The Band’s Visit is Just What We Need Right Now

At Opening Night of THE BAND”S VISIT inside the Dolby Theatre, theater patrons were giddy with excitement. For some, this was the first time they have stepped into a theater to see a live show in almost two years.

Based on the book by Itamar Moses and low budget Israeli film of the same name by Israeli screenwriter and director Eran Kolirin, the story was developed into a musical by Producer Orin Wolf’s love of the story. With support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation, and the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s National Fund for New Musicals it was made years later and opened on Broadway in 2017. Receiving favorably results from audiences and critics, this little show swept the Tony Awards nominations and won 10 awards including Best Musical, as well as Best Director of a Musical, David Cromer, Best Score and the two leading acting awards with Tony Shalhoub as Tewfiq Zakaria, the colonel of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra.

Sasson Gabay and Janet Dacal

Now one of Broadway in Hollywood’s productions, the touring company has actor Sasson Gabay once again performing as the lead character. Sasson is no stranger to this role, as he played Twefiq in the movie and on Broadway after Shalboub left the show.

The show begins with the line “Once not long ago a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important” to introduce Colonel Twefiq and his band of musicians arriving in Israel and excited to perform for a local cultural organization in Petah Tikva. The miscommunication at the bus station between Arabic and Israeli translation, lands the band in a “bleak” “boring” and “beige” desert town. 

Director David Cromer cleverly uses a revolving stage to introduce the townspeople in the “Waiting” scene, where every day is the same. Confused and hungry, the band of musicians in light blue Sargent Pepper style uniforms inquire with Dina (Janet Dacal), a local café owner about something to eat and their whereabouts. Again due to a language barrier, they strike up a conversation in English, as Dina sings along with Itzik (Clay Singer) and Papi (Coby Getzug) “Welcome to Nowhere.” Lighting designer Tyler Micoleau casts a beautiful orange glow across the stage signaling dusk. 

With no buses arriving until the following day, Dina and a few locals exhibit an act of kindness by taking these men in for the night. Soon their lives become intertwined in unexpected ways and this lackluster town soon wakes up and shines, just as Dina and others in town break down their walls and come alive with the presence of these strangers.

The Band – Photo courtesy of Broadway in Hollywood

THE BAND”S VISIT reminds me a little of the musical “Come From Away”, it’s a feel good story with music and lyrics by David Yazbek. The lively number “The Beat of Your Heart” has Avrum (David Studwell) singing about how love sparks something upbeat. He sings how “In love and music all is fair” while sharing to Itzik, Simon (James Rana) and Camal (Yoni Avi Battat) how he met his wife. “Love starts when the tune is sweet” is the theme of how music and love are the universal language. These four characters joyfully sing “Summertime” from the musical Porgy and Bess, and the magic of music brings Israeli and Egyptian strangers together on common ground. Later in the show, Simon plays his clarinet to soothe the couple’s crying infant, bringing peace and harmony into the fractured household.

Photo courtesy of Broadway in Hollywood

The audience claps multiple times throughout the show, especially after Dina brings out a playful side of the Colonel. Dacal’s melodic voice has the audience lean towards the stage as she sings about her fond memory of watching Egyptian movies with Umm Kulthum and Omar Sharif “flying in a Jasmine scented wind” in song “Omar Sherif.” Shai Wetzer is fantastic on the Arabic percussion tapping the “daraba”, which means “to strike” with gusto in Arabic.

Joe Joseph – Photo courtesy of Broadway in Hollywood

For such a dull town, the local roller rink is full of swirling and sparkling colors as Haled (Joe Joseph) sings the jazzy “Haled’s Song About Love” so buttery soft and smooth to inspire awkward Papi (Coby Getzug) to take a step towards love. 

Another favorite scene is when Tewliq and Dina sing “Something Different”. He sings in Arabic, while she freely sings and dances about reviving a spark inside. Lighting director Tyler Micoleau has Dina’s seductive shadow illuminated on a back wall, as she twirls around Tewliq. 

Throughout the play is the mention of Chet Baker and his hit song ‘My Funny Valentine’. Even though Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote this song for the musical “Babes in Arms”, Baker’s signature song is sung in such an exquisite style that it gave me goosebumps. Not only are the characters awakened, the audience is too.

Another beautiful voice is the Telephone Guy (Joshua Grosso) who we only see his profile for most of the show, as he obsessively waits next to a pay phone hoping his loved one will call. When the phone finally rings, he picks it up and sings ”Answer Me” so exquisitely that he steals the scene, even as the ensemble join in. 

The next day when the band gathers at Dina’s cafe to catch their bus, it’s a mirror image of the opening scene. It’s time to say goodbye as they board their bus to “Petah Tikvah”. 

