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Kicking off football season Hollywood style with Danny Trejo

Rams Donut

Nothing goes with LA football like a tacos and donuts.  Not to be outdone by anyone’s fonut, Los Angeles Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts created a Rams-themed donut and football-themed taco, which will be available starting September 5, just in time to kick off football season, ushered in by stops around LA by the Trejo’s food truck.

 

To make this combo even more enticing, Trejo’s invited some Rams Cheerleaders and Rampage for a Hollywood style launch on September 5 at the donut shop, at which namesake Danny Trejo will make a showing, along with Eric Dickerson,.

The Rams-branded truck will be on the road from September 5-9 giving away Rams-themed donuts from Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts each morning, and football-
themed Tacos during the afternoons and evenings.

Fans who visit the Rams Food Truck will have the opportunity to receive team merchandise and one lucky fan at each location will be randomly selected for a chance to win a pair of tickets to the season opener on September 10.

Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts is located at 6785 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.  Get there early for street parking or limited parking in the parking lot.

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A badass dozen from Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurantsThe Left CoastTravel

Six best brunches in West LA

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Beachside Brunchin’
 

There’s no better way to brunch than being near the ocean while sippin’ on a mimosa or Bloody Mary. After all, brunch without booze is just a sad breakfast. While Los Angeles is known for having some of the best brunch spots, we want to shed some light on the west side. Here are some of the best brunch spots in the beach cities of West LA.  

1. SURFSIDE VENICE BAR + GRILL – Venice Beach  
 

Venice Beach recently welcomed Surfside Venice Bar + Grill to the boardwalk and with that, they’ve been serving brunch not only on the weekends, but seven days a week. To highlight what Surfside serves, Chef Jesse Gutierrez has created a brunch menu that features Gold’s Standard brunch burger which is their house burger with bacon, cheddar cheese and a sunny side egg on a brioche bun. The Pipeline Burrito is every breakfast burrito lover’s dream served with scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, cheddar cheese, and country potatoes served with a side of wipeout salsa. Paying homage to the community is the Muscle Beach Tofu Scramble with black beans, onions, cilantro, country potatoes, tomatoes, wipeout salsa and avocado — lot’s of avocado, served with house-made corn tortillas. The Cinnamon French Toast Plate topped with homemade whipped cream and seasonal fresh mixed berries is guaranteed to satisfy your sweet tooth. And for those searching the globe for the perfect breakfast sandwich, look no further as The Boardwalk breakfast sandwich is served with two eggs, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and cheddar cheese on a toasted baguette. “The brunch menu is delicious. I didn’t want to go 5 days without serving it!” Gutierrez says. When it comes to beverages, Surfside has a full bar and a must try is their House Bloody Mary with their secret Cajun bloody mary mix and of course, a Mimosa.
 
Surfside Venice serves brunch daily from 11:00 a.m – 2:00 p.m. Check out their full menu here
 
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Photo Credit: Surfside Venice
Surfside Venice is located at
23 Windward Ave, Venice, CA 90291
 
2. DOMA KITCHEN – Marina Del Rey
 
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If you’re looking to unwind after a long week by brunching on the Westside, Doma Kitchen in Marina Del Rey has just released their new brunch menu — and it’s something to roll out of bed for!
 
Every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. this MDR hotspot is dishing out some of the best items in town. Brunch favorites include Lamb and Waffles featuring lamb, two fried eggs, and homemade Belgian waffles, perfect for those craving something sweet and savory. The Latkes and Eggs include two house-made potato pancakes, two sunny-side up fried eggs, served along side a cup of fruit, sour cream and apple sauce. Bacon lovers can get their fix with the Pancetta Scramble including cage free eggs, pancetta, scallions, home fries, toasted bread, herb butter and fig jam, and the Brighton Beach Benedict is something not to be missed with potato latkes, arugula, smoked salmon, poached eggs, Malta’ise sauce, red onions and capers. Doma’s Nicoise Salad is full of fresh mixed greens, Italian tuna, hard boiled eggs, green beans, warm potatoes, cherry tomatoes, capers, olives, red onions, fresh dill, topped with red wine vinaigrette. For those looking to soak up the last nights alcohol can indulge in Chef Kristina’s Double Chicken Avocado Burger a house ground chicken burger topped with smoked gouda, arugula, tomatoes, avocado and served on a brioche bun. 
 
Doma Kitchen also has a full espresso bar featuring Red Bay Coffee blended beverages, lattes, coffee and tea. Check out their full menu here.
 
