SUNSTONE WINERY & VINEYARDS… “Tuscan Ambience & Expansive Flavors!”

The Santa Ynez Valley plays host to a handful of boutique wineries that envelope the senses with a single visit. One such location that we visit frequently when sojourning through the California wine country is Sunstone Vineyards & Winery conveniently located just a half hour north of Santa Barbara. The name derived from the way sunlight graces the stones and limestone found on the property, Sunstone Winery & Vineyards stands proud beside its neighboring wineries just minutes away. With its property situated on the fringe of the Santa Ynez RIver, the expansive wine estate’s alluring atmosphere and a family of wine growers dedicated to providing a worthwhile experience, this exclusive wine estate is well worth the drive and well worth staying a while once you arrive.

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For the second year in a row, Sunstone Winery & Vineyards has sponsored the popular Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which we have enjoyed on more than one occasion and highly recommend if you haven’t experienced it thus far. From the winery’s Merlot and Cabernet to its Cabernet Franc and the Syrah and Viognier, there’s something to suit everyone’s palate at Sunstone. The first initial planting of 28 acres of wine grapes cmmenced in 1990. Since then, the estate has flourished, and become what it is today…a prominent must-visit boutique winery with expansive vineyards on an estate fit for even the most discriminating guests.

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As one of the first certified organic vineyards in Santa Barbara County, the owners and staff at Sunstone are proud of their C.C.O.F. (California Certified Organic Farmers) designation. The property is also run with an environmentally friendly concept in mind with recycling, re-using, and conservation high on the list of Sunstone’s priorities. And by avoiding the use of pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fungicides, the vineyards and grapes that make Sunstone wine becomes something to look forward to enjoying knowing that the end result not only tastes extraordinary, but is also good for us as well.

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The main entry to the Sunstone Tasting Room is upscale rustic, yet embraces guests with the aromas of blooming lavender and prominent rosemary plants when entering into the courtyard touched by the beauty of an intimate setting under a sunny California sky. On our most recent visit, our wine specialist explained that the aftermath and rebuilding of a horse barn damaged by a fallen tree during a storm became the Sunstone Tasting Room that it is today. It’s odd how things work out, because the tasting room is quite a sight that is held dear by the owners and visitors alike. The courtyard offers a spacious area for enjoying a bottle of Sunstone wine over a lingering lunch right outside the tasting room. A short walk to the front door, and it’s time to indulge in tasting what this estate is so proud of producing. Friendly wine specialists behind an elongated wine bar graciously pour tastes of their vintages for those awaiting the flavors of perfection. Two stone barrel-aging rooms allow for a 5,000 square-foot capacity for the wines to age peacefully while onlookers explore the space as they sip wine and snack on cheeses and other delicacies as they carry on conversations with one another.  Sunstone Winery3

The Villa at Sunstone offers overnight accommodations for those guests looking for a more lengthy visit on the fifty-five acre estate. This old world architectural gem with Tuscan influences was the former home to the Sunstone founders, but was turned into a guest residence for visitors supplying 8,500 square feet of luxurious space to enjoy. Multiple suites with private baths and sweeping vistas of the vineyards and Santa Ynez Mountains prove majestic, while special packages offer private wine tastings and other intriguing reasons to lodge at this location during your wine experience.

Whether visiting for the day, or arriving for an elongated wine adventure while staying at the Villa at Sunstone, you are sure to experience a memorable and thoroughly enjoyable stopover. Don’t miss out on the variety of events from summer concerts and gourmet winemaker dinners to wine release parties and traditional grape stomping get-togethers, as well as getting to know the benefits of joining Club Sunstone!

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: The atmosphere at Sunstone Winery & Vineyards is unforgettable. From the moment you arrive, rustic touches grace the property, while wafting scents of rosemary and lavender cast their spell on visiting guests. Romantic picnic areas are situated beneath shade trees in the courtyard of the tasting room, and everywhere one looks, a feel of Provincial France graces the property from the stones used to build the structures to the rolling vineyards for acres and acres to the plentiful trees casting shadows on the lawn to the overall look and feel of the entire property.
  • FOOD / DRINK: It goes without saying that when you’re at Sunstone, you’ll be enjoying several wine indulgences, but some packages also offer cheese board provisions as well more in-depth dinners upon reservation.
  • LOCATION: Sunstone Winery & Vineyards is located at 125 North Refugio Road in Santa Ynez, CA 93460.
  • HOURS: The Sunstone tasting room is open daily from 11:00 AM until 5:00 PM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: The staff at Sunstone is courteous, always happy to see visitors stopping in, and well-educated about the estate’s provisions, wines, and the area in general.
  • PRICE / VALUE: Sunstone wines are priced at an acceptable range based on the quality of the wines provided.
  • CORKAGE FEE: Outside wines are not allowed, however purchasing bottles from the tasting room and enjoying them on site is acceptable.
  • PARKING: There is no charge for parking at Sunstone Winery & Vineyards. Ample space is available when arriving at the tasting room beneath the cover of several shade trees.
  • PRICING: Depending on what your plans are for your visit to Sunstone Winery & Vineyards, so does the pricing. Wine tastings are $12 per person to experience a flight of six wines of your choice on the available menu each day, while private tastings providing 15% off of select purchases, a one-on-one wine tasting with one of the Sunstone wine specialists for $25 per person, and $39 per person to add an Al Fresco Picnic to the tasting that provides gourmet cheeses, cured meats, olives, crackers and either infused olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Tours of the Villa are given for $50 a person and offer a villa tour, wine and cheese pairings, and limited barrel tastings. Please check the Sunstone website for dates and availability.

* Menu, prices and dates subject to change without notice.

CASA VEGA RESTAURANT… “Unparalelled Traditional Mexican Cuisine In the Heart of Studio City!”

We’ve enjoyed so many great meals and “beverage meetings” at Casa Vega Restaurant in Sherman Oaks, California over the last fifteen years that we’ve been regular guests. A landmark Mexican gathering place for locals and those just sojourning through the San Fernando Valley area, this unique family owned and operated restaurant and cantina started over seventy-five years ago, and has only gained momentum throughout the decades it has delighted its customers with traditional authentic Mexican fare.

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The Vega family knows a thing or two about fine Mexican cuisine and flavorsome liquid libations sure to please most any palate. Entering into the restaurant, the light is immediately darkened and the cozy atmosphere takes over offering a full bar that seats many and table seating that is welcoming and comfortable. The glow of red lights cast a subtle romantic glow across the space, while the aromas of melting cheese, mouthwatering meats and fresh tortillas waft from the kitchen into the restaurant providing a divine environment for the enjoyment of a perfect Mexican meal.

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Guacamole Fresco & Margaritas

The homemade guacamole at Casa Vega is refreshing, savory and the perfect start to any meal at this popular culinary location. The house made crispy tortilla chips are served upon being seated with the restaurant’s classic salsa, but if you want to add a little more to your beginning experience, enjoy an order of the Guacamole Fresco with fresh tomatoes to amp up the start to your dining experience. Creamy and flavorsome, this starter alone will keep you returning for more. Add a few Casa Vega margaritas to that and you’re sure to become a lifelong fan.

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Lobster Enchilada

If you’re an enchilada connoisseur, you’re really in for a treat with the Lobster Enchilada. If you’re not a fan, this presentation is sure to make you a believer. Made with Maine lobster, this corn tortilla-wrapped gift of flavor perfection is  highlighted by a delicious salsa verde, fresh guacamole, and chilled sour cream accompanied by ample servings of Spanish rice, refried beans and a sprinkling of shredded cheese presented in all its favor laden glory. One of our favorite dishes at Casa Vega, we can never get enough of this offering as we’ve ordered it so many times we can’t remember.

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Tostada Grande

The Tostada Grande is a culinary gift from the Casa Vega kitchen. The fresh-made corn tostada offers a fantastic crunchy shell that envelops refried beans, cage-free chicken, fresh guacamole, sour cream and a mixture of Romaine and Iceberg lettuces. A terrific item to order for lunch, or an ideal item to select as an appetizer to share before your meal, this Mexican salad is an excellent choice for something more on the lighter side if you choose to forgo devouring the tortilla shell (good luck with that!).

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Special “Oven Style” Burrito

Here’s another favorite of ours…the Casa Vega Special “Oven Style” Burrito. Available in chicken or beef versions, this heavenly package of goodness can be ordered with a topping of Salsa Roja and melted Monterey Jack cheese, or as we often do, “dry”, which in Casa Vega terms simply means “without sauce” on top. One of the best burritos we’ve ever experienced, this delectable menu selection is a true winner for all you Savor Hour beef burrito lovers out there.

Casa Vega supplies those longing for a true traditional Mexican meal with a definitive solution to their quest for flavor, inviting atmosphere and an array of chilling libations crafted by longtime bartenders that have been here for years. When you’re in town, stop in at this classic go-to Mexican eatery and find out why we and so many others love what this family-based locale is serving up to their customers.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: The darkened space inside of the restaurant becomes instantly inviting as soon as your eyes adjust. Just past a welcoming hostess area, an expansive full bar greets you amidst a cast of red lighting in the cantina where unforgettable martinis are served up daily to thirsty patrons. An alternate dining space allows for additional seating with just as much coziness as the front part of the eatery inclusive of comfortable booths, individual tables, mirrored walls and undeniably amazing aromas wafting from the Casa Vega kitchen nearby.
  • FOOD / DRINK: The full bar in the cantina offers an array of chilled libations hand crafted for enjoyment, while the menu offers memorable authentic Mexican cuisine that will keep patrons returning again and again.
  • LOCATION: Casa Vega Restaurant is located on the corner of Fulton Avenue and Ventura Boulevard at 13301 Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, CA 91423.
  • HOURS: Monday through Saturday, the restaurant and cantina are available from 11:30 AM to 2:00 AM, while on Sundays, the doors open from 11:00 AM until 2:00 AM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: The staff at Vasa Vega is kind, welcoming, and gracious. We always feel like we’re part of the family when we visit. That’s something worth returning for in addition to the savory cuisine.
  • PRICE / VALUE: The cuisine, environment and service earn high marks in our book, while the value for what is charged seems to be right on track for what is presented. The restaurant prides itself for its incorporation of cage-free chicken, USDA Choice natural Angus beef, Maine lobster, Tiger & Bay shrimp, 100% Canadian crab, and for its use of no lard and non-trans fat oils. Vegan and vegetarian items may also be requested with selections made with soy beef or vegetarian Spanish sauce, no cheese or dairy products, as well as vegetarian plates from enchiladas to Mexican pizza to burrito offerings and more.
  • CORKAGE FEE: The corkage charge at Casa Vega is $20 per 750mL bottle.
  • PARKING: The restaurant offers evening valet service after 4:00 PM, while during lunch hours, customers are welcome to self-park in the Casa Vega parking lot.
  • PRICING: The Lobster Encillada menu selection arrived at $13.25, while the Guacamole Fresco was delivered for $9.50. We adore the Special “Oven Baked” Burrito served “dry” for just $11.75, while the Tostada Grande is listed at a simple $10.75 per order. The restaurant serves complimentary house made tortilla chips and salsa and the cantina prices vary on occasion.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

 

TREE PEOPLE @ COLDWATER CANYON PARK… “Making Great Things Happen For the Environment!”

An incredible contribution from a local nonprofit to a well-known Beverly Hills park has been going to great lengths to preserve and maintain the area. Tree People at Coldwater Canyon Park provides educational resources to better help the natural surroundings heal, thrive and bring the city to a healthy and flourishing state. Embracing nature’s trees, resources, and other beneficial factors does make a difference in our world. The power of Tree People’s enforcement of preservation and sustainable resources and actions proves that it is possible to make this happen. From enhancing people’s knowledge of what can be done to better help our environment like the incorporation of rain barrels to catch fresh rainwater, taking advantage of permeable pavement solutions to benefit plants, educating the public on environmental issues and working with the government on water issues, Tree People continues to thrive and make a difference that forces change to occur that better serves our parks, our environment and ourselves better every day.

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Tree People provides many programs and services for those ready to make a difference in our city. Offering programs for school children and teachers, hosting youth workshops at the park, demonstrating how to plant trees and capture rainwater for better uses and numerous other programs is just the beginning of what Tree People provides. The Center for Community Forestry, S. Mark Taper Foundation Learning Center, W.M. Keck Foundation Nursery and Tree People Conference Center are just some of the resources providing knowledge and education on what more we can do to keep our city beautiful.

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The trails throughout Coldwater Canyon Park are undeniably inviting. Dotted with directional signage, fountains and plaques honoring financial contributors, and unparalleled scenic views, the park will charm most anyone stepping foot on the property. Accessible trails for individuals hiking and walking, as well as those for bicycling are a welcome treat for visitors, while a picnic area with seating and ample space encourages visitor to take a break or a relaxed lunch hour under a canopy of trees.

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The trails allow for the enjoyment of expansive views across the valley, a variety of towering tree varieties, and miles of natural ground for physical activities such as hiking, walking, jogging and more. The park is well preserved, well-maintained and well kept, and is a favorite place that we enjoy visiting frequently. Every day is different, each sunrise and sunset showcases something more exciting than the next, and not one part of the experience will disappoint as this haven of natural beauty enchants and mesmerizes even those who visit often.

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S. Mark Taper Foundation Amphitheater

The S. Mark Taper Foundation Amphitheater hosts several outdoor theatrical events, environmental and educational lectures as well as music for everyone to enjoy. Because of the Foundation along with numerous celebrities such as Steve Martin, Danny DeVito, Johnny Carson and Bonnie Raitt, just to name a few, this area of the park is dedicated to the furthering of intellectual knowledge of the preservation of the area as well as to the enjoyment of musical presentations and other scheduled events throughout the year. The summer locale of the Actors Conservatory Ensemble, the amphitheater is filled with performing arts sure to delight and entertain while the proceeds are directed straight to Tree People’s programs for keeping this beautiful park thriving.

 Tree People offers the tools, the solutions, the education and the programs for those seeking to better our city. What makes it all work and come together is when we take the initiative to do our part to help the cause flourish successfully, whether through donations, volunteering or offering our time to help with the various programs and seminars at this collaborative and noteworthy group of individuals seeking to keep our town beautiful, healthy and as a place we can all enjoy for years to come.

  • ESTABLISHMENT: The beauty of Coldwater Canyon Park is astounding, while Tree People’s nature-loving environment and dedication to park preservation allow for an educational experience set amongst a backdrop of stunning trails, towering trees and breathtaking vistas over the city.
  • LOCATION: Tree People is located at Coldwater Canyon Park at 12601 Mulholland Drive in Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
  • HOURS: The park is open to the public from 6:30 AM until dusk every day.
  • PET FRIENDLINESS: Dogs are allowed into the park as long as they are cleaned up after and abide by the leash law.
  • PARKING: The park offers a small parking lot, which is why carpooling is encouraged. The parking area is located at the entrance to the park near the Tree People offices. Be sure to check the website for parking lot closures for special events often.
  • PRICING: There is no charge for entering the park to enjoy what nature has provided and what the staff of Tree People has preserved and maintained. Please see the website for more information about prices for entertainment hosted at the amphitheater throughout the year.

* Schedules and prices subject to change without notice.

HUSK… “An Unforgettable Infusion of Great Southern Flavors!”

Since the evening Chef Sean Brock’s distinctive Southern cuisine at his fine dining tasting menu restaurant McCrady’s romanced our taste buds earlier this year, we’ve been anxiously awaiting another gastronomic experience at another feather in this James Beard award-winning chef’s culinary cap…HUSK. Since its opening in 2010, HUSK has maintained high marks amongst the culinary critics and has been featured in publications from Bon Appetite to Southern Living Magazine to Charleston Magazine, with Chef Brock also being featured on numerous food-themed television shows and websites for praise of his gastronomic genius and adoration of local ingredients. The completely renovated dual-building establishment that houses HUSK restaurant and its namesake lounge provides an atmosphere that beckons the hungry palates of those who call Charleston home, and satisfies the curiosity of visiting tourists who have come to take part in what it means to celebrate the South’s culinary environment. HUSK is a unique gathering place where patrons may involve themselves in a casual relaxed ambience that welcomes those inside who yearn for something unmistakably memorable.

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Within a fully renovated building dating back to the 1800s, HUSK was born. The inviting Southern verandas on both levels, romantic courtyard that greets all who arrive with blooming florals and elegant wrought iron garden benches situated atop worn pavers, and intriguing interior inclusive of a wood-fired oven, rustic exposed brick, spacious dining quarters and reclaimed flooring bring the past to life again within a modern appointment of a heightened existence for this locale. Positioned along Queen Street’s ages-old cobblestones, the establishment greets guests, welcoming them inside with open arms and an abundance of Southern hospitality.

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Upon entry, Southern distinction lies within HUSK’s main foyer. Eye-catching up-lit vases are positioned inside squared-off cubby holes along a partition wall on the main level, while a massive chalkboard dictates the currently used local ingredients the kitchen is taking advantage of on any given day. A sky high cove conveniently promotes a visual of fresh-cut wood offering a faint earthy scent of that which brings the wood-fire oven in the kitchen to life every evening. Elegant fireplaces decorated with modern paintings, seasonal decorations and simple, yet colorful and complimentary tones design beautifully arranged dining spaces that create comfort in which every patron might feel at home as though they are dining at a good friend’s home…just as Chef Brock envisioned for this eatery.

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Moments after being seated, diners are greeted by a server and provided water and benne seed oven-fresh bread. Menus follow shortly thereafter and the fun begins. The selections are not complicated, but well explained and printed on a single page menu, which is carefully folded and presented to each guest. Beverage orders are taken and sipping a favorite vintage or something a bit stronger from the bar ensues and soon after a second round of drinks is served, the meal begins as eyes widen and smiles reveal themselves with what is presented.

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Black Garlic Agnolotti

One of our favorite pasta varieties is most any version of agnolotti. Chef Sean Brock perfected this favorite of ours by heightening this starchy sinful provision with a Mepkin Abbey mushroom broth, fresh-from-the-earth turnip greens, along with sweet onions and roasted Shiitake mushrooms. As if this wasn’t enough to carry on an entire conversation, a perfectly poached egg was placed atop this incredible culinary creation for an addition of rich creamy flavor creating a dish worthy of more than a nod of acceptance, crafted by a chef worthy of acclamation.

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Caper’s Blades Oysters

Ah, the oyster. Simple, basic, dignified. Satisfying in most any preparation method. However, crafted with Caper’s Blades oysters harvested locally from McClellanville, South Carolina by hand, then decorated and enhanced with red pepper-tangerine juice, Kentucky soy and HUSK’s own pepper vinegar and watermelon radish, this was truly a signature HUSK dish that will be enjoyed by all who experience it while dining here. A gift from local waters titled after their razor blade shape, made beautiful and toothsome, we appreciated the stunning hues its accoutrements provided our visual perception, while the flavor was amplified by the layered, yet simplistic artistry of its creator.

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Blue Ridge Bison Short Ribs

When bison short ribs are served, we shall order. One of my all-time favorite dishes, preparation is key with this hearty contribution. Chef Sean’s Blue Ridge Bison Short Rib entree was fork tender and sated my hankering for beefy flavor-laden perfection. The stuffed dumplings that accompanied this fine provision were joined by South Carolina Bok Choy with fresh sun chokes and mustard onions. Altogether, this compilation of all things heavenly proved a dish worthy of an award for flavor, visual appeal and texture accomplishment.

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Slow Cooked Duck Leg with Red Eye Gravy

The Slow Cooked Duck Leg with Red Eye Gravy offering arrived with smoked “BBQ” cabbage, charred sweet potatoes and a spicy purée. The crispy skin of the duck was a treat upon first bite, which happily made its way to our mouths quickly producing pleasant expressions across our faces as we glanced at one another in agreement that this performance of culinary bliss was indeed a savory participant in Chef Brock’s line-up of tempting and mouthwatering offerings for the evening. The expertly-cut chunks of sweet potato added a natural sweetness to the dish without overpowering the basic pure flavor of the duck, while the smoked cabbage provided us an addition of flavor that was complimentary to the dish. Though listed as “spicy”, the accompanying purée wasn’t fiery at all and made for a subtle highlight of gentle spice that brought this multifaceted provision to enlightened heights of both flavor and visual appeal.

