Monday, July 2, 2018

Where to Eat & Drink: The Daily Happy Hour @ Culver Hotel’s French Garden

The Eats & Drinks: Ten colorful cocktails and six unique “Chef’s Bites”

The Location: Culver City

The Vibes: Garden setting, outdoors, exquisite

Good for: Alone, dates, small and large groups

When-To-Go: Daily, 4 – 7 p.m. for happy hour

The $$ Factor: Apps, $5; cocktails, $9; beers & wines, $6 - $7

The 4-1-1: Originally named Hotel Hunt and once owned by Charlie Chaplin, the Culver Hotel is an official National Historic Landmark, too

Parking Situation:
Nearby valet and city parking structures

I’ll Be Back…: For the Atlantic Salmon Tartare and Lavender Collins!

I’m loving this amazing summer weather — I must admit, I’ve been looking forward to it all year long.

One of the reasons why I adore this season so much is because there are so many super cute patios around the city to enjoy a nice cocktail and a few nibbles.

Somewhere in particular that’s always been on my radar is the historic Culver Hotel, right in the heart of downtown Culver City. Many restaurants may come and go around it (and trust me, there have been plenty), but this beauty has firmly stood its ground for almost 100 years. Originally opening in 1924, it’s a breathtaking masterpiece to behold. It has a grandiose European flair that nods to a classic era long gone. Within the main lobby, there's an impeccable fireplace in the main lobby, plum wine drapery covering massive ceiling-to-floor windows and Renaissance-styled touches in everything from the chandeliers to the intricate ornamentation on the top of the columns.

Outside in the French Garden, pictured below, it’s just as equally gorgeous. Shrubbery surrounds individual seating to create secluded hideaways; strings of lights and bird cages delicately hang from the canopy of trees above, adding a touch of charm. Whether it’s at the high top tables, the Parisian style café tables or next to the worn wooden tables, there’s literally no bad place to grab a seat here!

The daily happy hour features ten colorful cocktails and six different “Chef’s Bites,” along with beers and wines. What blew me away was the price point for the quality. There aren’t many places you can grab $5 appetizers that are both well-portioned and quite tasty, or $9 cocktails that have as much flair as the ones here.

Food options seem to grab their inspiration from around the globe — there are Morrocan Spiced Nuts Furikake Green Beans and Polenta Fries Marinara & Parmesan. My favorite so far is the Atlantic Salmon Tartare, pictured below. I love all of the flavors in it and it’s great to share.

Out of the cocktails, I’ve tried the Lavender Collins, pictured below, a subtly sweet concoction of crème de Violette, lemon juice, lavender syrup and lavender spring. There’s a nice range of other options, too — whether you’re looking for rum, gin, brandy, tequila or whiskey.

And, make sure to save room for dessert! Although it’s technically not on the happy hour menu and probably about 50,000 calories, the Crème Brûlée de Jour, pictured below, is so. freakin. good. The custard filling is just the right amount of sweetness without being overbearing and the texture is just the right amount of thickness.

Also not on the happy hour menu but still worth the splurge is The Ruby Slipper, pictured below. It’s a delectable blend of vodka, raspberries, agave nectar, lime juice and sparkling wine.

So, the next time you’re in the mood for a beautiful cocktail to sip and decadent appetizers to munch on — all in an enchanted garden setting — I recommend checking out Culver Hotel’s French Garden. The ambiance alone is enough to keep me coming back for more.

See you there soon!

For more information: 


Monday, June 18, 2018

Where to Eat: Smoked Beef, Southern Sides and Pies @ Pearl’s Texas BBQ

The Eats: Texas-style BBQ rubbed down with salt and pepper, then smoked for 14 hours

The Location: Downtown (Arts district-adjacent)

The Vibes: Outdoor, Western, eclectic

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (small and large)

When-To-Go: Daily, noon – 6 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Meats, $11 - $28; sides, $4 - $5; desserts, $8 - $9

The Names behind the scenes: Pitmaster Dana Blanchard

The 4-1-1: Pearl’s hosts live country music bands and movie nights on select days; check her Instagram for upcoming events.

Parking Situation: Ample free street parking

I’ll Be Back…: For the beef short ribs!

By the time you exit the 10 freeway, cruise up Santa Fe Ave., passing quiet industrial, graffiti-covered industrial warehouses, and then turn down an alley to get to Pearl’s Texas BBQ, you literally felt like you’ve left the hustle and bustle of the big city life. Throw into the mix a larger-than-life Texas flag proudly on display, worn mint green picnic tables and benches amongst dirt floors and Western relics scattered around, and you’ve really felt like you’ve been transported to Texas Hill Country.

Opening at the beginning of 2018 at this location, Pearl’s has transformed a wide, open dirt lot into a casual, al fresco BBQ joint. There’s a bright red pick up truck, two bull dummies to lasso, and an oversized bingo board. Truth be told, I almost expected to see a few tumbleweeds roll by, at any given moment. Slightly off to the side, but probably one of the most significant parts of the entire place is a smoker, pictured below, where beef that’s been rubbed down with salt and pepper gets smoked for 14 hours, each and every night.

Out of a vintage metallic silver Airstream, piping hot BBQ gets served up on paper trays. Selections aren't extensive — only beef, in the form of short ribs or briskets — plus a handful of sides, beverages and two types of pies to round out the menu.

