Thursday, May 28, 2009

Review: The Lab

My review of The Lab went up on today. The new gastropub is part of USC's complex of new hospitality centers, bars and restaurants as the area around the campus is cleaned up. The Lab, for instance, used to be a Sizzler, but now you can't even find a trace of the buffet left in the cleaned-up interior--though maybe if you squint just right at the long, white-tiled bar...

Ah well, the food is pretty good too. Take a look:

FACES: Zoe Nathan

My Los Angeles foodie interview for this month was with Zoe Nathan, the pastry chef at Rustic Canyon, and now the owner/baker at Huckleberry Bakery and Cafe. She works with her husband, Josh Loeb, who is one of the partners in Rustic Canyon, so it's an interesting dynamic to explore, and Zoe herself is just a delightful personality, so I'm glad the interview worked out.

This Week on HotelChatter

Just a few stories from this week on HotelChatter. Notice the money-saving trend?

Save Some Green While Going Green at the Serrano in San Fran:

Save Your Money From Rodeo Drive When You Stay at the Crescent:

So Summer Santa Monica-Style on the Cheap at Viceroy's Whist:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Waves and Vines at the Chateau L'Hospitalet

For my recent trip to France, I had to find a lot of hotels since I was staying in a new one almost every night. One of the hardest ones to find was a hotel somewhere near Perpignan for the day I drove from Normandy, dropped my mother off in Paris, the zoomed as far south as possible before I was exhausted.

After much searching in towns like Perpignan, Rivesaltes, Collioure, Beziers and Narbonne, I finally came across the Chateau L'Hospitalet, which is part winery, part hotel, part gourment restaurant, and part agro-tourism investment. It is owned by former rugby star Gerard Bertrand, who is ever advancing his restaurant, wine and hotel empire. L'Hospitalet is one of his crown jewels, and it made for a great destination after a long day. Next time I'm in the area, I plan to stay for another night or two so I can explore the area a little more when I'm not on such a tight schedule. Hopefully next time it won't be raining either...

Rental Dent

The fifth and final installment of my France Field Trip Series on Jaunted this week is about what to do when you get in a car accident in a foreign country. It is based on my own experience putting a dent in the car I rented for my massive road trip in France recently. Luckily, it was only a tiny accident, no one else was involved, and there was no other damage to anything besides the dent I put in the rear passenger door. That leads me to believe that the little Citroen I'd rented was not exactly the best built car ever since the garage door I grazed was not damaged in the slightest.

Ah well, that, as you will learn from the article, is what insurance is for. It also encouraged me to brush up on my car-related French vocabulary for next time...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

French Wine's Green Revolution

Piece Number Four in the France Field Trip Guide on Jaunted. This one is sort of like a little teaser for a larger article I am pitching about the new generation of environmentally conscious winemakers taking root--so to speak--in Languedoc-Roussillon. I just talk about a couple of them in this article, but in the larger one I am planning, I am going to discuss several more of the wineries I visited in Languedoc, why organic and biodynamic practices are becoming so popular in this region in particular, what that will mean for the future of French wine, and what American drinkers can expect to find in the coming years.

For another little teaser on the same idea, see my recent post (complete with video) about Olivier Pithon.

History And Wine Along The Cathar Trail

Part Three of My France Field Trip is about all the things to see and do along part of the Cathar Trail in Languedoc-Roussillon. Just as I did on my trip, the areas I cover are mostly towards the far west end of the Trail near the Mediterranean coast. I cover from Rivesaltes (north of Perpignan) to Maury to Puilaurens, about 2 hours inland.
The article includes information on a few of the Cathar Castles, a link to the Association du Pays Cathare web site with info on all the Cathar sites, and the two I visited the day I covered this swath, Domaine Cazes (which you can buy at Whole Foods), and Domaine Pouderoux. A little beach, a little hiking, a little wine. Pretty much perfect. Enjoy!

