Friday, November 25, 2011

And Where Do You “Where To?”: FREE Giveaway/Contest #3

Giveaway #3: 
Contest Running from Thursday 11/25/2011-Thursday12/01/2011 

I’m feeling so warm and fuzzy from all of the tryptophan in the turkey I ate yesterday, so in the spirit of the thanksgiving season, I’m doing another giveaway/contest/drawing/competition/whatever-you-want-to-call-it and offering a $50 gift certificate to X Bar to one lucky person! 

So who is the lucky person? 

It’s easy – whoever has the best answer to the following question: 

In your opinion, which Los Angeles hang out destination has the best ambiance for the winter?
Perhaps it’s because of a roaring fireplace, a cozy bar area or a warm, toasty main dining room.
Whatever it is and wherever it is, be as descriptive as you’d like, including the place and why it’s a winner (photos, although optional, are always welcomed).

Be sure to include your first name and your location.
All answers can be submitted in the comment box below, 
sent to or tweeted to @WilsonsGuide

The person with the BEST most innovative, unique winter destination (picked by yours truly) will win! Contest starts today and will go until next Thursday, December 1st, at 11:59pm PST.
Winner will be announced on Friday, December 2nd.

A big THANKS to the X Bar for donating the certificate!
Love that place – it’s definitely a destination of where to eat, drink and be merry!  

Miss Wilson

· This giveaway/contest/drawing is free and open to anyone over 18 years of age.

· Please note: all entries received may be potentially retweeted and/or posted on at a later date without further compensation. If an entry is posted and/or retweeted, only the entrant’s first name or Twitter username will be posted in conjunction with the entry.

· One winner will receive a certificate, entitling him/her to a $50 credit to X Bar at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. Certificate is valid anytime. Winner will be given specific instructions on receiving the gift certificate via Twitter and/or email, depending on how the winner submitted his/her entry. 

· By accepting the certificate, winner releases X Bar, Wilson’s “Where To” Guide and Miss Wilson and all of their respective officers, agents, and employees from any responsibility or liability in connection with the awarded gift certificate. Winner also agrees to release X Bar, Wilson’s “Where To” Guide and Miss Wilson of any injuries, losses, or damages of any kind resulting from acceptance, use, misuse, possession, or loss of the gift certificate.

· By entering this giveaway, entrants accept and agree to these rules.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

And Where Do You “Where To?”: 2nd Annual Thanksgiving Edition

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: 

I am not ashamed to admit that even I don’t know every single amazing place to eat, drink and be merry here in the city. 

That’s why for the 2nd year in a row, I’m doing my Wilson’s Guide “Thanksgiving Edition,” where I’ve asked my fellow bloggers, writers, creative minds and movers-and-shakers in the LA area to share where they “where to” – to let us know those the places that they’re thankful for and just simply can’t live without. These are people I’ve met over the past year (like The Minty) or that have started new ventures since last year (like Marque of That’s Rude Comedy).

So sit back, enjoy, read, eat tons of turkey today, and then check out one of these highly recommended destinations. Perhaps I’ll see you at one soon! 

Room 050 Graphic/Web Designer Ernest Alfonso says: “My favorite bar/lounge is Rush Street in Culver City. I have been going there for three years and that place simply treats me like a king. From the security, servers to my favorite bartender Steve, Rush is my personal favorite place that I am thankful for! The drinks are always strong and the food is pretty good. The Rush burger is my favorite burger served at any restaurant. During the week its great to lounge and watch whatever featured sports game is on and on the weekends it gets crackin’, all the good looking people come out and party!”

Jennie of The Happy Hour Tour declares: “I am thankful for Bodega Wine Bar, the most comfortable bar in LA to enjoy a glass of fresh wine. It's a place that proves that you don’t need to be fancy, have a reservation, or be on a list to have a nice glass of wine. It's just a fun place to have a good time whether on a date or catching up with friends or chatting with the amazing staff, who I've become friends with outside of the bar. It's become my Cheers and I am thankful for that.”

That’s Rude Comedy says: “We're thankful for Koffea Coffee shop in Koreatown. Creative drinks, nice couches and round tables, speedy wireless; all that good shxt that helps our meetings run smooth.”

Actress Madia Hill says: “I’m super grateful for SHIKI SUSHI and their lunch special! $7.95 gets you two different rolls, Miso soup and salad. Its located in Studio City.”

