Long before Google had every inch of the globe mapped and scaled online, I was assigned to an exchange program in a small Brazilian town called “Ouro Branco”.
Eager to learn more about my future destination, I entered this foreign city into the search box, only to discover the name translated to “white gold”, and that it was a few hours from Minas Gerais’ state capital, Belo Horizonte. As with all things destined, the mountainside town of Ouro Branco became my anchor for discovering more of Minas.
Brazil’s inland state is just that, a hidden gem. A quick plane ride from its more popular neighbors, Rio and São Paulo, Minas Gerais is a vast countryside full of historical towns, hidden waterfalls and hiking trails, and the best cuisine in all of Brazil – the general consensus among Brazilians.
The most expansive of Minas’ hidden gems is Museo Inhotim. To call it a museum is an understatement. This 5,000 acre masterpiece is a design lover’s dream, a nature lover’s paradise, and of course, an art lover’s epiphany. Sitting about an hour outside of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s sixth largest city, Inhotim is a full sensory experience. Lush, green trees envelop you from the moment you walk in, wrapping you in a cocoon of natural wonders.
My knowledgeable guide Marcelo Martins led the way, pointing out the natural furniture by famed Brazilian designer Hugo França. These striking pieces from repurposed wood sat amongst the 500 different botanical species at Inhotim. My favorite tree, paxiuba, is known as “the palm that walks”, moving 3 centimeters a year to follow the sun. Stopping at our first exhibit, he asked “What do you see here?” as I gazed up at a large set of chairs and tables surrounded by a manicured garden. Apprehensive about my answer, I wondered if Marcelo would allow me to advance to the next exhibit based on the quality of my response.
Luckily, my answer was suffice and our next stop was the Sonic Pavilion. An ambitious and complex work by Doug Aitken, the pavilion holds a deep well over 600 feet, equipped with microphones that send the wailing frequencies of the earth’s cry up into the room. Tears welled in my eyes as I felt the pain and voice of Mother Earth crying out, reverberating through my body and soul.
There’s not much to say when you leave an experience like that. I walked along in silence with Marcelo until we reached our next stop when he said, “The earth was extra loud today. She must have known you were coming.” This prompted our discussion of meditation, as I told Marcelo that I’m glad I had a daily practice which truly prepared me for Inhotim. The spiritual and physical work that I’d been doing allowed me to fully absorb every somatic stroke of this magnificent place.
Speaking of preparation, nothing truly prepared me for the next exhibit by Mathew Barney. Weaving the conflict of Ogum, god of iron, war, and technology with Ossanha, the god of plants and nature, Barney’s massive work draws inspiration from Bahian Candomble to highlight the tension between our natural and man-made worlds. In a word, this was disturbing. Which is exactly what great art is supposed to do, right?
Less disturbing, but just as provocative was the gallery featuring work by famed Brazilian contemporary artist Cildo Meireles. Awash in varied hues of red, it was a playful, yet evolving exhibit as the strong color came to signify violence and blood as I moved from room to room.
Heading to lunch, Marcelo shared the history of Inhotim and its gardens, “Roberto Burle Marx visited this place, and being a close friend to Bernardo Paz, the museum’s founder, he advised Bernardo on what plant species to use, the colors, and even the layout.”
Over a delicious lunch of fresh fish and endless salads and local fruits, Marcelo reminisced on his early days at Inhotim. “When I first started working here, I thought 2 days was enough time for a visit, but now I recommend 4 days. You really want time to experience Inhotim. To really absorb it.”
During our decadent meal, Yara Castanheira, who heads the education department at Inhotim, joined us. “Here at Inhotim, we connect art and nature. We blur those boundaries.” And it’s evident at every turn. Exhibits are hidden behind towering trees, obscured by winding vines and orchids, and discovered at the end of trails overflowing with the flora and fauna that is unique to Brazil.
“Our collections, all with a theme, provide a new perspective. But we’re mediating and guiding – not giving answers.” During my visit, Inhotim’s theme was gender and water, chosen in line with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainability. “We’re looking at contemporary challenges, and through researching this theme, we discovered that in places where there was enough water for the community, the women were also having that basic need of education met. Without water in the community, women and girls have to collect it and forgo the chance at an education. It’s a powerful discovery.”
Thinking about how grateful I was to have an education, we talked about Inhotim’s international partnerships with schools around the world. “In such an expansive place you can feel small. But yet each of us has a big impact. With the foreboding climate change and global warming, you think about the impact of your trash and plastic on our environment.” Yara’s words never rang truer as I thought about the political debates on global warming back home in the States.
Leaving lunch, Marcelo took me to an unexpected artwork – a pool. If you know me, or follow my Instagram, you know that I love a good pool party! In the balmy weather, I was tempted to dive right in, held back by the absence of a bikini. I’ll remember to pack it next time! Like every work at Inhotim, Jorge Macchi’s Piscina encourages the viewer to particpate with the art. Macchi’s work is a large scale recreation of his paper drawing, which fused an address book and a swimming pool, two items that are rarely seen together. Sitting there with my feet dangling above black granite letters, I wished that I could come back for another day at Inhotim. One day was definitely not enough!
My tour through Inhotim unfortunately came to an end, but as Marcelo carefully orchestrated every turn, we ended at the symphonic “Forty Part Motet” – a surround-sound exhibit blasting a choral work that was written for Queen Elizabeth I’s birthday in 1575. Talk about a grand finale! I didn’t know what else to do besides stop and take it all in, letting my body harmonize with the chorus.
You know a place is good when you eat there twice in 24 hours. Because you want to. This is obviously the case at Pão de Queijaria, an ideally situated gastropub in Belo Horizonte where I ate the night before I left for Inhotim. And when I returned! Quickly gaining fame in a city full of foodies after its opening in January 2014, Pão de Queijaria won coveted “Best Of” awards from Veja Magazine, all hanging on their wall among funky artwork.
