Monday, December 12, 2016

Where to Be Merry: sweetgreen's Grand Opening Party @ PLATFORM Culver City

The Merriment: A celebration of sweetgreen's arrival to PLATFORM, a vibrant outdoor complex that comprises almost 30 permanent and temporary retail stores, eateries and other places of interests

The Location: Culver City

The Vibes: Outdoors, upscale, artistic

Good for: Families, Couples, Alone, Groups (large and small)

When-To-Go: Daily

The $$ Factor: Prices vary

The 4-1-1: The complex now sits on space that was once a car dealership

Parking Situation: Paid parking garage directly across the street

I’ll Be Back…: For all of the dining options and gorgeous landscaping!

Last week, I was invited to and attended a super fun function — the sweet green Culver City Grand Opening.

This health conscious eatery opened a new test kitchen, and to honor the occasion, threw a high-energy winter soiree. Underneath a canopy of trees on the outdoor patio, a DJ spun hip-hop classics, an open bar decked out complimentary beers and wines, and of course, tasty bite-sized samples of sweetgreen specialty dishes, like the citrus ahi tuna crudo pictured below, made their way around to hundreds of guests throughout the night.

But not only was this an evening to showcase sweetgreen; it was also a night to experience PLATFORM — a high-end, open-air retail space right off Washington Blvd. in Culver City that officially opened in Spring 2016.  Here's a look at some of the shops, eateries and brands that call it home and how they also celebrated sweetgreen's new launch that night:

Van Leeuwen dished out gourmet artisan ice cream with fancy toppings like cacao nibs, crunchy walnuts and colorful sprinkles. Aside from out-of-the-ordinary flavors like Sicilian pistachio and early grey tea, they also serve vegan ice cream that’s pretty tasty, too.

The Shop, which is a joint venture between designer Tom Dixon and Curve fashion specialty boutique owner Nevena Borissova, hosted a pop-up beauty bar in its breathtaking modern-meets-chic space. Underneath the glow of regal lighting fixtures and inches away from some of the most sophisticated pieces of clothing I’ve seen, ladies got glammed up with manicures, mini-makeovers and hair styling.

LOQUI stayed open, offering Mexican street food favorites, such as tacos, quesadillas and amazing creamy guacamole topped with cojita cheese, pictured below.

Aesop welcomed visitors into its store with a decadent wine and cheese spread and talked skin, hair and body regimens. They also provided complimentary take-home samples.

The star of the night sweetgreen also opened its doors, providing a sneak look at its sleek interior and giving guests a chance to purchase some of its infamous warm bowls, salads and specialty dishes, like the curry cauliflower bowl. 

Other places of interest at PLATFORM include the SoulCycle headquarters and studio, the first North American flagship for the iconic optical brand Linda Farrow and a dozen other retail stores, restaurants and places of interest that in total form almost 30 permanent and temporary spaces. The only thing missing in my personal opinion (in case should anyone care), is a cute little bar to grab wine or other libations. 

This was my first time checking out sweetgreen and PLATFORM, but it definitely won’t be the last.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Monday, December 5, 2016

And Where Do You “Where To?”: Singer & Songwriter CymcoLé

I absolutely love discovering amazing new artists and this past Sunday, I had the pleasure to meet one talented lady in particular who you should definitely keep on your radar, CymcoLé.

Pronounced sem-cole-LAY, this 19-year-old singer and songwriter is making waves with a strong, clear voice and a smooth, silky sound that’s reminiscent of New Age R&B — think Drake, The Weeknd, Sevyn Streeter. Recently, she’s been the opening act on Marc E. Bassy’s Groovy People Tour, a three-week, 18-stop national trek that wraps with its last two shows in Cali later this week.

With a brief break from being on the road, CymcoLé and her team hosted The Shdws Brunch at Spear Steak and Seafood in downtown L.A. over the weekend to celebrate the upcoming release of her Shdws EP. A group of us, including peeps from The Jasmine Brand, Universal Pictures and Live Nation, packed into a private room to having inspiring conversations with one another, chow down on some spectacular breakfast goodies (including Ricotta-stuffed French Toast and Blueberry Pancakes!), and of course, to hear more from CymcoLé herself.

