Tuesday, July 15, 2014

And Where Do You Where To?: BOWL for BLOOM

While the 2014 BET Experience took over L.A. Live the last weekend in June with scores of events, concerts, exhibits and the highly anticipated BET Awards Ceremony, I attended another very important event that was quietly happening at L.A. Live, in the midst of all of the bustling action. Tucked away at Lucky Strike, BOWL for BLOOM Presented by California Community Foundation took place Saturday, June 28, hosted by actor Larenz Tate and Buffalo Wild Wings franchise owner Karim Webb.

The afternoon affair brought celebs like Ludacris, Seattle Seahawks’ Terrelle Pryor and Washington Wizards’ Trevor Ariza together to support the BLOOM program and its participants, known as BLOOMers. Created by the California Community Foundation, BLOOM—which stands for Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men—is an L.A.-based, five-year initiative launched in 2012. It provides a variety of professional and educational opportunities for young men living in South L.A. who have been, or currently are, under L.A. County Probation Department supervision.

From left to right: Larenz Tate's brother, PCF Management Partner Edward Barnett, Larenz Tate, Karim Webb and Larenz Tate's brother. 

“BLOOM takes young men who are 14-18 years old and have had a brush with the probation department and attempts to divert them by helping them graduate high school and/or get a GED and get job placement,” Karim, pictured above, second from the right, explained to me in a brief chat we had at the event. “As importantly, we really find out what’s wanted and needed in terms of the gaps in their lives—either from a family perspective, from a mental health perspective, or in any way in which they need to be supplemented, in terms of getting what they need to be successful members of society moving forward.”

Webb went on further to share that the program already has 200 BLOOMers participating and plans to expand to 600 within the upcoming year. According to the I am BLOOM website, the goal is to serve 2,000 youth by 2017. He says that the program had a 98 percent success rate in reducing recidivism in its initial year.

I had a chance to talk with some of the BLOOMers who were at the event, including Joseph (pictured below), who had recently relocated from Oakland to Los Angeles. At 18, he had already experienced a lot, including being shot multiple times, and was now looking forward to putting his past behind him to pursue a career in the music industry. BLOOM works with other nonprofit organizations, including the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse and Treatment, L.A. Brotherhood Crusade, L.A. Urban League, Youth Justice Coalition and Youth Mentoring Connection.

“BLOOM gives us an outlet to get engaged,” said Webb. “As you can see, we’ve got young men here. We’ve got bright eyes and bright futures, and we’re committed to making sure that they are exposed to and have all the opportunity to accomplish whatever they’re willing to work for.”

Throughout the afternoon, BLOOMers, celebs and supporters bowled, networked and ate complimentary appetizers. There were about 80 guests in attendance.

Sports figures, like Trevor Ariza pictured below, took tons of photos with BLOOMers.

At one point, Ludacris joked and told BLOOMers: “One thing I know, I’m glad that y’all aren’t getting strikes in the system, but I heard that none of y’all are getting strikes on the bowling alley.”

Towards the end of the event, several key figures addressed the crowd and specifically BLOOMers, encouraging them to continue their pursuits. Speakers included Webb, Ludacris and California Community Foundation Vice President, Programs Nike Irvin, pictured below with Larenz Tate.

Larenz Tate also shared a heartfelt story about how his brother previously had a run in with the law but fortunately had the much-needed support to rebound back, similar to what the BLOOM program provides.

“We truly are appreciative,” Larenz told BLOOMers in a final address. “We have not forgotten about you; we will not forget about you, and don’t forget about each other. All I can say is I love you guys—y’all keep y’all heads up. Peace and blessings.”

For more information about BLOOM and its initiatives, visit its website.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Where To Suggestions: 4th of July Weekend

Independence Day is right around the corner, and here are a few ways to bring in the holiday, whether it’s at the beach, at a pool, at a jazz festival or a soul dance party.

Check it the #WilsonsGuide Top 10 Independence Day in LA List!

