It’s exceptionally rare to find hair artists who truly cares about their customers’ needs and are dedicated to finding the perfect solution – and have the skill and experience to actually achieve your desired results.
With years of experience helping women and men who have fine and thinning hair challenges, Debora Routhe and Elizabeth Nunez are the dream team behind Mission Viejo based Full Strands Inc. They are the go-to professionals for clients seeking non-surgical hair replacement options.
Debora is an American Board Certified Haircolorist and a cutting specialist, while Elizabeth is a skilled and experienced barber and cosmetologist. Haircutting and hair extensions are her forte.
“When it comes to hair extensions or hair restoration/replacement, it’s not one size fits all,” says Debora. “What sets our business apart from others is our dedication to continuing education. We continually seek to discover better products and techniques to give our customers the hair of their dreams. Further, we are full-time behind the chair hairdressers. We are well versed in all aspects of color, design, and styling. This experience allows us to make all hair systems and extensions look incredibly natural and undetectable.”
Eight years ago, after an increasing number of her clients came to her with fine and thinning hair concerns, Debora made it her mission to find ways to help.
“I sought out solutions and became certified in numerous techniques,” she says. “Our business in the non-surgical hair replacement industry has grown by word of mouth from our satisfied customers. We are truly making a difference for women and men who felt for so long that they had nowhere to go and could find no acceptable solutions for their fine and thinning hair. We have seen self-confidence come back for the clients we serve. They no longer feel self conscious or embarrassed of their appearance. We are excited to come to work every day and transform our clients into the best version of themselves. We live to make people feel beautiful!”
Equally passionate about giving back to the community, Full Strands supports South County Outreach, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing hunger and homelessness by helping people help themselves with a food pantry, homeless prevention counseling, and rapid re-housing programs.
“The most rewarding aspect of owning this business is that we get to do what we want to do,” says Debora. “We get to choose the products, the hair systems, extensions, and the tools we work with. We selected the salon decor and pick the music we listen to. We have created a relaxing, private environment for our clients to enjoy and in which our creativity can flourish.”
Book online at fullstrands.com.
Full Strands is located at 27741 Crown Valley Parkway, Suite 201, Studio 23 in Mission Viejo. Debora and Elizabeth can be reached by calling 949-300-3625.
The Nutcracker, set to music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, features choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, scenery and costumes by award-winning designer Richard Hudson and lighting by Jennifer Tipton. The Pacific Symphony performs the beloved holiday score. In the Los Angeles Times review from last year’s inaugural Center performance, it declared, “Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has made his own Christmas miracle: a joyful ‘Nutcracker’ ballet that is ravishing and clever enough to inspire multiple viewings.”
Misty Copeland and Herman Cornejo will lead the opening night cast of The Nutcracker roles of Clara, the Princess and Nutcracker, the Prince, respectively. Subsequent casts include Hee Seo and Cory Stearns, Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside, Isabella Boylston and Jeffrey Cirio, Stella Abrera and Alexandre Hammoudi, and Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak in the leading roles. The engagement of The Nutcracker continues an on-going relationship between Segerstrom Center and American Ballet Theatre. The Company has appeared at the Center since the beginning in 1987. At the Center, ABT gave the world premiere of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Swan Lake in 1988, the West Coast premiere of Kevin McKenzie’s new production of The Sleeping Beauty in 2007 and the world premiere of a new production of Firebird by Alexei Ratmansky in 2012. In 2008, the Center and ABT cocommissioned Twyla Tharp’s Rabbit and Rogue, receiving its world premiere in New York and West Coast premiere at the Center. In 1999, ABT’s production of Le Corsaire was taped in Segerstrom Hall for broadcast on PBS’ Dance In America, winning an Emmy Award. In 2003, The Dream was also taped at the Center for broadcast on Dance In America. In March 2015, Segerstrom Center presented the world premiere of ABT’s new production of The Sleeping Beauty as choreographed by Maurius Petipa with staging and additional choreography by Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky. In March of 2017, American Ballet Theatre will return to the Center with the world premiere of its new production, Whipped Cream, choreographed by ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky, with sets and costumes by pop-surrealist Mark Ryden.
Single tickets for American Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker start at $29 are now available online at SCFTA.org, at the Box Office at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa or by calling (714) 556-2787. For inquiries about group ticket discounts for 10 or more, call the Group Services office at (714) 755-0236.
Special Sweet Seats are available for every performance and include:
Diane Silverstein had never heard of the show “Absolutely Fabulous” when she named her aptly-titled gifts and décor boutique in central Huntington Beach. But the fun-loving, irreverent, blonde, champagne-promoting show does give a glimpse into what makes Absolutely Fabulous such a treasure. Absolutely Fabulous is not your run-of-the-mill, Hallmark-style gift shop; they are as fun and irreverent as the show they share a name with. “We’re like family here,” glows Diane. “I give my regulars a 10% discount on everything, and we often know what they’re looking for before they do.”
