Monday, September 19, 2016

Where to Be Merry: A Spa Day @ The Spa Le Merigot, JW Marriott Santa Monica

The Merriment: A spa day — complete with massages, poolside food & beverage services, and the beach!

The Location: Santa Monica

The Vibes: Outdoors, relaxing, chill

Good for: Alone, couples, small groups, families

When-To-Go: Daily, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.

The $$ Factor: $90+ for facials, massages and other specialty treatments; $40 per person for a day pass only

The 4-1-1: Travelzoo often features discounted deals and packages

Parking Situation: Valet only, including three free hours with spa validation

I’ll Be Back…: To try out one of the newest Fall Exclusive Specials!

There are those days when we simply just need to escape from our daily grinds and unwind — preferably poolside, with a cocktail or three, a good book and ultimate relaxation, for five or six hours.

Fortunately, I found a place that offers all of this: Spa Le Merigot at the JW Marriott Santa Monica.

Situated on prime real estate in Santa Monica, Le Merigot is a day spa that offers massage treatments, a gorgeous pool and easy access to the beach. The few times I’ve gone, it’s never been too crowded and feels like a tranquil getaway that mainly only JW Marriott hotel guests know about.

What’s even better is that you can visit here fairly inexpensively. While you can use the spa facilities if you’re a hotel guest, buy a $40 day pass or purchase one of the $90+ treatments, there are often Travelzoo deals that offer discounted rates and special packages (in fact, there’s a deal right now that provides 60% off services, free champagne and three VIP passes).

The spa's actual physical space is on the smaller side, but still elegant and upscale. There’s attention to detail everywhere — in the earthy floral scent that wafts throughout the space, the comfy white robes provided for each guest and the refreshing cool towels with cucumbers available in the locker rooms, which also have a sauna and steam room. The massage treatments themselves are pretty good, too. When I went in the spring, my masseuse worked out all of my knots and focused on neglected pressure points. I left feeling beyond relaxed!

Outside, lounge chairs and tables are situated around a nicely sized pool. Two cabanas are available free of charge; the only caveat — they can go pretty quickly. And, there’s even a chest of complimentary beach chairs that can be used, for free.

Speaking of the beach, it’s literally only a couple feet away, so it’s almost imperative to make a quick stop there! The location is slightly south of the Santa Monica pier, and on a clear day, offers gorgeous views as far south down to the Palos Verdes peninsula.

Back at the spa, there’s also a full poolside menu available. It features an eclectic blend of easy-to-eat bites and nibbles, like the spicy tuna crispy rice, and colorful cocktails, like the mudslide, a frothy blend of Kahlua, Bailey’s and cream. 

All in all, Le Merigot is a fabulous place to escape to, thanks to its prime location, chill ambiance and wonderful massages.  So, the next time you’re in the mood for some R&R and perhaps even a little beach time, head over to the JW Marriott Santa Monica’s Le Merigot Spa.

See you there soon!

For more information:

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Where to Eat + Drink: The Lucky 7 Happy Hour @ Yamashiro Hollywood

The Eats + Drinks: Six starters, four sushi options and four cocktails — all $7.

The Location: Hollywood

The Vibes: Al Fresco

Good for: Dates, groups (large and small), alone

When-To-Go: Happy hour is 5 – 8 p.m., Friday, Saturday and Sunday

The $$ Factor: Everything is $7!

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef Christophe Bonnegrace

The 4-1-1: Yamashiro has been around for 100+ years, originally constructed as a private residence. It’s subsequently been a brothel, a boarding house, a cocktail lounge and an apartment complex. It opened as a restaurant in the ‘60s, which it's been ever since. In June 2016, it fell under new ownership — the JE Group — and new operators, BNG Group and Sugar Factory.

Parking Situation: $10 valet parking only

I’ll Be Back…: For the Ahi Poke and the Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice! 

