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By Bonnie Carroll

The new Simon LA Restaurant in the Sofitel Hotel, located at 8555 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, has become the trendiest spot in town, and is said to be a favorite hang out of celebrities like George Clooney. Iron Chef Kerry Simon and partner Rande Gerber have created a completely unique dining venue, where American comfort rocks in a hotel that has gone through a 35 million dollar renovation.

SimonLA-Hotel SofitelWhen this Hotel Sofitel opened in the 80s’ it housed the acclaimed Ma Maison Restaurant, which was owned and operated by renowned restaurateur Patrick Terrail, and featured the talent of a young unknown chef named Wolfgang Puck.

The Simon LA silver and grey dining room shimmers by candlelight and reminds me of a dream scene from “Doctor Zhavago,” where everything in the forest is magically covered with ice. The overall design of the room is ultra modern sophisticated French chic, and the atmosphere is alive.

Simon LAA great starter at Simon LA is the Zen Martini, which was introduced to me by the manager Michael Morgan. This attempt for a ‘being healthy’ recipe is very unique and the presentation is beautiful to look at.

The American comfort food concept is the work of Kerry Simon, and features some thoughtfully designed and presented dishes. The steaks are outstanding, as are the many side dish selections. The variety of dishes range from hearty meat dishes to Simon LAseafood specialties that are prepared in a variety of ways, as well as some healthy Asian favorites. The beet salad was one of the best I’ve had, and the steak, which comes with a variety of sauces, was cooked to perfection. The restaurant has an outstanding wine list, and the staff are happy to assist with pairing options.

The finale of a dinner at Simon LA is a ‘flash from the past’ Junk Food Sampler dessert, which is filled with things lSimon LAike Snow Balls, Cracker Jack, Ding Dongs and pink cotton candy. This collection of treats would tweak anyone’s happy childhood memories.

The outside patio is a private and cozy place to meet in the evening for cocktails and a variety of tempting appetizers. Some of the dining room guests were moving out to the patio after dinner for liqueurs and coffee. This space is shared with the Stone Rose Lounge, and a huge fire pit creates a very sexy atmosphere, where a line of private cabana like dining venues offer special privacy for business meetings or romantic rendezvous. A sound system features great music that subdues the traffic sounds from the boulevard.

Guests in the dining room vary from film industry types to families with small children, and it all works well. The servers are very helpful and attentive, and be sure to take a peek at the bar. It is vibrant with color and looks like a fun place to meet with friends for a martini.

All in all, the renovation of this entire hotel, which was once a very Pierre Deux type property, now offers a winning combination of great food in an ultra stylish atmosphere, where a talented chef serves guests food that is imaginative, original, delicious and fun. Bravo!

Sofitel Hotel
8555 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA
310-358-3979 www.simonla.com

The Romance of Austrian Tradition
by Bonnie Carroll

SacherThe Sacher Hotel in Vienna, Austria, is one of my favorite properties in the world. Enjoying a meal in their intimate home of gastronimique is a true treat, which usually ends with their signature dessert 'Sacher Torte'.

On New Year's Eve guests begin the celebration at The State Opera House, where the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performs a special operetta. Following the gala, guests walk across the street to the historic hotel for a six-course dinner, and just before 12 midnight a toast is made to bring in the New Year. The Parfait Sacher with Marinated Strawberries, was created for a recent Viennese Opera Ball Dinner. Enjoy!

Parfait Sacher with Marinated Strawberries

For the parfait:
2 large eggs
1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
2 ounces (60 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces (60 g) nougat candy
2 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons brandy
2/3 cup (150 ml) heavy cream

For the marinated strawberry salad:
1 pint (300 g) fresh strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
6 mint sprigs, optional

To make the parfait:

1. Prepare a 9-x5-inch loaf pan by spraying the inside with a nonstick spray. Line the inside with a large sheet of plastic wrap, pressing it as smoothly as possible against the bottom and sides of the loaf pan. Allow the excess to hang over the edges, and set it aside until needed.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Crack the eggs into the metal bowl of an electric mixer. With a handheld whisk, vigorously b eat the eggs to loosen. While whisking, gradually add the sugar in a stream. Place the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water (this is known as a bain-marie), letting the bowl rest on the rim of the saucepan. The bottom of the bowl should not be touching the water, but suspended over it. Pour out a little water, if necessary. Whisk the eggs and sugar constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture reaches a temperate that is hot to the touch. Be careful that the eggs don't begin to 'scramble' or solidify. Remove the bowl from over the water, scrape down the insides with rubber spatula, and place the bowl on the mixer with the whisk attachment. Whip the egg mixture on a medium-high speed until it forms stiff peaks about 5 minutes.

3. Reduce the heat under the saucepan of boiling water until it is just at a simmer Add more water if most of it has evaporated. Put the chocolate in a metal bowl and place the bowl over the bain-marie. Stir constantly with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from over the water and stir in the nougat. Add the milk and brandy and stir until smooth. Set aside briefly.

4 In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Remove the egg mixture from the mixer and add the chocolate mixture to the whipped eggs. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the two together. Gently transfer the egg/chocolate mixture to the whipped cream in the large bowl. Swiftly fold these together thoroughly, until no longer streaky. With spatula, pour and scrape the parfait into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth the top and fold the overhanging plastic wrap loosely over the parfait. Place on a level surface in the freezer for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

To make the marinated strawberry salad:

5. One hour before serving wash, hull, and quater the berries. Place in a bowl with sugar and Grand Mariner liqueur and stir well. Set aside at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until needed.

6. To serve the parfait, remove the loaf pan from freezer and fold back wrap. Place pan upside down on a clean cutting board and remove the pan, carefully peel away the plastic. Cut the frozen parfait into 6 thick slices. Place one slice on each of 6 plates and top with some of the marinated strawberry salad. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

© 2008 Bonnie Carroll, All Rights Reserved