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L.A. Confidential

The City of Angels could be considered the capital of the Pacific. There's a bit of Tokyo in L.A., along with some Seoul, Hong Kong, Lima and Sydney. Five Angelenos, all Nespresso Club Members, talk about the extraordinary luxuriance of this megalopolis sprawling at desert's edge.

This desert city is a mood all its own, an ardent atmosphere tempered by countless human currents. An unstable blend of aridity, the mildness of the Mediterranean, hippieish laissez-faire and voracious capitalism. Where does such strange terrestrial magnetism come from, these myriad, dazzling, farfetched facets? The first settlers in the New World spoke of an El Dorado somewhere on the fabulous island of California, a paradise guarded by beautiful Amazons. In some ways, the American dream appropriated this original fantasy by having Hollywood become the over-the-rainbow destination for millions of hopefuls. Like the hull of a Spanish caravel, protected by countless coats of paint, the entertainment industry is now what keeps this former pioneer village afloat.

A United States showcase on a par with New York and Miami, Los Angeles shares neither the uninhibited dandyism of the Big Apple nor the skin-drenched insouciance of the other seaside city. The Californian metropolis has developed an easy elegance, a dressy casualness that is a perfect fit for thisinterminable urbanisation. From Mulholland Drive, by night, it looks like a map of the heavens broken into a multitude of constellations by the freeways’ coronal streamers. From within, the City of Angels resembles a succession of stage sets, where coyotes morph into poodles coiffed like boxwoods, where an overwhelming jungle of metal towers can rocket you onto a serene and blissful beach.

Ilan Portugali, diamond merchant, Member since 2012

Israel native Ilan led an adventurous life in southern Africa before hanging his hat in the United States. He had crisscrossed the region in search of Madagascan sapphires and Mozambican emeralds, a great match to his English-explorer looks: translucent complexion, fair, impeccably combed hair and wrestler’s build. Ilan has since settled down in Beverly Hills, where this father of a little girl makes a living selling solitaire diamonds while drinking intense Ristrettos, like DHARKAN or KAZAAR. Nespresso’s exacting standards in monitoring its supply chain, from harvest to final packaging, reminds him of the traceability certificate a diamond must earn under the Kimberley Process, making it possible to pinpoint “blood diamonds” mined under conditions that violate human rights, or that may be financing civil war.

LOS ANGELES IS A CITY IN WHICH THOSE OF CONSIDERABLE MEANS ARE KINDLY ASKED TO EXERCISE RESTRAINT AND DISPASSION. DANDYISM IS SEEN AS AN UNPARDONABLE LACK OF TASTE, UNLESS TEMPERED BY BASEBALL CAP, JEANS AND SNEAKERS. Though quite accustomed to luxury, people here loathe the notion that they might have to walk on eggshells anywhere. L.A. is as free as the desert; it’s not a Japanese garden, where every pebble has its place. ILAN PORTUGALI knows this well, carrying out direct diamond sales at a third below market price, without the reassuring – and costly – middle-man of an actual storefront. He meets his clients at his Beverly Hills office, or a more private place when large stones are at stake. His favourite restaurant, GUSTO, is managed by Chef Vic Casanova, whose name alone is worth the trip. To boot, this Brooklyn-born Italian-American was on the prestigious Iron Chef America TV show and ran the kitchens of the local Four Seasons before setting out on his own. You must absolutely try the meatballs, as light as potato puffs. In Beverly Hills, Ilan relishes the simplicity of a (non-American) football sports bar by the name of EURO CAFFÈ, which might as well be in Naples. His friend VITO ESPOSITO has an unlikely hair salon tucked away on the top floor of a place called Bebe Store: this stylist-to-the-stars works in a small hanging garden overlooking Rodeo Drive. Lastly, the lounge at the HAKKASAN Beverly Hills is a tangled jungle of moucharabies that serves smoking cocktails on a bar that appears to have tumbled down straight from the heavens.

Jenelle Pope, fundraiser, Member since 2012

Ten years after moving to Los Angeles, this native  New Yorker describes this cityas one where it’s hard to blend in. “I’d say you feel like an outsider for at least two years before you really adjust to how things work here.” As everything is widely scattered, you need to weave your interests together, creating an abstract world in which networks take the place of communities, affinities replace neighbourhoods. This city is not one that presents itself on a silver platter; you must go looking for it, like stitching together your own custom-tailored suit from scratch. Nevertheless, there is a deep-rooted tradition of charitable initiatives in this megalopolis, a place that has nurtured the helping-hand spirit since the early days, when  the frontier was still far to the east. Jenelle enjoys a cappuccino with  a VANILIO or CAPRICCIO Grand Cru, which she sips  in the morning with a chocolate croissant swiped from her daughter.

