Thursday, May 31, 2018

As a long time member of the Southern California Restaurant Writers one of our functions is doing a restaurant evaluation on each restaurant that we visit.  These are then sent to be stored on the membership computer and those rated with three stars or more then receive an award at the annual dinner that marks the occasion.
On a one hundred point system the restaurant is rated for food/value, service, reception/parking, ambiance and beverage availability.  To receive five stars, the highest award, the evaluation score must be between 96 and  100 points.   This Writer does not rate many restaurants in this range but we just did after an evening at Ocean Prime in Beverly Hills.
This restaurant, bar and lounge seemingly has something for everyone.   There is the bar and lounge facing Wilshire Blvd for cocktails and light snacks,  Then the restaurant itself with another more elegant bar and lounge, often with evening live entertainment.
The dining rooms offer a view of an open kitchen teeming with activity with booths and tables.  There is also an executive room for private parties or larger parties.
After being seated by one of the welcoming hostesses we were handed a very pleasing menu with much variety and well arranged with appetizers, soups and salads,  a large group of seafoods and then an elaborate prime steak selection.   But first we wanted to try from the bar the featured Negroni  cocktail which was the monthly special at Ocean Prime.   Negroni is a story in itself, a cocktail featured world wide with proceeds going to charities around the globe.  Ours, served in a tall stemmed glass, was made with Campari, gin and vermouth with a garnish of orange slice.
With this accomplished we moved on with a shared appetizer of Calamari from a selection that included crab cakes, steak tartare or truffle caviar.  Then the entrees where we chose the twin Maine lobster tails with asparagus while my dining partner chose the lamb chops, which were huge, in a bed of English peas and mushrooms.  To go with the lamb my partner chose a glass of Argentine Malbec from the huge wine line.
Our side orders included a lobster stuffed baked potato and foie gras rossini.  There were many things on the menu that we would have liked but must wait for another time.  These included the Chilean sea bass, which is a specialty of Executive Chef Geoff Bamberger, as well as the lobster bisque and French onion soups.
  My dessert was  chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and a generous side of chocolate syrup.   
Our waitress was Sarah and she was outstanding in anticipating our wants and in making suggestions on the menu.  And when it was time to leave she alerted the parking attendant so our car was waiting for us as we left  what had been a most satisfying dining experience.
Ocean Prime is located at 9595 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills and is open seven days a week serving lunch Monday through Friday and dinner only on Saturday and Sunday from 5 p.m.  Telephone 310 859-4818, web www.ocean-prime.com.

Monday, May 28, 2018

When we first sighted Norwegian Bliss towering over San Pedro we could only say Wow.  With its nineteen decks it was adding a new look to the Port of Los Angeles.  And indeed it is new setting records like the largest ship to transit the new locks of the Panama Canal and the largest cruise ship to ever enter the  Port of Los Angeles.
If you are planning a cruise to Alaska aboard the  Norwegian Bliss think big for not only is this a massive ship but the concepts that passengers experience aboard her also move in new directions with more of everything. 
We were aboard her on her Inaugural cruise from the Port of Los Angeles. 
Ours was a short introductory cruise to alert media and affiliated organizations on just what this ship has to offer as it begins its first trip to Alaska, one of seven scheduled from Los Angeles Port this year.  The Norwegian Bliss has a crew of 2100 and   4000 passengers.  For the passengers there are many new innovations including a wide choice of bar lounges and restaurants with different styles, ambiance and cuisine. 
For entertainment again the Bliss now offers shows that were once the offerings of Las Vegas.  Once evening we viewed a stunning performance of the Jersey Boys which earlier has received so much acclaim on Broadway.  Another evening a performance of a complete  musical entitled Havana,  produced especially for the Bliss with the theater designed to equip and stage such productions.  Other entertainment includes stand up comedy in a club style setting to imports like Britain's Finest.
We had what was called a mini suite and came with private balcony, comfortable sofa and a bath with walk in shower, always much appreciated by us senior folk. 
There was much to see that we did not have time to experience.  Such was the racetrack with an exciting ride on electric go karts on a two level competitive racetrack.   We noted that all the women looked longingly when passing the Mandara Spa and Beauty  salon.
On some cruises  getting aboard can be a weary experience but all went remarkably smoothly as we made our way aboard Norwegian Bliss.  We used our car and again there was no hassle either in unloading passengers and luggage and car was soon safely tucked in the huge parking area.
Those that did not leave the Bliss with us were on their way to first, Seattle and then on to Alaska.  The addition of Norwegian Bliss to cruising opportunities from the Port of Los Angeles will be a welcome addition with the seven Alaska cruises set for this year and eight for 2019.  

