Kathy Leonardo

Kathy Leonardo  Photo:Gregory Dahl

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LA Art Party Newsletter

LAArtParty is an arts and entertainment website. Established in 2010, it is an online go-to guide for what's happening in and beyond the LA area - this includes dining, travel and more.

Founded by journalist, and "Blues Mama" Kathy Leonardo (a longtime performer), the campy site has an unusual slant which will keep you entertained. Leonardo has been writing for the past 15 years about various subjects for the Huffington Post, THRIVE GLOBAL, LA Weekly, etc.

Each month the LAArtParty staff, led by Kathy Leonardo decides which events will be featured. Posted at noon on the Thursday prior to the last week of the month, LAArtParty.com features the Top Ten Art Parties, plus other fun events each month. VIP subscribers find out ONE week prior to the public and receive discounts and invites to VIP parties throughout the year.

See Contact Page to find out how to become a VIP subscriber so you don't miss any more great ART Parties!! See Contact/Rates Page to find out how submit and promote your own events!

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Event Review: CHAYA Downtown

On any given day, Downtown LA's top restaurants are filled with business people closing deals, while others rush back to the office...with barely enough time to grab a quick bite. However, Downtown LA has now become a destination, attracting people from all parts of the Los Angeles area – not only for its visual arts, theatre, dance, music, but also for its exclusive high-end restaurants. CHAYA Downtown is one such restaurant offering a fresh, hip ambiance, yet is rooted in old world tradition. The restaurant has a long standing history since the early 1600s. Yes, you read that correctly. Hikage Chaya was the first incarnation of what would be an illustrious path for the dining empire. It arrived in Los Angeles over forty years ago and has continued to win over its residents with each new location.
CHAYA Cocktails the "Penicillin" and the Moscow Mule; Photo by Richard Bilow

The list of unique cocktails offered by the restaurant is pretty impressive. I selected the "Penicillin," a cocktail which features Yamazaki 12 single malt Japanese Whiskey, fresh lemon juice, house made ginger syrup, Laphroaig single malt float, lemon twist and candied ginger. Delicious! My dining companion chose the Chaya Moscow Mule. The Deep Eddy soda ginger beer was blended with house made ginger syrup, cinnamon, clone tea, lime, and candied ginger.

These two tasty cocktails paired well with the Seafood Charcuterie appetizer (chef's selection of five different kinds of smoked and house cured seafood). Next, we enjoyed one of Chaya's classic appetizers - Tuna Tartare (prepared at our table). It was so delicate and fresh.
Kaisen Sushi; Photo by Richard Bilow

For our entrees, we ordered Kaisen Sushi as well as the Teriyaki Black Cod which we shared. Both were exquisite.

The sushi plate included a broad range of fish: tuna, alfonsino, mongo squid, salmon, albacore, shrimp, fresh water eel, scallop, yellowtail, plus a tuna roll. The Black Cod was spectacular. It was served with hijiki brown rice, baby bok choy, green bean & shrimp tempura, with a sweet soy glaze. For dessert, we decided to share Chaya's own brand of bread pudding, which was simply delish.
Teriyaki Black Cod; Photo by Richard Bilow

If you love food, CHAYA Downtown will win you over with its cuisine. The wait staff was attentive and the setting is elegant. There is underground valet parking available. Find out more about CHAYA - its long history, menus, and the various locations on the website.

CHAYA Downtown, 525 S Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071; 213.236.9577; Hours: Lunch - Monday thru Friday, 11:30am-2:30pm; Dinner - Sundays thru Thursdays 5-10pm; Friday thru Saturday: 5-11pm. http://www.thechaya.com/downtown-la/

