Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Stevie's Creole Cafe & Bar

I picked my friend Pel up from the airport today and since she was craving Southern food, we stopped at what used to be Aunt Kizzy's Back Porch; I say used to be because until we were at the door, we did not realize it had closed (permanently). She suggest we drive back closer to her home in the Valley and go to Stevie's Creole Cafe & Bar in Encino; a place owned by Stevie Wonder. She said that Stevie knows more than how to make good music, he also knows great Creole.

I am very happy to say that I liked the food even more at Stevie's than Aunt Kizzy's. We were hungry, so we started with fried oysters and the chicken drumettes. Both were tasty, and even though they were fried, neither was greasy. A tarter sauce came with the oysters, and a spicy creamy remoulade type sauce came with both.

Main course for me was the seafood gumbo, which was advertised as the best outside of New Orleans; I agreed after just one taste of the spicy complex soup loaded with crabmeat, shrimp, chicken, and hot sausage poured over a rice base. I ate every drop and considered taking some home for later.

My friend Pel had the oxtails with collard greens and a side of fried okra; she ate everything except the bones off her plate. We also had a side of cornbread muffins, but neither one of us had the room for those or for dessert. Our wonderful waitress double bagged our order of food to go (Pel wanted more gumbo and some etouffee to take home). When Pel said to the waitress that she eats alot, our very hospitable waitress, so "Naw, you're just healthy."

This is definitely a place for people who like being completely full and happy.

Monday, June 29, 2009


With the week-end holiday coming up, I got a sale preview coupon for 30 % off all sale items at Lucy before the general public sale that starts this Thursday (use code EXTRA30 to get the discount online) in the Century City Mall.

Since I was there around lunch time, I decided to try Toscanova directly across from the store; I am so glad I opted for this wonderful Italian gem. There is a nice terrace with heat lamps and awnings, and I was lucky enough to sit next to the waterfall wall with its soothing sounds as my background music. On the advice of my excellent waiter Tony, who said that it would be enough for lunch by itself, I ordered the grilled calamari salad with arugula ($16). The calamari was wonderfully tender and grilled to perfection, the arugula had a nice lemony vinaigrette, even the crusty Italian bread had a nice texture and taste. It was too bad I was there alone; I wanted to try some of the funghi (mushroom) risotto, the ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta cheese in a butter and sage sauce, or the Mediterranean seabass with tomato, potatoes, onion and olives, but for lunch, that would have been too much (even for me). They have an Italian Happy Hour from 4-7pm everyday with free finger foods and 2 drinks for the price of 1 per person, so you can sample their food before committing to a full dinner.

Maybe I'll go back to Toscanova on Wednesday night, when the Mall is showing FREE Films on the outdoor terrace wall at 8pm all summer long; this Wednesday the movie is Back To The Future. Everyone can enjoy the warm Southern California Summer night with either something from the food court or from home, so it's the closest thing to a drive in as I've found anywhere near Century City!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Solo Spa

My first real spa experience was in Calistoga, in Northern California, a small town in wine country known for its' mineral springs and mud. I went with some college friends and we indulged in a full spa experience. I had a full mud treatment, steam, and massage package which left me nearly unable to walk from the sheer pleasure of it all. Now that all my friends are working, it's hard to get anyone to take a break and go away with me; finding a spa deal for single travelers is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Fortunately, Golden Haven offers a $225 Solo Spa package that includes 3 hours of pampering including 1 hour of massage, 1 hour facial, a mud or herbal mineral bath, use of the hot springs mineral pool and jacuzzi. You also get a winery guide that includes complimentary wine tasting and a free t-shirt. The only restrictions are that you can't get this discount on Saturdays or holidays, you can't combine the offer with another discount, and you must print out the web page before you go.

If you can find someone to go with you, Golden Haven also offers a girlfriend special for $195 and couples specials from $125 to $225, so whether you go solo or accompanied, you can go play in the mud and stay overnight if you don't feel like going anywhere afterwards; remember that if you choose to stay the night, you can have more treatments the next day!

Thursday, June 25, 2009


May all those who loved someone who has passed feel the comfort of having known them in life. I believe love lives on even though bodies do not, so keep loving all ways and always.

