Sunday, December 23, 2012

And Where Do You "Where To?": Foundation for Second Chances and Board President Tara Davis-Quarrie

Anyone who knows me know that as passionate as I am about eating, drinking and being merry,
I’m even more passionate about giving back to the community.

And, even more importantly, I’m insanely passionate about my peers doing the same thing! My fellow college alum Tara Davis-Quarrie recently became President of the Board of Directors for the Foundation for Second Chances (FFSC), an extremely active nonprofit that provides community and educational resources to inner-city youth in the Los Angeles area, and which has also been selected as an official charity partner of the 2013 L.A. Marathon.

She invited me to cover FFSC’s 3rd Annual Leadership Awards Brunch earlier this month at Hollywood’s Premiere Supper Club. Proud of her for taking up such a noteworthy cause, I packed my camera, pen, pad and recorder with the quickness, excited to head over and learn more about what she and this organization are doing.

The brunch gathered about 50 movers-and-shakers and moguls to pay homage to the theme of the year, “A Beacon of Light.”

“We wanted to honor people in the community that have acted as a beacon of light in areas that don’t necessarily get a lot of light,” Ms. Davis-Quarrie explained to me. Award recipients (pictured below) included:

Service in Arts & Entertainment Award
Faith Evans, GRAMMY artist
Community Service Award 
Alejandro Menchaca, Esq., attorney and community activist
Volunteer of the Year Award
Su-yin Kok, Education
Service in Business Award
Brad Johnson and Govind Armstrong, Post and Beam
Service in Education Award
Fernando Pullum, Musican/
Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center

The brunch was quite a classy affair and included an informative video that explained why Founder/Executive Director Melissa Wyatt launched the NPO eight years ago, brief speeches from the honorees and even a guest appearance from GRAMMY artist Estelle to discuss an upcoming collaboration project with her own NPO, the All of Me Foundation.

As moving as the brunch was, it was even more meaningful to exclusively talk in-depth with Ms. Davis-Quarrie about her involvement, minutes before showtime.

Here’s what she had to share – read on!

What everyone should know about the Foundation for Second Chances: “I would just let them know that although there are many foundations in the Los Angeles area, the Foundation for Second Chances really prides itself on taking personal initiative and personal investment into all the programs that we do,” says Ms. Davis-Quarrie. “We have really, really dedicated volunteers. We make sure that the people who do volunteer with us are familiar with the organization prior to even offering their services, and a lot of people that we have onboard and on staff have grown up in the Los Angeles area and have a connection to it. For instance, we have a board member whose – her own nieces and nephews went through the program when they were young, so she has a very deep connection to it.”

The foundation’s programs: “We do after-school programs, mentoring, tutoring,” says Ms. Davis-Quarrie. “We also have the reading wheels program, which happens once a month, where we read to kids in the local area.”

“And our most recent program,” she adds. “We partnered with GRAMMY-winner Estelle’s foundation, the All of Me Foundation. We’re really excited to work with her on a number of projects, because her foundation focuses on empowerment of young girls, which is an area we have not tapped into yet. Although some organizations do like to focus on one thing, we like empowering youth in as many areas as possible.”

Biggest accomplishment for 2012: “[Partnering with the All of Me Foundation] was our biggest connection,” says Ms. Davis-Quarrie. “We have always been looking to partner with different organizations that are doing the same thing. We don’t believe that we can do everything to help the youth in L.A., but we’re always looking for people who are like-minded and organizations that are like-minded. And to find someone with that kind of reach and that kind of dedication to her own program was definitely a big thing for us.”

2013 expectations:  “We’re looking to have more involvement with the community,” says Ms. Davis-Quarrie. “We really want to get people to different mixers and what not, just to let people know this is who we are – this is what we do. If you want to be a part of it, you can, and it doesn’t mean that you have to be a board member. You could even be a volunteer. You could come read to kids one day a month.”

How she first got involved: “I realized that I was at a point in my career where I really wanted to get some board experience, and I reached out to a number of organizations that were looking for people; anybody that was really willing to help someone new,” she says. “I met with Melissa Wyatt, who’s the executive director. We had quite a few conversations before we decided that we would each be a good fit for one another, and that’s how I came onboard.”

