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Warm cheese and spicy cocktails at Barcito

One of downtown Los Angeles’ best low-key spots for a drink and a bite to eat is Barcito, an Argentinean-style tapas restaurant and bar.

Located in the South Park neighborhood, Barcito has been my go-to after-work hang for the past couple of years, taking over the short-lived ChocoChicken space on 12th Street. It’s easy and convenient — gratuity is included in the menu prices, and it’s within walking distance of a Metro stop. And drinks on the happy hour menu, called aperitivo hour here, come with snacks.

Food + beverage

My favorite dish at Barcito is hands-down the provoleta, grilled Argentinean provolone cheese served warm with toasted bread and a grilled half lemon. This provolone is mild in flavor and crumbly, unlike its Italian cousin. Squeeze the lemon juice over the cheese, cut off a slice of warm cheese, spread it over the toasted French bread and enjoy. So simple, so satisfying.

Provoleta at Barcito

Provoleta

As for drinks, I’m partial to the Paloma on tap. Barcito’s version is spicy with the addition of habanero to the requisite tequila and grapefruit.

Paloma at Barcito

Paloma

During aperitivo hour, Barcito offers a cocktail, beer and a shot, or a glass of wine for $9, which includes a snack trio (nuts, olives and chips) and gratuity. Stick to the beer + shot or glass of wine for maximum value here. Also, happy hour is offered every day of the week, which should be attractive to all the people living in the nearby new apartment and condo buildings.

Barcito recently started offering breakfast and lunch, so I’m going to have stop by soon to check it out. Stay tuned!

05

11 2017

Larchmont Sanctuary Spa offers luxe experiences in neighborhood setting

I’ve been to large chain spas and luxury hotel spas, but sometimes a smaller, more intimate-feeling spa is just what the doctor ordered. That’s where Larchmont Sanctuary Spa comes in.

larchmont sanctuary spa outside

Centrally located in the always-cute Larchmont Village neighborhood of Los Angeles, the spa is housed in a converted bungalow on Larchmont Boulevard within walking distance of all the shops and restaurants in the area. Because it’s in a house, there’s a backyard where you can get treatments outside — a unique experience perfect for beautiful LA weather.

larchmont sanctuary spa cabana

Larchmont Sancutary Spa, which used to be called Le Petite Retreat before new ownership took over a few years ago, has just about everything you would be looking for in a full-service spa, with the exception of a wet sauna and a communal hot tub. However, there are now new Himalayan salt treatments, including a stone massage, scrub and inhaler available for purchase, and all spa products are now organic and cruelty-free. The spa also has a special ergonomic copper hydrotherapy tub that can be booked as part of a package.

As part of the ongoing improvements, the spa plans to update many of the common areas, including the Relaxation Room and the locker rooms.

“It’s all very exciting, and we can’t wait for everyone to be able to enjoy the new ambiance,” said Scott Buss, co-owner of Larchmont Sanctuary Spa. “We are [also] one of the few spas in Los Angeles with therapists certified in oncology treatments to enable individuals that are going through, or have gone through, cancer treatments to safely enjoy the benefits of a massage or facial.”

My experience

I got a Himalayan stone massage from Vivian, a very nice young woman. Because I have been suffering from neck, shoulder and upper back pain for over a year, I asked for medium to firm pressure, and boy, did Vivian deliver. She used a combination of deep tissue and sports massage, targeting my problem areas and stretching out the muscles that needed it. The salt stones were heated up and used to target those stubborn knots, loosening them up. I felt good afterward for almost a week, which is a big deal when you’ve been dealing with pain almost every day for more than a year.

I would definitely go back to Larchmont Sanctuary Spa, and I’ll probably ask for Vivian again, now that I know her massages are sure to make me feel great. The spa also has super comfy robes and luxe sheets on the massage tables. And being a smaller operation means you get more personal attention, which isn’t always the case at some of the bigger spas. There are reasonably priced memberships, too. So next time you’re going to YogaWorks or getting some Salt & Straw ice cream down the street, stop by and check it out.

Note: This visit to Larchmont Sanctuary Spa was complimentary.