I share a birthday with Michael Jackson and I find myself wondering today what I would do differently if I knew I would only live to see 50.

As the Tim McGraw song says, "Live Like You Were Dying."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bling on Montana & $49 Airfares

Bling is the perfect name for a store which specializes in accessories which sparkle; it's even better when the store is having a sale on all the beautiful earrings and purses which capture the light and make you smile with delight.

Sterling silver black pearl earring are normally $145, but at 30% off they will cost about $100, a bargain for quality and beauty. My favorite piece in the store was the exquisite floral enamel and rhinestone studded clutch purse that retails for $895 normally, but with a 30% discount that brings the splurge down to $626; yes it is still an extravagance but it is a collector's item that you will keep and hopefully pass on to someone who will also appreciate and use it for another lifetime.

For about another 24 hours (until June 25), take advantage of Southwest Airline's special fares starting at only $49 to places like Pheonix, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, go even further to Chicago or Orlando for only $129 each way. Aside from booking immediately, you can not fly on Friday or Sunday and you must book at least 14 days in advance; these are restrictions that are easy to live with for fares like these. Southwest is also great for not nickeling (or dollaring) people to death because they do NOT charge for a checked bag, so that saves you at least $20 off many of their competitor's rates to the same destinations.

How about buying something fabulously beautiful and sparkly from Bling to wear on your next trip; maybe that beautiful cloisonné flower clutch could be your jewelry as you wear a classic little black dress to the Opera in San Francisco?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Di Dio's Italian Ice

Growing up in NYC, I loved getting an Italian Ice on a hot summer day from one of the sidewalk vendors; it was a small cool and tasty treat in the heat that wasn't as heavy as ice cream but was as much fun to eat.

The only Italian Ice shop I have ever seen here in Los Angeles is Di Dio's in Santa Monica. For those people familiar with Hawaiian shaved ice, this is similar, but smaller and more intense; the flavors are not simply drizzled onto ice, but they are infused with it, making the flavors more intense; also because choices are not just from syrups but from real fruit juices, Italian ices can come in a range of flavors like Blood Orange, Coconut, Mango, and Strawberry.

At Di Dio's, you can mix two flavors in a single small serving (more if you get a larger container), so go ahead and experiment with whatever strikes your palate as a good combo. For people who prefer creamy confections, they also serve gelato, so you can have your ice and gelato too!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Jane Smith Closing

If you like t shirts like the one I bought for $10.99 made by Green T (pictured above made with sequins that don't show in the photo), then run down to Jane Smith because they are closing their doors August 31, 2009. They have racks of clothes from $10.99 to $39.99 for brands like Free People, Shelli Segal's Laundry, and BCBG Girls.

Whether you are looking for shoes (sale shoes start at $4.99 a pair!) or accessories like earrings, bracelets, belts, or scarves, this is the time to shop because they still have a good selection of styles and sizes in stock which will diminish with every day as they get closer to closing. I was even sidetracked at the counter by some lip glosses for under $5. If you are shopping for a present, they have quotable cards so you can pick out the perfect words to go with your gift. I didn't find anything I wanted in the bins of clothes for $5 but if you are in the mood for a treasure hunt, go for it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

£1 London Hoxton Hotel or Two Bunch $200 Spa Credit

The Hoxton* is going to have their yearly sale this July 2 at noon, so mark your calendars, set your alarms, and sign up for the Hoxton Fan Club (so you will get email alerts before the general public). You can be one of the lucky ones to grab one of the 500 rooms on sale for just £1 (one Pound Sterling is currently exchanging at $1.44 USD). The sale will also include 500 rooms available for £29 Pounds Sterling ($44.76 USD) good for stays from August 1-October 31, 2009. You can book only one room and one night at this rate, but you can book more time or rooms if you are staying longer, you just have to pay the standard rates for the additonal time or space.

If you miss the sale or want to book and go now, the Hoxton also has some special promotions like July week-ends at
£96.89 ($139.52 USD), or Fridays in August at £77.32 ($111.34 USD) and Saturdays in August for £96.89 ($139.52 USD).

