Friday, September 24, 2010

LowFares: San Francisco Boutique Hotels

I know I've been posting a lot lately about my recent trip to San Francisco and the Bay Area, but that's just because I was up there for 10 days, so I really covered a lot!

Well, the stories continue. In addition to writing about the Crescent Hotel, the Frank and the Vertigo for HotelChatter, I also covered them for LowFares in this roundup of San Francisco boutique hotels. Sure, the city has all the major hotel chains--and very nice editions of those chains to book like the St. Regis and the Intercontinental--but if you're looking for something with a little more history and distinctive character, then you should take a look at my list and see if any of these hotels suit your needs a bit better. Plus, they're all very moderately priced, especially considering their proximity to the bright lights of Union Square, so they're great choices for SF neophytes and seasoned visitors alike. Find out what I liked and what I liked even more by looking at my article at the link below.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

LowFares: San Diego Beach Weekend

Since it's my hometown, I'm often asked to write about San Diego--everything from downtown hotel roundups to beach weekend getaways. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy it, though. In fact, I love being able to share all that's wild and wonderful about America's finest city.

That's why, when we were coming up with ideas for articles for the LowFares Fall Issue, I suggested a San Diego beach weekend piece that covers the coast from La Jolla to Encinitas. That way, I got to include a bunch of my favorite hotels like the La Valencia in La Jolla, and Auberge Del Mar. Plus, I threw in some of my favorite places to eat (and drink), like Pizza Port, Market and Vigilucci's.

For all the inside scoop, and ideas about how to get the most out of your weekend in San Diego, take a look at my article at the following link.


Monday, September 20, 2010

LowFares: Napa's Hidden Gems

This was one of the more enjoyable articles I've written in a while, and let me put all that time I just spent up in Napa to good use!

It's a roundup of my favorite small wineries in Napa. Hidden gems, if you will. And though I hope that writing about them doesn't spoil their offbeat fabulousness.

Included are a few I've written about before, like Gargiulo (one of my all-time favorites!), Elizabeth Spencer and Gemstone, as well as a few that were new to me like Honig, Gamble, and Kelly Fleming. All in all, I think this is a great little list of places where you can find special, memorable tastings in Napa.

Then, as an added bonus, I included a small section on two spas you might not have heard about with some pretty special treatments. The first is Spa Solage at Solage Calistoga, where I just stayed while I was up there. The second is a very small, exclusive inn just outside the town of Napa itself called Milliken Creek Inn & Spa.

To find out what sets each of these hidden gems apart, take a look at my article on LowFares by clicking on the link below!


Friday, September 17, 2010

LowFares: Toronto's Nuit Blanche All-Night Arts Party

One night. All night. Toronto!

As many of you know, I've just embarked on what promises to be a furious round of travel to spots far and wide including Maine, the U.K., Canada and Mexico. Well, I'm in Maine at the moment and loving Portland as much as ever.

However, I do want to share an article I just wrote for LowFares about what I'm going to Toronto to experience: ScotiaBank's Nuit Blanche all-night arts festival. 130 artists, 3 separate zones, an all-night party...what's not to like? I only hope the weather is good so I can stay out all night.

This is just a preview of the event including special artists and lecture series, plus a rundown of who's participating this year. If you're interested, definitely check out the event web site, and stay tuned for more post-event coverage!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Frontiers: Bistro Laurent

My recent review run in Frontiers is coming to an end with this most recent piece on Bistro Laurent in Culver City, and a round up of crepe places in Los Angeles that includes the French Crepe Company at the Farmer's Market at the Grove, and the French-Japanese fusion creperie, Harajuku Crepes.

You might recognize Bistro Laurent's gregarious owner-chef, Laurent Triqueneaux, from his other self-named Culver City cafe, Cafe Laurent. Here, however, he is specializing in crepes and a few bistro dishes like steak frites, as well as offering a wine list stocked from California and France.

I'll spare you the details here in the hope that you'll click on the link below and visit my story at the Frontiers site instead. Bon appetit!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

PreferDine: Oliverio

On PreferDine yesterday, we put up a deal at one of my favorite restaurants in Beverly Hills, Oliverio at the Avalon Beverly Hills Hotel.