Twohey’s Tavern Reinvented

The restaurant of tomorrow is here today: Introducing Twohey's Tavern, from Greg Mallis and Tanya and Jim Christos, the three family members that keep the original Twohey's name alive at the iconic 75-year-old Twohey's Restaurant in Alhambra, which is a piece of Los Angeles history from the era of the Historic Route 66. Chef Travis Limoge executes an elevated interpretation of nostalgic meals while honoring timeless and contemporary cooking techniques with a commitment to seasonality, bringing each guest a new experience in a modern tavern setting. With a tantalizing menu that playfully calls back to the classic All-American diner, Twohey's Tavern officially opens its doors in Pasadena on Tuesday, November 7th, 2017! 
Born and raised in Vermont, Chef Travis Limoge grew up in the kitchen of his Grandfathers beloved restaurants, most notably Valley's Steakhouse, where port wine cheese and broasted chicken were all the rage and weekend brunches were a showcase for his Grandmothers baking prowess, laying the inspiring groundwork for a future Chef. After working summers in the kitchen, he decided to pursue cooking full-time. He became Chef de Cuisine at Fork in the Road in Santa Monica and Mardi at Palihouse in West Hollywood. Chef LImoge spent time in Mexico, where he continued to cook and learn his craft...mixing all of his talents to create Twohey's Tavern.

The new Twohey's Tavern Dinner Menu reads just as the original 1943 Twohey's Restaurant menu, its layout and terminology perhaps foreign to the modern-day foodie, but no less quaint, beginning with the original Twohey's signature staple, the Burgers. Each burger features a robust patty made of a special custom Premium Angus Beef Blend, and no burger epitomizes the Twohey's name at Twohey's Tavern better than the Stinko 2.0, a grand incarnation on the legendary cornerstone Twohey's burger, made with caramelized onions, house pickles, and garlic aioli. No need to pack your luggage to go Dutch Style, featuring Napa cabbage coleslaw, and dill aioli, or stick to the true red, white, and blue of the Americana, with American cheese, butter lettuce, onion, and ketchup. The Chili Dip, what we would now refer to as a chili burger, is comprised of house chili, Grafton cheddar, onion sprouts, and crème fraiche, and all burgers would be incomplete without their requisite accompaniment of House Fries.Twoheys Tavern-acuna-hansen
The real meat and potatoes rests with the Dinners at Twohey's Tavern where Chef Limoge's talent is front and center. The Prime Eight Ounce Spencer Steak, prepared with roasted turnips, crème fraiche, fresh horseradish, and orange steals the show. The pig de résistance is undoubtedly the Ham Steak, which begins with a bone-in ham leg that brines for fifteen days, and is subsequently smoked for ten hours before getting plated and dressed up with summer peach preserves, sprouting broccoli, buckwheat honey, and charred orange. 

Other fantastic dishes include: Meemaw's Beef Stew (short-rib, fennel, onion, burnt carrot, rye toast, and whole grain mustard); the Fried Chicken (half chicken without the bones, braised greens, cranberry beans, and Bill's Bees wildflower honey); Dock to Dish (Seasonal Channel Island Rock Fish, all line-caught from Santa Barbara, carrot mash, mole verde, and charred fennel); Irish American Tortellini (crème fraiche stuffed tortellini, with house chili, cured egg yolk, and onion sprouts); and finally Roasted Roots (a vegan dish comprised of seasonal roasted root vegetables, green farro and celeriac purée).
Desserts include: Citrus Pound Cake, (peach preserves and homemade lavender ice cream, and the time-honored confectionery Jelly Roll, with seasonal preserves and Chantilly cream); the Caramel Chocolate Tart (housemde almond crust, chocolate ganache, and caramel sauce, Banana Split, featuring homemade banana ice cream, banana brûlée, Twohey’s bittersweet fudge, candied almonds, and whipped cream); Seasonal Sundae (house-made ice cream and seasonal toppings, as well as the Classic Sundae (Original Twohey’s Bittersweet Fudge topping with whipped cream, roasted almonds and a cherry; seasonal pies and more. 
Be sure to check the website to see the full menu.

Twohey’s Tavern is open for Dinner every Sunday through Thursday from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm and the Bar is open from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Twohey’s Tavern is open for Dinner every Friday and Saturday from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm and the Bar is open from 5:00 pm to 12:00 Midnight. For more information or reservations, please visit http://TwoheysTavern.com or call Twohey’s Tavern directly at 626.449.2337. 

All images by acuna-hansen

Restaurant Review: Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails

Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails is located in West Hollywood, just above the bustle of the Sunset Strip. The hotspot starts to stir after 9pm, attracting a later crowd for its California cuisine. Chef Chris Crary (the executive chef of Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails) started working for SBE two and a half years ago. We recently met at The Taste (an annual food event presented by the LA Times and CITI). He invited myself and my photographer to review his restaurant.