*To find out more about this hotel in the center of London, read my previous post.

Want a good deal closer to home? How about $200 in spa credit for any stay at Two Bunch Palms this Friday, Saturday or Sunday? This would be a great way to celebrate Father's Day if you don't already have a present or plans for the Dad in your life; just surprise him by whisking him away to the desert for a day and night of pampering. If you can't make it this week-end, then take advantage of their spa combo package this summer which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner with a spa treatment for $499 double or $309 single (because after treating Dad, you should also treat yourself).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Perfectly Pascal

There is a new restaurant called Brasserie Pascal in Fashion Island, now owned by the same Pascal who already owns Cafe Jardin (see my previous post on this place), Tradition by Pascal, and Epicerie Pascal in Newport Beach. His work with Paul Bocuse and at Club 55 in St. Tropez shows in his brilliant executions of French style with Californian ingredients. One of the nice things about a good chef/owner opening up in a new location is that you get to try a new place that you already know will serve good food.

To introduce people to his newest venture, chef Pascal has a Parfait 10 (Perfect 10) menu featuring three items for $10 between 11:30 and 6:30pm every day; the choices include an aged Filet Mignon, Alaskan Halibut, or Coq au Vin (chicken in wine). You really can't beat that deal, unless of course you want to go for a meal this month (June) when he also has a special 21 offer, in honor of his 21st year anniversary, with a 3 course Prix Fixe lunch for $20 and for $1 more you get a glass of house wine; if you prefer dinner, the 21st anniversary special lets you choose a salad and hors d'oeuvre or traditional entree for $21.

If you only have time for a quick bite, stop by between 5 and 7pm for Happy Hour; they serve a $10 sampler tray (enough for 2) of the most popular bites, like Cheese Sandwich, Tarte Flambée, Charcuterie, Blue Cheese Beef Sirloin Sliders, Buttermilk Onion Rings, Homemade Pâté, Thyme Fries, and house wines or well drinks are only $5 a glass.

With prices like these, you can go to celebrate TFTTIT (the fact that today is Thursday).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Anisette Brasserie & Angelato

Anisette Brasserie has been on my list of restaurants to try ever since they opened. Their location next to Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica has kept me away during sunny days and week-ends when everyone headed to the area, creating jams in both traffic and parking structures. Finally, today was a gray day during the work week, so I took advantage to finally see and taste the latest Santa Monica French Brasserie's offerings.

I was impressed by the very authentic feel of the place when I walked in, from the grand ceiling and glass mirrors, to the red leather covered chairs and booths, everything said, "old comfortable French" when of course the restaurant is neither old nor in France. Another nice touch is the water service is from glass bottles if you want regular water, and if you want sparkling, they actually offer Badoit, my favorite French bottled water.

This week they are offering a special menu to celebrate their "birthday" with dishes based on Provencal cuisine including a fish soup and a tomato appetizer. It was too bad that I dined alone since their seafood platters are too big for one person, but I will come back for what looks like a great dish to share. I chose the Fruits de Mer Salad with a citrus vinagrette ($16), which was supposed to have shrimp and calamari, but which the waiter explained would lack the calamari since they were out, substituting more shrimp instead. I was looking forward to the bread brought to the table since I had missed breakfast and was craving a good piece of baguette; I was surprised to get three slices of soft buttery parmesan egg bread instead of the traditional French bread. It was delicious, but not at all in keeping with the decor and menu.

After over half and hour of waiting for my salad, the host came by to check on me, saying he would check with the kitchen. Five minutes later the waiter came by to say that my food was on its way. Ten minutes later it finally arrived (they must have had to fish for the shrimp off the Santa Monica Pier). It was delicious, with fresh citrus dressing, nice frisee and butter lettuce leaves, but it was definitely NOT French with cilantro, avocado, and jalapeno (?!?) in the salad. Perhaps the menu should have said it was fusion instead of French.

They offer an extensive wine list with nice glasses of Cote de Rhone and Bordeaux, as well as Veuve Cliquot for those who want something sparkling for their seafood; I was impressed by the Bas Armangnac ($35 a glass) offered on the dessert menu, but I had other plans for dessert, so I opted for an espresso as my finishing course. I will be back to try something else next time, like the steak frites or the seafood plateau, both French classics where fusion is not possible.