When the stage cuts to black and the actors take their final curtain bow, stay in your seat for an added bonus of music and good cheer.

THE BAND’S VISIT offers laughter, inspires hope, and ultimately brings all of us together for 90 minutes to celebrate friendship and the basic need of human connection.

THE BAND’S VISIT features music and lyrics by Tony Award-winner David Yazbek, and a book by Tony Award-winner Itamar Moses. It is based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin, and is directed by Tony Award-winner David Cromer.

Showtime is at 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. The show ends on Dec. 19, 2021.

Tickets start at $30 (subject to change)

Contact: 1-800-982-2787 or BroadwayInHollywood.com.

Dolby Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Ahmanson Theatre in LA

A Christmas Carol runs through January 1, 2022

The excitement was contagious, as the staff of the Center Theatre Group prepared for the reopening of the Ahmanson Theatre for “A CHRISTMAS CAROL”. They dropped off an envelope to every chair in the theatre before the doors opened to theatre patrons. Inside was a white card that read: TOGETHER AGAIN We’ve Missed You! Tonight’s Performance is Dedicated To You: The First To Return.

The pre-show is a lot of fun to watch

The Ahmanson has been dark for 628 days. Think about that length of time for a theatre to be closed. When they planned to reopen, they wanted to do it with a BANG! They wanted a story that would engage the audience and warm their soul. Securing the five-time Tony winning production “A Christmas Carol” with seasoned actor Emmy Award-winner Bradley Whitford as Ebenezer Scrooge, Kate Burton and Alex Newell was the perfect combination to attract theater goers back inside.

Audiences must arrive early to show their vaccination card, identification and receive a purple bracelet to enter into the theatre. A delightful pre-show entertains the audience with members of the ensemble walking out onstage to play music, wave, and throw out small tangerines to those who raise their hand and are ready to catch.

The ensemble has fun throughout the show

Looking up, one notices hundreds of lanterns hanging from the ceiling above the audience. Lighting Designer Hugh Vanstone has designed over 20 Broadway shows and won the 2019 Tony Award for Best Lighting Design for this show when it was at the Lyceum Theatre in New York City. 

The musical is based on a novella written in 1843 by Charles Dickens and is a clever new interpretation of Dickens’ timeless story. Adapted by Tony Award winner Jack Thorne (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) and originally directed and conceived by Tony Award winner Matthew Warchus (“Matilda”), Scrooge is visited by four ghosts.

The first ghost is former business partner Jacob Marley (Chris Hoch) who has been “dead as a doornail” for seven years. Weighted down by the chains he forged in life, Hoch wows the audience and Scrooge towards the end of the show with his golden voice.

Bradley Whitford is wonderful as Scrooge

Rob Howell’s creativity and skillful expertise as the Set and Costume Designer for the show also won a Tony Winner. He cleverly has four thin door frames in the center of the set to represent a front door and doors leading into hallways. These pop up and come down flush with the stage floor during certain scenes. Howell dresses Scrooge in an exquisite red jacket to add a pop of color and the ghosts in colorful garments to draw our attention to the dark stage.

This timeless and very timely tale focuses on isolation and redemption. “A Christmas Carol” features sound design by Tony Award winner Simon Baker; The sound effects of doors closing are integral in the show, especially when Scrooge’s assistant Bob Cratchit shuts the door in frustration and resignation.

This ensemble enjoy swinging the bells in their hands to Christmas tunes multiple times in the show. Music, orchestrations, and arrangements are by Tony Award winner Christopher Nightingale; music direction by Remy Kurs; music supervision by Paul Staroba and music coordination by Howard Joines. Some of the most beloved Christmas carols, including “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” and “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” are performed.

When Scrooge encounters the three ghosts of Christmas he is forced to visit his past, the present and move into the future. It’s painful for him to watch as each ghost appears during a spectacular whirlwind from Vanstone’s lighting.

Bradley Whitford and Kate Burton

The ghost of Christmas Past is Kate Burton, and she guides Scrooge on a painful journey of his failures and lost opportunities. Burton is the accomplished daughter of theater royalty – Richard Burton and Sybil Christopher.

The ghost of Christmas Present received applause the minute Alex Newell stepped onstage. I didn’t understand why Newell spoke with a Jamaican accent, and at times he yells out his lines so loud that I couldn’t understand the words he was shouting out. I heard guests during intermission commenting on this too. He is bigger than life in energy, which is exciting to watch, but Newell just needs to slow down his delivery and enunciate more clearly.

Alex Newell and Bradley Whitford

While the Christmas Future scene is with Little Fan (Glory Yepassis-Zembrou), Whitford draws the audience in with his dramatic voice, yet Yepassis- Zembrou yells to much during Scrooge’s awakening and needs to soften her voice in these scenes. 

