Half Moon Bay, CA: Navio at The Ritz-Carlton

Fennel Pollen Crusted Mero Sea Bass

When you visit an outpost of such a well-renowned hotel entity as the Ritz-Carlton, its flagship restaurant has plenty to live up to. And with a location and view right on the shore at Half Moon Bay, the food better be a match to its scenery and splendor. Navio lives up to the task thanks to Chef Sean Eastwood’s imaginative dishes with ingredients sourced from nearby markets, but this is the Ritz-Carlton, and they have come to expect a certain clientele that can afford the high-end ticket – the kind of clientele that also subscribe to the mantra of “location, location, location.” With that: Scenery.

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Delicious Summer Bites and Much More at Whist, The Viceroy

Sea Urchin Crostini, Sea Salt, Lemon & Lardo

There are bites, and then there are bites. 

The bites are the kind of thing where you warm up to a beautiful place with just the right ambiance. The tastes are deceptively good. Then, you proceed to order more and more, ultimately staying for what accumulates to an all-out meal. I am a grazer, not a gorger; I love bites.

Crab Cake Crostini, Chicken Liver Mousse

Now, a great place to do exactly that is Whist at The Viceroy in Santa Monica – a place where the indoor dining options are just as charming as the outdoor, with the latter coming full circle thanks to poolside and cabana options. Chicken liver mousse with pancetta on crostini? Heavenly. Dungeness crab cake with yuzu on crostinis? Refreshing. And of course, it’s not enough to put just uni on crostini, but to add lardo? Indulgent. And perfect.

The real problem is that if you don’t have a few camarades with you on this little dining adventure, you’ll probably get real full before you either: 1) Get to try all the bites you wanted to, or 2) Get to any of the also-solid main dishes available. After all, you can’t forget about the juicy, flavorful Lamb Kafka Meatballs, topped with orange, pistachio and yogurt. Nor the beautifully cured hamachi with rhubarb “ponzu,” cucumber, radish and celery.

Grilled Octopus, Romesco, Potatoes, Charred Wild Leeks

All this, while having to avoid getting full on their extraordinary corn bread, which Chef Tony DiSalvo makes with three different renditions of corn to achieve that robust flavor. Oh, and that perfectly prepared Grilled Octopus with romesco, potatoes and charred wild leeks. It’s the kind of octopus dish that converts all those naysayers who’ve assumed octopus, by nature, is chewy. The tentacles are tender and flavorful, yet finished with a crispy exterior.

But of course, I must move on to the mains, a favorite of which was the Broiled Halibut. The filet came perched on a bed of deliciously smoked potato-miso puree and paired with crispy asparagus and ginger. It was a surprising winner – simple but a perfect combination of flavors. The smoke was a nice and unexpected touch.

And as for some other mains, sweetbreads lovers will love this version prepared with morels and fava beans in sherry. But if you’re looking for something a little lighter than that, the potato gnocchi are just as much a treat (and doubles as a vegetarian alternative), with asparagus and morels rounding out its buttery essence.

If I were to pick the one essential dessert at Whist, it would be the Rhubarb tart with its buttery crust and walnut crumble on top. Of course, it comes a la mode with vanilla ice cream. Just try it. It’s just one of those desserts where if you thought you were full before, you’ll realize you do have enough room for dessert. All of it.

So check out Tony DiSalvo and Chris Crary’s new bites, served in their chic dining room or outdoors. The tastes are just too fabulous to allow you to get too distracted by the hotel, pool or any of the beautiful views and ambiance they afford.

All food and drink were hosted.

Mon – Thur

7 AM – 9:30 PM

Fri – Sat

7 AM – 10 PM

Also check out special events during the summer

Whist at The Viceroy Hotel
1819 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Mondrian Sessions Offer (Good) Free Music, Poolside Vibe, Eclectic Crowd

Fool's Gold

Last week, I fortunately caught on Kevin Bronson’s Buzz Bands blog that LA-based Afro-pop group Fool’s Gold was playing at Skybar at The Mondrian for a free show. Sure, Arcade Fire was playing a surprise show the same night – and people had started lining up for tickets the night before – but that whole …shebang… was just not my bag.

