Beverly Hills/Los Angeles

BEVERLY HILLS – Should we stay in Los Angeles, Hollywood or Beverly Hills? This was the decision we had to make for the second leg of our trip to California. Downtown LA is best suited for the business crowd; Hollywood, in my opinion, is just a little too busy; and Beverly Hills (www.lovebeverlyhills.com) is simply one of world’s most sought-after locales.

Centrally located in Greater Los Angeles, this is recognized as a premier vacation and business travel destination, boasting beautiful weather year-round, acclaimed full-service and boutique hotel accommodations, sumptuous dining, and incomparable shopping.  Synonymous with Hollywood glamour, Beverly Hills enjoys an international reputation as the home and playground of A-list movie stars.  The city is not only known worldwide for its grand mansions and chic shops along Rodeo Drive, but also for its multitude of art and architecture, spas and salons, and exceptional walk-ability.

There are self-guided walking tours of Beverly Hills, screenings at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the historic Greystone Mansion, museum exhibits, art shows, concerts and film festivals.

THE MONTAGE:   We were thrilled to experience the beautiful Montage Beverly Hills (www.montagehotels.com/beverlyhills), ideally situated for shopping and dining among Rodeo Drive’s storied collection of shops, restaurants and galleries. The hotel features 201 well-appointed guestrooms, including 55 suites as well as 20 private residences and Spa Montage Beverly Hills. We stayed in a luxury one bedroom 875 square foot Beverly Suite, which   features a king-sized bed, a private living room and one and one-half bathrooms. There is a very large book shelf, with reading material.  Overlooking stunning views of the Beverly Hills skyline, the living room offers a comfortable sitting area with a queen-sized sleeper sofa and a dining table for two in select suites. Every indulgence imaginable is provided, including stunning marble and mosaic-tiled bathrooms with generous tubs and dual sinks, an executive desk with a 42-inch LCD television and an in-room guest tablet featuring access to all of the hotel’s amenities and services at the touch of a button. There is complimentary champagne awaiting for you in the mini-bar upon arrival.

Montage Beverly Hills was the first hotel and residences to receive Gold LEED certification in Southern California. In 2015, Montage Beverly Hills was named the #1 Hotel in Los Angeles in the Condé Nast Traveler Annual Readers’ Choice Awards.

Guests here have access to the rooftop retreat, complete with a saline swimming pool and an exceptionally large whirlpool. Private poolside cabanas, The Rooftop Bar & Grill and lush landscaping are set against the backdrop of panoramic views of the Beverly Hills cityscape and the Hollywood hills. The Rooftop Grill serves fresh California cuisine in a comfortable atmosphere that perfectly complements an afternoon by the pool. We were absolutely enthralled with this setting and the welcoming staff, who set us up so comfortably and kept checking on us.

The valet parking system works beautifully. Call from your room and your vehicle is waiting outside.

Montage Hotels & Resorts is a hotel and resort management company founded by Alan J. Fuerstman. Designed to serve the luxury traveler and homeowner, the company features an artistic collection of distinctive hotels, resorts and residences in stunning settings that offer comfortable elegance, a unique sense of place and spirit, impeccable hospitality and memorable culinary, spa and lifestyle experiences.

DINING OUT:  Montage Beverly Hills has partnered with chef and restaurateur, Geoffrey Zakarian, who brought two new concepts, Georgie (http://www.georgierestaurant.com)

and The Garden Bar, to the hotel and local community.  Georgie, Zakarian’s first Los Angeles restaurant, is a lush and textured space with a relaxed and playful ambience.  Located on the ground floor of the hotel, The Garden Bar is a bustling, dynamic lounge adjacent to Georgie and offers classic cocktails and all day fare in a comfortable yet refined setting.  Both concepts feature indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the spectacular Beverly Canon Gardens.

Georgie, with its warm and welcoming environment, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers vibrant, thoughtfully balanced dishes that showcase Zakarian’s Modern American cuisine.  The Garden Bar serves as a glamorous neighborhood gathering place with a robust beverage and cocktail program, in addition to a lighter food menu offered morning to night.