As Scrooge races though the audience to make amends with those he neglected for so many years, one of the most touching scenes is when he raps on Belle’s (Sarah Hunt) door.

Director Thomas Caruso has the ensemble appear in the audience multiple times and the audience roars in laughter during a banter with Scrooge, his nephew Fred (Brandon Gill) and townspeople collecting food to prepare for a fabulous Christmas meal.

Another touching moment is at the end with Tiny Tim (Cade Robertson the night we saw the show). It is one of those “awe” moments that will fill your heart with love and joy.

During the end of the show, the entertaining choreography has the audience ready to stand for an appreciative ovation. In the spirit of giving during the holidays, Whitford shares how the production chose a non-profit organization to support this holiday season. The Ahmanson works with many organizations to make theatre more accessible to Los Angelenos. They selected The South L.A. Cafe Community Foundation to help combat racial, economic, social, food inequity and food insecurity. Guests wanting to help out could donate a few dollars on their way out of the theatre.

After a bonus lively bell ringing performance, the audience walked outside to tables laden with packaged chocolate chip mint cookies and cups filled with piping hot chocolate as a thank you for attending the evening’s performance.

“A Christmas Carol” runs through Jan. 1. Tickets for “A Christmas Carol” are currently on sale for the premiere engagement at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre and start at $40. They are available through CenterTheatreGroup.org, Audience Services at (213) 972-4400 or in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office (at the Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012). 

“A Christmas Carol” is produced by Tom Smedes, Heather Shields, Nathan Gehan, Jamison Scott, Catherine Schreiber, Peter Stern, Xin Wen, Cornice Productions, Jack Lane, Instone Productions, Nancy Gibbs/Joseph Longthorne, Mark Lonow & JoAnne Astrow, J. Scott & Sylvia G Bechtel, Walport Productions, Alexandra Weinstein & Tobi Pilavin Weinstein, Propaganda Productions/42nd.Club, Beth Lenke/Wolfstone Productions, Tanninger Entertainment, CHK Productions/Louise H. Beard & Seriff Productions, Mark Lippman, Fiona Howe Rudin/Sammy Lopez, David Lambert/Shawn Arani, Brian Mutert & Derek Perrigo/Gary & Reenie Heath and Terry Schnuck/Joel t Newman, with Associate Producer Chase Thomas.

The Westin LAX Festive Sleigh Ride

Tis the season to be jolly and not have to worry about parking at one of the busiest airports this time of the year. The Westin Los Angeles Airport has launched a festive shuttle throughout the month of December to spread a little cheer to passengers leaving and arriving to LAX.

Guests parking or staying The Westin near the airport, will enjoy the exclusive opportunity to ride in a festively wrapped shuttle that is decked out with thousands of lights. The shuttle will have a Christmas wreath and the drivers will be wearing Santa hats. Passengers are greeted with candy canes, and can sit back and listen to holiday music before arriving at their airport terminal or the hotel.

This special shuttle will run at random in rotation with the hotel’s regular complimentary shuttle service which runs every 20 minutes 24/7.


Right now through December 25, The Westin at LAX is offering a “That’s a Wrap!” package. Guests staying at the hotel will receive festive wrapping paper, bows and anything else one needs to wrap holiday gifts with ease — including a complimentary cocktail! To book, visit www.marriott.com/laxwi and use promo code HO9.

The Ultimate Ritz Carlton “City to Slopes’ Getaway

The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe

For the ultimate couples and family holiday getaway, The Ritz Carlton, San Francisco and The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe are offering a luxurious city and mountain vacation.

This exclusive curated City to Slopes package appeals to those seeking the finer things in life. Starting on November 19, 2021 to March 31, 2022, start the four-days with an extravagant shopping spree for holiday or wish-list items. Afterwards attend a private wine and caviar tasting at JCB Tasting Salon, and visit to the Krigler boutique. There are tickets to an exciting evening show and transportation the next day to the airport to fly on a private jet to Lake Tahoe’s winter wonderland.

The Ritz Carlton, San Francisco

The Ritz Carlton, San Francisco is one of the most luxurious hotels, earning the only AAA Five Diamond in the city. Located just steps from the iconic California Street Cable Car with convenient access to Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, Lombard Street and Coit Tower, guests will enjoy seeing the holiday store displays and festive atmosphere.

Joel Costa, Director of Sales and Marketing at The Ritz Carlton, San Francisco was instrumental in creating this one-of-a-kind travel package. “We’re pleased to present our guests with this exclusive winter experience in two iconic Northern California destinations,” said Costa. “After 18-months of pent-up travel demand, this package is the ultimate way to kick-start the winter travel season with VIP experiences from the San Francisco Bay to the Sierra Nevada mountains.”

