Sunday, March 27, 2016

Hurray For Hollywood!

Trip date: September 2015

I am known by my friends to have a mini cocktail kit with me when I fly. My 30k-foot repertoire includes an Old Fashioned and a gin martini. On a flight to LA last fall for a long weekend getaway with my friend Lauren, I added a new morning friendly cocktail. I packed a mini of coffee liquor to my TSA approved ziplock bag; then ordered a cognac (Lauren got a whiskey), a creamer, a seltzer water, and a cup of ice from the flight attendant. Pour 1/2 a mini of coffee liquor, 1 bottle cognac, and 1 creamer over ice. Stir. Top with seltzer (although recently I have been forgoing the seltzer). It reminds me of a brandy milk punch!

Our friend Mary picked us up from Burbank airport and we headed straight to Petit Trois for lunch. We had a short wait, which we passed with some delicious cocktails, and then were seated at the pass for a front row view of all the deliciousness (Chef Ludo was working). And the food looked great too. I absolutely loved this tiny little bistrot hidden in plain sight in a sketchy looking strip mall!
Lauren and I chose an adorable Airbnb in Echo Park as our home base. Our 2-bedroom, 1-bath home had great views and an absolutely fantastic patio. It was crazy hot that weekend, so having a shaded patio to have morning coffee and afternoon rosé on was wonderful. 

That night we headed out for a cocktail crawl in Hollywood. Lauren and I met her brother at our first stop, Good Times at Davey Wayne's. If you grew up in the 70's as I did, you will feel right at home as you walk through the refrigerator door opening and into the shag-carpeted, groovy living room-esque bar. You'll also feel right at home here if you are a hipster. It was a fun spot with good "fern bar" style drinks, a great patio, and some decent grub. This is owned by the same people who have La Descarga, they really like a theme!

From here I made a solo trip over to Power House, which is just off of Hollywood Boulevard and was quite a famous dive bar for about 70 years. It's been reimagined and is now super chill, elegant, and dimly lit, with gorgeous white tiles and antiques throughout the interior. I had a really well-made drink at the bar while waiting for Mary to come pick me up. We then proceeded to meet our growing group at The Walker Inn.

The Walker Inn is a "secret" bar inside of the Normandie Club. You must make reservations in advance, and you must buzz and wait to be let it. Once inside you'll find a seductively beautiful den-like bar along with incredibly creative and delicious drinks. It's dark and comfortable and I wanted to stay forever. Three rounds would have to suffice on this trip. 
(*11/16 edited to congratulate The Walker Inn on placing #37 in at the recent 50 Best Bar Awards; and their first time being nominated at that!*)

Lauren and I started our next day by sleeping in! That was quite a crawl the night before! Then we headed to lunch at Philippe's Original for French Dipped sandwiches. The sandwich was underwhelming to me but the atmosphere was fun; complete with old-school deli counter, sawdust on the floors, low wood stools at communal tables, and employees dressed in uniforms. These folks were taking their lunch break while we were there.

With it being such a gorgeous day out, we decided on a little walk around downtown. After we passed the historic Victor Clothing Co. building we came upon the Bradbury Building, which I knew nothing about but you might know from the movie Blade Runner. We were able to go inside and check out the intricate iron work in the foyer before continuing on to the Grand Central Market. LA's market has some fantastic food stalls along with some very interesting regional product stands. Not sure who is the "it" spot of the moment? Just look at the length of the lines! 

For me, no trip to LA is complete without a stop in at Bar Keeper, our friend Wes was working so we were able to pick his brain and buy some boozy new toys to bring home. Then it was back to the Airbnb to relax with some rosé and the sunset on our patio.

While originally planning our trip, Lauren and I discussed the fact that neither of us had ever been to the famous (infamous?) Bar Marmont. We remedied that by going for pre-dinner drinks. When a friend from Seattle happened to see we were in LA, he let us know that he was too and joined us. Love those types of randomness! 

The bar is quite beautiful with three separate areas; there's a small front bar, a large main bar with lots of seating at it, and an area with table and chair combos. Our drinks and service were both excellent, which we were happily surprised by. I'd go back! And I still need to get next door to the Chateau. 
We said goodbye to our friend Charlie and headed to Craft where we were meeting Mary, Chuck, Wes, and Aaron for dinner. The space is absolutely huge and has a real clean modern vibe to it. Chuck and Wes are friends with Chef Ray England who was in the house and cooking that night. Besides getting spoiled rotten by him and his team, the food itself was absolutely incredible! 
At this point you may be thinking that Lauren and I didn't do much besides eat and drink our way around LA. You'd be wrong, we ate and drank our way around LA in the company of very fun friends! We started the next day with brunch at the gorgeously decorated Faith and Flower, joined by Chuck and Dave. Their brunch is pretty well known as they serve an amazing large batch milk punch served to your table out of an antique fountain. I mean you can order just a glass but why not have the entire fountain? 
Our 3-hour brunch was filled with delicious food, lots of laughs, and of course flowing punch. The manager and the bartender got such a kick out of how much fun we were having that they each sent out something for us all; the bartender sent out a really good mini coffee cocktail and the manager sent out a fantastic assortment of cookies. They were having their own competition on which we would like more. The cocktail won but not by much!

