Friday, February 27, 2015

Ethnic restaurants can be a memorable dining experience especially if the atmosphere, ambiance and decor takes you on a make believe visit to that country.
Such a restaurant for the cuisine of Lebanon is Phoenicia in Glendale.  Here your Host and Owner is Ara Kalfayan who has created a most accurate portrayal of the foods and wines of Lebanon.
Our dinner here last evening opened   with appetizers that included Hommos; Labni, Lebanese cream cheese served with garlic; Warak Enab, grape leaves stuffed with rice, oil and vegetables, cooked in lemon juice and olive oil, and Tabbouleh, chopped parsley, crushed wheat, tomatoes and onions.   Some hot appetizers we tasted included Kibbeh Makli, beef dumpling stuffed with ground beef; Bourghoul , onions and pine nuts as well as San Bousek, freshly prepared dough with ground beef and pine nuts and Rekakat, a selection of Lebanese cheese baked in a pastry dough.
Our samplers of grill selections included Beef Kafta, ground beef, onions, parsley and spices, grilled on skewers.  This is one of our favorites and arrived with  lamb chops marinated with spices and grilled.  Also chicken breast kabob, perfectly prepared rice and the best french fries we have had in a long time.  Here we had a most unusual wine, Massaga 2003, a Rhone styled blend, also from the Bahaa Valley, a blend of Censaulis, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre.  Mellow and with a hint of sweetness it was a welcome companion to the meats
Phoenicia is  located at 343 North Central Avenue in Glendale with  off street parking.  It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. except on weekends there is live entertainment with a 2 a.m. closing time.  For more information or reservations call 818 956-7800. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

In these first years of the 21st century the Santa Lucia Highlands has expanded to a famed appellation  for the quality of its Burgundy varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  There are now over 6,000 acres of vines in this appellation which takes its name from the front range of the Santa Lucia mountains overlooking the Salinas River Valley.  Planting of new vineyards continues and there are now thirty three vineyards and vintners in the appellation.
All of this was well presented at the tasting that was conducted Monday at Scotts Restaurant in Costa Mesa.   While the showing of pinot noir and chardonnay wines dominated at the tasting actually the Highlands is growing sixteen other varietals including Riesling, Syrah, Pinot Gris and Viognier.
At the tasting we had the opportunity of chatting with Dave Muret, executive director of Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans, and complemented him on how well the Scotts Restaurant tasting was conducted.

Monday, February 23, 2015

When in Hollywood and want to remind ourselves what fine dining is all about we return to the Renaissance Restaurant located in the historic Manor Hotel.
And Executive Chef Phil Christodoulou faithfully restores us with a menu, that is Continental, with exciting appetizers and carefully chosen selection of fish and meat entrees, always of top quality.
Which explains why the Renaissance consistently is awarded five stars and that this team of professional culinary artists has earned so many awards from the Southern California Restaurant Writers.
Chef Christodoulou was named "Chef of the Year" by the Writers in 2013.  Previously Christian Boinard earned the award of "Pastry Chef of the Year".  And to make it a complete sweep Maitre d' Gerard Marini took home 'Sommelier of the Year' some years ago for supervising one of the best wine cellars in Hollywood.
As the dining room for Manor Hotel Renaissance is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.  It is located at 5930 Franklin Avenue.  Call 323 960-3222.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