Guests receive an elegantly appointed Club Level guestroom and all-inclusive dining opportunities including breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, cocktails, wine, beer and dessert.

Start one of the days with a private shopping experience for two at Saks Fifth Avenue. Come back to the hotel for a private JCB Salon multi-sensory experience. Learn about the legendary winemaker, while tasting his wines, wearing his fragrance and jewelry, and sipping from his Passion Baccarat crystal collection.

Be sure to step into the elegant Krigler shop next door to receive a limited edition Good Fir 11 Krigler holiday candle. This particular fragrant candle was inspired by founder Albert Krigler when he made his journey to California. 

During the evening, guests will receive two tickets to the entertaining “Dear San Francisco,” a high-flying acrobatics show at Club Fugazi.

The next morning a luxury car awaits to transport guests to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Board one of the private Surf Air jets, the first private air travel club of its kind, for a short flight to the majestic slopes.

The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe

Upon landing, a luxury car will transport guests from Truckee Tahoe Airport to The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe. This contemporary AAA Five Diamond mountain retreat sits among the snow-clad mountains at Northstar California Resort. It’s a stunning winter wonderland and ultimate skiing getaway featuring convenient slope-side, ski-in and ski-out access. An inter-mountain gondola connects the resort to the nearby Village at Northstar.

There are 170 guest rooms and 23 private Ritz-Carlton Residences. Guests have access to the 17,000 square foot spa and fitness center.

According to Laurie Munos, Director of Sales and Marketing at The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe, “This winter season, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is thrilled to offer guests an over-the-top package allowing them to experience the many luxuries of Lake Tahoe as well as our neighboring city San Francisco.”

Receive keys to a beautifully decorated Club Level guestroom, and two lift tickets await to be redeemed at Northstar California resort, plus premium ski or snowboard rentals for two. Guests can also participate in private ski or snowboard lessons for two and receive a $500 credit to the True North boutique for ski or snowboard gear.

Later in the evening dress for a private Chef’s Table Experience at Manzanita, the resort’s signature restaurant. Other dining venues include The Backyard Bar & BBQ, The Living Room, Café Blue for luxe après ski culinary delights.

The City to Slopes package at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, and The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe must be reserved 14-days in advance. The all-inclusive rate begins at $25,000 for two. Call (800)241-3333.  

This review was featured in JustLuxe – November 2021.

The Electrifying Audi e-tron

Audi

Driving an Audi e-tron infused with the same Audi DNA performance and handling as their fuel cars, is even more thrilling at every turn. The luxury fully-electric Audi e-tron models have a quicker pick up. Just step on the pedal and go from 0 to 60 in less than 5.5 seconds.

Equipped with an e-quattro all-wheel drive system, the intelligent technology and advanced charging capabilities make this one of the most innovative and sustainable electric automobiles in the world.

Engineered for stability, the core of the Audi e-tron is it’s 95 kWh battery with a range of up to 205 miles. That is a greater range than other luxury electric vehicles including the Tesla Model X and Jaguar 1-Pace. This special battery is covered for 8 years or 100,000 miles with a limited warranty. The Audi e-tron can plug into any public charging station with a Combined Charging System (CCS) Charger, including Electrify America’s fast charging network.

Inside the elegant four-door coupe is a sleek panoramic view roof, comfortable soft black leather upholstery with heated and cooling features inside the adjustable front seats. Audi’s cockpit offers not one but two center large screen digital displays. The Select Drive adjusts the drivetrain, steering and suspension to your favorite driving preference. From efficiency to comfort, dynamic to individual, drivers have the option with the touch of a button. Another benefit of the e-tron is Audi drivers will never have to visit a gas station for fuel, get their car smog certified, or maintain the car with oil changes and tune ups.

The integrated system of sensors and cameras are part of the driver assistance capabilities to keep drivers and passengers safer on the road. The quad-zone automatic climate control keeps the temperature idyllic while driving and the keyless entry provides ease and convenience.

This muscle car design offers adaptive air suspension, 20-inch wheels and a hands-free liftgate. The only negative I found was that Audi doesn’t provide one-pedal regenerative driving yet. 

Jill Weinlein 

Since transportation is the number one source of climate pollution in the United States, Audi is committed to offering an American model line that is 30 percent electric by 2025. For a more sustainable future, Audi’s goal is to reduce net CO2 emissions by 30 percent. Also, Audi production facilities around the globe are planned to be certified net carbon-neutral.

The e-tron is Audi’s first all-electric production model. To celebrate, Audi has collaborated with local restaurants and businesses committed to sustainability. The Audi City Guides are a curated list of diverse and dedicated eco-entrepreneurs, restaurants, and designers making an impact in their city through their innovative sustainable practices. The list includes Keys to Los Angeles and Keys to New York.

