Monday, June 10, 2019

Wilson's Words of Wisdom: June Round Up (Father’s Day 2019, Los Angeles!)

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a special Father’s Day post — five years to be exact — but thinking about all of the fun, cool stuff that can be enjoyed with fathers of all ages inspired me to share some last-minute ideas for anyone who might need them. From hip-hop infused pizza dinners to educational wine classes and more, here are seven things to do with uncles / dads / father-like figures this upcoming Sunday, June 16. 

Have any exceptional ideas for Father’s Day activities? I want to hear them! 
Leave your suggestions in the comments below! 

Where to Drink: 1950s Cocktails @ Birds & Bees, DTLA

Take Pops back to his era via a trip into DTLA’s hidden, underground lounge, Birds & Bees. The décor pays homage to the ‘50s decade, with sleek orange couches, retro lamp fixtures and other knick-knacks from the time period, while the bartenders excel at craft cocktails that have nostalgic names, like the Sam Cooke and Gregory Peck. While technically closed on the actual Father’s Day, stop by Friday and/or Saturday evening.

Where to Eat: Hip-Hop & Pizza @ Delicious Pizza, Mid-City

Ever find yourself busting a rhyme with your dad or debating who was the greatest rapper of all time? Then take him to Mid-City’s Delicious Pizza, a haven for old school hip-hop heads where the genre seeps into everything from the food to the music selection and décor. Opened four years ago by Mike Ross, the longtime music exec who co-founded the original record label Delicious Vinyl, this laid-back eatery has more than 15 different pizzas to pick from, plus wings, salads and a funky cold sangria. Your dad will appreciate the "antique" boom boxes and photos of legendary albums like Def Jef’s Soul Food displayed throughout. 


Where to Be Merry: Exercising @ The Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

Help ensure that you’re celebrating many more future Father’s Days by whipping el padre into tip-top shape at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook in Culver City. Aside from paying for parking, this local exercise destination has plenty of ways to exercise for free, while offering up sweeping views of the city — from Santa Monica all the way to downtown and beyond. Sprint up the switch-back trails, climb the grueling 282 stairs or invent your own workout routine at the top of the overlook. Bring the whole fam, as all ages are welcome.  

Where to Be Merry: Pedal Boating @ Echo Park Lake

Speaking of outdoor activities, Echo Park Lake offers pedal boats to rent so you can cruise amongst a beautiful wetlands oasis of lotus flowers, gorgeous views of downtown and charming Spanish-style homes, and wildlife — like cranes, geese and ducks. Pack a blanket for a low-key picnic on a grassy knoll before or after going out on the lake, and don’t leave without grabbing elote —that’s grilled corn drizzled with mayonnaise, lime juice, cojita cheese and chili. So good!

Where to Drink: Wine Classes @ The Blending Lab 

Pay the big guy back for all the days he made you go to school when you didn’t want to, by insisting he returns to class. The Blending Lab is a no-frills, off-winery wine tasting room in the Mid-City area that features wine blending class on Fridays and Saturdays. Learn the art of proper wine-tasting and experiment with making your own red wine blends. Plus, you can even take home your very own blend for an additional nominal fee. Classes are completely sold out for Father’s Day weekend, but spaces are available for the following weekend. 

Where to Be Merry: Family Fest @ Boomtown Brewery, Arts District

Arts District’s Boomtown Brewery is pulling out all the stops, with activities planned for both kiddies and grown folks alike this Father's Day. In addition to what you’d expect to find at a brewery — loads of beer on tap — there will also be face painting, a bounce house and even a tie making craft station. Rounding out the event, which takes place noon – 6 p.m., will be various food vendors. It’s free, and no reservation needed — simply show up!

Where to Eat: 9th Annual Father’s Day Brunch  @ Abbey Food & Bar, West Hollywood

Photo Credit: The Abbey Food & Bar

While the Abbey Food & Bar may be internationally known as an iconic gay bar, just as significant is the role it’s played in advocating for various diverse social issues, too. It’s frequently supported local communities in need for almost 30 years, whether through its annual “Christmas in September”  that has raised funds for the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, or now through its 9th annual Father’s Day Brunch, to help RaiseAChild and Pop Luck Club LGBTQ foster and adoption organizations. There will be a breakfast buffet with staples like scramble eggs, Applewood smoked bacon, pancakes and a special Abbey potato hash. It’s $16 for adults, $7 for the kiddies (and yes, it’s kid-friendly during brunch!). 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Where to Eat: Patio Dining @ Ysabel, West Hollywood

The Eats: A medley of worldly dishes with California inspirations, from sashimi to pasta and grass-fed beef

The Location: West Hollywood

The Vibes: Trendy, Upscale, Chic

Good for: Alone, Dates, Small and Large Groups

When-To-Go: Daily, 6 p.m. – 2 a.m.; weekends, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Cocktails, $14 - $17; Dishes, $6 – $42

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef Alison Trent

The 4-1-1: Sit. On. The. Patio! It's the best seat in the house, for sure!

Parking Situation: Valet and nearby metered / complimentary street parking

I’ll Be Back…: To check out the weekend brunch! 

Upon first glimpse, Ysabel maaaay appear to have pretentious airs, with its well-dressed, trendy clientele that includes celebs like Common and Mahershala Ali. But, I’d go out on a limb to say that at its core, this semi-hidden WeHo hideaway is merely a simple restaurant serving up craft cocktails and really good American fare with worldly touches, all within a super cute ambiance.

To start, the enclosed outdoor patio feels like you’ve been transported to a Santorini-inspired paradise. Glittering lights hanging in trees throughout the space create a soft, intimate hue, while stark white walls encase the entire patio. There are a handful of quirky seating areas to pick and choose from, too. Hidden nooks and crannies tucked away behind the main entrance serve up the perfect location for a romantic dinner. A set of stairs complete with pillows to recline against is a great gathering spot for small groups. And scattered throughout the patio are couches, tables and chairs, amongst fire pits. While dining outdoors is my preferred way to experience Ysabel, inside’s not too shabby either. The interior boasts modernly masculine vibes, with a stately fireplace, oversized chairs and abstract chandeliers hanging above the marble bar tops.

Then of course there’s the food. The suggestion is to dine family-style; select a few different options to share with your crew. I’ve typically ordered three to five dishes when I’m with two other people, and we’ve left feeling completely satisfied. So far, I’ve tried about ten or so, and there literally hasn’t been a dish I haven’t liked! From meats to fish, veggies and pastas, there’s quite a range of options. While some appear to rotate on and off the menu, a few staples have remained, throughout the years.

One of my fave apps to kick things off has been the Hamachi sashimi, pictured below. Fairly thin cuts of fish are topped with sliced red chili, mint leaves and crunchy garlic, and accompanied by mounds of sushi rice. Everything is drenched in a deliciously tangy ponzu sauce. While on the lighter portion side — it’s more for a taste than to curve your appetite — the flavors are out of this world.

Another “must” is the “Yukon Gold Potato Pasta,” pictured below. A thin pasta sheet that has whole herbs beautifully embedded into it covers a hearty medley of oxtail ragu and buttery mashed potatoes. A Cabernet reduction adds a subtly opulent flavor to it all. It’s filling, so if you’re super hungry, definitely go for this one.

You also can’t go wrong with the Brussels Sprouts, pictured below. Slightly crunchy Brussels Sprouts are mixed with sweet raisins, all tossed in a light, sweet-and-spicy Kimchee sauce. 

There are definitely other items I’ve enjoyed — including the rigatoni pasta and fish of the day — but these three aforementioned items most certainly give you a good feel for the varied, diverse flavors that Ysabel can master so well.

And because a meal could never be complete without a proper cocktail, here’s a quick read on Ysabel’s offerings: they’re as fun as their fiercely feminine names. The Idalia, pictured below, is earthy-meets-sweet, with mezcal smoothly blended with parsley, dill and refreshing cucumber.

The Olivia, pictured below, brings spicy heat and passion, thanks to pepper-infused St. Germain and shiso leaves muddled with Grey Goose vodka and blackberries.

So the next time you’re looking for a great patio to indulge in al fresco dining and a few cocktails, head to Ysabel. Be sure to grab a seat by the fire and order the oxtail pasta on my behalf.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Where to Travel: Las Vegas

When I was in my early twenties, my college girls friends and I liiiivved for our rambunctious Vegas trips. We’d spend allllll day turnt up at day pool parties, stumble our way into nightclubs for more good times and then foggily try to recollect the events of the past 24 hours, all while munching on salt-covered carbs in the wee hours of the morning.

Well, now that I’m in my thirties, let’s just say that’s not my typical Vegas experience anymore.

These days, if I’m heading to Sin City, it’s for a pretty vanilla reason: attending a trade show for work. Any indulgent activities that I’d partake in typically include doing what I love to do most anywhere: enjoying a fantastic dinner and cocktail.

My last trip to Vegas earlier this Spring gave me the chance to try quite a few new dining (and cocktail) experiences, thus inspiring this latest post. From decadently over-the-top to nostalgic, breakfast to dinner, I covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and it was all worth it.

So whether you find yourself in Vegas for a wild ride on the town, a relaxing spa getaway, or something in between, guess what? We all gotta eat! With that in mind, here are four places to put on your radar whenever you’re looking for your next noteworthy meal.

This list is by no way exhaustive and please feel free to drop your favorite Vegas restaurants in the comments section below — we can never have too many good recommendations!!

