Enjoying at Mommy’s night out at Fleming’s steakhouse

flemings-filet-and-ribeye-group-shot_largeFleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Beverly Hills has a hipper swagger than your traditional steakhouse. It has the dim lighting, crisp white table cloths and large booth seating that you expect from a fine dining establishment, but unlike the staid and almost library-like atmosphere of many steakhouses, Fleming’s feels like a party.

This energy could be partially owing to the vivaciousness of the servers, like Tyler, who we figured must be an actor, because his flashy smile was at any moment headshot ready, who took care of me and my dining companion on our last visit, but it is also the general vibe of the place, from the laughter of the well-heeled patrons mingling at the bar to the steady flow of patrons in and out of the restaurant, milling about in the entry, greeting the host and hostess as if they were old friends, maybe they were.

But of course, the ambience and atmosphere are important, but the food is essential, and here is where Fleming’s truly excels. Being a steakhouse, of course I ordered a steak. As a huge fan of the bone-in T-bone, I ordered the one and only size of its variety, the 20-ounce steak, which was a meal fit for a king, or two. Of course, with an Uncle Buck sized steak like this, I figured I would end up boxing up a good portion of it to take home, but it was so juicy and flavorful that I did not leave as much on my plate as I had expected, but still enough for a second excellent meal the next day.

As we had started our meal with the outstanding crabcakes, wading in a puddle of roasted red pepper and lime butter sauce, followed by the Flemings salad of candied walnuts, dried cranberries, tomatoes, onions, herbed crostini, lemon vinaigrette, we did not want to overdo it, and so we only ordered the shoestring potatoes as a side, though we had heard good things about the crispy fried brussels sprouts and the monstrous onion rings, but we will have to wait until next time to order those.

Tyler kept us happy, making sure all our dishes arrived as ordered, hot and fresh. He was not afraid to give his opinion on the best way to have our food prepared, such as recommending having my steak seared on both sides before cooking it to a perfect medium rare, versus broiling it. He also had excellent suggestions regarding wines, and he didn’t judge when I asked for white wine with my steak, and he selected for me a rich and buttery Chardonnay that paired perfectly with the juicy flavor of my steak.

To finish off our most excellent dining adventure, Tyler recommended Fleming’s extraordinary carrot cake. A tall layered slice of this goodness was delivered with a bowl of fresh whipped cream, which we sampled liberally with each bite of this decadently delicious dessert.

Our dinner experience was leisurely, with Tyler pacing the delivery of each course to give us time for conversation and to whet our appetites for the next course. Noticeably, many of the same folks at the bar who were there when we arrived we’re still there when we left.

Despite the festive, jovial atmosphere, full of lively conversation and activity, it did not feel hectic, nor did we feel rushed, even though it was a busy night. Our experience felt more like we were among a gathering of family and old friends.

In Beverly Hills, where the scene can sometimes be, well, scene-y, Fleming’s was a nice respite, where one could be dressed up and enjoy an upscale evening out without the uppity stiffness of some restaurants in town where in the end you are just glad it’s over. Fleming’s is a place where guests want to linger, for the food and drinks, and just because it feels comfortable to be there.

Flemings has 13 locations in California, including a newly opened restaurant in Pasadena.

Lots to do, see, and eat at Santa Monica Pier

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The Off the Hook Santa Monica Seafood Festival attracted hundreds of visitors to sample tastes from local eateries.

When I lived in Washington, D.C., every visitor from out of town wanted to site see downtown — the White House, Washington Monument, the museums and the other landmarks and attractions. As a resident of LA, visitors asked me to show them the Hollywood sign, Sunset Boulevard, and always, my favorite tourist spot, the Santa Monica Pier.

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The Pier is a great place to people watch, shop for trinkets, play arcade games or ride thrill rides, or spend a casual day by the beach and even go fishing. In the evening there are plenty of great restaurants for every taste, and for those staying overnight, there are many wonderful luxury and boutique hotels. If visiting just for the day or weekend, here are our picks for places to go, see, dine and stay.

Sea and be seen, and eat

A great place for lunch or dinner is Del Frisco’s Grille, directly across from the Pier entrance at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. While this happening eatery is right on the beaten path, it’s glass-walled patio is a shelter from the crowd, while diners can still note the qualities of the people going by; or those at the buzzy bar or seated inside in the upscale dining room can take respite from the throngs of tourists outside. The menu includes signature entrees including a generously portioned non-fried lump crab cake and adorable aha mini tacos in a with avocado, spicy citrus mayo and fresh tuna tartar spilling out of them. Then menu describes their offerings aptly, such as large salads (Big Greens) ample burgers (Two-Fisted Sandwiches), and chef specialties (Knife & Fork) along with an array of signature steaks and fish, like the delicate parmesan lemon sole with arugula-crab salad, roasted tomato and chive-lemon butter. Save room for the incredible heap of Nutella bread pudding with coffee ice cream.