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Photo Credit: Doma Kitchen
Doma Kitchen is located at 
4325 Glencoe Ave, #8, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
 
3. THE ROCKEFELLER – Manhattan Beach & Hermosa Beach
 
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Just steps from the beach, begin your weekends a day early with brunch at The Rockefeller. Starting 11 a.m. on Fridays and 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, their brunch includes dishes such as their popular Breakfast Burrito made with braised short ribs, bacon, egg, pepper jack cheese, guacamole, hashbrowns, as well as Chicken & Waffles with bacon butter and maple syrup, French Toast made with french brioche bread, macerated berries, maple syrup, and powdered sugar, and their delicious Apple Fritters with caramel dipping sauce. The large open patio windows, bottomless mimosas with four flavors of peach, guava, watermelon, and orange, and endless selection of craft beer on tap makes The Rockefeller the go-to brunch spot to people-watch and have a relaxed day party that will seem never-ending.
 
Check out their full menu here
 
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Photo Credit: The Rockefeller
 
The Rockefeller is located at
 
1209 Highland Ave, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
422 Pier Ave, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
4. THE STANDING ROOM – Hermosa Beach
The Standing Room is a unique, boozy brunch spot near the beach with a menu that can satisfy and adapt to all cravings. Each dish has a unique Asian-American twist, usually with Korean or Hawaiian influence. 
 
If you’re craving a hearty breakfast, the Loaded Loco Moco comes with a half-pound beef patty, caramelized onion, cheddar cheese, kimchi fried rice, and a fried egg with homemade short rib gravy poured on top. For the active runners and yogis, they have healthier options such as their Garden Vegetable Egg White Frittata made as an arugula salad and tossed with spring vegetables. If you’re looking for something a little more classic, they can whip up their Hawaiian Bread French Toast to satisfy your sweet tooth, which comes with Nutella, sliced bananas, and toasted coconut. 
 
Aside from the food, the restaurant offers drink specials during brunch, such as bottomless mimosas, Irish coffee, and various Deep Eddy specials including Bloody Marys, Screwdrivers, Greyhounds and more. 
 
The Standing Room serves brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 1pm. Check out their full menu here
 
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Photo Credit: The Standing Room
The Standing Room is located at
1320 Hermosa Ave, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
5. R10 SOCIAL HOUSE – Redondo Beach
R10 Social House is situated on one of the South Bay’s best locations– right on the marina. With floor to ceiling windows and multiple patios plus two full bars, it is the perfect spot to spend the afternoon drinking and enjoying the ocean breeze. Priding themselves on using all natural ingredients, everything from their ketchup to alcohol mixers are made in-house to ensure the highest quality and flavor being served. Choose from the wide variety on the brunch menu– from their Watermelon Summer Salad to their Huevos Rancheros to their Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, everything is sure to be a hit and keep your party going from the night before. 
 
Brunch is served every Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Check out their full menu here
 
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Photo Credit: R10 Social House
R10 Social House is located at 
179 N Harbor Dr, Redondo Beach, CA 90277
6. PRIMO ITALIA – Torrance
 
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For truly authentic (and truly delicious) Italian cuisine, Primo Italia has become the South Bay’s go to spot, using the freshest produce Southern California has to offer. True to its Italian roots, Primo Italia changes their menu with the seasons, reflecting the best of each and their brunch menu is no exception. Only available on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., their menu includes Panettone Toast and Rucula, a traditional Italian toasted bread dipped in eggs and milk and served with fruit, Ricotta Pancakes, served in a cast iron pan with homemade syrup– or for the truly adventurous they have regular Italian dinner items such as Lasagne and Maine Lobster.
 
Check out their full menu here
 
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Photo Credit: Primo Italia
Primo Italia is located at 
24590 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, CA 90505
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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurants

Best artisan ice cream in Los Angeles

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When not just any ice cream will do, indulge in summer’s favorite frozen dessert at these top LA artisan ice cream shops, where scoops are handcrafted with premium ingredients and available in extraordinary – and bizarre — flavors beyond your imagination.

If the name fits

“Unusually creative and absolutely delicious” is the way Salt & Straw describes their ice cream. The shop’s quirky name (a reference to the rock salt once used to freeze hand-churned ice cream and the straw it was packed in to keep it cold) is as unique as their flavors.

Founded by two cousins, Kim and Tyler Malek, one with a flair for the culinary arts and the other a mind for business, and both of a mind to create something amazing, the opened their first shop in Portland in 2011, and now they have three in Portland, five in LA and one in San Francisco.

 

Their handmade, small-batch scoops are sourced from select local and sustainable farmers and artisans, from Southern California and Oregon (they also have shops in Portland, where they started). The shop features an ice cream sommelier who will take customers through tastings of their classic delights, like, sea salt with caramel ribbons, almond brittle with salted ganache, chocolate gooey brownie and peach vinegar cobbler with toasted nutmeg, olive oil and lemon custard; or their revolving menu of inventive flavors, such as rhubarb crumble with toast anise, wildflower honey with ricotta walnut lace cookies, naked stage “we are love” tea and roses, and lemon grand poppy sherbet. The community-minded shop has frequent fundraisers to give back, such as partnerships with local schools where students get to invent flavors, and proceeds from sales are donated to the schools.

 

Cool is the new hot

Coolhaus’ founders Natasha Case’s and Freya Estreller’s venture into ice cream was a departure from their backgrounds in design and real estate, but they paid homage to their professions by naming their ice cream creations “cool houses,” otherwise known as ice cream sandwiches. But instead of ordinary chocolate graham cracker and vanilla, their custom-made “sammies” are filled with ice cream flavors like brown butter and candied bacon, pistachio black truffle, balsamic fig and mascarpone, aunt Glady’s fruit cake, beer and pretzels and dirty mint chip, bookended by gourmet cookies such as snickerdoodles, confetti whoopee pie, gluten-free cocoa pebbles, and of course chocolate chip.

The Coolhaus duo took their creations, dubbed “Farchitecture,” or Food + Architecture, to their hometown streets in Los Angeles in in 2009 in a beat-up old postal van, which became the first of their current national fleet of 10 mobile ice cream trucks and carts in LA, Dallas and NYC, and two storefronts in Culver City and Pasadena.

Their line of treats has expanded to decadently dipped ice cream bars on a stick, such as mies vanilla rohe dipped in salted caramel milk chocolate rolled in crushed pretzels, and their scoops served up in their shops included a changing menu of seasonal flavors such as Mo’ Honey, No Problems, a sweet honey ice cream with OG Honeycomb cereal and McFaddy’s chocolate-covered honeycomb, and Hazed and Confused hazelnut ice cream with hemp protein power, Grape-Nuts cereal, hemp seeds and hemp-based CBD oil.

Ice cream by design

Before artisan ice cream was a thing, Jeni Britton Bauer was ahead of the trend. She founded Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in 2002, using dairy from grass-pastured cows, natural ingredients and from-scratch recipes to create inspired flavor combinations, like Sweet Cream Biscuits and Peach Jam, Savannah Butter Mint, Mango Butter Milk Frozen Yogurt, Cocoa Curry Coco, and Gooey Butter Cake. Jeni’s purist approach and complex processes of building texture and flavor without synthetic flavorings and dyes, stabilizers and emulsifiers not only makes great tasting ice cream but also gives her scoops a uniquely smooth texture and buttercream body.

From art student to baker and then perfumer, Britton transferred her aesthetic eye, culinary artfulness and passion for creating sensational concoctions into an ice cream enterprise that has earned her the distinction of one of Fast Company’s most creative people in business.

Her dedication to quality extends beyond her product to extraordinary service and the environment of her sparkling-clean and beautiful storefronts in four SoCal locations and eight cities nationwide, where patrons can enjoy their dessert in a space fitting to serve up sophisticated mixtures like Roxbury Road, Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, and Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso.

Sweet science

Sweet Rose Creamery utilizes its ample-size research and development kitchen in Santa Monica, featuring a 1,000-square-foot freezer, to experiment with ice cream flavor combinations, using all organic daily and integrating season produce form neighborhood farmers’ markets, perfecting classics like Old Fashioned Vanilla, Chocolate Caffe Luxxe Coffee, Salted Caramel and Cookies& Cream, and inventing new flavors like their Chef’s Picks of Chef Fox’s White Chocolate with Minty Pea & Macadamia Nuts, Brown Butter with Orange Wafer, Lemon Chiffon and Rose Geranium with Raspberry Ripple.

The masterminds behind the operation, restaurateurs Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan and co-owner/Executive Chef Shiho Yoshikawa, who opened the original ice cream shop in at the Brentwood Country Mart in 2010, have since opened four more shops and continued to grow the company and leverage its talent and resources as a member of the family of celebrated eateries that includes Huckleberry, Milo and Olive, and Rustic Canyon. In addition to ice cream, the shops sell pastries from sister restaurant Milo and Olive and coffee from local roaster Caffe Luxxe.

 

 

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurants

ROKU for sushi date night

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ROKU restaurant on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood dashes the belief that you can only get authentic sushi at an underground, insiders’ sushi bar. While there may be a certain romanticism about dining at an dive sushi bar, there is much more to be said about enjoying the ambiance of a fine restaurant while also indulging in the highest quality sushi, and that is what ROKU offers.

DSC_1229I am not a regular eater of raw seafood, but I have tagged along on plenty of sushi excursions with dining partners who are connoisseurs of this category of food art. I have been to the hole-in-the-wall sushi bars where there was no sign on the door, where you have to duck under a noren to get in. While one may find interest in the cultural experience, I much prefer the comforts and upscale environment of a modern sushi restaurant, especially one that offers an extensive menu of cooked food, like ROKU.

