Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Included this time week: the new winter menu at Parq at the Montage Beverly Hills, a panini bar at Drago Centro, the opening of a new Pitfire Artisan Pizza in Culver City, bottomless micheladas at the Spanish Kitchen, a food photo workshop at Checkers Downtown, and a fifth anniversary special dinner at Ortolan.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Monday, January 25, 2010
I couldn't write about all the hotel restaurants since there are just too many. I did, however, link to quite a few below the main article, including: Oliverio at the Avalon Beverly Hills, Boxwood Cafe by Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood, Cezanne at Le Merigot, Dakota at the Hollywood Roosevelt, NineThirty at the W Westwood, Restaurant at the Sunset Marquis, The Belvedere at the Peninsula Beverly Hills, and The Boulevard at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire.
And those are just the hotel restaurants! For more info on Restaurant Week, stay tuned for my full preview. Until then, check out my hotels story here:
Saturday, January 23, 2010
The Innovative Dining Group (Sushi Roku, Boa Steakhouse, Katana) will operate all of them, but the one getting the most notice is the "Riviera-style" brasserie adjacent to the lobby. It's called Delphine and will serve serve a mix of continental cuisines, though the focus is supposed to be on southern French food, so lots of seafood and things like croque monsieurs.
To find out more about the menu, the chef, and what else the hotel has to offer, take a look at my HotelChatter story here: http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2010/1/22/15932/3691/hotels/W_Hollywood_s_Delphine_Brasserie_To_Bring_Cannes_to_Hollywood
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Friday, January 15, 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
While down in Languedoc this past spring, I found myself driving along this famous man-made watery artery, crossing back and forth over it, meandering through glades and dells (and traffic roundabouts), and pondering how this mammoth engineering feat came to pass. So I did a little research into its history, and here's what I found out.
The Canal itself does not actually run from coast to coast. Instead, in an ingenious act of cost efficiency, it runs from the Mediterranean coast up to where the Garonne River flows near Toulouse, and thence to the Atlantic. The Canal is 240 kilometers long (about 150 miles), making it nearly three times the length of the Panama Canal. It passes the famous cities of Languedoc including Carcassonne, Castelnaudry (the home of cassoulet!) and Beziers until it empties into the Mediterranean at Agde and Sete (renowned for its oysters). There is a second subsidiary of it that flows out near the ancient city of Narbonne (near where I stayed at Chateau L'Hospitalet). It can accommodate barges of up to 30 meters whic, though not much by today's standards, was pretty hefty back in the 17th century.
The project was the brainchild of a nobleman named Pierre-Paul Riquet, who was a customs officer with a tax right on salt for Languedoc. Theoretically this was a plum post, but how much more lucrative would it be if you could link the two major sources of the stuff: the Med and the At? So thought Riquet, and he managed to convince Louis XIV and his finance minister, Colbert. They saw the merit of the idea (with franc signs in their eyes, no doubt), and ordered work on the Canal to commence immediately.
Workers broke ground in 1667 (237 years before the Panama Canal), and it took 14 years and the labor of thousands of men, but the Canal was finished. Not without many problems along the way though. First was the question of altitude and how to feed water into the Canal. The Mediterranean and the Atlantic are at sea level, but the spot where the Canal hits the Garonne is 132 meters above sea level, and at its highest point, the Canal rises to 201 meters. The solution required a system of dams, 99 locks, 130 bridges, and reservoirs that channeled runoff water from mountain streams down into the Canal. Costly, labor-intensive, but ultimately successful. Unfortunately for Riquet, he had to spend his entire fortune including his daughters' dowries on the project, and then died six months before its completion.
If he'd lived to see it, he would have been proud. The waterway sparked a surge of prosperity in the region, not only from the salt trade, but also because it allowed farmers to ship their goods longer distances, and brought a manufacturing boom to Languedoc since it was easier to get raw materials. Its busiest year was 1856, when over one million passengers plied its waters.
The next year, however, saw the opening of the Sete-Bordeaux railway line, and the Canal immediately went into decline since railway was faster and cheaper. The Canal lay neglected for over a century until its revival as a tourist destination over the past few decades. That is thanks to several features of the Canal that make it especially enjoyable for pleasure cruisers. Remember those bridges I mentioned? Well, they help the Canal cross valleys and gulleys, making for a dramatic view as your cross them. There are also footpath bridges so walkers can crisscross the water every so often and take in the scenery on the other bank. The locks? At each one, you wait about half an hour while the commissioned lock-keeper adjusts the water levels for your craft. Tourists can have a chat over coffee, or a hike in the nearby countryside. And, like with any major artery, the route is well served by traditional inns and restaurants built to cater to travelers' needs. Then there are the beautiful old-growth trees that line the waterway. Originally intended to prevent evaporation, they are now a delightful source of shade, and perfect for whiling away an afternoon under, contemplating the history of the region.
