LA hosts new deluxe hotels, eco-spa opens in Santa Monica and more

There’s a whole lot of happenings going on in and around Los Angeles, and your Diva on the Go is right on top them….

 Not a town that rests on its laurels, Los Angeles is booming with new hotels and attractions like the J.W Marriott and Ritz Carlton that side-by-side at the $2.5 billion L.A. Live sports and entertainment complex, 

The Marriot which opens in March, after a short delay, will have 878 rooms, 52 suites, a 4,000 square foot fitness center (yes!), an outdoor pool and a Gallery Collection with 77,000 square feet of meeting space. www.marriott.com.

The Ritz-Carlton (I adoree this chain), which opens soon, has 123 rooms, 14 suites and a full-service spa which the company claims is the only one of its kind in downtown Los Angeles. The hotels also sports a signature Club Floor Lounge—one of my favorite amenities offered by Ritz Carlton, which I have sampled from New York to Hawaii. For the initiated, Club Lounge privileges are available for an extra fee and include light breakfast, lunchtime snacks and afternoon cocktails and hors d’ouevres. www.ritzcarlton.com.

 The Divaonthego will be checking out both properties when they are fully operative in March , and filing a full report right here.

Meanwhile to keep up with competition the Holiday Inn at LA City Center (adjacent to L.A. Live), is undergoing a $10 million facelift and a name change to Luxe City Center Hotel. The property will be fitted for all the right stuff from a fitness center to outdoor pool, business center and restaurant. Heading west to Santa Monica, the Loews Hotel has reopened the Ocean Spa & Fitness as an “eco-conscious facility with all sorts of environmentally friendly materials like Ecoresin panels made from 40% post-industrial recycled resin, reclaimed-wood furniture and more. www.loewshotels.com.

In Beverly Hills:  The Spa at the Beverly Wilshire, (A Four Seasons Hotel) is launching Christopher Drummond beauty– t  a “smarter” brand of makeup, as an Oscar tie-in complete with a pre-Academy Award party.

After years of research and industry experience, working with some of the biggest names in beauty, Christopher says he  realized that titanium dioxide, bismuth oxycloride and zinc oxide were the culprits, so he created  brand that doesn’t fit in a category: beyond mineral makeup, Christopher Drummond Beauty products are a healthy alternative to mineral makeup and traditional makeup – free of chemicals and preservatives, that are good for you, look great, will not cause acne, and are appropriate for even the most sensitive skin.

 “I believe that knowledge is power and we have the option to educate and empower ourselves. Being a part of the Beverly Wilshire is completely in line with our message, because spa employees have the power to educate their customers about what they are putting on their skin,” said Christopher Drummond. “Every choice we make, from the food we eat, to the cosmetics we use sends a message about us, and people need to be sure that the messages they send are the ones that really reflect how they feel about themselves, their health and their world.” Check out the product line and great photos at:  www.christopherdrummond.com

Fall/Winter Color Collection: Straight off the runways. Christopher Drummond pulled the best looks from recent runway shows, which included a sexy, smoky eye mixed with a rich gem-inspired story to create the Fall/Winter Color Collection for Christopher Drummond Beauty. Includes luxurious colors with beautiful textures in all-natural, chemical free products. Items include: Feline/Charcoal, Amethyst/Purple and Mystique/Blue Grey Eyeshadows; Matte Fraiche/Mauve and Matte Tres Chaud/Warm Red Blushes; Noir, Cafe, Plum and Peacock Eyeliners; and Cinnamon, Brazilian Berry and Luscious Lip Glosses. ($17.50-$28)

Gift Set for Women: The Gift Set offers three foundation colors, the Sade Pele Radiance Booster, Bronzer, the Silky Flat Top Brush, and a 1/8 ounce bottle of the new Revitalizing Facial Serum. The Gift Set is perfect for the woman who is afraid of the commitment of buying one full-sized product ($95)

Creme/Cream Veludo Velvet Foundation: For very fair skin, the Crme Foundation is a shade lighter than the Christopher Drummond Luz/Light, and contains shades of pink and less yellow for those with a cooler tone to their skin. ($65)

A Few of The Divaonthego’s Favorite LA Restaurants

As the Dining Diva and  Diva on the Go, I am often asked what restaurants or places I like best.  So I decided to start making a list.

