Archive for the ‘Travel’Category

Travelogue: The Pepper Pot cafe in Dublin, Ireland

Soup, salad and bread at The Pepper Pot in Dublin

Soup, salad and bread at The Pepper Pot in Dublin

Conveniently located just off the main shopping drag of Grafton Street, The Pepper Pot in Dublin, Ireland, is the perfect place to rest those weary feet with some lunch, tea or sweets.

I ate here twice last fall during a week-long trip to Dublin. Must have been good, right? The main reason my husband and I decided to return was for the brown soda bread, an Irish staple. Pepper Pot’s version is the best I’ve had: thick yet fluffy, with a nutty flavor that comes from the baked-in whole nuts and seeds.

The restaurant, which is located inside the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre on the second floor underneath a large, airy skylit roof, serves seasonal salads, soups, sandwiches and tarts, as well as cakes, teas and all-day breakfast. I had a salad of field greens, figs, almonds and burrata that was light and fresh. Rory had an apple and parsnip curry soup that hit the spot on a chilly fall Dublin afternoon. The adorable mismatched plates and tea cups don’t hurt, either.

Enjoying a spot of tea

Enjoying a spot of tea

I also had a breakfast dish, housemade granola with yogurt and berry compote. While the flavors were great, this was a lot of granola for me at once. I would have preferred more yogurt, but my sister-in-law said she liked the dish as it was. To each her own! Also, Pepper Pot offers various toppings for its organic porridge — not just the usual single option.

Granola and yogurt

Granola and yogurt

It’s worth nothing that the restaurant makes gluten-free and dairy-free bread for those who request it. Angelenos should have no problem finding something they’ll like here.

The Pepper Pot

The Pepper Pot

24

11 2014

Travelogue: taking in the arts in Scottsdale, Arizona

Taliesin West

Taliesin West

When I think of Scottsdale, Arizona, spas, golf and swimming pools come to mind. But now, after having spent some time there, I know that art — in all forms — is just as integral to the city’s identity.

I had the opportunity to visit two of Scottsdale’s cultural centers: the Musical Instrument Museum and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. I would go back to either in a heartbeat. Each was a unique experience that left me wanting more.

The Musical Instrument Museum, which is actually in neighboring Phoenix, houses more than 6,000 instruments from 200 countries and territories. This collection makes for hours of fun education for anyone interested in music and world culture. The upper level is categorized by region of the world, and the lower level features special collections, including an exhibit of self-playing instruments and an experiential gallery. There’s even a concert hall with live performances. Allow at least half a day here. Our two hours were not enough!

Guitar exhibit

Guitar exhibit

Chinese instruments

Chinese instruments

This fall, on Oct. 18 and 19, the museum will host an outdoor, two-day music festival celebrating musical traditions from all over the world, with musical performances, dancers, street performers and food trucks.

We also toured Taliesin West (pictured above), architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s West Coast home, studio and instructional campus. We took the 90-minute tour of the grounds and house that includes a lot of historical information from informed docents who clearly enjoy what they do.

I’ve also heard that the Museum of Contemporary Art is a must-see as well. This fall and winter, from Sept. 28 through Jan. 11, 2015, the museum will house the Donald Rumsfeld-inspired “Covert Operations: Investigating the Unknowns,” an exhibit from 13 international artists based on the idea of expansion of federal power and infringement of constitutional rights in the wake of 9/11. Given Arizona’s Republican leanings, this should be an interesting show.

So next time you’re thinking about taking a trip, especially one within driving distance of Los Angeles (6 hours by car), then consider Scottsdale. You can relax at the spa, play the links and take in some culture.

Note: These visits were hosted.

19

07 2014

Travelogue: Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort in Scottsdale, Arizona

Fairmont Scottsdale room

Fairmont Scottsdale room

I recently visited Scottsdale, Arizona, and had the opportunity to stay at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort. Located in North Scottsdale, it’s a little out of the way, but that may just be the whole point.

The Fairmont Scottsdale is a sprawling resort complete with multiple pools and eateries, as well as a two-story wellness spa, for maximum desert-style relaxation.

First, the rooms. Our room had ample space, with a walk-in closet, desk, seating area and private balcony. The bed was comfy, and the bathroom had both a stand-up shower and a tub, as well as Le Labo bath products. No complaints.

