Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Where to be Merry: The Style Suite Showroom @ LA Mart

Perhaps like me, you first saw Goo-Goo Atkins on the hit reality show Mary Mary, effortlessly styling her two older sisters Erica Campbell and Tina Campbell from the award-winning gospel group Mary Mary. Season after season, Goo-Goo has managed to pull off hundreds of femininely fierce and elegantly graceful looks—for her sisters, herself and also for her numerous clients, who include Michelle Williams, Vanessa Williams and Niecy Nash.

And now, she’s taking her fashion expertise to the next level: 
she’s opened The Style Suite Showroom in the LA Mart, downtown!

I had the opportunity to attend The Style Suite Showroom’s Grand Opening last week, to get an up-close-and-personal look to see what it’s all about. I was joined by scores of Goo-Goo’s friends, family, fashion and industry insiders, members of the media, and several of her sisters, pictured below, lending their faithful support.

From left to right: Shanta Atkins, Erica Campbell, Goo-Goo Atkins, Maliea Atkins and Tina Campbell 

Catering specifically to curvy and full-figured women, The Style Suite Showroom provides clients with formal wear and evening attire for special occasions such as photo shoots, award shows and any other time you’re in the mood to throw on a fabulous gown or dress. Designers include Sir Algernon and Jared Lamar—and also Goo-Goo herself. The showroom is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it also offers access to additional services, including hair and makeup, and even a full service media room.

During a brief conversation when she was able to steal away for a moment, Goo-Goo revealed to me that the entire showroom had miraculously come together in a mere 27 days. But, from the looks of it, you’d never even know! Everything appeared extremely well-thought out and like it had been planned months in advance, down to the tiniest details. From the grey and gold-striped accent walls to the numerous candles scattered throughout and the velvety red roses on the desk near the entrance, every aspect had an inviting touch of glam, class and elegance.

The approximately 40-50 guests in attendance also had a chance to see exactly what fashion options will be available at The Style Suite Showroom, as a handful of models showed off stunning styles throughout the evening. 

Guests also had a chance to feel like models themselves, as hairstylist Micha Brown worked her magic on guests' hair...

...makeovers were provided...

...and celebrity manicurist Nettie Davis painted nails, using polish from Erica Campbell’s new nail polish line, EC x CC.

DJ Mal-Ski, pictured below, spun a medley of R&B and gospel hits…

…and Celebrity Chef Sisely Cierra conjured up a delightful spread of finger foods, including some killer banana cupcakes, pictured below!

Goo-Goo got on the mic a couple of times to dish out gracious thank yous and to share more about her journey towards opening the showroom. “Sorry that I did not tell you guys what I was doing, because I wanted to do it myself,” she admitted at one point. She also explained more about the pieces donned by the models and towards the end, added as a model strutted in front of the crowd, “she’s wearing one of the pieces that is exclusive to the Style Suite, where you can come and get everything done here—your one-stop shop for your red carpet event…”

A big congrats to Goo-Goo for opening The Style Suite Showroom—I love seeing successful entrepreneurs launch their own business ventures and do it with such finesse and loveliness. So the next time you’re looking for a fly outfit to wear to any very special occasion, head down to The Style Suite Showroom to find the perfect attire.

See you there soon!

For more information:

The Reef (LA Mart)
1933 S. Broadway Street #166
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Where to Eat: A Norwegian Dinner @ The Strand House

The Eats: A six-course Norwegian Seafood Dinner with wine pairings

The Location: Manhattan Beach

The Vibes: bustling, eye-catching, worldly

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef Greg Hozinsky, Pastry Chef Stephanie Franz

The 4-1-1: The Strand House is part of the Zislis Group, which manages several restaurants and also Shade Hotel, another #WilsonsGuide favorite.

Parking Situation: Metered parking on nearby streets and in an adjacent parking lot

I’ll Be Back…: To try out The Strand House’s regular menu as well!

For the week of Oct. 7 – Oct. 12, The Strand House and the Norwegian Seafood Council hosted a Norwegian Seafood Tasting Dinner, presented by Executive Chef Greg Hozinsky and Pastry Chef Stephanie Franz.

Hozinsky, pictured below, was recently inducted into the Norwegian Seafood Council’s Chef's Culinary Board, which comprises six other chefs* from around the country who are helping promote awareness and consumption of Norwegian seafood, including King crab, salmon and cod, and other fish and shellfish. The newly inducted board members even traveled to Norway to get up-close-and-personal with the country’s cuisine, chefs and culture, bringing back what they experienced to share at their respective restaurants.

On Wednesday, Oct. 8, a small group of bloggers, reporters, marketers and a member of the Norwegian Seafood Council gathered to eat six courses created by Hozinsky and inspired by the flavors of Norway. The dishes didn’t originate from traditional Norwegian recipes; instead, they incorporated subtle Norwegian influences while also borrowing from a host of other cuisines, including Japanese, French and Italian. For example, Hozinsky explained that the presentation of each course was more French in style rather than Norwegian. Prior to this dinner, I had no experience whatsoever with Norwegian food, so it was a great learning opportunity, especially with Hozinsky graciously explaining each course.