Dressed unassumingly in a black-and-white Aaliyah shirt, ripped jeans and a black choker and a gold chain, she was like an open book, sharing everything from how she co-wrote all of EP’s songs to how she’s been able to truly find herself onstage during the tour. 

One detail in particular that stood out was how close she was to her family. She jokingly coined her father — who just happens to be former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin — as a “dad-ager” and her sister is also her make-up stylist and creative director. And, it looks like she might not be the only musical one in her fam; she mentioned that her brother Shane Larkin who plays pro ball overseas may also be looking to get into the music industry, some time down the road, too.

But hands down, the best part of the day was getting a chance to hear six out of the eight songs off her upcoming EP. “Fix It” was my fave, featuring a catchy, subtly sexy Caribbean vibe. “Gun Play” was a close runner-up, boasting a swagged out, R&B feel. We saw two music videos with two very different vibes as well. The video for “Bombs Away,” which has already been released, shows CymcoLé fiercely dancing in an industrial warehouse while “Shdws” is a somberly sweet ballad set to beautiful black-and-white nature scenes.

The day concluded with a glimpse at her Tour Diary video, a surprise champagne toast and everyone receiving gift backs with some Shdws swag.

CymcoLé’s Shdws EP will drop in the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime, you can check out a few of her songs on SoundCloud.

Here are a few more links where you can find more info on her as well!

First photo credit:

Monday, November 28, 2016

And Where Do You “Where To?”: 6th Annual Thanksgiving Edition

Each year around the Thanksgiving holiday, I feature fellow bloggers, creatives and trailblazers who share the places that they're thankful for in the city, whether it's a restaurant, a swanky lounge or a hole-in-the-wall dive bar. 

For 2016, I reached out to three phenomenal ladies living in L.A. -- author Kia Smith, actor Michelle Mink and blogger / music label exec Tina Singleton -- to find out their top recommendations of where we all need to head to next.

Check their responses out below! 

"I love the Savoy Entertainment Center in Inglewood, CA! It never let's me down. I love how they show the games during football and basketball season yet can have hip hop or reggae to dance the night away on the weekends. Taco Tuesday has the best food and drink specials and different celebrities come to display their talent on the main stage. It offers inside and outside space and the opportunity to have the best time of your life."

- Kia Smith

"I highly recommend Yamashiro Hollywood in Hollywood, CA. This restauraunt provides a spectacular view of Los Angeles. The food is great. From appetizers to the entrees and desserts every course is worth ordering. Whether you are sightseeing or just spending a day out on the town, make time for this incredible place."

- Michelle Mink

"My favorite place to have a cocktail and relax is "The Social" located at 23329 Lyons Ave, Santa Clarita, CA 91355. This restaurant/bar is tucked away in a strip mall but it boasts over 100 different martinis.  The best bartender is Ashley."

- Tina Singleton

Monday, November 14, 2016

Where to Eat: A Southern Soul Food Breakfast @ The Flavor Table

The Eats: Large portions of hearty soul food breakfast favorites like Smothered Porkchops and Grits

The Location: South Los Angeles

The Vibes: Down-to-earth, chill

Good for: Couples, families, small groups

When-To-Go: Daily, 6:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. (closed Mondays)

The $$ Factor:
Entrees, $13 – $17

The Names behind the scenes: Chef / Restaurateur Marilyn “RED” Wallace

The 4-1-1: Reservations aren’t accepted; walk-ins only

Parking Situation: Free nearby street parking

I’ll Be Back…: For the Peach Cobbler French Toast!

The wait for a table may sometimes be excruciatingly long and mimosas may not be in tow, but The Flavor Table still has a southern soul food breakfast that’s totally worth your patronage.

Popular Southern and American dishes — like omelets and the Smothered Pork Chops and Grits pictured below — are scrumptious and massively proportioned. And I do mean massive (I was chomping on these pork chops literally for the next three days).