My dessert plan was to head to Angelato which boasts 100 flavors of gelato from rocky road and blood orange, to tiramisu. You may sample up to 3 flavors before deciding, but after my first taste of the mocha almond fudge, I made my decision. The immediate service of what I wanted a minute after my order was the perfect ending to a day on Third Street Promenade.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

James Beach

James Beach was featured on a travel show as the hosts' favorite places in Los Angeles, so after watching that episode, I decided to see if my experience would be as favorable as a tourists'; unfortunately that was not to be the verdict either because the travel hosts were treated to better food and service because they were filming, or because after a year or two the kitchen and staff had changed (both are likely to have happened).

The entryway is in the patio area and to actually get to the host station, you must go inside the building on the right, so you get a feel for both seating areas before you state your preference for either. I definitely preferred the patio because the indoor area was stuffy on a warm day and seemed more diner like than diner friendly.

I was seated by a waitress in training who was very pleasant and who took my order with a smile; it was a good start. The lunch menu online had more than twice the items actually offered and several of the dishes I came to taste including the Texas Filet Steak Tartare, the Oysters in the half shell, the Tilapia Ceviche, the Spring Beet Salad, and the Cobb stuffed artichoke, were all unavailable. I settled on the Chirashi bowl pictured above, and thought, "How bad could deconstructed sushi be?". The answer was "You really don't want to know."

A crudite platter was brought to me as an appetizer with jicama, radishes, broccoli florets and a ranch dressing. A nice touch, but all the vegetables had obviously been sitting out for some time and every piece had a dried out veneer. The waiter came by to confirm my order to the waitress in training and came back with chopsticks and soy sauce; fortunately the soy sauce was sitting in a small dish so I could mix it with wasabi for my dish, but unfortunately the soy sauce container leaked and dripped so that even touching the container stained my fingers with dark dried soy sauce. I mentioned this to the waiter who apologized and replaced my container, but the replacement was only slightly more sanitary; this made me wish for the hospital like conditions of establishments that may have mediocre food but spotless condiments.

The food arrived and it looked good; the fish was decent, not the freshest, but also not as stale as the crudites. As you can see from the photo, the presentation wasn't bad, even though it was a bit sloppy with a bit of food hanging over the edge of the bowl. By the time I finished my meal, I had seen a nearby table get the dessert tray which they declined and I thought that I would do likewise because the desserts looked as old as the crudites.

The wine menu looked good, with nice wines from $5-$15, so maybe this is more of a place to come drink than to come eat, or maybe the food is better when you come in with a television crew; I don't know and I will probably never find out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Silk Thai

The little neighborhood place Silk Thai is at the border of Beverly Hills and Century City. When I say little, I mean ten tables, all full of locals lunching when I drove by, but by the time I found parking just one block away at a meter, one table had emptied just for me!

It's always a good sign when a small place is filled with regulars and locals rather than tourists who may be there based purely on hype or a past reputation. It's also good when the service is friendly even when the restaurant is swamped; there is only one waitress for the entire place and she also cleared, set, and delivered the orders after taking them! They offer take out and the delivery bicycle man was making runs throughout my meal (the bike is parked in front with a milk carton basket to carry the food, just like in Manhattan).

The decor is very calming, with touches of brightly colored cushions and flowers on every table. They offer a great lunch time special for only $8.95 which includes a small salad with very thick peanut dressing (I liked the flavor but not the consistency), two mini vegetable spring rolls, and a choice of entrees with rice. I chose the beef with basil and brown rice (so nice to have brown rice as an option) pictured above. The flavors were rich and flavorful, but not very spicy; probably a good thing for all the people who had to go back to work after lunch. Other options include a yellow curry chicken, tofu with cashew nuts, and broccoli with your choice of tofu or meat. You can also order off the regular menu of noodle and rice dishes which all run under $10; they have a vegetarian tofu alternative for nearly every dish that is made with meat or shrimp.

