When Life Gives You Lemons, Brighten Your Day at Lemonade

DSC_0726You may have noticed a plethora of Lemonade signs throughout Los Angeles, not lemonade stands, but a modern, fast-casual, cafeteria-style restaurant. The co-founder, Alan Jackson is the grandson of the 50s and 60s actor Alan Ladd. His mother is Ladd’s daughter and his father is legendary Los Angeles talk show radio host, Michael Jackson.

Instead of following his family’s entertainment footsteps, Alan Jackson made a name for himself in the restaurant and hospitality industry in Los Angeles.

At the age of twenty, he started cooking at the prestigious Bel Air Hotel. Later, he opened the restaurants Jackson’s and The Farm in Beverly Hills.

Along with a successful catering company, he opened his first Lemonade restaurant in West Hollywood in 2007. Since then, Jackson, his wife Heidi and business partner Ian Olsen, have expanded their empire with 13 Lemonade restaurants and are working to open others in Southern California.

Raising three children and working full time, this entrepreneurial couple longed for a neighborhood café that they could take the kids for a quick, fresh and healthy meal.DSC_0725 They brainstormed and thought up the concept of Lemonade.

Of course, they sell eight different types of lemonade, from old-fashioned, to cucumber mint and blueberry mint to pair with their healthy dining fare.

Individuals and families grab a tray and peruse the rotating marketplace vegetables offering salads without lettuce. Alan doesn’t have a problem with lettuce, it just seems like filler. People rarely eat all of the lettuce, but they do dig into the robust flavors of chopped vegetables, pungent cheese and toasted nuts. The exception is Alan’s arugula, fig and blue cheese salad. The arugula gives the sharp blue cheese in this dish a nice peppery zip.

Most of the 16 to 20 marketplace items are healthy and vegetarian. Guests may choose up to six items for a light lunch, mid afternoon pick-me-up snack or fulfilling dinner.

The multicolored display entices children to try a new array of vegetables such as the zesty Brussels sprouts dressed in sherry vinaigrette and the cauliflower tossed with a mild curry.

DSC_0730For those who are looking for heartier fare, they offer protein dishes such as Ahi tuna with snap peas, smoked salmon, a variety of chicken dishes, skirt steak with balsamic Bermuda onions, and a Chinese-style braised duck with chard, pineapple, and cashews.

In the braised meat area, try the beef short ribs that have been cooked for hours, or the BBQ brisket. Both are tender and savory. Some days they serve a lamb tagine with figs, apricots and almonds and a roast turkey with dried cranberries and sage gravy.

Looking for a tasty sandwich? Lemonade has at least eight different types of sandwiches that include a Caesar club and a buttermilk-baked chicken with Vidalia onion and bacon cabbage on a pretzel roll.

Near the cashier is a tempting display case showcasing large classic chocolate chip cookies, and slices of various cakes, including a vibrant red velvet cake.

While enjoying lunch at the new Studio City location, my friend presented me with a copy of The Lemonade cookbook. Jackson co-wrote the appealing picture book with over 120 recipes, with producer and author JoAnn Cianciulli.

Many of the dishes I enjoyed at the restaurant are featured in the book. I especially like that they included most of the dressings featured in many of the marketplace vegetable salads.

Jackson has a kind heart and generously gives back to those in need by donating 5 percent of the proceeds from the sale of each cookbook to The Painted Turtle. It’s a DSC_0733non-profit organization dedicated to providing life-changing camp experiences for children with serious medical issues.

During National Lemonade Day last August, he donated all of the proceeds from the sales of his lemonade beverage from each café to this organization.

Next time you need your thirst and appetite quenched, visit a Lemonade modern café. 626 N. Larchmont Blvd. (323)464-0700, 9001 Beverly Blvd. (310)247-2500 and 505 S. Flower St. (213)488-0299. To find other locations, go to http://www.lemonadela.com.

This article is featured in the February 27 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News http://parklabreanewsbeverlypress.com/news/2014/02/when-life-gives-you-lemons-brighten-your-day-at-lemonade/

Host Your Own Academy Awards Oscar Party

DSC_0734Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a “Stars Under The Stars” Oscars Preview of the Governors Ball at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Under a canopy of twinkling lights I was in awe to experience what our Hollywood Elite will get to experience on March 2.

