A Passion for Polo

The thunderous sound of horse hooves pounding the turf is music to the ears of horse lovers and cheering fans at the Will Rogers Polo Club in Pacific Palisades on a recent Sunday afternoon where the championship match teams—named Pilar and Portugas in homage to famous polo clubs in Argentina—battled to gain control of the elusive ball.

Once an elitist sport confined to the very rich, polo has become more accessible to the merely well-to-do. As the popularity of recreation riding flourished in recent years, equestrian clubs in Southern California such as the Will Rogers Polo Club, just a short 15-minute drive from Beverly Hills, began introducing arena polo as a way to develop equestrian skills and to popularize the sport for everyone.

The fast-paced game is elegantly simple. Two teams of four compete to get a ball through goal posts at the end of a field 300 yards by 160 yards. There are six periods known as chukkers. Players are ranked by handicaps that run from minus 2 goals to 10, the ultimate ranking. Only a handful players in the world has earned this distinction, many of them Argentinians.

As gray skies hovered over the mountains and the air turned cool, the match at Will Rogers turned hot. With only two minutes and forty seconds left in the sixth and final chukker, Marcus Kamura, an investment banker, brought the 4-4 tie by scoring the two final goals. Kamura received the MVP award and Graydon Brittan, who scored three of six winning goals, received honorable mention.

Brittan’s father, Mickey, a longtime Beverly Hills resident who has been playing for 30 years, agrees that polo is a growing sport. “There’s tremendous charisma and romance to the game. It requires strategy, mental and physical strength. It’s like chess on horseback,” says the senior Brittan, who owns a horse farm and polo school called Fair Hills Farms in Topanga.

While polo appears to be attracting more participants, it remains an expensive sport to play. “A good pony can cost a quarter million dollars,” says Ardeshir Radpour, 31, head coach of the University of Southern California Polo Team. A high-goal player brings between eight to 12 ponies to change mounts several times during a match he says.

Due to the nature of polo itself, consequences from physical injury can, at times, be serious. Swinging mallets, speeding horses and raw adrenaline often result in harm to both head and limbs. But for the polo aficionados, it is part of the risk and the thrill of one of the oldest equestrian sports in the world.

For the past 10 years the Will Rogers State Historic Park has hosted the glamorous annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic every October. The exciting afternoon of polo viewing while enjoying champagne has attracted A-list celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Sofia Vergara, Zoe Saldana and more than 500 local fans.

For polo schedules and events, please visit Willrogerspolo.org

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Louis Vuitton X Exhibit Débuts In Beverly Hills

French luxury brand Louis Vuitton launched its first traveling exhibit in Beverly Hills this summer and everyone is invited. The temporary retrospective honors the House’s 160-year history of creative collaborations with artists from Takashi Murakami and Karl Lagerfeld to Cindy Sherman and Frank Gehry. Guests can view the glamorous art and cultural show in the grand two-story building on the corner of Rodeo Drive and Little Santa Monica from June 28th to November 10th.

The impressive exhibit features 180 items from Louis Vuitton’s archives, including pieces such as early 20th-century special-order trunks, iconic monogram bags, elegant Art Deco perfume bottles and window displays commissioned and designed by Louis Vuitton’s grandson, Gaston-Louis. The exhibition will travel on a worldwide tour with stops in fashion capitals such as New York, Paris, London, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Address: 468 N. Rodeo Drive
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday
Ticket: Free admission

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The French Laundry – Memorable Dining

At The French Laundry restaurant Chef Thomas Keller has created a world where every detail has been orchestrated for one purpose: your dining pleasure. The setting is a rustic two-story stone house is surrounded by a country garden with vintage roses and seasonal herbs. A friendly hostess guided us through a wooden blue door entrance to a sunlit dining room. Our server welcomed us with a glass of champagne, and thus began a dining experience to remember.