We didn't have a lot of time, as we were rushing off to cover another event, but I did manage to squeeze in one cocktail. I chose the Porn Star Martini, which featured Absolut Elyx, Licor 43, passion fruit purée, simple syrup, Madagascan vanilla, and Prosecco. An easy to drink martini - perhaps too easy - I could have sipped down five without even realizing it. I especially loved the Prosecco on top which tickled my nose as it buzzed around the classic martini glass.hydeSunset-Bilow-dishes-72dpi-550
Then, the appetizers started appearing. Seared ahi tuna, was served with celery, radish, heirloom tomato, and avocado. The tuna was pink, its edges encrusted with ground sesame seeds. The fried chicken sliders on butter biscuit with mustard kimichi honey aioli were heavenly. Peach + Barrata sported an unusual combo - peaches and arugula with peach mustard, balsamic, and pretzel crouton. The Grilled Smoky Cauliflower offered a whole new take on the vegetable. The roasted tomatoes combined with salami aoli, walnut, and capers brought it to the next level.

Then, Chef Chris brought out two of his most popular dishes. Torchio Bolognese is a basic chicken Bolognese, with parmesan…a simple dish with a big bold flavor.

Obviously the highlight of the menu, I cannot give high enough praise about the Local Black Cod, which was beautifully placed on miso cauliflower purée. Kumquat and puffed rice were added accents to this dish. The cod was cooked perfectly, flaked to the fork, and simply melted in your mouth.

hydeSunset-Bilow-blackcod-72dpi-550We were just about too full to eat dessert, but we managed to squeeze in a bit more. A chocolate coffee cake topped with almond crumble featured caramel sauce, chocolate pudding, and two luscious scoops of spiced strawberry ice cream. Chocolate chunks were randomly scattered on top of the dessert with sweet caramel dots. It was a beautiful marriage of mousse and coffee cake. From start to finish, it was an unbelievable meal.

Crary has a lot on his plate. He is currently overseeing the opening of two additional establishments - a night club called Nightingale Plaza and the James Hotel - all this with a four month old baby at home. Not sure how he does it all, but keep doing it Chef Chris - your cuisine is amazing!!!

Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails, 8117 West Sunset Blvd., LA, 90046; 323 940-1650; http://www.sbe.com

Eat, Drink, Relax in the Dutch Caribbean!

There is no denying that everyone loves to eat, and as an avid foodie, fine cuisine is consistently at the top of my list. However, when I decided to head to Bonaire (in the Dutch Caribbean) for a scuba diving trip, little did I know that the dining options available on this sleepy island would be so fantastic.
Image: shot from Ingridients; Photo by Richard Bilow 

Ingridients is an upscale restaurant located at the Buddy Dive Resort. Situated above the dock, it offers panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea. The menu features a wonderful array of dishes rooted in Mediterranean style cooking.

We arrived just in time for the sunset. I ordered a Terrasses du Sud Merlot from Chili. This is a delicious full-bodied red with a fruit forward flavor of black currant and a hint of licorice. My companion ordered the Bonaire Blond. Our server explained the beer is a local favorite and is brewed right on the island. The pale beer is fermented and contains yeast which sits at the bottom of the bottle. The beer was poured first into a tall glass, then the yeast was placed into a shot glass, allowing the customer to have control over the beer's flavor by adding more or less of the yeast.

We were encouraged by our waiter to try the Parmesan Truffle Pasta (Tagliatella, truffle, and Italian Brandy). It was a great choice it was not only delicious, but it was prepared at our table in a giant wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with truffles and flaming brandy.
Image: Parmesan Truffle Pasta; Photo by Richard Bilow

Another delightful appetizer was the Lobster and Scallop Salad - a delicate union of seafood and greens brought together by a sublime cadushy liquor and lime dressing served with a traditional Dutch kletskop.

Our entrees - Gamba's al ajillo and the Blue Marlin - continued to impress us. Gamba's al ajillo features giant garlic flavored prawns with head on, along with aioli, shrimp infused ketch-up and premsela. The Blue Marlin (locally caught) was delicious - seared and served with a traditional antiboise. Chef Daan Scheffers van Soelen came out to say hello as we praised him for the terrific meal.
Image: Gamba's al ajillo (foreground) Blue Marlin and steak; Photo by Richard Bilow

The following day, we decided to spend the afternoon in Kralendijk, the main port of Bonaire. We stopped for some lunch at a casual eatery called Rumba Café. We shared a delicious Greek salad and some tasty pizza. Then we did a little shopping and picked up some of Bonaire's biggest export - salt.