The menu itself is broken down into four sections:
  1. Breakfast combinations: A selection of meats like turkey sausage patty or Louisiana hot links with two eggs, a biscuit and grits or country potatoes. 
  2. Omelets: Omelets with an array of veggies, seafood and meat fillings, with a biscuit and grits or country potatoes. 
  3. The Crossover…A Southern Flair: Either Smothered Pork Chops, Short Ribs or Shrimp, all served with grits.
  4. Delights: Sweeter options, like the Peach Cobbler French Toast, pictured below. This choice in particular includes four sizeable half slices of French Toast bathed in powdered sugar along with sweet, warm cinnamon peaches and smooth whipped cream. 

To note: It’s so hard to decide which is better — grits or the country potatoes — so save yourself the hassle, and order a side of each.

Almost all meals start off with amazing warm biscuits, complete with honey, butter and jams. They’re so fluffy! 

One of the most popular entrees is the Shrimp & Grits. It comes with a generous portion of sautéed shrimps, drenched in a thick étouffée, all topped with colorful bell peppers and chives.

Also, you can’t go wrong with the Fried Catfish Breakfast Combination, which has heaping amounts of both country potatoes and golden fried catfish. Seasoned well, the catfish is flaky on the inside and nice and crispy on the outside.

Lastly, an honorable mention must go to the beverages. The Lemonade is so sweet and sugary, and the Sweet Tea makes you feel like you’re down South. There’s also a drink called the Sunrise with Passion, pictured below. It’s a mixture of passion fruit and orange juices, with frozen cranberry juice at the bottom, which eventually floats up to the top. Hence the name, Sunrise. 

And while The Flavor Table doesn’t serve alcoholic libations, I was advised by staff that you can still bring in your own alcohol.

So the next time you’re looking for a really, really filling breakfast in a casual, chill environment, head over to The Flavor Table. See you there soon!

For more information: 


Monday, October 31, 2016

And Where Do You “Where To?”: Carmelita “The Jet” Jeter

Earlier this month, I had an awesome opportunity to meet three-time Olympic medalist and the world’s fastest runner, Carmelita “The Jet” Jeter

ColorComm, a networking community for women of color in the communications field, hosted its “LA: Members & Friends Fitness Event” at the David Barton gym in West L.A. With a handful of fabulous ladies in attendance, it was a Saturday morning affair filled with a very grueling, very intense workout — and also a very inspiring, very uplifting speech by Jeter, pictured below, in the middle.

Jeter, who exudes so much charisma, was like an open book, sharing everything from how she first started running in high school to her long, exciting journey to the 2012 Olympics.

I was so inspired by her story that afterwards, I reached out to her for an interview, to which she graciously agreed. We literally talked about everything — from what’s going on in her head when she’s running a race, to the most challenging aspect of being a professional athlete and of course, her favorite place to frequent in Los Angeles.

Check out my full conversation with her below!

WilsonsGuide: Can you share how you first began to run professionally?
Jeter: I didn’t start running track until I was 14. I was a freshman in high school. I went to college at Cal State Dominguez Hills and I ran track there. But I didn’t actually start running professionally until about two years after I graduated from college.

WilsonsGuide: How did you know that you wanted to make the jump to do it professionally – what sparked that interest?
Jeter: In 2004, I made the Olympic trials. I was still in college when I was at the trials and watching all these professional women. They’re endorsed, they have their big deals and they have their coaches. I was there with my coach from college, and I just had on some little Nike shorts and a Nike sports bra. But watching them behave as professionals – that’s what really made me want to do it. Watching from the outside looking in, watching these women and these men take their job so serious.

WilsonsGuide: What are some of the first steps you have to take in order to launch a professional career?
Jeter: You have to really work hard. It’s not going to come easy to be a professional. You have to race. You have to compete. You have to run good times. Then, once you run those good times, you’ll get the attention of an agent. Once you get that attention, the agents will start coming to you, asking you who you want to sign with, who do you train with. So many doors open up once you run what they say's a good time.

You have to really sacrifice and train your butt off to take it to that level — to even get someone’s attention. You have to take this as a professional. This can’t just be a hobby. You can’t just “do me” or it’s something, “I do on the side.” If you really want to be a professional and you want to get that contract with Nike or Adidas or whoever you feel is the brand you want to go to, you have to take it as a full-fledged profession.

