Friday, April 29, 2011

HotelChatter: Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa

Australia week for me on HotelChatter wrapped up with a treetop lodge in northern Queensland's gorgeous Daintree rainforest: the Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa.

The Daintree is the oldest living rainforest in the world at over 110 million years, and it is teaming with primordial plants and animals that only exist as fossils elsewhere in the world, like the colorful cassowary (picture the bird from Pixar's Up).

The lodge is right in the heart of the forest (though easily accessible by road from Port Douglas and Cairns), and has rooms on stilts so they're way up in the treetops. Nothing too fancy, but the rooms are clean and nice (and air conditioned!), the restaurant makes fantastic use of indigenous ingredients like barramundi and lemon myrtle, and there are tons of things to do from snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, to guided jungle walks, to treetop ziplining, to spear-fishing and crocodile-spotting and more.

Read all about it in my piece below.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

HotelChatter: Wildman Wilderness Lodge

Day four of my Australia series on HotelChatter was especially exciting for me for a few reasons. First, it marked my maiden voyage to Australia's untamed Northern Territory. Second, it was to visit the country's newest high-end glamping property, the Wildman Wilderness Lodge, in an unspoiled corner of the crocodile country of the Mary River Wetlands, just outside Kakadu National Park.

The lodge only opened the first week in April, so I was among the first journalists to see it and stay in one of the tricked eco-cabins, or "habitats," as they're called. They were actually part of another hotel in the Queensland outback that went defunct, then the habitats and the main lodge building were all taken apart, moved 1,700 miles away, and reassembled as Wildman. They're calling it the first recycled luxury hotel in the world.

Apart from the lodge itself, this is Crocodile Dundee country at its finest, and we got to do things like air boating across the marshes, hiking to Aboriginal rock paintings, and going on guided bush walks...not to mention the gourmet dinners and evenings around the fire pit.

Read all about this fabulous new place (and it's only 90 minutes' drive from Darwin) in my story at the link below.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

HotelChatter: Southern Ocean Lodge

For the third day of my HotelChatter series on the coolest places I got to stay in Australia recently, I wrote about one of my all-time fantasy hotels: the Southern Ocean Lodge.

I'm actually surprised I haven't written a Cubicle Dreamin' piece on it because I've wanted to visit it since I first read about it opening way back in 2008 in Conde Nast Traveler.

It's on the southern coast of South Australia's wildlife paradise of Kangaroo Island (which I was supposed to visit last year, but I got sick), right along the edge of a clifftop looking out over the sea toward Antarctica. Nothing like it was on the island before, and indeed, it's been a benchmark property for Australia in general, setting a new standard (and a new possibility for) luxury in the country's far-flung, unspoiled places.

I love it when I get to visit a property I've only dreamt about...especially when it lives up to the fantasy. Find out more about my stay by checking out my story below.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

HotelChatter: Arkaba Station

For day number two in my HotelChatter Australia series last week, I wrote about a property that I've actually written about before as part of my ongoing Glamping guide for the site: Arkaba Station. This historical homestead in South Australia's scenic Flinders Ranges region has been converted into a five-bedroom luxury resort, where all the gourmet food, fine wine, and several of the activities.

I get to stay at a lot of fabulous properties, especially on my trips to Australia, but this truly was one of the most special of them all. Find out why when you read my article at the link below.


Monday, April 25, 2011

HotelChatter: Lord Howe Island

I went back to Australia last month for ATE 2011, the big travel convention where I get to meet with all the hotel, airline and tour operator folks Down Under for a week. I stuck around Australia pretty much for the month of April, and got around to some fabulous hotels and destinations, so I wrote a week-long HotelChatter series on the most interesting places I got to stay.

