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Picnic at the Bowl with Billi and Alan


Here in LA, a Joy of Summer is a night at the Hollywood Bowl.

I’ve enjoyed concerts at the Bowl since I was a little (Charles Aznavour anyone? Helen Reddy? Stevie Wonder!), but the most fun is to be a guest of Billi and Alan Rakov. They do The Bowl right.

And it’s no surprise. Billi, an artist and designer, and Alan, a music business executive and co-founder of LiveFrom.events, have been going regularly since moving to California in the early 90s.

“I instantly fell in love with The Bowl,” Billi says. “It’s a classic part of L.A. history and a public park!” The venue, celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year, is a second home to the LA Phil and has welcomed everyone from Benny Goodman to The Beatles to Billie Eilish. Tickets for some shows start at $10, making it an accessible evening for most. (And lawn seats in the surrounding park are free.)

“There’s nothing like being way up in section W, surrounded by friends and fans in the benches overlooking the entire park,” Billi offers, though there are more comfortable options. Alan, who worked with The Bowl in the 90s, helped create the “Super Seats” section of the amphitheater, which offers stadium seating. But the best seats of all are in the boxes down by the stage, which come with table set-ups for comfortable before-concert dining.

The Rakovs have had their box that will accommodate four or six friends for the past 13 summers and have perfected the art of picnicking there. “We tend to go overboard,” Billi admits. “I like to think of our picnics as ‘on-location’ dinner parties that come with entertainment—world renowned entertainment.” And everyone’s invited. “If we’re bringing cocktails, we always bring a little extra. We’ve become friends with people in our neighboring boxes and it’s always fun to share.”

While dining “en box” is the ultimate, you can still enjoy a great meal before the concert no matter where your seats are. “You can set up on the lawn and enjoy a picnic there before the show starts,” Billi says. “It’s a little easier than trying to juggle on bench seats where space is a bit limited.”

If you’re not able to pack your own dinner, The Bowl has amazing on-site options from Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne, the power-duo who own The Lucques Group, which runs some of LA’s top restaurants. You can order their picnics to your box (if you have one), grab a box dinner (if you don’t), or dine, as the Rakovs sometimes do, at Ann’s Wine Bar. “The only problem,” Billi says, “is we tend to enjoy dinner there so much that we miss some of the start to the shows, usually dashing to our seats, spilling wine in our to-go glasses.”

Part of the fun of a night at The Bowl, in my opinion, is getting creative with picnics. And nobody does it better than Billi and Alan.

Here are some tips, honed over dozens of years of concert-going:

•Wine Check.

Outside alcohol isn’t permitted at all the shows, so check before you BYO. No worries, though. You can buy a bottle there at the wine shop.

 •Arrive early.

We usually bring three courses and don’t want to rush through them. We try to get to our box at the very least an hour before the concert begins.

•Pack thoughtfully.

I load the basket in order of need: Table clothes at the top, cocktail ware next, then first course, and main. Dessert will be at the bottom—unless our guests happen to provide.  

It’s always nice to have real glassware for cocktails and wine, though we've lost some along the way. Things that nest for packing are great. I wrap tableware in tied napkins and recycle a paper shopping bag to hold trash (plastic bags are flimsy and there’s not much room in the box). 

Start with a signature drink.

This is usually Alan’s domain. His tips: pre-make your mix and bring a bottle (or two) of spirits, that way you can customize the drink to your guests’ tastes in the moment. Have your garnish, ice, shaker, and—I like real—glassware at the ready. The Crafty and Elusive Elk is a favorite and was in heavy rotation a few years in a row. (Recipe follows.) Stand up, shake it up in the aisle, and be willing to share with your neighbors!

A friend once brought (and made for us while in the box) this elaborate, crazy cocktail called Hot Shots. The recipe layers Galliano (straight from that beautiful, giant tower of a bottle), hot espresso, and cream. You can imagine the effort there!

•Don’t keep it simple. We are all about the over-the-top fun, not the easy-breezy picnic simplicity. Because when do you get a picnic setting like the boxes at the Hollywood Bowl?

We often start with individual cheese boxes. Find a container that can be tossed or sent home with your guests. Go for pretty. Really pretty. Select at least three cheeses: a hard one (like extra-aged Van Kaas gouda with crunches of crystals), a semi-hard (a current favorite is Midnight Moon, an aged goat with a nutty brown-butter flavor from Cypress Grove Cheese) and a soft one (you can’t go wrong with the Fromager D'Affinois double cream for mild, rich, decadent, oozy heaven). In the box include some crackers, nuts, olives, cucumber slices, any dried or not-too-juicy fresh fruit. Add a little boat of honey or some pieces of chocolate, or candied fruit or chocolate nuts. We always have lavender blooming in our yard, so I add that. Pack it all in tights so it doesn’t move around during transport.

One of my friends always teases me that she’s putting her box directly into her bag for the ultimate next day lunch.  

A favorite main course is Nancy Silverton’s pork ribs with fennel and apple cider vinegar from her Mozza cookbook. We follow the recipe to the letter. Ask your butcher to cut pork into riblettes (in half, down the middle). Your butcher might roll his/her eyes at this request, so smile when you ask. We usually serve then with other traditional picnic food, coleslaw and cornbread.

We’ve been known, too, to bring individual chicken pot pies, cooked in (and kept warm in) individual cast iron dishes. They’re heavy to carry, but worth it.

Sweet Endings

Dessert is usually something that’s easy to handle, like cookies or chocolates from Valerie Confections. We like to wait until after the show to pass them around as we slowly pack up. Security will shoo you along if you’re too casual about it, but if you time it right, most of the cars will have left, making leaving the parking lot easier.

At times we and our guests have fun trying to see what unexpected thing we can bring to the Bowl. Ice cream was on the menu once. It was a fail, but of course, we had fun with it.

And that’s what a night at the Bowl is all about! 

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The Crafty and Elusive Elk

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1 oz Blanco tequila, Lunazul Blanco
1⁄2 oz Mezcal, Sombra
1⁄2 oz Falernum, Velvet Falernum
1⁄2 oz Maraschino Liqueur, Luxardo
3⁄4 oz Lime juice
2 dash orange bitters
1 slice Lime (as garnish)


Instructions:
Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin. Add ice.

Shake, strain, serve in a coupe glass. 

Garnish with a lime wheel.

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Picnic Essentials:

The Picnic Basket.

A classic in wicker, this basket from Sunny Life comes with plates, glasses, a bottle opener, and cutlery.

Wicker baskets are traditional, but soft-sided coolers are maybe a little more practical. We like this one from business & pleasure co.

It might not hold enough on its own, but this insulated backpack from Troffea is pretty handy.

To Help Fill your Basket

Paper take-out boxes for individual cheese courses and other courses.

Small cast iron cocottes for individual pot pies, mac and cheese, or other dishes.

Stackable glasses save space in the picnic basket.

Don’t forget bottle openers!  Love this one for wine and this one for sodas and beer. Of course, you’ll need cutlery, napkins (Billi prefers cloth), and paper towels (just in case of a spill).

And Last But Not Least:

You’ll want to bring your SfG wrap along because mosquitoes like outdoor concerts, too!

 


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