Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Where to Holiday: Halloween 2014

I’ve seen scores and scores of Halloween lists floating around the internet and popping up in my inbox, so I decided to throw my two cents into the mix and create a specially curated 
#WilsonsGuide Top 10 list of Halloween activities in the Los Angeles area.

From theme parks to festive parades and drink specials, there’s surely something to satisfy everyone, whether you feel like dressing up, dressing down, going hard or taking the more chill option.

Read on to see what’s happening in the city!

10. Halloween Horror Nights @ Universal Studios

The Merriment: Seven mazes, five scare zones and a Terror Tram, all within an area of some of the most recognizable sets from the most beloved movies

The Location: The Valley

The Vibes: Frightening, terrifying, spectacular

Good for: Groups of friends; must be 13+

When-To-Go: now until Sunday, Nov. 2, 7 p.m. – 2 a.m. nightly

The $ Factor: $62 - $219, depending on type of ticket purchased; options include GA, Day/Night Combo, Front of Line Pass and VIP Experience

Parking Situation: A parking lot that's $16 - $35 per car

The 4-1-1: Sure, Universal Studios is where movies are made, but on Halloween, it’s where terror reigns rampant. Arguably the theme park with the best Halloween attractions, the Studios transforms into a playground of abmoninations. There’s creepy mazes filled with unexpected twists and turns, scare zones, the Terror Tram, and of course “scareactors” all over the place, ready to scare the living daylights out of you at any given moment. Everyone should experience Halloween Horror Night at Universal Studios at least once!

For more information: Website

9. Booritos @ Chipotle

The Eats: $3 "boorritos," bowls, salads, tacos and/or kids meals for anyone dressed in costume

The Location: Multiple Locations

The Vibes: Casual

When-To-Go: Friday, Oct. 31, 5 pm. – close

The 4-1-1: On the day of Halloween, Chipotle is continuing its annual fundraiser for its Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, helping to raise funds that will go towards sustainable food initiatives—to add to the more than $2 million that's already been raised. Chipotle burritos are already mad crazy delicious in general, and at this price, it just makes sense to satisfy any pre- or post-Halloween festivities hunger pains here.

For more information: Website

The Merriment: Blocks upon blocks of live entertainment, food vendors and the best costumes in the city

The Location: West Hollywood

The Vibes: Creative and fun

Good for: All ages

When-To-Go: Friday, Oct. 31, 6 – 11 p.m.

The $ Factor: FREE

Parking Situation: Several nearby parking structures offer parking; street parking extremely limited and far away.

The 4-1-1: Probably one of the liveliest and largest Halloween celebration in the city, the West Hollywood Halloween Carnival brings out some of the most entertaining and amusing costumes ever. Take, for example, the one pictured above, where my friends and I met two guys dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz—if she hadn’t made it out of Kansas. You can literally spend hours simply ogling over all of the different costumes. But, aside from people-watching, there are tons of activities throughout the night: a costume contest, live music and many of the nearby bars and restaurants are great to check out, and there will be food trucks stationed around. 

For more information: Website

7. The Spirit and Voodoo of New Orleans @ Sassafras

The Merriment: A splendidly Southern saloon with live music

The Location: Hollywood

The Vibes: Charming, intimate, genteel

Good for: 21+ guests

When-To-Go: Friday, Oct. 31, 9:30 p.m. – 2 a.m.

Parking Situation: Street parking

The 4-1-1: Stepping into Sassafras on any given day is literally like stepping into a different era and location; it literally feels as if you’ve gone back to the 19th century, to a Southern state like Georgia or Louisiana. And on Halloween, this Hollywood bar is kicking up the ante by ushering in the “spirit and voodoo of New Orleans.” The band Reverend Tall Tree will play live blues and there will be a tarot card reader and a fortune teller. Aside from libations and Voodoo Punch, there’s also a costume contest with prizes given to the three best dressed.

For more information: Website

6. The Hobgoblin @ The Raymond/1886

The Drinks: Creatively designed libations with fantastic, one-of-a-kind names and eclectic flavors

The Location: Pasadena

The Vibes: Vintage, cozy, nostalgic

Good for: Small groups

When-To-Go: Friday – Sunday, beginning at 5 p.m.