At first bite, you’ll think that “white gold” I mentioned earlier refers to the toasted puffs of bread, or maybe it’s the creamy canastra cheese that accompanies your pão de queijo. Either way, your tastebuds will be thanking you. Sitting down with Lucas, one of Pão de Queijaria’s founders, I learned a bit more about this precious canastra and its importance in their menu. “We source from local farms here in Minas, where we know the cows by name. And the aging process is very particular – producing only the best cheese – usually over the course of 20 to 30 days. We like to call it our ‘black label’,” he said with a wink.
And the quality is evident in every bite. Tearing me away from my sandwich, a perfectly marinated short rib garnished with fresh tomato, Lucas showed me a bit of their “behind the scenes” operations, and wow was it fragrant! Seeing what goes into this craft of making something seemingly simple as cheese bread made me appreciate it even more. This snack that I first learned of during my days in Ouro Branco had a new elevated status thanks to Lucas’ insight.
Drawing inspiration from star Chef Jaime Solares, who owns a nearby restaurant, Lucas and his partner Mario have asked Chef Jaime to give an unofficial nod of approval to their menu. “We just changed our menu, adding the short rib you just had, a fried chicken sandwich, and we made some changes to the hamburger, calling it Hamburger 2.0”. I’m just glad that they left the polenta bites and caprese sandwich on the menu – two of my faves. But now I have another reason to come back!
Sitting there with my friends, we were already deciding what to eat on our next visit. I told them that I would definitely be back – I had to follow Marcelo’s advice and do three more days at Inhotim!
Contact me to book your visit to Minas Gerais, Brazil!
While you’re in London, the last question you’ll ask yourself is “why leave?”. With iconic music landmarks, bespoke fashion, and provocative museums at every turn, it’s no wonder that this metropolis is one of the most visited cities in the world.
But an excursion that you absolutely must put on your itinerary is a luxury train journey with the Belmond British Pullman. These train cars have many a tale to tell, having hosted notable guests like Sophia Loren, President and Madame Vincent Auriol of France, and Sir Laurence Olivier. Rich in history, these cars were used in some of the famous rail services of Britain including the Brighton Belle and the Queen of Scots. The British Pullmans, all of which have been refurbished and restored to lavish, yet comfortable grandeur, are named after American George Mortimer Pullman, who designed these trains to be “palaces on wheels”.
And it definitely felt like a palace from the moment I first stepped foot on the train. Greeted by friendly staff eager to help me settle in to my plush chair, I sipped on my peach bellini while taking in the art nouveau decor and delicate vintage details. Waiting for other guests to board, I read up on these luxury rail cars like the Minerva, Audrey, and my car Perseus, which was Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral train car in 1965.
Before long, our journey started as we pulled away from Victoria Station and headed towards the English countryside. While enjoying the most sumptuous brunch of Scottish smoked salmon, caviar, and a warm buttered crumpet, all served on the British Pullman’s signature china, I quickly became friends with the travelers across the aisle. Well-versed in the British legal system, my neighbors shared some of the nuances of their system and recommended I visit the Royal Courts of Justice when back in London. What I loved most about our conversation was the personal, cross-cultural exchanges that can only happen while you’re traveling. We discussed the differences between the British and American systems, the U.S. constitution and its cultural grip on gun laws, and what it means to rehabilitate a citizen in the justice system.
Looking out the window, I drifted off into a pleasant state of daydream as our journey wove through farmlands edging out of a winter frost. Grazing sheep and fields of pheasants dotted green pastures, while the gray clouds broke up as the sun beckoned. It was already turning out to be a beautiful day.
As we arrived in Bath, our destination for the day’s journey, we were guided through the ancient town on a short bus tour that showed us the highlights. Our guide pointed out Jane Austen’s old haunts, the distinctive architecture of the city, and where to wander at our leisure, all while slipping in some interesting anecdotes.
Exiting the bus, our guide whisked us past the long weekend lines to visit the Roman Baths. Once inside, it was like a flashback to my AP Latin courses from high school. Statues of Roman politicians like Julius Caesar and Vespasian lined the open terrace that overlooked these historic waters. As I sat under a blue sky with these statuesque stone figures above, I reminisced on my school days as president of the Latin Club, where we attended annual conventions that held everything from chariot races to spelling bees, all eventually ending in a nightly toga party.
Making my way up to the exit, I passed my self-assigned patron goddess Minerva, and marveled at the interior baths and stone architecture of this ancient site. With a few hours to roam the city of Bath at my leisure, I headed up towards the hill that led to Royal Victoria Park.
The best part of this Belmond journey is that there is something for everyone in Bath. You can meander through antique stores, catch a rugby match at a local pub, or if the weather is nice, sit outside in one of the parks and observe the greenery lined with intricate cathedrals, buildings, and monuments.
Always a purveyor of art galleries and museums, I wandered up Broad Street towards the Fashion Museum. Along the way I found Magalleria, a little shop that merged two of my favorite things: art and magazines. Named one of Bath’s best shops in 2016, Magalleria specializes in curating rare, provocative, and artistically designed publications. If you’re in need of a gift or a souvenir, browse their “gallery”. You’re sure to find something that is a smart alternative to a coffee-table book, and won’t weigh a ton in your luggage. After talking with Susan, Magalleria’s owner about the changing landscape in print publications and how artistic magazines are making a comeback, I made a mental note to connect her with a few publishing contacts back home.
Passing quite a few enticing bars and cafes, I was grateful that I didn’t have to worry about choosing a place to eat, as I would be treated to a delicious dinner on the British Pullman after departing Bath. All the more time to wander these quaint streets!