10. 4th of July Block Party @ Grand Park
The Merriment: Coining itself as downtown’s biggest rooftop fireworks display, the Grand Park Block Party will have multiple stages with live entertainment in the afternoon and fireworks at night.

The Location: Downtown

The Vibes: Outdoors, musical, big crowds, lively, dancing

Good for: All ages

When-To-Go: Friday, July 4, 1 p.m. doors open; 4 p.m. live music begins; 9 p.m. fireworks start

The $ Factor: Free

Parking Situation: Options include Pershing Square, FIGat7TH (beginning at 4 p.m., you can get the $5 PARK + PLAY). Additional parking recommendations can be found at PARKME.COM. You can also take the Metro Red and Purple lines to PERSHING SQUARE STATION or the Gold Line to UNION STATION or LITTLE TOKYO/ARTS DISTRICT STATION.

The 4-1-1: Venture off to one of downtown’s newest parks for food vendors, live music and of course, fireworks. The ALTimate Main Stage and the SOULNIC Stage will feature musical performances by acts such as Brick + Mortar, Echosmith, DJ ALA, Tailwind Turner and Derrick Wize. Also, several eateries like the Grand Central Market, a #WilsonsGuide pick, are providing discounts before and after the party if you show a valid TAP card, Metro employee ID or LA County employee ID. Check the Grand Park website for more details, which also has an extensive list of what not to bring (including alcohol, water bottles with liquid and large coolers...make sure to read that carefully before going). And if you do attend, use the hashtag #GO4THDTLA for all your social media posts.

For more information: Website

9. SOULNIC at the 4th of July Block Party @ Grand Park
The Merriment: Part of the previously mentioned Grand Park Block Party, SOULNIC is the 4th annual summertime outdoor dance music event, presented by Extra Mild sauce, highlighting soulful house, deep house, disco and everything that’s the “soulful side of EDM/House music.”

The Location: Downtown

The Vibes: Funky, energetic, dance

Good for: Anyone who loves soul music

When-To-Go: Friday, July 4, starts at 4 p.m.

The $ Factor: Free

Parking Situation: Options include Pershing Square, FIGat7TH (beginning at 4 p.m., you can get the $5 PARK + PLAY). Additional parking recommendations can be found at PARKME.COM. You can also take the Metro Red and Purple lines to PERSHING SQUARE STATION or the Gold Line to UNION STATION or LITTLE TOKYO/ARTS DISTRICT STATION.

The 4-1-1: SOULNIC is technically part of this year’s Grand Park Block Party, but it’s actually been its own separate event for the past three years, previously held at Griffith Park. With the venue change comes DJ sets by Extra Mild Sauce residents Tailwind Turner, Drack Muse and Derrick Wize, and also from a special guest, DJ ALA. Comedian Deon Cole will be the host. And of course, stick around for the fireworks!

For more information: Website

8. Redondo Beach Seaside Lagoon Independence Day Celebration @ Redondo Beach
The Merriment: Water, sport and kids activities, music and fireworks in the Redondo Beach lagoon.

The Location: Redondo Beach

The Vibes: Outdoors, beach, packed, lively

Good for: Families, especially those with young children

When-To-Go: Friday, July 4, 2 – 9:30 p.m.

The $ Factor: $15 – $22 for individual tickets; $100 - $250 for tables of seats

Parking Situation: Nearby lots, including the Redondo Beach Marina, City Hall/Library lot, the Redondo Beach Pier parking structure and the Pier Plaza parking structure (some ticket packages include parking already).

The 4-1-1: Redondo Beach is providing a variety of active, hands-on experiences, including a Big Slide Obstacle course, a Beach Sports Piano Run, free paddleboard experiences and swimming in the lagoon. Music will be diverse, with an iPod playing, a DJ, a drum circle where everyone can participate and several performances from live bands. There’s also a lot of activities to keep the kiddies occupied, from traditional arts & crafts to an educational “Sounds Like Science Show” and the eighth annual Kids’ Parade. The night culminates with fireworks over the water; seating is available in tables and on the sand for the show.