WilsonsGuide: You mentioned having to train and make sacrifices. In your opinion, what's the most challenging part about being a professional athlete?
Jeter: I think the hardest part is realizing that you can’t live the life of a regular person. You have to understand that your body is like a Ferrari. And some people learn the hard way; they try to put 87 in that Ferrari [laughs] and that Ferrari starts breaking down. I didn’t make the 2008 Olympic team because I learned the hard way, and that was knowing that I can’t do all the same things that my regular friends were doing. I can’t hang out until 2’o’clock in the morning. I can’t drink. I can’t do a lot of things that an average working person can do, because my body is like a Ferrari.

WilsonsGuide: On that note, for someone who might want to pursue a professional career, is that the advice that you would give them — that it’s going to take a lot of sacrifices — or are there other words of wisdom you would provide?
Jeter: My advice would be to really sit and ask yourself: “is this really what I want to do?” And my advice is, if you’re not going to do it all the way, you might as well not do it. If this is going to be one foot in the door, one foot out the door, you’re wasting your time. This is a profession [where] you have to just jump and hope that your wings fly. You have to give it your all, if you want a good outcome. Many times, people aren’t willing to jump off the ledge; they’re kind of like “Wait. But hold me. Somebody hold me.” And to be a professional athlete, you have to believe in yourself so much that you’re willing to fall.

WilsonsGuide: When you’re in a major race such as the Olympics, what thoughts are going in your head? What are you feeling when you’re in that moment, running on the track?
Jeter: When I’m running on the track, I don’t think. You’ll lose a race from thinking, because you’re thinking too much. So when that gun clicks, there isn’t any thought process happening. My only objective is to get to the finish line.

Now, before that gun clicks, I’m thinking: you need to execute — you’ve trained. The hardest part is over. Racing is the easy part; training is the hard part. Training is the blood, sweat and tears. The crying, the body’s sore, the wanting to give up. That’s the hard part. I love to compete, because that’s the easy part. That’s ten seconds. And in those ten seconds, you better get the job done.

My mindset is you’re either prepared, or you’re not prepared. And, you know that you’re not prepared before you even get to the line. If you’re prepared, there’s no fear going to that line because you already know what to expect. You already know what to do. I always tell people the hardest part of my job was training, not racing. 

WilsonsGuide: Having won three Olympic medals, is there one that holds the most significance to you?
Jeter: Out of my London medals, they were all special because I dedicated London to my aunt Brenda Washington who passed away from breast cancer.

Now I have a lot of medals. I’ve been in a lot of world championships and the medal that showed my heart — it showed my determination, it showed my drive — was in 2013. I won a bronze medal on a torn quad. It was a bronze medal, but that medal is like platinum to me. That medal just showed my gift. It showed what God had given me, and it wasn’t necessarily my athleticism. He gave me so much fight. He gave me so much drive. And that medal shows all of that. It shows what people say: hard work pays off. It shows keeping your faith. It shows beast mode. It shows “get the job done.” That medal shows every hashtag that can be said. That’s what that medal shows because when I crossed that finish line, I had nothing left. When people say “give it your all,” I was so depleted that they had to carry me off. They had to help me put my clothes on. I had nothing else. That medal means the most to me in that aspect because I really showed everyone what heart looks like.

WilsonsGuide: That's an incredible story. How many medals have you won?
Jeter:  I have about 13 or 14 medals.

WilsonsGuide: You mentioned that you participated in a couple of different world championships and I was reading that you were in London, Shanghai, Osaka...Is there one city you’ve enjoyed visiting the most?
Jeter: I love Monaco! My coach John Smith would be based in Monaco for two weeks, so I would get a chance to basically stay in Monaco for three weeks. Monaco had a race that I would run every year, so I would run the track meet and then I would stay there two weeks after. I got a chance to shop. I got a chance to go to the casino. It was kind of like the JAY Z “Big Pimpin’” video. Monaco has to be the best place.

WilsonsGuide: I’ll have to add that to my list of places to see, because I haven’t been! You’ve accomplished a ton of “firsts” in your career and broken a lot of records and barriers within sports. I’m curious — is there anything else that you want to accomplish within your career?
Jeter: There’s so many things I want to accomplish. I’m like a kid in the candy store that you gave $3 to and they have to figure out how they can get all the candy they want for $3.

