With the pending launch of the Pacific Punch website, I’ve forced (ha ha) myself to travel to and fro L.A.Â As you may recall, I spent the entire month of August on the west coast and chronicled every day on the Punch because for the most part, every single moment I found significant.Â Yes, it’s no secret, I have had a love affair, not a crush mind you.Â I have moved past the fantasy and made it a reality with Southern California, particularly the City of Angels.Â It’s been in the works for over a decade; ever since I first landed at LAX in 1996 for a national sales meeting being held by the company for whom I worked at the time.Â As I stepped out into the warmth, the sun, the open skies, the dry air, I was able to exhale for the first time, which is ironic with all of the pollution.
As someone who grew up traveling on summer-long family vacations, I was not a newbie to places all over the U.S, but this was my virgin L.A. experience and I was immediately captivated.Â The city and I just gelled.Â I don’t know how to explain it, but I just felt comfortable.Â Years passed and I was able to return for a variety of reasons, many of which were because I had friends who had moved there or because I met people in D.C. who resided in L.A. and I would take the time to visit. Never mind the 3 hour time difference, the jet lag, the all day traveling.Â Every second I was in this vast city was enjoyable.Â The fresh interesting food, the shopping, the sun, the weather, the beautiful, relaxed, feeling, the warmth, the friendliness from everyone whom i was undeniable.
At first I was shy, like a blushing school girl, a bit intimidated by the greatness of this never ending adventurous land, then over time, I became more comfortable, excited anytime I could return, recalling fond memories of each of my trips once home in D.C.Â I even began to mull around the idea of moving there. “I’m moving to L.A.,” I told a friend of mine six years ago. “I know you are,” she said, nodding, fully understanding my crush had developed to a romance and I now had developed ties that I could not cut.Â Six years later, I have not moved, but I have created a way for me to become bi-coastal, thereby getting the best of both worlds, my home in the metro area and life on the west coast.Â I chose not to move for a few personal and professional reasons after deep consideration.
Once, in my 20′s I’d crushed on NYC (hasn’t everyone? many to the point of packing up, selling their cars and finding that hot little spot in the West Village) and then one day I realized my heart veered from north and focused west.Â “Dear NYC, while I <3 you and always will (and you are definitely geographically more desirable by definition, thank you Acela), I confess that my craving lies west. Sorry, but you’ve been replaced for something hotter. You are still a close second.”Â Truthfully, I find both cities sexy and plan on spending more time in both.
Sometimes I wonder if I feel this way about L.A. because it is so close in proximity to the place of my birth, Seoul, South Korea, but whatever the reason, my soul feels at home there.Â And while “at home”, particularly over the past year + of working on the development of Pacific Punch, I’ve eaten, drunk, shopped, walked, hiked, driven, relaxed, listened and watched my way around L.A. and its surrounding areas.
Don’t get me wrong.Â I’m not so enamored with L.A. that I am blind to its challenges. Every large market has its own issues whether it’s politics, traffic, crime, laws, real estate, failing industries, or even something as simple as dating or an abundance of obnoxious people.Â And in fact, my time in the land of the Pacific Punch has only broadened and deepened my connection to D.C. because I come back fresh, searching for those special finds, artists, designers, chefs, business owners, innovators, in our own fine city.
So, I’m back on the east coast.Â Back for now until maybe February, but definitely March when Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation holds its first fundraiser in L.A.Â For now, we’ll share this trip with you by dividing into Dining, Shopping, and Spas because that’s basically the majority of how we spent our time in the Pacific Punch, whose temperatures by the way, started to decline a few days before our departure.Â Then again, the 50 degrees we left were nothing compared to the 30 or so that welcomed us with chilly arms.
Today, we focus on Dining with Shopping and Spas forthcoming.
Now, I’m no restaurant critic nor foodie (Anthony Bourdain deems any vegetarian or version of, basically unworthy of air: â€œVegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans … are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit”), and we all know I don’t know how to cook. No, really, it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that I don’t know how to. People, I burn toast.Â So how do I know anything about food? Well, I eat out a lot as in “all of the time”; 3-4-5 meals a day so I’ve learned the art of knowing what to order, how to order, and what I like and what I don’t like. Critics will try anything on the menu (it’s their job) and foodies bleed adventurous blood and probably eat it too.Â Me, I’m a creature of habit and as a chicken/turkey/fish eating (no other meats nor shellfish), pasta, salad, vegetable-loving diner, my eyes have a tendency to steer away from particular sections of an establishment’s menu.Â So yes, that does mean I’m “missing out” on a large, sometimes very great portion of a chef’s creations, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy my experience any less.