We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at Georgie, where our wonderful server Olivia guided us perfectly through a very impressive looking menu. For starters we shared some delicious Dungeness crab and a dozen East and West Coast oysters. For main courses we opted for the smoked beef cheek, the poached Dover sole and the New England rack of lamb, each beautifully presented and tantalizing. Olivia surprised us with an order of beet risotto, something I would not have selected on my own. It was superb! So was another appetizer, the pâté en croute and a side of mushrooms (stuffed with more mushrooms).  Dessert was an absolute delight, with some Georgie donut bites, lemon basil roasted peaches, pineapple upside down cake and house made sorbet and gelato. It was a warm summer evening, so we dined on the lovely outdoor terrace. Whether you are staying at the Montage or are anywhere near the LA/Beverly Hills area, make Georgie a stop on your dining tour!

The executive chef is Wilfrid Hocquet, who came here from France and he consistently updates the menu. Zakarian has naturally been on site. Chef de Cuisine is Elisha Ben-Haim. You can book a table by e-mail at reservations@georgierestaurant.com, calling
310-860-7970   or via Open Table.

Zakarian is one of the nation’s premier restaurateurs.  With an eye for style and a passion for hospitality, he operates food and beverage venues across the United States, including The Lambs Club in New York City, The National in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut, The Water Club at The Borgata in Atlantic City, The Palm Court, The Champagne Bar and The Rose Club at The Plaza Hotel.  In addition to the restaurants, his company, Zakarian Hospitality, has produced the acclaimed cookbooks, Geoffrey Zakarian’s Town / Country and My Perfect Pantry: 150 Easy Recipes from 50 Essential Ingredients and will launch  a line of products with HSN in the summer of 2016.  Info: www.geoffreyzakarian.com.

The Palm

Last summer we experienced the Palm Restaurant (http://thepalm.com/Beverly-Hills), for the first time while in Atlantic City. When we found out there was a relatively new Palm location in Beverly Hills it moved to the top of our list. Just a few blocks East of Rodeo Drive at 267 North Cannon Drive, this 6,000 square foot 185 seat dining establishment opened its doors on November 7, 2014. It did so at the same time as the long-established West Hollywood location was closing its doors.

General Manager Jeff Kops and Executive Chef Pedro Inoscencio run a fine oiled machine here. We had the novelty of walking only a few doors away from our hotel. There is valet parking for those who drive there.

Leather booths dot the main dining room. There is private dining area in the back, as well as a large window-side table directly in the front. As per the Palm’s signature, the main wall depicts iconic L.A. destinations. In fact it serves as a living wall where caricatures of new “regulars” are being painted over time.

The Palm philosophy was born in 1926, when Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi opened their first location in New York City. From day one, Pio and John shared their commitment to quality and generosity of spirit with every guest who walked through their doors. What began as a restaurant became a legend – a place to not only enjoy an excellent meal but also catch up with old friends, meet new ones, close business deals, and celebrate family milestones. Still owned and operated by members of the Bozzi and Ganzi families, The Palm continues to serve as a second home for countless patrons, thanks to the exceptional standard of hospitality established by its founders.

When you start with the best ingredients available, you don’t need to rely on overly elaborate recipes or culinary fads. That’s why The Palm Restaurant’s menu features honest, satisfying dishes that reflect the best of our Italian-American heritage – from prime aged steaks and jumbo Nova Scotia lobsters to Italian classics like Chicken Parmigiana and Veal Martini.