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Stay a while, leave no footprint

The Shore Hotel boasts ocean views, on Ocean Avenue, and it’s easy walking distance to the pier and many other Santa Monica attractions, including the bike path along the ocean and shopping, cinemas, and many restaurants. It’s a cleanly designed and chic hotel, with lots of glass and chrome, but despite its modernism, the hotel is known for being down to earth. It is a LEED-certified building, with building materials, paints, carpeting, bedding and other textiles within the hotel all conforming to the hotel’s eco-friendly policy. Sure hotels goes beyond simply asking people to reuse their bath towels, they provide a recycling trashcan in each room, and there are reminder signs throughout the hotel to encourage visitors to reuse and recycle.

 

Even the landscaping around the hotel uses recycled water and features region appropriate succulents. The pool is also solar heated, and conditioning in each room automatically goes off when the balcony door is opened to save energy. The rooms themselves are designed to let in lots of natural light, and since 90% of the rooms have an ocean view with plenty of daylight, there’s no need for artificial lights in the room during the daytime, and the lobby is equally light and airy with floor-to-ceiling glass windows to let in the light and show off the hotels spectacular setting across from the beach.

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Take a long walk on a historic pier

The Santa Monica Pier itself is a main attraction of the city. Like most boardwalks, it is a mix of souvenir shops and walk-up and casual restaurants offering custard ice cream, pizza, French fries, hot dogs on a stick and other typical fast food fare, along with a few sit-down restaurants, like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and an upscale option of The Lobster for fine dining.

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At the entrance of the pier, the beautiful historic carousel is only one dollar for rides and a must experience for children. There’s also an aquarium that while small in size has many exotic fish and is a great educational sidetrip for kids. For those who prefer their fish on the end of a hook, the Pier has license-free fishing, where my son snagged a spiny backed stingray — which we threw back, due to the the fellow fisherman warning us that fish caught there were contaminated because of pollution.

There is, of course, a noisy arcade with cranes and video games where you can spend $50 to win prizes worth about $2. The Pacific Park, located on the pier, offers midway games, like skee ball and the water balloon filling game, and an assortment of rides for all ages, including the West Coaster, a small but thrilling roller coaster. The rides can be expensive, up to $8 each for the premium rides, but you can purchase an all-day wristband for $29.95 for adults and $17.95 for kids under 7.

 

What is considered the boardwalk, a walkway along a strip of shops and restaurants adjacent to the pier, is known as a great place for people watching, where tourists can see street performers jump into piles of glass and the famed Jimi Hendrix on rollerblades often cuts through the crowds jamming on his electric guitar. The scene can get rather seedy at night, so usually families and kids start to disappear around nightfall, when the hippies burning sage and drum circles make their appearance.

Lounge around

If you enjoy a see-and-be-seen lounge atmosphere, head over to the Viceroy Hotel, an ocean front stylish boutique hotel known for its fashionable crowd and hipster happy hours. The hotel’s restaurant, CAST, features an eclectic menu of California cuisine with unexpectedly delicious food and flavor combinations artistically presented in a swanky atmosphere, at the poolside patio restaurant, with its Alice in Wonderland high-back chairs and black and white checkered tables. The restaurant has an award-winning weekend brunch, but get reservations early, or you will get left out of the in crowd.

Shop a while

Shopping in Santa Monica includes indoor and outdoor retail destinations. Besides the random boutiques, there is Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade plaza, which is basically a three-block-long outdoor mall of stores and restaurants, with a variety of food and drink offerings, from juice and smoothie bars to fine Italian dining at Locando del Lago. 3rd Street Promenade also features movie theaters and street performers, including one dead ringer for James Taylor who usually draws a huge crowd. The shops themselves are mostly retail chains, such as Banana Republic, GAP, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Pottery Barn but there are also a slew of independent stores worth checking out.