The stars of the show, hands down, IMHO, are the short ribs, pictured below alongside the cowboy caviar and coleslaw. The ribs are so moist and tender, falling right off the bone. Even though they’re only covered in salt and pepper, they’re extremely flavorful, too. They come with pickles, onions and sliced white bread.

Sides to select from include baked beans, cowboy caviar — a mix of corn, beans, red pepeprs and spices, which can also be accompanied by avocado — coleslaw and potato salad, pictured below. I tried everything but the baked beans as they had run out when I stopped by over the weekend, but my faves were the coleslaw and potato salad, which are both mayonnaise-based. I’ll look forward to trying the beans, hopefully next time I’m there.

Make sure to save room for dessert! Pearl’s has two pie options from the renowned bakery Sweet Lady Jane: apple or pecan. The pecan is out of this world, with sweet buttery nuts packed into a thick pie crust. The apple pie has subtle hints of cinnamon and I bet would taste great served warm. 

Rounding it all out are bottled beverages like Mexican Cokes and Nesbitt’s Honey Lemonade, pictured below. 

With summer slowly inching its way right around the corner, grabbing BBQ outdoors on a lazy afternoon sounds like it should most certainly be part of the upcoming schedule rotation. Pearl’s provides a carefree ambiance, smoked meats and Southern sides, so it surely ain't a bad place to stop by.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Disclosure: I received complimentary services; all views and opinions reflected are my own and not influenced by any other third-party sources.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Where to Be Merry: Foods, Cars & Libations @ The Flavor of LA Festival, Studio City

Last year, I went to my very first food festival, and I have to say, I enjoyed the experience so much, that I’m now hooked on attending food festivals. I mean, a place where I can indulge in sooo many different nibbles and libations, all at once?! Count me in!

So when I received the invite to the second annual Flavor of LA on Sunday, May 20 in Studio City, I was delighted to find out what it was all about. Held on the CBS Studio Center backlot, the festival features 50+ local restaurants providing bite-size samples to attendees and dozens of automobiles from The Television Motion Picture Car Club (TMPCC) on display to ogle over.

I’m not into cars like that, but I must admit, I was floored by what I saw. Owned by TMPCC members — people who work in or are somehow affiliated with the entertainment industry — these vehicles are some of the baddest, most widely coveted from around the world. There were vehicles from the early 1900s, manufactured across the pond, and featured in hit television shows / movies such as Seinfeld, Will & Grace and even the ‘60’s hit show Gilligan’s Island.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the cars on display: 

Check out the cast-autographed dashboard of this 2008 Ford Mustang GT500KR, which starred as the "Knight Industries Three Thousand" in the television series Knight Rider... 

and this 1951 Ford Model A 5-Window Coupe...

and, a beautiful blue Viper with suicide doors!

But, automobiles weren’t the only highlight of the afternoon.

Food and libations flowed freely for four hours. Many of the 50+ restaurants were local to the San Fernando Valley, in neighborhoods like Studio City, Tarzana and Woodland Hills. From pastries to desserts, and cuisines representing so many different countries, there was literally something for everyone, and a wide variety of options. As equally important, portions were plentiful and lines were pretty much non-existent. Plus, there’s nothing quite like sitting on the veranda of a set house on the backlot to soak in sunshine while leisurely dining!

All in all, the caliber of participating vendors was exceptional and below are six vendors in particular that piqued my interest the most: 

Best tasting bites: Casa Vega, the household Mexican restaurant located on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, gets a nod for having some of the best tasting bites up for grabs — its mini sweet corn tamale with crema. It had just the right balance of sweetness and masa stuffed with a savory chicken / cheese blend. 

Most unique & creative: Oi Asian Fusion presented its version of a taco, which included seared pork belly topped with sriracha, cilantro and pickled red onions, all rolled into a jicama taco shell. Definitely a lot of bold textures and rich flavors. 

Best healthy option: I was hesitant to try Sun Café’s Sweet Kale Shake — something about the green color and kale as an ingredient didn’t sound quite enticing to me as part of a dessert-like beverage. But, the shake was actually subtly sweet and very refreshing to sip, providing a nice energy boost for the afternoon. A pleasant surprise indeed. In addition to kale, the shake had bananas, cashews and agave.

Tastiest dessert: Selecting the tastiest dessert was very, very tough, because there were so many fantastic contenders, from Cake Bash Studio & Bakery’s incredible looking desserts to Wanderlust Creamery’s vegan ice cream. But in the end, I tip my hat off to the goodies from Carol’s Cheesecake —including its namesake, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate rice crispy squares and decadent brownies. Bonus points for having its setup right next to these massive, scrumptious sandwiches from Uncle Paulie’s Deli, where Carol’s Cheesecake NYC actually shares the same Beverly Grove storefront as the deli. 

Best overall: Hands, down, Tuning Fork’s Bacon Mac N' Chz Pops wins as best overall because it literally had the entire package: the aesthetic, ingredients and taste. Any time you smoosh together bacon and mac’n’cheese, and then decide to fry it to a gold brown, crispy coating, well, that’s a winner by me. 

Most courageous cocktail: While most of the beverage vendors were serving lightweight options like wine and beer, Midnight Moon Moonshine brought in the big boys with samples of its fruit flavored moonshine mixed with Ginger Ale. Sweet and potent!

Make sure to mark Flavor of LA on your calendars when it rolls around once again next year. 

See you there soon! 

For more information: