Magic in Montecito Heights
We awoke to the garbage trucks roaming the neighborhood — a somewhat familiar scenario, thus making our little apartment even more like home.
We answered work emails and slowly made our way to Modern Eats for breakfast, then caught a car east to Montecito Heights — to meet Bari Ziperstein, a truly incredible potter and artist.
Her studio is behind a behavioral health center in a brown building on Mission Boulevard, down the block from the Forever 21 headquarters. “…Where are we?” the driver asked. “Montecito Heights?” I replied, not entirely sure of my answer. I’d never been east of downtown, even though I had lived in L.A. for five years. We pulled into the parking lot. “Are you sure this is it?” he asked. “I think so?”
It was just magical. Tall shelves stacked with work, two warm kilns, exotic day-old flowers from an open studio party, a massive art exhibition in process. Bari herself was just as magical, too. We talked for a long, long time but it felt like just minutes. We talked about the conflict of time as a creative, trying to change the world one day at a time, and how to vote with your money (and when you should stop yourself from going down the rabbit hole). How to create your own life as you wish it to be, the people and places of the design world in L.A., her upcoming art shows and the process of making. How she fires her monumental planters, the tricky balance of commercial work vs. the artwork that gets you up in the morning, how to follow your true passion.
When we had walked into her studio, we lingered in front of the massive shelves of stock and two pieces stood out — we bought them for our collection, and all of us wrapped them together in brown paper. We took forever to leave, shuffling back into the warmth of her studio. Once we made it out the door, she gave us big hugs and told us to stay in touch — “Come see me next time you’re here!” We cradled our new pieces like newborns in the car towards home.
We decided to head back into the city after a quick refresh — first stop: Intelligentsia on Sunset for iced almond-milk lattes. Then a walk down Hyperion to Marathon, Marathon to Vermont, Vermont to Melrose. We walked past the line at Sqirl, and wished we had thought to go. We walked past the brutalist concrete façade of the Braille Institute, the scent of street tacos wafting through the thick, hot air. Made it to Clad Home — a design shop owned by Rosa Beltran, a lovely new friend. We sat around and chatted a bit before heading out towards Hollywood via Lyft. A quick spin around Consort Design, and then a long and hot walk up Orange to Sunset — and In-n-Out, another necessary pilgrimage. Two double-doubles, two fries, two pink lemonades. We waited for thirty minutes. Salt, fat, sour, sweet.
Satiated, we caught a car back into the hills. Just a few blocks from our place, Richard Neutra and his son Dion created a small enclave of houses — including the stunning VDL House. We weren’t in town on a weekend, so a tour was out of the question. We hung around out front, snapping photos, mesmerized by the revolutionary structure. Louvers, succulents and glass — it was perfect in the late afternoon glow. We wandered around back then down the block, and glimpsed a man having a drink with friends on his Neutra-designed terrace — a man who turned out to be Dion Neutra.
Hot and exhausted, we walked home (past the Neutra Museum) and took a nap.
Après-nap, we headed towards dinner — and got caught in a snarl of traffic on Melrose. Filming, apparently — a fact of life in L.A., a novelty anywhere else. We arrived at Pizzeria Mozza fifteen minutes late, much to the frustration of the (very) Italian maitre’d. Yes, we chose another Nancy Silverton spot for dinner, just a day after our orgiastic gorge at Osteria next door. It was worth it, though — I’d been pining for the very famous Nancy’s Salad, which we often make at home.
Nancy's Salad — from Smitten Kitchen
4 cloves garlic
1 to 2 tablespoons dried oregano (Nancy recommends 2; I got nervous and used 1, but might not have minded more)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil, ideally extra-virgin
Salad and assembly
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas or 1 3/4 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced into paper-thin rings
1/2 pound provolone, sliced 1/8-inch thick then cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
1/2 pound salami, peeled, sliced 1/8-inch thick then cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
4 medium or 8 small pickled pepperoncini, sliced into rings
3/4 pound cherry tomatoes
1 head iceberg lettuce, halved, cored, and cut in 1/2-inch ribbons
1 head radicchio, halved, cored and cut in 1/4-inch ribbons
2 tablespoons dried oregano for garnish (optional)
Make dressing: Roughly chop the garlic and then add the oregano, salt and up to 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper. Chop the mixture together and use the side of a knife or a mortar and pestle to make a grainy herb paste. Transfer the paste to a large salad bowl, and add the lemon juice and vinegar. Mix with a fork allowing the salt to dissolve, then add the oil and whisk with a fork until well combined. The dressing should be thick with garlic and oregano. If you’re using a small head of iceberg, transfer 1/3 the dressing into a small bowl to be used only if needed. For a larger head of iceberg, you’ll want it all.
Assemble salad: Gently fold the chickpeas, red onion, provolone, salami, pepperoncini (including seeds and juice) into the dressing, one at a time. Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and season with 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt. Set aside until ready to serve.
To serve: When ready to serve, gently add the tomatoes, lettuce and radicchio to the salad bowl, along with a couple of generous pinches of oregano, and toss to combine with the dressing. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding any reserved dressing if needed. Serve immediately.
We were all varying degrees of late for dinner, and after calming the maitre’d down from apoplexy, we all ate, and ate, and ate.
Our lateness pushed dinner into a later engagement, so while the rest of the gang went for chocolate cake at Sweet Lady Jane, I walked briskly to the Roger Room to meet Athena — one of my dearest friends. I absolutely adore her — she’s always a vision, and a breath of fresh air. The gang wandered in later, full of cake and drowsy with sugar.
A few gin and tonics, a few old stories, a few heart-to-hearts — and then we departed, waiting for a car at The Nice Guy down the block. It brought me sharply back to my L.A. days — girls in short dresses, loud men with flashy watches, aggressive doormen in shiny black suits. It reminded me of Foxtail, of Hyde, of Social — all of us waiting in line to see and be seen. “I’m friends with the bartender.” “I can totally get us in.”
I smiled as we climbed into our car, as we headed off to the hills, ready to sleep.