This year, ATE was held in Sydney, so the New South Wales pre-trips included one to a fabulous, isolated little island halfway between Australia and New Zealand called Lord Howe Island. I stayed at the Arajilla Retreat and Spa, so that's what I write about here, though LHI is too special a place not to go into detail, so you can also read about all the quirky, wonderful features that set this World Heritage island apart in my story at the link below.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

JustLuxe: Elizabeth Taylor Tribute at Ray's and Stark Bar

The Patina Group, one of LA's biggest high-end restaurant groups, has opened yet another lovely location at LACMA, Los Angeles's main art museum. It's the final component in a new wing that was designed by famous architect Renzo Piano, and has both a retro-chic indoor dining room, and a convivial indoor-outdoor bar area. It's called Ray's and Stark Bar--which is a bit of a confusing name, if you ask me, especially since it's named after one single person, Ray Stark, a legendary Hollywood producer.

However, the guys behind the stove and the bar are two well known LA fixtures, chef Kris Morningstar, and "barsmith" Michel Dozois, and they're doing their thing, right at home immediately.

In addition to the buzz surrounding a restaurant opening, though, they're also barraging us foodies with a slew of specials, including this tribute to the late, great Elizabeth Taylor that coincides with a photography exhibition at the museum.

Take a look at my story, complete with mentions of the special dishes and some of the standout signature menu items at the link below.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Frontiers: Playa Restaurant Review

For my latest Frontiers restaurant review, I chose to go to a new old favorite. How can that be, you ask? Well, the restaurant is actually new, but it's by a chef I already like a lot, who has a restaurant downtown called Rivera.

John Sedlar's new restaurant took over the old Grace space on Beverly Boulevard, and is called Playa. It's meant to reflect Southern California's upscale beach-based lifestyle, though the food is much more Pacific Rim and spice trade-y than that would suggest. Lots of Latin staples on the menu, but spiced up with Indian and Asian flavors.

Take a look at the dishes I ate, plus a roundup of my recent favorite pork belly dishes from around LA in my review at the link below!


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

JustLuxe: Surf Package from Laguna's Pacific Edge

For my next JustLuxe piece, I again chose to write about a very special hotel package I came across. Yes, it's a little unusual to do so much hotel writing as part of my monthly allotment on the site--especially because this one isn't even in my usual Los Angeles sphere of activity and should fall under the more general travel stuff I do for the site--but this Ultimate Endless Summer Surf Package from Joie De Vivre Hotels' Pacific Edge in Laguna Beach (formerly the Vacation Village where I spent many a happy summer day as a small child, in fact!) was just too special and unique to pass up.

If you're an avid surfer, or just have an unholy fascination with the movie Endless Summer (hey, who hasn't wanted to take off for a year to be a surf bum searching across the globe for the next big wave?), and you have a wad of extra cash burning a hole in your pocket, this is definitely the experience you've been waiting for: you actually get to go out surfing with one of the film's stars (Robert August) for a day, then talk it all over with cocktails and appetizers at the hotel that evening.

Did that pique your interest? Take a look at my full story with all the details at the link below.


Monday, April 18, 2011

LA Confidential: Craig's

Finally, the third of my trio of restaurant reviews in the current issue of LA Confidential is of a new steakhouse called Craig's that was just opened on Melrose by Craig Susser, the longtime maitre d' of a landmark LA steakhouse, Dan Tana's.

Here, there's more than just steak though (hence the pizza photo)--there's pasta, salads, all kinds of great grilled stuff, and some lovely desserts. You can read my review at the link below, or just take a look at the text I've pasted in.


“I want people to come, sit down, relax and know they’ll be taken care of,” says Craig Susser of the philosophy behind his eponymous restaurant on Melrose.

Susser, whom you might recognize from his many years as maître d’ at Dan Tana’s, exalts the sense of community that has packed the new restaurant with regulars from the day it opened. “They molded me, taught me how they want to be treated, and Craig’s is a direct result of that.” Even his chef, Robbie Sarstedt (a veteran of Spago and Boa), grew up in the neighborhood, on Sunset and Doheny.

The restaurant’s expansive teal booths, brick walls with wood paneling and hand-built mahogany bar lend the dining room a Mad Men aesthetic that harkens to an earlier age of fine dining, as does the classically continental menu. Standards include a Green Goddess salad, shrimp cocktail and a steak filet with blue-cheese ravioli. There are also wood-fired pizzas and entrées such as chicken Parmigiana and al dente cavatelli with prosciutto-vodka sauce.