 The Southern California Restaurant Writers will conduct its 41st Annual SCRW Awards Night  on Monday, March 30, 2015.
This celebration of the “Best of the Best” restaurants from Santa Barbara to the Mexican Border will be held in the Augusta and Broadmore Rooms of the Tustin Ranch Restaurant at the Tustin Ranch Golf Club, 12442 Tustin Ranch Road, Tustin.
The public is invited to enjoy an evening of outrageous cuisine and memorable dining experiences  by Tustin Ranch Restaurant Executive Chef Bert S. Agor, Jr., Executive Sous Chef Sara Guccione and Food & Beverage Director Brian Penny. Culinary industry leaders from the border to Santa Barbara and members of the Southern California Restaurant Writers and award winners will attend.
 A Wine Reception with Hors d’’ouevres will be from 6:00 PM to 6:45 PM, with Dinner Service beginning at 7:00 o’clock. Preceding the  dining experience will be a Champagne Toast, courtesy of Temecula’’s Thornton Winery.
 This very special event is, and has been, since its inception over forty years ago, a fund raiser for the Doris Crandall Scholarship Fund which awards scholarships to community college culinary students.
 Seating is limited, thus Advance Paid Reservations are necessary. Regretfully, this very special event cannot accommodate those without Advance Paid Reservations. Business or Formal Wear is highly recommended. For  $125 per person, it will  be a  memorable evening.
Reservations need be sent to SCRW, P.O. Box 17114, Anaheim Hills, CA. 92817-7114. Checks are payable to S.C.R.W.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Wrapping up; the 2015 Mesquite MusicFest were three legends from the late 20th century.  It was called Killer, Cash & King and portrayed Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Priestly.
The story line is that they are all in Memphis in the early 1970s before their days of fame.  Jerry Lee Lewis is performing on his own show when Cash and Elvis drop in and proceed to take over from Jerry.  Jerry opens with some 1950 boogie woogie backed by two guitars and drummer as sidemen.  Then follows with a robust "Shake it Baby"  Then in walks Johnny Cash and they decide on some 1955 hits like "Cry, Cry, Cry" and  "Crazy".
Soon Elvis arrives and belts out "Blue, Grey Shoes" followed by "That's all Right" with Johnny Cash joining in.  Lee keeps saying its his show and he invented rock n' roll and asks agreement from the sidemen.  This topic continues through the whole show.
Then all three join in with "Because your mine" and "I feel all right".  Then they move up to 1969 and gospel  with "Praise the lord, I saw the light:" and "Ring of Fire".
The three impersonators for the famed trio were excellent,  providing   realistic performances  and the backup musicians professional.  There were two performances of Killer, Cash & King, one a matinee the second at night, both in the showroom of the CasaBlanca Resort and Casino.  We chose the matinee and our final thought was that all three of the MusicFest events were just right for  audiences whose memories dated back four decades to when they were young and had lived through those years.
And like this Writer wondered where those youthful years had gone.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

When we were seated for the second Mesquite MusicFest event, located at the CasaBlanca Resort showroom, we did not quite know what to expect.   It was billed as Roadhouse Legends featuring Vegas singers, dancers and musicians.  But Country music does cover a wide spectrum.
In fact it proved to be all the above and much more.  The stage was set as a typical road house, tables for eating and a bar at the opposite side.  Heading and directing all was a dynamic Christie Copland ably assisted by Dave Hoover.
Getting the show off to a fast start were comely show girls and guys in a true western stomp.  Some big name country impersonators then took over.  A look alike Kenny Rogers sang "You got to hold them and fold them" with the audience participating.  Then "Lady, let me hold you".  Then a ballard style Tim McGraw with "Ruby" and "Lady, I want to tell you".
A  fine impersonation of Reba McEntire followed in her robust style.  Then with help from the audience "Save a horse, ride a cowboy"  Then more ballards like "Grandpa, tell me of the good old days" with video screens showing old photos for visible effect.
Two cowboy poets followed with some corn spun country humor.  An acrobat, dressed like an Italian chef,  did some amazing balancing acts on cooking pots with Dolly Parton telling him to get back into the kitchen.
Closing was boisterous with the singing of God Bless America by the cast and the Mesquite Methodist Church choir taking part.  Then Christie Copland and Dave Hoover led the cast out of the showroom so they could personally greet members of the audience as we filed out.
It was a fun filled performance.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The MusicFest concerts were in the evening which allowed  free time during the day to explore and enjoy the desert scenery that surrounds Mesquite.  This presented the best of two worlds for me, outdoor activity in daylight hours and Casino entertainment in the evening.
One day I set off for Valley of Fire State Park.  It has been some decades since I had last been there.  Then we would often camp there en route to Utah where my wife's family lived.
There is a lot to see in this State Park which gets its name from the red sandstone rock formations that formed a 150 million years ago from shifting sand dunes. 
They appear in all shapes and sizes and have acquired names like Duck Rock, Seven Sisters, White Domes and the Beehives.  These are all places to stop and take photos, etc.  Some have picnic sites as well and the Park has two campgrounds.
The Park has both a west and east entrance so it is possible to enter from I 15 in either and make a circle drive allowing one to exit the other so to see as much as possible.  This is what we did.
The Park also has an excellent Visitor Center with exhibits on the geology,  plants and animals.  Also the human history which dates back over one thousand years.
It was an easy day trip from Mesquite and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
For more information on Valley of Fire State Park call 702 397-2088, web www.parks.nv/vf.htm.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Mesquite MusicFest opened with a show starring Art Vargas who as been a part of the Las Vegas entertainment scene for 25 years.  Entitled "Vintage Vegas" the theme is to present a golden era that extended from the last 1950s through the early 1970s.
The show, held at the showroom of the CasaBlanca Resort and Casino, was right on the mark with the song and dance of brilliantly  costumed show girls and performances by Art and his co-star Laura Shaffer.
Here was the Las Vegas of Louie Prima, the Rat Pack, Peggy Lee and Cab Calloway, to name a few.
The show was fast moving and the backup team of musicians  recreated the music of big bands and lounge shows. 
Art Vargas' show was well attended with much of the audience with their own memories of that earlier, exciting Vegas era.  And that included this Writer.
Laura Shaffer was fantastic with her renditions of "Why don't you do right" and "Big Spender" from the musical Sweet Charity.
Art Vargas has a most infromative page on Facebook and it is the place to learn more about the 'Vintage Vegas' Show
 More on the MusicFest tomorrow.