For more information: Website

7. Special Target Sundays/Celebration with Fireworks @CAAM
The Merriment: Museum exhibits, a free concert and fireworks at the California African American Museum.

The Location: South Los Angeles

The Vibes: Cultural, informational, educational

Good for: All ages

When-To-Go: Friday, July 4, 11 a.m. – evening

The $ Factor: Free

Parking Situation: $10 in the lot adjacent to Fig and 29th. Or, take the Exposition Line and exit EXPO PARK/USC STATION.

The 4-1-1: One of L.A.’s most prominent museums, CAAM will be open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Currently, there are several exhibitions on display, including: Hands On Design and The March on Washington: A Tribute, 50 Years Later. At 6 p.m., CAAM’s outdoor Plaza Stage will feature a concert, and you can stick around to see the fireworks from Exposition Park that will start at dusk.

For more information: Website

6. Jazz on the Hill @ Norman O. Houston Park
The Merriment: Several prominent jazz musicians will be giving performances throughout the afternoon at this Baldwin Hills park.

The Location: Baldwin Hills/Ladera Heights/View Park

The Vibes: Outdoors, musical, parks & recreation

Good for: All Ages

When-To-Go: Friday, July 4, noon – 5 p.m.

The $ Factor: Free

Parking Situation: Shuttles will be bringing guests to and from the park in 20 minutes intervals from the free parking lots at the nearby Park Hills Community Church. Or, you can walk from the parking lots to the park; it’s about two blocks away.

The 4-1-1: Eighth District Councilmember Bernard C. Parks and the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs are hosting this mellow afternoon of live jazz music. Expected to perform are Derf Relaw, Karen Briggs with Jazz in Pink and someone I personally think is quite amazing, Barbara Morrison. As of last week, sewage construction adjacent to the park has been going on for months, so let’s hope it’s finished in time for the event.

For more information: Website

5. 12th Annual Fireworks Spectacular @ Van Ness Park
The Merriment: “Family-friendly Independence Day festivities” featuring food trucks, activities for children and a fireworks show by Pyrospectaculars.
The Location: South Los Angeles

The Vibes: Outdoors, lively, parks & recreation

Good for: All Ages

When-To-Go: Friday, July 4, noon – 10 p.m.

The $ Factor: Free

Parking Situation: There are several shuttle parking pick up and drop off locations on W. Slauson Ave., Crenshaw Blvd. and Degnan Blvd. Shuttle service will run every 15 minutes, from noon – midnight.

The 4-1-1: Eighth District Councilmember Bernard C. Parks will be rather busy this Independence Day! While he’s hosting a jazz in the park event in the Baldwin Hills area, farther east in L.A., he’s also putting on this Fireworks Extravaganza along with the City of Los Angeles at Van Ness Park. He originally started this event 12 years ago to help prevent illegal firework activity in the city. Event partners include Unity One, Inc., the Regalettes and 94.7 Wave, which will have a DJ synchronize music along to the fireworks show. Fireworks will be produced by the same company producing the fireworks show at the Rose Bowl. This is the first year that Parks’ Fireworks Spectacular will be held at Van Ness Park; the previous 11 years, it’s been at other locations, including the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

For more information: Website

4. IndepenDANCE Pool Party @ The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
The Merriment: Poolside DJ sets

The Location: Hollywood

The Vibes: Lounge, pool, outdoors

Good for: 21+

When-To-Go: Friday, July 4, noon – 8 p.m.

The $ Factor: $40

Parking Situation: Valet parking is available at the hotel; there’s also limited street parking and a nearby parking structure across the street.

The 4-1-1: If stereotypical 4th of July festivities like BBQs, the beach and fireworks aren’t really your thing, head to a #WilsonsGuide favorite, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for a poolside function featuring rotating DJs throughout the afternoon. Headlining the party is Mark Farina and there will be other acts, including Anthony Shah, Shanto and David Bullock.

For more information: Website

3. A Stones Throw Picnic @ Grand Performances
The Merriment: An outdoor concert, voter registration and vinyl records "Beat Swap Meet" at the California Plaza.

