Friday, February 26, 2010

Craft of Feeding America

Media is a powerful tool and while many of us use our media sources for fun or amusement, there are some who are using the media clout they have to educate and feed people. Combining star power and chef power, the Hungry In America Project is hosting a charity event at Tom Colicchio's Craft in Century City this Sunday.

For $250 a person or $1000 for a VIP ticket (both are completely tax deductible), you get to mingle with the celebrity hosts like Ben Affleck, Mario Batali, Lauren Bush, Jake Gyllenhaal, Nancy Silverton, and a plethora of others who have donated their time, work, and talents. The chefs will be serving up tastes of their dishes to attendees from 6-8pm (VIPs get to enter an hour earlier).

There is no sane reason why 1 in 4 children in the US are on the brink of hunger. Those of us who have refrigerators and pantries full of food are rich compared to many in our own country. Even if this particular event is too pricey for you to attend, you can donate any amount to the project here, or just load up some of your pantry goods and deliver them to your nearest food bank.

We are all richer when we share what we have with others who need it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Go Eat L.A. Thursday

If you want to go out in Los Angeles today, you can benefit from more than just eating a great meal without having to wash dishes. Today is the annual Go Eat L.A. event and all you have to do is choose whether you want to eat out for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks (or go out for all your meals) at one of the participating businesses who will donate 15-60% to the charities Aid for Aids and Serra Project.

Check out the list of businesses, which stretch from Pasadena to Long Beach, high-end formal restaurants to burger joints, and include nightclubs, stalls at Farmer's markets, juice bars, champagne bars, yacht clubs, a Comedy club and a playhouse. Some of the businesses require you to print out a coupon to donate to the event so make sure you print them out and take them with you, but most don't require anything other than for you to show up and eat, drink, or buy a ticket to a show.

Some of my personal favorites are participating, including Taste, Vincenti Ristorante, and Dar Maghreb, but I think I will be going to Local tomorrow, which uses locally grown and organic produce, and is donating 100% of their proceeds tomorrow to the charities.

Go out and do some good for yourself and others, after all, true benefits are always mutual.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gold on Sunday

With the Olympics right now, everyone seems to be obsessed with who will get the Gold, but here in Los Angeles, the Gold is Jonathan Gold, the famous food critic (LA Weekly, Gourmet) whose favorite food choices become the harbinger of popular taste for Los Angelenos.

It would be nice if all foodies had a job where we could be paid to taste and try out new places, but since most of us do other things to make money to pay for our food habits, it is a joy when a respected food critic brings together his favorites in one place so we can taste them all at one location.

The Gold Standard is this Sunday at the Petersen Auto Museum. Get your tickets online now because there will be no tickets at the door. You can try food from Mozza, Kogi, Huckleberry Cafe, Beacon, Ludo Bites, Upstairs 2, Lou, Tiara and 34 other restaurants, not to mention Bourbon and Beer, all for a $60 entrance fee (parking is $8 at the museum). The event starts at 1pm and goes until 5pm, so you can nibble and savor for four hours.

A part of the proceeds will benefit Heal The Bay and Make A Wish, so you can honestly say you are eating for the benefit of others.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Better Tomorrows

Loyalty is a valuable commodity, especially these days when hotels are struggling to fill rooms, and one of the best strategies is to reward loyal guests with discounted rates. Now you can be rewarded as a "loyal guest" when you stay ONE night at the the "best available rate", you will get your second night 50% off at by using code ZBT at the Starwood Hotel site. If you stay several nights you will get 50% off the second night for every best available rate night, which means every day of your stay means you will get a discounted rate the next day (hence the better tomorrow theme). Don't forget to sign up as a Starwood Preferred Guest because if you are a Platinum member you will receive complimentary wireless during your stays.

This rate is good through December 31, 2010 at participating St Regis, W, Westin, Sheraton, Aloft, element, or Luxury Collection hotels. You must reserve your stay with a nonrefundable payment, so be sure your plans are not subject to change, or you might be better off booking with a travel site or hotel where you can cancel within hours of your reservation booking.