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As with their décor and atmosphere, ROKU challenges traditional sushi menus with inventive, modern preparations, as well as traditional style sushi for their old-school sushi enthusiasts. At the sushi bar, Chef Jiro Kobayashi prepares his recommended chef’s choice Omakase along with a variety of fresh fish daily, including Roku signature style sushi of warm rice with an innovate touch for their Ume six-piece selection or their Matsu eight-piece selection. Specialty rolls include hand rolled baked crab, Shima shrimp wrapped spicy tuna, with cilantro and avocado, and Ebi Tuna shrimp tempura topped with tuna, jalapeno vinaigrette and eel sauce.
For those who enjoy the communal and interactive dining experience of Teppanyaki, at the grill table Teppan chefs prepare A-5 Japanese Wagyu, Matsuzaka beef, Santa Barbara spot prawns and other high-quality ingredients at interactive grill tables. This dining style is offered for dinner, generally for groups of two to eight.

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On days when the weather is pleasant, which is most days in West Hollywood, the patio is open for dining; or for a serene and elegant dining experience among a garden of bonsai trees and the glow of votives, the dining room offers an environment conducive to a relaxing business lunch for dinner, or of course a date night.

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ROKU has a delicious twist on the Bento Box, traditionally a take-home or carry-out meal, but at ROKU these eat-in delights include an executive Bento Box of shrimp and vegetable tempura, tuna and yellowtail sashimi, baked miso cod, chicken yakitori, green salad, and rice.
Other entrees include kobacha and butternut squash and grilled octopus with kimchee vinaigrette , and pickled vegetables and toro tartare are prepared tableside with pomp and circumstance. The bar at ROKU also serves up progressive fare, with many Japanese whiskeys, sakes and creative cocktails, like the Matcha Mule with green tea infused vodka, ginger root, fresh lemon and honey.

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ROKU answers as the sushi restaurant that has outstanding and authentic Japanese food, personal service and an inviting atmosphere. If you are seeking the casual and dressed-down sushi experience, you will need to go elsewhere. In fact, beachwear, athletic wear and flip flops are not allowed, so wear your business causal and bring your appetite for a satisfying, new LA-style sushi scene.

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ROKU is located at 9201 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. Call for reservations at (310)278-2060

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Eat & DrinkRestaurants

L'Ami welcomes guests with Mediterranean ambiance and cuisine

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For a family brunch, romantic dinner or drinks with friends, L’Ami aims to please

2017-03-10 (1)Before I appraise the food at L’Ami in Santa Monica, I would be remiss not to mention another recommendation of this charming restaurant, the atmosphere.  This Mediterranean oasis, in the middle of Los Angeles, adjacent to the popular Brentwood Country Mart, is a heavenly retreat on a summery day, where patrons can sit on the patio surrounded by olive trees and imagine they are basking in the sun in St. Tropez.  Or, on one of those chilly LA days, when the temps dip way down, to the low 60s, guests can cozy up on shearling covered bar chairs next to the blazing fire inside the dining room, where the radiant heat of the stone hearth exudes a comfort equaled to the warm hospitality of the staff.

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For those lucky enough to encounter the owner Marc-Antoine Ramaud, whose childhood culinary experiences inspired the menu, you will understand from where the spirit of friendliness emanates. Ramaud aims to please his guests in every way, beginning with creating a romantic and inviting setting, and then complementing the experience with offerings of fresh, organic and seasonal dishes that capture the Mediterranean culture and cuisine.

The menu represents the varied flavor combinations along the Mediterranean shores, such as the exquisite appetizer of carpaccio of hand dived scallops with truffle vinaigrette with Jerusalem artichokes, chives, mache leaves and shaved black truffle; or a homemade foie gras au torchon on brioche toast with fig chutney and frisée salad.  And if you love French onion soup, this is the place to have it, served with caramelized onions, gruyere cheese gratiné and croutons – scrumptious next to the fire on a cold day.

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For dinner, some of the standout excellent dishes include Baby Lamb Shank, oven roasted and served with mashed potatoes, spinach and candied carrot; Couscous Royale, in a lamb stew with chicken, merguez sausage and harissa; and you can’t go wrong with the White Sea Bass, served with seasonal vegetables and a medley of quinoa and harissa emulsion.

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On weekends, it is time to indulge at L’Ami with decadent and delicious entrees such as Grilled Filet Mignon Benedict on brioche toast with beef tenderloin medallions and hollandaise; or Farro and Goad Cheese Risotto Benedict with green lentils, kale and hollandaise.

The brunch menu also features a kids menu for $12 with a beverage and kid-friendly sections like and French toast, mini waffle with eggs and bacon or a Breakfast Pita of scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage.

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While the food deserves high acclaim, the drinks cannot go without mention.  The resident mixologist serves up favorites like 1792 Old Fashion Angostora and Peychouls Bitters, with sugar cane, 1792 bitters; and surprising and exotic mixes like Seasonal Rhubarb Beluga Vodka, a blend of organic rhubarb and  lemon juice; the Moscow Mule Vodka, a cocktail with a kick made of ginger beer, and organic lime juice;  or the refreshing Marco’s Mojito Flor, blended with De Cana Rum, fresh mint, and organic lime.