Here are a few of my top 10 places to dine in Los Angeles. I have quite a few more but I’ll divulge them another time:

Cecconi’s–  When Morton’s stood here years ago, it was the tinsel town spot to go, work the room and be scene (sic). There’s no difference since it became Cecconi’s, except in the décor and menu, of course. The place roars with the young, good looking, and restless crowd. Celebs, industry folk and wanna be’s still work the rooms—there’s a coveted terrace and indoor seating. The food is more reasonably-priced than Mortons was, but just as good. The chic marble, wood and chandeliered Italian eatery caters to a celebrity crowd from lunch through dinner. But just about everybody steps through the front door looking like a fashion plate. It’s loud and lively with great food like wood-oven baked meatballs ($10), ahi tuna tartare, Alaska salmon carpaccio ( $14), eggplant parmigiana ($19), pappardelle with homemade sausage and wild mushrooms ($20), sides of spinach ($6) and Broccolini ($6) and a chocolate cake for $9. The food is moderately high-priced but adult beverages can break the bank. Even a glass of milk costs $6! Man that’s milking the cow. Open daily breakfast, lunch and dinner, brunch on Sunday. 8764 Melrose Avenue, 310-276-5205). 310-432-2000

 Mr. Chow — What can we say about this wildly popular Hollywood hangout that hasn’t been said in the last 30 years. In case you haven’t heard. It’s simply one of the best Chinese restaurants in country where classic dishes are served in a clubby, lively setting by an impossibly efficient wait staff. A favorite haunt of tinsel town’s old timers and young, up and comers, Mr. Chow’s panache is equally divided between the superb food and it’s room working clientele. Sometimes there’s so much table-hopping going one wonders when these people eat. From won ton soup to noodles, fried rice and Peking duck, everything’s delicious here, go with a large group and order lots of dishes. Dinner daily, lunch is served Monday through Friday. (344 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, 310-278-9911. www.mrchow.com/beverlyhills.

 Spago– Celebrity uberchef Wolfgang Puck’s penultimate power spot caters to a coterie of regulars straight from the pages of Hollywood’s elite A-list who go as much to enjoy the fantastic food as to be seen and “work the room”. Be sure to order Puck’s famous designer pizza starters and then prepare to feast on some of the finest crafted California cuisine in the State. Celebs pretty much get first dibs to primo patio seating and 8 o’clock reservations. Every morsel of Spago’s ever-changing menu is a culinary delight. Dinner daily, lunch Monday-Saturday. (176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, 310-385-0880. www.Wolfgangpuck.com).

Mastro’s– Steaks prepared to perfection take top billing at this chic restaurant (as do many of its famous people who frequent it). Stained glass, rich woods and deep colors provide a provocative atmosphere where carnivores can enjoy 40-ounce porterhouse, 18-ounce Kansas City strips, veal porterhouse or other cuts of tender beef. Side dishes are equally yummy, especially the Gorgonzola macaroni, sautéed mushrooms or French fries. There’s relaxing upstairs bar/lounge where you can enjoy generous sized drinks while before or after dinner. Dinner served daily, no lunch. (246 N Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, 310-888-8782, www.mastrossteakhouse.com

 Matsuhisa–  Sushi gone wild should be Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s motto with the dozens of delicious offerings on his vast menu. Not only will this prove the best Japanese food you’ve ever eaten, this side of Asia anyway, it most likely will prove the most expensive. It’s not easy getting a reservation at this tiny spot; so do check with our concierges. (129 N. La Cienega Blvd., 310-659-9639, http://www.nobumatsuhisa.com). Koi Asian fusion gone exotically, exceptionally wild could be the theme of this outstanding, hip and happening, celebrity packed dining emporium. The feng shui-styled dining area adorned with Buddha’s, bamboo and Zen-like ornaments provides the perfect showcase for each glorious dish. The crispy salmon salad or tangy tuna tuna tartare are the star starters and the Kobe filet mignon or Toban Yaki black cod lead the entrees. Dinner daily. (730 N. La Cienega Blvd., 310-659-9449).

Wilshire Restaurant– An over-the-top interior designed by Thomas Schoos combined with young eye candy fashionistas and brat pack celebrities makes this a great place to see and be seen. And the food’s pretty good, too. The décor creates a seductive tableau defined by dark woods balanced by canvas-covered ceilings, exaggerates images reflected from antique mirrors and sheer curtains billowing in breezes of the open-air patio. Recessed nooks and crannies provide intimate seating for romantic occasions enhanced by torch lit flower boxes, blazing candles perched on walls, sideboards and tables and intricate latticework. There’s even a posh cigar lounge to enjoy an after dinner smoke or cognac. The seasonally changing farm fresh cuisine is consistently good with choices from veal short ribs to black bass and Maine lobster. (2454 Wilshire Blvd., 310-586-1707, Open Monday through Saturday for dinner Monday through Friday for lunch. www.wilshirerestaurant.com).

Crustacean — Shellfish lovers will literally eat this place up. As its name implies, crustaceans are the name of the game here, served in an aquarium-like atmosphere—the fish tank is actually built into the floor and functions as a walkway from the entrance of the room to the tables. Bring a crowd so you can sample everything on the menu. It’s all good. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. (9646 Santa Monica Blvd. South, Beverly Hills, 310-205-8990).

Vicente — Now that’s Italian! Authentic old country cooking with California flair is served at this charming, outrageously popular Brentwood restaurant. It’s the food that contents, from pizzas and pastas to artfully prepared vegetables, and the service that satisfies. Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. (11930 San Vicente Blvd., 310-207-0127, www.vincentiristorante.com).

 Melisse–  The perfect spot for special occasions, Melisse is all about food and ambiance. We always catch a few young couples obviously celebrating their engagement, or even getting engaged. Dinners are leisurely. Plan on spending two or three hours savoring super chef Josiah Citrin’s California/Mediterranean cuisine, which he says is “based on classical French techniques” and all natural ingredients, which he buys from local farmers. . This is the restaurant that foodies and food critics rave about and rightly so. Citrin’s food is fantastic. There are tasting menus (Highly Recommended) or a la carte choices that range from sweet pea soup with Greek Yogurt mint mousse; risotto done with asparagus and morel mushrooms in a red wine reduction; ricotta gnocchi; amazing white asparagus, wild king salmon that’s to die for, a trio of veal loin, veal spare rib and braised shank that makes your mouth sing with every bite. Carnivores will love the various Wagyu Kobe beef selections done with truffles or shiitake mushrooms. And everybody will dig desserts like sticky toffee pudding with mocha malt ice ream, coffee Tia Maria and orange consommé; raspberry-apricot tart with pistachio bavarois and raspberry sorbet that was awesome; or the lemon gratin with sugar crisps, mandarin crepes and vanilla caramel shake. Bring a big appetite folks you’re in for a treat. There’s a great wine list, but if you go for the tasting menu, it’s wise to defer to your waiter for pairings. Although somewhat pricey, the $95 three course-tasting menu is actually a bargain when you consider the quality of the food and presentation. Not exactly for the budget conscious, Melisse is designed for lovers of fine food. Not to worry if you’re new to the gourmet game, the wait staff is great and will patiently walk you through the menu. 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-395-0881, www.melisse.com.

Bon Appetite!

Movie, Dinner & Free Parking For $60 Offered for Special Date Night At the Grove LA

Date night at LA’s Grove: a movie, dinner and free parking for $60 a couple

 Hey, what a deal. A movie, dinner at any of 7 restaurants and free valet parking for $60 a couple at the Grove at LA’s Farmer Market. The special, on-going promotion tagged, “Date Night”  can be booked by calling the Grove’s concierge at 323-900-8080. 