After brunch I did feel the need to go for a walk so Lauren and I pulled up Atlas Obscura and decided to go in search of the old Warner Brothers Theater. We walked past some really interesting buildings on the way before finally reaching our destination in the Diamond District. A diamond exchange had moved into the theater but they hadn't changed anything. In fact as we entered we realized we were on the old stage complete with red curtain. I was stopped very quickly from taking more photos by the security, seems they get a little paranoid about pictures when there are cases and cases of diamonds around. 
We headed back to Echo Park using Uber Hop, which is a carpool type of ride share. We used this all weekend and never had anyone else share our ride and still got the crazy low rates. Between that and Lyft we easily got around all over town. 

We explored the cute little stretch of shops, including a really nice specialty food shop, on Echo Park Ave before returning to our house and patio for rosé in the shade.

Dinner that night was at the very popular and well reviewed Redbird. We started with cocktails in the bar and were joined by Chuck, Wes, Dave, and Lauren's cousin Gary. Well into round two, and past our reservation time, the hostess continued to tell us we'd be seated soon. This would be foreshadowing of how service would go the entire night. 

Our drinks were ok, not great. The vibe and the restaurant is very cool and unique; the building is an old rectory of a cathedral. When we were (finally) seated our table was in a beautiful open air courtyard.

The food was good, not earth shattering, but the service continued to be down right bad. And slow. Like really, really slow. Especially compared to our other meals that weekend, when the manager should have sent out a gratis dessert or something trivial to make up for it, they just shrugged off our complaints and sent us on our way, hours later.

Luckily our weekend of drinking and dining would not end on a sour note. In fact everything about our send-off brunch the next day at Terrine was over the top FUN! Awesome company? Chuck, Wes, Aaron, and Mary- check! Gorgeous space? Pretty outdoor courtyard and French bistrot style interior- check! Thirsty? Lovely brunch friendly cocktails- check! Hungry? OMG delicious American comfort food gets in bed with French comfort food and has a baby of French toast with caramel frosting, maple syrup and then a slice of foie gras! Add to that the fact that the kitchen sent this out to us as a gift because of our enthusiasm for brunch! CHECK!

Also adding to the fun factor was being able to watch a very posh private baby shower party being set up in the courtyard. It was quite mysterious as no one would/could tell us who it was for. This being LA we were on star alert. We finally saw some signage that it was Tori Spelling's kid's clothes line hosting, and then finally saw Natalie Zea make her very preganant entrance. 
We stopped into Heath Ceramics, which was not too far from the restaurant, and found some absolutely lovely items. One of the salespeople turned me on to the "imperfect" shelves where there are some serious discounts on pieces that have almost microscopic flaws. 

Then it was to the airport, LAX this time, and back to Seattle. A little fuller...

All photos are here. LA fun map is here

Sunday, March 13, 2016

In Like a Lyon

Trip date: September 2014

Are you familiar with the word turophile?  A connoisseur of cheese; a cheese fancier. That is a badge I wear proudly and there is no place like France to really practice the art of being a cheese fancier! And no better place in France than Lyon to dive into many new (to me) cheeses!

Before hanging out on the Left and Right banks of Paris, I started my trip in Lyon. Because of a pilot strike on Air France my flight, which was suppose to take me from Seattle to Paris to Lyon, terminated in Paris. I hopped on a train at CDG and took it to an agreed upon station in the south of Paris where Forest picked me up and we drove to Lyon. Well she drove! I was super sleep deprived and jet lagged so after we stopped in the charming town of Auxxere in Burgundy for a bite to eat and a glass of rosé, I slept the rest of the way to Lyon.

We arrived late in the afternoon and found our Airbnb situated at the top of the hill in the 1st arrondissement (Croix Rousse). We had a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment with a patio overlooking Lyon. It was perfect!

The first night we walked down the hill to l'Antiquaire for a couple of drinks before dinner. It's a very good bar with a great cocktail list. I'd recommend it when in town for sure.

My first dinner in Lyon was at Leon de Lyon, a restaurant I was very excited about. Upon being seated I noticed their nice napkins embroidered with the restaurant name. Who knew this was a thing in Lyon; we'd see it in practically every restaurant we ate in over the next few days.

Our meal was good but not great, I'd go if you have time but I think there are other places doing traditional Lyonnaise cuisine better. We headed home for nightcaps on our terrace.