As a nice refreshing finish to a very good deal in Beverly Hills, they serve a very colorful scoop of frutti tutti sherbet after the meal; it made everyone (including me) smile like a kid when we got our desserts.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

3 Deals Good This Month Only

#1 The famously delicious restaurant Campanile turns 20 years old next week, and like all youngsters, that means it's time for a party! From June 15-20, they will have special menus, guest chefs, and deals like Thursday's 20 bottles of wine for $20 each. Personally, I plan to go Saturday for the 4pm pig roast, after all, how often do you get to eat roast pig in Los Angeles?

#2 Sadly, Dolce is closing at the end of this month as they look for a new space to relocate, but there is a silver lining to the bad news; they are having a 50% off "sale" on ALL their food until the doors close, so go enjoy the scene at the bar with some bites to absorb all that alcohol.

#3 If you know someone in France, ask them to go to the post office for some chocolate stamps. Yes, real stamps that look exactly like pieces of chocolate; but of course because this is a French stamp, they also SMELL like chocolate. You may want to lick them, but just don't eat them!

Gotta Have It

One way to save some money buying clothes is to sell or trade your old clothes at one of the many consignment stores around Los Angeles and use the proceeds to buy something else; it's recycling for clothes and it makes economic sense if you are willing to go for a unique or vintage look.

Sometimes the finds include items that are hard to find in regular retail stores, like 3 ply cashmere sweaters, or t shirts of bands that no longer exist and are now nostalgic memorabilia. Part of the fun is the hunt for treasures, and like a hunt for gold, you never know when you will strike the mother lode or come back exhausted with nothing to show for your efforts .

Gotta Have It is a good place to hunt for funky, Boho, trashy, retro goodies. They have 50's style dresses in good condition and hip blinged out t shirts going for $20, and I even found a pair of nice Italian high end leather stilettos for $32. If you are looking for brand names, go somewhere else (like the Discovery Shop or the Address); I'm not saying that you can't find high end brands here, but the beachy Venice style of the store sets the tone for the wares, so don't expect to find much Armani here.

It's a great place to pick up a fun outfit for a party, to try on a new style, or to dress up a pair of jeans or dress with some fun accessories. Gotta Have It may have something you want to take home; if not, you just gotta go again until you do find something.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rosey Toes

Rosey Toes on Balboa Island is a very small mani/pedi lounge which not only uses the most scrupulous sanitary practices (they use small metal bowls which they sanitize and they do not reuse files), but they also welcome young ladies to come in and develop a beauty habit, no matter what their age. This is the perfect place to have a preteen or teen birthday party or to celebrate the any special occasion, even if the occasion is the "pamper myself" holiday.

They are on Marine (the main street) but a bit hidden upstairs, so look for the silhouette of two women at a table and you have found them. They only do natural nails, so if you are looking for gels or acrylics, this is not the place for you.

Their menu includes a refreshing peppermint soak, sugar body polish and mint masque for $35 (mani) or $40 (pedi). You can indulge with an Island Delight Special which features a mango sugar scrub and hydrating creme followed by a mango, papaya & pineapple enzyme skin purifying masque for $40 (mani) or $60 (pedi). They even offer quickies for $18 (mani) or $25 (pedi). For the younger set they have a Lil Rosey Toes Glamour Girls for 8-14 year olds, who want a beauty treatment for $15 (mani) or $20 (pedi) and they even give itty-bitty girls under 7 a taste of beauty for $10 (mani) or $12 (pedi).

For the adults treating themselves they will serve you a drink during your treatment and put on an old Sex in The City episode; Rosey Toes is the perfect place to spend a day with your girlfriends, either the real life kind or the virtual television version.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Olive Oil & Beyond

Ok, so maybe you have gone wine tasting at least once in your life, but have you gone olive oil tasting? If you have, then have you ever gone balsamic vinegar tasting?

I thought I was pretty well versed in tasting wines and olive oils until I walked into Olive Oil and Beyond on Balboa Island. It's one thing to taste a few samples laid out by a specialty purveyor with some bread, but it is quite another to have an array of about a dozen from various regions, acidities and flavors in gleaming metal vats with spigots lining a wall for your degustation. The very knowledgeable and helpful shop steward combined an olive oil with a fig balsamic in a tiny tasting cup and told me to sip it like wine. It was wonderfully complex, with a slightly tart composition.