For dinner, we popped into a scenic restaurant named Karel's Beach Bar, adjacent to Cappuccino, located at the edge of a pier. It offers a romantic setting and brings to mind the feeling of dining in the middle of the ocean. Owner Karel J.C. Visser has three restaurants in close proximity...the two adjacent restaurants (on the pier) and Zeezicht Restaurant located directly across the street.
Cappuccino & Karel's Beach Bar; Photo by Richard Bilow

I had a chance to meet the owner and find out about his background. Karel J. C. Visser was born in Bonaire in 1987 and is a fourth generation owner of this business. His great grandfather started it in 1929, and it has remained in the family ever since. "Back when Zeezicht was in my grandmother's hands, it was one of only three restaurants in town," said Visser. "It was always packed with people...my father was in his twenties, and he had the idea to create a bar so people could wait at Karel's to be seated. Karel's became so popular that it outgrew Zeezicht very fast. In 2002, my father purchased Zeezicht from my grandmother and started serving food on the pier."

Visser said he loves being a business owner on Bonaire and will be opening a new restaurant called Islander soon. "My favorite thing about Bonaire is the ocean. It is literally my backyard...everything we do has to do with the ocean...even work." Needless to say, he is also a certified scuba diver for over fourteen years.

I ordered a Cavazza merlot from Italy, while my dining partner chose a Goose Juice (coconut rum, triple sec, pineapple, and lime juice with curacao). I stole a taste of the yummy refreshing blue fruity cocktail.
Image: Mahi Mahi and Shrimp, Chantal Seafood kabob; Photo by Richard Bilow

We began with a house salad and then shared two entrees. One was the special of the evening...Mahi Mahi and Shrimp was prepared in a delicate garlic sauce...so fresh and delicious. The other was the Chantal Seafood Kabob, exquisitely presented on a metal skewer dangling vertically. The dish sported grilled shrimp, fish, conch, onion, tomato, and bell pepper.

Although we were quite full, our server insisted that we try the dessert special. The sweet sensation included strawberry ice cream topped with a fried wonton drizzled with a tart, yet sweet green apple sauce. http://www.karelsbeachbar.com/
Image: Dessert Special at Cappuccino; Photo by Richard Bilow

At this point, I was truly impressed with the fine dining on the island. However, if you are interested in a casual local favorite and amazing BBQ, be sure to stop into Babbejan's. It is only open on the weekend and sometimes it's a long wait for a table, but it is definitely worth it. While my travel companion and I waited for a table, we started talking to a local couple having a drink, as they waited for their to go order.  Since the restaurant has become so popular, ordering to go is apparently the preference of many locals.

Rumrunners is another waterfront restaurant located at Captain Don's Habitat. The view is magnificent and just before sunset was the perfect time to arrive. Offering an eclectic menu with a variety of specials, the restaurant is known for its pizza. We ended up sharing a salad and of course, a pizza. It was delicious and can be customized at request.  https://www.habitatbonaire.com/

Last, but not least, we had a spectacular meal at Harbour Village Beach Club's restaurant La Balandra which is open to people staying at the exclusive resort. Here, one can dine on an antique Spanish ship on the water, next to the resort's private beach.

We started with Mai Tais (white rum, dark rum, amaretto, triple sec, pineapple, lime), and moved on to wine.
harbourappetizer-wahoosashimiImage: wahoo sashimi appetizer; Photo by Richard Bilow

The first course was a true delight. Beautifully designed, the delicate wahoo sashimi (caught that day) melted in my mouth. It was marinated in soy, lime and olive oil, and was served with wakamé and wasabi cream. Vitello Tonato, another appetizer was also fantastic and featured antiboise and pine nuts.