01

07 2017

Get 15% off admission to Masters of Taste food festival

Masters of Taste

Masters of Taste

The 2nd Annual Masters of Taste, a luxury food and beverage festival, will be held May 7, 2017, on the field of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Masters of Taste will bring together food and beverage from more than 70 restaurants and chefs, confectioners and bakers, bartenders, wineries, craft breweries, pressed juicers, coffee roasters, as well as live entertainment. The list includes:

Bone Kettle and Komodo, Chef Erwin Tjahyadi (Pasadena and Los Angeles)
CAST at the Viceroy Santa Monica, Chef Larry Monaco (Santa Monica)
Celestino, Chef Calogero Drago (Pasadena)
Church & State and Spring, Chef Tony Esnault (Downtown Los Angeles)
HACHÉ LA, Chef Michael “Mick” Schepers (Silver Lake)
Hamasaku, Chef Yoya Takahashi (Los Angeles)
Hyperion Public, Chef Paddy Aubrey (Silver Lake and Studio City)
Little Beast, Chef Jose Perez (Eagle Rock)
Magnolia House, Chef Evan Colter (Pasadena)
Mama Lion, Chef Michael Hung (Koreatown)
Mexikosher, Chef Katsuji Tanabi (Los Angeles)
Milk & Honey, Chef Lulu Cai (Hollywood)
Miro, Chef Gavin Mills (Downtown Los Angeles)
Momed, Chef Alex Sarkissian (Beverly Hills and Atwater Village)
SpireWorks, Chef Kuniko Yagi (Westwood Village and Eagle Rock)
Redbird, Chef Neal Fraser (Downtown Los Angeles)
The Raymond 1886, Chef Tim Guiltinan (Pasadena)
True Food Kitchen, Chef Phil Noresetter (Pasadena)
Venice Whaler, Chef Nick Liberato (Venice)

Masters of Taste, which is for those 21 years old and older only, will take place Sunday, May 7. A VIP Power Hour will be held from 3-4 p.m. and general admission from 4-7 p.m.

Tickets cost $105 for general admission and $185 for VIP. But use code SES17, specifically for ShopEatSleep readers, and get 15% off the ticket price. Buy tickets today!

Best of all? All proceeds from Masters of Taste will directly benefit Union Station Homeless Services. Last year, the event raised more than $435,000 for Union Station Homeless Services, and this year Masters of Taste hopes to reach  $560,000!

ShopEatSleep Masters of Taste

23

04 2017

Beauty product review: Cotz mineral sunscreen

Cotz mineral sunscreen. From Cotz Skin Care.

Cotz mineral sunscreen. From Cotz Skin Care.

Living in sunny Southern California, it’s a must to wear sunscreen daily. And since this stuff is going on your face, you want to ensure it’s good for you, right?

Check out Cotz mineral sunscreen, which uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays. While I still love Jan Marini face sunscreen, Cotz is great because it’s tinted with a non-greasy, matte finish, making it ideal for everyday wear.

And even though Cotz mineral sunscreen is tinted, the pigment is darker coming out of the tube than when it goes on your face. It also feels really thick on your fingers, but it goes on smooth and light.

Cotz products range from 30 SPF to 58 SPF. The one I’ve been using, Cotz Face for Natural Skin Tones, has 40 SPF. Cotz mineral sunscreens differ from chemical sunscreens by creating a physical barrier reflecting harmful UV rays. When you slather on a chemical sunscreen, your skin absorbs laboratory-made carbon compounds that absorb UV rays and release their energy in ways that don’t harm the skin. Read about some of the debate between using chemical and mineral sunscreens.

Cotz mineral sunscreen is perfect for Angelenos commuting to and from work, whether it’s in the car (those UV rays are getting you through the window) or while walking to and from the Metro, like I do. I’ve also worn it to the beach, and it holds up just as well in lots of direct sunlight for an extended period of time. It’s my new favorite face sunscreen.

Note: Cotz mineral sunscreen was provided complementary in a gift bag given out at an Organic Spa Magazine event held at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.

05

07 2016

Travelogue: Anna Maria Island, Florida

I recently visited Florida for the first time since I was a child. I have to admit that I wasn’t very excited about it; I mean, I live in Los Angeles, so I don’t need to go to Florida to find a beach (and then there’s the humidity…). But I have to say that visiting Anna Maria Island in mid April was actually pretty darn nice.

