Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Where to eat in Long Beach, CA.

Exploring Long Beach from its neighborhoods to its beaches and water sports works up a powerful appetite. Fortunately, delicious relief is always close at hand.

Here are a few of the spots I tried and recommend.

An omelet from the Omelette Inn will set you up for the day.
If breakfast is your most important meal of the day, amble over to Omelette Inn downtown and snag a table from the locals who flock here. The decor is nautical, portions are huge, service is friendly and the combinations are creative. No steps, Levelers.

Sample of sushi from McKenna's.
The only thing that might beat lunch at McKenna's on the Bay is dinner there. The only thing that beats the view of Los Alamitos Bay and ambiance is the food. A legend in his and everyone else's mind, restaurateur and transplanted Brit John Morris presides with bonhomie over the marina-based eatery.  Tail-flippingly fresh seafood and creative presentation will win you over. No stairs.

MOLAA, home of Viva Cafe.
Lunch at Viva Cafe at the Museum of Latin American Art is its own work of art and the flavors take your taste buds to Latin America. Prices are surprisingly reasonable for the fine fare. No stairs.

The scallops at Sir Winston's.
For that special dinner, you can't do much better than Sir Winston's on the Queen Mary. Setting and service are impeccable and the food is worthy of the attention. It's not cheap but you won't be disappointed, especially if you end with a Gran Marnier souffle. There are stairs here, Levelers, so ask to use the elevator.

Crabcake at Queensview Steakhouse.
Queensview Steakhouse at Parker's Lighthouse is a locals' and tourists' favorite. Large, bustling, crowded, it fits comfortably into the marina setting. Steak is in the name but seafood also rates high for its devotees. My crab cake was overdone but the quality was there. Others at the table were pleased with their choices.You'll find stairs here, Levelers.

Long Beach is known for its ethnic diversity and you can get a taste of it in the restaurants along Pine Avenue.

SIP is a lively spot to start your evening.
My group had a moveable feast there beginning with cocktails at SIP in the Renaissance Hotel. Craft beers, an excellent wine by the glass list and fun appetizers whipped up by Chef Michael Poompan makes it worth a stop whether inside at the sleek lobby-side lounge or outside around the fire pit. No stairs.

Everyone's Greek at George's.
You'll feel like part of the family at George's Greek Cafe where Papa George welcomes you with a hug, offers the Greek version of Sex on the Beach (think ouzo) and keeps the food coming. You won't leave hungry. No stairs here either.

The decor at Alegria adds to the lively atmosphere.
Alegria Cocina Latina is narrow in shape but wide in appeal. You'll be happy, which is what allegria means in Spanish, if you start with a pitcher of the 600 gallons of sangria they go through a week. Chef Walter Cotta serves Spanish food with flair (I loved the humitas chillenas) and the flamenco show ensures a lively evening.  Watch that sangria, though. It's lethal. No stairs, though.

L'Opera Ristorante takes Italian cuisine to an elegant level.

L'Opera Ristorante, another of Chef Cotta's creations, is an elegant setting where talented performers sing for your supper. It's Italian, if you haven't guessed, and we ate every morsel of the dessert samplings even though we were already stuffed. Next time I want to start there. Do save room for the panna cotta. Another stair-free restaurant.

Ole! Flamenco.

Leia Mais…
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More fun in Long Beach neighborhoods

When in Long Beach live life outside.
Downtown has reasons enough to visit Long Beach but add in the surrounding neighborhoods plus public transportation to them and you'll want to lengthen your stay.

Fourth Street and Retro Row are hot spots for the cafe crowd and bargain hunters alike. Tables spill onto sidewalks between new-to-you and antique-ish shops. The mood is lively and young although I saw all ages congregating there.

The Belmont Shore area is an 11-block stretch with cutting edge to retro boutiques, cafes and bistros.

The Naples district is known as Little Italy. CSI Miami films here and Michael's on Naples is considered one of the city's top restaurants. 

Ready to ride the canals.
Head to the marina at Seaport Village if you want to try a hydrobike. Someone's bound to urge you to, so go ahead, but realize this is the least efficient way man has ever devised to travel atop water.

Sight-seeing by hydrobike.
It is fun to peddle through the Naples Island canals but if there's a strong breeze blowing, I'd recommend something else.

Board, bike or kayak but get outside.
Tip: No hills, no stairs, Levelers, but the big deal is how many calories are expended moving you and the bike - 600 calories an hour - which means very strenuous. It will tire you out and may be too much for many. A kayak would be a lot easier, a gondola ride better still.

If you have little ones along, go to nearby Mother's Beach, a peaceful, inland facing stretch of sand with toddler-sized ripples rather than waves.

Public transit Long Beach style, the AquaLink.
Tip: You can get here via public transit,  Aqua Bus, $2 each way, or by AquaLink, 90-passenger  catamaran, $3-$5 each way.

Plenty of room for bikes in Long Beach.
Streets are designed with ample room for bicyclists and bike tours are very popular. Cali Bike Tours is downtown, an easy walk from the major hotels, but they tend to overestimate their visiting pedalers' endurance.

