As the clouds sit low in the sky with malice, foreboding yet another late summer rain, I find myself scrolling through all of my pictures from my trip to L.A. It was mid July and I was being flown, graciously, by one of my wine distributors to attend an intensive seminar on Austrian Riesling – a longtime favorite wine of mine. The flight was early out of Chicago, and Midway is not the place to stop and grab breakfast I soon found out. Once in LAX, I was just about starving, but knowing I had some time to kill before I could check-in to the hotel, I dodged the idea of eating airport food and decided to drag my bags to Santa Monica.
Santa Monica is one of those special places, that if your from the Midwest, everything back home seems dull and boring. I walked up to Rose Cafe and instantly fell in love. It’s open and airy with high ceilings and crisp, clean lines. A friend of mine had just spent an evening here celebrating her nomination for Eater Young Gun, a restaurant-focused award given to somebody under 30 years old who is exceptional in their field. She had such a great time, I figured I’d at least have to pop in for lunch. Oh, what a perfect post-plane meal. Chilled corn soup with chamomile, fresh melon and basil and a glass of one of my favorite rose’s from LIOCO.
After a San Francisco withdrawal led me to pit-stop at Blue Bottle Coffee, I was able to check into the hotel and rid myself of all my bags. I stayed at the Hotel Normandie in Koreatown. A gorgeous, historic hotel built in the 20’s with high lobby ceilings and an almost bed & breakfast feeling to the corridors. It was both comforting and eye catching. Of course it doesn’t hurt that they are connected to a great diner, Cassell’s (I’m a total sucker for a good diner).
The rest of the night included dinner at Kali, a small restaurant on Melrose with a stellar wine list and food. Not that this trip needed any help to be better, but one of my dining companions just so happened to be Emmerich Knoll, the winemaker of the legendary Knoll wines of Austria. The trip immediately went from great to unbelievable. The conversation of the night drifted from light to intense and sometimes philosophical (as it tends to do with winemakers), spurred by countless bottles of wine being open by their talented Wine Director/Owner. It was definitely a dinner for the books.
The rest of the trip seemed to follow suit with the first day. There was, of course, the seminar, the whole reason I was even in L.A., followed by lunch at Gjusta and a long stroll around Santa Monica picking up small treasures along the way (let’s be honest, it was pretty much all ceramics – I’m also a total sucker for well made pottery). Dinner, again, was fantastic with a menu dedicated to the season’s bounty of ripe tomatoes that we, of course, paired with more Austrian Riesling.
While the trip was a great experience and highly educational for my professional career, it re-lit a nostalgic love for the West Coast, and a hunger to return sooner rather than later. When the clouds in Chicago are heavy and dark , I turn to the warmth and sunshine of my trip to lift me up.