The Velvet Cantina



I took a weekend jaunt up to San Francisco last week to see some family and friends. After a long sunny day of walking around the Historic Mission district, The Embarcadero, and Land's End, we cooled our heels and satisfied our appetites in one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants, The Velvet Cantina. Located on 23rd attracting a young, hip and diverse crowd. It's a convenient place to stop on your way to a show, in the middle of a bar crawl, or after a day of sightseeing. It's accommodating for big parties, quick friend- dates at the bar, or romantic date nights.

The vibe is hip and party-like, with its moody club music and red-infused lighting. The chips are that perfect kind of crunchy, and the servers keep watch like vigilant hawks to swoop in and refill empty baskets. The salsa is picante and liquidy. The drinks are, as they say in the Bay Area, hella strong.

I went for the cilantro gimlet this time, with 100% Agave Silver Tequila, lime juice, agave nectar, and muddled cilantro. Classic flavor pairings, a simple mix. It was heavy on the tequila side – those drinks pack a wallop. But it's worth it for the top-shelf tequilas and mescals that The Velvet Cantina serves. Their margaritas are made with 100% Agave Dos Manos, Herradura Silver, or Antigua Silver. Good stuff, to say the least. You won't find a second-rate pre-made marg mix here. Only fresh fruit juices, smooth fiery tequilas, and high-end liqueurs. You can also order shots from their selections of more than sixty different tequilas. As their informative menu explains, the silvers are aged fewer than 45 days in stainless steel, the reposados are aged from 2 months to one year in wooden barrels, and the wizened Anejos are aged for up to 3 years in wooden barrels. Depending on how much smooth agave or other complex flavors you want, you can choose the right tequila for what strikes your fancy.




I haven't even gotten to the food yet. If you can resist the temptation to fill up on the delicious, free, and copious chips and salsa that ceaselessly appear on your table, go for The Velvet Cantina's hearty entrees like the Chicken Mole, the Bordello Burrito, or the Shrimp Diablo. The latter is smothered in spicy garlic tomato sauce. If you're in the mood for lighter fare, the ceviche from the appetizers menu is a small refreshing citrus delight. If you have room for dessert, spring for the 'smores nachos, a genius food combination worthy of a medal. College students everywhere should be grateful. Fried flour tortilla strips dusted with cinnamon and sugar, crushed graham crackers, Mexican chocolate and flaming marshmallows. St. just off of Valencia, The Velvet Cantina is riding the wave of Mission District cool,

Lauren Eggert-Crowe

3349 23rd Street,

San Francisco, CA 94110

On 23rd and Bartlett, between Mission and Valencia.

Ring-a-ding-ding: 415.648.4142415.648.4142

Electronic Mail:

Bar Hours: Sunday–Thursday: 5PM-12AM Friday–Saturday: 5PM–2AM

Cha Cha Cha

You can't miss Cha Cha Cha as you're driving north on Virgil Avenue through East Hollywood. With its bright pink exterior, and corrugated tin sculpture on the roof, neon script sign and potted palms, this little Caribbean restaurant could not possibly look more inviting.


Inside, it's even more dazzling. Two dining rooms have been decked out to look like Cuban cantinas. Virgen de Guadalupe paintings, replete with milagros of all shapes, hang from the pink and yellow walls. The strings of multicolored lights give the rooms a warm and cozy glow. An enclosed outdoor patio is available for brunch mornings or warm L.A. nights.


Cha Cha Cha is one of my favorite places to bring friends and visitors for weekend brunch or dinner. On weekend “Jungle Brunch” days they offer bottomless mimosas to complement their mouthwatering Cuban/Caribbean breakfast fare. Their chilaquiles are one of their signature dishes. Scrambled eggs with tortilla chips, guacamole, crème fraiche and tomatillo salsa. Delicious on their own (with a side of black beans, rice and fried plantains) but adding the jerk chicken really sends this dish over the top. The perfect mix of sweet, savory, spicy, and smoky. Absolutely heavenly.


Also, the homemade crusty bread that their huevos negros is served on is warm, fresh, and addicting. Perfect for mopping up the black-pepper spiced yolks from the poached eggs.