View from our room

View from our room

Welcome amenities at Fairmont Scottsdale

Welcome amenities at Fairmont Scottsdale

Amply stocked minibar at Fairmont Scottsdale

Amply stocked minibar at Fairmont Scottsdale — with my fave Macallan 12

Fairmont Scottsdale bathroom

Fairmont Scottsdale bathroom

As Scottsdale is known for its luxurious spa experiences, I naturally partook in a treatment at the resort’s Well & Being at Willow Stream Spa, which offers everything from traditional spa treatments and a rooftop pool to aerial yoga classes and nutrition and fitness consultations. I opted for a full body scrub and light massage with natural Body Bliss and Naturopathica skin products, all of which are derived from natural and/or organic ingredients. My provider Mistie made me feel comfortable right away and explained everything to me. And with access to the open-air pool, grotto waterfall, steam room, Swedish dry sauna, eucalyptus inhalation room, Swiss shower, hot whirlpool and cold plunge pool, as well as a full spa cuisine menu, you can easily spend a full relaxing day here. Oh, and fitness classes are included in your booking. Score!

Aerial yoga

Aerial yoga

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30

06 2014

Terranea celebrates 5th anniversary

Terranea collage

Some of my favorite #TerraneaMemories

Terranea hotel and resort in Rancho Palos Verdes is celebrating its 5th anniversary this year, and to kick things off, it has announced a monthly photo and video contest that runs through May 31, 2015. The best part? Terranea is giving away some swank prizes to the winners!

The Terranea Memories 5th Anniversary Contest is asking visitors to highlight their favorite memories from the past five years at the resort. Each month will feature a theme tied to Terranea’s 5th anniversary pillars: community, wellness, discovery, epicurean and celebration. The monthly themes and prize packages will be announced in advance each month on the resort’s blog and event calendar.

June’s theme is community. To enter, submit a photograph or video and personal story of a sunrise or sunset you captured while at the resort or in the surrounding area. And remember to share using #TerraneaMemories.

This month’s prize package sounds awesome! It’s an overnight stay in the Shearwater Suite with the Terranea Lexus Drive Series Adventure Escape, which includes:

* Overnight stay in Terranea’s 1,800 sq. ft. Shearwater Suites
* Unlimited complimentary use of a Lexus vehicle during your stay
* A GPS-guided tour highlighting scenic points of interest, including the Point Vicente Interpretive Center to watch the whale migration and Portuguese Bend for hiking and wildlife spotting
* Choose either an aqua or terra activity from Pointe Discovery, such as a coastal hike, falconry, tide pooling, paddleboarding or kayorkling
* A picnic basket lunch from Sea Beans, complete with energy bars and water bottle
* A pair of binoculars for watching marine life off the coast — dolphins, sea lions and whales can be spotted along the shore on a regular basis

This month’s deadline is June 25. If you’ve been to Terranea or anywhere in the peninsula area, or have a chance to do so before the end of the month, then I’d suggest you get on this. I had the fortunate chance to stay here once, and it was amazing. It’s one of the best staycation spots for Angelenos.

09

06 2014

Celebrate 100 years of Beverly Hills with Suite 100

Beverly Hills Hotel Golden Age suite. Photo by Peter Vitale and Beverly Hills Hotel.

Beverly Hills Hotel Golden Age suite. Photo by Peter Vitale and Beverly Hills Hotel.

Beverly Hills turns 100 years old this year, and to celebrate, the city has teamed up with some of its most luxurious hotels to offer special experiences.

Through the Suite 100 program, five hotels — the Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hilton, Peninsula Beverly Hills, L’Ermitage Beverly Hills and Montage Beverly Hills — have each redesigned a suite to reflect a moment in time from the past 100 years. The 1940s through the 1990s are represented (the 1980s conveniently have been left out, which is probably for the best), with homages to 1940s film noir and 1970s Studio 54 included. My favorites include the Beverly Hills Hotel’s 1950s Golden Age suite (pictured above) and the Peninsula’s 1990s Birth of Modern Glamour suite.

Even if you can’t afford to stay in one of these suites, you can experience a little of this nostalgia with special throwback menus at the hotel restaurants. From June 1 to Sept. 30, try the lobster thermidor at the Montage’s Parq Bar, the truffle mac and cheese at the Peninsula’s Club Bar, or the Tahitian vanilla and sour cream cheesecake at the Beverly Hilton’s Lobby Lounge and Circa 55.