I immediately turned to ask her, "What kind of balsamic is this?" and as I turned and saw the opposite wall was lined with another dozen or so metal vats of balsamic vinegars with the same spigots for tasting. The answer she gave to my question was fig, and after I tasted the pomegranate (sweet) and red apple balsamic (both sweet and tart), I still preferred the slightly tart but flavorful fig balsamic. Prices run about $20 per bottle for nearly all the flavors of oils and vinegars, so you can afford to indulge your taste buds with something wonderful as a treat or a staple depending on your wallet.

Go for an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting and come home with an educated palate along with an unusual addition to your pantry.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pas.tu Restaurant

My favorite cuisine in the world is probably French Mediterranean, so I may be slightly prejudiced when I say that one of my favorite recent meals was at Pas.tu on Balboa Island. The restaurant name literally translates to mean "a cozy tiny spot hidden in the far end of your desired spot which holds all treasures and special memories." in Farsi. All I can say is that I am glad someone created this small artistic haven of food.

With only about 10 tables in this intimate restaurant, it feels as if you are in a secret alcove as you feast on everything, so to make the most of my dining adventure, I chose three appetizers to get a sense of the kitchen. I started with an excellent warm goat cheese salad with beets, pecans and spring greens served with a champagne dressing, segued to a marvelous Mediterranean roasted eggplant with garlic, onions, walnuts and tomato ground beef, and ended with the escargot en croute, served classically with garlic and parsley was spectacular in both presentation and taste. I am always grateful when garlic is applied generously to dishes which are supposed to be garlicky. Their wine list includes glasses and bottles from California, France, and Argentina, so be as international as you wish with your choice.

I loved the beautiful presentations of the plates as much as I loved the tastes of every ingredient on the plates. The chef must be an artist to arrange the mouth watering masterpieces with such beautiful details and colors. Finish your meal with a Turkish coffee and wander around Balboa Island with the happy smile of a happy well fed islander.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Happy Doughnut Day

Today is National Doughnut Day!

One of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles, Grace, has always made delectable doughnuts on Wednesday nights, but in honor of this special day, they have made up an $18 sampler platter of three raised doughnuts ($15 extra for wine pairing) good throughout this week-end. The trio of special doughnuts will include 1) a glazed plain with fleur de lys salted caramel with Bourbon pecan ice cream, 2) a pistachio cream filled, served with chocolate sorbet swirled with buttermilk cream, and 3) a chocolate, glazed with buttermilk and served with warm spiced milk with rum (for dunking).

To do something nice while enjoying a doughnut, go to Randy's in Inglewood (home of the famous big doughnut landmark) today for your doughnut and they will make a donation to the Salvation Army.

If all that seems too exotic or decadent, then stop by a Krispy Kreme for a free doughnut; you only get one free per person, but that doesn't mean you can't buy more (of course you don't have to eat them all at once or by yourself).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Recycled Rags

A good consignment shop is hard to find, but once you find one, you may find another across the street.

Corona Del Mar is one of those tony neighborhoods in which people who love to shop actually run out of walk in closet space and either consign or donate their clothes, handbags and shoes. The Discovery Shop is an upscale resale shop which benefits the American Cancer Society; it's hard to beat getting an Armani skirt for $5 from one of their red tag (50% off) racks.

Right across the street is Recycled Rags, which carries some unusual exotic pieces like a Dolce dress for $160 or a Nanette Lepore Dress for $65, they even had an Arden B top for $28. It may not be Armani for $5, but for these designers, the prices are still a fraction of what you would pay retail. They carry Manolos, Coach bags, and they even have a small men's section with similar top name brands at prices that may leave you wondering if there is a digit missing from the price tag.

Even if you don't live in the area, you can shop with them online as you browse recent arrivals and what is currently in stock. The secret to getting a steal here is to sign up for their email list and to go to the once a month Parking Lot Party which features store items at an even steeper discount; the next one is June 28, 2009, so mark you calendars, get set, and GO!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cafe Jardin

Cafe Jardin in Corona Del Mar is a hidden oasis on East Coast Highway that combines a nice outdoor cafe with a beautiful botanical garden; it can literally be a garden party any time you wish at this hidden treasure.

