If you go to the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA to see Art in the Streets, leave plenty of time.
The huge exhibit fills a great many gallery spaces. In some rooms, dozens of artifacts are placed on the walls as if this were a hipster's salon, a post-modernist Gertrude Stein having assembled the work of the best and the brightest.
Some areas are self-consciously fabricated to look like neighborhood street scenes with the art scattered on every available flat surface. Other gallery spaces are set-dressed to look like store fronts and seedy, cluttered apartments.
Exhaustively curated, you will learn a great deal about the artists who used graffiti as their means of expression, the communities that developed around their art and the creative currents that swept back and forth between the West and East Coast, but you will read nothing about the ways in which graffiti helped blight America's cities. An oversight that strikes some as self-indulgent and myopic.
If you see the exhibit—which you should—also rent the amazingly entertaining Exit Through the Gift Shop by British street artist Banksy. This is a really fun documentary about one part of urban graffiti's history.
Before or after you visit the exhibit, you will undoubtedly be hungry. With many choices, from urban chic to authentic Asian, everyone who knows the downtown area has their favorites.
I can make a couple of recommendations.
Within walking distance of MOCA, the ramen restaurant, Daikokuya is on a stretch of 1st Street with a dozen restaurants, in Little Tokyo between San Pedro and Alameda Streets.
Daikokuya will be the one with a line out the front. It is definitely worth the wait.
The look of the interior is bare-bones, but the ramen is first rate. The pork broth is possibly one of the most comfort-food-satisfying soups in LA.
The large menu has many different kinds of ramen (as well as other traditional Japanese dishes like teriyaki chicken and sushi). If you go with a group, sample several different ramens.
The most popular dish is the Daikoku Ramen. The restaurant is famous for its pork tonkotsu soup. The fatty pork is sliced paper thin and cooked until mouth-dissolvingly-tender. Delicious.
Also within walking distance of MOMA, the Lazy Ox Canteen has a sunny outdoor patio and a tavern-dark dining room and bar inside.
The Lazy Ox has a farm-to-table menu, with an eye to comfort food dishes that have been improved with top quality ingredients. Omelets, salads, soups and sandwiches are available for brunch and lunch.
The dinner menu is supplemented by daily specials listed on the blackboard on the wall. Like many upscale cafe-style restaurants (think Gjelina in Venice), pork features prominently on the menu.
On our trip to MOCA, my lunch was a turkey-crisp bacon sandwich with a green salad. My wife had the farm-fresh omelet and the blueberry muffin. Everything is delicious and made with care.
Chinatown is a five minute drive from MOCA, where you can find dozens of traditional Chinese restaurants. Most are run-of-the-mill places, good for getting your dim sum-fix but nothing special.
There are several exceptions, one of which is CBS Seafood.
Like most Chinatown restaurants, the threadbare CBS Seafood shows its age. But there is more here than meets the eye. The large menu is typical of many restaurants in the area, but the quality of the food is definitely a cut above.
On a recent visit I tried two of my Chinese-restaurant-litmus-test dishes: kung po shrimp and Chinese long beans.
Although the restaurant had been highly recommended, I assumed the dishes wouldn't be that good so I intended to have a few bites of each dish, pack up the rest and have them at home for lunch the next day.
I ate one string bean, then a shrimp and a peanut. Not bad. Then my chop sticks moved from one dish to the other. Back and forth. After each bite I thought to myself, "Well, that was good. I'll just have one more string bean..."
The plump, fresh-tasting shrimp and peanuts had a sweet caramelized heat. The crunchy long beans were crisp but tender with a good ginger-szechuan pepper flavor.
Before I could stop myself I had eaten every string bean, shrimp and peanut. I would need something else for tomorrow's lunch.
So if you are in search of a food adventure that's only a half hour away from the Palisades, try the restaurants downtown. And, if you have time this weekend, stop by MOCA and take in the Art in the Streets show.
You'll definitely have a good time.