Jill Weinlein 

An individual who purchases an Audi e-tron may be eligible for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. Additional state and local incentives may also be available. The list price is comparable to other luxury electric automobiles starting under $70,000.

This article is featured in JustLuxe October 2021.

National Rose’ Day

Last weekend was National Rose Day and FIOL Rosé sent me a bottle to celebrate. Its their bold new pink Prosecco. FIOL’s co-founder Gian Luca Passi retails at $18.99 and can easily be shipped right to your doorstep via the brand’s new online store, ShopFiol.com and at select retailers.

Tasting notes:

  • The lively pink prosecco is made using the finest Glera (85%) and Pinot Noir (15%) grapes from Treviso, Italy. 
  • The Charmat method, which is widely associated with the Prosecco region, is used during production, creating the perfect bubbly sensation throughout the mouth-feel. 
  • With an inviting translucent coral color, FIOL Rosé gives off fruity aromas of raspberry and wild strawberry and hints of citrus lemon fruits and white flowers. 
  • On the palate, familiar notes of pear and apple dance around, while the Pinot Noir shines through, resulting in a harmonious palate with a persistent finish. 
  • FIOL Rosé is great from bottle to glass but it also creates a refreshing mixed drink such as a bellini, mimosa or our favorite, FIOL’s Rosato Spritz–recipe is below.

Summer DIY Pedicure

My friends at Naturally London sent me a summer Spa Pedicure Bundle to help me get my feet beach and sandal ready.

I’m going to take care of myself this summer by taking a lot of sandy beach walks and barefoot strolls by the pool, so it’s time to show some love to my feet during the summer. Naturally London’s new Spa Pedicure Bundle – Summer Edition offers the ultimate at-home solution to dry, rough and cracked skin.

The 8oz Exhale Foot Soak or Refuge Foot Soak is an antioxidant-rich foot soak that draws out impurities from the skin. I actually put these salts in my warm bath and soaked in the water to relax and nature my body.

After my good soak, I apply some of their award-winning, salt based Moisturizing Foot Polish to buff away dead skin and moisturize the new skin. Ingredients include healthy avocado, jojoba and Vitamin E oils.

My calluses and dry heals soak in the super-moisturizing 1oz Healing Foot balm. It uses beeswax to gently glide over the skin promoting soft skin

Naturally London just released another new product: Replenishing Daily Antioxidant Serum. It’s a lightweight, antioxidant-rich serum made with five luxurious, organic oils to soften cuticles, hands, and feet.

Pint of Pride Rainbow Sherbert Brew

June is Pride celebration month and when independent craft brewery, Common Space collaborated with a-woman founded, Coolhaus – LGBTQIA led ice cream and frozen dessert brand, they create a 0ne-of-a-kind beer. Pint of Pride is part of Common Space’s Good Beer Gives Back initiative to help fund socio-economic causes each year.

This Rainbow Sherbet Ice Cream Beer was Inspired by the rainbow of the LGBTQIA and the pride flag. It has a 7.0% ABV and is packed with pleasing pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract, Tangerine, Line, Raspberry and Pineapple Purees flavors.

Starting June 5, 2021 fans can sip Pint of Pride in the Common Space taproom in Hawthorne, or order this beer online for delivery or pickup. It is also served at select locations throughout Los Angeles and Orange County.

A portion of the sales of Pint of Pride will go directly to the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center. It helps provide health, social services and housing programs, culture and education, leadership and Advocacy.

Common Space Brewery was founded in Hawthorne, CA with the belief that we are all more similar than different, and that been has the power to help us all find a COMMON SPACE.

Visit http://www.commonspace.la for more information and where to find Pint of Pride.

Enjoy Partake non-alcohol beers this Summer

It’s summertime, and for those who enjoy backyard BBQs and pool parties, Partake Brewing offers inclusivity in a social setting with their non-alcoholic beers. Not only do their beers offer exceptional taste, but they are very low in calories (10-35 calories per can), and vegan. Made with all-natural ingredients, they pair perfectly with every occasion for those cutting back on alcohol.

Partake is offering their new limited edition seasonal Peach Gose, a non-alcoholic craft beer that is not only refreshing, but crisp and offers a hint of tartness.

In a recent interview, Ted Fleming, Partale Brewing Founder and CEO said, “We crafted Partake to cultivate inclusivity and sociability no matter what you choose to drink and because of that, we’re so excited to provide Partake loyalists with a pre-order option of our long-awaited and highly in-demand Peach Gose.” 