The Minty says: “The place where I find myself over and over again is Drago Centro. I first started going when my office was across the street. If I wasn't there for lunch, I was there for happy hour. If I wasn't there for happy hour, I was there for dinner. But let me explain- ‘happy hour’ isn't just limited to a few hours every night. The bar menu is available all day, all night! You can try $5 cocktails, $4 pizzas and a number of assorted bites. It's the same high quality the lunch or dinner menus from the genius of Chef Celestino Drago and his right hand Chef de Cuisine, Chef Ian Gresik. If you want to find The Minty, find her at Drago Centro.”

Photographer Jeremy says: “I am thankful for the beauty of Los Angeles. I like to be merry on my favorite hidden hiking location; Canyon Fire Rd. in the hills of Topanga Canyon State Park. The peak of the trail overlooks a fantastic view of Santa Monica, Hollywood, Downtown LA and even as far south as Catalina Island on a clear day. Bring your hiking shoes and be prepared for a climb! Roundtrip for the view described above is around 8 miles, but oh so worth it. :)”

Looking for more ideas? Check out last year’s Wilson's Guide Thanksgiving post!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

And Where Do You “Where To?”: GRAMMY-nominated Saxophonist Mike Phillips

If the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, perhaps the artists he’s collaborated and performed with do: Brian McKnight, Mariah Carey, Notorious B.I.G., The Floacist, Babyface,  and the list goes on…

Mike Phillips is one of the smoothest jazz saxophonist out there, lending his musical prowess to the songs we love, like Jill Scott’s “The Way (Live)” and touring with legends like Stevie Wonder.

And of course, he’s assuredly proved that he can pull his weight on his own; he’s put out three successful CDs in the past nine years and he’s exclusively played for high-profile icons such as President Bill Clinton, megastar Oprah and South African President Nelson Mandela.

This past summer I had a chance to interview him before his incredible performance at Arts Brookfield’s 4th Annual “Summer on the Plaza” concert series in July. 

I was stoked for several reasons:

Number one, I was excited to finally meet him. Back in my good ole college days, I interned at his record label, Hidden Beach Recordings, where his face would stare back at me from the countless CDs that I’d file away in the storage closet or send out in press packets.

Number two, I was delighted to have another opportunity to hear him perform…this time for me, legitimately. Again, when I was a mischievous college kid, a few friends and I snuck into the NAACP Awards after-party. It took some time for us to strategize that we’d run through the kitchen and slickly sneak in through the black curtains, so that by the time we found our way inside the packed affair, Phillips was just ending his onstage solo.

And number three, I was curious to hear about what he had in store for the future. After releasing his third CD MP3 last year, would he be touring? Doing more shows? Headed back to the studio for yet another project?

From a surprising stellar performance to learning about his exciting new ventures, I got to hear, watch and learn more about Phillips. So let me stop rambling on and let you get to the good stuff. Here’s what he had to say – read on!

Miss Wilson: How would you describe your music?
Mike Phillips: I would describe the music as a fast-forward into where the future could be with the respect and infrastructure of where we are now, which is hip-hop, but also with the infrastructure of the past – of Dizzy [Gillespie], Ornette Coleman, Farrell Sanders, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington.

I consider myself a hybrid because as much as I am into hip-hop, I’m into the history of jazz and even the infrastructure of everything and how it started. It was us getting our behinds whipped in slavery, which started the whole movement of the Negro spiritual. You had two options to go: God is gonna make a way, or I’m tired of getting whipped, which was the gospel or the blues [respectively]. With that in mind, I’m just not playing just to play – I’m a musician that’s sensitive to the reasons why the music exists, the history and digging into it to be effective.

Miss Wilson: You’re going to be performing today, so how do you usually prepare for a performance? Do you have any special rituals that you do?
Mike Phillips: No. The only thing that I would do is when I’m sound-checking, I’m feeling the spirit of where the musicians are, what their skill set is and how they’re feeling. And then when you combine that with the crowd and what’s happening, you come up with a set list. I don’t have a planned set at all.

Miss Wilson: Is that challenging?
Mike Phillips: It’s challenging when you have musicians that can’t follow you. But these guys? I’m cool.

Miss Wilson: How do crowds affect your performances, if at all?

Mike Phillips: It’s like a 180. They give it to you, then it comes back. They give it back to you.

And then also, you can’t be somewhat affected by them because some people absorb the music differently. You have people that, they absorb the music, but they don’t get caught up in the kinetic energy of the appreciation of it, so that could be a misread. You could have somebody sitting down like [he stops talking, crosses his arms across his body and simply stares straight ahead for a moment before resuming talking] and just because they’re not going like that [now he vigorously waves his hands above his head], they’re still enjoying the music immensely. That’s one of the things I’ve come to understand – that people absorb the music very differently from others.