One of the first people I interviewed was the lovely winemaker Alison Crary from Sterling Vineyards in Napa Valley. Known as one of the finest wineries in Calistoga, “Sterling is very excited to again, exclusively pour during the Academy Awards event,” said Crary. Directors, writers, actors and actresses nominated and their guests will be offered a glass of Sterling wine as they walk off the red carpet and into the Dolby Theatre. After the awards show, 1,600 Academy guests will proceed to the Governors Ball, where Sterling wines will be paired with the culinary creations of Chef Wolfgang Puck. Guests attending the Governors Ball will sip limited production of 2010 Reserve

Chardonnay and 2008 Reserve Cabernet. Sterling Vineyards is produced by Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines.

Since I wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award this year, I learned from various professional party planners at the event, some easy steps to make my own Oscar Party at home.  

Ballots

Cheryl Cecchetto and Gary Levitt of Sequoia Productions, Renowned Celebrity Event Producers recommended to click and print from the link http://cdn.media.oscar.abc.com/media/2014/pdf/2014/nominees_ballot.pdf to print out Oscar party ballots to distribute to my guests to predict the winners before or during the show. Have prizes on hand for the guest who selects the most winners. Alison Crary recommended a bottle of Sterling wine.

Décor

The Governors’ Ball was decorated in hues of olive, rust, aubergine, turquoise, bronze with subtle splashes of glitter. Use many of these colors as accents in your tablescape, napkins, and glassware.

Mark’s Flowers decorated the tables with garden roses, hydrangeas, moss, birch, and wisteria will be used throughout the space. Pick up DSC_0743these flowers at your local Farmers Market and make some arrangements or place the flowers in vases throughout your home.   

Greeting & Guests Arrival

As each guest arrives, greet them with a range of wines or a signature cocktail.  Don’t forget to be a responsible host and set out water and other non-alcoholic beverages! I may consider a Blood & Sand, first created in 1922 for a Rudolph Valentino movie of the same name. http://cocktails.about.com/od/whiskeyrecipes/r/Blood-And-Sand.htm

Download more cocktail recipes that the stars will be sipping: https://transfer.taylorstrategy.com/message/jumyIRynO2d0776XFtDeKx

DSC_0735

Music

Have John Legend, nine-time Grammy Award winning songwriter-singer playing in the background. He will take the stage at the Governors Ball.

Food & Wine Pairings

Since Sterling Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 12Sterling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 09Celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck, along with chef Matt Bencivenga and his team are creating over 50 of his most famous dishes that he has served throughout 20 years at the Governors Ball, I thought I would go online and pull up some of his easy to make dishes to serve at the party, from homemade potato chips, salads and assorted Wolfgang Puck signature pizzas – http://www.wolfgangpuck.com/recipes.

Set out Sterling Vineyard Wines next to the food display with notes of  suggested pairings. Such as pairing homemade potato chips with Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. The lively acids in the wine complement to the chips.

Create a pizza bar by purchasing pre-cooked pizza dough and setting out a bowl of sauce, shredded cheese, and a variety of both meat and vegetable toppings.  Each guest can then pick and choose to create their own personal pizzas.  To save time cooking, partially bake the crusts before everyone adds their toppings. The meat toppings  pair nicely with the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, the vegetable toppings with the Carneros Pinot Noir.

Wolfgang Puck's Pastry Chefs - Romain Lenoir, Della Gosset and Kamel Guechida
Wolfgang Puck’s Pastry Chefs – Romain Lenoir, Della Gosset and Kamel Guechida

Wolfgang Puck’s pastry chefs Della Gossett, Kamel Guechida and Romain Lenoir prepared some of the most exquisite desserts for the Ball, such as chocolate dipped strawberry cheesecake pops, funky chunky chocolate popcorn and tiny golden Oscar statures. Set up a dessert bar with multiple small bites that are perfect for pairing Baileys and coffee.

Follow these tips to host an Academy Award party that is worthy of having your name as a winner on one of the elegant DSC_0749Marc Friedland famous envelopes.

Bunker Hill – Downtown’s Hot Sports Bar

IMG_6645The downtown restaurant and bar scene has blossomed over the past few years. A newish-hot sports bar is Bunker Hill Bar & Grill, located on the ground floor of a downtown Los Angeles landmark building at Fifth and Flower. This comfortable lunch and after-work place joins the Kwan brothers group of restaurants that include multiple Wokcano’s, the nearby Le Ka, and Green Hut Café.