It’s brewed with various malts, coriander, sea salt, and natural peach flavoring that adds a fun and fruity twist to the beloved sour style. This limited-edition no alcohol beer, sold out earlier this year, because of its combination of pleasing flavors and game-changing nutrition – only 15 calories, 2g carbs and zero grams of sugar.

The award-winning Partake Brewing has become a leader in craft non-alcoholic beer in North America with distribution in major retailers across Canada and the United States. It’s known for its craft non-alcoholic Pale, IPA, Blonde, Red, Dark and the Radler limited edition. Partake is transforming the non-alcoholic beer experience.

Order a 12-can pack for $29.99. Peach Gose will be available for pre-order sale online only starting today June 2 at 2 p.m. EST at drinkpartake.com

Join the pre-sale at drinkpartake.com or follow along on Instagram at @PartakeBrewing or on Facebook at facebook.com/DrinkPartake/

6 Italian Wines to Sip this Summer

Summer is the time to dine al fresco, enjoy grilled proteins with a beautiful glass of wine. One of Italy’s leading wine producers Banfi makes it easy to pair wine with food. Their wines are affordable, quality wines often under $20 a bottle, and some worth the splurge.

2019 Castello Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio Toscana IGT (SRP: $18.99)
Recommendation: A crisp white wine that you will want to stock up on for everyday summer sipping.

This elegant Pinot Grigio is uniquely produced from Montalcino in southern Tuscany, with lush tropical fruit notes distinguishing San Angelo from its northern counterparts. The San Angelo Pinot Grigio displays a fresh bouquet of pear, ripe peach, and tropical fruits. Crisp on the palate with refreshing acidity, this wine is excellent as an aperitif or paired alongside light dishes such as grilled vegetables and pasta primavera, as well as a range of seafood.

2019 Banfi La Pettegola Vermentino Toscana IGT (SRP: $19.99)

Recommendation: For seaside or beach sipping, enhanced by an ocean breeze and fresh caught seafood

La Pettegola’s translation has double meaning: it refers to coastal seabirds and is also a term for a gossiper. Delightfully fresh, La Pettegola Vermentino is the talk of the town for the quality-for-value it offers. The Vermentino grapes are sourced from around Maremma, and fermentation takes place in stainless-steel tanks to preserve the purity of this wine. Fruit-forward with notes of exotic fruits, a hint of spice, and touch of salinity from the proximity to the Mediterranean coast.

Banfi Rosa Regale Sparkling White, Asti DOCG (SRP: $19.99) 

Recommendation: Deviate from Prosecco for weekend brunches to add a crisp hint of sweetness to savory brunch favorites like eggs benedict or avocado toast.

Newly launched in May 2021, this Sparkling White offers an abundance of aromatics and a sophisticated, balanced sweetness that is indicative of the Rosa Regale name. Banfi produces this fresh, elegant sparkling wine from 100% Moscato Bianco grown in Piedmont. The Rosa Regale Sparkling White offers intense aromas of orange blossom with hints of acacia flowers and sage and is well-balanced with fresh. acidity and hints of honey.

2016 Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (SRP: $20.99)

Recommendation: Ideal for grilling season so pair with steak fajita skewers or turkey burger sliders.

A staple of the Banfi range, the Chianti Classico Riserva is made with predominantly Sangiovese and small amounts of Canaiolo Nero and Cabernet Sauvignon and aged for at least two years, with a minimum of one year in Slavonian oak barrels and spends an additional six months in bottle. The Chianti Classico Riserva is rich with deep cherry, leather, and subtle wood notes. On the palate, it offers supple tannins, bright acidity, and a lingering finish. Pair this wine with flavorful roasts, pastas, and charcuterie boards. 

2016 Castello Banfi Magna Cum Laude Toscana IGT (SRP: $39.99)

Recommendation: Toast to a graduate with this aptly named wine, whether you celebrate them with a fun, casual barbecue or an intimate dinner party.

Latin for “high honors,” Castello Banfi’s Magna Cum Laude combines Montalcino’s historic Sangiovese Brunello clone with international grape varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Bottled unfiltered, this wine is full-bodied with notes of blackberries, plums, licorice, black olives, and pipe-tobacco. Its supple tannins and layered complexity makes for an ideal match for rustic bean soups such as the Tuscan classic Ribollita and grilled meats such as hangar steak. 

2016 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (SRP: $74.99)

Recommendation: A sophisticated gift for Father’s Day that dad can enjoy alongside his favorite steak to grill or age for years to come.

Castello Banfi’s Brunello di Montalcino sets the benchmark for elegance and refinement. Produced entirely from estate vineyards on the southern hills of Montalcino using select clones of Sangiovese, the 2016 vintage represents an iconic expression for both Brunello and Banfi. This wine is released after five years of aging, two of which are spent in oak barrels of various sizes, primarily French oak barriques with Slavonian oak casks. The result is a layered wine with aromas of tart cherry, spice, violets, and vanilla with hints of licorice. On the palate, this wine is full and well-structured, with velvety tannins and superb concentration.

