Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Where to Travel: Montage Los Cabos @ Los Cabos, Mexico


The brand new Montage Los Cabos in Los Cabos, Mexico will open May 2018, and to celebrate the occasion, the resort’s executive team hosted a special exclusive preview reception at Cirque du Soleil's LUZIA production at the Dodger Stadium parking lot earlier this month!

Surrounded by photos of the resort's rooms and grounds on easels in the background, a group of 40 or so Montage executives, social media influencers, bloggers and journalists gathered before the show in the VIP lounge — to snack on savory nibbles like mini-tacos made right on the spot (pictured below), drink Casa Dragones-tequila margaritas, schmooze with one another, and of course, hear all about Montage Los Cabos.


The resort, which will have 120+ rooms / suites / casas, is located in the Santa Maria Bay on 39 acres. It will be decked out in natural tones that are reminiscent of the surrounding Baja desert landscape — think tans and browns — and will feature lots of activities, from programs for the kiddies to access to an all-new Fred Couples Signature Golf Course.

A few fun facts about the resort I found out that night:
  • The new resort sits on the old Hotel Twin Dolphin site, a hotel built in the ‘70s.
  • Montage Los Cabos literally took years to build — a little over a decade. 
  • The resort is located on one of the only beaches in the area where waters are calmer and it’s safe to wade in. 
  • Should you find yourself visiting and never wanting to leave, you don’t have to. There are 50+ Montage Residences — 1- and 2-bedroom condos — starting at a cool $2 million to purchase (my birthday is coming up, for anyone who’d like to get me an early gift)
“This year is the year of Cabo,” exclaimed Montage International Founder, Chairman and CEO Alan J. Fuerstman, at one point during the night as he addressed the crowd.

But it wasn't all talk the entire night. We also saw an incredible Cirque du Soleil performance, LUZIA, which vibrantly brought to life the magic and wonders of Mexico. Bold bright colors, daring stunts and soulful music left the audience in a daze for almost two hours. Unfortunately, that was the last week for the show to run in Los Angeles, but it is at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa until Sunday, March 25, if you want to check it out, and trust me, you do.



I'm really looking forward to seeing was the Montage Los Cabos will have to offer and am putting this on my travel list.

What about you — what are some of your favorite resorts to visit? Let me know in the comments section below and I’ll see you at one of them soon!



* First photo courtesy Montage Los Cabos

Monday, February 12, 2018

Where to Eat, Drink & Be Merry: Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries @ Los Angeles (Updated for 2018)


In 2016, I launched a list featuring 16 of the Top Black-Owned Restaurants, Bars, Lounges & Eateries in Los Angeles in honor of Black History Month, which runs the entire month of February. 

The list grew to 28 in 2017, and I’m now excited to add 10 more places, this year!

2018 additions include: 

Black Bottom Southern Café, Barbara Jean Restaurant, Brooklyn Deli & Mini Market, Hal's Bar & Grill by Primitivo, Hyperion Public, Janga by Derrick’s Jamaican Food, Red's Flavor Table Take-out, Sky's Gourmet Tacos, Stuff I Eat and Sweet Chick 

From vegetarian Ethiopian fare to popular Brazilian dishes, jazzy Sunday brunches, both Southern-style and health-conscious soul food, scrumptious BBQ and more, this list highlights a range of eclectic and diverse range of tastes that are sure to please all palates, with a total of 36 listings. 

Presented in alphabetical order, this list is in no way exhaustive and represents the places that yours truly has personally frequented and loved. I truly look forward to including even more amazing places in the future. 

In the meantime, take a look below, and let me know in the comments section where you frequent as well! 