Come to Cha Cha Cha for dinner, and you've got plenty of options, including an extensive tapas menu that includes jerk pork, coconut shrimp, and goat cheese and guava quesadilla. You could also try one of their four sizeable paella dishes. The Andaluz features chicken, sausage, vegetables, and saffron rice, while the Valenciana contains pretty much every type of seafood you can think of – shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, and other fish. Or go full veggie with the Paella Verde.


Much like I recommend any menu item that contains Cha Cha Cha's secret jerk seasoning, I also enthusiastically endorse their mole. Especially on the chicken. It strikes a sublime balance of chocolatey, earthy, spicy, and nutty.


If you come to Cha Cha Cha with a group of friends for dinner, it only makes sense to order a pitcher of sangria. The $20 pitcher easily serves a table of 5 two glasses each of the traditional Spanish red wine/fruit salad cocktail, with its sweet and tangy finish.


Cha Cha Cha has been around for almost 30 years, and has become a fixture of the Silverlake/Virgil Village neighborhood in Los Angeles. They are offering a few different Groupons right now, for discounts on tables of 2 or more. So if you live in LA, what are you waiting for? Cha cha cha right over to one of the best Caribbean restaurants around.

656 North Virgil Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90004

Monday - Thursday 10AM - 10PM, Friday 10AM - 10:30PM,
Saturday 9AM - 10:30PM, Sunday 9AM - 10PM

Reservations 323.664.7723

Eastern Standard Kitchen



Eastern Standard Kitchen has hearty welcoming food that makes you feel immediately at home, even if you have never eaten anything like it in your own home.  The food is absolutely delicious and prepared with the utmost care.  The dishes are deceivingly simple, while they only contain a few ingredients, they are perfectly balanced and the flavors blend perfectly.  Then come your drinks, heavenly, which are painstakingly crafted at the bar.  With a combination of traditional and original cocktails to delight your senses, there is no way you cannot find something to suit your tastes.  For those who prefer not to take the spirit route, Eastern Standard Kitchen also has a wonderful selection of fine wines and craft beers.  While dining there I enjoyed more than one Narragansett, Near and Dear rye whiskey, vermouth, absinthe, and orange bitters, which was surprisingly smooth with a hint of herbals from the absinthe and the richness you expect from any good rye.  After dinner and drinks you may be tempted to beg off from dessert but this would be a mistake, and this is coming from someone who is not a big fan of dessert in general.  I had the Butterscotch Bread Pudding and it was amazing, I don’t even like butterscotch, topped with praline ice cream and salted caramel. 




Our waiter convinced us to pair it with a wonderful dessert wine that was just a tad tart to help to offset the sweetness of the dessert and he could not have been more spot on in his recommendation.  Between the amazing food, handcrafted cocktails, and amazingly knowledgeable staff, Eastern Standard Kitchen is a not to miss stop if you are anywhere near the greater Boston area.


528 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215
(617) 532-9100
web site: Eastern Standard Kitchen

Easter Brunch

Easter Brunch is always fun with the first hint of true spring.  With all the wonderful fresh fruit and juices available now it is just fun to play!  Our focus has been on using sparkling wine, lemonades and fresh fruit that would complement your brunch or afternoon party.  Just click on the pictures to see the recipes.


It wouldn't be Brunch without the classic Bloody Mary.  You can either use a ready made version or make yours from scratch. 





























Pink Lemonade is one of our favorites, okay my favorite.  Citrus Vodka, Chambord, lemonade and fresh lemons and lime.  When creating a punch use ice that is made with lemonade and has fresh fruit in it so as the ice melts it tastes even better.




Easy to make the ice just needs to be prepared the night before.  You can put in a little alcohol but pure alcohol won't freeze so if you add, keep the same proportions.






The Classic Champagne Cocktail is very easy to make, a sugar cube, bitters and Champagne or sparkling wine.  Light and fresh it is perfect for brunch or any occasion that calls for a little sparkle.





A riff on the classic cocktail the French 75, the Citrus 75 updates the taste and mood with the hint of citrus and a float of Gin.  Very refreshing and light.




The Florida Citrus Breeze cocktail is chock full of Citrus.  Makes you feel like you're in the middle of a drink Florida commercial if they had alcohol in them!  All the citrus juices and liqueurs blend well together and it’s a great late afternoon or early evening drink.



The Red Lion is a great Gin cocktail that would be perfect for brunch.  Gin, Cointreau, Lemon and Orange juice with just a touch of grenadine.  Very fun and a little different.


A great classic is the Bellini.  Time to go back to the 40's.  Legend has it the Bellini was invented sometime between 1934 and 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry's Bar in Venice, Italy. The beautiful color inspired Cipriani to name the drink Bellini after the robe of a saint in a painting by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini. Light, clean and very easy to drink this is the perfect cocktail for brunch, early evening parties, light social events and for light drinkers.




The Citrus Brunch is low proof and great for those get togethers that start early in the morning.  With Blood Orange Liqueur and Pom juice topped with Sparkling wine makes this a pretty go to cocktail for those get togethers.



Fun to look at Bramble has Gin, Lemon Juice, Fresh Blackberries, Blackberry Liqueur and a little simple syrup.  It's a drink from the 80's but hey, we won't tell if you don't.




Tangerine Margarita is a fun margarita with lots of flavor, using Patron Tequila, Orange Liqueur, Tangerine juice and a sugared rim!




Last but not least is the Champagne Pomegranate, a fun refreshing cocktal that has Pama, Vodka and chilled Champagne or Sparkling wine, this one has a bit more kick.  Note the fresh pomegranate seeds floating, the most healthy part of the drink.






Spring Flings

Spring is coming and it brings with it a lot of really great cocktails.  With all the wonderful fresh fruit available now it is just fun to play!  Our focus has been on using sparkling wine, lemonades and fresh fruit.  Just click on the pictures to see the recipes.


If you want your friends to have more input try putting together trays of fruits, tequila and supply liqueurs, ice and blenders.  Let them create their own personal margarita!




















Lemon Acai Cooler is sweet with the underlying tartness of the lemon sorbet. The pink color is from homemade grenadine and garnished with a bit of fresh mint this cocktail will cool you off all summer long!






Azure Lemonade is pretty as an ocean view, this drink is light and sweet, just in time for spring and summer.  Great to look at and it also works well as a punch.






Blood Orange Mist cocktail is strong enough to keep you going far into the night.  This is a great drink for a late afternoon pool party.  In a tall glass with lots of sparkle from the San Pellegrino this will be the hit of any summer party.





A riff on the classic cocktail the French 75, the Citrus 75 updates the taste and mood with the hint of citrus and a float of Gin.  Very refreshing and light.




The Florida Citrus Breeze cocktail is chock full of Citrus.  Makes you feel like you're in the middle of a drink Florida commercial if they had alcohol in them!  All the citrus juices and liqueurs blend well together and it’s a great late afternoon or early evening drink.



Love this drink, Fun in the Sun!  Sweet and fun it hits all the flavor marks for a summer cocktail.  We love the Raw Vanilla Liqueur, not the Schnapps, by Dr. McGillicuddy.  It brings a great smoothness and rich flavor to the drink.  Did we say we love it!


A great classic cocktail of Rum, Maraschino Cherry Liqueur, key lime juice and grapefruit juice, this drink is the perfect summer drink.  Time to go back to the 40's.




The Hibiscus Margarita is a smooth slightly sweet margarita that starts off your party with a high class taste and unique point of view.  More on the mixology side it takes the basic margarita to a whole new level.



Fun to look at this Kiwi Spring Lemonade has citrus Vodka and Chartreuse for a herbal twist on the classic lemonade.  Not only does it make it more interesting but it keeps it from becoming too sweet!




Tangerine Margarita is a fun margarita with lots of flavor, using Patron Tequila, Orange Liqueur, Tangerine juice and a sugared rim!