Where to Eat that’s reminiscent of LA: Park MGM’s Best Friend

We all love Roy Choi for bringing us the modern day food truck through his Kogi Truck launch. And, we’re smitten with his LA restaurants, including A-Frame, Commissary and Sunny Spot. Now there’s even more to love, as he’s brought his funky fusion of Asian, Mexican and Cali fare to Vegas, all via Best Friend. Located in Park MGM, this action-packed bar/restaurant pays homage to Choi’s childhood growing up in L.A in the ‘90s, in both physical appearance and grub. Inside, the space is playfully colorful, with massive photos of L.A. staples — like palm trees and the DTLA skyline — all enveloped in an elegant, natural color palate. The hanging plants throughout remind me a lot of the vibes in Choi’s Commissary, located in Koreatown’s Line Hotel. Similar to so many of his other establishments, Best Friend artfully blends together multiple cuisines through options like the Asian-inspired Slippery Shrimp and the Mexican popular street snack Elote corn, pictured below. My final musing: the attention to detail is in everything, from the eccentric glassware to the menus and servers’ attire. Come here for an eclectic — and nostalgic — trip down memory lane.

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Even though there’s a Hakkasan in Los Angeles, fate had it that I finally set foot in the Vegas version of this fancy upscale establishment that has locations in eleven cities around the world. The first thing to catch my breath was the decor. It’s absolutely stunning! There are gorgeous ceiling-to-floor partitions with artistic designs outlined into marble. These partitions also create semi-secluded enclaves, providing a nice touch of privacy. Add dimmed lighting and ambient music and a space bathed in black, and you’ve got yourself a seductively swanky hideout! There are several ways to to sample the high end Cantonese cuisine: opt for one of the multiple dinner tasting menus or order items a la carte. I had the crispy duck rolls, pak choi (which is like bok choi and surprisingly delicious) and the Sanpei Chilean seabass, pictured above. Also, the cocktails were quite delicious and varied, like this Whiskey in the Tropics (pictured below) with banana (!) whiskey, guava, lime, mango jasmine syrup and other tropical ingredients. Also, if you spend more than $50 per person (which isn’t that hard to do if you go for one of the tasting menus or pretty much just order a drink, an app and an entrée), you’ll get FREE access to Hakkasan's bustling nightclub, right upstairs. It was a hassle-free experience to enter, as we simply showed our receipt to one of the bouncers who immediately whisked up to the front of the entrance. We were able to skip the very long lines and not worry about having to pay a cover. There are frequent celebrity guest hosts, and the night I went, Lil Jon got the crowd in a delightful frenzy with his DJ skills.

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Wynn’s Jardin boasts a light and airy ambiance, with the option to dine al fresco. Should you choose to be outdoors (which, I highly recommend), you’ll be on a gorgeous enclosed patio, surrounded by shrubbery and overlooking the pristine pool area. For breakfast, Jardin serves up classics — think omelets and Benedicts and pancakes — but they taste just so freakin’ good! My “Grilled Chicken Omelette,” pictured above, with thick chunks of grilled chicken, avocado and Anaheim peppers (sans the Monterrey Jack cheese, which is an option) was sooo tasty and filling. I also loved the sourdough toast, pictured below, and the vegan butter that you can ask for, as it truly tastes like its dairy counterpart! Also, do yourself a favor and order a side of the French fries; yes, they’re worth it. Thick, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. And while you’re at it, get a cocktail, too. The French Cucumber — with cucumber vodka and cucumber soda, green chartreuse, Chareau aloe Liqueur and lemon — was light and refreshing, the perfect way to sip into Spring. Jardin opens at 7 a.m. for any early risers.

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Where to Eat for a Decadent Dinner: SLS’ Cleo

Cleo, located in the soon-to-be-renamed SLS, serves up delightful Mediterranean cuisine and shows off its culinary prowess, from start to finish. Let’s begin with the appetizers. The Hummus with Tahini is some of the freshest, lightest hummus I’ve ever had, served with piping hot Laffa bread (a type of Middle Eastern flatbread) that comes in a warm brown paper bag. You can’t go wrong with sampling a few of the various meats either — from roasted lamb to chicken tagine, pork belly kababs and more. I’ve tried the Mergeuz sausage, pork belly and chicken kebab, all pictured below, and savored each and every bite. As for sides, the Brussels Sprouts with capers and almonds, tossed in a vinaigrette (pictured above), are rather tasty too. And don’t even think about walking away without dessert; the buttery, flaky Warm Cinnamon Apple Torte with vanilla gelato and a drizzle of apple-cider caramel is surely a decadent splurge (pictured below). This Mediterranean restaurant is definitely worth every penny and calorie, at each and every bite!

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