The Location: Downtown

The Vibes: Eclectic, outdoors, musically vibrant

Good for: All ages, music-lovers

When-To-Go: Saturday, July 5, doors open at 5 p.m., show starts at 7 p.m.

The $ Factor: Free

Parking Situation: $7.50 cash-only at the Cal Plaza parking structure, beginning 90 minutes prior to the 7 p.m. show time.

The 4-1-1: Let the celebrations continue the day after 4th of July with a special appearance of Stones Throw Records Label artists Peanut Butter Wolf, Madlib, DâM-FunK, the Lions and others at the Cal Plaza’s Grand Performances. Arguably one of the most significant labels to come out of L.A., Stones Throw Records has a track record of having represented many industry game changers and trailblazers, including Madlib (a.k.a. Quasimoto), Aloe Blacc and the late J Dilla. This year marks the record label’s 10th anniversary and this special set is part of the 28th annual Grand Performances at Cal Plaza that will run until September.

For more information: Website

2. Independence Day Weekend @ Battleship Iowa
The Merriment: Three days of Independence Day festivities on a U.S. navy warship.

The Location: South Bay

The Vibes: Informational, patriotic, outdoors

Good for: All Ages

When-To-Go: Friday, July 4 – Sunday, July 6

The $ Factor: Single day tickets range from $7 – $15

Parking Situation: Park at the Port of Los Angeles lot, $2 per hour.

The 4-1-1: Experience what this holiday is really all about by going onboard a massive battleship that’s been involved in three wars—World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War—and is one of only four open museum ships stationed on the West Coast. Take a historic tour to learn about the ship’s legacy of defending the U.S., and also try your luck on the obstacle course. Food and drinks are an additional cost at the All American BBQ and Beer Garden, and there will also be live entertainment.

For more information: Website

1. AMERICAFEST @ The Rose Bowl Stadium
The Merriment: The Rose Bowl’s 88th time celebrating Independence Day.

The Location: Pasadena

The Vibes: Massive, impressive, grand, outdoors, the ultimate fireworks show of all shows.

Good for: All ages

When-To-Go: Friday, July 4, 2 – 9 p.m.

The $ Factor: $13 - $25, depending on seating location in the stadium; veterans and up to three of their guests receive complimentary admission.

Parking Situation: Parking at the stadium is available in advance for $20 and for $25 on actual event day.

The 4-1-1: The Rose Bowl has one of the largest fireworks productions in the L.A. region, produced by Pyro Spectaculars by Souza. Doors technically open at 2 p.m., but most of the action doesn’t start until later, around 7 p.m. That’s when you can expect to see motorcycle stunts and the Liverpool Legends and Ian Thomas take the stage. And, the grand finale, the fireworks show is at 9 p.m. For an additional fee of $8-$10, you can take guided tours of the stadium between 2:30 and 6:30 p.m.

For more information: Website

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Where to Eat: The 4th Annual Summer Beer Garden @ CHAYA Downtown

The Eats + Drinks: A special menu for the patio, lounge and bar areas featuring Japanese-style BBQ small plates, beers and cocktails

The Location: Downtown

The Vibes: Outdoors, cultural, festive, colorful, bustling

When-To-Go: Now until Friday, August 29, 2014, Monday – Friday, 4 p.m. – close

The $ Factor: Drinks $4-$18; Food $1-$14

The Names Behind the Scene: Executive Chef Kenjo Atsushi

The 4-1-1: CHAYA Downtown is part of a larger restaurant group consisting of locations throughout California and Japan. The group is operated by the Tsunoda family, who’s been in the restaurant business for more than 400 years.

Parking: Four hours free parking in an underground structure; $7 afterwards. Entrance off Flower St.

I’ll Be Back…: For the Tokyo Mule and the Grilled Sweet Corn!

