California trip notes

March 25, 2006

Notes on California hotels and restaurants from two trips, May 2005 and March 2006:

Omni Hotel, Los Angeles:  The point of staying here is to be a five minute walk from the LA cultural hub:  the terrific Disney Concert Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theater and the Mark Taper Forum (and fifteen minutes walk to the interesting new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.)  The hotel is a good commercial type.  The one big problem is that the rooms on the north end are next to very noisy air conditioning towers of the adjacent buildings.  Insist on a room on the south end.

The Fairmount Miramar, Santa Monica:  This hotel has a great location and extensive, impressive public areas:  lobby, garden, pool etc.  But the rooms are very small, noisy and expensive.

The Georgian Hotel, Santa Monica:   This old art-deco hotel has a good location on the waterfront; the public areas are small, but our room was spacious, quiet and a good value. 

The Upham Hotel, Santa Barbara:  This is a very old hotel spread out in several two story buildings two blocks west of the north end of downtown.  It has a certain charm without being shabby.  Some of the rooms have too much noise from the hvac system.  We chose room 23, which was slightly smaller than others, but was completely quiet. 

The Bacara Resort, north of Santa Barbara:  This is a comprehensive luxury destination hotel.  Our room was very nice and a good value at the rate we were on for my niece’s wedding.  We didn’t like the fancy Miro restaurant, but the casual restaurant near the swimming pools was enjoyable. 

The Highlands Inn, Park Hyatt, Carmel We really liked this hotel; the room was small, but well furnished, including binoculars for whale watching and a fireplace with plenty of firewood.  The restaurant was surprisingly good.

The Ritz Carlton, San Francisco This is a first class hotel.  The building used to be the Federal Reserve.  Our room was expensive, but not outrageous, and was very spacious and well equipped.  The location is not the best as it isn’t high enough to have good views, but is far enough uphill to be a real climb from Union Square.


The Water Grill, downtown LA:  We had an enjoyable dinner with another couple in this fish restaurant.  The cuisine ranges from straightforward, ie: oysters on the half-shell, to elaborate modern: ie: seared halibut with sumac; harissa crab cake.  The ambiance and service were good.

Café Pinot, downtown LA:  We had a really charming lunch for three here outside next to the little park which leads to the main entry of the Public Library.  The food was varied California modern that was not so ambitious that they couldn’t do it right. 

Michaels, Santa Monica:  We have been regular clients of Michael since he opened in NYC on 55th St. so it was interesting to try the original.  The six of us were in a central patio that was covered during the winter, losing some of its charm.  The cuisine was California modern, of which Michael was a pioneer about thirty years ago, but which is commonplace now.   It was all well done without being memorable. 

Melisse, Santa Monica:  Now this is a very serious French restaurant, which is really to their credit in this location.   There were even amuses gueules with foam.  The food is beautifully presented, but not at the sacrifice of creative, well executed cuisine.  But the high noise level is a real problem.  (When we left, there was a horse and carriage out front ordered by someone who was inside proposing.)

Valentino, Santa Monica:  We thoroughly enjoyed this classic Italian-American restaurant.  The cuisine is traditional and well done.  The Italian wine selection is huge.

I Cugini, Santa Monica:  Three of us had a good lunch at this Italian fish restaurant on Ocean Boulevard:  grilled calamari, fritto misto, seafood risotto, grilled big-eye tuna.

Downey’s, Santa Barbara:  This has the highest Zagats rating in town, but the four of us didn’t like our dinner.  The signature lobster with pasta starter had little flavor.  The duck was too rich, salty and mushy.  But Linda’s veal chop with shiitake was good.  The service was stiff.

The Wine Cask, Santa Barbara:  We enjoyed our dinner here. The cuisine is appealing, but not very elaborate:  Linda had a pork chop and I had lamb, but they were well executed with enough added that you knew there was a serious chef in the kitchen.  The wine list is extensive, as you might guess.  The clientele was quite upscale.  Our waiter was very personable and helpful.

The Los Olivos Café:  One goes here for idea of it, not for the tawdry food or ambience.  The best part is that one can order local wines by the glass and then buy bottles of the good ones in the attached wine store. 

Fleur de Lys, San Francisco:  Mike used to dine here by himself on weekends when he was stationed at Fort Ord in 1963.  It hasn’t changed much, except that the dining room has an improvised tent décor after a fire.  The cuisine is a mix of 1950’s classic French and some more up to date French and California ideas.  It is all well done.  It is one of the few California restaurants where almost all the men were wearing ties.  We thoroughly enjoyed it.

Gary Danko, San Francisco:  This was the trendiest restaurant in town.  The four of us enjoyed our dinner, but it didn’t knock our socks off, as it was supposed to.  It was very noisy.

The Crab House, on the pier 39, San Francisco:  The two of us shared a whole roasted Dungeness crab and an order of fried artichokes at lunch at this tourist restaurant and really enjoyed them.

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