C is for Cleo

 

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A few years ago I went on a wine safari in south Rhone Valley with a guide who eloquently explained that in Europe dinner is not so much about sustenance, but more about connecting with people. He commented that the company one keeps affects our memories of how the food and wine actually taste. This sentiment was 100% apropos for my visit to the new Cleo at LA live. Its not that the food was bad, per say, and I wouldn’t necessarily deter someone from eating there if they were visiting LA live, but for the most part experiencing the Mediterranean fare at Cleo was plainly unremarkable.

Stark and imperial is one way to describe the ambiance at this new location. Brightly lit, sparsely adorned, and a bit sterile, the feel is much less intimate in comparison to the bold boudoir-esque climate at it’s sister location in Hollywood. Music seems to be playing, but only audibly enough to hear sporadically, making it more of a nuisance than enjoyable. Conversation is difficult, as the acoustics in the room create a loud hum and everyone’s voice becomes one big cacophonous overtone. It’s worth noting however, from the moment of entrance, the staff is very friendly and cheerful, an excellent juxtaposition to the chaos of LA Live.

With no Grenache or Chianti the wine list at Cleo is at the least limited, if not inadequate. Our waiter, Taylor, surmounted our frustrations over the wine limitations by serving a flight of their bold reds, which was accommodating and helpful in making a choice. The margarita was basic, clean and crisp but nothing to write home about. I should mention the management at Cleo will not allow you to buy a drink at the bar and transfer your bar tab to the table tab, which could be very annoying depending on what your plans are for the evening.

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Taylor explained that the plates served would be “tapas style”; small but sharable. Our meal started with an in-house-made hummus topped with extra tahini, cumin, and a few scattered garbanzo beans. The hummus, accompanied by a warm lavosh served in a paper bag, arrived at the table in good time. The presentation was original and witty. The hummus itself was tasty, though once the toppings were mixed in, somewhat thin. Lesson learned: As my dinner partner pointed out, “don’t mix in the toppings”.

For our main course we sampled the scallops and the hangar steak. The scallops were actually delicious (though one was undercooked). The steak itself was flavorful though a bit overcooked for “medium” and did remind me of an in-flight airplane ration, albeit first class not coach. It was somewhat impressive for airplane food but not so amazing otherwise. The accompanying carrot purée, perceivably pumpkin sauce, was quite savory as was the side of fingerling potatoes. The staff politely checked on our table often, and engaged in entertaining but non-invasive conversation. From funny jokes to discussions of calligraphy, water fountains, and Caligula, my company and the staff most definitely made the meal more fulfilling.

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As I took a walk around the restaurant, the clientele seemed to mostly consist of wealthy out of town-ers visiting LA Live, which makes sense. The kitchen was not as organized as others I’ve seen, and the women’s bathroom was a mess with paper towels overflowing everywhere. On my walkabout the hostess asked how I was enjoying my meal and the sous chef smiled as I passed by. The attentiveness of the staff here was definitely a nice touch.

Being somewhat of an introvert I often abide the law of Sartre,  “hell is other people,” but regarding Cleo LA Live the truth seemed contrary. It was the friendly staff and my company that made my evening complete. With that being said, the food was far from inedible and I’d say the prices were comparably moderate for the area. If you are at LA Live anyways it’s potentially better than some other options, but I definitely wouldn’t plan my night around eating there. I give it a C.

xoxo,

QJ

QJ

 

 

 

Cabin in the Woods

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For the 20th anniversary of her 25th birthday, my friend Ina decided to experience wine tasting in Paso Robles. MSM and I have touched on wine tasting here, but we only went to two vineyards (see my post from last thanksgiving), so I was more than excited about this trip. Ina wanted to make sure she could bring her fur child, Elvis, so she searched through Air BnB for dog friendly locations. She couldn’t have picked a more spectacular place than the one she picked! Nestled in the “town” of Templeton, this secluded cabin in the woods was a breathtaking hideout and the perfect getaway. Its also a perfect place for Halloween!

Upon arrival we weren’t sure into what we were getting. At one A.M (we had to leave after a class I’m taking that ends at 10pm)  MSM plowed up a steep incline ensconced in brush and  filth, hardly indicative of a road. Damion, Ina’s husband, was whispering Jason’s infamous “chachacah ahahah”. Where was this place?? Up and around a hill and suddenly the cabin was revealed. At this point we were expecting something straight out of the film Army of Darkness (or Friday the 13th), but instead before us was a beautiful cabin with an exterior enveloped in immeasurably large windows. The interior was modern with built in book shelves FULL of books. The house came equip with an outdoor BBQ and a gorgeous galley kitchen, Wusthof knives and all clad pans included. Any chef would have been excited. Ina was allowed first dibs on rooms, since it was her birthday :). She picked the upper loft so MSM and I stayed in the downstairs room covered in windows. I LOVED IT. It was like sleeping in a tree house! The windows in this house had no curtains, but when the sun came up in the morning it was so peaceful the light did not deter our sleep. I felt home for the first time in a long time. We were surrounded by trees and sky and blue jays. It was wonderful. Even our shower was completely open to nature (yep, floor to ceiling windows in the bathroom). It was so much fun to wash up in what felt like a real waterfall!

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A view with a shower or a shower with a view?

After eating a gourmet breakfast of veggie scramble with toast (prepared by our men), the wine tour van picked us up for a fun day of wine tasting. And yes, with our help, they were able to find the abode. Though we had to walk down the hill. hahaha.

Vineyards of Paso Robles:

Midnight

Midnight Vineyard was our first stop and was probably my favorite. The hostesses were so sweet and gave us great education on their wines. Also they had an adorable dog-like cat that just came to greet us and then curled up by our feet. This vineyard produced a white wine that I really enjoyed. I’m not a big white person, but it was dry and crisp and delicious.

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I had such a great time walking around the grounds of Midnight. Ina and I climbed onto a tractor, a reoccurring motif throughout our afternoon.
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Chardonnay is Midnight’s 19 year old Vineyard cat. She was a ferrel cat that adopted the owners a long time ago. So sweet and adorable. It was love at first sight for her and I. 

 

Dark Star

Despite the cool name (reminds me of Star Wars for some reason…) MSM and I sat this one out, so we did not taste the wine. BUT we did meet these two cuties:

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At Dark Star we met the rest of our pack. These two lovely blondes and their family joined us the remainder of the day. 

 

Red Soles

Red soles was a huge hit. The wine was very good, especially the Rosé. ANNNND, Red Soles is also a distillery which the rest of our crew loved. MSM enjoyed their limoncello and Damion liked the rum. The hard stuff somewhat reminded me of rubbing alcohol, so I stuck with wine.

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Always a sucker for the footprints. And Rosé.

 

J. Lohr

J. Lohr was Ina’s birthday pick, and I can see why. The wine here was quite good. The grounds were stunning. Here we stopped for a picnic lunch before our tastings.

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Another Vineyard dog. Who can say “no” to a corgi? Not me! Look at that face!

 

Via Vega

Via Vega was the last leg of our tour. A very amusing vineyard, but not the best wine in the world, in my opinion. I don’t like writing negative reviews, so I’ll try to be constructive here. I’m not sure if I just need to revisit Via Vega under different circumstances because the owner was in a hurry to close up this day in order to get to his beloved annual Beaver Festival. I DID like that every year Via Vega produces a stock whose wine sales are used to raise money for their neighboring Zoo. I appreciate the philanthropic notion as well as anyone that promotes something to help animals. Unfortunately , I felt this place was a “vineyard for beer lovers”. During the tasting they didn’t really educate us about the wines at all, the owner just poured our ounces and told stories about himself. When we first arrived we were peeking about the nooks and crannies of this unconventionally decorated tasting room and the owner basically yelled at us to “get on with it” so that he could close early. He came across as a bit abrasive, which turned me off from the wines. Wasn’t loving his vibe. But i DID love their vineyard dog.

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I didn’t love the wine at Via Vega, but their dog was ADORABLE! I’m really excited that all these vineyards are so pet friendly!
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Another tractor to crawl on. This one channeled my inner Ronald Miller 🙂
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Birthday girl with the two adorable golden’s that joined our tasting entourage.

 

Denouement

After a day of wine tasting we were all exhausted. Big Chill Style, we cooked a great Curtis Stone recipe for dinner (we were all slicing and dicing). We ate, and pretty much crashed on the sofa until we moved into our respective beds. Even Elvis was tired.

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Elvis guarded the house while we all relaxed after a long day of wine tasting and vineyard exploration.

The next morning MSM and I took a hike around the property. The whole place was landscaped with secret spots and benches. It was incredible. So quiet and inviting but interesting with its little hints of horror movies- for example a small unfinished shed out back, or the murder of yellow jackets that swarmed around us (Damion was stung, thank goodness he’s not allergic!). After our walk the guys watched football and I did something I’ve been wanting to do FOREVER. I grabbed a book, laid down on a surprisingly comfortable futon, and, with natural sunlight abundant, I read. No interruptions. It. Was. Incredible.

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Inside the Cabin In The Woods was an opulence of books and natural light. A reader’s dream. Coffee mug is actual size!

We all discussed visiting here again some day. I can not WAIT!

What the heck to wear while wine tasting in Paso Robles:

Answer: Layers. I think I said that last time. It was cool in the morning and then became abruptly HOT HOT HOT.

Second answer: Comfortable shoes. Heels are great and sexy, but not the best idea here. Especially if your like me and you like to explore the surroundings.

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This Layer was comprised of: Shoes: Fendi  Shorts: One Teaspoon  Top: Charlotte Russe (i.e wear something you can spill wine on and not care) Above: outfits Top : current elliott Tank: Jackelope, Austin  Shorts: Joie  Sneakers: Asics
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This seemingly hot fedora from Rag and Bone was the perfect protection from the sun. Oddly my head didn’t over heat at all. I definitely recommend a fedora when wine tasting. They protect you from the sun and are so stylish!

J’aime boire du vin rouge à midi! <– I’m learning something from duo lingo! 🙂

More later…..

xo

QJ

QJ

A spoonful of sugar…

Helps the medicine go down.

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This weekend I decided to take a trip down memory lane and listen to  Julie Andrews belt out songs from The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins- two of my favorite childhood movies. Its funny how we can so easily forget the little hints to happiness that we learned as children. A spoonful of sugar DOES help the medicine go down. Listening to music while doing the dishes always makes the task more enjoyable. Writing my blog during my lunch break makes the more mundane tasks of my job more fun (though most of my job is fun, I’m lucky regarding that). The song I want to really focus on today is My Favorite Things. I’ve been a little anxious about my aging mother, and even just hearing this song made me feel more relaxed. I want to take a moment to create a list of my favorite things, so when the dog bites, or the bee stings, or I’m feeling sad I can simply remember this list and not feel so bad. 😉

  1. Puppy fur. This is the softest thing on earth. Not only that, but its attached to the most adorable thing on earth. A positively surefire way to melt your heart and relax the mind.

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    This is my boo Stanley when he was just a pup. His ears are still super soft. He and his sister are the love of my life- other than MSM of course.
  2. Dog faces. So cute and unconditionally loving, a kiss from a four legged friend- another key to “yay”.
  3. Ballet– not watching it, but dancing it. I think its the combo of movement and the music that makes Ballet so Zen for me. Definitely on the top of the list.
  4. Pointe Shoes on my feet. These represent to me utter beauty, elegance, and grace. And the fact that I have finally gotten to put them on and dance in them, takes it to another level. They make me feel proud, excited, and give me a sense of accomplishment but also a sense of the ability to grow. A healthy future.
  5. The coast and the sound of the surf. No explanation necessary.beach
  6. Aqua blue and teal resplendent waters lapping over soft, clean, white sand.
  7. The feeling of bare feet on cool fresh green grass. This is hard to find in LA, but when I can find it….reunited, it feels so good…..
  8. Peonies, Ranunculus, Green Button Mums, and Chocolate Cosmos. These may sound like cocktails, but they are actually flowers. I adore flowers and hope to one day have a garden FULL of them. Until then, I can close my eyes and imagine.BloomFleur
  9. France. The gardens. The wine. The food. The people. The fashion. The hikes. I love it all. Just France.
  10. Learning a new language. I was learning ASL and desperately wish I could practice it with someone. So if anyone knows anyone that speaks it….let me know.
  11. Music Al Fresco. There’s something magical about the way sound travels outside. Its as if the music fills the air, stirs itself into the trees, permeates the ground, and homogenizes the world around us into one big ball of love and joy. It feels so liberating when I hear a symphony outside. The vibrations of the music literally sooth my soul and calm my nerves.

    ParisRooftops
    Some of the many things I love about France? Parisian rooftops, architecture, and of course the Eiffel Tower!
  12. Drive-In and/or Al Fresco movie theaters. Just so much fun.
  13. Riding in a convertible on a country road- or at least away from traffic. Wind in the hair and nothing but open road means freedom, exploration, and personal growth. Its the antithesis of stifling.
  14. Baking. There’s something so zen about the activity of baking. I love to really put my heart into it, and to add my own little touches to the recipes. Its so much fun and always delicious.

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    Obviously I didn’t bake these, but a brownie topped with a marshmallow….gives me some ideas for my own concoctions….
  15. Birds chirping.
  16. The beautiful glow of Fireflies and the chatter of Crickets and frogs at night (as mimicked on the Pirates of the Carribean ride :)). This should have definitely been higher on the list.

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    These magical beetles are one of my favorite things in the world. They light up the earth and are the secret ingredient of summer magic. Photo: Fireflies.
  17. Miniature golf. To bring out our inner child.
  18. Discovering new places with MSM/Traveling on new adventures.

    SanFran
    The Farmers Market at the Embarcadero in San Francisco is where we discovered the best cream cheese and smoked locks I’ve ever had.
  19. Trying new food.
  20. A great glass of Wine or Bubbly.

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    I love being a little tipsy in the afternoon. Its like having a secret ;).
  21. Grease. I love that movie.
  22. Guppy kisses.
  23. Real kisses.

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    I also love getting kisses from my fur babies. Look at these faces!! (refer to #2 above).
  24. A hot bubble bath.
  25. A Mani/Pedi. What girl doesn’t love these?
  26. Relaxation massage during a spa day.
  27. Disneyland/Disney World. I can’t go here without being instantly energized and happy. Another surefire way to make this girl feel young and alive.

    Disneyland
    I loved getting lost in the The Alice In Wonderland Maze at Disneyland Paris. 
  28. Malted milk shakes.
  29. Pizza.
  30. Penguins (see above).
  31. Cheesy pop music like this:

What are some of YOUR favorite things? Leave a comment and let me know!

xoxo

QJ

QJ