I want to break barriers. I’m all about breaking barriers. I broke barriers as being the 32-year-old with three medals and a world record. I broke barriers by running 10:64 at a late age. The barriers that I want to break now; I want to get into the combine. I want to be the first woman sprint speed coach. I want a team to pick me up and let me make their guys fast. That’s what I want. I want to break that barrier. I want to get into that NFL barrier.

WilsonsGuide: I remember on Saturday [at the ColorComm event], you mentioned how you are involved in the community. Can you share more about what social causes you’re most passionate about?
Jeter: I’m most passionate about breast cancer causes and that’s because I lost my aunt in 2012 to breast cancer. I’m passionate because it hit home. I’m passionate because it pretty much did a number on my family. I’m so passionate because that’s the way that we keep her spirit going. She’s physically not here, but I know every time that I do an event and I’m speaking about her, she can look down and smile. It keeps her alive. It keeps her here. And it let’s other people know, yes, I’m a professional athlete, but hey, I cry just like you. I’ve gone through pain just like you. It shows people that athletes are human. 

WilsonsGuide: My last question — do you have a favorite place to hang out or eat in Los Angeles, especially being a native Angeleno?
Jeter: I love going to Crustacean, and I actually like going there for lunch. I don’t even like going for dinner. I love going there for lunch and eating and having a cocktail.

Now for just food-wise, because they don’t sell liquor [laughs]…I love going to this place called My Two Cents. I love My Two Cents. They have shrimp & grits. They have this cake called Crack Cake. I love the atmosphere. I love how when you walk in, they’re greeting you. They’re screaming pretty much as soon as you open the door. I love how the tables — people can sit with you that you don’t even know. It just allows people for a second to put their phone down and actually hold conversations with other people. I love that energy. I do wish they did sell some type of over 21 beverage [laughs]. They don’t, but I still love the energy, I love the food. It’s just a taste of soul. My Two Cents has to the be the spot for me to go sit and eat and just enjoy myself.

WilsonsGuide: Thank you — is there anything else that you want to add or share?
Jeter: We pretty much touched on everything.

WilsonsGuide: We covered a lot, definitely!
Jeter: One thing that we’re doing as a family — my family is very tight-knit — right now, we’re starting a family catering business called Urban Soul Catering. It’s my mom, it’s my older brother, it’s my younger brother, it’s myself and my dad.

Yes, we have soul food, but then we have soul food with a twist. We have these tacos: a mac ’n’ cheese and chicken taco, and a greens and pot roast taco, with shredded pot roast. We’re trying to do something different. We’re trying to bring a twist to soul food. Our tacos have been a hit. People love our tacos.

That’s what we’re trying to come into 2017 with, swinging. We’re trying to really broaden our urban soul food catering and get it out there and being that it’s so family, we hope people are attracted to that. I feel like nowadays, the family aspect is disappearing. It’s a lot of “me, myself and I.” It’s a lot of “I’m at the top and I’m not bringing anybody with me.” It’s a lot of selfishness going on in this world. We want to bring that whole family aspect back. That if you get up, you bring the next person up. Many times, people forget that your "likes" aren't going to dip to help somebody and that’s what we want to bring back with the urban soul food catering. It’s hey, this is family. We’re doing it — mom, dad, brother, sister, auntie, she comes and helps. It’s a family affair. That’s really what I’m putting a lot of my heart and soul into right now, Urban Soul Catering.

**This interview has been slightly edited and condensed for ease of readability.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Where to Eat: Late Night Gyro Fries @ Good Greek Grill

The Eats: Greek faves with a twist

The Location: Hollywood

The Vibes: Casual, super chill

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (large and small)

When-To-Go: Opens daily at 11 a.m.; Closes at 10 p.m., Sun. – Thurs. and 3 a.m., Fri. – Sat.

The $$ Factor: All entrees are under $12

The Names behind the scenes: Co-owner Dino Pantazis

The 4-1-1: Board games are available to play — just ask for them!

Parking Situation: Very limited metered street parking

I’ll Be Back…: For the Zeus Gyro Fries!

Good Greek Grill is a fast casual eatery on a mission: to bring great Greek food to the masses.