It was Skybar and I had no trouble getting in. There were no sexagenarian gentlemen with appletinis and women half their age. In fact, it was a rather mixed crowd with a casual vibe. My Jameson, neat, was still $14 – no surprise – but more a product of The Sunset Strip than the fault of The Mondrian’s. This collaboration with IAmSound could mean that Skybar could be on to something and perhaps even turning a new page.

Fool’s Gold sounded great. With the exception of Surprise Hotel and Poseidon, the 5-piece (for the night, anyway) played all new material for over an hour. I was a wondrous hour filled with electric melodies – and lyrics in Hebrew – floating over African beats and rhythms. Saxophone, flute, bongos, guitar, drums – it really doesn’t get any more “world music” than this. I was surprised well everything was mixed.

So check out the dates for bands to come – including the awesome Dum Dum Girls tomorrow. It’s free – and all you have to do is email [email protected] to RSVP. Word is, the Lykke Li date is practically booked – but if you love her Swedish pop sound enough, it may be worth a try.

Thursday, February 17 – Dum Dum Girls
Saturday, February 19 – Ted Leo (Solo)
Saturday, February 26 – Zola Jesus
Thursday, March 10 – Lykke Li
Saturday, March 12 – Gonzales
Friday, April 8 – Twin Sister

See you poolside!

Various dates: 8 PM – Midnight

Set time is usually 9 PM

[email protected]

Skybar at The Mondrian
8440 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

The Spare Room: My New Neighborhood Hangout

Daniel (Thirsty in LA) bowling down the middle

When I moved to Hollywood back in August, there was nothing random about it. Sure, things started off rather rough, but even after getting mugged in broad daylight, I wasn’t going to let a little “initiation” deter me; somehow I was still confident I had made the right choice. Lo and behold, all I needed to do was wait a few months to feel lucky that indeed, I was in the right neighborhood at the right time. The Farmer’s Market, Trader Joe’s, even the silliness that is the Cahuenga Corridor contributes to the same, lovely vibe that Amoeba and The Arclight Cinemas do.

Lounge area adjacent to bowling lanes

And of course, there are the bars. Hemingway’s, one of my favorites, is easily adjacent to a dozen other bars I’d never step inside. But to my surprise and validation, the true gems of Hollywood are springing up like never before during this renaissance – and The Spare Room, which is just upstairs from Matt Biancaniello and The Library Bar (a favorite for a year-and-a-half and still going), is the latest treasure.

Daniel of Thirsty in LA (review) and I had the privilege of being two of the first guests at the elegant, new hangout. (Caroline on Crack was unfortunately out of commission due to a stubborn illness!) I can proudly say that I was the customer to bowl the first ball at The Spare Room, and it was a strike! We presented it to Aidan Demarest (7 Grand, The Edison, First & Hope), who directs the cocktail program, as a good omen. No thanks to my weakling arms and lack of stamina, I cooled off pretty hard after my 2nd frame spare. But there will be plenty of other games!

The Spare Room Snap (rye, SNAP gingersnap liqueur, lemon juice, nutmeg)

It’s all in the details at The Spare Room, which boasts these two classic bowling lanes parallel to Hollywood Boulevard itself, as showcased by three large, dome windows. The lanes come complete with chalkboard, an above-ground, classic wooden ball return and matte black balls with the bar’s personal insignia. No hot pink pearl or glittery green disco bowling balls, here. It’ll run you $100 per hour to bowl, whether you have 2 or 6 (max) in your game, so it’s in your best interest to bring the gang and fill up your scoreboard. But if not for the game, the chance to wear a pair of unique, designer Esquivel bowling shoes for an hour (included in the price) is worth it, alone. I fell in love with the pair I was fitted with, which made me want to walk out with them because they were more comfortable than the shoes in which I came.

Chilean Sunset (Encanto pisco, lime, pineapple, red wine, egg whites)

While you’re bowling, a “ball assistant” will ensure you know how to score and servers will be on hand to make sure you are enjoying one of Aidan’s liquid creations. And boy are they delicious. Daniel and I started off with The Spare Room Snap, a rye whiskey cocktail further accentuated with gingersnap liqueur and brightened with lemon juice.

My second cocktail of the night, a favorite of both Daniel’s and mine, was a Chilean Sunset made by the lovely Naomi Schimek. Yes, a Chilean Sunset made with a Peruvian Pisco (as so revealed by Daniel’s question to Aidan) – and it was really a delight. A perfectly sweet-tart-earthy cocktail that just continued to turn and turn on your tongue. Four cocktails in all were on the chalkboard, and if the two solid ones I had (plus a great taste of Daniel’s Evelyn Waugh’s Noonday Reviver with Guiness, gin and ginger beer) were any indication, I’d be back to both repeat and try the other selections, especially as the menu changes out.

Aidan helping us with the photo booth

And maybe you’d just like a little more than good conversation and less involved that bowling with which to enjoy your cocktails. Get in the photo booth (note the hand-signed animals on the wall paper), where you’ll count down four times before your mug is snapped. It’s just $5 for a dual set of four pictures. The booth is located next to the individually-lit, wooden cubbies that house the designer bowling shoes.

Or, take a look at the classic games chest, curated by the also-lovely Alice Fox, where you will find wooden, hand-painted and imported game pieces and game boards. Vintage, possibly. Monopoly, Scrabble, Jenga, backgammon, dominoes and … Connect 4 (at which I beat Daniel – twice) are all available for free play when you put down your credit card, provided you don’t damage any of the hand crafted pieces.

Alice Fox, Classic Gamemaster

It’s a beautiful, art deco lounge in which to drink and play – and now you will never run out of things to do. The classic books set up in the sunken displays along the walls even provide a pleasant reading option. Just be sure not to spill your cocktail over the communal reading material. There are even little pull-outs at each of the unique tables on which to rest your drink. Classy. From the strips of white tile woven with with the wood floor to the Tiffany art deco ceiling lights throughout the space, the ambiance is classic yet unique to Hollywood, with some help from the soulful music the DJ was playing early opening night. Especially with a food menu coming on board in about a month, I can’t wait to become a regular.

Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays

5 PM – 2 AM


8 PM – 2 AM

Reservations recommended

The Spare Room
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (Mezzanine Level)
7000 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028

The Spaghetti at Scarpetta

Spaghetti With Tomato and Basil ($26)

It really all started with a heavenly dish of Duck Foie Gras Ravioli in Meatpacking District. So when I heard Scott Conant’s Scarpetta was coming to the left coast back in October – and no further than across the Canon Drive Beverly Hills parkway from Bouchon – I became elated that I would finally get to try the famous spaghetti. What’s more, I wouldn’t have to reserve one of my meals to do so (and commit a “repeat”) on my next trip to New York.

It’s a $26 entree in an upscale, self-described “Old Hollywood-style” interior. Personally, it reminded me more of New York – but I have prior associations and attachments. The pasta in Beverly Hills, though? Perfectly al dente. It’s made with semolina flour and zero-zero pasta. The fresh basil brought the other dimension to the vibrant tomato, and I found myself scarfing down the European-sized portion of noodles and sauce.

If I visit Scarpetta often and never order another dish, I would be just as happy.

Sunday – Thursday

5:30 – 11:00 PM

Friday – Saturday

5:30 PM – Midnight

Free parking for 2 hrs in public underground, adjacent lot

Scarpetta at Montage
225 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Desert Nights at The Cactus Lounge: The Standard, Hollywood

The Cactus Lounge at The Standard, Hollywood | Credit to simongoble on Flickr

This August, The Standard (West) Hollywood has taken a refreshing approach to the bustle and hubbub of Sunset Blvd. Since the month is half-over, I’m a little late but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy tonight and the remaining Wednesday in The Cactus Lounge, whereby local emerging artists are showcased live and unplugged, performing acoustic sets for all loungers to hear.

The great part is, you can order food from the adjacent diner so while you’re enjoying live music, you’ll be able to enjoy eats from their kitchen. Tonight, The Cactus Lounge will feature Kenneth Pattengale. Next Wednesday will feature the beautifully quaint-sounding Miranda Lee Richards (formerly Brian Jonestown Massacre).

August 18th: Robotanists, Aria Pullman, Kenneth Pattengale
August 25th: Miranda Lee Richards and TBD

So order a cocktail, some bites, sit back and enjoy local music. Not a bad night on The Sunset Strip.

Desert Nights
Wednesdays, August 18 & 25, 2010

7:30 – 10 PM

The Cactus Lounge at The Standard Hollywood
8300 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069


Hyatt’s TusCA: An Oasis For Italian In Orange County

Spinaci-Ricotta (bread-based) Gnocchi with Brown Butter, Sage Cheese Vellutata

It seemed to be sort of a mission when I was asked to do a tasting in Orange County – but it wasn’t the first time. I’m intrigued, though, when there’s enough confidence to invite writers to dine inside a chain (albeit somewhat upscale) hotel. Perhaps there’s enough substance there to warrant a splash. Or clatter.

Suspended "glass bubbles"
Suspended glass bubbles

The garnishes at the bar and even some of the herbs used in the kitchen are grown in their burgeoning roof-top garden. They stress that it’s small but I can appreciate any and all efforts to keep ingredients as local as humanly possible. And despite their hotel chain business structure, you can see that TusCA in its 3rd, U.S.-wide Hyatt installment differs with their added focus on using fresh ingredients. The Antipasti are solid – homemade marmalade, real honeycomb, homemade garlic paste, cornichon, whole grain mustard and fig jam round out your cheese, charcuterie and bread accompaniments.

Market Salad With Sweet Basil Vinaigrette

But as it turns out, there’s something special inside this glass-encased super hotel that – dare I wax Los Angeles behind the Orange Curtain here? – is very Beverly Center. As your silverware clinks against your china, there’s an echo to follow each and every clang. But none of this is to discount the originality and inventiveness of the bread-, not potato-based, gnocchi. Still rich and indulgent but not overwhelming – as often the potato gnocchi are – and still packed with amazing flavor.

Funghi Misti Pizza

And TusCA does well with the basics, too. The roasted tomatoes (not to be confused with the sun-dried variety) are delightful bursts of flavor in the Market Salad, dressed with Sweet Basil Vinaigrette. The flatbread Neopolitan pizza is solid. My favorite was the Funghi Misti – topped with amazing Fontina cheese, a little Taleggio and thyme and a variety of mushrooms are deliciously roasted into the pie. There’s a good selection of toppings and all are pretty fabulous, including the original TusCAn (Marinated artichoke, roasted garlic, olives and mozzarella) and Prosciutto (Asparagus, tomato, mozzarella and egg). Of course, it’s the flatbread that forms the basis of each pie and their fire brick-roasting oven is no detail to their success.

Seared Halibut, thyme, fennel and orange salad

The seared halibut was also a surprise with how well it was prepared, with the citrus in the side orange salad complimenting the still-tender, juicy filet. A solid Secondi, overall.

Affogato (Vanilla Gelato, Espresso and Shaved Chocolate)

Rounding out the end of the meal was an impressive rendition of Affogato al Cioccolato, with real shaved chocolate and a strong shot of espresso to pour over our vanilla gelato. As with all affagato, just be quick to eat the delicious dessert before it melts away.

TusCA is a surprising oasis in a well-appointed chain hotel whose clientele waffles between Disneyland visitors and perhaps Disneyland (or other) corporates. Just above the restaurant were the plans for EuroDisney conceived and developed in former office spaces-turned-suites. So there’s no mistake that the space indeed is very Orange County – but thanks to Chef Laura De Martin and Executive Chef Sayed Moalemi, the cuisine itself will take you to North Italy.

All food and wine were hosted. Additionally, a night’s stay was provided.

TusCA – Hyatt Regency Orange County
11999 Harbor Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92840

Dinner menu

Breakfast: Mon – Sun: 6:30 AM – 11:30 AM
Lunch: Mon – Sun: 11:30 AM – 2 PM
Dinner: Mon – Sun: 5 PM – 10 PM

Delphine at The W Now Open For Weekend Brunch

Eggs Benedict

Now’s this could be your legit excuse to have brunch in a hotel. After all, The W Hollywood is still new and now, they’re serving a weekend brunch. And let’s face it, Delphine‘s space is one-of-a-kind. The subtle back-lighting over bookshelves and aquamarine hues, white flourishes and matching crown moldings are calming; it’s up to the scene to complete the dining room’s character. A Hollywood Hotel, it is.

So let’s focus on the food, shall we? Executive Chef Sascha Lyon (Daniel, Balthazar, and Pastis – NYC) will be featuring French classics with some Mediterranean dishes. Choose from the le petit delphine ($58) or le grand delphine ($98) platters for the oysters on the half-shell – and that’s just to get you started. Knock it out of the park by ordering the Whole Roasted Lobster & Fries ($36) as your entree. The good news is there are also more casual menu options like pastas and pizzas, sandwiches and salads – and a thankfully large Les Oeufs section. My eye is particularly drawn back to those French classics, which are include Croque Monsieur ou Madame ($12/13), Eggs à la Basquaise ($17) and Steak Frites with Béarnaise ($26), for my follow-up post. Available to wash everything down is fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juice, a handful of morning cocktails and glass or carafe options from a small wine list.

If you travel by Metro, there’s added incentive thanks to The W’s prime location on top of a station – in Hollywood. After all, you may as well stroll around nearby Space 15 Twenty while you digest.

Saturday – Sunday

Brunch: 10 AM – 3 PM


Delphine at the W Hollywood Hotel & Residences
6250 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Reservations recommended

Shout It From the Rooftop: Blogger Prom Venue Finalized

Preface: This post is brought to you by my work for the Blogger Prom Committee. Blogger Prom (official blog) takes place on Wednesday, July 22, 2009 in West Hollywood, CA. Free cocktails, delicious food, sweet giveaways, a gorgeous venue and only bloggers in kitschy, cool, weird prom attire. It’s closed to bloggers and invite-only so if you are a blogger and can make it, contact me (esthert at gmail) with your URL via email. “Closed” also entails no more invites once we reach capacity!

As they always say: Location, location, location!! We have finalized the venue of our phat Blogger Prom, and it will be on the rooftop of The Hyatt Andaz Hotel, located right on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.

That’s right – the rooftop. Caroline and I (Esther) made a visit to the space and were absolutely floored – so to speak! The north view is of the Hollywood Hills and the south, The Sunset Strip in all its glory.

Not only that, Andaz will be providing food featuring their very own chef Sebastien Archambault, who hails from France by way of a short stint in Mexico. He procures the menu at the hotel restaurant, RH, with fine detail and is always revising and perfecting. Our blog-happy guests will enjoy a very special Summer Californian menu at Blogger Prom.

Credit to TripAdvisor.com
The Andaz Hotel just finished their serious $35 Million remodel in January of this year so Blogger Prom guests will be some of the first to really experience the “reformed” hotel known as The Riot Hyatt. Yes – this is the famed stop-off where members of Led Zeppelin have rented entire floors and driven motorcycles through the hallways (the movie Almost Famous also recreated these scenes here), Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones dropped a TV off the balcony and Jim Morrison permanently lived for years.

So be ready to enjoy nothing short of a posh, pool-side setting nestled in between some of the best views available in all of Los Angeles. Better wear your bathing suit underneath your cummerbund or sea-green ruffle dress. 😉

Because bloggers are the new rockstars.

Andaz West Hollywood
8401 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, California


Cross-posted at The Official Blogger Prom Blog

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