 I just booked Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro for my husband Richard and I for Thursday night. We liked the menu that includes a choice of two starters: Romaine heart salad, roasted beet salad, organic mesclun of French onion soup; two entrees: fish & chips, chicken & mushroom crepes, buccacatini au meatballs, or turkey escalope; and one dessert: crème caramel or berry cobbler. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 When you call tell them what movie you want to see and the time, and when  and where you’d like your dinner reservation booked, they do the rest. You can eat before or after the movie. Whatever time you select you won’t have to wait in line to get into the theater, as you pass will allow you to walk right in. You’ll need to reserve your Date Night with a credit card. Caveat emptor: if you don’t show up your credit card will be billed for the full price, so be sure to cancel if necessary.

 When you arrive at the Grove, go to the Concierge station and they will present you with a special package that includes a certificate and tickets. According to David Swift, head of marketing for the Grove, “We’re hoping this will be a staple at the Grove.” “We’re trying it out to see how it works.” Sounds pretty good to me since movie tickets alone run $15 and that’s 30 bucks a pop right there.

There’s one small glitch, some restaurants offer three full courses a person, others are providing full entrees but shared appetizers and/or desserts. It gets a little confusing. The menus are posted on-line at www.theGroveLA.com , you’ll need to navigate it a bit. Go to the bottom of the home page and watch for the changing photos, then hit the one that says, “Date Night.” The 640,000 square foot, Art Deco’ Renaissance -style Grove is located between West Third Street and Beverly Blvd. In addition to movies and restaurants, the complex houses shops and boutiques anchored by Nordstrom. Call: 888-315-8883 for general information; 323-900-8080 for concierge services.

The Divaonthego Cruises to Costa Rica on the Spruced-up Crystal Symphony

We sailed from Miami to Costa Rica on the spiffed-up Crystal Symphony(pictured here, your Diva on deck)–one of two luxury liners operated by LA-based Crystal Cruises and just about the best in show or seas.

 Crystal Cruises, a Los Angeles-based global itinerary cruise company redefined luxury when its first ship, the $250 million, 960-passenger Crystal Harmony in 1990 and her sister ship the Symphony in 1995 two of the poshest, mid-sized ships of the time (the Harmony has since been taken out of service).

 The cruise line continued to impress with the introduction of the super swank Crystal Serenity in 2003– a larger, jauntier version with 1,070 passengers. Back in her day the Harmony ruled the seas with a panache rarely found on a cruise ship.

She had style, flair, impeccable service, upscale accommodations, and a remarkable 342 staterooms with verandahs, equaled only by the Crystal Symphony, and later the Crystal Serenity. My husband Richard and I were among the inaugural passengers onboard the Harmony when she made her bow from Vancouver to Alaska. We had sailed on many ships prior to the Harmony but at that time in 1990 few in any proved comparable.

 We were also on the first cruise of the Symphony from New York to Los Angeles–a three week voyage that actually left us wanting more. In fact we had tickets on a flight from Acapulco to LA just in case we were ready to disembark sooner–but we weren’t. We loved that ship.

 Which brings us to the present and our most recent return to an even refurbished, reinvented, highly orchestrated Crystal Symphony. We did 11 sun-soaked days and balmy nights sailing from Miami to Tortola, Antigua, and Aruba and through the Panama Canal to Costa Rica. Refreshed from one of her most recent facelifts (she’s gone through a few since making her bow), the Symphony helps redefines the cruise line once again with its new comfortably chic floating country club/resort hotel styling.

 We sailed on a Saturday night at 9 PM and spent two days at sea before docking in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands where we booked a ship-run snorkel trip ($50 each) that’s I’d rate about a 7 on a scale of 1-10.  Next port Antiqua, where we booked a snorkel and kayak excursion for roughly the same price–which I give a 4 on the same scale.  Not enough time in the water, too many hours in a bus with a boring driver who kept stopping to point out meaningless stuff. Hey the Diva has a low threshold for boredom and I was anxious to dive into the water. Also even though food is always readily available on board, we missed the buffet.