Beverly Hilton cheesecake

Beverly Hilton cheesecake

There are other ways to celebrate Beverly Hills’ centennial that include shopping, too. Check out Love Beverly Hills for more information.

Note: The menu tasting was hosted.

31

05 2014

Loews Hollywood classes it up with renovated hotel

After nearly two years of renovations, the Loews Hollywood Hotel is now sleek and modern. And with the unveiling of its new H2 lobby bar, the hotel is now a legitimate place to relax with a drink away from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood Boulevard, and even the Hollywood & Highland complex located right next door.

Loews purchased the former Renaissance property back in 2012, and it’s a good thing it did. I remember the old hotel, with lots of primary colors (green and orange stands out in my mind) splashed across its walls and carpets. It was not what one might consider posh.

The new version is much improved. I had the opportunity to stay overnight in one of its renovated rooms, which offer lots of space with an average of 400 square feet each. You get free wifi in your room and throughout the hotel (score!), and Loews properties are pet-friendly (double score!).

King room at Loews

King room at Loews

Sofa area

Sofa area

Bathroom

Bathroom

View from my room overlooking Hollywood & Highland

View from my room overlooking Hollywood & Highland and the pool

The H2 lobby bar just opened last week, so its food and beverage menus are still being worked out, but until then, if you tell the bartender what kind of spirit you like, he’ll make you something that will surely please. I got a nicely crafted New York sour, complete with a pretty red wine float.

New York sour

New York sour

I also sampled some dishes that are currently being considered for the bar menu. The pastrami sandwich on doughnut buns was a big hit, and I was pleased to find that the doughnuts were not frosted (because that would be, like, ew).

Pastrami doughnut sandwiches

Pastrami doughnut sandwiches

The lobster pups (mini lobster corn dogs) were some of my favorites, too. It’s fried. It’s lobster. How can you not like this?

Lobster pups

Lobster pups

As part of our tour, I was able to visit the hotel’s helipad and take in the view with a glass of champagne. Ah, the Hollywood life. Word has it that the Loews Hollywood is planning on offering special experiences on that helipad in the future. So if you’re looking for a way to pop the question or celebrate some other notable milestone, the hotel’s helipad might be just what you’re looking for.

Overlooking Highland Avenue from the helipad

Overlooking Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue from the helipad

Note: The visit to the lobby bar and the overnight stay were complimentary.

10

03 2014

Travelogue: Santorini, Greece

Oia, Santorini, Greece

Oia, Santorini, Greece

Our third major stop in Greece was the island of Santorini. Yes, it’s touristy, but for good reason. It is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen and experienced. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back immediately!

Also known as Thera or Thira (you will find that many places have multiple names in Greece due to its history of invasions from other cultures), this is the island that you often seen in photos showing blue and white domed buildings perched high up on a cliff. That cliff is the side of Santorini’s famous caldera, which was formed by ancient volcanic eruptions.

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09

02 2014

Elevated food at Santa Barbara’s El Encanto

El Encanto tableI imagine The Dining Room and Terrace at El Encanto hotel — high up on a hill overlooking the city of Santa Barbara — is a lovely place to enjoy an expertly crafted meal. The hotel, which opened in March and is the first West Coast location for Orient-Express Hotels, offers what look like spectacular views of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean. I wouldn’t really know because I haven’t actually been there. But I have had Chef Patrice Martineau’s nicely executed and delicious food.

Martineau and the El Encanto team recently hosted a tasting in Los Angeles (now that’s what I call service), and it was so impressive that I now have a trip to Santa Barbara on my list so I can enjoy one of Martineau’s meals in its native environment. We tasted some of the regular menu dishes, as well as some special bites, including some aged cheddar made from the milk of El Encanto’s own Holstein cow, Ellie.

We started off with a crab salad, which was served alongside cranberry gelée, chilled ginger verbena hollandaise sauce and a raspberry vinegar glaze. The sweet crab meat was tempered with the tartness and acid in its accompaniments, creating a perfect balance.

Crab salad

Crab salad

Next up was the slow-baked organic Scottish salmon in a yuzukosho crust served with baby vegetables and glazed gnocchi in a smoked bonito orange broth. The yuzukosho, a fermented Japanese seasoning made from chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt, gave the salmon an interesting Asian twist complemented by the bonito broth.

