Perfect Day LA

It is not often that you find the perfect combination of great art, food, people and architecture all together in one place. However, in LA, anything is possible and it just so happens that this perfect nexus exists between Hope and Grand in downtown LA. Here you will find Otium, one of the most perfect restaurants imaginable in a courtyard of ancient Olive Trees. Occupying the same courtyard is the Broad Art Museum, which just so happens to be next door to the Walt Disney Concert Hall and just down the street from the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. When you combine any one (or all) of these venues together, you are in for a great day in LA.

If you have not heard, the Broad Art Museum with its 2000 pieces of art is open to the public for free. Apparently the word is out, because unless you have reserved your free ticket in advance, the line to get in can stretch nearly around the entire honeycomb-like veiled structure. But it does not really matter, because everything in this unique vortex is supercharged with international high-voltage energy, making even the wait in line great entertainment.

No matter how many times you view the Walt Disney Concert Hall it is like seeing it for the first time. This is the same with the Golden Gate bridge, the Eiffel Tower or other wonders of architecture that are transformed by light and look completely different based on the time of day and the season of the year. The Walt Disney Concert Hall is simply out-of-this world, it is as if the building is alive and fully capable of sailing away at any moment, but for the time being it is content to reign over this part of LA.

Exceptional is defined as unusually good or outstanding. This is exactly how I would characterize Otium. Everything about this restaurant is exceptional. The entrance to the restaurant is through a grove of Olive Trees, across a crushed stone walkway this is reminiscent of approaching an Italian Villa. In the shade of the trees are couches and chairs around stone fireplaces to accompany relaxation, laughter and good times. The restaurant exterior is a combination of rustic wood and darkened glass. Inside is a perfect open space of light, air, stone and wood. Everyone here it seems is under the same Otium spell of relaxation and enjoyment. And yes, the food is as exceptional as everything else, with creations that actually defy imagination and are works of art themselves. The Spinach Fusilli is just one example of many inspired creations. This dish is like nothing you have ever seen or tasted before with golden rich egg yolks and Crème Fraîche crowning a mixture of green spinach fusilli pasta, clams and bacon. You can just imagine the salty, sweet, creamy and crispy perfection of tastes and textures achieved with this pairing. Equally stunning in presentation and taste is the Mille Feuille dessert. This beautiful, multi-layered masterpiece includes vanilla cream mousse and hazelnut praline creamy perfection in between layers of toasted brown, crunchy phyllo dough.

 

Newport Beach and Balboa Bay Perfection

Although the water-way is only about 1,000 feet wide, with the fresh ocean air, and sailboats and all sorts of other watercraft about, along with the beauty of Balboa Bay, the ferry boat ride from Balboa Island to the Balboa Peninsula is always a great adventure. Whether you come aboard the ferry in your car, on foot or riding a bicycle, or motorcycle that thousand-foot crossing somehow transports you beyond time. It is as if all of the souls that have been fortunate to enjoy this charming, historic crossing have imbued the Balboa Island Ferry with some sort of spiritual well-being that is cast upon everyone who climbs aboard.

The Ferry Boat ride actually represents the half-way point of this adventure. The starting place for this Orange County journey into the past, starts with a walk around beautiful Balboa Island. It does not matter the time of day or night, or the season, anytime is the perfect time to enjoy this island walk. However, you may want to consider timing your stroll to coincide with the annual Christmas Boat Parade, or Halloween, since nearly every home along the Balboa Bay-front walkway outdoes one another in an endless display of ghosts, goblins, reindeer, and Santa’s. During Christmas, along with all of the boats on the Bay also competing for the best Christmas light display, it makes for a great evening and walk. Along the way you will want to stop off for a historic Balboa Bar. The Balboa Bar has been a non-stop hit since 1945, forever embedded in the “likes” memory of children and adults alike. This perfection starts with an ice cream bar on a stick, dipped in chocolate and then sprinkled with your idea of Heaven, including Sweet N Salty sprinkles, Chocolate Sprinkles, Health Pecan Crush, Rainbow Sprinkles, Crushed Oreos, or of course, The Everything Bar. Whatever you decide, it is a treat that you will always remember as part of your perfect Balboa experience. Once you have circumnavigated the island it is time to take the Ferry across Balboa Bay to the Balboa Peninsula. First up, right after you exit the Ferry is the Balboa Fun Zone, one of Southern California’s oldest and last great coastal amusement areas, including the Fun Zone’s Ferris-Wheel which has been a day and night landmark on Newport Harbor since 1936. Although it is not that tall, and it is certainly not a thrill ride, enjoying the view of Newport Bay from atop the Balboa Bay Fun Zone Ferris Wheel is not to be missed. It along with Balboa Island, is a memory that you will always remember and cherish.

