Sunday, April 29, 2012

Where To Be Merry: Yoga @ Passport to Prana

The Merriment: The original multi-studio yoga pass that allows you to test out scores of yoga studios in the preferred city of your choice.

Good for: Anyone interested in sampling different yoga studios, classes and practices.

When-to-Go: It’s up to you. You pick the days, times and classes.

With-Whom-to-Go: The passport is only for the user, but of course you can always bring someone along – s/he would just have to pay for the class.

The $ Factor: Great bargain; $30 gets you a one-year passport. In Los Angeles, there are 36 participating studios, meaning that’s less than $1 a class. A bargain indeed, considering it’s typical for yoga classes to start at $10 per class, and to go up in price.

The 4-1-1: If you’re looking to get the most “bang for your buck,” since many of the participating yoga studios already offer the 1st class as complimentary, save that passport and use it on your 2nd visit. 

I’ll Be Back…: To stop by the other studios I’ve yet to visit!

I recently began practicing yoga. And while I’ll save my soapbox speech about all of yoga's mental, physical and psychological benefits for another blog post, I will say that as an amateur, I found the entire yoga universe to be quite daunting and overwhelming. With classes starting at anywhere from $20 a session and with hundreds of yoga styles to try, I had no idea where to start.

Fortunately, Nicole Wool over at The Dossier PR must’ve heard my mental cries of distress, because she quickly put me up on game about the Passport to Prana gift card.

In a nutshell, the way it works is that on the Passport to Prana website, you select a city (there are 11 U.S. cities including LA, NYC, Miami, San Francisco, San Diego and more, and also 7 Canadian cities) and then you find a list of participating yoga studios that offer one complimentary class. You pick the time, the day and the level, and then you just go to the studio a few minutes prior to the class to register, and then you attend the class. The passport is valid for one year from when you activate it, so you have ample time to try out the different studios at your own pace.

In the past month that I’ve been using the passport, I’ve gone to quite a few studios and so far had nothing but positive things to say about the entire experience. I love that I can choose any studio I want, any time of the day. I've been able to do therapeutic yoga in the evenings, and basic yoga that made me sweat like crazy on Sunday mornings. As to be expected, each studio has its own unique vibe. Some are only one room; others have multiple rooms. Some had only four attendees in class; others had twenty. Some are connected to cafés; others sell merchandise, like Mission Street Yoga in Pasadena (pictured above, left). The studios all truly vary in character, class, teacher and technique. Most are spread throughout the city, from as far west as Santa Monica, like Santa Monica Yoga (pictured below right), to the San Fernando Valley, Orange County and as east as Redlands.

Now I will say that upon mentioning this handy dandy little passport card, a few of the studios had no idea what I was talking about. I kindly explained what it was to them, and they had to look it up in big thick manuals or on their computers. But at the end of the day, I had no problems using it, and one studio manager even let me head into class before she knew what the passport was, saying that we’d figure it all out afterwards (which we did).

So I say if you’re looking for a great way to try out a few new yoga studios that perhaps you may have never discovered and at a really, really super good steal, then I highly recommend getting a Passport To Prana.

Perhaps I’ll see you at one of the studios soon. Namaste!

For more information:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

And Where Do You “Where To?”: Singer/Actress Brely Evans, Part 2 of 2

Last week I brought you Part One of a 2-part interview with the charismatic singer/actress Brely Evans. She opened up about her exciting professional career in Hollywood, which includes working with Shirley Murdock and starring in the Sparkle movie remake, debuting this summer. 

Now that we got all of the “business” out of the way last week, this week, I’m bringing you the “good stuff,” Part Two, which is all about where she “where to’s” in LA and around the world!

Miss Wilson: We’re at Viceroy today, which I understand is one of your favorite places?

Ms. Evans: Yes, I love Viceroy because when I come here, I feel like I’m out of the country. I’ve had the pleasure to do a lot of traveling, and this is one place that when I walk into the door, I forget I’m in LA. I feel like I’m somewhere else. The décor, the friendly staff…the food is amazing, the drinks are great. I just love being in a place that exudes high society and high class, yet still has a real urban side to it, where it’s attainable. 

Miss Wilson: Favorite coffee shop? 
Ms. Evans: Urth Café. I’m not really a coffee drinker, to be honest, so I get the green tea latte. And please, don’t cheat yourself – treat yourself! Get the biggest cup they have. They put this little pretty design on the top and it just tastes like frothy heaven going down your throat [laughs]. And they have some great desserts as well. Great sandwiches, too. Paninis and things like that.