You could opt for the cheesecake or apple pie à la mode for dessert, but once you see the bananas Foster over chocolate waffles, there’s really no other choice. 8826 Melrose Ave., LA;

Friday, April 15, 2011

LA Confidential: Go Burger

One of my other LA Confidential reviews from the current issue is of BLT Steak's new restaurant concept (at least for LA), Go Burger!

It takes over the last empty space in the Sunset and Vine building across from the ArcLight, and features not only a menu of insane (and delicious) burger options, but also a full list of alcoholic milkshakes and desserts that will test even the soberest sweet tooths out there. You can read my review online at the link, or just check out the text below.


Go Burger
Claiming the last ground-floor space in the soaring Sunset Vine Tower, Go Burger doesn’t look like your average burger joint. Instead, it has high ceilings, ebony-walnut and white-oak paneling and a bar serving old-fashioned bottle sodas as well as cocktails, wine and beer. What else would you expect from the enterprising folks behind the BLT restaurants?

Black Angus burger iterations include the bunfree Sunset Stripper with arugula, marinated cherry tomatoes, pickled shallots and an olive-cornichon remoulade. The Kobe Dog is garnished with spicy German mustard and pickled jalapeños. But the cholesterol-boosting signature sandwich is the behemoth UltiMelt: a hamburger patty topped with caramelized onions and bacon between two grilled Gruyère cheese sandwiches on rye.

Sides and starters are equally obscenely decadent, especially the duck-fat fries, beer batter-fried dill pickles with ranch-chili paprika dipping sauce, and waffle fries topped with cheddar, sour cream, bacon and pickled jalapeños.

Desserts don’t disappoint either. Made with chocolate-chip cookiedough ice cream and Chips Ahoy!, the Cookie Monster milk shake is a sweetly innocent treat, while in the “Spiked Milkshakes” section, the Aztec Mocha is a naughty concoction of Herradura Silver tequila, coffee ice cream, cayenne pepper and chocolate syrup. Now that’s a sweet ending. 6290 Sunset Blvd., LA;

Thursday, April 14, 2011

LA Confidential: 31Ten

The latest issue of LA Confidential is out, and along with it, several of my new restaurant reviews. The first one I'll share is of a new bar-lounge-restaurant in Santa Monica called 31Ten in a Main Street space that has meant the doom of restaurants like Hidden and Cache.

Ah well, now the guys behind Italian favorite Ado have taken over and converted it into a little slice of "Hollywood on the Westside," complete with fire pits, seasonal drinks, wood-fired pizzas and more. check it out at the link, or read the text of my article below.


We’re all about hybrids: fuel-efficient cars, celebrity nicknames and especially bar-lounge-restaurants like 31Ten on Santa Monica’s Main Street. Ado partners Paolo Cesaro and chef Antonio Muré have renovated Caché Restaurant & Lounge, transforming it into 31Ten, “a Hollywood nightclub for Santa Monica,” as Cesaro puts it. The dining tables have been replaced by leather furniture and bar counters, a central fire pit, an indoor-outdoor bar and three private cabanas.

Muré showcases his kitchen skills with such starters as warm lobster salad with shaved asparagus in a white-wine and black-truffle vinaigrette, and main courses including bacon-wrapped sea scallops on rosemary skewers served over braised cauliflower. But he also simplifies things with a selection of crispy wood-fired pizzas (the only food available after 10:30 PM). There’s a full Italian-dominated wine menu, but the experience here is more about the regularly updated all-organic cocktail list; recent specials have included the Californication, made with vodka, St-Germain, Thai basil, black grapes, pomegranate juice and Prosecco. There’s also bottle service for those looking to make a night of it on the Westside. 31Ten is open Wednesday through Saturday, with DJs after 10 PM and a bimonthly Beatles cover band. Guess Hollywood really has moved west. 3110 Main St., Santa Monica;

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

JustLuxe: W Westwood's Exclusive WIP Membership Program

Well, you know I already write about hotels all the time for HotelChatter, but this little deal from the W Westwood seemed just right for JustLuxe instead this time. Basically, it's like getting all the fun guest services, plus a bunch of extra perks and discounts...without actually having to stay at the hotel itself. It'll just cost you $1,800 for the year instead--though you can also stay at the hotel if you really want to.