We started off with one of their outstanding house drinks, a cherry blossom- CIROC Vodka, PAMA Pomegrante Liqueur, hand-squeezed lemon juice, cane syrup, topped with Nicola Feuillette Brut Champagne. As an appetizer we shared a delicious order of baked clams, served on top of some superb sauce which our server recommended we dip our bread in. It was a good tip.  The Monday Night “Chop Chop” Salad (finely chopped romaine, iceberg, tomato, onion, roasted pepper, radish, scallion and anchovies) was amazing. Then came the main course, a fabulous surf and turf we put together – a 28 ounce prime Porterhouse steak and a four pound lobster. The steak was cut nicely from the bone and divided in two. A staff member then came over and cracked the lobster for us, something I always appreciate. We added some whipped potatoes with roasted garlic on the side. What a spectacular dining experience this was! And it was not over. For dessert we had the house speciality, warm cinnamon sugar donut holes with raspberry and chocolate sauce along with whipped cream and some ice cream

Signature dishes at The Palm also include jumbo shrimp, stellar bacon-wrapped scallops, classic Italian fare like chicken parmigiana, prime steaks, seafood staples such as jumbo lump crab cakes and swordfish steak, with a cherry tomato olive relish and signature sides such as Half & Half, cottage fries and fried onions and asparagus fritti with lemon garlic butter.

For reservations call 310-550-8811 or do so directly via their website.

Thumbs Down for Nate and Al’s

Nate and Al’s, the famous deli on Beverly Drive, was a big disappointment. I went to get a pickup order and despite asking the gentleman on the phone and again in person to include plastic cutlery and some mustards in the bag, he did not do so. I then had to dash around my hotel asking for these things. By the time I sat down to eat, my soup was cold and my hot pastrami was not too tasty. Ditto for a simple order of scrambled eggs and hash browns – a big thumbs down.

A BLUE RIBBON FOR THE GROVE:  The Grove is a magnificent outdoor retail and entertainment complex which opened in 2002. You will want to take pictures at the large animated fountain.    An internal transit system uses electric-powered trolley cars to link The Grove and the adjacent Farmers Market. The Grove is anchored by Nordstrom and has flagship stores for British fashion chain Topshop/Topman, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. Other stores in the center include Michael Kors, two-story GAP and J.Crew locations, Crate & Barrel, Nike, MAC Cosmetics, Coach, Anthropologie, Barneys New York, Kiehl’s, and American Girl Place. The main entertainment venue is a 14-screen movie theater complex owned by Pacific Theatres. The Grove’s many restaurants include Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill (https://www.blueribbonrestaurants.com), showcases the Bromberg Brothers’ and partner Toshi Ueki’s dedication to the tradition of pristine quality fish and family style Japanese fare. You will be treated to some of the well-known Blue Ribbon staples such as togarashi spiced Fried Chicken served with Wasabi Honey and Oxtail and Bone marrow fried rice as well as an extensive wine, sake and cocktail menu.

SIXT RENT A CAR:  For this trip to California, renting our own car was a priority.  In researching all of the different options I came across one I was frankly not familiar with called Sixt Rent a Car (www.sixt.com). After collecting our luggage at Los Angeles International Airport, we headed to the shuttle area where a Sixt van pulled up and brought us to their large garage very nearby. It was seamless check-in process. I was pleasantly surprised to drive away with a significant upgrade – a white Mercedes. This was a first for me. Customer Service Branch Manager Maria Vigil patiently explained the operation of the vehicle. It drove so smoothly, I was very sad to return the keys at the end of my trip. We also met the new branch manager, Amar Tankha, who told us that Sixt also has branches in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach and Santa Monica.

Sixt Rent a Car was founded in 1912 in Munich, Germany, and started out with a fleet of just three vehicles. As one of the first and most important international car rental companies in the world – with over 100 years in operation – the business seems to have earned a trusted reputation as a global leading car rental provider. Sixt was the first car rental company with a website and the first to accept mobile reservations. Today they are present in over 100 countries with branches in over 4,000 locations. You will be able to find Sixt car rental services internationally, in almost every major city and tourist destination worldwide and at convenient locations such as airports, train stations, cruise ports, and hotels.

Sixt expanded to the United States in 2011 and is now present at 50 locations in 14 States. This includes the following airport locales: Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX), Phoenix (PHX), Seattle (SEA), Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Miami (MIA), Orlando (MCO), San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC), Atlanta (ATP) and Tampa (TPA). Up next will be San Diego and San Antonio. According to Daniel Florence, the co-president for Sixt USA, operations began at Miami Airport and rapidly expanded both within Florida and to key on- and off-airport locations throughout the US.

The company’s strengths lie in the high proportion of premium cars in its vehicle fleet, the consistent service orientation of employees, and a good price-performance ratio. Taken together, these strengths have given the company an excellent market position. “We are proud to maintain alliances with renowned brands in the hotel industry, well-known airlines and numerous prominent service providers in the tourism sector,” stated Florence.

Sixt has a wide range of categories and models, including SUVs, convertibles, sedans, pick-up trucks, vans, and sports cars. The majority of its vehicles are from premium brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Cadillac, and BMW.

There is a lot of buzz around hidden costs when renting a car. Which are the advantages of renting with Sixt?  “We always say that with Sixt, you can drive first class and pay economy, and it’s really true,” says Florence. “Our cars are generally no more than nine months old, and we offer premium brands at extremely competitive prices. Additionally, the Sixt experience is just unique – our customers are impressed by everything from the sleek design of the stations to our friendly rental agents, who might offer a chilled bottle of water on a hot day. A couple of weeks ago in Miami Beach, we surprised our customers with popsicles, beach balls, sunglasses, and photos. We strive to keep our rates as transparent as possible, and our rental agents are always happy to explain in-depth how our coverage packages and other additional sales products works, so that there are no surprises in the end.”

WARNER BROTHERS TOUR: When in LA you really should not miss an opportunity to experience the Warner Brothers Studio Tour (https://www.wbstudiotour.com) in Burbank. This is a three hour visit inside a real working Hollywood studio. Guests get to explore outdoor sets and soundstages used to create productions such as Gilmore Girls, The Big Bang Theory and Argo. Each tour includes exclusive access to original props, costumes, picture cars, and sets used from Batman to Friends. Additionally, studio tour guests stop at the DC Universe – DC Comics Exhibit, the real Central Perk Friends set,  spots used for the motion picture La La Land (such as the café where Emma Stone’s character worked), the original Batman Museum – Batmobile Collection, and so much more.   We went into the buildings where the Ellen  Degeneres  and Conan O’Brien shows are recorded. There is plenty of time to pop out of your trolley and take photos.

While we were at the WB, we went behind the scenes of the hit tween drama Pretty Little Liars. We had the opportunity to see and experience a collection of authentic props and wardrobes from the show for the first time, including iconic costumes worn by the show’s five lead characters: Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale), Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson), Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell), Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario), and Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse). In addition to authentic character wardrobes from the series, Pretty Little Liars: Made Here  also showcased a variety of memorable set design elements from the show, including a recreation of A’s lair, complete with costumes, props, and décor; all five Pretty Little Liars dolls; select pieces from the Caleb, Ezra, and Toby characters,  including Toby’s Rosewood police uniform; the Liar’s Lament “endgame” board; Radley Sanatorium; Halloween/Masquerade Ball episode costumes; and an interactive green-screen photo opportunity.

On December 9, 2016, a reimagined exhibit opened offering an up-close look at authentic props and costumes from Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them and the beloved Harry Potter films. Highlights of the Fantastic Beasts experience include costumes worn by Eddie Redmayne (Newt Scamander), Katherine Waterston (Tina Goldstein), Alison Sudol (Queenie Goldstein), Dan Fogler (Jacob Kowalski) and Colin Farrell (Percival Graves), as well as Newt’s case of creatures. Tour guests are now able to explore how J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World has been brought to life on the silver screen over the past 15 years.

Soundstage and Backlot availability is subject to change daily due to production on the lot. No two tours are alike. A studio and deluxe tour experience is unique every day of the week.  And with more than 450,000 registered artifacts, the Warner Bros. Prop Department contains countless treasures used in nearly a century’s worth of entertainment.   The latter was established in the early days of the Studio to house the antiques from the very first Warner Bros. productions. Today, it has grown to over 200,000 square feet and four floors of set dressing. From Casablanca to The Hangover, you’ll see history unfold right before your eyes during your journey through arguably the largest prop department in the world.

Stage 48: Script to Screen features an interactive soundstage exploring phases of the film and television production process. Here is where you see how Hollywood is made. The knowledgeable tour guides, like ours named Tim, will happily answer all of your production-related questions—and reveal even more of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets—during this 45-minute, self-guided experience at one of the best things to do in Los Angeles. From screenwriting and casting, to audio mixing and the glory of awards season, guests will enjoy a truly immersive look at how the magic of Hollywood is made. I even got to hold a real Academy Award trophy for the camera, weighing in at eight pounds.

The best way to purchase tickets is online via wbstudiotour.com and clicking the “Buy Tickets Now” button, located at the top of the website. Online purchases allow you to print your tickets at home for your convenience. The parking lot is located at 3400 Warner Blvd. Burbank, CA 91505.

HELICOPTER TOUR:  If you are looking to get a really great view of the city, book a flight with Elite Helicopters (www.elitehelicopters.com).  The 30 minute Downtown/Hollywood tour. Is highly recommended. Owner Helen Kosmala and her team of pilots aim to please. You are asked to arrive 15 minutes in advance. They are located on Roscoe Blvd in Van Nuys, California.  Dress light and comfortably and leave bulky purses and jackets in the car. Don’t forget to charge the camera!

CEDAR SINAI MEDICAL CENTER:    If you need a hospital in the Los Angeles area, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (https://www.cedars-sinai.edu) on Beverly Boulevard is a non-profit, tertiary 886-bed hospital and multi-specialty academic health science facility which has a well-deserved reputation for truly treating its patience well. I have spoken to many Canadians who have needed to go to a hospital while in LA and they rave about this place. For starters, the triage process in Emergency is so well organized. After a nurse goes through the basic questions, any blood tests deemed necessary are done immediately. When admissions takes your basic information for registration they make it so easy for you to connect with your insurance company and have them receive the bill directly – saving the stress about having to lay out a lot of money. They do not bilk you for parking. In fact, when you are discharged they validate your ticket, bringing the price down to $5. The cafeteria does not try and overcharge either. You can have a light dinner for $4.50. Form the physicians to the nurses and even the individuals who transfer you for different tests, they all treat the patients so warmly.

Since its beginning in 1902, Cedars-Sinai has evolved to meet the healthcare needs of one of the most diverse regions in the nation, continually setting new standards in quality and innovation in patient care, research, teaching and community service.

Cedars-Sinai is one of the largest non-profit academic medical centers in the U.S. with 2,100 physicians, 2,800 nurses and thousands of other healthcare professionals and staff. Clinical programs range from primary care for preventing, diagnosing and treating common conditions to specialized treatments for rare, complex and advanced illnesses. In addition, Cedars-Sinai serves the community through its Medical Network, which includes the highly rated Cedars-Sinai Medical Group and Cedars-Sinai Health Associates

Cedars-Sinai has consistently been named one of America’s Best Hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, has received the National Research Corporation’s Consumer Choice Award 18 years in a row for providing the highest quality medical care in Los Angeles, and has the longest running Magnet designation for nursing excellence in California.

Cedars-Sinai is a leader in the clinical care and research of heart disease, cancer and brain disorders, among other areas. Pioneering research achievements include using cardiac stem cells to repair damaged hearts, developing minimally invasive surgical techniques and discovering new types of drugs to target cancer more precisely.

Cedars-Sinai also impacts the future of healthcare through education programs that encompass everything from highly competitive medical residency and fellowship programs to a biomedical science and translational medicine PhD program, advanced training for nurses and educational opportunities for allied health professionals. Most notably, Cedars-Sinai demonstrates a longstanding commitment to strengthening the Los Angeles community through wide-ranging programs that improve the health of its most vulnerable residents.

Cedars-Sinai began as two hospitals created by the Jewish community in the early 1900s. Since merging in the 1960s, the Cedars-Sinai has evolved and grown with Los Angeles. The newly launched historical conservancy exhibit, located on the Plaza Level of the South Tower, tells our story with photos, these fun fact videos, and much more.