The next day we had lunch at Daniel & Denise outside on their patio. Now this was what I expected from a traditional brassiere. Everything we had was absolutely delicious. And our service was fantastic. And there were embroidered napkins again! And cheese for dessert!

We strolled around the Bocuse des Halles after lunch; it is an absolutely beautiful market which has both stalls selling delicious assortments of meats, cheeses, sweets, etc. as well as a good number of dining selections. This is a great place to pick up high end picnic items or just come for lunch. And cheese!

We passed a cute wine shop on our way to the car so dutifully stopped in for a glass before heading back to the apartment.

Besides incredible cuisine, Lyon is also known for their traboules, or passageways, which connect the city via a maze of semi-secret alleys and stairwells. We used one of the more public ones that night to get down the hill. Within minutes we had descended a series of stairwells instead of having to make our way down the turny, twisty, cobblestone streets.
We took possibly the world's shortest metro (just two stops) and made our way to Juliette Café for cocktails. The space here is absolutely adorable and our light snacks were good but sadly the drinks were just ok. Go if you're in the hood.

Moving on, our next stop was Black Forest Society. New at the time, this cocktail den mixes its German theme with hip modern art. Although we felt our drinks were a bit on the sweet side I would recommend a stop in for the cool interior and very unique cocktail presentations.
Last on our bar crawl was Redwood. If you like rum this is definitely your place! We had so much fun here, our bartender was super enthusiastic and our drinks were excellent. He even made us a DTO mini slushie!
It was beautiful crossing the river that night, the bridges and the city all lit up. We walked to the base of the hill and took an Uber Pop up to our apartment.

Our last day in Lyon was jam packed. We started the day by looking for some of the non-public traboules. We had stopped at the tourist office on our first day and asked for a map of the old passages, the women who helped us was nice enough to point out a few ways to spot the ones still in use by the locals. We headed to one we could see on the map but once we got to the row of apartments we could not figure out which door it was, or what buzzer to possibly use to unlock it. While sussing this out we did come across the Fresco Vegetale which is a cool living wall and mural (Lyon is also know for their murals).

Back to the business of finding the taboule, a woman saw us looking at our map and asked if she could help. When we told her what we were looking for she just shook her head at us and told us the private passages had all been closed. Liar. Another person also looked at us suspiciously when we inquired but didn't help. Finally we approached two men and upon asking again, one said he didn't know what that was. Not local. The other asked why we were looking. Bingo. He then explained that the locals really don't like others using their passages as they are usually part of the building's courtyard. He was born and raised in Lyon. And then he took us into the door we had been standing in front of for about 20 minutes- hidden in plain sight, a not so obvious button under the listing of the residents unlocked the door!
His friend had never even heard of these passages even though he lived in Lyon now, it really is a local thing. In minutes we exited all the way down by the river and right by our next stop, La Fresque des Lyonnais. The entire facade of this building is painted depicting 30 of the city's best know celebrities posed in faux window balconies.

We continued on across the river to the more public and documented traboules and spent a few hours going through them. Most of these are more like courtyards leading to different apartments, not as interesting as our peek into a real one but great none-the-less!
Time for lunch! We made our way to Le Sud, one of four of the Bocuse cafes. It was a gorgeous day to sit outside on the terrace and enjoy a 3-course lunch, a cold bottle of Burgundy blanc, and cheese for dessert after all our walking! And they had the napkins! I wish I could comment more positively on the service. Let's just say it was off.

We walked back into the old town and took the funicular up to the cathedral where we could check out the gold gilding, stained glass, and views of the city below.

We sat for a quick rosé break before we headed back up to our apartment to get ready for our last evening in Lyon, we'd covered a lot of ground!!!

Pre dinner cocktails were had at the very well known Monkey Club bar. It's another cool place mixing antique decor with creative and well-made cocktails. Forest's friends met us and then we made our way to the Restaurant l'Institute Bocuse. This is a fine dining experience in the Bocuse culinary school. We had an absolutely lovely meal with exceptional service housed in a great space, with de-rigour embroidered napkins, modernized Bocuse classic dishes, delicious Burgundy in the glass, and cheese for dessert! A great last meal.
Forest and I stopped into Le Bar du Passage for a nightcap, it is a very cool looking place that has been around for a long time. Unfortunately the drinks and the service were quite bad. Pass if you have other places on your list.

We packed a lot into 3 days, I'd happily go back and explore more of this gorgeous city. I found it to be much more than just a gastronomic destination. I loved the cool modern parts of the city mixed in with the older, historic areas. And of course the hidden passages, gorgeous views,  and series of bridges added to all that eye candy.

As much as I was loving Lyon, we'd be on our way to the Burgundy region the next day! Forest and I were ready!

All photos of Lyon are here and my map is here.

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