Chef Mirko Paderno's Italian menu has recently changed into its late summer incarnation with all kinds of seasonal goodies making an appearance, and Kelly Wearstler's Italian Riviera-inspired setting make for a memorable dining experience that will send you to Portofino for the evening (if only in your head).

Our deal will get you $50 off your total bill for just $25 now, and we've only got a few left since this is such a popular spot, so if a nighttime gourmet staycation is on your wish list right about now, you'd better act fast! You can get the deal at the link I've included, and read my write-up of the restaurant there or below.


Oliverio at Avalon Beverly Hills
9400 West Olympic Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 277-5221
Link to Website

Dining out at Oliverio is like a lesson in la dolce vita. No, we’re not talking about the 1960 Fellini film, though the restaurant’s recent re-concept by famed designer Kelly Wearstler feels like you’re stepping into a scene on the Italian Riviera where the famous director himself might actually show up, and you don’t even have to hop into the pool to find your true love. The sea-blue geometric mosaic tiling, chess piece-shaped columns, mid-century modern chairs in white leather and dark wood (usually occupied by aspiring starlets and Hollywood hotshots sipping seasonal cocktails from mixologist Ian Porter), all create a stylish poolside effect that feels more like San Remo than Beverly Hills.

The design is only part of the story, though. The real reason Oliverio feels so authentic is thanks to the superlative stylings of Chef Mirko Paderno. He turns out interesting twists on his native Italian dishes like chilled snow pea soup, and tender grilled octopus with braised lentils and roasted tomato. To share, there are bubbly pizzette made with potato flour dough, including one with prosciutto, arugula and parmesan, and another with smoked salmon and Robiola cheese. The spaghetti alla chitarra with langostine is a standout in the pasta section while our favorite risotto comes with earthy wild mushrooms. There are fish including a luscious Mediterranean sea bream with green olives and candied tomatoes; and carni like a thick, juicy rib eye with arugula and parmesan. For dessert, the Italian ricotta cheese cake with strawberry compote will give you a whole new perspective on living “the sweet life.”


  • Before coming to Oliverio to helm his own kitchen, Chef Mirko Paderno manned the stoves in some of L.A.’s best Italian cucine, including Valentino, Celestino Drago, Dolce, All’Angelo and Cecconi’s.

  • Designer Kelly Wearstler’s work has been featured in Vogue and profiled in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and People, as well as in her own coffee table book, Hue.

  • When it was originally built, the Avalon Hotel was a popular hotel for actors and startlets including Mae West, Lucille Ball, and Marilyn Monroe, who lived there for nearly two years.

Monday, September 13, 2010

HotelChatter: Solage Calistoga

While I was up in the Bay Area a few weeks ago, I got the chance to stay at a resort in Napa Valley that I've been meaning to check out for a couple years now: Solage Calistoga.

The resort is the newest of the three Auberge properties in Napa, and is aimed at a younger, hipper, more eco-conscious crowd (vis a vis green initiatives like solar paneling and environmental building materials) than its older counterparts, the famous Auberge du Soleil outside Rutherford, and Calistoga Ranch just down the Silverado Trail.

I just posted a quick story for HotelChatter on Friday about my room there, and a few of the other features of the resort that I particularly enjoyed. You can check out my story along with a photo gallery and video at the link below.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

LowFares: Hilton Airport Hotels Bring Glamour Back To Travel

If you ask me, the only things worse than airports are airport hotels. It's as though they make them as drab and nondescript as possible. They've certainly devolved a long way since old Conrad Hilton thought up the idea of opening a hotel at the San Francisco Airport way back in 1959.

Hearkening back to that past, rooted in the glamorous golden age of travel, Hilton is reinventing its airport hotels, starting with a trio of properties--one old, two new. The first is the Rosemont at O'Hare in Chicago, while the other two are international: the new hotel at the Beijing Airport, which is the first five-star airport hotel in China; and a hotel currently under construction at another major international hub above its huge rail station, Frankfurt.

