Finding JOY on a NCL Cruise

I had no idea I would be so pampered in luxury on the revitalized Norwegian Joy during her inaugural sailing to Ensenada, Mexico. Once I presented my passport upon check in, I received a private key card to the Penthouse in The Haven Courtyard. This new, spacious and beautifully appointed concierge enclave offers the most luxurious and well-appointed accommodations.

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Tapping my card near the entrance on deck 17, the glass door opened to allow me into this exclusive area. A certified butler greeted me and led me to my spacious stateroom cabin 13108. The Haven offers a private bar/lounge, pool, sundeck, whirlpool, library, dining room and 180-degree glass observation lounge.

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My stateroom is modified for the handicap combining a bedroom and living area with a couch. This can be pulled out into a sofa bed for one or two guests. There is a small dining and sitting area, and full size soaking bathtub and large shower in the bathroom. Sliding the glass door open to an extra large balcony with two chairs and a table, reveals an ideal spot to watch a sunrise with a cup of coffee or sunset with a glass of wine.

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One could just stay in this exclusive area of the ship during the duration of the cruise, yet for those looking for variety in cuisine, there are three main dining rooms, a help-yourself buffet and eight specialty restaurants on board that include a fun American Diner, Japanese Teppanyaki, Texas Barbecue, Italian La Cucina and Le Bistro showcasing food from around the world.

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I was invited to a “Taste of Joy” lunch in The Manhattan Room, one of the three complimentary dining rooms on the JOY. The chef’s presented signature dishes prepared at five of the speciality restaurants – American Diner, Q Texas Smokehouse, Food Republic, Ocean Blue, and Cagney’s Steakhouse.

Each course was paired with two premium wines – a Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay from Columbia Valley, Washington and an organic red blend from II Borro Salvatore Ferragamo Borrigiano “Valdarno di Sopra DOC” from Tuscany, Italy.

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We started with two appetizers from Q Texas Smokehouse that included a large charcuterie plank topped with artisan meat, pickled vegetables, olives, mustard and a long baguette. The Deviled Eggs had bite size pieces of maple glazed bacon on top. Other specialty items at Q Texas Steakhouse that we enjoyed included the Pitmaster Platter that arrived with tender oak-smoked brisket, spare ribs, chicken and cut into hearty squares jalapeño cornbread. Side dishes from the restaurant included crispy fried okra served with a Cajun mustard sauce. For dessert we had three sweet treats. From Q Texas Steakhouse was their bread pudding soaked in whiskey and brown butter.

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The whimsically designed American Diners serves lobster roll sliders on brioche buns, and flatbread topped with soy-glazed enoki and shiitake mushrooms, griddled onions, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and truffle oil.

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Ocean Blue is known for its fresh innovative seafood. A signature favorite is the Tuna Tower made with layers of pomegranate-soy marinated tuna, avocado, frisee leaves, peppers, carrots and scallions. Another delight on the menu is the Lobster Mac & Cheese made with gouda and parmigiano-reggiano cheese. It was topped with panko crumbs and a parmesan cheese crust. The pastry chefs at the restaurant make a toothsome Valrhona chocolate cake at Ocean Blue that is moist and topped with caramel popcorn and a vanilla drizzle. It’s served with chocolate ice cream.

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Dishes from the Food Republic kitchen included crispy pinko-crusted salmon filled with avocado and rolled with cream cheese in a nori roll. There was a drizzle of sweet barbecue eel sauce. A plate of pan-fried pork belly wontons arrived topped with scallions and chives. For dessert Food Republic makes an assortment of baklava filled with pistachios, pecans and walnuts. They also may an ethereal rose water panna cotta topped with rose petals and chopped nuts.

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Cagney’s Steakhouse signature menu item is Surf and Turf. It arrives on a plate with premium black-angus filet mignon and large sautéed butter garlic shrimp. Sides include large grilled asparagus topped with garlic and shallots and fries topped with truffle oil and herbs.

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After lunch we walked to the center of the ship to meet underneath a towering light fixture sculpture in Ocean Place. This three deck soaring ceiling area offers a variety of bars, the specialty restaurants, a casino, shopping and live entertainment. We joined other passengers for a pub crawl on the 8th deck. Our first tasting was at the Sugarcane Mojito Bar for Honey Ginger Mojitos and Wiki Rum Punch.

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Next we visited The Cellars for an informative wine tasting experience. NCL partnered with famed Michael Mondavi Family winery and offers a collection of nearly 100 different wines. Throughout the year, The Cellars offers “Meet the Winemaker” cruises allowing guests to meet renowned vintners on select sailings to learn more about their favorite blends, wines and vintages.

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On June 8, 2019 winemaker  Bob Bertheau from Chateau Ste. Michelle will be on the JOY pouring wines and educating passengers. He oversees the winery’s diverse wine portfolio including Columbia Valley, Single Vineyard, Ethos Reserve, Artist Series and Limited Release Club wines.

On August 17, 2019 fourth generation Napa Valley winemaker Rob Monday Jr. will be on the JOY. Raised by Isabel and Michael Monday, Rob spent much of his childhood playing among the vines and barrels at Robert Monday Winery.

On November 24, 2019 special guest Juan Munoz Oca will be onboard pouring Columbia Crest Reserve, H3 and Grand Estate wines. He was named winemaker at Columbia Crest in 2011.

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Last we walked over to The District Brew House featuring 24 beers on draft and over 50 different bottles of nationally recognized and local craft beers. Since the JOY will be sailing to Alaska during the summer, The District will pour local craft Alaskan Husky IPA, Alaskan Amber and Alaskan White Ale.