Monday, February 16, 2015

On arriving in Mesquite we checked into the Eureka Casino Resort and liked what we saw.  The Hotel sits prominently on high ground and is separate from the Casino across the parking lot. 
Our well appointed room had windows that gave a sweeping view of the mountains that surround the Virgin Valley on every side.  It was quiet and also offered views of the private patio and pool for guests.
And the Casino and restaurants were only a two minute walk away.
For casual dining we enjoyed Eureka Resort's Mason Street Courtyard.  It offers a bright, contemporary ambiance while marking the San Francisco Street it is named for.  Some scenes of San Francisco decorate the walls.
The menu offered excellent choices for every time of day with a well trained friendly staff.
The MusicFest concerts took place at the CasaBlanca Resort Casino in its showroom and we were ready for the first concert which starred Art Vargas with a show that defined Las Vegas in its golden years of the late fifties, sixties and early seventies.
A review of this show tomorrow.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Mesquite MusicFest sounded like something that would be worth attending.  Besides I had been hearing a good deal about interesting events taking place in this low key city just an hour past Las Vegas on Interstate 15.
The MusicFest was billed as 'classic shows, just like Vegas used to be'.  This sounded particularly interesting to me since I had spent a good deal of time in Las Vegas during the sixties and early 1970s covering conventions and business meetings as a reporter.
Those were the years of the Rat Pack, Louie Prima, Peggy Lee, Big Bands and Bobby Darin.  The hotels were the Dunes, Sahara, Sands, El Rancho Vegas, and Tropiciana and they all featured top name lounge shows.
The MusicFest was three different performances.  The first featured Art Vargas, a Vegas performer for 25 years.  The second was Roadhouse Legends, a country western production with singers,dancers and country impersonators of Tim McGraw, Kenny Rogers and Reba McEntire.
The third was called Killer, Cash & Elvis as a tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.
All the performances in the showroom of the CasaBlanca Resort, Casino and Golf Course.
Mesquite has been featuring a series of weekend events.  Just past was the Balloon Festival and following the MusicFest a week later a world class Motocross.
More about Mesquite and my stay there tomorrow.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A restaurant that can stay in business for twenty five years must be doing everything right.  So to find out more about "this legend in its own time" I recently made a visit to Misto Caffe and Bakery located in Torrance.
There I met Chef/Owner Luis Alvarez who gave me a tour of Misto and the story of how it has become part of the community.  It is located in Hillside Village which offers a provincial atmosphere and decor for the many businesses that are located there.
The Old World bistro look of Misto fits in perfectly here.  The restaurant includes a series of intimate dining rooms and flanked by a large all season patio, that is especially popular.  And yes, one room includes the bakery and seating for those with a sweet tooth.
The menu here is large offering both American favorites and some entrees with a Latin background.  There is a daily special luncheon menu.  The wine list is international and offers a wine special each day.
My dining partner and I enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch while meeting Luis and his manager, Opie Lepe, who has been with him for twenty three years.
Misto is open for lunch only on Monday, the rest of the week serving both lunch and dinner.  On Saturday and Sunday there is a brunch served.
Misto is located at 24558 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance with ample free off street parking.  Telephone 310 375-3608, web