I also just picked up the latest issue of Los Angeles magazine that has the Top 10 Best New Restaurants and section broken down by the city’s areas (Downtown, Mid City, West Central, Westside, West Hollywood/Hollywood, Northeast, East/San Gabriel Valley, San Fernando Valley/Valley East, Malibu/West Valley, South Bay/Long Beach) telling the hungry, “Where to Eat Now”.Â I’ve already started checking off places.Â The dining landscape in L.A. is clearly vibrant, exciting, intriguing, and a never-ending fascinating narrative.Â With so many local farms, an ocean, wineries, and chefs who aren’t afraid of their own shadows who cater to a market who eats up anything healthy, tasteful, rustic, beautiful, fun, odd and interesting, you really can’t go wrong, at least in the mind of an outsider.
Interestingly enough, there are more burger joints and chefs who claim to have the best burger in town at their non-burger joint.Â So in a city where the raw food diet is heralded, green smoothies are casually sipped, and sushi rules, the sprouting of multiple burger joints was curious to me.Â In fact, articles abound about this phenomenon in local papers and blog sites, many arguing for their own Top 10 lists.Â One of the Pacific Punch writers Joan, with whom I interviewed last November has her own Top 10 Burgers in the city.Â She rattled them off to me as we sat in Studio City’s Umami Burger aka ValliÂ (recently purchased by sbe).Â I watched as she dug into her Truffle Burger, juicy, tender, on that perfectly toasted brioche bun.Â My favorite there is the Greenbird, which by the way, was chosen as one writer’s favorite for LA Weekly, even though it’s made with turkey.Â Yes, there’s also an Earth Burger for you veggies out there.
Where was I going? Oh yes, I remember, enough about burgers and onto where we ate during the past two trips to the Pacific Punch (Thanksgiving and just this past week).Â As always, we were presented with outstanding choices and as always, we dug in.
Pacific Punch Picks for Your Palate (Part 1):
Mastro’s Steakhouse in Beverly Hills : Upscale with a piano bar, it’s dark, it’s sophisticated, it’s a bit “stuffy” for L.A. but perfect for any East Coast visitor and transplant. The service is perfect; our server had a lovely Russian accent and knew the menu inside and out and believe me, we tested her. She was affable, energetic, attractive and entertaining (very L.A.-probably an actress).Â We had martinis straight up with a twist on the 2nd level at a high top, watching the bustling bar and restaurant move with ease for a Monday evening, much like a fine Swiss watch.Â Portions are gi-normous, I had salmon and he had steak and we had too many sides.Â Perfect for a special occasion,Â closing that deal, or checking out a celebrity (we spotted singer Drake).Â 246 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills (310.888.8782)
The Churchill in Mid City : We came here to test out some of the highly recommended plates, but it quickly turned into a feast upstairs at this gastropub on the restaurant-filled West Third Street.Â Think handmade signature cocktails, 20 regional craft beers on tap and a Cali-focused wine menu, all of which we truly enjoyed.Â The patio and fireplace are attractions as is the menu, perfect for casual dining and group gatherings. Known for its pizzas, lamb bolognese, artichokes, mussels and mac and cheese, and meat dishes don’t forget to wash it all down with aÂ freshly made cocktail.Â 8384 W. Third Street (323.655.8384)
Wolfgang Puck in the Hotel Bel-Air in Bel-Air : The newly renovated and re-opened property legendary for its movie star history, swimming swans, and figures of celebrities past and present, this hidden gem is meant to be a destination for those in the know.Â We were there at a time when the swans were sleeping, but the holiday lights were twinkling upon our entering over the wood walk to the grand entrance.Â Since I hadn’t been there previously, I couldn’t compare, all though I’d heard mixed reviews from former fans.Â As for our sustenance, we started with some cocktails on the outside lounge, heated with lamps, served by a cocktail waitress who ran between out and indoors. The popular traditional bar, which the property kept intact lest there be an uproar, was completely packed.Â There was even security at the back entrance of the bar, “Exit only”, he growled and barely motioned for us to go around to the inside door as we tried to walk up the stairs (I marked this as my first unpleasant encounter in L.A. He must not be interested in a future movie role…).
