the end of the parade route and saw the whole thing in person. At that time of day it was clear sailing on the freeway since it was too early for Rose Bowl game traffic, while everyone attending the parade arrived a long time before and was safely parked.  Parking at this part of the parade route was pretty good.  We parked on the streets north of Colorado and west of Sierra Madre Bl., and probably had no more than a three block walk to the parade.

So if you've been deterred from seeing the parade after watching the TV news interviews of people camped out on the sidewalk, or the cost of grandstand seats, there is a better way.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Best Chinese Food In the U.S. Is In Las Vegas? I Don't Think So.

Recently I’ve seen comments made that the best Chinese food in America can be found in Las Vegas.  While I agree that Las Vegas serves the most expensive Chinese food in the US, and that some of this expensive food is quite good, one cannot say that Chinese food in Las Vegas' restaurants tops that in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, or even a few other cities. 

My suspicion that the comments elevating the status of Las Vegas Chinese food are attributable to a comment made several years ago by Ruth Reichl of the New York Times.  In an interview she did say that the best Chinese food in the US was in Las Vegas.  However she qualified her statement significantly by saying she was referring to private invitation dinners provided by the casinos to their high roller Chinese clientele.  And clearly at the time she made that statement, the high quality Chinese food designation clearly did not extend to Chinese restaurants open to the public, nor does it do so today.

Now there is good and authentic Chinese food to be found in Las Vegas, particularly since the construction of the Las Vegas Chinatown mall on Spring Mountain Blvd. in 1995.  Actually there had been better than average Chinese food available in Las Vegas for quite a while.  At one point probably 25 or 30 years ago it had been noted by the L.A. Times that a number of casinos served top notch Chinese food, but only after midnight.  Presumably this was to satisfy Chinese high rollers who gambled through the night.  Then as the Las Vegas Chinese community grew in the early 1990s, a few authentic Chinese restaurants started to open up away from the Strip, such as Emperor’s Table on Decatur and Chinese Garden on Sahara.  With the opening of Chinatown Plaza with its roster of  Los Angeles based Chinese restaurants including Sam Woo BBQ, 1 6 8, Plum Tree Inn and D.D.’s CafĂ©, Las Vegas had truly arrived as a city having a selection of authentic Chinese food choices.

Interestingly, Las Vegas continues to attract Los Angeles area Chinese restaurants that set up branches there.  And we’re not talking about large, widely known Chinese restaurants, but rather smaller, niche players, like Shaanxi Gourmet, Dong Ting, Kim Tar and Yunnan Garden.  Meanwhile, in the casinos on the Strip, virtually every hotel has opened at least one, if not two Chinese restaurants on premises.  An interesting concept was the establishment of branches of well known existing Chinese restaurants in the casinos, such as Cathay House, K J Dim Sum, Sea Harbour (via Vancouver and Los Angeles) and Royal Star (via Santa Monica, and known as Ocean Star in Monterey Park).   However, the experiment seems not to have worked as K J Dim Sum in the Rio appears to be the only one still operating.    

I'm sure that existing restaurants were used by the casinos to attract Chinese Americans familiar with these restaurants, which seemed like a winning strategy.   Indeed, opening a branch of Sea Harbour, likely the best Chinese restaurant in the Los Angeles area and one of the better Chinese restaurants in Vancouver, in Caesar’s Palace seemed like a sure thing.   One can only speculate what went wrong as the restaurant never had much success from day one.   The reviews were bad from the start and the complaints about the pricing were loud.   My guess is that they tweaked the menu to appeal to non-Chinese diners and marketed it as a highly upscale restaurant.  In so doing they alienated their core followers as to both quality and price.  Meanwhile the brand name was meaningless to the non-Chinese who had never heard of them. 

In the casinos the question is whether any of the upscale Chinese restaurants that have opened up are authentically good.   In at least one case, Hakkasan in the MGM, the answer is yes.  Since its rollout in Manhattan a couple of years ago, Hakkasan has advanced the concept of upscale but authentic Cantonese food in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and Las Vegas, and has done it so well it makes one wonder why nobody did it before.  Whether this will be a growing trend in Las Vegas or not is the $64 question.   Wing Lei which opened up in the Wynn a few years ago has a Michelin star, but its menu is decidedly inauthentic, plus apparently they lost the star chef who originally opened up the restaurant.  So for now, we’re still waiting for great Chinese food to arrive in Las Vegas at multiple venues accessible to us mere mortals.