The Bar Downstairs




For small plates in the Midtown NYC on 5th Ave and 41 there is a cute little bar in the Hyatt Andaz called the Bar Downtairs, The Bar Downstairs is the place to go with a large group of friends, they have great tables for large groups. Located in the historic near Bryant Park and across from the Public Library, The Bar Downstairs features delicious small plates along with great cocktails.T heir cocktail menu is extensive. While we were there we tried the Bear Hug, fair quinoa vodka, lemon, rothman & winter pear liqueur and orange bitters. My favorite. Also, The Strength of 10, bulleit rye, cynar, Yellow chartreuse and peychaud’s bitters and The Preachers Respite, bulleit rye, lemon, ginger syrup and cruzan blackstrap rum.





Our bartender, Marcello, even made us a work in progress. We blurred the recipe but if you stop by ask him to create for you one of his off the menu creations. Interestingly, they have a section called Flyers that are Mocktails. These are seriously good tasting drinks without any spirits. This would be great for friends that either don't drink or like other options besides just bring me a soda...





The small plates were good but the bill added up very quickly. We tried the empanadas - cilantro garlic sauce, they were okay but for the price you could get better from a street vendor. The house smoked pork belly - cauliflower - parsley - membrillo was amazing and we fought over the last little bite much like the roasted cauliflower - ajo blanco - toasted almonds. We also tried on of the chefs creations, a pasta dish with squid. Pretty amazing. Everything was made in house and wonderfully flavored.





485 5th Avenue at 41st Street, New York, New York, USA, 10017 Tel: +1 212 601 1234+1 212 601 1234


This was the best part of the menu, you know we all have friends like that.

The Gorbals



For small plates in the DTLA scene, The Gorbals is the place to go. Located in the historic Alexandria hotel at 5th and Spring Streets in Downtown LA, The Gorbals features delicious gourmet small plates along with very daring cocktails. Their cocktail menu touts the delightfully understated headline, “Fancy Drinks.” Go bold with “Neon Knives,” a blend of mescal, cynar, chartreuse, and orange-rhubarb bitters. Or mellow and citrus with “It's bourbon, honey” with Heaven Hill Bourbon. Orange Blossom Honey, Angostura, and Lemon Fizz. I was particularly taken with “It's just adultery,” which blended smoked porter with agave, hibiscus, thyme, and bourbon. Each flavor stood out on its own while simultaneously blending with the others. It is definitely in my Top 10 Cocktails list.



The menu options are quick to arrive, easy to share, and satisfying. The food menu is divided into plates “small,” “medium,” “large,” and the “Very Large” (which require 24 hours notice by phone). The tomato fries with Thai basil and cilantro aioli are a must, as are the latkes. It's a rotating menu, so there are always new things to try. Unfortunately, that also means your favorites may take a vacation from the menu for awhile. But do make an attempt to visit the restaurant when they are serving their trio of smoked cucumbers. I never knew cucumber could be smoked, and that plate was like a revelation. If you have a large party reservation, be bold and call a day ahead to order the Very Large pig head with seasonal garnishes or the whole bone roasted tenderloin. The Gorbals has a chic yet casual vibe; the dining room has a mix of small two-person tables, church-pew benches lining the walls, and long wooden tables for large parties or multiples. Edison lights swing from the ceiling as ambient pop music adds to the atmosphere. Bar seating is available as well, where a respectable selection of drafts are available, including Stone Smoked Porter, Smog City IPA, Ommegang Hennipin Saison, and Black Market Imperial Red, as well as whines of the red, white, rose, and sparkling variety.


216 5th Street
Los Angeles, California 90013

Phone: 213-488-3408

By Lauren Eggert-Crowe


Literary Cocktails

Lauren Eggert-Crowe

Don't get me wrong, I love to gather a crowd of my friends and order a few rounds of drinks at a lively neighborhood joint. Drinking socially is a blast, even if it's sometimes hard to hear each other over the house DJ. But plenty of times I prefer to lounge, peacefully and solitarily.


I haven't yet found a reading-friendly coffee shop in Los Angeles. The study-environment cafes are usually crowded with students who have set up their laptop encampments at every table. Besides, I don't really like to sit in a chair and hunch over a desk when I want to dive into a good book.


So that's why it's nice, on an off night, to find a relaxing lounge, an unclaimed couch, and order a cocktail and crack open a book. Here are some of the best places I recommend for alone time with Jameson and James Joyce.