The $ Factor: $8 - $14 per cocktail

Parking Situation: Valet parking

The 4-1-1: Already a #WilsonsGuide favorite, this former hotel-turned-drinking parlor and restaurant has a hauntingly intriguing past that includes decadent wealth lost during the Great Depression, destructive fires and alleged ghosts that still visit the property. So, it’s the perfect location to partake in a more leisurely subdued Halloween, sipping hand-crafted cocktails, like the special for the weekend, the Hobgoblin. Pictured above, this cocktail is a blend of Applejack brandy, house-made pumpkin syrup, cinnamon and other ingredients, all garnished by a chocolate spider web. A food menu is also available.

For more information: Website

5. The Purge: Breakout

The Merriment: A 30-minute interactive "game" where you must work with members of your team to escape before “the purge” begins

The Location: Mid-City

The Vibes: Suspenseful, psychologically thrilling

Good for: Groups up to six people; must be 18+

When-To-Go: Now until Sunday, Nov. 2, beginning in the afternoon, going until midnight

The $ Factor: $27.50 - $30 plus fees

The 4-1-1: Based on the action-horror film The Purge: Anarchy and made by the film’s producers, Universal Pictures and Blumhouse, this interactive maze is based on the movie and forces you to solve collaborative mind games together in order to move through its various levels and eventually escape it...just in time before "the purge" begins. Four semi-trucks are stationed on Beverly Blvd. Nondescript on the outside, they house cramped cages that will hold you and your group members, dilapidated living rooms, dark, narrow hallways and bloodcurdling surprises in the most unexpected places.

For more information: Website

4. Freaky Friday Halloween Party By The Sea @ Marina Seafood & Steakhouse Restaurant Waterfront

The Merriment: A costume party for the grown and sexy

The Location: Southbay

The Vibes: Lounge, restaurant

Good for: 21+ although 25+ is preferred

When-To-Go: Friday, Oct. 31, 9:30 p.m. – 2 a.m.

The $ Factor: $10 online or before 10:30 p.m.

The 4-1-1: It's a night of sultry R&B, rhythmic reggae and rare grooves. Music will be provided by DJ X-Treme, the self-proclaimed Original BasementSoul Disciple, and DJ Lady Jamar. There will also be a costume contest with a $500 prize. This event is hosted by Vince Gilbert of BlackStar Productions, Ricky Johnson of The Peepgame Group, Mark Bruce of Mark "The Man" Productions and a good friend of mine, Darryl Holmes of Southern Bot ENT.

For more information: Website

3. The Monster’s Ball @ Arena

The Merriment: The self-proclaimed “Sexiest Halloween Party Ever”

The Location: Hollywood

The Vibes: Club

Good for: 21+

When-To-Go: Friday, Oct. 31, 9 p.m. – 3 a.m.

The $ Factor: $15 - $20 plus service charge

Parking Situation: Onsite parking

The 4-1-1: With hosts Ronnie from New Edition/BBD and Shamari DeVoe and DJs EQUE, Mike Smoove and Tagg Team on the 1’s and 2’s, it’s bound to be a night of grooving to R&B, hip-hop and all the 90’s classics. There will be $1,000 costume contest, so be sure to dress for the occasion, and bottle service is available. This is brought to you by Ron & Shamari DeVoe, Diamond Productions, M.S. Entertainment, Doc & Disco, BlackNLA, Honey Collective, TG3 Ent. and Herb The Ent. Spec.

For more information: Website

2. 6th Annual Los Angeles Hayride @ The Old Zoo

The Merriment: Mazes, scare zones and an actual hayride

The Location: Griffith Park

The Vibes: Frightening, ghoulish, chilling

Good for: 8+

When-To-Go: Now until Friday, Oct. 31, 7 p.m. until closing time

The $ Factor: Individual GA; $30 - $58; Season Pass $149; Private wagon for up to 30 people $1,395

The 4-1-1: The “Old Zoo” in Griffith Park has been transformed into a lair where it seriously seems as though the worst of what you could imagine about humanity exists. It’s literally like all of the devastating images from your worst nightmares and from horror movies are now in one location. Attractions include its namesake the Haunted Hayride, the Purgatory House of the Horseman, a Haunted Village, the In Between Dark Maze and the all new Seven Sins Sideshow. Expect not just creepy figures, but flying creatures, tons of special effects and, to even get a few liquids thrown on you.

