Exploring The San Andreas Fault

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

We took our 10-year-old daughter on a jeep tour to learn about the San Andreas Fault. Our informative guide De Karlen picked us up in her open air red jeep at the La Quinta Resort for an illuminating three-hour journey. We cruised for 20 minutes through La Quinta and Indio before reaching our off-road destination, while De entertained us with several fascinating stories about the desert. We learned:

  1. The North to South streets are named after American Presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, Jackson, Harrison and Tyler.
  2. During the summer, the population is about 150,000 people. In high season –  winter and spring, the population explodes to 600,000 people with tourists, short-term visitors, and snowbirds arriving from Washington, Oregon, Canada, Arizona, Utah and soon New York.
  3. In January 2016, there will be nonstop flights from New York to Palm Springs. The new flights will run daily from Thursday through Monday from Jan. 14 to May 1. Seats are already on sale, with one-way fares starting at $99 between John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Palm Springs International Airport (PSP). This is when the weather is idyllic. In the summer, the temperature can be over 100 degrees for at least 125 days.

What I appreciated most about this tour is De taught us to look at the desert differently. “It isn’t just beige in color, but filled with beautiful pinks, yellow, greens, blues, browns and cream colors,” said De.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Outdoor Classroom

  1. We learned there are 9 cities in the Coachella Valley that run along Highway 111 – Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage.
  2. The Sonoran desert is 7% of the Earth’s surface. It’s a 140,000 sq. mile low desert that covers southwestern Arizona and southeastern California, as well as most of Baja California and the western half of the state of Sonora, Mexico. Irrigation has produced many fertile agricultural areas, in the Coachella valleys to the Salton Sea that is 227 feet below sea level.
  3. There are three water sources – Aquifer, Colorado River and Reclaimed Water.
  4. The San Andreas cuts through the valley, as the North American Tectonic Plate interacts with the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains, forming the eastern edge of the Pacific Tectonic Plate (also known as The Ring of Fire). This zig zags northwest toward the Bay Area.
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

In the jeep we traveled on three different types of land that you can only explore on this Adventure tour – Federal, Private and 1862 Homestead Act.

Survival –

The Cahuilla lived here due to the great variety of plant and animal foods. De took us to a grove of California fan palms. The Cahuilla used the palm fruit for food and the leaves to make baskets, sandals, and roof thatching for their dwellings. She had us taste the salty silvery-whitish-gray shrub called Desert Holly. The Cahuilla used the white powder as a sunscreen.

We learned the Arrow Root weed is part of the sunflower family. It’s long straight stems were used as arrows.

She picked honey mesquite for us to crunch and taste the sweetness that was similar to caramel with a nutty flavor. It grows rapidly and produces dense shade when the water table is high. Animals and humans like to eat the honey mesquite seed pods. The Cahuilla used the firewood to stay warm. They also ground the Mesquite flour to make cakes.  This flour offers protein and carbohydrates.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)


We learned about the Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic rocks. De pointed out a fault gouge made of very fine and small grain size rocks formed by tectonic forces. We explored a replica of a Cahuilla Village, before walking on the San Andrea Fault and hiking into a beautiful narrow slot canyon. This geologically exotic area offered canyons and low mountains displaying minerals deep in the Earth. De told us this area was formed over time from erosion of wind and water. The iron-based minerals form desert washes of red, lilac, orange, coral, and burnt sienna.

As we drove back to our resort after sunset, an almost full moon softly lit the canyon. This scenery was an “awe” moment.

Natures Gifts

De was very dear to our daughter, as she collected plants for our daughter to take back to her class to share. She found some great rocks to take home and gave her an arrowhead. With a cooler of bottled water on the back of her jeep, she kept us hydrated in the dry desert air. After exploring the slot canyon, she pulled out a container of plump Medjool dates as a treat. Since we raved about the dates, she recommended we visit the Shields Date Garden for lunch the following day and sample many of their vast variety of dates and baked goods.

This Adventure Tour was the highlight of our three days in the greater Palm Springs area. Learning about the land in such a fun, outdoor classroom setting, actually made me less scared of earthquakes. As Sir Francis Bacon once said – Knowledge is Power. We can’t control when or where “the next Big One will hit,” however now we have a better understanding of what and why it is happening.

10 Holiday Events in Palm Springs

Even though the temperature in December is in the 70s during the day, it can get chilly during the evening, inspiring at holiday climate. Here are 10 Festive Things to See and Do During The Holidays in the greater Palm Springs area –

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
  1. It’s A Wonderful Life at La Quinta Resort –Legendary director and screenwriter Frank Capra used to come to La Quinta Resort to get away from hectic Hollywood. He loved staying in the San Anselmo casita and sitting by the pool for inspiration to write his Academy Award winning scripts. I love the Starlight Casitas with its big patio, outdoor fireplace, conversational couch, coffee table, another table and four chairs. The views of the nearby majestic mountains and one of the 41 pools inspired me to write too. The holiday tree is now up and shining bright. The prix fixe menu by three-time James Beard award-winning chef and pioneer of the farm-to-table movement, Jimmy Schmidt at Morgan’s in The Desert is elegant. The new Sommelier Lisa Tussing pairs each course beautifully. Be sure to rent bicycles and ride the 7-mile route from La Quinta to La Quinta Cove and Old La Quinta before pedaling back to the resort. http://www.laquintaresort.com

2. Holiday Villagefest

Every Thursday in December: Holiday Villagefest downtown Palm Springs is a festive shopping event among dazzling lit palm trees lining Palm Canyon Drive. Gifts available during this holiday shopping night range from fashion apparel to home furnishings in downtown and the uptown design district. Hours are from 6 to 10 p.m. http://www.villagefest.org/

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

3. Visit the Living Desert Museum

Where else in California can you ride a camel? Visit The Living Desert – In the evening, come see over 750,000 twinkling lights illuminate The Living Desert. This year wild lights featuring new light displays, holiday entertainment and wildlife wonder shows. Festivities are every Friday and Saturday evenings with special days added for Christmas. http://www.livingdesert.org/

(Photo Courtesy of the Living Desert Museum)
(Photo Courtesy of the Living Desert Museum)

4. City of Palm Springs Annual Tree Lighting

On December 3, the City of Palm Springs and Santa Claus will be at Frances Stevens Park for the annual lighting of the City’s 22-foot “green” holiday tree. There will be free cookies and hot cocoa, plus some surprises. Bring one canned food item to feed the hungry during the holidays. The lighting is at 5 to 7 p.m. on the corner of Alejo and Palm Canyon Drive near Palm Canyon Theater. www.ci.palm-springs.ca.us. The tree will be up for all to admire after December 3 until after the holidays.