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A short walk away is Santa Monica Place, a galleria of upscale shops, such as Kate Spade A, Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, and Coach and healthy food offerings like True Food Kitchen, Fresh Healthy Café, and 40 Carots (inside Bloomingdale’s). The mall features concierge services and parking valet and other high-end services for the discerning shopper. The good and bad thing about Santa Monica Place is that it almost always seems deserted, so you can have the place to yourself, but you can also feel like you’re walking in a ghost town. 1280px-santa_monica_place_macerich

Plan for LA’s Best Modern American Comfort Food for Kids and Grown Ups — Plan Check Kitchen + Bar

For epicurean kids, Plan Check Kitchen + Bar unveiled its new children’s menu last month, with smaller portions of some of their most-famed dishes, like smokey friend chicken, and the PCB (Plan Check Burger) Jr., sans onions. The ambiance of this bar and restaurant is decidedly grown-up, but even after 7 pm on a Sunday night, the place is crawling with young kids, out with the ‘rents for a family dinner.friedchick800pickles800

While the kids menu throws in one can’t-miss favorite of grilled cheese, the other offerings are suited for kids who have a bit more adventurous palate. My seven-year-old son went for the BBQ chicken stix, which are definitely not your typical chicken fingers.

stix800 These tender and tasty skewers, swathed in tangy BBQ sauce and sprinkled with crunch cheddar ban bacon bits, presented in a mini iron skillet on a bed of fries, were just to my son’s liking, though for those who prefer breaded nuggets, these fingers would have gone untouched.
While the kids menu is called such, even the drinks — fountain soda, lemonade, or iced tea, eschew the usuals — juices and milk, and are served in a tall narrow glass — no plastic sippy with a straw here. For sure, this kids menu is not your standard, and like the atmosphere — a bit noisy, hip and happening — the menu is exciting enough for adults, but tame enough to appeal to kids.

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For the of-age crowd, the upscale comfort food is divinely satisfying. The portions may seem small, but the food is filling as it is scrumptious.

chips800The sweet potato waffle fries, made with beef tallow, pop with flavor as vivid as the bright orange color, and the smokey fried chicken earns its reputation as mouth-watering — one of those dishes where you take a bite then your eyes go wide when the flavor saturates your soul.
The cruller donuts are the final treat to finish off such a delectable meal. The cinnamon-coated dough twists come with a dipping cream sauce and cream mousse along with banana slices for the ultimate donut fix.
Plan Check Bar + Restaurant is smart to be so different from its neighbors. It’s not what you would expect in the middle of LA, which makes you wonder, “Where else could you go for a meal like this?” The answer is nowhere I can think of. And that makes it even better.

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The crowd is eclectic. In addition to the sprinkling of families, there was a large contingent of stylish (assume gay) men, attractive single men and women at the bar. Prices are reasonable, with burgers and sandwiches $12 to $13, and other entrees from $13 to $16. Some of the snacks and apps are particularly unique, such as the selection of pickles and a wire basket of exotic veggie chips with avocado dip.

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Plan Check, which takes its name from its original location across from the Building and Safety Department, where architects, engineers and the like would lunch while reviewing plans for permitting. Two current locations are at 351 N. Fairfax and 1800 Sawtelle in LA. A downtown location on Wilshire is due to open soon.

West Hollywood PRIDE Celebration Makes Community Proud

20140607_123228The 2014 PRIDE LA Music & Arts Festival held June 6-9 in West Hollywood Park delivered on the promise of its promoters, Christopher Street West, that the event would feature “something for everyone.”  A centerpiece of the festival was Thunderground, an outdoor rollerskating rink complete with a light show and mirror balls and pulsating disco music.

Many skaters graced the rink wearing their best circa-1970s Lycra leggings and fro wigs.  Sponsor American Apparel helped set the dress code by giving away muscle tank tops and pink and white stripped Richard-Simmons short-shorts, while Delta Airlines offered free spray tans in two cabanas in the outdoor VIP lounge.

Other attractions included a pop-up arcade of carnival games, such a shooting gallery with a ping pong ball gun where you could “put your balls in Putin’s mouth” by aiming at a cut-out target of the Russian leader’s open mouth, and a variation on the water-dunk booth but with players breaking water balloons over each other’s heads.

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There were lots of great giveaways from companies ranging from Just for Skin face creams Dyle, a new tech device that streams live TV to your mobile phone.  Booths by Walgreens, Whole Foods and Arrowhead Water were just some of the mainstream companies represented.  Bedsides the occasional nearly naked buff man in a tiny sling of a bikini handing out palm cards to the local gay men’s night club, the tone of this year’s festival seemed less focused on sex-related promotion than in previous years.

As a banner over Robertson Boulevard greeted, “Welcome to Our Family,” PRIDE indeed felt more about fun and community this year.  After all, what’s more wholesome than a giant roller-skating rink with kids and parents skating around together hand in hand?  This year I can really say, PRIDE made me proud.