Miss Wilson: Favorite place for a great view of the city?
Ms. Evans: Reed Between the Lines is a new show on BET and they had a screening at this beautiful place, the SoHo House. Can I tell you that if you ever get an opportunity to be invited to go, go. It is amazing in there and the view is amazing. It’s really high up. The food was great and the theater; they have red velvet chairs that lean back and you get your own little table for your drink and hors d’oeuvres. Oh, and it also has a footstool – your chair has a little ottoman. But until I become a member or get invited again, I’ll have to put that one on my dream board!

Miss Wilson: Favorite place to go on a great date?
Ms. Evans: Great dates to me could be renting some bikes on Venice Beach and riding all the way down to Redondo Beach. That’s a great date. No place in particular, but being near the water and being outside. Those are great dates for me. 

Miss Wilson: And to see some eye candy? 
Ms. Evans: Gosh, this is LA, girl! You see eye candy everywhere! I mean everywhere. There’s not one place in particular I can tell the ladies where you can go because if you’re going there, I might have to beat you there. I don’t need any pretty competition ‘cause I’m single [laughs]! But everywhere in LA, there are beautiful people. You can go anywhere. To a restaurant – you can go to the laundry mat. It’s all over LA. I don’t know about that one [laughs].

Miss Wilson: And what about a favorite destination? Not even necessarily in Los Angeles?
Ms. Evans: I had a chance to travel on the Amalfi Coast and we were there ten days. Oh my god. The South of France is amazing. If you ever have the opportunity – and even if it’s not on a 100-foot yacht for ten days like I was – get there. It’s just [sighs]… It’s breathtaking. Greece is a beautiful place as well.

Anywhere that you have to use your passport to get there, I say go. I don’t care where. Just get out of here. And if you don’t have a passport, get one so that you can be prepared when the opportunity presents itself.

Miss Wilson: Great! Well that’s actually all the questions that I have. Did you have anything you wanted to add?
Ms. Evans: No, none other than I want to reiterate that I want everyone to use their gift – to use their gift to inspire the world. If you’re just living to yourself and for yourself, you’re not living your best life. You’re only living your best life when you can inspire somebody to live theirs. So that’s it. I just want to make sure that I’m always giving that out whenever I get an opportunity to share.

For More Information:

Editor’s note: The interview has also been edited and condensed for reading ease. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

And Where Do You “Where To?”: Singer/Actress Brely Evans, Part 1 of 2

This past holiday season in December, I attended Hill Harper and Nate Parker’s Annual Manifest Your Destiny Toy Drive at Drai’s Hollywood. 

On a trip to the ladies’ room, I ran into the lovely Brely Evans, who you may remember from her hilarious Twix candy commercial (shown below), her role in Just Wright as Queen Latifah’s friend and who you’ll now see in the upcoming remake of Sparkle, being released this summer. 

Her warm, friendly smile was just as radiant as her energetic, bold personality, so I found myself excited to talk with her, rattling off about her acting projects, my blog and everything else. We parted ways, promising to link up again for an interview. And, later on as I caught glimpses of her working her way around the room with such charm and confidence, I knew she was someone with a great story to share.

And what a great story she had! 

During our meeting at one of her favorite LA destinations, The Viceroy, Ms. Evans shed light on everything, from how she transitioned from her girl group Emage into films to what it was like working with the late Whitney Houston.

I’ve split up the interview into two parts: this week’s part touches upon her professional endeavors and acting career, and the second part, debuting next week, sheds light on where she “where to’s” in Los Angeles and around the world.

Here’s Part One for now! 

Editor’s note: This interview took place the morning of February 11th, prior to the announcement of Whitney Houston’s death. All references to Houston were made before news of her death had been shared. The interview has also been edited and condensed for reading ease. 

Miss Wilson: I know one of your projects was Just Wright with Queen Latifah. How did you get to work on that movie? 
Ms. Evans: Oh my goodness, the experience was a-maz-ing. My wonderful girlfriend Jeanette Jenkins who is a celebrity fitness trainer was like, “Brely! You’re not famous because no one knows you’re alive. We’re gonna produce some videos on you and put it on YouTube. Everyone else is getting famous off YouTube.” So we got a camera crew, we wrote a show out called The Brely Show, and I begin to do these sketches. At the time, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” was hot. So I was like, “Beyonce? You mean Brelonce? She got it from me!” And we put those sketches up, and it wasn’t like it got 15 million hits, because that’s usually what happens. Mine maybe you know, soared around 2,000, maybe even sometimes, 100, 300, because things started to cook for me around the 300 range. Maybe not a lot of people saw it, but the right people saw it.

And, the story is, when the cast was taping Just Wright, and I affectionately call Dana my – well, Queen Latifah – I call her my big sister. She was laughing at some of my videos on set – this is the story I hear – it’s been passed down so many times. And her and Paula Patton were watching them, and Paula goes, “Dana has this little sister that’s the world’s best kept secret. She dances, she sings. She’s an actress. She’s amazing. Why doesn’t she put her in anything?” Then Dana’s laughing, “Are you talking about Brely? That’s not my real sister.” The director [Sanaa Hamri] happens to walk in and she was like “I have a little one-liner for her.” So they gave me one line. 

And in the beginning of the movie while the credits are still coming up, you’ll see me come in with Queen Latifah into the hospital. I play a physical therapist. I come in and I go, “Whatcha gonna wear for your date tonight?” And we both go, “black.” That was my one line.

I got in my trailer and I was like, “Thank you, Jesus! I’m in a film! Oh my god, a huge film!” Got a knock on my trailer door and they were like, “you’ll be here all week. We just love your energy. Can you learn these lines and be ready?” I was supposed to be there for one day, for one line. I ended up staying to the wrap of the movie. My name was CO-WORKER 1 and I went to SABRINA GILLAR, being Queen Latifah’s best friend at the hospital. It was an avalanche. It was great. 

Miss Wilson: Did Queen Latifah or the director give you any words of advice on "making it" in the industry?
Ms. Evans: Not really advice, but more so inspiration and telling me, “Girl, you got this. We’re waiting on you. You can do this.” They gave me inspiration and the go get 'em attitude that I needed to succeed. 

Miss Wilson: And I read that you were in a gospel stage play with Shirley Murdock and you also worked with Whitney Houston in Sparkle. Was it inspirational as well to work with these women?
Ms. Evans: Can I just say, this is when you’re glad you used to be in a singing group! The Shirley Murdock thing happened first. I had come off the movie Just Wright, gotten home, was like “Oh my lord, this is great.” My phone rang. It's the director. I had auditioned for this play nine months prior but didn’t get it. He said we’re reviewing our tapes and we would like to have you come in for the lead role and you’re gonna be playing opposite – not come in, excuse me, we’re gonna give it to you – opposite Shirley Murdock. I was thinking, I get to sing onstage with Shirley Murdock. You know her vocals are crazy, right? So I went to Boston and we did this stage play. She’s like another mother. She’s a very spiritual woman. She’s like “God has created in you something that the world needs to see and let them see it. Don’t be ashamed. Be bold and be you, because there’s none like you.”

Now fast-forward to just getting off the movie Sparkle. Whitney Houston. First of all, walking on set and seeing her, you’re kind of like quiet, and you’re like, "Oh my god. That is Whitney Houston."  And you’re just kind of watching her every move, seeing how she eats, how she picks up her purse, how she’s talking to people. And then she looks over at you like, “Come here, baby. What’s your name?” And I’m like, “Umm, Brely?” – I turned into a baby. So we’re all loosening up around her and she’ll start singing, playing her gospel music, so we all start singing, too. And she’s like, "do this, baby" [Brely sings a couple of runs]. And we’re singing and she’s telling us how to do different runs. Crazy. And again, she was like, “I’ma call you niece. You my niece.” I was like, thank you! 

And Derek Luke? An amazing actor. Just to watch his process and how on set he’s very solemn and quiet. He doesn’t do a lot of talking because he’s in character the whole time. Omari Hardwick, who is super fine. Can I get that on tape? He's about to get married soon, but girl, you know what you got. He’s amazing and loving, and they just embraced me like, oh there’s the baby on the set, because I’m kind of new. But although Jordin Sparks is also new to the film, she did an amazing job.

Working with Salim Akil – you know the Akils obviously from The Game and Girlfriends – T.D. Jakes was on set. I’m just overwhelmed by being a part of such people who have done great things in their career, and that my talent allowed me to be a part of that.

Miss Wilson: It sounds like you had a lot of mentors who took you under their wing. Would you say that’s the norm in Hollywood, or is that something that’s rare?
Ms. Evans: I think it’s very rare, and I think that it is a great necessary for anybody in any industry to have a mentor. I didn’t per se have an up-close and personal one that I distinctly called mentor, but I took those various moments that I was able to interact with someone who was great, and I got any questions out. I asked them their thoughts on what I should do. I did have mentorship moments, but it’s not like I had someone I could just pick up the phone and call and say, hey, you know what should I do here? I didn’t really have that and a lot of us other actors and entertainers won’t have that.

So I just want to encourage everybody, too. That even though you don’t have that, should you pass someone’s way, take that moment to not be scared of them because they’re so amazing. Take that moment. They’re willing to give. It’s just that those are not the typical questions that people ask. I would say definitely seek out mentorship, but if you don’t have one, like I said, take the moment and just use it to your benefit.

Miss Wilson: And do you have any other advice for aspiring singers and actors as well?
Ms. Evans: I would say hone your craft. If you’re a singer, sing all the time. I don’t care if it’s in the car, in the shower. Make yourself available – I don’t care if it’s for Craig’s List to sing for a funeral. Make yourself available to use your gift because really, I think our gifts were given to us by God for others. It wasn’t for our own edification. You should share your gift as often. Share it for free. You don’t want to know how many times I’ve sang for free or how many times I’ve been in a production, acting, for free. Because the money will come. And I know people say that when they got some. No, trust and believe. Struggling as I am, even sometimes today, I still realize that my gift is not my own and work begets work. So if you find yourself working, then somebody else in that audience might say, hey I’d like to hire you for something else. Work, work, work. Just work your craft. 

And I would like to assassinate the word “aspiring.” I can’t stand it. You’re not aspiring to be something. You are. You already are. You sing? I’m a singer. I’m not an aspiring singer. You’re an actor. I’m aspiring – no, I’m an actor. Already claim who you are. 

Miss Wilson: What motivates you to keep on going, to keep on pursuing acting and singing?
Ms. Evans: The one thing that motivates me are the people who constantly congratulate me. The people who say “I’m watching this” and the people who say “I need you to succeed and you inspire me.” Those are the people that push me to greatness, because I feel like if I don’t do it, I’m doing them a disservice. If I get nervous or scared, then I can’t fully live out loud for them to see that they can do it, too. So it’s really the push from the audience and those who are following my career. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of 2 next week!

For More Information:, @brelyevans,

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Where to Drink: Strong, Cheap Mai Tais and Chi Chis @ Damon’s Steak House

The Drinks: Signature Mai Tais and Chi Chis  

The Vibes: A vintage tropical oasis that hasn’t changed since it opened almost 75 years ago, in 1937

Good for: Strong, cheap cocktails…and monstrous cuts of steaks accompanied by gigantic baked potatoes and heaping portions of salad

When-to-Go: Mai Tai Monday! Mai Tais are $4 all day long, and there's a Monday-Friday happy hour, featuring $5 Mai Tais and Chi Chis

The $ Factor: Affordable; $7 otherwise

The 4-1-1: There’s a metered parking lot right in the back

I’ll Be Back…: To get dinner along with my Mai Tai one of these days…

When I was a young, innocent child, I never understood why my mother would force us to battle an hour of horrific traffic, all to meet her best friend at Damon’s Steak House out in Glendale after work, and why they always had to meet there.

Yes, the garlic bread was scrumptiously yummy and crunchy and Damon’s portions were enough to feed a small village. OK, and the tropical Polynesian paradise theme did amuse my juvenile, vivid mind. But was all of this really worth the drive? Weren’t there other restaurants to explore?

Then I got hold of a fake ID turned 21. 

And it was only then that I understood why they came so often. 

You see, after hitting up a few bars and going out in a city like Los Angeles, for even like, six months, it’s easy to quickly learn that strong, delicious and cheap don’t always go together. Sure you might get one – i.e., strong – if you’re lucky…perhaps two – strong and cheap – on occasion…but all three? In one drink? That’s like asking for a miracle.

But lo and behold, Damon’s must be in the miracle delivering business, because their signature Mai Tai and Chi Chi cocktails are as affordable as they are divinely potent and delightfully sweet. I swear I can taste the alcohol dripping down from my esophagus into my stomach…just as much as I can taste the fresh pineapple and coconut juices making the same route.

The Mai Tai has pineapple and orange juices, dark and light Bacardi rums, and a special secret sauce; the Chi Chi consists of pineapple juice, coconut creme, dark and light Bacardi rums, and that special secret sauce. On more than one occasion, I’ve politely asked what was in this secret sauce, only to be shot down. Looks like the sole keeper of the ingredients is the oldest bartender who’s been there over a decade, and he refuses to share, even with his fellow bartenders. Let’s hope he doesn’t put in his two-week notice anytime soon.

So the next time you’re in the Glendale area, stop by and say hello to the servers who look like they’ve been working at Damon’s since it opened its doors. Sure, the carpet may be a little worn and the décor hasn’t changed in forever, but the colorful murals and the bamboo accents still transport you to paradise…along with that $4 Mai Tai in your hand. See you there soon!

For more information, Damon's Steak House

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Where to Eat: Authentic Mexican Food @ Casa Azul Cantina

The Eats: Authentic Mexican Food 

The Vibes: A sultry blue

Good for: Regional dishes and margaritas

When-to-Go: Margarita Mondays; Taco Tuesdays; Enchilada Wednesdays; Martini Thursdays; daily evening and late night happy hour; and always great for dinner, no matter the day.

The $ Factor: Not bad; there are enough weekly specials to steal bargains like $3.95 margaritas and $6 nachos. Entrées average about $20 each. 

The 4-1-1: Chef Vicente Del Rio, who opened the FRIDA restaurants in Beverly Hills and downtown LA, is the mastermind behind Casa Azul. Also, as an FYI, finding street parking around this area is about as difficult as finding a real wife on the Basketball Wives series. Save yourself the headache and head straight to the $6 valet.

I’ll Be Back…: To try the Sopa Azteca

When my friend Jamina and I excitedly mentioned to everyone who would listen to us that we were traveling to Mexico City, we were met with horror stories: “I have a friend got robbed there.” “It’s dangerous.” Blank stares. “Are you sure you want to go?” “My sister’s husband’s cousin’s friend was stabbed while riding the metro down there.” “You have to drive in bullet proof cars or else you’ll get killed.” “Cancel the trip. You'll have lost the money, but you'll have saved your life.”

Needless to say, we were beyond terrified. We contemplated backing out on more than one occasion, but for whatever reason,  our curiosity got the best of us, and we boarded the plane for what might be the end of life as we knew it…

Luckily, what awaited us was a marvelous city, rich with a proud heritage and a brilliant culture. We visited breathtaking sites such as the Teotihuacan pyramids and Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s famous “blue house,” pictured to the left.

And since I have a 500-pound fattie trapped inside of me what I distinctly remember is how good the food was, right from the cheap street snacks down to the gourmet meals in fine dining establishments.

So when Casa Azul Cantina in Westwood opened at the beginning of this year, I eagerly ventured into it, curious to see how it would resemble its namesake and the food I had sampled back in the “D.F.”

While I’d say the restaurant itself looks more like an upscale, trendy LA restaurant than the old, famous house I’d previously visited, I’d confidently say that Casa Azul’s food is right on target with what I tasted on my Mexican vacation. I was transported right back to congested streets, the boisterous noises and splendid sights when I sank my teeth into Casa Azul's fresh, colorfully vibrant, tasty selections.

Below are a few dishes that I've enjoyed, and that I think you’d enjoy, too:

The Guacamole en Molcajete is a must. The serve makes it right in front of you, so you can decide how much avocados, cilantro, tomatoes, chiles and lime juice is just the right amount. Refreshing!

The Tiradito de Hamachi starter has a nice tangy kick to it. Thin slices of yellowtail are saturated with an olive oil, lime juice and ponzu sauce mixture, creating an unusual yet delightful flavor. 

The Gambas al Ajillo appetizer is one of my favorites, by far. These little fellas are extremely plump and flavorful! And, most importantly, you get a ton of them. 

I always say if you can make mean Enchiladas, then you deserve my patronage. Casa Azul’s enchiladas have exactly the right balance of cheeses, zesty green sauce and chicken. 

While I’ve never been a fan of mole – it’s always been too overpowering for me – the Mole Poblano with chicken is beyond delicious. The mole sauce is light and not overbearing at all. In fact, it’s quite rich and creamy, poured on top of tender strips of chicken. 

Desserts, like the crunchy Churros with a caramel dipping sauce go great with a cup of strong coffee. Casa Azul also knows how to make a mean Pastel de Tres Leches (pictured in the background). The cake stays moist without ever becoming too soggy. 

In my opinion, a meal’s never complete without a margarita! Since frozen margaritas are not generally that strong, I was pleasantly surprised that my frozen Jamaica margarita was pretty solid. 

And, while my friend Porscha initially commented that her El Matador was sort of weak, by the time she had finished it and sat for a while, she eventually said that it had sneakily crept up on her. 

So the next time you’re looking for “the real deal” Mexican food in a laid-back yet still sophisticated atmosphere, I highly recommend Casa Azul Cantina. It has a wide variety of dishes that truly reflect the diverse flavors and tastes of Mexico.

Ya lo sabes; nos vemos pronto!

For More Information: Casa Azul Cantina; @CasaAzulCantina