For more information: Website

1. The 15th Annual Día De Los Muertos @ Hollywood Forever Cemetery

The Merriment: A spirited celebration of life and death within one of the most famous cemeteries in the city

The Location: Hollywood

The Vibes: Festive, colorful, inviting

Good for: All ages

When-To-Go: Saturday, Nov. 1, noon until midnight

The $ Factor: $20 for GA; free children under 4 and adults over 65

The 4-1-1: Day of the Dead—or Día de Los Muertos—is a Mexican holiday with origins in indigenous Aztec culture that’s widely commemorated here in Los Angeles. It pays joyous homage to loved ones who are no longer with us. While there are many Día de Los Muertos celebrations throughout the city, the one at Hollywood Forever is a force to be reckoned with, as it takes place in an actual cemetery, where many Día de Los Muertos celebrations have occured traditionally. There will be live music and performances, more than 100 decorated altars, Aztec dancers, a Cathedral art exhibit and much more. Guests are also highly encouraged—and do—dress in the Calaca tradition, painting their faces as skulls and wearing traditional garb.

For more information: Website

Where will you end up? Let me know in the comments below. See you at one of these places soon!

Friday, October 24, 2014

And Where Do You “Where To?”: Recording Artist Erica Campbell

At the Grand Opening of celebrity stylist Goo-Goo Atkins’ showroom The Style Suite last week, I caught up with the legendary, award-winning singer, Erica Campbell.

As half of the powerhouse duo Mary Mary, Erica Campbell has been on the scene, changing the face of gospel music—and music in general—for more than 15 years. In particular, 2014 has also been an extremely exciting and busy year for her, with the March debut of her first solo album Help, the continuation of her successful reality show Mary Mary and performances in multiple cities, worldwide.

And now this fall, she’s revealed her latest venture: a nail polish line, EC x CC!

During our talk at the showroom's opening event, Erica shared with me more about her new line, her business ventures and of course, where she "where to's" in Los Angeles. Read more below!

WilsonsGuide: What was the inspiration behind this launch? Why now?
Erica Campbell: I love nail polish. I get my nails done all the time. I have two daughters and seven sisters. So nail polish is always somewhere in my house. It’s something that I love. And, I think it’s great for a mom, a woman, a college student—whoever—to have a little glamour in a bottle of your own, as opposed to going to the [nail] shop, looking on the walls and sometimes what we’re looking for is not there. Take your own color—you know exactly what you’re getting. You know there’s nail thinner in it, you know that it won’t crack, that it’s going to polish, that it’s a good product. I love to offer good product, whether it’s nail polish or music.

WilsonsGuide: Do you have a favorite color?
Erica Campbell: That’s so hard—that’s not easy at all! Today I’m wearing hot pink. I do like the blue, and the lime…and the red…and the nude. I like them all (laughs)!

WilsonsGuide: I want to ask you another hard question: because you’re in a lot of different professional ventures—you sing, you have this new line, you have a reality show—is there one business venture that is closer to your heart than another?
Erica Campbell: The closest thing to my heart is my kids and making sure that I leave a legacy for them. That I teach them how to be responsible; that I let them know that you can work and be successful and still be a loving mom and nurture them. That’s what’s most important.

The music I would say, because it’s ministry. It is not just me being fabulous. It’s about inspiration. It’s about motivating people and letting them know that there is an answer, that there is help and that there is hope and you’re not in it alone. That part of the music is really what I love the most. When I know I’m touching lives and changing lives, that’s the most important thing.

