Full to the brim with nature, yoga and Kombucha, Los Angeles has the best Dry January attractions. Oh right…Yes, I am still doing that crazy, no drinking for a month thing, otherwise known as Dry January. Between us, it’s been a breeze. It may surprise you to read that and I’m a little surprised to type it, especially considering I sell wine for a living and moonlight as a bartender so I am constantly surrounded by my friends. I mean booze. But honestly, effortless. Positive? That seems like a different question and cloudier answer. Three main benefits reported were better skin, sleep and weight loss. Skin seems about the same, I don’t actually own a scale, and sleep, I can’t say I’ve noticed a big difference. I’ve had a few insomniac nights and sound sleep nights, which is the usual hodgepodge for me. Mood, maybe? I must tell you, I have that Westside Story, Act I intro to Tony, “Something’s Coming” feeling the past few days. I really do. I don’t know if it’s getting past the holidays, the possibilities of a new year, the vacation I am about to take (time warp! already happened!), the no drinking or what. But there is that feeling, Something’s Coming and maybe, I mean, just maybe… Otherwise, Dry January is a non-starter. The biggest thing about not drinking isn’t that it’s hard, but it’s boring. Like eating food with no seasoning. What can I say, I’ve got a touch of the bacchanal about me. Eat life. So now that you’re caught up on how the personal experiment is going, allow me to restate my opening thesis; LA offers plenty to do to fill your Dry January days. Phew, that was a whirlwind. Hike anyone?
Whitney Canyon Park resides at the first exit off the CA-14 in Santa Clarita. From North Hollywood, it’s about a twenty minute drive. A hike with some pups and a new health food cafe for lunch is my Saturday Dry January game plan. This is how my homesick New York blues magically disappear every January; I call a family member back home, who tells me about temperature in the teens or worse. That’s it. (Pause) A winter filled with sunshine and mid-70 degree days; hiking in the mountains and playing softball on Sundays year round vs. temperature in the teens. People will tell you a lot of bullshit reasons why they love this town. That’s why they love this town. Sunshine is addictive. Whitney Canyon Park is a pleasant hike. As we’ve established, it’s a lovely day and so we traverse over some hills and dales, across a running brook, under a fallen tree and to a waterfall. Seriously. We is myself, Harlow, Foster (Tommy’s dog who I am watching for the weekend), Joy (human friend), and Boots (show dog extraordinaire). Joy and I talk friends, dogs, work, travel, and the new craze of folks who smoke pot before their workouts and say it helps. The dogs run, sniff, explore, eat grass and wade (mostly Harlow here) in water whenever possible. I couldn’t even tell you how far the hike was or how long it took. Just enjoyed some beautiful nature, conversation and sunshine. Dry January!
I am solo for lunch. No canine or human companionship for leg two of the day’s adventure. The Sun Cafe is a hip new health conscious vegan restaurant in Studio City. It has a rustic, Martha Stewart Goes to Los Angeles feel. From their own lips Sun Cafe promises to, “…tantalize your taste buds while delivering optimum health and nutrition. Our 100% plant-based dairy-free menu seeks to accommodate all palates…”. Their lips are Ron Russel (co-owner/chef) and Rebecca (co-owner/designer), no last name given. Like Cher or Prince! Ron’s online bio includes the tease of miniseries he may have in development. Oh Los Angeles! The menu is a playful dare to discover if they can pull off the bold promise of all these familiar flavorful dishes. Pizza, mac & cheese, tacos, burgers all creatively reimagined as vegan. I recommend you click on the link below and check out the menu to see for yourself. Every Saturday morning there is a vegan cooking class for $40. Not just making the food, spreading the gospel. Sun Cafe’s pleasant decor screams modern trendy CA brunch spot. It reminds me of the cafe in The “L” Word but with less lesbians. Outdoor seating on pastel colored, cushioned benches as the sun streaks down through holes in the wooden trellis and vines above. Dressed in all black, the servers are one more attractive than the next. The busboy looks like a younger Danny Trejo with better skin. I truly admire the effort and attention that’s gone into Sun Cafe. Without a bite, it’s already an enticing spot to sit and eat some going for it healthy food.
It’s a 30 minute wait for an outdoor table. I make the painful choice of sitting inside. It turns out to be a blessing. I sit at a high top table across the from the bar and against a glass wooden door with a great view of the outdoor patio. And at the bar, the servers congregate. I hear such good stuff. My server doesn’t walk as much as he prances. I order the Mac and Cheese and Sweet Kale shake. I’m asked which sweetener I prefer; agave, prunes or stevia. I am unprepared for this question and ask what he recommends. He tells me he is just in this super healthy kick right now and so he prefers prunes which are the healthiest but least amount of sweet. Then he makes a face that might be a grimace. I decide I’m fine with agave because I’m getting a fucking Sweet Kale Shake and I don’t want it not sweet. I’m not yet so crazy that I go places and order a Kale Shake sans an adjective. Adjective is where I draw the line on Kale Shakes. My server then proceeds to get into a conversation with another server close by folding napkins about sweetness and calories in their kale shakes. It’s something they’ve each wrestled with. Apparently they LOVE stevia for the no calories but oh, the chemicals. A little while later they talk about yoga class. Another male server has now joined the conversation. They all agree they never wear shirts in yoga class. Somehow the conversation just finds it’s way here. They do however mock guys who wear speedos and position in front of them. And then they discuss going downtown to see experimental music. That paragraph wrote itself people.
The Sweet Kale Shake is actually really good. I’m man enough to admit. It has a pistachio with a touch of mint taste. A little chalky where you want creamy, but on the whole, it was rather yummy. I drank the whole thing. The Mac & Cheese was less of a success. Flavors are good. The tomatoes they’ve added play nicely. On the other hand, the cheese flavor, the texture, the pasta are all off. It doesn’t taste indulgent nor hit that post hike, carb load high. The aftertaste is less than. Not bad, but it tastes like it was made by someone who hasn’t tasted the real thing in a very long time. Which segues like a dream into my next bit of server eavesdropping! A female server starts telling the group a story about her boyfriend trying the pancakes and confessing to her later he thought they tasted like cardboard. This leads to a statement about how customers don’t “get the pancakes” because buckwheat pancakes by nature taste bad. That said if you grew up eating buckwheat pancakes, as she and apparently a few others did, Sun Cafe’s are amazing by comparison. Then they talk about how something in the environment is off today and you can feel it in the customers. I love these guys. I am not trying to mock here. I got a glimpse behind the curtain and they delivered. While I joke therefor I am, I’m also impressed all the gorgeous people that work at Sun Cafe are actually super into this food and healthy eating. I can tell you from plenty of restaurants I have worked in over the years, this is not always the case. Sweet Kale shakes and buckwheat pancakes for everyone!
I will return to Whitney Canyon Park. I will give Sun Cafe another go, preferably outside with friends and Harlow in tow. This is likely my last Dry January. But hey, never say never. I would have said I’d never do Dry January in the first place. But the finish line is in view and really, I barely noticed the difference. Now give me a fucking glass of wine.