Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Weekly Stir Fry 1-27-10

Here is this week's roundup from LA.com of Restaurant Specials and Dining Deals around Los Angeles.

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.

Link: http://www.la.com/ci_14296129

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Winter Restaurant Week Preview


DineLA's Restaurant Week returns to Los Angeles for not one, but two weeks this winter, and includes more participating restaurants than ever (over 200), including some exciting ones like The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel, Eva, Cecconi's, Ortolan, and the just-opened Lazy Ox Canteen.

For more on the pricing, schedules, strategizing (you want the most, best meals possible!) and the menus, check out my full preview on LA.com here:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hotels To Hit Up For LA's Restaurant Week

Though my full preview of DineLA's Restaurant Week in Los Angeles will go up on LA.com later today, I also wrote up a quick hit list for HotelChatter of hotel restaurants you should check out for restaurant week. I gave full blurbs to Parq at the Montage Beverly Hills, The Bazaar at SLS, BLVD 16 at the Palomar Westwood, Checkers Downtown, and Ocean and Vine at the Loews Santa Monica.

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:

http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2010/1/24/193814/755/hotels/Hit_Up_These_Hotels_for_LA_s_Own_Restaurant_Week

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Preview: Delphine Brasserie at W Hollywood

One of the biggest restaurant news stories these days in Los Angeles is the anticipated launch of the eateries at the new W Hotel in Hollywood, which is opening next week on January 28th. In fact, Eater LA and Urban Daddy both reported on it this week (but after my story came out!) too.

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

Weekly Stir Fry: 1-20-10


This week's roundup of dining deals and restaurant specials around town. Tons of great stuff in this monster. I included the International Wine Festival at the Renaissance Hollywood from Drink: Eat: Play, a Bordeaux Bonanza at the Patina Restaurants, a Brewer-Clifton wine dinner at Eva, the Hyde De Villaine wine dinner at Gordon Ramsay at the London, an update on the new initiatives at Hollywood landmark Musso & Frank Grill, and the Hot Toddy Menu at the Beachcomber in Malibu. Something for everyone!

Link: http://www.la.com/tablehome/ci_14231613?source=rss

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lights Up at the Ritz-Carlton J.W. Marriott at L.A. Live

This was a big week hotel-wise for me. I got to take a quick tour of the new W Hotel Hollywood, which will be opening on January 18th at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, and then that very evening, I headed downtown for the lighting up ceremony of the new J.W. Marriott Ritz-Carlton at L.A. Live.

You may remember the Sneak Peek I wrote about the hotel after my hard hat tour of it last month, but things are coming together at the property, and though it will not open until February 15 (the Ritz opens on March 15), they were ready to light up the tower and inaugurate the convention space of the hotel complex with a City of Hope Gala honoring L.A. Live developer Tim Leiweke.

I put on a suit, drove downtown and held my camera at the ready as a hodge podge of politicians, celebrities and businessmen swarmed the 26th floor pool deck for a cocktail reception and press conference that evening, snapping photos of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Magic Johnson and Gene Simmons, as well as Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson.

I also took a quick video of the lighting-up itself, as you'll see when you click on the link to my story below. All in all, it was a fun, energetic evening. One that radiated hope and vision for an economically better future in downtown Los Angeles, so it was a refreshing, uplifting experience. Plus the drinks were good and I was looking pretty cute in my suit.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Review: Philippe

As has often been the case, I pulled double duty reviewing the new Philippe Chow restaurant on Melrose in the old Dolce space. I went in there for an embarrassingly gluttonous Friday afternoon lunch, and waddled out a couple hours later, my appetite and my curiousity satiated.

Though I already reviewed it on LA.com, you can find my Frontiers version at the link below, as well as a mini-guide to the best places for Peking duck in Los Angeles--some real treasures on this list.

Meanwhile, read all about my meal, the exorbitant prices, and the oddly nostalgic menu here: http://www.frontierspublishing.com/2819/nightlife/nl_eat.html

Canal du Midi: Take That, Panama!

I remember with what pride my middle school French teacher pulled out a map of France and pointed to the Canal du Midi, a microscopic blue line wending its way from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic coast of France. It represented what was best and brightest about 17th-century French engineering--the technology that produced Versailles and Vaux le Vicomte, as well as the countless other canals that form one of the most extensive networks in the world and made France a prosperous superpower.

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

Peyrepertuse

The massive mountaintop fortress of Peyrepertuse is one of the most imposing and best preserved Cathar fortress that's still around. It covers the entire crag upon which it sits, vaguely resembling a sinister oceanliner steering a ghostly course through the rough winds and thick clouds of the Pyrenees foothills.

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.


video

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Perth: Kings Park


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.

video

Friday, January 8, 2010

Weekly Stir Fry: 1-08-10

Here's this week's roundup on LA.com of dining deals and restaurant specials around Los Angeles. Included is the opening of the Babycakes cupcake bakery downtown, wine dinners at Osteria Mozza, a Malibu wines special at Pourtal Wine Tasting Bar, an evening of merlot and In-N-Out at Learn About Wine, and M Cafe's launch of "little m" in Beverly Hills.

Lots of booze, lots of good stuff!

Link: http://www.la.com/tablehome/ci_14149050?source=rss

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Review: Vertical Wine Bistro

Vertical Wine Bistro has been open for over a year now, but it has recently undergone a complete overhaul thanks to the addition of "Wine Dude" David Haskell (formerly of BIN 8945, which I used to love) as General Manager. He's redone the wine list, hired a new chef named Doug Weston, revamped the menu, and changed the entire face of the business.

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.