The nature of gift purchasing has changed greatly since the advent of the internet. How has Absolutely Fabulous stayed above the fray and blossomed while the rest of the gift industry flounders? “That’s easy,” responds Diane Silverstein, “quality, selection, price range, and ease of shopping.” After many visits to her “absolutely fabulous” gift and décor shop, I would have to agree. “Plus – we ship world-wide, so you can mail your stuff right from here!”
While the internet excels at making home shopping the easiest experience, when you know exactly what you’re looking for, much of holiday gift-giving starts with “who is this for, and how much do I want to spend on them?” Absolutely Fabulous makes this type of shopping easy with their “you know the personality, we know the product” approach to holiday gift-giving. “You see,” Diane explains in her charming English accent, “we spend hours and hours searching for the best new products offered in the gift industry. When our customers come in with their lists, we walk them around and point out options that our customers would never have found in an internet search.”
Diane is not kidding on that last point. The variety and uniqueness of products at Absolutely Fabulous is astounding: hand-made jewelry, Miche Bag purses (the ones where you just drop the “insides” of your purse into a new shell, rather than having to dump all of your stuff out!), $10 silk scarves, old-school shaving kits for men, a “Daddy’s Tool Bag” that includes diaper changing equipment, and instructional DVD, face mask and other funny items, rare paintings by successful artists, large crystal chandeliers, crystal perfume bottles, stuffed animal baby bottle covers, piggy banks for kids, “dorm survival kits” for new students, wedding party gifts, rare Disney art and collectibles, Christmas decorations that range from very inexpensive bottle stoppers and tree decorations to 6-foot high collectible Santa dolls. Absolutely really does cover the gamut of gifts for anyone: “from birth to death and everything in-between is our moniker” Diane proudly states. I tend to agree.
Let’s see what other people have had to say about Absolutely Fabulous (we checked their reviews): “nicest ladies who took terrific care of me,” “Love this store. It’s amazing and wonderful to shop in.” The raves go on and on. Absolutely Fabulous is not only a local treasure, however, they have been awarded multiple national awards for her visual merchandising (did I mention that they have the best windows in the country – an honor repeatedly bestowed upon them by industry publications) and marketing. Diane was even flown to the United Kingdom by Gifts and Decorative Accessories Magazine (the leading magazine in the gift industry), put up in a hotel, and honored with the title of “VIP buyer.” “I guess they just like the selections I’ve made over the years,” Diane humbly responds when I ask why they chose her for this honor.
So what are you waiting for? For every dollar spent at a local shop, 48% goes back into the community. If you purchase from a major, non-local, retailer, the number is 13%. For the internet - nothing (unless the business or distributor happens to be close to you, which is highly unlikely)!! This holiday season, find out why Absolutely Fabulous is so appropriately-named. Give local family businesses your time. You will find that you spend both less time and less money, all while adding to the local economy. It’s a no-brainer!
Connect with Diane and the crew at Absolutely Fabulous located at 6026 Warner Avenue in Huntington Beach, call (714) 842-1608 or visit www.absolutelyfabulous1.com
Full disclosure: I am a mom. It’s a fact that may belie my bias when I tell you that sometimes a girl simply needs a break. Children, husbands, work, the unending demands of every single day… it catches up with you. Even the oft-offered advice, “You must make time for yourself!” can feel like just another pressure.
The anecdote to the mayhem? A few relaxing days away in wine country, visiting family and friends. With our two young children in tow, my husband and I headed to Napa and neighboring Yountville, where we whiled away the days wining, dining, playing tourist and spending quality family time.
Visitors travel here from all over the globe to experience picturesque scenery and wine, paired with fine dining, entertainment and adventuring. For Orange County families, it’s a little getaway with a lot to offer: Far away enough to be really away and close enough to keep your separation-from-responsibilities anxiety in check.
For the ideal family vacation that leaves you refreshed and enriched, pack a little bit of everything into your visit.
Napa Valley Wine Train
Napa is known for its panoramic vistas, fine dining and history. So what better way to experience the views and vintages, enjoy a gourmet meal and step back in time to the days when rails ruled as the preferred mode of travel than to step aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train (www.winetrain.com)?
The Napa Valley railway dates back to the late 19th century and eventually became part of the Southern Pacific Railroad (the original passenger service was discontinued in 1929). Sixty years later, when Southern Pacific petitioned to abandon the line, a group of local investors formed the Napa Valley Railroad (NVRR) and purchased the right of way. Since that time, the NVRR has evolved into one of the most popular excursion trains in the country. The Wine Train’s gourmet lunch and dinner trains began service in 1989 and the line, which now includes 36 miles of track, rolls by 26 different wineries at about 10 miles an hour (the trip, which lasted just shy of three, started and ended at the downtown Napa station).
Three onboard kitchens allow Napa Valley Wine Train chefs to create culinary works of art from scratch using “fresh seasonal ingredients as well as humanely raised, hormone-free meats and line-caught fish” in creating gourmet meals for lunch and dinner.
Meals are served at tables laid out in the opulent dining cars with white linen, beautiful china and silverware. The meal starts with a selection of artisan cheeses and finely cut meats, followed by a choice of grilled and roasted beef tenderloin or the Chef’s fresh selection of seafood.
And now with the addition of a 36-seat Pullman railcar, for the first time in its 27-year history, the iconic Napa Valley Wine Train will make several stops along the route, allowing guests to spend time tasting and touring four wineries. If you’re contemplating this new indulgent "Quattro Vino tour,” plan to carve off six leisurely hours with stops at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, and the V. Sattui, Merryvale and Charles Krug wineries in St. Helena (the Quattro Vino tour runs daily on separate tracks from the regular three-hour tour train tour).
Napa Vineyard House
We really lucked out in discovering a wonderful accommodation within easy driving distance to downtown Napa, tasting rooms and wineries. Because we have family friends who live in the area, we’ve been blessed to be able to visit the region fairly frequently, generally staying with our friends or in one of the nearby hotel properties.
The charming two-bedroom cottage at the Napa Vineyard House (www.napavineyardhouse.com) proved to be a tranquil retreat convenient to everything and yet just far enough away from the bustle of downtown to make you feel like you were really “getting away from it all.” On their web site, owners Kevin Hall and his wife claim that from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave “we’ll do our best to make you feel at home” and our family can attest that they certainly deliver on this promise.
Conveniently located to great wineries, restaurants and shopping and with wonderful vineyard views to the north and south ensures that you know that you are in the Napa Valley wine country. The cottage features two separate bedrooms, each with its own bathroom on either side of a common area complete with a kitchenette, dining table and chairs and lounge area. As lovely as the accommodation is, it’s the thoughtful touches that really made our stay memorable - from the fragrant L’Occitane bath products and bottle of wine and beverages chilling in the fridge to the daily morning delivery of breakfast on our doorstep (delicious pastries, fresh seasonal fruit and juice from the renowned Bouchon Bakery - where you’ll find a line out the door of locals and tourists alike no matter what time you stop by).
If you don’t need the extra space, the property also offers a number of smaller, signature suites - all outfitted with the same luxurious Restoration Hardware furniture and linens, automated shade system, heated tile bathroom floors, complimentary wireless Internet, Bouchon Bakery breakfast and private vineyard views.
It’s easy to imagine a wedding taking place on the perfectly manicured lush green lawn. For our part, we chose to take full advantage of an adjacent space and unwind with a glass of wine in front of a crackling outdoor fireplace and step into the farmhouse-style lounge for a family board game.
Nearby Yountville ranks among the country’s most scenic communities. The postcard-perfect landscape surrounding this wine country town is reminiscent of the rolling French countryside while its downtown (on either side of its two-lane main drag - Washington Street) is defined by a collection of quaint structures built of brick, stone and wood adorned with ivy. These buildings are home to a concentration of one-of-a-kind boutiques, art galleries, wine tasting rooms, informal eateries and gourmet restaurants.
Arguably the epicenter of Yountville shopping, V Marketplace features a number of specialty shops - highlighted stops include Scents of Napa (skin and beauty products inspired by the Napa Valley scents of lavender, French oak barrels, grape skins and rain water), Tay & Grace (‘wine country casual’ fashions) and Knickers & Pearls (a pink and frilly store stocked with beautiful lingerie and bridal accessories).
For our Yountville portion of our Napa Valley getaway, we chose the Mediterranean-inspired North Block Hotel (northblockhotel.com) Situated around a social courtyard, this boutique property features 20 sophisticated, comfortably chic guest rooms - all with either a patio or balcony, oversized bathroom with heated floors, a large soaking tub and separate rain shower, espresso machine, flat-screen TVs, music system and a mini fridge.
We loved the Superior King guest room, located on the hotel’s second floor, for its abundant natural light, plantation shutters, warming gas fireplace, balcony above the social courtyard and its proximity to the gorgeous pool area where the kids spent the better part of an afternoon while their parents enjoyed - you guessed it, a glass of fine wine - from the shaded vantage point of the cushioned lounge chairs.
The hotel is home to Redd Wood, a superbly stylish Italian-inspired eatery by renowned Chef Richard Reddington which “brings a new sensibility to this laid-back wine country destination” with a voguish vibe, osteria-styled restaurant menu and locally-favored wine list.
Speaking of wine … one of the most frequently visited landmarks in the valley is located within easy walking distance from downtown Yountville: on a knoll shaded by ancient oak trees on one of Yountville’s premier pieces of real estate. Visitors to Domaine Chandon (chandon.com) can stroll the stunningly beautiful grounds across a bridge over ponds to a patio fronting the tasting room of the first winery to be established in the United States by a French wine and spirits producer, Moët Hennessy. Today, as America’s leading sparkling wine producer, Domaine Chandon applies meìthode traditionnelle techniques to showcase the ripe fruit and vibrant character of California. Over the course of its 43+ year history in Napa Valley, the winery expanded its portfolio to include still wines, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Our tour provided a casual, informative education on the winery’s history, its winemaking process and grape-growing regions followed by a tasting that offered further insight into the world of sparkling wines and the grapes used to make them (tastings are offered daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Tasting Room or on the terrace).