We stayed in a rented house just a couple of blocks away from where Bradenton Beach meets Holmes Beach. The beach wasn’t crowded, had clean, white sand, and clear blue water.

Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island

Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island

We took a boat tour of Sarasota Bay with Capt. Kathe. Actually, since our group was so large, we needed two boats, so I was on a boat helmed by Capt. Kathe’s daughter, Capt. Katie Scarlett (I assume Kathe is a fan of “Gone With the Wind”). Katie Scarlett is easy-going and fun, and she took us from Cortez around the bay so we could see dolphins, some of which even played in the wake of our boat. We didn’t see any manatees, though it’s supposedly possible. We also made a stop at Beer Can Island, which is beautiful, despite its name.

So this happened today. #dolphins #nbd #florida #imonaboat

A video posted by Maya Meinert (@shopeatsleep) on

Dolphin action #dolphins #florida #video

A video posted by Hon. Rory Owen Delaney (@mbdfilms) on

Capt. Kathe docks at Star Fish Company Market & Restaurant. If you’d like to eat there after your tour — and you should — Kathe and co. will call in your order while you’re on the boat so you don’t have to wait in the huge line that forms at lunchtime. I had the fried grouper sandwich with cheese grits on the side. The grits are really, really cheesy, so maybe go for the fries if you’re not inclined to that kind of fish-and-cheese combo.

Fried grouper sandwich and cheese grits at Star Fish Company

Fried grouper sandwich and cheese grits at Star Fish Company

My husband and I also went parasailing, something I’ve always wanted to do. There are lots of parasailing companies on Anna Maria Island, but we went with Bradenton Beach Parasailing. We got 15 minutes up in the air, which came with photos, a higher height than the 10-minute flight and a dip in the ocean, for $89 per person (the 10-minute option is $69 per person). Those 15 minutes go by fast, so I can’t imagine how quick the 10-minute flight would be!

Going up! parasailing

Going up!

Parasailing

Parasailing

We had lunch one day at the City Pier Restaurant located at the end of the Anna Maria Island City Pier. While the food wasn’t necessarily anything special, the fish was cooked nicely, and the ambiance — which includes a view of the ocean while listening to a live musician — was spot-on. The blackened grouper on top of a Greek salad hit the spot. (You’ll find grouper on just about every menu in this area.)

Blackened grouper on Greek salad at City Pier Restaurant

Blackened grouper on Greek salad at City Pier Restaurant

For my mother-in-law’s birthday, we had dinner at Beach Bistro. We started with a sunset cocktail hour, then moved inside for our meal.

Sunset cocktail hour at Beach Bistro

Sunset cocktail hour at Beach Bistro

We opted for the three-course $65 tasting menu (there’s an optional “exotics” course available for an extra $25 that includes your choice of tenderloin rillette, seared foie gras, seared scallops or “Lobstercargots”). I had the oyster mushroom farro, bouillabaisse and Prailine Alexandra, a house-made praline with vanilla bean ice cream and Frangelico. I heard a lot of good things about Beach Bistro from other visitors to Anna Maria Island, but in the end, I thought the meal was nice but not necessarily a standout.

Oyster mushroom farro at Beach Bistro

Oyster mushroom farro at Beach Bistro

Bouillabaisse at Beach Bistro

Bouillabaisse at Beach Bistro

Praline Alexandra at Beach Bistro

Praline Alexandra at Beach Bistro

This trip to Florida changed my mind about the state — well, as long as I’m staying on an island or beach (wink, wink).

09

05 2016

Do Catalina Island for free on your birthday

Catalina Island

Catalina Island

Want to do something fun for your birthday but don’t want to spend a lot of money?

Consider a staycation at Catalina Island, where you can get a bunch of free or discounted stuff on your birthday. That even includes a free trip to the island on the Catalina Express. You have to travel on your actual birthday and preregister online, but then you get to save up to $76.50 roundtrip. Score!