My final stop in Bath was to the Fashion Museum, which seemed fitting as it was Fashion Week back in London. I started with the newly opened exhibit, Lace in Fashion, that displayed intricate designs, dresses, and decor dating from the 1500s. Walking past gowns by Balmain, Dior, and a beaded dress worn by Elizabeth Taylor during her controversial trip behind the “Iron Curtain” to Moscow, I thought about my recent visit to the Luna Mae showroom, where dreams of bespoke lace lingerie come to life. Seeing this craftsmanship behind glass gave me a new appreciation for this elegant material.
As the British Pullman rolled out of the station, I thought about the Romans’ contributions to transportation, the developments since that era, and how much we depend on these various modes today. Watching the sun set, I savored each bite of the most delicious cauliflower soup, a perfect starter to the freshly made seasonal menu served for this trip’s dinner.
Over a few more courses which included a delectable daube of beef, dauphinoise potatoes, and a cheese plate sampling regional cheeses from the British Isles, I caught up with my neighbors about what they saw on their afternoon in Bath. As it turns out, we all carved different paths throughout the town, each of us highlighting a favorite experience.
Winding our way back to London, I was already thinking about when I could travel on another Belmond journey. Luckily there are many options to choose from! The newly launched Belmond Grand Hibernian, Ireland’s first luxury touring train, glides through rugged countryside, winding along the striking scenery of Ireland’s northern coast. Or choose the highly anticipated Andean Explorer, South America’s first luxury sleeper service, where you can see the spellbinding curves and natural crevices of Peru.
Regardless of your destination with the Belmond Trains, one thing is for certain – you’ll definitely have the trip of a lifetime. My journey on the luxurious British Pullman is something I hope everyone can experience on their trip to England. The superior service and world-class gastronomic fare provided by the British Pullman team, the intimate and daring conversations with your travel companions, and of course, the postcard scenery along the way all add up to create a unique journey for each of us. And really, that’s what travel is all about – the journey.
In a city that can claim summertime weather year round, Los Angeles still has a few markers that signal to its citizens and visitors alike that it is officially summer. One of the most anticipated events, in a city whose temperature can quickly go from blistering to breezy, is the Hollywood Bowl.
The Bowl, nestled in Cahuenga Pass and just a short distance behind Hollywood’s tourist traps, has called this location home since 1919. Over the years, this L.A. landmark has hosted performances from almost every genre, and much of this music history can been seen at the on-site museum, an ideal place to idle away the time while you wait for a performance. Arrive at the Bowl early, beat the traffic, and take a minute to view what the Bowl calls a “living laboratory for experimentation and discovery of L.A.’s music history.”
Walking through the museum, I thought back to when I visited the Bowl as a child with my aunt, an envied season-ticket holder. I recall summers sitting under the starlit sky, soaking in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and then looking up wide-eyed at fireworks while Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture stomped and saluted our nation’s independence, puzzled by the choice of a Russian composition to honor an American holiday.
Now as an adult, I’m able to appreciate the diversity that the Hollywood Bowl calendar has to offer its patrons. Throughout the years, I have been lucky enough to see remarkable performances by Brazilian artists Bebel Gilberto and Seu Jorge, Jamaican icon Grace Jones, English songstress Sade, and classic rock legend Santana. In a day and age when people throw around the word “epic” at every turn, my definition involves swaying to Jones’ sultry hits under the full moon.
The Hollywood Bowl is not to be missed. Voted as one of the “Top Outdoor Music Venues” countless times by Fodor’s, Rolling Stone, and Architectural Digest, just to name a few, holding that honor is quite noteworthy in a city that can claim much of its activity outdoors. And outdoor dining is half the fun at the Bowl; to call it “picnicking” is an understatement. In fact, one of my favorite cookbooks in a collection that has some strong competition, is my copy of Picnics Under the Stars, a gift given to me by my aunt many moons ago. Besides featuring recipes from famous conductors like Itzhak Perlman and Christopher Hogwood, this cookbook has two features that I love: an index outlined by ingredient(helpful for those with food allergies) and tips for picnicking outdoors, which is something you’ll definitely be doing if you spend any time in Los Angeles.
Speaking of outdoor dining, there’s no formal designation of “Most Rooftop Bars Per Capita”, but Los Angeles can definitely stake its claim at the top of this imagined list. Adding to that list is the rooftop at quirky and colorful hotel, Mama Shelter. Accor Group’s recent investment in the boutique hotel brand brings the U.S. its first Mama Shelter, situated in the heart of Hollywood. A welcome addition to one of the few walking neighborhoods in this expansive metropolis, Mama Shelter adds some flair and fun that leads all the way up to its rooftop with 360 degree views of the Hollywood Hills, downtown L.A. skyline, and the Pacific Coast in the distance.
There’s no shortage of spectacular views from Mama Shelter’s rooftop bar. And this pulsating panorama sets the perfect backdrop for their “Sunday Sunsets” yoga series and their weekly “Screenings Under the Stars”, where guests can enjoy Hollywood classics while taking in the sweeping summer sky. But after you’ve snapped some enviable shots of those vibrant vistas of the Hollywood Hills and beyond, dive into Chef Gerard Sampson’s Mediterranean menu that is sure to send your taste buds on a trip of their own.
Where to begin with this tempting menu? Start with a sampler of Mama’s dips: the cauliflower hummus and roasted carrot hummus are my favorites. Add in the Turkish beet hummus and you have an Instagram-worthy food photo. There’s no shortage of flavor with the rooftop menu. After you’ve finished noshing on your food porn platter, taste the lamb or scallop brochettes, and don’t skip over the vegan friendly options like the Tokyo turnip and brussel sprouts. The refreshing cocktail to pair with this spicy feast: Mama’s Mediterranean Mule that blends rhubarb-infused vodka, ginger beer, and a bit of lime juice for just the right mix of sweet and sour.
