Sunday, June 24, 2012

Where To Drink: Cocktails @ Hotel Shangrila

The Drinks: Fancy schmancy cocktails and killer wines

The Vibes: Even when busy, there’s always a calm sense of stately airs that reigns supreme

Good for: When you want to be next to the beach, but not necessarily on it

When-to-Go: Evenings, for the sunset

With-Whom-to-Go: It gets crowded on the rooftop bar and patio, so it’s easier to grab seats for groups of two to four friends. But of course, bring as many people as you’d like.

The $ Factor: $$: the average for beer is $8; for wine, $12; and for cocktails, $14

The 4-1-1: There’s a funky old-school elevator that takes you from the ground level to the rooftop

I’ll Be Back…: To catch pristine views of the sweeping Santa Monica beach from the rooftop patio

The beach.

It’s there to frolic in its waters. To run alongside its shoreline for a killer workout. To layout on its golden sands. To play volleyball, make a bonfire, engage in water sports.

Yet sometimes, the beach is there simply to admire and bask in all its glory. And for times like that, we can head to Hotel Shangrila in Santa Monica.

It’s a classic hotel, situated on Ocean Ave., just across from the beach, with a hip art deco design and plenty of different bars to go savor a cocktail. The Dining Room, immediately to the right of the entrance, has an old boys’ club vibe to it, with dark, heavy woods, a strong, masculine bar and low, comfy seats. Suite 700 (pictured below) is a combination of the rooftop bar and outdoor patio. You can’t beat the views up there. On any given day, catch panoramic sights of the coast, stretching as far south as the Santa Monica Pier to as far north as the Malibu mountains. There’s also a lovely outdoor patio with cabanas set amongst lush, tropical trees by the pool on the ground level.

The hotel brings the same sophisticated approach that it does to its decor and ambiance to its cocktails. First, let’s discuss the presentation, because we’ve all heard it before – we feast with our eyes first. These cocktails aren’t going to just appear in front of you in any old manner. They have their own special glassware, their own unique garnishes, their own individual, distinct styles. I’m not ashamed to admit that my favorite, the Berry Apropos (pictured below – a blend of Belvedere Black Razz, St. Germain, muddled berries and champagne) won my doting affections because of how it winds up at my table. It’s poured over dry ice to make a smoking effect that lasts for a quite a while. I never knew I could have so much fun watching a drink.

Now, let’s talk taste. While some of the cocktails utilize intriguing items – like muddled red bell peppers in the St. Boniface, or lavender in The Lavendar Lush [sic], pictured below – for the most part, or at least for the handful of ones that I’ve tried, they’re still pretty conservative in taste.

Bartenders do a good job of properly merging and meshing each cocktail’s different ingredients together to for an end product that’s balanced and mellow. I know I’ve been to quite a few bars that arrogantly boast about using the finest of produce, the quirkiest of ingredients and the best of liquors, but then when you actually drink what they’ve made, it’s like, “what in the world is this?!” It just doesn’t all come together well.

But fortunately, that’s not the case here.

I have to also mention that the wines are divine. They have the standard whites and reds, but the selections are diverse and really, really good.

And, if you’re one of those people who likes to eat while they drink, all of the hotel's bars feature standard American classics with a European twist: lobster mac’n’cheese, salads, flatbreads, etc. Personally, I’m more in love with the cocktails, but I definitely will get down with the Parmesan “frites,” pictured below.

So the next time you’re looking for a low-key trip to the beach and unforgettable cocktails, I definitely encourage you to check out Hotel Shangrila.

Perhaps I’ll see you there on the rooftop soon!

Views from the rooftop!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Where To Eat: Brunch (and Lunch) @ Luca on Sunset

(This officially marks the 2nd post in a series that will highlight notable brunches in LA!) 

The Eats: Extremely healthy California fare with Italian influences (i.e., breakfast calzones, pizzas, salads, pastas and more)

The Vibes: Casual. A quiet tranquility seems to always permeate the space, even when packed with patrons.

With-Whom-to-Go: Anyone who would appreciate a light, healthy breakfast or brunch.

The $ Factor: $$; Considering the quality of ingredients used, I’d say the average of $11 for breakfast/brunch items and $10-$15 range for lunch items is a pretty good deal!

The 4-1-1: While brunch technically ends at 3pm, some breakfast/brunch items are served all day.

I’ll Be Back…: For the pastries and the desserts!

My idea of an ideal brunch tends to be on the hedonistic side - I'm talking about endless mimosas, big ornate buffets loaded with high calories, high cholesterol, lots of fatty goodness and tons of flavor.

So it might come as a slight surprise to find that my latest brunch recommendation is Luca on Sunset, which offers the exact opposite of my typical unhealthy binge. After being invited to experience brunch here this past spring and returning ever so often, I've come to appreciate that Luca is subtle and relaxed, serving wholesome food loaded with vitamins and fresh produce, and juice blends that I’d choose over mimosas any day.

