Mardi Gras in Los Angeles at the Original Farmer’s Market

bengets   jumbalyala

Los Angeles is a long way from New Orleans, but The Original Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax will bring the ways of the Bijou state to Angelenos this weekend, as it kicks off the 26th annual Mardi Gras Celebration, on Valentine’s Day, February 14.  The three-day event will feature bead throwing, beignets, Dixie beer, face painting, and a lineup of music including Cajun and Zydeco bands and strolling performers.

gumbopotgumbopot menu

The boisterous, family friendly celebration includes special menu items from the many of the market’s 120 vendors. Chef Clinton and his crew at famed The Gumbo Pot will cook up their world-class jambalaya and Cajun gumbo, including alligator gumbo, along with catfish, crawfish pie, and many Cajun-spiced dishes.

The Normandie Bakery, run by the wonderfully sweet baker Josette, will slice up traditional King Cake, coated with purple, green and gold sugars and complete with a Baby Jesus baked inside.

bakeryking cake

Bob’s Coffee and Doughnuts will serve puffed and powder-sugared fried dough treats that New Orleanians know as donuts but tourists call beignets. E.B’s and other bars at the market will be serving favorite beers of the Big Easy, such as Dixie Beer and Abita Purple Haze.  Rumor has it that one of the market’s sushi vendors will feature a special crawfish roll.

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Besides the cost of food and drink, the entire event is free.  Festivities continue into the evening hours over the weekend and wrap up February 17 with a Fat Tuesday finale 6 to 9 pm featuring Eddie Baytos and The Nervis Bros playing on the West Patio.  For more information and a full schedule of bands and activities, visit www.farmersmarketla.com.

 

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Locanda del Lago Welcomes the Familia Italian Style

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The term “family restaurant” means different things to different people.  At Locanda del Lago it means many things.  The traditional Northern Italian restaurant at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade has stood the test of time in LA where eateries go in and out of vogue with the seasons, but a typical bustling multigenerational Saturday night crowd shows this family favorite has staying power, not just as a restaurant where children are welcome, but also where diners are treated like family.

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Greeting guests at the host stand, an affable JD, in a snappy bow-tie, sets the tone for visitors. At first I thought JD mistook me for someone he knew, since his welcoming was so enthusiastic, but I later learned from our server, John, that JD is always this way.

John, who by his movie-star good looks and his expert recitation of the daily specials I presumed — and confirmed — was an actor, was pleasant and patient as my dining companion and I mulled over our options.  We decided to start off with one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails, since JD had told us that the ingredients were fresh sourced just the day before from the local farmer’s market.  We chose the blood orange martini — delicious and fruity, and the raspberry and lemon drop martini — very sweet, accented by a sugared rim.

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We moved onto the appetizers — Burrata e Zucca; a creamy Burrata cheese with a savory-sweet butter squash compote; and the restaurant’s popular sampler of fried shrimp, calamari, smelts and zucchini. The former was a generous portion, making us wish we had ordered just one starter; and the latter was made interesting by the smelts, but overall this plate was a bit more crispy than hoped for, and since we were saving room for our entrees we had this bagged to take home.

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For entrees we chose the fillet, assuming we “could not go wrong,” and John in fact reinforced this idea using these exact words.  We also opted for a lobster pasta, which John highly recommended and informed us was the Chef Gianfranco Minuz’s own favorite dish to eat himself, whenever he was lucky enough there was any left at the end of a night.

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While the fillet was more on the medium than the medium-rare requested, it was still a tender piece of beef with a rich Porcini mushroom sauce and served with sautéed broccolini.  The pasta dish was a surprising pale green color, almost like tinted glass noodles, and while neither of expected to like it, we were pleased that it was, as promised, an exquisite treat.

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We finished our dinner with a molten lava cake, which unfortunately was still chilled in the center. Nevertheless, we polished it off, and though I was certain John would have offered us another dessert if we had complained, we were quite satisfied overall with our meal.

By the time we left, after pacing ourselves through an enjoyable two-hour dinner, we noticed most of the tables around us were the same guests as when we sat down.  The tables were filled with families — of grandparents, parents and children.  We were amused to see one table complete filled with children — the proverbial kids table — next to their parents who were clearly savoring their long evening of dining and visiting with family.

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As we made our way out, JD introduced us to the affable Michelin-starred Chef Minuz, whose menu was inspired by the tastes of the regions of Lombardy and Lake Como, and they saw us out the door, as good hosts always do at the end of an evening spend with familia; and they invited us to come again, which we certainly will.

Hotel Del Offers Family Getaway for Generations

A 1991 movie, LA Story, made fun of Los Angeles and its lack of history and culture.  Steve Martin cynically gives Sarah Jessica Parker a tour of our fair city exclaiming, “Some of these buildings are (wait for it) … 20 years old!”  But indeed there are some Angeleno landmarks and traditions that date back more than 100 years, and my family recently got to experience one, Hotel Del Coronado, just 2.5 hours south of LA, but a world away from the glitz and hustle of the city.

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Hotel Del, as it is affectionately known, attracts families that return generation after generation, to celebrate weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and holidays, most notably Christmas, at this luxury beachfront resort.  The iconic red-shingled roof of the wooden Victorian-style main hotel is immediately recognizable and has played the backdrop not only for memorable family vacation photos but also for many Hollywood movies.

Since its opening in 1888, the hotel has hosted many of the silver screen’s greats, such as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Mae West, and today it still serves as a getaway to the rich and famous, from Madonna, Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, to a slew of Presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barak Obama.

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The hotel is one of the largest all-wood structures in the United States, and its famed Crown Ball Room, which served as inspiration to the writer of Wizard of Oz, L. Fred Baum, who often stayed there, features a wooden ceiling installed with pegs and glue — not a single nail.

crown ballroom

Its architectural and cultural history alone make Hotel Del a destination worth visiting, but its welcoming, family friendly atmosphere and family traditions keep families returning year after year.  Most famously, the hotel hosts a legendary month-long winter holiday celebration featuring a beachside outdoor ice skating rink, thousands of festive white lights and an giant Christmas tree in the lobby, an homage to America’s very first electrically lit outdoor Christmas tree at the hotel, in 1904.

The lobby’s brass-gated elevator, complete with a uniformed elevator operator, and the dark wood-paneled stair cases and the bright, wide-open enormous hallways to guest rooms harken back to an era of grand hotels, adding to the nostalgia of the Hotel Del, and serving as a wonderment to children, who look forward to coming back to the hotel each year for holidays and vacations.

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The property was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977and a California Historical Landmark in 1970 and has been named by USA Today as one of the top ten resorts in the world.  Despite its age, the hotel has kept up with modern times with multiple renovations, including more than $10 million in upgrades, including the addition of a few dozen limited-term occupancy cottages and villas a couple hundred more rooms, in addition to the 399 original rooms.

The amenities include an Olympic-sized salt water pool, tennis courts, and many lush gardens and gazebos around the property, along with shops and restaurants.  Of course, with the digital age, Hotel Del added Wi-Fi, flatscreen TVs, electronic key cards and all the modern comforts that today’s luxury travel expects.  But while many hot spots come and go, Hotel Del has stood the test of time.

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For many of today’s visitors, like our family, the Hotel Del represents the best of new and old, where grandparents enjoy the charm, comfort and familiarity of a magical place where their own childhood memories were made, while they watch their grandchildren play on the beach and make memories for a lifetime.  For our family, our visit this holiday season was the first of what we plan to make an annual tradition.  And maybe one day we will be lucky enough to come back and see our own grandchildren fall in love with the Del.