The main course took us on a trip to foodie heaven. It was a perfect trio of taste - shrimp, filet mignon, and wahoo with a white and red wine sauce and seasonal vegetables. Delicious!
Image: shrimp, filet mignon entree; Photo by Richard Bilow;

Now it was time to truly indulge ourselves. Who can say no to dessert when it offers three homemade exquisite treats such as Key Lime Pie, Flan Caramel, and Coconut Cheesecake? http://www.harbourvillage.com

Needless to say, my week in Bonaire featured scuba diving, hiking, and sightseeing...in addition to enjoying unparalleled cuisine. If you enjoy fine dining along with scuba diving, kite surfing, and more – Bonaire offers it all! http://www.tourismbonaire.com/

Celebrate Chefs & Cellars Event at Palos Verdes Vineyard - A Huge Success!

Catalina View Gardens, a Palos Verdes vineyard hosted an incredible food and wine event titled Celebrate Chefs & Cellars.
The vineyard offered exceptional views....of course the food, wine and spirits were simply magnificent as well. Read my Huff Post review about the event. 

Wine Tasting: A Quick Shot up the Coast!

Busy lives can create havoc on any relationship. Fortunately, my partner and I have found a simple and exciting way to cope with this challenge, and you can easily do the same. Setting aside a small amount of time to recharge and reconnect with one another has become a priority. Sometimes it's as simple as turning off your phones for a few hours and taking a walk around the block or a picnic on the beach. Taking this one step further, little excursions will do wonders.
Photo by Richard Bilow

Since I am a lover of wine (the designated drinker), and my partner is a lover of nature and photography (the designated driver), we agreed on a quick two day/one night trip up the coast. I happen to be a big fan of Inception Wines, so I reached out to founder/owner Jonathan Hirsh, who partnered up with a local winery (Terravant), just off the 101 in Buelton, in the Central coast of California.

Big things are happening for Inception...it has been picked up by Southern Wines and Spirits of California and Delta Air Lines will be serving its Central Coast Pinot Noir in their Delta One (First Class) service, starting in mid-September as a global placement.

Pho2016-April-Winereview-Terraant-JoePadillo-JonathanHirschto by Richard Bilow, Joe Padilla (left) and Jonathan Hirsch (right)

Hirsch and Joe Padilla (VP of sales at Terravant), have teamed up for the past couple of years and have a brotherly admiration for one another. It was interesting to watch as they joked back and forth while taking us on a tour of the winery.

"Wine is a pure celebration of life and nature." said Hirsch. "Terravant was the final catalyst for me to begin Inception. It is clearly one of the most state of the art wine making facilities in California -- I felt that this was the right place for me the moment I walked in. Joe has been a great partner to work with. The needs of a small and growing brand require great patience from a great leader and Joe is certainly that." https://www.inceptionwines.com/

We sat down to an amazing meal with Hirsch and Padillo at Terravant Winery and Restaurant, with a view of the facinating production facility. Created in 2008, the restaurant offers a wine wall featuring over fifty wines provided by twenty plus wineries. It was like being a kid in a candy store – so many delicious wines to choose from. The cuisine was excellent as well.

Terravant-winerypizza-R-BilowPhoto by Richard Bilow

We previewed a wine currently being created right there at Terravant. It was a smooth lovely red blend paired perfectly with our appetizers. We started off with a Burrata grape appetizer (Crostini with thyme-roasted grapes, local honey), - delicious. We also enjoyed a beet salad (Avocado, pistachio, goat cheese, mixed greens, citrus vinaigrette). Who would think a beet salad could taste this good? – this dish definitely changed my mind. We continued our feast with additional appetizers...Tuna Tartare (Chipotle aioli, mango, avocado, toasted sesame seeds and cucumber) along with dates wrapped with bacon...both incredible. Of course, we enjoyed several tastes of Inception's Pinot Noir. My favorite was a tantalizing 2012 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, which was a perfect pairing with the farmer's market pizza. This popular menu item changes daily (ours featured bacon and fresh veggies) and a prosciutto and pear pizza (Seasonal pear, Berkshire heirloom prosciutto, truffle oil, Gorgonzola, and balsamic reduction). The meal was exquisite. If you find yourself in this area – be sure to stop for lunch or dinner here. http://www.terravant.com/

Moving on from our great experience at Terravant, we headed north towards Los Olivos for a whole different wine tasting experience. The drive from Buellton to Los Olivos takes one through the town of Solvang, a charming Pennsylvania Dutch-inspired town which buzzes with the spirit of Christmas (my most favorite holiday) all year long. This time around, Solvang was not on our agenda, so we only stopped for a quick look at the quaint shops filled with trinkets and gifts and got right back on the road.

A2016-April-wine-KaenaWine-MikaelSigouin-byKLbout 15 minutes past Solvang, we arrived at our next detination, Los Olivos. Our brief stop in Solvang set us back a little, but we managed to stop at a few more wineries later in the day. One really fun one was Kaena, run by Mikael Sigouin, or as he is affectionately called by the locals - the Grenache King. He offered us a full range of wines.

Photo by Kathy Leonardo, Mikael Sigouin, the Grenache King

Speaking to an entire room of wine lovers, he recounted the story of why his love of wine and his wife, Sally were parallel. "Grenache is very feminine varietal in many ways, said Sigouin. "It's a very difficult grape to farm and produce at a high quality level, so it takes amazing patience in the vineyard and winery, many times walking on eggshells to get it just right. So Grenache like a woman needs to be treated with ultimate respect.  If you have the patience to do it all right, she will be your ultimate reward.

Like many small wineries in the area, Kaena mostly sources from Tierra Alta Vineyard and Larner Vineyard in the Ballard Canyon AVA. Created in 2001, the brand was named Kaena (which is a shortened version of the owner's given name) a strapping handsome warm-hearted Hawaiin raised in Oahu who has an affinity to Grenache. "I guess what sets me apart from large scale wineries is that I'm a one-man show, doing it all when it comes to production," explained Kaena. "Every decision was made by me throughout the process from vineyard to bottle and beyond. I feel very torn apart at times but I'm a control freak when it comes to my wines and brand."

P2016-April-Winetrip-ByronWines-JasonVillaloboshoto by Kathy Leonardo, Jason Villalobos (left) and the staff at Byron Wines

Next, we hit Byron Wines, where I met Jason Villalobos who served up several delicious reds. At this point in the day, I had to prioritize my wine choices. I enjoyed several Pinot Noirs. My favorite was the 2012 pinot noir Drizzel Barrel (the most concentrated juice of the barrel) which has an intense layered flavor of blackberries with a smoky savory finish.

By this time my taste buds were a bit clouded, so we decded to call it a day and headed further north.

Phot2016-April-Hotel-Baywood-Inno by Richard Bilow, the Baywood Inn Bed and Breakfast

We drove through to Los Osos and checked into the Baywood Inn Bed and Breakfast. It was a breathtaking respite...armed with some added amenities that one does not always expect...a fireplace, coffee, granola bars, microwave popcorn, Neutrogena face soap, etc. We both slept like babies and then enjoyed a Mexican style breakfast before heading out to our next adventure - this day devoted to my partner's love of nature and photography.

Although the morning was shrouded with a thick layer of coastal fog, we decided to take a ride to Morrow bay in search of the legendary otters who put on a show each day.

2016-april-travel-moro-bay-otter-richard-bilowPhoto by Richard Bilow, Morrow Bay

Birdwatching was an added benefit to our outing and we tested our rock balancing skills as we hopped from rock to rock crouching and scrambling to catch a better view of the adorable otters. We stopped at the waterfront and picked up some salt water toffee and caramel popcorn. As we headed towards Los Olivos we noticed the sun decided to make an appearance - perfect for my partner's photography.

The sun lit up the local wildflowers creating a luminous iridescent yellow....be sure to save time (from 2-3 pm) to take advantage of a great photo op. We lingered in Los Osos as we continued to stop time and time again to take photos heading south to Shell Beach. Shell beach is easily accessible from the 101. Finding coastal access points allowed for a spontaneous picnic in a romantic setting. The coastal views were mesmerizing. Old shell beach offered even more impressive water views, although we were warned by a local about the eroding cliff side. The photo ops continued here with sweeping coastal views.
Photo by Richard Bilow

Just a short hour later we were compelled to linger back to our busy chaotic lives in Los Angeles feeling relaxed, recharged and ready to take on the world. Get out there and take advantage of a weekend away...enjoy the weather, the wine, the cuisine and more of the Central coast...just a couple of hours away from LA and definitely worth it.

When Times Get Tough, Go to Tea!

A Gloomy Day Blooms into an Unforgettable one at the Huntington Rose Garden Tea Room - This article was re-posted on THRIVE GLOBAL.