Our meal is a series of small servings of the most delectable food that looked like small works of art. Gazing at each exquisite creation on my plate, I wondered how many persons in the kitchen were involved in putting together all the components. The famous Oysters and Pearls dish, made of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar, had a touch of sweetness from the silky oysters and a salty sea burst from the finest caviar. The utensil was an adorable doll-size spoon made from mother of pearl. Another classic Keller creation, sweet butter-poached main lobster tail with figs and beets, was flavorful and decadently delicious. For truffles aficionados like me, the most exciting moment was seeing a server walk to our table holding an elegant mohagony box containing a one-pound piece of truffle. The aroma alone can make one dizzy with pleasure upon seeing the server shaving slices of truffles onto the hand-cut tagliatelle. It was one of my favorite entrees for its simplicity and depth of flavor. The meal spanned three hours, with a dozen courses served at a leisurely pace by waiters who seemed to float gracefully among the tables. The staff was attentive, unpretentious and helpful in every way.

The French Laundry features two menus for both lunch and dinner: a 9-course Vegetarian Tasting Menu and the Chef’s Tasting Menu (each are $325, service charge included). We toured the kitchen, where I noticed the five shining gold stars over the hood of the stove, signifying the highest Mobil rating. Everything in the newly renovated $10 million state-of-the-art kitchen was spotless, polished and perfectly organized. A large television screen on one wall shows a live feed of its sister restaurant, Per Se, in New York. To emphasize the menu’s connection to the land around it, Chef Keller serves many of the vegetables grown on a three-acre garden across the street. The lush garden is managed by Aaron Keefer, the culinary gardener for the French Laundry. We walked to the unfenced plot that provides about 300 items, including specialty vegetables such as oyster leaf, kohlrabi and ice lettuce. The affable Keefer plucked some white strawberries and gave us a tasty sample of what will be on the menu.

The sublime dishes using only the freshest harvests and unique ingredients make the French Laundry a spetacular meal. From the impeccable service, elegant ambiance to the extradordinary daily menu– the French Laundry is a dining adventure that you need to try once in your life.

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Il Pastaio Restaurant

Small crowds gather every day for a seat at Beverly Hills’ famed restaurant, Il Pastaio on the corner of Cannon and Brighton Way. Giancomino Drago, the energetic owner and chef, is its undisputed star and host, often greeting guests with air kisses or hugs as if he were welcoming them into his own home. Hailing from Galai Mamertino, a town in Sicily’s Messina region, Drago is charming and strives to have fun at work. [OR treats work a little like play]

I loved to play all day when we were kids. I never liked school. I told my parent, “I’m never going to be a dentist or an accountant,” Luca says, laughing at the memory.

His desires for la dolce vita and merry days seem to play out daily at Il Pastaio, where Drago often stops by at a table and chats with old friends and new. When Spain’s soccer team, Real Madrid, came by for some pasta, the ebullient owner embraced the team and posed for photos.

It’s clear the packed room is his favorite playground. Drago exchanges quick one-liner in Italian with his staff and waves to friends, who can be seen sending him air kisses from across the room. What he is selling daily is not so much a meal, but an atmosphere of pleasure and indulgence in the good life, laughter and “great Italian meals with history.”

“I respect my guests and I listen to what they want,” Drago says, referring to the newly added gluten-free and wheat pasta.

“If they like a special dish but we don’t have it on the menu, we’ll make it to please them,” he says, waiving hello to a guest. “I want everyone to enjoy and feel happy when they come here.”

Through the afternoon, Drago moves about the room and makes everyone smile. In one moment, he shares friendly banter with two stylish young women at the bar; in the next, he embraces a friend who is about to depart. Adding to the vibrant scene are a dozen fast-moving and cheerful waiters who weave seamlessly between the busy tables. The atmosphere is friendly, informal, and often noisy with diners seated close to one another. The house made pasta is delicious and reasonable with most prices falling between $16.95 to $21.50.

As the youngest of eight children from the small town of Galati Mamertino in Sicily’s Messina region, Drago grew up helping his mother and older siblings make their meals fresh daily. In his teens, Drago got his first job at a local restaurant and later enrolled in culinary school. At age 15, he visited his older brother, Celistino, a restauranteur in Beverly Hills, and never looked back. Drago decided to open a small eatery called Il Pastaio in December 1993. Two decades later, it has become one of Beverly Hill’s most popular restaurants.

“When we first opened on Canon Drive, by nine o’clock at night the streets were empty,” says Drago. “Now, it’s busy past midnight!”

Il Pastaio’s popularity also brought a new change with an added private dining area called “The Olive Room” which seats 30 guests and features a wine room with fourteen hundred bottles of wine and spirits.

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BG Restaurant at Bergdorf Goodman

The luxury Bergdorf Goodman store is one of my stops whenever I am in New York. On the seventh floor of the iconic New York department store is a culinary gem: BG Restaurant. Known as the place for ladies who lunch, the room is always buzzing at lunchtime where a sea of well-heeled locals with sleek blown-out hair mingle with fashion lovers for a light meal between shopping. On this afternoon, the pale blue room seems aglow in sunlight beaming through its expansive windows, highlighting the glamorous retro style designed by Kelly Wearstler.

“Bergdorf Goodman restaurant is as good as it gets,” says Michael Perricone, Director of Restaurants at BG. He described the dining room as glamorous yet cozy. “Not only is it beautiful; our commitment to quality and service is unmatched.”

A tall gentleman with patrician good looks, Perricone, has been with the restaurant for 25 years, and at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco 10 years prior. He recalls a visit to New York two decades earlier when he saw the BG while it was still under construction. “I knew it was the place for me and told my boss I was interested. A year later (the job) was mine– and I have never looked back,” says Perricone, his blue eyes smiling at the memories. He also oversees The Good Dish, the store’s smaller restaurant on the main level; and all special events catering at Bergdorf Goodman.

I met Perricone over a decade ago while waiting for a table with friends. When he entered the room, the energy instantly picked up. Smartly dressed with beautiful manners, he delighted familiar patrons with witty repartees and asked about their lives, as if catching up with dear friends. The ladies adored him. Mindful of all his guests, Perricone seamlessly switched his attention to new faces and reassured their tables are forthcoming. He commanded the dining room with confidence and charm as he put everyone at ease. Perricone’s gracious presence alone makes it worthwhile to visit.

At BG, the cuisine is only rivaled by the sweeping views of Central Park below. For lighter fares, I always enjoy the Gotham Salad, a delicious fresh take on the classic chopped salad. The restaurant averages 2,500 orders of Gotham Salad a month and the store hit the million-salad mark in 2013. For heartier meals, delicious choices range from Grass Feed Boneless Beef to Organic Chicken and Ravioletti with Shrimp. Since I prefer fish, the Sea Bass and blackened Mahi Mahi are exceptional. For a beautiful dining experience with great cuisine and friendly service, BG restaurant is your destination.

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Navio Restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton

It was the kind of enchanting confluence of refined cuisine and breathtaking ambiance that could only result in a magical evening at Navio restaurant. The evening’s allure began with a chance meeting of the Chef de Cuisine Jason Pringle in the stately restaurant inside the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. The California native is back in the Bay Area after working in the top restaurants in New York and Florida, under the tutelage of Michelin-starred chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Laurent Manrique and Michael Mina.

“I am very interested in developing relationships with the local farmers and fisherman in Half Moon Bay,” says Pringle, who uses local fresh ingredients for his farm-to-table menu. “When I first arrived, I took walks around the property and discovered edible plants and wild strawberries right outside our doorsteps.”

At Navio, Pringle combines his culinary pedigree with the region’s agricultural and seafood bounty. He creates the menu and is hands-on in the open kitchen to help turn out classic French renditions of his signature seafood dishes. He is supported by an experienced team, headed by Director of Restaurants Matthew Rowland and his staff. My server was Benny, who listened to my preferences and expertly offered spot-on recommendations.

