NPY’s dear school friend, BK, whom we visited in 2009 and 2011 in NY moved to LA last year and we are more than happy that our repositioning cruise would drop us off in LA and we could visit. She has two kids all of a sudden (twins) who are 16 months older than E. As a parent now, I get it, finally. But at the same time, I don’t get it because she is facing challenges I have yet to face and on a scale (i.e., with twins) I cannot imagine.
When we disembarked at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, we had the choice of waiting at the boring terminal with the luggage or endlessly queuing at the car rental agency for two hours. It was enough to not want to do a cruise again for a long while. Once we picked up our none-too-clean Camry, we split from the in-laws who were staying together at a hotel near the airport.
While we decided to just order in for dinner, before dinner, we went out for a little bit to explore the neighbourhood. BK lives not far from Culver Junction in Culver City. When we visited LA in 2014 and stopped at the Trader Joe’s in Culver City, I recall NPY was intrigued by Culver Junction we drove through. It was our chance to explore for a bit.
Our friends, TB, were in southern California for a two-week trip and returned 10 days before we departed so we made a point to meet up on a date between our trips to download their recommendations. They had a packed itinerary that included at least one coffee shop per day and one of their favourites happened to be in Bar Nine in Culver City.
I didn’t try any of NPY’s cortado and instead admired how hipster the coffee shop was. High bar counter seating was out of the question when I was trying to feed E dinner so we sat on a set of aluminum bleachers that they had set out for seating. And when we were leaving, NPY was offered some coffee they would otherwise pour down the drain and it was poured into a take-away glass mason jar.
BK ordered Thai food from a restaurant associated with the food delivery service Seamless and dinner included fried rice noodles with beef, pineapple fried rice, green curry and glutinous rice in banana leaf.
I had considered a day trip to Malibu and stopping at Neptune’s Net during our 2014 LA trip but we didn’t get around to it. Shortly after, SIL and her husband went to LA and I was envious they had made it to Neptune’s Net. So, it was a part of my itinerary this time to drop by on our way to the Premium Outlets in Camarillo. It seemed like in no time, we were past Santa Monica and technically in Malibu and the beaches were even more pristine and water gorgeous. Winding along the Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH, which always reminds me of Veronica Mars) we were reminded of our time in Hawaii and knowing our time in LA would wind down so quickly, I want to plan our next trip to Hawaii!
FIL and MIL and SIL and BIL were already at the restaurant and digging into the sampler and chowder they ordered. The sampler covered fish, shrimp, scallop, clam strips, crab cake and calamari. To complement what they ordered, we ordered a shrimp and clam strips combo. It was a fun meal but started to taste all the same after a while.
While I was trip planning, Keira-Anne published her blog post “20 Questions with S. Preston” and he mentioned some food franchises that came out of Orange County from where he hails. I looked up his three recommendations and added them to my list. I also joined their loyalty programs to take advantage of any introductory offers.
After several hours of shopping, and since we only got to the outlets at 3 p.m., it was time to stop because the children needed to eat and sleep. The in-laws wanted “Asian” but the only Asian on my list this time was poke so we split up. Surprisingly, NPY was intrigued by Souplantation and even more surprising to me, he liked it! There was a location in Camarillo so we could eat immediately and even thought we might check out a few more stores after. Funny.
It seemed a little boneheaded to go for a buffet-style dinner after the three lunches and three breakfasts after the cruise but it was the best choice for having something to feed E as well.
You pick up salad first because the salad bar stands between you and the cashier. I heard that the vegetables were in the ground just 48 hours before. Their monthly special was the avocado BLT but disappointingly I couldn’t see any avocado or bacon left.
I also heard the soup is made fresh every four hours. There were eight choices that day, I think and I had to reign myself in with just four soups: clam chowder, chicken and rice, chili and seven vegetable. It was great stuff to feed E. The other four choices were chicken noodle, amped up corn chowder, cream of broccoli and cheese and a potato-leek chowder. The rye bread made from scratch was very good.
Since we were spending half of our time feeding E, trying to get as much into him before he outright refused, we started sharing stuff. That’s crazy at an all-you-can-eat place, isn’t it?! On a small plate, NPY got a bit of each of the three pastas: red sauce (pomodoro?), Alfredo and a mac ‘n’ cheese. You can see from the pans of naked pasta off to the side how it is prepared – in large batches and with pre-made sauce mixed in. None of the pastas were appetizing. Continuing on the sharing trend, I got one piece each of the flatbreads and they were okay because they were hot.
