Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Visit to the Getty

The other day, I got to spend the day in one of my favorite ways: wandering the many rooms of an art museum. Not just any art museum, but LA’s J. Paul Getty Museum, which is perched in the hills off the 405 overlooking a spectacular view of Los Angeles and Southern California’s rugged landscape and coastline.

LA and Orange County offer more than enough tourist attractions to keep visitors busy for weeks but, for art and culture enthusiasts, a trip to the Getty is a must when exploring Southern California.

Heeding warnings of crowds and difficult parking, my companion and I chose to visit on a weekday in the off-season. We arrived at the museum when it opened at 10 am and had no trouble parking at all (reservations are no longer required, as they were when the complex first opened). Other than a few school groups, the crowd was minimal making it easy to navigate through the five pavilions that house permanent collections as well as changing exhibitions.

We started the day with a 45-minute tour highlighting some of the most notable pieces on display. The tour included a stop at an incredibly realistic Spanish Baroque wood-carved statue of St. Ginés de la Jara from the 17th century. We also heard trivia about Rigaud’s 1701 state portrait of King Louis XIV, which the king loved so much he insisted that it be copied several times for each of his chateaux. J. Paul Getty purchased the third copy of this portrait for a mere $500 or $600 in the 1970s; the painting is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or more today and partner copies hang in the Louvre and Versailles.

The tour ended in front of van Gogh’s “Irises” in my favorite room of the whole museum. I was happy to see most of the major Impressionists and early 20th century French experimenters represented. I always feel like I’m visiting old friends when I see one of Cézanne’s still lifes or pieces from Monet’s many series of water lilies, wheatstacks or the Rouen Cathedral. The Getty’s cathedral study is not currently on display but be sure to see “Sunrise,” a companion piece to Monet’s 1872 “Impression: Sunrise,” which is considered the birth of Impressionism. Also, new favorite of mine is “The Rue Mosnier with Flags,” which Manet painted in 1878 from his second-floor window overlooking the street. All of these can be seen in the same room on the second floor of the West Pavilion.

For one most content when wandering the halls of the d’Orsay, the gardens of the Rodin Museum or the basement of Musée Marmottan in Paris, a trip to the Getty was long overdue. By the way, admission is free—the way it should be.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Raw Nirvana

I am a huge fan of sushi. There is something delightfully satisfying about wrapping your mouth around an uncomfortably large piece of raw fish stretched across rice, seaweed, carrot, avocado, cucumber, crab and any other vitamin-rich, low-fat piece of vegetable, mineral or animal that can be crammed into a roll. Friends and family alike have learned that conversation pauses after I take a bite of sushi.

Like any decent sushi aficionado, I have my favorite haunts. There is the neighborhood sushi-bar, just steps away from home; the authentic Japanese restaurant featuring the freshest fish in the area and the über-trendy sushi spot with a twist, always with three-letter monikers. Yen, no exception to the three-letter rule, is a regular stop of mine along the road to raw nirvana.

Last weekend, Long Beach experienced record-breaking heat for this time of year. Saturday evening's balmy weather just called out for a walk down Belmont Shore's Second Street to grab a bite at Yen. My friend and I were seated on the restaurant's sidewalk patio, which offers outdoor heaters for cooler nights and a lively atmosphere as nighttime strollers, bar-hoppers and culinary enthusiasts all take advantage of the area's many food and shopping-related attractions.

The service at Yen is nothing special. I've never had an ordering mix-up in my many visits to the restaurant but the servers can be fairly inattentive and clueless when it comes to pouring a bottle of wine. The food, though, makes up for the extra ten minutes that you sat waiting to put in your order.

This time, we started with a plate of edamame to stave off pesky hunger pains. Then, I ordered a garden salad featuring basic mixed greens tossed with a tangy ginger dressing. Small tempura vegetables added a little extra crunch.

The highlight of my dinner, however, was the Salmon and Spicy Scallop Roll. The eight-piece set came out served on a long, rectangular plate, like many of their sushi rolls. Scallops came surrounded in a thin layer of white rice and avocado while tender pieces of salmon tightly hugged the top. A white and a red sauce decorated one side of the long dish, adding to its elegant appearance.

This roll was truly a treat for the senses. The pieces were small enough to pop into my mouth in one bite and the rice was minimal, accentuating the dynamite combination of the scallop and salmon. The roll itself was not spicy until I dipped it in the red sauce. The scallop was melt-in-your-mouth-tender, contrasted with the firmer, denser piece of salmon, which requires a bit more chewing. The sauce added as much flavor and spice as I wanted, culminating in an exquisite texture and taste experience.