Husk5 Wood Fired Geechie Boy Grits

A substantial side dish, the Wood Fired Geechie Boy Grits with Sweetwater Valley Cheddar was a substantial side that impressed without being overly salty. The unexpected creaminess of the grits was commendable, while the standout sharpness of the cheddar flavor peaked with each spoonful. It was pleasing to be able to enjoy this dish without experiencing an over abundance of salt, which this preparation was nearly free of that we could taste. The creaminess and wholesome factors of the grits and real cheddar flavor stood out all on their own and after finishing this delightful addition to our dinner, we couldn’t have imagined it any better.

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The Bar At HUSK

Just steps away from the restaurant, The Bar at HUSK exists in all its splendor and glory. The cozy detached two level brick building is a continuation of HUSK charm and conversation-piece surroundings. Friendly and accomplished bartenders mix up superb concoctions and earnestly maintain bragging rights about their perfect ice spheres for the array of signature beverages offered. On the first level, a small porch guides patrons inside where a traditional bar with exposed brick and rich woods invite and comfort, while upstairs, a more lounge-esque space exists with spacious seating away from the main bar, yet boasting full service as well. Renovated from a crippled and ages-old structure, The Bar at HUSK was renovated to accompany the main restaurant and serves as a unique “next stop” after a fabulous meal for an ideal after dinner cocktail.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: Beautiful fabrics and spacious dining space provides patrons ample elbow room and much to converse about. Colorful artwork on walls, decorative fireplaces, expansive dual verandas, exposed brick and a rustic, almost country feel persists here all while maintaining an airy and elegant, yet relaxed casual feel within the eatery that sets one at ease.
  • FOOD / DRINK: Cuisine prepared by Chef Brock is artistry in itself, while the flavors and combinations of ingredients join together to create noticeable explosions of flavor that one might not expect, but will admire thoroughly. Refreshing beverages, a separate bar and lounge next door featuring signature classic concoctions, and a wine list impressively arranged by soil type also serve as highlights of any meal at HUSK.
  • LOCATION: HUSK is positioned at 76 Queen Street in Charleston, SC 29401.
  • HOURS: HUSK is available for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11:30 AM until 2:30 PM. Brunch is served Sundays from 10:00 AM through 2:30 PM. Dinners draw the masses Sundays through Thursdays from 5:30 PM to 10:00 PM, and on Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 PM through 11:00 PM. The bar is open from 4:00 PM until closing daily.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: Conversational and friendly servers and staff make HUSK a delightful and inviting atmosphere. There’s always something intriguing happening in the restaurant, whether seated in a dining room beside a roaring fire, outside on one of the Southern porches, or up close and personal on the main level near the kitchen where all the action takes place. Informed and professional smiling staff keep the cheery vibe going all day and night, and are ready to assist in any way they can to make the dining experience a memorable one.
  • PRICE / VALUE: Reasonable pricing on the selections we enjoyed, and so much to rave about! The pricing was fair in our opinion, and what was offered in terms of variety, flavor, ingredients, and overall worth of the cuisine suited us just fine.
  • CORKAGE FEE: A $25 per 750mL bottle exists at HUSK, however, purchase a bottle from the wine list during your meal, and the restaurant will waive the charge.
  • PARKING: Metered street parking, as well as a spacious parking garage across the street are available for your convenience. A small parking lot near the establishment is also available for a nominal charge until 11:00 PM on weeknights.
  • PRICING: The glasses of NV R. Dumont et Fils Champagne Solera Reserve Brut arrived at an acceptable $15 per glass, while the 2011 Hautes-Cotes de Beaune-Domaine Billard et Fils Pinot Noir we both enjoyed over dinner came in at $11 apiece. The Wood Fired Geechie Boy Grits with Sweetwater Cheddar was priced at just $8, while the Caper’s Blades Oysters were served for $15. The Black Garlic Agnolotti hit the spot at an easy $12, and Slow Cooked Duck Leg appeared for  reasonable $30. We also enjoyed the Blue Ridge Bison Short Ribs for $34.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

THE BALLASTONE INN… “Southern Charm At Its Finest!”

 Draped beards of curled Spanish moss hover overhead casting shadows on sidewalks and streets for passers-by to catch a glimpse of. Horse-drawn carriages roll by, the clicking of hooves sound out and stories of historic days gone by told with enthusiasm by experienced tour guides donning period costumes fill the air around every block. Aromas of blooming jasmine and magnolias in the spring, wood-burning fireplaces and homemade apple cider wafting their ummistakable scents in the winter, and the crunch of enormous maple leaves somersaulting throughout parks and streets and across the city in the fall leave a definite impact and pleasing memories for those who visit this romantic and historic town. A favorite place to stay and enjoy all of this and so much more is the Ballastone Inn. Savannah’s first bed and breakfast inn, this renovated and restored notable historic hotel will enchant you upon first glance and steal your heart away upon your first visit.

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As repeat guests of Ballastone over the last several years during our travels to the South, we’ve come to appreciate everything this intimate boutique hotel has to offer. Intriguingly enough, the land this great inn sits on was a portion of the Southern Boundary of the original settlement that General James Oglethorpe founded, then was even bought years later by the Girl Scouts of America for administrative office use. The building was purchased again and turned into a bed and breakfast in1980, and has flourished as such since that time. Holiday time at the Ballastone Inn is grand and dignified. Stunning elegant decorations capture the essence of a true Southern Christmas, while year-round tea service and evening cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres pacify appetites before indulging in a savory Southern dinner in town. Ballastone Inn earned a 4-Diamond/4-Star rating along the way, and was also awarded numerous acclamations for its authentic historic and superior accommodations

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Each guest suit is appointed with a private bathroom featuring premium toiletries, turn down service, Turkish robes and slippers and 800 thread count Egyptian cotton linens for optimal comfort. The Victoria Suite offers Victorian Era appointments with rich details and fabrics. A four-poster rice bed takes guests back to the days of the 19th century and impressive eye-catching framed prints embellish the walls for all to admire. This suite also houses a working gas fireplace for those chillier evenings. Bold tones of gold, deep ruby and soft cream envelope guests, while a Jacuzzi tub relaxes tired muscles after a long day exploring the city.

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Each private suite in the Ballastone Inn is enhanced with unique decor from all the others, making every room special and thematic. The sixteen guest suites of the establishment boast charm and character that are unforgettable. The China Trade Suite has since been repainted a deep rose hue since our last stay from the deep jade tone it reflected before. Still offering Oriental heirlooms, stunning antique kimonos, a dramatic four-poster king sized bed and a spacious sitting area with impeccable views overlooking the property’s quaint courtyard, this dwelling has to be our favorite of the rooms we’ve occupied.

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The Ballastone Inn provides a special location for special events, milestone celebrations and simple weekend getaways with the one you love. Experiencing everything this romantic inn has to offer from the discerning and friendly staff to the lavish accommodations to the little extras that are not left unnoticed and the overall appeal of the historic elements it holds will convince anyone to return again on their next trip to the South.

  • PROPERTY: The charm and intriguing ambience of Ballastone Inn captures one’s romantic side in an instant. Suddenly, what matters most while visiting this historic inn becomes enhanced and cherished with a new light. Restoration over the years has brought the property to its current state, while the spacious suites and cozy intimacy of the common spaces enlight guests and keep them returning time and time again.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: The hospitable staff is always willing to assist at a moment’s notice. Friendly, professional, and sincere in all they do, the staff provides the inn with a big reason we keep returning.
  • PET FRIENDLINESS: The hotel does not allow pets inside, but does have an arrangement with a local boarding facility for cats and dogs traveling with their owners to help accommodate those fury friends.
  • DINING OPTIONS: The Ballastone Inn provides delicious breakfasts and tasteful cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres in the evenings. Full meals for lunch and dinner may be obtained in town with suggestions from the hotel’s on-site Concierge.
  • LOCATION: The Ballastone Inn is centrally located at 14 East Oglethorpe Avenue in Savannah, GA 31401.
  • CONTACT INFO: The Phone: (912) 236-1484 / (800) 822-4553, Website: www.inn@ballastone.com.
  • PARKING: The hotel allows for nine parking spaces behind the inn. Additional metered street parking and city parking garage facilities are also available. 
  • HOTEL AMENITIES: Complimentary Afternoon Tea, complimentary snacks during the day, an all-day available bar for beverage purchases, outdoor courtyard dining available, in-room continental breakfast available, gourmet breakfasts with table service, bottled water in guest suites, Wi-Fi, flat screen televisions, HD cable service, and ten of the sixteen suites offer working fireplaces. 

*Prices and rates subject to change without notice.

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA… “Southern Charm In One of America’s Most Beautiful Cities!”

Savannah holds numerous wonderful memories for us. As a town of extreme Southern hospitality, its genuine beauty and uncanny haunted reputation attracts scores of tourists year round. This riverside town creates the backdrop for romantic visits, Southern themed weddings, tours of all kinds and provides those who grace its existence with a sense of the old world some two hundred plus years ago. If one listens carefully the voices of those that have passed through this city from the past can almost be heard. Those hushed tones of history rendering the pride of those who once stood in this very city fighting their battles of war, of salvation, of self-preservation. It is a city filled with life and memories, and one which welcomes all in without hesitation…effortlessly, laden with immense hospitality, and brimming with the beauty and grandeur that only such a unique Southern locale can provide.

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Fountains & Squares

The numerous individually-named parks in the city of Savannah, Georgia began as training grounds for the militants under the command of General Oglethorpe in the 1700s. Known as “squares”, visitors and locals find themselves spending hours in one of more than twenty of these oak tree guarded havens, which offer stunning stone fountains, historic markers and locales where various movies have been filmed. Savannah is also the Largest National Landmark District in the United States, which encourages the tourism industry and makes for an intriguing city to visit or call home amongst the mighty oak trees drapes with elongated beards of Spanish moss.

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Historic Churches & Architecture

The architectural beauty of historic buildings, churches and Antebellum-style homes awe even the most schooled historians. From Greek Revival and Corinthian-style houses of worship to the beauty and impressive grandeur of the stained glass synagogue windows and detailed craftsmanship and enhancements to the famous sky-high steeples that dot the Savannah skyline, there are unending options for those who adore architecture and appreciate its fascinating artistry.

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City Views

The excitement of experiencing a horse-drawn carriage ride, a riverboat cruise on the Georgia Queen, a guided ghost tour after dark, or just a casual stroll around this history-rich locale of memorable attractions in Savannah will leave anyone spellbound by what is to be seen. Take in expansive views of the treetops from the top of the Bohemian Hotel, observe the gold leaf wonder of the city’s Capitol building, pay humble respect at the Chatham County waterfront Vietnam War Memorial, shop or dine along bustling River Street with views of the Savannah River, or take a trolley ride to one of the fifteen stops made all through the town. There is so much to see, do and enjoy in this Southern location that one absolutely cannot leave without taking part in at least a handful of these and other activities before leaving.

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Romantic Inns & Hotels

We’ve been graciously welcomed back to several hotels and inns in the city of Savannah. One of our favorites is the Ballastone Inn along Oglethorpe Avenue. An enchanting inn filled with history and rich in intimate coziness that cannot be ignored. Each guest room is individually decorated with a specific theme. Morning breakfasts, afternoon teas and evening cocktails will never be the same once this charming abode captured your soul. Along Abercorn Street, the Hamilton-Turner Inn provides bed-and-breakfast accommodations right in the middle of the city’s historic district with seventeen plush guest quarters to envelope you during your stay in the “Hostess City of the South”. The Mansion on Forsythe delights within a renovated historic mansion with modern and eclectic touches and amenities and exemplary customer service with a connected fine dining restaurant and multiple lounge facilities on site. Directly across from Forsythe Park, the views are stunning and the location is near perfect. The more recent Bohemian Hotel Savannah is situated along West Bay Street on the Savannah River with waterfront views not to be missed. Boasting conversation-piece decor and a wrap-around rooftop bar with expansive rooftop views of the city and river is certainly worth at least a visit when in town.

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Restaurants & Lounges

There’s always an excuse to celebrate in Savannah. Whether it’s cocktails over live jazz or a sultry piano serenade at Casmir’s Lounge, a sidewalk breakfast with friends at J. Christopher’s on a lazy weekend morning, fine dining or lunch at The Olde Pink House, something to cure a rumbling stomach during a walk at Leoci’s Trattoria or Vic’s on the River, or sharing a bottle of Champagne or wine at Rocks Rooftop Lounge overlooking the Savannah River, you just can’t go wrong with any of the local culinary provisions available.

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River Views

The Savannah River provides a breathtaking visual attraction all on its own. Board the complimentary river taxi across the water to and from Hutchinson Island or enjoy the views of the expansive waters from a river cruise for a more thorough tour. Sunsets over the Savannah River are unmistakably unforgettable, while catching a glimpse of a passing barge loaded high with cargo can be of equal intrigue. The romance, activity available and culinary and historical offerings in Savannah, Georgia keep visitors coming back and locals here to stay. Come see why this city is so well known for its hospitality, charm and graciousness soon, as once you arrive to this Southern city on the river, you’ll question ever leaving.

  • LOCATION: The positioning of this lively Southern city along the mighty Savannah River suits this romantic location just fine. Stay for activities for yourself and a loved one or a family-customized visit sure to enlighten, excite and satisfy everyone in your traveling party.
  • FOOD / DRINK: The plethora of culinary perfection, Lowcountry fare and comforting soul food reigns superior in this part of the world. One taste of the tasteful and flavor-laden delicacies and traditional favorites available will send connoisseurs of fine Southern cuisine on a voyage their taste buds won’t even be capable of keeping up with.
  • CONTACT INFO: Try www.visitsavannah.com for a wealth of informative information on the city of Savannah, Georgia and insight into where you want to be in the South.

* Prices and rates subject to change without notice.

IL TIRAMISU RISTORANTE & BAR… “Leisurely Lunching & Savory Dishes!”

When you walk into Il Tiramisu Ristorante at the corner of Woodley Avenue and Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, California, you enter into a a restaurant made solely of three items: a long history of family tradition with friendly and sincere owners and staff, incredibly prepared and authentic memorable Italian cuisine and an ambience that warmly welcomes you inside and ushers you to a familiar table where this busy west coast city slows acceptably for you to intake, appreciate and savor all that fine cuisine has to offer.

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A recent lunch date proved just as phenomenal as our usual dinners at Il Tiramisu Ristorante. Toting a bottle of wine from our wine locker and prepared to indulge in what the family at this culinary landmark had to offer us this particular visit, we were just as pleased to dine for a relaxed dignified lunch as we were a romantic evening meal.

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Goat Cheese House Salad

The Goat Cheese House Salad at Il Tiramisu offers brilliantly hued mixed greens topped with a house vinaigrette, red bell pepper strips and creamy irresistible goat cheese. Served alongside any of the eatery’s signature entrees, this makes for a complimentary beginning to a leisurely lunch.

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Linguine con Vongole

The magic of the flavorsome ribbons of linguine and succulent clams joined together in a rich homemade marinara sauce and provided ample sustenance for the entire day. A selection of red or white sauce was available for our choosing, and the combination of aromas, textures and tastes scored a multitude of points with us.

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Casarecce

The Casarecce entree encapsulated the hearty fullness of gluten-free tubular pasta with a heaping pile of rich meaty Bolognese crowning this dish. The delicious version of this warm plentiful sauce was our choice, however a  pesto and a pink vodka sauce were also available if you aren’t a meat sauce lover. But any one of these are a perfect partner to this gluten-free goodness.

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Pollo Marsala

The Pollo Marsala is a dish we’ve come to know quite well at Il Tiramisu. Fresh chicken breasts are gently sautéed in a fine Marsala wine, then scores of sliced mushrooms are added making the dish a wholesome and visually appealing compilation. The addition of homemade whipped potatoes and seasonal grilled vegetables provide even more delightful flavor.

Whether for lunch or dinner, Il Tiramisu delivers quality cuisine at a reasonable price point by a friendly staff inside of a romantic and suitable setting. Stop in for that power lunch with business associates, lunching with the girls or a romantic dinner with the one you love and experience what we’ve been indulging in for many years.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: The intimate establishment greets those who enter its doors in a warm and friendly fashion. A feeling of true family exists here and does not go unnoticed. Soft tones of subtle colors heightened by bursts of vivid colors in paintings hung around the restaurant add conversation pieces to this beautiful locale.
  • FOOD / DRINK: The quality and consistency of good taste is prominent here. Delicious and intriguing dishes of fresh pastas, seafood and salads partner with finely prepared meats and other desirable offerings to make the mouth water with excitement and the pulse quicken with anticipation for that next flavorsome bite.
  • LOCATION: The convenient location of the eatery sits at 13705 Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, CA 91432.
  • HOURS: The lunchtime crowd is a festive one Tuesday through Saturday between 11:30 AM and 2:30 PM. Dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday between 5:00 PM and 10:00 PM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: The staff and management enjoy conversing and enlightening their patrons. Especially their regulars. A great teamwork display amongst the employees and generous hospitality and sincerity to all who step foot into the restaurant.
  • PRICE / VALUE: The reasonable corkage fee sets the tone, while the outstanding Italian cuisine follows suit at acceptable prices. Value and quality exist here and there is not a meal we’ve ever enjoyed here that was not up to high standards.
  • CORKAGE FEE: Still a mere $5.00 per 750mL bottle, even with the generous wine list available.
  • CONTACT INFO: The Phone: ((818) 986-2640, Website: http://il-tiramisu.com
  • PARKING: There are several metered parking spaces along Woodley Avenue and Ventura Boulevard, as well as reasonably-priced valet parking for guests of the restaurant.
  • PRICING: The generous offerings of fresh breads and oils are always complimentary. The corkage charge for our bottle of wine we brought with us was a simple $5. The Pollo Marsala and Casarecce entrees arrives at $13 each, while the Linguine con Vongole was priced at $15.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

GYU-KAKU JAPANESE BBQ… “Grilling’ & Chillin’ In Canoga Park!”

Try something different for a change when dining out with a visit to Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ. A festive and uniquely designed eatery offering tables and booths with built-in personal Japanese grills aflame and ready to be the center of an evening full of succulent beef, savory seafood, fresh prepared vegetable dishes, and all around charcoal-cooked goodness.

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 Spicy Tuna Volcano Appetizer & Cocktails

The Spicy Tuna Volcano appetizer is a sure winner with its rice crusted shell, spicy mayo and wasabi essence. The spicy tuna and deep-fried crunch created a lasting impression. Garnished with sesame seeds and green onion, this starter is just as colorful as it is flavorful and served the two of us amply over cocktail hour before being seated in the main dining room. Add a few Happy Hour chilled libations to the mix and that spells savory and vivid enjoyment of this Japanese BBQ establishment’s offerings.

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Cabbage Kimchi Starters

The cabbage Kimchi we were presented with served as our choice of vegetables for the evening. A popular Korean side dish, kimchi is most commonly composed of pickled cabbage, onions, anchovy paste, chili powder, ginger, and a touch of sugar. The sweet and sour essence of the finished product resonated with our taste buds quite well as we both finished our bowls of kimchi with satisfaction.

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Garlic Shrimp & Toro Beef

The main attraction came once our orders of prime beef and seafood started arriving to our table. We started with a couple of servings each of the Garlic Shrimp and Toro Beef. Succulent and cooked over the charcoal BBQ with ease, the beef was mouthwatering and the orders of shrimp delivered a perfect  seafood display of true flavor and quality.

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Miso Butterfish & Hanger Steak

Two more orders of the Miso Butterfish and Hangar Steak were presented to our location in the restaurant for placement over the flaming BBQ before us. The butterfish made us realize why it got its name. The tender fish almost melted in our mouths as we delivered each bite to our palates, and the Hanger Steak orders were juicy, fulfilling, and aged at length to lock in that wonderful aged beef flavor.