Spreading this message around the Los Angeles area, this up-and-coming restaurant initially started as a food truck in 2011 before opening its first brick-and-mortar location in Los Feliz last year.

Now, earlier this month, it’s launched a second location in Hollywood.

Situated in a strip mall on Yucca Street, it’s just a stone’s throw away from iconic L.A. buildings like the W Hollywood Hotel and the Capitol Records Tower, and from scores of nightclubs and bars.

And after receiving an invite to “have a gyro on us,” I made my way over to the Grill to check it out.

The first thing that caught my attention was the smell. You walk in, and instantly you’re hit with this intoxicating aroma of grilled meats, spices and warm pita bread. I was pleasantly surprised! The rest of the place is simplistic, modest and minimalist — grey concrete floors, white counter, steel kitchen appliances.

The ordering process is quick and painless. You pick one of five fillings — beef lamb, pork, sausage, chicken or grilled veggies — and then one of five ways that you want your filling prepared. You can get your meat/veggie fillings in a gyro, a Greek salad, a platter, a plate or as Zeus Fries. One of the Grill workers shared that the pork and beef lamb are the most popular, along with the Zeus Fries, pictured below, which I decided to try.

The verdict on the fries? They’re delicious! It’s like all of the ingredients found in a gyro got dumped onto a bed of fries. Generous portions of well-seasoned chicken, feta cheese, tzatziki sauce, onions and tomatoes are piled high onto the fries. In fact, my fries were literally drowning in so much fresh feta cheese and tangy sauce; it was so good and most importantly, the fries still managed to stay crispy.

No alcoholic beverages are served here yet, but I was told that the Grill is in the process of getting its liquor license. So, wine and beer should be on the way.

Good Greek Grill definitely is worth a visit, especially after an after-the-club kind of night out in Hollywood. Portions are generous and filling, the price point is reasonable, and the Grill stays open super late.

See you there soon!

For more information: 


Monday, October 3, 2016

Where to Eat: Brunching @ The Chicken or the Egg

The Eats: A menu comprising mainly of — you guessed it — chicken and eggs.

The Location: Playa Vista

The Vibes: Chill, casual, quick

Good for: Alone, groups, families

When-To-Go: Weekdays, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.; weekends, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

The $$ Factor: Average price for an entrée, $10

The Names behind the scenes: Hunter Pritchett, partner and head chef

The 4-1-1: No alcohol served here, but there’s a decent selection of regular beverages, such as strawberry lemonade and flavored iced teas.

Parking Situation: Nearby free street parking

I’ll Be Back…: To try all of the sides!

There’s a brand new restaurant in Playa Vista.

The Chicken or the Egg opened recently, and by recently, I mean this past weekend!

In honor of its grand debut, the eatery offered a “buy one entrée and enjoy a second entrée free” promo on Saturday and Sunday. I was down there with the quickness, bringing me, my very large appetite and a good friend down to check everything out.

The concept is simple; offer up a ton of dishes, featuring organic, cage-free chicken and eggs, with locally sourced ingredients and highly creative culinary inventions (like butternut squash sage gravy).

Egg entrees — five in total — are accompanied by breakfast staples like bacon or chicken-apple sausage, or by American faves, like grilled steak. My friend and I tried the Smoked Salmon & Avocado Toast, a very filling option piled high with flaky salmon, pickled onions and a vegan turmeric hollandaise, all topped with a poached egg and on a slice of crunchy whole wheat toast. So good!

The chicken is either crispy or grilled, depending on which of the five sandwiches you select. Get your chicken in a BLT with maple glazed bacon, accompanied by sunny side up eggs in the Country Fried Chicken entrée, or, perhaps tossed in a honey sriracha remoulade featured in “The Reason the Road was Crossed.” There’s even the Crispy Chicken Bucket, although it technically is a basket, not a bucket. It comes with two or four pieces of chicken — a mix of dark and white meat — and one side.

Speaking of sides, they sound pretty intriguing, too. I literally want to come back, just to try all of them. Items like the sweet potato waffle fries and buffalo cauliflower surely caught my attention. But for the time being, I settled on the maple brussel sprouts, which were amazing; subtly sweet and slightly wilted.

