Cheesesteaks full of air and other L.A. oddities

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Molecular gastronomy hits the cheesesteak/Photo: Gail Pennington

So much television, so little time:

-- You would not believe what passes for a cheesesteak in L.A. these days.

NBC Universal held its summer stars party -- think celebrity petting zoo with very loud music -- at The Bazaar by Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel Monday night, and for once the food drew nearly as much attention as the actors (or the open bar).

Did I think wrapping foie gras in cotton candy was a good idea? Nope. But weirdly, it worked. So did the caviar cones (with fillings of cream cheese or creme fraiche topped by roe). Molecular gastronomy -- if we'd studied this in chemistry, I might have done better.

I'd heard raves from friends about the tiny, tapas-style  "cheesesteaks" and finally, in the spirit of Philly pride, persuaded a passing waiter to track one down for me. (He returned a few minutes later with an entire tray. I restrained myself.)

What looked like a substantial piece of finger food turned out to be filled with air, the meat on top, the cheese inside a puffy piece of pastry. Pat's and Geno's have nothing to worry about -- most Philadelphians would be unlikely to settle for such small portions -- but if you don't think of it as a cheesesteak, there's absolutely nothing not to like.

-- In a world in which even the Times of India prints stories about Hugh Hefner's sex life (or, possibly, the lack thereof) and basic cable helps launch the post-Hef careers of the girls he's, um, dated, I haven't been sure exactly why so many people have their thongs in a twist about NBC's retro soap "The Playboy Club," which takes all that "Mad Men" cocktail of smoking, drinking and sexism, shakes it up and serves it with a twist of conspiracy.

But that was before the cast and crew met with TV critics Monday and threw the wordl "empowerment" around so much you'd think that Hef's decision to put cocktail waitresses in cottontails and floppy ears ranked just behind the 19th Amendment on a list of milestones for women.

(But then the late Aaron Spelling considered the original "Charlie's Angels" a triumph of feminism.)

"It's empowering because these girls are smart, they're going to school, they're buying homes, buying, you know, property," said actress Naturi Naughton, who plays one of the bunnies.

NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt also reminded reporters of some of the more empowered ex-bunnies, including Barbara Walters, Lauren Hutton, Deborah Harry, Susan Sullivan,              Sherilyn Fenn, Barbara Bosson ["Hill Street Blues"], "federal judge Kimba Wood and Dr. Polly Matzinger, a world-renowned immunologist."

-- You know why comedian Bill Maher pops up so often on MSNBC?


Because of his "incredible success" on HBO, the "Real Time" host draws a bit of a crowd whenever he appears, Philly-born "Hardball'" host Chris Matthews  told a reporter who asked about Maher Tuesday morning.

"He broadens every one of our audiences," said Matthews, seated beside MSNBC hosts Lawrence O'Donnell ("The Last Word") and Rachel Maddow.

Matthews insisted, by the way, that he roots for people you might not expect and respects plenty of Republicans, noting that he admires Michele Bachmann for raising foster children and that "Chris Christie's authentic."

Particularly when compared to Mitt Romney, whom Matthews described as "a mood ring."

"I voted for Bush in 2000. . . I didn't know what was going to happen. I make my mistakes, same as other people."

Maddow, too, seemed at pains to make nice with the GOP. Asked about the network's deal with former Republican chairman Michael Steele -- whom a reporter described as now being "at your beck and call," Maddow laughted.

Steele "would dispute that characterization," she said.

"We try every day to get Republicans to come on the show," said Maddow. "I think Michael Steele has a lot of insight…[and] is of good cheer, and I really, really enjoy him."

-- Call me an overaged adolescent, but I'm absurdly happy that ABC Family's renewed "Switched at Birth," which ends its first season next Monday, for a second, 22-episode run.