Opening Day THE LEGO® MOVIE™ WORLD

My friends at LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad, CA invited me to come experience their new rides, attractions, restaurants, shops, in the new immersive world of THE LEGO MOVIE WORLD. The creative team has their hit movies come to life!

After a stressful week, it was so much fun to be a kid again, starting at an evening reception at SeaLife Aquarium. I watched jellyfish gracefully float in a clear tank, and walked through a clear tunnel to admire a variety of fish, sharks and rays glide by. One of my favorite exhibits was the bioluminescent tide and starry night in the Maldives.

Sipping wine and nibbling pulled pork sandwiches, Mac and Cheese, vegetable crudite and fresh baked cookies and vanilla ice cream, I enjoyed talking to Head of Public Relations North America at Merlin Entertainments, Julie Estrada tell me about the new LEGOLAND New York opening soon. Another familiar face was Senior Media Relations at Merlin Entertainments Group, Jake Gonzalez. He shared his excitement of the events that were going to take place the following day for the Grand Opening to the media in the morning and to the public in the afternoon.

Listening to LEGOLAND California Resort President Kurt Stocks share how the new The LEGO MOVIE WORLD is based on the blockbuster films The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Movie 2, piqued my interest even more.

We talked about how the unveiling of this new large land at the theme park, was put on hold in 2020, due to the pandemic. Finally the grand opening was happening on May 27, 2021. “THE LEGO MOVIE WORLD truly has something for everyone, and we are excited to welcome more guests to experience this new land which takes them from theater to theme park. It will play a key part in boosting tourism locally in Carlsbad and across Southern California,” shared Stocks. 

Pink and gold streamers filled the air, as the official Grand Opening took place in The LEGO MOVIE World. The colorful land is the largest addition in the Park’s history, and features six interactive attractions, including Emmet’s Flying Adventure Ride.

Families buckle in aboard Emmet’s triple decker flying couch for a thrill-seeking adventure. The couch swivels to a full-dome virtual screen, and soon guests fill the misty vapor of flying through clouds to memorable lands such as Middle Zealand, Cloud Cuckoo Land, Pirates Cove and the Sistar System.

The Grand Opening celebration at LEGOLAND California

Fans will recognize familiar faces along the way including Sweet Mayhem, a star character from THE LEGO®MOVIE 2: The Second Part. Emmet’s Flying Adventure features cutting edge technology offering a multi-sensory experience. Feel the rush of falling from Unikitty’s Disco Drop and experiencing the many personalities of the fearless feline. The new ride drops, spins and bounces guests back down to earth with pleasing smells, thrills and lot’s of fun. 

Mayor of Bricksburg with the President of LEGOLAND California Kurt Stocks

The adventure continues after the ride as young guests can climb and explore Benny’s Playship, ride Queen Watevra’s pink Carousel, create at Build Watevra You Wa’Na Build zone, and meet Emmet and all his friends in Emmet’s Super Suite.

This special area is geared for families with children between the ages of 2 and 12. Throughout LEGOLAND California, there are more than 60 rides for all ages and entertaining shows.

Fun rides for the entire family at LEGO MOVIE WORLD

Enjoy tasty themed treats such as Cloud Cuckoo Crepes, Benny’s Rocket Fuel and Everything is Ramen throughout the land. 

Afterwards go ride the newer LEGO® City: Deep Sea Adventure submarine ride. Guests step inside and look out porthole windows to experience more than 2,000 real sea animals, sharks, rays and tropical fish living and swimming in the water.

SEA LIFE aquarium is home to more than 5,000 living creatures and incorporates play zones, informative fun facts and interactive quiz trails.

Other water adventures include LEGOLAND Water Park featuring more than seven slides, sandy beaches and the unique Build-A-Raft River plus Pirate Reef and LEGO Legends of CHIMA Water Park comprising 10 acres of water fun!

Extend your stay at LEGOLAND HOTEL or LEGOLAND Castle Hotel

LEGOLAND Hotel is the nation’s first LEGOLAND Hotel featuring 250 all themed rooms, with either a pirate, adventure, kingdom, LEGO® Friends and LEGO® NINJAGO™ decorated large family guest rooms.

North America’s first LEGOLAND Castle Hotel features Royal Princess, Knights, Magic Wizards and Dragons in their 250 rooms. There are restaurants, swimming pools and interactive activities for the entire family at both hotels. 

For more information, visit http://www.LEGOLAND.com or call (760) 918-LEGO (5346).THE LEGO MOVIE WORLD is included in the price of admission to LEGOLAND California Resort. Guests can purchase tickets and reserve their spot through LEGOLAND California’s reservation system for their desired Park visit.