Friday, May 25, 2018

Our attendance at the dinner reception celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of Azerbaijan's First  Republic proved to be a most interesting and exciting evening. 
Hosted by the Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles the evening featured authentic Azerbaijan food, musical performances, dances and much more.  It took place in the ballroom of Hyatt Regency LAX Hotel with more than five hundred people in attendance.
The event highlighted the establishment of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic which became the first secular democracy in the Muslim world in 1918 and the first to grant voting right to women in 1919.  During World War ll it was the site of some of the fiercest battles between the German invaders and the Soviet Union as the Nazi sought to gain the oil production of the region.  In this they failed but at great cost to the people of Azerbaijan.
Some of those that attended the dinner arrived in bright native wear and with the dances and entertainment it truly was a unusual and memorable evening.
We enjoyed the buffet style dinner which featured some foods, while most tasty, that were new to us.  We were also fascinated by the screening of the Azerbaijan country side which included scenes of the Caspian Sea, the lofty Caucasus Mountains as well as the thoroughly  modern Capital.
Our conclusion was that Azerbaijan is a country worth knowing more about and a fascinating place to visit.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Like so many people of Spain that looked to and moved to the New World over the past four hundred years one of that country's oldest wine making family did likewise.  It was in 1991 that Javier Pages, 17th generation and CEO of Codornu Ravemos,  decided to make wines in California.  For location Los Carneros area of the Napa Valley was chosen.  Los Carneros is located adjacent to the upper most reaches of San Francisco Bay and so enjoys a more robust coastal climate than the rest of the famed Napa wine country.
The name chosen was Artesa and the plan, now so successfully completed, was to use the Carneros terroir for estate grown vineyards and artisan wines.  In all Artesa has thirty three individual blocks of vineyards carefully chosen to match the grape varietal.  These varietals include Pinot Noir with 85 acres, Chardonnay with 47 acres, Albarino, a native Spanish white grape varietal, 4 acres, Tempranillo, a Spanish red varietal, 8 acres and Cabernet Sauvignon six acres.  The emphasis has always been on the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, two wines that early on brought fame to the Carneros region.
In all Artesa farms one hundred and fifty acres of the rocky, rolling hill terrain of Los Carneros.
All this and much more was learned when we attended the recent seminar and tasting of Artesa wines which took place in Los Angeles at the Good Measure Cafe in Alpine Village.  Present to showcase Artesa wines and how they are produced was Ana Diego-Draper, winemaker. She explained that the old world method of tailoring small lots of wine and blending them is used exclusively with all their wines.  Co host of the event was Matt Kaner of Bar Covell.
The forty some wine and food writers attending the event had before them three glasses of the components that were in the 2016 Artesa Estate Vineyard Chardonnay.  Included in first component were grapes from three blocks and two clones with puncheon fermentation.  The second component was from the Martini clone of block 15 with stainless steel fermentation.  In tasting each we could see what each added to the fnished product.
Also three glasses of components that made up the 2016 Artesa Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir.
For the Pinot noir the first component was from block 24 with puncheon fermentation while component two was from block 14 with open top fermentation and again in tasting each it was easy to see what each added to the finished vintage.
We learned more of Ana's blending talents when we tasted Artesa Galatee, a red wine blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon from both Napa and Sonoma vineyards.  And with interest Artesa 2017 made with the Spanish Albarinio grape.
Following the tasting  an interesting and rewarding buffet luncheon was served accompanied with some very exceptional wines.
Good Measure is located at 3224 Glendale Blvd.,  Los Angeles 90039.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

This marks the fifty years, 1968 - 2018  that have produced Temecula Valley Wine Country.  As a Wine Writer we were fortunate to see first hand how from its early beginnings it has grown, expanded and continues to do so.
In those first years wine was only beginning to be a beverage of choice for many Americans.  There was, however, a group of men and women devoted to spreading the word on a beverage that had a history of at least seven thousand years.
It was called the California Wine Writers Forum and was formed and led in those first years by two men, Robert Bouser and Fred Russell, now deceased.  With the first plantings of grapes in the Temecula Valley the region soon got the attention of this group  of the Forum members which included this Writer.
It was new and a good deal closer in geography than  trekking continually to the Central Valley and Napa.  So there were constant visits to the pioneer vintners which included Ely Callaway of Callaway Vintners,  John Thornton of Thornton Winery,  Joe Hart, of Hart Winery, Peter Poole and Jim Carter of South Coast Winery whose family has farmed the Temecula Valley through three centuries..  These men were also the organizers of what  was called the South Coast  Vintners Association.
At that time I was editor of a monthly newspaper called The Wine Guide of California and whenever I needed a story with a local angle I had only to look to nearby Temecula.  As a result I spent much time there to witness the expansion as it occurred.
All of these memories returned when we attended the media event sponsored by  Temecula Valley Wine Country recently held at The Forum in Inglewood.
One of the boosters of the region that continues to the present is the annual Balloon  & Wine Festival which from its beginning included the region's wines.   Champion of this event for many years is Melody Brunsting of Melody's Ad Works and we met again at the Forum.
Now along with the success of the region's wineries is the large number of craft breweries to be found in the Valley.  We visited two at the Forum event, Garage Brewing Co and Refuge Brewery.
Other success stories follow like local products produced by Temecula Lavender Company and Temecula Olive Oil Company.  And of course there are the many award winning restaurants to be found.  We met and chatted with Matt Steffen, executive chef at Cork - Fire Kitchen located at the Temecula Creek Inn.  And learned about the cuisine of Vineyard Rose Restaurant as well.
Wineries present at the Forum event included Doffo Winery, Wilson Creek Winery, Baily's Winery, and South Coast Winery, two  of the pioneer vintners, and Fazeli Cellars.
And as would be expected Pechange Resort, Casino and the Journey Golf Course, all offered a large presence at the fifty year presentation. 
As we left the Forum we met with Annette Brown, director of PR for Visit Temecula Valley, and told her she could expect to see us in the near future for more reporting on Southern California Wine Country.