And once you get to Catalina, more freebies await: BOGO parasailing flights, free admission to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, a free meal at Buffalo Nickel Restaurant (online reviews are mixed) and more. Take a look:

~ Rent a bike for two hours from Brown’s Bike and get the rest of the day free until 5 p.m. plus a bottle of water

~ Two-for-one climbs at the Descanso Beach Club climbing wall (open weekends and holidays only)

~ Free cup of coffee at Catalina Coffee and Cookie Co. (must show Catalina Express birthday ribbon)

~ Free scoop of ice cream, buy one pound of salt water taffy and get an extra 1/4 Pound free, and buy any iced coffee drink or smoothie and get a second of equal or lesser value 50 percent off at Lloyd’s of Avalon

~ Buy the mani-pedi special at Island Breeze Spa and Salon for $50 and receive a 50-minute Swedish massage or facial for $69 (M-Th) or $79 (Fri-Sun), or a 25-minute massage or facial for $45

If you’re staying overnight, check out these discounts at Catalina Island hotels:

The Avalon Hotel: Receive a free bottle of wine or sparkling cider.

Hotel Vista Del Mar: Get a complimentary bottle of champagne or wine, celebratory balloons, continental breakfast, and evening milk and cookies

Hotel Catalina and Courtyard Garden Suites: Get 10 percent off one night; 20 percent off two nights

Catalina Island Inn: Receive a complimentary box of Lloyd’s of Avalon chocolates plus your choice of champagne or sparkling cider

Hotel Metropole: Get 20 percent off on any room and save $50 on a couples massage at the hotel spa

26

03 2016

Eat well without breaking the bank at Yalla Mediterranean

Yalla Mediterranean falafel and steak

Yalla Mediterranean falafel and steak

Yalla Mediterranean is quickly becoming one of my go-to spots for a quick and healthy meal. For someone who loves all kinds of Mediterranean food, Yalla is the perfect option, as it offers foods inspired by Greece, Morocco, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Tunisia and Egypt. Chicken, beef, lamb, salmon, falafel — you name it, Yalla Mediterranean‘s got it.

Yalla’s fast-casual set-up is kind of like Chipotle’s. You choose a preparation — a wrap, salad (including fattoush), or plate with rice, grilled vegetables or lentils, and three sides. Then you choose your protein — falafel, chicken (skewers or shawarma), steak skewers, salmon skewers or kefta skewers. There are even different wrap styles to choose from — Greek, Jerusalem street style, Moroccan and Lebanese. Doesn’t look like I’ll be running out of options anytime soon!

I’ve tried the harissa-marinated tri-tip and falafel on a plate with rice and lentils. The proteins were cooked perfectly, and the lentils were flavorful without being overpowering. The Israeli couscous and Greek potato salad sides were my favorite. I’ve also had chicken shawarma on a fattoush salad, which is a tasty low-carb option. My husband liked his ground beef and lamb kefta wrap, which he got Greek style per the restaurant’s recommendation.

Chicken shawarma on fattoush salad Yalla Mediterranean

Chicken shawarma on fattoush salad

Not only is the food at Yalla Mediterranean delicious (it’s all made to order, so that’s a definite plus), it’s also hormone-free, responsibly raised and locally sourced, according to its press release. There’s even compostable plates, cups and cutlery.

And there’s beer. And wine. And Greek frozen yogurt topped with chopped baklava. I repeat: fro-yo with baklava.

Yalla has locations in Northern and Southern California, including one in downtown Culver City, where I’ve visited a couple of times.

Perhaps the best part? For the ample amount of food you get, the mains are reasonably priced at just under $10. Healthy, tasty and economical? I’m there.

Note: A meal here was hosted.

06

03 2016

Sweat your butt off with WundaBar Pilates

WundaBar PilatesI consider myself pretty adept at the art of pilates. I’m by no means an expert, and I know I still have a long way to go, but I take classes two to three times a week. So when WundaBar Pilates approached me to try one of its classes, I thought I would perform pretty well.

WundaBar Pilates uses the WundaFormer, a patented version of the classic reformer machine that incorporates all major pilates apparatus in one machine. The reformer, chair, jump board and ballet barre are all in one machine, saving space and making workouts more varied and efficient.

For 45 minutes I sweated my butt off while planking, crunching, bridging, lunging, jumping (on the board) and more. Classes are focused and fast-paced. My instructor, Bridgette, was tough but also allowed us to modify the moves if we were struggling (and I was definitely struggling). I actually overheated, so make sure to hydrate and bring a towel!

