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: 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Where to be Merry: The Los Angeles Rams' Family Day @ The Coliseum

It's official — the Los Angeles Rams are officially here in L.A.!

In fact, for the past few weeks, the team has been hosting training camps down at the University of California, Irvine. These practices have been open and free to the public, with the first one drawing an impressive 10,000 attendees.

This past Saturday, the Rams headed north, holding their first — and only — open camp at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, pictured below. I love this stadium, not only because it’s an incredible venue with gorgeous views all around, but also because it has such an exceptionally rich history of events held here. We’re talking two Olympics, JFK's 1960 DNC acceptance speech, tons of music festivals that drew tens of thousands of people — like Stax Records’ Wattstax in 1972 and Insomniac’s Electric Daisy Carnivals in the late 2000s. And, it’s where the mighty Trojans play football every fall (Fight On!).

Now, it will also be where the Rams play their season games for the next three years, until the Inglewood “City of Champions Stadium” opens in 2019.

Coined as "Family Day," the Saturday afternoon event at the Coliseum featured two hours of jam-packed activities, from scrimmages to an appearance by the Rams mascot Rampage (pictured below) and even a few player signings.

Training was broken up into several segments, including positional, non-contact and full contact practice. At one point, the quarterbacks and wide receivers were on one side of the field, running through routes, while on the other side, both defensive and offensive linebackers practiced coming off the line. There were also team drills with no huddles.

Quarterbacks Jared Goff (16), Case Keenum (17), Sean Mannion (14) and Dylan Thompson (2) each took their respective reps, practicing different phases of the game.

Kickers Taylor Bertolet (1) and Greg Zuerlein (4) showed off their skills, too, with Zuerlein even hitting a 50-yarder!

Players wrapped up the afternoon with stretching and head coach Jeff Fisher shared a few inspiring words. And lastly, several players jogged over to the stands to sign autographs and take pics. Yours truly even got the chance to meet linebacker Cameron Lynch (50).

But just because it was a practice, don’t think that it was all only fun and games. The crowd, which literally looked like a sea of millennium gold and new century blue, roared with genuine excitement every time a player made a “touchdown.” There were even a few “friendly” fights that broke out between players.

Like the past five practices down in Irvine, this one was also open to the public. Attendees could sit anywhere, even getting as close as the first row. It was awesome to watch little kids (and a few adults) hanging over balconies, excitedly yelling at the players on the sidelines.

The Rams will hold a few more practices — 11 to be exact — back down in Irvine, before launching into a round of preseason games. If you’re interested in attending any of them, you can check out the practice schedule here. The Rams will kick off their official first preseason game on Saturday, Aug. 13, against the Dallas Cowboys, right at the Coliseum.

Are you excited to see the Rams return to Los Angeles? Drop your response in the comments section below!

I’ll see you at a season game soon!

For more information: 


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Where to Eat: The All New Sunday Brunch @ Napa Valley Grille

The Eats: An all new Sunday brunch menu, featuring breakfast and lunch staples, such as shrimp & grits, French toast, Benedicts and more

The Location: Westwood

The Vibes: Airy, open, rich in earth tones and muted colors

Good for: Dates, groups, alone

When-To-Go: Sundays, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Entrees, $7 – $22; Cocktails, $8 - $15

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef Adrian Vela

The 4-1-1: Aside from a new brunch, the restaurant’s also offering a limited-time-only, three-course Summer menu

Parking Situation: Valet, very limited metered street parking and nearby public parking structures

I’ll Be Back…: To try the Brunch Board and the Deviled Eggs!

In the past five years, Napa Valley Grille has made its way onto this blog a few times, for seasonal themed events and for dineLA week.

Now, it's back again in 2016, as this unassumingly classy Westwood hideaway is providing even more reasons to stop by. It's celebrating a few significant milestones, such as commemorating its 15th anniversary (congrats!), it went through a $2M, three-month-long renovation, and, it recently launched a Sunday brunch with new executive chef Adrian Vela.

Lots going on!

The all new Sunday brunch menu is simple, featuring 8 brunch selections, 8 lunch selections and 4 sides. Most of the selections are typical brunch items — like frittatas, Benedicts and French toast, one of my favorites. Pictured below and coined the Brioche French Toast, it comprises six perfectly toasted halves of bread drizzled with Nutella, dusted with powered sugar and topped with crunchy candied pecans. It will satisfy any sweet craving and is extremely filling.

The menu also features American standards — such as meatloaf and a burger — but with a few unexpected twists. For example, there’s the Fried Brussels Sprouts with Poached Egg, pictured below. With a texture almost like they’ve been slightly roasted, these veggies have a marvelous buttery flavor and are well seasoned.

All in all, there are enough options ranging from savory to sweet, and to satisfy all appetite sizes. A few other notable contenders…

The Kale Salad, bursting with a diverse mix of yummy ingredients, including sweet rum raisins, quinoa, toasted almonds, romaine lettuce and kale, all tossed in a lemon-Parmesan vinaigrette.

The Prosciutto Benedict Duo, with over easy eggs and slices of prosciutto doused in hollandaise sauce and delicately balanced on top of two toasted English muffins. 

The Shrimp & Stone-Cut Grits — creamy, buttery and filling, with well-seasoned shrimp.

While Napa Valley Grille offers the infamous “cocktail of brunch” — the bottomless mimosa — I would opt for one of the bar's surprisingly light, summery cocktails. They’re fantastic! The Peach Bellini (pictured below to the left) is made with real peach purée and tastes divine; not too sugary and just the right amount of bubbly Prosecco. The Sorbet Sangria (pictured below to the right) blends house-made sorbet, Grey Goose vodka and sparkling red wine together, creating a frothy libation.

Without question, the patio is the place to sit, especially during these gorgeous summer days. Also redesigned during the renovation, the outdoor area has plenty of shaded seating, comfy couches and even a large TV screen. 

The interior also had a makeover, and is now evocative of all things wine. Walls are painted a rich red, reminiscent of a full-bodied glass of merlot. Chairs, booth seating and wall accents are now a light sandy brown, just like a wine cork. And wine barrel accessories — like staves and hoops — have been incorporated into the décor. 

All in all, Napa Valley Grille a serenely sophisticated restaurant that’s a good choice if you’re looking for a satisfying brunch in a subdued and relaxed ambiance. It’s high-end without being pretentious, and most importantly, offers quality fare and libations. It’s also open and airy, and not too crowded, giving you just enough room to breathe and stretch out, as you enjoy dining.

I’ll see you there soon!

For more information: