Westwood is weird. Strangely, we spent a lot of time in Westwood during critical coming of age years. My parents brought us to church, a christian church that would rent rooms from the monolithic, Mormon LDS temple on Santa Monica Blvd.
They also had close (no longer) friends who lived in West LA, bordering the Westside Pavilion mall (also no longer) who we’d visit often. We’d shop in Westwood. In the eighties Westwood catered to UCLA students with lots of novelty, fast fashion and easy eats. I have vivid memories of stepping down into the dark Hamburger Hamlet for Sunday brunch and ordering the decadent, stuffed french toast. The fact that I could only ever eat a few bites never stopped me. The eighties were decadent too.
But Westwood was creepy. And when I look back on times there, they are tinged with a weird sense of being lost, lacking in identity and a longing for authenticity. Was that Westwood I was remembering or just adolescent me?
In Westwood, I’d once been pushed out of the way before a car came plowing into the stoplight I was leaning on. In Westwood, I was once punched in the face as I sat passenger side in a car with friends and a drunk jock walking by mistook me for an ex girlfriend.
Westwood has since lived up to its creep factor by growing more desolate over the years. A pulsing coming and going vacancy, populated with students in a college town without history. Always people working out in that gym on Wilshire Blvd. The one with the windows that face the street. Feels like the same people have been running on that treadmill since 1983.
But I didn’t know then that within Westwood was Persian Square, aka Little Persia, aka Tehrangeles. Finally some identity in the hood that is Westwood. Even if only a pocket.
Attari Sandwich Shop is in Persian Square. I’d been working all day in Newport, it was pouring rain and I was not in the mood for Westwood. But Zaya was on the end of that line, making the drive out with the family, cheering me on. I ducked inside the small cafe at the back of the courtyard and instantly felt at ease. “Like sitting at a cafe in Lebanon in the 70’s.” – Jonathan Gold.
The place was crowded which wasn’t a feat. It was a tiny spot, everyone crammed in next to each other and as it was raining, umbrellas, hats, scarves, even a fur coat on display. Everyone looked great, refined. We really appreciated the effort, it felt decidedly and refreshingly un American.
The eggplant dip was to die for. The sheerazi, fresh. The feta firm and tangy. And the specialty beef sandwich (we didn’t do the tongue or brain) was just excellent. The baguette a perfect crisp crust, the filling not overdone so nothing spilled out, easy, compact and elegant. The addition of pickles making it just the sandwich you’d want to pick up for lunch and eat while walking back to work.
We finished dinner, tried the rosewater rice pudding and still the kids wanted something sweet. We dashed across Westwood Blvd. to Saffron and Rose ice cream. The two young guys behind the counter couldn’t have been more accommodating to us and our hive of sample eating kids. They continued to hand us tiny spoons of incredible flavored cream, white rose, saffron pistachio, passion fruit, cucumber, orange blossom. We were swooning.
The guys were serving ice cream and bobbing to the music, our kids picked up on their good spirits. Esme and Mia put in a special song request (like they were asking a DJ at a wedding) and before we knew it ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was blaring from the shops speakers, “Is this the real life?”
The kids put on a show like they were playing Live Aid. The ice cream patrons were a great audience and the workers chimed in with “Gallileo, Gallileo,” their lighters in the air and by the time the guitars kicked in the whole place was cheering. As we left, August, rain drizzling on his round boy face, said to me, “Auntie Summer, this was the best night of my life.”