The sun is out – when June Gloom isn’t in, that is. But when the high of summer arrives, you’ll bet it’ll be time for that picnic. Whether at The Hollywood Bowl, Cinespia or Barnsdall Art Park, picnicking in Los Angeles has become more than a rite of passage. It’s now an act of communal expression, with everyone in the party bringing their own contribution to the portable, potable feast.
Back in the Fall, I made a little getaway to a familiar area (no, I won’t use that word that begins with “stay” and ends with “-tion”). It was a welcome chance to really explore what I already thought I knew, and the Hotel Wilshire was the perfect home base.
The Hotel Wilshire is walking distance to LACMA, but also to Petersen Automotive Museum. Both museums are the venues of so many cultural events, which makes the hotel seem like a great place for out-of-town visitors to establish their base or for locals to crash after a nearby gala. The rotating exhibits make it perfect for locals to visit time and time again.
Until a month ago, I had never been to Palm Springs. The truth is that it was easy to dismiss the destination since, having grown up in the Midwest, my aversion to desert climate had clouded my view. But on a recent media trip, I got to see what I had been missing all these years. There is a ton of Los Angeles-related history in Palm Springs, and until you see it, you’re missing out on a lot of Angeleno vacationing culture.
I’m a bit of a Mid-Century Modern bandwagoner in that I chose furniture and decor of that era to decorate my own space on my most recent move. I love the clean lines, simplicity and functionality – and the desire to create expansiveness of ordinarily small spaces. And while the most obvious pop culture example on TV now is Mad Men, we all remember the recently departed LACMA exhibit, California Design 1930-1965: “Living in a Modern Way” (which I was eager enough to see on a member preview). You can imagine how excited I was to be staying at The Del Marcos Hotel, designed by William F. Cody. It’s the hotel that actually launched his career.
It’s a perfectly sized boutique hotel – just 16 rooms – and every room or suite is unique with its own name and well-appointed with era-specific furnishings. It’s one convenient block away from Downtown Palm Springs, but a perfectly quaint getaway once you enter the glass walled, naturally lit foyer. The centerpiece of the calm courtyard, which enlists a well-curated, period-appropriate soundtrack, is a large, buoyant, salt water pool. There are also plenty of retro-styled bicycles available to ride around town. The place, with all its touches, is absolutely charming. On Sunday, October 7, 2012, Del Marcos is receiving its Class 1 Historic Site Designation – so drop by from 3-5 PM if you plan to visit Palm Springs that day, as light refreshments will be served at the ceremony.
Best James Bond Quotes (Sean Connery era)
I grew up with a particular older brother who had all of the James Bond flicks (half on Beta, half on VHS), so I had enough exposure to the British spy series to pick the cues up quite a few years later. Just recently, it re-started with my viewing of the Mad Men Season 5 finale. That Peggy and Don viewed Casino Royale while playing hooky from work and the finale’s credits closed out with You Only Live Twice made me take notice of everything going on around us. My girlfriend, who volunteers at The Aero, mentioned their Bond marathon. The James Bond frenzy is currently overtaking Los Angeles.
Why? Only the 50th anniversary of the Sean Connery-to-Daniel Craig franchise, I eventually found out, and we Angelenos have plenty of chances to get dosages of our own:
American Cinematheque’s The Aero Theatre (Santa Monica) is concluding their Complete James Bond Retrospective this weekend with Golden Eye and Tomorrow Never Dies on Friday, June 22nd and Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace on Sunday, June 24th. The Egyptian (Hollywood) will be screening The World Is Not Enough and Die Another day on Saturday, the 23rd.
If you want to see Bond inspiration articulated in the museum, check out the “…Is James Bond” exhibit at LACMA, now through September 9, which happens to be co-organized with Loyola Marymount School of Film and Television. You can also catch Bond movie double screenings here every Thursday in July and September. (You can also score a free summer pass at the museum with purchase of regular general admission!)
But it’s not really celebrating Bond if you don’t toast his tradition of drinking, or concocting, the classics. Lo and behold – today is also National Martini Day! But if you’re like me, you already know which places really know how to make a martini just how you like it. So let’s mix things up with some help from the spy.