Scarlett O'Hara was right when she said tomorrow would be a better day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Firenze Osteria

I was an the unfamiliar neighborhood of Toluca Lake over the week-end and found Firenze Osteria on a main thoroughfare nearby; I love finding fantastic restaurants no matter where they are located. With Warner Brothers, Disney, and Universal Studios nearby, this place is a great choice for people either taking meetings, tours, taping shows, or simply being tourists.

There is valet parking or street meters, so depending on your luck and parallel parking skills, you can choose your preference. I was pleasantly surprised to find the dining room and bar areas both half full of diners even at 2:30 in the afternoon; either other diners were eating during Italian lunch hours or this place attracts people who like to linger and savor their meals (my guess would be the later).

I was warmly greeted by the host and offered my choice of available tables either facing a big screen tv with a basketball game on ESPN or facing fellow diners; I chose the dining room view. The kitchen is completely open so you can watch as the chefs prepare your meal; it is always a sign of a clean and organized kitchen when they allow you to watch the preparation.

The bread basket was filled with thin slices of warm foccacia which were toasted crunchy by the time it arrived at my table, but that slight annoyance was completely offset by the delicious caponata that was served as a dipping sauce.

For my entree I chose the Linguini Frutti di Mare or Seafood Linguini, ($15.95) made with shrimp, calamari, mussels, and clams in a light tomato and white wine sauce. The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente and the seafood was done with a light hand so that every morsel was tender and not over cooked. The sauce was stupendous with flavors of tomato, basil, and seafood in a perfectly balanced composition. I had a glass of Italian Chardonnay ($8) as a complement to my meal and although it was delicious, it could have been chilled much more (it arrived just slightly below room temperature).

The pasta dish was so generous I could not finish it so I did not try any desserts this time, but there are many reasons to go back. Thursdays are wine flight nights from 5 to 7pm you can get flights for $6 and Friday through Sundays they have live music. If you want a truly special meal, reserve the chefs table where they create a special menu for you with wines and martinis; it is the next best thing to having your own private chef.

Firenze Osteria on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 19, 2010


If you truly want to eat locally sourced food, Forage is putting its' principals into practice while involving the community. Not only do they use proteins from sources like Niman Ranch, which does not ever use antibiotics or hormones in their livestock, but they are using what neighbors are growing in their backyards.

There are a few people here in Los Angeles who are lucky enough to have a yard with fruit trees, and my previous post on donating your excess produce to Food Forward may be a way for you to help feed local food banks, while keeping rotting over ripe fruit from ruining your yard.

But for those who don't have 6-8 bags of produce to donate to Food Forward, but still have more than you can eat or give away, you might want to go to Forage restaurant's Harvest Call on Sunday from 3-5pm where they will taste and perhaps take your home grown local produce. They will not take anything that has been heavily fertilized or industrially sprayed, and there is no payment, but if they decide to take your harvest, you will see it on the menu with credit given to you.

At Forage, your name could literally be your entree!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Free Tax Services

I had a fun day doing my taxes yesterday; it felt really good to get all my receipts in order and get an idea of what I earned and spent over the course of a year. The best part is that my wonderful Accountant, Mike West, will be handling all the tax preparation so all I do is mail him my paperwork and he "translates" it into the proper forms for the IRS. I have tried to do my own tax returns, but I am not a masochist and I realized that paying taxes is torture enough without adding the frustrating task of figuring out how much I owe.

For everyone who feels as I do, there is free help from AARP. No, you don't have to be over 60, but you do have to have a simple return. They will give preference to those who are low to moderate income and over 60, but ANYONE can get this free help from their volunteer staff.

If you are not as numerically challenged as I am and you want to do your own taxes, you can file it free at Free File. This link also provides a link to companies who offer free or paid state tax preparation and filing services. If you are in a hurry to either file or receive a refund, this site will give you an IRS confirmation of receipt for your return and a 10 day direct deposit for your refund.