Inside are stylish wood, cocktail-height tables with low back stools and tables with cream-colored high back chairs. There are 11 flat screens showing different sporting events and one outside on the spacious patio overlooking the downtown public library.

During the lunch hour, people stream out of various office buildings for sushi, burgers and sandwiches, or healthy quinoa bowl. Choose from basil garlic marinated salmon with asparagus; pan seared chicken breast or a spicy green chicken curry. Interesting sandwiches include the brie and pear, the fried chicken with jalepeño sauce, and the Mexican BBQ pork belly. Prices range from mostly from $9-12, however, if you want to splurge at lunch, try the lobster roll with tarragon, melted butter and sea salt for $18.

After work, the well-dressed business crowd stops in for a small batch draft beer (a dozen taps to choose from) or creative cocktails that range from a Pimm’s Cup aperitif, to a whiskey inspired Bunker Hill Old Fashion or Gin Aquas Frescas with fresh lime, cilantro and cucumber juice. Happy Hour starts at 3 pm and goes ‘til 7, offering $5 beers on tap and a host of bar bites from sushi rolls, wings and wraps to tacos and sliders.

General Manager Jeffrey Midlam hand selects the beer menu. He offered us a taste of the Dales Pale Ale brewed by Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Colorado. “This beerIMG_6652 goes nicely with one of the burgers or the spicy albacore roll with crispy shallots and micro greens,” Midlam said.

It has a golden orange color with bubbles and a head that dissipatesquickly. It’s slightly creamy with a hint of apricot and complex taste that lingers.

We ordered the beef short rib tacos that arrived two on a plate, and the truffle burger sliders to accompany the ale. The sliders were topped with sautéed mushrooms, arugula, Munster cheese and a unique truffle shaving sauce with shiitake aioli. These little burgers were wonderful.

Midlam really likes the beers from Maui Brewing Company in Lahaina. The Maui Bikini Blonde Lager is brewed with floral hops and is bold, smooth and refreshing. It goes well with a pasta dish or the prime rib eye with fries.

Midlam also offered a handcrafted Maui Coconut Porter. The silky smooth chocolate brown porter had a hint of coffee flavor with a toasted coconut and hoppy spice finish. I enjoyed this with a white and spongy Peking duck on a Bao bun and Peking duck wrap.

For sweets they offer two desserts – a chocolate bread pudding or ice cream cookie sandwiches filled with vanilla or chocolate ice cream between two-better than average housemade chocolate-chip cookies.

Happy Hour is 3 to 7 p.m. during the week and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday with all draft beer at $5 and the House Snap Dragon Wine from Sonoma at $4 a glass.

Valet parking is $6 in the building’s garage. Open seven days for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to midnight on Sundays through Thursdays. On Friday and Saturdays the restaurant stays open until 2 a.m. $-$$ 601 W. 5th St. (213)688-2988. http://www.bunkerhillbar.com

This article was published in the February 20 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

Cafe Rockenwagner: Ingenious Cuisine with a German Flair

IMG_6621I’ve been fascinated with Hans Röckenwagner since the 1980s, when I used to take clients to his restaurant Röckenwagner in Santa Monica on Main Street. Out of town clients loved the unique interior design, splendid food, and his famous German pretzel rolls. It soon became one of the top restaurants in Southern California.

In my eyes, Hans is a rock star in the culinary world with his German good looks, charismatic personality, and flair for making innovative dishes.

I was so excited to be standing with him in his new neighborhood café on the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Barrington. Located on the bottom floor of the upscale housing community called BP, the design is modern and sleek.

Adding to the décor is a wall of German-style pretzels sprinkled with salt hanging on wooden pegs. There is also a glass display case filled with some of the most dazzling pastries in Los Angeles, baked by the talented Pastry Chef Cesar Bermudez. Röckenwagner lured him away from the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills.

I also met business partner, Wolfgang Gussmack, who joined Röckenwagner in 2002, as chef de cuisine at his Santa Monica restaurant. Gussmack learned his skills while cooking in one of the only two-star Michelin restaurant in Austria.

