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Exploring the Canada-to-California Connection

Exploring the Canada-to-California Connection

Four transplants from north of the border chat about their sun-drenched expat lives—and where they always take their Canadian visitors

Posted 4 months agoby Katrina Hunt

Los Angeles offers a wealth of fabulous beaches, world-class dining, and Hollywood magic. The city also has, it turns out, a lot of Canadians.

“I’ve heard a statistic that there are more Canadians in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the world, outside of Canada,” says Janet Zuccarini, a Toronto native and Top Chef Canada judge. She now lives in Venice, where she owns and oversees the acclaimed restaurant Felix. “When I moved here, it was easy for me to call L.A. home—I already had a lot of friends living here. They're directors, actors, or something to do with Hollywood—but it's a tight group.”

In the latest episode of the California Now Podcast, Zuccarini and three other Canadian expats explain the Great White North–Golden State synergy to host Soterios Johnson—and share some of the places they love to hike, shop, and dine, especially when other Canadians come to town.

California Now Podcast, Episode 90, Janet Zuccarini

Sunny Days, Fresh Produce, and A-listers

What initially draws Canadians to California, and Los Angeles in particular, is perhaps not a surprise.

“My story is pretty typical of many Torontonians,” Zuccarini says, “and that is the desire to have a little more sunshine.” When she first visited Venice Beach and its walkable Abbot Kinney Blvd., she was thunderstruck: “I just knew that I wanted to live there and open a restaurant. I found it full of exciting opportunities.”

One incentive was the bounty of fresh ingredients. “The farmers’ markets in L.A. are the best in North America,” she says, “and Felix is an authentic Italian restaurant but with California ingredients—true farm-to-table. Our chefs go every day to the farmers’ market.” Felix, she says, is also known for its handmade pasta: “It's all hand-cut, which is incredibly meticulous work, but you can really taste the love.”

The strategies have clearly worked: Among its accolades, Felix has been nominated for a James Beard Award and lauded in the 2019 Michelin California guide. The restaurant also gets plenty of celebrity sightings, aside from Zuccarini’s husband, rocker (and fellow Canadian) Robbie Robertson. “Leonardo DiCaprio comes in a lot,” she says, “and Brad Pitt was in about two weeks ago.”

Zuccarini dishes on some challenges of judging Top Chef Canada and then shares some classic California spots where she takes visiting friends and family. If she’s not driving Highway 1 up to Big Sur, she loves to hike the Los Leones Trail nearMalibu. She’s a big fan of other restaurants, such as Middle Eastern restaurant Saffy's or Venice neighbor Gjelina. “I also take my guests to Nobu Malibu for incredible Japanese sushi while the ocean crashes against a cliff—it's spectacular.”

Hollywood Magic in Burbank and the Valley

The podcast’s next Canadian-transplant guest specializes in a different kind of classic. Voice actor Eric Bauza recently won an Emmy for his work as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and other Looney Tunes characters, and he's also filled in for Antonio Banderas as the voice of Puss in Boots.

As the former Toronto local tells Johnson his story about making it big—from working on Space Jam with LeBron James to hanging out in Malibu with Mark Hamill—Bauza seamlessly transitions through the voices of Bugs, Homer Simpson, Marvin the Martian, and more. “Who would've thought that a kid from Toronto would voice Bugs Bunny?” he says. “That’s an outrageous thing for anyone to think, growing up.”

The Burbank resident then offers some straight talk, as it were, about his favorite haunts around Los Angeles County, like hiking in Fryman Canyon Park or taking his seven-year-old to Beeman Park, aka Studio City Recreation Center, both in Studio City. He recommends San Fernando Valley restaurants including Casa Vega (“a familiar scene if you've seen Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), Iroha Sushi (“the best sushi in the Valley”), and Le Petit Trois Le Valley in Sherman Oaks. “It’s French fine dining, but they have their version of the Big Mac, ‘Le Big Mec.’ And if you're a barbecue fan, oh my goodness, go to Boneyard Bistro. They have this delicious banana pudding that is pretty darn good.”

Block Parties and Shopping Trips

The episode’s last two Canadian guests enjoy their own versions of simple luxuries in Los Angeles. Jason Couse and Wes Marskell of the alt-pop band The Darcys say that relocating to Los Angeles has helped them level-up their music, but initially their new locale created a few challenges.

“At first, we couldn't write music because we were just enjoying life too much,” Marskell says. “Jason got into road biking, and I'd been running a lot and golfing.” Indeed, Couse says, “You feel like you have to embrace every beautiful day, and it can be hard to focus. I wonder if we'll have to find a basement studio with no windows, so we can actually get something done.”

As proof that they have accomplished some work in L.A., the duo plays a few songs for Johnson, including their latest single, “Trouble Found Me.” Next, they chat about their favorite places to dine, shop, and listen to music near their home turfs of Echo Park and Silver Lake. Their recommendations range from The Heights Deli to the monthly market Silverlake Flea (“where most of my closet is from,” says Couse) to a buzzy spot on Sunset Blvd., El Prado. “It's this tiny hole-in-the-wall with a piano in the back,” says Couse. “They have amazing natural wines from all over … and hot dogs. On weekends, it's like a block party going on, full of cool, beautiful people.”

Marskell, meanwhile, loves cycling in Griffith Park, or even just going to Griffith Observatory for the views. “Whenever people come in, I take them to the observatory on the first night,” he says. “They can see the Hollywood Sign, and basically the entire city and the ocean—a really great layout of Los Angeles.”

Some Canadian visitors, Marskell admits, have other priorities. “Canadians?” he says, “They all want to go to Trader Joe's. You’ve gotta take them to Trader Joe's.”