* Note – Places with an asterisk before their names represent 2018 additions. 

~~~

Azla vegan – Azla vegan is a casual eatery that's housed in the Mercado La Paloma, which is an incubator for first-generation business owners. Azla is also the first Ethiopian restaurant to open in South L.A. Here, you'll find healthy, vegan twists on traditional Ethiopian dishes, such as the Shimbra pictured below. Ran by Nesanet and her mother, Chef Azla, it's the perfect stop for a quick bite, if you’re in the downtown vicinity.




*Barbara Jean Restaurant – Barbara Jean is fairly new to the L.A. scene, opening in 2017 on the trendy Melrose Ave. near the Fairfax district. It’s been located on the back patios of two other dining establishments — first in the Melrose Umbrella Company and now in Vinoteque. Chef Jason Fullilove has made a killer menu featuring “American Soul Food.” Personally, I can’t get enough of the buttermilk biscuits, the deviled eggs and the Grandma Jean’s Sampler, pictured below, which is the best way to sample a bit of everything, including delectable BBQ ribs, black eyed peas, greens and mac’n’cheese.



Bayou Grille – Bayou Grille brings the flavors of New Orleans to Inglewood, featuring Po’Boys, “Creole Classics” like jambalaya and étouffée, and my favorite, the Louisiana Finger Lickers, pictured below — hot wings, with a kick. You can also order seafood platters, where items like catfish, salmon, red snapper, shrimp and oysters can either be grilled or fried, and come with a side of your choice, salad and amazing French bread.




*Black Bottom Southern Café – Should you find yourself in the south part of the San Fernando Valley and looking to quickly grab soul food, there’s really no other place to go than Black Bottom Southern Café in North Hollywood. This fast casual corner café serves up southern inspired dishes — like shrimp ‘n’ grits prepared several different ways — and daily specials, like the Fried Yardbird chicken, which is only available on Saturdays. There’s also a super cute patio area enclosed by leafy green trees, if you have the time to dine while you’re there.




Bludso's Bar & Que – The “Pitmaster” Kevin Bludso launched his first BBQ joint in Compton and has now expanded to Hollywood and, even internationally, to Melbourne, Australia. His Hollywood location somehow simultaneously feels casual and upscale — with BBQ meats and sides served family-style on platters covered by brown paper, right alongside fancy craft cocktails and an impressive list of high-end whiskeys. Tip: definitely order the chicken link, stuffed with creamy cheese and spicy jalapeños — you'll love it.




*Brooklyn Deli & Mini Market – I initially couldn’t comprehend how a casual sandwich shop could have almost 200 five-star Yelp ratings — literally a perfect score — that is, until I ventured into Brooklyn Deli & Mini Market. Located on Crenshaw Blvd. near Leimert Park, this tiny deli is dishing out a ton of amazing sandwiches that are piled high with fresh ingredients that are combined in ways that make it all taste so good. Plus, the energetic, smiling crew behind the counters exudes fantastic customer service that’s like the icing on the cake. Speaking of cake, don’t walk out without copping a homemade cake; the strawberry cream cheese one is so good!





Brownstone Bistro – This West L.A. restaurant offers an amazing Sunday brunch buffet that rotates its African-American and Caribbean-inspired selections, on a weekly basis. Some breakfast/lunch goodies to expect, on any given Sunday: BBQ chicken, yams, shrimp & grits (pictured below), breakfast potatoes, gumbo, grilled veggies and so much more. Highly recommended for large parties and special occasions as well.




Buffalo Wild Wings (Baldwin Hills) – Like any other Buffalo Wild Wings across the country, expect to find a casual sports bar atmosphere to consume copious amounts of wings and beer while watching the latest games. Yet what sets this location apart from other BWW establishments is that it's achieved the highest sales percentage increase of any other BWW, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. It's co-owned by community leaders Karim Webb and Ed Barnett pictured below, who also own two other BWWs, in Carson and Torrance.



Café Buna – Café Buna in Marina del Rey literally has the largest selection of classic American breakfast and lunch favorites. With such an expansive menu, it’s so hard to choose what to order! Neal’s Cornflakes French Toast, pictured below, is a popular pick, and there's also a nice selection of hot beverages, from specialty teas to different types of hot cocoa and gano coffee — coffee made from mushrooms.