Like any amusement park, there are plenty of food options available here. These range from an outdoor table overlooking Newport Bay and the Ferry at Newport Landing to the perfect slice of Pizza, custom made to your exact specifications (just like your Balboa Bar) at Azar’s Gourmet Pizza. Whether you order the perfect bowl of clam chowder along with a Cesar Salad at Newport Landing or create your own custom pizza at Azar’s, you are guaranteed a great meal.

The next destination is just across the street to the Balboa Pier. Here you will enjoy the sound of the surf, the scent of the sea and an always perfectly blue, perfectly scenic Pacific Ocean. If you are still good to go, you may want to consider a walk down the world’s most perfect lane of seaside homes. It is as if the homes on East Ocean Front are actually a Hollywood movie set on a Universal Studios lot. It does not seem possible that this sort of perfect combination of architectural and scenic grace and beauty of homes, ocean, trees, roses and hydrangea can actually be anything but make-believe. However, as many people have learned and many more are discovering, Orange County is an amazing place, and Balboa Island and Newport Beach are as good as it gets anywhere in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shopping for Dreams

I am familiar with shopping malls, or at least I thought I was familiar with shopping malls until visiting South Coast Plaza in Orange County, California. I had not been to South Coast Plaza for some time, but I did not really expect it to have changed that much from my previous visits some years ago. I mean, after all, it’s a shopping mall, and for as long as I can remember shopping malls have seemed like shopping malls. You know, like a Sears store, or a JC Penny store, or a Macy’s or Nordstrom’s store. Some of them are a little musty, many of them have linoleum flooring that should have been replaced a decade ago, and all of them have tables of disarrayed clothing and racks of everything everywhere.

My concept of shopping malls, at least at South Coast Plaza, seems to be a thing of the past. Walking into stores like Berluti, Valentino, Gucci, Versace, Emporio Armani, Piaget, and others is like walking into a museum. In fact, I was told that a number of these stores have been designed by architects that specialize in designing museums. The stores themselves are luxurious, and spacious with richly appointed walls, hardwood or stone floors and a minimalistic, museum quality to the display of the items for sale. Each store it seems has a history and a story to tell. Berluti is just one example. Here are world’s most amazing shoes and leather goods. Each item is handmade, hand sewn, hand colored and each looks like a work of art suitable for a museum. For example, the Allessandro is a shoe designed in 1895 by Allesandro Berluti himself. This shoe is sculpted from a single piece of the world’s finest leather, with no apparent stitching. It is as comfortable as a doeskin glove, with a patina like a fine Italian Renaissance painting. I have to say that this is the most incredible men’s shoe I have ever seen. While the name of the international fashion house Versace is very well known, until our South Coast Plaza outing, I had never actually stepped inside a Versace Haute Couture (High Fashion) store. Out of all the women’s shoes that we encountered on our stroll through South Coast Plaza, we were most impressed by the beauty and simplicity of the black, Swarovski Crystal studded Versace Palazzo. This stiletto pump is the ultimate in elegance and sophistication.

As we learned at Swiss watchmaker Piaget, perfection does come with a price. While admiring some of the world’s finest crafted timepieces, we were drawn to the glittering beauty of Piaget’s Diamond Pavé Traditional timepiece. This incredible work of art sells for $200,000. When we asked if this was their most expensive watch, we were informed that they have timepieces that sell for more than $2 million.

