Élephante – Santa Monica, CA

The restaurant scene is very different in LA – no surprise there – but when we showed up for brunch at Élephante we were met by a hostess stand on the sidewalk and then directed to the elevator to the roof.  I felt like I was in my 20’s showing up to a club!

The space is beautiful – think Mediterranean meets Cabo – at least that was my take.  Earthy tones and natural materials, cacti, plants, water features, fireplaces, gorgeous central bar and then the view…the restaurant is completely open on one side facing the beach and ocean.  They definitely killed it on the space!

For food we ordered the Green Eggs and Avocado Toast.  Both very good, not super filling, but great flavors and beautiful presentation.  I’d be so curious to see what this place is like at night, not to mention the dinner menu looks delicious.  Go if you can get in:)

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Green Eggs – soft scramble, zucchini, avocado, arugula, parmesan, salsa verde

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Avocado Toast – crispy chili, lemon, sung olds, herbs

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Ralph’s – Paris, France

Imagine The Ivy transplanted to Paris and then add beautiful Parisian waiters – yes please!  I was first recommended Ralph’s by an acquaintance that lived in Paris for years.  And then I read mixed reviews online, some thought it to be overrated while others couldn’t give it enough praise.  I already had a reservation for lunch and thought best to make my own opinion.  It was lovely!  Everything about it.  Set in a beautiful outdoor courtyard in the middle of the Ralph Lauren store, it’s comfortable and so relaxing.  The food did not disappoint either.  We couldn’t resist the cute little lobster rolls for a starter (a special that day) and then I couldn’t resist the lobster salad.  Stunning!

I have a hard time recommending lunch spots in Paris to friends simply because I find it fun to just stumble upon cute little bistros while out and about.  This would be an exception though if you’re looking for a nice civilized break in the day.  Reservations recommended.  Enjoy!

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Frenchie – Paris, France

What a charming restaurant!  I’ve wanted to go here for a while now and wasn’t able to last year because our party was larger than six (their limit).  Now I understand why…with just eight tables and two counter seats, there’s not a lot of room to spare.  And rightly so, it’s a beautiful dinner meant to be appreciated whereas with a larger group, sometimes the conversation and laughs take over the spotlight.

At Frenchie (the nickname Chef Gregory Marchand was coined while working for Jamie Oliver at one of his London establishments years ago), you are presented a five course seasonal tasting menu along with an amuse bouche and two desserts (eat light during the day).  From start to finish the meal was outstanding!  So many pleasant surprises and originality.  Honestly, the strawberry gazpacho that was our amuse bouche is still on my mind.  Stunning yet delicate flavors with just the right acidity.  YES!  Overall it was definitely worth the hype.  And don’t forget to make a reservation well in advance, you’ll need it!

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JuneBaby – Seattle, WA

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve most likely already heard of JuneBaby.  Even if you don’t live in Seattle, news about this special spot is making its rounds around the country – most recently in The New York Times (no big deal) as well as in the May issue of Food & Wine mentioning JuneBaby as one of their 2018 Restaurants of the Year!

Let’s just get down to business here – you have to order one of the breads to start!  We chose the Antebellum Wheat Buns with honey butter and I’m still thinking about them.  Damn they were good!  Next we went straight to main courses because…we ordered three plates for the two of us (gasp!).  Thursday’s special is Mac n’ Cheese with Benton Ham.  Whaaaaat?!?!  I can never pass up Mac n’ Cheese…it’s a serious weakness of mine.  Aside from that little number I ordered the Fried Catfish and my husband got the Chicken Fried Steak.  Nom nom nom.  Oh yes, and we got dessert too.  The sweet potato ice cream sandwich.  Delicious!

They are open Wednesday through Sunday and don’t take reservations unless you are a large party (8-12).  When we went we were told the wait was going to be 45-60 mins.  Conveniently their sister restaurant Salare is right down the street, so they suggested going there for a drink/cocktail while we waited and that they would text us when our table was available.  I kid you not, we had JUST gotten our drinks and they texted…10 mins or so…so don’t be discouraged if they say it’s going to take a while because chances are it might be a lot sooner than you think.  Something else to mention is that yes, this is Southern food at it’s best which typically is fried and on the heavy side, but I felt great after dinner and didn’t wake up tasting it.

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This week has been a somber one with the news of Anthony Bourdain’s passing.  I find myself in shock and saddened that we’ll never hear that oh-so-recognizable voice again (thank God for OnDemand and the internet).  His unfiltered nature and willingness to try anything was fun to watch, as well as the great rapport he had with everyone he met and interviewed.  I feel lucky that I got to see him (and Eric Ripert) years ago at The Moore theater in Seattle while he was on tour to promote his book Medium Raw.

My husband and I frequently go to Japan for skiing in the winter.  It was brought to our attention on this last trip that Anthony Bourdain was obsessed with the egg salad sandwiches at the local Lawson minimarts…think 7-Eleven in the United States.  I know, I know – it sounds disgusting in every way possible but I trusted him (who doesn’t?!) and low and behold…he was onto something!!!  I honestly don’t even think I had ever even eaten one in my life, but I was willing to give it a try.  Holy #$@!  Those fluffy little sandwiches are something special let me tell you!  How is a minimart sandwich that amazing?!  The crust is perfectly cut off the sandwich which is also perfectly sliced into two triangles to fit into the neat little packaging (packaging is EVERYTHING in Japan)…AND… the bread is not soggy.  What???!!!  I don’t know what else I can possibly say to validate his love for these sandwiches but one thing’s for sure, you have to make this a priority the next time you’re anywhere in Japan (they make great midday snacks on the chairlift or train).

In his CNN travel show, “Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain,” Bourdain states what every Tokyoite knows:

Tokyo may well be the most amazing food city in the world. With a nearly unimaginable variety of places stacked one on top of the other, tucked away on every level of densely packed city streets.

At Lawson’s, you can dig into their unnaturally fluffy, insanely delicious, incongruously addictive egg salad sandwiches. I love them. Layer after layer after layer of awesome. Proud eateries serving who knows what. But it all smells delicious and looks enticing.

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Café Gratitude – Beverly Hills, CA

My brother-in-law, who’s a vegan now, has been raving about this place for a while now.  While I’m not vegan myself, I do have an appreciation for plant-based food so I decided to check it out the last time I was in LA.  First impression was that the space is beautiful!  Open and airy, white and minimalistic…it’s a very peaceful environment.

My friend and I decided to share two things – the Mucho/Mexican Bowl and the Lucky/Torta Española Chopped Salad.  Our server recommended adding braised oyster mushrooms to the Mucho bowl to give it that carnitas taste and texture.  GREAT rec!!!  Had I not eaten breakfast already, I probably would have gone for the Festive/Chilaquiles…I’m a sucker for those.  Next time!

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Florilége – Tokyo, Japan

Wow.  What a stunning meal!  Florilége was voted No. 3 in the 2018 list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants (No. 99 in the world!) I have absolutely no question as to why.  Chef Hiroyasu Kawate surprises you with both presentation and ingredients.  There’s one dish in particular that shines for it’s thoughtfulness and sustainability message – beef carpaccio using beef from a 13 year old cow versus meat you’d normally have from a cow slaughtered at 2-3 years old.

Surprisingly the portion sizes were much larger than I anticipated and when our server noticed me slowing down, he had the remaining dishes made smaller so I could make it through.  Say yes to the wine pairing – so good!  And if you don’t drink alcohol, the non-alcoholic pairing was even more impressive and beautiful.

You’ll definitely need a reservation far in advance (1-2 months) – well worth it!

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