The Yamashiro Hollywood happy hour first debuted back in 2012, and yours truly was there to get all of the deets about it. 

I remember being so pleasantly surprised and excited when it launched, because it was the first time that this super exclusively elite restaurant — elevated high above in the Hollywood Hills — was offering discounted access.

Now, four years later, under new ownership, new management and a new chef, Yamashiro continues the happy hour tradition — this time with a few modifications. Coined the “Lucky 7 Happy Hour,” it has new food options, new cocktails and even a new location. Where the old happy hour was held on an enclosed patio in the restaurant’s main structure, this all new happy hour takes place on the remodeled Pagoda Bar, pictured below, an outdoor area a few steps away from the main restaurant.

To get to the Pagoda Bar area, walk down a few short (and slightly steep) flights of stairs.

Nestled directly into the hills, the space boasts killer views of the city — views that stretch as far east as downtown, include all of Hollywood and wrap out west to the Pacific Ocean. The happy hour timing – between 5 – 8 p.m. — is absolutely on point, because you get to see the sky turn an array of colors, from bright blue, to streaks of purple and gold during sunset. There’s also tons of hanging lights to illuminate the area, once the sun dips down for the day.

Aside from breathtaking views, Yamashiro’s Lucky 7 Happy Hour highlights the restaurant’s Asian-fusion cuisine, with a heavy emphasis on seafood (seven of the ten appetizers are seafood; the remaining three options are pork, chicken and vegetarian). Most of the menu items are new creations from Chef Christophe Bonnegrac. The only one that Bonnegrac hasn’t changed is the Truffle Hamachi, pictured below. It features super thick cuts of Japanese amberjack, with a truffle-infused ponzu sauce and a tomato-garlic confit.

Out of the six items I tried, I had three favorites. The first was the Reclining Buddha, a very light and refreshing sushi roll. Shrimp, crispy cabbage and cilantro are all packed tightly into a soy paper wrap. A spicy ponzu sauce with minced peanuts accompanies the cut rolls, adding a tangy flavor.

The Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice is a must for anyone who generally loves this specialty appetizer. Generous portions of a spicy tuna mixture are piled high on top of a bed of very crunchy rice. It comes with six large pieces.

The Ahi Poke features a large chunks of tuna stacked into a round cylinder, surrounded by chips and a sweet medley of mangos, pineapples and wakami seaweed. The seaweed medley isn’t just for show; it adds a refreshing, colorful flavor to the tuna, which itself is also delightful.

A bar is conveniently located to the side of the Pagoda patio, serving up four happy hour cocktails, beer and wines (red, white and Prosecco). I tried all four cocktails — hey, someone had to do it — which are all on the sweeter side.

The 100 Year Mai Tai was probably my favorite. It's a twist on what’s been a Yamashiro staple for years. potently mixing rum, lime juice and a “secret” ingredient.

The Kyoto Berry Tini is a summery version of a martini, with citrus vodka and raspberries.

There's also the Japanese Slipper is an electric blend of Midori, Cointreau, agave nectar and lemon juice, and the Geisha Girl, which is so decadent and over-the-top that it feels more like a dessert. Hints of raspberry are layered between a thick, syrupy concoction of Kahlua, Bailey’s and cream. And, whipped cream tops it all off.

Aside from The Lucky 7 Happy Hour, more new upgrades will be happening at Yamashiro under the new ownership and management, including the addition of a sushi bar, robata and teppanyaki grills, and dining deals with the nearby Hollywood Bowl. And, old favorites will return, like a weekly farmer’s market. In the meantime, whenever you’re looking for a happy hour with incredible views, great Asian-fusion apps and cocktails, head over to Yamashiro.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Where to Drink: The All New Mason Jars (And More) @ Hard Rock Café Hollywood

The Drinks: Six brand new cocktails served in official Hard Rock glass mason jars

The Location: Hollywood

The Vibes: Massive, bustling, rock’n’roll

Good for: Groups, families, dates

When-To-Go: Really anytime, but happy hour is 4 
 7 p.m. on weekdays and 10 – 11:55 p.m., Mon.   Thurs. 