Wundaformer Wundabar Pilates

WundaFormer

The first class is free, but after that it’s $30 per class. Luckily there’s a Gilt City deal for WundaBar Pilates in California (there’s also a New York City location) being offered right now.

Note: This class was hosted. Photos courtesy of WundaBar Pilates.

15

02 2016

Cafe Diva Steamboat Springs offers eclectic seasonal menu

Elk sausage and manchego empanadas at Cafe Diva

Elk sausage and manchego empanadas at Cafe Diva

Every year I visit my in-laws in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and I try to visit a different restaurant each time. This year we went to Cafe Diva, a favorite among the family.

Located in Torian Plum Plaza at the base of the ski mountain, Cafe Diva Steamboat Springs focuses its menu on local, seasonal ingredients. Dish preparations vary in style and include influences from Latin, Asian, European and other cultures.

My favorite dishes came at the beginning and end of the meal.

My starter of elk sausage and manchego cheese empanadas with a poblano-pepita pesto and cilantro-lime cream was an interesting take on the Latin-American snack using very-Colorado elk meat. This was my first time eating elk, and I liked it a lot, mostly because it wasn’t as gamey as I thought it would be. My husband’s elk tenderloin was really nice, too.

The dessert we shared — a take on bananas foster with Grand Marnier-vanilla bread pudding, roasted banana gelato, rum salted caramel and candied pecans — was also a standout. All the flavors worked together nicely, as did the different textures. The roasted banana gelato was my favorite part, as I love everything banana!

Bananas foster at Cafe Diva

Bananas foster

When it came to my main dish, seared diver scallops wrapped in bacon and served on a bed of spinach spaetzle with lemon-vermouth butter and capers, I wasn’t as impressed. The dish was too salty, which made it hard to enjoy. I should have ordered the sablefish with white balsamic-orange miso served in a coconut broth with snow peas, shiitake mushrooms and crispy ramen noodles. I had a taste of my sister-in-law’s, and I found it much more balanced. However, she thought it was a bit on the sweet side, so maybe I just liked it because my dish was so salty.

Diver scallops

Diver scallops

Sablefish

Sablefish

Even though there were some hits and misses, because my family likes Cafe Diva Steamboat Springs so much I’d be willing to try it again, especially since it is one of the few nicer restaurants in town (which is not very big).

07

02 2016

BFree gluten-free bread won’t crumble in sad, dry mess

BFree gluten-free bread Multiseed Bagels on board

I’ve tried many gluten-free breads. Not because I’m one to (blindly) follow food trends, but because my husband has a gluten intolerance (for real, OK?). Most GF breads just aren’t up to par; they’re often dry, crumbly and tasteless. But I’ve finally found a brand that is none of those things, which means it’s pretty darn close to bread with gluten in it.

BFree gluten-free bread, based out of Dublin, Ireland, with U.S. manufacturing in Montebello, California, offers a range of products that you’d swear had gluten in them. The sliced bread, bagels, rolls and wraps are all close approximations of their conventional counterparts, though some succeed better than others.

The sliced bread, which comes in both white and brown seeded varieties, tasted best to me in terms of both flavor and texture. The bagels are also decent. The rolls are a bit doughy, while the wraps are a bit dry, though not dry enough to fall apart when handling them. I did notice that none of the products toasted like bread with gluten in them, though I’m not one to toast my bread too dark anyway.

BFree gluten-free bread Brown Seeded Sandwich Loaf

BFree gluten-free bread is made with a blend of buckwheat and corn flours, and gets its protein and fiber from peas, apples and potatoes. The products are billed as allergen- and vegan-friendly (no gluten, wheat, dairy or egg), low-fat and high-fiber, and non-GMO. And for the calorie-conscious, the multigrain wraps contain only 100 calories.

You can’t buy the breads online yet, but you can find BFree gluten-free bread products in California at Ralphs, Lucky’s, Raley’s and Save Mart stores, as well as at DeMoulas Market Basket in the Northeast, ShopRite on the East Coast, Meijer in the Midwest and BJ’s nationwide.

Note: Complimentary BFree products were provided for this review. All photos courtesy of BFree.

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21

01 2016