5. Festival of Lights Parade

Celebrity Tony Hawk will be the 2015 Celebrity Grand Marshal for the City of Palm Springs’ signature parade is the Festival of Lights featuring floats adorned in colorful holiday lights, marching bands, performing groups and Santa and Mrs. Claus. This year’s parade is on December 5 at around 5:45 pm. It starts at Ramon Road and Palm Canyon Drive. http://www.psfestivaloflights.com/

(Photo Courtesy of Palm Springs Aerial Tram)
(Photo Courtesy of Palm Springs Aerial Tram)

6. Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

On December 6, singer Jack Jones will be the Celebrity Tree Lighter at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway’s Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. The tree is full of 6,000 Led lights. Festivities begin at the Mountain Station at 5:30 p.m. with the Palm Springs High School Choir singing a selection of holiday songs. Event is free with tram admission price. Both the Valley Station and Mountain Station will be festively decorated by Ultimate Events Inc. Take a ride up the tram during the holiday season. Hopefully there will be a little bit of snow. If not, the views are amazing and the aroma of the pine needles enhance the holiday spirit up at the top of the tram. Go to www.pstramway.com.

(Walk of the Inns at Korakia Photo credit David A. Lee)
(Walk of the Inns at Korakia Photo credit David A. Lee)

7. Walking Tour of the Inns

The 20th annual, free self-guided walking tour of Palm Springs’ unique collection of boutique hotels and historic inns, and holiday toy drive for well in the desert. The city’s historic and mid- century modern gems open their doors on December 10 for public tours as part of its annual ‘Walking Touring of the Inns.” Visit 100-year old adobe inns to Mediterranean inspired villas, that include Casa Cody, Old Ranch Inn, Orbit In, Korakia Pensione, and Calla Lilly Inn. The tour begins at 4 p.m. and and runs until 7:00pm. The evening self-guided tour begins at any of the participating hotels or at Palm Springs Art Museum at 101 Museum Way. The museum will provide free maps and flashlights for the walk. Maps can be picked up at the Palm Springs Art Museum. www.walkingtouroftheinns.com

8. Santa Fly-In at Palm Springs Air Museum

On December 13 at 1 p.m., Santa flies into Palm Springs early with a bag full of goodies for all children, under the wing of a vintage warbird. Children under 12 years old admitted free with a paying adult. www.palmspringsairmuseum.org

(Photo courtesy of the Gay Mens Choir)
(Photo courtesy of the Gay Mens Choir)

9. Holiday Music and Song

The Palm Springs gay men chorus presents Brassy, Sassy and Classy songs from the mid-century era on December 13 at 8 p.m. and December 14 at 3 p.m, at the Jewish Community Center Palm Springs. Some of the holiday hits they will sing include – “I’ll be home for Christmas” and “Santa bring my baby back”. This entertaining holiday program includes Hanukkah favorites, and will also introduce new small ensembles. http://www.psgmc.com/home/

(Photo courtesy of the Desert Sun)
(Photo courtesy of the Desert Sun)

10. Robolights

Now through January 3, 2016 come see a one-of-a-kind holiday tradition Robots and tons of lights. These are painted and recycled sculptures are draped in lights by Kenny Irwin’s, the creator of Robolights. “This year will be fifty times better than the past. Nearly three tons of lights will be flipped and the public will be mesmerized to one of the holiday’s most unique experience,” said Irwin. Be sure to check out the peppermint climbing tower of robots. Daily from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Irwin Family Estate 1077 E Granvia Valmonte, Palm Springs, CA 92262.

To learn more about Holiday events in greater Palm Springs area, go to www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com


Fun Black Friday Specials

(Photo by HACHE LA)
(Photo by HACHE LA)

Black Friday at HACHÉ LA
Take a break from shopping this Black Friday at HACHÉ LA. The new age burger joint in Silver Lake is cooking up tasty Thanksgiving specials. Bite into the Roaring Forties burger, topped with blue cheese, Portobello mushrooms and horseradish. Sweet tooth shopaholics are bound to enjoy the creamy frozen pumpkin spice custard topped with Biscoff cookies or indulge in a velvety spiced chocolate chip ‘n’ fig Bear Republic stout float. Open on Black Friday and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. 3319 W. Sunset Blvd. (323)928-2963.

(Photo by Spare Tire Kitchen & Tavern)
(Photo by Spare Tire Kitchen & Tavern)

Black Friday Fuel at Spare Tire Kitchen & Tavern Brunch
Sunday Brunch officially starts Thanksgiving weekend with Executive Chef Isaias Peña serving soft shell crab Benedict and banana nut French Toast with Grand Marnier butter. In the afternoon and evening Southern-style cooking is served with BBQ ribs, pulled pork, brisket, Southern greens, garlic mash and street corn paired with your choice of a boozy milkshake or any draft beer. For a sweet ending the shared dessert fondue serves two to 8 guests. It comes with three warm dipping sauces; salted caramel, milk chocolate and white chocolate and a side of seasonal fruits, graham crackers, marshmallows and chopped nuts. Spare Tire Kitchen & Tavern is open and offering holiday specials on Black Friday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., Sunday Brunch from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday supper from 4 p.m. to midnight; 5370 Wilshire Blvd. (323)525-2618.

(Photo by Crossroads)
(Photo by Crossroads)

Forest-to-Table at Crossroads
Herbivores and carnivores on Black Friday can purchase an ideal holiday gift from Chef and owner Tal Ronnen of Crossroads restaurant. Favored by high-profile diners such as Jay Z, Beyonce, Oprah Winfrey, former president Bill Clinton, and Katy Perry, Ronnen’s release of his next book Crossroads (Artisan Books), offers favorite dishes and signature off of the menu items, such as his artichoke oysters and crab cakes. The decadent pastas made in-house by executive chef Scot Jones are included too. Crossroads caters your holiday meal with mezze, mini Moroccan meatballs, green chickpea falafel, to oven roasted Kabocha squash. 8284 Melrose Ave. (323)782-9245.

(Photo courtesy of Fogo de Chao)
(Photo courtesy of Fogo de Chao)

A Very Brazilian Thanksgiving and Black Friday
Both of Brazilian Steakhouse Fogo de Chão in Los Angeles will serve a full Thanksgiving menu -Churrasco style. Guests can experience a little taste of Brazilian culture this Thanksgiving with gauchos grilling meats over an open flame. Thanksgiving favorites including roasted turkey carved and served tableside, with gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, as well as some Brazilian inspired items like sage and apple dressing with Brazilian sausage all Thanksgiving weekend. 800 S. Figueroa St. (213)228-4300 and 133 N. LA Cienega Blvd.