Miss Wilson: What about any memorable performances – who has been a favorite artist to perform with?
Mike Phillips: I would say it’s between Stevie [Wonder] and Prince. Those are my most memorable artists. Obviously because of who they are, but also because of how intense their music is. They challenge you, even in their songs.

Miss Wilson: You performed their songs?
Mike Phillips: I performed with them onstage. I toured with both. So you’re entrenched in history. When they talk, you listen. When they play, you understand. And there’s a quote that says: you can only be a great chief if one day you’re a great Indian under a great chief. So, there’s no way around it. You have to learn when you’re with them.

Miss Wilson: What’s a lesson from both of them that you’ve taken with you?
Mike Phillips: Stevie, I’d say one of the lessons I learned from him is being prepared. He hears everything. You’re not gonna come unprepared or think that you’re gift is going to be a crutch to you not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing.

Prince, is be sensitive to how the music feels. What you feel is everything. It’s a constant absorption; what’s happening, what he feels. With Prince there’s a lot of emotional lessons that you learn with playing and being connected.

Miss Wilson: So what do you usually do after a performance? Do you chill, or do you go out?
Mike Phillips: I chill out. Some people say that I’m an introvert, but I’m really not. After I’m finished, I feel that my gift is – I’m done. Some people have different purposes in life. I think after I give my all on the stage, it’s like, what else can I do? I re-up and I get replenished before the next moment that I have to create that’s God-given.

Miss Wilson: Where is your favorite city to perform in, if you have one?
Mike Phillips: New York, because of the life. The life there – you can wake up at 2’o’clock in the morning and find somewhere. Music, life and art is [sic] constant there for some reason that I don’t understand. It’s constant. So as an artist, running to Brooklyn and seeing the countless amount of art galleries, or running to Manhattan and seeing them jamming at three ‘o’ clock, four ‘o’ clock, or going to CafĂ© Wha? and they’re getting it in until like four, five. It’s pretty amazing.

Miss Wilson: And you’re from New York, so how does the whole nightlife scene compare to Los Angeles’ nightlife scene?
Mike Phillips: Los Angeles…it’s a different culture in the presentation of how things are. It’s top-notch. If the club is sexy in Los Angeles, it really is sexy. New York sexy can be a little gritty. But they’re two different levels of what the expectations are. People move around in New York. It’s very busy. They’re very adamant. LA is laid back. New York, they’re very adamant, and they don’t really care. And then that shows in the grittiness of what you do in New York.

It’s two different attitudes. Both are very good. Because to get over in life, you’re gonna have to have some balls. You’re gonna have to be able to man up. But then there are times that you just gotta chill out – it ain’t even that serious – and that’s what LA is. So as a New Yorker, when it’s LA time, it takes the edge off of me. It’s like, look, I’m in the sun, it’s breezy, it’s 86 degrees, what else can you ask for?

Miss Wilson: Do you have a favorite place to hang out in LA, whether that’s a restaurant or even outdoors?
Mike Phillips: Venice. And if it’s an eating spot, The Cheesecake Factory.

Miss Wilson: Are you hanging anywhere specifically this weekend since you’re here?
Mike Phillips: Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll hang out in my hotel lobby. The JW Marriott is pretty banging. I ain’t gonna lie to you.

Miss Wilson: Have you been to the rooftop pool?
Mike Phillips: It’s nuts.

Miss Wilson: I agree. And are there any upcoming projects that we should know about, such as the Michael Jackson Immortal Tour or your newest CD?
Mike Phillips: MP3 came out last year and it debuted at #1 on the iTunes chart. So that’s out and my time now will be just about the Immortal Tour, getting it up and running. I’m really, really curious to see how this is going to go, because they are really putting together a show.

Miss Wilson: Can you give us a sneak peak?
Mike Phillips: I can’t do that, but all I can say is it’s one of the most ambitious shows that Cirque [de Soleil] has put together so far, and with that in mind, the anticipation is building, and it’s gonna be crazy. It’s gonna be nuts.

Miss Wilson: And it’ll be in LA?
Mike Phillips: Right.

Miss Wilson: Well thank you so much for your time. I’m excited to see that, and also the show tonight.
Mike Phillips: Thank you.

For more information visit

Also, check out a the video clips from his performance! 
One features a candid revelation about working with Prince, and another features one of his solo performances.

