Sunday, August 26, 2012

Beach town

Manhattan Beach. Click to "embiggen"
 The broad curve of the coast of Los Angeles County, from Malibu to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, is blessed with broad sandy beaches and pleasant seas. Just south of Los Angeles International Airport, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach make up a trio of small cities that dot the coast, each with their municipal pier, shops, bars and restaurants, each prized for their surf and sand and mild weather.

Frankly - I've always had a hard time distinguishing one from the other. To remedy that, we took a trip to Manhattan Beach on a bright August Saturday, and get to know it better.

Walking on the Pier
Named in 1902 by a homesick real estate developer for his hometown, Manhattan (Beach was added in 1927) was mostly rolling sand dunes so broad and drifting that they were used by early film-makers to depict the Sahara desert. Developers sold vacation properties, and while leveling the dunes to pave streets, a smart contractor sold the sand to other developers. The sand from Manhattan Beach was shipped to Hawaii as landfill to create Waikiki Beach.

Bike racks near City Hall

The booming economy of World War II swelled the population with factory workers and servicemen, and the town grew even larger in the 1950s. Today Manhattan Beach is a compact, affluent little town with a population around 30,000.

Manhattan Beach Boulevard is the center of "downtown," and it ends at the Pier. Lined with shops and restaurants, it and the blocks around it are great walk streets, and usually full of beach-goers, tourists, and families. The town hosts a lot of special events, including a major beach volleyball tournament, paddle-board races, concerts in the park and  a farmers market.

Volleyball tournament on the beach
The day we went, the volleyball tournament was underway. The streets that sloped down to the beach were crowded with all manner of people - surfers, sportsfans, boogie-boarders, fishermen and beach bums. Bars and restaurants with open windows or rooftop patios were noisy and full of revelry.

"Caught one!"
Out at the end of the long concrete pier, a round 1920s building houses an aquarium; behind it anglers were catching silvery little fish and lovers were posing for photos.

Metlox  plaza with Shade Hotel
We stopped for lunch at Petros, which calls its menu Hellenic-Californian cuisine. It's located in a sleek, modern development built on the site of a pottery factory. Metlox Pottery made brightly colored dinnerware until it closed in the 1980s. Today, a boutique hotel, gracious restaurants and little shops overlook a pleasant courtyard where kids play and people relax.

We sat under an awning overlooking the courtyard. A crisp, dry white wine from Greece was perfect with our meal, which began with a delicious lemony taramasalata. We shared a handful of meze from the lunch menu.

Saganaki at Petros isn't that cornball, "Opa!" inducing flaming showpiece served at more touristy Greek restaurants; here it's a rectangle of salty Kefalotiri cheese sauteed until browned and crusty, then drizzled with lemon juice.

Saganaki with pita bread
 Grilled octopus, another classic Greek meze, was served with white and red chunks of beets tossed in vinegar, garlic and olive oil.

Octopus and beets
 When grilled and dressed this way, octopus is the perfect protein, toothsome instead of rubbery, mild-flavored and sweet.

Peach and arugula salad
The special salad of the day was not traditional Greek cuisine, but sounded intriguing enough to tempt us. Chunks of ripe peaches were tossed with crumbled manouri cheese, drizzled with Greek honey, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, then served with baby arugula leaves.

Peaches, manouri cheese, balsamic vinegar
 The peaches were perfect, and the combination of their luscious sweetness with the salty bits of cheese and the bitter leaves is something I'll remember to try at home.

We strolled, and window-shopped, enjoying the sun and the sights of the ocean. It's the kind of day that calls for a Hawaiian shirt, and [The Man I Love] was perfectly attired.


smalltownme said...

I am a big fan of the other Petros locations in Los Olivos and Santa Barbara. The octopus and beets are my favorite!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Looks very relaxing. And delicious!

cactus petunia said...

What a wonderful day. That first photo of the beach was beautiful!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Grilled octopus is one of my all-time favorite meals. I kinda feel guilty, because the critters are so smart, but I lose my guilt trip when I remember that they are extremely short-lived.

Anonymous said...

Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo used to be very different from each other but if you didn't spend a lot of time in the area it might not be clear to you. Now that The Swells have moved in with all their cash and bad taste and torn down half the cool old houses to put up phony Italian mansions and ruined the great atmosphere, maybe it's more difficult to differentiate between them especially Hermosa and Manhattan. Redondo has always been quite different from the other two, even for outsiders.

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

peach and arugula salad is a genius idea!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I want to go out to restaurants with you -- beets included! (And I don't eat beets, so that is saying a lot!)

I found myself quietly singing the Beach Boys' song "Surfin' USA" while reading this post, probably because Manhattan is mentioned in it.

My uncle lived in Redondo Beach in the early- to mi-1970's. I associate it with rides on the back of his Harley.

Janet said...

Is the Rajin' Cajun still there? I loved that place! Is the house where parts of 90210 still there? Love the colors of the leaves on the tree outside the window :-)

When I was moving back to the states from Japan, I had a friend who lived in Redondo Beach and a friend who lived in Newport News, VA. Both of them said come live here. And I chose VA :-( I'd visited both places often, and picked VA because I thought I'd love the warmth and it was closer to MA where my family and most of my friends were. I often wonder what would have happened had I picked Redondo Beach. Thanks for the blast from the past!

Glennis said...

Hi, Janet - this post is about Manhattan Beach. We'll visit Redondo eventually!

Janet said...

LOL yes, I Rajin' Cajun in Redondo? I thought Manhattan. Oh well! I guess I just told that story because it was where I visited my friend, but we went to all three beaches. Sorry I wasn't more clear.