Now that my "homework" is done, I'm heading out to a movie!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

MGM Sale Expires 2/18/10

I know it's short notice, but if you are good with spontaneity, you could be rewarded with a great deal at the MGM in Las Vegas. Book by tomorrow, February 18, 2010 and you can get a room which includes free Wifi, Fitness Center access, entry into either Studio 54 or Tabu, and local calls for $55 a night using code INB335. Hurry if you want this deal, the clock is ticking.....

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Unlock Me

(Today's post is a bit different in that I will be asking for YOUR resources and opinions on what works for you:)

My cell phone contract is almost completed and I have the choice to continue with my current carrier (AT&T) or switch without a penalty next month. Since I am traveling to Europe this Fall I started to shop for a phone that would allow me to stay connect through WiFi so that I don't have to lug my MAC laptop or buy a netbook for my trip.

After talking to several seasoned overseas travelers I decided my best bet would be to buy an unlocked phone through eBay or Amazon, or I could get my phone unlocked so that I could buy a local SIM card and get local rates for calls.

I thought the simplest solution would be to renew my cell phone contract, get a phone with WiFi, and get it unlocked through one of the reputable unlocking companies like iunlock. I learned some very interesting things in the process of shopping that both shocked and angered me.

One of the cell phone lines I shopped was Sony Ericsson, but I was confused by differing descriptions on their website and the AT&T website so I contacted them to clarify whether a particular phone had WiFi installed. The answer I got was that the phone was manufactured WITH WiFi but AT&T takes it OFF (so you are obligated to pay for and use only AT&T data services which cost $30 a month). Although I HATE that AT&T has removed WiFi on some phones, I do appreciate that at least I can use their SIM cards in an unlocked phone, unlike other carriers like Verizon, Sprint, Virgin, and Boost which either lock their SIM cards or use a completely closed system that does not allow use on unlocked phones. I am also considering an unlocked Nokia, which is the worldwide leader in cell phone sales but only available in the USA unsubsidized ($$$).

Of course my first two choices were the ever popular iPhone and the Blackberry, but I learned that even though they both offer WiFi installed, and they can both be unlocked (for $75 each), if you update your software for either phone, you may also have to unlock you phone AGAIN, and both require a mandatory data charge of $30 per month in addition to call rates.

So at this point I don't know which phone I want; what do you recommend? Do you travel abroad? How does your phone work overseas?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Brunch Comme Ca

Brunch is one of those meals I almost never eat out, mainly because by the time I am awake and mobile, it is really lunch time and I have missed the appointed Brunch time menu. But yesterday's Valentine's Day Brunch at Comme Ca extended until 4pm, so I actually got to enjoy Brunch with a date who enjoyed eating and talking as much as I do. Being Valentine's Day, he greeted me with beautiful orchids, and the restaurant was dressed up in white pearls and pink feather boas (combining both a Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day theme).

This is one of the few places I trust the chef and meat purveyor enough to order the Steak Tartare ($14). It was fragrant and fresh, with just enough mustard and capers to cut through the rich meat without overpowering it. It is served under the salad section of the menu because it comes with a small frisee and rocket side. Even though we had a huge entree coming, I managed to eat every last bite.

Big holidays are made for big plates, and the Grand Plateau ($90) is the biggest plate of seafood I have ever been served on one platter (I have had big seafood platters, but they were served in three tiers). Our table for two barely accommodated this beautiful presentation, so we moved to a table for four so that two of the place settings could be cleared to make room for this truly Grand Plateau. As always the oysters here were fresh and clean, served in their natural juices (I hate it when they rinse out fresh oysters!) with sides of lemons, red wine vinaigrette and cocktail sauce (for the shrimp). We did not count, but I think there were about 4 dozen oysters, 1 dozen clams, 1 dozen mussels, and 1 dozen shrimp on a bed of crushed ice and seaweed. Definitely enough for two very hungry people or appetizers for four; we could not finish this with only two of us. I had a wonderful glass of Sancerre ($13) to ease my stomach into expanding enough to fit in just a few more oysters.