Her stance on nonprofits and young adults: “There’s not a lot of young people on boards in the Los Angeles area,” she observes. “If they are, they’re looked at as the token young person, which I hope changes over time because we have plenty of ideas. And I think our generation right now is the biggest. We’ve created the biggest jump in nonprofit employment over the last few years. I think it’s important for us to get that experience, and to enjoy it.”

Her thoughts on the brunch: “All of our awardees today really exemplify to us what it meant to be a beacon of light in a small area,” Ms. Davis-Quarrie says. “Sometimes people forget as big as L.A. is, there’s small pockets, and sometimes those need a little bit of extra light shone on them. We wanted to do something intimate. We didn’t want a huge, big party – that’s not really what our goal was. We have events like that, but we really wanted to just gather a small group of people and say thank you so much for what you do in the community because we help the same community.”

Her “Where To” destination:
“I really like Corkbar, downtown L.A.,” Ms. Davis-Quarrie admits. “Have you ever been there?”

[Miss Wilson inserts: “Love that place.”] “I love Corkbar,” she laughs. “That’s one of my favorite places, definitely. And I like doing stuff kind of off the beaten path. I’m a big museum girl, different exhibits and what not. There is so much to do in L.A. – so, so much to do, and you can go – there are some museums I can go to over and over and over: the Getty in Malibu, the Villas in Malibu – that’s one of my favorites…”

“So yeah…I don’t really go out too, too much,” she concludes, laughing. “But when I do, other people usually make the decision. That’s why I would have to read your blog to find out!”

For More information and to get involved:
Foundation for Second Chances, Facebook, @2ndChancesInc

 * Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for reading ease.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Where to Travel: La Droguerie Vitroly @ Montpellier, France

This international post is provided by my dear friend, Ann-Sofie Perier,
who currently lives in Paris and is originally from Montpellier, France.

The Location: Montpellier, France

The Vibes: Ali Baba’s cave

When-to-Go: Open from 10a.m. to 7p.m. every day; closed on Sunday and Monday

The $ Factor: $ to $$

The 4-1-1:
If you’re nice and smiling, the owner André may invite you for a coffee in the café next to the boutique

 Be Back…: "Every time I want to find an original gift, or to refill my tea collection"

Montpellier is the most vibrant and youngest city of southern France. Not only is it sunny and cute, but people are amazingly surprising, with their accent and their typical Mediterranean kindness.

La Droguerie Vitroly, one of the oldest shops in the city, stands in the city center, on one of the most charming squares of Montpellier, the Place Castellane.

When you arrive on the square, the store stands out immediately, thanks to the multitude of objects in the window and in front of the door, and for its wooden facade, typical of the twenties, when the shop is closed (pictured to the right). This store is so unusual that it is sometimes the background of film sets! Indeed, it’s full of charm and reminiscent of ancient times…

Monsieur Estoul started to run La Droguerie in 1920, as a place where vineyard owners came to buy copper sulphate, women lipsticks and bigoudis [hair curlers].

In France, a “droguerie” is a store where you can buy all sorts of everyday things, and it is in this spirit that the shop has grown, and has been recognized over the years by the Montpellier inhabitants. The drugstore was the place where everything could be found.

André Vitroly, the current owner of the shop, is the 3rd Vitroly to manage this magical place. He obviously went on with the tradition of “you-can-find-anything-here,” but expanded to offer elaborate gifts. Thus, for more than 20 years, La Droguerie has helped its customers to discover new objects, whether boat collections, fine teas or fragrances.

The interior of the shop reveals fabulous products - “Made in France” branded - like Mariage Frères teas or Esteban’s home fragrances.

This place is a diverse and charming universe, with its old wooden floor and all the atypical and offset objects. In addition to the beautiful products offered, André and Danièle will surely make you want to come back!

Make sure you don’t miss La Droguerie when you travel to southern France!

For more information:

**Photos provided by Ann-Sofie

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Where to Eat: Produce-Driven Small plates @ UMAMIcatessen

The Eats: Swine, burgers and produce-driven small plates 

The Neighborhood: Downtown 

The Vibes: Woodsy dining hall style; casual, Top 40 music

Good for: A chance to taste seasonal autumn fare

With-Whom-To-Go: Popular date spot; accommodating for large groups

The $ Factor: Literally all over the board, ranging from sides that start at $3 to complete dinners that are $65

The 4-1-1: UMAMIcatessen is the creation from the Umami Burger team. Opening downtown earlier in 2012, the space Is actually the combination of five different kitchens, a bar and plenty of eye-catching contraptions...