Life can be challenging...and death even more. My ninety-year old dad recently passed away. He had a stroke a while back, and his health progressively deteriorated. When it finally happened, it was a blessing. My mom had left this world over twenty-five years ago. They were married for thirty-seven years, and he adored her. After her death, he never even mentioned another woman. He gave up listening to opera and classical music, a mutual love that my mom and he shared, and repeatedly told my sister, brother, and myself that he was waiting to join her. Now he finally has.
Camellias, photo by Kathy Leonardo 

I was in a fog, but happy to have the love and support of my family, friends, and my boyfriend. Everyone says, "Give yourself time," "Take care of yourself," but what does that really mean? I took that phrase to heart and decided to take care of myself. I took the afternoon off from work, called some friends and said, "Let's go to tea!" Where? I had always heard about the English Tea located in the Rose Garden at the Huntington - the official name being: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. This is where I wanted to go. I loved flowers - after all, they reminded me of my mother - who I'd been talking to a lot more since my father's passing. I certainly did not have a green thumb, but plants were a passion of my mom's. In fact, she was an active member of various orchid, succulent and cacti societies in the New York area.

The 120 acre grounds were beautifully manicured, peppered with patches of Camellias, Clivia, and other varieties of seasonal flora. As soon as I saw the flowers, I thought of my mom and how she and my dad were probably hanging out right then in their own private rose garden in the sky.
English tea at the Rose Garden Tea Room, photo by Kathy Leonardo

The tea room was lovely, with its china set ups displayed on all the tables. I felt like a little girl again. I was joined by two of my most fun friends, who I knew would truly appreciate this genteel display of hospitality. A chilled Prosecco made a good first impression as we perused the tea selections. We each chose a different tea, so we could sneak a taste of the others. I chose the Huntington blend (their signature tea), which we all agreed was by far our favorite. It offered a subtle flora and jasmine flavor with a slight hint of vanilla. The Raspberry Nectar and Earl Grey Creme were also wonderful. As we sipped our tea and cherished the moments...I reminisced about my childhood...telling my companions about my father's love of tea. That had been another tradition of his that somehow fell by the wayside. We toasted to him and my mom. "Live in the moment"...those are the words I kept hearing in my mind...now that my own mortality was staring back at me.

The house-made crumpets and scones were simply sublime They appeared with Devonshire cream, lemon curd, marmalade and fruit preserves...all exquisite. Then came the classic three-tiered offering of assorted finger sandwiches and petit desserts. It was a fantastic presentation! If you have never experienced an English tea, I highly recommend it. The variety of sandwiches included mushroom/arugula/tomato, smoked salmon with caviar, dill cream cheese, Persian cucumber, chicken salad sandwich, and a truffle egg salad in a delicate phyllo cup. The desserts were an exquisite celebratory finish. I do enjoy a guilty pleasure...when eating lots of little delicious bites, somehow I tell myself it's not fattening. Whatever the cost - the miniature apple pie, tiramisu, profiterole, coconut macaroon, red velvet cupcake and the rose cookies were all worth the calories.

While we were there, we learned that Bon Appétit Management Company took over the dining portion of the famed Huntington Library Gardens. Executive Chef Marc Powers said he wanted to create a menu inspired by traditional English tea, with a locally and sustainably sourced flavor. He added, "We are working hard to offer a high-quality culinary and service experience that complements the surrounding historic gardens."
With Ross Mapletoft; photo by @finnjun

We rolled back out to the gardens satiated by our tea and crumpet experience and finished our impromptu day of abandonment. The wisteria trees were in full bloom. The Japanese Garden was magnificent along with the Shakespeare Garden...we even stopped by the Children's Garden as well as the California Garden and learned about the importance of growing native plants. We never made it to the art gallery, which I hear is fantastic, but we did see Alexander Calder's Jerusalem Stabile decadently standing in all its glory on our way out. Alas, I'll have to return for another visit.

What started as a gloomy day bloomed into an unforgettable one. With each new day comes a new lesson and mine was to be in the moment and cherish my loved ones.
Clivia, photo by Kathy Leonardo 

The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108; Hours: 10am-5pm every day, except Tuesdays (closed). Call ahead to find out what is blooming and be sure to check the website at http://www.huntington.org

Mammoth Mountain - A Quick Weekend Trip!