(Photo courtesy of Homeboy Industries)
(Photo courtesy of Homeboy Industries)

Homeboy Industries’
Bring home holiday bakery packages that provide meaningful ways to spread love during the holiday season. Homeboy Industries’ empowers 10,000 men and women each year who step through Homeboy’s door to overcome their past, reimagine their future, and break the intergenerational cycle of gang violence. Available to purchase online is The Hope package crafted through Homeboy’s job training program. This basket contains a paperback copy of Father Greg Boyle’s bestselling – Tattoos on the Heart, with assorted butter cookies, a soft and chewy cookie sampler, a gift pair of gingerbread men, three mini cinnamon coffee cake muffins and three vegan whoopee pies, a “Father G” notepad and pen, and an uplifting fridge magnet all packed on a reusable Homeboy branded tray for $59.95. The Love package includes Homegirl Café’s handmade orange cranberry granola, mixed berry preserves and orange peel and cinnamon coffee along with Homeboy cookie assortments and vegan whoopee pies in a reusable Homeboy Industries cloth gift bag for $49.95. The Country Cottage gingerbread house is made with Homeboy’s delicious gingerbread, each house is hand cut, decorated, wrapped and delivered in gift box making a great holiday gift or an equally beautiful table centerpiece. The houses and icing are fully edible for $34.95. To purchase one of more of these gifts, go online at http://www.homeboyfoods.com/Default.asp.

(Photo courtesy of E.P. & L.P.)
(Photo courtesy of E.P. & L.P.)

E.P. & L.P. Dishes Out on Black Friday
After a day of shopping, Executive Chef Louis Tikaram stir-fries old school Chinatown specials such as Kung Pao chicken, honey walnut shrimp, and beef & broccoli at cleaver-slashed prices on the busiest retail day of the year. Enjoy a playful Chinese banquet dinner menu with $4 Tsingtao Beers all night long in the dining room and on the rooftop. Snack specials include duck bao and prawn crackers. For dessert enjoy deep fried ice-cream or Misfortune cookies. 603 N. La Cienega Blvd. (310)855-9955.

(Photo Courtesy of CBTL)
(Photo Courtesy of CBTL)

Black Friday at CBTL
Get 25% off with the purchase of any Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf gift set, retail item, and packaged coffee and tea on Nov. 27 through Nov. 29. Southern California’s iconic coffee and tea retailer invites patrons to get into the holiday spirit and shop to enjoy the new and limited edition flavors that include Cookie Butter, Red Velvet, Peppermint Chocolate, and Winter Dream Tea. Customers can also choose from a selection of limited edition handroasted coffees and single-origin teas available for the holiday season, including a dark roast Holiday Blend. Every sale of Holiday Blend will have a $1 donation to The Help Group. 8735 Santa Monica Blvd. (310)659-8207, 7915 Sunset Blvd. (323)851-8392 and 8793 Beverly Blvd. (310)659-4592.

This article is featured in the November 26 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.


Thanksgiving Dining-Out Guide

Here are some holiday dining events around Los Angeles before and during Thanksgiving. Why cook and clean? Go out and enjoy a memorable meal with family and friends.

(Photo courtesy of Tam O'Shanter)
(Photo courtesy of Tam O’Shanter)

Tam O’Shanter Dickens dinner
Tam O’Shanter is offering a special menu and Dickensian entertainment for its Dickens dinners on Monday, Nov. 23 and Tuesday, Nov. 24 at 6:30 p.m. and on Sunday, Nov. 22 and Saturday, Nov. 28 at 1 p.m. The Nov. 23 and 24 dinners are $96 per adult and $69 for children; the matinee dinners on Nov. 22 and Nov. 28 are $89 per adult and $59 for children. The interactive dining extravaganza features an acting troupe performing a family-friendly version of the Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol.” The actors wear 19th century Victorian costumes and are joined by carolers with stovepipe hats and long-tailed coats. The Tam transforms into a yuletide wonderland with a Christmas tree, candy-red poinsettias, glittery wreaths, a brick fireplace and festive decorations. The four-course meal includes hors d’oeuvres followed by mixed greens salads with pecans, butternut squash, pomegranate seeds and cognac dressing. Entrée options include prime rib, roasted goose, salmon with parsnip puree, beluga lentils and bordelaise sauce, and vegetarian winter squash with goat cheese mousse. Desserts include mincemeat made with figs, raisins and dates and vanilla ice cream with bourbon caramel sauce. 2980 Los Feliz Blvd., (323)664-0228. OpenTable.


(Photo courtesy of The Redbury - Cleo)
(Photo courtesy of The Redbury – Cleo)

Cleo Thanksgiving Fit For a Queen
Cleo in the Redbury Hotel is hosting its annual Cleopatra’s feast with a Mediterranean twist on Thanksgiving, Nov. 26. Curated by award-winning chef Danny Elmaleh, the holiday menu will feature mezzes served family style, a choice of specialty salad, entrée and dessert. Raise a glass to family and friends while enjoying persimmon and pomegranate salad, sauerkraut and parsnip latkes with apple butter, and slow roasted spiced Colorado lamb shoulder. Desserts include pumpkin-maple donuts, and pecan and pear baklava with Greek yogurt gelato. Seatings are available at 3, 5 and 7 p.m. for $65 per person. 1717 Vine St., (323)962-1717. OpenTable.

Avalon-Bay-feels-a-million-miles-from-homeSanta Catalina Thanksgiving
Take a quick boat on the Catalina Express to Catherine’s Terrace at the Descanso Beach Club. Enjoy a Thanksgiving buffet on the beach that includes carving stations with all the usual fixings on Nov. 26 from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The feast is $39 for adults and $19 for children. 1 St. Catherine Way, Avalon (800)481-3470.

(Desserts at The Montage- Photo by The Montage)
(Desserts at The Montage- Photo by The Montage)

Thanksgiving at the Montage Beverly Hills
The hotel’s fine-dining restaurant Scarpetta with celebrity chef Scott Conant offers a Thanksgiving Day buffet with herb roasted turkey and the traditional trimmings. Begin with a complement of West Coast oysters, chilled shrimp, citrus cured salmon or snow crab legs and a mélange of extraordinary desserts from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Rooftop is more casual featuring pumpkin soup, butternut squash flatbread, a roasted turkey sandwich and pumpkin gingerbread trifle.The Rooftop will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. for guests to order from the á la carte menu with views of Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills as a backdrop. 225 N. Canon Drive (310)860-7990.

12250058_886314264770920_1057785638761827865_nBar Mattachine
Ring in Thanksgiving at a bar where everyone is thankful. Bar Mattachine, Downtown L.A.’s welcoming gay craft cocktail bar, is celebrating Turkey Day with lavish libations. Owner Garrett McKechnie is shaking up the Cape Coddah cocktail with vodka, fresh muddled cranberries and homemade lime cordial poured over crushed ice. The Indian Summer is a icy mixture of Olmeca Los Altos tequila, agave, fresh watermelon, lime juice, jalapeño and cilantro. Kick back on the outdoor patio, cozy up in the upstairs lounge, or dance underneath the shimmering disco ball this holiday. The motto at Mattachine is “Come with us, whether you are or not. Or do whatever you would like.” Bar Mattachine is open on Nov. 26 from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. 221 W. 7th St.(213)278-0471.

