Los Angeles

ImageI think there might be a reason most of the neutral or positive reviews of Olio Pizzeria focus mainly on breakfast. Their overhyped pizza crust tastes like english muffins. And, unfortunately, it's not quite Thomas'.

It's a tiny restaurant – in a neighborhood pizza parlor way, not a candlelight date kind of way. Not that there's anything wrong with pizza parlors. I am borderline obsessed with Vito's and sitting at a sidewalk table at Village Pizzeria on Larchmont always puts me in a great mood. But Vito's and Village won't empty your wallet and their locations don't force you into shelling out for valet (a completely ridiculous thing to do if you're going out for a slice). At Olio, dinner for two cost almost as much as dinner for two at Sushi Ike.

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rive1RivaBella Ristorante is in West Hollywood on the border of Beverly Hills and within sight of the Sunset Strip. From the outside, RivaBella has the look of an expensive fine dining restaurant. Walk inside and the friendly bar men will offer you a cocktail or a glass of premium wine, then you'll enter a dining room with rustic wooden tables, brick walls and a massive hearth. The spacious restaurant has the feel of an upscale country inn.

RivaBella balances elegance with casual dining. On the evening we had dinner, some diners were dressed in business suits while others wore shorts and colorful sport shirts. A retractable ceiling opens to the sky. Natural light floods into the room through floor to ceiling windows. At night, candles on the tables and strings of white lights give the room a romantic, festive aura. You'll experience the restaurant's theatrical side when you enter the dining room and pass the DJ who is working through a play list of pop songs. Order the mushroom risotto and the waiter brings a cart to the table heavily laden with a Parmigiano Reggiano wheel large enough to fit on a Mini-Cooper.

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swgpatio.jpgLos Angeles is a very large and fractured city. Most people, myself included, tend to play where they live because commuting is such an unknown quantity. Sure you get used to leaving yourself plenty of time to get where you're going, if you have to be on time or actually respect the people you're meeting. SigAlert.com is practically your best friend. So, even though I love a good wine bar, the opening of Sonoma Wine Garden late last summer escaped my attention. I can hardly be blamed for not knowing. It's in Santa Monica and I live in the San Fernando Valley two diametrically opposed areas. When I got an invitation via Twitter to attend a tasting put on by Vibrant Rioja (more about them later) at the aforementioned SWG, I was excited and intrigued. A new wine bar, how cool. Then I became slightly concerned. A new wine bar in the Santa Monica Place Mall?

Well, this recently completely remodeled mall is pretty upscale and far from the usual suburban nightmare, being 2 blocks from the beach and mostly open air. Once I went to their website, I realized this place had real potential. When I arrived, any doubts were immediately put to rest. Being a "wine garden" most of the seats are outside on the roof of the mall, in a setting that is both classy and cozy. Sort of like the patio of most of our dreams. While you can't exactly see the ocean, its presence is felt, which they cleverly temper with several outdoor fireplaces and enough heat lamps to make sure no one ever even has the chance to catch a chill.

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bazaarcaviarcones.jpgTo great acclaim, José Andrés recently opened four restaurants (Rojo, Blanco, Saam, & Patisserie) and a bar (Bar Centro) on the ground floor of the SLS Hotel (465 S. La Cienega, Los Angeles, CA 90048; 310/246-5555). Collectively called The Bazaar, the space reflects Andrés' elegance, playfulness, energy, and love of food.

Serving an eclectic menu, Andrés uses foam and flavor essentials reflecting his relationship with Ferran Adrià. Serving the best hams and cheeses cements his connection to the Spanish tapas bars where working people gather to eat, drink, and talk.

Over several visits to the Bazaar, I enjoyed wildly extravagant treats like his crispy cones filled with cauliflower cream and topped with American caviar or the whimsical, delicious sticks of foie gras wrapped in cotton candy, but the most memorable dish was something extraordinarily simple: an appetizer of salt crusted potatoes with a cilantro-parsley dip.

 

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Ace Hotel Downtown Los AngelesMy husband’s birthday was coming up. As it approached, I kept coming up with ideas. “Surf and Sand in Laguna?” I asked, as he passed me in the hall. Nothing. A few days later, “Malibu Beach Inn?” Nada. A week later, I added what I thought was a fresh idea, “Ojai Valley Inn?” Still, no response.

These are MY ideas of what to do on a birthday. We usually end up at a beach somewhere because, well, we should do something, right? Then, with less than a week until the actual date, he reminds me that it’s HIS birthday. What?!! Incredulous. And now he’s thought about it and really wants to go to Photo LA, the annual photo show, which is no longer held in Santa Monica, but at the LA Mart, downtown.

DOWNTOWN? But there’s no beach. I needed a few moments to come to terms with this. “Okay,” I peeped. He said let’s get a room for the night and check out all the hipness we keep hearing about downtown. He mentioned the Standard Hotel. But I remembered everyone, meaning my son, talking about the Ace Hotel. My husband took charge and booked it. I think he feared I would switch it behind his back to a beach hotel. He said restaurant reservations were up to me. He thinks of that as my territory. And, well, it usually is.

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