Spas, major conference centers, gourmet restaurants, these hotels are aiming to redefine the current idea of airport hotels, and bring a little panache back to air travel. You can read my story about all three properties, plus the new business lounge at the architecturally significant Heathrow Hilton on LowFares at the link below.


Friday, September 10, 2010

HotelChatter: Spa Happy Hours

This was definitely one of my favorite assignments ever for HotelChatter that a friend of mine helped me come up with. It combines two of my favorite things: spa treatments and classy happy hour specials.

As I researched, I found out more and more spas are offering happy hour specials to get people in during the weekdays, or to try out mini-treatments, I'm hoping that this might turn into a little series.

For now, I tried to get a bunch of different hotel spas in from all over the country, so whether your out west, on the east coast, or right in the middle, there's bound to be some fun and relaxation in store for you. My list includes the Ritz-Carlton here in Los Angeles, the Hyatt Olive 8 in Seattle, Chicago's Elysian Hotel, The Plaza in New York, and the Hotel Victor in Miami. Want to find out the specifics? Read my article below!


HotelChatter: Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa

So while I'm helping out a little extra on HotelChatter this week, I figured I'd post a story about another Australian property that I learned about while I was over there earlier this summer. The Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa in the famous Blue Mountains of New South Wales is not only one of the most talked-about new resorts in the past few years, topping "best of" lists all over the world, but it's also the first hotel in the world to be officially certified as carbon neutral. Now guests can enjoy all its luxurious offerings without worrying about how many indigenous species are suffering for their enjoyment.

Want to learn about all the fun things the resort did to achieve this status (they even buy carbon credits, for goodness' sake!)? Then take a look at my HotelChatter story at the link below. In the meantime, here's your historical dork fact for the day: on his famous journey around the world, Darwin stopped at the very spot where the old homestead on the resort grounds sits and marveled at the natural beauty of it. It's a fact!


Thursday, September 9, 2010

HotelChatter: Hotels Vertigo and Frank in San Francisco

While I was in San Francisco last week, I got the chance to stay at two hotels I've been meaning to check out for a while, the Hotel Vertigo and the Hotel Frank. The two hotels were once part of the Personality Hotels portfolio, and were under renovation (under the sophisticated eye of designer Thomas Schoos) when Personality ran into some financial woes and decided to sell to another boutique hotel chain based in Portland, Oregon: Provenance Hotels.

That all happened back in May, so it was high time to check out what was going on at the properties and see if the renovation process was getting back underway. Good news: it is, and the hotels are looking good, though there's still work to be done. Still, they're a real bargain for their boutique quality as close to Union Square as they are, so I'd recommend them for a San Francisco getaway if you're thinking about one. Read about why in my story at he link below!


HotelChatter: Speakeasy Sips at San Francisco's Burritt Room

It turns out that one of the hotels where I recently stayed in San Francisco, the Crescent, also just opened a new bar-lounge on the second floor called The Burritt Room. Like most new bars opening these days, the Burritt Room is following the new speakeasy style trend with throwback vintage decor, nattily dressed barmen, and market-fresh cocktails. We've had our fill of them in Los Angeles (think The Association, Varnish, and Thirsty Crow), and San Francisco definitely has its fair share too--Rickhouse, Bourbon and Branch, Alembic Bar. It probably helps that Burritt has a history dating back to 1910 when the hotel was originally constructed, though, and that many of the original building features have been incorporated into the space.

Still, there's a reason the trend continues to be so popular, and The Burritt Room already seems like a happening hotspot despite being open just a couple months, so my editor and I thought it was worth checking out.

Click on the link below to see my story about it, AND a video interview I made with the beverage director there where he explains the concept and mixes up his favorite cocktail right in front of your eyes.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

HotelChatter: Hotel With A Rooftop Zoo

The Australia stories continue! While I was ATE in Adelaide in May, I had tons (and I mean tons!) of meetings. We're talking a meeting every fifteen minutes for nearly 10 hours a day. I was meeting with representatives from all over the Australian travel industry hoping to find some interesting story angles, experiences and properties to talk about. While I should continue my coverage of all the fun things I learned of intermittently, this week I'm helping out a little bit extra on HotelChatter, which gave me the chance to talk about two hotels in Queensland with some interesting wildlife features in them.

