Saturday, August 26, 2017

Walking in Santa Monica

Although we did have a car, we tried to get in our 10,000 steps a day while we were visiting Santa Monica. From our hotel, we were able to walk to the Pacific Park Beach and the Santa Monica Pier. These are some of the major tourist attractions in the area and there were people everywhere enjoying the beautiful sunny weather. We were not there for the rides as we still had an upcoming day at Universal Studios planned but it is free to walk on the pier and take in the expansive views..

There are many restaurants along Ocean Ave to get a quick bite or a beverage should you need refreshment while sightseeing in this area. In addition to enjoying the crashing waves on the sand and the people watching on the pier, you can find artwork and some historical monuments, like a cannon, along the walking trails above the beach as you move towards Palisades Park.

If shopping is more your speed, then head to the Third Street Promenade where you will find three blocks of stores and cafés with street performers and landscaped dinosaur art fountains.

It sits next to an upscale retail center called Santa Monica Place, this is an area of downtown where you can find whatever you need from simple basics to luxury goods. Even if you don't want to shop, the people watching is good here, too.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Eating in Santa Monica

Our most exciting discovery was a group of restaurants that I found while googling best breakfasts in Santa Monica. They feature local produce, meat and artisan baked goods, most of which is organic. The search had led me to Huckleberry, a bakery and café on Wilshire Blvd not too far from our hotel. It was our favorite breakfast that we had while we were there. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures that day (it was very early) but if you are in the area, it is one that you should not miss. We enjoyed a few different pastries along with hot breakfast dishes like the poached eggs and market vegetable bowl with basil pesto and
parmesan cheese, everything we tried was fresh and flavorful.

Also serving breakfast in this group is Milo & Olive, a restaurant I had on my list for a potential pizza night. We didn't end up doing that but we did enjoy a late breakfast/brunch there one morning which they serve from 7-11 AM daily. I enjoyed the creamy polenta and poached eggs with braised bacon bits and baby greens. They also make a breakfast pizza that looked phenomenal, we were sorry that we hadn't ordered that when we saw it. They serve breakfast cocktails along with choice of a sparkling wines in addition to a menu of espresso drinks. The lunch/dinner options looked very inviting, too.

We did have a late dinner one night at their first restaurant, the Rustic Canyon, a seasonal restaurant and wine bar. The Flannery cote de boeuf served with French fries and green pepper corn sauce was quite large and very tasty. We shared that dish along with a few other small plates.

We were impressed with all three of these restaurants from this group and they have more as well. Don't miss an opportunity to check them out if you are in the area, I will be visiting the others on my next visit.

Our favorite dinner in Santa Monica was actually outside of that group at Michael's, one of the city's quintessential dining establishments. We were seated at a table in their Garden, a mostly enclosed patio room full of plants and soft lights. I had a primarily vegetable based meal that evening along with some sparkling wine from the Loire Valley. The food was beautifully prepared and delicious, the service was exceptional and the ambience was enchanting. Reservations are a must, the restaurant remained full the entire night.

Another spot that we enjoyed was the more casual Blue Plate Oysterette on Ocean Ave. We had done a bit of a walking tour of Santa Monica and spotted the seafood towers on the patio. Steadily busy while we were in the area, we made a reservation to come back later that evening. It was a bit chilly that night so we opted to eat inside. My daughter and I shared this seafood tower with a little help from my husband and she and I also split the chopped kale salad. Good food, but it was crowded and noisy, it may be more enjoyable with the views on the patio by day.

Another honorable mention is Charcoal Venice on Washington Blvd. Though it is not technically in Santa Monica, its location on Washington Blvd is not too far. It has a meat centric menu perfect for carnivores with a good wine list and friendly service.

All of these restaurants are highly recommended!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Touring the Getty Villa

We toured the Getty Villa during our recent trip to Santa Monica, it was about a 15 minute drive from our hotel. We opted to do a self-guided tour as we had not really allowed enough time for this visit. The museum is currently under construction and will be until the fall of this year so some parts were closed or not fully functional during our time there. Check the website for more information on times and schedules.

Visitors enter through the Fleishman Theater which was added in 1996 during a renovation. It is constructed to look like an outdoor classical theater and they will do a live production here on weekends in September which does carry a cost.

Admission is free to tour the Getty Villa but parking is $15 a car. You do need to go on-line and reserve your tickets as you have a designated entry time. They also have shows, tours and live music on their calendar that you may want to schedule your visit around, some fees may apply for those special events. The shows include a wide range of subjects like luxury art of the Incas, African masks,
and the downfall of Athens.

We focused on touring the grounds and the Villa during our trip. The Villa was constructed in the early 1970s to fulfill J. Paul Getty's dream of recreating a first century Roman country house located in Herculaneum, Italy, called the Villa dei Papiri which had been destroyed by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. The Villa was constructed to house his large collection of approximately 44,000 objects of Roman, Greek and Etruscan art dating from 6500 BC to AD 400 and to showcase how life looked in the first century.

The building is beautiful with great attention to detail including things like light fixtures modeled to look like the bronze lanterns carried on the streets of Pompei. Every ceiling treatment is a work of art as well. I spent I lot of time looking up as we strolled around. Centered between the galleries is the Inner Peristyle garden which has benches for guests to rest for a moment in a very tranquil setting.

The collection of artifacts is amazing. Part of the current renovation plan is to present the works in a more chronological order than they are currently displayed.