I was escorted to the bar area for a glass of Prosecco and some exquisite bar snacks. My favorite was the smooth avocado crostini on grilled bread. There were also three different types of delicious breads with nuts and raisins to use as a base for edamame hummus dip, corn and jalapeno spread and a sweeter blueberry and orange. I joined a group of diners eager to be one of the first to taste many dishes from Café Röckenwagner’s creative menu.

IMG_6634His dishes are meant to satisfy the soul. Chef de Cuisine Kayson Chung makes a vibrant chilled shrimp salad accompanied with mellow avocado, crunchy jicama and horseradish vinaigrette.

I thoroughly enjoyed the grilled octopus with braised cabbage, puréed carrots and a green soy glaze.

One of the most popular appetizers or brunch dishes offered is the pain perdu made with brioche French toast, bacon roasted peppers and a fried egg. Jalapeno-maple syrup gives this beautiful dish pizzazz.

Entrées are comfort foods with a twist, such as the short rib braised for hours and then roasted with a pepper crust. It’s served with a seven-inch bone.

His juicy pretzel burger with caramelized onions is magnificent.

If you like pan-fried mussels, here they are bathed in a soy-brown butter and arrive in a bowl sprinkled with chorizo and cilantro.

“Los Angeles is the most metropolitan area with so many diverse cultures. I enjoy using Asian, Middle Eastern, Mexican and German ingredients into my dishes,” Röckenwagner said.

When a platter of desserts arrived, I had to take a bite or two of each. The rich dark chocolate cake, ethereal lemon round with a homemade marshmallow that looked like aIMG_6610 sugar cube, and colorful fresh fruit tarts filled with farmers market berries all satisfied my senses.

Many of Röckenwagner’s baked goods can be found at farmers’ markets from Beverly Hills to La Canada Flintridge.

For Valentine’s Day, Café  Röckenwagner is offering a variety of mouthwatering treats and pastries to buy for your loved ones. They have also baked two oversized raspberry macaron cookies, filled with passion fruit cream, fresh raspberries, and topped with a decorative chocolate heart. This pastry is big enough for two to share with a glass of Prosecco before exchanging Valentines.

Café Röckenwagner is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. $$ 1168 S. Barrington Ave. (310)478-6313.

This article was published in the February 13 , 2014 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

5 Places to Take Your Sweetheart on Valentine’s Day

CT_049854Valentine’s Specials for Two at Cecconi’s

Executive Chef Andrea Cavaliere prepares a share seafood platter for two for $38 that include oysters mignonette, cured salmon, and octopus ceviche. His wood roasted turbot for two is $58. There is also a double chocolate tart with wild berries for two for $15. 8764 Melrose Ave. (310)432-2000.

Romantic Dining at The Peninsula

Normally reserved only for hotel guests, the poolside cabanas are available for Valentine’s Day. Outfitted with iPod stations and heaters, they offer wonderful views of the sparkling city lights. Treat your loved one to monogrammed napkins, a centerpiece of red roses, an exquisite four course meal, The-Peninsula-Beverly-Hillsafter dinner petit fours and a live music by a strolling Jazz guitarist. Reservations are from 5 to 10 p.m. It’s $375 per couple. The Roof Garden restaurant is hosting a Valentine’s dinner for $68 per person that includes a red rose, three-course gourmet dinner, and strolling Jazz guitarist from to 10 p.m. The menu includes a salad with pink champagne gastrique, lobster ceviche with Tobiko caviar and grilled Kobe flatiron with barrel aged house steak sauce or Loup de Mer prepared Asian style. Share a chocolate fondue with exotic fruit and housemade marshmallows with petit fours. Another dining option is the fine dining restaurant The Belvedere at$145 per person. 9882 S Santa Monica Blvd. (310)551-2888.

Valentine’s Day at the Beach

ed9d806369f24827aefe5d73_360x180Enjoy a romantic Seaside Love Potion package at The Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica now through March 2, 2014. Start with a one-night stay in a glamorous suite, a chef-selected candle-lit dinner for two on the Veranda, and one night in a glamorous suite with a DVD of the classic romance movie, No Man of Her Own. Watch the movie while enjoying a special in room Love Potion Cocktail Kit, which consists of a delicious vodka concoction that guests can assemble at just the right moment. The package starts at $399 nightly. Tax, gratuity and parking are extra. 1415 Ocean Ave. (800)538-8147.

Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village

Tucked away in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains escape reality by enjoying a romantic weekend getaway package that includes a couple’s treatment in the 40,000 attachment-2sq.-ft. spa, and variety of special dining options. To complete the romantic ambiance, the hotel will be turning their signature waterfall pink in celebration of the holiday. The Romance package includes luxurious, plush accommodation with house-made chocolate truffles and a bottle of wine upon arrival. The package also includes a $150 dining credit per night, encouraging guests to enjoy a leisurely breakfast in bed, fireside cocktails at the outdoor lounge, or indulge in a romantic dinner for two in the Lobby Lounge or ONYX. Rates start at $494 a night for Valentine’s Day weekend. On Friday, February 14, 2014, Executive Chef Alexander La Motte will present a three-course “His and Her” sweetheart dinner at $95 per person with optional wine. 2 Dole Dr. (818)575-3000

Sunset Marquis’ SPA in West Hollywood

980x420-SPA-treatment_59177de172cb99e9db2e670f689df878Come enjoy a 60-minute aromatherapy massage with champagne and chocolate covered strawberries for $150 per person. This can be enjoyed in a couples massage or alone. They also are offering a luxurious one night accommodations in a Deluxe Villa for two guests with an 80 minute couples massage with champagne and chocolate covered strawberries, and two $25 breakfast vouchers that may be applied toward Sunday Brunch, and two free Sunset Marquis signature drinks and complimentary valet parking for one vehicle starting at $850 per night. The packages are available February 10 through February 16 or a gift card can be purchased for use at a later date. 1200 Alta Loma Rd. (310)657-1333.

Red Med at Formosa Cafe

IMG_6584The legendary Formosa Café has been in Vincent Jung’s family for three generations. Originally opening in 1925 in a red trolley car that once rolled down Santa Monica Blvd. It became the Formosa Café when Jung’s grandfather Lem Quom, partnered with the owner in 1945, and later took full ownership in the 1970s.

Recently, Vincent collaborated with Adam Fleischman of Umami Burger and Red Medicine, and his AdVantage Restaurant Partners – Executive Chef Jordan Kahn and Noah Ellis to revamp the venue’s dining menu and rename the iconic spot Red Med at Formosa Café.

Inspired by Beverly Hill’s Red Medicine’s Vietnamese-themed menu and bar bites, Red Med at Formosa Café features some of the most popular dishes, including dumplings, spring rolls, bahn-mi, brisket and whole fish to share.

My eyes had to adjust quickly as I walked into the dark restaurant to meet a group of foodies. We frequently used our iPhone flashlights to read the menu and snap photos.

I was pleased to notice that all of the aesthetic elements of the Formosa Café are the same. The walls are still lined with over 250 black and white headshots of some of the IMG_6576most famous actors in the world. There is still a display case showcasing a collection of Elvis Presley decanters and statues above his old booth.

 

One of the head bartenders, Billy Ray arrived at our table with some of the classic cocktails that have been added to the cocktail menu. Bartender Matthew Boddie created a ginger daiquiri a la Central, pisco apricot Tropicale and the Singapore Sling for us to enjoy.

Billy Ray shared with us that in its heyday, Hollywood romances were known to have blossomed in the low lighting and cozy booths over cocktails. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, and Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner were frequent guests at Formosa Cafe.

IMG_6535Since the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio were next door, actors used to saunter into the waterhole and stay until the wee hours, prompting Pickford to go to the city to help create the “last call by 2 a.m.” city ordinance for bars in Los Angeles.

Gangster Mickey Cohen ruled the underground of liquor, women and cash at Formosa Café. His safe was built into the flooring between the two front booths to the left of the front door.

Unable to make it home one night, The Duke – John Wayne slept in the largest booth to the right of the front door. When Vincent’s dad unlocked the Formosa at 7 a.m. the next morning, Wayne was in the kitchen preparing eggs.

The talented Chef Mark Tagnipez is now in charge of Red Med at Formosa Café’s kitchen. Tagnipez had a good run at XIV and Red Medicine. His new menu is the first of many planned celebrations to mark Formosa Café’s 75th anniversary.

