Ojai, a sleepy agricultural town nestled in a valley in Ventura County, Calif., has become one of my favorite local getaways. There’s an overall feeling of community with an emphasis on small, local businesses that makes you feel warm and fuzzy. And no place does that better than The Oaks at Ojai, an all-inclusive wellness spa situated right in the middle of downtown.
The Oaks offers traditional spa amenities along with fitness classes, meals, wellness activities and overnight accommodations all for one incredibly reasonable price (rates start at $199 per person per night, but you may have to share a room). As the focus is on wellness here, your daily caloric intake is limited to 1,000 calories a day via three meals, snacks and beverages. Chef Christine Denney creates high-fiber, no-sugar and no-salt menus that will help you lose weight and generally feel better.
You may not think that a world-class bar, one that’s focused on the art of mixology, would be located at the Original Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax. But that’s exactly where Mixology 101 is. Hidden in plain sight (it’s situated on the second level above the new Dylan’s Candy Bar and across from Zara), Mixology 101 is the brainchild of London-based “The Maestro” Salvatore Calabrese, one of the world’s leading mixologists, who has put local barman Joseph Brooke in charge.
Brooke is no slouch behind the bar. He was the winner of Season 2 of On the Rocks: The Search for America’s Top Bartender, voted 2011 Crowd Favorite in L.A.’s Best Bartender competition, and has worked locally at Copa d’Oro, The Edison and Next Door Lounge. While Brooke’s job at Mixology 101 is to perfect Calabrese’s concoctions, Brooke has staked out about 20 percent of the menu for his own creations.
Brooke said his inspiration comes from the desire to recreate memories. And he’s always cognizant of seasonal balance: if it’s hot out, then he’ll make a light drink, and if it’s cold out, he’ll go with a heartier one.
On a recent visit, Brooke made a bunch of drinks for me and my drinking companion, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, to try. I especially liked the Maestro’s Special Fizz made with Caprinatura limoncello, lemon sorbet, fresh mint and prosecco. Brooke called it a twist on a mojito, and while there wasn’t any rum in it, I could taste the connection. It’s a fun and refreshing drink. Brooke also made us a proper White Russian, with Beluga vodka, coffee liqueur and fresh double cream. It was delicious. My favorite was the Dobbs, a simple after-dinner drink of Fernet Branca and white crème de menthe served over ice. This drink was revelatory with its herby, spicy sweetness and will now be my go-to dessert drink.
Maestro’s Special Fizz
Mixology 101, which is connected to Planet Dailies (owned by the Planet Hollywood folks), is a really nice open-concept space. Unfortunately, they’ve brought in extremely loud live music to attract customers from the walkways below, so it’s tough to have a conversation there, at least on weekend nights. And because this location caters to a tourist crowd, you’ll find a random mix of people, including those who want ice-blended, fruity drinks. Fortunately for them, Brooke and his crew are willing to please. But with a sophisticated cocktail menu, there’s no need. Sidle up to Brooke’s bar and enjoy the ride.
Monsieur Marcel, the gourmet market at The Original Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax, is hosting a series of wine tastings this fall. It costs $30 to $35 to reserve a spot, and in turn, you’ll receive a gift certificate for the full amount of the tasting that you can then use toward the purchase of any of the market’s imported wines. Here’s the lineup:
Tuesday, October 18
6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
South of France with a white, rosé and three reds from lesser-known regions
Tuesday, October 25
6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Four Côtes du Rhône red wines, including a Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Tuesday, November 1
6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Champagne and vin mousseux: two sparkling wines and three bottles from the Champagne region
Reservations are required to secure a space in each tasting. Call (323) 939-7792 to get your spot.
Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has teamed up with Goldstar to come up with a locals-only stimulus plan dubbed “Locals Only Hollywood Offer,” or LOHO, which is catchier anyway. The LOHO promotions range from 15 percent off at the Pig ‘n Whistle to 50 percent off spa treatments at Spa Luce in the Renaissance Hotel. And just in time for Halloween, Dearly Departed Tours are 50 percent off, too. There’s even a 25 percent off deal for all Farmers Market merchandise (yeah, it’s not really in Hollywood, but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, OK?). These offers are good through Oct. 31, so get on it!
[UPDATE: To book activities/events, click on the Goldstar link above, then on the "Hollywood: LOHO" link in the left-hand navigation bar to see what's still available.]
[UPDATE #2: According to a Hollywood Chamber of Commerce representative, to redeem discounts at restaurants, spas or anything else not listed on Goldstar, you'll have to inquire with the individual retailer and show proof of residency within the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino and/or Riverside.]
Since I started work at USC, I’ve been on the lookout for good, or at least decent, places to eat lunch. Then, lo and behold, a farmers market pops up a few weeks ago at the Shrine Auditorium nearby. I was so excited and went to check it out the very first day. What I found was a great collection of everything from fresh produce to clothing to made-to-order foods to jewelry — and even the Gastrobus food truck.
Ever wondered about the inner workings of some of your favorite restaurants in the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax or along West Third Street? If you take a walking food tour with Melting Pot Food Tours, owners and guides Lisa and Diane Scalia will give you the low down. And now the ladies have expanded their walking tour business into Old Pasadena.