The first word that comes to mind to describe this place is fresh. Fresh is evident in the café’s light brown and green décor, in the open kitchen that you have to pass by to grab a table and seat, in the fresh fruits and veggies proudly on display behind the cash registers.

But most importantly, this sense of freshness ends up in unique brunch selections. Many dishes have tons of vegetables, whether that’s three types of mushrooms in the 3 Mushrooms Omelette pictured below…

Or the roasted tomatoes and avocados in the Eggs & Turkey Bacon sandwich, pictured below.

Not only is there a noticeable effort to make super healthy dishes, but there’s an effort to make a variety of different kinds of breakfast dishes. You have savory dishes such as the perfectly warm and flaky Spinach Croissant, pictured below...

...and you also have sweeter options, like the Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancakes, pictured below (Note: I’d say are by far some of the best in the city. Although still grainier than regular pancakes, they’re actually very fluffy and flavorful).

Most importantly though, after eating here, you leave feeling the way that food should make you feel – energized, reinvigorated, replenished – not sluggish and ready for a 2-hour nap like many big brunches can make you feel.

I also can’t fail to mention that Chef/Owner Luca Giorgetti and his staff create such a warm, inviting, friendly atmosphere. I’ve watched Chef Luca work side by side his team in the kitchen and I’ve seen servers fondly say hello to customers, using their first name. The customer service is truly impeccable.

So whenever you’re in the mood to be kind to your body and give it the proper nourishment it deserves, I highly recommend going to Luca on Sunset. You can’t go wrong with this light California-Italian fare. See you there soon!

P.S. – more Luca on Sunset photos are here: Facebook Album

For More Information: 

Photo credit: Tulani Watkins and ME!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Where to Be Merry: Art @ The Downtown Art Walk

The Merriment: A celebration of the arts in galleries, stores, outdoor spaces and the streets on multiple blocks in downtown LA 

The Vibes: Eclectic, inspiring, artsy, intriguing

Good for: Whenever you want to see the local LA art scene

When-to-Go: Monthly; every 2nd Thursday of the month, in the evenings

With-Whom-to-Go: Everyone! Dates, friends, fam, kiddies, alone

The $ Factor: FREE, unless you of course, you’re planning to buy art

The 4-1-1: The main action takes place on South Main Street and South Spring Street, anywhere between East 3rd Street and West 7th Street, although in reality, there are other galleries and spaces in close proximity. Park your car nearby, wear comfy shoes and then stroll along to each different stop.

I’ll Be Back…: Because it’s always a different experience each time!

I initially hesitated to write about The Downtown Art Walk festivities, only because everybody and their mama seem to already know about it. 


It is one of the most well-known and popular functions around town and it is a great place to be merry, so I figured it had a right to be mentioned on Wilson’s “Where To” Guide. 

I think what’s attracted thousands of people of all ages, backgrounds and regions (and me!) to it throughout the years is the vast amount of diverse types of art to see and experience. Photography, music, dance, clothes, live installations, framed artwork – if you can imagine it, it’s there. I’ve seen mariachi bands in full traditional garb get crowds grooving in the middle of the street one night, just as I’ve seen big brass bands and James Brown impersonators making the same effect. 

From galleries that always open their doors every month, to pop-up spaces that come and go, it’s always fun to figure out where to find the best art each time. A hidden alleyway might be transformed into a mini-outdoor lounge complete with a DJ and bar…or an old, defunct theater that was probably breathtaking in its heyday will house dramatic live performances one Art Walk night. Cleaners and barbershops even display art at times, and recently, a former early-20th century chocolate shop with incredible Dutch-inspired chocolate tile work has been restored to house a high-end furniture store (pictured to the right). 

I also think part of Art Walk’s appeal is that it is ever evolving. Sure, long gone are the good old days when a mere handful of people wandered the streets to stop into a few galleries, which typically offered free wine (now, most places charge for booze and often times you can barely move without getting trampled on), but that’s OK! It’s simply a different vibe, with more art, more people, more food options and bigger brands – like Ben & Jerry’s - bringing their own unique flavor to the mix. It’ll be interesting to see how this event continues to grow, expand and change, season after season.

I’ll close out with a couple of snapshots of Art Walk scenes from the past four years and perhaps I’ll see you at an Art Walk Thursday sometime soon!

The Los Angeles Theater Center has rotating, temporary exhibits… 

...and if you go downstairs, there’s The Latino Museum. 
It’s small, but with some incredible pieces. 

View looking onto the street from one of my favorite venues, the Sprint Art Gallery. 
Always incredible art to see, from photographs to live installations, paintings and more. 

A parking lot transformed into an art vendor festival. 

A parking lot transformed into a food truck gathering spot. 

The Museum of Neon Art. 

A band getting down on the street corner. 

Think outside the box: shoes, jewelry, clothing … you’ll find it all at this Art Walk.