California Road Trip: Monterey

“The West is the best. Get here, and we’ll do the rest” – The Doors

There’s no rush here. None. If not for that enviable laid-back California vibe where the pace of life and conversation moves like a sip or two of wine while waves roll up on a quiet shore, then it’s the road that forces us to slow down and Cali-fornicate with that awesome majesty of the golden coast. Highway 1 from Carmel to Big Sur weaves and undulates like the whip of a rhythmic gymnastics ribbon. Awed by the “prophet on the burning shore” of which the Grateful Dead sings, around each bend lies another panorama that I can’t stretch my eyes wide enough to see. An endless sea of sapphire pours out from the horizon and laps the high rocky coves as I veer off the road into the storybook of Esalen. Continue reading “California Road Trip: Monterey”

San Diego: Rediscovering “America’s Finest City”

As we make the turn on to 5th Ave., the hub of the historical Gaslamp District, it’s clear we’re not in Kansas City anymore. With a Pacific Ocean breeze wafting up from the bay at our backs, we’re going SoCal. In San Diego, while meat, too, is on the menu, the main attraction here is the farm-to-table freshness of locally grown, organic fruits, vegetables and, of course, the bounty of the sea. Continue reading “San Diego: Rediscovering “America’s Finest City””

San Diego: Coastal Cool

To many people, San Diego is the U.S. Naval Submarine Base and Air Station, the museums in Balboa Park and the renowned San Diego Zoo. But to food fanatics like me, San Diego is the birthplace of the organic food revolution. Continue reading “San Diego: Coastal Cool”

DINE Recommends Unique Spas

We all need to relax. Wouldn’t it be great if the office was a hot tub? On days when I’m so wound up I could snap, I reminisce about luxurious spas that seduce the senses and melt the tension. For all those who could use a spa day, here are DINE’s recommendations for unique destinations to replenish, rejuvenate and breath easy.

Spa Nordik, Chelsea, Quebec

A veritable buffet of baths and saunas, my thermal cycle flows from an Icelandic bath to a Japanese onsen-style bath, and a Eucalyptus Steam bath to a Mongolian Yurt. In the Kalla pool, akin to the Dead Sea, I float, enveloped in warmth, while calming music streams underwater. Weightless, I drift into a deep sleep. When I awake, I wonder what time it is. “Don’t bother asking anyone,” I tell myself, “I don’t think anyone really cares about time.” Here, it’s only about being present. As the day progresses, every muscle in my body unclenches; and the incessant pinging on my phone becomes a distant memory as I stretch into a thermal hammock for a cozy afternoon slumber. Before my day-ending Swedish massage, I venture into a Russian Banya treatment. The air is infused with aromatic oils, and waves of warmth. Salts and essential oils are prepared for exfoliation and then, I lie down for a whipping! Rhythmically flogged with birch veniks, my body is awoken, regenerated and rejuvenated. It looks and sounds worse than it is. It is actually totally invigorating. This unexpected excitement is followed by an Aufguss ritual in which snowballs infused with essential oils are set upon hot rocks, their hot steam wafts through the air, and is propelled by sauna-meisters with towels to direct the heat to blanket our bodies. Unique and addictive, the Nordic Spa is my cure.

Patios de Cafayate Wine Hotel, Salta, Argentina

Patios de Cafayate Wine Hotel

High above and far away from the rest of the world, Lerma Valley, crowned by mountains, is majestic. High altitude wine, nurtured in the unique micro-climate of Salta, is lush and vibrant nectar of the gods. Following a robust, flavour-forward dinner of sweetbreads tempura, llama carpaccio and Argentinean rib eye steak with Andean potatoes, I stroll in my robe through manicured gardens in the crisp, clean air of night toward the hotel spa. Inside, I am welcomed with an elegant glass of sparkling Torrontes, and led toward my own private room in which I slip into a bubbling barrel bath of Cabernet Sauvignon! I feel like a Roman emperor.

Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, Freestone, California

Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary

Located on Sonoma’s Bohemian Highway, The Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary is renowned for its Japanese meditation garden, massage pagoda and cedar enzyme bath. Michael Stusser combined his love of Japanese aesthetics, the message of Zen and the feel-good relaxed culture of Northern California to create a transformative experience of immense therapeutic value. Immersed and packed in a mixture of ground-up fragrant evergreen cedar, rice bran and live enzymes that, combined, generate their own metabolic heat, I am profoundly relaxed. Afterwards I sip an infusion of clover, spearmint, yarrow and digestive enzymes and stroll through manicured Japanese gardens toward the calm sound of trickling water. Through the woods I reach a wooden pagoda, inside which my Chinese meridian alignment masseuse awaits me. The aim is to replenish my Chi flow through energy pathways. Nurtured and pampered, I am then treated to a customized blend of essential oils on a series of acupressure points to deepen healing potential and vitality. Bergamot to balance brain hemispheres, Blue Tansy to calm the mind, Mandarin to calm the heart, Helichrysum, Altas Cedarwood and a host of others to release stagnant energy and induce an easy revitalized calm. I can’t remember what I’m supposed to do the rest of the day, but please cancel all my appointments; I am too relaxed to care.

Integratron, Landers, California

Integratron

Deep in the Mojave Desert, within the Sound Bath of Integratron, quartz crystal bowls gently sing. We lie down comfortably and focus on breathing while reverberating sounds and vibrations are gently played to correspond to our chakras for deep relaxation. The wooden dome around us is “based on the design of Moses’ Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla and telepathic directions from extraterrestrials…an electrostatic generator for the purpose of rejuvenation and time travel.” Totally Pure, hollow, expansive and powerful, the sustained sounds are tranquilizing musical medicine for our souls.

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Morning Stardust at the Polo Lounge

“Good morning,” he lied. That’s the first and only line of an anecdote that made the rounds of Hollywood a while back. Make of it what you will.

Mornings are key in this town of ambition and ambiguity. And in the city’s main industry, showbiz, where you have your vegetarian egg white frittata and with whom, is currency. Here appearance is almost everything. Most mornings from 7 AM to 11 AM there is enough power in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel to jump-start every television set in north America. The first booth on the left as you enter is prime. The corners booths are the largest. And some over-achievers hold several consecutive breakfast meetings. Why not? The service is discrete and they keep the herbal tea coming.

For me, the rich and famous clientele in this utterly gorgeous dark green and salmon pink room cannot compete with the fascinating food. Movie stars are just folks after all, but the kitchen’s famous French Toast is a divine breakfast. What became a legend first: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s crockery busting fights in Bungalow Five, or the way the kitchen staff thickly slices sun dried cranberry bread, dipping it into freshly scrambled eggs and sautéing it in butter for extraordinary French toast. Sugar toasted pecans and banana cream are heavenly additions.

Photo by Polo Lounge, dorchestercollection.com/en/los-angeles/the-beverly-hills-hotel/restaurants-bars/the-polo-lounge/
You can almost bet on who the tourists are and who the local players are by what they order. Tourists like us are bedazzled by the multi grain waffles with warm fruit compote, apple butter and Vermont maple syrup, while discreetly stargazing. Locals dig into house made granola with fresh berries and low fat yogurt, while deciding what the world will be watching next year on TV and movie screens. In the late 90s, a two and one half year, one hundred million dollar renovation by its new owner the the Sultan of Brunei transformed the Beverly Hills Hotel. There is so much luxury: the furnishings were designed expressly for the hotel and evoke a feeling of 1940s glamour. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it was their model, and though much has been redone, they’ve kept the hotel the way it was. In this ephemeral society, the stars know the Polo lounge keeps the status quo.

The focal point of the Polo’s patio is a ninety year old Brazilian Pepper tree surrounded by tropical foliage. This ancient tree stands proud of its age in a youth crazed town. Although time has little meaning when you’re on vacation, you’ll know it’s Sunday when a Mariachi band plays and strolls under its branches during brunch from 11 AM a.m. to 4 PM.

The real history of the Beverly Hills Hotel is like the history of Hollywood, pieced together by gossip, memories of doormen, maitre d’s and faded registration cards. It was built at a cost of $ 500,000 in 1912 on a bridal path called Sunset Boulevard on 12 acres once owned by the Mexican government. When Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford build Pickfair, their home in the nearby hills and all the silver screen luminaries followed, they transformed the bean fields around the hotel into what has become one of the worlds most exclusive neighbourhoods.

It’s almost a surprise in this heady atmosphere to find food that is near great. No trip to Los Angeles is complete without this experience. I like to start lunch with tortilla soup, not just because I love the taste, it’s the presentation that sizzles. A large flat bowl is arranged with wood grilled chicken strips, avocado, green onion and shredded dry jack cheese. Into this is poured the luscious house-made tomato soup that has the snap of chilli.

Photo by Polo Lounge, dorchestercollection.com/en/los-angeles/the-beverly-hills-hotel/restaurants-bars/the-polo-lounge/
I’ll pass over the Beluga caviar with sourdough blinis, the cost of which could buy me a nice pair of Jimmy Choo sandals on rodeo Drive, and enjoy what California’s most famous for, Caesar salad. A huge array of perfect romaine leaves textured with kitchen-made croutons is dusted with the local favourite, Locatelli cheese. All this makes a crunchy bed for slices of tasty mesquite-grilled chicken. Taste is the key word here. There is something special about the taste of vine ripe tomatoes and lettuce that has been picked just hours before they land on your plate.

The dessert menu hits all the buttons, crème brûlée, cheesecake, lemon tart, but there is one that seems just right for the moment: an Astrology Trio –out of this world. A platter bears a celestial array of chocolate fantasies, milky way chocolate, hazelnut torte and truffles, moulded into astrological shapes. The stuff that dreams are made of. That’s Hollywood.

The Beverly Hills Hotel, Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California 90210

Culinary Bohemians of Berkeley

How did we become so interested in food? From out of the Woodstock generation and the freedom of speech movements in Berkeley, a small conscientious community shared a belief that our connections to food could affect our quality of life and bring about social change. This culinary ecosystem of artisans developed the paradigms that have spun off into what so many passionate and concerned consumers follow today. “Going local” from “farm-to-table” began in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. A food tour of this neighbourhood by Edible Excursions is unlike any other, not merely because of the high expectations of authenticity, but because of the historical significance of the political and cultural milieu that gave rise to it and to which it ultimately gave rise. Continue reading “Culinary Bohemians of Berkeley”

Savouring Sonoma

“Il faut cultiver notre jardin” —Candide

In one hand I hold a Meyer lemon scone with cranberries and white chocolate, in the other, a warm foccacia with shitake mushrooms, roasted garlic, Jack, Swiss and smoked Gouda, and in my eyes I see warm sweet sticky buns. “Sonoma is not monochromatic. It’s kind of a rainbow,” shares Margo Van Staaveren, renowned winemaker of Chateau St. Jean. Thus begins my ride along the Bohemian Highway. Continue reading “Savouring Sonoma”

Napa Valley: A Delicate Balance

“Napa is the ‘it girl’ of wine country,” I’m told. I’d like to meet her.

Over breakfast at the lush Meadowood Napa Valley, steaming pumpkin pancakes with rum raisins, a dollop of fresh ricotta and a swirl of maple syrup is sweet comfort, while a vibrant garden of wild coloured pressed juice from carrots to blood beats electrifies my senses to embrace my Napa sojourn. Continue reading “Napa Valley: A Delicate Balance”