A delightful and unique method of dining out, entertaining those in your party, and enjoying fine meat, seafood and other items prepared especially to your liking. Stop by and grill your own savory cuisine with your personal BBQ at Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ for a great time that you won’t soon forget.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: The elegant, yet exciting vibe at Gyu-Kaku allows for spacious dining in a cozy lounge or at one of several dining tables or booths complete with built-in personal grills.
  • FOOD / DRINK: The selections of succulent beef, buttery fish and creative starters, sides and flavorful appetizers and cocktails provide an array of flavors that will satisfy anyone.
  • LOCATION: This particular Gyu-Kaku restaurant is positioned at 6600 Topanga Canyon Boulevard – Suite 1010B in Canoga Park, CA 91303 on the first floor of the Westfield Topanga Center.
  • HOURS: The restaurant is available for service for lunch daily from 11:30 AM until 5:00 PM. Dinner is served Monday through Thursday from 5:00 PM to 9:30 PM, Friday and Saturday from 5:00 PM until 10:30 PM and on Sundays from 5:00 PM until 9:00 PM. Don’t pass up Happy Hour available all day Mondays, at lunch daily from 11:30 AM to 6:30 PM, and during dinner from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM Tuesdays through Thursdays and on Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30 PM through 10:30 PM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: The servers, mixologists, and other staff and management at Gyu-Kaku are kind and anxious to offer suggestions and assistance.
  • PRICE / VALUE: The fun of ordering from the menu’s vast array of items to indulge in and cook yourself over a flaming personal grill is definitely something refreshing and inventive. A pleasant change of pace makes for a great dining experience. Great prices for what you receive.
  • CORKAGE FEE: The restaurant does not allow any outside alcohol in.
  • CONTACT INFO: Phone: (818) 888-4030,  Website: www.gyu-kaku.com
  • PARKING: The eatery offers valet parking for $3.50, but an expansive lot at Topanga Center offers spacious free parking as well if you don’t mind a short walk.
  • PRICING: The five cocktails we enjoyed came in at just $4 each during Happy Hour, while the Spicy Tuna Volcano was presented at $5.95 and served the two of us nicely as a starter to our meal. Once seated, we chose two more cocktails to enjoy with dinner and each indulged in the Cabbage Kimchi starters at a simple $3.95 apiece. The Toro Beef was savory at just $3.95 per order, and the 21-day aged Hanger Steak was priced at a simple $6.95 each. We also devoured orders of the Miso Butterfish and Garlic Shrimp for a mere $5.95 per serving.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

WINDSOR COURT HOTEL… “The Crescent City’s Majestic Abode!”

On a recent trip to the Crescent City, we returned to the Windsor Court Hotel – one of our favorite places to call home when visiting the Big Easy. Unmistakable luxury and extravagant elegance greets and consoles guests in an art-laden, classically embellished and richly detailed establishment known for catering to those who seek the finer things in life. Located mere minutes from the French Quarter and walking distance to popular Canal Street, this destination lodging haven convinces guests that their choice to stay was the perfect one.

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Inside the lavishly appointed indoor space of the Windsor Court Hotel exists proof of the recent $22 million dollar renovation, while keeping the same comfort and style that frequently visiting guests have come to know and love. Original art pieces collectively awe visitors throughout various placement in the hotel displaying items of British heritage and Windsor Castle and the Royal Family style. Ranging from the 17th to 20th centuries, these sculptures, paintings, furnishings and tapestries form an intriguing collection, and are not to be missed when staying at this property.

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Our suite offered us complete splendor and indulgence from the calming pale blue tone of the walls, to the sizable layout of the space, to the comfortable and inviting furnishings and city views from our balcony. Just as we remember it from our last visit, but enhanced with new furnishings, gentle color refinements, and amplified artistic details that make the Windsor Court Hotel what it is today.

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The en-suite bath provided us Italian marble glamour complete with a separate dressing and vanity area, Frette linens, plush bathrobes and slippers, and Moulton Brown amenities combined to administer all the conveniences of home and more.

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The living space of our suite was amply supplied with a butler’s pantry and mini bar alcove, fine furnishings and lavish accessories, and ample areas for writing and working with views overlooking the New Orleans city horizon.

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Views from our balcony displayed contrasting images between daylight hours and evening when the city’s lights cast a magical spell over us during our visit with rooftop views overlooking Harrah’s Casino, neighboring hotels, and a majestic view of the city’s horizon right in the middle of everything. After dark, the lights go on and the magical illumination of the city’s nightlife glows and shimmers in an alluring and magical way.

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The mornings always bring a satisfying meal at the Windsor Court Hotel. Delivered straight from The Grill Room kitchen, we chose selections of the Flapjack Breakfast with warmed maple syrup, fresh ripe blueberries and sweet cream butter. The Classic Eggs Benedict presentation arrived steaming hot with a deliciously sinful Hollandaise sauce and breakfast potatoes. Polished off with fresh coffee and hot green tea, we couldn’t have asked for a better start to our morning before exploring the city.

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The rooftop Windsor Court Hotel pool provides a 65-foot saltwater sanctuary that stays heated in cooler months. The 10,000 SF pool and deck provisions create a haven for those yearning to unwind, relax and escape to a world of tranquility. With skyline views of the city and poolside service availability, guests have all things required to be pampered and made to feel as it they are part of the Royal Family themselves.

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The many options for afternoon tea, fine dining and even just cocktails at the bar are offered at Le Salon, the Polo Club Lounge, the Grill Room and the Windsor Court Cocktail Bar providing hours of unforgettable culinary and liquid libation treats to satisfy any whim one might possess. One of our favorites at the Windsor Court Hotel is the Grill Room restaurant, at which we have dined on numerous occasions.

The experience always delights, impresses and consoles us upon our returns to the Windsor Court Hotel in the Central Business District of the city of New Orleans. We appreciate the staff’s welcome back and the management’s special recognition of our visits to the property, and look forward to returning again on our next sojourn to the city.

  • PROPERTY: This fine property allows for enjoyment on multiple levels without any room for ceasing the great times that can be had here. Celebrating the hotel’s 30th anniversary this year, the Windsor Court Hotel graciously welcomes its guests and visiting patrons inside with open arms and a plethora of Southern hospitality so true to New Orleans.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: The moment you arrive inside the front drive within a private courtyard embellished with statues and fountains and smiling staff, you will know you have arrived at the Windsor Court Hotel. We tried hard to find an employee during our stay that didn’t offer their services or at least smile and provide a greeting in some way, but could find not a one. Professional staff, friendly and accommodating Concierge and reception upon arrival and departure, and consistent customer service that rates stellar in our opinion.
  • PET FRIENDLINESS: The property welcomes both cats and dogs for a nominal $150 fee, which includes a pet bed, pet placemat with food and water bowls, welcome treats, and walking maps for those guests with canine companions.
  • DINING OPTIONS: The Polo Club Lounge provides small plates and specialty cocktails while an English vibe envelopes guests amongst rich woods and soft inviting leather. Live jazz entertains the soul while patrons take it all in. Available Monday through Thursday from 11:30 AM until 12:00 AM, Fridays and Saturdays from 11:30 AM until 1:00 AM and on Sundays from 11:00 AM to 12:00 midnight. Cocktail Bar sedates those craving hand shaken libations, brews from around the globe, snacks and desserts sure to win over most anyone. Located on the first floor of the hotel and offering live entertainment Thursday through Saturday from 6:00 PM until 9:00 PM, Cocktail Bar is the essential locale to relax, unwind and soak in everything wonderful. Available for service Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 PM until closing with a Happy Hour from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM featuring select $5 cocktails and wines, Cocktail Bar is closed Sundays and Mondays. Le Salon is the perfect locale to enjoy afternoon tea in the lobby of the hotel. Sip loose leaf varieties while enjoying tea sandwiches and other snacks true to English tradition along with a harpist or trio strumming out enjoyable background tunes Thursday and Friday at 2:00 PM, and Saturday through Sundays at 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM. Tea Reservations can be made by calling (504) 596-4773. The Grill Room is the hotel’s fine dining Forbes 4-star, AAA 4-Diamond awarded restaurant featuring live entertainment on scheduled evenings and a seasonal menu to delight the masses. Open for breakfast daily from 7:00 AM until 10:30 AM, lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 AM until 1:30 PM and on Saturdays from 11:30 AM until 2:30 PM, for dinner nightly from 5:30 PM until 10:00 PM, and for brunch Sundays from 11:00 AM until 2:30 PM. And of course, hotel room service may be ordered straight from the Grill Room kitchen for those lazy mornings enjoying the views over the city or river from your suite.
  • LOCATION: The Windsor Court Hotel is situated at 300 Gravier Street in New Orleans, LA 70130.
  • PARKING: Valet parking is the only way to go when staying at the Windsor Court Hotel. Let the property’s valet staff care for your vehicle allowing in and out access at your convenience. A $35 per evening fee will be conveniently added to your hotel bill for this service.
  • HOTEL AMENITIES: The hotel’s rooftop Pool Deck gives guests 10,000 square feet of pure bliss and aquatic enjoyment with stunning vistas of the city and horizon. A 65-foot saltwater pool envelope guests leaving them refreshed and revived after a swim or soak. The Fitness Center gives guests a reason to get physical with the Precor cardio equipment and weight machines. Also enjoy complimentary water and fruit while working out as well as personal video monitoring available on the cardio equipment. The Fitness Center is open from 6:00 PM until 10:00 PM. A 24-Hour Business Center provides guests access to office equipment if needed while traveling. The Windsor Court Hotel Spa offers full-service treatments and services, a sauna and steam room, as well as a relaxation area. Voted the #1 Spa in New Orleans by USA Today’s “10 Best”, there’s no excuse not to stop by for an escape into unparalleled delight. Open daily from 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM for services for those 16 years old and over, the Spa can be reached for reservation at (504) 596-4736. The Club Level of the property gains recognition from guests with its private lounge, full continental breakfast, tea time activities and evening hors d’ oeuvres includes wine, ales, hand shaken cocktails and other beverages to select from. The Signature Boutique allows guests to choose from local artistic renditions of select items, jewelry, music, Louisiana themed novelties, accessories and other gifts including logo Windsor Court Hotel items.

* Rates and prices subject to change without notice.

VICKERY’S BAR & GRILL… “Waterfront Dining On Shem Creek!”

Beautiful views of the waters of Shem Creek glisten and call to those who are lucky enough to take in the stunning sunsets over the Cooper River. Just beyond the marshy water’s edge and ebbs and flows of the tide sits Vickery’s Bar & Grill on the banks of what some locals consider one of the best views in town. There’s something about waterfront dining that is unparalleled to anything else. Something peaceful and serene. Something that sets one at ease and takes one to another frame of thought. Something deserved. At Vickery’s, the restaurant is surrounded on three sides by water like a peninsula of southern culinary goodness awaiting discovery.

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The approach to the eatery is filled with eclectic and unexpected decor such as silver utensils, corkscrews, bottle caps and other items of preparation cutlery embedded in a concrete sidewalk as one approaches the entry stairway to the restaurant. Inside, a hostess area displays numerous ceramic hand-polished ashtrays in every shape and color imaginable for the eyes to be intrigued with while awaiting a seat not without a view of the water.

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Speaking of those water views, both indoor and outdoor seating locations are graced with various tables overlooking the creek, river and marsh that surround this unmistakably ideal watering hole and destination eatery. Palms and other natural greenery surround the building and can be enjoyed from multiple levels. Dolphins often can be witnessed frolicking in the creek, and paddle boarders, boaters and kayakers call this area home for their water sport activities.

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Cocktails & Celebration

The cheers and clinking of cocktail glasses can often be heard at a full bar and throughout the restaurant dining areas. Known as a place of waterfront celebration, a fantastic lunch meeting locale and a favorite Happy Hour spot for local business people, Vickery’s Bar & Grill is easily revisited by many and adored by most for their creative culinary presentations, friendly and efficient waitstaff, majestic waterfront dining and unmistakably ideal location on the waterfront.

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Turkey Pita

The Turkey Pita encompasses a multitude of mouthwatering flavors into a single sandwich. Compiling house smoked turkey breast, Brie cheese, baby greens, and a raspberry mayo, the warm pita bread bun forms a shell of heavenly deliverance, while the interior components provide a complete performance in satisfaction, complacency and healthy deliciousness. Choose from a side of Blue Cheese Slaw, Homemade Potato Salad, or Hand-Cut Fries To add even more tasty goodness.

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Lowcountry Saute’

The Lowcountry Sauté doesn’t get any better anywhere else. Traditional Shrimp and Grits has reached new heights at Vickery’s. This version is piled high with large shrimp, savory crab meat and plump crawfish tails all tossed in a succulent Bourbon butter (yes, we said Bourbon butter!), all atop creamy house made grits then topped off with even more Lowcountry delicacies…fried oysters!!!  An all around incredibly flavorsome compilation of all things southern and comforting that will win your taste buds over in a second.

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Fried Flounder Sandwiches, Homemade Potato Salad & Blue Cheese Slaw

When craving a savory fried fish sandwich, try Vickery’s Fried Flounder Sandwich to sedate that hankering for something straight from the sea. Served straight from the fryer and piping hot upon a steamed French roll, the fresh fish taste and crunchy exterior encasing this provision offers something hearty, delicious, flavorful and is accompanied by a side of your choice and tartar sauce.

A popular place of celebration whether gathering for joining in over a closed real estate deal, a successful business opening among lifelong friends, or just a visit to rejoice in life itself and everything it has to offer, Vickery’s will find a seat with an amazing waterfront table especially for you to enjoy fresh cuisine, refreshing libations and friendly servers that will have you returning again.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: A unique visual experience lures patrons inside between the airy stairwell, utensil-graced cement sidewalk entry, hostess station colorful and witty ashtray gallery mounted on a wall and stunning waterfront views from three sides of the restaurant.
  • FOOD / DRINK: Crafty, tasty and mouthwatering preparations are served daily at Vickery’s as well as a full bar that caters to most any libation you desire.
  • LOCATION: This particular Vickery’s is located at 1313 Shrimp Boat Lane at Shem Creek in South Carolina’s Lowcountry of Mount Pleasant 29464.
  • HOURS: Vickery’s is open for service Monday through Saturday from 11:30 AM until 2:00 AM, and on Sundays from 11:30 AM until 2:00 AM. Happy Hour is available Monday through Friday from 4:00 PM to 7:00 P.M.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: The staff at Vickery’s will accommodate any party whether large or small. Friendly, kind, and accommodating, the servers, mixologists and management offer stellar service and unparalleled  customer centric provisions.
  • PRICE / VALUE: Exceptional value for the cost of a meal at this establishment. You truly receive more than what you pay for at this waterside restaurant and bar.
  • CORKAGE FEE: TBA
  • CONTACT INFO: Phone: (843) 884-4440, Website: www.vickerys.com
  • PARKING: Ample complimentary parking is available in an expansive lot with available valet service at scheduled times. Be prepared to wait for a parking space or even park across the street at a neighboring location as we’ve seen some people do, because this place is happening. Well worth the wait and extra time waiting for a parking spot, you’ll realize what a great time awaits you once inside.
  • PRICING: The Turkey Pita arrived for a simple $9.95, while the Lowcountry Sauté came in at an acceptable $18.95 worth every penny. The Fried Flounder Sandwich was a traditional favorite that we enjoyed at just $12.95, and the variety of alcoholic beverages we consumed ranged from $9 to $12.50 each.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

SEPULVEDA BASIN WILDLIFE REFUGE… “Nature Trails, Serene Lakes, Botanical Gardens & More!”

An unexpectedly pleasant sector of natural beauty exists amongst the hustle and bustle of Van Nuys, California. Aside from endless traffic, miles of concrete and commercial buildings, and the rush of inhabitants from here to there and back again, there is solace right in the center of it all. The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge creates a 225-acre sanctuary for nature to flourish year after year. Offering maintained nature trails, serene inhabited lakes and babbling streams, and stunning mountain views from most anywhere in the park, those who know about this locale harbor its relaxed and natural beauty while the rest of the city goes on about their lives.

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Miles of Natural Wooded & Lakeside Trails

Miles of natural maintained trails provide outdoor fitness lovers a place of focus and peace. Varieties of foliage, pops of blooming flowers in masses, and an array of indigenous tree species grow plentiful here year round. The San Fernando Valley Audubon Society leads walks throughout the park on scheduled mornings all year long, while volunteer groups may attend the annual “goose count” when the migratory Canadian geese make their annual visit in the fall. The trails are quite an appreciated haven of their own unique beauty with bridges that cross over babbling brooks, some which provide tunnels of foliage that change color as the seasons pass, and many that are wooded that force visitors to wonder just how this beautiful refuge exists so prominently within the middle of a busy city.

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Lush Foliage, Blooms & Inhabitants

The refuge is a safe haven for those who call it their home. From wild rabbits and brown squirrels, to a variety of over 200 species of birds that make the area their home. Sycamores, willows, cottonwoods, numerous and too many to count, but all so pleasing to the eye and soothing to the soul.

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Canadian Geese

Each year, the immaculate Canadian geese migrate to Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge. It is a worthwhile spectacle, and one which we highly recommend. We visit this area every year to witness the arrival of these Canadian visitors and their offspring.

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Various Duck Species

An array of birds frolic and play in the migratory lake with its own private island sitting in the middle. Cormorands, white pelicans, and geese among other species fill the trees providing quite a spectacular spectacle each year. Ducks make this their home here and provide eye-catching hues of the Wood Duck, to the stunningly vibrant colors of the Mallard, to the American Wigeons to the many other breeds of those birds we know and love so well.

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Japanese Garden

Another phenomenal sight to take in at the Wildlife Refuge is the Japanese Garden, which delights visitors with botanical visions of color, manicured gardens, and visiting wildlife in addition. Tranquility can be found at this haven of solace and meditation amongst the colorful blooms, numerous observation areas and calm conversation of flowing brooks and stunning waterfall.

The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge area is simply a getaway for the soul, a sanctuary of natural beauty and relaxation, and an escape to a little piece of nature amidst the craziness of the city, bustling traffic, and busy lives all bottled into this SoCal locale. Stop by and take part in the lavish experience of the Japanese Gardens, intrigue of nature and solace of just being outdoors during a run or a casual stroll at the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge. Reasonable admission at the Japanese Gardens, no busy city life to annoy you while you’re here, just comfortable calm amidst a California town proud of its unique natural for all those who visit.

  • LOCATION: The acreage of the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge can be enjoyed at 6350 Woodley Avenue in Van Nuys, CA 91406. The Japanese Gardens are located close by at 6100 Woodley Avenue in the same city and zip code.
  • HOURS: The park and wildlife refuge areas are open from sun up to sundown, The Japanese Gardens are available for access Monday through Thursday from 11:00 AM until 4:00 PM for self-guided tours, then on Sundays from 10:00 AM through 4:00 PM with the final gate entry at 3:15 PM each day the gardens are open to the public. The gardens are closed Fridays, Saturdays and all Los Angeles holidays. Please call ahead to ensure the gardens are not closes due to any special events, movie filmings or unexpected weather conditions.
  • PRICE: The cost of entry into the gardens is $3 per adult, and $2 for those 62 and up as well as those under the age of 10. There is no admission to enter and indulge in what the park area and wildlife refuge have to offer.
  • PARKING: There is a spacious parking area in front of the garden entry which is free of charge, as well as a plethora of parking provided throughout the refuge and park area.
  • CONTACT: The Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge may be contacted via phone at (818) 856-9710, and online at www.sepulvedawildlife.org. The Japanese Gardens locale may be phoned at (818)756-8166, and may be further researched online at www.thejapanesegarden.com.

* Accessibility, hours, days and prices may change without notice.

EL CAYOTE MEXICAN CAFE… “Landmark Mexican Cuisine!”

If being in business for more than eighty years isn’t proof of a successful business, then we don’t know what is! El Cayote Mexican Cafe is a legend in Los Angeles, California. Traditional Mexican cuisine made to satisfy any appetite and pacify those yearnings for savory authentic favorites is what you will receive when visiting this long-running popular Mexican eatery.