The same menu is available all day, so you can literally get your fix on chicken and eggs, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

I’ll lastly comment on the décor, which seems to go for the nature-meets-industrial theme. Bright metal stools and stark white tables harmoniously cohabite with brown oversized leather couches, large green trees and earthy wooden paneling. A few outdoor tables are also available. 

As Playa Vista — or “Silicon Beach” as they’re coining it these days — continues to thrive, especially with Google planning to move in soon, I can totally see The Chicken or the Egg as a great lunch option for the thousands of millennials working nearby. It’s fast food, but still high quality and definitely not boring or bland. I wouldn’t consider this place a “drive-to” destination, but it’s totally worth it if you’re already in the area. So the next time you’re nearby and craving some organic, cage-free deliciousness, you know where to turn.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Where to Be Merry: A Spa Day @ The Spa Le Merigot, JW Marriott Santa Monica

The Merriment: A spa day — complete with massages, poolside food & beverage services, and the beach!

The Location: Santa Monica

The Vibes: Outdoors, relaxing, chill

Good for: Alone, couples, small groups, families

When-To-Go: Daily, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.

The $$ Factor: $90+ for facials, massages and other specialty treatments; $40 per person for a day pass only

The 4-1-1: Travelzoo often features discounted deals and packages

Parking Situation: Valet only, including three free hours with spa validation

I’ll Be Back…: To try out one of the newest Fall Exclusive Specials!

There are those days when we simply just need to escape from our daily grinds and unwind — preferably poolside, with a cocktail or three, a good book and ultimate relaxation, for five or six hours.

Fortunately, I found a place that offers all of this: Spa Le Merigot at the JW Marriott Santa Monica.

Situated on prime real estate in Santa Monica, Le Merigot is a day spa that offers massage treatments, a gorgeous pool and easy access to the beach. The few times I’ve gone, it’s never been too crowded and feels like a tranquil getaway that mainly only JW Marriott hotel guests know about.

What’s even better is that you can visit here fairly inexpensively. While you can use the spa facilities if you’re a hotel guest, buy a $40 day pass or purchase one of the $90+ treatments, there are often Travelzoo deals that offer discounted rates and special packages (in fact, there’s a deal right now that provides 60% off services, free champagne and three VIP passes).

The spa's actual physical space is on the smaller side, but still elegant and upscale. There’s attention to detail everywhere — in the earthy floral scent that wafts throughout the space, the comfy white robes provided for each guest and the refreshing cool towels with cucumbers available in the locker rooms, which also have a sauna and steam room. The massage treatments themselves are pretty good, too. When I went in the spring, my masseuse worked out all of my knots and focused on neglected pressure points. I left feeling beyond relaxed!

Outside, lounge chairs and tables are situated around a nicely sized pool. Two cabanas are available free of charge; the only caveat — they can go pretty quickly. And, there’s even a chest of complimentary beach chairs that can be used, for free.

Speaking of the beach, it’s literally only a couple feet away, so it’s almost imperative to make a quick stop there! The location is slightly south of the Santa Monica pier, and on a clear day, offers gorgeous views as far south down to the Palos Verdes peninsula.

Back at the spa, there’s also a full poolside menu available. It features an eclectic blend of easy-to-eat bites and nibbles, like the spicy tuna crispy rice, and colorful cocktails, like the mudslide, a frothy blend of Kahlua, Bailey’s and cream. 

All in all, Le Merigot is a fabulous place to escape to, thanks to its prime location, chill ambiance and wonderful massages.  So, the next time you’re in the mood for some R&R and perhaps even a little beach time, head over to the JW Marriott Santa Monica’s Le Merigot Spa.

See you there soon!

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Where to Eat + Drink: The Lucky 7 Happy Hour @ Yamashiro Hollywood

The Eats + Drinks: Six starters, four sushi options and four cocktails — all $7.

The Location: Hollywood

The Vibes: Al Fresco

Good for: Dates, groups (large and small), alone

When-To-Go: Happy hour is 5 – 8 p.m., Friday, Saturday and Sunday

The $$ Factor: Everything is $7!