Our day at South Coast Plaza turned into much more than a shopping experience. We came away enriched by the beauty, culture and tradition of some of the world’s most amazing artisans. Each of these artists take pieces of fabric, leather and other materials to create dreams that are beautifully displayed for all to appreciate and enjoy.

 

Perfect Meal in a Bowl – Vietnamese Bún

I was first introduced to Bún (pronounced Boom) in a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. It was described to me as the perfect meal in a bowl, a little grilled meat, a little seafood, lots of fresh vegetables, rice noodles and a delicious sweet/tangy dressing made of lime, sugar, fish sauce, water, chilies and garlic. Ever since that first meal I have always appreciated a great bowl of Bún. The best Bún I have ever encountered can be found at Com Tam Tran Qui Cap in Little Saigon, in Westminster, California. While there are many varieties of Bún to choose from here, my all-time favorite is bún thịt nướng. This incredible meal includes grilled shrimp on a skewer, thin strips of perfectly marinated grilled pork, a delicious tasting shrimp cake, that is crispy golden brown on the outside and filled with sweet, tender moist shrimp on the inside, aromatic herbs, and an array of fresh vegetables, including sliced carrots and cucumbers, bean sprouts, and lettuce all topped with a sprinkling of crushed roasted peanuts and crispy fried shallots. This is all served in a bowl over a bed of rice noodles just awaiting the sweet/tangy dressing. Although I have sampled Bún in Vietnam, and all over the world, this is the BEST Bún I have ever experienced anywhere.

Tam Tran Qui Cap
9607 Bolsa Avenue
Westminster, CA 92683

 

 

 

 

World’s Best Margarita?

I don’t’ know if El Agave Restaurant and Tequileria in Old Town San Diego serves up the world’s best margaritas, but I do know that the best margarita I have ever tasted is their passion fruit margarita. This delicious concoction is powered by El Agave’s private label 100% blue agave tequila, with gets my vote as the one of the smoothest and best tasting tequilas ever. This is the only restaurant that I have ever visited that has its own teqila museum, with over 2,000 tequilas onsite. This is probably enough tequila to fire a NASA booster rocket into outer space, and definitely enough to liven up any party. I am not the only one who thinks El Agave is Muy Bueno. The New York Times and others have voted it best of the city, best mole, and best Mexican Restaurant in San Diego. El Agave is also apparently the only restaurant in San Diego that is certified as serving only 100% blue agave tequila. Just like the finest champagne from France, Mexico has set standards for the finest tequila which requires that it be made from 100% blue agave, unlike other tequilas which can be made with less than 100% blue agave. So, as its name implies, El Agave is the real deal, serving up the world’s finest 100% blue agave tequila and possibly the world’s best margaritas.

El Agave Restaurant and Tequileria
2304 San Diego Ave
San Diego, CA 92110
www.elagave.com

 

Best Mexican, El Salvadorian Food

Casa Mañana is the perfect combination of great food, great atmosphere and great people. This unassuming indoor/outdoor restaurant located in a courtyard surrounded by doctor’s offices serves up the best Mexican, El Salvadorian food imaginable. In a world where “authentic” does not really provide any guaranties, Casa Manana serves up truly authentic dishes. Everything from the tamarindo juice to the mole sauce is authentico.

The Casa Mañana especiales are truly incredible. To start, the Enchilada Vallarta is the perfect combination of sweet and salty. This dish includes the most delicious mole sauce over an enchilada filled with fried plantains, topped with cotija cheese and sour cream, accompanied by rice and black beans. If this is not enough of a carbohydrate infusion, you might want to consider the ultimate combination plate, the Chile Relleno and Enchilada Poblana. The chile relleno is tender, juicy and oh so good, along with an enchilada of your choice, all smothered in homemade salsa and mole sauce and topped once again with cotija cheese and sour cream, accompanied by rice and black beans.

One of my all-time favorites is the Burrito Vegetariano Especial. For me, in all of my travels, this is the most perfect burrito – A flour tortilla filled with rice and black beans topped with red enchilada sauce, melted cheese, guacamole, and sour cream and a salad on the side. When you complement this with a fresh tamarindo juice, chips and salsa and flan for dessert, you have the perfect comfort meal.