Celeb Gay Parents Celebrate at Family Equality Council Dinner in LA

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Proud mom Melissa Etheridge and her fiance.

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The legendary rocker joked with the audience about how good it was to be at the event, which celebrates gay-parented families.

“I’ve got two teens and two seven-year-olds.  I don’t go out and do anything anymore. I’m too tired.”

Etheridge then reminisced about the media clamor 17 years ago when she was one of the first gay moms to come out; and she remarked about the commonness today of families headed by gay and lesbian parents.

“Is it just me, but are we everywhere?” Etheridge laughed.

She then told a story about going to Lulu Lemon recently to get a pair of soccer shorts for her daughter.  The sales clerk, a young woman, showered Etheridge with praise for coming out as a lesbian mother.   The young woman was herself raised by two moms, she had just bought her moms tickets to Etheridge’s show.

Etheridge may have been one of the first to go public, but gay parents were in no shortage at the awards event.  Funny man and gay dad Alec Mapa of Ugly Betty fame emceed the event of more than 300 gay parents and their supporters.

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Alex Mapa and Pearson Brown

Honorees of the evening were Peter Paige & Bradley Bredeweg, creators of ABC Family’s groundbreaking drama series The Fosters, produced by Jennifer Lopez, about a multi-ethnic family mix of foster and biological kids being raised by two moms; and Jennifer Tyrrell, a gay mom honored for her advocacy after being removed from her leadership position with Boy Scouts of America because she is gay.

One of the poignant moments of the evening was a short, heartfelt speech by a gay dad whose home was repeatedly vandalized and his children harassed because neighbors in his small Arizona town learned that the household was headed by two dads.  As a show of support, the two fathers and their family were treated by Family Equality Council to a vacation in Provincetown for the organization’s annual Family Week.

“Instead of being hated for being a two-dad family, we were embraced,” he said, choking back tears.

As he accepted his award, Paige survey the audience of mostly thirty-something and middle-age mom and dads and remarked, “It’s staggering that anyone could be threatened by anything happening in the this room.  It’s appalling and it has to stop.”

The message of the evening was that gay parents are just regular moms and dads, trying to do laundry, get their kids dressed and ready for school, and all the other mundane but normal things that other families do.

As Alec Mapa summed up, “We want the same things, but we’re gay, so we want nicer things.”

Also on hand at the event were Orange is the New Black’s Laura Prepon Scandal’s Dan Bucatinsky, David Miller, and Casey Bloys, Darren Criss and Amber Riley of Glee, Adam Lambert, Glee creator Ryan Murphy, actress Busy Phillips, and the cast of ABC’s Scandal including Scott Foley, Tony Goldwyn and Jeff Perry; Tim Allen, Pauley Perrette (NCIS),  George Takei, Harold Perrineau, Aisha Tyler, Kathleen Robertson, Tuc Watkins, Alex Newell (Glee), Tamara Barney and Heather Dubrow of Real Housewives of Orange County, Carlon Gebbia and Joyce Giraud, and Yolanda Foster of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Dale Dickey, Debbie Holliday, Amanda Bearse, and the cast of ABC Family’s The Fosters including Maia Mithcell, David Lambert, Cierra Ramirez, Jake T. Austin, Danny Nucci and Hayden Byerly.

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Peter Paige & Bradley Bredeweg, creators of ABC Family’s groundbreaking drama series The Fosters.

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Pearson Brown, Laura Pepron and Angela Robinson.

Frozen at El Capitan – A Winter Wonderland in Hollywood

Falling Snow and Ice Carving Usher in Cool Characters of New Disney Movie

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As an East Coaster missing white Christmases, I was refreshed by and reminded of my cold, crisp carefree days of childhood in Virginia on my recent outing to the animated feature Frozen, showing in 3D at El Capitan.  The theatre is decorated complete with an indoor winter wonderland of snow drifts and sparkling curtains of icicles and real falling snowflakes.

Living up to its legendary reputation at the best movie palace anywhere to see a Disney movie, El Capitan delivers a wondrous wintery experience in the theatre with its pre-show ice sculpting exhibit featuring former Ms. America Dominique Colell, bundled up stylishly in a dazzling white parka, along with her fellow blond-beauty accomplice, wielding chain saws and chisels.  The pair transform a block of ice into one of the film’s beloved characters, the clownish snowman Olaf, whose blissfully ignorant song, “In Summer,” his lament for warmer days, is one of the early highlights of the movie.