Chick-fil-A (Venice) – The fairly new Chick-fil-A in Venice on Lincoln Blvd. may be like any other Chick-fil-A in the world for the most part, except for one small detail: it’s owned by Local Franchise Operator Kayla Griffin, an African-American woman who’s been climbing up the corporate Chick-fil-A ladder for the past several years. She first got her start by working at the Chick-fil-A near USC (Fight On!), did a stint at the Hollywood location and opened up new Chick-fil-As all across the country. Now, she’s launched the first franchise in Venice. Similar to its Hollywood counterpart, this Chick-fil-A has a drive-thru window, a line that queues outside and outdoor seating. And of course, it has infamous Chick-fil-A staples, like waffle fries and Chick-N-Minis. 



Comfort LA – Casual and unassuming, Comfort LA dishes out fried chicken wings covered in “that sauce” and soul food sides like greens, yams and mac ’n’ cheese. Board games, cards and dominoes are placed on the communal tables and a smooth soundtrack of R&B and hip-hop hits fills the one-room establishment. Open until 3 a.m. on the weekends and with a free BYOB policy, there’s really no better place to stop by to get late night munchies in DTLA after the nightclubs / bars / lounges close.



Dulan's Soul Food Kitchen – This family-owned chain spans two generations of restaurateurs serving up Southern style soul food to the masses. Self-proclaimed “King of Soul” Adolf Dulan operates the locations on Manchester Blvd. and W. Century Blvd., both in Inglewood; and his son Greg Dulan — “Restaurant & Catering Connoisseur of Soul Food in Los Angeles”— runs the Crenshaw Blvd. kitchen. All three locations feature the $18.45 Sunday Dinner Special, pictured below, which includes an entrée with stuffing or rice & gravy, two sides, cornbread and dessert. So much food, you may not need to eat for the rest of the week.




*Hal's Bar & Grill by Primitivo – I know I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed when Hal’s quietly closed its doors a few years back. The restaurant that had sat on Abbot Kinney for 30+ years was such a neighborhood gem for fine dining, smooth live jazz and exquisite food. Now, Hal’s is back in motion, opening not one but two locations: one right back on Abbot Kinney in Primitivo, and another more casual location in Playa Vista that’s open for both lunch and dinner. What to order: the Seafood Grill, which has been a Hal’s Classic for decades, and features scrumptious Ahi tuna, scallops, shrimp and salmon, all served with creamy spinach and onion rings.



Harold & Belle's – This upscale Creole restaurant right on Jefferson Blvd. has been an L.A. staple for more than four decades. It recently underwent a fancy new remodel, now showing off a sleek exterior and a sophisticated bar area. Fortunately, the same great well-proportioned Creole selections — like the Louisiana style catfish, pictured below — are still available.




*Hyperion Public – Silverlake’s Hyperion Public is a tiny, casual restaurant serving up unique takes on traditional American & California classics. Expect to find one-of-a-kind options like a Brussels Sprouts Cobb salad, Spicy Blueberry Wings and Hyperion's own rendition of Jerk Chicken with beans & rice, pictured below. There’s also a location in Studio City.




*Janga by Derrick’s Jamaican Food – Janga is the brainchild behind the owners of Derrick’s on Centinela Ave. Located on the main drag in Culver City, this bright eatery not only features amazing Jamaican cuisine, but also has a long list of fantastic tropical libations and a very wonderful happy hour where you can get a free jerk chicken taco with any cocktail order. 



Les Sisters – Alllll the way in the thick of the San Fernando Valley — Chatsworth to be exact — there’s a small but bustling, family-owned restaurant that has a mix of BBQ, southern soul food and Creole favorites. Initially opened in 1986 by three friends, this festive and cozy neighborhood restaurant is now ran by one of the original owner’s grandchildren, Jessica and Kevin. Portions are big and an order of the hush puppies with honey is a must.



JR’s Barbecue – JR's Barbecue is a hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint that's located on one of the busiest strips of La Cienega Blvd. in Culver City. Blink too fast, and you just might miss it. Customer service can be wanting at times and the common areas could use a facelift, but the Memphis-style BBQ is consistently on point. You can't go wrong with the pork ribs (pictured below) or Pork Shoulder BBQ sandwich, and of course, a side of the “award-winning” BBQ sauce.




Messob Ethiopian Restaurant – The Little Ethiopia area in the Fairfax district has a handful of Ethiopian restaurants, including one of my favorites, Messob. Not only do they serve traditional Ethiopian food and beverages, like the honey wine Tej, but they also have several vegan options available. Choose to sit at a standard table or around the traditional Ethiopian table, the mesob, pictured below.
  