Every summer for the past several years, CHAYA Downtown has converted its outdoor patio into a Summer Beer Garden, with bright, colorful lanterns and strings of glittering lights hanging high in the trees above, a traditional Yakitori grill festively placed in a corner (pictured below) and Japanese-inspired small plates, cocktails and beers available to enjoy.

As I had tremendously enjoyed the 2nd Annual Summer Beer Garden, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to return this year.

Arriving on CHAYA’s “Beer Garden” patio, I immediately noticed some elements have remained the same: the large pitcher of sangria welcomingly perched on the outdoor bar, two of my favorite items on the menu (more on that later)…yet there were definitely some new aspects to appreciate as well.

Take for instance, the Boozy Sno Cones. They're basically a grown-up version of a childhood favorite for many—the snow cone: ice compactly packed into a cone-shaped paper cup with flavored syrup drizzled over on top and soaked into the ice. New for this season of the Beer Garden, these Sno Cones conveniently come in an orange holder (so that you don’t have to hold it all night and your hands won’t get sticky) and a small wooden spoon (so you don’t have to lick the ice like you’re a 10-year-old kid either, unless, of course, you want to). Choose mango, sweet ginger, cherry or calpico yogurt as flavors.

Also, there are now five special cocktails created in honor of five countries (the U.S., Mexico, Spain, Brazil and Argentina) playing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Made exclusively with the Brazilian açaí liqueur VeeV, they will be available until the series ends, on Sunday, July 13.

More new cocktails include: the Two Tone Melon “Nama,” made with Kirin beer and melon liqueur featuring two layers of different colors for an aesthetically pleasing beverage; the Bloody Maru, with bloody mary mix and soju; the Perfect Hibiki Manhattan, made with a special 12-year-old whisky and bourbon-rhubarb bitters; and my new favorite, the Tokyo Mule, a creative twist on the traditional Moscow Mule, made with two different sakes, fresh blackberries and a housemade sweet ‘n’ sour (pictured below). While bursting with rich, fruity flavors, it's still very light and refreshing, making it a fantastic seasonal beverage. 

As for food, CHAYA has added quite a few new, inventive dishes as well, with a strong emphasis on seafood. The restaurant recently introduced its Kaisen menu, consisting of seafood from local areas and also flown in from Japan. Although the Kaisen menu is technically only part of CHAYA’s dinner menu, its Oysters hailing from Baja California are available on the Summer Beer Garden menu. Served chilled, they are large and crisp, with faint hints of saltwater and a lingering sweetness. For $1 each, they're a great steal. Additional seafood dishes on the Summer Beer Garden menu are the Fish Tacos, topped with creamy guacamole, crunchy lettuce and served with a flavorful salsa, and the Baked Oyster “Sriracha Dote-yaki,” with warm oysters and scallops covered in a tangy, brown sauce, pictured below.

Another new, intriguing item that caught my attention is the Soy Glazed Chicken Tsukune. A neatly contained poached egg sits on top a round mound of chicken (similar to a chicken patty, but 1,000 times better!). 

Yet even with all of the new additions to the menu, fortunately, several staples have returned. This includes the main feature on the menu, the Kushiyaki: skewered or grilled food items that come directly from the Yakitori grill. There are five skewers to choose from and you can pick one, mix and match a few, or select all (which I recommend). They include my favorite—sweetly delicious bacon-wrapped dates—and also chicken covered in a creamy orange sauce, beef tongue, beef and glazed mushrooms.

Another one of my absolute favorites, the Grilled Sweet Corn, has also returned! It’s CHAYA’s version of the popular Mexican Elote dish, with feta cheese, a creamy jalapeno aioli and intense spices served on top of crunchy, sweet corn that’s still attached to its husk.

It’s great to see the Summer Beer Garden going strong in its fourth year, and it’s most certainly a pleasure to see how many new and returning items there are to choose from. So the next time you’re in the mood to leisurely dine on a shaded patio, with a great selection of Japanese-inspired cocktails and small plates, I recommend heading over to the Summer Beer Garden. But don’t wait too long; it’s only here for a few more months.

See you there soon!

For more information: