Kathy Leonardo

Kathy Leonardo  Photo:Gregory Dahl

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LA Art Party Newsletter

LAArtParty is an arts and entertainment website. Established in 2010, it is an online go-to guide for what's happening in and beyond the LA area - this includes dining, travel and more.

Founded by journalist, and "Blues Mama" Kathy Leonardo (a longtime performer), the campy site has an unusual slant which will keep you entertained. Leonardo has been writing for the past 15 years about various subjects for the Huffington Post, THRIVE GLOBAL, LA Weekly, etc.

Each month the LAArtParty staff, led by Kathy Leonardo decides which events will be featured. Posted at noon on the Thursday prior to the last week of the month, LAArtParty.com features the Top Ten Art Parties, plus other fun events each month. VIP subscribers find out ONE week prior to the public and receive discounts and invites to VIP parties throughout the year.

See Contact Page to find out how to become a VIP subscriber so you don't miss any more great ART Parties!! See Contact/Rates Page to find out how submit and promote your own events!

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Mayor Garcetti

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Former Mayor Villaraigosa, Levitated Mass LACMA

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Pulitzer Prize Winning Food Critic, Jonathan Gold

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Bernie Taupin

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Actor, Martin Mull

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Herb Alpert

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Graham Nash

Ed Moses

Larry Bell

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Shag

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John Van Hamersveld

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Andy Moses

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David Trulli

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Stuart Kusher

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Brooke Harker

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Sona Mirzaei

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LA Art Show



On site with LA Art Party's Video team

First Fridays on AK

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”Magic Circles” at MOCA

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When Times Get Tough, Go to Tea!

A Gloomy Day Blooms into an Unforgettable one at the Huntington Rose Garden Tea Room

Life can be challenging...and death even more. My ninety-year old dad recently passed away. He had a stroke a while back, and his health progressively deteriorated. When it finally happened, it was a blessing. My mom had left this world over twenty-five years ago. They were married for thirty-seven years, and he adored her. After her death, he never even mentioned another woman. He gave up listening to opera and classical music, a mutual love that my mom and he shared, and repeatedly told my sister, brother, and myself that he was waiting to join her. Now he finally has.
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Camellias, photo by Kathy Leonardo 

I was in a fog, but happy to have the love and support of my family, friends, and my boyfriend. Everyone says, "Give yourself time," "Take care of yourself," but what does that really mean? I took that phrase to heart and decided to take care of myself. I took the afternoon off from work, called some friends and said, "Let's go to tea!" Where? I had always heard about the English Tea located in the Rose Garden at the Huntington - the official name being: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. This is where I wanted to go. I loved flowers - after all, they reminded me of my mother - who I'd been talking to a lot more since my father's passing. I certainly did not have a green thumb, but plants were a passion of my mom's. In fact, she was an active member of various orchid, succulent and cacti societies in the New York area.

The 120 acre grounds were beautifully manicured, peppered with patches of Camellias, Clivia, and other varieties of seasonal flora. As soon as I saw the flowers, I thought of my mom and how she and my dad were probably hanging out right then in their own private rose garden in the sky.
theHuntington-CliviaClivia, photo by Kathy Leonardo 

The tea room was lovely, with its china set ups displayed on all the tables. I felt like a little girl again. I was joined by two of my most fun friends, who I knew would truly appreciate this genteel display of hospitality. A chilled Prosecco made a good first impression as we perused the tea selections. We each chose a different tea, so we could sneak a taste of the others. I chose the Huntington blend (their signature tea), which we all agreed was by far our favorite. It offered a subtle flora and jasmine flavor with a slight hint of vanilla. The Raspberry Nectar and Earl Grey Creme were also wonderful.

As we sipped our tea and cherished the moments...I reminisced about my childhood...telling my companions about my father's love of tea. That had been another tradition of his that somehow fell by the wayside. We toasted to him and my mom. "Live in the moment"...those are the words I kept hearing in my mind...now that my own mortality was staring back at me.