Museum of Latin American Art
According to Susan Golden, its vice-president of communications, Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) is the only museum in the United States totally dedicated to contemporary Latin American art.

Sculpture garden

You won't believe the transformation from roller rink to stunning, green museum. The outdoor sculpture garden includes a gardener's delight of cacti and succulents and the traveling exhibits are engaging.

A visitor tries out Capula X by Mexican Pedro Reyes.
Especially "Play with Me," an interactive array of installments that brought out the kid in visitors.

I didn't have time to see the restoration work done to the early Spanish era ranchos, Rancho Los Cerritos or Rancho Los Alamitos, so that's where I'll start the next time I'm in Long Beach.

 If that's not enough to entertain you, look for a festival; there are 200 ethnic ones every year. According to the last census, Long Beach is the most ethnically diverse city for its size in America.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Long Beach is long on fun

A short snip of the Long Beach bay front.
Long Beach, California, may not have a sexy-sounding name or the cache of its oceanfront and inland neighbors (think Hollywood, Newport Beach, Palos Verdes), but it has enough knockout views, international cuisine, museums, sights/sites and outdoor activities to totally engage and charm visitors.

It did me.

Best of all, for Levelers, much of it is flat and if you are staying on the bay front, you can "escalate" your way up to the heights.

I was invited out by the Convention & Visitors Bureau to see what Long Beach had to offer. It took 5 years before I said yes and to be honest, my expectations were low.

It is, said PR director Bob Maguglin, a common problem. "The hardest part is getting people here. After we do that, the rest is easy."

Start with location: 22 miles south of Los Angeles and 10 miles southwest of Anaheim and Disneyland with more than 5 miles of sandy oceanfront.

The weather, 46 to 83 degrees F. is the annual range. Pretty close to perfect. I hit midway through what they call the "June Gloom," mornings that began overcast and gray but by noon were brilliant with sunshine and balmy breezes.

Getting there is a snap: Long Beach's newly redesigned  airport is 10 minutes away, LAX 25 minutes north and Orange County/John Wayne 30 minutes south.

Much of what you'll want to see is on the easily walkable downtown bay front, although more people choose to do it, as well as downtown and almost everywhere else, on bicycles.

Downtown at night.
At night the downtown is a riot of color and you'll hate to go inside to sleep.

I stayed at the Hyatt Regency and had a great view of it all.

Amble down the colorful promenade for a stair- and hill-free way to and from downtown.
Tip: Best of all, no-hill, no-stairs access to the Convention Center, downtown and restaurant row. Go to the lobby, take the escalator to the mezzanine, exit to the deck, walk across into the convention center - if it's hot or rainy - or amble along its colorful promenade, cross the street and you're there. The Renaissance and Westin Hotels are on the downtown side of the Convention Center so if staying there you reverse the process.

Superior seaside attractions
Aquarium of the Pacific.
The Aquarium of the Pacific is atop almost everyone's to-see list with good reason. It's fun.

The penguins are crowd pleasers.
The Magellanic Penguin habitat is the latest new attraction but hands-ons with jellies and rays, sea otters, seahorses and an ocean's worth of other staples keep visitors coming back for more.
Curiosity reigns on both sides of the glass.

Unique here are the opportunities to SCUBA or snorkel in the big tank and daily whale watch (July, August and September are when Blue whales are offshore) and dolphin and sea life boat trips, spring and fall.

Tip: Ramps rather than stairs lead to the different levels, a boon to Levelers.

Queen Mary. Not many port cities can ever boast a seagoing Cunard queen in their harbors and until meeting Her Highness, I wondered why any would want one no longer sailing.

Now I know. For all of the 21st century's luxurious excesses, nothing holds a candle to the elegance and attention to the minutest detail of Art Deco QM. She was, and probably still is, the grandest dame afloat.

Queen Mary from the Hyatt Regency.
QM2 may be twice her size but she was twice the size of the Titanic and her first class dining room was the largest room ever built on a ship. All 850 first class passengers could dine at once. The Sunday buffet held there now is considered one of the best in the country.

Cabin Suite where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor stayed.
Which is another charm of this grande dame: you can stay on her. All of M deck has been turned into a hotel and her public rooms are available for meetings and private events.

Observation Bar
For a treat, dress to the nines, begin with a cocktail in the Observation Bar and cap the evening with a superb dinner at Winston's, ending with the wonderful Grand Marnier souffle.

You will be sharing your evening with an honored war veteran. During World War II, QM was converted into a troop ship, making 72 wartime crossings. She was the fastest liner in the world and in July 1943, she carried 16,683 soldiers, the largest number of humans transported on one ship. It wasn't comfortable but it was of great importance. Hitler offered $250,000 to any submarine commander who sank her and Winston Churchill credited her with saving Great Britain.

By all means sign up for a tour; it's the only way you'll really get to know her and the people who worked and sailed aboard her.

Tip: there's no way around it, Levelers, there are lots of stairs. There is a central elevator that will eliminate many, but you'll wind up doing more than you probably want. For example, 24 steps up to the special exhibit. I found it worth it, especially with a tour. Best solution, stop for tea at the special exhibit or a beverage in the Observation bar.

George VI's coronation robe.
As if the ship herself weren't enough, now there's a special exhibit, "Diana A Legacy of a Princess, A Royal Exhibition," that brings together poignant artifacts and attire from the late princess as well as those from other royals, including Prince William and Katherine.

Scorpion-class Russian sub shares space with the Queen.
Then there's Queen Mary's neighbor, the Russian Scorpion submarine you can tour if claustrophobia doesn't bother you.

Join in the music.
Shoreline Village along one strand of the marina is a picturesque jumble of quaintly made buildings, cafes, restaurants, shops and music venues that hips on weekends. It's great for strolling, day or night.
Shoreline Village at night.

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Sarasota County: Where to eat

In Sarasota it's easy to find a waterfront restaurant.
Where not to eat would be easier; Sarasota has more Zagat-rated restaurants than anywhere else in Florida. Farm to fork was the byword here long before most other areas started hyping it and locally owned restaurants make it a way of life.

You won't go hungry, that's for sure, but fair warning, you may find a new favorite restaurant.

Here are a few I enjoyed.

Dessert sampling at Michael's on East.
Michael's on East in downtown Sarasota has become my new favorite restaurant. Sophisticated yet friendly, its steaks are only bettered by its seafood. Periodic trips abroad - South Africa, Portugal, Spain to name drop a few - keep owners and chefs in a wide variety of specials. You won't go wrong with any of the wallet-friendly prix fixe suggestions. Warning: The wine selection in their adjacent wine store may have you browsing till the next meal. On second thought, not a bad idea.

Owen's Fish Camp is proof of Sarasota's wide-ranging culinary scene: It's a fish camp in the middle of downtown. Ultra casual, they're known for fresh seafood and unique sides. Entrees come with two sides but you'll want to try more so don't dine alone.

Gecko's Grill and Pub is where to head if you want a local, family-oriented sports bar with a full selection of good food from pub grub to pasta or yellow fin tuna. There are three in Sarasota, two in Bradenton. Warning: the sweet potato fries and onion slivers are addictive.

When eating Amish, save yourself for dessert.
Dutch Heritage Restaurant is now owned by an Ohio-based company and is known as Der Dutchman. One of two eateries in this Mennonite/Amish community, the popular buffet is long on comfort foods, but save yourself for the bakery.

Longboat Key
And especially at Euphemia Haye.
Euphemia Haye is justly famous for its desserts which keeps many a diner from fully enjoying their excellent starters, entrees and sides. Pity, because Chef/Owner Raymond Arpke applies his classic Escoffier training to Florida's freshest ingredients for food that dazzles and comforts. My suggestion: Be active during the day then stuff yourself by ordering two courses and dessert then buy a copy of Chef Raymond's cookbook and try the rest at home.

Tip: Levelers, you'll encounter stairs here. The restaurant has grown by additions, each with a slightly different level and you don't want to miss checking out the desserts upstairs.

Blue Dolphin Cafe is the Cheers of local breakfast restaurants: everyone knows your name or soon will if you return as locals do again and again. Huge portions, friendly service. Since I was there they've added another on St. Armands Circle.

Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub is genuine old Florida, having been here since 1912. Very casual and laid back. If you go at night get them to take a light to the dock and watch the fish swarm. Big buggers, too. Sister restaurants, Beachhouse and Sandbar, are on the Gulf.

Nothing like a German Apple Pancake for breakfast at Harry's Continental Kitchen.
Harry's Continental Kitchen grew from a deli with takeout to a full-fledged breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant. Good food did it. The German apple pancake is divine.

Anna Marie Island
Sandbar is a dig your toes in the sand kind of place.
Sandbar, on the north end of Anna Maria Island, is where to head if you want to eat fresh seafood while digging your toes in soft sand. You can eat inside, too, at this popular Gulf-front wedding venue.

Seafood is fresh at The Crow's Nest.
 The Crow's Nest can be counted on for outstanding fresh seafood, a solid wine list and a jolly atmosphere either at the bar below or the dining room above. Set just inside Venice Inlet on the Intracoastal, it comes with its own marina and great views.

Tip: There are stairs but also an elevator. It's a bit hidden so ask for it.

Roessler's is known for its cuisine and setting.
Roessler's Restaurant, tucked away in a garden setting, is an excellent white-linen spot for fine continental cuisine with a New Orleans flair. A  notable wine list and attentive service make it worth the drive.

Cafe Evergreen at Warm Mineral Springs Resort serves excellent vegan and otherwise healthy fare as well as burgers and french fries for lunch.

Like any thriving culinary scene, Sarasota's is always changing.  Check with the folks at www.freshoriginals.com for a list of the independent, locally owned restaurants.

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