My Two Cents – Chef Alisa Reynolds opened up a modest eatery on West Pico Blvd. near Fairfax Blvd. that puts a health-conscious spin on soul food favorites. Some options to expect are the Oxtail Tacos, Plantain Stuffed Pork Chop and the BBQ Fried Chicken Caesar Salad, pictured below. Plenty of vegetarian options as well. It’s fast, it’s fresh and it’s appreciatively unassuming. 



Orleans & York (Baldwin Hills) – As the name suggests, this family-operated delicatessen chain draws its inspiration from both the New Orleans and New York culinary scenes. Top picks: the fried shrimp Po’ boy pictured below and the Buffalo wings. The wait can be long, so call in advance to place an order and pick it up. There are other locations in Inglewood, Downtown L.A. and Carson.




Pips on La Brea – No one does a Sunday Jazz Brunch quite like Pips. With a Jazz saxophonist playing R&B and smooth jazz hits, endless rounds of fruity sangria and mimosas, and a delectable buffet spread of Italian favorites, I’d see no reason not to spend at least three to four hours here. Best seat in the house when the weather’s gorgeous: on the secluded patio shaded by massive, breezy trees.



Post & Beam – Post & Beam in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza has a phenomenal afternoon happy hour in its bar area. Aside from delicious food options, the bar designs extraordinarily refreshing seasonal cocktails, including white peach sangria, Moscow mules and mojitos. The restaurant has a swanky, debonair vibe, with a dapper crowd to match.



Red's Flavor Table – No, they don’t take reservations and yes you will have to wait at least 10 – 20 minutes for a table, but the Southern soul food brunch at The Flavor Table on Florence Ave. is absolutely worth it. The servings are enormous and the service is exceptional. They also have a cute patio in the back that’s perfect when the weather is right. Come with your appetite and don’t forget to leave with at least one slice of the layered cake already packaged and ready to-go (flavors vary).




*Red's Flavor Table Take-out – This Inglewood location is like the lite version of Red’s Flavor Table on Florence Ave. It has the same great heaping servings of Southern soul food, only this time, in white Styrofoam to-go containers. There's also a smaller dining area that’s really more for waiting for your order to be ready rather than eating there. Definitely order the breakfast potatoes, loaded. It comes topped with grilled cheese, onions and bell peppers.




Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles – The originators of the legendary “chicken and waffle” combo. They’ve also mastered sides like mac ’n’ cheese and cornbread, and drinks like the Sunset, a super sweet blend of lemonade and fruit punch. Seven locations in total, throughout Southern California. 




Rusty Pot Café – The Rusty Pot Café in downtown Inglewood is a brunch spot that serves up classic soul food breakfast and lunch options, including the Fried Chicken and Waffles, pictured below. They also have their own signature dishes, such as the Truffle & Parmesan Fries, accompanied with honey mustard dipping sauce (so good!). With only seven tables inside and a couple outdoors, the space is super small, but it’s totally worth the wait that you may have to face to get a seat.




Simply Wholesome – One of the only places in the city where you can shop for vitamins and natural foods, and then also sit down for a satisfying meal. Simply Wholesome houses both a health store and a café, and frequently produces community events, including live band performances. The smoothies — almost 50 in total — and their Jamaican patties, both pictured below, are great on-the-go snacks.




*Sky's Gourmet Tacos – I don’t know how she did it, but Chef Sky has managed to take the best of both Mexican and African-American cuisines — to create a menu that’s truly in a category all its own. Meats like chicken and shrimp are marinated in a spicy, flavorful sauce and then piled high into quesadillas, burritos and tacos. My favorite so far is the Torta — the Mexican version of a sandwich with grilled Telera bread, cheese and of course, Sky’s signature meat.




Southern Girl Desserts – Cupcakes, cakes, cookies, cobblers, puddings and pies, and so much more can be found at this dessert shop in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. While traditional and classic options — such as red velvet cupcakes — are available, expect the unexpected here, too. For example, there are Hennessey and Coke, Chicken & Waffle and Peach Cobbler cupcakes. There's also an adorably chic dining area, to sit and savor your treats.