If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area and happen to be passing through Marin County on your way to Napa Valley or elsewhere, stop by Casa Mañana for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You will be better for the experience.

Casa Mañana
711 D Street.,
San Rafael, California
www.micasamanana.com

Best Hot Sauce Recipe

You know how it goes, you are at the supermarket looking for a good hot sauce and even though there are like a hundred “award winning” hot sauces to choose from, when you get home with your “award winner,” it does not quite live up to the hype. Well, here is a secret hot sauce/enchilada sauce recipe that I believe lives up to the hype. The beauty about this hot sauce is that you control the taste, you are in charge of how acidic it tastes, how hot it is, how salty, etc. This sauce is the BEST with enchiladas, burritos, chips and beer.

Enjoy! And please let me know if this hot sauce/enchilada sauce lives up to the hype.

Secret Hot Sauce/Enchilada Sauce Recipe

4 Tablespoons Oil
2 Tablespoons Flour
1 Tablespoon each of New Mexico, California and Padilla Chili Powders
2 Cups Chicken Broth
8 Ounces Tomato Sauce
Salt to Taste

• Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan.
• When the oil is hot, but not too hot, stir in the flour until it turns to a smooth golden yellow.
• Adjust heat as needed so as to not burn the flour mixture.
• Very slowly add in chili powders and the chicken broth and stir constantly to keep everything smooth.
• Adjust heat as needed so as to not burn the flour/chili powder mixture.
• Keep slowly adding in the chicken broth as the chili powders thicken, and keep the mixture smooth by constantly stirring.
• Add in the tomato sauce to taste. Make sure that your hot sauce is not overwhelmed by the tomato sauce and that it is not too acidic.
• Add salt to taste.
• Keep stirring.
• Reduce heat to make sure you do not burn the mixture, stir smooth and do the final taste test.
• Let the mixture cool and then pour into a glass jar and place in the refrigerator.
• NOTE – The mixture will thicken in the refrigerator, so make sure that it is not too thick before placing in the refrigerator.

Best Vietnamese Desserts & Snacks

There is never any parking and there is always a line out the door, but this place is worth it. Thach Che Hien Khanh serves up the BEST Vietnamese desserts in Little Saigon. If you are looking for creamy, soft, soothing desserts, you will want to try their coconut cream, banana, tapioca dessert with toasted sesame seed topping. It is oh so good and a definite crowd favorite. No matter how tough a day you have had, when you dip into this perfection, it is instantaneous bliss. Other favorites here include the Chè dessert drinks which can be ordered with an assortment of fruits, beans, tapioca pearls and jellies, including pandan jelly, grass jelly, and adzuki beans. Each drink looks like an abstract painting with its red, green, black, and orange assorted shapes and colors perfectly offset against a canvas of white coconut cream, making for a very colorful, interesting and delicious drink. Next up on the menu are an assortment of sticky rice desserts, including durian fruit sticky rice and sticky rice with black eyed peas. These dishes come with a side of lightly salted coconut cream that is the perfect complement to the sweet rice. Additional temptations include Vietnamese caramel crème flan, golden brown sesame seed balls that are crispy on the outside with a delicious sweet mung bean and coconut filling, and coconut tapioca sweet cake with pandan-leaf extract. This beautiful cake is crispy golden brown on the outside with just a hint of the green color of the pandan-leaf extract. However, when you slice into this cake, the center is bright green, creamy tapioca and coconut goodness. For the more adventurous, there are the Vietnamese cured/fermented pork savory snacks. These sweet, sour, salty and spicy snacks come wrapped in banana leaves and are the ultimate snack to eat when you are drinking. These are just a few of the more than thirty incredible desserts and snacks that are served up daily and are guaranteed to delight and bring you back for more.

Thach Chè Hien Khanh
9784 Westminster Ave
Garden Grove, CA 92844
http://chehienkhanh.com

 

 

 

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