*Photos Courtesy of Tulani Watkins

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Where to Drink: Bar 1886 @ The Raymond

Bars. Bars. Bars.
There’s no shortage of them in this town.
Sports bars, dive bars, neighborhood bars where everyone knows your name.

Then there’s also a special type of bar; the drinking parlor. The Raymond Restaurant’s Bar 1886 falls into this category, worth a visit when you’re in the mood to sip and savor finely crafted artisan cocktails within a rugged, historic setting.

Set amongst the sleepy foothills of South Pasadena, Bar 1886 occupies the former caretaker’s cottage of the old Raymond Hotel, originally opened in 1886 and once the popular hangout destination for the elite and celebrities like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

A tragic history filled with infuriated fires and Great Depression woes caused the grand hotel to close decades ago, but fortunately for us, The Raymond Restaurant and Bar 1886 which opened a year ago after a massive renovation, remain. We can still venture down the windy driveway that leads to the forest green cottage, open its unmarked door, meander through the quiet restaurant and enter the door plainly marked “est. 1886.”

What you’ll find is an area that’s earthy and vintage – cozily intimate yet airy. The lines between outdoors and indoors politely blur, especially once dusk starts to settle in. The main room, which fits about 22 seated, pays tribute to its past origins with an Industrial Revolution era decor, complete with an intricately detailed tin ceiling, Edison bulb light fixtures, dark wallpaper, wooden accents and amber-hued candle holders placed on tables. Opposite of a well-lit bar is a wall with expansive windows that open out onto the outdoor patio, which is canopied by an ancient wisteria tree.

Now I’m not superstitious per se, but I’ve heard a few rumors here and there about paranormal activity going on at the bar…locked windows (in the picture to the left) that mysteriously creak open at the same exact time every single night. So if you're sitting at a table and the window behind you randomly pops open, don't be alarmed - just remember what I told you.

Whether or not spirits are roaming around, the spirits and libations behind the bar are worth a try. They incorporate many ingredients that would have been widely popular within the late 19th century – lots of classic gins, homemade syrups, fruits and herbal spices.

The cocktail menu doesn’t simply list drinks and their respective ingredients either; instead, it includes each cocktail’s background story and original inventor. The cocktails hail from famed bartenders around the country and from various decades. Bartenders, chefs and friends of the establishment have all helped to the cocktail program as interesting and diverse as it is.

Similar to how Nike designer Tinker Hatfield makes each Air Jordan sneaker look like a work of art rather than just another typical athletic shoe, the talented Bar 1886 team makes each cocktail look like a mini-masterpiece, rather than just some alcohol and ice swirling around in a glass.

Several, like the Malted Mule pictured below, are like an installation art piece; slowly pour the ginger ale over the homemade gingersnap ice cream, which subsequently runs into the Lemon Hart 151, rum and barley malt syrup concoction.

Others, like the Bitter Bee pictured below are like a beautiful collage of colors. Less potent than the Malted Mule, this blend of vodka, honey, mint and bitters is like sipping a minty lemonade on a sweltering summer’s day.

And yet, still others such as the flight of three Vintage Caprices pictured below are meant to be tasted, pondered upon and discussed. This flight examines the natural progression of wood on a cocktail, presenting the same mixture of gin, orange bitters, dry vermouth and Benedictine after sitting in a sherry-rinsed oak barrel at three distinct phases: when the mixture is not aged in the barrel, when it’s been in the barrel for four months and when it’s been in the barrel for eight months. Compare and contrast the subtle differences between each phase.

So the next time you’re looking for a genuine drinking experience – more than a mere vodka and cranberry – I highly recommend Pasadena’s Bar 1886. The cocktails are truly incomparable, and the ambiance is quite enjoyable. Perhaps I’ll see you there on the patio soon!

Miss Wilson’s Tips:

- Bar 1886 has an interesting selection of appetizers and snacks, including many American standards, like the Griddled Cheese Sandwich, unique cultural variations, such as Poppadums, and even original inventions, like the Grilled Flat Bread with sweet potato, sweet corn and bacon, pictured below. 
- The Raymond Hotel and the City of Pasadena simultaneously observe their 125th anniversary this year, just as Bar 1886 celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. Partake in celebratory festivities with artisan cocktails, beers, boutique wines, hors d’oeuvres samplings, small plates and desserts at a proper affair this upcoming Thursday, November 17th, 6:30-10pm. For more information, click here.

- Bar 1886 might remind you of another Wilson’s Guide favorite, The Varnish, and there’s a good reason why. Both of these bars are located in historical LA establishments and feature artisan cocktail menus directed by the widely popular cocktail experts Marcos Tello and Aidan Demarest.