LOS ANGELES HAS MANAGED TO PROTECT A FEW POCKETS OF UNSPOILT NATURE FROM ITS RAMPANT URBANISATION. RUNYON CANYON is in some ways an Angeleno Central Park, a natural balcony overlooking the urban jungle stretching between the Santa Monica Mountains and the ocean. From here, you can see the jagged metal copse of Downtown, home to BOTTEGA LOUIE. There, Jenelle feels like she’s in New York, with its subway tiling, broad, open kitchen and mirrored skyscrapers near-by. She also enjoys the almost exhibitionist disinhibition of the cheekily coloured macaroons nuzzling up to a row of tropéziennes, Saint-Tropez’s emblematic cream pie, as buxom and toothsome as pin-ups. For a breakfast mecca, there’s brunch at the BEL-AIR, with its secure, stay-at-home air, and the legendary CHATEAU MARMONT, with a patio worthy of The Great Gatsby, both abundant and depressed, where live-in stars breakfast on eggs Benedict with vodka and leggy young ladies are overheard, in the wee hours, discussing the status of their sex lives in the City of Angels. The equally exclusive JUST ONE EYE concept store has not  so much a selection as a collection of clothing, accessories and unique jewellery pieces bordering on sheer art. It makes its home in the former Art Deco safe house of Howard Hughes, the paranoid billionaire who lived in a vast sanitary bunker, with alloy bactericidal doors that he had scoured night and day. Today, this strange sanctuary strikes you much the way old Ford Model Ts of the Roaring Twenties did, after they’d been souped up into dragsters, with huge chrome radiators, flamed wings and dual side exhaust pipes.

Matias Doorn, event designer, Member since 2012

It has been eleven years since Matias left Buenos Aires with his wife Noelia to become an event designer in the City of Angels. For his profession, this place is nothing short of paradise, where ordinary sites are to be transformed into fairylands by the magic wand of a Hollywood decorator.  From bar mitzvahs to Oscars night, everyone calls upon the services of these party pros: Matias recently created an exotic Arabian Nights tent ambiance inside a white marquee.  He likes black coffee, nice and strong, the way they drink it in Buenos Aires, where Neapolitans immigrated in such great numbers in the 20th century that its inhabitants still speak Spanish with an Italian accent.  His machine? A limited edition MAESTRIA in the colours of the 34th America’s Cup.

BEFORE MOVING HERE, MATIAS HAD PICTURED LOS ANGELES AS AN EXTENSION OF BAYWATCH. IT WAS NOT UNTIL HE GOT HERE THAT HE BEGAN TO GRASP THE DEPTH OF THIS URBAN MILLEFEUILLES, BY TURNS FRIVOLOUS, FAMILY-FRIENDLY, FOODIE, ADOLESCENT, ATHLETIC His list of favourite places captures this capricious diversity. First, the famed Malibu Beach is actually wilder than is portrayed in the series that brought it worldwide renown, especially when you travel all the way to the PARADISE COVE BEACH CAFE, a spot that feels like the ends of the earth. Equally exotic is the trendy ABBOT KINNEY Boulevard district, where the first Friday of every month is the hot-spot for Los Angeles’ gourmet food trucks. With everything from Far East to Far West, these mobile kitchens serve up the wealth of culture-combining found in this “capital” of the Pacific and its freeway physiognomy (see the Food Culture section). And though he loves this “nouvelle cuisine on the go”, Matias is also a fan of the consummately classic Beverly Hills Hotel, where he enjoys an occasional cocktail at the POLO LOUNGE. In this gentlemen’s club dotted with horse-hair-upholstered chairs, he found a polo sanctuary, practicing reverence to this equestrian sport that Argentines have appropriated as much as they have football and rugby: a product of Central Asia later codified by the English, the sport was adopted by the fearsome gauchos. According to Matias, the most comprehensive brunch on the West Coast is laid out every Sunday at the FOUR SEASONS, a massive buffet of encyclopaedic proportions. He also recommends a visit to UNIVERSAL STUDIOS: people’s legitimate curiosity about what happens behind Hollywood’s sets inspired the management to create a studio-themed amusement park.