Perch (Downtown LA): (Link:

An exquisite rooftop bar in the heart of Downtown L.A. Enjoy panoramic city views and breathtaking sunsets while curling up on one of the sofas by a glowing fire. Appropriately enough, Perch's cocktail list is literary themed. Enjoy a Hemingway On the Beach (Greenalls, luxardo, lemon, and angostura) or a My Fair Lady, which boasts Fair Quinoa Vodka as its main ingredient, plus cranberry, lime, and crème de peche. The Lolita and the Writers Block are both Vodka/St. Germain cocktails, while the Spicy Concombre has a gin/jalapeno/lime/mint combo working for it.


The book to bring along: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West

448 South Hill Street Los Angeles, CA 90013

Telephone: 213-802-1770

El Prado (Echo Park): (LINK:







Beer, snacks, records. 
Open weekdays 6 pm - 2 am, weekends 2 pm - 2 am 


1805 W Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026 

Just to be clear, this place is thronged and deafening on a weekend night. But on a slow night (or early on a Saturday or Sunday – they open at 2pm)  make your way through the red velvet curtains and grab one of the candlelit high tables in the alcoves by the door. Choose from a selection of craft beers, wines, and snacks.


The book to bring along: The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse.


The Library Bar (Downtown LA): (LINK:





An obvious choice for this list, the Library Bar is one of those darkly lit caverns that makes you feel like you wandered into Sherlock Holmes's house. Bookshelves lined with old books cover the walls. You can stake out a reading spot in one of the corner benches and order a Kerouac Basilica, a Poe's Reviver, or a Brecht's Boulevard.


The book to bring along: A good Agatha Christie mystery


515 Kitchen and Cocktails (Santa Cruz) (LINK:





I'd be remiss if I did not include a shout-out to one of my favorite bars ever. This is the recommendation for the weekend you decide to take a trip out of Los Angeles. The 515's upstairs lounge has those plush couches and arm chairs that you just want to sink into and never get up from. There's even a private curtained room you can reserve for small groups. All of the 515's cocktails are literary themed, and the servers bring you your check tucked into the pages of an old book. My favorites are The Flannery (house-infused cucumber vodka, st. germain, lemon juice, mint, orange bitters, house sparkler) and the unapologetically fruity Holly Go-Lightly (stoli citrus, ventura limoncello, lemon juice, simple syrup, muddled raspberries, sugared rim).


The Book to Bring Along: Serve it Forth, by MFK Fisher


Lauren Eggert-Crowe

Best Margarita's in LA

Lauren Eggert-Crowe - Where to get excellent margaritas in Los Angeles

Did you know that February 22nd is National Margarita Day?


The margarita, the most common tequila cocktail in the U.S., has an origin story as cloudy as unfiltered mescal. It was either invented in the 1930s or '40s, possibly somewhere at the Rancho La Gloria Hotel in Tijuana. Or at Hussong's Cantina in Ensenada. Or at Tommy's Place in El Paso-Juarez. Or at the Balinese Room in Galveston, TX.  Then again, it could also just be a Mexican version of the 1920s cocktail, The Daisy.


No matter where it came from, or who invented it, or when, or why, one thing is clear as Patron: the Margarita is downright delicious. If you live in Los Angeles, stop in at one of these places to celebrate National Margarita Day!


Malo / Mas Malo (Silverlake/Downtown):

Malo (and its sister restaurant Mas Malo) serve tasty spicy Mexican food, aptly paired with your choice from a selection of creative margaritas. Mas Malo's Spicy Cucumber Margarita is made with Blanco, cucumber, lime juice, agave, bitters, and Tapatio. Try it with a squash blossom taco or a pork belly tinga soft taco, served up with guajillo and arbol chile braise.


515 W. 7th Street - 1st Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90014


4326 W Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles Ca 90029


Border Grill (Downtown/ Santa Monica):









This is one of my favorites. If you're a fan of local, organic produce and meats in your gourmet Mexican cuisine, Border Grill is a must. And they have, count 'em, SIX margaritas to choose from, all made with Sauza Blanco or Reposado. (The Blanco, The Cadillac, The Cucumber Jalapeno, The Pineapple-Vanilla, the Sangria, and the California Corazon) Whether you want your marg fruity, picante, sweet, tangy, tart, blood-red, citrusy, or classic, Border Grill has something for you. My favorite is the California Corazon, mixed with blood orange, pomegranate, passion fruit, and fresh lime.


1445 4th St.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
phone: 310.451.1655310.451.1655 fax: 310.394.2049


Red O: (West Hollywood)


Top Chef darling Rick Bayless's margaritas and award-winning Mexican cuisine are the feature here.

Warning: This restaurant is not for the faint of heart or the thin of wallet! While the classic Topolo Margarita, ringing up at $15, might be a justifiable expense for the treat of  Espolon Silver Tequila, Bauchant Orange Liqueur and homemade limonada, it is the least pricy item on the cocktail menu. The Benjamin will set you back $100, BEFORE tip, for “Extra Anejo Tequilas; Patron Burdelos, Herradura Selection Suprema, & Partida Elegante, Gran Marnier Cuvee du Cent Cinquentanaire, with fresh Mexican lime & 100% organic agave syrup, shaken & poured over homemade lime sorbet ice spheres & Louix XIII Cognac float. Finished with blood orange caviar & golden kosher salt rim, served on a silver platter with a stainless steel straw.” As soon as I win the lottery, I'm buying a round of those for all my friends.

8155 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046

Tel: (323) 655-5009(323) 655-5009
Fax: (323) 655-5010


El Arco Iris (Highland Park):

Okay, so if the thought of a $100 precious margarita got your heart racing, calm yourself down with the prospect of happy hour margaritas on York Blvd that will only cost you a measly four bucks. Four bucks! That's less than a latte at Peet's! There are eight types of margs to choose from at this East Side fixture that was established 50 years ago by the Montes family of Querataro, Mexico. Traditional, family-owned recipes for food and beverages have kept this place popular for half a century. Try the Spicy Margarita, made with Corzo Silver, Absolut Mandarin, mango puree, sweet and sour, and jalapeno slices.

5684 York Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90042
Tel: 323-254-3402323-254-3402
Fax: 323-254-6085

Drinking in Fashion

Erica Blumenson-Cook gives us her LA take on Drinking in Fashion.

Arctic Kiss

Nothing says glamour like a little bubbly. Slip into a full-length gown like this Ralph Lauren metallic cowlneck number, and you’ll look as good as a flute of champagne yourself. Add your own arctic kiss with dazzling diamond-affect jewelry, like these Kate Spade deco-inspired skyline earrings.




Bay Breeze

If you don’t already live in a warm climate, there’s nothing wrong with cranking the heat and playing make-believe. Throw on your sunniest tropical print dress and a pair of floral shades, close your eyes and envision yourself on a tropical beach, and kick back with a Bay Breeze.





Bee’s Knees

What more perfect occasion to don a sophisticated honeycomb sheath dress than sipping on a cocktail named for the cutest thing on six legs? Sure, it’s a little on-the nose, but you still get extra points for a baby bee necklace to drive the point home. I mean after all, bees. Seriously. Bees!






Frozen Pink Squirrel

You’ve got to have a healthy dose of self-indulgence, dazzling joie de vivre, and a pair of outrageously whimsical shoes to tackle this pink monstrosity. Perch yourself on a stool in these Sophia Webster shoes, because only a Frozen Pink Squirrel girl like you could rock floral, polka dots, and strips together. Slip on a jewel-toned blue dress for extra contrast to really make the pink pop.





Red Devil

Channel your inner red devil in something slinky like this shoulder bearing man-trap. Complete the effect with killer heels in an equally diabolical shade.




Bombay Sapphire Martini

A martini is a bold statement of good taste, confidence, and an innate sense of style that sets you apart from the rest. The quirky, yet sophisticated shape of the martini glass itself has looked futuristic for over a century. How stunningly smooth will you feel in a dress that borrows similarly futuristic design elements from Metropolis, The Fifth Element, and The Jetsons, with a classic martini in hand?