    Pictured: Goo-Goo Atkins and Erica Campbell, at The Style Suite Showroom Grand Opening

WilsonsGuide: My blog is all about where to eat, drink and be merry in Los Angeles, so do you have a favorite restaurant, or favorite lounge or anywhere you like to go?
Erica Campbell: I love Katana. It’s seriously one of our faves, but I could also do Wokcano. But I’m a real L.A. girl, so you got to include Roscoe’s in there, too. I just mix it up! I’m a little high end—I could do Crustacean, but I could do Roscoe’s. I could go any way (laughs).

* If you haven’t already, check out my post covering The Style Suite Grand Opening here and also my interview with Erica Campbell's sister Goo-Goo Atkins here!*

Pictured: Erica Campbell with models at The Style Suite Showroom Grand Opening

Thursday, October 23, 2014

And Where Do You “Where To?”: Celebrity Stylist Goo-Goo Atkins

Last week was the Grand Opening of Mary Mary castmember and celebrity stylist Goo-Goo Atkins’ Style Suite Showroom. Not only did I attend, but I also had the chance to chat with her during a quick one-on-one interview, which is posted below.

I have to say—she’s just as stylish and elegantly composed in person as she is on the Mary Mary television series. And, it was great to get a glimpse of her personality. She’s fast-talking, brutally honest, hard-working and brilliantly business savvy, but most importantly, she’s proving that she’s a force to be reckoned with in the fashion industry.

During our conversation, we talked about everything from advice for starting a business to fall fashions, what her new showroom would offer and of course, where she “where to’s” in Los Angeles.

Read more below and if you haven’t already, you can check out my post covering the Style Suite Showroom's Grand Opening here!

WilsonGuide: Why did you decide to open up a showroom now?
Goo-Goo: The main thing is, there aren’t very many options for plus-sized women or even curvy women. In the industry, once you become a size six, they start looking at you like, “uh oh, she’s getting fat.” So then anything from [size] eight on up, they treat you like, “we can’t make clothes in your size.”

There are options out there, and so I went and got those options and I found a space. And I wanted it to be somewhere centrally located. I have 24-hour access to the space. I can come in here any time—doesn’t matter what time [clients] land, or if they want to be private, at nighttime, it’s secured—and we can come in here and I can get them styled for their event. Let’s say it’s the day of the Grammy’s, you can come in here by 12, leave by 2, with your hair, your make up, your clothes, everything completely done.

But, the main thing  like I said was, women of larger size, there were no options. When you go to showrooms, there are no options for them. They have like 200 dresses in size 2-4, but anything 8, 10, 12, 14, 22, 32, 24, there are no options. Maybe one or two, and they look like our grandmothers’ dresses.

So, I got my designing hat on and I designed a lot of things and some plus sizes and bought some stuff, but I just want the ladies to know that I got you covered!

WilsonGuide: Can you talk a little bit about the designers who are featured in the showroom?
Goo-Goo: Well I’m going to tell you something. A lot of the designers that I pull from, they stopped returning emails when I told them I wanted some wholesale pieces—to buy pieces to put in here for my clients. I didn’t get responses back. That’s why I said I put my designer hat on and called some seamstress friends of mine. Sir Algernon, he’s a great designer and he sent me some original pieces and then I said, “now I need this, I need that!” He played seamstress and helped my dreams come true.

Jared Lamar, another local designer...Goo-Goo (laughs).

WilsonGuide: Can you give us some fashion tips for the fall?
Goo-Goo: Stay warm. We here in California, sometimes we want to wear certain things and the weather doesn’t really call for it. I love my Uggs too, but I just want to wear them when it actually is a little cool out. And then when you wear them, wear them warm. Don’t wear them with a mini skirt, where your legs are freezing and then you have on a tank top, but your feet are burning. Just, make sense.

I love layering. I like the monochromatic layering too. I know color blocking was a big thing last season and it still is, but I like slight variations of the same color, like four different greys on. I love that.

WilsonGuide: What advice do you have for any aspiring business owners, in launching your showroom?
Goo-Goo: That is the first time I have ever been asked that question because this is so new to me. Do you know this whole thing happened in 27 days?

WilsonGuide: I did not know that! Congratulations—wow.
Goo-Goo: Yes. 27 days. Everything. This store was a big, ugly box, and all of this happened. Make sure you get your business straight. I’m passionate about styling and the creative element, but I had to make sure that my business was tight, so you won’t come here next week and there’s a padlock on the door because I didn’t handle my business right. Insurance, everything—make sure everything is tight. Take your time and get that information. Luckily, I was in the position where I had connections with people and I called them and I said, “hey, I need to take care of this, that and the other,” and sometimes they would say, “well, you’re gonna need this and that and that,” and so I put it together that way, and really, God just intervened and helped me to get it done.

But I would say make sure your business is straight before you go into it because sometimes creative people, we just want to hurry up and “oh, it’s open now!” but it’s like, it’s going to be shut down because you kind of did it raggedy.

WilsonGuide: My blog is about where to eat drink and be merry in Los Angeles, so do you have a favorite restaurant, lounge, bar, social destination?
Goo-Goo: You know what, wherever my friends are. I love Bottega Louie. It’s really cute there. The food is good there, it’s centrally located. But, then I go across the street to Wokcano, too. I found a place not too far—I think it’s called Food Haus and they were very, very good, so that’s probably going to be my new eating spot. But, wherever my friends are.

Read more about the Grand Opening of Goo-Goo's Style Suite Showroom here

* This interview has been edited for length.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Where to be Merry: The Style Suite Showroom @ LA Mart

Perhaps like me, you first saw Goo-Goo Atkins on the hit reality show Mary Mary, effortlessly styling her two older sisters Erica Campbell and Tina Campbell from the award-winning gospel group Mary Mary. Season after season, Goo-Goo has managed to pull off hundreds of femininely fierce and elegantly graceful looks—for her sisters, herself and also for her numerous clients, who include Michelle Williams, Vanessa Williams and Niecy Nash.

And now, she’s taking her fashion expertise to the next level: 
she’s opened The Style Suite Showroom in the LA Mart, downtown!

I had the opportunity to attend The Style Suite Showroom’s Grand Opening last week, to get an up-close-and-personal look to see what it’s all about. I was joined by scores of Goo-Goo’s friends, family, fashion and industry insiders, members of the media, and several of her sisters, pictured below, lending their faithful support.

From left to right: Shanta Atkins, Erica Campbell, Goo-Goo Atkins, Maliea Atkins and Tina Campbell 

Catering specifically to curvy and full-figured women, The Style Suite Showroom provides clients with formal wear and evening attire for special occasions such as photo shoots, award shows and any other time you’re in the mood to throw on a fabulous gown or dress. Designers include Sir Algernon and Jared Lamar—and also Goo-Goo herself. The showroom is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it also offers access to additional services, including hair and makeup, and even a full service media room.

During a brief conversation when she was able to steal away for a moment, Goo-Goo revealed to me that the entire showroom had miraculously come together in a mere 27 days. But, from the looks of it, you’d never even know! Everything appeared extremely well-thought out and like it had been planned months in advance, down to the tiniest details. From the grey and gold-striped accent walls to the numerous candles scattered throughout and the velvety red roses on the desk near the entrance, every aspect had an inviting touch of glam, class and elegance.

The approximately 40-50 guests in attendance also had a chance to see exactly what fashion options will be available at The Style Suite Showroom, as a handful of models showed off stunning styles throughout the evening. 

Guests also had a chance to feel like models themselves, as hairstylist Micha Brown worked her magic on guests' hair...

...makeovers were provided...

...and celebrity manicurist Nettie Davis painted nails, using polish from Erica Campbell’s new nail polish line, EC x CC.

DJ Mal-Ski, pictured below, spun a medley of R&B and gospel hits…

…and Celebrity Chef Sisely Cierra conjured up a delightful spread of finger foods, including some killer banana cupcakes, pictured below!

Goo-Goo got on the mic a couple of times to dish out gracious thank yous and to share more about her journey towards opening the showroom. “Sorry that I did not tell you guys what I was doing, because I wanted to do it myself,” she admitted at one point. She also explained more about the pieces donned by the models and towards the end, added as a model strutted in front of the crowd, “she’s wearing one of the pieces that is exclusive to the Style Suite, where you can come and get everything done here—your one-stop shop for your red carpet event…”

A big congrats to Goo-Goo for opening The Style Suite Showroom—I love seeing successful entrepreneurs launch their own business ventures and do it with such finesse and loveliness. So the next time you’re looking for a fly outfit to wear to any very special occasion, head down to The Style Suite Showroom to find the perfect attire.

