Best Of :: West L.A./Sawtelle/Brentwood
Best Saber Rattling: Avant Garde Fencers Club
Fencing will make you work harder than any other sport just to score one point. Using an entirely different set of muscles, the point of your defense is for you to make yourself as difficult to hit as possible, even as you find the opening that drives your blade into the limited allowed space on your opponent's body while he makes himself as difficult to hit as possible. It's brutally elegant and constitutionally calculating; each well-executed thrust a poem in itself, the hand that wields the sword moving like the gentle serving of a teacup filled with napalm. At the Avant Garde Fencers Club, under the masterful tutelage of head coach Daniel Costin, they've guided children, Olympians and Paralympians to reach the apex of their skill as fencers. Concentrating on the saber — rather than the other two blades, the foil and the épée — they also teach underrated virtues such as grace, poise, patience and stoicism in the only athletic activity that also carries with it the possibility of having a blade snap off during a match, pierce the mask and bury itself in your brain. And what's life without a little grace and tension?
Despite what idyllic postcards will lead you to believe, West L.A. is mostly populated by slabs of concrete, endless forests of stucco apartments and grimy strip malls. But there's an oasis of green waiting amid this postwar suburban sprawl. Hashimoto Nursery, in the heart of Sawtelle Japantown, is burgeoning with begonias, hearty succulents and vast varieties of vegetation. A stroll through its expansive campus is a peaceful experience that will make you forget the hellish honking of the nearby 405 freeway. It's also a walk back in time. The four Hashimoto brothers first settled in this Westside Japanese enclave around 1928 and opened their nursery a few years later. When World War II erupted, two of the brothers were sent back to Japan while the others were interned at Manzanar. When they were released, they opened the Hashimoto Brothers Nursery. The shop has been in operation ever since, providing diverse garden supplies with a sense of history.
While an array of respectable Persian restaurants can be found in Little Tehran on Westwood Boulevard, the area's best-kept secret is LaZiz Grill, where many of the same Iranian entrees can be enjoyed at almost half the price. It's to-go only, and concealed within Super Sun Market, but you can take home such menu mainstays as beef or chicken koobideh, meatballs (koofteh), pomegranate-walnut stew (fesenjan) or chicken or beef kebabs at a fraction of the sit-down prices elsewhere. LaZiz's flexible menu allows ordering main dishes "family-style," in which they'll separate the entrée from the included sides and even replace the default basmati rice with bread or salad at no extra charge. Do the math: The saffron chicken at $7.99 makes a splendid meal for two — a per-capita bargain.
They say that the best art takes you to another world; here's a gallery that brings other worlds to you. The UCLA Meteorite Gallery, which holds more than 2,500 samples from nearly 1,500 meteorites, is the public face of the collection that's the second-largest held at a university (Arizona State takes the crown). It's a collection that started with just 192 meteorites donated in the 1960s by UCLA Astronomy Department founder Professor Frederick Leonard, and the most recent specimens are cosmic baubles donated by locals digging at sites around California and beyond. The gallery also regularly features lectures about every aspect of the cosmos, from "Oriented Meteorites: Sculpture by Fire" to "Geysers and Plate Motions on Saturn's Icy Moon Enceladus." John Wasson, director of the UCLA Collection of Meteorites, and Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics researcher Alan Rubin say they get scores of samples that might be rocks from space mailed in to the department by hopeful star-diggers. However, as Rubin puts it on the gallery's website, "People often send what we call 'meteor wrongs' rather than meteorites."