Today, the Canal is a major tourist destination, and in addition to barge trips, travelers can rent their own houseboats to float down it over the course of several days (the speed limit is 6km per hour). Though you can also just rent a motor boat for the day for a little aqua-exploration. The Canal is navigable from March to November, and there is no charge for passage other than what you pay for the boat rental.
For all these reasons, the Canal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, and conservation has only increased since then, with bike and footpaths running alongside the water for most stretches.
Sure, it might not have all the scenery of the Rhine or the Danube, but the Canal du Midi is a fantastic destination for a placid waterside vacation, and is a testament to the historical resolve and technological prowess of the French.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
It lies between the towns of Maury and Cucugnan, and is quite easy to get to from either. Maury is more accessible since it sits right on the D117 route, the major artery (meaning it's four lanes in places) through Cathar country just west of Perpignan. Plus, on your way back down from the castle, you can stop by Domaine Pouderoux for a taste of their wonderful (organic!) wines. Cucugnan is cradled in a valley between high mountain slopes, and so is harder to get to, and rather isolated, though if you stop there for lunch, you're bound to find some hearty Roussillon cooking.
Peyrepertuse is another of Carcassonne's "five sons", though this one fell to the French without a fight in 1258 when they gained the territory through their treaty wiht Catalonia and Aragon. No wonder, because in a battle, it would be impregnable. It is situated on one of the hills of the Corbieres, at an altitude of 800 meters, and the site has been occupied since Roman times. The first mention of Peyrepertuse as we know it was in 1020, when it was under control of the Counts of Barcelona, and then the Kings of Aragon.
In the 13th century, the castle's keeper was a man named Guillaume de Peyrepertuse, who was an Albigensian knight. He refused to submit to Catholicism, but eventually surrendered after the seige of Carcassonne in 1240, and handed it over to the French. When the French signed the treaty in 1258 with the Spanish, it changed the border of France and Spain to run right through the Corbieres for the next four centuries. Peyrepertuse lay right along it, and so the French built it up even further and kept it garrisoned to full strength. When the border with Spain was redrawn farther south in the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, Peyrepertuse became of little strategic importance and was practically abandoned.Today visitors can make the short hike up the hill (after a long and winding drive, that is) and explore the various chambers and outposts of the still impressive structure. The Chapel of San Jordi is probably the best known architectural feature of the fort, and on sunny days, it commands sweeping views all the way to the Mediterranean in the east, and to the Pyrenees in the south.
I had the misfortune of visiting on a stormy day, however, as you'll see from the video below that I shot at the castle. Even without the views though, you can see what a grand, forbidding place it is.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Kings Park and Botanic Garden is the largest urban park in the southern hemisphere, and is the most visited sight in Perth, and all of Western Australia, with over 6 millions people strolling through it per year. It sits on 1000 acres of hilltop overlooking Perth and the Swan River Valley.
In ancient times, the area was home to the Nyoongar people, who held it to be a holy place. The British came in 1829 under the command of Governor James Stirling. He named the central slope of the park Mount Eliza after the wife of the governor of New South Wales, Ralph Darling. To the Nyoongar, however, it was known as Kaarta Gar-up, or "head of the water," and was said to be the resting place of the great serpent Wagyl, who created the Swan River and the other waterways of Australia. The Nyoongar used the place as a festival site and performed wedding ceremonies there. That tradition continues today since the park is one of the most popular spots in the city to get married.
Apart from its history, the real draw is the flora that has been accumulated here from all over Western Australia. Nearly 2,000 of Western Australia's 12,000 species are represented here, organized by region. A yearly Wildflower Festival in the springtime highlights the breathtaking beauty of the area's indigenous species, but even more impressive are the majestic bottle-shaped boab trees, the fragrant peppermint trees, and the small, spiny grass trees which, though compact, are among the most ancient species in the park, and have all kinds of healing properties.
We were lucky enough to go on a guided tour with Greg Nannup of Kings Park Indigenous Heritage Tours, who told us all about the Aboriginal culture and the uses to which they put the plants we saw--as food, shelter and medicine. However, I think the most fun we had was trying on the kangaroo pelt he brought along for us to see after he had told us about the mystical "Dreaming Time" of the Nyoongar, which is their version of the creation story. If you want the chance to tour the botanic garden for yourself but not the time to book with Indigenous Tours, visitors can join the free guided walks that take place daily at 10:00am and 2:00pm.
The park is not all natural museum though. There are also areas for picnics and barbecues, concert venues, and paths along which you can hike, bike and run. Take in the panorama of the park and the entire city from the aerial walkway, which runs 222 meters, including a gorgeous glass-and-steel bridge that spans 52 meters. That's where I filmed this short video where I tell you about all we saw and did during our brief hike in Kings Park.
Friday, January 8, 2010
Lots of booze, lots of good stuff!
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
I got the chance to have dinner there right before the holidays, and wrote up my experience for LA.com. Take a look at my review below to find out more about what's on the menu and what's in the glass at this Pasadena wine lounge and restaurant.