What's Brewing Along Normany's Cider Route

The second part in my France Field Trip Series on Jaunted is about the few days we spent up in Normandy touring around Normandy's Route du Cidre, drinking our fill of calvados and cider, and tasting Normandy's famous cheeses in the Pays D'Auge. The story includes a map of the route, a hotel suggestion, and a dairy tour.


Review: Huckleberry Cafe

My latest review up on

It's of a new bakery cafe in Santa Monica called Huckleberry that was started by the husband and wife team behind Rustic Canyon. Excellent pre-composed salads and sandwiches, tantalizing baked goods, and some interesting beverages.
The next FACES on will profile the wife/baker, Zoe Nathan, so stay tuned for that!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Reims: The Perfect Daytrip From Paris

The first of several articles about my recent trip to France to go up on Jaunted. This was a big one since I had to cover everything we did during our daytrip to Reims, including the walking tour of the main monuments and sights, lunch, champagne-tasting, and...well, everything gets a little murky after the champagne-tasting.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rooftop Fun At The Chamberlain West Hollywood

The Chamberlain West Hollywood is cloistered in a mostly residential area of Weho, and until now, its facilities have only been open to guests and their friends. So much for trying to get a meal at the restaurant!

That policy is changing a bit with the introduction of Kor Hotel Group's "My Urban Retreat" Program, where you pay a fee (about $500 a year) to get discounts at and be able to use the rooftop pool, the restaurant, parking, and even good rates on rooms and suites. So now a limited band of outsiders will get to use the facilities here, and at Kor's other properties in the area: the Avalon, Maison 140, and the Viceroy Palm Springs.

I think you'd probably have to arrange a few hotel stays, cabana rentals and dinner dates to make your money back, but still, it's nice to know you have access to an otherwise exclusive property.

Hilton Takes Over The Maldives

In February, I interviewed Carsten Schieck, the General Manager of the Conrad Maldives resort on Rangali Island.

Now that Hilton plans to open three, yes three, new properties in the Maldives over the next two years, Schieck has been promoted to Regional Manager, and will oversee the roll out of Hilton's new hotel on Iru Fushi, the 2011 opening of the Doubletree in Male, and the conversion of the Beach House Resort on Manafaru Island into a Waldorf Astoria Collection property.

Now if only I could figure out a way to stay at all three...

Rancho Bernardo Inn's "Survivor" Package

I've been seeing all kinds of recession-induced hotel deals these days, but the "Survivor" challenge at the Rancho Bernardo Inn is certainly one of the most distinctive. Basically, the package starts at $219 for a room plus breakfast. From there, the price drops $20 with each amenity guests are willing to give up, starting with breakfast, then A/C, then pillows, and, well, you get the picture. For $19, you basically get a bare room. I'd be interested to know if someone actually takes that.

You can find out more on the General Manager's Twitter, "GM Gone Mad," or you can take advantage of one of the other specials he tweets about.


The Hotel Cheval Paso Robles

The Hotel Cheval was brought to my attention by a friend as a possible place to stay while wine-tasting around Paso Robles. It looks like a darling little property with some lovely amenities, and it's right in the heart of town, not far from many of the area's wineries. Best of all? It even has a Belgian Drafthorse named Chester on duty to ferry guests to dinner on weekends. I just might have to check it out if I make it up there this summer:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: Bashan

If Bashan weren't all the way out in Montrose, I think it might just turn into one of my favorite restaurants. Alas, I can't make the trip out there every week (and my pocketbook couldn't handle the wear and tear of eating there regularly either), but at least I could write it up for

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

L.A.'s Best Ice Cream

I'm back to lists, and this month's is a roundup of the 10 best ice cream spots in Los Angeles. I actually asked my friends on Facebook to contribute their suggestions, and got a lot of help from that. Little did I know, however, that I would foment a whole ice cream versus gelato debate. It's encouraging to find that people are passionate about their food, though, and that everyone young and old still has a place in their heart for this icy treat...especially as our infernally hot L.A. summer approaches.