Saturday, February 7, 2015

At last we were able to visit one of the most talked about new restaurants in Orange County.  It is The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar in Newport.  The restaurant, located on West Coast Highway,  is adjacent to the Marina offering diners and lounge patrons serene views of the harbor.
Our visit proved that all the good things we had heard about this restaurant were true.  The decor is spectacular with bars, lounges and dining rooms on two levels including an  all season patio on the second level with two fireplaces and view of the harbor.
If you wish to arrive by boat the restaurant has its own dock.
The menu has much to offer including a whole list of wild game prepared to order.
The Winery lives up to its name with over 5000 bottles of wines from all over the world.  There are also over one hundred wine storage cabinets for private use by customers who wish to store their wines in  climate control condition.
My partner and I started with a calamari that was tender and most flavorful.  My entree was jumbo Maine scallops, and wild white shrimp over risotto.  My dining partner ordered the slow braised angus beef short ribs which were so tender a knife was not needed.
The Winery is located at 3131 West Coast Highway in Newport with valet parking.  It is open seven days a week for dinner.  For more information call 949 999-6622.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The one place we would have loved to visit on our Catalina port of call was the Rusack Catalina Island vineyard.  It is located on the west side of the island and is not accessible for visitors.
Actual name now is Santa Catalina Vineyards and presently three wines are produced:  cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and zinfandel.
And with the zinfandel there is a story.  We learned about it first on our recent visit to the Rusack Vineyards tasting room located a short distance from Solvang.
At the tasting room Georgia Hunter poured us a glass of  a remarkable 2012 Zinfandel from vines almost one hundred years old.   Originally they were planted in the garden of a ranch located on Santa Cruz Island.  The ranch is long abandoned but some years ago someone discovered these old zinfandel vines.  Presently they were moved to the Rusack vineyard on Catalina which has the exact same terroir.
The places where you can taste these wines in Avalon is at C C Gallagher Restaurant And Avalon Grill.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Our dining on Imagination gave us ample opportunity to try Carnival's new American Table and American Feast menu.
Also we met with Guna Chellam, Hotel Director, who gave us a full briefing on how Carnival's culinary team developed  the new dinner concepts.  Once they are developed they are used on four Carnival ships for six months on a trial basis.  Imagination is one of these four ships.
American Table is offered as a modern American restaurant style menu with both traditional and new style cuisine.  There will also be 'rare finds' on the menu with the unusual, frog legs or spicy Alligator Fritters as examples.  There is a new menu each evening on the cruise.
This new menu also has a feature called 'Port of Call entree"  This is a local food or entree that is traditional at the place the ship is currently visiting.
American Feast will be offered a few times on each cruise as a special dining event.
We were impressed both with this new menu and as usual the service staff was outstanding.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Besides the Cruise 2 Jam Blue Grass musicians aboard Carnival Imagination there were a group of disabled veterans.  This came about when Jerry Turner, organizer and founder of the Blue Grass event decided to take disabled veterans and their families along as guests of the group.
This Writer made it a point to  meet and and interview these veterans.  Each night aboard ship we dined with one of these veterans and his family.
One evening it was with Jonathan Schumacher, a Marine who lost both legs in a  roadside mine explosion while serving in Afghanistan.  With him aboard was his wife, Courtney and two young sons.
Another evening we were at the dinner table with Geoffrey and Samantha Quevedo.  He was with the U.S. Army on an eight month tour in Afghanistan when he lost his left arm during a fire fight.  He and his wife had married a month before after being high school sweethearts.
We also met another U.S. Army veteran, Rallace Fanene.  While serving in Iraq during a fire fight he stepped on a mine and lost his right leg and arm.  This occurred just two weeks before finishing his second fifteen month tour in that country.  We also met his wife Scarlett and two children, daughter, Nahia and son, Lokepa.
Jerry Turner calls this program for disabled veterans Friends2Veterans.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Once again it is off on a Carnival cruise to Mexico, this time on the Imagination.  And once again I will be aboard with the Cruise 2 Jam group of Blue Grass musicians.  This is seventh year that lovers and performers of Blue Grass have gathered on a four day Carnival cruise to Santa Catalina and Ensenada.
And for this Writer the third time.
I first met the group quite accidentally when on a Carnival cruise four years ago.  I was captivated by both the music and the musicians who were aboard from many different states and localities.
Then I had met the man responsible for this coming together of musicians.  His name is Jerry Turner and this whole congregation of musicians was  his original idea and goal.
This year there were about 110 aboard and soon were picking and jamming in groups scattered around different parts of the Imagination.
Tomorrow we will cover another important aspect of this Cruise 2 Jam event.