For more information
Bar 1886
at The Raymond Restaurant
1250 South Fair Oaks Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91105

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Where to Eat: Lunch and Dinner @ A-Frame, Culver City

A-Frame to me, represents a fusion of not just Asian and American foods, but of new trends and traditions, of old and new, of excitement and low-key vibes.

One step into the restaurant, and you’ll understand precisely what I’m talking about. Housed in a former IHOP, A-Frame didn’t simply tear everything down to start afresh. Instead, it kept the space and even the signature slanted IHOP roof and transformed them into something completely different: an organic, earthy space with modern fixtures, lots of large windows to let in natural sunlight and lots of walls paneled with striking blond wood.

And that’s just the inside.

The outdoor patio is rather ruggedly chic, with tables hidden amongst shrubs and a long table that sits underneath these colorful, indescribable, larger-than-life light shades.

Wherever you end up, inside or out, be prepared to feast not just with the folks you walked in with, but also with everyone else who decided to dine at A-Frame that day. Communal tables are the norm here, and as much as dining at the same table with strangers might seem slightly intimate, after the tenth time you’ve unconsciously bumped shoulders with the guy who keeps inadvertently kicking your leg, you start to feel a connection with everyone, as if you actually know them.

But let’s move on to the good stuff: A-Frame’s food.

As much as I honestly don’t understand many parts of the menu (I have nooo idea what a “century” egg is compared to a regular egg in my favorite entree, the Cracklin Beer Can Chicken), I thoroughly enjoy reading the titles and descriptions, like the “Chu-Don’t-Know-Mang” churros, chocolate milk and ice cream combo dessert (pictured below) and the “Thick Ass Ice Cream Sandwiches.” I mean, I haven’t been to many restaurants where I can freely curse at my server when ordering without getting back a few sideways stares, if not some jabs.

But as fun as it is to muse over the menu, there’s even more fun once the food appears. Presentation reigns king at A-Frame, so even before digging in, there’s much to admire. Vibrantly colorful entrees and appetizers are set on distinct, one-of-a-kind plates and bowls. Menu options cater to many tastes and appetite sizes as well. For example, if you’re watching the calories, there are entrees such as the Baja Fish Tacos pictured below. 

Or, if you’re like me and say to hell with all of the calorie-counting madness, then there are many fabulous goodies: the widely popular Cracklin Beer Can Chicken pictured below, the Knuckle Sandwich with oxtails, the monstrous Double Cheeseburger with a fried egg, and the list goes on and on.

A-Frame’s dishes are similar to its ambiance; they’re meant to be shared, so order a few different entrees and don’t be bashful when it comes to reaching for one of your friend’s Kitchen Fries (pictured below). The food is also meant to be eaten with fingers, not forks...albeit, should you not want to mess up that fresh new manicure, bright yellow buckets of utensils are strategically placed on all of the tables.

As much as the food intrigues me, I can't fail to mention A-Frame’s cocktail program. In my personal opinion, bartenders manage to find that delicate balance between just the right amount of alcohol and the right amount of flavorful ingredients. Each little libation has its own personality, arriving in its own special cup, with its own special style. I’m fond of the Mai Tai (pictured below), which is strong, and of the Ramos Fizz, which is light, sweet and…well…fizzy.

It’s hard to believe that yesterday officially marked this restaurant’s one-year anniversary, because there’s something about A-Frame that makes it feel so settled into the neighborhood, as though it’s possessively claimed that lot of land right there on Washington Blvd. for ages. But I guess that’s just another one of those inexplicable quirks that makes A-Frame so unique and refreshingly fascinating.

So the next time you’re looking for a fun “off the beaten path” dining experience and really, really good food, I say you head over to A-Frame. See you there soon!

Miss Wilson’s Tips (So you know “What’s Up” When You Go):

- Weekend lunches and dinners, weekday dinners.

- Sorry, no reservations here.

- I’ve never tried it, but I would imagine that it could be a bit of a challenge to hold a large dinner here due to the communal table set-up. Instead, I’d recommend A-Frame for a date spot (I’ve seen many couples here) or for a group of four to six people.

- Fun fact: A-Frame is the brainchild of celeb chef Roy Choi. If you don’t know his name, you probably know his truck: he started the Kogi Truck, which in turn, started the whole fanatical LA food truck movement.

- I must give shoutouts when shoutouts are due: fellow blogger The Minty first introduced me to A-Frame when she suggested we go here for dinner this past spring. I’ve been hooked (clearly) ever since!

For more information:
12565 Washington Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066