Monday, May 14, 2018

  The fame of Carmel By The Sea extends far past the borders of California, and indeed of the USA.  Its charm and ambiance have remained basically unchanged through the decades and its location by the nearby fantastic seascape still gives the visitor the feeling that all is well in the world. 
 Downtown Carmel  invites one to a pleasant stroll while leaving your car idle and if you are using your car it costs nothing, since this town does not have parking meters and free two hour parking can be found everywhere.
 Carmel By The Sea is just that with a long stretch of beautiful white sand beach, the white color due to the underlying rock that the sea slowly grinds to sand. The beach is very popular and in easy walking distance from almost anyplace in the business end of town. Also there is a scenic road along the coastline from Ocean avenue to Carmel River State Beach.
In town there are nineteen wine tasting rooms and bars, all showing the wines of the Monterey appellation which has become recognized as one of California's best for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And in May the annual Winemakers Celebration had just taken place.
 Our stay at Hofsas House was a delight  with a room that was actually a suite.  The Inn also has facilities for large groups and perfect for weddings and family reunions.  It is located on San Carlos Street, north of Fourth Avenue in Carmel by the Sea.
 One morning ,while enjoyed our Continental Breakfast at Hofsas House, we had the opportunity to meet  Carrie Theis, grand daughter of Donna Hofsas who founded the hotel seventy years ago.  We complemented her on our wonderful suite and learned that all 37 rooms are one of a kind with amenities like fireplaces, private balconies, wet bars, and Dutch doors allowing guests to enjoy the ocean air.  
Early on it was decided the this city would not have house numbered addresses and so there is no mail delivery except at the post offices. However all the streets are well marked and there are excellent maps for finding locations. For more information on Hofsas House Hotel call 831 624-2745, on the web at www.hofsashouose.com. and on Facebook.
   

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A British styled hotel with all the furnishings and ambiance of a upscale London Club in Palo Alto?.   Yes that was our discovery when we rang the bell that requires entrance to The Clement Hotel.  Here we were met by Personal Concierge Sarrah Franklin who registered us, had our baggage removed from the car before an attendant took it  away.  Then escorted us to our suite, one of 23 at  The Clement.  Also greeting us was  Sebastian Stacey, general manager.  Here at 711 El Camino Real in the heart of downtown Palo Alto we were in a Hotel  which offers personal service and luxury to a level not often found.
 The price of your suite covers all other services such as the wines and spirits found in your suite, the dining room open from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily,  and any of the wines and spirits offered at the bar.  There is also a cold box available to guests 24/7 stocked with fresh fruits, desserts, ice cream and cold drinks.  There is no tipping, no charge for valet parking or any of the personal services available on request.
Our suite included a living room complete with bar, huge TV, sofa, a business like desk, and picture windows: the bedroom with king size bed and bath with tub, walk in shower, twin basins and, oh yes, a TV screen. Our suite  decorated with a mix of heritage and modern furnishings and stained wood walls.  There was much more to see.  On the roof a large swimming pool, adjoining sauna, and private  cabanas.
On the first floor there is a sitting room with fireplace for relaxing or making plans for the day.
With location on El Camino Real the Clement is within walking distance of the Town & Country Village, Stanford Shopping Center,  as well as downtown Palo Alto. The Stanford Campus begins across the street from the  hotel.
For this Writer such attention was a very rewarding experience.  New to us was the over night shoe shine service where before bedtime you request pickup of your shoes to be returned bright and polished in the morning.  This brought to mind British hotels with this service that has extended over centuries.  And how one missing boot of a pair left for service at a hotel  gave Sherlock Holmes his first clue in "The Hound of the Baskervilles".
 The open kitchen and dining room included an outdoor patio and showed a Continental menu available at any hour as well as a complete list of traditional breakfast items every morning.  For our dinner one  evening we shared an appetizer of calamari and then an entree of scallops with sides of asparagus and spinach.  My dessert was French vanilla ice cream.  For breakfast we had bagel and smoked Norwegian salmon as well as french toast.  Service was friendly and most  efficient and we soon were acquainted  with both chefs and wait staff.
The Clement has been created for service to what is basically a business oriented clientele, as well as  alumni  visiting nearby Stanford University.  Reservations are required especially during the work week when the hotel is almost  always full.
The Clement hotel is located at 711 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, Ca. 94301, Telephone 650 322-7111, web www.theclementpaloalto.com.