Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Freshest Fish: Nobu Malibu

The amazing Nobu

When someone invites you to Nobu, the first thing you ask is how soon? Last week, I got to drive a 2019 Infiniti QX50 on the Pacific Coast Highway, with a lunch stop in Malibu.

Yellowtail sashimi
Normally, I don't each much raw fish. I made an exception when I traveled to Japan, and another for Nobu. This mecca of impeccably fresh fish attracts a fabulous crowd, from Hollywood celebs to those who feed the industry: producers, agents, directors. Writers, sadly, usually can't afford it.

The yellowtail sashimi with jalapeƱo is one of the signature dishes, and it was awesome. The thin slices of fish melted in your mouth, with a jolt form the pepper. The black cod miso, which is cooked, spawned a thousand imitators. The original has a deep flavor and was succulent.
Black cod miso in lettuce cups

The king crab tempura was another spectacular dish. There were micro greens on top and seaweed salad below. The trick was to get a bit of each in every bite.

Nobu's beachfront setting
Tirado 'cooked' in yuzu
Crab tempura
Another fish dish, tirado, had more yellowtail that was 'cooked' in yuzu, much like ceviche is cooked in lemon juice. It had cilantro, a controversial herb that divided our table. Cilantro doesn't taste like soap to me, but it's not my favorite flavor. Just a bit of it, though, made the fish shine. Unlike ceviche, this had no onion.

We also had a spicy raw tuna on top of crispy rice cakes, with avocado. This dish can also be made with just the avocado, a vegan option that was equally scrumptious. Edible flowers made the dish even more beautiful.
Spicy tuna on crispy rice cake

I was too full by the time the sushi, but everyone said it was the best they had ever had.

The relaxing setting
Perhaps I could have had some, but I had to try the dessert plate. Our sampler plate included chocolate spring rolls with a chocolate dipping sauce, a warm apple crisp, chocolate molten cake that made us swoon and a chocolate banana miso bar with hazelnuts.

Dessert plate
If you eschew fish, you can have soba noodles, shiitake salad, eggplant with miso and roasted cauliflower. There are also specialty meat dishes.

Nobu may have created an empire, but he deserves the accolades.
Oh, yes, and there was sushi

Thanks Infiniti for this unique opportunity.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

No Equal: the Peerless Kimpton

Kimpton Le Peer, where i stayed courtesy of Infinit
Outdoor restaurant at La Peer

For a certain type of traveler, Kimpton Hotels are ideal.

1. Love to bike? Kimpton Hotels have free bikes.
2. Traveling with a dog? All Kimpton Hotels are dog friendly.
3. Bringing the kids? Kimptons are also welcome children.
4. And if you like luxury, Kimpton has you covered. The hotels provide robes in every room, high thread count Frette linens, superb service..
Do you like to bike on vacation? Kimpton has you covered
Signature Kimpton bike

La Peer

I am lucky to be staying at La Peer Hotel, in West Hollywood, CA, courtesy of Infiniti. The boutique hotel has a lovely outdoor pool and an outdoor restaurant and bar. There is an indoor place to eat, too, if the weather doesn't cooperate. But it's 70 and sunny with the bluest sky. Just about perfect.

My room is a gigantic corner room with 2 queen beds, a tub and a stand alone shower.

Luxury shower at La Peer
My huge shower
Did I mention the daily happy hour, with free drinks? Or the morning coffee in the lobby? There is a compact fitness center just past the pool.

I hadn't stayed in a Kimpton since it was taken over by Starwood. But it seems just like the old Kimpton, minus the New York Times that is usually in the lobby.

There is a yoga mat in my room and eco friendly full bottles of shower gel, shampoo and conditioner in the bathroom. Towels are thick and soft.
Do you like an outdoor bar?
The outdoor bar at La Peer

As a Kimpton rewards member, you still get to 'raid the minibar' and have a free snack. And the room has a mini fridge, stocked with drinks, but there's room for a water bottle or 2 of your own.

West Hollywood fun

Bike from La Peer to The Grove
The Grove, an outdoor mall
I took one of the bikes for a spin, and wandered around The Grove, one of the finest outdoor shopping malls. I biked on a bike lane along Santa Monica Boulevard, through Beverly Hills, and found cute restaurants, all with outdoor seating.

Right around the hotel, there are design shops and high end clothing boutiques. You can actually walk to these!

But I'll be driving a new Infiniti.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Blueprint for Success: Great Cocktails & Food at Blueprint

Roasted Brussels sprouts

Why are some bars always packed and others can't buy a customer?

Every bar has its own vibe, and Blueprint has hit the nail on the head with its chill, rather adult atmosphere. It has the requisite friendly bartenders and wait staff, craft, but not twee cocktails, and interesting small plates. Food has a local and sustainable bent. And there are lots of vegetarian choices.

Satan's Bell
This all translates to a busy, but not overwhelming crowd and a place you want to return to again and again.

Last time I was there, I tried Satan's Bell, which had gin, ancho chile liqueur, red bell pepper, lemon, passionfruit and orgeat. The drink was festive and refreshing. The spicy chile balanced the sweet fruit and the orgeat gave it richness.