(Photo courtesy of Mastro's)
(Photo courtesy of Mastro’s)

Mastro’s Malibu Thanksgiving
Ocean Club sitting right on the cliff of PCH, offers the perfect atmosphere, comfort and elegance for holiday events and dining. Open for Thanksgiving, the dining menus can be customized to include Mastro’s signature dishes – the seafood tower, petite filet, lobster mashed potatoes and the warm butter cake. A wider selection includes fresh seafood, sushi, and celebrated cuts of steaks. Guests can enjoy live entertainment and dancing nightly in the piano bar lounge. 18412 Pacific Coast Highway (310)454-4357.

(Photo courtesy of Viviane)
(Photo courtesy of Viviane)

Viviane’s First Thanksgiving
The newly opened Beverly Hills restaurant from restaurateur Stephane Bombet and Executive Chef Michael Hung will present an all-day feast on Thanksgiving from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dine in style at L.A.’s most contemporary indoor/outdoor dining destination, while enjoying technique-driven French dishes that include Galatine of Diestel Farms turkey with rosemary and sage gravy; roasted sugar pumpkin with bourbon honey glaze; brioche with wild mushrooms and truffle stuffing; and caramel pear tartine with ice cream and pomegranate reduction. Sip spiced mulled cider with rum or one of the specialty Thanksgiving cocktails from Bar Manager Ryan Wainwright. Managing Partner and Wine Director Francois Renaud and General Manager Emmanuel Faure will be on hand to provide artfully paired wine suggestions that blend with Hung’s offerings. This holiday meal is $68 for adults and $25 for children ages three to 12 years old. 9400 W. Olympic Blvd. (310)407-7791.


(Photo courtesy of Wally's )
(Photo courtesy of Wally’s )

Thanksgiving from Wally’s Beverly Hills
Executive chef David Feau of Wally’s Beverly Hills is preparing a festive feast to take home for Thanksgiving. The meal serves up to 12 people and includes one 16 to 18 pound turkey with green bean ragout, truffle mashed potatoes, pumpkin gratin, choice of vegetarian or meat stuffing, pan roasted Brussels sprout salad, gravy and cranberry sauce for $300. Patrons can also order the meal with an eight- to nine-pound turkey that serves up to six people for $180. Feau will prepare only 50 turkeys and the meals are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The meals should be ordered at least 48 hours before Thanksgiving and can be picked up on Thursday, Nov. 26 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 447 N. Canon Drive, (310)475-3540.

(Photo courtesy of Tanzy's)
(Photo courtesy of Tanzy’s)

Thanksgiving in Westwood
Tanzy in Westwood is serving a three-course Thanksgiving meal for $40 per adult and $20 for children 12 and under. The first course includes parsnip and apple soup or endive and arugula salad, followed by herb roasted turkey with cranberry and quince bread pudding, sautéed green beans, sweet potato, confit chestnuts, turkey gravy, cranberry compote and fresh baked Parker House rolls. Finish with three pumpkin pie with chantilly cream and pumpkin mousse and pink lady apple crisp with candied pecans and maple gelato. 10840 Wilshire Blvd., (310)307-7004. OpenTable

(Photo courtesy of Brite Spot)
(Photo courtesy of Brite Spot)

Thanksgiving in Echo Park
Brite Spot in Echo Park is offering a Thanksgiving meal for $19.95 per person, plus tax. The meal includes a fresh roasted, hormone and anitbiotic free farm raised Mary’s turkey breast with Yukon gold mashed potatoes, baked yams, housemade turkey gravy, housemade traditional dressing, housemade fresh cranberry sauce, fresh baked Parker House rolls and a slice of freshly baked pumpkin pie. A cup of coffee or soda is included. Brite Spot will also offer whole pies and cheesecakes to go with 48-hour advanced orders. Whole apple pies and pumpkin cheesecakes are $40. The meal is available for take out and must be pre-ordered 48 hours in advance. 1918 W. Sunset Blvd., (213)484-9800.

Doma Kitchen Thanksgiving
Doma Kitchen will be open from 2 to 8 p.m. and will offer a special Thanksgiving menu by chef Kristina Miksyte. Some of Miksyte’s unique creations have an Eastern European culinary theme. 3562 N. Sepulveda Blvd. (310)647-3157.

(Photo Courtesy of Barton G.)
(Photo Courtesy of Barton G.)

Barton G. LA Thanksgiving
L.A.’s “culinary theatery” Barton G. LA will showcase seasonal pumpkin and turkey-inspired creations with an elevated twist on Thursday, Nov. 26. Three-course holiday meals include shareable pumpkin spice donuts and pumpkin soup. The menu also includes fall garden salads, herb roasted turkey breast with confit leg, and pumpkin donuts with cranberry compote, pumpkin butter, spiced warm chocolate and cinnamon anglaise. The cost is $65 per person and reservations are required. 861 N. La Cienega Blvd., (310)388-1888.

(Photo Courtesy of Patina)
(Photo Courtesy of Patina)

Patina’s Descanso Gardens Thanksgiving
Have a carefree Thanksgiving with an annual buffet prepared by Patina chefs with all the trimmings, including vegetarian options, on Thursday, Nov. 26 at Descanso Gardens. Seatings are available at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Cranberry orange cheesecake and pumpkin pie tarts are an ideal finish. After the meal, guests can walk in the gardens. Seating is limited and reservations are required by Thursday, Nov. 19. The Thanksgiving brunch buffet is $74.56 for Descanso Gardens members and $31.39 for their children, and $86.33 for non-members and $36.62 for their children. 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada, (818)790-3663.

(Photo Courtesy of M Cafe)
(Photo Courtesy of M Cafe)

Healthy Thanksgiving to go at M Café
M Café, Los Angeles’ contemporary macrobiotic café, is serving cuisine free of dairy, red meat, refined sugars, eggs and poultry, and offers a veg-friendly, meat-free Thanksgiving feast to go that is tailored for dietary needs and requires no cooking. The M Café’s Thanksgiving Feast includes a choice of entrée, holiday soup, salad and choice of two additional accompaniments. The price is $75 for a two-person feast and $145 for a four-person feast. Locations include Brentwood, Melrose Avenue and Beverly Hills. For information and orders, call Kristel Kim at (213)500-7220, or email kristel@thechaya.com.