Following our tour, we strolled back through town to dine at Bistro Jeanty (bistrojeanty.com) - the genteel iconic Michelin-star restaurant - and only French owned and operated dining establishment in Napa Valley - serving traditional French countryside dishes including Mussels au vin rouge, Cassoulet (baked beans, duck confit, toulouse sausage and apple smoked bacon), the famed rich and tasty tomato soup in golden brown puff pastry and coq au vin (chicken, mushrooms, apple smoked bacon and red wine stew). Between the four of us, every category was covered: seafood aficionado and meat lovers alike. The sole meuniere was perfectly prepared - Petrale sole fillet well cooked, moist throughout with lemon caper butter sauce atop a bed of mashed potatoes. My husband thoroughly enjoyed his Fliet au Poivre (Black Angus tournedos with a black pepper crust, haricots verts and a creamy mushroom sauce). The atmosphere was quaint and charming, the dishes delicious, the service attentive - all in all, an ideal ending to our culinary sojourn that day.
The next night, we opted an entirely different and equally enjoyable dining experience: this time at Lucy Bar and Restaurant at Bardessono (bardesonno.com) where the menu, derived from the seasonal offerings in and around Napa Valley, is characterized by fresh, innovative, garden-inspired cuisine, artisanal cocktails and of course, fine wine. Every dish is truly “field-to-fork” fare - all the cuisine starts in Lucy’s Garden, located onsite at Bardessono (an atmospheric hotel and spa with a sustainable, modern-theme that translates through to its signature eatery) only steps from the restaurant kitchen and proteins are sourced from local farmers and purveyors, as well as a majority of seasonal seafood from the bay area.
By focusing the menu on what is in the garden or grown at local farms and picked at peak ripeness allows the culinary team to create the most flavorful of dishes. We started with “shared plates” of baby beet salad (flavored with fried goat cheese, wild arugula mousse and gargen sprouts) and the rich, melt-in-your-mouth hand-rolled gnocchi with kale pesto and tartufata.
Two standout dishes among a menu of standout cuisine was the Diver Sea Scallops paired with English pea puree, pancetta, crispy beets and tarragon butter and the Dry Aged Striploin which was cooked to perfection and flavorfully enhanced by foraged mushrooms, truffled “rosti,” duck liver and smoked beef belly bordelaise.
According to its web site, Bardesonno is “built upon the possibility of a meaningful exchange between the traveler and host.” Every diner in our party would wholeheartedly agree that it was a spot on assessment of our evening at Lucy Bar and Restaurant, due in large part to our server, Frankie, who deserves to be mentioned by name. Clearly a seasoned professional, she more than delivered with exemplary service that was amiable, attentive, knowledgable and unobtrusive.
Napa Valley Art Museum
Just across the St. Helena Highway and again, an easy stroll from downtown Yountville is the Napa Valley Museum (napavalleymuseum.org), housed on the grounds of the California Veteran’s Home. A great way to gain an understanding of the region’s storied past is to view its permanent art and artifacts - from the 1950s Napa City Limits sign (population then: 13,155. Now: 77,000+) and photos of the pioneers of wine, the museum chronicles the history of Napa Valley, its people and geology, along with the wine industry that put the region on the map.
The Museum’s Main Gallery showcases a changing array of exhibitions featuring regional, national and local artists as well as treasures from local private collections. The newly opened current exhibit, scheduled to remain at the museum for the next six months, is entitled “Down the Rabbit Hole: Innovated Video Games” where visitors can explore the world of independent video games with an interactive experience of 10 fully playable gaming stations featuring both well known and fringe creators.
If you don’t feel like walking, you can always hop aboard the free Yountville Trolley that runs from downtown to the museum and back every half an hour.
An attractive Southern belle lined with blooming dogwoods and fragrant azaleas, Atlanta bears the distinction of being as some call it - a small town trapped in a big city or perhaps more accurately, a collection of small towns. In any event, this “capital city of the New South” was surprisingly far more lush with greenery than we envisioned. What was not unexpected were the abundance of historic sites, commercial enterprises, burgeoning art scene and of course, Southern hospitality.
It’s a city that has been known by many names over the years (it was once called Terminus and Marthasville), but resurgence and renewal are no stranger to this thriving metropolis that was burned to the ground during the Civil War only to rise from the ashes like a “phoenix” (the mythological bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn) that now serves as the city’s motto.
In more recent memory, Atlanta is the birth city of Martin Luther King, Jr. and holds its place of importance during the Civil Rights Movement and its Centennial Olympic Park was the site of the 1996 Summer Games. And of course, the city is home to countless corporations including Coca Cola and Turner Broadcasting.
Since we were only here for 36 hours, we wanted to make the most of our stay by visiting the “must-see” sites on every tourist’s list and stopping by some of the perhaps lesser-known areas of this historic city. So we crafted our checklist to include Centennial Olympic Park, the World of Coca Cola and Skyview Atlanta (the ferris wheel that towers nearly 20 stories above Centennial Park). We took two tours - first a fun trolley ride full of other tourists on to gain a great overview and lay of the land and then a private excursion via an open-air electric vehicle that provided a more in-depth narrative and personal insights from a 30+ year resident’s perspective.
