Showing posts with label Los Angeles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Los Angeles. Show all posts

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Sofitel Hotel Los Angeles and SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills

When the luxury SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills (465 South La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048, 310-247-0400) opened on La Cienega earlier this year, the location put it down the street and into direct competition with the remodeled Sofitel Hotel Los Angeles, formerly Ma Maison Sofitel (8555 Beverly Boulevard, Los Anegles, CA 90048, 310-278-5444).

Given their location on the border between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, both hotels are a good stop for anyone pursuing business or pleasure in the area. They offer conveniences expected of luxury hotels but their approach to their customers are wildly different.

At Sofitel Hotel Los Angeles, the lobby is dark, backlit, and mirrored, the better to flatter the hotel's patrons with classic Hollywood-style glamor. The rooms, as in all Sofitel's, are devoted to comfort with a French appreciation of spare elegance.

The hallway to the right of the concierge desk leads to the intimate Stone Rose Bar and LA Simon. If you want a designer cocktail in a subdued setting, the Stone Rose Bar is for you. There are enough Martini varieties to keep a conversation going until the wee hours of the morning.

If you're hungry, Chef Kerry Simon serves what he calls "Modern American comfort food with a flair." That means crab cakes with Asian slaw, classic Caesars, freshly made pizzas, roasted chicken, meatloaf, surf and turf, spaghetti with meatballs and a 20 oz. bone-in rib eye so big they call it the "cowboy". Desserts hit high notes on all the standards: creme brulee, apple tart, dark chocolate mousse cake, beignets, and a "junk food sampler" that will take you on a sugar-rush back to your childhood as you eat gourmet versions of cotton candy, cracker jacks, Rice Krispie treats, cupcakes, snowballs, a peanut butter sundae, vanilla bean milkshake, and assorted cookies.

Whether you're a guest or a day-tripper, a great way to enjoy the pleasures of the hotel is to have a Spa-and-Dinner. One of the best dates my wife and I ever had was to arrange simultaneous massages at LeSpa, with a private session in the NanoSpa Immersion Therapy room, as a prelude for a leisurely dinner at LA Simon. Being so perfectly relaxed was a great way to enjoy Chef Simon's food.

The SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills is as elegant and pampers its guests as well but the approach is completely different. From the outside the hotel would appear to be just another large hotel on a busy street, but one step inside the lobby alcove and you know you're not in Kansas any more. The monkeys on the hotel's crest are a pretty good give-away.

SLS prides itself on being witty, hip, and clever. You get that from the way they twist-and-flip their "SLS" moniker which can mean "Style Luxury Service," "Start Living Smartly," "Society's Latest Scandals," or "Shoes Love Shining."

Even before you enter the lobby, you're confronted by larger-than-life flower pots and a silver tea pot. Philippe Starck designed the interiors and much of the art. His playful touch is felt everywhere in the hotel.

An interesting fact about SLS is that only registered guests can enter the hotel lobby. Which is nice if you're a power-broker, politician, athlete, or starlet who wants privacy while you wheel-and-deal in LA.

The lobby has all the creature comforts associated with a luxury hotel but those familiar elements are redesigned with an elegant subversiveness.

A long communal dining table shares the space with a club-like bar area where you can order drinks and appetizers. The bar is off to the left of the entrance where the bartenders work in a room-sized cubbyhole servicing customers seated in the lounge or at the long table. Entering the elevator on your way to your Phillipe Starck-designed room, you appear to join a party already in progress. The walls are lined with back-lit, full-sized photographs of beautiful, hip, stylish, and, presumably, interesting people.

On the roof-top pool, the cabanas and chaise lounges are so over-sized, the feeling you're left with is that you are forever-young, or at least, a child in a Magritte landscape. Sometimes, especially in the rooms, you might confront the dark side of witty-design when you try to sit in a beaded chair or you stumble over something that is sticking out where it shouldn't but overall the effect is delightful.

The rooms are chock-filled with high-tech toys, geared to the iPhone-iPod aficionado. Usually when I arrive at a hotel, when the bellman deposits me in my room I don't take him up on his offer to explain how everything works. In this case, definitely ask, "How do I turn on the lights? Where's the TV?"

There is no question that SLS is in the business of reinventing the hotel experience. They do a great job of making travel fun again.

But there is more. SLS wants the public to visit. If the lobby is off-limits, that's not true of the Bazaar.

The Bazaar was created to house the imagination of chef Jose Andres. Like a culinary Cirque de Soleil, the Bazaar has a lot going on. There is an upscale bar--with those over-sized chairs that make you feel like a kid in a candy store--a very expensive retail store selling art and household objects selected by Philippe Starck, 2 restaurants (Rojo and Blanco), 1 dessert bar, and a dining room reserved for private parties.

Jose Andres' menu is probably one of the most complex and original offerings in Los Angeles. There are traditional Spanish dishes like seared piquillo peppers, toasted bread with fresh tomatoes and Manchego cheese, paella, stuffed green olives, and the best ham you've ever eaten. But Andres trained with world-renowned chef Ferran Adrian so he also offers chemically marvelous creations like liquid olives that are actually olive-essence turned into a gel by the magic of alginate. For those who can afford a playful hit on decadent treats like foie gras, chef Andres serves a cube of that delightfully delicious indulgence on a stick, wrapped inside an airy globe of cotton candy.