(Photo courtesy of Circa 55)
(Photo courtesy of Circa 55)

Beverly Hills Thanksgiving
Circa 55 in the Beverly Hilton is serving a modern brunch and California dinner menu for Thanksgiving with market-fresh dishes that are 95 percent locally sourced. Thanksgiving brunch includes carved citrus-brined roasted turkey with breakfast favorites like eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles. The dinner includes roasted turkey with giblet gravy and sage stuffing, and wood grilled fish with spaghetti squash herb butter. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. The brunch price is $79 per adult and $36 for children; $60 per person for dinner. 9876 Wilshire Blvd., (310)887-6055.

Santa Monica Thanksgiving
The oceanfront 1 Pico at Shutters on the Beach features a market-fresh menu that showcases seasonal Southern California ingredients and seafood. The prix fixe menu allows guests to choose from poached farm egg and duck prosciutto and seared scallops. Entrées include free-range Mary’s turkey, American red snapper and scallop potato and black truffle gratin. Finish with pumpkin tarts and butterscotch and caramelized pear trifles. The price is $90 per person. 1 Pico Blvd., (310)587-1717. OpenTable


(Photo courtesy of Umami Burger)
(Photo courtesy of Umami Burger)

Umami Burger’s Holiday Bird
Umami Burger’s Holiday Bird is an entire holiday meal with Umami’s signature turkey patty, a cornbread stuffing patty, house-made turkey gravy, fresh ginger-cranberry chutney, spiced Japanese yams and Umami-dusted fried sage. For every Holiday Bird dinner sold, $1 will be donated to Meals on Wheels America to help seniors in need. 189 The Grove Drive, Ste. C-10, (323)954-8626; 4655 Hollywood Blvd., (323)669-3922; 1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (323)469-3100.

These destinations were featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers on Nov. 19 and Nov. 26, 2015.

Two Thanksgiving Dining Options at The Montage in Beverly Hills

(Celebrity Chef Scott Conant with a very happy Jill Weinlein)
(Celebrity Chef Scott Conant with a very happy Jill Weinlein)

Celebrity Chef Scott Conant’s Scarpetta is serving an elegant Thanksgiving Day buffet that includes all the traditional trimmings inside The Montage Beverly Hills

(Start with Soup to Nuts at Scarpetta's Thanksgiving Buffet - photo by The Montage)
(Start with Soup to Nuts at Scarpetta’s Thanksgiving Buffet – photo by The Montage)

While overlooking the beautiful Beverly Canon gardens, families can begin with a complement of West Coast oysters, chilled shrimp, citrus cured salmon or Snow Crab legs, before moving on to enjoy slices of  herb roasted turkey, and his signature tomato and basil spaghetti. Other items include a leg of lamb, porchetta and Prime Rib. Corn Bread is infused with prosciutto & thyme.

Italian fare featured in the buffet range from ricotta Agnolotti, rigatoni and baked ricotta Cavatelli with Napa cabbage, sausage and butternut squash. There are cured meats, Fingerling potatoes with scallions & whole grain mustard, and autumn squash with agro dolce & spicy pumpkin seeds.

(Desserts at The Montage- Photo by The Montage)
(Desserts at The Montage- Photo by The Montage)

Finish with a multitude of satisfying desserts.

Bottomless Mimosas, Bloody Marys & Bellinis are available for an additional $22.

The Scarpetta buffet is served on Thursday, November 28 starting at noon to 5 p.m. The price is $108 per adult and $35 for children (5-12 years), exclusive of tax and gratuity. For reservations, (310)860-7970.

(Photo by The Montage)
(Photo by The Montage)

For lighter fare with glorious views of the Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills, take your family to The Montage Rooftop for a myriad of gourmet á la carte options including pumpkin soup with toasted pepitas, pomegranate and whipped chèvre brioche toast. Other items include butternut squash flatbread with duck confit; a roasted turkey sandwich on toasted cranberry walnut bread, with warm brie, green apple, and caramelized shallots. Finish with a pumpkin gingerbread trifle or eggnog creme brûlée.

(Photo by The Montage)
(Photo by The Montage)

The Rooftop will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. For reservations, please call (310)860-7990. Prices range from $12 to $29 a dish.

Montage Beverly Hills is located at 225 N. Canon Drive. in Beverly Hills.

Celebrate The Holidays at La Quinta

IMG_0128.jpgA dear friend of mine comes to La Quinta with a group of twenty friends annually to stay in a historic casita clustered around one of the 41 pools.

Some play golf on the PGA West golf courses, others play tennis on one of the 23 La Quinta tennis courts.

Kids ride Razor scooters around the 45 acre grounds, while parents take turns watching them and then sneaking into the 23,000 sq. ft. luxury La Quinta Spa for a massage, facial and quiet time.

Since my family has had a home in the desert for over 20 years, I’ve never stayed at La Quinta or any of the wonderful desert properties. Last year, we finally sold the family home, and now “homeless,” we reserved two nights just before Thanksgiving to see what everyone is raving about.

IMG_0124.JPGFirst of all, La Quinta Resort is a Waldorf Astoria (Hilton Hotels) property. Walking into the historic entrance with conquistadors on each side of the door, you feel as if you have been transformed into an Old World era.

There are a multitude of 620 California hacienda-style casitas and villas with different floor plans. Some offer patios, others offer pool views and the Starlight casitas are up a flight of beautiful Mexican paver tiles to a balcony patio with a large conversational couch, table with four chairs and outdoor fireplace. One can sit out on their private patio, flip on the electric fireplace with dazzling blue glass, recline on the couch and count hundreds of stars at night. While the weather is warm, this area is inviting to sleep outside, since you have a private and locked gate at the patio entrance.

In the morning, this area is visually stunning as the sunrise bathes the Santa Rosa Mountains and verdant green palm trees.

I learned that La Quinta’s fine dining restaurant Morgan’s in The Desert is one of the top Open Table reservation destinations, just behind French Laundry.

(Sommelier Lisa Tussing at Morgan’s in The Desert) Photo by: Jill Weinlein

The Executive chef Jimmy Schmidt offers a themed three-course prix fixe with wine pairing twice a month with Morgan’s Sommelier Lisa Tussing. She is the youngest female Level 2 sommelier in AZ and one of the best in the desert. Together they created a one-of-a-kind Heirloom pear and Artisan duck menu, that I had to try.

Our servers Erik and Sal were extremely professional, friendly and informative about each dish. Sal shared with us his favorite dishes on the a la carte menu and recommended the soup of the evening – a fennel soup infused with roasted red peppers, cipolini onions and dazzled with chive oil. There was no cream in this elegant, purely vegetarian warm goodness.