The first is a hotel in Cairns that has a zoo on its rooftop with what sounds like an amazing aviary with hundreds of native birds flying freely around it (duck!). The second is a Marriott in Surfer's Paradise that has a heated lagoon swimming pool with a sandy bottom that is stocked with tropical fish. Why don't we get anything this fun in the U.S.?

To read more about each, check out my story on HotelChatter below.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

HotelChatter: The Craziest Hotel Bathroom in Cusco

I think you can tell from all my articles and posts that I had a fantastic time in Peru. It's always been one of my top ten travel dream destinations. From the fantastic restaurant scene in Lima, to the wonders of Machu Picchu, it was a trip of wonderful experiences, intriguing conversations, and offbeat surprises...

Including this tiny hotel we found in Cusco. Formerly just a restaurant-lounge with a gay-friendly vibe, and an ostentatiously eccentric design sensibility, Fallen Angel is in the heart of Cusco's historical district, just behind the main plaza and across the Plazoleta Nazarenas from the famous Hotel Monasterio. The owner recently renovated the second floor, though, and created a four-room inn. Each suite has its own distinct personality, and a name to match, but by far the most interesting to me was the Pasion, thanks to the bathroom. Exhibitionists rejoice, while shier folk beware. I'll spare you the details here, but you can read all about it in my HotelChatter piece at the link below.


PreferDine: Brunch and Lunch FIG

Summer might be over now that Labor Day has come and gone, but that doesn't mean you can't still enjoy a sun-soaked brunch on the Westside near the beach. That's why we've partnered up again with Fig at the Fairmont to offer this deal for $40 worth of food and drink (blood orange mimosas, anyone?) for just $20, and it's good for breakfast, lunch, and that favorite meal of movers and shakers everywhere, brunch.

To snag the special, click on the link I've included here, and you can read all about the restaurant and what they're serving up these days at the site, or in the text I've included below.


FIG at the Fairmont
101 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 319-3111

Every upscale restaurant in Los Angeles these days seems to be about farmer’s market cuisine, but only one takes it to the next level with an official “Forager” on staff who travels California searching for farmer’s market fare to supply the menu: FIG at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. The Forager (or helper elf, as we like to think of him) ensures that Chef Ray Garcia gets only the freshest produce and proteins not only for his dinner menu, but also on the brunch and lunch versions included in this special deal we scored. That means all the dishes are fresh as can be—not only in terms of ingredients, but also creativity. At brunch, waffles come with trockenbeerenauslese sweet wine syrup and bacon ice cream. The corned beef hash has poached eggs and crispy potato strings. Even the mimosa has blood orange and beet juice. Sure you could go for one of the salads on the lunch menu, like the Chopped with chicken, avocado, bacon, corn, cranberries, hazelnuts and lemon-oregano dressing; but we dare you not to order the FIG Dog with an all-beef wiener, cheesy Comté fondue, bacon-habanero marmalade and Fritos once it catches your eye. If you’re solitary, there’s always the communal table, where you can be sure of making new friends by the time dessert comes around, especially if the next round of Bloody Maria’s with tomatillo, tequila and a bacon rim, are on you…


  • FIG actually gets its name not from the fruit, but from the enormous century-old Moreton Bay fig tree in the hotel's driveway, which is a Santa Monica landmark.

  • The restaurant’s extensive sustainability efforts include filtering water in-house, composting, making hand soap out of the used fryer oil, and having a bicycle valet.

  • At the bottom of FIG’s menu, you can read a quick report card about what’s in season at the farmer’s market now, and what is coming up. That way you can anticipate what there might be to eat the next time you dine here.

Friday, September 3, 2010

PreferWine: Hanzell Vineyards

We're featuring one of my favorite Sonoma wineries again (and one I get to have lunch with at the Sonoma Valley Wine Auction on Sunday!), Hanzell Vineyards.

Now, we've already had one deal with them, but this one is for single bottles, and we got a deep discount of 40% off their phenomenal 2006 Pinot Noir. We've only got 50 bottles of it, though, so once it's gone, it's gone. You can click the link to buy it now, and read below for my write-up of it.