Then we  hit St. Lucia where we just strolled around town, followed by  Aruba, an island blessed with silky, white sand beaches and warm, azur-colored seas. We actually took a local us to a beach for $5 roundtrip for both of us, and swam, snorkeled and strolled along the shoreside on our own.

The highlight of course was the Canal transit,. Even though we’ve did this dozens of times it never gets old.

The most noticeable décor differences are around the pool or Lido deck and in the casual Trident/Lido Cafes which have been transformed into a country club-like setting of white wicker furnishings with oversized sofas, colorful throw pillows and the most comfortable lounges and chaises at sea.

The long lap-friendly Seahorse pool now boasts an oversize Jacuzzi. The indoor pool is gone replaced by a wicker furnishing where you can enjoy fare from the Trident Bar and Grill. We had the best-placed deck 10 penthouse stateroom, a 365-square foot room that sits a little aft of mid-ship.

 The Divaontheog  grew accustomed to larger staterooms (Silversea and Seabourn) but I size didn’t matter  considering we had one of the best butlers (Greg) and stewardesses of all time.  All cabins on this ship are acceptable but I do enjoy the privileges that come with a penthouse category like the butler, a mini-bar that is stocked one time free with 3 bottles of wine, a bottle of champagne, two bottles of booze of your choice and unending amounts of beer, soda and bottled water.

 The king size bed proved almost too comfy. There’s also plenty of storage, a walk-in closed with bathrobes and slippers waiting, a newly redesigned bathroom with much needed and appreciated dual-vanity sinks, Jacuzzi tub, separate shower, Aveda head to toe toiletries and plush Frette towels.

 Richard and I are seasoned seafarers and travelers and like most of Crystal’s passengers we’ve done dozens upon dozens of cruises (I’ve actually logged over 200 mostly taken for research for cruise guides and articles I’ve written over the years). That said we have a different slant on cruise vacations than most folks. For starters we like to dine in our stateroom often.

 Which is easy on Crystal (full meals are served on request in all category cabins), and especially enjoyable when you have a butler like Greg who quickly cases you out and is accommodating. The cruise was so smooth and the nights so warm that when we did have dinner in we ate on the balcony where Greg set up gorgeous tables with Frette linens, fine China, glasses and of course our wine.

We pretty much like to check out ports on our own and find it often less expensive and more convenient. However we did take two excursions on this voyage (more about them in Part II). We rarely go to shows (although we made exceptions here, more tk), we never take elevators (burn more calories walking), and usually do our own thing.

 For its 20th anniversary Crystal placed bottles of special reserve Billecart-Salmon champagne in penthouse cabins. Just happens to be one of our favorites which we just managed to enjoy with dinner on the verandah one night.

It all began with an uneventful American Airlines’ flight from LA to Miami where we overnighted in the perky EPIC Hotel, a boutique, hip, happening hot spot with great rooms with balconies and views, a good restaurant, top notch fitness center, spa (we didn’t have time to test), large, inviting, saltwater pool and cozy deck, friendly staff, free morning coffee and evening wine and close to the Port  of Miami where our ship was waiting (actually less than a $10 cab fare away).

Check out the line at www.crystalcruises.com . Also check out: www.savvyseafarer.com and  http://bit.ly/2P9nFf for more of my musings about this cruise and other travels.

FYI: Crystal Cruises covers the seven seas with a handful of sailing from Los Angeles that this year includes: A February 14 sailing from Miami to Los Angeles, a 17-day cruise from LA to Sydney on Feb. 28; a 19 day Panama Canal voyage from LA on Nov. 2, a 7-day Mexican Riviera sailing on Nov. 21 and a 14-day voyage to Hawaii from LA to Hawaii on Dec. 22..

The cruise line attracts a middle-aged and older, well-heeled, frequent traveler type, mostly loyal, repeat passengers who after sampling Crystal refuse to  abandon ship. Fares are in the upper industry range and vary across the board depending on many factors making it difficult to quote. You really need to go to the web site to get an idea: www.crystalcruises.com.