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English tea at the Rose Garden Tea Room, photo by Kathy Leonardo

The house-made crumpets and scones were simply sublime They appeared with Devonshire cream, lemon curd, marmalade and fruit preserves...all exquisite. Then came the classic three-tiered offering of assorted finger sandwiches and petit desserts. It was a fantastic presentation! If you have never experienced an English tea, I highly recommend it. The variety of sandwiches included mushroom/arugula/tomato, smoked salmon with caviar, dill cream cheese, Persian cucumber, chicken salad sandwich, and a truffle egg salad in a delicate phyllo cup. The desserts were an exquisite celebratory finish. I do enjoy a guilty pleasure...when eating lots of little delicious bites, somehow I tell myself it's not fattening. Whatever the cost - the miniature apple pie, tiramisu, profiterole, coconut macaroon, red velvet cupcake and the rose cookies were all worth the calories.

While we were there, we learned that Bon Appétit Management Company took over the dining portion of the famed Huntington Library Gardens. Executive Chef Marc Powers said he wanted to create a menu inspired by traditional English tea, with a locally and sustainably sourced flavor. He added, "We are working hard to offer a high-quality culinary and service experience that complements the surrounding historic gardens."
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With Ross Mapletoft; photo by @finnjun

We rolled back out to the gardens satiated by our tea and crumpet experience and finished our impromptu day of abandonment. The wisteria trees were in full bloom. The Japanese Garden was magnificent along with the Shakespeare Garden...we even stopped by the Children's Garden as well as the California Garden and learned about the importance of growing native plants. We never made it to the art gallery, which I hear is fantastic, but we did see Alexander Calder's Jerusalem Stabile decadently standing in all its glory on our way out. Alas, I'll have to return for another visit.

What started as a gloomy day bloomed into an unforgettable one. With each new day comes a new lesson and mine was to be in the moment and cherish my loved ones.

The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108; Hours: 10am-5pm every day, except Tuesdays (closed). Call ahead to find out what is blooming and be sure to check the website at http://www.huntington.org

Restaurant Review: Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails

Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails is located in West Hollywood, just above the bustle of the Sunset Strip. The hotspot starts to stir after 9pm, attracting a later crowd for its California cuisine. Chef Chris Crary (the executive chef of Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails) started working for SBE two and a half years ago. We recently met at The Taste (an annual food event presented by the LA Times and CITI). He invited myself and my photographer to review his restaurant.

We didn't have a lot of time, as we were rushing off to cover another event, but I did manage to squeeze in one cocktail. I chose the Porn Star Martini, which featured Absolut Elyx, Licor 43, passion fruit purée, simple syrup, Madagascan vanilla, and Prosecco. An easy to drink martini - perhaps too easy - I could have sipped down five without even realizing it. I especially loved the Prosecco on top which tickled my nose as it buzzed around the classic martini glass.hydeSunset-Bilow-dishes-72dpi-550
Then, the appetizers started appearing. Seared ahi tuna, was served with celery, radish, heirloom tomato, and avocado. The tuna was pink, its edges encrusted with ground sesame seeds. The fried chicken sliders on butter biscuit with mustard kimichi honey aioli were heavenly. Peach + Barrata sported an unusual combo - peaches and arugula with peach mustard, balsamic, and pretzel crouton. The Grilled Smoky Cauliflower offered a whole new take on the vegetable. The roasted tomatoes combined with salami aoli, walnut, and capers brought it to the next level.

Then, Chef Chris brought out two of his most popular dishes. Torchio Bolognese is a basic chicken Bolognese, with parmesan…a simple dish with a big bold flavor.

Obviously the highlight of the menu, I cannot give high enough praise about the Local Black Cod, which was beautifully placed on miso cauliflower purée. Kumquat and puffed rice were added accents to this dish. The cod was cooked perfectly, flaked to the fork, and simply melted in your mouth.

hydeSunset-Bilow-blackcod-72dpi-550We were just about too full to eat dessert, but we managed to squeeze in a bit more. A chocolate coffee cake topped with almond crumble featured caramel sauce, chocolate pudding, and two luscious scoops of spiced strawberry ice cream. Chocolate chunks were randomly scattered on top of the dessert with sweet caramel dots. It was a beautiful marriage of mousse and coffee cake. From start to finish, it was an unbelievable meal.

Crary has a lot on his plate. He is currently overseeing the opening of two additional establishments - a night club called Nightingale Plaza and the James Hotel - all this with a four month old baby at home. Not sure how he does it all, but keep doing it Chef Chris - your cuisine is amazing!!!

Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails, 8117 West Sunset Blvd., LA, 90046; 323 940-1650; http://www.sbe.com

Eat, Drink, Relax in the Dutch Caribbean!

There is no denying that everyone loves to eat, and as an avid foodie, fine cuisine is consistently at the top of my list. However, when I decided to head to Bonaire (in the Dutch Caribbean) for a scuba diving trip, little did I know that the dining options available on this sleepy island would be so fantastic.
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Image: shot from Ingridients; Photo by Richard Bilow 

Ingridients is an upscale restaurant located at the Buddy Dive Resort. Situated above the dock, it offers panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea. The menu features a wonderful array of dishes rooted in Mediterranean style cooking.

We arrived just in time for the sunset. I ordered a Terrasses du Sud Merlot from Chili. This is a delicious full-bodied red with a fruit forward flavor of black currant and a hint of licorice. My companion ordered the Bonaire Blond. Our server explained the beer is a local favorite and is brewed right on the island. The pale beer is fermented and contains yeast which sits at the bottom of the bottle. The beer was poured first into a tall glass, then the yeast was placed into a shot glass, allowing the customer to have control over the beer's flavor by adding more or less of the yeast.

We were encouraged by our waiter to try the Parmesan Truffle Pasta (Tagliatella, truffle, and Italian Brandy). It was a great choice it was not only delicious, but it was prepared at our table in a giant wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with truffles and flaming brandy.
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Image: Parmesan Truffle Pasta; Photo by Richard Bilow

Another delightful appetizer was the Lobster and Scallop Salad - a delicate union of seafood and greens brought together by a sublime cadushy liquor and lime dressing served with a traditional Dutch kletskop.

Our entrees - Gamba's al ajillo and the Blue Marlin - continued to impress us. Gamba's al ajillo features giant garlic flavored prawns with head on, along with aioli, shrimp infused ketch-up and premsela. The Blue Marlin (locally caught) was delicious - seared and served with a traditional antiboise. Chef Daan Scheffers van Soelen came out to say hello as we praised him for the terrific meal.
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Image: Gamba's al ajillo (foreground) Blue Marlin and steak; Photo by Richard Bilow

The following day, we decided to spend the afternoon in Kralendijk, the main port of Bonaire. We stopped for some lunch at a casual eatery called Rumba Café. We shared a delicious Greek salad and some tasty pizza. Then we did a little shopping and picked up some of Bonaire's biggest export - salt.

For dinner, we popped into a scenic restaurant named Karel's Beach Bar, adjacent to Cappuccino, located at the edge of a pier. It offers a romantic setting and brings to mind the feeling of dining in the middle of the ocean. Owner Karel J.C. Visser has three restaurants in close proximity...the two adjacent restaurants (on the pier) and Zeezicht Restaurant located directly across the street.
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Cappuccino & Karel's Beach Bar; Photo by Richard Bilow

I had a chance to meet the owner and find out about his background. Karel J. C. Visser was born in Bonaire in 1987 and is a fourth generation owner of this business. His great grandfather started it in 1929, and it has remained in the family ever since. "Back when Zeezicht was in my grandmother's hands, it was one of only three restaurants in town," said Visser. "It was always packed with people...my father was in his twenties, and he had the idea to create a bar so people could wait at Karel's to be seated. Karel's became so popular that it outgrew Zeezicht very fast. In 2002, my father purchased Zeezicht from my grandmother and started serving food on the pier."

Visser said he loves being a business owner on Bonaire and will be opening a new restaurant called Islander soon. "My favorite thing about Bonaire is the ocean. It is literally my backyard...everything we do has to do with the ocean...even work." Needless to say, he is also a certified scuba diver for over fourteen years.

I ordered a Cavazza merlot from Italy, while my dining partner chose a Goose Juice (coconut rum, triple sec, pineapple, and lime juice with curacao). I stole a taste of the yummy refreshing blue fruity cocktail.
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Image: Mahi Mahi and Shrimp, Chantal Seafood kabob; Photo by Richard Bilow

We began with a house salad and then shared two entrees. One was the special of the evening...Mahi Mahi and Shrimp was prepared in a delicate garlic sauce...so fresh and delicious. The other was the Chantal Seafood Kabob, exquisitely presented on a metal skewer dangling vertically. The dish sported grilled shrimp, fish, conch, onion, tomato, and bell pepper.

Although we were quite full, our server insisted that we try the dessert special. The sweet sensation included strawberry ice cream topped with a fried wonton drizzled with a tart, yet sweet green apple sauce. http://www.karelsbeachbar.com/
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Image: Dessert Special at Cappuccino; Photo by Richard Bilow

At this point, I was truly impressed with the fine dining on the island. However, if you are interested in a casual local favorite and amazing BBQ, be sure to stop into Babbejan's. It is only open on the weekend and sometimes it's a long wait for a table, but it is definitely worth it. While my travel companion and I waited for a table, we started talking to a local couple having a drink, as they waited for their to go order.  Since the restaurant has become so popular, ordering to go is apparently the preference of many locals.

Rumrunners is another waterfront restaurant located at Captain Don's Habitat. The view is magnificent and just before sunset was the perfect time to arrive. Offering an eclectic menu with a variety of specials, the restaurant is known for its pizza. We ended up sharing a salad and of course, a pizza. It was delicious and can be customized at request.  https://www.habitatbonaire.com/

Last, but not least, we had a spectacular meal at Harbour Village Beach Club's restaurant La Balandra which is open to people staying at the exclusive resort. Here, one can dine on an antique Spanish ship on the water, next to the resort's private beach.

We started with Mai Tais (white rum, dark rum, amaretto, triple sec, pineapple, lime), and moved on to wine.
harbourappetizer-wahoosashimiImage: wahoo sashimi appetizer; Photo by Richard Bilow

The first course was a true delight. Beautifully designed, the delicate wahoo sashimi (caught that day) melted in my mouth. It was marinated in soy, lime and olive oil, and was served with wakamé and wasabi cream. Vitello Tonato, another appetizer was also fantastic and featured antiboise and pine nuts.

The main course took us on a trip to foodie heaven. It was a perfect trio of taste - shrimp, filet mignon, and wahoo with a white and red wine sauce and seasonal vegetables. Delicious!
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Image: shrimp, filet mignon entree; Photo by Richard Bilow;

Now it was time to truly indulge ourselves. Who can say no to dessert when it offers three homemade exquisite treats such as Key Lime Pie, Flan Caramel, and Coconut Cheesecake? http://www.harbourvillage.com

Needless to say, my week in Bonaire featured scuba diving, hiking, and sightseeing...in addition to enjoying unparalleled cuisine. If you enjoy fine dining along with scuba diving, kite surfing, and more – Bonaire offers it all! http://www.tourismbonaire.com/

Restaurant Review: Southend in Venice Offers Authentic Pizza!

Born and raised in New York City and spent most of my life being spoiled by amazing cuisine....of course New York classics like pizza and bagels are foods I was quite wary of when I first arrived in LA about fifteen years ago...(yes both have improved...but my goodness, it took a long time).

Asm-SouthEnd-Wines a food writer, I have tasted my share of pizza. I recently had the good fortune to enjoy a meal at the local eatery, Southend on Abbot Kinney in Venice. We were greeted by the gregarious owner and chef, a Mario Vollera and escorted to our seats.

The dark wine bar has a cozy romantic feel. We sat at the bar and immediately started sampling wines. Vollera has been a sommelier since 2011. He explained that he collaborated with a vineyard in Chili to create his own wine with / featuring the restaurant's namesake. It had a bold yet fruity flavor a perfect red to pair with a delicious pizza.

Born in Rome, Vollera started cooking when he was just sixteen. He was inspired by his mother's eggplant and her memorable calzones with fresh spinach. He arrived in Los Angeles in 2008 and started working as a Senior Chef for MidiCi located in the San Fernando Valley. He had always been attracted to Venice Beach, so in 2013 it was only natural that he should open his own restaurant at the artistic seaside mecca with pizza as its main staple.

"Venicesm-SouthEnd-Cropped-OnionBrieTarte is the best place on earth...the culture, the art, the beach, the people the music...all great for me," said Vollera. "Just walking on the boardwalk on Sunday afternoon for me is magic."

We started the meal with an Onion & Brie tarte (caramelized onion, brie, seasonal fruit, aceto balsamico). It was delicate, with a delicious ink squid crust. Next Vollera brought out a tortellini with cheese and prosciutto. A flavorful dish...this was a true comfort food. We tried not to finish it, as to save room for the pizza, which soon appeared. We were presented with two incredible pizza pies. Going back and forth between them, I tried to make a judgment about which would win my taste buds over...a hard decision.

See sm-SouthEnd-Vanguardimage: The Vanguard

The vanguard featured organic mushrooms, fontina chees, fresno chilies, fiore sardo, and fine herbs. It was delicious with a perfect crust...doughy yet crisp.

The 1905 pie offered a bold flavor with heritage pork salciccia, crushed roma tomatoes, kalamata olives, fresh mozzarella, red onion, and marjoram. The latter was the winner in my eyes due to the intense flavors, but they were well matched.

Vollera said the most popular pizza and his personal favorite was the Abbot Kinney, (crushed Roma tomatoes, burrata cheese, basil pesto, Monini EVOO)

sm-SouthEnd-cropped-Pizza-1905See image: The 1905

Be sure to pop into this charming restaurant. If you love pizza and good wine, there is no way you can go wrong. Great prices too.

Southend is located at 2805 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice CA 90291 (the entrance is on Washington Blvd. behind the gas station).

Dinner hours are 4:00pm -10:00pm Mondays through Thursdays and 4:30pm -11:00pm on Weekends (Fridays – Sundays). There is also a happy hour available Mondays - Thursdays from 4:30pm-6:00pm and Fridays - Sundays, from 4:30 – 6:00pm. 424-2284736; http://www.southendla.com

Review: The Good Pizza

I love to review food, and even though my taste buds are drawn to the complicated cuisine of upscale restaurants, I am still open to finding terrific versions of basic food, at all types of venues. One can find delicisous quick bites at many casual pay-at-the-counter type food establishments...such as this one in Marina Del Rey.
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Image: courtesy of LAArtParty;

I was recently introduced to The Good Pizza on Lincoln Boulevard. And as a New Yorker, I am especially particular about my pizza. My boyfriend had been raving about this place, so I decided to give it a try.

Although not a vegetarian, I love vegetables while still enjoying pepperoni on my pizza from time to time. While my boyfriend chose a few slices loaded with meat, l was drawn to a slice covered with artichoke hearts, spinach, and mushrooms. Underneath the veggies, I found pepperoni - an added bonus. Very often pizzerias offer one or the other (meat or vegetables) on its pies...not a combination of both. I am assuming a true vegetarian would first confirm that the pizza was meat-free, but I was delighted by the topping variety. The pizza was easy to fold (important for us New Yorkers) and covered with a delicious tomato sauce. The crust was chewy with just enough crunch...delish!
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Image: courtesy of LAArtParty; a meat eaters dream

If you are looking for NY quality pizza, pop by The Good Pizza, 4222 Lincoln Boulevard, Marina del Rey, CA 90292; 424 835-4243; http://www.thegoodpizza.com

Wine Tasting: A Quick Shot up the Coast!