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The bright red detailed exterior of this classic Californian go-to welcomes patrons into a dimly lit cozy and friendly atmosphere. Friendly servers happily make their way from the kitchen to tables delivering aromatically pleasing plates of flavor-rich entrees, plentiful combo dishes, fresh original salads, and much more. It all begins with El Cayote’s house made tortilla chips and homemade salsa, which is a great starter to any meal night or day at this restaurant.

El Cayote

Margaritas

More chips and salsa and a couple of orders of margaritas, and we were good to go. The strawberry Fruit Blended version at El Cayote delivered chilling refreshment and a massive wild strawberry essence, while the restaurants World Famous Classic version provided icy goodness with all the expected flavors of a traditional flavorful beverage.
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 #1 Cayote Combo & Chicken Tostada Fresca Salad

The much sought-after El Cayote #1 Cayote Combo, which is inclusive of a sizable cheese enchilada, shredded beef taco, traditional Mexican rice and beans, and even more chips and salsa if you can handle it! (And we definitely did!) The Tostada Fresca Salad arrived with a crisp and crunchy house made tortilla shell, fresh shredded lettuce, hand chopped tomatoes, creamy sliced Hass avocado, shaved Parmesan cheese and other grated cheeses, fire roasted sweet corn and red peppers, and hearty black beans. Both satisfying, fulfilling, and taste-packed offerings from the plentiful menu of El Cayote provisions.

A terrific and addictive locale for some of L.A.’s best loved and most authentic Mexican culinary treats, you’re sure to fall in love with El Cayote Mexican Cafe just as we did!

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: A decades-old establishment producing some of L.A.’s finest and most authentic Mexican cuisine, El Cayote will keep your taste buds alive with exciting flavor and wholesome ingredients. 
  • FOOD / DRINK: Savory traditional house made Mexican favorites sure to please most any patron in search of authentic cuisine worthy of commendation. Delicious flavors, fresh ingredients, and stellar margaritas to compliment any menu selection available.
  • LOCATION: El Cayote is conveniently situated at 7312 Beverly Boulevard on Los Angeles, CA 90036.
  • HOURS: El Cayote serves their flavorsome cuisine Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 AM until 11:00 PM, and on Fridays and Saturdays from 11:30 AM until 11:00 PM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: Courteous, efficient, and friendly servers create an effortless system of service amongst the eatery, while friendly hostesses welcome patrons in with graciousness and a welcoming greeting.
  • PRICE / VALUE: The El Cayote #1 Cayote Combo arrived piping hot from the kitchen for an easy $10.75, while the Tostada Fresca Salad with added marinated chicken breast for an additional $1.50 arrived for $10.49.  Unlimited chips and salsa were complimentary, and the four margaritas came in at $9 for the fruit blended icy concoctions and $7.75 for each World Famous House Margarita we indulged in.
  • CORKAGE FEE: No outside alcohol is allowed inside of the eatery, however there’s no losing when at El Cayote with the multitude of beverages available.
  • CONTACT INFO: Phone: (323) 939-2255 / (323) 939-7766, Website: www.elcayotecafe.com.
  • PARKING: Metered parking is available along the boulevard, while valet parking is accessible at the main entrance of the establishment for your convenience.
  • PRICING: Chilling and revitalizing fruit blended margaritas proved exceptional at $9.00 each, while the World Famous House Margaritas were served for an acceptable $7.75. The El Cayote #1 Cayote Combo came in at just $10.75 for all that is offered, and the Tostada Fresca Salad was provides at $8.95 plus an additional $1.50 for the added chicken breast.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

CAFE BIZOU UPDATE… “Keeping Up With Californian French Cuisine!”

Most people who know us know that we spent a lot of time at Café Bizou in Sherman Oaks. Driving over the hill to indulge in what we like to call “our dining room away from home” never fails our expectant appetites or disappoints our expectations. It was high time to review some newer dishes on the menu that we’ve been devouring during weeknights at our favorite table on the patio.

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Liquid Libations, $2 Caesars & Intimate Ambience

We never grow tired of the fresh soft French bread served before every meal. A couple of bites with a glass or two of wine delights the palate and satisfies the vino-driven clientele who enjoy bringing their own vintages and are placated by the same $2.00 corkage charge per bottle that has driven some of the area’s most discriminative customers to this intimate candlelit restaurant for decade. The traditional $2.00 Caesar Salads are appreciated with any entrée order as well, which we normally enjoy before ordering our meals. Try the Pomegranate Martini when you’re there also. We’ve tried every other martini except this one for some reason, and it turned out to be our favorite of them all!

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Homemade Vegetable & Tortilla Soup

Two savory creations in liquid form (aside from the martinis) are the Vegetable Chicken Soup and the Tortilla Soup. Both homemade and convincingly so at first taste, piping hot when delivered to the table, and delicious on a cool evening in the city. We especially loved the crunchiness of the tortilla strips atop the Tortilla Soup!

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Duck Breast Salad

A sure winner with us, the Duck and Wild Rice Salad was an outstanding creation. Warm tender sliced breast of roasted duck was presented rare atop a bed of seasoned wild rice, sweet cranberries, bing cherries, a port wine sauce, and a garnish of greens and chopped tomatoes and parsley for an added splash of color. This dish should be in the dictionary under the word “savory”, because there are no words to describe how decadent, flavorful, and enjoyable this presentation truly is.

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For those beef lovers out there, the Beef Stroganoff hits the flavor rich mark right on the head. Served over a bed of fettuccini, this phenomenal creation of steaming culinary genius offers tender sliced filet mignon, a complimentary amount of onions, and mushrooms in a burgundy wine sauce. A filling compilation of some of the most savory flavors one can think of. And another perfect dish to order when the chilly weather arrives.

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Parmesan Crusted Wild Alaskan Sand Dabs

Café Bizou serves up some of the best Sand Dabs in all of Los Angeles, but coating them with Parmesan creates both sensational texture and flavor additions to this already popular dish. The caper butter sauce these crusted fish are drizzled in compliments these treats from the sea nicely, while the side of double steamed vegetables not only added vibrant color, but added goodness.

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Entrecote Grille

Jumbo shrimp and lobster tail happiness are joined by fresh steamed vegetables and a side of Café Bizou’s own version of Potatoes Au Gratin, which we always select in lieu of mashed potatoes on most visits. The Entrecote Grille produces happy patrons and scores of compliments throughout the eatery. Forget Surf and Turf…this entrée brings Surf and Surf to an entirely new level!

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Seafood Bouillabaisse

A Bouillabaisse by any other name is definitely NOT the same unless it comes from the kitchen of Café Bizou. Beautiful to admire its splashy hues of reds and oranges and sprinkling of green atop a simmering bowl of seafood deliciousness, this perfected liquid temptation is not only filling, but quite flavor-rich as well. Chunks of potatoes, carrots, and celery (not to mention tomatoes!) join together with the rich taste of expertly-grilled lobster tail satisfaction and jumbo shrimp sure to please. With just a hint of spiciness to this selection, we truly enjoyed this menu choice. Simmering and steamy upon arrival, we could order this dish once a week and never grow tired of it!! The tasty broth encapsulates the flavors of all the components that are incorporated into this offering quite nicely.

Always proving true devotion to the cuisine, its patrons, and keeping in step with some of the higher end establishments at much more reasonable prices for what you get is what has made Café Bizou a much-loved part of the Los Angeles area community. This culinary train isn’t going anywhere soon, so stop in, uncork that bottle of wine you’ve been dying to try, and enjoy an evening of candle-lit ambiance while the staff caters to your culinary desires!

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: Evenings are romantic and intimate with candles lit around the entire restaurant. A wooden full bar and cozy lounge area provide liquid temptations before being seated in one of the dining rooms or enclosed patio. A sense of business eventually subsides for later diners, and the calmness eventually sets in as that first glass of wine starts to take effect and relax you from the days anxieties while the cuisine at Café Bizou takes care of everything else.
  • FOOD / DRINK: Exquisite flavors prepared specifically to dazzle the palate, fulfill the soul, and not weight too heavily on the pocketbook. Refreshing hand shaken beverages and a full bar and wine list are also available.
  • LOCATION: Café Bizou is positioned at 14016 Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, CA 91423.
  • HOURS: Lunch is available Monday through Friday from 11:30 AM until 2:00 PM. Dinner is presented each evening from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: Professional staff serve patrons as though they are part of the family, while the service provided is seamless with a memorable feel.
  • PRICE / VALUE: Terrific value for what is presented, served, and a varied array of selections to choose from. Cuisine here is always served hot, filled with flavor, savory goodness, and unforgettable aromas.
  • CORKAGE FEE: A simple and easy $2 per bottle corkage fee is charged. That’s as good as you’re going to get to not having one at all!
  • PARKING: Metered street parking is available along Ventura Boulevard, as well as valet service at the front of the restaurant.
  • PRICING: The Caesar Salads, when purchased with an entrée are just $2 per salad, while the Pomegranate martinis we indulged in before opening our bottle of wine was a simple $8. In lieu of a salad, one can also order a bowl of the Soup du Jour for a single dollar to precursor their meal. My favorite Duck Breast Salad arrived at an acceptable $16.95, while the Parmesan Crusted Wild Alaskan Sand Dabs offered much at their simple $16.95 cost. The Entrecote Grille provided a spectacular presentation at $22.95, and the flavor rich Bouillabaisse came in at a worth-every-penny $24.95.

*Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

 

GABY’S MEDITERRANEAN RESTAURANT… “Venice Boulevard’s Mediterranean Indulgence!”

Our Tuesday evenings changed forever after our first visit to Gaby’s Mediterranean Restaurant along Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. Gaby’s is the type of establishment where you can sit for hours on end indulging in a vast array of succulent Mediterranean and Middle Eastern delicacies throughout the evening, bring your personal bottles of wine from your cellar or wine locker at no additional charge, and just melt into the casual, yet inviting ambience provided.

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We originally started visiting Gaby’s to see our friend Dean Christopher and his jazz trio Tuesday nights, and a new weeknight tradition was born. Paired along with what we found to be the best Mediterranean cuisine this side of the world, we found the atmosphere to be welcoming, the mood perfectly set with candlelit tables and dim lighting, and proof of the perfect relaxed and unique locale for a Tuesday evening. The comforting aroma of fresh pita bread being baked, the pungent, yet addictive flavor of fresh feta cheese, seasoned meats, and roasting lamb, sauce-laced offerings from the sea so tender and flavorsome you’d swear you were dreaming. These are reasons we adore this restaurant, and why you’ll find us here most Tuesday evenings.

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Complimentary Corkage, Candlelight & Fresh Baked Pita Bread

Spacious, yet cozy seating accommodations invited us into the main dining room upon our approach. A dimly lit space graced with the flickering of candle-lit tabletops and comfortable dim lighting paired nicely with the aroma of savory mouthwatering delights strategically wafting from the kitchen. The greatest start to any meal at Gaby’s is a opened bottle of wine atop a candlelit table and a serving of the restaurant’s fresh baked aromatic pita bread. Heavenly in texture and flavor, dipping these perfectly prepared edible discs into the extra virgin olive oil concoction provided is a worthwhile treat destined to satisfy. Once our taste buds were overcome with the warm oven-fresh bread and sated by the start of a couple of glasses of wine, we began ordering items from the menu.

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Grape Leaves, Labneh, Moussaka & Tabouli Salad

The Grape Leaves selection arrives in an instant. These handmade logs of healthy vegetarian goodness were served five to an order, allowing for a good indulgence of the flavors encompassed inside each of these succulent and taste laden packages of savory flavor. Hand-rolled by a dedicated kitchen staff and stuffed with the likes of rice, tomatoes, onions, and parsley, these are a perfect beginning to any meal at Gaby’s. A generous portion of Labneh, filtered yogurt spread combined with olive oil, dry mint and black olives offers a creamy addition to any item on the menu. It also serves as a cooling agent to some of the more spicy dishes offered. The Mousaka presentation offered a mix of stewed eggplants, chick peas, tomatoes, onions and garlic, while the light and aromatic sensation of the Tabouli Salad gave off a filling and minty delivery.

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House Made Baba Gannouj & Kibbeh

The house made Bab Gannouj at Gaby’s has to be one of our favorite varieties of Mediterranean offerings anywhere in the U.S. Made with fire roasted eggplants pureed with garlic, tangy lemon juice, and tahini paste, this made for an ideal accompaniment to Gaby’s fresh pita bread and olive oil mixture. This creamy flavor-rich dish was garnished with fresh chopped parsley and a sprinkling of paprika before it was served with pride by the dedicated staff. Craving something hot, fried, and delicious? Then we recommend going for an order of the Kibbeh. The minced beef and cracked wheat exterior encapsulated a stuffing of seasoned beef and earthy pine nuts that left us yearning for more of the incredible meat flavors compiled into these individual shells of hearty deliciousness.

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Lemon Mahi Mahi & A Side Salad

We’ve had our share of seafood dishes at Gaby’s, but one we’re emphatic about is the Lemon Mahi Mahi entrée. A sizeable Mahi Mahi fillet is pan sautéed, then served with the restaurant’s creamy and piping hot lemon sauce made with Gaby’s own special secret ingredients. The tender and flaky flesh of the Mahi Mahi falls apart when touched with a fork, and delivers sensational fulfillment from start to finish. A generous portion of rice and a simple side salad were also served with this entrée, and completed the meal nicely.

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Homemade Tiramisu & Pistacho Baklava

The homemade desserts are a “must-indulge” item at Gaby’s. Fresh daily, we often enjoy the Tiramisu with layers of coffee and chocolate flavors, light and airy creamy ladyfinger and whipped cream filling, and towering impressiveness as well as the sweetness and “deliver-you-straight-to-heaven” intrigue of the Pistachio Baklava with its layer upon layer of filo pastry, honey, and ample pistachio nut goodness.

Gaby’s Mediterranean Restaurant convinced us to make it our Tuesday evening hang-out of choice. Between the friendly and generous staff who we’ve come to know and love, the accommodating spacious dining and enjoyable ambience, and the exceptional cuisine always made perfect and sensational by a romantic candlelit space, seductive tunes of sultry jazz from Dean Christopher & Friends, and no charge for corkage, we couldn’t imagine anything better!

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: Gaby’s Mediterranean Restaurant offers unparalleled comfort, spacious dining in a candlelit, romantic dining space, and a unique enclosed refuge from the never-ending hustle and bustle of the city.
  • FOOD / DRINK: The cuisine offered is all made and prepared in house, offers succulent flavors sure to impress and delight, and provides ample quantities that will keep everyone fulfilled and satisfied from traditional appetizers to full entrée dishes to homemade desserts sure to satisfy the sweet tooth in us all.
  • LOCATION: The restaurant is located at 10445 Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA 90034.
  • HOURS: The hours are accommodating for service Monday through Sundays from 11:00 AM until 1:00 AM in the morning. (Please call ahead before visiting in the event of private parties or special bookings of the restaurant, especially during holidays!)
  • SERVICE / STAFF: The owners are loving and friendly to everyone, gracious servers and staff welcome patron inside with a smile, and are genuinely happy to see their regulars return week after week.
  • PRICE / VALUE: The prices are amazing for the quality and consistency of everything served at Gaby’s.
  • CORKAGE FEE: No corkage charged at Gaby’s! Bring your favorite bottles of wine and settle in for a relaxed evening! If you forget to bring your own, there is a convenient package store just a short stroll from the eatery to select a few bottles of your favorite vintage!
  • PARKING: Metered street parking is available, as well as a private lot for patrons.
  • PRICING: The hand-rolled Grape Leaves arrived at just $5.50 per order, while the orders of Labneh came in at just $5.50 each. The Tabouli Salad impressed at $6.00, as did the order of Mousaka, which was loaded with flavor and aromatic satisfaction. An order of Baba Gannouj will run you about $5.00 an order, while the Kibbeh arrived at an easy $7.00. The Lemon Mahi Mahi entrée was provided for $14.00 and was worth every penny. Homemade desserts will usually run about $3.25 per serving, and corkage is free, so bring in your favorite bottles of wine and look forward to enjoying the evening!

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

BIG MIKE’S BAR-B-QUE SMOKEHOUSE… “Small Town Barbeque Goodness!”

Driving along through the small town of Houma, Louisiana we came across what some locals told us was the only place around for sensational bar-b-que. We arrived at a modest-looking smokehouse for lunch recently, and entered into what we would soon discover was a local gem along Barrow Street…Big Mike’s Bar-B-Que Smokehouse.

Big Mike's BBQ

The eatery’s clever graphics that make up their logo with a pink pig donning a blue jean shirt, sunglasses, and a smirk saying it all was a creative play on a smokehouse mascot. The simple brick facade with red bordered glass front doors proved easy to approach and gave off a relaxed vibe. Inside, a spacious dining room provided several wooden tables and chairs, and plenty of natural light from the numerous windows at the front of the building. A friendly voice called a warm greeting to us as we entered from across the room, and there was a sense of welcome as we were ushered to one of several tables for two a short distance from the ordering counter. But it was the savory aroma that found its way into our lives and onto our plates that day that caused us to really take notice.

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A kind and informed server delivered and explained the menus, then left us to make our decisions. We sat in satisfaction over the many items staring back at us from the menu. The decor was eclectic and unique with the signature wall and license plate coverings (Can you spot our John Hancock?) The table set-up was the traditional bar-b-que style with a roll of paper towels on the table, and vessels of various sauces to accompany our lunch. We observed other patrons devouring their lunch menu selections. It was clear that something was working here. Plates were being cleared down to the last crumb of brisket, smiles were shared as mouths indulged in varieties of grilled chicken and smokehouse sandwiches of pulled pork as they spoke to their dining partners or their server, take-out orders were quickly moving out to hungry locals at other locations in town, and four times, we noticed customers stop into the restaurant to place to-go orders. With all of this going on, we couldn’t help but know that we were in for some amazing sustenance.

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 Smokehouse Double Chicken Breast Quarter Plate

We’ve enjoyed some pretty delicious bar-b-que and slow-roasted chicken through our travels over the last few years, but this had to be one of the closest to perfect versions that we remember every encountering. Succulent, juicy, and downright intoxicating in flavor, the Double Chicken Breast Quarter Plate arrived in one of the eatery’s signature white sectioned styrofoam serving container and was joined by my choice of jambalaya and baked beans for sides. Smokehouse Plates are served simple with sliced white bread. Nothing fancy needed here other than the main attraction…the food!

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 Smokehouse Brisket Plate

The Smokehouse Brisket Plate was a sight to behold. The brisket at Big Mike’s is slow smoked for twelve to fourteen hours for optimum tenderness, flavor, and unforgettable fork tender texture. We could taste the smokey flavor resonating throughout each mouthwatering bite. We chose aides of potato salad and cole slaw for this order, and could really taste the quality and dedication that went into creating such incredible dishes.

The  stop you most definitely HAVE to make when sojourning through the southern Louisiana town of Houma is Big Mike’s Bar-B-Que Smokehouse. The friendly staff, conversational passers-by dining inside, and the casual ambience with phenomenal flavor will never permit you to forget for one second the lif-changing experience you will undoubtedly have here.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: The brick exterior facade welcomes customers inside with a spacious dining room that accommodates many. Inside, natural light during the daytime ushers itself in while a plethora of signatures and license plates grace the interior dining room walls.
  • FOOD / DRINK: Bar-B-Que goodness like we haven’t experienced in…well…never actually! This is the real thing. One bite and you’ll not forget it.
  • LOCATION: Big Mike’s Bar-B-Que Smokehouse is positioned at 3034 Barrow Street in Houma, LA 70360.
  • HOURS: Big Mike’s Bar-B-Que Smokehouse is available for service Monday through Sunday from 11:00 AM until 9:00 PM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: The staff and owners are friendly, accommodating, and incredibly knowledgeable about everything at the restaurant. It was nice to get so much information from our server. She was conversational and happy to have us visiting.
  • PRICE / VALUE: The value and quality of the food at Big Mike’s is certainly worth every penny. A terrific price-to-value ratio in our opinion for all that you receive.
  • CORKAGE FEE: Our server informed us that Big Mike’s does not allow outside alcohol into the restaurant, however, there is wine and domestic and imported beer available for purchase at the eatery.
  • PARKING: There is complimentary parking space at the front of the establishment for the convenience of customers, including bike parking!
  • PRICING: The Double Chicken Breast Quarter Plate came in at an acceptable $9.95 for lunch, while the Smokehouse Brisket Plate arrived at $8.50. We also had a couple of 20-ounce refillable fountain drinks for $1.99 each.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

FIREFLY DISTILLERY & IRVIN HOUSE VINEYARDS… “Wadmalaw Island’s Liquorous Duo!”