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L’Ami is located at 246 26th Street, Santa Monica, California, on the Westside boarder of Santa Monica and Brentwood.  Its entry is tricky to find, hidden behind a wrought iron gate covered in ivy, but well worth the hunt.

 

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Dining in Los AngelesUncategorized

Finding O+O Sicilian Kitchen & Bar- Santa Monica's best-kept secret

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img_3676The only thing not great about O+O Sicilian Kitchen and Bar in Santa Monica was finding the place. Waze announced my dining companion and I had arrived, but we still couldn’t find it after 10 minutes of walking up and down Ocean Blvd.  We started to leave when we ran into a group of people who were also looking for it.  They had friends on the phone who were at the restaurant who swore it really existed and we were just a half black away.  I’m glad we did not give up the hunt.

Even on a dark, cold and rainy night, somehow a restaurant full of people had found O+O.  The place was packed.  After having a needed glass of Tuscany wine to unwind from our trek, we relaxed into the warm and friendly neighborhood atmosphere of the Italian family style eatery, where large groups had pushed together tables, and many families with children were dining together.

The menu featured modern Sicilian cuisine with a California flair, with dishes such as fennel and blood orange salad, fried olives, squid ink linguine and vegetarianna artichoke and eggplant pizza.  As a charcuterie aficionado, I was happy to see a selection of cold cuts, and for my starter I had the persimmon and prosciutto salad. The meat was satisfyingly salty, and the burrata perfectly creamy soft.

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It’s a good thing I didn’t eat lunch that day, because after the generously portioned salad, I was already feeling full, and I was wondering if we should have ordered the second course, the restaurant’s popular classic meatballs, but we were glad we did.

The meatballs lived up to their promise, of being classic. They tasted just like my mom’s meatballs from my childhood, the ones she would make for the progressive dinner parties, that percolated all day in the crockpot in their rich tomato sauce with basil, and pecorino.

For the main course, I ordered the breaded swordfish, which was previously a special, but because but it became so popular they put it on the menu. It was light and tasty, served with romaine, arugula, fennel, and cherry tomatoes.  A delicious and perfectly cooked dish.

To finish off our meal, we enjoyed the trio selection of ricotta, pistachio and chocolate cannoli, which were fresh and just the right size to not be overly filling after a three-course meal.

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The food made this place worth finding, but clearly by the size of the crowd, the restaurant was not as hidden as we thought. In fact, the crowd was a bit much, as the place was rather noisy, probably owing to the acoustics of the mostly glass walls. It seemed like everyone was yelling to be heard, so on one hand there was an enjoyable frenetic New York-y energy, but on the other hand, I would’ve liked a more tranquil environment to savior my food.

While they are not terrific for audibility, those panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows offer an incredible view of the outdoors, which on a sunny day would be the place I would choose to dine. The patio overlooks a lovely courtyard of the Pacific Terrace building complex in which the restaurants resides — and which should be part of the street address instead of Ocean Avenue, if they want to make the place less impossible to find; but maybe its best we keep that a secret.

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Dining in Los AngelesThe Left CoastTravel

A short weekend in Long Beach

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img_3980A beach, a city, and a harbor for ships and visitors

Living 17 years in LA, I visited Long Beach about half a dozen times. It served as a halfway meeting point for me and friends who lived in Orange County. We had brunch and dinner there on occasion, and I visited the aquarium with my son and went whale watching once, but I never really considered Long Beach a destination. That was before I had the opportunity to spend an entire weekend there, and I truly got to know what this 55-square-mile city offers unique from its neighbors.

Long Beach has 11.5 miles of beach, which is how the city gets its name, but what sets this  Southern California seaside town apart is its urban environment by the waterside. Think Seattle or Miami, but with constant sunshine, and relaxed attitude of Southern California, along with a desirable geographic position 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

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Whereas across the Southern California coast, denizens can brag that they can snow ski in the morning and sunbathe on the beach in the afternoon, Long Beach one-ups that boast with the promise that residents can go sailing or deep sea fishing, or even visit the island of Catalina for lunch, then go skiing, and be back by dinner time to dine at a world-class metropolitan restaurant and hit the nightlife in the city, until the wee morning hours if they wish.

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It is a vast city, with a plethora of diverse offerings in the area of culture, cuisine and arts.  The latter category of arts happens to be one of most thriving for the city in the last decade, in which the city has dedicated 1% of its revenue to developing arts programs. Long Beach is the home of the Museum of Latin American art, along with the long beach museum of art, which combines contemporary collections and classical architecture with an oceanfront view. The city is also known for its street art, including the gigantic outdoor murals of the Pow! Wow! international art collective.