Somehow we managed to eat and talk through four hours and when we finally realized we could not finish the grand plateau, we took a look at the dessert menu. Since my date is a big caramel fan, we went with the Tarte Tatin ($8) done without a pastry crust, but with a vanilla bean ice cream that melted on top of the caramelized apples ever so slowly; he said the dessert was his favorite part of the meal and he would return just to eat dessert.

Ca literally translates to "Like this" and every brunch should be like this every Sunday.

In honor of our 44th President (and today being President's Day), Comme Ca is offering cocktails for $4.40 today, just ask for a Nixon, Washington, FDR or Kennedy.

Comme Ca on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 12, 2010

We Are The World 25

Show your love for our neighbors this Valentine's Day while enjoying the song We Are The World 25. Please donate to help Haiti by downloading the ringtone, song or video from iTunes.

Little Dom's & Dominick's

With last week's Super Bowl win by the New Orleans Saints and the upcoming Mardi Gras this Tuesday, many lovers of NOLA (New Orleans, LA) are craving some Gumbo & Po Boys, not to mention some Jambalaya and Beignets.

From Saturday through Tuesday you can get your Cajun fix at either Little Dom's in Los Feliz or Dominick's in West Hollywood; since the chef is from NOLA, he knows what you crave and how to make it, including a savory Muffaletta and a sweet King Cake. Everything on the special Mardi Gras menu costs $4-$8, so you can order it all and indulge in getting it all; after all this is a day to celebrate life and what better way is there to do that than to eat well?

Bon appetit, et laissez les bons temps rouler*!

*For all you English speakers this is the correct spelling in French.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wine this Week-End

Wally's in West Los Angeles is one of my favorite places to buy alcohol because not only are they knowledgeable about what they sell, but they also provide service (like special orders) with a sincere smile. I had an oenophile come to visit from Northern California who said to me as we entered the store, "They will never have this wine. It is rare and most places must special order it." Not only did Wally's have it in stock, but they had it for such an excellent price, my wine snob friend bought two bottles.

Starting tomorrow from 9am-5pm, Wally's will be having a tent sale with their wines up to 80% off retail. The sale will go on rain or shine and will last through Valentine's Day. No matter what your taste, whether it is for a 2007 Chateau Neuf Du Pape for $41.99 (regularly $60), a Hitching Post Pinot Noir for $19.99 (regularly $36), or a bottle of bubbly Veuve Cliquot for $36.99 (regularly $50), you can find it here. For spirit drinkers, premium Vodkas like Ketel One ($20.99), Premium Tequilas like Patron Silver ($29.99), and 12 year old scotches like Macallen ($37.99) are also on sale at prices that rival or beat the big warehouses. Shopping here is much more fun and personable, and if you like having people treat you like a friend instead of a number, then patronize wonderful shops like Wally's so they can continue to exist. They also sell cheeses, meats, and bread here, so if you haven't made any plans for Valentine's day yet, this would be a great place to pick up a picnic lunch.

If you are single and own a pair of red stilettos you might want to head over to Vegas' Hostile Grape Wine Bar in the new M Resort this Saturday and Sunday. Why wear your red heels? Because you will get a free bottle of wine (while supplies last)! For a $20 cover, you get entry, and two cocktails or a $20 wine card (they have 160 wines you can taste) and a chocolate tasting from their chocolate fountain. I don't know if any men out there own red stilettos that fit, but it is Las Vegas and I read nothing in the fine print about this offer applying only to women:)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

San Francisco Book by Friday Specials

Going away for a week-end or a week is much easier when the travel time is only a 1 hour flight, and even though San Francisco may be in the same state, it is a world away in style and sensibility. Quikbook has some great deals if you book by this Friday before 5pm EST.