Just southwest of Johns Island, South Carolina, where ages old oaks tower overhead draped by beards of silvery Spanish moss, you will find South Carolina’s only domestic winery, some of the state’s oldest plantations, and the home of the world’s best handcrafted sweet tea flavored vodka. The South is synonymous with sitting on screened front porches and verandas with river views sipping sweet tea with family and friends as the afternoons transform themselves, amlost magically, into nightfall. Just a thirty minute drive south of downtown Charleston on Wadmalaw Island sits the single estate that houses both the Firefly Vodka Distillery as well as Irvin House Vineyards. The magnificent entrance into the property exhibits stunning southern oaks and other indigenous families of foliage that cast beautiful landscape as visitors drive along a dirt road toward the distillery and on-site wine tasting room and winery.

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Entrance Views Into the Property

Once parked amongst other visiting patrons’ vehicles beneath a canopy of skyscraper-sized pines and ages-old oak trees, the place beckons your presence with old fashioned wooden rocking chairs, wooden barn tasting rooms, a few friendly owners’ canines surveying the grounds and investigating  visitors, and intriguing and unique decorative details, floral offerings, green gardens, a petting zoo, and artistic signage directing newcomers this way and that. Unlike California tasting rooms, where per-person charges for tastings range from $15 to $40 per person depending on which winery you’re visiting and what’s included. Firefly Vodka Distillery proudly advertises a mere $6 per person tasting fee, while Irvin House Vineyards price their tasting experience at a mere $5 per person. Minimal costs for a casual, low-key, relaxed time visiting both of these eatablishments. Picnic benches are available and the atmosphere lends itself to the encouragement from the owners to bring their own picnics and blankets for enjoying the day and live entertainment on scheduled evenings. Local eateries are also commissioned to provide reasonably-priced offerings on occasion, so check out the on-line entertainment and activity itinerary to stay in the know of the year-round goings on. Live music, exciting festivities and tours are also available throughout the year.

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Originally inspired by the Southern ambiance of admiring fireflies light up the night sky in this part of the South, Firefly Vodka came to fruition. Distilled four times for optimum purity and flavor, the sweet tea flavor was the original rage it still is today. Since then, however, several other flavors quickly followed suit such as raspberry, peach, banana pudding, coconut cake, and pecan pie…just to name a few. And yes, these are all liquorous flavors! Sounds like dessert, we know. Sea Island rums and moonshine in all their splendor and glory are also available here, so don’t be shy, and don’t forget to taste a few of those as well. The estate also crafts ready-to-drink Firefly Vodka Cocktails ready to chill, sip, and enjoy most anywhere you crave that Firefly touch of the South. Sweet Tea, Southern Lemonade, and Pink Lemonade are some of the flavors ready for purchase to indulge in. Once parked amongst other visiting patrons’ vehicles beneath a canopy of skyscraper-sized pines and ancient oak trees, this place beckons your presence with old fashioned wooden rocking chairs, wooden barn tasting rooms, a few friendly owners’ canines surveying the grounds and investigating visitors, and intriguing and unique decorative details, floral offerings, and artistic signage directing newcomers this way and that. Unlike California tasting rooms, where per-person charges for tastings range from $15 to $40 per person depending ob what is included, Firefly Vodka Distillery proudly advertises a mere $6 per person tasting fee, while Irvin House Vineyards prices their tasting experience at a mere $5 per person. Minimal costs for a casual, low-key, relaxed time visiting both of these establishments. Local eateries are also commissioned to provide reasonably-priced offerings on occasion, so check out the on-line entertainment and activity itinerary to stay in the know of the year-round goings on. Live music, exciting festivities and tours are also available throughout the year. We first experienced Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka many years ago when ordering a Miss Grace Fig Martini at the Inn & Spa at Palmetto Bluff made with the potent liquid. Since that time, it has been one of our favorite ingredients for cocktails when entertaining friends and associates at our cottage on the May River or on the West Coast in Newport Beach, California.

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Firefly Vodka Distillery Tasting Room

Irvin House Vineyards also shares their home on the estate where Firefly Vodka Distillery exists. Forty-eight acres of muscadine vineyards and its winery property allow for multitudes of tasting and learning experiences. A Lowcountry “must-see”, the property showcases not only the Firefly Vodka Fistillery, the vineyards and tasting rooms, but also a petting zoo, a natural pond, a cared-after garden, and a gift shop. The estate’s owners encourage visitors to bring their picnic baskets and blankets to further enjoy their experience. On scheduled evenings, live entertainment is provided to further enhance your enjoyment of this fun and most-loved property. Ann Irvin own this vivacious and fruitful farmland. The current five labels of their wines are original renditions by local artists. The wine tastings are an easy $5 per person per tasting where an informative explanation can be enjoyed right  beside the actual processing facility.

02.221The quality and integrity that is painstakingly put into the production of both Firefly Vodka Distillery and Irvin House Vineyards displays the evident care and diligence that is put into each bottle of sensational liquid. See the website links below for more information about both facilities and see what the lineup of activities and events is throughout the year for these two locations.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: The dramatic and inviting entrance along a naturally manicured dirt road through lush foliage and towering pines and oaks welcomes visitors throughout the year. A casual family feel and inviting ambience continues from there with both the distillery and wine tasting rooms amongst numerous other must-visits on the property.
  • LOCATION: Both Irvin House Vineyards and the Firefly Vodka Distillery are located at 6775 Bears Bluff Road on Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487.
  • HOURS: The property is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM until 5:00 PM unless otherwise stated.
  • CORKAGE FEE: There really is no reason to bring your own wine at this property. Bring a picnic from home with all the accoutrements, as that is most certainly encouraged to help you enjoy your experience.
  • PARKING: The property allows for spacious vehicle parking beneath towering trees just a short stroll to both tasting rooms.
  • PRICING: The Firefly Distillery tastings are a mere $6 a person per tasting, which allows for several tastings of your choice from a list of the distillery’s vodkas, rums, and moonshine. Irvin House wine tastings are just $5 per person per tasting, which includes an informative explanation about the process and history of the vineyard in a relaxed environment. Both tasting rooms provide a complimentary wine glass or shot glass displaying the Irvin House or Firefly logos included with the prices for tastings.
  • CONTACT INFO: The Firefly Vodka Distillery can be reached at (843) 558-1405, and their website is www.fireflyvodka.com.  Irvin House Vineyards may be contacted via phone at (843) 559-6867, and their website can be seen at www.charlestonwine.com.

* Prices are subject to change without notice.

RUSSIAN DACHA CAFE… “When You Just Can’t Get Enough of the Best!”

You know we really like an establishment when we write a follow-up article about it. But when we find ourselves writing a third review about a specific location, restaurant, or hotel, you know we really have to love it. Case in point with Russian Dacha Café in Valley Village, California where the diligent team of chefs and servers are serving up some of the best Russian and Ukrainian cuisine outside of their native grounds.

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The Bougainvillea trees on the front dining area upon immediate entry into this tucked away gem always welcome us back to a warm and friendly feel amongst the staff and other patronizing locals at the restaurant. Our bottle of wine opened, carefully poured into two Riedel wine glasses, and tea light candles lit immediately as the day’s sunlight began to slowly fade over the Pacific, we were greeted by our regular server and presented two menus to peruse as we sipped our vino.

Russian Dashs (3)

Variety of Dumplings

The Variety of Dumplings was a mystery until each one was cut in half as we worked our way through them as a starter to our meal. A combination of potato, meat, and cabbage fillings allured us and provided filling goodness to our awaiting appetites. Satisfyingly delicious, each dumpling was a game of “what’s in this one”, and “which ones have which filling” between us. Soon they were devoured happily and noted as yet another perfect item from the menu.

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Beef Kebab

The simple, well-prepared Beef Kebab entree proved amazing savoriness throughout each juicy bite of beef. A side of mashed potatoes joined this presentation and the kebab was haloed with rings of white onion and a savory and appropriate dipping sauce on the side.

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Chicken “Kiev”

The Chicken “Kiev” arrived in all its splendor and glory. The ostrich egg-sized, perfectly deep-fried orb of deliciousness delivered a crunchy exterior, while inside its tender, juiciness offered succulent and savory flavors. The first cut into this perfect package of flavor oozed with melted cheese and meaty juices. An excellent rendition of Kiev that we thoroughly enjoyed. The accompaniment of fresh steamed vegetables was also a nice touch that balanced the dish nicely.

The “Dacha” never fails to intrigue, satisfy, or impress. it truly is a casual, simple and accommodating eatery that welcomes its patrons in with friendly faces and succulent cuisine that will remain in your memory without cease.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: The  decor of the restaurant is open and airy with natural enhancements such as flowering mature Bougainvillea trees at the eatery’s front entrance. Banquet-style tables covered with white linens, a stone and painted environment, and other such items create the cozy and attractive ambiance that the establishment is known for.
  • FOOD / DRINK: We gave a few new items from the menu a try on this particular visit to Russian Dacha. The quality of the meats and preparation were proudly served and happily enjoyed.
  • LOCATION: Russian Dacha is situated at 5338 Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Valley Village, CA 91607.
  • HOURS: Russian Dacha serves from Tuesday through Friday from 12:00 Noon until 10:00 PM, on Saturday and Sundays from 12:00 Noon to 11:30 PM, and is closed on Mondays. Be sure you call ahead if planning to stop by later in the evening to ensure the eatery hasn’t closed early as it has been known to do on occasion when the evenings are inactive.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: Tania is our regular server at Russian Dacha. We never experienced anything but hospitable and gracious service, welcoming greetings and warm hospitality.
  • PRICE / VALUE: Exceptional quality, consistent flavor and preparations, and flavorful items from the Russian Dacha menu always delights and enlightens.
  • CORKAGE FEE: Still complimentary including wine, Champagne & vodka!
  • PARKING: Metered street parking is available along Laurel Canyon Boulevard when patronizing the restaurant.
  • PRICING: The Variety of Dumplings arrives at a simple $11.99, while the Beef Kebab Entree was fairly prices at 14.99. The Chicken “Kiev” for $14.99 was acceptable for the quality and preparation, while the corkage was complimentary as always.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS… “Little Rock’s Two River Bridge & City Allure!”

The name ‘Arkansas’ is French in origin and derivative of a Sioux name meaning “downstream place”. As the 25th state of the U.S., this part of the country decided to claim the majestic pine as its state tree, the shimmering diamond as its state gem, and the nickname “The Natural State” as its secondary tItle. Home to an unlimited array of educational cultural activities, unforgettable dining and brewery venues, unexpected shopping locations, and spectacular diverse geographic destinations from forested wetlands to scenic byways to the mountainous region of the Ozarks, there is no reason not to visit this naturally beautiful state. Little Rock, Arkansas harbors a multifaceted variety of most everything one could ask for when considering a place to call home or an elongated vacation to take it all in.

Little Rock, AR

H. U. Lee International Gate & Garden and Area Hotels

An impressive and photo worthy stop when in Little Rock is the H.U. Lee International Gate & Garden next to the Statehouse Convention Center at Statehouse Plaza. Originally Created by the family of the former founder of the American Taekwondo Association, the $1.4 million dollar project was gifted to the state of Arkansas and now educates visitors about South Korea and honors martial arts along with its ATA originator. Korean symbolism, a nine-foot tall dragon-headed fountain and reflective pool, and an 80-ton Douglas Fir entryway proudly welcomes those awaiting entry into this unique and awe-inspiring attraction. Depending on which views you enjoy more, city hotels downtown provide picturesque views of the Arkansas River or active visual expanses over the downtown area of Little Rock.

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Downtown River Market District & Pavilion

The downtown River Market District is the place to experience the best of everything in Little Rock. The River Market Pavilion provides spacious accommodations for open-air outdoor activities and gatherings right long the banks of the Arkansas River. A plethora of dining and entertainment venues, shopping destinations for one-of-a-kind items, and beautiful city strolling space ushers visitors and locals alike along pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, walk-in friendly breweries and lounges, and scenic trails and parks sure to inspire and satisfy even the most selective of travelers.

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Area Restaurants & Lounges

Numerous eateries, from fine dining and elegant to casual and pub-style restaurants are accessible by foot from local hotels along president Clinton Avenue in the River Market District. In the mood for something specific? Then Little Rock’s River Market District is sure to have it amongst the numerous dining and entertainment provisions available. From the casually elegant Bosco’s with outdoor seating on the Arkansas River to nearby Sonny Williams Steak Room’s intimate and upscale lounge and dinner scene to Flying Saucer Draught Emporium’s feel-good ambience and unending brewery selections to unlimited other favorites we’ve experienced, there’s always something to satisfy every flavor craving one could have here in this riverfront city.

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Two Rivers Bridge

Turning toward some of the natural beauty of Little Rock, we were impressed with our trek to Two Rivers Bridge. This structure hovers above Little Maumelle River and caters to hikers, pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge enhances the western locale of the Arkansas River Trail Loop and connects to Two Rivers Park. Views of Pinnacle Mountain can be taken in from the bridge over a scenic view of the waters below, while after dark, the bridge changes color with LED lighting casting a magical glow over the river.

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Two Rivers Park

Just over Two Rivers Bridge is 450 acres of wooded wetlands, 550 acres of open fields, and the 140-acre Garden of Trees for all those crossing the bridge to enjoy. The natural beauty of two Rivers Park offers well-defined trails, park benches facing the Arkansas River, various species of indigenous trees, and local wildlife and plant species destined to awe even the seasoned hiker or outdoorsman. The trails lead on for miles, while the sunsets and sunrises are mesmerizing and inspiring to all who experience the natural beauty of this area.

Little Rock, Arkansas is a locale that we have come to cherish in the last three trips we have taken to this most hospitable southern city. With its collection of innovative dining and unique shopping venues, stunning natural offerings and picturesque landscapes, and upscale lodging facilities with unimaginable views of the Arkansas River and over the lively downtown portion of the city, we will certainly be returning again to explore more of this unique and memorable locale to provide our readers more reviews in the near future of this serene, exciting, and activity and culture-filled region of the country.

  • LOCATION: The downtown locale of upscale area hotels and popular area of downtown and the River Market District is located along President Clinton Avenue along one of the most lively, provisional, and sought after parts of town. Two Rivers Bridge & Park is a short drive from downtown.
  • FOOD / DRINK: Between the eateries we enjoyed during out visits to the area, we were treated like royalty by the management and staff of several restaurants along President Clinton Avenue in downtown Little Rock. We savored fine dining and succulent steaks and cocktails at Sonny Williams Steak Room, took in panoramic views over the river and lunchtime sustenance on the outdoor patio at Bosco’s, and absorbed the local flavor and ambiance at Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, among other stops throughout our trip. All worth every visit, every penny spent, and every bite of succulent cuisine provided by some of the areas top venues.
  • HOURS: Bosco’s along the riverfront is available for business Monday through Thursday from 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM, Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 AM through 12:00 Midnight, and on Sundays from 10:30 AM until 10:00 PM. Sonny Williams Steak Room impresses for dinnertime only Monday through Saturdays from 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM, with the piano bar opening at 7:00 PM nightly. Vivacious Flying Saucer Draught Emporium is available for service Monday through Wednesday 11:00 AM through 1:00 AM, Thursdays and Fridays from 11:00 AM until 2:00 AM, Saturdays from 11:00 AM until 1:00 AM, and on Sundays beginning at 11:00 AM and finishing for the evening at 12:00 Midnight.
  • PRICING: The cost of dining in downtown Little Rock is worth very cent spent on some of the best tasting, flavor-filled, and well worthy creations from some of the top chefs in the city.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

Il TRAMEZZINO ITALIAN CAFE… “Studio City’s Quaint Italian Locale!”

Bustling Ventura Boulevard in Studio City is made much more soothing when stopping in at Il Tramezzino to ease a hunger pang or craving for a bite of truly authentic Italian cuisine. Our last visit to this quaint eatery offered an airy patio after dark beckoning us to stop by for a taste of what this unique popular dining locale had to offer. The candle-lit tables provided a touch of romance, while the café-esque design of the establishment designed the mood for the night.

Il Tramezzino

An incredible ciabatta bread basket quickly arrived with menus and a wine list by a warm and friendly server hoping to satisfy our hunger after visiting with friends at a nearby piano lounge. Having indulged in a decent amount of liquid temptations for a few hours before strolling to Il Tramezzino a few blocks away, we were ready to carb it up with delicious Italian breads, pastas, and a hearty panini sandwich that Il Tramezzino cafes are known locally for being “the” Italian sandwich perfectionists. The expertly-toasted slices of crunchy sustenance displayed their griddle marks proudly, while a flickering candle beside the basket enhanced the hues of lightly browned deliciousness. The restaurant’s special garlic-basil spread sat beside the golden slices of bread, then vanished quickly once tasted. We ordered a couple of glasses of wine from the available options, and sipped and tasted in awe and amazement.

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I had piles of pasta in my mind that evening, and I wasn’t leaving until I got what I wanted. Something flavorsome, a tomato-based sauce, a mixture of cheeses incorporated into thin logs of delectable penne pasta…sounded just what the doctor ordered to pacify my appetite. Hence, the Penne Formaggio hit the spot like nothing else. The blend of three cheeses and house made pasta sauce covered this dish nicely, while the perfectly aldente noodles were piled high and ready to be enjoyed. A sip or two of the wine we chose made this presentation an enhanced and complete one.

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Penne Formaggio

To miss out on what Il Tramezzino does with paninis should be a crime of human nature. We continued on with the Grilled Chicken Breast Panini compiled with sun-dried tomatoes, creamy chilled avocado slices, an excellent addition of Provolone cheese, and the eatery’s secret garlic-basil sauce on each slice of ciabatta bread to top off the flavor experience. Each bite was crunchy from the grilled ciabatta, filled with a circus of incredible flavors from the basil to the creamy cooling avocado to the punch of the sun-dried tomatoes, and the grilled chicken inside arrived tender, juicy, and lightly seasoned as to feature the mouthwatering taste of the meat. Definitely a winner, and most certainly deserving the name known by Californians as the “King of Sandwiches”! And if you’re shunning those carbs, the café will happily put your sandwich ingredients into a wrap just as well for you for no additional charge!

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Grilled Chicken Breast Panini

An easily lovable café available morning, noon, or during the evening with a simple and intimate ambiance, Il Tramezzino offers four location in the Los Angeles area to fulfill those cravings for amazing Italian creations in Studio City, the UCLA campus, Tarzana, and Beverly Hills. So take a trip to Italian excellence and enjoy what this loved institution has to offer!

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DÉCOR: Easy access from Ventura Boulevard or a walk down the block, Il Tramezzino offers an elegant, yet casual environment in which to enjoy most any Italian treat imaginable. Airy open patios grace these cafes providing ease and intimate provisions for diners.
  • FOOD / DRINK: A selection of unforgettable grilled paninis, hearty dishes of pastas, refreshing beverages, coffees, beer and wine. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner served daily keeps patrons coming back multiple times during the week.
  • LOCATION: This particular Il Tramezzino Italian Café is located at 13031 Ventura boulevard in Studio City, CA 91604.
  • HOURS: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is available at Il Tramezzino Italian Café Monday through Thursday from 10:00 AM until 9:00 PM, on Fridays starting at 10:00 AM through 10:00 PM, Saturdays beginning at 9:00 AM until closing at 10:00 PM, and on Sundays from 9:00 AM until 7:00 PM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: Full of conversation, excellent suggestions, and friendly demeanors, the staff will have you returning for more warm and inviting welcomes.
  • PRICE / VALUE: Definitely a deal for the money. Huge portions are provided without having to empty your entire wallet when the bill arrives. A perfect meal for most any occasion.
  • CORKAGE FEE: Our server mentioned an easy $5.00 corkage fee when bringing wine to the restaurant to enjoy with your meal.
  • PARKING: Metered street parking is available along Ventura Boulevard and various side streets.
  • PRICING: Our glasses of wine arrived at $11 per glass, while the ciabatta bread basket was complimentary with our meal. My heavenly piled-high dish of Penne Formaggio  and the Grilled Chicken Breast Panini were offered at an acceptable $10.95 each.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

SARAH’S MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE… “Bringing a Touch of the Mediterranean to a Small Southern Town!”