Then, there was the soft serve ice cream bar and NPY had the luxurious idea of having it alongside the hot lava cake. It was a good end.
Based on the promotions that I kept receiving from Souplantation and now having checked it out, it’s a good place to bring the kids. There are different prices for different age kids like $1.99 for ages 3-6, $3.99 for ages 7-12, $6.99 for teens aged 13-17 and $7.99 for young adults aged 18-22 (the broke university crowd). There’s probably a discount for seniors and regular adults can get 2 for $20.99.
We went to the outlets and were out all day on Friday so that we would be free on Saturday when BK would be free. We agreed to head to Santa Monica and since it was far easier, we took the train since the new Expo Line was very convenient to get to. The twins played at Tongva Park and I found ways for E to enjoy the space as well although it is generally rated for ages 3+. BK suggested that we go to a family-friendly restaurant and it would be Cheesecake Factory. Since we don’t have Cheesecake Factory, we don’t really shoot it down and we also get it about wanting the family restaurant.
NPY and I noted that we’ve never been to Cheesecake Factory by day and this particular location was brightly lit with natural light. A bonus was getting a booth on the patio. I ordered avocado toast and loaded baked potato soup for E to be able to have some. There was a kick to the avocado that I don’t think he enjoyed. True to Cheesecake Factory form, the avocado toast was a large proportion for a price where elsewhere you get just one slice of toast.
NPY ordered a lunch portion of spaghetti carbonara and it was more than enough.
Another recommendation I read in Keira-Anne’s blog post above was Bruxie. They had a great introductory offer of $5 off anything, no minimums and I eagerly wanted to use it. There are not that many locations so I kept in mind to look for it on Third Street Promenade. The first time we past it, it was too soon after lunch. But the second time, after a quick visit to the beach – oh what a hassle with a stroller even though it was a light umbrella style – NPY was down for a dessert waffle.
I ordered the waffle sundae because we could have frozen custard and waffle, all made in-house. Yup, it was delicious even if the photo is fuzzy. I’d gladly return to get one of their savoury waffles with fried chicken.
Poke has finally arrived in the big cities of Canada only this summer and fall. So when TB recommended this place in that she wanted to try it, I kept it in mind too. It is a short walk from Third Street Promenade so we went for a light dinner rather than another take out dinner with BK.
Based on customer service, I was inclined to rate Sweetfin low. Some servers are too hip/nonchalant/indifferent or just… millennial that I’m grumbling inside. The small bowl looked really small and you can’t really toss the mixings together in that small space. And you are limited to five toppings. Actually, the having a limit is reasonable – when you have a little of everything, it’s harder to suss out the different flavours. NPY got a salmon poke rice bowl while I got tuna and the four toppings we had in common were wakame salad, mango, carrot and edamame. I got crispy onions while he got grated carrot. And I was gearing up to be disappointed until I tasted the rice which was green, bamboo rice seasoned with their “Classic” mix of shoyu and sesame oil. That was good rice that made everything better. E really liked the bamboo rice – can we say refined tastes?
A Shake Shack opened recently in West Hollywood on Santa Monica Boulevard. Given we haven’t been in NY since 2011, that is how long it has been since NPY has had their burgers, fries and shakes. I recall that it’s his favourite burger with that juicy combination of sirloin, chuck and brisket. BK was astonished he would have a full meal so late – he went in the late evening and caught some rare and different Pokemon while at it – but I explained how it’s one of his favourite burgers. And he has to have fries, his favourite part of the meal. And of course he will have a milkshake.
On our last day, with an evening flight, we just lay low. It was blazingly hot outside and I wanted to take E to join the twins in the pool but he had a ragingly long nap that ruined that plan. BK ordered pizza and pasta through Seamless and it was a relaxing and low-key way to wrap up our trip.
It’s hard to say what we can or cannot plan now when traveling with E. It seemed like I could get more things done when I was traveling alone with him but he was also younger then. It will take some more time for me to come to appreciate the slower pace and smaller itineraries that are the new normal.