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Channel your foodie cravings by tasting and savoring spectacular dishes onboard the JOY this summer to Alaska. The ship will take guests on a 7-day journey from Seattle with visits to the ports of Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Victoria, British Columbia, and Icy Strait Point, known for its truly authentic Alaska wilderness and cultural experiences. Book your 2019 Alaska cruise vacation adventure today to select the best choice of staterooms on board.

To book another NCL Cruise destination, click here NCL Cruises.

Rustic Italian fare at Union Pasadena

When Executive chef Bruce Kalman left his restaurant Union, I wondered what would happen to this Old Pasadena favorite. Kalman made Union a star, and in return his culinary career took off launching him into Bravo’s Season 15 Top Chef contention. After four years at Union, he decided to focus on some new projects.


Owner Marie Petulla and Executive Chef Christopher Keyser took over the 50-seat restaurant with red brick walls and a tall ceiling. Eager to see how Union may have changed, I recently dined there on a Friday night, and found every table in the dining room occupied. The only seats available were at a low counter at the bar where we could hear Keyser in the kitchen directing his staff.

Our server Julie was attentive and told us that Union is still pork intensive and the chefs still butcher in-house. She recommended two of the newer items, a smoked pork ragu and the summer peach panzanella salad served with a sprinkling of watercress and the creamiest stracciatella, the softest part of burrata cheese. Torn bread croutons toasted in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt are a nice touch. The salad is dressed with a light honey and pepper vinaigrette bringing out appealing summer flavors.


Next, we ordered the charred octopus starter, enhanced with a Spanish almond picade sauce, made with roasted almonds, bread and warm lobster jus. A nice addition to this plate was the thinly sliced cured pork salumi picante.

The pork meatballs are a popular dish bathed in a sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes, caper berries, and chile.


One of my favorite dishes were the wild mushrooms sautéed in truffle butter on a bed of creamy polenta. When Chef Keyser came out of the kitchen, I complimented him on this dish, and he told me he uses local Pasadena Grist & Toll milled stone ground corn to make this flavorful polenta. Chef Keyser adds a sweet jammy Pedro Ximenez Sherry vinegar to make this rich dish even more decadent. He also use this supplier for the wheat to make all the in-house pastas, including the sensational Torchetti made with Calabrese pork ragu. This savory dish has housemade ricotta, fried rosemary and peperoncini. Another pasta staple is the black squid ink lumache, a whimsical shaped, thick tube pasta with poached Maine lobster. Shaved fennel, a squeeze of lemon, and golden butter flecked with black truffles finishes the dish.


While eating our olive oil cake with freshly made ice cream, Chef Keyser came out again and shared his kitchen philosophy – kindness and respect. “I don’t tolerate a poisonous environment in my kitchen” he said. “We are serious, yet we like to have fun and encourage creativity with the dishes we prepare. Sometimes it takes three tries to get it right before we put it on the menu.” He also credits his kitchen staff by putting their names on the menu. “I find chefs who care, hire them and together we become a great team,” he said.


Come see why Union’s kitchen continues to have a strong following of regular and new guests enjoying Italian delights. $$ Hours: 5 to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday  and 5 to 11 p.m. The restaurant opens at 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. 37 E. Union St. (626)795-5841.

This review was featured also in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News – 

Catalina Island’s Hotel Atwater is better than ever

There are three ways to arrive on Catalina Island – helicopter, airplane and boat. The most economical mode of transportation is taking one of the high speed Catalina Express boats from Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point.  Within one hour, your will be transported to a more laid back vibe, rich in history, and abundant in water and land activities.


Recently I was invited to be one of the first guests to stay overnight at the newly renovated Hotel Atwater. Originally opened in 1920, the hotel is named after Helen Atwater Wrigley, wife of Philip Knight Wrigley, and daughter-in-law to chewing gum industrialist, William Wrigley Jr.  In 1919, Wrigley became the owner of the Santa Catalina Island Company. He improved the island with public utilities, providing new steamships to transport visitors to the island to hear Big Bands perform inside the Casino Building, and stay in this hotel.


Walking into the soaring lobby, one can immediately see the exceptional attention to detail in the elegant beach decor and design. Soothing marble floors, and a color palette of cream, green and blues create a relaxing lounge area. Soon Avalon’s newest restaurant PKW Eatery + Bar, honoring island developer Philip Knight Wrigley, will open inside.


Completely renovated in 2019, this historic hotel stays true to the Wrigley family legacy with nostalgic photos, vases filled with colorful flowers and splits of Napa sparkling wine in each guest room. I learned that Helen Atwater Wrigley loved fresh flowers in her home and sipped a glass of bubbly every evening before bed.


Staying in guest room number 330, I appreciated the rich wood accents, luxury linen bedding with bright colored decorative pillows and ocean-inspired finishes. This room is a little larger than a standard room, offering a comfortable king sized premium mattress.


Since the hotel is not fully completed, my room had a notice apologizing that the mini-refrigerator hasn’t been installed yet, and that the shower water temperature may not be as hot as desired. After taking a shower in the large tiled shower with two shower heads, I felt the temperature was ideal and wouldn’t want it any hotter.


Next to the bed is a digital concierge tablet displaying an array of activities, dining options, tours to book and messages from the front desk. Each room also offers high-speed Wi-Fi, a safe in the closet and a flat screen smart television.