Busy lives can create havoc on any relationship. Fortunately, my partner and I have found a simple and exciting way to cope with this challenge, and you can easily do the same. Setting aside a small amount of time to recharge and reconnect with one another has become a priority. Sometimes it's as simple as turning off your phones for a few hours and taking a walk around the block or a picnic on the beach. Taking this one step further, little excursions will do wonders.
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Photo by Richard Bilow

Since I am a lover of wine (the designated drinker), and my partner is a lover of nature and photography (the designated driver), we agreed on a quick two day/one night trip up the coast. I happen to be a big fan of Inception Wines, so I reached out to founder/owner Jonathan Hirsh, who partnered up with a local winery (Terravant), just off the 101 in Buelton, in the Central coast of California.

Big things are happening for Inception...it has been picked up by Southern Wines and Spirits of California and Delta Air Lines will be serving its Central Coast Pinot Noir in their Delta One (First Class) service, starting in mid-September as a global placement.

Pho2016-April-Winereview-Terraant-JoePadillo-JonathanHirschto by Richard Bilow, Joe Padilla (left) and Jonathan Hirsch (right)

Hirsch and Joe Padilla (VP of sales at Terravant), have teamed up for the past couple of years and have a brotherly admiration for one another. It was interesting to watch as they joked back and forth while taking us on a tour of the winery.

"Wine is a pure celebration of life and nature." said Hirsch. "Terravant was the final catalyst for me to begin Inception. It is clearly one of the most state of the art wine making facilities in California -- I felt that this was the right place for me the moment I walked in. Joe has been a great partner to work with. The needs of a small and growing brand require great patience from a great leader and Joe is certainly that." https://www.inceptionwines.com/

We sat down to an amazing meal with Hirsch and Padillo at Terravant Winery and Restaurant, with a view of the facinating production facility. Created in 2008, the restaurant offers a wine wall featuring over fifty wines provided by twenty plus wineries. It was like being a kid in a candy store – so many delicious wines to choose from. The cuisine was excellent as well.

Terravant-winerypizza-R-BilowPhoto by Richard Bilow

We previewed a wine currently being created right there at Terravant. It was a smooth lovely red blend paired perfectly with our appetizers. We started off with a Burrata grape appetizer (Crostini with thyme-roasted grapes, local honey), - delicious. We also enjoyed a beet salad (Avocado, pistachio, goat cheese, mixed greens, citrus vinaigrette). Who would think a beet salad could taste this good? – this dish definitely changed my mind. We continued our feast with additional appetizers...Tuna Tartare (Chipotle aioli, mango, avocado, toasted sesame seeds and cucumber) along with dates wrapped with bacon...both incredible. Of course, we enjoyed several tastes of Inception's Pinot Noir. My favorite was a tantalizing 2012 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, which was a perfect pairing with the farmer's market pizza. This popular menu item changes daily (ours featured bacon and fresh veggies) and a prosciutto and pear pizza (Seasonal pear, Berkshire heirloom prosciutto, truffle oil, Gorgonzola, and balsamic reduction). The meal was exquisite. If you find yourself in this area – be sure to stop for lunch or dinner here. http://www.terravant.com/

Moving on from our great experience at Terravant, we headed north towards Los Olivos for a whole different wine tasting experience. The drive from Buellton to Los Olivos takes one through the town of Solvang, a charming Pennsylvania Dutch-inspired town which buzzes with the spirit of Christmas (my most favorite holiday) all year long. This time around, Solvang was not on our agenda, so we only stopped for a quick look at the quaint shops filled with trinkets and gifts and got right back on the road.

A2016-April-wine-KaenaWine-MikaelSigouin-byKLbout 15 minutes past Solvang, we arrived at our next detination, Los Olivos. Our brief stop in Solvang set us back a little, but we managed to stop at a few more wineries later in the day. One really fun one was Kaena, run by Mikael Sigouin, or as he is affectionately called by the locals - the Grenache King. He offered us a full range of wines.

Photo by Kathy Leonardo, Mikael Sigouin, the Grenache King

Speaking to an entire room of wine lovers, he recounted the story of why his love of wine and his wife, Sally were parallel. "Grenache is very feminine varietal in many ways, said Sigouin. "It's a very difficult grape to farm and produce at a high quality level, so it takes amazing patience in the vineyard and winery, many times walking on eggshells to get it just right. So Grenache like a woman needs to be treated with ultimate respect.  If you have the patience to do it all right, she will be your ultimate reward.

Like many small wineries in the area, Kaena mostly sources from Tierra Alta Vineyard and Larner Vineyard in the Ballard Canyon AVA. Created in 2001, the brand was named Kaena (which is a shortened version of the owner's given name) a strapping handsome warm-hearted Hawaiin raised in Oahu who has an affinity to Grenache. "I guess what sets me apart from large scale wineries is that I'm a one-man show, doing it all when it comes to production," explained Kaena. "Every decision was made by me throughout the process from vineyard to bottle and beyond. I feel very torn apart at times but I'm a control freak when it comes to my wines and brand."

P2016-April-Winetrip-ByronWines-JasonVillaloboshoto by Kathy Leonardo, Jason Villalobos (left) and the staff at Byron Wines

Next, we hit Byron Wines, where I met Jason Villalobos who served up several delicious reds. At this point in the day, I had to prioritize my wine choices. I enjoyed several Pinot Noirs. My favorite was the 2012 pinot noir Drizzel Barrel (the most concentrated juice of the barrel) which has an intense layered flavor of blackberries with a smoky savory finish.

By this time my taste buds were a bit clouded, so we decded to call it a day and headed further north.

Phot2016-April-Hotel-Baywood-Inno by Richard Bilow, the Baywood Inn Bed and Breakfast

We drove through to Los Osos and checked into the Baywood Inn Bed and Breakfast. It was a breathtaking respite...armed with some added amenities that one does not always expect...a fireplace, coffee, granola bars, microwave popcorn, Neutrogena face soap, etc. We both slept like babies and then enjoyed a Mexican style breakfast before heading out to our next adventure - this day devoted to my partner's love of nature and photography.

Although the morning was shrouded with a thick layer of coastal fog, we decided to take a ride to Morrow bay in search of the legendary otters who put on a show each day.

2016-april-travel-moro-bay-otter-richard-bilowPhoto by Richard Bilow, Morrow Bay

Birdwatching was an added benefit to our outing and we tested our rock balancing skills as we hopped from rock to rock crouching and scrambling to catch a better view of the adorable otters. We stopped at the waterfront and picked up some salt water toffee and caramel popcorn. As we headed towards Los Olivos we noticed the sun decided to make an appearance - perfect for my partner's photography.

The sun lit up the local wildflowers creating a luminous iridescent yellow....be sure to save time (from 2-3 pm) to take advantage of a great photo op. We lingered in Los Osos as we continued to stop time and time again to take photos heading south to Shell Beach. Shell beach is easily accessible from the 101. Finding coastal access points allowed for a spontaneous picnic in a romantic setting. The coastal views were mesmerizing. Old shell beach offered even more impressive water views, although we were warned by a local about the eroding cliff side. The photo ops continued here with sweeping coastal views.
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Photo by Richard Bilow

Just a short hour later we were compelled to linger back to our busy chaotic lives in Los Angeles feeling relaxed, recharged and ready to take on the world. Get out there and take advantage of a weekend away...enjoy the weather, the wine, the cuisine and more of the Central coast...just a couple of hours away from LA and definitely worth it.

Restaurant Review: Willie Jane Restaurant!

Restaurant-550w-WillieJane-DrinksL.A. Art Party sampled the food at the Willie Jane Restaurant at 1031 Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice at the invitation of owner Linda Ayles-Johnson, who told us she was making some changes to the menu. Willie Jane specializes in Southern soul food cooking.

We went at happy hour, and the joint was pretty jumping for a quiet Weds. afternoon. We sat out on the back patio where the decor is very lush and homey, and this seemed to be the location of choice for many happy hour attendees.