Hanzell Vineyards
18596 Lomita Avenue
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 996-3860

Sipping a wine from Hanzell is like tasting the history of Sonoma Valley winemaking itself. Back in the 1950’s, James David Zellerbach was kind of like the mad scientist of Sonoma, believing that he could use modern scientific techniques and equipment to control the winemaking process and produce world-class wines at Hanzell. Turns out his experiments paid off. Mwa ha ha ha! No, Zellerbach didn’t take over the world, but thanks to his foresight, the winery was the first in Sonoma to produce high-quality wines after the dark days of Prohibition, and ever since its first vintage in 1957, Hanzell has been producing some of the finest Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in California from vineyards on the vertiginous slopes of the Mayacamas Mountain Range.

The 2006 Pinot Noir has all the qualities of an illicit romp after a summertime picnic: sweet and tart fruit notes of strawberry and blackberry, exotic spices of clove and cardamom, with just a hint of humid hay and green leaves to make it exhilaratingly wild yet familiarly approachable. We’d drink it with roasted rosemary lamb chops and a side of mint couscous.

A bottle of their 2006 Pinot Noir usually goes for about $90, but we scored it for you at a 40% discount of just $54. So start buying, because we’ve only got 48 bottles to sell, and once we’re out, we’re out!


  • Hanzell’s original owner, James David Zellerbach, was President Truman’s post-World War II ambassador to Italy, and that’s where he developed his love for wine and winemaking.

  • The winery’s name is actually a mash-up of Hana Zellerbach’s (James’s wife) first and last names.

  • Some of the vineyard slopes at Hanzell are so steep that the winery employs a cadre of Nepalese vineyard hands who are accustomed to working at gravity-defying angles, and lead treks to the summit of the vineyards.

  • The winery only produces 5,000 cases of wine from its 46 acres annually, and of that, only a quarter is Pinot Noir.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

PreferDine: Whist at the Viceroy Santa Monica

Today on PreferDine, we're featuring one of my favorite Westside restaurants: Whist at the Viceroy Santa Monica. We scored a half-off deal of $60 discounted from your bill for just $30. Now all you've got to do is score a reservation for one of the classic poolside cabanas, and your evening will be complete. To find out the details of the deal, and to buy, you can click on my link, or you can just read my PreferDine write-up of the restaurant below.


Whist at the Viceroy
1819 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 260-7511

Chef Tony DiSalvo’s menu at Whist is kind of like the montage makeover scene in a teen comedy where the ugly duckling is transformed into the prom queen. His menu draws from various cuisines (though it’s mostly Mediterranean-skewed), but DiSalvo says that “the common thread is using unexpected combinations of flavors and spices,” like his seared diver scallops with cauliflower, capers, currants and pine nuts. “Cauliflower is not the most common or sexy ingredient, but it’s surprisingly wonderful.” The dishes sound pretty surprising to us, especially the roasted black sea bass with sugar snap peas, kaffir lime and mizuna in lobster-coconut broth; and the grilled beef tenderloin with rhubarb mustard, crispy soba and English pea-coriander vinaigrette. If that’s not sexy enough for you, Kelly Wearstler’s fantastical take on mid-century modern décor should get the design dorks raring, while the outdoor cabana tables by the pool are reminiscent of a bygone golden Hollywood era. Is that the next hot starlet walking by? If all that still hasn’t gotten you in the mood, try one of Pastry Chef Brooke Mosley’s irresistible desserts. The strawberry tart with buttermilk ice cream and candied pistachios seals the deal every time.


  • Chef Tony DiSalvo fast-talked his way into his first kitchen job at the Hotel Thayer in New York’s Hudson Valley when he was just 13 years old. Beats our old summer jobs.

  • Chef DiSalvo’s resumes contains entries with some pretty big names in the culinary world including jobs at several of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants, Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern, and Philippe Schmidt at La Goulue.

  • Love the Viceroy but don’t have enough time for a full meal? Try grabbing a quick drink at the lobby’s Cameo Bar. Chances are you’ll make new friends before you even have a chance to settle into one of the high-backed armchairs.