See you there soon!

For more information:

The Reef (LA Mart)
1933 S. Broadway Street #166
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Where to Eat: A Norwegian Dinner @ The Strand House

The Eats: A six-course Norwegian Seafood Dinner with wine pairings

The Location: Manhattan Beach

The Vibes: bustling, eye-catching, worldly

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef Greg Hozinsky, Pastry Chef Stephanie Franz

The 4-1-1: The Strand House is part of the Zislis Group, which manages several restaurants and also Shade Hotel, another #WilsonsGuide favorite.

Parking Situation: Metered parking on nearby streets and in an adjacent parking lot

I’ll Be Back…: To try out The Strand House’s regular menu as well!

For the week of Oct. 7 – Oct. 12, The Strand House and the Norwegian Seafood Council hosted a Norwegian Seafood Tasting Dinner, presented by Executive Chef Greg Hozinsky and Pastry Chef Stephanie Franz.

Hozinsky, pictured below, was recently inducted into the Norwegian Seafood Council’s Chef's Culinary Board, which comprises six other chefs* from around the country who are helping promote awareness and consumption of Norwegian seafood, including King crab, salmon and cod, and other fish and shellfish. The newly inducted board members even traveled to Norway to get up-close-and-personal with the country’s cuisine, chefs and culture, bringing back what they experienced to share at their respective restaurants.

On Wednesday, Oct. 8, a small group of bloggers, reporters, marketers and a member of the Norwegian Seafood Council gathered to eat six courses created by Hozinsky and inspired by the flavors of Norway. The dishes didn’t originate from traditional Norwegian recipes; instead, they incorporated subtle Norwegian influences while also borrowing from a host of other cuisines, including Japanese, French and Italian. For example, Hozinsky explained that the presentation of each course was more French in style rather than Norwegian. Prior to this dinner, I had no experience whatsoever with Norwegian food, so it was a great learning opportunity, especially with Hozinsky graciously explaining each course.

Here’s a look at what was on the special menu, with all seafood hailing from Norway:

An Amuse-Bouche
(Unfortunately, I actually missed the Amuse-Bouche, however, I was later informed it was a bite-sized portion of cod.)

First Course: Smoked Norwegian Salmon ‘Pastrami’ paired with a 2013 Kinero ‘Alice’ Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles
For the initial course, the salmon went through the same process as beef to become “pastrami.” Served chilled, the salmon was accompanied by pickled beets along with tomatoes and mustard greens in a light, tangy vinaigrette. This dish by far was the most creatively presented, as servers poured liquid nitrogen horseradish sauce on top of everything, causing steamy smoke to rise in every direction.

Second Course: Pan Roasted Fresh Norwegian King Crab paired with a 2013 Trefethen ‘Oak Knoll’ Dry Riesling, Napa Valley
Large chunks of meaty King Crab rested on top of a creamy corn pudding in a brown butter broth with fresh herbs. The flavors and textures stood in an interesting contrast with one another—the velvetiness of the corn pudding juxtaposed to the gritty bitterness of the greens; the density of the crab meat differing from the thinness of the broth.

Third Course: Norwegian Halibut paired with a 2012 Tantara Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County
Probably one of the most filling courses of the night, the halibut was served warm, on top of a white smoked sunchoke puree and underneath a medley of cauliflower, mushrooms and hijiki (Japanese seaweed). 

Hozinsky explained that it was very typical to use forage vegetables in Norwegian cuisine, sharing a story about how when visiting a chef’s residence in Norway, this chef walked right out of his home and into his garden—on the edge of a forest—to pick shrubs to be used in that evening's dinner. Hozinsky took this same concept of utilizing forage vegetables to create this third course, but instead of choosing Norwegian veggies, he picked Asian ingredients: Matsutake mushrooms, the Japanese seasoning yuzukoshō and the hijiki. Talk about a fusion of cuisines!