Some of Tagnipez dishes arrive with a lackluster presentation, yet once we took a fork to unwrap the layers beneath; we discovered spectacular treasures of wonderful flavors hidden beneath.

The entirely green Rock shrimp dish arrived in a bowl with layers of avocado. As I dug down, I exposed slippery, raw shrimp bathing in a green aguachile with ginger. This dish had a punch of heat after the first bite and was served with prawn rice crackers to scoop up the mixture of goodness.IMG_6551

When we spooned the marinated eggplant onto our plates, it didn’t look like much, yet the vivid flavors of garlic, sesame, and celery almost vibrated in my palate.

I enjoyed the ethereal Shanghai rice cakes that tasted like little chewy dough pillows dusted with bacon, shishito and Thai basil.

The chicken wings are a Red Medicine recipe rolled in flavorful crumbs, fish sauce lime and Thai chile, that spices the wings with aromatic flavors.

The crispy spring rolls are deep-fried and stuffed with a healthy dose of crab and Asian herbs.

Everyone at the table enjoyed the oyster mushrooms with crisp haricot vert beans, and a French chili pepper from Espelette mixed in with the oyster sauce.

Large parities may want to go straight to The Group Effort column on the menu for plates of tender Wagyu Beef Brisker braised in a secret plum sauce for 36 hours or a IMG_6561deep-fried whole black bass that arrives whole. The server filets it to reveal light-colored and moist fish with a crispy crust. These dishes easily feed three to four guests.

Before leaving, Billy Ray shared one more story. In the 1990s, the restaurant was threatened with demolition when its lease expired. Bono from U2, a frequent guest, was one of the citizens who spearhead a preservationists effort to keep the Formosa a landmark at its original location. Bono has been coming into the Formosa for years, because he enjoyed a waitress from Ireland named Cassie. She passed away a few years ago and bartenders continue to make a specialty cocktail, To Cassie With Love, in her honor.

The Formosa Café is open for dinner at 4 p.m. until the 2 a.m. “last call.”   Parking is available in the West Hollywood Gateway parking garage. $$ 7156 Santa Monica Blvd. (323)850-9050.

**This article was published in the February 6 edition of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

Top Chef at Sea with Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity_CN_landing_960x312Starting July 2014, there will be an exciting new culinary program on four different Celebrity Cruises as the luxury cruise line partners with the Emmy Award winning BRAVO television series “Top Chef.” According to Lisa Kauffman, VP of Marketing, Celebrity Cruises, “We are thrilled to offer new, diverse experiences in the coming year that invite vacationers to engage in their favorite entertainment and culinary options exclusively onboard Celebrity.”

Fans of one of the most popular television shows will get to rub elbows in demonstration kitchens with celebrity chefs from the show and experience their award-winning dishes. Each voyage includes interactive Quickfire challenges, complimentary cooking classes, private cooking classes at an additional cost, and exclusive events hosted by former cheftestants.

CEL_CN_Balcony_thumbnail_167x113There are four sailings that include a vacation to Bermuda on July 27 aboard the Celebrity Summit. It departs from Cape Liberty, New Jersey to King’s Wharf, Bermuda. The ship will dock for three days before sailing back to Cape Liberty. Throughout the cruise there will be an array of Top Chef inspired activities.

On August 15 sail to Alaska aboard the Celebrity Solstice from Seattle for a seven-night cruise. The ship sails to Ketchikan, Tracy Arm Fjord, Juneau, Skagway and back along the Inside Passage down to Victoria, BC and Seattle. One of the highlights is guests will get to dine with the chefs in the Main restaurant during Top Chef night.

Cruise from Harwich, England on a 12-night France and Iberian Discovery cruise starting on September 19. Visit two ports in France, two in Spain and one in Portugal. CEL_CN_topview_pooldeck_hero_938x619Participate in a Quickfire Challenge and attend chef demonstrations.

The Celebrity Reflection will sail through the Caribbean on November 15 from Miami, Florida for a seven-night cruise. When not exploring Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten, there will be three days at sea to book a private cooking class with a Top Chef and sample many of their winning dishes.

If you can’t make these dates, Celebrity Cruises will offer Top Chef-inspired menu evenings onboard 10 Celebrity ships from July 2014 through June 2015.