In Restaurant-550w-WillieJane-Shrimpaddition to well drinks, beer, and wine, each week Willie Jane mixologist concocts a special Drink of the Week. When we were there, it was the "Smith & Wesson", a very tasty blend of bourbon, vermouth, and cardamaro. Loved it.

Next we ordered a few happy hour dishes, the Deviled Eggs (with smoked bacon and trout roe), the Peel & Eat BBQ Spiced Shrimp, and the Just Baked Biscuit (with local honey and fresh butter). All three were amazing, though we feel the need to tell Chef Govind Armstrong that the Spiced Shrimp was some of the best we've ever tried.

Other Happy Hour (4-7 p.m.) delights include Smoked Chicken Wings with Spicy BBQ Aioli, Bar Burger, Iced Oysters, and Kale & Citrus Salad.

HRestaurant-550w-WillieJane-chickenandwafflesappy Hour prices are reasonable, mostly in the $7 to $10 range, with drinks (including the Drink of the Week) mostly $6.

For our main course, we tried the Pork Ribs, Black Eyed Pea & Charred Onion Salad and Mary's Fried Chicken & Waffle, which is the specialty of the house, along with a side of Fried Brussel Sprouts, Local Pears & Magic Peanuts.

Don't know what was magic about the peanuts or who Mary is, but it was all delicious -- especially the Fried Chicken & Waffle, which is prepared in some kind of spicy sauce and gives Roscoe's a run for its money.

ORestaurant-550w-WillieJane-porkribsther main course selections include Shrimp & Grits, Blackened Salmon, Curried Oxtail, Crispy Pork Chop and Grilled Hanger Steak.

Prices range from $10 to $28, not bad for Abbot Kinney!

Willie Jane is open daily from 4 p.m. to midnight, and on Sat. and Sun., they have a special brunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. which features bottomless mimosas for $15, in addition to food specials.

Santa Monica Eatery, Lula Cocina Mexicana Inspired by Chef Lula Bertran!

California is home to an incredible amount of great restaurants ...If you love mexican food, head to Lula Cocina Mexicana. This past July (2016) the restaurant celebrated twenty five years. Although Geraldine Gilliland, owner of Lula Cocina Mexicana, is originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, she was always intrigued with Mexican cuisine. "One day, as I was casually flipping through the latest edition of Bon Appétit magazine, I stumbled upon an article that profiled the best female Mexican chefs of the time, including Lula Bertran, explained Gilliland. "Now I’ve always had a lot of moxie, so I just went ahead and called up the editor and asked her which of these chefs she would recommend to teach me true Mexican cooking. Without missing a beat, she told me to call Lula. The next thing I knew, I was standing in a farmers market in Mexico City with Lula herself, picking out produce, touring the city, and learning to cook in her home!"
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Photo courtesy of Lula Cocina Mexicana, Beef Fajitas

It was during this first trip to Mexico City that Gilliland's vision for the restaurant first began to truly come alive. "I had fallen madly in love with the sights, sounds, and colors of Mexican culture and knew I would incorporate that beautiful levity into the restaurant, mimicking the designs of my favorite architects Luis Barragon & Ricardo Legoretta." Gilliland's husband, Theodore Lonsway, owned an antique store at the time. "Together, with our vision - and the help of a dear friend and famous local architect, Michael Bedner - we designed our dream restaurant, on a shoestring budget, of course!"

Some of its most popular dishes include Fajitas, Baja Fish Tacos, Shrimp Ceviche, Tiger Shrimp Tostada and lots more.

Outside of the restaurant business, Gilliland is passionate about the protection and rehabilitation of abused and abandoned animals; a cause for which she frequently hosts and produces charitable activities and events. In 2011, Gilliland launched Chiquita’s Friends, a non-profit dedicated to this cause and in it’s honor, all of the proceeds from this book will go towards the mission of helping abused and neglected dogs in the Los Angeles area. Find out more, on the nonprofit's website -  http://chiquitasfriends.org/

For additional info on Lula Cocina Mexicana, visit http://lulacocinamexicana.com