Because many of Atlanta’s top attractions are squeezed into a relatively small area, we chose to stay at The Loews Atlanta, located in mid-town and an easy walk or Uber ride to and from anywhere we wanted to go. Once we arrived, our rental car remained at the hotel until it was time to head home.
The stylish, contemporary 414-room (including 44 suites) Loews Atlanta hotel (loewshotels.com) proved to be the perfect “home base” for our three-day stay. Our accommodation was an exceedingly comfortable, bright space with floor-to-ceiling windows, a spacious bathroom with a soaking tub and a TV and a gourmet mini-bar.
Upscale amenities included a beautifully soothing spa, an expansive state-of-the-art fitness center with such a broad offering of workouts (yoga, spin classes) and equipment that it is by far the most impressive hotel fitness facility I’ve ever seen, a hip lobby bar and innovative restaurant, Saltwood Charcuterie & Bar.
Named for its emphasis on salted, cured meats and cheeses classically presented on rustic wooden boards, the restaurant’s centerpiece is its charcuterie station where diners can sample hand-carved, house-made and locally sourced ingredients. The menu at Saltwood, which encompasses a bar, restaurant, outdoor patio, 125-seat private dining space and chef’s table, showcases small, shareable plates and handcrafted cocktails and local microbrews.
Venturing in for lunch, we found the menu featured something for every palate, including my husband’s “go to” hamburger and fries - albeit this one was far more artfully displayed and infinitely more flavorful than the homemade variety to which he is accustomed. I know this because I felt compelled to take a bite (or two) of his signature burger which arrived piled high with sautéed mushrooms, bacon, clamored stone mountain goat cheese and a sunny side up egg, while I opted for a custom salad from the Cold Counter, where I could select from a fresh assortment of local lettuces, toppings, dressings and an array of stovetop sides, including quinoa with vegetables, couscous and more.
The best feature this luxury hotel has to offer is its prime location in the northernmost corner of Piedmont Park. Atlanta’s Midtown is the second largest business district in the city and is known as the “heart of the arts,” with an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, shopping, art galleries and award-winning musical and theatrical performances. Atlanta’s fabulous Fox Theatre is a restored movie palace turned cultural jewel that is the venue for a variety of wonderful live entertainment ranging from dance and Opera to Broadway shows and rock concerts. The Moorish lobby and ballrooms harken back to a bygone era of the opulent 1920s and a highlight of this Atlanta icon is the “Mighty Mo,” a 4,000-pipe organ built at a cost of $42,000 in 1929 that audiences can still hear today before every Broadway performance and the Atlanta Ballet’s “Nutcracker” performance each year. Even if you don’t catch a performance, the Fox Theatre is open for tours.
Another site rich in history is the recently opened National Center for Civil and Human Rights which offers a sweeping, in-depth and moving view of the movement’s darkest moments and greatest achievements. The museum also presents an evolving look at modern human rights issues here at home and around the globe.
A few miles away on Auburn Avenue, visitors can tour the stately yellow structure that is the boyhood home of the movement’s greatest leader, Martin Luther King Jr. Daily entry is free, but get there early as it’s first-come, first-served and tickets are often snapped up early in the day. Run by the National Park Service, entrance is also complimentary into the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site which offers a uniquely personal account of a very public life and includes the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (where King was baptized and where he and his father both served as pastors) and the King Center - the final resting place of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.
The Peachtree Trolley Tour (peachtreetrolley.com) - a 90-minute fully narrated tour provided a wonderful overview of the must-see stops in the city. We boarded the Phoenix (a fully-enclosed, climate controlled trolley car) and settled in for a comfortable and informative ride, rolling by the aforementioned attractions and many others, including the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, CNN, Turner Field, the golden domed Georgia State Capital, Oakland Cemetery (Atlanta’s oldest) and Underground Atlanta. Originating near Centennial Olympic Park, our guide shared a bit of history, stories and legends surrounding these iconic landmarks.
After hearing our guide’s account of the The World of Coca Cola (worldofcoca-cola.com) experience, we walked over (a mere block away from where you board and disembark) to spend the better part of the afternoon exploring the 92,000-square-foot dynamic, multi-media museum that resides on a 22-acre plot in downtown Atlanta (Coca-Cola donated nine acres for the construction of the Georgia Aquarium and another 2.5 acres to the city for the civil-and-human rights museum and where you can experience “the real stories behind the world’s most famous beverage brand.”
The lobby showcases a Coca-Cola folk art bottle display and several of the bottle sculptures that were created for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games (the company invited artists from around the world to express their country’s unique culture and artistic traditional by decorating their own bottle sculpture). The Loft is home to a mix of nearly 200 historical and international artifacts that represent more than 125 years of Coca-Cola memories, including a Coca-Cola Syrup urn circa 1886 and Coca-Cola beach pants popularized in the 1970s.
We watched a six-minute film celebrating life’s “Moments of Happiness” in the Coca-Cola Theater and speaking for the mothers and grandmothers in the room, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as we witnessed several milestone moments - big and small, including a mother’s response to her son’s video message from where he was stationed in Afghanistan and his homecoming surprise for his parents. This is a great attraction with something for family members of all ages between the the interactive exhibits and The Vault, where the secret formula is stored and the 4-D sensory movie experience complete with moving seats and other special effects. But the highlight of the tour of the Coca-Cola Tasting Room with features six “freestyle machines” with over 100 different beverage choices - both domestic and international - to sample to your heart’s content (Classic Coke is still my favorite).
Day Two we decided to start the morning with the ATL-Cruzers Electric Car and Segway Tours (atlcruzers.com) for what proved to be a highly entertaining and informative private guided experience from a longtime local’s perspective. Our guide, Mira (rhymes with “mirror,” is worth being mentioned - and requested - by name. She gave our family a truly animated, enthusiastic, knowledgable experience of her home city seen through the eyes of a local. She toured us past many of the now-familiar landmarks and iconic Atlanta tourist stops, sharing an in-depth history and little-known facts about each locale. But we have to say the highlight of this experience was that the route showcased many other “off-the-beaten” path places and residential neighborhoods that we otherwise wouldn’t have discovered on our own - including the lovely Inman Park (where many of the homes are reminiscent of the antebellum era and very “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”) which hosts an annual festival the last weekend in April that is widely regarded among the the city’s most spirited and eclectic events.
Paying homage to an icon, this reinvented Newport Beach restaurant offers a new generation of connoisseurs a world-class culinary experience
In the months since the new Ritz Prime Seafood opened its doors to a new generation of culinary enthusiasts, much has been written about how this reinvented restaurant stacks up against the iconic Newport Beach establishment from which it draws inspiration (founded by Hans Prager in 1977, The Ritz enjoyed a 30+ year run as the go-to special event venue before closing its doors in early 2014).
Where the throwback dining institution was characterized by Old World charm and three-martini power lunches, the new-and-improved version is a contemporary iteration of a classic.
While the décor of the beloved brand was all dark wood, dark tufted leather booths and antique chandeliers, The Ritz Prime Seafood showcases a new address (a 6,800-square-foot space with seating for upwards of 200 in the old Chart House location along Mariner’s Mile), sleek, chic décor, cream and tan leather interiors, upholstered booths, loads of natural light thanks to a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and the piéce de résistance: a spectacular, sparkling waterfront view and scores of multi-million dollar yachts dotting Newport Harbor.
My husband and I have foodie friends who have introduced us to a number of truly diverse, unique and memorable dining destinations – each month, we alternate with this couple to select and host our respective “picks” for an evening out. I will concede that a few of our choices over the years have been a bit lackluster by comparison, so when we secured a recent reservation (it would be our first experience there as well), it was a highly anticipated event. I am happy to report that The Ritz Prime Seafood more than delivered with exemplary service (our server deserves to be mentioned by name – Matthew Tinnes was amiable, attentive, knowledgeable and unobtrusive), an elegant ambiance and a seafood-centric menu defined by the classics and eclectic dishes with a twist (think extravagant menu items like grilled lobster with burgundy truffles, herbed butter, blistered lemon, truffle foam and levain toast, a succulent chilled seafood sampler dubbed the Ritz Tower, a bone-in fillet smothered in foie gras butter and Ossetra White Sturgeon caviar served with crème fraiche, egg, chives, red onions and brioche toast points).
For landlubbers, The Ritz Prime Seafood serves up tender filet medallions paired with grilled broccolini and a wild mushroom demi-glace, a flavorful jidori chicken and the aforementioned grilled to perfection bone-in filet.
As great as these entrees are, the seafood dishes are where this restaurant really shines - from sushi, sashimi and raw bar to the signature cioppino chock full of lobster, scallops, mussels and shrimp, almond-crusted Mahi Mahi and Chilean sea bass enhanced with pepita pesto, sweet garlic puree and braised leeks.
Our friends were so impressed by our “over the top” selection that they have added The Ritz Prime Seafood to their list of “favorites.” For our part, my husband and I would like to thank to the culinary team and wait staff for providing a dining experience that will be a true challenge for our friends to top next month.
Here in South Orange County, we’re pretty lucky to live so close to the coast and have an abundance of wonderful dining destinations to choose from. But for inventive cuisine coupled with awe-inspiring ocean views, there are few establishments that rival RAYA and 180blu.
Both reside in The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel - RAYA boasts a bright, open space with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Pacific while the aptly named 180blu is an outdoor lounge/deck situated 150 feet above Salt Creek Beach, defined by the same breathtaking 180 degrees of blue sky and clear blue ocean water.
RAYA and 180blu’s culinary offerings (dishes on the 180blu menu come from the RAYA kitchen) showcases Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine prepared with sustainable seafood, local produce, natural and organic meat. Acclaimed Chef Richard Sandoval’s signature Latin flavors define the seasonal menu which draws inspiration from California and Asian cuisines.
RAYA has long been a favorite special occasion “date night” dinner destination - the service here is what you’d expect of the Ritz-Carlton and consistently so: Attentive yet unobtrusive, professional, yet casually friendly. The same could be said of the service at 180blu, the perfect locale to find yourself at happy hour - for the food, the handcrafted cocktails and the spectacular sunsets.
RAYA’s menu encompasses an array of small (appetizer) and large (entree) plates. If you’re having trouble deciding, a great option to start is the restaurant’s signature Seafood Sampler, which arrives with a trio of popular picks from the small plates options, including oysters on the half shell, rock shrimp aquachile, tuna tataki and salmon tiradito.
There is an abundance of gluten-free options (noted by a special label) ranging from a seafood risotto chock full of Maine lobster, prawn, Santa Barbara mussel, calamari, Spanish chorizo, saffron rice and Dungeness crab to the all-natural Prime New York steak accompanied by a Dungeness crab potato puree, grilled pickled onion, chipotle hollandaise and truffle chimichurri.
The Miso Alaskan Black Cod is my favorite dish on the menu - this flavorful fish dish literally melts in your mouth and is perfectly paired with charred asparagus, daikon (Japanese turnip), kabayaki sauce (think a sweet soy sauce) and togarashi aioli.
The menu at 180blu is a more casual affair characterized by refreshing hand-crafted beverages (watch Mixologist Erin Snider demonstrate how to make Tequila Sangria, one of the specialty drinks served here), small plates and desserts from RAYA (our favorite here is the Wild Mushroom Huarache - a variation on flatbread piled with wild mushroom, caramelized onion, black bean, goat cheese and truffle oil. Bonus! Weather permitting, live music Thursday through Sunday from 6 pm - 9 pm.
WE SERVICE WHAT WE SELL!!
It’s always easy to tell a Bostonian. The accent, the big personality, the dry sense of humor can be amusing – even alarming – for we sensitive Southern Californians. But the Bostonian’s tendency to tell it like it is can be more than valuable in certain situations… say, for instance, when buying a car.
Meet John Paradise, a Boston transplant who seventeen years ago brought little more than his young family and his interest in cars to San Clemente, just to give life in the snowless part of the country a try. “A try” turned into “a home” when John started to fully appreciate the passion that Orange County residents felt for luxury automobiles. One car at a time, John found good deals and passed hassle-free savings on to a select clientele. Today, Paradise Automotive Group is a full-sized dealership, specializing in previously owned luxury vehicles and personalized, individual service.
“These days, clients are so well educated and aware of what is available for how much, we don’t get into the hassle of back-and-forth haggling over price,” says John, who far prefers the tell-it-like-it-is tack. “We price the car correctly and fairly, then focus on making it a good experience for our customer.”
It’s the Paradise Automotive service-first approach that inspires the trust that has kept clients coming back year after year, car after car. Many families are on their ninth and tenth cars purchased through Paradise Automotive, having met John seventeen years ago and deciding that they didn’t want to purchase anywhere else. It’s that same professionalism and no-nonsense pricing that have earned John and his staff a niche in servicing professional athletes in the NHL, NBA and MLB, many of whom fly in from all over the U.S. and Canada to pick up their car from Paradise Automotive. Since John and his team make a priority of thoroughly and accurately demonstrating the car via internet, email and phone, many times a client will arrive to pick up their already-purchased car, and it’s the first time they’ve seen it in person. Now, that’s trust.
As an extension of their commitment to zero hassle, Paradise Automotive Group also provides full-service maintenance, detail and body shop repairs and paint needs on site, so customers can conceivably stay with one trusted entity for the life of their car. With ASE-certified technicians for all makes and models, Paradise’s unequivocal goal is to make you a customer for life.
Paradise Automotive Group is housed in a welcoming facility in San Juan Capistrano right off the 5 Freeway. If you’re in the market for a new-to-you vehicle with style or your vehicle needs servicing or body repair, make a point of checking their website for news. Or simply stop in to meet John or any of the service oriented team at Paradise Automotive Group.
Asnowy wonderland in winter and a water enthusiast’s dream in summer, there’s never a bad time to visit the spectacularly scenic South Shore of Lake Tahoe. Split by the massive, magnificent alpine lake in the middle, both the north and south shores are easy to navigate and offer an abundance of outdoor (and indoor) attractions and activities year round.
Our family has always been partial to the south side of the lake and some of the best memories we’ve made over the years have been on those vacations we have taken here with friends.
So I was really looking forward to our family/friend trip to South Shore last month. Our kids – at ages 8 and 9 – were old enough to enjoy much of what Tahoe has to offer and because a family of friends (ranging in age from 8 to 78) who reside in nearby Reno and Carson City were driving in to spend the entire day from mid-morning to early evening during our stay, we went with a much more comfortable, cozy and convenient accommodation option. Rather than book a traditional hotel room, we decided to rent a privately owned vacation home rich in amenity for all ages. The Tahoe Keys Resort and Lake Tahoe Reservation Bureau (www.tahoevacationguide.com or 800.698.2463) offers an extensive selection of rental homes, condos and cabins to suit your specific needs and budget – whether you’re a couple looking for a romantic retreat, a family of five or a large group of friends.
As anticipated, this trip more than delivered. Driving into the region, the views of deep gorges, craggy mountains and the tall green trees are singularly beautiful. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay - the home we selected, located at 950 Balbijou Road, is a super spacious newly renovated, professionally decorated four-bedroom house centrally located to everything - grocery stores, shops, the casinos at stateline. The views are incredible - a large deck on the second floor overlooks a private residential beach below, the master bedroom windows face the lake (imagine waking up to the beauty of the lake each morning) and the back door opens out onto a beautiful downstairs deck steps from the water’s edge.
The home’s luxury accommodations are characterized by beautiful furnishings, high-end finishes and a feature few rental properties can boast - a lakefront location with its own private beach, waterfront access and steps from a wooden pier perfect for strolling. Bonus! Two houses down the beach was a place to rent kayaks ($25 an hour for a single and $35 an hour for a tandem), which made it completely unnecessary (but for a few hours aboard a paddewheeler - more on that in a moment) to ever leave the property since we had literally everything we needed on site.
Between the private beach, the large, open concept living space and multiple dining areas, renting this particular house for our four-day stay proved to be the perfect choice – we had plenty of space to stretch out and everyone had their own rooms to retreat to (the master features a king bed and private bathroom; queen beds in the second and third bedrooms and two sets of twin bunk beds with a shared bathroom was ideal for the younger set). The home sleeps 12 with an queen size sleeper sofa in the den. We saved time and money by being able to cook our meals and dining in rather than eating out three times a day. Several cozy fireplaces provided the perfect ambiance for cool nights and a pool table in the bonus room for apres summer fun.
Other than kayaking, if you’d like to spend time out on the lake, another unique option is to book a daytime scenic cruise or an evening dinner cruise aboard one of two spacious paddlewheelers - the M.S. Dixie II or the Tahoe Queen (800-23-TAHOE). Our group opted for the family-friendly Tahoe Queen boat tour of Emerald Bay – an absolutely must for amazing photo opportunities. Take in some of the most incredible scenery in the world, enjoy lunch, hot cocoa and a good dose of South Lake Tahoe history with the Captain’s live narration. The kids had a ball exploring the boat’s three decks while the adults sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the view.
Unlike vacations where we schedule a series of specific activities designed to keep everyone occupied and entertained away from the hotel room, this trip was all about taking full advantage in all the rental home had to offer - the kids were in and out of the house all day long, spending hours at the water’s edge building a sand castle “village,” hunting for seashells, kayaking with the grown ups and strolling the pier. Evenings were filled with board games, billiards and “movie nights” with kid-friendly programming on Netflix and big buckets of popcorn. Lunches and dinners were either easy outdoor affairs - steaks, burgers, hot dogs and grilled corn cooked on the barbecue or on the last evening, a multi-course meal prepared in the chef’s gourmet kitchen - and for the adults, “happy hour” on the upstairs deck was a nightly highlight sipping a glass of fine wine while watching the sun slip over the horizon - a perfect end to each fun-filled day in one of the prettiest places on the planet.
In 1957, Walter Bregman completed a two year stint in Germany with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and began his professional career stateside as a media research analyst with the Leo Burnett Company.
45 years later, Mr. Bregman concluded his professional career having been Worldwide President of International Playtex, Inc., Vice President of E & J Gallo Winery, Chairman and CEO of two different ad agencies and the Founder, President, and Owner of the Cormorant Beach Club. He authored Spray the Bear; Reminiscences from the Golden Age of Advertising, co-authored Seven Friends, Sixty Years Later and My Box of Chocolates, an Anecdotal Biography.
A graduate of Harvard University, Mr. Bregman lived all over the world, consulting on numerous corporate boards, and lecturing on advertising and marketing. But roughly six years ago, his college sweetheart and wife of 59 years developed serious spinal scoliosis and stenosis, confining her to a wheelchair, and it became necessary for Walter to become her primary caregiver. Appointments with doctors, surgeons; shopping and meal preparation took the place of board meetings, lectures and consulting. Anyone who has had to care for a loved one knows the strain, and just one of the dilemmas that follow: do we go out for dinner or order take-out, or do I take time away from caring for my wife and plan out our meals, shop for the groceries, and make them myself?
As wives are wont to do, Walter’s wife came through with a solution she’d seen in the newspaper: DineInLagunaWoods, a service that delivers meals to the house five nights a week. Suddenly, Walter said, “with delicious and easy dinners arriving at the house, time with my wife compounded exponentially. For $10, we received a thermal bag between 4:00-6:00 pm, ready to eat or save for later. I have not only consumed them on the day they were delivered, consumed them two or three days after I put them in the fridge, but even a week or more after I put them in the freezer.”
Unfortunately, Walter’s wife passed away, but he continues to use DineInLagunaWoods regularly, finding it helps him alleviate the stress of planning, prepping and cooking. While visiting a friend recently at Laguna Woods (an adult community that celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2014), it occurred to Walter that the dining delivery service would be perfectly suited to the retirement community, where folks are often unwilling or unable to cook seven nights a week, and similarly, would prefer not to indulge in weeks worth of expensive dinners at restaurants. He approached the owner of DineInLagunaWoods and suggested a partnership. “After all, shopping in supermarkets is not really that simple or convenient”, Walter notes, “plus, the number of economical and convenient restaurants is limited.” So, starting August 1st, DineInLagunaWoods will be supplying meals to Laguna Woods five nights a week for $10 a meal or two for $16.