IMG_0086.jpgWe started with  housemade garlic rolls with French Plugrá European-style Butter that is a slow-churned to create less moisture content and a creamier texture, before the soup and my first core of  Bosc pear and shredded crispy duck confit salad arrived. With a little Mache and frisse, Schmidt tossed the ingredients with a pear cider dressing and topped it with a flash fried duck oil egg. Visually it was interesting, taste wise- it was exquisite with the sweetness of the pear, savoriness of the egg and wonderful flavors from the duck. Schmidt cooks the duck slowly and for a long time to get this confit so tender. It was paired with a glass of 2013 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France that was light with a fruity essence.

(Chef Jimmy Schmidt knows how to prepare local ingredients into spectacular dishes. Photo by Jill Weinlein)

The main course was pear cider cured sliced duck breast that was pan roasted and served with an elevated vegetarian dish that looked like ravioli, yet was made purely with caramelized pears stuffed with a French soft-ripened triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola. It was beyond good and should be a staple on the menu with or without the duck. The dish also had a savory grilled leek, shallot and red Bosc pear salad. The chef and sommelier paired this with a red 2013 Federalist Zinfandel wine from Lodi, Ca. Tussing felt this Zin was light and offered more to this dish than a Pinot Noir.

The Mahi-Mahi my husband selected was dusted with coriander seeds and served with a mild chopped celery root and roasted leeks with lots of microgreens. Coriander is the dry seed from cilantro. It offers a pleasantly sweet and lemon essence to the fish.

(Fresh corn cut from the cob with coconut milk and ginger – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

The two side dishes we tried included the ginger scented Indio sweet corn sliced off the cob and intensified with coconut milk and crispy ginger. The Brussels sprouts are amplified with Wagyu beef bacon. Not pork, but beef bacon from the belly of the cow. It was better than any pork bacon I have tasted. Not as fatty as pork bacon, Wagyu crisps up beautifully, yet offers a delightfully chewiness. There were also some exquisite Pearl onions complementing this side dish.

(Popcorn flavored ice cream with salted caramel Cracker Jack style popcorn on top- Photo by Jill Weinlein)

We ordered a trio of desserts. My favorite was the pear sorbet on top of the red pear galette with a pomegranate caramel. The most visually spectacular dessert was the butter popcorn ice cream parfait served in a parfait glass with salted caramel house made Cracker Jack popcorn. Our server Sal told us that at 4 p.m. the restaurant smells like a movie theater with popcorn popping. It’s heightened with bittersweet chocolate fudge and sea salted caramel.

The last dessert was too sweet for me, after enjoying the first two sweets. The twisted S’mores of chocolate offers house made fire kissed marshmallow ice cream and an almond brittle that was like an Almond Roca on steroids.

Since we were one of the last to close down the restaurant, Tussing took us into the extremely clean kitchen to give us a tour. We tasted the house-made ice cream kept in freezer drawers, walked into her wine storage closet and had the opportunity to thank the chefs.

It was an evening of fine dining that I will never forget. Outstanding service, food and culinary experience at Morgan’s in The Desert. If this peaked your interest, Morgan’s in The Desert is offering a special Thanksgiving and Holiday menu that features some of the dishes I enjoyed, plus a few extras.

Make your reservations by calling (760)564-4600 or go to Open Table.







What’s New at smoke.oil.salt

(Chef Brian Gregg)
(Chef Brian Gregg)

After the success of his Peruvian pop-up, ONCE, James Beard nominee Ricardo Zarate didn’t sit idle. He was busy cooking in the kitchen of smoke.oil.salt. with chef Brian Gregg.

Restaurateurs Adam Fleischman and Stephen Gelber recently selected Zarate to be the Executive Consulting Chef at smoke.oil.salt.

Gregg and Zarate have created a new three tapas “happy hour” special for $19. Pair them with a glass of Spanish wine, sparking cava, fruity sangria or kalimotxo, (a Spanish cocktail made with equal parts red wine and a cola-based soft drink) for $7 during 5:30 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Crispy frito chicken – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

I brought my friend Carole with me to watch Zarate and Gregg in action and enjoy some of their tapas. We ordered a glass of Spanish sparkling wine before sharing the crispy frito chicken with serrano ham and a lovely, slightly spicy red brava sauce.

Next, two grilled scallops on a pea puree arrived adorned with crunchy hazelnuts and a tangy lemon aioli. Our third tapas was Pintxo de Iberico, a toasted sourdough bread layered with a slightly smoky, unpasteurized sheep’s milk, and delicious Iberico ham.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

The atmosphere was lively with friends meeting up to enjoy after-work cocktails and tapas before moving on to dinner.

Zarate and Gregg have also collaborated on new Sunday Brunch menu. This time I brought my husband with me to sample some of the new creative toasts they serve as part of Sunday brunch fare.

The bread used for the toast dishes comes from a Basque bakery in Hawthorne, known to have the some of the best Basque sourdough bread in the world. “It’s the same bread that Musso and Frank serves,” Gregg said.

The decor in this dining room on the bar side of the restaurant ia a tomato red wall with interesting cat and music artwork. The bar has four high stools and two lower ones where guests sit and savor the Spanish flavors from Gelber’s extensive wine collection with a few tapas and toasts. Gelber stores over 130 bottles of wines, sparkling cavas, and sherries representing every region of Spain. He also selects 30 wines by the glass to be served with brunch and dinner.

Chopped salad - photo by Jill Weinlein)
Chopped salad – photo by Jill Weinlein)

Looking over the two page menu, we started with shaved Brussels sprouts and kale molded into a dome and mixed with sliced Medjool dates, pea puree, chopped candied walnuts and a light pimenton vinaigrette. Pimenton is Spanish paprika, an essential ingredient in Spanish cooking. The first toast we ordered was Crostini con Angos made with four different mushrooms and sherry-braised cipolini onions, served cold, which surprised us at first, yet we enjoyed every mouthful.

(Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Another toast we tried was a Spanish twist on eggs Benedict. The serrano Benedicto is made with charred Basque bread and layered with Hollandaise aioli, thin slices of serrano bacon (a deeper color and richer in flavor than American bacon), and two poached eggs. It’s served warm, and as I cut the toast in half, the bright yellow yolk flowed over the layers of ingredients. The flavors transported me to a cafe along the grand La Rambla, in Barcelona.

What would brunch be without potatoes? These talented chefs make crispy potatoes with a brava sauce topped with a chorizo salsa and aioli. Gregg said preparing the potatoes is a laborious process. “We first rinse them in cold water, then boil them, and then fry them twice to keep them soft and creamy inside, yet crisp on the outside,” he said.

(French Toast - by Jill Weinlein)
(French Toast – by Jill Weinlein)

The Torrija is a Spanish-style French toast that is far less sweet than traditional French toast. The sweetness comes only from the natural sugars from the mixed berries on top. Even the vanilla bean whipped cream with a dash of mint oil is subtle.