Fourth Course: Venison Strip Loin paired with a 2011 Alonia Red Wine, Spain
While not seafood, venison made its way onto the menu, and I’m most certainly glad that it did, because it was divine! The venison was tender and moist in the middle and crisp on the edges, thanks to being rolled in pumpkin seeds. Grilled chicories in a light balsamic vinegar and a root vegetable mille-feuille accompanied it (mille-feuille is a puff pastry that’s customarily filled with sweet ingredients like custards and fruits; this one in particular had potatoes, turnips and other root vegetables in layers of thin pastry strips, all held together by a garlic-onion paste). Reduced huckleberries and a pumpkin purée added a welcomed sweetness to the meat and the vegetables.

Fifth Course: Fried Brioche with Lingonberry paired with a 2009 Chateau Des Charmes ‘Vidal’ Ice Wine, Canada
Pastry Chef Stephanie Franz also integrated Norwegian touches into the desserts she created for the occasion. Dusted with sugar, the Fried Brioche, which is made in house, sat on a bed of pistachios and whiskey sabayon, a French take on the Italian dessert called zabaglione, which is basically a very light custard. The brioche itself was flaky and sweet, and the best part is that it was filled with a a thick lingonberry sauce. The dark, rich sweetness of the tart lingonberries nicely complemented the creamy, airy and lightly-colored sabayon.

Before opening it: 

After opening it: 

Sixth Course: Warm Almond Apple Cake paired with a 2009 Chateau Des Charmes ‘Vidal’ Ice Wine, Canada
The last course of the night was a warm almond apple cake accompanied by Geitost (a Scandinavian whey cheese), cardamom ice cream, cubed apples in brown butter and strawberries with cream, all topped with subtle hints of mint. Franz explained to me that apples were used frequently in Norwegian dishes, which is why she chose apples for the cake and on the side. It was the perfect autumn dessert!

Check back with The Strand House to see what other Norwegian-influenced entrees and desserts will be on the menu in the fall!

For more information:
Facebook, @strandhousemb

*Additional chefs inducted into the Norwegian Seafood Council: Paul Backer (Tilia, Minneapolis); Steven Brown (Tilia, Minneapolis); Neal Fraser (BLD, Los Angeles); Tim Graham (Travelle, Chicago); David Seigal (Cull & Pistol, New York); Bart Vandaele (Belga Café and B Too, Washington, DC)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Where To Be Merry: Choir Boy @ The Geffen Playhouse

The Merriment: A theatrical production about a young man striving to pursue his dreams

The Location: Westwood

The Vibes: Inspiring, thought-provoking, resounding

When-To-Go: Now until Oct. 26, Tuesday – Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The $ Factor: $39 - $79

The Names behind the scenes: Director Trip Cullman; Playwright Tarell Alvin MCCraney; Actors Jeremy Pope, Nicholas L. Ashe, Grantham Coleman, Caleb Eberhardt, Leonard Kelly-Young, Donovan Mitchell and Michael A. Shepperd

The 4-1-1: There are a variety of pre- and post-show Signature Series events, including Talk Back Tuesdays, a Q&A session with the cast and audience; Girls Night Out, an after-party, with drinks, appetizers and brand showcases; Lounge Fridays, a pre-show happy hour; and Wine Down Sundays, featuring wine tastings.

Parking Situation: A $7 parking lot is adjacent to the theater; validated parking is available at the Trader Joe’s lot, two blocks from the theater.

This fall, Choir Boy comes to the West Coast for the first time at The Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, after originally premiering at London’s Royal Court Theatre and making its American debut at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York last year. 

Choir Boy is a coming-of-age drama that unfolds at the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys—a strict, all-male boarding school that aims to groom boys not merely into men, but more specifically, into Drew men. The 90-minute play begins with the main character Pharus Young (Jeremy Pope, pictured below) as a high school junior, singing a solo selection at senior graduation. It follows him into the fall semester and beyond, during his zealous quest to do what’s never been done before: secure the coveted soloist part at graduation once again, this time at his own ceremony.