Membership in the WIP program is opening up in May, and is a once-a-year opportunity, so take a look at my post and be sure to apply before the application period ends!


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Frontiers: Public Kitchen & Bar

One of the more exciting restaurant openings in Los Angeles lately has been the re-brand of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's restaurant, formerly Dakota, into Public Kitchen & Space. As the name suggests, it's a much more democratic place these days, where you won't get stuck waiting behind a velvet rope while clandestine celebrities canoodle in darkened corners.

Though chef Tim Goodell also is the dude flipping burgers over at the hotel's popular 25 Degrees hamburger restaurant, he's also got a lighter touch, which he puts to fine use here, with a lovely menu of continental dishes.

Take a look at my full review on Frontiers IN/LA at the link below!


MadeMan: Wine Pimp Decants Some Knowledge

My first article for MadeMan was about something every man should have in his kitchen: salt. In all its simple goodness, as well as some of the fancier permutations in which it's available at gourmet shops these days.

For my second article, I talk about the wine and spirits every guy should be stocking at home, with advice and suggestions from a good friend of mine on LA's wine scene, David Haskell, a.k.a. "The Wine Pimp."

You may remember him from my recent JustLuxe article on the pop-up restaurant he's been hosting with chef Joseph Mahon, called Magnum Crew.

This time we talk about life as a pop-up restaurateur, his favorite spirits, and why you should be packing a fridge full of champagne for impromptu get-togethers and game days. Cheers!


Monday, April 4, 2011

LA Confidential: Lukshon

In the upcoming issue of LA Confidential, I've got quite a few restaurant articles, including this one on one of the city's most buzzed-about new dining spots, Lukshon.

It's a slick new Asian eatery from Sang Yoon, the man behind the perennially popular Father's Office mini-chain of upscale burger joints in Santa Monica and Culver City.

Now he's getting back to his roots and cooking up a tantalizing menu of updated Asian classics accompanied by an intriguing wine list by sommelier Eduardo Porto Carreiro.

I had a fantastic time at dinner there--though the bill can get racked up pretty quickly--and here's the quick write-up I did for the magazine's dining section cover page. You read it online at the link I've included, or see the text below.



Sang Yoon has been feeding Westside hipsters burgers and sweet potato fries at Father’s Office for years, but now he’s opened Lukshon, an upscale, minimalistically slick Asian eatery in the Helms Bakery District, where devotees devour dishes including chicken pops spiced with Sichuan salt and garlic, and tongue-tingling dan dan noodles with Kurobuta pork, sesame, mustard greens, peppercorns and peanuts. We’d begin our meal with the creamy foie gras ganache with carob, cinnamon, puffed rice and tamarind gastrique. Actually, we’d start with a sip from the intriguing (and heavily Central European) wine list Eduardo Porto Carreiro manages, or the Fujian Cure cocktail with Isle of Skye Scotch whisky, lemon, galangal and lapsang souchong black tea—preferably on the front patio. 3239 Helms Ave., Culver City

Friday, April 1, 2011

JustLuxe: Caviar 101 Class at Petrossian

For my latest JustLuxe piece, I actually talk about another foodie class at one of my favorite spots in West Hollywood, Petrossian Caviar Boutique and Restaurant.

The new Caviar 101 class will be held on the first Thursday of every month, and participants will get to taste through four of the famous house's different caviar, accompanied by champagne, vodka, and little nibbles by Chef Giselle Wellman.

So if you love the fancy black stuff, but don't know much about it, this is a great chance to learn more about caviar from one of the world's finest purveyors...and all for just $35 per person. Find all the details in my article at the link below!