For more details about “Top Chef at Sea,” visit www.celebritycruises.com/topchef (Photos by Celebrity Cruises)

Visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras

IMG_6083

Mardi Gras season begins in New Orleans with parades, King’s cakes and festivities during Carnival. Mardi Gras Day or “Fat Tuesday” is always 47 days prior to Easter Sunday. It’s the last day of the Carnival season and falls on the first day of Lent. For 2014, it will be on March 4. Most visitors plan to arrive much earlier, and no later than Saturday, March 1, 2014.

The history of Mardi Gras can be traced to medieval Europe, passing through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons. In 1872, a group of businessmen invented a King of Carnival—Rex in New Orleans to preside over the first daytime parade. They introduced the official Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold in honor of a visiting Russian Grand Duke – Alexis Romanoff. Purple stands for justice; gold for power; and green for faith. When visiting New Orleans be sure to wear these colors if you are not in costume.

A Mardi Gras tradition is also to eat a slice of King’s cake. Inside every cake is a tiny plastic baby, representing the baby Jesus. The top of the cake is covered with delicious sugar toppings in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.

Lodging in New Orleans during Mardi Gras books up quickly. Many hotels throughout the city and along parade routes require a four to five night stay. Reserve a room quickly, because many blocks of rooms are taken in August. Here are some good hotel choices:

Hotel Indigo

If you want to stay on a main parade route in the Garden District, make a reservation at Hotel Indigo. Some rooms look out to the oak trees with beads hanging from past IMG_6111parades. It rests along the St. Charles Streetcar line, and within walking distance to Magazine Street filled with restaurants, shops and beautiful mansions. 2203 St. Charles Ave.
New Orleans (504)522-3650.

Hilton New Orleans Riverside

Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Hilton is ideally located within walking distance to the French Quarter, Canal Street, Harrah’s, and Riverwalk Marketplace. The 1,622 rooms and suites are comfortable and some offer great city and river views. Two Poydras St. (504)561-0500.

Queen & Crescent

Known as one of the best bargain hotels near the French Quarter. Each of the 196 decorated guest rooms feature European-style furnishings, in-room safes, hair dryers, coffee & coffee makers and high-speed Internet. 344 Camp St. (504)587-9700.

Besides Mardi Gras, people are drawn to New Orleans to experience the city’s excellent cuisine. Here are a few restaurants that I highly recommend:

IMG_6070Cochon

Located in a renovated warehouse, this restaurant is open for lunch or dinner. The chefs prepare dishes from locally sourced pork, fresh produce, and seafood creating authentic and innovative Cajun Southern cooking. If the restaurant has a wait list, visit the sandwich shop and wine shop, Butcher, located behind the restaurant and managed by the same owners. 930 Tchoupitoulas St, New Orleans, (504)588-2123.

GW Fins

Known as one of the top Seafood Restaurants in American by Forbes.com., the elegant dining room is cozy with romantic booths. The staff will serve fresh out-of-the-oven buttermilk biscuits throughout your meal. Be sure to order a fresh fish entrée and salty malty dessert. Open for dinner starting at 5 p.m. 808 Bienville St, New Orleans (504)581-3467.

Nola by Emerald

Celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse’s more casual restaurant in the French Quarter serves an eclectic menu of rustic Louisiana and Southern cooking. The service is warm IMG_6207Southern hospitality. Be sure to order the pork chop or duck entrée with a Banana pudding layer cake for dessert. It’s made with a Graham cracker crust, vanilla wafers, and fudge sauce. 534 St. Louis Street, New Orleans (504)522-6652.

Palace Café

Located on Canal Street, this classic New Orleans restaurant, serves contemporary Creole food in an upbeat and lively two-story grand café. It’s owned by Dickie Brennan, the restaurateur who owns multiple famous restaurants in New Orleans, including Commander’s Palace. Save room for the Bananas Foster prepared tableside. It’s a visual treat. 605 Canal St. New Orleans (504)523-1661.

Things to Do

Glide along the Mississippi River onboard one of the only authentic steamboats left in the United States, The Natchez. The two-hour narrated tour has an optional buffet meal plan. Be sure to tour the steam engines and listen to the live three-piece band. (800)233-2628.

Mardi Gras World

Step inside the workshops of Kern studios to watch a video of the history of Mardi Gras, eat a slice of King’s cake, and tour the warehouse of the largest float builder in the world.

IMG_6174WW II Museum

History buffs will enjoy this museum that focuses on the American experience in World War II. New Orleans is the home of Higgins Industries, a company that designed, built and tested boats that were used during D-Day operations. More than 20,000 were built in New Orleans. An award-winning 4-D film, Beyond All Boundaries, gives the visitor an overview of the war on every front. Plan on spending at least two to three hours.

Frenchmen Art Market

In the evening art lovers gather every Thursday through Sunday from 7 p.m. to 1 p.m. to explore local artists work. There is something for every budget from handcrafted jewelry, fine-art, offbeat sculptures, and handmade soap. Located at 619 Frenchmen Street in the Marigny neighborhood.

Live Jazz

New Orleans is also known for its music. Almost everywhere you walk, you will hear music on a sidewalk or spilling out of a restaurant or club. On Frenchmen Street there are some great clubs to hear live jazz music. Step inside the Blue Nile, Three Muses, or Snug Harbor to hear world-renowned Jazz musicians.IMG_6191

If you can’t book a trip to Mardi Gras this year, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is on April 25 to May 4. Later in May is the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience from May 21 to May 24. Every month is a different reason to visit the Big Easy. Contact the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau to get additional information A cruise from New Orleans is a great way to experience the vibrant city during Mardi Gras. Carnival season begins the first week in January and runs through Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Most visitors this year will plan to arrive before Saturday, March 1 in order to enjoy an extended weekend of festivities on March 4, 2014.

Cruise from New Orleans

Most cruises from New Orleans range from four to seven days and sail to the western Caribbean. Guests flying into New Orleans might enjoy one or two nights at a hotel in the city near one of the parade routes.

We found the Hilton Riverside convenient to the cruise terminal and near great music, parades, the Harrah’s Casino, and restaurants.

Carnival Cruise Line

IMG_6086Carnival Elation sails year round from New Orleans to Cozumel on four-day cruises. This colorful ship also offers five-day cruises to Western Caribbean with stops in Progreso, Cozumel, and Yucatan.

Carnival also has another ship that visits New Orleans often, the Carnival Sunshine.  She sails to various ports in Western and Eastern Caribbean. Some of the itineraries include a visit to Montego Bay, Belize, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. Others Sunshine cruises start in New Orleans and sail to Key West, Bahamas-Freeport, Nassau, and back to New Orleans.

American Cruise Line

The Queen of the Mississippi sets sail from New Orleans for eight days to Oak Alley Plantation, Natchez, Vicksburg, Saint Francisville, Baton Rouge, Houmas House Plantation, and back to New Orleans with ten departure dates starting on February 15 through December 27. It’s an ideal Southern cruise to book as a Mardi Gras kickoff.

RCCI

The Serenade of the Seas sails for seven days from New Orleans to Falmouth, Jamaica, George Town, Grand Caymans, and Cozumel, Mexico before coming back to New IMG_6093Orleans. There are three sailings during Carnival and before Mardi Gras.

Cruise After Mardi Gras

Experience a small ship adventure on the Blount for a 15-day cruise from New Orleans to Chicago with stops in Mobile, Demopolis, Columbus, Pickwick Landing National Park, Kuttawa, Alton, Havana, Peoria, Joliet, and Chicago. This unique sailing is offered on May 15, 2014.

Norwegian Cruise Lines

From March to November the Norwegian Cruise Line sails from New Orleans to various destinations. On the Norwegian Jewel the ship sails down the Mississippi River to Cozumel, Belize City, Roatan, Costa Maya and back of to New Orleans on a seven day cruise.

On April 13, 2014 the Norwegian Jewel is sailing on a 22-day cruise from New Orleans to San Francisco through the Panama Canal and Mexican Riviera. Or stay onboard for the 34-day cruise and continue up to Vancouver, four ports in Alaska and finish in Seattle.

If you reserve a cruise after Mardi Gras, visit Mardi Gras World next to the Cruise Terminal. While watching a short movie about the history of Mardi Gras, and see many of the actual floats, it was entice you to book another cruise next year during Carnival season.

To find a cruise vacation, visit your travel agent of cruise specialist.

This article was published in Destinations Travel Magazine http://destinationstravelmagazine.com/February2014/#/46 and Not Born Yesterday.