If you want to go for a classic formulated and named by the spy himself a la Casino Royale (circa 1953), and the cocktail that just so happens to be Ian Fleming’s favorite, you’ll look for a Vesper. Just remember that you’ll want to correct that infamous phrase to “Stirred, not shaken” and you’re set. (No man is perfect, after all.) But if James Bond were in Los Angeles, you can bet that you’d see him at one of these awesome bars:
After a screening or exhibit viewing at LACMA, head on over to the adjacent Ray’s & Stark Bar, the bar of which is helmed by Paul Sanguinetti, where you can order a Cali Blonde (think Eva Green with a dye job). It’s essentially a Vesper made with Hangar One vodka, Martin Millers gin, Lillet Blanc and lemon peel.
If you prefer the flipped version, you’ll go for the Reverse Vesper at Hemingway’s Lounge with Alex Straus:
3 oz Akvinta Vodka
1 oz Beefeater Gin
1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
Stir these with ice, strain and garnish with a twist
Here with the Reverse, the vodka and gin proportions are switched because after all, 007 gravitated more towards vodka further along his career.
Take things to the next level with a barrel-aged cocktail tribute to author Ian Fleming called The Living Daylights over at The Spare Room inside Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel.
Jerry Thomas bitters
Naomi Schimek, the bar manager, explains, “Ian Fleming wrote all of the James Bond stories from his estate Goldeneye on the beach in Jamaica,” where he of course drank a lot of rum, too. “Like cocktail aging in a barrel, a story develops over time, so we thought this was a fitting tribute to Mr. Fleming, the brilliant man who gave us so many wonderful stories.” Fantastic! (Though Naomi had me at Velvet Falernum and Green Chartreuse.)
You can also head on over to Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix‘s Pour Vous, the beautiful new, admittedly French-and-not-English cocktail and Champagne bar. But never fear, because Lindsay Nader has put together the vermouth-based Eau de Chambery, an herbal extravaganza that Pablo can see “Bond sipping [on] as he spits game at a model.”
Viva la Bond and Happy National (modified) Martini Day! I’m definitely grabbing a Vesper or something else Bond-inspired after work. Enjoy you and yours!
Ray’s & Stark Bar
5905 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
6356 Hollywood Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90028
The Spare Room at Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
7000 Hollywood Blvd
Hollywood, CA 90028
5574 Melrose Ave
Hollywood, CA 90004
1159 North Western Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029
I’ve always been a fan of Stark Bar.
What’s not to love? Great cocktails made with fresh ingredients and spectacular, savory bar bites are yours to enjoy within one of the most cosmopolitan confines in Los Angeles. Ray’s and Stark Bar bring purpose and focus to LACMA‘s outdoor scene. It’s the stalwart at the center of a free-flowing patio in which the art is in the food and cocktails – a scene I’m readily available to insert myself into as I’m a new LACMA member!
But I wasn’t completely sure how much of my favor for Stark Bar would translate to the dining room at Ray’s (or if any of it would). Well into the second course of our media dinner party, it became clear that all those Stark Bar’s bar bites I’ve become familiar with really are a mere introduction to the depth of Kris Morningstar’s cooking.
There were some amazing flavors to be had from one course to the next. It’s easy to see why Ray’s and Stark Bar are one of the representative Best New Restaurants in Esquire Magazine’s recently published 2012 list. It’s no detail that the cocktails, by Michel Dozois, were a delight. The ones served (the names of which I irresponsibly didn’t record) were refreshing and particularly complementary to the dinner.
As was a theme during the meal, Kris masterfully integrated hisÂ garden ingredients into the original design of his dishes. We have all had an heirloom tomato salad, but I was floored by his version, which came topped with charred local squid, shiso and Bottarga vinaigrette.Â The Granola, aÂ wholly imaginative dish in itself (who serves granola for dinner?), had such complexities that each bite made for an evolutionary taleÂ til the very last spoonful. It was refreshing, yet savory, yet sweet and herbal…you will just have to try it before the end of the season, yourself.
TheÂ Pork Belly was a crispy, deliciousÂ slice, as coupled with a sweet cube of golden watermelon. The black vinegar and basil brought everything together while delicatelyÂ balancing out the sweetness of the other two. The Sonoma Lamb was a savory masterpieceÂ and tender asÂ as can beÂ with Butter beans, corno di toro peppers, baby artichokes, oregano and rouille – more evocative of the bar menu I’ve become accustomed with.
The dessert, which was a sweet and savory delight cooked and packaged in an iron skillet, was such a nice nightcap. It wasÂ the perfect amount of sweet with just enough savory breading, and I devoured every inch.
With Ray’s, it’s apparent thatÂ museum restaurants in Los Angeles have finallyÂ moved beyond the obligatory watering hole and feeding quartersÂ for art patrons. Instead, the space has itselfÂ become a viable destination for those looking for solid cocktails and bar bites or, what’s more, an inspirational meal.Â Since thisÂ makes for an overallÂ exciting time to be at LA’s representative art institution, it really is something all Angelenos can be proud of.
All food, wine and cocktails were hosted.
It may be commonplace for a museum to have a gift shop and furthermore, a restaurant, available within its walls for the convenience of its guests. The quality of Ray’s and Stark Bar, however, serves to make it a viable rival as far as being a destination in itself.
Upon approach, the beautiful but complementary decor and setting of Ray’s and Stark Bar (so-named after the late film producer and former LACMA Trustee) expertly enable the restaurant and bar to blend in with its surroundings on the museum’s middle patio. But nothing about it dwindles in comparison to even the largest campus of the largest art museum in the western United States.
Certainly not the food menu, curated by Kris Morningstar (District), and certainly not the cocktail selection – which currently runs 25 deep – by Michel Dozois (Neve Ice). The treats are just as savory as what you’ve found on Chef Morningstar’s menus past – thank god – and at first taste during a media cocktail party, just as delicious.
The charcuterie, pates, rillette and cheese are all top-notch. You’ll find your standard selections of meat but also a decent selection of rarer cheeses available to start your evening off on the right foot.
The beef tendon – whether or not you’ve ever particularly been a fan of connective tissue – is a must-order as it stands one of the most tender meat dishes on the menu. The chile relleno, with its fillings of chorizo, goat cheese, dates and almond sauce, is such a uniquely rich rendition – it’s no wonder the (venison) version Kris left back at District is one of Alan Richman’s top five eats of 2010 in GQ Mag. This is also an essential item in your visit.
The flatbreads are no slouch, either, thanks to their wood-fired oven and apricot wood upon which they are cooked and browned. The pie crusts bubble up around the edges and are finished off with that charred crisp only an oven like that can achieve. The combination of toppings are simple (tomato and oregano)Â inspirational (truffle cheese, fontina, mushrooms)Â or plain thematic (goat shoulder and goat cheese). Truth be told, though, the real danger is letting these fill you up and thereby preventing you from exploring the rarer treats on the menu. Even their burrata is given a not-so-typical treatment with delicious, savory olive oil and tapenade.
FeelingÂ the beef tendon was too tame?Â Try the blood sausage, which comes dressed in pea tendrils and pickled cippolini onions. Or, you can order the crispy, fried head cheese as another savory treat. The mustardy, tangyÂ carrot piccalilli that accompanies it gives the plate a good kick.Â
And if you’re in the mood for a French classic, theÂ Croque Madame, with itsÂ sunny side up egg on top,Â is cooked to perfection in all its rich glory. You’re best sharing one of these sandwiches unless this eye of the egg is what you particularly crave.
And the cocktails…oh, the delicious cocktails. Michel Dozois, whoseÂ cocktails headline Ray’s and Stark Bar and whose Neve Ice keeps said cocktails chilled, said he was given the task of coming up with 100 cocktails yet was able to convince the higher-ups to allow himÂ whittle it down to 25. You will find yourself paging through that still-large selection not able to quite make up your mind and even quite possibly throwing up your hands. No worries, because Michel will be happy to help you discover the cocktail exactly to your liking.
It’s not that the recipes are complicated; to the contrary, they’re quite simple. But the selection of spirits, combined withÂ juicesÂ madeÂ in-house, make for some very vibrant cocktails. Even Smokey and the Bandit, which employs Laphroaig, made even the band-aid-ish Islay single malt taste refreshing.
If you’re looking for a light, airy treat, try the Morning Glory Fizz – with Scotch, Absinth, egg white, freshly squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup. And though I love rye, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d enjoy it with grapefruit juice as in Michel’s Dr. Blinker. If you’re looking for something sweet and spicy, try the Owl and Pussycat, made with rum, freshly squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup, chilis and cherries.
Truth be told, there are really just so many cocktails and treats – not to mention mains – to try on this menu. I was just lucky to get a peek. In all, though, it was a great window into what promises to be an interesting and exciting place to explore all the corners of your palate. Art on this block has indeed transcended above and beyond to include the other senses, making the kitchen at Ray’s and Stark Bar an essential and rich (in multiple ways) LACMA experience.
All food and cocktails were hosted.