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Angelenos with a big sweet tooth have more to love at the Grove.  On Friday, local confectionery legends See’s Candies opened up a shop on Bow St. next to the Whisper Lounge. This opening comes just months after Sprinkles popped up in a nook by the Grove’s parking structure and Dylan’s Candy Bar arrived from New York back in September. Coupled with the Grove veterans the Cheesecake Factory and Haagen-Dazs plus the Farmer’s Market’s offering of Dupar’s pies, Short Cake’s, Bob’s Doughnuts, Bennett’s Ice Cream and Short Cake treats –it makes for a paradise for dessert devotees.

 

The new See's store at the Grove

The new See’s store at the Grove

See’s Candies is a particular sweet addition as it is sits in Southern California’s candy pantheon. The first See’s store, with its still signature black and white design, opened on Western Ave. in 1921. Although it now has locations across America (and even in Japan, Hong Kong and Macau), there is still something inherently Los Angeles about See’s. Beyond the fact that the preservative-free candies are made locally, See’s represents Southern California history while still being in the present. The shops are stocked with Mary See’s originals (such as Victoria Toffee and Chocolate Walnut Fudge), traditional favorites (Scotchmallow and Dark Bordeaux are perennially popular) and seasonal delicacies like chocolate bunnies and St. Patrick’s Day gold coins (just to mention Springtime specials). Personally, I like the Marzipan and the Milk Cocoanut. But everyone can have their own favorites with over 100 types of candies to choose from – not to mention the jelly beans, the lollypops, the peppermint twists and the…

 

See’s Candies, 189 Grove Dr., L.A. (as well as other locations); sees.com. daily. 10 a.m-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun.

Somewhere between slapstick vaudeville and elegant cirque artistry exists the world of Circus Oz. The “Oz” here isn’t referring to the place where Dorothy visited but to Australia, and this unconventional circus troupe definitely reflects that country’s off-the-beaten-path sensibility.

Circus Oz Swings Into Royce Hall This Weekend

Circus Oz Swings Into Royce Hall This Weekend

Their current production, From The Ground Up, is set on a construction site and offers a general theme of needing teamwork to build something – and what they build is a marvelously entertaining show (2-hour including an intermission) populated with rock ‘n’ roll baton action, a swinging drum pendulum, a human jump rope, a comically inept magician and a roller-aerobics instructor with an attitude.

The performers’ goofiness can overshadow their tremendous skills and the show’s casualness masks how just well staged it is. That is until there are “ah” moments (and I won’t give away too many acts) where gravity is defied or clumsiness turns graceful. Spunky and spirited, clever and, yes, corny, this wonderfully rollicking family-friendly entertainment (probably best for 7 and older) will be at Royce Hall through Sunday. For ticket information visit cap.ucla.edu.

Parental Advisory Movie Review (films about families but not family movies): 56 Up – The latest edition on the landmark documentary series offers a wonderfully engaging look at being 50-something.

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The new documentary 56 Up is the latest installment in the impressively long-running Up Series of documentaries that Britain’s Granada Television started in 1964 with 7 Up. A fore-bearer to today’s Reality TV, these documentaries have followed a set of people (originally 14 kids) beginning at the age 7 (an age inspired by the famous quote: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”) and returning at 7-year intervals.

Not only is this a remarkable cinematic project, but these documentaries are remarkable films too – with 56 Up being no exception. The film does a wonderful job balancing the personal portraits of the participants (this edition includes 13 of the 14 original participants agreed to be filmed – the most since 21 Up) with showing something of the society at large.   

While the original children chosen came from a cross-section of early ‘60s British culture (although there is only one non-white participant), they don’t come off as stereotypes – at least to American viewers. While the people range from working class through middle class to more well-to-do, they mostly just feel like folks living their lives. There is little sense of the people performing for the camera, unless you count Peter who admits to participating in order to promote his band (his folk-rock outfit The Good Intentions actually has a rather good sound).

Part of the subject’s comfortableness with the filmmakers undoubtedly is due to the fact that director Michael Apted (who also has made films like Gorillas in the Mist, Coalminer’s Daughter and James Bond’s The World Is Not Enough) worked on 7 Up and has directed all the other ones. Several of the participants do remark, however, that the films give only a partial portrait of them. One woman, Suzy, comments to her friend, and fellow Up subject, Nick that she has “a ridiculous sense of loyalty (to this documentary series) even though I hate it.”

They actually don’t have much to be concerned about since everyone is presented in pretty positive light. In fact, one of the joys of 56 Up is that these people (old friends to regular series viewers) basically have achieved a certain level of contentment in their lives. While about half the people have been divorced, most of them have either remarried or are in relationships. Several others have enjoyed long marriages. It is heartwarming, for example, to see that Tony (a colorful East-Ender who once dreamed up being a jockey but has become a cabbie) has worked through his marital troubles and still is with the wife of over 30 years.

One fascinating quality of the Up documentaries is how they utilize footage from the prior films. Besides letting viewers (first-timers or regular viewers) get a sense of these individuals as well as creating a quick montage of how people change and evolve over the years. Neil, for example, was a homeless wanderer at 28 and now he is a small town politician; however, the social awkwardness of his younger days is still part of him today. Suzy, who was sullen, chain-smoking young woman in 21 Up into an article woman with a husband, children and, what appears to be, a nice life.