The local art scene inspires much of the culture of the town, from the awesome award-winning architecture of the Long Beach airport, named one of the 10 most architecturally beautiful airports in the world, to Retro Row, a 1950s-inspired walk back in time into a mid-century throwback of restaurants and coffee shops, barbershops, and furniture and decor shops that seem like a scene out of  Mad Men, for which in fact the set designers of said show often visited for props, wardrobe and inspiration.

One cannot talk about Long Beach without mentioning the RMS Queen Mary. The behemoth transatlantic ocean liner, built in 1936, that is three times larger than the Titanic, is permanently docked on the Long Beach shoreline, where at now serves as a tourist attraction and hotel where visitors can stay in one of the refurbished first class state rooms.

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In speaking to locals of Long Beach, it seems everyone has a connection to the Queen Mary. Many have worked there, or their friends or family members have, and many have their own personal stories about the lore of the old ship, purported to be haunted by ghosts.
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The boat has been floating at its current resting place since 1967, and it rises twice a day, up and down with the tide, hosting hundreds and even thousands of tourists daily for tours and special events. Visitors and ghost chasers revel in the stories told by the Captain and Commodore and the many knowledgeable docents who share a passion for the ship as strong as any Brit’s fealty to their royal figurehead.

Aside from the Queen Mary, there is much more to the shoreline and the bounty of the sea that is an essential draw to the city. The Long Beach aquarium is also world renowned, housing more than 11,000 animals and nearly 500 different species and featuring exhibits that allow visitors to get an up-close perspective and even touch the animals displayed there, in addition to sponsoring many learning programs for visitors of all ages.

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In addition to these two major attractions there is also a wharf area with seafood restaurants, like the renowned Parker’s Lighthouse, offering tourists and locals spectacular views along with the region’s best and freshest seafood. The culinary scene, like the city itself, has great variety, such as renowned authentic Mexican food at Lolos Mexican Cuisine; The Attic on Broadway, a southern comfort food eatery; the trendy Sip Bar & Lounge at the Marriott Renaissance Long Beach Hotel, featuring the “ocean to fork” culinary creations of award-winning Top Chef contestant Executive Chef Janine Falvo; and L’Opera, a sophisticated fine dining restaurant featuring Northern Italian fare.

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Lest we forget to mention the shopping, Long Beach is home to one of the area’s newest outlet malls, called the Pike Outlets, which not only has a number of premium discount stores, such as Restoration Hardware and Columbia sportswear, but it also features a Ferris wheel that has become an attraction in itself.

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While a day trip is an easy excursion from Los Angeles, for out-of-towners and those who want to stay overnight, the city offers a growing number of hotels, from the downtown Hyatt Regency, which offers spectacular vistas of the city to the quaint feeling Hotel Maya, a Hilton Doubletree hotel, which though is a sizable property of 200 rooms, has the charm of a boutique hotel, with views overlooking the bay and it’s own marina, which maritime guests can slip into and then stay overnight on their boats or in hotel rooms.

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The hotel also features Fuego restaurant, famous for its handcrafted margaritas made from its expansive selection of premium tequilas. Its best-kept secret its small private beach, Playa Maya, for which the hotel developers brought in thousands of pounds of sand to create an inviting alcove with lounge seating around fire pit which are the scene of s’more making and merry making in the evenings.

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The hotel offers bike rentals which I took advantage to take a quick, three-minute ride to the Queen Mary, then I doubled back and headed into the city, which was easily accessible by bike designated bike paths. I rode to the Pike and took a break by the Rainbow Lagoon Park and a spin by the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, which was dark on the weekend I visited.

On a sleepy Sunday afternoon, the city was quiet, almost deserted, which is part of the diverse character of the city that is a lure to visitors. It is a bustling city during the weekdays, and a laid-back beach city on the weekends – a city that embodies work and play. While tourists may find its appeal as a central outpost for visiting Los Angeles and many of Southern California’s other major attractions, such as Disneyland, California Adventure, and Universal Studios Hollywood Long Beach in itself has the draw of a tourist destination, with its features as a metropolitan city, with the added appeal of a sunny beach comprising its boundaries.

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As a port city, where cargo ships dock from around the world, and to which trucks haul goods back and forth, Long Beach can experience a fair amount of traffic, and the tangled maze of roads to the harbor, with the abundance of signage directing visitors to the various attractions, can make it a navigation feat to find one’s way around at first. Once I got the hang of the roadways, with the help of Waze, I was able to steer myself around like a native, and in fact I found a few short cuts. While I got a good sense of Long Beach by staying there for a weekend, I learned there was a great deal I have yet to explore in this sprawling beach, I mean, city.

 

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Restaurants

Finding liquid gold at Fig & Olive

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img_3563My epicureanly enlightened son proclaimed at age 7, “I could not live without olive oil.” And so it has been. Almost daily we find a use for olive oil in our diet, and when we dine out, it is olive oil, not butter, in which we douse our bread. So imagine my delight to find a new favorite restaurant that shares our enthusiasm for this “liquid gold,” elixir of the gods, Fig & Olive.