Our group moved to the dining room which had an interesting set up, I felt it was a bit sparse and cold, not your typical Wolfgang Puck arrangement.Â The dinner was out of this world though. From the freshly baked olive breads with butter placed directly on the table as a welcome to our first, second, and dessert courses and the service, we were astounded.Â If you eat with your eyes first, then I was full by looking at everyone’s dishes one by one.Â Presentation alone was like artwork and of course, the celebrity chef’s signature superbness came with every bite. It’s “modern California cuisine with European and Mediterranean influences” that can be enjoyed in the dining room or the outdoor terrace or lounge/bar. Upscale, perfect small group and special occasion choice. 701 Stone Canyon Road (310.472.1211)
Campanile in Mid City : We came here for a late night supper post concert at the Whiskey Bar at the recommendation of our guitarist friend Joel Hellman.Â He’s a foodie, a chef (his mom is a chef) and we trust his judgment.Â Considered Cal-Mediterranean cuisine, the menu is full of meats like duck, salmon, beef and has been around for about 20 years.Â The bar to the left looks like a cool spot to sit and drink a mixologist’s favorite and the restaurant feels rustic, down home and casual.Â I had the signature Flattened Chicken (server suggested) which came with mashed potatoes and wild arugula. I was so stuffed I couldn’t finish, but my friends could.Â Consensus around the table, perfect choice.Â And yes, we were the last ones out of there.Â 624 S. La Brea Ave (323.938.1447)
Pace Restaurant in the Canyon : I had driven by this place dozens if not more times and hadn’t realized the tiny cozy warm treasure that laid there for me to one day experience.Â Hidden behind the sign of a market in the wooden standalone building, one has to walk around the side and venture down a few steps before finding Pace (pronounced “pach-ay”).Â They cater, do picnic packs, and are open for dinner 7 nights a week, but reservations are highly recommended.Â The place is intimate with rooms in which to dine here and there, but seating is tight (watch for running into waiters with food and wine, we had a bit of an accident when two servers collided thus spilling a salad all over our table and some articles of clothing) because they are sought after seats.Â Again, flat bread pizzas, meats, pastas, fish (I had the famous cedar plank grilled salmon) are served in healthy portions and our waiter suggested we get the chocolate molten cake ordered before he put in our dinner.Â Sold! Also, note, only wine and beer are served here, so if you have a hankering for a hard liquor, you are fish outta luck.Â No worries, the wine list is abundant and the servers are happy to guide you with your decision. Many sit at the tiny bar to eat as well.Â Management is extremely professional.Â 2100 Laurel Canyon Boulevard (323.654.8583)
Cleo in Hollywood : Found in the heart of Hollywood (they dress “differently” here…think Hollywood Boulevard, lots of legs) within The Redbury hotel, an sbe property, this place is hot and getting hotter.Â I find that there is no holding back in the decor of restaurants in L.A. What we might find daring, strange, cutting edge, maybe even appalling is commonplace in most establishments, whether by art, lighting, tables, mismatched china, funky stemware, or flatware, or even flooring, I’m never bored with design nor decor, there’s always a sensuousness to it even if it’s just a piece of artwork, or a floral arrangement.Â It’s almost as if it’s part of the meal, your amuse bouche compliments of the restaurant owner, chef, management, your bartender and your server.Â Eat and drink up with your eyes, they say.Â Cleo was no contradiction.Â Cleopatra (Theda Bara from the 1917 film “Cleopatra”) nipples, eyes and all stares straight at anyone walking into the main dining room.
Again, fully packed for this Saturday night, we ended up eating at the bar, but were treated graciously by the perky blonde bartender who happily made our signature cocktails with shakes and stirs, took our orders of the mezza to share and didn’t mind our group taking up a whole side of a bar, spreading our glasses, and multiple plates all over.Â Middle eastern cuisine small plates are perfect for sharing, full of robust flavors, spices and probably you might want to not be on a first date when you come here because I definitely had a bit of a spicy after taste in my mouth post-dinner, worth it? Yes, oh yes.Â The crowd was young, more ‘hipster’, every guy at the bar had on a fitted plaid designer button down and most came in groups of 4-6 and a few twosies here and there, then again, it was a Saturday night in Hollywood. 1717 Vine Street, Hollywood (323.962.1717)
Up Next:Â Toast, Joan’s on Third, Newsroom, Olive and Thyme, Gladstone’s, Le Petit Four and more.
Pamela Lynne Sorensen is the founder of Pamela’s Punch, a leading source of information for the “who, what, when, and where” of Washington, DC’s elite social, professional, and philanthropic scene, which she founded in November of 2006. In 2012 she launched Pacific Punch, based in Los Angeles. Pamela comes from an extensive background in sales and business development from a variety of industries, has been involved with charities and fundraising for a number of years and holds several Board and leadership positions. She currently resides in Arlington, Virginia and when she’s not out on the town, she’s reading or writing while sipping fine wine, or traveling the country and the world ISO adventures, beauty, fun, food, style, libations, music, and the good life. Follow her on Twitter at @pamelaspunch.