Another visit to the small town of Houma, Louisiana led us to a Mediterranean eatery that possessed as much charm as it did flavor. Combining a welcoming ambiance both indoors and out, satisfactory cuisine based from recipes derived from centuries of the region’s most popular items, and a friendly staff awaiting our arrival and welcoming us once we stepped foot onto the property made us realize that this out-of-place-to-some restaurant is just what this tiny town has been in need of for some time. In an area known for Cajun cuisine, Po-Boys and boiled crawfish, Sarah’s Mediterranean Cuisine has been shaking up the town with its introduction of fine coastal cuisine from the regions of Spain, Italy, France, Morocco, Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, and Israel…better known as the Mediterranean region of the world.

Sarah's Mediterranean

The subtropical climate of the Mediterranean area lends itself to the coastal lifestyle its people have come to know quite well. Seaside airy courtyard dining such as the patio this venue offers its patrons upon first arrival are somewhat reflective of the essence of what those who live along the Mediterranean coast might experience…of course, without the sea nearby. Vibrant red umbrellas top wrought iron patio tables offering comforting contrasts of color against an earth-toned stone backdrop of the courtyard flooring and exterior of the restaurant. The babbling waters of a fountain that greet all those who enter the property provide a sense of the sea if one closes the eyes, opens the ears, and imagines just for a moment in time.

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Inside, splendid hushed neutral-toned stone walls created a canvas for the vibrant pops of color everywhere in the restaurant. From shiny brasses to deep garnets and sky blues captured in tiles used for coasters on tables, to the mustard yellows and golds showcased behind a circular-shaped full bar, to the plethora of sophisticated tones embossed in various wall murals throughout the space, there wasn’t much that didn’t try to convince us at any moment that we weren’t actually somewhere along the Mediterranean coast dining at some intimate venue there. Then, as we sat in an intimate booth shielded from onlookers by a semi-private curtain and graced with a collection of small brass serving vessels and colorful glass lanterns along a makeshift window ledge with a bottle of wine before us as we awaited our first courses, the aroma of everything delectable found its way to us from the kitchen amongst this spectacular environment.

Sarah's Mediterranean2Grape Leaves & Baba Ganouj

The bottle of wine we selected would surprisingly prove to last us throughout our meal this particular evening. Orders of meat-stuffed grape leaves and an enormous dish of Baba Ganouj were delivered promptly as we began to devour each bite with the addition of warm freshly-baked pita bread In silent enjoyment. The grape leaves were compiled of rice, seasoned ground meat, and distinct Lebanese spices then wrapped securely with tender lemony grape leaves. The Baba Ganouj offered creamy eggplant mixed with lemon juice and tahini sauce and was perfect for devouring with the ample supply of house baked pita bread pockets.

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Gyro Sandwich Wrap

There’s nothing like a delicious flavor-packed gyro sandwich. One of our favorite Greek compilations, this version included lamb and beef mixed with an excellent complimentary spice blend then wrapped in one of the eatery’s warm pita bread wraps and stuffed with crisp lettuce, chilled tomato, tangy red onion, and refreshing tzatziki sauce. We had to give congrats to the restaurant for their attempt at this popular menu selection amongst its patrons, as we  thoroughly enjoyed this presentation.

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Chicken Shawarma

Finding ourselves filling up quickly, yet still forging ahead, we were also presented with the Chicken Shawarma plate, which was compiled with the likes of tender chicken that was marinated overnight with lemon juice and spices grilled to perfection then served with a side salad, homemade hummus, and rice for a grand finish. An addition of chilled tzatziki sauce enhanced our enjoyment of this dish as well.

Impressed with our overall experience and its attempt to bring a touch of Mediterranean cuisine to this small-town city in southern Louisiana, we have to give our compliments to the owners and staff for making our experience a worthwhile one and for placating our appetites for something unique amidst a southern town.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: Decorated with attention to detail and adhering to the main specifics of eateries from the Mediterranean region, Sarah’s Mediterranean Cuisine provides bold bursts of vibrant color indoors and out with a full bar for entertaining and ample dining space.
  • FOOD / DRINK: Well worth a visit, the cuisine is spot on and the ambiance and friendly atmosphere will welcome you with its open arms.
  • LOCATION: Sarah’s Mediterranean Cuisine is located at 1420 West Tunnel Boulevard in Houma, LA 70360.
  • HOURS: Sarah’s Mediterranean Cuisine is available to patronize Monday through Thursday from 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM, on Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 AM until 10:00 PM, and on Sundays from 11:00 AM until 3:00 PM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: Punctual, friendly, knowledgeable about the menu, and allowed us time to decide what we wanted without rushing us.
  • PRICE / VALUE: Reasonable value for the price with the quality and freshness of the cuisine we enjoyed.
  • CORKAGE FEE: Our server informed us of a decent $10 per bottle corkage fee.
  • PARKING: The restaurant features a spacious parking lot free of charge while dining inside.
  • PRICING: Our bottle of wine was reasonable at $27 while the large dish of Baba Ganouj came in at an easy $4.99 and was more than enough for the two of us to share. The Grape Leaves with Meat were amply portioned and priced on the menu for $15.99, and the fantastic Gyro Wrap sandwich arrived at an easy $6.99. The Chicken Shawarma for $10.90 offered more flavors from the Mediterranean region that we enjoyed just as much.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

LOTERIA GRILL… “Putting Authentic Mexican Cuisine On the Map!”

With a popular daily Happy Hour, multiple locations accessible across the Los Angeles area, and flavors so incredible and satisfying you’ll think you’ve entered into a sort of culinary heaven, Loteria Grill in Studio City proudly offers something for everyone from the taco connoisseur to the tequila-loving taster to those patrons just ready to indulge in all things Executive Chef Jimmy Shaw has up his culinary sleeve to amaze and tantalize their taste buds with. Since opening his first Loteria Grill in 2002 at the historic Farmers Market, Chef Shaw has spread his culinary adoration for what he loves most across southern California by introducing five more locations ready to please and prepared to entice the senses of those seeking intriguing Mexican tastes combined with impressive renditions of all things delicious and savory.

Loteria Grill2Our most recent visit meting up with friends in the area provided a reason to indulge in some of the eatery’s temptations just to good to pass up. Chef Shaw’s expertise in “regional Mexican specialties” is enhanced by his upbringing in Mexico City. His perfected craft of dishing out inventive flavor-rich delights appeals to most everyone who steps foot in any of his Loteria Grill locations.The relaxing and welcoming ambiance inside his restaurants, and Chef Shaw’s obvious love for what he has done for so long continues to “wow” all who’ve stopped in at his restaurants over the last twelve years. This particular evening led us to the elongated bar with views of a conversation-piece wall of tequilas encased in uniquely-shaped bottles of varying colors, sizes and shapes.

Loteria Grill

House Made Tortilla Chips, Salsa & Margaritas

Rounds of expertly crafted margaritas began appearing before our lively group before we knew it, as well as orders of house made crispy tortilla chips, hand made salsa and creamy guacamole. The triangular slices of crunchiness were light and airy and called out for their perfectly blended salsa and creamy guacamole companions with each bite. The margaritas were chilled, on the rocks, and delivered a chilling sensation which contrasted nicely against the spicy salsa.

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Cheesy Quesadillas

The orders of the grill’s traditional Cheese Quesadillas went over well with our group at the infinite bar where we perched ourselves for conversation with one another. The warm handmade corn tortillas encased piping hot melted Oaxaca and Jack cheeses that hit the spot quite nicely. The griddle toasted exteriors of these presentations created a beautiful browned appearance, while the aroma of the blended cheeses lured us in despite all of the tortilla chips, salsa, and guacamole we we had previously involved ourselves in.

Loteria Grill in Studio City will deliver some of the best tasting, freshest and skillfully-prepared Mexican cuisine. With multiple locations across southern California to accommodate those in different geographic locations, there simply is no reason not to stop in and enjoy what this creative restaurant group has to satisfy your yearning a for memorable Mexican cuisine.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: The moment you enter Loteria Grill, you’ll feel instantly welcomed. Vibrant colors fill the space with items such as a massive piñata, striking painted larger-than-life “playing” cards perched atop shelves, spacious family seating, an outdoor patio area, and a large bar with a wall of tequila selections sure to satisfy even the most discriminative margarita connoisseur.
  • FOOD / DRINK: Freshness and flavor levels are heightened at Loteria Grill in the cuisine as well as the chilled libations served at the full bar.
  • LOCATION: Loteria Grill expressed their enjoyment of having us at their Studio City locale positioned at 12050 Ventura Boulevard on Studio City, CA 91604.
  • HOURS: The Studio City Loteria Grill is available for service Sunday through Thursday from 11:00 AM until 10:00 PM, and on Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 AM until 10:00 PM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: Our experience speaking with our bartender at the tequila bar during our visit proved interesting and fun. The hostess that seated us when we arrived was gracious and happy to see us.
  • PRICE / VALUE: Decent price-to-value ratio for the authentic Mexican flavors and quality in what was offered.
  • CORKAGE FEE: TBA
  • CONTACT INFO: Phone: (818) 508-5300, Website: www.loteriagrill.com
  • PARKING: Parking is available in front of the eatery at no charge while dining inside the restaurant.
  • PRICING: Our Guacamole Y Totopas (Tortilla Chips, Salsa & Guacamole) arrived at $10 per order, while the Cheese Quesadillas came in at $11 each. The refreshing margaritas we received while seated at the bar we’re fairly prices at $8.95 per beverage.

* Menu and pricing subject to change without notice.

FOUR SEASONS HOTEL HOUSTON… “A Relaxing Destination In Downtown Houston!”

At Four Seasons Hotel Houston, unrivaled opulence welcomes guests into its twenty story sophisticated abode offering all things lavish, comforting, and well-deserved. Five-Diamond Four-Star accommodations provide 404 spacious guest rooms that promise to boost heavenly dreams throughout the evenings, while a rejuvenating spa and unparalleled restaurants cater to your every whim. The lively excitement of staying right in the middle of downtown Houston at the epicenter of high dollar business deals being assembled, a deluge of tempting restaurants to cater to any culinary desire, and noteworthy entertainment venues and cultural destinations exist sheerly for your enjoyment. The popular House of Blues, and numerous broadening and ennobling attractions such as the Museum of Fine Arts and the Houston Theater District, not to mention sought-after Green Street with its profusion of entertainment and eateries is just steps from the hotel within walking distance and offer even more enlightenment within the perimeter of the city.

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Despite all of what downtown Houston has to offer outside of the Four Seasons Hotel Houston, it’s what is inside this sophisticated locale that offers proof of its desire to provide world-class alluring space, first-rate service, and above all, a memorable experience graced with a Texan appeal that will convince you to return.

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Eye-catching deep blues, gold detailing, and natural-toned hues throughout the hotel both in modern and time-honored styles enhance the refined ambience of this address, while pops of vibrant colors are delivered by fresh floral arrangements throughout the hotel. This non-smoking property offers such services such as a discerning multilingual Concierge, an accessible house car for downtown destinations, and extravagant amenities during any stay as well as enticing packages crafted to enhance your experience while at Four Seasons hotel Houston.

Four Seasons Houston

Deluxe room accommodations boast a wealth of comforts of home such as enormous bay windows overlooking the city, plenty of natural light during the day, comfortable office space for handling business, and beautiful décor and furniture in only the finest of luxurious textures and fabrics that Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts are synonymous for. Muted taupes, warm butter yellows, and shimmery touches of silvers refined the overall appearance of our suite with expansive stunning views of the city.

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A full marble bathroom provides spacious grandeur, polished tones of gold and silver, and glassed-in showers along with L’Occitane bath amenities sure to remove the days stresses. Don’t forget to stop by the hotel spa for even more options for stress relief with a solo or couples massage, manicures and pedicures, a selection of spa treatments for the mind and body, and the utilization of Clarins products throughout the experience.

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 The Four Seasons Hotel Houston’s pool level, which underwent an incredibly elaborate renovation bearing a four million dollar price tag, is the city’s only resort-style outdoor pool. Graced with Brazillian wood decking, Turkish travertine tile, a contemporary water wall, a relaxing hot tub, a fire pit for evening get-togethers, and a poolside bar featuring light fare and healthy choices, the 65-foot aquatic haven that is the center of attention in this part of the hotel is lined with colorful flowers, beautiful foliage, and even Live Oaks and palm trees to intensify that resort feel in Houston’s hustle and bustle four stories below. You’ll almost forget you’re in the city here, as you relax your cares away with a cocktail served poolside and a little sunshine to enlighten your mood.

One of the best locales in our opinion in the downtown Houston area, Four Seasons Hotel Houston will prove its brand’s consistency in professional and reliable service, dependable cuisine opportunities, and focus on catering to its guests with unprecedented provisions sure to delight the Four Seasons regular, or the unsuspecting first-timer.

  • PROPERTY: An elegance you won’t soon forget, the Four Seasons Hotel Houston prides itself on making its guests feel at home in comfort and accessibility with its centrally-located position downtown.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: A well-informed staff presents a seamless approach to catering to their guests. Accommodations are precisely accurate and delivered as such, friendliness and graciousness is exuded upon registering upon arrival, and steps are taken and followed through successfully to provide full service to all who step foot onto this property.
  • PET FRIENDLINESS: Four Seasons Hotel Houston welcomes both felines and K9s 25 pounds and under at no additional fee. A Pet Waiver is required at check-in for each pet.
  • DINING OPTIONS: Quattro Italian is the property’s flagship fine dining restaurant located on the hotel’s third floor led by Executive Chef Marizio Ferrarese. Proudly featuring locally sourced ingredients fit for a king, the main restaurant is available for enjoying for breakfast Monday through Friday from 6:30 AM until 11:30 AM and on Saturdays and Sundays between 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM. Brunch brings customers in on Sundays starting at 11:00 AM until 2:00 PM, while Lunch offers even more variety daily between 11:30 AM and 2:30 PM. A Pasta Lunch Buffet is served Monday through Friday from 11:30 AM until 2:00 PM. Dinners are presented every evening from 5;30 PM through 10:00 PM for your convenience. This exquisite culinary plunge into all things savory is neighbored by the Vinoteca Wine Bar just steps away. Follow your carvings for great flavors and delicious options to the Lobby Lounge on the main level of the hotel, where you can delight in a variety of sophisticated whiskey presentations as well as specialty sliders with a Southwestern enhancement. Prefer a little something lighter and outdoors? Why not take a stroll and stay a while at The Deck poolside beneath the sunshine and blue skies above on the fourth floor of the property for a lighter and healthier menu selection. The Deck is available daily from Monday through Sunday from 9:00 AM until 9:00 PM.
  • LOCATION: The Four Seasons Hotel Houston is conveniently located downtown at 1300 Lamar Street in Houston, TX 77010.
  • PARKING: Valet parking is available at the main entrance to the hotel.
  • RESORT AMENITIES: The hotel pool deck invites those ready for relaxation or a morning swim on the fourth level of the property. An open outdoor space beneath the shimmering sunlight and sky blue fantasy overhead will allow for peace and tranquility in the middle of a bustling and energetic city. The 65-foot long pool is available for guests daily from 9:30 AM until 10:30 PM. Lines with beautiful trees, which Crete a natural privacy wall, this resort-style multi-million dollar area of tranquility is the only one of it’s kind in the area. The Spa offers dry saunas, whirlpools, massages, manicures and pedicures, body treatments, facials and complimentary spa amenities. Available daily from 8:00 AM until 8:00 PM, suddenly 12-hour days feel like complete bliss at The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Houston. Why not embrace all the comforts and luxurious pampering in The Spa’s 2,500 square feet of heavenly bliss. Four treatment rooms are accessible by reservation, and couples massages are also available at your request.

* Rates and prices subject to change without notice.

PACFIC DINING CAR… ” Hop Aboard For Flavor That Will Take Your Taste Buds For a Ride!”

Catering to the 24-hour area of southern California, Pacific Dining Car Restaurants have become well known throughout the years by California locals, as well as visiting tourists. But locating a 24-hour eatery that serves sought-after prime steaks, even in the wee hours of the night, within a comforting, dimly-lit dining-car-styled establishment with full service, an on-staff sommelier, and an intimate ambience with private booths could be considered a miraculous feat.  Originally presented in 1921, the original location in downtown Los Angeles turned the city on its head with a unique idea for fine dining around the clock. Soon after, professionals in the medical field, production crews for movie filmings, and those who just couldn’t sleep and craved an amazing meal in the middle of the night started arriving, becoming regulars at this newfound culinary sanctum. In 1990, a second location was opened in chic Santa Monica and both eateries have been successfully caring for their patrons to this day.

PDC

We
stopped in one very late…well, actually very early morning after an elongated
cocktail party at a friend’s home in the area in Santa Monica. Since we weren’t
far from being home ourselves, we decided to cure our hankering for something
hearty, filling, and satisfying at the Pacific Dining Car Restaurant at the
Wilshire Boulevard location. Upon entering, we were greeted warmly by a host
yielding a wine list and menus. Once seated, we declined the wine menu, as we
had enjoyed our fair share that evening already, but graciously accepted the
Late Night menus we were offered. We chose to dine in the Huntington Room
graced with deep garnet and greens gracing the walls, white linen tablecloths
and fresh roses upon the tables, and intimate private booths waiting to comfort
those prepared for a wonderful dining experience. We chose a window booth, and
perused the tempting menu for what would soon satisfy our hankering for
something that would cure our appetites.

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A couple of chilled Arnold Palmers were ordered, and arrived promptly with a selection of fresh various breads and a shell-shaped vessel of salted butter. We indulged a bit more in the bread than we usually would on any other occasion, and happily agreed that it was divine in texture, flavor, and portion size. The cold Arnold Palmers were pleasantly sipped on until another round was placed before us along with our selections that were already being plated in the kitchen.

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Filet Mignon Sandwich

Think of your favorite sandwich. Now forget that image, and think of Pacific Dining Car’s Filet Mignon Sandwich. This juicy, expertly-prepared, melt-in-your-mouth creation was equally as delicious as the photos above show it to be. Accompanied by a heaping pile of steaming fries, this sandwich consists of chilled hand-sliced beefsteak tomato, crisp vibrant green lettuce, crunchy white onion, and most any additional accoutrement you might desire. Prepared to your liking, you get what you want at Pacific Dining Car because the staff if there to serve you, make you happy, and ensure that when you do walk out of their door, it’s with a smile upon your face. But we weren’t ready to depart just yet…

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Training Day Baseball Steak

The carnivore that he is, my husband had no qualms about devouring his menu selection…the Training Day Baseball Steak. This “Training Day” movie-inspired compilation consists of a 10-ounce dry-aged prime filet mignon joined by a noteworthy portion of shoestring fries. Every bite of this heavenly serving of beef was bursting with savory aromas, natural juices, and so much flavor even we had a hard time believing it. But we forged ahead, and accepted that Pacific Dining Car restaurants are everything they say they are…around the clock cuisine perfection, masters of the late night steak, and caterers of their patrons with superior care,  concern and excellence in service.