For more Resort information, operating schedule and to make reservations, visit: www.legoland.com/california

Wolfgang Puck Opens all-day Ospero

Located at the former House of Blues site on the Sunset Strip, Wolfgang Puck recently opened his new all-day restaurant Ospero at the new boutique hotel, Pendry West Hollywood. The entrance is at street level, looking out to the Comedy Store, and is within blocks of his first Spago restaurant that he opened in 1982.

It’s been over 10 years since Puck, one of L.A.’s most famous chefs, has opened a restaurant. Puck became a household name for his award-season dinner parties, one-of-a-kind restaurants around the world, popular airport eateries and a line of culinary delights available at grocery stores.

Sit outside in the afternoon and watch the people and cars go by on Sunset Boulevard. In the evening, if you seek a quieter spot, ask to sit at the back of the restaurant on the al fresco dining terrace. The twinkling lights of the residences at the Pendry and views of greater Los Angeles are beautiful.

At Ospero there is a long dark blue bar and an open pizza kitchen. The low, soft leather teal-colored chairs resting on the Saltillo tile floor create an Italian trattoria feel.

Step into the lobby of the Pendry Hotel in West Hollywood and push the elevator to the 3rd floor to dine at Ospero.

We sat at a table for two at one of the coveted green velvet banquette tables and opened the dinner menu on our smartphones. Ospero features some neighborhood-friendly favorites that Puck made so popular during his days at Spago. There are iconic and innovative salads, pastas and wood-burning pizzas. Ospero also offers vegan dishes, proteins, a really good burger, breakfast favorites, grab-and-go items and a full bar.

We started with Puck’s chopped Chino Farm vegetable salad that our server had the kitchen split into two bowls. It was a generous portion of chopped lettuce with a variety of crunchy cube-shaped vegetables dressed lightly with a balsamic vinaigrette and dusting of parmesan cheese shavings. The salad was very fresh, healthy-tasting and offered layers of pleasing flavors.

Other popular salads and share dishes include a grilled tuna niçoise salad with a soft-boiled egg and meatballs al forno, bathed in a tomato, garlic and basil sauce with whipped ricotta.

Puck’s signature smoked salmon pizza with dill cream and salmon pearls is on Ospero’s menu, along with five others, including a wild mushroom pizza that we ordered and enjoyed. It arrived with Puck’s famous crust, thick and perfectly browned by the wood fire. A generous sprinkling of mushrooms topped a basil pesto spread, and chopped roasted garlic, caramelized onions and melted cheese medallions finished off the pizza.

Other pizzas include a house made lamb sausage with Calabrian chiles, mushrooms and onions; a spicy chicken with melted leeks; and a squash blossom and goat cheese pizza.

The Pendry displays one-of-a-kind art

There are four different pastas, including one named My Grandmother’s Cheese Ravioli, and fresh pappardelle with braised oxtail ragout and fava beans topped with pecorino cheese.

Those seeking grilled fish have a choice between Atlantic salmon served with a fresh arugula and fennel salad on top, or a tender wood oven cooked branzino served with a delicious gremolata and Tuscan kale.

The table next to us ordered the prime beef burger topped with melted white cheddar cheese, a slice of grilled red onion and garlic aioli spread on the bun which comes with fries.

Other proteins include a half Jidori chicken served with Tuscan potatoes and broccolini, and a grilled prime skirt steak served with rosemary and garlic fries.

Stay for dessert and order the creamy Basque cheesecake topped with a farmers market strawberry sauce and the pie of the day. Both are ethereal, rich and is sliced large enough for two to share.

Executive chef Mark Andelbrandt oversees the kitchen with Puck and has enjoyed an extensive culinary resume with the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group. Besides being the executive chef at Spago at the Bellagio Resort & Casino, he works alongside Puck to create one-of-a-kind globally influenced fare.

Now he is managing the kitchens at both Ospero and the more exclusive Merois, which offers stellar views from the Pendry’s penthouse level, creating a fine dining menu using French techniques with an Asian spin.

The night I dined at Ospero, Merois was just opening to hotel guests and private club members. I’ll have to save that experience for another night. Puck’s son, Byron Lazaroff-Puck, oversees both of these restaurants.

Come in for breakfast at Ospero starting at 7 a.m. Lunch service begins at 11:30 a.m. The grab-and-go and pizza menus are available between lunch and dinner. Dinner is served nightly starting at 5 p.m. $$ 8430 Sunset Blvd., (323)918-3420.

This review was featured in the Beverly Press – https://beverlypress.com/2021/05/wolfgang-puck-opens-all-day-ospero/

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