The hallways and inside guest rooms display color enhanced family photos and historic brochures creating a unique and memorable “Island Deco” experience.


Suites feature king beds, one and a half baths, a separate living space with sleeper sofa, bar and desk, and views of the ocean, town of Avalon or surrounding mountains. An elevator, ADA-compliant rooms, meeting and event space, and other resort-style services and amenities further enhance the guest experience, making Hotel Atwater one of Catalina’s premier lodging destinations.


Staying overnight at the newly renovated Hotel Atwater, guests receive a lot of perks when paying the $30 destination fee:


1. A $40 food and beverage credit per day at one of the Santa Catalina Island Company’s dining venues including lunch at Mt. Ada ($67 per person), Avalon Grille, Bistro at the Atwater, Encanto Cafe at the Island Spa Catalina, Descanso Fresh and Descanso Beach Club.

2. Guests can get a complimentary certificate at the reception desk to take a glass bottom boat voyage.


3. Take a fitness complimentary class at the Island Spa Catalina. Want to stay longer and use the pool and jacuzzi, there is a ($75 fee) or book a spa treatment for full use of the spa.


4. The Hotel Atwater staff will offer striped beach towels to guests to use while swimming in nearby Avalon near the Green Pleasure Pier.


5. Obtain tickets to the Discover the Casino Tour for a historical exploration of the magnificent Catalina Casino. Never a gambling casino, but a dance pavilion with some of the best Big Band orchestras performing while guests dance the night away. Also inside the Casino is the island’s only movie picture theatre, and it’s an Art Deco masterpiece.


6. When using your $40 food and beverage credit at Avalon Grille, dine between 5 to 6 p.m. and get a free movie ticket at the Casino per paid entree. This time give you enough to enjoy a leisure meal, before walking along the waterfront to the Casino.


7. Get two complimentary hours of bike rental and a map of Avalon. In the morning, request your free bike pass at Brown’s Bikes from the front desk at Hotel Atwater. Walk over to Brown’s Bikes and receive a multi-speed cruiser bike. The map they give you will alert you to flat and level roads, intermediate slight hills and those that are recommended for advanced riders, mountain or electric bikes due to it’s steep hills.


Catalina Express offers up to 30 departures daily and year-round service to Avalon and Two Harbors from San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point. Click on this link to learn how to upgrade to the Commodore Lounge. It offers even more comfortable airline-style seats, a drink, snack, grouped table seating, and first on and first off privileges.

Click on Visit Catalina Island to learn more and make a reservation.

10 Things to See & Do in San Pedro, CA

The waterfront area of San Pedro offers a multitude of fun things to see and do. One of my favorite experiences is boarding and taking a self-guided tour the Battleship IOWA, enjoying brunch at the new French Bistro La Buvette Bistro, strolling through CRAFTED and taking a two-hour whale watching trip along the coast in search of dolphins, pelicans, sea lions and whales.IMG_0235Escape the heat during the summer or enjoy a staycation at the Port of Los Angeles exploring and participating in the following 10 favorite San Pedro activities:

  1. Take the free Red Trolley offered by the San Pedro Historic Waterfront Business Improvement District for residents and visitors. Park your car near Ports O’Call Village. The route runs along the waterfront making stops at the Maritime Museum and the Battleship Iowa. Other stops include Crafted, the Brouwerij West Brewery, Cabrillo Beach, and the Lane Victory. Passengers are encouraged to get off and on at their convenience.IMG_0254
  2. Climb aboard the a living history museum – Battleship IOWA. Also known as the Battleship of Presidents, USS IOWA was outfitted in WWII to be the flagship that carried President Franklin Roosevelt across the Atlantic in 1943 for meetings with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. This year’s San Pedro Fleet Week kicks off with a welcome party Thursday, August 29. This community event is open to all offering public ship tours, military displays and equipment demonstrations, a kids’ STEM Expo, aircraft flyovers, live entertainment. There will be the 10th Annual Conquer the Bridge Labor Day morning 5.3 walk/run over the iconic Vincent Thomas Bridge, and Galley Wars culinary competition between military branches through Monday, September 3, 2018.
  3. Afterwards take a 45 minute or 2 hour whale watching Harbor Breeze Cruise. The 45 minute cruise is fully-narrated cruise takes passengers along the water to see iconic sights along the Los Angeles Harbor. See the Maritime Museum, USS IOWA Battleship, Lane Victory ship, and Mr. Steven – the sleek and fast SpaceX recovery boat. It’s wide net catches SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s rocket capsules before they hit seawater. The 2 hour whale watching trip cruised up to Terranea Resort and while turning around we had a super pod of dolphins swim next to the ship.
  4. Sirens Java & Tea offers coffee, snacks, pastries and tea. Check out the new mural on the west side of our building.IMG_0234
  5. Art Galleries & Studios dot the old Downtown San Pedro area. Walk along 6th and 7th streets to see all of the colorful street art.
  6. Enjoy brunch or dinner at La Buvette Bistro offering rustic French cuisine and a wine list featuring 60 wines priced mostly between $30 to $90, as well as a selection of West Coast craft beers on tap to complement Chef Christoff Elce’s cuisine.
  7. Be sure to see Angel’s Gate Park and the Korean Friendship Bell before sunset. This intricately-decorated large bell and pavilion was donated in 1976 to the people of Los Angeles by the people of the Republic of Korea. Not only was it given as a bicentennial of the U.S. independence gift, but also to honor veterans of the Korean War, and to consolidate traditional friendship between the two countries. The bell is patterned after the Bronze Bell of King Songdok, which was cast in 771 A.D. and is still on view in South Korea today.IMG_0246
  8. Explore CRAFTED inside an old cannery offering over 50 local artist and craftspeople shops. Open Friday through Sunday it’s located on the Red Trolley stop. Take a jewelry making or water marble on silk class. Shop for some one-of-a-kind souvenirs, clothing, books and jewelry or decor for your home.IMG_0250
  9. Walk across from CRAFTED to relax and enjoy a craft beer at the beer garden with local food trucks at Brouwerij West. 
  10. Visit the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium to be enlightened, enriched and appreciate the marine science education, aquaculture research and community recreation. The historic Frank Gehry-designed aquarium (1935) displays the largest collection of Southern California marine life in the world. Guests have a hands-on, interactive approach to learning about the marine environment of Southern California.

To learn more about San Pedro, click on – Visit San Pedro.

Sophisticated Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills

Staying at the Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills is a cosmopoliatan experience inside the ten story hotel that blends Hollywood glamour with European elegance and French style.


Now through the end of September 2019, the hotel is at the crossroads of the vibrant West Hollywood and the iconic Beverly Hills. It’s located directly across the street from  the newly-renovated Beverly Center shopping destination. Guests can receive discounts and special offers in more than 35 stores and food destinations at the Beverly Center including Michael Mina’s newer Italian Cal Mare, Yardbird, a Las Vegas famous concept in the STAY, SHOP & DINE package. Use the preferential code LASD15 to book and enjoy all these benefits:

  1. 15% discount on our best available rate at Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills 
  2. Passport To Shopping – discount program available in four languages (English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish) at the Beverly Center 
  3. Complimentary Day Valet at the Beverly Center 
  4. Complimentary Delivery Service from the Beverly Center 
  5. *Khiel’s 1851 offers complimentary facial
  6. *Cal Mare offers complimentary antipasti
  7. *FARMHOUSE offers complimentary appetizer for two with the purchase of an entrée
  8. *Yardbird Southern Table and Bar offers 2 for 1 Cocktail or Free DessertIMG_0595

Upon arrival, guests are offered a welcome glass of Champagne or beverage before seeing their room. Throughout the hotel there are 40 different one-of-a-kind art pieces curated by the contemporary art gallery #TheCoolHeART. Paintings, sculptures, neon art and photographs are available for purchase with prices starting around $4,000 to $100,000.


There is a range of 295 luxurious guest rooms, including 28 spacious and elegantly appointed suites. Room size and configuration vary from a Superior king or double bed room to the Presidential Suite. Each room offers Sofitel’s signature feather and duvet sleep system MyBed, along with complimentary wireless Internet, high definition televisions, BOSE Wave Radio w/iPod dock, in-room safe, and work areas. Besides an onsite concierge, the property offers “Ask Zingle” a digital butler service.


An interior window from the bedroom looks into the all-glass shower in the bathroom featuring French Lanvin bath amenities. There is also a mini-bar, plus coffee and tea machine, plush robe and complimentary slippers in the closet.

The Beverly Suite is located on the top floor with views of Beverly Blvd. This spacious room offers a king-size bedroom and a separate living area with a queen-size pull out sofa bed.


Guests staying in the Presidential Suite have spectacular Hollywood Hills views, including the iconic Hollywood sign. There is a separate living and bedroom areas featuring the special Sofitel mattresses. Inside the bathroom is a rain shower and bathtub, Hermes bath and shower amenities. Besides an in-room safe, guests have robes and slippers to use throughout their stay.


What started as a pop-up concept, Cattle & Claw SoCal Eatery is located on the ground floor featuring two of the world’s favorite foods – burgers and lobster. Besides an interior dining room, there is an elegant shabby-chic garden dining patio. The menu offers shareable appetizers, lobster towers, grilled beef patty burgers smothered in melted brie and lobster aioli. Enjoy with a Jar cocktail, wine or beer.

In the evening the lively Riviera 31 lounge is one of the most popular bar and entertainment venues in Los Angeles. Monday evenings feature legendary Jazz eclectic night, Salsa Night is every Wednesday. Guests get cozy sitting on ruby red and blue velvet sofas under the gold Rococo ceiling to listen to the hottest musical talents.

Other hotel amenities include 24-hour in-room dining, full-service SoSpa, outdoor heated pool with colorful deck, SoFit state-of-the-art fitness center, and a celebrity hair and beauty Le Salon for guests to receive a true Hollywood glamour experience.

The hotel recently refreshed their 12,000 square feet meeting space and event facilities, offering indoor and outdoor options for parties, business meetings and lavish weddings.

Conveniently across the street from the newly renovated Beverly Center, guests can explore the upscale eight-story lifestyle center offering an array of casual to fine dining options, merchandise stores and fashion boutiques. Upon check-in ask for the Tour & Travel Promotion that includes a breakfast buffet available until 11 a.m., day passes to the VIP Lounge inside the Beverly Center Shopping Mall, and VIP client discounts at stores and restaurants. Also included is a 20% discount and welcome champagne at Michael Mina’s restaurant Cal Mare.

This review is featured on August 19, 2019 in JustLuxe.

My Little Dumpling

Taking over the former Italian Gusto space on Third Street, My Little Dumpling is a newer upscale dim sum dining experience in the Beverly Grove neighborhood. The menu features classic American fare with a global Asian twist.