The Names behind the scenes: Executive Chef Christophe Bonnegrace

The 4-1-1: Yamashiro has been around for 100+ years, originally constructed as a private residence. It’s subsequently been a brothel, a boarding house, a cocktail lounge and an apartment complex. It opened as a restaurant in the ‘60s, which it's been ever since. In June 2016, it fell under new ownership — the JE Group — and new operators, BNG Group and Sugar Factory.

Parking Situation: $10 valet parking only

I’ll Be Back…: For the Ahi Poke and the Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice! 

The Yamashiro Hollywood happy hour first debuted back in 2012, and yours truly was there to get all of the deets about it. 

I remember being so pleasantly surprised and excited when it launched, because it was the first time that this super exclusively elite restaurant — elevated high above in the Hollywood Hills — was offering discounted access.

Now, four years later, under new ownership, new management and a new chef, Yamashiro continues the happy hour tradition — this time with a few modifications. Coined the “Lucky 7 Happy Hour,” it has new food options, new cocktails and even a new location. Where the old happy hour was held on an enclosed patio in the restaurant’s main structure, this all new happy hour takes place on the remodeled Pagoda Bar, pictured below, an outdoor area a few steps away from the main restaurant.

To get to the Pagoda Bar area, walk down a few short (and slightly steep) flights of stairs.

Nestled directly into the hills, the space boasts killer views of the city — views that stretch as far east as downtown, include all of Hollywood and wrap out west to the Pacific Ocean. The happy hour timing – between 5 – 8 p.m. — is absolutely on point, because you get to see the sky turn an array of colors, from bright blue, to streaks of purple and gold during sunset. There’s also tons of hanging lights to illuminate the area, once the sun dips down for the day.

Aside from breathtaking views, Yamashiro’s Lucky 7 Happy Hour highlights the restaurant’s Asian-fusion cuisine, with a heavy emphasis on seafood (seven of the ten appetizers are seafood; the remaining three options are pork, chicken and vegetarian). Most of the menu items are new creations from Chef Christophe Bonnegrac. The only one that Bonnegrac hasn’t changed is the Truffle Hamachi, pictured below. It features super thick cuts of Japanese amberjack, with a truffle-infused ponzu sauce and a tomato-garlic confit.

Out of the six items I tried, I had three favorites. The first was the Reclining Buddha, a very light and refreshing sushi roll. Shrimp, crispy cabbage and cilantro are all packed tightly into a soy paper wrap. A spicy ponzu sauce with minced peanuts accompanies the cut rolls, adding a tangy flavor.

The Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice is a must for anyone who generally loves this specialty appetizer. Generous portions of a spicy tuna mixture are piled high on top of a bed of very crunchy rice. It comes with six large pieces.

The Ahi Poke features a large chunks of tuna stacked into a round cylinder, surrounded by chips and a sweet medley of mangos, pineapples and wakami seaweed. The seaweed medley isn’t just for show; it adds a refreshing, colorful flavor to the tuna, which itself is also delightful.

A bar is conveniently located to the side of the Pagoda patio, serving up four happy hour cocktails, beer and wines (red, white and Prosecco). I tried all four cocktails — hey, someone had to do it — which are all on the sweeter side.

The 100 Year Mai Tai was probably my favorite. It's a twist on what’s been a Yamashiro staple for years. potently mixing rum, lime juice and a “secret” ingredient.

The Kyoto Berry Tini is a summery version of a martini, with citrus vodka and raspberries.

There's also the Japanese Slipper is an electric blend of Midori, Cointreau, agave nectar and lemon juice, and the Geisha Girl, which is so decadent and over-the-top that it feels more like a dessert. Hints of raspberry are layered between a thick, syrupy concoction of Kahlua, Bailey’s and cream. And, whipped cream tops it all off.

Aside from The Lucky 7 Happy Hour, more new upgrades will be happening at Yamashiro under the new ownership and management, including the addition of a sushi bar, robata and teppanyaki grills, and dining deals with the nearby Hollywood Bowl. And, old favorites will return, like a weekly farmer’s market. In the meantime, whenever you’re looking for a happy hour with incredible views, great Asian-fusion apps and cocktails, head over to Yamashiro.

See you there soon!

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