DREAMSCAPES Fall/Winter 2017
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THE CALIFORNIA RIVIERA BECKONS
 
(2016 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: DONNA S. VIEIRA



On a dreary fall morning I was lamenting the end of a long, warm summer. Like the leaves that clung steadfastly to the trees outside my window, I wasn’t ready to give up on the warm weather just yet. Then, an email landed on my desktop suggesting a trendy, luxury women’s getaway to Southern California. Quickly I responded, “Absolutely!”

Our Air Canada flight touched down in San Diego slightly ahead of schedule on a sunny December morning. Our ultimate destination was the beautiful oceanfront community of La Jolla, a quick 20-minute drive up the coast, for a tasty lunch on the open-air ocean terrace at George’s at the Cove. The warm sun, a refreshing gentle breeze and the magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean were already doing their magic.

OUTDOOR LIVING   

I had visited La Jolla before and always longed to return. Blessed with pleasant temperatures year-round, it offers an enviable lifestyle.

Arts and culture play a huge role here. The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego was originally Ellen Browning Scripps’s home (c. 1916), which she willed to artists and, in 1941, it evolved into a full-fledged museum, which was later reincarnated yet again by Irving Gill using Spanish architecture. The collection features periods of art by contemporary artists and works on display during our visit included creations by Warhol, Francis Bacon and Takashi Murakami, a highbrow artist who designed the Louis Vuitton pocketbooks.

In 2010, the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library introduced the Murals of La Jolla project, consisting of privately funded temporary works by such artists as William Wegman and Fred Tomaselli. The outdoor exhibition is open around the clock and changes regularly. Free walking tours take place on the last Wednesday of every month from January through October and spots must be reserved in advance.

Since we were in wine country, we couldn’t pass up a chauffeured wine tour with La Jolla Wine Tours, which included stops at three wineries and many five-ounce arm curls at the Cordiano Winery, the Orfila Vineyards and the Bernardo Winery (c. 1889), the oldest operation in Southern California by far. The latter also includes an Old Western-themed village, featuring art galleries, fashions, accessories  and, of course, a wine shop.

Our hotel choice was the 170-room AAA Five Diamond Lodge at Torrey Pines, designed to blend in with the adjacent Torrey Pines State Reserve—a perfect place for an early-morning stroll, jog or cycle. Amenities include two restaurants, a full-service spa, a pool and Southern California’s most iconic golf course featuring the stunning La Jolla coastline as a backdrop.

Dining is always an epic experience in California. On our first night, we dined at the dramatic Marine Room where Pacific waves crash onto the windows. Overseen by executive chef Bernard Guillas, the menu is equally as memorable. Educated in Vanne in Bretagne, Guillas incorporates French-style cuisine sourced from local ingredients. Our meal began with a glass of Louis Bouillot and a medley of appetizers consisting of lilikoi hazelnut-coated wild prawns; a trilogy of lobster, ahi tuna and caviar; and diver scallop and foie Rossini. Next, a classic Caesar salad was prepared tableside gueridon style. My main course, Togarashi Sesame Spiced Ahi Tuna served with sticky black rice, avocado and mango in a white port hibiscus reduction, was exceptional. A selection of desserts finished off the evening as Bernard shared his philosophy: “What I look for is the balance at the centre of the plate. If it looks good, it better deliver on taste, too. There needs to be great energy, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. Needless to say, my world is really a lot of fun and my life is delicious!”

The following evening, we attended a trendy, sold-out “signature artisan dinner” set up on a heated outdoor terrace at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. At this weekly four-course communal event, 10 to 24 diners sit at a long harvest table, on which farm-to-table dishes are placed and carefully paired with wines. Guests help themselves to portions much like family members would at a Thanksgiving dinner. It was a most pleasant way to meet and engage with strangers over food and wine.

UPSCALE AMBIANCE

Time to move farther up the coast to Laguna Beach, with a slight detour to Newport Beach for lunch at the Cannery, a local seafood favourite. Nor could we resist a side trip to Balboa Island, a quaint island known for its shops and nightlife.

Our hotel was the very elegant Montage Laguna Beach resort. This former oceanfront trailer park has been transformed into a Montage-managed hotel where accommodation options range from spacious 46.5-square-metre guest rooms featuring private patios or balconies and marble bathrooms with deep-soak tubs to an exquisite 279-square-metre three-bedroom beach villa. On-premise amenities include a spa, pool, shops and plenty of recreational activities.

And then there’s the polished restaurant—The Studio—where executive chef Craig Strong holds court. Our food-and-wine-pairing menu began with a glass of 2008 Weingut, Bründlmayer Käferberg, followed by an appetizer of prosciutto green beans, mushroom purée and crispy shallots in a honey vinaigrette; a serving of Hudson Valley foie gras in a savoury Shitaki sauce; and, in my case, a roasted veal ribeye served with potato purée, charred lemon purée and crispy purple potatoes. Each serving was beautifully paired with a wine personally selected by sommelier Jesse Rodriguez. The meal finished with a medley of desserts.

While the meal was impressive, what caught my attention was the professionalism and knowledge of Jesse and our server who calmly explained each wine selection and dish in an almost Zen-like manner. I simply had to talk to Chef Strong who graciously invited me to tour his glistening kitchen where everyone appeared to work quietly in perfect harmony. I couldn’t help but share my observations with him. “The heart and soul of a restaurant is in the kitchen and it spills over into the restaurant to the guest. It’s truly about everyone working together in harmony to create a collaborative, inclusive partnership,” he explained. When I asked where he took his inspiration from, he humbly replied, “I have a very good staff. One sous chef has been here for 13 years. My motto is: ‘Let’s have fun!’ I don’t have to come up with every idea; I just have to implement the good ones. Also, I believe sauces make the difference. That’s what makes a dish sing.”

Needless to say, my spirit sang all the way back to my posh suite.

HOLLYWOOD CALLS

It would be silly to come all this way and not take in the sights of West Hollywood. Besides, who can resist potential celebrity spottings? But first, an hour-long facial at the tiny, unassuming Ole Henriksen Face/Body Spa was in order.

Feeling shiny and new, we headed over to the Design District to browse through expensive boutiques, including the Elder Statesman for cashmere and Balenciaga for high-end ladies wear and shoes.

Our hotel was the nearby all-suite London West Hollywood—an excellent choice. My suite, the 67-square-metre London room, was the smallest available and the 130-square-metre one-bedroom Gate Suites featuring wraparound balconies and kitchens are palatial. Need more space? One- and two-bedroom suites connect to one-bedroom suites to create a three-bedroom, 2.5-bath suite. Then, there’s always the 1,022-square-metre penthouse.

Later we dined at the VANDER PUMP on Santa Monica Blvd., a common setting for the housewives’ antics on both The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules. Then, it was a quick Uber ride to the Saban Theatre for entertainment before heading back to my luxurious hotel suite for a relaxing bath and a good night’s rest.

Could I get used to this? Of course!

Travel Planner

Air Canada (aircanada.com) operates daily non-stop service from Toronto and

Vancouver to San Diego and Los Angeles. For more information, visit:

San Diego Tourism Authority: sandiego.org

Visit Laguna Beach: visitlagunabeach.com

Visit West Hollywood: visitwesthollywood.com

George’s at the Cove: georgesatthecove.com

La Jolla Wine Tours: lajollawinetours.com

Murals of La Jolla: muralsoflajolla.com

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego: mcasd.org

The Lodge at Torrey Pines: lodgetorreypines.com

The Marine Room: marineroom.com

Montage Laguna Beach: montagehotels.com/LagunaBeach

Ole Henriksen Face/Body Spa: olehenriksen.com

Saban Theatre: sabantheatre.org

The London West Hollywood: thelondonwesthollywood.com

VANDER PUMP: pumprestaurant.com

 
 
 
 
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