I’ll Be Back…: For the macaroni salad

When I first heard about UMAMIcatessen, I thought: Wow. This place has a lot of...pork.

The restaurant says it uses every single part of the pig, and I believe it. I mean, swine manages to finagle its way in everything: fries, burgers, appetizers – even alcohol (the Bourbon Pig cocktail is a must to try, even if it's just to say you tried it).

But this fall, UMAMIcatessen introduced several new produce-driven – and pork-free – small plates to its menu.

Having a chance to experience the new items last month during a special invite, I was quite impressed with what I found.

The eight new dishes each had their own little personality, each incorporating very distinctive seasonings, spices and flavors. I also thought they were well-proportioned; ordering one to two nicely compliments a burger as a healthier alternative to fries, and getting two to three makes a pretty hearty, complete meal. And just as importantly, their price point is competitive – they're $3 to $5 bucks.

I tried all eight, and below are the ones I personally thought were the tastiest:

The Roasted Beets: incorporates three types of beets cooked two different ways that are rich ruby red, golden yellow and pale pink. They're very tender and flavorful, and the creamy dill creme fraiche adds a subtle flavor.

The Macaroni Salad: is not traditional macaroni salad. It has a flair to it, with a light Japanese dressing and raw veggies, including carrots and cabbage.

The Brussels sprouts: It's so stunning to me that Brussels sprouts have been so in this season. UMAMIcatessen sprinkles theirs with a light Parmesan cheer and lightly coats them in a honey mustard sauce.

The Quinoa Salad: It's hard for most people – including chefs – to make quinoa well, but the chefs here have succeeded. They've blended it with bell pepper, chickpeas and other veggies, and tossed it all in a citrus vinaigrette.

I applaud UMAMIcatessen for not only catering to the ravenous carnivore, but to the ravenous vegetarian/vegan as well. So the next time you're looking to please all palates, I highly recommend this downtown eatery. See you there soon!

For more information:
UMAMIcatessen; Facebook, @UmamiBurger

Monday, December 3, 2012

Where to be Merry: Lounging @ Delfini Citta

The Merriment: A restaurant-lounge that’s the perfect backdrop for events

The Vibes: Rustic meets urban meet contemporary

Good for: Those moments when you want to feel grown and sexy

When-to-Go: Evenings and nights

The $ Factor: Standard L.A. lounge prices; Cocktails average $12-$16

The 4-1-1: Delfini Citta is the sister restaurant to Caffe Delfini in Santa Monica

I’ll Be Back…: For those colorful martinis

Delfini Citta first fell onto my radar when I learned about its Thursday evening summer jazz sessions. When I went one breezy August night, listening to the sounds of a Brazilian samba band and sipping on my martini and sampling a few of the chef’s appetizers, I kept thinking to myself:

“This would be a great place to host an event.”

Clearly, I wasn’t the only one with that conviction because this past fall, I’ve returned to this Beverly Hills restaurant-lounge again and again for a plethora of exclusive events, ranging from birthday parties to alum mixers and a few “Good Fridays.”

I think what makes it such an attractive space is its ambiance. It’s intimate. It’s inviting. It’s quaint and cozy, charming in its own distinctive way. The exposed brick walls, green foliage and shiny wooden floors give it a metropolitan vibe, but the additions of lipstick bright red and teal blue couches gives the lounge a very unique, one-of-kind, creative feel that’s all it’s own.

As for the cocktails, they have a list of specialty cocktails made with premium liquors and fresh fruits that are just as colorful and eccentric as the interior seating. The True Romance (below) is a widely popular one and is definitely as dazzling to look at as it is to sip.

I’ve also been to functions where the bar has crafted special event drinks,
like the USC margarita, pictured below.

And while specialty and special event cocktails are all fine and dandy, I did want to see if the bartenders could handle an ordinary request. To my delight, the key lime martini I ordered was quite delicious.

It’s also the little things that count: there's plenty of seating on. I know we’ve all been out and there’s been no seating whatsoever, or, it’s all “reserved,” with gnarly bouncers protectively lurking over it as if they were guarding the White House. But I appreciate that there are bar stools, couches and even chairs next to plenty of tables.

So the next time you find yourself on Wilshire Blvd., in need of a good cocktail and looking for that lovely lounge experience, I say head to Delfini Citta. See you there soon!

For more information: Delfini Citta