Pharus is easy to fall in love with, a charismatic individual who has a bright, bubbly disposition and a zealous passion for the prestigious school choir that he leads. Surrounding Pharus are four young men—Junior, Bobby, David and Anthony (Nicholas L. Ashe, Donovan Mitchell, Caleb Eberhardt and Grantham Coleman respectively)—all living, taking classes and singing in choir together. Headmaster Marrow (Michael A. Shepperd) is the authoritarian figure struggling to steer his students in the right direction, and Mr. Pendleton (Leonard Kelly-Young), is a retired teacher who returns to Drew, attempting to inspire the boys in his Creative Thinking class.

The focal point of Choir Boy remains on Pharus, chronicling the challenges he faces with being gay and pursuing his musical aspirations in a socially conservative environment. He loves the prep school, considering it to be a refuge that provides him with space to be himself. But as much as he strives to be a proud Drew man, he struggles to be recognized as one by his peers and superiors alike. His former roommate had previously abandoned him. A fellow student hisses a derogatory slur at him during his solo performance at graduation, causing him to abruptly halt, subsequently ruining the show, according to Headmaster Marrow, who outright criticizes his performance. The headmaster also constantly reprimands and corrects Pharus, threatens to pull him from choir and instructs him to watch how he "flicks" his wrists.

And truthfully, as confident and passionate as he is about his musical prowess, radiantly shining in the limelight, there’s a gut-wrenchingly painful insecurity that subtly haunts Pharus at times. Thus, the question emerges: can Pharus learn to be comfortable in his own skin and find acceptance at the school he loves so much? That answer is complex.

Pharus isn’t alone in his struggle to navigate life's twists and turns. His four peers each wrestle with their own trials and tribulations, from dealing with financial hardships, death and academics, to selecting occupations, coming to terms with their own sexuality and feeling isolated from family members. They turn to one another for support and camaraderie, often times butting heads, but sharing just as many moments of enlightenment as moments of rage, as many laughs as arguments. They have different backgrounds, interests and aspirations, but they’re united by their devotion to music and to their prized choir, demonstrated in their ethereal harmonization of both gospel standards and original compositions.

Like a rebellious adolescent itself, Choir Boy also addresses and confronts many longstanding, revered traditions and beliefs within the African-American community. Nothing is spared, as it questions the origins of spirituals, the notion of the barbershop as the sanctified retreat for black men and the assumed privilege that legacy brings. It challenges the use of the word “n***a” between blacks and the problematic yet perpetuated stigma associated with “snitching” to authorities (“A Drew man doesn’t tell on his brother,” Pharus confidently proclaims, refusing to reveal who insulted him during his performance at graduation). The characters explore these issues in their engaging intellectual conversations with one another and also through effortless dialogue, quick banter and smooth jokes. Their insightful, articulate exchanges are accented by brief moments of song that are so delightful that there should certainly be more of them throughout the entire production.

The chemistry between the actors is natural and relaxed, with the young men displaying an insatiable, contagious energy. The stage design is brilliant in its simplicity, with basic, sharp blacks and reds creating a moodily brooding atmosphere. Subtle nuances in the design elements augment the themes expressed in the dialogue and support the overall message of the production. The tense, hissing sound of steam seductively seeping onto the stage in the shower scenes as the men strip down to their bare skin; the bright, floral shower cap that Pharus wears—his posters of Beyonce, Oprah, Frank Ocean and Abraham Lincoln with a large bow Photoshopped onto his head, blatantly juxtaposed to his roommate Anthony’s masculine, baseball-centric posters—they all help to subtly reveal more about Pharus' idiosyncrasies in each scene.

There are plenty of amusing, lighthearted exchanges, but there are more interactions that expose the growing pains of being an adolescent—of becoming a unique individual only to discover that sometimes there may be a conflict between being true to one’s identity and with adhering to larger, social expectations. Choir Boy presents this life lesson in a captivating and bittersweet manner, revealing in the end that while the ones closest to us may betray and hurt us, friendship, loyalty—and therefore acceptance—can be found sometimes in the most unexpected places.

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*Photo credit for the first three photos: Michael Lamont