This venue is a creperie, a lunch time cafe, and super brunch spot depending on when you come here. My friend Cindy and I enjoyed a perfect Southern California afternoon as we gazed out at a beautiful fountain and garden during our meal. We both chose the crab cake salad with remoulade, asparagus, and a nicely dressed spring green salad. Everything on the plate was as well executed as the upkeep of the garden, from the perfectly cooked asparagus and the tasty crab cakes to the lightly dressed greens, the skill of the kitchen staff obviously matched the skill of the gardeners, even the French champagne served by the glass exceeded our expectations. We even managed to find room for a great dessert of lemon tart before strolling through the gardens.

On the property there is a fabulous greenhouse, a nice rose garden, a Japanese sand garden, cacti, lilies, and more fountains and ponds than we thought could be found in less than one city block. Since admission ($3) to the garden is mandatory even if you are dining, we took advantage of our unlimited free parking in the back lot to wander the property and walk off a little bit of our meal. We will be back to uncover more treasures at this delightful spot when it transforms into a creperie or the epitome of a perfect summer Sunday brunch locale.

One address with three restaurant types and a garden; it makes one wonder if any definitions are definite.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Miami's South Beach for less than $61

Miami's slow season is beginning and the chic art deco hotels in South Beach want to stay occupied during the summer, so if you book your stay by Friday, you can stay at the Carlton South Beach for $53 a night; this rate is 30% off the regular price and is good through September 7,2009. One of the nicest amenities here is that they lend you beach towels and chairs so you don't have to buy any there or even worse lug any from back home! For a small hotel, it's still got big hotel perks like a 24 hour business center and passes to local night spots.

For another prime location is the Delores for only $60 a night; this rate is 25% off the regular price and is good through September 7,2009. Located only one block from Ocean Drive. They offer free WiFi, as well as a complimentary wine hour, so you can start your vacation partying in your own hotel!. They are also known for their in house restaurant, Bistro 1506, which specializes in Latin Cuisine, so if you want to just stay in, you can order up room service.

Both of these are small "boutique" type hotels, so if you want to save your money to spend on going out in South Beach, stay at one of these places, and use what you save to visit the Fountainebleau for a meal or the nightclub; that's what I call having the best of both worlds.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Outdoor Grill

Since I can not grill where I live (fire ordinances), I look forward to going to the homes of friends who throw BBQ's, but sometimes it is nice to have someone else do the grilling, especially since that means they will be cleaning the grill afterwards.

Outdoor Grill is conveniently located right next to a carwash, so the smell of grilling meat floats across the cars, beckoning the carwash customers to have lunch at one of the tables on the patio. I've driven past this place dozens of times and heard from several people that it was worth a stop, so today I finally tasted their BBQ for myself.

I ordered the chicken and pork ribs combo so I could sample at least two of their menu items. Although the smoky flavor of the grill came through, there really wasn't any other seasoning on the chicken, so it really needed the spicy sweet sauce that came on the side. It was juicy and tender, so high marks for getting unmarinated grilled chicken off the grill without drying it out. The pork ribs were baby backs ($10.95), and although they were tender with a nice outer crust, they were also a bit dry and unseasoned. I guess the philosophy of the grill is to grill with as little seasoning as possible so that the flavor of the meat comes through, but I feel seasonings enhance good quality meats if done properly.

They offer salads, grilled catfish, and salmon dishes too. It's refreshing to have lighter dishes offered, and although I did not try them, I would guess they follow in the less seasoned school of grilling.

All in all, I'm glad I stopped by and if I am getting my car washed, I would much rather eat here than a fast food place; at least the place doesn't use microwaves and prefabricated mystery meat. If you like your meat seasoned, be sure you ask for extra sauce or use some of the array of hot sauces found on the condiment counter. A safe bet would be to go for a grilled burger; at least you could add all the condiments yourself and know that it would be better than any fast food burger.