Scottish salmon

Scottish salmon

We also had Martineau’s braised short ribs, which are braised in white wine instead of the more common red wine, which lightened the flavor of the meat up — a nice touch, given the heaviness of short ribs. Roasted fennel, crushed celery root, basil, tomatoes and roasted tombolina carrots rounded out the dish.

Braised short rib

Braised short rib

Ellie’s Silver Mountain aged cheddar, served with fresh figs and cream of balsamic vinegar on a bed of edible wheatgrass, was a tasty was for us to get ready for the sweeter desserts, which included chocolate truffles and little almond berry tea cakes. But the main event was the Manjari Chocolate “Florentine,” a classic chocolate mousse topped with almond and hazelnut nougatine. While the dessert wasn’t really a florentine, it contained the flavors of the classic Italian dessert (I guess that’s why its name has quotation marks in it), and with the chocolate mousse made for a rich ending to a lovely meal.

Ellie's Silver Mountain cheese

Ellie’s Silver Mountain cheese

Tea cakes and truffles

Tea cakes and truffles

Manjari Chocolate "Florentine"

Manjari Chocolate “Florentine”

Note: The meal was hosted.

18

11 2013

Travelogue: the Peloponnese, Greece

Corinth Canal

Corinth Canal

After a few days in Athens, my husband, Rory, and I headed for the open Greek road on the Peloponnese. We hit up Corinth, Nafplio, Stoupa (for the wedding) and Ancient Olympia.

Driving in Greece

Driving in Greece wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. For one thing, the Greeks drive on the right side of the road, so we didn’t have to worry about driving on the left. There’s also a national network of highways that never seems to have any traffic, so that’s also a plus. It’s only when you’re driving through small villages — which we did on our way back to Athens from Olympia — that it gets tricky. Yes, some of the streets in Athens are small, but some of the “roads” in Greek villages are only roads in the academic sense; they really did not look like any road a car should be driving on!

Corinth

Our first stop was Corinth, where we stopped for pics of the canal (pictured above) before we made our way to the beach. Pro tip: while you can find English speakers in much of Greece, the folks who worked in the restaurants along the beach in Corinth did not speak English very well. We were surprised since Corinth is only an hour outside Athens. This made trying to find beach towels to buy difficult! However, we discovered here that restaurants often have beach chairs that you can use for free as long as you buy something, even if it’s just a drink. They have servers who come out to you, too. I wish we had this kind of service in Los Angeles as a matter of course!

A beach in Corinth

A beach in Corinth

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21

10 2013

Travelogue: Athens, Greece

The Acropolis in Athens, Greece, at night

The Acropolis in Athens, Greece, at night

Greece.

So much of what has been in the news about this country lately has been negative — a bad economy, mass demonstrations, worker strikes, general ennui.

But what I experienced in Greece was nothing but nice, accommodating — and proud to be Greek — people, not to mention gorgeous views. Unfortunately, prices weren’t as low as I thought they might be (the euro was worth about a third more than the U.S. dollar). Fortunately, I didn’t encounter any strikes.

Traveling in Greece

Getting from point A to point B in Greece isn’t always a no-brainer. My husband Rory and I needed to go to a wedding in Stoupa, which is south of Kalamata on the Mani peninsula in the Peloponnese region. I thought it would be easy getting from Athens to this area since there’s an international airport in Kalamata, but apparently flights between Athens and Kalamata are inconsistent and not always available. Also, the only port that runs ferries to the Cyclades islands is in Athens.

Because we planned to travel around and because this turned out to be much harder than we thought, we went with Athens-based travel agency Fantasy Travel. Even though it was a bit tough making the plans given the 10 hour time difference between Los Angeles and Athens, the folks at Fantasy Travel took care of everything, including transfers to and from airports, rental car (which was delivered to our hotel!) and hotels. I just gave them my budget, and they made it work.

Staying in Athens

We started our trip in Athens and stayed for about three days at Central Hotel in the Plaka, the old part of the city at the base of the Acropolis with narrow, labyrinthine streets (some streets are so narrow that two cars cannot pass each other; we saw many a car backing up to let the other pass). It took us nearly the whole three days we were there to get our bearings, and we never did find a particular restaurant that supposedly served delicious lamb. But no matter; we had fun exploring!

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08 2013