The restaurant’s concept is one of pairing its food dishes with olive oil, its menu’s main ingredient. Offerings include a sweet and delicate olive oil from the French Riviera that pairs well with a Steamed Lemon Sole Papillote to an assertive Spanish Picual or a Tuscan olive oil that holds its own with Seared Salmon with Fennel and Green Olives, or Grilled Branzino glazed with a fig balsamic vinegar, served with figs and snow peas finished with a sweet Picholine Olive Oil and a green-fruit Provence olive oil served with a Green Apple Sorbet.

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The restaurant’s expansive assortment of over 30 varietals of extra virgin olive oils are imported from the Riviera and coastal regions of the South of France, Italy and Spain. Each is selected to pair with specific flavors and dishes, and guests are offered an assortment of oils for tasting at the beginning of each meal. If you fall in love with an oil, you can take it home for $12 to $32 a bottle.

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If I were to put together the elements of a restaurant to love — besides one themed around olive oil and the healthful Mediterranean diet — it would look like Fig & Olive: an open space that is bright with natural light, filled with live plants integrated with the decor, and decorated elegantly yet comfortably, creating a relaxed intimate atmosphere for dining with friends and family. It is this is as if Fig & Olive read my mind.

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It’s dining room, designed with limestone stucco walls, a terra-cotta ceiling, and green rosemary and olive trees, along with olive branches crafted in black wrought iron and lit with candles, exudes the warmth and essence of the Mediterranean. When entering the dining room, guests are greeted by a long, white marble communal table and tasting bar that stretches across the dining room, lit by pendant lights and bookended by glowing illuminated shelves of extra virgin olive oils and wines, a display that welcomes and impresses at once.

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The restaurant not only is pleasing in its atmosphere, but when just after we were seated our server brought us an assortment of all of olive oils, along with breads and veggies for dipping to start off our dining experience, I was sold. They had me at, “Welcome.”
Fig & Olive is a place where olive oil aficionados, like wine snobs, can sample various formulations and describe them in similar terms, like, “This one is pungent and self-assured with woody edges and a touch of mint.”

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And speaking of snobbery, I would not speak in those terms in association with this fine restaurant. While its eight locations nationwide reside in tony neighborhoods in DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and it attracts a well-heeled crowd for power lunches and dinners, the atmosphere is not stiff or cold. The wait staff are friendly, and the tone set by the environment, which is tranquil and hospitable.

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When my dining partner and I recently dined at Fig & Olive on Melrose Place in West Hollywood, before we knew it hours had passed and we had well overstayed the restaurant’s lunch hours. We had been happily engaged in conversation, and not once did we feel rushed or pressured by our server. In fact, quite the opposite. When the place was nearly empty and the staff was resetting the restaurant for dinner, we requested our check, which the server delivered but assured us, “Take your time.”

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Indeed, among the olive trees, aroma of rosemary and the treat of a variety of flavorful olive oils on the table, I never wanted to leave, and I eagerly await my next visit to the Mediterranean, if only for a meal.

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Dining in Los Angeles

A date night at Fleming's steakhouse

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flemings-filet-and-ribeye-group-shot_largeFleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Beverly Hills has a hipper swagger than your traditional steakhouse. It has the dim lighting, crisp white table cloths and large booth seating that you expect from a fine dining establishment, but unlike the staid and almost library-like atmosphere of many steakhouses, Fleming’s feels like a party.

This energy could be partially owing to the vivaciousness of the servers, like Tyler, who we figured must be an actor, because his flashy smile was at any moment headshot ready, who took care of me and my dining companion on our last visit, but it is also the general vibe of the place, from the laughter of the well-heeled patrons mingling at the bar to the steady flow of patrons in and out of the restaurant, milling about in the entry, greeting the host and hostess as if they were old friends, maybe they were.

But of course, the ambience and atmosphere are important, but the food is essential, and here is where Fleming’s truly excels. Being a steakhouse, of course I ordered a steak. As a huge fan of the bone-in T-bone, I ordered the one and only size of its variety, the 20-ounce steak, which was a meal fit for a king, or two. Of course, with an Uncle Buck sized steak like this, I figured I would end up boxing up a good portion of it to take home, but it was so juicy and flavorful that I did not leave as much on my plate as I had expected, but still enough for a second excellent meal the next day.

As we had started our meal with the outstanding crabcakes, wading in a puddle of roasted red pepper and lime butter sauce, followed by the Flemings salad of candied walnuts, dried cranberries, tomatoes, onions, herbed crostini, lemon vinaigrette, we did not want to overdo it, and so we only ordered the shoestring potatoes as a side, though we had heard good things about the crispy fried brussels sprouts and the monstrous onion rings, but we will have to wait until next time to order those.