If you like being in the middle of town, then book the Hotel Nikko; it is just 1 block from Union Square with rates starting at $120 per night (50% off the regular rate). This hotel has a 24 hour fitness center, enclosed atrium pool, Japanese rock garden, and marble bathrooms. Keep in mind they have a fee for spa and pool use, but if the weather is cold (as it usually is in SF this time of year), it may be worth a few dollars for some recreation in a warm enclosed environment. Union Square is central to both shopping and theater, so this is the place to stay if you want to walk to the stores or shows and catch a cable car to Fisherman's Wharf.

If you prefer a more residential upscale neighborhood with spectacular views, you might prefer the Huntington Hotel and Nob Hill Spa with rates starting at $150 a night (40% off the regular rate). The hotel is on a cable car line, so being upscale doesn't mean you are stranded up on a hilltop, but it is worth noting that this hotel is on a very steep hill, so come prepared with your walking shoes or get a ride to your destinations away from the hotel. This smaller family owned hotel has paid attention to the details that make you feel pampered, from the plush robes to Irish linens, but they have kept in mind that you may want to work, so their antique desk has plenty of room for your laptop, has a dual line phone and wireless internet (for a fee). Some of the things I like best about this hotel is that they still offer a complimentary newspaper, twice daily maid service, and complimentary fitness access (Hotel Nikko might want to take notes here).

These are both non smoking hotels, so save your cigars for a trip to Miami.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Week-End Events

Tired of chasing the new fabulous food trucks around town? The LA Street Food Fest gathers 36 of them all together this Saturday from 11-5 pm downtown. Entry is only $5 (children under 10 are free with a paying adult) which gives you entry, a free drink, and a chance for some prizes. All the vendors will be selling their wares for between $1-5, but remember that to keep their overhead low they only accept cash, so make sure you carry enough green with you to eat to your heart's content.

The list of participants is here and they range from the talented Ludo LeFebvre making his famous fried chicken courtesy of a co-op with Mobi-Munch (chef Ludo does not have a truck or plans for one), the Grilled Cheese Truck, and Gastrobus, to The Sweets Truck for those who want to make a meal out of dessert. Vendors will also be there so you can shop for your last minute Valentine's Day gift if you haven't found the perfect gift yet. Take your bike (there will be a free bike valet), or take the metro to the event (they are near 7th & Figueroa) and you won't have to hassle with downtown parking.

If you had a nasty break up with your loved one and this Valentine's Day you are seeking something other than a romantic night, you might want to go to Oak Fire Pizza with a photo of your ex. As a brilliant alternative for those with memories to forget, they will not only shred your old photo, but they will buy you your first drink (the rest are all 1/2 off). It could also be the beginning of a new romance with so many singles gathering in one place; this could create a whole new definition of happy hour at a bar.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bizou Grill

If you are fortunate enough to either live or work near the Water Garden Building in Santa Monica, you can enjoy lunch at Bizou Grill (they have two other locations in Pasadena and Sherman Oaks). If you don't live or work nearby, you can park for three hours gratis with a validation from the restaurant, so there is no excuse not to come and enjoy this unique sprawling complex of fountains and garden paths on a sunny day before, during, or after eating your meal. I came in through the building entrance from the parking garage, so I had to ask the security desk gave me directions to the restaurant entrance (marked only "cafe" above the door). Bizou Grill is worth the hunt.

I was greeted by the energetic server James as I walked in and escorted to a table of my choice by a window looking out over the garden. Since I was here for Dine LA week, I was very happy to be presented instantly with the Dine LA menu ($16 for three courses), along with an encouragement by James to order from it. Ah, a far cry from last week's experience at Ago. I chose to start with the Caesar Salad, a nice presentation, albeit a bit light on the anchovies for my taste (which only means most other diners will adore this salad).

I was in the mood for Steak Frites (my go to comfort dish in France), served here with a creamy peppercorn sauce and four perfectly steamed spears of asparagus hidden under the crisp fries. I was a bit worried after ordering that my meat would not come to me very rare since I have seldom found a restaurant in Los Angeles who actually understands that definition. Ah, again, I am pleasantly surprised to find it is cooked perfectly and tender as well. I relax and order a glass of Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir ($9) that is poured so generously that I felt as if I was drinking two glasses of wine.