With the recent rain in LA, the drought situation has improved...thank goodness. If you love snow and everything that comes with it, spend the weekend in Mammoth Mountain. Los Angeles offers some incredible weekend getaways (see my travel/wine review of my trip up to the central coast of California).
Photo by Richard Bilow, CEO of International Hospital Supply, Mike Harris prepared to cut loose on one of Mammoth Mountain's steepest runs

The fact that Wave Rave Snowboard Shop owner and 5-time Verbier Xtreme champion Steve Klassen calls Mammoth his home says a lot. Klassen is one of the true pioneers of the snowboard industry. He takes lines down extreme terrain that seem impossible to survive, let alone navigate with the precision and style required to be a champion. Steve collaborated with Arbor Snowboards to create the Steepwater Snowboard, a big mountain "rocket" designed and built for pushing the limits of the sport. Wave Rave Snowboard Shop has helped create the style and spirit of snowboard culture worldwide. http://www.waveravesnowboardshop.com/

Mammoth is also the home of legendary downhill mountain bike world champion "Insane Wayne" Croasdale, who still holds the record for the fastest Kamikaze run down Mammoth Mountain. "There's nothing like the feeling of being surrounded by towering mountains while ripping down the trails with my dogs by my side," says Croasdale. "The Eastern Sierras is an endless playground for me, and I can't imagine living anywhere else."
laap-2-Mammoth-drive-from-owens-vally-tomammothPhoto by Photo by Richard Bilow, scenic view driving to Mammoth

Watch the weather closely. The mountain is just over five hours from LA...so it makes for a perfect last minute trip. Call in sick, grab your skis and snowboards, and hit the 405 by no later than 2:30pm. You'll miss the traffic and be to the Eastern Sierra town of Mammoth Lakes by 8pm...that is, if you don't speed through any of the small towns. Do that, and you will have a very expensive delay. By 5:30pm, you will be far from the city and driving through some truly beautiful landscapes known as the Eastern Sierra Scenic Corridor. The first town you will notice will be Lone Pine, base camp for those climbing Mount Whitney, the over 14,000-foot peak that is a challenging hike to say the least. You may want to hit Lone Pine during the summer and give the hike a try, if you are both athletic and in great shape.
Photo by Richard Bilow, Mount Whitney

The key to a successful trip to Mammoth, if you are determined to get the best conditions, is subscribing to Howard Schecter's Platinum Powder Alerts

Photographer and avid snowboarder Richard Bilow said he has been using these reports to determine when to hit the mountain for years. Predicting the perfect conditions is both an art and a science, with a healthy dose of gut feeling. Fortunately, if calm winds and blue skies don't prevail, the mountain staff works diligently to keep the slopes set for skiers and snowboarders of all levels, spinning the lifts whenever possible. This year, due to the massive amount of snowfall, you still have many months remaining to enjoy the winter sports.

The views from the top of the mountain are panoramic and truly stunning, and the lower runs offer a spectacular perspective as well. Bilow said he allocates time in between runs to marvel at the landscape. "I once sat looking up at the top of the mountain, which by the way is over 11,000 feet high, while the wind blew swirling powdery snow dust into the sky," said Bilow. "It looked like a vortex of diamonds." Bilow's childhood memories include trips to Mammoth with friends. "I grew up going there with my best friend Mike, whose family had a condo and who always invited me along," explained Bilow. "I think of Mammoth as a home away from home, and I still make it a point to chase a few powder days each season, but these days, I find myself more inspired to take photographs in the area than to risk life and limb on the mountain."
Photo by Richard Bilow, view from the top of Mammoth

Mammoth offers something for everyone – at every skill level. In fact, you may see celebrity athletes such as Brandon Davis or Tina Basich practicing their jumps on the mountain. Look up from the main lodge towards the terrain park or take the lift over the park. You are likely to see these world-class athletes pushing their personal limits as they prepare for upcoming competitions.

For those who prefer a more old-school mountain experience, June Mountain is another option. It's about forty-five minutes from Mammoth and is known for its great powder runs through the trees. Crowds are lower, and views of the June Lake Loop are something really special.
Photo by Richard Bilow, June Lakes from June Mountain

For additional info about this area, visit these websites: http://www.visitmammoth.com/ https://www.mammothmountain.com/