(Uni toast - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Uni toast – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Another toast favorite is the soft scrambled eggs with uni (sea urchin) on the Basque toast with oven blistered tomatoes and a dash of chili oil. The uni makes this dish especially decadent and very satisfying, and it pairs wonderfully with a grapefruit essence sangria.

They serve carafes of bottomless Spanish cocktails or the friendly servers will happily refill your glass of cava during brunch.
For dessert, try the brazo gitano made with rolled sponge cake, dulce de leche and a passion fruit curd.

(Photo by Rick Weinlein)
(Chef Ricardo Zarate – Photo by Rick Weinlein)

Before leaving I asked Zarate how long will he be at smoke.oil.salt. “I’ll be here for a while until I get my own brick and mortar. Maybe until March 2016.” he said. Until then, come into smoke.oil.salt. to have two esteemed chefs prepare authentic Spanish fare that will excite your tastebuds.
Zarate just released his cookbook, “The Fire of Peru: Stories From My Peruvian Kitchen,” highlighting many of his modern Peruvian dishes, reflecting a dash of Japanese, Chinese and European influences.

Open for dinner nightly from 5:30 to 12 a.m. Brunch is served on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. $$ 7274 Melrose Ave. (323)930-7900.

This article was featured in the November 19, 2015 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

5 Sweet Delights at Valerie Chocolates

PApQiQAX0xxnWpuOgj8xcjyft-vLJbZT4ftT3qi3X2c,lUe_hoC0VFDBL_54CuIonTiy65-PNwLZO_GBDmcUNUwLocal chocolatier Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections is selling Thanksgiving and December holiday gifts made with fresh, all-natural ingredients. She wraps them up in chic, elegant packaging that will impress your loved ones.

Here are 5 holiday gifts available as a sweet party gift or for a festive holiday family dessert-

  1. Peppermint Bark – Valerie’s version features bittersweet chocolate sprinkled with dried mint leaves, topped with a layer of white chocolate, and her handmade peppermint candy (10 oz., $35) .peppermint_bark_bagged_420p_72dpi
  2.  Fruit Cake Blanc and Fruit Cake Noir  – This fruitcake features gourmet ingredients like white fig, golden raisins, pears, apples, blanched almonds, and a touch of brandy. The Noir fruit cake has dark raisins, Black Mission figs, plums, almonds, cocoa powder, and port. It’s ideal for breakfast or an after-dinner treat with a snifter of brandy or a mug of hot cocoa. (serves 7-9, $60 each)
  3.  Ornament Box  ­– These hand-molded chocolates are made from 61% bittersweet chocolate and filled with dried mint leaves and bits of crunchy housemade peppermint candy to lend a whimsical air of the holidays. They’re wrapped in bright foil and presented in gold tinsel in an ivory box with red satin ribbon—a great stocking stuffer for any age. (16 pieces, $75).
  4. Christmas Jam – These jams features plum, cranberry, apple, dried orange, cinnamon, and clove.

lattice_pie_420p72dpi-25.  Seasonal Pies – Berry pies and the Winter Luxury Pumpkin Pie are made with a buttery and flaky pie dough filled to the brim with local, organic fruit. These pies keep well for 2 day. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Approximately 6-8 servings.

All these items can be found at the  Silverlake, Echo Park, and Downtown Grand Central Market locations.

Wine Tasting in Paso Robles

(Gary Eberle with Brett - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Gary Eberle with Brett – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Gather some friends, rent a limo, and go taste some great wines. Paso Robles is 206 miles north of Los Angeles and 206 miles south of San Francisco. A group of us started our tasting at 10:30 a.m. at Eberle Winery. Walking into the tasting room, I noticed two interesting items on the walls. The first was a framed letter near the entrance from President Ronald Reagan on White House stationary, thanking Eberle for his generous gift of Eberle wine. The second item was owner Gary Eberle’s framed Penn State football jersey. As a young man, this linebacker earned a football scholarship to the school. I learned he was selected on a NFL team, yet got injured after 10 days of going pro and decided to go back to school.

While attending Louisiana State University and studying cellular genetics, Eberle developed an appreciation for wine. He applied to U.C. Davis to study Enology, got accepted, and moved to California. After receiving his degree in Enology in the early 1970s, he moved to Paso Robles and became one of the winemaking pioneers in the region.

Since we were a big group, we reserved a private tasting outside and a tour of the underground caves. The affable Gary Eberle greeted us near the entrance of his tasting room. He had his staff member Madison pour our tastings and educate us on the various wines. We sipped six different white and red wines while overlooking beautiful views of the 38-acre vineyard. There is a lawn with a bean bag game that we all enjoyed in between tastings.

Madison stopped pouring and took us on a private tour of Eberle’s 16,000 square feet underground caves. The $20 per person tasting and tour fee was waived, because we purchased bottles of wine and gifts from their boutique. If you have a group of eight or less, groups can reserve a private tasting and cheese plate paired with the wines for $35 per person.

(Whalebone Winery - Photo by: Jill Weinlein)
(Whalebone Winery – Photo by: Jill Weinlein)

Next, we drove along winding country roads to the more rustic Whalebone Winery tasting room. Owned by Dr. Robert and Janalyn Simpson, it’s a smaller family operation with their daughters and nephew offering pours. Two cats sit outside on picnic tables hoping visitors will give them a pet.
Known for their Cabernet Sauvignon grown in limestone and calcareous soil that is laden with fossilized seashells, the owners found actual million year old whalebones while planting their vines.

We learned that the cult favorite BOB WINE, was the first wine created on the vineyard. Dr. Robert “Bob” would always bring a bottle or two of this wine on his annual Montana fishing trip with friends. Its first label was made out of duct tape. We enjoyed a taste of Bob 2011 made with 70% Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot and a taste of Bob 2012. The Boneyard taste was a Rhone- inspired red blend that was big and fruit driven. Their beloved late English bulldog’s face is on the label. We also enjoyed the Zinfandel offering red raspberry, clove, and cinnamon aromas with each sip and swirl. Since we bought some of the wine, the tasting fee was waived.

(Cheese and wine tasting at Jada Winery - Photo by Jill Weinlein)
(Cheese and wine tasting at Jada Winery – Photo by Jill Weinlein)

Three wineries is enough for one day, so we made our last stop at Jada Winery, with a reserved private tasting outside on the covered patio. A staff member offered us five different flights of all-estate wines for $10. For an extra $3 we had the opportunity to pair each taste with five artisan cheeses prepared by the Paso Robles gourmet cheese shop, Vivant Fine Cheese. This was my favorite tasting experience of the day.