I have no idea how I managed to eat any of the flourless chocolate cake served with a berry coulis and vanilla cream. All I can say was it was warm and light, so I felt as if it was not as heavy as it might seem, while somehow managing to still be densely chocolately.

This restaurant definitely deserves an encore visit. I was especially impressed by how the staff worked so well together on making sure all the patrons were happy. It would be nice if every restaurant had servers that waited on every table as if it was their own instead of just saying "I'll get your server"; that happens here and I felt like a guest who was both appreciated and special.

Good food and good service always make me say happy, and people say you should do whatever makes you happy, so I will be returning to Bizou Grill soon.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Superbowl Alternatives

I love to go shopping on Superbowl Sunday because unless you are out at half time, the roads and stores are empty except for the one other person not watching the game at a party or bar.

The AdDress Boutique is offering free wine & pretzels Sunday between 11-5pm so you can shop their sale tomorrow and enjoy getting a bargain while getting some drinks & snacks at the same time, all without having to pretend that you care about football.

For anyone who does NOT want the pizza and BBQ that usually accompanies the game, there is a food alternative at French 75. Wine on Sunday will be 1/2 off, and an 8 oz Lobster tail and a piece of 5 oz Filet Mignon are only $25, and they will have live music starting at 5:30pm.

Let everyone else eat drink beer and eat wings.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bellagio's Sensi

If you have been to Las Vegas in the last ten years, you have probably seen the dancing fountains at the Bellagio; if you haven't (either been to Las Vegas in ten years or seen the dancing water show), GO! This is my favorite attraction in Las Vegas and I try to always go see the 8PM show when Andre Bocelli's "Time to Say Goodbye" is the musical theme.

I have eaten at several of the restaurants here including the fabulous Olives, but I wanted to try Sensi this trip with its' spectacular water wall entrance. They offer a prix fixe menu for $55 (add $30 for wine pairing), but I was not hungry enough for three courses, so I chose to order a la carte.

Once I was seated in this contemporary stylish restaurant, I was served the bread basket which is unlike any other bread basket I have ever been served in any restaurant. There was an assortment of flat and crispy breads based on papadum and the oven baked naan, both were delicious with the four dipping sauces that accompanied them, ranging in flavors from sweet to spicy, and refreshing to rich.

For my appetizer I chose three oysters served with a trio of sauces including the standard cocktail (boring), a citrus unami sauce (my favorite), and a nice red wine vinaigrette.

I had the deliciously rich rendition of Sensi Classic Crispy Shrimp made with Rice Flakes, Creamy Mayonnaise, Hand of Buddha Citrus Confit. In spite of how small the portion looks, four pieces were plenty for dinner.

I was too full to order dessert, but my wonderful waiter gave me a package of complimentary cookies to take home (to my hotel) in a Sensi mini take out carton.

My favorite cookie was the cinnamon sugar crisp (top center), but the chocolate nut was a close second choice (left). The odd looking green ball (right) was actually a green tea truffle that was very tasty (even though I usually dislike green tea flavored anything other than green tea).

The Bellagio description of this eclectic restaurant is Asian, Italian, American Grill and seafood specialties, but my description would be simply Sensisational.

Sensi (Bellagio) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Las Vegas Restaurants

Capital Grille is always my first stop in Las Vegas. I make sure I eat here first so that I know I will have at least one wonderful meal on my trip. It is across the street from the Wynn on the third floor of the Fashion Show Mall, but this is no mall restaurant anywhere except in Las Vegas. My favorite server here is Tanya, whose delightful personality and efficient service is the epitome of professionalism. This trip I decided on the Dry-Aged Sirloin Salad with Roquefort Vinaigrette ($22) instead of my usual grilled Tuna Steak Salad with Basil and Roasted Pepper Vinaigrette ($22) because I wanted a glass of their wonderful Lassengue St. Emilion Grand Cru (yes, I chose my entree based on my wine instead of visa versa).