Here’s a look at what was on the special menu, with all seafood hailing from Norway:

An Amuse-Bouche
(Unfortunately, I actually missed the Amuse-Bouche, however, I was later informed it was a bite-sized portion of cod.)

First Course: Smoked Norwegian Salmon ‘Pastrami’ paired with a 2013 Kinero ‘Alice’ Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles
For the initial course, the salmon went through the same process as beef to become “pastrami.” Served chilled, the salmon was accompanied by pickled beets along with tomatoes and mustard greens in a light, tangy vinaigrette. This dish by far was the most creatively presented, as servers poured liquid nitrogen horseradish sauce on top of everything, causing steamy smoke to rise in every direction.

Second Course: Pan Roasted Fresh Norwegian King Crab paired with a 2013 Trefethen ‘Oak Knoll’ Dry Riesling, Napa Valley
Large chunks of meaty King Crab rested on top of a creamy corn pudding in a brown butter broth with fresh herbs. The flavors and textures stood in an interesting contrast with one another—the velvetiness of the corn pudding juxtaposed to the gritty bitterness of the greens; the density of the crab meat differing from the thinness of the broth.

Third Course: Norwegian Halibut paired with a 2012 Tantara Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County
Probably one of the most filling courses of the night, the halibut was served warm, on top of a white smoked sunchoke puree and underneath a medley of cauliflower, mushrooms and hijiki (Japanese seaweed). 

Hozinsky explained that it was very typical to use forage vegetables in Norwegian cuisine, sharing a story about how when visiting a chef’s residence in Norway, this chef walked right out of his home and into his garden—on the edge of a forest—to pick shrubs to be used in that evening's dinner. Hozinsky took this same concept of utilizing forage vegetables to create this third course, but instead of choosing Norwegian veggies, he picked Asian ingredients: Matsutake mushrooms, the Japanese seasoning yuzukoshō and the hijiki. Talk about a fusion of cuisines!

Fourth Course: Venison Strip Loin paired with a 2011 Alonia Red Wine, Spain
While not seafood, venison made its way onto the menu, and I’m most certainly glad that it did, because it was divine! The venison was tender and moist in the middle and crisp on the edges, thanks to being rolled in pumpkin seeds. Grilled chicories in a light balsamic vinegar and a root vegetable mille-feuille accompanied it (mille-feuille is a puff pastry that’s customarily filled with sweet ingredients like custards and fruits; this one in particular had potatoes, turnips and other root vegetables in layers of thin pastry strips, all held together by a garlic-onion paste). Reduced huckleberries and a pumpkin purée added a welcomed sweetness to the meat and the vegetables.

Fifth Course: Fried Brioche with Lingonberry paired with a 2009 Chateau Des Charmes ‘Vidal’ Ice Wine, Canada
Pastry Chef Stephanie Franz also integrated Norwegian touches into the desserts she created for the occasion. Dusted with sugar, the Fried Brioche, which is made in house, sat on a bed of pistachios and whiskey sabayon, a French take on the Italian dessert called zabaglione, which is basically a very light custard. The brioche itself was flaky and sweet, and the best part is that it was filled with a a thick lingonberry sauce. The dark, rich sweetness of the tart lingonberries nicely complemented the creamy, airy and lightly-colored sabayon.

Before opening it: 

After opening it: 

Sixth Course: Warm Almond Apple Cake paired with a 2009 Chateau Des Charmes ‘Vidal’ Ice Wine, Canada
The last course of the night was a warm almond apple cake accompanied by Geitost (a Scandinavian whey cheese), cardamom ice cream, cubed apples in brown butter and strawberries with cream, all topped with subtle hints of mint. Franz explained to me that apples were used frequently in Norwegian dishes, which is why she chose apples for the cake and on the side. It was the perfect autumn dessert!

Check back with The Strand House to see what other Norwegian-influenced entrees and desserts will be on the menu in the fall!

For more information:
Facebook, @strandhousemb

*Additional chefs inducted into the Norwegian Seafood Council: Paul Backer (Tilia, Minneapolis); Steven Brown (Tilia, Minneapolis); Neal Fraser (BLD, Los Angeles); Tim Graham (Travelle, Chicago); David Seigal (Cull & Pistol, New York); Bart Vandaele (Belga Café and B Too, Washington, DC)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Where To Be Merry: Choir Boy @ The Geffen Playhouse

The Merriment: A theatrical production about a young man striving to pursue his dreams

The Location: Westwood

The Vibes: Inspiring, thought-provoking, resounding

When-To-Go: Now until Oct. 26, Tuesday – Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The $ Factor: $39 - $79

The Names behind the scenes: Director Trip Cullman; Playwright Tarell Alvin MCCraney; Actors Jeremy Pope, Nicholas L. Ashe, Grantham Coleman, Caleb Eberhardt, Leonard Kelly-Young, Donovan Mitchell and Michael A. Shepperd

The 4-1-1: There are a variety of pre- and post-show Signature Series events, including Talk Back Tuesdays, a Q&A session with the cast and audience; Girls Night Out, an after-party, with drinks, appetizers and brand showcases; Lounge Fridays, a pre-show happy hour; and Wine Down Sundays, featuring wine tastings.