For starter, the Spagetti Chitarra with handmade al dente pasta was perfectly cooked. The Dungeness crab meat with the lemon-laced butter sauce and fennel shavings melded seamlessly with the pasta. For our entrée, Benny suggested the Black Cod with Serrano ham, artichoke and fava beans. The delicate cod was infused in a deliciously refined herb marinade. The crispy skin added a tasty crunch to the buttery texture. My friend’s dish, the Diver Scallops seared with pork belly and puree with a dash of mint was stunningly delicious. Benny, who has been at Navio more than a decade, took time to describe each dish in detail when delivering them to the table. I appreciated the leisure pace at which the dishes arrive. We had time to enjoy the food and conversation while admiring the ocean view and the elegant wood interiors.

I was charmed by one of the desserts on the menu: The Strawberry Fields, a garden of pink strawberry and pale greens with sweet and fruity flavors and textures. This has become one of my favorite desserts of all time.

Chef Pringle’s attention is not only in the kitchen. At the end of the evening, he can often be seen in the dining room, dressed in his chef’s jacket, perusing each table and speaking with his guests. When dining at a hotel, one never knows what to expect. At Navio, one can count on Chef Pringle and his team to offer exceptional service and exquisite seasonal dishes that let the freshness of the ingredients shine at this fine restaurant.

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Domaine Chandon

Whether you’re planning to stay for a few days in Napa Valley, or just visit for a quick day trip, there are many fun things to do in Yountville. Wine tasting and wine tours are the top attractions, behind dining and sightseeing. The choices of vineyards to visit are plentiful. We chose to feature Domaine Chandon, the first French-owned sparkling wine venture in the United States, opened by Moët & Chandon in 1973. They located to prime vineyard sites at Mt. Veeder, in Carneros and Yountville, the location Domaine Chandon now calls home.

To create a warm courtship with its customers, Domaine Chandon opened its Visitor Center and tasting salon in 1977. Guests can enter the romantic estate by walking through its garden overlooking flowers and flowing ponds, across a wooden bridge alongside Blue Oak trees. No wonder it was selected “Winery of the Year in 2005,” by the California Tourism Association. In recent years, the winery has welcomed an average of more than 200,000 visitors annually, said Brian A. Fairleigh, Brand and Wine Education Manager at Domaine Chandon.

“In the summer, we’ve had more than 2,000 visitors on a single Saturday,” said Fairleigh. The winery was the first to produce the popular sparkling wine, Blanc de Noirs, and were the first to plant Pinot Meunier grapes in California. Because of the unique quality of the grapes grown in the region; and the traditional methods employed by Domaine Chandon using modern equipment and technology, the winemakers have helped elevate public perception of sparkling wine made outside of the Champagne region. A market once dominated by low-end and mass-produced bubbly has risen to rival the refined quality and style of traditional Champagne. Domaine Chandon also offers a portfolio of still wines from the classic Champagne varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

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The Fairmont San Francisco

The iconic Fairmont San Francisco hotel atop Nob Hill, known as the “White House of the West,” is famous for hosting of kings and every U.S. president since President Taft.

“The hotel has a very rich history and attracts visitors from all over the world,” said Melissa Farrar, public relations director at the Fairmont. “It’s a wonderful place to stay while you’re in the city. Though many of our local residents love come here to dine at our three restaurants, or enjoy tea in the afternoon.”

Built in 1907, the hotel encompasses a whole block. It offers 591 newly renovated guest rooms and suites with views of the Bay Area. In the front, is the 6-story original building and in the back is a newer high-rise tower. I stayed in a Tower room, a few steps from the beautiful rooftop garden that overlooks the city. My morning walks around the Nob Hill neighborhood was especially fun to hear the bells as the cable cars ride past. Because it’s centrally located, the Fairmont is a short taxi trip from the bustling downtown, Financial District, Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. In fact, hotel is the only spot in San Francisco where each of the City’s cable car lines meet. After a long day, the hotel’s opulent lobby, decorated with cozy gold-hued sectional sofas, is a great place to unwind and relax with some hot chocolates or tea. In addition to its modern rooms, warm hospitality and conveniences– the Fairmont exudes a feeling of history and heritage that one cannot find at any other hotel.

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