Pinot Brasserie is another stop I always try to make when I am in Las Vegas. Even though the Pinot franchise is here in Los Angeles, for some reason it is even more appealing when away from home. It is located in the Venetian.

Maybe it's the comfort food factor of dishes like the Tarragon Half Roast Chicken served on a bed of earthy fricasse mushrooms with a side of garlic fries ($20). This was my default choice because my first choice of whitefish and sauteed spinach was apparently impossible for the kitchen to make even though both were on the menu paired with different items. It makes it clear that this outpost is not like the ones in Los Angeles since substitutions or exchanges of items on the menu are no problem here. I guess deviations in Las Vegas are dangerous.

The hostess was welcoming and personable, which is as rare in Las Vegas as seeing daylight in a casino. The waiter was efficient, but the busyboy was a bit too eager, clearing my food before I was finished (he apologized).

I decided to have my cafe after my meal at Espressomente in the adjacent Palazzo. Espressomente is a gelateria and pastry cafe at the entrance to the Venetian, with about 20 flavors of gelato, choices like croissants and crepes for a fusion European experience.

Ah, there is nothing like sipping an espresso while watching people wander the "street" between the Palazzo and the Venetian.

Pinot Brasserie (Venetian) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

No Elvis in Vegas

Just as you may see Superman or Batman in Hollywood, you may see Elvis in Las Vegas (I saw two in front of the Bellagio one night), but don't waste your time or money on seeing Viva Elvis. The new Cirque du Soleil show at the Aria.

I am a nearly fanatic fan of Cirque du Soleil; I have seen nearly every show since Nouvelle Experience in 1988. I always do my best to see their newest shows unless there is some unforeseen delay (my ticket for Criss Angel's Believe show was refunded after the opening was delayed over a month), or some part of the show I know I will not like (Kooza has a scene with rats and mice). I was looking forward to seeing Viva Elvis because a friend of mine knows the director and it appeared to have no negatives. Appearances can be deceiving.

Viva Elvis was the WORST (of ten) Cirque show I have ever seen. Period. It was so awful that even though I had a front row center seat, I considered walking out in the middle of the performance. I stayed and ended up texting my friend who knows the director about the show. He responded that the director did not stay for opening night, instead he left for Mexico. I detest Mexico and I would have preferred to be in that country rather than sitting through the torture of watching a cheesy, cheap looking, cookie cutter shtick of a show. Everything from the costumes to the makeup looked like it was recycled from a dead show.

What Cirque fan would have ever expected to see lame jackets and masks on the performers instead of the creative and unique costumes and make-up that Cirque is renowned for in all their other shows? Why was there an MC yelling at the audience as if we were deaf and dumb in between numbers? Who thought that adding a few athletic jumps and leaps would make Viva Elvis a show that would appeal to fans of the high flying, unique breath-taking feats of the other Cirque shows? If you want to see a great show, go to O, Love, Mystere, or Zumanity, which is a fun show for anyone who is dating.

Just as I wrote in yesterday's post about the Encore and the Wynn hotels, some things are not better just because they are new. Go to a Cirque show, just don't go to Viva Elvis.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

No More Encores

I am a big fan of the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas; it is my preferred hotel whenever I spend the night in Sin City, so of course I wanted to try the new Encore suites addition to the hotel. I finally had the chance to go last week since I was in town for the new Viva Elvis Show by Cirque du Soleil at the new Aria hotel.

Some things should not be extended or repeated, just because the originals are wonderful doesn't necessarily mean that more would be better. Encore opened during the height of the recession, so the timing of its' debut was not fortuitous. Discounted rooms were immediately made available to patrons of the Wynn for the same price, which is almost unheard of for a new hotel comprised solely of suites. Now I understand why they had problems filling the rooms (even taking into account the recession).