Robert Mandler, the owner along with his son Anthony, is a successful Los Angeles restauranteur, since he founded Chin Chin in 1983. He introduced a modern Chinese chicken salad to L.A. and is known for his signature “dim sum and then sum.”

Anthony designed the light and serene interior of My Little Dumpling with comfortable green velvet banquettes, white marble tables, shiny brass fixtures and wood paneled ceilings.


A Chinese chicken salad is featured on the menu, a nod to Mandler’s famous Chin Chin salad. This father and son duo recently invited guest chef Mako Tanaka for a month-long residency in the kitchen. Mako is expanding the menu with a few new salads, including charred baby romaine hearts with a ginger sesame dressing, as well as heirloom tomato salad with asparagus and avocado glazed with a plum boba vinaigrette. A healthy protein option includes seared ahi tuna with a spring mix and bite-sized Super Sweet 100 tomatoes dressed with a yuzu and caramelized onion dressing.

My Little Dumpling has a bar near the back that offers beer, wine and a variety of hot and cold teas to pair with the shareable dishes.


The restaurant’s signature dish, a cheeseburger dumpling, is filled with ground beef, caramelized onions and pickles. It was cut into three pieces and served with an Asian-style lychee ketchup for dipping. For those seeking a vegan option, they make a Beyond Meat dumpling filled with vegan “meat” and cheese, caramelized onions and pickles. It’s quite good, especially with the lychee ketchup.

Another vegan and gluten-free option is the potato pancake, made with shredded purple sweet potatoes and a black vinegar sauce. It’s similar to an enhanced potato latke.


There are a few soup dumplings, including one filled with crab, pork, ginger and scallions. Another is filled with French onion soup, gruyere cheese and a crouton.

They also create innovative sandwiches using bao buns. There is a braised brisket with slaw and horseradish and a vegan Indian favorite, Manchurian Gobi, filled with cauliflower, garlic and Fresno chili.

Egg roll options include a delicious curried vegetable layered with mint chutney, lentil, carrots and cauliflower. One with an Asian twist includes the Reuben egg roll with pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. They also make a wonton filled with cream cheese, lox, red onions and cherry tomatoes.


We finished with a fried rectangular dumpling filled with banana and Nutella. It was drizzled with raspberry sauce and a sprinkling of powdered sugar, a nice sweet treat.

Come in and try the fun dim sum dishes the Mandlers are creating at their newest endeavor.

My Little Dumpling is open seven days a week for lunch starting at noon. Dinner ends at 10 p.m. on weekdays, and the restaurant closes at 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $$ 8432 W. 3rd St., (310)450-9393.

This review was featured in the Beverly Press on August 22, 2019.

Mercado LA wins Michelin Bib Gourmand award

Innovative margaritas and classic Mexican cuisine with a contemporary flair earned Mercado Los Angeles a prestigious Michelin “Bib Gourmand” designation earlier this year. Michelin inspectors recognized the quality of the food and menu affordability. To qualify, a restaurant needs to be a step above the rest, while offering two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for less than $40.


Located in the Beverly Grove area, I recently made a reservation to see why this restaurant stood out among thousands of Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles and why it appealed to the Michelin inspectors.

Mexican art is an integral part of all the restaurants. The large Mariachi Calavera painted skulls and ghostly figures by muralist Carlos Nieto III are part of Mercado’s design. The owners support local artists and proudly display their creative pieces. A colorful skull piece and symbolic American-Mexican flag made with serape blankets and embroidered stars on vintage nylon canvas by artist Andrew Atkinson hang above Mercado’s fireplace. In the Pasadena Mercado, the dining room has a striking skull art piece made from thousands of bullet shells by artist David Palmer hanging on a wall near the kitchen. 


Co-owner Jesse Gomez is a local success story; he grew up in Los Angeles and helped his grandparents at their restaurant El Arco Iris in Highland Park in the 1960s. With his hands-on experience, he spent several years managing and operating restaurants in L.A. for Hillstone Restaurant Group and Innovative Dining Group.

Later he opened Yxta Cocina Mexicana in downtown Los Angeles, offering an inventive menu, artisan cocktails and creative art collection. With its success, Gomez co-created the Mercado brand with long-time friend and revered chef, Jose Acevedo.

Acevedo began his career in the kitchens of Wolfgang Puck and Hillstone Restaurant Group. Together, they joined forces at Yxta Cocina Mexicana and started the Cocinas y Calaveras LLC, now with seven restaurants, including Maradentro, Yxta, Mercado Taqueria and three other Mercado locations in Hollywood, and Pasadena. Soon a fifth location in Manhattan Beach will open in September 2019.


Mercado’s bar pours over 70 premium silver, Reposado and Añejo tequilas and mezcals. The Mercado margarita is made with La Tarea silver tequila, triple sec and their own fresh sour mix. The Mercado sangria is made with wine, Altos Reposado tequila and fresh fruit.

We ordered a spicy cucumber margarita, hibiscus margarita and a Modelo beer while looking over the menu and sampling slightly smokey guacamole and chips. Hass avocados, chopped cilantro and red onions are mixed with crunchy pepitas, which provide a slight kick of heat.

Acevedo complements many of his dishes with a Yxta salsa brava to give them a tomato, garlic and red pepper touch of Spanish flavors and tangy heat.

The elote is cut off the cob and served in a bowl mixed with caramelized onions, Cotija cheese and a soft butter mixed with chile pequín to bring on the heat.

I ordered the vegetarian chile relleno upgraded with a red campana sauce. It’s served on a bed of Mexican rice with a large green chile filled with flavorful grilled vegetables mixed with melted Oaxaca cheese.

My husband chose the slow cooked carnitas garnished with salsa brava. The plate arrived with cauliflower al pastor and two large pieces of tender caramelized pork on top. A dollop of guacamole and chopped cilantro accompanied the dish with freshly made to order purplish-blue non-GMO corn tortillas.

Sweet jicama shrimp tacos were served with guacamole and salsa brava. Another popular item is Dos Gringas spit-roasted pastor with onions, cilantro and Oaxaca cheese, served with avocado salsa and flour tortillas. Savory nachos are topped with black beans, carnitas, guacamole, tomatoes, onions and a flambé’ of hot choriqueso – melted cheese and spicy chorizo.

A refreshing and lighter dish is the tostaditas de ceviche served on crispy tortillas topped with citrus-marinated white fish and shrimp, mixed with chopped mango, corn, cherry tomatoes, serrano and fresno chilies, avocado and chile de árbol aioli.

Enchiladas are filled with free-range chicken, Oaxacan mole, queso fresco, crema fresca, red onions, sesame seeds and served with Mexican rice.

They also offer tamales filled with the chef’s daily choice of filling, along with queso fresco, crema fresca and cilantro.

We finished with one of Mercado’s smooth flan accompanied by Rompope. Since I enjoyed Mercado Los Angeles so much, I also visited the Pasadena location. The menu features many of the same delicious dishes.

Come taste why Mercado Los Angeles is worthy of its Michelin “Bib Gourmand” award.Mercado Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Hollywood and Pasadena are open for happy hour and dinner starting at 5 p.m. Check lunch and brunch hours at each location. $$

LA, SM and HW open for dinner M-F at 5pm, Sat and Sun at 4pm. Pasadena opens for dinner at 4pm M-Sun.
7910 W. Third St., (323)944-0947; 1416 Fourth St., (310) 526-7121, 3413 Cahuenga Blvd., (323)512-2500; and 140 S. Lake Ave. #101, (626)345-5778.
This review is featured in the Beverly Press on August, 15, 2019.

Deal of the Day: “Maisel Day” on Aug. 15

Here’s a clever marketing idea – Amazon Prime is celebrating 20 Emmy nominations with “Maisel Day” in Los Angeles on August 15. Businesses in the Greater L.A.-area will offer “take a trip back in time to 1959” with food, drink and even hotel prices from that time period.  Go early on Thursday because these deals are good while supplies last and are limited to one per person only on August 15, 2019.

The Americana in Glendale – 889 Americana Way
1. DELUCA’S ITALIAN DELI – “Mrs. Maisel” Deli-style Turkey Sandwich for $2.
2. HÄAGEN-DAZS Order a scoop of ice cream for 80¢.
3. LADURÉE order a Macaron for 25¢.
4. PHILZ COFFEE –  a cup of “Mrs. Maisel” Rose Coffee for 50¢ starting at 6 a.m..
5. YUM CREAMERY order a special Ice Cream Dessert for $1.00 starting at 10 a.m.

San Fernando Valley:

1. ART’S DeliCorned Beef, Pastrami, or Turkey Sandwich with Pickle: 99¢ – 12224 Ventura Blvd, Studio City valid from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
2. BIG SUGAR BAKESHOP – Pink Vanilla Cupcake: 25¢. – 12182 Ventura Blvd, Studio City. Promotion valid from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
3. MCCONNELL’S FINE ICE CREAMS order a scoop of Ice Cream for 25¢. – 12073 Ventura Pl, Studio City
4. SUSIECAKES – order a Pink Vanilla or Pink Chocolate Cupcake for 25¢ starting at 10 a.m. Limit 2 per person.- 13029 Ventura Blvd, Studio City.
5. Stay overnight at THE SPORTSMEN’S LODGE HOTEL for a One-Night Stay for $40.- 12825 Ventura Blvd, Studio City
The Grove LA – 189 The Grove Drive
1. DOMINIQUE ANSEL BAKERY – order a Croissant for 50¢ starting at 9 a.m. 
2. LADURÉE Macaron for 25.
3. SEE’S CANDIES purchase a 1-Pound Box of Chocolates for $1.50 starting at 10 a.m.
Deals in Los Angeles:
1. CANTER’S DELI – “Maisel” Pastrami Sandwich: 99¢ – 419 N Fairfax Ave. Promotion valid starting at 9 a.m. 
2. CAFE 50’S order a Vanilla, Chocolate or Strawberry Malted Milkshake for 30¢. – 11623 Santa Monica Blvd. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
3. MEL’S DRIVE-IN order a Melburger + Fries for 50¢. A Milkshake is 30¢ and a slice of Pie is 30¢ starting at 9 a.m. 8585 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood. 
4PINK’S HOT DOGS are selling a 59¢ Hot Dog starting at 9:30 a.m. 709 N. La Brea Ave.
5. SUSIECAKES order a Pink Vanilla or Pink Chocolate Cupcake for 25¢. Limit two per person starting at 10 a.m. 11708 San Vicente Blvd, Los Angeles.
6. Starting at 9 a.m., fill up to 20 gallons of gas at CHEVRON SANTA MONICA for 30¢/gallon. 1819 Cloverfield Blvd, Santa Monica. Use the 24th Street entrance. 
7. HOLLYWOOD IMPROV – Come to the 8 p.m. & 10:15 p.m. One Admission is $1. 8162 Melrose Ave, Hollywood
8. THE HOLLYWOOD ROOSEVELT HOTEL enjoy a One-Night Stay for $40.00. 7000 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood.
Palisades Village – 15225 Palisades Village Lane, Pacific Palisades
1. THE DRAYCOTT celebrate with a $2 glass of Champagne. Promotion valid from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 – 10 p.m.
2. HANK’S – Enjoy an 85¢ Reuben Sandwich
3. MCCONNELL’S FINE ICE CREAMS get a scoop of Ice Cream for 25¢. Promotion starts at 11 a.m. 
4. SEE’S CANDIES purchase a 1-Pound Box of Chocolates for $1.50 starting at 10 a.m.

5. Go see a movie at the BAY THEATRE for a 51¢ ticket starting at 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.


Castaway offers sensational views of Los Angeles & The Valley

Some of my fondest summer dining experiences are sitting on the patio at Castaway in Burbank overlooking the city of Los Angeles. At the newly renovated restaurant, guests can create memories of their own at the country club-style restaurant, which offers 180-degree views of downtown and the San Fernando Valley, including a perfect view of the sunset before colorful lights twinkle in the darkening sky.


This iconic restaurant and event destination was closed for many years before the owners invested millions of dollars and hired Executive Chef Perry Pollaci.

Sitting on the al fresco dining terrace – one of the most coveted spots during the summer – one feels as if they are on vacation. The level below offers an outdoor lounge with fire pits and a glass-in balcony that is a favorite photo opportunity spot.


We started with complimentary sourdough Parker House rolls, which are filled with cloves of garlic and sun-dried tomatoes and are topped with chopped basil and course sea salt. The soft pull-apart rolls are served with whipped ricotta and basil, almost like a creamy pesto.


A chef at the bar makes appealing cheese and charcuterie boards all night long. We ordered a cheese board of French St. Andre triple cream cow’s milk cheese, a Spanish Rulo de Cabra goat cheese, and Red Dragon mild cow’s milk cheddar cheese. The goat cheese was torched to give notes of crème brûlée on top. The cheddar was enhanced with mustard seeds and Welsh brown ale. Thinly sliced apples, a handful of dried apricots, pickled vegetables and some candied walnuts accompanied the plate with thick triangles of grilled bread.

A new raw bar serves a variety of chilled oysters from the West and East coasts with an ancho chili cocktail sauce and Asian pear mignonette. The Ora king salmon poke drizzled with a citrusy yuzu ponzu comes with seaweed salad and crispy flatbread to scoop up the fish. For larger parties celebrating a special occasion, the imperial seafood fruit of the sea platter offers an array of fresh oysters, shrimp, snow crab, lobster, Jonah crab, Peruvian scallops and salmon poke for $175.



Castaway’s offerings are listed on a clever script-like menu that has “Confidential – For Your Eyes Only” stamped on the cover. Flipping through, we ordered an item or two from each page. On the “Prologue” page, which states “Don’t wait for the main event,” we chose the heirloom tomato gazpacho, which is yin and yang-like in both color and flavor profile with a brick-red heirloom tomato gazpacho next to a yellow heirloom tomato puree. On top were sliced summer peaches, a sprinkling of microgreens and drizzle of horseradish crema.

Other “Prologue” items include charred Spanish octopus, which is served with crispy potatoes and a grilled piquillo puree, and glazed New Zealand lamb bacon, served with hummus, cucumber yogurt and mint.

From the salad section – titled “Ensemble” – we ordered the market beets with five varieties, vegan goat cheese, Asian pear slices and tapioca “caviar.”

Pollaci grew up in the restaurant world, helping his parents with their eateries at a young age. By the time he turned 12, he found himself bussing tables, washing dishes and prepping, often taking cues from his grandfather, also a chef. Later, Pollaci found himself working with some of New York City’s most renowned chefs, including Michael Mina, Richard Farnabe, Caesar Ramirez, John Johnson and Geoffrey Zakarian. He was executive chef at the Royce at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena and at the popular Studio City restaurant Firefly.

Summer is a time for grilling and in “the Butcher’s Block” section, Pollaci has included an American wagyu 7-ounce skirt and 7-ounce New York brick-cut steaks. The meat comes from responsibly-raised Kuroge Washu, or Japanese Black, and is served with sweet garlic chips and a shallot marmalade.


Other popular menu items are the California Flannery Beef, dry-aged American Holstein 8 oz. hanger steaks and a 32-ounce Jorge steak that plenty for two people to share. The 48-ounce tomahawk steak, which comes from black Angus cows raised at Creekstone Farms in Kansas, is large and can be shared with four people.

“Lead Performers” include Zinfandel-braised short ribs served with lobster tempura, a truffle potato mash and chartreuse hollandaise and the Pasturebird chicken, raised locally in Murrieta, is served with grilled Brentwood corn.


We ordered the crispy Mediterranean sea bream served whole on a bed of spicy Thai-style shredded green papaya and purple Okinawa potato puree. Lime, mint and spicy sliced peppers decorate the top.

I also ordered one of the new summer vegan entrees: roasted “scallops” that arrived with on a beautiful thick green asparagus puree with five caramelized King Trumpet mushrooms. Their seared golden tops look just like scallops from the sea, and they’re served with a potato mash and long Chinese green beans.


Desserts include a molten lava chocolate cake with a scoop of vanilla, dark chocolate and white chocolate pearls, chocolate dust and candied walnuts. The Yellow Submarine is made with key lime cream folded into a puffed pastry, with a light meringue and raspberry gel. Both are over the top delicious.


The chef’s table for 10 guests is available on Friday and Saturday evenings. It begins with a cocktail in the hidden Green Room, a popular and comfortable Hollywood-style elegant lounge. Guests are escorted to a special table near the kitchen to experience Pollaci’s six-course seasonal tasting menu and an optional wine pairing. The chef’s table is ideal for special occasions, anniversaries, birthdays, date nights, girls’ nights out or business dinners. It’s next to the wine room offering a wonderful collection of local and international wines. Reservations are recommended for view dining and the chef’s table, especially during the summer. $$-$$$.


Castaway is open seven days a week for dinner starting at 5 p.m. Weekend brunch is served from 11 a.m. and weekend dinner service begins at 3 p.m. 1250 E. Harvard Road, Burbank; (818)848-6691.

This review was featured in the Beverly Press.


Walking along The Urban Wine Trail in Santa Barbara into the Funk Zone, you soon come upon 10 blocks filled with an eclectic mix of galleries, shops, restaurants, wineries, and breweries. Converted warehouses are decked out as wine tasting rooms for local wineries in the Santa Barbara County and Central California. We stopped inside the Pali Wine Co., which is located just two blocks from the ocean and Santa Barbara train station.


Once inside, we selected two tasting flights of five wines each, the Pali Wine Taste and Tower 15. Tim Perr and Scott Knight co-founded Pali Wine Co. in 2005, sourcing most of the grapes from the top vineyards in Santa Barbara County and Sonoma. Later, they purchased 50 acres of land in the Gypsy Canyon Road in coastal Lompoc. Gypsy Canyon is an ideal spot to grow grapes used to make Pinot Noir. The grapes grow well into late August and September. The sun heats up the area during the day and cools down when the fog rolls in from the Pacific Ocean, creating high acidity and better balance with the big fruit flavors.


Growing up in the wealthy beachside community of Pacific Palisades, Perr and Knight named their wines after neighborhoods, such as the Huntington, named after the celebrity enclave offering the best ocean views, or the Riveria, named after the upscale Riviera Country Club.

They hired Aaron Walker, partner and winemaker at Pali Wine’s wine making facility in Lompoc, to blend and bottle their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. He’s a wine making expert and has developed a good relationship with other farmers in California and Oregon.


Ready for our Pali Wine tastings, we took a seat at a booth inside the tasting room and next to the outdoor patio. As the friendly and knowledgeable server brought a bottle of  2016 “Charm Acres” Chardonnay, we ordered a gourmet cheese plate from local C’est Cheese Santa Barbara.  It arrived in a box with slices of artisanal cheese, nuts, dried fruit and crackers.


They also brought over a colorful wine fan deck. Similar to what painters use to select the right color for painting, this one had the dates of wine releases, names of the wines and tasting notes. It’s fun to have at your table and quiz each other. Each page offers a 7-step value range of alcohol percentage, vineyard, AVA, oak percentage, fermentation length, bottling date and how the wine pairs with different food.


Tasting “Charm Acres,”  we learned it is made from multiple vineyard grapes up and down the California coast, from Sonoma to Santa Barbara. It’s crisp and bright and not a big, fat, buttery oak Chardonnay. I loved the essence of peach, crème brulee and a touch of sea salt.


Other tastes of wine included 2016 “Bluffs” Pinot Noir and 2017 “Huntington” Pinot Noir. This Huntington Pinot Noir is made from grapes grown in the Santa Barbara County and has achieved a Wine Spectator score of 90 consistently. Costco loves this wine and has been carrying it for years in their stores. The last two pours were from a 2017 “Summit” Pinot Noir and 2016 “Pali Estate” Pinot Noir.

Next we tasted the flight of Tower 15 wines. It’s named after a lifeguard tower at Will Rogers State Beach in the Palisades. In 2012, Pali launched Tower 15 Winery featuring bottles with twist off caps.


The 2016 Reserve Tower 15 Sauvignon Blanc was light and crisp to get our palate ready for the other wines. Next we sipped 2018 “White Cap: White Rhone Blend and looked at the color deck. This wine highlights premium white Rhone grapes from Central California and is made from 52% Grenache Blanc, 17% Marsanne, 17% Roussanne and 14% Voignier.


My favorite was a lovely summer 2018 “P.C.H.” Rose, named for the scenic Pacific Coast Highway that runs along much of the California coastline. This dry, crisp style of Central Coast Rosé is made from a combination of whole-cluster pressed Pinot Noir grapes and blended with ten barrels of saignée made from premium Pinot Noir vineyards. It’s barrel-aged entirely in neutral oak for four months and then bottled.


Since Pali Wine Co. is so proud of their wines, they have opened 5 public tasting rooms in different So Cal locations. Besides the Santa Barbara Funk Zone, they have one in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto (a large collection of wineries, tasting rooms, and wine cellars located on PCH and 12th Street), another in the Little Italy section of San Diego, and in downtown Anaheim, near Disneyland and the Packing House. The most recent tasting venue opened in vibrant DTLA Art’s District. Besides tasting rooms, each offer light food items, game night, harbor wine cruises and other fun events to engage their fans. They also sell wine bottle growlers to take home and enjoy.


Join the Pali Wine Club for special benefits including wine delivery to your home, invitations to special tasting room events, and special discounts. Once a member, you can visit all the Pali Wine Co. tasting rooms.

This article was featured in Luxe Beat Magazine.