Once you’re back downstairs in the rooms designed by Thierry Gaugain, a Philippe Starck protégé, there’s no shortage of kitschy toys to catch your eye. From the flirty costume masks encouraging guests to role play to suggestive sayings adorning their toiletries that you can use to clean up afterwards, Mama Shelter’s adult-friendly vibe fits right in with its Hollywood surroundings. Gaugain’s first U.S. design project is nothing short of playful, yet provocative.
When you’ve recovered from any raucous play that you can record from your room, wander down to Mama’s lobby to see the footage. If you’ve built up an appetite, indulge in Chef Sampson’s take on American diner food in their communal restaurant or sip on one of their signature drinks, all with maternal monikers inspired by Hollywood films. My personal favorite is the “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, a spicy margarita with just the right amount of almond syrup drizzle to tempt your tongue for more.
Sipping on my seductively sweet cocktail, I can see how the design evocatively elicits what hotel founder Benjamin Trigano calls an urban kibbutz. “Guests are encouraged to engage not only with the space and the neighborhood, but with each other, too.” To achieve this, Mama’s ceiling is full of scrawlings and sayings that are good conversation starters for that stranger seated at the next stool. Or test your mental agility with games at the nearby tables, and then dance to a rotation of DJs that play throughout the week. There’s no end to the clever cues coaxing hotel patrons to get the full Hollywood experience.
And to truly do that, one must seek out some music while in Hollywood. Whether you’re looking for the big club bumping electronic dance music from internationally renowned DJs or seeking out those bands that have yet to make it on the big stage, Hollywood is a destination for music lovers.
This music mecca has long been a city known for bringing the best acts to the public. It was here in Hollywood where I saw Gary Clark Jr. perform in the back lot of Jimmy Kimmel, and where my mom reminisces of seeing Led Zeppelin on their first U.S. tour back in 1969. That Led Zeppelin debut at the Whisky A Go-Go launched a generation of boomers that would lead the way for rock and roll fans for generations to come. Walking along Sunset Boulevard, I have to admit I’m a little envious of my parents and the musical acts that they saw perform here on the Sunset Strip.
Although some of these musical greats are no longer with us, their memories live on in sounds and images for those of us that are left behind. Further down Sunset Blvd., I wandered into Mr. Musichead, a gallery featuring a diverse selection of photographs of music legends like David Bowie, Prince, and Tupac. Mr. Musichead, “L.A.’s first gallery devoted exclusively to Art by and about the world’s greatest musicians”, opened in 1998 by Detroit native, Sam Milgrom.
Looking at each of the photos, I thought about how music is tied to so many of my memories. And I’m not alone. It’s a central part of our existence, dating back to the beginning of time when our ancestors made music from their natural surroundings – definitely one of the oldest art forms. I eventually stopped at a photo of Jim Morrison, a genius gone too soon, and thought about a story my dad told me about his visits to the Sunset Strip back in the 1960s.
“Back in high school, your mother and I used to cruise the strip and one thing that always stood out to me was this billboard that was completely covered with a tan cloth. Each week, there was a pair of hands that would gradually pull away some of the cloth, slowly revealing what the billboard was displaying. It was the album cover of a new band, The Doors and the album was ‘Break on Through (To the Other Side)’, their debut from 1967.”
Beginning with a bossa nova beat, it’s no wonder that this is one of my favorite Doors songs, and I’m hoping that my dad will some day bequeath that album to me. Thinking about musical influences and how the great artists always drew on what came before, I wandered through the rest of the Mr. Musichead gallery, wanting to take home half of the pieces and adorn my walls with these inspiring and incredible images.
Maybe you aren’t a photography enthusiast, and would rather call your record collection a piece of art. If so, Amoeba Music should be on your itinerary. In the center of Hollywood, right off of this famed Sunset Blvd, you can spend hours browsing the expansive collection of music, truly leaving no stone unturned to find that rare, obscure record. Amoeba, staking its claim as the “world’s largest independent record store”, houses endless rows of hard-to-find vinyl, DVDs, CDs, 45s, and other memorabilia, making it the perfect destination for the music collector. Stick around for their live events that happen nearly every night of the week and mix it up with other music fans in the heart of Hollywood’s entertainment district.
If for some strange reason you haven’t found what you’re looking for at Amoeba, the Great Rock and Roll Flea Market is hosted at downtown L.A.’s Regent Theater once a month. Just like it sounds, this monthly bazaar hosts various vendors, mostly selling vinyl, amidst artisans selling eccentric creations, all to the beat of a live DJ spinning sets of funky tunes.
It’s easy to spend hours browsing through records; I know – I’ve done it. But save some time to explore the rest of what downtown Los Angeles has to offer. You can continue your urban adventures, whether it’s a stroll through an art gallery, an evening out at one of the free Grand Performances, or a dip in one of the sexy rooftop pool parties, don’t let summer pass you by spending it completely indoors. You can do that in January, also known as “winter” in Los Angeles.
Take advantage of these balmy summer nights and enjoy a meal at one of the many al fresco dining options around town. One of my favorites is Pez Cantina, whose decor evokes a nautical mood, with varied hues of turquoise and marine-inspired details throughout the restaurant. This ideally situated restaurant, the first project of husband and wife team Chef Bret Thompson and Lucy Thompson-Ramirez, showcases a Mexican seafood-centric menu with influences from Europe and the Middle East, all places where Bret had worked during his tenure with the Patina Group. Lucy tells the story with a gleam in her eye. “We were vacationing on a little island near Loreto, Mexico – it was literally something out of a Corona commercial – and we had just enjoyed some freshly caught fish, with the juicy pico de gallo.” What stood out to Bret was the simplicity, freshness, and high quality of this seaside feast, eventually inspiring them to open Pez Cantina.
As Lucy and I mused over the intricacies of Mexican recipes like mole and chile rellenos, she highlighted the Middle Eastern flavors of pickled vegetables, earthy nuts, and succulent seafood, all of which I could taste in one of their feature mariscos menu items. The simplicity and freshness are married together in this delicious dish that combines grilled octopus with a marinated cauliflower salad, topped with light and crispy chicharron, all dressed with a spicy pomegranate walnut sauce. While savoring every morsel, Lucy pointed out that this dish is infused with muhammara, a Middle Eastern spice that Bret discovered while working in Beirut. This fusion, which Lucy calls “Mexiterranean” clearly brings together the best of Bret’s culinary travels around the world.
When Bret and Lucy travel, they’re drawn to explore different foodie destinations, leaning on recommendations from fellow travelers to take them to places like Grand Central Market, where you can try a little bit of everything that entices your palate, or they’ll sometimes seek out those trendy hot spots. When speaking of great food destinations, Lucy immediately mentions Mexico. “There’s a movement in the food and wine scene, and it’s nice to see that there is finally some international recognition of this amazing cuisine that is thousands of years old.”
Continuing with my courses, I enjoyed Pez Cantina’s spicy ahi tuna tostada, a hearty appetizer that gives your taste buds a bit of a kick, and their delicately sweet Hibiscus Berry Margarita. What I love about every dish at Pez Cantina, besides the beautiful presentation, is that each dish is unique and surprises diners with an unexpected take on Mexican cuisine. My main dish, Ahi Tuna wrapped in Smoked Bacon, was a playful mixture of textures and peppery overtones, all on a bed of roasted vegetables and cilantro mashed potatoes.
Both L.A. natives, Lucy and I talked about the resurgence of downtown Los Angeles and how it has become a cultural hub with the myriad of museums like the Broad and MOCA, the nearby arts district, and the musical centers right up the street. Whether or not you make it here in the summer, you’ll definitely find plenty to do with the endless options around every corner.
Walt Disney Concert Hall, the newest addition to the music venues that line Grand Avenue, has housed the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2003. This architectural and acoustic masterpiece that “embodies the energy, imagination, and creative spirit of the city of Los Angeles” has since welcomed Venezuelan prodigy, Gustavo Dudamel, to a long line of talented conductors. Dudamel and the LA Phil, who won a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance for their recording of the Brahms Symphony No. 4 in 2011, bring vigor and passion to the L.A. community through their orchestral artistry.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of listening to a titillating performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor led by celebrated conductor and virtuoso violinist, Itzhak Perlman. At the post-performance reception, I was delighted to learn about Dudamel’s community outreach program, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles(YOLA), which aims to develop musicians, and a new appreciation for music, to underserved communities.
During the summer months, the L.A. Phil’s creative calendar livens up the Hollywood Bowl, until they return to Walt Disney Concert Hall for their 2016/17 season which commences in September. But don’t let that stop you from at least walking by the Concert Hall and standing in awe of Frank Gehry’s carefully crafted curves that look good from every angle.
Luckily for those who want a respite from the heat, what does run throughout the summer are the programs right across the street at the Music Center. Walking through here always brings back childhood memories of seeing musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, or my family’s annual trip to the Nutcracker Ballet during the Christmas season.
This year marks the L.A. Opera’s 30 year anniversary, which just wrapped up with a production of La Bohème and will begin the next 30 in September with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. There’s never a shortage of programming at the Music Center. This summer, the American Ballet Theater, along with L.A. area natives Misty Copeland and Stella Abrera, will enchant us with a few performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. There’s also outdoor performances on the plaza, with everything from Argentine tango to electronic-fusion to liven up the plaza that overlooks Grand Park and City Hall in the distance.
Whether you’re enjoying this medley of music on the plaza or visiting the Mark Taper Forum to take in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Disgraced, the ideal location to enjoy a meal before or after your Music Center escapades is Kendall’s Brasserie and Bar. Located conveniently at street level, Kendall’s offers traditional French brasserie cuisine, all orchestrated by Chef Jean Pierre Bosc, who brings with him a depth of culinary expertise honed in France, London, the Caribbean, and here in Los Angeles.
Chef Bosc draws on his extensive training with star chefs from all over France, including Jean Paul Lacombe, Yann Jacquot, and Michel Chabran from his home region in the south, as well as his tenure as a restaurateur here in Los Angeles as the former owner of critically acclaimed Mimosa to “remind our guests that eating should first and foremost be a pleasure.”
And what a pleasure it is. While I’ve been to Kendall’s many times and thoroughly enjoyed the brasserie classics like moules frites provençal and steak frites, on my most recent visit I took the recommendation of Chef Bosc and tried some of the more experimental dishes that truly highlight his culinary background. After sampling a platter of cheeses that included an aptly named “Saint Angel” brie, I was served the Skuna Bay salmon. Chef Bosc prepares this dish sous vide, a method that ensures each mouthful is marvelous. “I love to use this technique because it controls the temperature and guarantees that your fish will be perfectly cooked every time.” This skillfully prepared salmon dances together with a balanced medley of asparagus, leeks, Meyer lemon confit, piquillo pepper, and Castelvetrano olives, sending your mouth into a state of bliss.
I recommend allowing enough time to enjoy every gastronomic gem that Chef Bosc sends your way. Each and every bite is delectable – and not to be rushed. So if you’re trying to make that evening show, do as my aunt does and book your reservations the minute you buy your show tickets to get those ideal times to savor the entire experience. Or just come and sample their oyster bar during happy hour or partake in their nightly prix fixe menu. Whenever you visit Kendall’s, you’re sure to leave perfectly satiated.
Of course this experience wouldn’t be quite the quintessential French fare without a nod to a culture that sets the bar extremely high for superb, and skillfully prepared, desserts. Scanning the menu, I was pleased to see île flottante amongst the other tempting selections. Having only had it one other time at Bofinger in Paris years ago, it was quite a treat to relish every bite of this delicate meringue floating on a bed of crème anglaise, piled high with caramelized almonds. It’s enough to make anyone swoon.
Sitting amongst Toulouse-Lautrec inspired images, my family and I reminisced about our favorite performances, with my mother sharing the time when I met the Phantom backstage after a performance, and my shocked expression when meeting him unmasked. As we sat there and mused over our favorite performances, and the ones that we’re looking forward to, I felt so grateful for these memories and the gift of music appreciation that they all instilled in me at a young age.
Heading out into the breezy summer evening, I made my way to a preview of Los Angeles’ tallest building that has now added an open-air observation deck appropriately called Skyspace. Sitting atop the 70th floor of the U.S. Bank building, this dynamic experience offers 360 degree views of the cityscape far below. Skyspace presents Los Angeles with a modern design with first class vendors for your next event, and of course an unparalleled point of view for your guests. If you’ve got an extreme fear of heights, also known as “acrophobia”, then maybe it’s better to just take in the interactive technology displays on the 54th floor. There’s no windows, so you won’t be reminded how far above ground level you really are when you see the skyline below.
But if you’re brave enough to head to the top of this building that currently holds the title of “tallest building in the world with a helipad on top”, it’s worth the wait. The highlight of your visit will definitely be the adrenaline-boosting Skyslide, which sends you down a glass slide on the outside, yes outside, of the building. You’re enclosed as you quickly glide down to the 69th floor, but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling. Just try not to look down as you step inside!
Walking around the perimeter of the lounge, I was careful not to step too close to the edge, worried that it might deter me from actually going down the slide. Staring down at the Biltmore, the Central Library, and nearby Pershing Square, my knees became a little wobbly and I backed up to take in more of this expansive view. You can literally see all of the city: the maze of freeways, the hovering helicopters, the staggering skyscrapers, and sprawling suburbs beyond. As I took it all in, and let my heart rate return to normal, I was glad that I completed this daring 15 second adventure. It’s truly a unique feeling. You feel like you’re on top of the world, when in fact you are.
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One doesn’t normally think of using a cookbook for a travel guide, but there’s always an exception. My recent purchase, Rio De Janeiro: The Cookbook, was a welcome addition to my already bursting cookbook collection. I picked up this gem at my favorite neighborhood bookstore, and after flipping through the pages, I was delighted to find that the recipes came with “dicas”, or tips, on everything from where to find a feijoada feast for a weekend brunch to a recipe for creamy coconut cake to a list of local farmers’ markets. Using Chef Leticia’s cookbook as a guide, I quickly charted a map that included some of her recommendations.
Reading more about Chef Leticia in her book, I knew that we’d become instant friends. We both loved travel, indulged in languages and word games as children, and of course shared a love for Rio. When we spoke, Leticia credited her “carioca” heritage as a large influence on her culinary development. “Going to the farmers’ markets here in Rio and talking to the street vendors where they taught you about the different fruits and vegetables had a huge influence on me.”
Inspired by her local surroundings, other culinary creatives in Brasil like Chef Claude Troisgros, and publications like Gula and Food & Wine, Leticia created a cookbook that guides its readers through a tasty tour of Rio’s diverse neighborhoods. When I asked Leticia about her opinion of Rio cuisine, she said it highlights the influence of Portuguese culture in the diaspora of African, Indian, and European history that is Brazil. “You can see it in people’s faces, in the botequins, the architecture, and of course in the food.”
And so my food tour commenced in downtown Rio, known as Centro to locals. I headed to Confeitaria Colombo, a Rio institution and landmark. Confeitaria Colombo is a marvelous mixture of café, bakery, restaurant, and bar, with an emphasis on the bakery part. Upon entering this downtown destination, I quickly understood why this place was on Haute Living’s list of “Top 10 Most Beautiful Cafes in the World.” With stiff competition from mostly European listings, Confeitaria Colombo rightfully deserves its place on the list with its gilded interiors.
Over a bountiful Brazilian breakfast of cakes, cookies, cheese, and of course, coffee, I spoke with head Chef Thiago about the historic guestlist of Confeitaria Colombo, dating back to the time when Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil. This historic café received presidents from all over the globe and Thiago mentioned a recent visit by the Royal family and the Queen of England as his personal highlight.
As I marveled at the decor, Chef Thiago told the story of the cafe’s founders. “The story started with two Portuguese men – pioneers that had their mind set on creating the best pastry shop in Brazil. They brought with them the best tiles from Europe, mirrors from Belgium, and of course, pastry chefs from France.”
Surrounded by so many delicious desserts must be daunting for anyone’s diet, so I had to ask Chef Thiago what was his favorite. With a gleam in his eye, he instantly said “pastel de nata”, a traditional Portuguese dessert that has a light custard in delicate crusted cups. Having never sampled this sweet, I made a note to try it on my next visit. He went on to share how he looks forward to Christmas here at the café, when droves of families line up to take home these scrumptious sweets to share with their families.
Eager to walk off my hearty breakfast, I made my way to the National Library. Situated in the heart of Centro, with the Theatro Municipal and the National Museum of Fine Arts as its neighbors, this Library is a national treasure. Established by Dom João Pedro, who sits at the base of the stairwell, the library held more than 60,000 books at its inception, a rare case for any library, since most build their collections over time. In fact, as my guide Max pointed out, it was in the Peace Treaty of 1825 that the Portuguese Royal family sold the vast literary collection to Brazil, giving this historic site its rightful place as UNESCO’s 8th biggest national library in the world, now with over 20 million pieces.
As the collection grew over the years, the Library relocated to many homes throughout Rio before finally settling on its current location in 1910. Max, a human library himself, reflected on the library’s historic importance. “It’s a building that reminds us cariocas of a period of great change here in the city center because in the beginning of the 20th century Rio was the capital of Brazil and the main goal of the mayor was to make Rio similar to a European city. He used as his inspiration the Belle Epoque in Paris and French architecture. Examples of this are the Municipal Theater, the National Museum of Fine Arts, and other buildings along Rio Branco Avenue.”
The magnificent interior of the Library is a testament to this European influence, with structural details like Neoclassical arcs at the entrance, Corinthian columns, a stairwell imported from Germany, and French glass ceilings. Behind these architectural displays are housed a phenomenal rare books collection, whose importance goes beyond Brazil. The original printed edition of Luís de Camões’ Os Lusíadas, sits in the collection, much to the disdain of many Portuguese, Max noted with a grin. “This masterpiece is as important to the Portuguese language as Shakespeare to English, Cervantes to Spanish, or Goethe to German.”
Also housed here are original legal documents like the Lei Áurea, which abolished slavery in Brazil and was ushered into proclamation by Princess Isabel in the late 1800s, a multitude of dictionaries, including those of indigenous Brazilian languages, like Tupi-Guarani, and Yorubá, the African language that Max mentioned is very present in Brazilian Portuguese.
Wandering through the halls of the library and an exhibit of Antônio Houaiss’ contributions to the Portuguese language, I thought about the fascinating fusion of cultures that is ever-present here in Brazil. While Rio is definitely an epicenter for Brazilian culture, this large country has a vast landscape that cannot be covered in one trip. Luckily, my visa is good for a few more years.
When mentioning to Max that I had just come from the famous café, he pointed out that the same jacaranda wood that was used to make the desks and interiors of the Library was used on the mirrors of the Confeitaria Colombo. He also said, in a secretive tone that the Library houses some of the rare recipes from Portugal, which he whispered “us Brazilians are always trying to replicate in our bakeries.” When I mentioned Chef Thiago’s favorite, pastel de nata, Max gave me some more insight. “There is a patent on the name of that dessert. If it is made there in Belem, in that region, it’s called ‘pastel de Belem’. Anywhere else, it’s ‘pastel de nata’. Kind of like French champagne.” He gave a knowing smile and led me through the halls tiled with mosaics from Morocco, while we chatted about the library decor, philosophy, and Brazilian politics. We eventually agreed that no matter where you are from in the world, we are definitely living in a climate of change, and hopefully for the better.
Walking up Avenida Presidente Antonio Vargas, I stopped in the Palácio Tiradentes. A royal looking piece of architecture with its sprawling entrance, I entered not knowing anything about the place. As my guide led me through the halls, I learned that this building was originally the site of the first Republic of Brazil, back during Rio’s time as the country’s capital. Along the walls, the mosaic tiles, and in the etchings of the chairs and pillars are coffee leaves. These details, as my guide shared, were a homage to Brazil’s early ruling class, many of whom were coffee farmers.
Upon entering the main hall where current state laws are reviewed, I was immediately struck by the immense murals around the perimeter and along the ceiling. Showing different scenes from Brazil’s beginnings, my guide highlighted Pedro Álvarez Cabral, the Portuguese bandeirantes, and the French Marianne waving the flag of liberty. She poignantly pointed out that these images were a “romantic vision of Brazil’s history. It looks very peaceful, but in fact it was not.” Of course this made me think of romanticized versions of America’s pilgrims and their settling along the eastern seaboard, giving way to our Thanksgiving holiday. I guess, as Oscar Wilde wrote, sometimes art doesn’t always imitate life.
Back in Zona Sul, I was eagerly looking forward to my visit at design marvel, Fasano Hotel in Ipanema. Meeting with the hotel’s communications and marketing department for the ideally situated Rio location of this iconic hotel, I learned more about the history of designer Philippe Starck’s first project here in Brazil. Sitting poolside, which is where all meetings should take place if they offer this stunning view, they shared with me some of the unique features of Fasano. “The experience here is an extension of Rogério Fasano himself; a mirror of his personality. It’s evident in the smallest of details, with an understated luxury.”
And it truly is. From the moment you step into the lobby, you are greeted with an aura of discreet, yet superior hospitality. Designing the hotel with sustainability in mind, the repurposed pequiá wood from the Amazon is used throughout the hotel. You’ll see it in the lobby, the bedside tables, and even at the front desk, which is formed from a large log of this rare wood. The simplicity of natural materials like dark pequiá, marble, native plants, and red brick are all weaved together to provide guests with a visually appealing and comforting vibe, a true escape from Rio’s raucous scene.
With a family history well-versed in gastronomy, the Fasano experience wouldn’t be complete without a tribute to a luxurious dining experience. “It’s important for us to take food seriously, but with a ‘slow food’ manner,” the staff mused. “The restaurant, Fasano al Mare, which is a misnomer in a way, highlights an Italian Mediterranean cuisine, replete with housemade pasta dishes that contain local ingredients.” One bite of the Tortelli Di Vitelo, their signature dish, is a testament to this superb dining philosophy. Delicate folds of fresh pasta envelop tender cuts of veal, tempting your taste buds to savor every morsel of these pillows drizzled with Parmesan fondue. Chef Paolo Lavezzini’s menu draws on his expertise from award-winning restaurants in Florence, subtly influencing every element of this gastronomic gem.
While the mirrored ears, a Starck design hallmark, listened in on our conversation, I heard an anecdote about the hotel’s owner. “Rogério loves cinema and had been studying film in London; he dreamed of being a director and one of his idols was Francis Ford Coppola. After receiving a call to come back to Brazil and manage the family business, Rogério left his film career behind.” But with a stroke of serendipitous luck, Rogério would one day meet his idol when Coppola paid a visit to this famed hotel. “He was a little nervous about asking the celebrated director for an autograph, but he did and now it sits on our Hall of Fame wall just outside of the Baretto-Londra bar!” An homage to London, Rogério’s favorite city, the pub-style bar hosts both DJs and classic rock bands, with décor characteristic of British music icons. The signature Union Jack flag hangs in the background, but the colors provide a nod to Fasano’s Italian heritage.
Luckily for travelers who appreciate the Fasano philosophy, the hotel is expanding throughout Latin America. With Brazilian locations as close as Angra dos Reis and Belo Horizonte opening in the next year, and projects planned for Miami and the reopening of Uruguay’s property, travelers seeking out this “understated luxury” won’t have to look further than one of Fasano’s meticulously planned hotel experiences.
If you need souvenirs, or even a gift for yourself, just down the way is Ipanema’s shopping district, which is full of Brazilian brands: Osklen, Francesca Romana, Melissa, and of course the ubiquitous Havaianas. Depending on your budget, and how much space you have in your carry-on, you’ll be sure to find a way to support the Brazilian economy with a visit to these boutiques – gift list in hand.
Maybe you keep up on travel trends like “voluntourism”, work for a company that sponsors volunteer vacations abroad, or just have a desire to help others in need. Doing community service while traveling is an alternate lens to learn about the countries we visit. Eager to participate in Stanford’s “Beyond the Farm”, my alma mater’s annual day of community service event, I joined a Mais Caminhos event early one Saturday morning. Mais Caminhos, the community outreach arm of the language center Caminhos, organized a group of volunteers from all over the globe, many of whom are studying Portuguese at the center, to head up the street to a local school, Solar Meninos de Luz.
Solar Meninos de Luz was founded in 1991 to bring educational, health, and cultural programs to the favela neighborhoods that sit behind Ipanema, and has grown over the years, now supporting over 5,000 families. When we arrived at the school, we were greeted by Brama, a spirited soul who manages the Paulo Coelho Library. After sharing some of the history of the school, the library, and its famous donor, Brama gave us a tour of the classrooms, all lined with artwork and projects from its students. With a challenging charter before us, we began to clean and dust over 20,000 books that lined the shelves of this great community resource.
Beyond just providing an opportunity to do a bit of good for the local citizens, the Mais Caminhos event was a way for us foreigners to share travel tales and resources, as well as animated anecdotes from our struggles with learning a foreign language here in Brazil. While diligently dusting off copies of classics like Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and volumes by Brazilian authors Clarice Lispector, and Paulo Coelho himself, I thought back on my own experience of living here and learning a foreign language as an adult. Life changing, it is one of my proudest accomplishments, and I’m always encouraging others to do the same. Meeting other language enthusiasts while making a positive change in this neighborhood was definitely a highlight of this trip.
Later that evening, I headed to nearby Botafogo, which has a lively mix of bars, bookstores, and oddly enough – hamburger joints. On my last visit, I ended up at Hell’s Burguer, which is always a good option. But after reading Veja’s Comer & Beber list of top hamburger spots, I had to try the famed Comuna. This first place winner has a small menu, and rightfully so, since the burgers are a meal in themselves. There’s no need for fries. Just make sure and indulge in one of their handcrafted milkshakes after you’ve had enough time to digest your food.
Botafogo is also a great neighborhood if you like to barhop. Start with the stretch of bars that are easily accessible from the metro. One of my favorites, The Boua, has a bountiful selection of beers on tap, and an accompanying menu of traditional Brazilian appetizers, but with a twist. The mandioca, linguica, and of course, batata frita, or French fries are all large enough to share. My favorite is a mixture of octopus, sausage, and potatoes, all melted together with gouda cheese in a bread bowl; something that instantly transported me to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
Also in the area is Bar Bukowski, a lively weekend-only spot where you can get a hefty dose of classic rock and sing along to your favorite Stones’ songs with the locals. For a more mellow vibe, there’s the WineHouse if you want to sip on your favorite bottle of Chilean cabernet coupled with crispy bruschetta and other small bites to pair with your glass. Their cellar has a diverse, yet appealing selection of wines from Italy, France, and some hard to find Brazilian wines, which you can sample during their weekday happy hour.
For some of us, happy hour is a time to get outside and enjoy those last hours of sunshine. If this is you, then a walk, or a bike ride, along Botafogo Bay should be on your list. Depending on how far you want to go, you can weave your way towards Flamengo, or head in the other direction towards the Yacht Club, down to Urca, and end up at Praia Vermelha. Nestled in this cove where throngs of tourists make their way up to the top of picturesque Pão de Açucar is a small beach where you can sit and see the sky light up with colorful streaks as the sun sets behind you.
My next, and final, dining destination was to Zaza’s Bistro, a colorful restaurant that makes their eating experience a full sensory adventure. With its quirky decor, Zaza’s envelops you in a tropical version of a Tim Burton movie set, all while waiting for your highly anticipated meal. The Gilson Martins placemats, gilded metal flowers, and inspiring quotes painted on the walls are all Instagram-worthy, and enough distraction while you wait for each course.
What’s unique about Zaza’s, and makes it hard to get a same-day reservation, is the attention to detail with each plate. The menu sources local, organic ingredients, often changing their menu from week to week, and infuses international flavors into traditional Brazilian dishes.
I started with an inventive appetizer of smoked octopus samosas served with a sweet chili marmalade, and paired these tasty starters with their “Soft Flora” drink, a delicate blend of mango, mint, coconut water, and tonic – the perfect refresher for a warm evening. But Zaza’s drink menu is worth a second glance; they artfully blend Brazilian fruits and their house favorite, Absolut vodka, to provide the perfect accompaniment to each of your courses. And definitely save room for dessert. If you can’t choose just one from the luscious list, opt for the chef’s degustation menu where you’ll be able to sample each of their delicious offerings.
As I sat there enjoying each morsel, I thought back to my conversation with Chef Leticia and eagerly anticipated returning home to try some of her recipes. “Open your mind to new cuisines. I would love for people everywhere to integrate Brazilian cuisine into the mainstream. Shop local and eat global – that’s what I’m trying to show in my book.” Looking forward to planning my next dinner party menu, I recalled her advice about throwing a successful one: “Plan and do as much ahead of time as possible – that way you have more time to spend with friends!”