Our conclusion of this dining experience is quite complimentary. No matter what tie of the day or night, Pacific Dining Car restaurants will prove their reputation is indeed trustworthy with their established and renowned prime beef presentations, their well-known and well-appreciated service, and the round the clock access and inviting atmosphere ready to accommodate anyone craving some pretty sensational fare.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DÉCOR: Vivid colors and rich fabrics cover eye-leasing dining rooms beneath dimly-lit spaces. Cozy and roomy tables and booths allow for a choice of eating in large groups, or more privately in comfortable booths with and without window view options. Fresh flowers are placed on each table, while white linen tablecloths and linens are utilized for that fine dining feel. An on-staff sommelier is also available to assists with wine selections during specific dining hours.
  • FOOD / DRINK: Unfortunately, we had already had our fair share of cocktails and wine at a previous engagement, so we opted for chilled refreshing Arnold Palmers during our meal to hydrate and satisfy our thirst. Well-made and flavorful, these were favorable selections. Our dinner choices proved superb by the dry-aged prime beef that we enjoyed in both selections.
  • LOCATION: Two locations are available for 24-hour a day service. The original restaurant in downtown L.A. is located at 1310 West 6th Street in Los Angeles, CA 90017, while the Santa Monica location exists at 2700 Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, CA 90403.
  • HOURS: Both establishments are available for service around the clock, and are open every day of the year. Breakfast and dinner are available anytime, while lunch selections are served daily from 11:00 AM until 4:00 PM. Afternoon Tea options are presented daily from 3:00 PM to 5:30 PM, and the Late-Night menu is offered from 11:00 PM through 6:00 AM in the morning.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: Our server was gracious, friendly, and kind. His knowledge of the restaurant and the menu was unparalleled, as was his professionalism and service.
  • PRICE / VALUE: For the quality of the cuisine, we were pleased with the cost of what was ordered. Not overly pricy, and delicious from the first bite to the last, we will return again to experience more of what there is to enjoy (along with a taste of some of the wines on board!)
  • CORKAGE FEE: TBA
  • CONTACT INFO: The Los Angeles location may be reached via phone at (213) 483-6000, while the Santa Monica locale can be contacted at (310) 453-4000.Both establishments may be accessed via their website at: www.pacificdiningcar.com.
  • PARKING: Both locations offer valet parking during scheduled hours, while metered street parking is also available.
  • PRICING: We enjoyed four Arnold Palmers at $5.95 apiece, while the Training Day Baseball Steak came in at $17.95 and the Filet Mignon Sandwich arrived at and acceptable $18.95.

 * Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

SANTA MONICA PIER & PALISADES PARK… “A Day At the Beach, A Walk In the Park!”

 Southern California is a locale that the masses flock to when in search of near-perfect weather, a plethora of cultural activities, unlimited restaurant offerings that cater to most any cuisine hankering, and an overall feeling of peacefulness and unity from the mighty Pacific Ocean with its seemingly never-ending horizon and breathtaking sunsets and views of the Santa Monica Mountains in the distance. Miles of expansive sandy coastline complete with its own soundtrack of the shore’s intonations from the sounds of the surf beckoning its visitors to stay a little longer, indulge in the peacefulness it has to offer, and enjoy existing within such a habit-forming environment with ease and perpetuity. This western crust of America shines ever so proudly as its waters shimmer, its evenings twinkle with a billion stars overhead, and its inhabitants gladly absorb everything this beach town has to offer.

The popular circa early 1900s Santa Monica Pier stands over the ebb and flow of Pacific tides at nearly 1,600 feet long. Dotted with eateries, surf shops, fishing and beach paraphernalia stores, an arcade, and an actual amusement park at the foot of the pier including a working Carousel, ferris wheel, and even a functional roller coaster! This magnificent structure along the California coast attracts visitors year-round without fail. The Santa Monica Aquarium is also available at ground level beneath the vintage soda fountain- toting carousel, which provides those with an interest for marine life an eye-opening educational experience. Waiting until nighttime proves worthwhile when the varietal colors of neon lights illuminate the pier and the ocean below with ambers and magentas and cayennes and other vibrant hues, which accent this attraction as well as accentuate the transitional ambience of the evening.

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Santa Monica Pier

Just steps from Santa Monica Pier is the grassy manicured Palisades Park stretched out parallel to Ocean Avenue with majestic views of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Monica Beach below. Built atop the coastal sandstone bluffs of the area, this 26-acre public domicile reaches from Colorado Boulevard to San Vicente Boulevard and plays host to those enjoying physical fitness, walks with Man’s Best Friend, people watching, catching up on that favorite book, and other such leisurely activities. Closer to the start of the pier, entertainers and performers attempt their hand at fascinating the young and enlightening the young at heart. A two-mile paved bike and walking path provides easy access from one end of the park to the other, while restrooms, park benches, and intricate landmarks offer an intriguing and unique visit. Make a stop at the cannons on the southern part of the ground,a brief pause at the Native American totem pole, or a pleasant break during a long run at the beautifully-maintained rose garden. Whatever your fancy, whatever you’re drawn by, this landscaped recreation area will undoubtedly lure you into its meditative and relaxed surroundings and set you at harmony with the beauty of nature tht envelops you at Palisades Park.

Santa Monica Park & Pier

Over thirty species of indigenous trees, plants and other vegetation call Palisades Park their home. From the mighty Eucalyptus trees to various breeds of palms in every shape and size to the Pine and Fig displays, as well as the impressive Monterey Cypress and Red Gum trees present in the park in all their splendor. Above, this friendly squirrel stopped by to greet us and enjoy a feast of unsalted sunflower seeds that we had with us. We happily offered him what was left to ensure that he was fed.

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Various food trucks supplying tasty options and chilled and hot beverages often park alongside the park to offer a cure for the day’s hunger and thirst to occupants of the natural beauty some 1.5 miles from the entry to Santa Monica Pier. Across the street, several restaurants lie in wait as well for patrons to stop in for a bite, while the day’s longevity slowly crawls to a halt and its sun effortlessly begins to set beyond a sea blue horizon.

A daily power walk to start the day, a run with Fido to break from the day’s tedious schedule, or a romantic walk with the one you adore most in your life just before sunset along the Pacific Ocean…all reasons to stop and appreciate the views and offerings of both Santa Monica Pier and neighboring Palisades Park along Ocean Avenue. Spend a couple of hours or an entire day at these locations. There is always plenty to fill your day at both locales, which will leave you with fond memories of the west coast as well as numerous reasons to return again.

  • LOCATION: Santa Monica Pier’s Information office is located at 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Palisades Park may be found at 1450 Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, CA 90401.
  • FOOD / DRINK: Various rotating food trucks stop by Palisades Park along Ocean Avenue frequently, while a supply of restaurants directly across from the park and pier offer tasty renditions of their original classics and signature dishes. On the pier, various vendors and eateries provide nourishment for hungry patrons and refreshing beverages for all ages.
  • HOURS: The Santa Monica Pier is always open, however the vendors along the pier do have various hours of business. (See the website for the pier for those). Palisades Park is open from 5:00 AM until 12 AM Midnight.
  • PRICING: There is no charge to visit the pier or the Palisades Park. Dining or shopping at individual vendors varies, of course.
  • CONTACT INFO: The Pier Shop at the start of the bottom of the pier ramp offers information via phone at (310) 458-8901, and provides more information at their website at www.santamonicapier.org. Palisades Park information may be obtained via phone at either (310) 458-8644 or (310) 828-4497, while more information on the park’s website can be viewed at smgov.net.
  • PET FRIENDLINESS: Palisades Park is dog friendly, so bring Fido along to appreciate the views! Please note that alcohol and smoking is not allowed anywhere within the park.
  • PARKING: Metered parking spaces line the edge of Palisades Park along Ocean Avenue, while public parking facilities in the area offer additional convenience. 

 * Menus and prices of local vendors and area eateries subject to change without notice.

THE CAROUSEL BAR @ HOTEL MONTELEONE… “Taking a Spin at Cocktail Hour In the Big Easy!”

 There are some establishments that cater to the discriminating patron with a seamless approach. There are some that go above and beyond to extend proof of their exceedingly competitive and unparalleled customer service. Where upscale ambiance and first-rate service go hand-in-hand. Where a seat at the bar repositions you once you perch yourself upon one of the many intricately hand-painted bar stools. Where one is offered varying angles of elegant décor in an opulent and intimate setting with views of historic Royal Street where patrons may catch glimpses of passers-by with a background of numerous antique shops, art galleries, and the like. The Carousel Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, Louisiana possesses all of these, and so much more. It is a regular locale we frequent and have come to know well over the last many years of our traveling through this alluring and hospitable mecca of all things abundant in Southern hospitality, unmistakable comfort, and unmatchable service.

Carousel Bar @ The Monteleone

Located in the French Quarter along historic Royal Street, The Hotel Monteleone housing the popular circa 1949 Carousel Bar is noted as one of the city’s last family-owned and operated hotels. It has been labeled one of the most romantic and historic locales in the area. Sophisticated grandeur is exuded from every nook and cranny inside the notable and unforgettable swanky lounge amidst the Big Easy’s bustling streets and rushing traffic. The literary expressions of famous authors have also canonized the Carousel Bar in their interpretations on paper, while many movies and television series have taken advantage of the lounge and hotel setting for their filming locations.

Carousel Bar @ The Monteleone1

The much photographed and whimsical carousel top of the rotating bar was installed in 1992, while the entire lounge underwent a renovation in 2011, which expanded the Carousel Bar into a second dwelling area with an additional bar to accommodate the overflow of this popular meeting spot. Currently the only revolving bar in New Orleans since Club 360 atop the Trade Center closed due to damage from Hurricane Katrina, the lounge exudes an elegant vintage ambiance offering opulent grandeur and sophistication as those perched at the revolving bar enjoy hand shaken classic and signature libations enveloped in a feel of vintage memories and intriguing stories from the bartenders who have tended this area for years. Original vibrantly-colored hand-painted bar seating shows off bold hues, rich workmanship, and preferred location at the moving bar. We’ve always managed to get a seat at the carousel bar when visiting, however, there is alternate seating available surrounding the lavish moving bar as well as more seating in the connecting space inclusive of another arch-shaped bar. Comfortable and inviting seating strategically placed to involve capturing excellent views of Royal Street’s passers-by and beautiful historic buildings across the street also grants patrons thought-evoking views of the area.

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Pre-Dinner Cocktails In the Lounge

We happily surrendered to a few chilled beverages from the bar before retreating to dinner elsewhere in the city. Observing these being made at the revolving bar was like admiring fine art being created by the hands of a much adored painter in some ways. I chose a couple of Ketel Kosmos as my liquid obsession during our visit made with Ketel One vodka, lime, Cointreau, and cranberry juice. My husband devoured a couple of the bar’s finely crafted Cuba Libras as well.  Specific evenings lend themselves to live music in the lounge to accompany those flavorsome liquid sensations being prepared before you as you indulge yourself in the sophisticated space that is the Carousel Bar & Lounge.  A Bar Bites & Sandwiches menu offers an array of tempting flavorful options from mini PoBoys to BBQ Ribs to Cuban Sandwiches and even burgers presented in an elegant preparation and crafted by the chef of Hotel Monteleone’s main restaurant Criollo’s kitchen.

 Step inside Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar & Lounge, and leave behind you the bustling noise of the city, the worries of the day, and the concerns of tomorrow because this place is going to take all of that away and transform your mind to an environment of deserving bliss in a lounge crafted to suit those longing for fine hand crafted cocktails and southern liquid libation classics, great conversation with seasoned mixologists at the bar, and a relaxed ambiance with live entertainment to set your mind’s troubles and concerns aside for a few hours while you indulge in your time here.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: The entry through the Hotel Monteleone provides access to the lobby and entry through glass doors that lead to all things indulgent at the Carousel Bar and Lounge. Beautiful hues of pale tones, reflective antique mirrors, expansive views of Royal Street, and of course, the Carousel Bar itself will provide hours of leisurely enjoyment and much deserved relaxation on any given day.
  • FOOD / DRINK: The bar is known for its cocktail splendor, however, a bar menu does exist which offers upscale appetizers flavorful enough to fit the bill of anyone’s appetite level. The Carousel Bar & Lounge Bar Bites & Sandwiches Menu is available from 11:00 AM until 9:00 PM.
  • LOCATION: The Carousel Bar & Lounge is conveniently positioned at 214 Royal Street in New Orleans, LA 70130.
  • HOURS: The Carousel Bar and Lounge opens its doors Sunday through Thursday from 11:00 AM until 9:00 PM, then on Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 AM through 1:00 AM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: The bar staff and servers enjoy serving their patrons, appreciate conversation and offer stories of when they first started working here and tales of the city that you’ll have to decide for yourself if are true or not. Friendly, efficient, and professional with a generous concern for their customers’ enjoyment and happiness while visiting.
  • PRICE / VALUE: Expect upscale prices for upscale service and elegant preparations of libations, but be prepared for some of the best cocktails you’ve ever had anywhere else. Well worth the price for the ambiance, service, exceptionally crafted drinks, and overall romance of the experience.
  • CORKAGE FEE: TBA
  • PARKING: The Hotel Monteleone offers valet parking if you are staying on site, while metered street parking and city lots are available as well. We usually walk in from shopping along Royal Street or have a house car deliver us to the main entry of the Hotel Monteleone when we are staying in the city or if the weather is unfavorable.
  • PRICING: The Bar Bites & Sandwiches Menu items range from $10 item and up, while signature and classic renditions of favorite liquid temptations can run you anywhere from $9 to $15 per cocktail. Our four cocktails arrived at $15 for each signature Ketel Kosmo I consumed, and $12.50 for the two Cuba Libre cocktails my other half indulged in. We had a few bites of the lounge’s snack mix that was offered to us with our drinks, but didn’t choose any appetizers, as we were en route to dinner to meet friends at an alternate location in town.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

REILLEY’S GRILL & BAR AND REILLEY’S NORTH END PUB… “The Lowcountry’s Answer to Beloved Boston Pubs!”

For over thirty years, Reilley’s has been catering to the locals and visitors alike on the island of Hilton Head, South Carolina and the surrounding areas. Now with two locations at either end of the island, patrons gather together for that end of the day ice cold brew, that anticipated meeting with loved ones, and for incredible meals and Happy Hour specials most every evening.

Reilley's

Both establishments offer the same savory cuisine, always consistent, always fresh and flavorsome. Each houses a traditional Boston-style pub complete with two of the best places on the island to enjoy your favorite sports games, indulge in savory Irish fare and chilled cocktails, and get involved in all of the local excitement that is included in a true feel-good pub environment.

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The dim lighting inside these establishments is strikingly evocative of traditional Boston pubs with their larger than life display of friendly bartenders, sports on every big screen television imaginable, accepting blend of true locals mixed with the camaraderie of conversation with visiting tourists, and libations served up by skilled mixologsts complimented by mouthwatering and unforgettable dishes just waiting to dare you to try them and be won over by their succulent flavors and creative preparations that will create a comforting feeling you’ll never long to depart from.

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Pub Menu, Cocktails & Fresh Made Popcorn

The bar houses a variety of brews on tap and by the bottle as well as traditional cocktails to suit most anyone’s desires for something chilled and intoxicatingly refreshing. We’ve often indulged in the well-prepared martinis, signature cocktails, and selection of wines from the array of choices available to accompany some of the sensational appetizers and meals we’ve enjoyed here over the years.

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Collection of Various Favorites Off the Pub Menu

When it comes to which items to order to enjoy when visiting either of these long standing island pubs, we have a few suggestions. Starting with a popular house favorite, the Irish Potato Skins made in house with melty cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, crisp flavorful bacon crumbles, a sprinkling of decorative fresh parsley, and a side of creamy chilled sour cream are a sure winner. Or try the Buffalo Buttermilk Battered Shrimp with their crunchy goodness drowned in a zippy and zesty buffalo sauce for an added kick served with a side of cool blue cheese dressing and fresh cut chilled celery. Other loved accoutrements in the pub off of the menu are the Fresh House Spring Rolls handcrafted daily with plum sauce and pickled ginger and the Cheese Quesadilla with sour cream and house made salsa. Or the fan favorite classic Fish & Chips entrée created with Boston Cod deep fried in a beer batter presented with fries, coleslaw, and savory tartar sauce. Sometimes, there’s just nothing better.

Take a peek at the pub’s dinner menu as well for more full dinner selections from fresh seafood dishes, to hearty sandwiches and unforgettable burgers, to chicken and pasta offerings, to fine steaks and garden fresh salads worth raving about. A sure bet when seeking a gathering place to meet, mingle, and blend in with the locals anytime for great times and delicious fare far from Bostom, yet encompassing all there is to love about the traditional Boston pub in the Lowcountry.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: The dim lighting and secluded environment of the pub atmosphere is well loved by locals and visitors alike. A welcoming feeling embraces all who walk through the doors of each establishment, while the casual ambiance caters to those dressed down as well as those in three-piece suits who arrive straight from the office.
  • FOOD / DRINK: Flavorsome classic pub favorites, succulent steak and pasta offerings, fresh salads and specials on specific evenings delight everyone from the beef lover to the calorie-conscious patron. A full bar at each location caters to any concoction that can possibly be desired.
  • LOCATION: Two Reilley’s locations exist on Hilton Head Island for your dining and libation enjoyment…the first, Reilley’s Grill & Bar is positioned at 7D Greenwood Drive on Hilton Head Island, SC 29928, while the second establishment, Reilley’s North End Pub, is situated on the north side of the island at 95 Matthews Boulevard on Hilton Head Island, SC 29926.
  • HOURS: Happy Hour offers some fairly decent discounted bites and sips with 1/2 off domestic bottles of beer, 1/2 off select draft brews, 1/2 off house wines, and 1/2 off well liquor drinks. Happy Hour lasts from 4:00 PM until 7:00 PM, which makes us extremely happy when we can get to the pub before 5:00 PM! Normal business hours for the establishments exist Monday through Saturday from 11:30 AM until 2:00 AM, and on Sundays from 11:00 AM to 2:00 AM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: Friendly and efficient mixologists and servers allow patrons to enjoy their visit while feeling catered to at any given moment. The staff excels in everything they do at both locations, as we have continually witnessed when we visit when sojourning through the Lowcountry.
  • PRICE / VALUE: Terrific Happy Hour deals, and reasonable full menu dining options as well. Something for everyone with specials throughout the week. Mondays feature Lobster Night, Tuesdays kids eat free, Wednesday & Saturdays offer Prime Rib Night, while a Sunday Brunch features complimentary Champagne & Mimosas.
  • CORKAGE FEE: TBA
  • CONTACT INFO: Phone: (843) 842-4414 (Reilley’s Grill & Bar on the south end of the island) and (843) 681-4153 (Reilley’s North End Pub), Website: reilleyshiltonhead.com.
  • PARKING: There is ample complimentary private lot parking at both Reilley’s locations on the island.
  • PRICING: When we’ve stopped by during Happy Hour, the Irish Potato Skins arrived at a simple $6.99, while the Buffalo Buttermilk Battered Shrimp selection came in at a worthwhile $8.99. The Chef’s Special House Made Spring Rolls were offered at $7.99, with the Cheese Quesadilla being priced at $4.95. Our Fish & Chips entrée finished off our culinary snacking at an acceptable $15.99.

*Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

 

JARAGUA RESTAURANT… “True Salvadoran Cuisine In the Heart of Los Angeles!”

The adobe veneer of this popular Salvadoran establishment welcomed us inside to a friendly staff waiting to serve our requests for savory and unforgettable Salvadoran cuisine. Located in the busy goings on of Los Angeles and situated along Beverly Boulevard, this was a true gem that we had not come across before hearing about it from friends over coffee recently. We headed over for a bite before enjoying a play in the area with our appetites ready to experience something amazing.

Jaragua

The Sherbert-hued entrance was defined by the restaurant’s logo prominently displayed on both a posted sign as well as on the building itself. The interior of the eatery offered a spacious dining room filled with casually-set tables for catering to the lone diner or the family of ten. Views through large windows allowed for observation of passers-by on the boulevard, while the modest and casual ambiance had us intrigued about what we would experience while here.

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Salvadoran Signature Cocktails 

The cocktail menu offers selections house made from a tucked away intimate velvet-curtained lounge called the Copper Still to the back of the dining space. Though noticeable with a quick glance around the room, the tiny bar plays host to some pretty creative cocktails by a well-adored mixologist behind the counter. Both flavorsome as well as refreshing, and served in large drinking vessels, we were pleased with our orders and prepared to move on to ordering a Salvadoran feast for our palates.

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Pollo Encebollada

The Pollo Encebollada was an impressive display of tender grilled chicken that literally fell apart when touched with a utensil due to its incredible tenderness. Marinated then sautéed in the restaurant’s own tantalizing conglomeration of juices and broths, thick-cut white onions grilled to a sweet perfection, robust tomatoes bursting with fresh flavor, and vibrantly-colored green peppers are added to this dish creating a sight to behold and a conclusion of heartiness to the presentation.

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Side Salad, Pupusas & Frijoles

A side salad accompanied our selection of the Pollo Encebollada, while tender warm pupusas (Salvadoran tortillas made from fresh rice or corn massa and El Salvador’s national dish) melded nicely with the serving of frijoles ordered to complete a full exploration of flavor.

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Pan Con Pavo

The Pan Con Pavo is my new favorite sandwich in the existence of life as we know it. El Salvador’s famous turkey sandwich, this conglomeration of flavor upon flavor sensation, varietal textures from the tender turkey to the flowing taste bud tantalizing broth to the tender sandwich bread that despite it’s getting a tad soggy on the bottom from the delectable broth it sits in, would turn heads if only others knew how delicious it is, to the sensational mouthwatering aroma of all things delicious packed inside this generous offering of Salvadoran goodness. Just an amazing, indulgent, near perfect sandwich sure to put you under its spell of flavor-filled intoxication.

Our visit to Jaragua proved worthwhile. So much so that we continually revisit this unassuming family-friendly spacious and gracious dining establishment probably more often than we should. Nevertheless, a sure winner on the SavorHour.com list of delightful casual locales worth the drive, worth the splurge, and worth every single taste of extraordinary goodness.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: The exterior of the eatery exudes friendly and welcoming vibes with its sherbert-hued pueblo-style facade. Inside, spacious dining and friendly and accommodating staff ensure pleasant culinary experiences from start to finish.
  • FOOD / DRINK: The fresh and savory flavors and combinations of all things delicious and mouthwatering will keep you returning to Jaragua, while signature and classic cocktails will keep you guessing.
  • LOCATION: Jaragua is situated at 4493 Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA 90004.
  • HOURS: The establishment’s business hours exist Monday through Friday from 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM, and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 AM until 10:00 PM.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: The staff is friendly, hospitable, and happy to suggest dishes to wow your taste buds.
  • PRICE / VALUE: The price point here is worth the experience. After enjoying our meal here, we were convinced that the quality of the cuisine, spacious dining room, and helpful staff offered an exceptional value for the money.
  • CORKAGE FEE: TBA
  • CONTACT INFO: Phone: (323) 661-1985, Website: www.jaraguarestaurant.com
  • PARKING: The parking areas lie behind the restaurant in a private lot as well as along the streets at metered parking spaces surrounding the restaurant.
  • PRICING: The array of delicious cuisine awed us and left us both satisfied with the cuisine as well as the pricing. We ate very well for two people for under $50, and we were happy to get a spectacular Salvadoran meal with all the trimmings including alcohol.

* Menu and pricing subject to change without notice.

MALIBU CREEK STATE PARK… “Finding the Naturalist In Ourselves!”

There’s something intriguing about what one discovers when taking a walk through nature along creek side trails. Something freeing. Something that brings us to a place of peace, of calm, of inner happiness. Maybe it’s the oneness with the environment and the earth, or the refreshing feeling of a cool breeze against our face that renews our soul, or even the quiet solace we come upon that allows us, even if just for a few moments, to realign our focus of our path in life. Whichever of those it is, there’s a distinct location that heightens those experiences for us. Malibu Creek State Park has long been a place of untangling days that didn’t quite go our way at times, of bringing us closer to an understanding of ourselves as human beings in a world filled with stresses and disappointments, and a sanctuary of sorts that never fails to help us get back on track to realizing that sometimes the simplest things in life can be some of the best. It was time we wrote about this stunningly beautiful locale of natural beauty, so it heads up as our first article in our recently added “Beautiful Places” category at SavorHour.com.

Malibu Creek State Park

Open from dawn until dusk, Malibu Creek State Park offers a relaxing and memorable experience for the nature hiker as well as the more seasoned camper or outdoorsman. Formerly owned by 20th Century Fox Studios, the beautiful terrain was used in outdoor filming locations for movies and television shows over the years. We frequent this natural stunner often and appreciate its natural beauty it offers year round to it’s visitors. Seven thousand acres within the Santa Monica Mountains provide ample space for outdoor activities such as hiking, nature walks, fishing, horseback riding opportunities, rock climbing, mountain biking, bird watching, picnicing, and even special campfire programs. We’ve always enjoyed trekking from the parking area to the  rock pool at the conclusion of the three and a half mile round trip journey that parallels the soothing intonations of an at times lively creek. Above, you can see how the creek cuts directly across a popular path at will, blocking access across it’s shallow, yet swiftly moving waters.

Malibu Creek State Park1

As a favorite filming location for some of the industry’s best loved entertainment series and films, Malibu Creek State Park has hosted the filming of several popular productions such as M*A*S*H, Swiss Family Robinson, Pleasantville, Mr. Blanding Builds His Dream House, Daniel Boone, Planet of the Apes, and a few Tarzan productions just to name a few. The park provides beautiful scenery from its meandering trails, lush rolling hills, rushing creek waters for miles, and a variety of bird species sure to delight the nature observer to no end. Towering oaks line areas of the trail leading to the rock pool, which provide shade along the path as one makes their way closer to the rocky conclusion of the volcanic swimming destination after a well enjoyed walk, pleasant run, or relaxing stroll as the sights of expansive vistas and mountainous peaks along the creek are happily taken in.

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There’s something about the sound of water that I’ve always loved. The sound of the wind against treetops rustling leaves in accordance with the directional flow of the breezes that come and go often remind me of the sound of the ocean with it’s ebb and flow of waves being washed upon the shore. Another soothing and appreciated sound of water we adore is that of the gentle rushing waters of a river or creek along its intended and sometimes unintentional path, such as what we experience at Malibu Creek State Park. From the calm flowing currents to the more lively rushing gentle rapids, there’s not much more one could ask for here. In the photos above, a duck seeks refuge atop a protruding rock from the moving waters of the creek, and the rushing waters calm eventually and almost immediately change over to a sheet of liquid glass as they slow again and calm as they continue their flow onward. We can understand why the Chumash Indians settled here so many centuries ago.

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We find beauty in most everything here. Even the eye-catching artwork of what nature has done with the indigenous Sycamore trees that line the banks of the creek in one area. Just the height and immense stature of these natural works of art create noticeable landmarks throughout the park. The bark appears to have been painted on by Mother Nature herself in strokes of grey, and muted whites, and tans, while these products of the earth stand proudly watching over the creek and those who pass by their impressive presence. Don’t miss the redwood trees that were planted around Century Lake years ago while you’re on the property. And you may just catch a glimpse of the park’s natural inhabitants such as deer, foxes, rabbits, ducks, a variety of bird species, and even a bobcat or two.

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At the end of the nearly 2-mile voyage comes the reward for all of that hard work walking, jogging, or strolling along and observing everything beautiful en route to this final destination. A magnificent rock pool at the conclusion of the trail was crafted by volcanic rock and forms a sizable gorge where we’ve witnessed many visitors swimming in the refreshing waters of the natural pool. A picturesque filming location as well, part of the Planet of the Apes included the rock wall that surrounds the pool. A beautiful view, and a worthy find, this rocky terrain will offer solace and satisfaction to the unsuspecting hiker, and intrigue and challenge to the novice, but will always provide a memorable visit to Malibu Creek State Park.

Take some time from your busy schedule to take in the natural picturesque views of Malibu Creek State Park. Established in 1974, and opened to the public in 1976, the property has been a favorite of visitors for over 30 years, and will continue to fascinate all who visit with its expansive collection of all things beautiful, natural, and interesting.

  • LOCATION: Malibu Creek State Park is located within the terrain of the Santa Monica Mountains covering nearly 7,000 acres of natural beauty at 1925 Las Virgenes Road in Calabasas, CA 91302. Just 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles, this is surely a drive worth taking to experience nature at its finest.
  • HOURS: The park is available to the public from dawn until dusk.
  • PARKING:A fee of $12 per vehicle is used to support the park. A helpful resource for finding your way around the property if you’re not familiar with it is the purchase of a trail map for an easy $1 you can obtain at the park’s entrance.
  • PET FRIENDLINESS: Your canine friends will appreciate being taken to Malibu Creek State Park. Keep in mind, however, dogs are only allowed in the parking lot and campground. They are not permitted on the trails.

* Prices subject to change without notice.

GUADALAJARA… “Downtown Houston’s Answer to Authentic Tex-Mex Cuisine!”

When visiting downtown Houston, make a point to stop in at Guadalajara Del Centro in the city’s Central Business District. Amidst the intricate web of pedestrian tunnels and skywalks interconnecting the city from one building to the next, there is a locale for those seeking authentic Tex-Mex cuisine in a relaxed, casual setting. Guadalajara Del Centro serves up some of the best Tex-Mex cuisine we’ve enjoyed in some time, and we were quite pleased that we elected to experience this locals’ favorite lunchtime locale.

Guadalajara

An easy walk from nearby hotels and convenient shopping locations, Guadalajara Del Centro sits among a plethora of activities that make up part of what downtown Houston has to offer. At first approach, you’ll know you’ve arrived at this culinary hacienda by the friendly hostess at the front entry and the splendid hues of bright colors that welcome you inside with their inviting arms of a multitude of pigments sure to delight any patron.

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With a vast array of choices for seating inside from stand-alone tables to comfortable booths with satisfying views of the city streets through huge windows overlooking the comings and goings of passers-by, the interior of the restaurant greets its visitors with pleasant and comforting surroundings that make any meal an enjoyable one.

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House Made Tortilla Chips, Handmade Salsa & Margaritas

Complimentary house made tortilla chips and fresh handmade salsa will satisfy your cravings for something savory and tasty while you peruse the extensive menus that are placed before you as you are seated by a gracious server. We took advantage of the Happy Hour drink specials and ordered a couple of the eatery’s House Margaritas and those pacified us along with the chips and salsa until our order of Guacamole “MTO” arrived.

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GUACAMOLE “MTO”

The “MTO” stands for “Made To Order”, and the guacamole at this Tex-Mex culinary smorgasbord of divine offerings served up their version of this creamy and fresh appetizer favorite in a snap. Consisting of ripe avocadoes, vine-ripe tomatoes, zesty onion, cilantro, house seasonings and fresh-squeezed lime, this guacamole starter is the perfect palate pleaser to begin your culinary enjoyment of a meal at this location.

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Del Centro Chopped Chicken Salad

How does a mixture of chopped crunchy bacon, creamy chilled avocado, crisp tortilla strips, chopped tomato, sweet roasted corn, and chopped lettuces topped with queso fresco sound for a lunchtime treat? How about adding a pile of chopped grilled chicken and a side of your favorite dressing? The Del Centro Chopped Chicken Salad will deliver all of this, plus offer an option of selecting grilled fajita steak or shrimp in lieu of the grilled chicken. Our choice of the chicken suited our taste perfectly. Lean tender and flavorsome chunks of white meat chicken combined with the crunch of fresh greens, onion, sweet roasted corn and crunchy tortilla strips drizzled with creamy cilantro and mango-lime dressings topped it off nicely.

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Enchiladas Guadalajara

The Enchiladas Guadalajara provided healthy spinach and grilled shredded chicken wrapped in blankets of tender tortillas with a roasted corn sauce and white cheeses. Served with Mexican rice and refried beans, which sated my remaining cravings for all things Tex-Mex during our lunchtime feast, I couldn’t have been more in awe from the culmination of flavors that I experienced by indulging in this house special. I could literally consume this entrée multiple times a week and never tire of its incredible and mouthwatering texture and sapidity.

Based in one of the country’s largest meccas of business and corporation-based city’s with so much to take part in from shopping to outdoor activities, to fine dining and upscale lodging choices while in town, make Guadalajara Del Centro one of your stops while in downtown Houston for authentic, memorable, and unforgettable Tex-Mex cuisine happiness.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: Celebrating the fiesta that is Tex-Mex cuisine, the interior hues and décor of this eatery provide vibrant bursts of vivid greens, sharp blues, cheerful yellows, and complimentary neon lighting throughout the restaurant in addition. Warm light woodwork serves as a calming backdrop to the lively tones, while modern styled lighting fixtures and lush greenery bordering an upstairs loft-like dining area offer more intriguing visual detail.
  • FOOD / DRINK: From Skinny Girl cocktail selection for the calorie-conscious libation lover to the fan of the original “house” margarita, there is something for everyone with a full bar and plethora of cocktail items on the menu to choose from. Tie a few flavorsome drinks in with a phenomenal meal at Guadalajara Del Centro from the selection of Tex-Mex fare favorites, and you’ll find yourself returning to experience more of what this upscale casual establishment has to offer its patrons.
  • LOCATION: Guadalajara Del Centro is located in Houston’s downtown arena of activity at 1201 San Jacinto Street, Suite 141 in Houston, TX 77002.
  • HOURS: Serving lunch and dinner, this restaurant is available Monday through Thursday from 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM, on Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 AM until 11:00 PM, and on Sundays from 12:00 noon through 9:00 PM. We enjoyed the fact that lunch was served until 4:00 PM!
  • SERVICE / STAFF: Our server was punctual, professional, friendly, and thoroughly knew the menu and specials of the day. Her timing of items being delivered to us from the kitchen was perfectly presented, and our questions about the location and the cuisine were answered confidently and without hesitation.
  • PRICE / VALUE: Considering the ambiance, upscale location, popularity of this eatery and fine Tex-Mex cuisine offered, the higher prices than most ordinary establishments serving similar cuisine was still appreciated, For a few dollars more per item ordered, we gladly forked over a bit more money to be enveloped in such a beautiful and festive locale close to all of the activities of downtown Houston.
  • CORKAGE FEE: TBA
  • PARKING: Ample parking is available through the use of city parking garages, as well as some street parking. This location is easily accessible from some hotels located nearby as well.
  • PRICING: We received complimentary house made tortilla chips with a refreshing and not-too-spicy handmade salsa to start things off. With the chips and salsa, we ordered two of the House Margaritas at just $5 per order (during Happy Hour) and began sipping our chilled libations to a blissful second round. We chose the Guacamole “MTO” (Made To Order) appetizer to start our elongated leisurely lunch on this particular visit for an easy $11, while our second round of House Margaritas began disappearing. Ready for more deliciousness from the kitchen at that point, orders of the Chopped Chicken Salad entrée and Spinach Chicken Enchilada entrée arrives at $13 each with an addition of sour cream on the side for an added $2. A third round of margaritas accompanied our main entrees, which finished us off with no room for dessert after such a filling, yet flavor-packed and satisfying meal.

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.

CAFE DU MONDE… “The Crescent City’s 24-Hour Meeting Place!”

One of our most revered coffeehouses in the Big Easy is the ever famous Cafe Du Monde on Decatur Street. This casual, come-as-you-are establishment has been serving their popular powdered sugar topped beignets and world famous cafe au lait for decades now, and has no reason to visualize that slowing down anytime soon. The circa 1862 venue started by the Fernandez family now seats up to 400 patrons, offering an expansive covered patio complete with overhead ceiling fans as well as a more intimate action-packed indoor seating area where visitors can get a glimpse of the excitement closer to the kitchen and stainless steel service counter. We’ve patronized both spaces, which offer up-close-and-personal views of people coming and going in and out through the city, the occasional gathering of city pigeons hoping to snag a morsel of leftover beignet that has fallen off of a table, as well as phenomenal world-class hot beignets and savory New Orleans cafe au lait.

Cafe du Monde

Located within the New Orleans French Market, Cafe Du Monde has perfected the sugary treat of the ever classic beignet, a French pastry which was first brought to Louisiana through the Acadian culture. A simple menu of the basics…beignets, coffee, cafe au lait, orange juice and white and chocolate milk have stood the test of time and make the ordering process that much more simple. Ask any local or seasoned Crescent City traveler how to order at Cafe Du Monde, and most will explain that when at this tradition-laden cafe, all you need to remember is “beignets and cafe au lait” as you approach the order window.

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Café Au Lait & Hot Beignets Covered In Powdered Sugar

Though the shape and method of preparation has changed slightly over the years, the flavor, texture, and light-as-air end result of Cafe Du Monde’s beignets couldn’t be better than what this coffee merchant is proud to be known so well for. Prepare to get powdered! Because that’s what novice beignet consumers won’t be prepared for. Unless you’re a veteran sugar-covered beignet connoisseur and know those little tricks for NOT leaving half of the powdered sugar on yourself rather than on your beignets! But then again, that’s just a part of the experience. Served three to an order, these heavenly square pillows of melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness will find their way into your life somehow, someway. Wash those beignets down with a mug of the cafe’s popular cafe au lait, (French for coffee mixed with hot milk), and you’ve really got yourself something special. The coffee at Cafe Du Monde is chicory based, which provides a subtle almost chocolate essence and boldness to this much enjoyed beverage of choice. It also takes the edge off of the pure coffee taste.

INSIDER’S TIP: This coffeehouse is a “cash-only” venue, so don’t forget to take some along with you before you head out to the cafe so you can enjoy all that it has to offer.

Most people are intrigued when they realize that chicory is actually the root of the endive plant, which is roasted and then ground to be added to the coffee. Pretty interesting trivia there. As many times as we’ve visited the city and Cafe Du Monde over the years during our travels, that’s one fact we weren’t aware of until our most recent visit when we chatted up a storm with our server. Oh…that’s another point of interest…the service. Every server has a story…or two…or three to share if you ask them. We’ve never left the place without learning some new tidbit about the city, or about about the coffeehouse, or about how they wound up working there. It’s always proven interesting to us.

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There is so much to see and do and partake in within the city of New Orleans. From Jackson Square, named after Battle of New Orleans hero Andrew Jackson, to the Louisiana architecture, to the city’s annual Mardi Gras festivities, to the mighty Mississippi River and the plethora of antique shops, art galleries, and fine Southern cuisine. Whatever your interest, there will be something awaiting you in this city of never-ending entertainment and intrigue.

Consider stopping in at Café Du Monde on your next trip to New Orleans. Anytime of the day or night is the perfect time to enjoy some of the city’s best-loved coffee and sugary-topped treats while you’re in town. The establishment and the location it exists in is rich in history, packed to the brim in layer upon layer of culture, and offers Louisiana hospitality and tradition not to be missed.

  • ESTABLISHMENT / DECOR: Simple and spacious, the traditional green-and-white striped awning surrounding the eatery’s outdoor covered patio signals passers-by to its French Market location.
  • FOOD / DRINK: With all of the surrounding restaurants in the French Market, Cafe Du Monde sits proudly amongst them all serving their famous coffee and beignets to the masses of patrons that ebb and flow through the cafe around the clock.
  • LOCATION: Cafe Du Monde is located in the historic French Market at 800 Decatur Street in New Orleans, LA 70116.
  • HOURS: The coffeehouse is available for service 24 hours a day except for Christmas Day when it closes its doors from 6:00 PM until 6:00 AM on December 26th. Torrential weather factors may also be reason to close on occasion.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: A terrific place for those who enjoy people watching activities and a friendly and courteous staff offering loads of southern hospitality. Filled with pleasant conversation, the servers are ready to intrigue their customers with their wit and knowledge of the eatery and the city it is housed within.
  • PRICE / VALUE: A fair value for some of the best beignets you’ll ever enjoy sinking your teeth into. The coffee will change your perception of the typical cup of morning joe!
  • CORKAGE FEE: This establishment is all about coffee and beignets! See our other articles for great eateries and their related corkage charges.
  • PARKING: Street parking is available nearby, as well as private lots throughout the city. We usually stroll from our hotel to nearby shops, then end up at the cafe. Another idea is to have your hotel’s house car drop you at Cafe Du Monde first, then you can enjoy making your way back to your hotel from there walking through the city, and perusing the sites, shopping venues, and galleries.
  • PRICING: At just $2.42 each for the two orders of beignets we chose, and a simple $3.97 per cup of cafe au lait for each of us, we had a lovely time for under $13.00! (Of course, we’re not including the souvenir mugs and other items we purchased to take home with us!)

* Menu and prices subject to change without notice.