Shelley Zalis, entrepreneur, Member since 2012

“I fly so often that I can tell when the purser has gotten a haircut.” In Shelley’s life, the only thing that lasts is that which doesn’t.  This trailblazer in online education brought telephone surveys into the digital age.  “I sold my company to the French group Ipsos, specialising in public-opinion barometers; they wanted to reach the first generations that grew up with the internet.” When travelling, Shelley seems to see the world as an extension of Los Angeles, meaning as a single experience shared by varying national sympathies. “The coffee break does indeed exist in São Paulo, Cairo and Tokyo, but its form is still profoundly determined by local identity.” She drinks seven espressos a day, the only drink she says she can tolerate along with Cabernet and Diet Coke...

LOS ANGELES IS CERTAINLY AN OPPORTUNITY TO ENJOY THE DESERT, A LONELY BEACH OR A SKI SLOPE OVER A SINGLE WEEKEND. BUT THE CITY IS MORE THAN JUST ITS FABULOUS SURROUNDINGS It’s also home to some excellent restaurants, like CRAIG’S, where apparently many stars stop by regularly to sample the collection of vintage tequilas. Shelley recommends the spaghetti squash, after which you can abandon yourself to a full dessert relapse, like butterscotch pudding. The quality of the espresso is a subject on which she admits being intractable: with this daring, high-wire extraction method performed with no safety net, the coffee is too exposed to withstand any kind of guesstimates. “Being constantly on the road has made me pretty unadventurous. I like tastes to be predictable.” The Beverly Hills NESPRESSO BOUTIQUE serves her this pinpoint perfection in a setting that is at once spectacular and hospitable, low-key and expressive. Not to mention the fact that HARA AND CO., the pre-owned luxury store, is nearby, selling nearly new Chanel bags at second-hand prices. Shelley had occasionally heard that L.A.’s climate was too arid to support true culture. “That’s absurd! All you have to do is go see how Angelenos of every generation, background and station assemble on SANTA MONICA Beach, in a sort of parallel universe where all people do is run around, flirt and eat ice cream.” Of course, there is the Getty Museum, too, which houses one of the world’s largest art collections, not to mention the SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTER, an educational foundation passionately committed to fighting intolerance and prejudice-related violence.

Stacey Poon-Kinney, chef, Member since 2012

This former finalist of a chef competition on the Food Network owns the San Diego diner called The Trails Eatery. “My grandfather was chefing in Santa Monica for Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack.” So she prepares a typically Californian cocktail of season-sensitive, home-style dishes steeped in Latin-American influences but using strictly local ingredients. From bread to her grandmother’s meat recipes to pancake pyramids, Stacey practices an intuitive cooking style consisting of sensual and sensory-centred techniques that care little for being “by the book”. Stacey likes to make herself latte machiattos with milk frothed by her AEROCCINO, an accessory she never failed to have with her on the Food Network set, “because its frothed milk had the power to make the terrible coffee on the set quite palatable.”

THE RESTAURANTS STACEY RECOMMENDS RESEM-BLE AN IDEAL RANGE OF GASTRONOMIC DIVERSITY IN CALIFORNIA. PICCA is a (very) good example of Indo-Andean fusion cuisine, with its Peruvian sushi, albacore tuna ceviche garnished with seaweed and spicy ponzu, or a sablefish anticucho (kebab) with grilled miso and crispy sweet potato. Less of a cultural cacophony, but equally creative, is FREDDY SMALLS, a “gastro-saloon” experience in a deserted neighbourhood where one suddenly encounters a stretch of double-parked cars. The room, which, at first glance, appears unpretentious, ultimately reveals an attention to detail that could only come from a true decorator. Chef Charlie Parker’s eggs mimosa are splendid: “When I saw that the menu listed that seemingly simple dish that’s really very difficult to make, I used it as a crash test to judge the cook’s talent,” confesses Stacey. This version is meticulously dotted with crispy chicken skin chips, crumbled local blue cheese and hot sauce. Nearby is TITO’S TACOS, which has been rolling its sliced beef with onions and chili pepper in fried tortilla shells for fifty years, modernising California’s deep-reaching Mexican roots. FORD’S FILLING STATION gets its kicks in a somewhat wacky brasserie style, including pork belly lettuce wraps as intense as an electric guitar riff. For a sweet finish, ice cream fans should go to COOLHAUS for its dangerously addictive chilled creations, like two scoops – anything from candied bacon to gingerbread to bourbon – sandwiched between chocolate cookies.  

By Julien Bouré - Photos Jean-Claude Amiel - Production Sandrine Giacobetti

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