The Doctor is in may not be what the medical profession suggests for a cold, but the gin, absinthe and maraschino work well together. Blueprint's attention to craft is evident in the homemade grenadine.

Mushroom bruschetta
The daily happy hour is a nice deal; a couple of cocktails, wines and beer on tap at a special low price, and $2 off the regular price on all cocktails. The drinks are generally about $11-$14, and happy hour drinks are the same size.

There are also a few plates of food at low prices.

The roasted Brussels sprouts are enlivened with pickled red onions, something I forget to do at home. So good. Both bruschetta are yummy; burrata with tomato and oyster mushroom with ricotta, cress and more pickled onions. And the bread is homemade.

The hummus plate comes with warm, homemade flatbread and good olives.

There are also salads; we had a winter version with pear and beets. And the whole artichoke is irresistible.

My meat eating friends love the pork butt sliders (on homemade buns, of course) and the bacon and Brussels sprouts pizza.

Basically, you can't go wrong.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Not Your Standard Brunch: The Standard Grill

Soft scrambled eggs at The Standard Grill

The Standard Hotel is known for its late night shenanigans, but even party goers need a place to have coffee. The Standard Grill, an expansive restaurant on the ground floor, is actually a good bet for out of towners and locals alike.

High Line view from cousin's hotel room at The Standard
My cousins stayed here and had us join them for brunch. It was one of those brunches where you could dog breakfast-y or lunch-y. We went for the savory side of breakfast, sharing the avocado toast (of course) and soft scrambled eggs.

First I had the potent Big Green juice, a refreshing tonic with romaine, spinach, parsley, tarragon, mint and agave. If you spent the wee hours in the Meatpacking District, this will set you straight.

Avocado Tast
The avocado toast came with perfectly poached eggs and an herb salad. Quite tasty.

I had originally ordered the Turkish poached eggs, with aleppo and greek yogurt. It sounded great until the waiter warned me that it was the most returned dish. The eggs are cold. Don't know how he pegged me for a cold egg hater, but it was a well-heeded warning. Instead, I had the soft scrambled eggs, with gruyere cheese and a mixed green salad.

The Meatpacking district, from The Standard Hotel
We almost ordered some grits, but the sommelier, a friend of y daughter's recognized me and sent over a plate of pastries. Not the healthiest sub for grits, but spiced pumpkin muffin and scones were delicious.

On the lunch side, there was a veggie burger, grilled tuna, and a few meat choices.

If the rest of your Sunday plans are to crawl back into your bed upstairs, the "Contrary Mary" is a loaded Bloody Mary, with jumbo shrimp, olives, celery, onions and tomato garnishes.

We were heading out to walk on the High Line, so stuck to coffee.

Dream the Impossible Dream: Amazing Vegan Burger

Vegan Impossible Burger at Burger Village

Giving up meat wasn't hard. Giving up hamburgers was another story.

I used to think that hamburgers were a vehicle for toppings: cheese, tomatoes, pickles, mustard, avocado, grilled mushrooms, pickled onions, lettuce...The patty didn't really matter.

So any old vegetarian patty sufficed. But as vegetarians become more savvy, patties improved. They were more flavorful and held together better. Some were vegan, some vegetarian.

Messy signature Impossible Burger
The new Impossible Burger seeks to convert meat eaters to its plant based patty. It is better for the planet, too According to the website, the burger uses "1/20th the land, 1/4th the water, and produces 1/8th the greenhouse gas emissions."

Pretty tall order for a casual meal. 

The vegan Impossible Burger can be found at restaurants around the country. In New York, Bareburger has it at all locations.

Plain old veggie burger at Burger Village, with multigrain bun
Impossible Burgers are cholesterol and antibiotic free, but contain gluten and soy. They are a good source of protein, Vitamin B12, folate, niacin and thiamin.

I tasted my first Impossible Burger at Burger Village, a cafe in Park Slope that also has great salads, local beer on tap and its own vegetarian burgers. Burger Village has a ton of toppings. I got one with baby arugula,  roasted red pepper and vegan cheese. My husband had it with jalapeƱos, the spicy 'special sauce,' mushrooms and pepper jack.

At Burger Village, you can get a brioche or multigrain bun. We were so excited to try the burger, we forgot to get our preferred multigrain. But the brioche is fine.

Next time.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Celiac Disease Beware: Runner & Stone for Everyone Else

Runner & Stone Greenmarket stand

Man (woman) does not live by bread alone. But she can try. Runner & Stone, a restaurant in Gowanus, has some of the best bread around. During the day, the restaurant is more a bakery, with sandwiches and soups, too. Runner & Stone also has stands at Greenmarkets selling its amazing sourdough creations and pastries. At night, you can get wonderful cocktails and delicious food to counter balance the gluten.

Braided ravioli

In from the cold

On one of the iciest, nastiest nights of the year ( year that was only 5 days old, granted) we braved the elements and a snowbank defying all but the most intrepid. Then a metal staircase up to Runner & Stone. We knew what waited within: homemade pasta, fresh produce and that warm, yeasty smell that made up temporarily forget the cold.

Are you Gluten Free?

Squid ink bucatini special
Sorry, Runner & Stone isn't for you. When we sat down, we got bites of savory spinach pastries, and the bread basket that came with our cocktails had three kinds of chewy, dense bread. It's all so tempting we devoured every crumb.

We resisted the crostini with ricotta and truffle honey - more bread? - but not the spicy hummus with grilled pita. And fried Brussels sprouts, so we could have some veggies with our perfect martinis. Runner & Stone uses local spirits like Dorothy Parker, a gin made in Greenhook.

Fish of the day

Pasta fest

The ricotta ravioli sat on a bed of tomato jam, with a drizzle of bright green basil oil. The red, white and green evoked Italy and the pastas we enjoyed last year.

I had a special, squid ink bucatini with chunks of lobster. It was rich, but not overwhelmingly so.

Fish of the day

My husband had the hake, served with cannellini beans, spinach, olive romesco and radish.

In case you were wondering...
The name, Runner & Stone is from a mill. The runner and the stone are used to grind grain.

Dessert? Why, yes

The rye brownie sundae is wonderful, but with single digit temps soon in our future, we couldn't pull the trigger. The s'mores in a parfait glass, with a rich chocolate ganache and bruleed marshmallow topping was festive and delicious.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New York City for Less: New CityPASS Hack

NYC for less: CityPass hack
Tourist in NY - ways to save money

If you have ever used a CityPASS, you know how convenient and valuable they can be. These booklets of top attractions at cities around the country offer discounted and skip the line privileges at popular tourist attractions. But the booklets themselves can be pricey and unless you use all the passes, you might not save money. The new New York C3 offers a choice of three of the top attractions, with a savings of up to 25%.

The NYC CityPass can save you serious money
The regular New York City CityPASS costs $122 per adults, and $98 per youth (The most expensive CityPASS, by the way, is Southern California. It includes a 3-day Disney park hopper pass, SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California and costs $353). For the NYC pass to make economic sense, you have to use all six passes, which means you need to have a long trip planned.
Save on a trip to the Top of the Rock
View from Top of the Rock

Great for short getaways

But what if you only have a weekend trip? Or you've been to New York City and have seen some of the pass attractions? The cheaper New York C3 offers a choice of any three of the following:
  • The Empire State Building Experience
  • Top of the Rock Observation Deck
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum
  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
  • Guggenheim Museum
  • Hornblower Sightseeing Cruises
Winner of the NYC CityPass hack
Save big at the Intrepid

 New York C3 Hack

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world's best art museums, but since you can 'pay what you wish', reserve your C3 for a more expensive place - but don't skip the museum! Even if you've been here before, a return visit is in order. And you can spend a full day, because you get same day admission to the Met Breuer, a short walk away, and The Cloisters, a subway ride way uptown).
NYC hack: don't use your CityPass at the Met
Temple of Dendur, Metropolitan Museum of Art

How it works

You typically have 9 days from the time you redeem your first pass to use all the passes in your booklet. You can buy booklets online and bring them with you, buy at some hotels, or buy at each of the attractions.
The C3 pass is only sold online. You can show the ticket on your phone, or print it out. And it is also good for nine days from the first redemption.

What can you get for free?

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is free on Tuesday evenings after 5pm, so if you will be in New York City then, you might not want to 'waste' a ticket on a place you can get into for free.

What C3 pass is the most valuable?

 The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum costs $33 for adults and $24 for kids ages 5-12, so if this museum is on your NYC bucket list, use a pass here.
The Top of the Rock costs $34 for adults, $28 for kids ages 6-12.
But the grand winner is the Empire State Building Experience; it costs $54 for adults, and $47 for kids ages 6-12. Plus there are taxes and convenience fees. If you are planning to visit the Empire State Building, this offers the greatest savings.

On the water

  • Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
  • One-hour Liberty Cruise
  • 30-minute ride on the BEAST, a 70-foot racing powerboat (available May-September. My kids love this thrill ride. Expect to scream. And get wet.)
  • Horn blower Cruises
  • One-hour International Sightseeing Cruise
  • Two-hour "Alive After Five” Happy Hour Cruise (seasonal)
  • Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
  • Round-trip Statue Cruises ferry ride with stops at Liberty Island and Ellis Island, plus an audio tour on each island and Ellis Island Immigration Museum admission.
NYC for less: CityPass Hack

Time is money

Have you waited on an endless line at a theme park, aquarium or zoo and regretted not being a member so you could waltz past everyone else? With the CityPASS, you get to skip the line. But, this assumes you have bought the pass online, or redeemed it elsewhere. In other words, if you decide to first visit the Empire State Building, and validate your pass here, you will potentially wait in that hours-long line to start the pass. So use another pass first and then skip past all the other hapless tourists.

Where else can you go?

In addition to the two NYC passes, CityPASS offers booklets in:
  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Houston
  • Philadelphia
  • San Francisco
  • Seattle
  • Southern California
  • Tampa Bay
  • Toronto