The $$ Factor: Most drinks are within the $14 - $16 price range

The 4-1-1: The Hard Rock brand is in 68 countries — with 163 cafés, 23 hotels and 11 casinos

Parking Situation: An underground parking structure in the Hollywood & Highland Center, very limited nearby metered street parking

I’ll Be Back…: For the margarita sampler!

Perhaps you're not taking any vacays this summer or you’ve already gotten your travels out the way. But, that still may not mean that other people — friends, family, long lost cousins — might not be headed into Los Angeles to visit you. And, they’re going to be looking *to you* for things to do — and places to wine and dine during their stay.

One place in particular worth frequenting, especially for out-of-towners, is Hard Rock Café in Hollywood. Located right in the high-energy Hollywood & Highland Center, it’s conveniently near all of the touristy action — the Walk of Fame, the Dolby and the TCL Chinese theaters, and even the set of the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show.

Aside from prime real estate, though, every single inch in the 20,000 square feet of the restaurant/bar pays some sort of homage to rock’n’roll. There’s the notable memorabilia hanging on the walls — like Slash’s Gibson acoustic guitar and Steven Adler’s leather black pants. Scores of larger-than-life photos, concert posters and more costumes grace the walls, and are certainly worth ogling over.

And, there’s even Friday night karaoke sessions. With a live band. So basically, you can feel like a rock star yourself, as the Casual Encounters Live Band backs you up, with an impressive 275 song catalog. I have to say, it’s absolutely entertaining to see patrons wildly impress — or horribly disappoint — with their chops.

But as equally important as location and entertainment, Hard Rock has killer cocktails. An expansive menu boasts both longstanding staples and also limited time only offers, like the Mason Jar Sips.

Here’s a look at what some of these libations are:

The Mason Jar Sips. Right in time for the summer season, there are six new creative and colorful ones to try. There’s a shandy, a frozen lemonade, and there’s even an alcohol-free one, the Summertime Blues. The Tropical Rock, pictured below, is a frothy blend of rum, crème de banana, Hard Rock’s very own housemade Pina Colada and Midori Melon Liqueur, poured at the bottom and also as a float on the top. 

The Jam Sessions. Similar to the Mason Jar Sips, these libations come in their very own souvenir glass and feature six flavors, including the Pomegranate Mule, the Southern Rock, the Ultimate Long Island Tea and the Purple Haze, pictured below.

The Air Mexico Margaritas. I always want to try a little bit of everything and fortunately, this flight enables me to do just that. Three mini margaritas made with AVION Silver Tequila and Cointreau Orange Liqueur come in the cutest presentation — in a metallic box lined with red-and-white checkered paper, including chips and salsa. Margarita flavors include pomegranate, blue curaçao and mango, wild berry, watermelon and cucumber. 

The Real Deal Margarita. Flavors range from traditional to out-of-the-ordinary, and for a stronger but still festive one, try the pomegranate margarita.

Aside from these specialty cocktails, there's a whole plethora of wines and beers to choose from, too.

And fortunately, Hard Rock has a ton of bar bites to go with these cocktails, with the best part being that many of the apps are massive enough to share. Take, for example, the nachos, pictured below. They’re piled high with toppings and can easily feed 3 – 4 people.

Also great for sharing is the Sampler, which comes with five items — some which you can’t even order off the regular menu, like the Southwest spring rolls, pictured below. And if you’re super hungry and want something all for yourself, go for the ribs. They’re cooked for hours in a smoker in the back. 

Hard Rock Café truly has an inviting ambiance, large portions and most importantly, well-thought-of cocktails.

So the next time you find yourself having to entertain — or, you yourself are just looking for a summery drink — head over to Hard Rock Café on Hollywood Blvd.

See you there soon!

For more information: