My time in St. Kitts went too quickly. I loved participating in the first ever restaurant week and exploring parts of the island. For our final morning, I woke up to see the sunrise and to catch our early morning flight. Relaxing in the tranquility of the YU Lounge was a relief after the early wake up call and traveling by Porsche Cayenne to the tarmac was a treat. I loved all the super luxury experiences on this island from Belle Mont Farm, to Christophe Harbour, the Pavilion and Salt Plage! I cannot wait to return!
When I was a high-school student in Bethesda, Maryland, and beginning to think about college, my parents sat me down and set a parameter: they would only allow a school within 1000 miles of our home, with the idea that I would be more likely to visit over holidays if within that range. My elder sister had already picked a school, Knox College, in Galesburg, Illinois, and now it was my turn. I pulled out a map, cut a string keyed to 1000 miles, and swept the radius. Boston and New York were too close. Denver, Minneapolis too far. But Northwestern, in Evanston, Illinois, was just right.
So, that’s where I went.
Unfortunately, I rarely left campus when studying there, and never got to know the state that hosted my formative years. I often flew over Illinois in my professional animations, but never really gave it much thought. Then a few years ago I was invited back to Northwestern to give a speech. It was spring, and as I drove from O’Hare to Evanston I was struck by the beauty; of the blossoms, the psychic valence of the architecture, the light off the lake. What had I missed on my first tour through this middle earth?
So, I decided to return, and take a deeper look. It’s a big state, 55,593 square miles, the size of Turkey, a place I’ve explored more than Illinois, which somehow seems wrong. So I figure I will start at the bottom (I’d never been south of Chicago) and work upwards.
Not far across the riverine border from St. Louis there is a place where all your witches come true….Alton, Illinois, sometimes called the most haunted town in America. Many blame the limestone rock and the Mississippi River water for so much paranormal activity here. The rock holds the energy, the water retains the psychic residue of dramatic events of the past. It is indeed, I find, a spirited place.
I begin by visiting The McPike Mansion, built in 1869 in the Italianate-Victorian style, obviously once grand, but now looking sinister and derelict. Like all good haunted houses, it hovers atop a hill surrounded by large gnarled oak trees. There are broken windows with little fragments in the jambs, like transparent teeth. There is an iron fence; a graveyard in the back; and a nimiety of ghosts. Nylon camp tents are scattered about the front yard, a little Resurrection City.
I arrive to find an old Ford truck with a Ghostbusters logo parked in the driveway. There is a sign on its side: “Paranormal Investigation On-Site Vehicle,” festooned with a pumpkin cutout, colored Christmas light strung along the top, and plastic skulls attached to the bow. Its owner, Jerome Minkes, introduces himself as a “paranormal investigator,” a popular occupation in this town. With a demeanor that might be colored indigo, he sets about explaining some things to me: “Our energy after we pass, after our physical body dies, what we were in life becomes a ball of energy. And usually that can be recorded because it gives off a phosphorescent glow, and I have recorded many of them here.”
I go in to take a look.
The place is falling apart. There are 16 rooms, 11 marble fireplaces, carved stairway banisters and a vaulted wine cellar, but everything broods, as though remembering a former glory. It was long abandoned, but in 1994, Sharyn and George Luedke picked up the place in auction for a song (not Ray Parker, Jr.’s) Their dream was to restore it, then turn it into a B&B. But it has turned out to be a more expensive enterprise than imagined, and going has been slow. To help finance the restoration the Luedke’s hold ghost tours, and overnight campouts in the front yard.
When the Luedke’s first bought the mansion they didn’t know it was haunted. Six weeks after closing Sharyn was tending plants in the front yard and looked up to see a man in a striped shirt and tie standing in the window looking back at her. After a moment, he disappeared. Then, after researching the history of the building, Sharyn came across a photograph of Paul Laichinger, the original owner, wearing the same outfit.
Visitors see figures throughout the house. Many have the sensation of being touched by an invisible presence. Sounds of footsteps are heard pacing up and down hallways, and down the staircases. Objects vanish only to materialize in other parts of the house.
I wander about, hieing past yellow caution tape, ducking beneath hanging wires, touching the cool walls, and feeling a bit spooked. But I don’t see any hard evidence of haunt.
Once back outside I confront Jerome: “Do you really think this place is haunted?”
He stiffens up a bit, and then says: “In all my years working at this location I have caught enough information to proclaim that yes, this McPike Mansion is definitely haunted.”
From McPike I head downtown, to the most haunted building in Alton, the century-old Mineral Springs Hotel. This place is landlord to so many ghosts, it’s like an almanac of spirits, a real Boos Who. But the spirit I meet is Cassandra.
Cassandra was a ten-year-old girl who drowned during her birthday party in the basement swimming pool, once the largest in Illinois. Cassandra was running in play and slipped and hit her head and fatally fell into the water. Ever since visitors have heard her screams, have watched her roll marbles, and have witnessed tiny wet footprints appearing by the pool.
Brandon Klein from the Gateway Paranormal Team is a happy medium. He uses a hand-held ghost hunters tracker …it detects the electromagnetic energy of spirits…to see if Cassandra is around. After calling to her, the lights on the device begin to flash.
Jasper, my seven-year-old son, seems to connect with Cassandra and they start to communicate. He talks to her, and seems to hear her response. He shakes her hand. And, after a spell, he says out loud, “I love you Cassandra,” and the lights on the device begin to flash rapidly. Jasper has become a ghoul’s best friend.
“She’s using too much energy!” Brandon cries. There are half a dozen of us on this tour. We aim all our cameras, all our lights and recorders in her direction, and then…suddenly all our devices go dead…and the room goes dark. Cassandra sucked all the energy from our batteries.
“Who ghost there?” someone asks.
Is this for real?
I don’t know.
Come to Alton and see, or feel, for yourself.
I never expected to find ghosts in Illinois, but I also never expected to find fine wine. From Alton I drive southeast to Shawnee Hills, spirits to spirits.
There are a dozen wineries on the hilly, wooded Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in Southern Illinois, all stitched together on one terribly scenic roadway that threads through the Shawnee National Forest. The only pain on this road is champagne.
I happen through in autumn, and the leaves shout with paint, more than the typical New England passage, but without the conveyor belt massclusivity of leaf peepers, and the surfeit of antique shops.
One of the many pleasures is The Blue Sky Vineyard, modeled after a 400-year-old Tuscan villa at the eastern end of the trail, well worth the sip. I spend the shank of the afternoon here on an enological expedition, discovering the velvety folds of Chambourcin grapes, and soaking in a gustatory and visual feast.
The area is named for an Indian tribe that settled there in the 18th century, and was the state’s first AVA, or American Viticultural Area. The idea for the trail started in 1995, when the region’s first three wineries — Alto Vineyards Pomoma Winery, and Owl Creek Vineyard — decided to band together. Now, it’s a full-bodied destination, even sporting an eco-zipline down the road.
I run into Cindy Cain, who bears the scars of a happy childhood. She has lived and worked in the area for almost five decades, and is an unstinting advocate, a slice of sharp Cheddar on a warm apple pie. She says, “We have our own unique grapes, unique wines, and singular scenery, and one of the best parts is that we’re still a bit of a secret. You can be driving along, walking the trails, and feel like you own it.”
It’s true. Even though I am here at the height of fall colors, I pass few other vehicles while meandering the trail. I stop at one winery and enjoy a first for me…a wine slushy…and while leaning against my rental and leisurely slurping the frozen wine, I count the cars who pass…..zero.
The same is true when I head to a short nature trail along the path of the now abandoned Cairo & St Louis Narrow Gage railroad. A bluff overlooks valleys of red, orange and yellow leaves from maple, black walnut and oak trees, and a patchwork of vivid green fields and golden corn stalks. A trail leads to the bottom of a limestone cliff, where I walk beneath the leafy canopy on an easy trail, but I pass no one else…this contrapuntal world is my own.
Illinois is a long state, about 5 ½ hours’ drive with the velocity of desire, from the southern tip near Shawnee Hills to Chicago. Yet it’s an intolerably scenic passage, so much so I stop more than I should to admire the jigsaw puzzle of fields, the sky of unnatural depth, the fizz and riot of farms, and it takes me about eight hours. Around midnight I check into a small, anodyne hotel, The Kinzie, and settle back to ready for the morrow.
When in college I got to know a little of iconic Chicago, dropping in blues bars, clubs and shnorking deep dish pizza. But I never really explored the museums. After all, I was from a suburb of Washington, D.C., which overindulges with museums. And tastes were different back then….I preferred the brew and the bash over art appreciation.
Now, though, I am intrigued with what museums might offer, and titillated when my friend Barney Harford, CEO of Orbitz, says that Chicago may be The Second City, but it bends the light waves like no other when it comes to museums. It is a city on the edge of forever.
Chicago, once an upstart crossroads, emerged as the grommet through which the economic world was stitched by the late 19th century. In 1893 it decided to celebrate with The World’s Columbian Exposition, The Chicago World’s Fair. Ostensibly commemorating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, it was really a chance to showcase the advent of urban Exceptionalism. With the flowers of industry and commerce blooming, there came new prosperity, and with that the means and desire to create halls where scientific specimens, works of art, and other objects of value were displayed. This was the wellspring for the Great Museums of Chicago.
I first head to the Museum of Science and Industry, largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, with 14 acres of exhibit space. I meet up with Anne Rashford, Director of Special Exhibitions, who tells me, “We’ve completely reinvented the museum; more than 75% of the exhibits on the floor have been redone.” I take a look around; everywhere rum little scenes clip into action. I swirl around a 40′-high tornado. I crouch and follow The Great Train Story model railroad which has over 20 trains running on 1,400 feet of track, completing the winding journey between Chicago and Seattle. I get a near “real-time” view of our planet Earth with a 6-foot-in-diameter, solid carbon fiber globe suspended among computers and video projectors, loaded with data sets from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. I can see the flow of our ocean currents, changing cloud cover, the geophysical forces that shape the planet; the Earth as a dynamic, living system. Doubters and panjandrums should come here: you can see global climate change in action.
And finally I step into an actual German U-505 submarine, which in June 4, 1944, was prowling off the coast of West Africa on a hunt for American ships, when depth charges from the USS Chatelain blasted the boat out of hiding. It was the end of a violent run for U-505, which had terrorized the Atlantic Ocean as part of a massive U-boat campaign that almost altered the outcome of World War II. Now, it is a national memorial to the 55,000 American sailors who gave lives on the high seas in WWI and WWII.
A short Uber ride and I’m in the main hall of the Field Museum of Natural History. Here I meet Gretchen Baker, Exhibitions Planning and Operations Director, who stands in front of the star exhibit, SUE, world’s largest and most complete T-Rex. “SUE had a long journey getting here. She was discovered in the hills of South Dakota, and immediately every museum or collector wanted her, or pieces of her. After many disputes and a court case she ended up in auction at Sotheby’s in New York, and we were the lucky bidders.”
She is an allure with a nimbus, but just one of a collection that numbers some 25 million specimens, in over 350,000 square feet of public space, making the Field Museum the fourth largest natural history museum in the world. I take a look around, and am especially drawn to the dioramas, all made by Carl Akeley, the legendary taxidermist who died of fever in the Congo in 1926.
Finally, I make my way to the Art Institute of Chicago, which at first is like being in a dark room at the moment the blinds are opened on a bright day. After a while the shock of so much familiar art subsides, and the experience becomes meditative. Here I meet Rebecca Baldwin, Director of Public Affairs. She explains that as Chicago emerged as a world trade center, minting fabulous wealth, many had the fortune to see and collect great art from all corners. These same people felt a responsibility to give back to the city that enabled their prosperity, and founded the Art Institute, and donated personal collections.
“Some of the greatest pieces, American Gothic, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, were purchased directly from the artists before they were well-known, and then when showcased in these halls, their fame emerged.”
Why is showcasing art important, I ask?
“Having first-hand experiences with art goes beyond just seeing the pieces. It enables people to understand the creative process, and then to think creatively themselves.”
My takeaway from a day of Chicago museum tasting is that these halls are passports to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, art, experiences, the hopes and cycloramic dreams and strivings of all human beings. They are a sort of beneficial virus that absorbs information and infects those who pass through. They store the energy that fuels imagination, open the lids to treasure chests of knowledge. Museums done right change you. And inspire you to explore, not just interior worlds, but the great outdoors.
And so inspired, I hit the road again, and join the flock to the rock. I drive a couple hours southwest to a sumptuous state park called Starved Rock. I check into The Starved Rock Lodge, reminiscent of Yosemite’s Ahwahnee, with its Great Hall, timbered log walls, chandeliers, massive stone fireplace, and picture windows that peer into the lusty stealth of Nature. Here I meet Kathy Casstevens, the Director of Fun at the lodge, who talks in very rapid, perfectly formed sentences, like a dancer performing fouettés. She offers to take me on a hike.
We begin with a short walk from the lodge to the eponymous Starved Rock, a huge stony hand that lords over the landscape. The steps are slightly bowed from generations of traffic, the edges rounded down like a pouting lips. According to legend, in the 1760′s the Potawatomi and the Ottawa surrounded a band of Illiniwek atop this butte, and held their ground until the Illiniwek died of starvation.
There is an idea maze of trails through 18 canyons in this park, and we set off to hike a few, including French and LaSalle at the edge of the woods, along the Illinois River, whose waters ripple with the drift of eagles for much of the year. We veer inland, through clusters of Virginia bluebells, and floral arrays of marsh marigolds, wild iris, trillium and Dutchman’s breeches, plus purple-flowered spiderworts, nodding columbine and blooms of shooting star. We step up a steep-walled sandstone slit to a silky waterfall.
This is unexpected. It looks like Arizona. Here, in this quiet warm-toned canyon, with a crack to heaven, there is the kind of repose that inspires poets and dreamers. There is a sense of collaborating with the forces behind the pageant of the world. But this is not Switzerland or Colorado….this is Illinois.
It is utterly still at the end of this little rift, the only movement the lazing turning of my own thoughts.
How can you explain that you need to know that the oaks and pines are still there, and the hills and waterfalls and sky? Everyone knows they are. How can you say it is time your pulse responded to another rhythm, the rhythm of the day and season instead of the hour and minute? No, you can’t explain….you just come here.
Hiking always goes well with boating, so I next board a packet boat called “The Volunteer,” a 76-foot replica of a 19th-century canal boat that plied the 96-mile, hand-dug I & M (Illinois and Michigan) Canal, with a lock system from the designs of Leonardo da Vinci.
This is the canal that turned Chicago from a swamp into a global commerce hub, as it connected Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River, allowing cheap water transport to, from and between the East Coast and The Gulf of Mexico, enabling the efficient mixing of ideas and markets.
There is less than a mile of the once great canal open for navigation, between two turtle-filled locks in LaSalle, and just two mules, “Moe” and “Larry,” who now trudge the towpath pulling the craft. Legends still swirl, though. Wild Bill Hickok was a mule tender here; Lincoln took his family on a trip; and the Marx Brothers were chicken farmers nearby.
Before continuing up the road I stop in the nearby town of Utica for refreshment, and step into the August Hill Winery tasting room to find a pairing I never imagined. They are offering “Sip ‘n’ Snip” Wine & Craft Beer Tasting for an organization called No Animal Left Behind, which uses proceeds to spay and neuter local cats and dogs. I do my part, so they can lose theirs.
Then I make a three hour trek northwest along tree-dotted rolling hills to the former rip-roaring lead-mining town of Galena. In 1845 it produced almost 85% of the nation’s lead, and was the busiest Mississippi River port between St. Louis and St. Paul, a bustle bigger than Chicago.
I check into the DeSoto House, oldest operating hotel in Illinois, opened in 1855, the year Congress approved $30,000 to test camels for military use and founded “The U.S. Camel Corps.” (Except for the date, there is no relationship between these events, but I do find them interesting.) Lincoln stumped from a balcony here; Ulysses Grant used a couple rooms as presidential campaign headquarters, so the place sings with history. (Grant might not like that phrase…he was supposedly tone deaf, and once said “I know two songs…one is Yankee Doodle Dandy, and the other isn’t.”)
And it may be the last hotel in Illinois that uses actual room keys.
Galena has been cited as having “The Best Small Town Main Street in America,” because it looks like a movie set idealization of Norman Rockwell’s home. Of course, the actual movie theater appeared in the movie Field of Dreams.
By the middle of the 19th Century, Galena was one of the richest river towns in the Midwest. But when the lead ran out and the Galena River silted up, the town went into a century-long dive. The townsfolk became too poor to tear anything down. That, it turns out, was its salvation, and today the town appears pretty much as it did when Ulysses S. Grant worked in his father’s store on the red-hued street. Now, that preserved-in-aspic quality is the lodestone, the touro-dollar draw.
The street is exuberant with boutiques, bars, reliquaries, art galleries, cafes, ghost tours, trolleys, locals sporting thick, black Ulysses S. Grant beards, and shops specializing in everything “craft.” The old brown brick buildings host handcrafted jewelry, homemade fudge, artisanal cheese, hand-sewn clothing, self-published books, in-house roasted coffee, immaculate confections, stove-popped gourmet popcorn, and, of course, craft beer.
I stop in at the Galena Brewing Company, where these is a sign on the wall, a nod to the movie partially filmed across the street, “If you tap it, they will come.” I order a flight of their craft beers, and my waiter, sporting a Ulysses S. Grant beard, presents a menu, featuring gluten free and vegetarian roasted garlic hummus (“Nothing fried here!”). The beef, it turns out, comes from cows who attended Waldorf schools, and were slaughtered under the adoring scrutiny of ethics majors (just kidding).
I see a large sign over the bar for Red Stripe, the famous Jamaican beer, and ask what it is doing here…seems a bit out of place. Turns out Red Stripe was invented in Galena, by the original Galena Brewing Company, back in the 1830’s. But when the brewery closed down some 80 years ago, a couple of British investors bought the Red Stripe brand, and moved it to Jamaica, where it gained a following among stationed soldiers in World War II. Now it has come full circle, and is here to savor, along with the Pulled Pork sandwich.
In the lambent light of morning, I make a desultory stroll the length of Main Street and notice an elision of neon, franchises, fast food, and the major technological trinkets of this century. Folks are simply enjoying themselves, vendors and visitors alike. Through the big iron gates at the south entrance, built to prevent the Galena River flooding into town, I stop into Fever River Outfitters, a kayak, canoe and stand-up paddleboard shop that also rents scooters for a self-scoot to the Galena Cellars Vineyards, 12-miles down a country road. I meet Debra Malone, the hoydenish owner, who gives me a map and a driving lesson, and then points me in the right direction.
Jasper Bangs falls for Illinois. Photo by Laura Hubber
I get the lead out on a Cali Classic 50, zipping through gently sloping hills, tartaned with pastures spotted with grazing cows. There is a shy glance of deer at one junction, and at another a couple of huge turkeys scatter like shot out of the trees. The final destination is the vineyard where I sit on the lawn with Linda Davis, the manager, who confesses, “With this job I don’t drink wine anymore; I don’t drink any less, either.” We sample some surprisingly good locally-crafted wine, which is paired with some of the craft foods in town (The Bunny Blush goes with asparagus quiche), including, get this, the craft popcorn.
For my final stop in this revelation tour of Illinois I make my way back east, to Lake County. My friends Didrik and Cynthia have joined, and brought their sons, Oscar and Huey, so we decide to make this a kids’ stop.
We check into the Keylime Cove Resort, a Caribbean hotel built atop a waterpark…its dessert all the time…and then head over to Six Flags Great America, which has been called the Best Theme Park in the World. It has the tallest, steepest, fastest roller wooden coaster in the universe (The Goliath), and is the self-proclaimed “cleanest theme park in the world”…all the employees carry long-handled pickers to pinch up any stray trash.
We all become champions in theme parks, and this one more than most. Children become super-heroes, twice their age and size, and parents become young and dashing, as we all conquer the dragons and a Homeric catalogue of roaring rides. With oceans of kids pulsing about, this is contained creative destruction. I spend the day riding with five-year-old Oscar, who puffs out his chest at each twist and turn, while I scream and giggle like a guileless boy.
This seems to be a metonymic shorthand for the whole of Illinois. It is a place for small and tall, a land modest and grand at once, a state of being that surprises and delights, that beats to the sound of awe. It is an axe for the frozen sea within us; a hub that spokes to the world, a thousand miles from everywhere. Happiness may be reality minus expectations, and as such, Illinois, which defies presumption, is indeed an improbable and authentic joy.
What a great place to stay! Two room suites, free made-to-order breakfast and complimentary drinks!
The Embassy Suites Anaheim South is literally walking distance to Disney California Adventure and Downtown Disney as it is only one mile away. There is a frequent and inexpensive shuttle every thirty minutes to Disneyland. You can get tickets and information in the lobby of the hotel about Disney, and “the Southern California CityPass (a low-price ticket to Southern California attractions, including Disneyland® Resort, Universal Studios Hollywood™, SeaWorld® Adventure Park, the world-famous San Diego Zoo® and San Diego’s Wild Animal Park®).”
The atrium is open all the way up the twelve levels. Enjoy complimentary cocktails at the Evening reception and the outdoor pool and hot top. The fitness and business centers are open all day and night. I stayed at the Embassy Suites South Anaheim for two nights. I walked from the hotel to The Anaheim Gardenwalk for lunch. Google maps said it was a 6minute drive by car and only just over a miile to walk. I had a lovely sunny stroll. After lunch at Cheesecake Factory, I wandered over to Downtown Disney. I had no idea that Elsa & Anna have their own store! The LEGO store creations were a real highlight! WOW! I am impressed what people can do with Legos! Video: Walking in Anaheim: The GardenWalk, Downtown Disney, Fountains at Anaheim Convention Center I like the sound of the waterfall and sitting next to the Koi Pond at breakfast. The chef made my omelet perfectly. Free Made-to-Order Breakfast at Embassy Suites is #PrettyGreat! What can you have for breakfast at Embassy Suites? Made to order eggs and omelets Potatoes and breakfast meats Cereals and oatmeal Fruit and Yogurt Bakery items: muffins, doughnuts, toast, bagel pancakes or french toast (depends on the day) Juice, milk, coffee Video: Free Made to Order Breakfast at Embassy Suites is #PrettyGreat
I loved my stay in a suite with a view of the pool and the Getty Center. It was a perfect staycation in Los Angeles paired with amazing dining experiences. I learned to cook souffle with Chef Olivier, ate an incredible meal at On Sunset and had breakfast on my balcony. I can highly recommend it all. It is exceptional to be so relaxed literally steps from the 405! I have had a wonderful spa treatment here as well.
From the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel website: “Set on 7 palm tree-filled acres between Bel-Air and Brentwood, this refined hotel is 1.4 miles from the Getty Center museum and 1.8 miles from the Geffen Playhouse Theater. Serene quarters with some midcentury-style furnishings offer free WiFi and 24-hour room service, plus flat-screen TVs, custom duvets and patios (some rooms). Suites add living areas and airy bathrooms, some with whirlpool tubs. Amenities include a fitness center, a day spa (fee) and a heated outdoor pool. The restaurant offers French-influenced California fare in an elegant dining room or on the relaxed patio, and there’s a lounge serving custom cocktails and small plates.”
#LuxeExperience: Making Chocolate Souffle with Chef Olivier
Chef Olivier taught me to make a Chocolate Souffle at Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel! I enjoyed being in the kitchen with him and learning about using the best chocolate. We talked about moderation and choosing top experiences.
I have been fortunate to stay at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel as well as the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel. Please enjoy
all my videos from Luxe Experience Hotels: which include the Spa at Luxe Sunset Boulevard, an incredible suite at Luxe Sunset Boulevard, the penthouse at Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel and learning to make special “Beverly Hills 90210” cocktails on Rodeo Drive!
As the website states: “Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel’s fashionably designed choice for Bel Air dining, On Sunset, presents the celebrated cuisine of Executive Chef Olivier Rousselle. Known for discriminating taste, our menus feature seasonal California fare with a splash of French influence, making us a standout among Bel Air restaurants. Bel Air fine dining is available al fresco on the comfortable and luxurious patio or indoors in the main dining room. Dine with us and experience one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles.” I loved my dinner and have a video just of the special choices that Chef Olivier sent to me. Let them eat cake
Wondering where to celebrate in Los Angeles? Bring your party to Barton G for a night of tempting tasty morsels presenting in a way you never imagined! This place will inspire you to play with your food.
Barton G arrived in Los Angeles in June 2014 and is fine dining joined with fun dining. Each meal is a memorable experience, which fulfills all the senses with enticing fragrances, extraordinary food and over-the-top presentations. After years of success on South Beach in Florida, the restaurant created by Barton G. Weiss is now also on La Cienega in Los Angeles.
Whether it is your birthday, anniversary or just a regular day, you will remember you night at Barton G!
October 28, 2014 – Los Angeles, CA – On Friday, October 31, 2014, British American Business Council Los Angeles (BABC LA), will host its Distinguished Speaker Series Breakfast and Business Networking Mixer at the Le Grand Trianon Room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel (9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210) from 7:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.
The event will feature British Ambassador, Sir Peter Westmacott, KCMH, LVO who will be speaking on “The UK Perspective on the Current International Agenda”. Given major global issues from Syria and ISIS to the current dispute over the EU surcharge to the UK this is an important Breakfast. Sir Westmacott was appointed Ambassador to the United States in January 2012 and has previously served as the British Embassy’s Counsellor for Political and Public Affairs in the mid-1990s.
Well established, holding a strong history in the British Diplomatic Service, Sir Westmacott served as the British Ambassador to France from 2007 to 2011 – and as Ambassador to Turkey starting in 2002. The Senior British Diplomat has a history of forty-years in the service, including postings in Tehran and Brussels, time as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Director for the Americas, and a seat on the board of the Foreign Office as Deputy Under Secretary.
In addition to hearing from the distinguished Sir Westmacott, guests will be treated to exclusive business networking opportunities and captivating breakfast discussion.
About the British American Business Council:
The BABC LA is part of the largest transatlantic business network, with 23 chapters and2,500 member companies, including many of the world’s largest multinationals, based in major business centers throughout North America and the United Kingdom.
Dynamite Roll with Tempura Shrimp, Spicy Mayo, and Sesame Seeds
Filet Oscar Style
Sea Scallops, Parmesan Risotto, English Peas, Citrus Vinaigrette
Berries & Bubbles
Made with Belvedere citrus vodka, marinated blackberries, house made sour and Domaine Chandon
Ahi Tuna Tartare with Avocado and Ginger Ponzu
Alaskan King Salmon with Lobster Gnocchi, Spring Peas and Lemon Jus
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF – October 28, 2014– Cameron Mitchell Restaurants is thrilled to announce that its award-winning modern American supper club Ocean Prime has officially opened today in Beverly Hills, Calif. Its first foray into Southern California, Ocean Prime is located at 9595 Wilshire Boulevard at the apex of Wilshire, Dayton Way and Camden Drive. Serving lunchMonday through Friday and dinner nightly, Ocean Prime offers guests the highest quality seafood, steaks, handcrafted cocktails and award-winning wines.
“We are excited to unveil a new culinary experience in the Beverly Hills community,” said Cameron Mitchell, Founder and CEO of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. “The menu features some of Ocean Prime’s signature items including filet mignon Oscar style and Chilean sea bass, as well as new additions inspired by the West Coast such as fresh, hand-rolled sushi.”
Executive Chef Matt Briggs, and General Manager, Stephen Cook, bring a combined four decades of service experience to Ocean Prime, and are already immersed in the Los Angeles community, having worked and lived here for many years.
The Ocean Prime Beverly Hills menu pairs the freshest seafood with the finest prime steaks and features the highest quality ingredients available. Made from scratch dishes showcase simple, pure and regional flavors unique to the Los Angeles culture and area.
Some signature dishes include the seared ahi tuna with roasted marble potatoes, fava beans, mushrooms and truffle jus; and Alaskan king salmon with lobster, gnocchi, spring peas, and lemon jus. New menu items include a sushi menu that includes a lobster roll with kiwi, pickled jalapeno, masago, and spicy mango puree; and hamachi crudo with seaweed salad, pickled mango, sesame ginger vinaigrette, and cilantro. To view the full menu, please click here.
“Our chef team and I have developed a fresh and locally sourced ‘features program’ for our menu that will utilize local farmers markets as well as the seasonal fish that is sourced directly from the California coast,” said Briggs.
ICRAVE, an internationally renowned experiential design firm based in New York City, was tapped to design the space. Taking inspiration from the glamour and panache of Beverly Hills and the local Californian lifestyle, the result is a timeless design; elegant, cool and sexy.
Spanning 11,400 square feet, Ocean Prime seats 350 guests and provides both cozy nooks, and open, bustling areas, all in the heart of Beverly Hills and just steps from Rodeo Drive.
Upon entering Ocean Prime, to the right is a sprawling terrace ideal for an al fresco power lunch or intimate dinner date. It is lined by lush landscaping, a unique fire element, and offers intimate white leather booths and soft seating with comfy pillows in a palette of light creams and blues. The terrace also boasts a large glassbox bar, the only of its kind in Beverly Hills, ideal for cocktails or communal dining. The glassbox bar is clad with premium wine bottles and a massive, internally illuminated wood barback, evoking a simplistic opulence.
To the left, enter the lounge and bar, which has a welcoming, relaxing space for guests to enjoy expertly prepared cocktails handcrafted by Ocean Prime’s talented bar chefs.
The design gets progressively darker, moodier, and sexier as the main bar wraps back further into the dining space and becomes a sushi bar. Once guests arrive in the main dining room, they’re greeted by a view into the flames and action of the open kitchen, as well as surrounded by storefront-like windows that peek into three private dining rooms. Walls are lined with black and white artwork featuring classic Hollywood stars, commissioned by Artists Jordan Clark, Lola Dupré, and Jenny Sharaf. Dark wood tables and rich leather seating juxtapose the surprisingly chic, industrial hanging light fixtures that are suspended above the dining area.
Throughout the restaurant warm oak floors and walls are paired with exposed brick accents, and ceiling-to-floor glass doors lead out to the terrace.
The restaurant offers a private backdoor entrance should any guest seek complete anonymity.
Inspired by Mitchell’s Ocean Club, which Cameron Mitchell Restaurants opened in 2006 in Columbus, Ohio, Ocean Prime first opened in 2008 in Troy, Mich. The restaurant has since expanded to 11 locations nationwide in Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Orlando and Tampa, Fla. Future locations are planned to open in New York City in spring 2015.
Hours of operation: Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday from 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Happy Hour is Monday through Friday, from 4p.m. to 7 p.m. Reservations can be made by phone 310.859.4818 or online.
When Richard Bangs invited me to travel to PUERTO RICO to film with Orbitz and the Puerto Rican Tourism Board: I SAID YES! Please enjoy Richard’s article about our journey and the many videos from our visit! Lisa
When Christopher Columbus made landfall in Puerto Rico during his second trans-Atlantic voyage, in 1493, a young Spanish nobleman, Ponce de León, some scholars believe, was on board.
Rumors of hefty quantities of gold brought Ponce de Leon back, in 1508, where he found an islet with an excellent harbor he named Puerto Rico, or Rich Port. This would become the name of the island, while the town was renamed San Juan. He didn’t find gold, but was named first governor of the new territory, and when he heard stories from Taino Indians about a magical fountain whose waters would rejuvenate those who drank from it, he decided he would seek immortality. Can we fault him?
Today, locals claim the mineral-rich waters at Coamo, about 10 miles east of Ponce in the south of Puerto Rico, are in fact the Fountain of Youth Ponce de Leon sought, though perhaps he didn’t soak long enough, as an arrow squelched his eternity in 1521. But that the belief of the fountain’s powers still exist is evident in its current pricing. Anyone over 65 is free, the theory being, I suppose, that if the wayback waters work, the free-soaking seniors will soon be back as paying customers.
There is something persistently youthful about Puerto Rico. It’s not just that 30 percent of the population is under 25, but rather its potion of nutrient-rich volcanic soil, crisp, clean water, its perpetual June, its healthy outdoor activities, its food, art, and its spirit of dance and celebration that make almost everyone who comes here feel happy and young.
Recovering from a surgery a few weeks back, I find myself feeling a bit broken by time’s wheel, a little superannuated in a sharp winter, when I speak with my friend John Jessey, who offers up an antidote. “Go to Puerto Rico. You’ll feel ten years younger.”
Rather than slouching toward oblivion, or doing a deal with the devil, John’s recommendation seems the enchanting choice, so I book a ticket from Los Angeles for a week-long soak, with my family, including 6-year-old Jasper, and our friends Didrik Johnck and Lisa Niver. We leave passports behind, because Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, a sort of grey-area status where it is not officially a State, but Puerto Ricans enjoy all the benefits of citizenship, save one: Puerto Ricans who live in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the U.S. President in the general elections. And, the currency is the U.S. dollar, which saves all those calculations, and exchange fees that usually end up on post-trip credit card statements. And you can drink the water.
I’m a sucker for touching history, and sought to book the Caribe Hilton Hotel, for its storied past, but it was full, so instead we make way to its sister, the Condado Plaza Hilton, just seven miles from the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. I take a room overlooking the aquamarine Atlantic, and with a view of the Caribe Hilton Hotel. It was Hilton’s first hotel outside the continental United States and made Hilton the first international hotel company. It was the first in Puerto Rico to offer radios in every room and individually controlled air conditioners, and claims to be the birthplace of the Piña Colada. In 1954, bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero spent three months creating a medley of rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice, which launched a Noah’s flood of tropical refreshment, and at least one catchy song. To celebrate, I order one up in the lobby bar. Maybe two. Or four. To be honest, I can’t remember, except that they were yummy.
The next day, in the first blush of pink light, we translate to the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort, to the east, to play a little golf. Golf here dates to 1958, when Laurance Rockefeller, a pioneer in barefoot elegance, built a resort in Dorado and hired Robert Trent Jones to design its fabled East Course. Now Puerto Rico has 23 courses designed by legendary golf pros, and Rio Mar has two, the Ocean Course, by Tom and George Fazio, and the River course, by Greg Norman, both 18 holes. It’s on the 16th hole of the Ocean Course I meet Jesus Rodriguez, younger brother to Chi-Chi, who is the groundskeeper and resident merry prankster. He shows us how to putt a coconut, and mimics the famous victory dance of his legendary brother. And he offers to arrange a meeting with his brother, over at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club, with its 18 holes by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., set along two miles of private beach, a former coconut plantation.
I meet Chi Chi on the lushly manicured lawn beyond the lobby, and he looks dashing in a fierce blue jacket, yellow tie and signature Panama hat. His eyes are quiet as a pond; his grin electric. He’s 78 years old, but has the spark and energy of someone half his age, yet another testament to the youthful stylings of Puerto Rico.
Chi Chi says he was born into a dirt poor family, one of six siblings. They struggled to put food on the table. When he was seven, he worked as a water carrier on a sugar plantation. One day he wandered onto a golf course. When he learned the caddies were earning more money than he, he decided to switch careers.
Chi Chi would take a branch from a guava tree and turn it into a golf club. Using a metal can as a “golf ball” he would practice what he had seen “real” golfers do. By the time he was 12 he scored a 67. He went on to trophy scores of tournaments, including 22 wins on Senior PGA Tours, and became the first Puerto Rican inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
After mahi mahi tacos with Chi Chi at Seagrapes it’s time to undo time, so we head back to the Wyndham, where we take a jungle walk on the grounds, and end up at the estuary of the Mameyes River, where paddle boards and kayaks await. We scull about, among the mangroves for a sweet hour or so, and then walk the beach back to the pools for a mojito (this island is, after all, the largest producer of rum in the world) before thinking about dinner.
The sky lightens slowly the next morning, and time pours like treacle as we linger through breakfast. Afterwards, we travel just a short ways to the earthy embrace of El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the US National Forest System. The air seems to be made of a different and more fragrant substance than at home. Everything is pungent and moist.
This is where the wrinkles wash away, with over 200 inches of rain a year. We set off on a short hike through a tangle of trees that look as though they awoke in the middle of the night and didn’t have time to fix their hair. We pass orchids, giant tree ferns, oversized snails, gushing waterfalls, all the while cupping ears to the two-note chanting of coquí tree frogs, and the squawks of unseen parrots.
We next head over to the small town of Fajardo and the mega resort El Conquistador (a Waldorf Astoria property), which mostly sprawls atop a 300-foot-high cliff overlooking the Atlantic. It takes a tall pile of words to convey this 500-acre retreat. A tram trundles down to a marina and the 2.4-acre Coqui Water Park, a font of wading pools, slides and water rides, a jungle-type rope bridge, and a lazy river where Jasper and I grab a tube and float and splash and cachinnate for an hour. If ever a kid’s paradise, this seems it, for children from two to a hundred and two.
As the evening tips over into darkness we leave Jasper, exhausted and sound asleep in the Wyndham, and head into the city, which puffs up like a sail with its nightlife. We hit a few bars, boîtes and clubs, where the reggaetón and salsa swirl around us in a fluid ribbon. The outfits on parade are meant to make eyeballs explode, tropical tornados of cadmium and cobalt, magenta and marigold…the full rainbow of humanity struts here.
Puerto Rico is a kind of crossroads of the Caribbean. Its forts, castles, walls and batteries were originally designed to protect the island from invaders, but when the residents felt secure, it became a way station for seafarers bringing new ideas, art, lifestyles and food. It was a place to share experiences, and embrace diversity. And tolerance was the mortar that held it together. Today it is an island of hospitality, safety and open-mindedness. And one vivid indicator of this is the vibrant LGBT scene.
We meet Mr. Gay World Puerto Rico, Juan Ortiz, visiting from New York, who shares how Puerto Rico has such open arms and opportunities for all lifestyles. We meet a few lesbians who agree, and even a gay couple from New York on the eve of nuptials, which have been elaborately designed by one of the top wedding planners in one of the best hotels.
In the bath of morning sunlight, before pointing the needle of curiosity to the west, I step through the heavy wooden door of one the many specialty coffee shops, and order up a cup of arabigo Pomarrosa. What a brew! All other coffees drip with envy. I ask its origin, and am told it is from a small farm in the middle mountains of Puerto Rico, in the shadow of the island’s highest peak, Cerro de Punta, some 4,357 feet above sea level. I vow to find this place.
But first we set out for the far coast, the surfing, kite-boarding and watersports capital of the island. It’s a stunning drive through the folded complexities of the island, through tropical parklands and by wild seascapes, through towns humming with optimism, past the dance of life that is Puerto Rico. Come late afternoon we pull into the Royal Isabela, a sprawling resort and golf course at the edge of a 300′-high bluff overseeing the crashing Atlantic, looking more like a link course at the edge of Ireland than a tropical fairway.
Here we meet Charlito Pasarell, co-founder of the resort along with brother Stanley, who bounds over to meets us by the clay tennis courts. Charlito was the No. 1 ranked men’s singles tennis player in the United States in 1967, and was last year inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. He practically gleams with a ruddy vitality and mental crackle that belies his 70 years.
Charlito gives us a grand tour on a golf cart, rolling by native grasses, sod-faced bunkers, and wind-twisted trees. He says he discovered this stretch of rugged coastline while overpassing on a helicopter in 1989, and envisioned creating “the Pebble Beach of the Caribbean.” He set about buying the land, piece by parcel, until he patched together some 1,800 acres. Every aspect of Royal Isabela’s design has evolved out of the land itself, and he has gone to great lengths to protect the existing contours, natural features and native flora and fauna along the way. Conventional rules of golf architecture did not apply. Even the 20 freestanding luxury casitas, terraced into a hillside, blend in. They are around here somewhere, he assures.
Charlito takes us to an overlook at the 12th hole, and points out a prominent rock that juts from the steep cliff below. It’s the profile of a Taino Indian warrior, he says, though its well-defined angularity is softened by the afternoon light. As Charlito traces the features with his hand, the aspects come into focus, unbroken and ageless, as though forever dipped in the fountain of youth. Below is the hurtling seam where water bashes stone, and to the side a long stretch of native dunes, and beyond the white lined surf where Humpback whales are fleeting by.
He also shares that he and his brother own a river plantation just across the road with organic farms that produce food for the restaurant and staff. It also has facilities for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, with a network of paths and converted rail trails, plus stand-up paddle boarding and other water sports on the Guajataca River, all conspiring to keep guests fit and young.
We dine that night with Charlito at an outside table at The Restaurant at La Casa, on a patio that wafts with the fragrance of the nearby higuerillo trees. Over fine wine and something called “airline” chicken (not because it comes from United or American, but because the breast comes with a drumette attached and protruding, which could be described as looking similar to the tail of a plane). Charlito seasons the plate with tales of his great grandfather, Dr. Manuel Zeno Gandía, who published the first novel by a Puerto Rican author in 1894, and was an early champion for Puerto Rico independence. So, Charlito’s blood mixes literature, politics, sports and recreation, a concoction that seems to be a drink well-served in Puerto Rico.
It’s dark when we finally bid goodbye…one of the consequences of the locavore and slow food movements is a deep-into-the-night dinner…and we hit the road to our next stop, the town of Guánica on the south side of Puerto Rico. It’s midnight when we pull into the Copamarina Beach Resort, and with a welcoming chorus of coquí frogs we make our way down salty paths to our rooms and collapse.
A honeyed light gushes in when I open the shutters next morning, and for a second I have to shield my eyes. Just beyond a powdery beach the deep blue Caribbean laps, a graceful swooshing sound mixed with the sounds of children skylarking. Ponce de Leon first landed near here, and it’s easy to see why he stayed. This is a place that slows down the thoughts, and perhaps the aging process. It’s a popular place for destination weddings (as are most of the resorts in Puerto Rico), and we bump into a handsome couple from Ohio, where it is nine degrees and snowing, who just tied the knot here, and are over the moon about the experience, and the grouper mofongo at the café.
Lisa, who has dived all over the world, but never Puerto Rico, decides to head out and plumb The Wall, a cliff of coral some 22-miles-long dropping down to a depth of over 1 500 feet, with a local firm, Aqua Adventure. I decide to go and hike the nearby Guánica Dry Forest, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and State Forest, and considered to be the best example of subtropical dry forest in the Caribbean. How could this island harbor so much diversity? A couple of enormous days ago we were wading through the theatrical vegetation of El Yunque, and now we’re in a desert festooned with Spanish dildo cacti, natural Bonsais, and tangles of scrub and vines glowing in the long tapers of sunlight. It’s not that dissimilar, though, to how the Sierras split California, with fertile valleys on the western side, and desert in the eastern rain shadow. Here the Cordillera Central is the Sierra Madre.
We gather again for dinner, and compare notes over plates of mofongo stuffed with grouper in garlic and lemon sauce. Lisa, the jaded diver, is all sparkle and grins, describing the reefs, the brain coral, the caves, the green moray eel, the angel fish, the porcupine fish, the lobster, the reef sharks, and the sea turtle named Lola, and all else that brushed past her in the 100′ dive. “I’ve dived in six continents. This was the best dive ever,” she blurts.
We decide to divide for the next day as well….Lisa will check out the Fountain of Youth (not that she needs it…she has more energy than a nuclear power plant), and split the wind at the highest and second-longest zip-line on earth at Toro Verde Nature Adventure; the family and I will visit Puerto Rico’s second-largest city, Ponce. Founded in the late 17th century, the city experienced a commercial boom in the 19th century, then declined so quickly no one had time to tear anything down. The center of town is crowded with wedding-cake colonial mansions, strutting with balconies, balustrades, and bas-relief. Then there is the whimsical Arabesque confection, the Parque de Bombas, a bright, red-and-black striped wooden firehouse, amidst the neoclassical and Spanish-style buildings. It is the most attention-grabbing site in Ponce, and maybe all of Puerto Rico, and where, on the Plaza las Delicias, we decide to picnic and gawk.
After Ponce we wind into the mountains to the recondite Hacienda Pomarrosa, where the unspeakably good coffee I had in San Juan is produced.
Stepping from the car the air is so fresh it makes me dizzy for a moment. We meet up with proprietors Kurt Legner and his son Sebastian in the tiny tasting room, where Kurt gives a rattling good history of coffee, from Ethiopia to Arabia to 18th century Puerto Rico, when its coffee was the favorite of European courts.
And then Sebastian takes us on a walk through the farm, showing off the healthy plants and the shiny little beans, and the various steps he takes to harvest, clean, and roast the coffee. All of the coffee is processed in small batches. Once the picked beans arrive at the little processing plant, they are peeled by environmentally friendly machinery.
After the coffee is peeled, it rests for about eight hours in a water bath. From there it goes to the hot-air drier (no sun drying here…too much rain). After about 24 hours, the coffee beans are stored in a humidity controlled warehouse for safekeeping. The final stop: back at the tasting room, where a cup of joe for the road fills my head to the brim, like a honeybear, with some sort of transcendence. “Life is beautiful. Coffee makes it even better,” outpours Sebastian.
We all rendezvous at the Best Western Condado Palm, a value hotel (with the largest bedrooms we’ve seen yet) just steps from the beach and walking distance to the trendy shops and restaurants of Condado. At the bar Lisa shows up looking younger and more effervescent than ever, as though years had drained away in a few hours, like water from a punctured container. It is all the result, she offers, of combining zip-lining with her soak at Coamo, a thrilling and effective concoction.
For the final day we make our way to Old San Juan, the 500-year-old Spanish outpost designed to fend off pirates, buccaneers and privateers. They were all looking to pilfer the gold, silver, gems, spices, and furs from Mexico, Central and South America, stashed here for the final trip to Spain. Stepping through the San Juan Gate today is like stepping into a magic glass. It is hard to preoccupy with the concerns of the world once through this gate, for concerns are always about what will happen in the future, and in Old San Juan the future will never come, and the past will never disappear.
This seems a world where everything fits together. I thread through narrow streets cobblestoned with the ballast from early ships. On one side there are thick, outward-sloping walls, dotted with cannon embrasures; and on the other, neat pastel blue, yellow, and pink façades. Street cats curl and uncurl around the doorways. It’s hot in here…the sun seems to reach through my skin to my bones… so we stop at Caleta de las Monjas 9 and have a few limbers¸ frozen fruit cups, that are instant refreshment.
Jasper is inspired, and standing at an overlook to the sea, he recites a poem he composed about his experiences in Puerto Rico:
Birds chirp, lizards run
Coconuts roll, fish splash
Crabs skitter, frogs hop
Sometimes, all of them make a band
It’s getting late, and we have to head to the airport, but first I insist we stop at a little shop called Olé, where they sell hand-crafted Panama hats woven from fine-textured paja grass. There are hundreds on display, and I try a score before one seems supreme. Feelings of contentment are woven from fine and unexpected filaments, and there is a joy when I gaze into the mirror. The saleswoman blocks the hat to fit the shape of my head. Then she fastens a customized band around the rim, and snugs the finished product in place. Finally, she steps back, and with a broad grin says, “It makes you look ten years younger.”