The outdoor grounds included an herb garden with herbs and shrubs that would have been used during this time period for food, medicine and
ceremonial reasons. The Outer Peristyle garden was open but the pool was empty and under repair and is expected to remain so through the fall. The space was beautifully landscaped and the sculptures kept your eyes busy. The East Garden was closed during our visit.

The Getty Villa has a Roman Holidays theme right now, it will end on September 3. They were showcasing activities that would have been done such as the ability to offer prayers to Aphrodite or have your future told by having a sheep's liver read on your behalf. There are live music and comedy performances to go along with this on
Saturdays and Sundays from 11-3.

If you are visiting Los Angeles, take a drive to Malibu and view this awe-inspiring trove of antiquities and wander the grounds while imagining yourself in another time and place, it is well worth your time.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows - Santa Monica

Refreshment on the patio
of the Lobby Lounge
My husband and I stayed at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows with our adult daughter this summer after her graduation from a Masters program at Claremont Graduate University.

We wanted to be near the beach but still be able to easily get into Los Angeles to visit some of the tourist attractions. This was our first time to stay at a Fairmont Hotel. I chose the Miramar for its ocean views and its proximity to the Santa Monica Pier and the beach. It has a long history with a Hollywood connection, it has been a destination of the stars for almost a century. After looking over the various room options, I decided that the Palisade King Suite would easily accommodate us. My husband and I shared a private bedroom and our daughter got the fold out couch in the living room. The six story Palisades wing which housed our room is a historic part of the property that was built in 1924. For a more luxe experience, you can also book a poolside bungalow instead.

Lemon ricotta pancakes with
almonds and blueberry
butter at Fig
We all enjoyed spa treatments at the Exhale- Mind, Body, Spa located in the hotel. We had an amazing late night wine and cheese course at Fig, the on-site Mediterranean bistro featuring local organic produce. We also enjoyed two hearty breakfasts there. The Lobby Lounge was a daily destination, an inviting space that opens out onto a patio with waterfalls and koi ponds and offered complimentary bar snacks with your drink.

There is also a rocking bar on the property that is very popular with the locals called The Bungalow. It had a huge line out the door every night. Standing in the line didn't appeal to us and we hadn't made reservations but there was definitely a lively crowd.

The property is beautiful, it is convenient for accessing the beach, the pier, good shopping and great dining. There is a 140 year old fig tree that shades the entrance and inspired the restaurant's name. The hotel offered rides to outside destinations within a certain distance which was very convenient for us as well. The room was spacious, clean and comfortable.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica, I highly recommend this hotel for your next trip.

Two eggs over easy with
toast and bacon at Fig
My daughter and I under
the old fig tree planted in 1879
Pacific Park Beach by the Santa Monica Pier

Thursday, August 3, 2017

a'Bouzy has Officially Opened

Houston's hottest new wine destination, a'Bouzy has officially opened this week and the beautiful people are flocking in to get a taste. The Champagne is flowing and the food is delicious. Reservations are a must; open for lunch, happy hour and dinner. Check out the video for a sneak peak!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Star Fish Houston

I first got to feast at Star Fish in June when a media friend made me her +1 to an early evening tasting event. Due to travel, I hadn't had time to write about that experience yet or return for another visit but I had not forgotten how delicious it had been. When my husband said he wanted seafood on Saturday evening, I quickly recommended this Heights area restaurant.

Planning a last minute dinner meant that we were not able to get a reservation for a table but we were able to secure two seats at the oyster bar. This dinner was part of a weeklong celebration of my husband's birthday so we started with a bottle of Ruinart Rosé Champagne, a smoking deal on the Star Fish wine list at $84 especially when you consider that Spec's retails it for $86.

We started off with some of the Raw Bar offerings, oysters on the half-shell from Prince Edward Island and a salmon crudo with sushi bar inspired seasonings. Due to our seats and our interest, we also were given some small sample tastes of both a tuna and a spicy
halibut ceviche as well, all were fresh and delicious, each was unique.

For our main course, we split the delectably crispy whole fried Gulf red snapper served with sautéed spinach and a choice of potatoes (shown with the fingerling potatoes in the photo), we actually picked the famous butter fries which are as decadent as they sound made with Kennebec potatoes fried in clarified butter. With our appetizers and imminent plan of dessert, this was the perfect-sized meal for us that evening.

Our night of coastal cuisine was completed with a slice of Key Lime cheesecake, a favorite of my husband and a delightful balance of creamy, sweet and tart on which to end. Usually, I like to eat at a restaurant at least three times before endorsing it but I don't feel the need to do that in this case.

The restaurant is part of the very successful Cherry Pie Hospitality Group in Houston that also includes the wildly popular State Fare, Lee's Fried Chicken and Donuts and Pi Pizza. Unlike some of their more fast and casual options, Star Fish offers a more stylish setting combining classic seafood house decor with a sleek modernity.

The food quality when my husband and I ate there was at the same exceptional level as it was for the media dinner I attended the prior month. The diverse menu options combined with refreshing signature cocktails and a wine list with numerous and interesting by-the-glass offerings at reasonable prices make this not just a neighborhood restaurant but a dining destination.

Star Fish is highly recommended! My husband discussed what he is planning on ordering next time all the way home.

My pictures in this post are from the media dinner, the lighting was much better that day.
I'm including a few other pictures of recommended items from then as well.

Cantina della Volta Lambrusco Brut Rosé
Starfish Bouillabaisse
with halibut, lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, tomato-saffron broth, and crouton rouille 
Sweet Red Pepper Roasted Gulf Shrimp
with garlicky noodles and chives

Sautéed Cauliflower Steak with llemon, dates and capers

Strawberry Bomb -
angel food and strawberry decadence