Finding the registration desk was an ordeal since there was only ONE sign leading to it from the self-parking garage. I had to ask several employees for directions to both the registration desk and the guest elevators. The hotel itself has a predominantly red and black theme, not at all my taste. After finding my room, I was equally disappointed with the black and tan room colors which gave the space a very austere and somber tone. Even the sheer curtains were black, so if you wanted some privacy without using the blackout curtains you go a black veiled effect in the living room area. I think they were trying to be chic and metropolitan, but the vibe came off as sterile and soulless.

The salon area is mirrored, so the photo above is actually of TWO spaces in one photo (imagine that I am standing in the middle of the room taking the above and below pictures). The desk area came with a two line phone and a fax machine, but the seat was much too low for me even raised to the highest height. I began to wonder if this decor was geared towards male guests who are badly in need of a Queer Eye makeover.

The bedroom area had a nice swiveling flat screen so you could watch tv in bed or in the salon, but the space of both rooms was made smaller by the room division.

There was ample closet space and a safe.

The bathrooms were the nicest part of the suite and I liked the bathroom the most because it was nearly identical to the bathrooms in the original Wynn.

The Wynn rooms feel much more spacious, and the colors are warm and inviting with caramel and beige tones; I considered asking to be switched back to the Wynn after I checked out my room, but I did not want to trapse through the hotel again trying to find the passageway to the Wynn.

I will spare you the photo of the garish carpet in the hallways and Lobby Bar, but both might appeal to you if you are a vampire or color blind. Nearly all the restaurants are $$$$ (expect over $100 per person), the pool was closed for repairs, and the spa entry was $35 if you were not getting a service, so it seems the objective of the Encore is to take as much as possible while giving as little as possible in return. The casino seemed very quiet, so that same objective seems to have also driven the gamblers elsewhere.

I do my best to try new things and this experience reminded me that all new things are not necessarily an improvement. I would still highly recommend the Wynn, but I will not be giving the Encore an encore visit.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Since Dine LA is now two weeks twice a year, I get to enjoy even more places for great prices. I have been wanting to try Ago for ages, since it completes the triangle of the wonderful neighboring restaurants Comme Ca and Taste.

Walking into the beautiful space, I felt welcome and comfortable with indoor and patio spaces that are equally enticing. I chose the patio since it was a beautiful day to enjoy the sun after days of rain. The busboy was immediately at my table offering bottled water or wine. When I asked for the wine list, he handed me the BOTTLE list (for a table of one?). When my waiter Andrea arrived, I told him I wanted to see the wines by the glass list and he said there wasn't one, would I like red or white? I declined since no mention was ever made of the kind of white or red being served. No specials were ever mentioned, even though I heard them explained to another table dining next to me; I guess solo diners are not expected to want anything special, but they are expected to order a bottle of wine.

Since I had come for Dine LA and the waiter only offered the standard menu to me, I asked to see the menu (not given to me) and he handed me the Dine LA Dinner menu. When I ordered off the Dine LA Dinner menu, he apologized and said, "Sorry." After I ordered off the correct menu, he left and I did not see him again until I was done with my entree course because his attention was fixated on the celebrity who had walked in after I ordered. He was so distracted that when he finally did ask me how my meal was, he was still turned towards the celebrity as he was asking me the question.

I started with the Piccola Parmigiana which looked appetizing but was more flour than eggplant and sadly dry. The nicest thing I can say about this dish is that it was nicely flavored with basil.

The main course of Caldo Mare was probably the best seafood salad in a lemon vinaigrette I have ever eaten. The calamari were exquisitely tender, the clams and mussels tasted fresh, and the shrimp were cooked with a gentle hand.

For dessert I chose the pineapple sorbet, which came in a hollowed out pineapple. It was a perfect light ending to my meal.

With four days left to Dine LA, I would try another restaurant or go back to an old favorite before returning here. I would return just for the Caldo Mare, after definitely specifying that I wanted another server if Andrea is assigned to my table.

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