Olaf (Josh Gad) is the sidekick of Anna (Kristen Bell), who rolled him into a playmate as a young girl, and whom her princess sister Elsa Idina Menzel), brought to life with a wave of her hand when they played as children.  That was before Elsa learned that her powers to create Olaf, along with all sorts of frozen creations of snow and ice, were not just fun and games but a curse that could doom her and her kingdom.

A local witchdoctor of sorts tells Elsa’s royal parents to hide their daughter’s gift, and he removes the memories of Elsa’s powers from her sister’s memory.  In the Disney moment, as I have come to call it, the parents perish at sea; and so the two girls are left orphaned, with Elsa retreating to her room to keep her secret hidden, and her sister is left lonely, albeit safe.

Enter a handsome prince, an oafish ice salesman and his reindeer companion, and an conniving, greedy tradesman from a neighboring city, and chaos is unleashed and the charming kingdom of Arendell turned to a winter wasteland.

As with all Disney stories, all is resolved with a happy, happy ending.  With a delightful soundtrack of songs and an exciting array of 3D visuals, including a spectacular ice fight and one scary abominable- iceman-type monster, the forecast for Frozen is lots of fun for the whole family .  Playing at El Capitan through Jan. 5, 2014.

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Getting Intimate with Milo and Olive

Neighborhood Eatery Charms with Warm Atmosphere, Fresh Ingredients and Bread Delights

Milo & Olive has been around for three years, but from the buzz inside you would think the hole-in-the-wall bakery and pizzeria on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica had just opened its doors.  With just two large tables surrounded by chairs and a long bench, and bar seating overlooking the kitchen, about 30 lunchtime diners vie for a place at the tables and counters, where they sit beside and chat with strangers, off-line style.

Despite the din of patrons’ voices and clatter in the kitchen, the mood is relaxed, and of course intimate.  Chef Erin Eastland smiles from the large open kitchen, greeting guests as they enter.  Servers lean over customers, which can’t be helped in this small space, to deliver an assortment of fresh small plates, salads, pastas and wood fired pizzas to eager guests.  It’s a happy place, and once you’ve sampled the menu, you know why.

The salads – like the daily beet salad special, are so fresh you taste the aroma before you take a bite.  Likewise, the small plates are bursting with flavor, like the sautéed kale, pickled with fresno chili and garlic, that won over even a lukewarm kale eater like myself.

Arugula & Radiccio salad - credit Emily Hart Rothlores

When they say “small plates,” they mean it; but it doesn’t mean you won’t get enough to eat. Something about a truly satisfying dish, like the potato gnocchi and market vegetables prepared with basil and walnut pesto and Parmigiano Reggiano, fulfills in taste what heaps of bland food could never satiate.  And as the European-style shared-table seating inspires, the small plates are perfect for sharing among your party, so that you can satisfy your appetite with a diverse sampling of several dishes.

While many of the exotic pizzas are tempting – such as the pork belly sausage pizza with escarole or the roasted eggplant and greens pizza with mascarpone — one of the most popular pizzas at Milo & Olive remains the staple crispy pepperoni, so covered with spicy slices of meat that it actually crunches.

Milo & Olive Pizzalores

Aside from their pizzas, the not-to-miss signature item at Milo & Olive is the wood fried garlic knot, a twisted soft bread ball soaked in extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.  Worth the extra 20 minutes it takes to prepare, this the ultimate garlic-lovers treat.
Garlic knot - credit Emily Hart Roth

Other rustic bread and pastries offered include classic baguettes and country boules; green olive, lemon and thyme breads; three-cheese cheesebread; whole wheat potato bread; and homemade bagels.  All are the creations of co-owner Zoe Nathan, who along with business partner Josh Loeb, who are together the team behind Santa Monica’s other restaurant gems Rustic Canyon and Huckleberry and the recently opened Sweet Rose Creamery ice cream shop.

Pecan Sticky Buns - Emily Hart Roth Photo Creditlores

The concept behind Milo & Olive is warm and inviting: a place where guests can come enjoy morning coffee and pastries or gather to dine with friends, or meet new ones, for lunch or dinner.  The crowd is mostly local office workers during the weekdays, but weeknights and weekends guests drive in from across Los Angeles, or from as far as Paso Robles, as were a couple who shared our table for a late lunch.  Despite Milo & Olive’s popularity, they don’t take reservations, so prepare for a wait if you show up at busy times.  Nobody gets special treatment for seating, but just like at the family table, if you don’t mind getting cozy, they will squeeze you in.

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