For my picks, take a look here:

Review: Saddle Peak Lodge

I braved the twisting roads of Malibu's mountains and canyons to try one of the most storied restaurants in Los Angeles, the Saddle Peak Lodge...which I actually thought was a lodge until I learned more about the place before going in.

Faded from its former glory, the SPL is gaining new traction in foodie circles thanks to the efforts of Chef Adam Horton, 26, his dynamic young staff, and his fascinating menu choices (elk, anyone?). There's even talk of a Michelin star, and the steep dining bill reflects that, though it seems mostly worth it. The other interesting facet of the restaurant? A wine list that is almost entirely Californian. You don't find that every day, but hey, if you're going to go for it, go for it.

Fig Launches Lunch

I was treated to a preview of the new lunch service at FIG at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica courtesy of Bombay Sapphire Gin.

Not only was I taken back behind the bar to concoct my very own citrus gin cocktail, but I also got to impress everyone by my newfound expertise at squeezing an orange rind over a lighter to create a mini fireball!). All in all, I'd say it was a success. Plus, it was a pretty interesting lunch since the other journalists were not strictly food writers and worked for some cool places like People. The conversation was a lot more interesting and varied than it tends to be at these things. And the gin pairings with each course weren't bad either!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mon Petit Pithon

Olivier Pithon is one of the winemakers I met while I was in Languedoc-Roussillon. I specifically sought him out not only because I enjoyed one of his wines at a restaurant in Los Angeles called Lou on Vine, but also because he is one of the wave of new French winemakers who are revitalizing the industry in the south of France, and has converted most of his land to biodynamic agriculture, which is a pet interest of mine.

Olivier lives and farms in the fly-speck village of Calce in the Cotes du Roussillon, where he settled just down the road from his mentor, Gerard Gauby, who was one of the first winemakers in the area to start farming first organically, then biodynamically. Like Gauby, Olivier Pithon produces wines that favor a light acidity and a fresh balance instead of a high alcohol content, which is the direction most of the industry is trending. However, I have a feeling that when the wine-drinking public starts coming to its senses, it will be wines like Olivier's that they will start looking for. Not only that, but Americans are starting to become more familiar with wines from this part of France, and they are liking what they drink. That's thanks in no small part to the cheaper price tag on many fine bottles compared to other French wines, and the newness of certain varietals like grenache blanc, mourvedre, and carignan...which is ironic because the best carignan vines can grow to be quite old.

What is exciting about Languedoc-Roussillon is that the wine industry is experiencing a huge renaissance at the moment. Formerly, the region was known for producing tons of cheap table wine swill that no respectable drinker would order. Now, however, a generation of young winemakers, both natives of the region, and transplants from beyond (Olivier Pithon, for instance, is from the Loire Valley originally where his brother, Jo, is a famous winemaker) are transforming old, mistreated vineyards into vigorous, productive plots that are turning out some phenomenal wines. They are also able to do this without some of the stringent AOC controls that govern France's other wine regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy, where so much of the process is regimented out of the winemakers' control. All in all, it is an exciting time down in this little corner of France.

Olivier invited me into his cellar (and home) for a casual tasting and a discussion of his winemaking process, his goals for the future, and what makes a great glass of wine. He was also a good sport and let me make a video interview with him, so please enjoy, and next time you're at the wine store, look out for some great wines from this region.

Oh, and just one more note before the video. In case Olivier doesn't endear himself to you on it, just keep in mind that he has named three of his wines after his dog, his pet cow, and his horse. If that doesn't win you over, you don't have a heart!


Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: Kokomo Cafe

The stockpile of reviews I had in reserve for is finally making its way up onto the webpage, so here is another entry that has been waiting in the wings for a couple months. It's a very cute little breakfast/lunch place near the Grove called the Kokomo Cafe. Huge menu, fresh food, interesting smoothies. I highly recommend it for a lazy weekend brunch.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review: Loteria Grill Hollywood

The original Loteria is a small stand at the Farmer's Market at the Grove, in the heart of Los Angeles. They opened up a second location in Hollywood this year, right in the heart of tourist central. Oh, and if you're lucky, you might just see Heidi and Spencer from the Hills eating there since I think it's one of their favorite places to suck down some premium tequila and pick at the mini tacos. I had a lovely lunch there, though, and the food is pretty reasonably priced for upscale Mexican. If you ask me, the original location still has a certain something that makes it a better place to eat. Maybe because the food still feels a little like it comes from a taco stand...and maybe because you can get a huge pitcher of beer to wash down all those chips. Whatever it is, this is still a great option for Mexican in the area.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More Cheese! The Best Restaurant Cheese Lists in LA

Ah, cheese! That delightful, seductive, creamy goddess. Just when you thought you were stuffed from a fine dinner of fancy courses, you just might have room for a little bit of cheese. Especially if that cheese comes from the hillsides of Normandy or the valleys of Italy, the peaks of the Pyrenees in Spain or the dells of Holland.

In an addendum to my previous piece on the best cheese shops in LA, here is a list of my favorite cheese menus...usually to be found at some of my favorite restaurants:

Monday, May 4, 2009

Press Club San Francisco

Last summer when I was up in Napa Valley for the first time and tasting the wines at Chateau Montelena, the staff there told me about a new venture they were pursuing. Along with seven other wineries, they were going to open a cooperative-style wine bar at the Four Seasons San Francisco.
The wine bar is finally open, and going by the name, The Press Club. I did a little sleuthing and wrote it up for HotelChatter (since it IS in a hotel, after all). Take a look at the article here:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Restaurant Gardens

You know it's a national trend when even the First Family is planting their own garden at the White House. That's why it was about time to write an article about the newest fad sweeping upscale Los Angeles restaurants: the on-site food garden.

Though the prototype of urban sprawl, Los Angeles has also been a huge pioneer in the farm-to-table movement that favors using the freshest locally grown foods to create spontaneous menus. Obviously this type of cooking has been around for a long time, most notably in France and Italy, but Los Angeles has taken it to a whole new level thanks to California's agricultural bounty, and the willingness of our dining demographic to try new and interesting cuisines.

However, many restaurants around town have brought the trend one step closer to home by planting their own on-site gardens. Most of them are still quite small, producing herbs and seasoning for to spice up the menu, or maybe a few varieties of vegetables to use in a limited manner. The trend is just taking off, though, since small-space gardening is back with a vengeance thanks to the confluence of higher transportation costs, a sagging economy that makes growing food a nice alternative to buying more expensive goods at stores or even farmer's markets, and the fact that Los Angeles's perennially sunny climate is particularly suited to growing things all year round, all over the city.

To see a few of the restaurants that are spearheading the trend and doing some interesting things with the crops they are growing, take a look at my feature on

Mother's Day Restaurant Roundup

Everyone likes lists, especially online editors and Google search engines, so I've been spending an increasing proportion of my freelance writing time compiling them. While I do enjoy putting together lists like this one, of the Mother's Day brunch specials going on around L.A., I think I prefer my lists of the best burgers, wine bars, cheese menus, etc., that I get to assemble. Ah well, at least a Mother's Day list is a worthy purpose since we've all got mothers, and they deserve to be feted and fed.

Mother's Day Brunch Roundup:

Review: Yxta

Yxta is one of the restaurants I hit before my big trip to France in order to have a little stockpile of reviews to release while I was away. That was one of my double-header nights, when I went to Corkbar first and Yxta second. Lots of eating that night, and several others, as I scrambled to get enough material for two months within a couple weeks.

I was glad to see that my review of the oddly named Mexican restaurant (see the explanation in the review) finally made it up on

Review: Fulfilled

And now, the final piece in the Fulfilled video/interview/review series is up on

Now that all the work is done, it will be nice just to be able to go into the shop and have one of the little pastries for fun!