Photography by Yuri Krasov

Mid-winter my husband and I try to use at least one weekend to travel down south. Since in California both winter and south are relative terms, our trip to Monterey Peninsula takes less than two hours in a car, and mostly coincides with the annual Big Sur Foragers Festival benefiting the Big Sur Health Center.

We are usually staying at our favorite place – Hofsas House Hotel in the fairy-tale town of Carmel-by-the-Sea (this year in a beautifully renovated room with lots of sunlight, luxuriously comfy bed, and pristine spacious bathroom). Every time arriving here, we first of all rush to the ocean, visible from the hotel balconies and terraces, to catch one of those legendary Pacific sunsets and a few distant fountains exhaled by the migrating gray whales, and every time we discover yet another park, beach, or trail, new to us and never seen before. Or maybe those amazing vistas just look different every time, so the sensation of discovery is always present in our adventures in the area.

This time it was Garrapata State Park that greeted us with grassy rolling hills, and sweeping views of the roaring waves under strong whistling wind, scented with seaweed.

When, wrapped in two jackets – my own and my husband’s – and in a scarf around my cap that was trying to fly away I finally got enough ocean air and sunset photos, we returned to town, where a pleasant surprise was awaiting right on Ocean Avenue, the main drag of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

At the new Mediterranean cuisine restaurant, Artemis, with a comprehensive list of rare Turkish wines and a menu filled with exotic delicacies, we were greeted by Oğuzhan Demir (or simply Ozzy) the owner’s son who looked like a movie star manning the bar under the multicolored glass lanterns amid Turkish rugs.

Our server, well versed in the viticulture of Turkey, and with the knowledge of the language, recommended delightful Sevilen wines and traditional dishes – Eggplant Meze, Walnut Ezme, and The King’s Plate, Hünkâr Beğendi made of sautéed lamb in a special sauce over pureed eggplant.

Full to the gills, we also had a dessert, recommended by Ozzy and called Künefe, made of two layers of shredded filo dough stuffed with sweet cheese, baked to golden, and sautéed in syrup, then topped with crushed pistachios and served with ice cream.

My husband’s perfect cup of Turkish coffee filled the dining room with subtle aroma while I was trying to abstain and not to disrupt my night sleep in anticipation of a big day ahead.

This year, the Big Sur Foragers Festival’s main culinary event – the sixth annual Fungus Face Off competition – returned to its feature venue, Ventana Big Sur Ocean Meadow Lawn up on a hill, with spectacular views of the ocean shimmering under the bright sun. What a difference a day makes in California weather!

Clad in sun dresses, tank tops and shorts, festival guests were sampling an array of exciting dishes prepared by the best area chefs and paired with locally produced wines and beer, with the proceeds from all of the events going to support the Big Sur Health Center whose continued presence assures local healthcare services in the Big Sur.

To be fair, and to acknowledge every participant of the Fungus Face Off, simply because everything put up to the public judgement was extraordinarily good, let me list all the chefs/restaurants that showed their mastery with the most exquisite mushroom dishes.

Those were: Roy’s, Carmel Valley Ranch, The Sur House at Ventana Big Sur, Alvarado Street Brewery, A Taste of Elegance, aligned with the local wineries and breweries: Mesa del Sol, Morgan Winery, Bernardus Winery, Comanche Cellars, Mad Otter Ale, Boony Doon Vineyards, Blair Wines, Baker and Brain, Paul Lato Wines, Fillipponi Winery, Alvarado Street Brewery (who also did a chef’s presentation), Fly Wheel Wine, and Chappellet Vineyards.

Other participants included the Marketplace vendors and tastings from Carmel Honey Company, Quail and Olive amazing original oils and vinegars, and Percy Pies.

Later that night, we had a plateful of flash-fried Monterey calamari and some panko-crusted sand dabs at the picturesque, over-the-water time-honored dining establishment – the Beach House restaurant and bar at Lovers Point.

Happy to make it back to the Hofsas House in time for sunset, we were clicking away with our cameras, joined by a few groups of international guests of the beloved hotel.