Tyler kept us happy, making sure all our dishes arrived as ordered, hot and fresh. He was not afraid to give his opinion on the best way to have our food prepared, such as recommending having my steak seared on both sides before cooking it to a perfect medium rare, versus broiling it. He also had excellent suggestions regarding wines, and he didn’t judge when I asked for white wine with my steak, and he selected for me a rich and buttery Chardonnay that paired perfectly with the juicy flavor of my steak.

To finish off our most excellent dining adventure, Tyler recommended Fleming’s extraordinary carrot cake. A tall layered slice of this goodness was delivered with a bowl of fresh whipped cream, which we sampled liberally with each bite of this decadently delicious dessert.

Our dinner experience was leisurely, with Tyler pacing the delivery of each course to give us time for conversation and to whet our appetites for the next course. Noticeably, many of the same folks at the bar who were there when we arrived we’re still there when we left.

Despite the festive, jovial atmosphere, full of lively conversation and activity, it did not feel hectic, nor did we feel rushed, even though it was a busy night. Our experience felt more like we were among a gathering of family and old friends.

In Beverly Hills, where the scene can sometimes be, well, scene-y, Fleming’s was a nice respite, where one could be dressed up and enjoy an upscale evening out without the uppity stiffness of some restaurants in town where in the end you are just glad it’s over. Fleming’s is a place where guests want to linger, for the food and drinks, and just because it feels comfortable to be there.

Flemings has 13 locations in California, including a newly opened restaurant in Pasadena.

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurants

Special family dining at Las Brisas in Laguna Beach

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lb-gallery-brunchWhen choosing a restaurant for a special occasion, such as an anniversary, birthday, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, holiday dinner or a family celebration, the ideal venue should be as memorable as the event, a tall order which Las Brisas in Laguna always aims to fulfill for its guests.  My second to last visit there was about 10 years ago, and after enjoying a Christmas day family dinner there recently, I wondered why it has been so long.

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The drive from Los Angeles to Laguna is about an hour, and like many Angelenos I tend to dine within a 20-minute drive radius, but every so often I will venture further outside my culinary comfort zone, such as to Malibu or Laguna, and that is when I realize why the drive is worth it.  As a dining destination, Las Brisas has it all.  A spectacular vista of the Pacific coastline, excellent food, superb service, an elegant yet laid-back atmosphere, and a few bonuses, such as a bird’s eye view of surfers and divers who are drawn to the famous seascape, and a warm, friendly atmosphere that can only be cultivated by decades of being a local establishment beloved by its neighbors.

The legendary restaurant was built in 1938 as the Victor Hugo Inn, a world-class restaurant and celebrity getaway, and it became Las Brisas in 1979, a first-class sea-to-table culinary destination attracting both locals and visitors of discriminating tastes.

The menu features an infusion of the best of Californian cuisine with authentic Mexican recipes of rich, sweet, sour and spicy flavors, such as the Shrimp, Tampiqueños an entree of Spicy wild Mexican prawns sautéed with shiitake mushrooms, Chardonnay and garlic. Traditional Mexican dishes are given a modern twist, such as Caleta, a savory seafood enchilada with skirt steak or the choice of free-range chicken or grilled fish soft taco; or La Asada, a Chipotle-citrus marinated natural skirt steak with a chicken enchilada.

For our holiday dinner, the fare was more continental and limited, with a fixed menu offering including beet salad, butternut squash soup, chops, steaks, scallops, seabass and of course, surf and turf; and for desert a seasonal eggnog crème brulee or apple cinnamon tart.  Despite the fact the restaurant was packed on Christmas night, with diners overflowing onto the patio, where they were warmed comfortably by the glowing flames from glass tower heaters, and guests were brimming out front door on one of winter’s chilliest nights, the maître d seated the waiting guests swiftly and efficiently.

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Likewise, the service was meticulously organized, with hot plates being delivered within a few minutes of ordering, and my medium rare filet was cooked exactly right and the perfect temperature.  We were amazed at how our uber-efficient server juggled the at-capacity crowd with aplomb, answering our questions about the menu, chatting with guests about the holidays, and taking the time to help us select a wine to pair with our entrees.  I half expected him to start spinning plates on a pole.

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One large group that was being seated next to us began to grumble about having a chair placed on the end of the table for an extra guest, so without any discussion the server quickly conferred with the host who obliged the group with a larger table by a window, very much met to their liking.

This is the attitude of “aiming to please” which has made the restaurant a favorite for those occasions when patrons desire impeccable service that makes them feel special.  For the holidays, the restaurant decorated its dining rooms with festive lights, Christmas trees, candles and orchids adorned with holly berries for the season, but the centerpiece for guests of all ages was a giant aquarium that resides in the foyer, which perpetually has small children gathered around, gazing at the brilliant coral and sea life.

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The aquarium is a dependable mainstay, like the restaurant, and no matter the fact it has stood for 38 years in the same place, it is always dynamic and exciting, well worth the trek out of LA to find an experience you can’t have sitting on a city sidewalk.

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