We started with a white blend offering notes of pear, peach and melon and a chunk of honey Chevre. Next, The Jersey Girl is an Estate Syrah with aromas of fresh red fruit, and orange peel. This went well with a small square of two-year Gouda. The third taste was from a bottle of Malstria offering notes of plum, grape Jolly Rancher, blackberry fruit rollups and orange peel. It went well with the cow’s milk BellaVitano Gold. We all liked the Strayts tasting made with a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon offering aromas of dried black cherries, cola, soy sauce and balsamic reduction. It paired with a mocha colored Cahill Porter cheese. Last, the Hell’s Kitchen wine was a red blend with smoky black fruits, licorice, and tinges of vanilla. It paired nicely with a chunk of cows milk Seahive rubbed in wildflower honey.

Fully satiated, we had the limo drive us back to a house we rented for the weekend. We swam and napped before going to dinner at Artisan restaurant, owned by two brothers, Mike Kobayashi and Executive Chef Chris Kobayashi, in the center of the Paso Robles square.

We liked the creativity of the dishes and ordered a multitude of small plates that included burrata with summer peaches, smoked almonds and speck; foie gras torchon, with blistered fig, maple and sherry gastrique and black walnut; and a field mushroom pizza with leeks, fromage blanc and a drizzle of truffle oil.

Salads included pickled beets with chèvre, candied walnuts, and arugula; and an eggplant caprese, garden tomatoes and pesto. The abalone tostada was similar to calamari. It was on a crisp shell with avocado, grilled corn and a cherry tomato pico.

Entrees included a flatiron steak; cider brined pork chop; wild boar tenderloin; Alaskan halibut; Kobe tip steak; King salmon and Atlantic scallops. We decided to bring our own wine to the dinner and learned that corkage is $20 for the first two bottles and $25 for any additional.

The next morning after breakfast we all agreed that Paso Robles is ideal destination to splurge and enjoy elegant wine and food. We might make this an annual tradition.

Parts of this article was featured in LuxeBeat magazine on November 11, 2015.

Mexican flavors with modernist techniques – Dia de Campo

Dia-de-campo-tacos-224x300Sitting in a spacious wooden booth next to a window at Día de Campo, we watched two middle-aged surfers walk back to their car after a day at the beach. After putting their boards on car racks, they changed into dry clothes, flipped their hair a few times and walked inside Día de Campo for cerveza, tequila and oysters. We, however, were there for the tacos.

These aren’t your average tacos. Upgrade them to “machismo” style with double corn and flour tortillas (one of each), stuffed with additional cheese, and topped with a creamy avocado and zesty lime crema sauce.

My husband and I ordered a carnitas taco with a spirited tomatillo avocado sauce and a grilled fish taco with a pico de gallo sauce. One of the friendly servers, Fabian, brought a bottle of housemade habanero sauce to the table. He told us that it has no preservatives, so we should put the cap on after pouring some onto our plate. It was hot and spicy, but not unpleasantly fiery.

With a degree in Economics from UCLA, Dia de Campo executive chef Tin Vuong worked in the corporate world for a while and then enrolled in the California Academy of Culinary Arts. He was the executive sous chef at the acclaimed St. Regis Hotel and Resort in Monarch Beach for over five years.

In 2012, he was lured to Abigaile’s Brewery in Hermosa Beach by the Los Angeles-based Blackhouse Hospitality Group. Vuong created an exciting gastropub menu that reflected the unique history and re-design of the restaurant, that once was the rehearsal space for the most influential punk/hardcore bands in music history.

He expanded his restaurant empire with Little Sister in Manhattan Beach where he created a mostly Vietnamese menu. At the newer Steak & Whiskey steakhouse in Hermosa Beach, his upscale and elegant menu has received rave reviews, as has his elevated Mexican cuisine at Día de Campo with partner/restaurateur Jed Sanford. Since Vuong is very busy with all of these restaurants, his buddy Ken Johnson, from his St. Regis Monarch Beach days, now helms the kitchen at Día de Campo where he combines Mexican flavors with modernist techniques.

Gorgeous, hand-painted Mexican tiles accent the maple wood bar. A row of Mexican cervezas and local craft beers on draft line the back of the bar. Some interesting bottled beers are also offered.

For those looking for a unique cocktail, the tia sangria is made with white wine, brandy, passion fruit, peach and citrus fruit and comes in a pitcher or bowl. The Yucatan bowl combines tequila blanco, fresh pineapple, lime and mandarin oranges.

The bar has an extensive tequila collection with almost 30 blancos, at least 20 different reposados, almost 20 anejos, plus plenty of mezcals. We ordered a simple “skinny” margarita made with Azunia blanco tequila, Cointreau and lime, and The Sophia made with tequila blanco, Agua de Santa and Patrón Citrónge. Other cocktails have names like Passion over Function, Dirty Water and The Mule.

Ashleigh Moller, who has been here since the day it opened, manages this South Bay haunt.

At the oyster counter near the bar, diners can watch chefs shucking Kusshi and Fanny Bay oysters from British Columbia, and Kumiai from the Pacific.

Known for their excellent ceviche-esque, aptly named because it is beyond normal ceviche – raw fish cured in lemon or lime juice is spiced with ají or chili peppers. The yellowfin tuna is served in a clay bowl on a layer of guacamole. The lightly marinated fish is jazzed up with a habanero aioli and crispy kale leaves creating a zesty Mexican essence. Fried plantain chops are ideal for scooping the ceviche and guacamole and providing a crunch.

Dia-de-Campo.corn_-224x300We ordered the vegetarian caramelized cauliflower with onions, egg and cotija cheese and the Mexican street corn pops. Chili mayo is spread on the cobbettes on a stick, then dusted with Parmesan cheese and a squeeze of lime. Both dishes were good, though I preferred the fantastic corn pops.
Many of the dishes are a balance of textures, like the wood grilled hanger steak fajitas served on a platter with house grilled onions, shishito peppers and cotija cheese accompanied with warm housemade tortillas.

Short rib empanadas, tostadas with fried avocado and pickled vegetables, plancha pork belly with chipotle mole, avocado, pico, and an egg are interesting items. Try the shrimp and chorizo enchiladas or live it up with a 10 oz. wood grilled ribeye with hearts of palm salad and shishito peppers.

Desserts include a tres leches with hazelnuts and a sprinkling of sea salt-chili, and three snowball coconut cakes filled with spiced guava jam and covered in toasted coconut.

After dinner we took a stroll to the end of the Hermosa Beach Pier and remarked that our evening was a mini vacation from the faster pace of Los Angeles, one that we would like to repeat again.

Dia de Campo offers a Bandito Power Hour from 5 to 7 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 3 to 7 p.m. on Fridays with three oysters for $5. On Tuesdays, the chef choice oysters are $1.$$ 1238 Hermosa Ave. Hermosa Beach, (310)379-1829.

Published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea Newspapers on November 11, 2015.