Parking Situation: A $7 parking lot is adjacent to the theater; validated parking is available at the Trader Joe’s lot, two blocks from the theater.

This fall, Choir Boy comes to the West Coast for the first time at The Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, after originally premiering at London’s Royal Court Theatre and making its American debut at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York last year. 

Choir Boy is a coming-of-age drama that unfolds at the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys—a strict, all-male boarding school that aims to groom boys not merely into men, but more specifically, into Drew men. The 90-minute play begins with the main character Pharus Young (Jeremy Pope, pictured below) as a high school junior, singing a solo selection at senior graduation. It follows him into the fall semester and beyond, during his zealous quest to do what’s never been done before: secure the coveted soloist part at graduation once again, this time at his own ceremony.

Pharus is easy to fall in love with, a charismatic individual who has a bright, bubbly disposition and a zealous passion for the prestigious school choir that he leads. Surrounding Pharus are four young men—Junior, Bobby, David and Anthony (Nicholas L. Ashe, Donovan Mitchell, Caleb Eberhardt and Grantham Coleman respectively)—all living, taking classes and singing in choir together. Headmaster Marrow (Michael A. Shepperd) is the authoritarian figure struggling to steer his students in the right direction, and Mr. Pendleton (Leonard Kelly-Young), is a retired teacher who returns to Drew, attempting to inspire the boys in his Creative Thinking class.

The focal point of Choir Boy remains on Pharus, chronicling the challenges he faces with being gay and pursuing his musical aspirations in a socially conservative environment. He loves the prep school, considering it to be a refuge that provides him with space to be himself. But as much as he strives to be a proud Drew man, he struggles to be recognized as one by his peers and superiors alike. His former roommate had previously abandoned him. A fellow student hisses a derogatory slur at him during his solo performance at graduation, causing him to abruptly halt, subsequently ruining the show, according to Headmaster Marrow, who outright criticizes his performance. The headmaster also constantly reprimands and corrects Pharus, threatens to pull him from choir and instructs him to watch how he "flicks" his wrists.

And truthfully, as confident and passionate as he is about his musical prowess, radiantly shining in the limelight, there’s a gut-wrenchingly painful insecurity that subtly haunts Pharus at times. Thus, the question emerges: can Pharus learn to be comfortable in his own skin and find acceptance at the school he loves so much? That answer is complex.

Pharus isn’t alone in his struggle to navigate life's twists and turns. His four peers each wrestle with their own trials and tribulations, from dealing with financial hardships, death and academics, to selecting occupations, coming to terms with their own sexuality and feeling isolated from family members. They turn to one another for support and camaraderie, often times butting heads, but sharing just as many moments of enlightenment as moments of rage, as many laughs as arguments. They have different backgrounds, interests and aspirations, but they’re united by their devotion to music and to their prized choir, demonstrated in their ethereal harmonization of both gospel standards and original compositions.

Like a rebellious adolescent itself, Choir Boy also addresses and confronts many longstanding, revered traditions and beliefs within the African-American community. Nothing is spared, as it questions the origins of spirituals, the notion of the barbershop as the sanctified retreat for black men and the assumed privilege that legacy brings. It challenges the use of the word “n***a” between blacks and the problematic yet perpetuated stigma associated with “snitching” to authorities (“A Drew man doesn’t tell on his brother,” Pharus confidently proclaims, refusing to reveal who insulted him during his performance at graduation). The characters explore these issues in their engaging intellectual conversations with one another and also through effortless dialogue, quick banter and smooth jokes. Their insightful, articulate exchanges are accented by brief moments of song that are so delightful that there should certainly be more of them throughout the entire production.

The chemistry between the actors is natural and relaxed, with the young men displaying an insatiable, contagious energy. The stage design is brilliant in its simplicity, with basic, sharp blacks and reds creating a moodily brooding atmosphere. Subtle nuances in the design elements augment the themes expressed in the dialogue and support the overall message of the production. The tense, hissing sound of steam seductively seeping onto the stage in the shower scenes as the men strip down to their bare skin; the bright, floral shower cap that Pharus wears—his posters of Beyonce, Oprah, Frank Ocean and Abraham Lincoln with a large bow Photoshopped onto his head, blatantly juxtaposed to his roommate Anthony’s masculine, baseball-centric posters—they all help to subtly reveal more about Pharus' idiosyncrasies in each scene.

There are plenty of amusing, lighthearted exchanges, but there are more interactions that expose the growing pains of being an adolescent—of becoming a unique individual only to discover that sometimes there may be a conflict between being true to one’s identity and with adhering to larger, social expectations. Choir Boy presents this life lesson in a captivating and bittersweet manner, revealing in the end that while the ones closest to us may betray and hurt us, friendship, loyalty—and therefore acceptance—can be found sometimes in the most unexpected places.

For more information:

*Photo credit for the first three photos: Michael Lamont