56 Up, like its earlier installments, holds a charmingly old fashion documentary quality. There aren’t any splashy TMZ moments or the tawdriness of the Real Housewives, Jersey Shore or Honey Boo Boo. While this might sound too reserved and too British, the terrific documentary succeeds because of its universality – by just showing regular people trying to survive with what life throws at them, the good and the bad.

First Run Features’ 56 Up will be screening at six Southern California cinema starting on Jan. 25

“This is the best burger I’ve ever had!,” exclaimed my daughter’s friend. My 10 year old flashed two thumbs up; her mouth was too full to speak.

The cause for their excitement was their first encounter with Smashburger, a Colorado-based “fast, casual” restaurant chain that is opening a Culver City location (its first in the L.A. basin and follows last year’s opening in Thousand Oaks).

The name Smashburger suggests a colorful, action-filled food den fit for kids; however, the menu reveals a sophisticated side that foodies will dig. My dinner choice was the L.A. Smashburger, an item designed specifically for Southern California. This burger comes topped with a fried egg, a crispy wonton, lettuce, tomato, cilantro and cucumber, along with a ginger dressing. While it sounds like a big mess, the wonton adds a nice crunch, the egg isn’t runny and the ginger dressing isn’t overdone.

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The menu offers a half dozen options, from classic styles (regular, bacon cheeseburger, bbq bacon cheeseburger) to more colorful concoctions (the Fresh Mex and the Avocado Club, which was quite tasty), that come as a hamburger or chicken breast sandwich. There is also a “Create Your Own Burger” option as well as a couple tasty looking salads.

The name Smashburger comes from the cooking concept of smashing the meat on to the grill to sear in its juices. This technique, as founder Tom Ryan explained to our table, allows them to cook an item fresh to order and cook it fast. Smashed burger also makes for a burger that is a good, normal size (although you can also add a patty or two) and not that sloppy to eat.

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Besides their signature cooking style, Smashburger has a couple other great menu items. The sides were all sensational. Smashfries are typically shoestring fries lightly seasoned with rosemary, garlic and olive oil. Their sweet potato fries are both soft and crispy, while haystack onions aren’t some oversized brick of fried-ness. The most impressive side was the Veggie Frites. Ryan admitted that he took the idea of Szechuan green beans and flash-fried green beans and carrots, for a healthier finger-friendly side than the standard fry.

This healthy option gets deliciously undercut by Smashburger’s offering of thick and tasty milk shakes. Made with Haagen-Dazs ice cream, the flavors range from the typical V. C.S. trio (Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry) to cooler flavors like Oreo, Nutter Butter, Butterfinger and Chai.

This is a type of place that will be enjoyable for everyone in the family. The menu contains items simple and recognizable for the little ones along with more adventurous fare for a more adult palate (plus there is also a selection of beers too). In a town with enough burger spots to keep Wimpy busy, Smashburger should find a place of its own to squeeze into between the greasy spoons and the silver spoons, the fast food joints and the sit-down diners. It’s a restaurant that serves up food with enough quality, style, simplicity and tastiness to satisfy everyone.

Smashburger is located at 10704 Venice Blvd. in Culver City. For information, visit smashburger.com

Watch out Sprinkles. Move over Crumbs. There’s a new cupcake boutique in town. Sisters Sophie Kallinis La Montagne and Katherine Kallinis Berman are bringing their Georgetown Cupcake shop to Los Angeles – specifically to the fashionable stretch of Robertson Blvd. between 3rd Street and Beverly. The sisters and their cupcakery have become well known as stars of the TLC show, DC Cupcakes, and this is their first store west of the Mississippi.

I had the pleasure to attend a pre-opening tasting event with my daughter (and aspiring baker). We maneuvered our way through the folks packed into the simple but well-appointed store/bakery so we sample a number of mini-cupcakes that came in a variety of tasty and inventive flavors. Georgetown Cupcake boasts a repertoire of around 100 types of cupcakes with 18 typically available daily.

A box of scrumptious Georgetown Cupcakes.

Among the flavors we got to taste, my favorites included the chocolate coconut and the salted caramel while my young assistant enjoyed the citrus flavors (lemon and key lemon) as well as the red velvet. One touch that she liked was the little candied toppings (like a candy lemon slice on the lemon cupcake).

Opening day is Saturday November 17 around noon, and as a special sweet treat they will be serving up one free cupcake per customer – while supplies last. See if you can eat just one.

 

143 S. Robertson Blvd. (between 3rd and Alden Dr.), L.A.; http://www.georgetowncupcake.com

U.S. soccer star Alex Morgan made a name for herself at the recent London Olympic as she helped to lead the American women to a gold medal. Now she plans to make a name in the literary world. This week, Simon & Schuster announced the signing of Morgan to a 3-book deal for a middle-grade series. This series, entitled The Kicks, deals with some girls – Devon,  Jessi, Zoe, and Emma – who play together on a soccer team Berryvale Bruisers.

Alex Morgan (courtesy of US Soccer)

Morgan, who grew up playing soccer in Diamond Bar, plans to have her debut novel published next summer.