At the Bazaar you can have almost anything your heart desires, just be prepared to pay for it. The restaurant is not inexpensive but you'd never know that from the crowds that pack the restaurant every night.

Staying at either hotel is a win-win proposition. There are many luxury hotels in Los Angeles but the Sofitel Hotel and SLS Hotel are unique unto themselves in their very different ways.

This is a dedicated TravelingMom post.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

If Corn is Back It Must Be Summer

Living in Southern California, we're frequently accused of being citizens of LALA land, a region of delusions where the inhabitants have lost touch with nature because there are no seasons. But there are seasons. Our winters are cold. Those of us with fireplaces use them frequently from January through March. And yet we have to admit, we don't suffer the ravages of weather that afflict other parts of the country.

If T.S. Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons, we Angelinos keep track of the seasons by watching the ebb and flow of the produce in the farmers' markets. We know summer is over because the peaches and nectarines are gone. Conversely, when the first corn appears at the farmers' markets, we know that winter is definitely over.

Several weeks ago a few pieces of corn were for sale at the Palisades Sunday market. Then yesterday at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, a giant mound of corn materialized at Gloria's Fruits & Vegetables stand. Seeing so much corn a dozen recipes came to mind, but the best way to celebrate the return of corn is the simplest: corn on the cob with a slab of butter, seasoned with sea salt and pepper. One taste and we know for certain that summer's back.

Corn on the Cob

4 ears of corn, shucked, washed
2 tablespoons sweet butter
Sea salt and pepper

Leave the cob whole or break in half, put into a large pot of water, and turn the burner on high. When the water boils in 10-15 minutes, the corn is done. Drain and serve with butter, sea salt, and pepper.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 5 minutes. Cooking Time: 10-15 minutes.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Hidden Treasures at Tacos Por Favor in Santa Monica

Driving on the freeway, looking at the streets and neighborhoods below, I often wonder what fabulous restaurants I'm missing.Tacos Por Favor is one of those places that I had heard about for years, but had always driven by without stopping.

Today I decided to stop.

A cantina-sized Mexican restaurant on the corner of Olympic at 14th Street,Tacos Por Favor sits on the border between the two-Santa Monicas. It is well-known to the people who work in the auto repair and building supply businesses nearby as well as the students of the upscale private school, Crossroads and the well-heeled who could eat at the upscale Buffalo Club down the block, but prefer Tacos Por Favor's casual atmosphere and lower prices.

Long before it was hip, the restaurant made its reputation on the quality of its ingredients. Abandoning lard and searching out the freshest vegetables to make its salsas, Tacos Por Favor prides itself on serving "healthy Mexican food."

On this first visit, I tried a selection of the soft tacos: carnitas, chicken, cheese, shrimp, and the potato (delicious). One of the day's specials was shrimp soup. Six corn tortillas came with the large bowl of spicy soup, filled with whole shrimp, bell peppers, roasted red peppers, celery, and onions.

Delicious, filling, and affordable.

Stimulated by the flavors, I knew what I was going to make for dinner: carne asada with avocado and homemade salsa.

Carne Asada, Avocado, and Salsa

Instead of buying the meat at the supermarket, if you're close to a Mexican or Asian market, you'll find the cuts of meat you need at half the price.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes


1 pound flank or skirt steak, thin sliced
1 ripe tomato, washed, stem removed, chopped
1 carrot, washed, peeled, sliced into thick rounds
1 medium sized ripe avocado, washed, peeled, the pit removed, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped yellow onion
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro leaves
1 garlic clove, peeled, finely chopped
1 small serrano chile, washed, cut in half, seeded
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Mexican hot sauce or Tabasco
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
6-8 large tortillas, corn or flour


Marinate the steak in olive oil, seasoned with sea salt, black pepper, and a bit of hot sauce. If you have the time, overnight is great, but as little as an hour will help tenderize and flavor the meat.

Toss the carrot pieces and serrano chile in a bowl with olive oil and sea salt, then grill, 3 minutes on each side, remove and chop. Put them back into the bowl. Add the chopped tomatoes, onions, avocado, and cilantro. Mix well. Drizzle with the lemon juice and season with hot sauce, if needed. Marinate 30 minutes.

Grill the steak on a hot grill, 5 minutes on each side or until the edges are charred. Transfer to a plate, cover with a piece of aluminum foil, and set aside for 5 minutes.

Grill flour or corn tortillas and keep warm in a covered basket.

Roughly chop the steak, put the pieces into a bowl, pour the juices over the meat, and serve with the salsa and hot tortillas.


Grill 6 scallions--washed, ends trimmed--until charred and serve with the tacos

Grill 1 ear of corn--shucked, silks removed, washed--take off the kernels, add them to the salsa

Roast 2 garlic cloves in their skins over an open flame until their skins burn off, let cool, mince, add to the salasa

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro to the salsa

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