*Stuff I Eat – This is a healthy-conscious vegan eatery situated on Market Street in downtown Inglewood. With wooden benches and tables, and colorful, eclectic artwork embellishing muted mustard yellow walls, the fast casual concept serves up specialties with bold flavors that are also healthy. Two of the biggest sellers: the Organic Soul Food Platter, pictured above, and the Enchilada Pie. 



*Sweet Chick – Anything Nas touches is pretty much golden; music — i.e., "If I Ruled the World" is such a classic — movies—i.e., Belly— so it should come as no surprise that his venture into restaurants would be any different. Sweet Chick right in the heart of the Fairfax District is a bustling, one-room restaurant that on weekends, dishes out an incredible soul food brunch and a jammin’ R&B playlist. You simply can’t go wrong with an order of the Chicken & Waffles, which comes with two pieces of chicken and an option of six different waffle flavors, including Classic, Dried Cherry, Bacon N' Cheddar, Spiced Pecans and more.



Taste of Universal – With a soft launch in Fall 2016, Taste of Universal celebrated its official grand opening in 2017. The teeny tiny sandwich shop in DTLA has an eclectic, out-of-this-world interior theme, with murals of colorful planets, bright stars and a larger-than-life astronaut floating around in space. Taste of Universal is bringing a taste of Dallas to L.A. by featuring two main items: 1) signature sandwiches with different types of BBQ sauces — including pineapple, smoked bacon, Korean and sweet Thai chili — and 2) gourmet shaved ice, with more than 25 flavors to pick and choose from. 



The Serving Spoon – Drive by The Serving Spoon in Inglewood on any given Sunday, just after church lets out, and you will see everybody and their aunties/cousins/grandmamas/friends/other family members in line, waiting to have brunch. With huge portions of well-seasoned homestyle soul food, it’s no wonder why this diner is so popular. And, perhaps it also has to do with the complimentary champagne they provide on Sundays.



The Savoy Entertainment Center – A low-key, laid-back club/lounge in Inglewood that frequently hosts up-close-and-personal live music performances and various weekly events. Scores of R&B legends have graced this venue's stage throughout the years: Johnny Gill, Kelly Price, Kenny Lattimore, Chrisette Michelle (pictured below), Raheem Devaughn, Stevie Wonder — the list literally goes on and on. And when there's not a performance, DJs are typically spinning R&B, hip-hop, dancehall, reggae and/or rap. Also stop by for the $1 tacos on Taco Tuesdays.



Wood Spoon – A Brazilian restaurant in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Phenomenal, fresh options with rich, bold flavors. You’re apt to find owner Natalia Pereira strolling through the premises — in the kitchen or charmingly chatting with customers. Pictured below is the Moqueca, a stew with coconut milk, seafood and spices.




Xen Lounge – An indoor-outdoor lounge, located in the Studio City neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley. Opened by actor Duane Martin in 2012, Xen is a popular place for events, including day parties, night functions and private affairs. I haven’t explored the food menu here, but I will say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their cocktails and eclectic décor.



~~~

And the ones we lost along the way...

Unfortunately, a few establishments closed their doors this past year, but they will still remain on the list, for the legacy they left on Los Angeles:

House of Music & Entertainment, a.k.a. H.O.M.E. – H.O.M.E. in Beverly Hills had been a mecca for the black entertainment world, since opening its doors in late 2013. So much talent has come here — to entertain, and also be entertained. Goapele, Jussie Smollet, local jazz bands and DJs are just a few examples of who’s made an appearance. Aside from a vibrant music scene, H.O.M.E. had a bar that knocks out killer cocktails and a kitchen that whips up California fare with a European influence, such as the bruschetta, pictured below.




Leona - Low lighting, high ceilings, white exposed brick walls and a smooth soundtrack of old-school R&B, neo-soul and chill rap, made this one-room restaurant in Venice feel quite quaint and intimate. There was a seasonal rotation of eclectic dishes, and, the detail was in everything — right down to the presentation on your plate.


~~~

*Photo credits: Buffalo Wild Wings - Jason Clark; Hal's Bar & Grill by Primitivo - management; The Savoy Entertainment - Earl Gibson III;  Xen Lounge - Xen Lounge website
SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave