Dinner #1 - Hotel Casa del Mar, Santa Monica. The grand old Italian Renaissance on the beach is a perfect start for cocktails and really good live jazz in the lounge, then dinner in the elegant seafood-focused restaurant Catch. The beachfront property, which opened in 1926 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, works comfortably for a midweek business dinner as a retreat from the frenetic West Side LA that is now high tech heaven. In the spacious Lounge, we sit on sofas, clustered in sections for easy conversations. At dinner in the restaurant just steps off the Lounge, we chose the grilled striped bass and the mustard marinated California black cod, both soft and delicate white fish. The kale salad, now the rage everywhere, stood out easily among its competitors, and wherever there is flavor-filled grilled octopus for an appetizer, we follow. Finishing this delicious meal, paired with a delectable wine, three scoops of sorbet and gelato along with the light pistachio cake bring a refreshing sweetness.
Shopping #1 - Main Street Santa Monica. This area has long since passed its prime, yet continues to hang on and deliver a few distinctive stores that are well worth dropping into occasionally.
- You'd not expect behind Sumiko's rather hefty iron security door to find such timeless elegance inside. The models in the windows will invite you in. We understand she used to design most of her dresses, but now primarily curates them and is a favorite of women favoring singular one-of-a-kind distinction - from movie stars to the rest of us. The racks are crammed with exquisite fabrics, dressy to casual in all price ranges but in no way out of reach, from breathtakingly beautiful kimonos to funky inexpensive fun things. Sumiko, 3007 Main Street, Santa Monica.
- You've probably seen Bryn Walker's comfortable often flowy, graceful style in a boutique, but the chance to peruse one of her complete stores is a real pleasure. Designs with easy sophistication in well-constructed garments span needs from business casual to leisure - and the quality really holds up. So when you walk into the Bryn Walker store at 2921 Main Street on the next block north, it's pretty certain you'll walk out with something that captures your individualism. This is one of the Berkeley-based designer's 10 stand-alone stores scattered strategically around the country in places like Tucson and Scottsdale, Walnut Creek and Palo Alto, Seattle and Martha's Vineyard. This means you won't keep seeing yourself wherever you go.
By the way, we are heartbroken that The Rose Cafe, a popular neighborhood gathering place for breakfast and lunch just announced it's closing its doors. We enjoyed the proverbial "last brunch" there in November. What new "concept" will the new resto designer bring on? Sadly, the Rose's understatement and neighborhoody comfort was just what we wanted in concept-driven La-la-land.
Shopping #2 - Montana Avenue. Another hit-and-miss adventure and without documenting all of it, my habit is to pop into Step! when I'm in town. In a smallish space, this high-end shoe store specializes in eye-catching largely European shoes and handbags and extraordinary comfortable. The good news is that you can find shoes, boots or handbags here that stand out without sacrificing style, durability and craftsmanship. If you want something you can wear all day, and beyond, Step!'s knowledgeable sales associates will point you in the right direction.
Dinner #2 - Culina, Four Seasons, Beverly Hills. It's hard to imagine that another "modern Italian" dining experience could be memorable - given that we are now overrun with the, yes, "concept," and that coupled with a Food Network-winning chef, but this was a beautiful, beautiful evening. In a city where "celebrity" runs thin, Chef Mette Williams' rankings for best this and that definitely stand up. Fish-prone that I am, I have had my share of merluzzo nero (black cod), salmone and branzino, but this branzino is memorable days later. What really embeds these experiences in one's mind is the service - if you are paying special prices, then you want to be treated as special. And we were. If you're a solo Womantraveler, as I often am for business, we observed that the bar is a comfortable perch for low-pressure, fabulous eating. So, salute, Culina!