For those who plan to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea this year, Hofsas House offers several lucrative special packages:

Get Artsy Package includes a stay in the Room 47 — painted by Diego Rivera’s student, Maxine Albro, who also created the famous hotel’s Bavarian-themed mural. Mention the Hofsas House “Get Artsy” package with the code “HHArt” and receive a gourmet cheese tray and bottle of wine upon arrival. Hofsas House can help arrange a tour of Carmel’s art galleries and artists’ studios with Carmel Art Tours. Discover secret passageways and visit hand-picked galleries with an opportunity for a chance encounter with an artist at work in a Carmel studio. Cost is $25 per person, reservations are required, and participants meet for the tour at Carmel Visitors Center. Info at www.carmelarttours.com, or 800-979-3370.

Wine and Chocolate Package allows to upgrade your stay with a four pack of handcrafted artisanal sea salt caramels from Monterey’s Lula’s Chocolates and a bottle of award-winning Monterey County wine. Monterey County produces 42 different varietals of high-quality award-winning wines, especially Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. For this special package choose either a Monterey County Chardonnay or Pinot Noir from a personally selected list of wines.

Lula’s Chocolates, founded by Scott Lund, are made the old-fashioned way, using recipes passed down from Scott’s grandmother, Lula herself. Each small batch is hand-dipped and deliciously fresh. Cost for this wine-and-chocolate package is $25. Use the code HHChoc when booking.

Tail-Wagging Package includes a complimentary “Doggie Welcome Package” upon arrival with Hofsas House dog Frisbee, Hofsas House collapsible dog bowl, special dog bed, a letter from Tank, the onsite Pet Concierge, special dog amenities package, tips and recommendations for your four-legged friend’s stay, walking trail and hiking guide, a package of treats, and Coastal Canine Magazine offering the best four-legged options for visiting Carmel. This package requires a minimum two-night stay, $30 fee per night for one dog and $50 per night for two dogs.

Relax at Cinq Mondes Spa Carmel is the French cosmetic company’s first and only Cinq Mondes spa in the United States and serves as the company’s flagship location in the U.S. at the Crossroads Shopping Center in Carmel. Hofsas House is partnering with Cinq Mondes to offer guests a spa package that includes a 60-minute massage or facial. Cinq Mondes’ signature facial is the anti-aging “Ko-Bi-Do” with unique use of Dermapuncture, or “acupuncture without needles.” Its signature massage is the Moroccan massage. $120 per massage or facials. All Hofsas House guests will get a special gift from Cinq Monde. This special package must be booked at least 72 hours in advance and is subject to availability.

More information at: www.hofsashouse.com, www.carmelcalifornia.com, www.artemiscarmel.com, www.bigsurhealthcenter.org.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

Traveling to Ashland, Oregon, is enticing and rewarding all year round. For a relatively small urban area (population below 22,000) it has an enormous amount of festive public events to enjoy, excellent wineries, breweries, and restaurants, and – tax free shopping to cherry-top your cake! In winter, there’s Festival of Light, Victorian Christmas Celebration, Rogue Winter Fest, and Festival of Trees. In spring, Ashland Independent Film Festival, Pear Blossom Festival, Oregon Cheese Festival, and Oregon Chocolate Festival. In summer, 4th of July Celebrations, Medford Beer Week, Britt Music and Art Festival, and Oregon Wine Experience. Finally, in the fall, there’s Ashland Culinary Festival, Southern Oregon Music Festival, and Harvest Festival. Not to mention the most famous of them all, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, founded in 1935, that goes on every year from early spring to late fall, and produces eleven plays on three stages every season.

The culinary festival became a reason forme and my husband to drive up north from our California home at the very beginning of November, when San Francisco’s East Bay inland temperatures refused to go down, and the sweltering summery heat infused with post-fires’ residual smoke was becoming a nuisance.

We were hoping for the healing powers of Ashland that manifest themselves not only in the mineral springs that bubble to the surface from the Earth’s crust, but also in the serenity of the surrounding nature and in the unhurried balanced lifestyle of its residents.

Passing the snow-capped Mount Shasta on our way, we were pulling out our winter coats faced with the freshness of Oregon air; reminded once again of the Russian origins of the word Shasta (which means “happiness”).

A short drive and walk around the city yielded plenty of poetic views of leafy trees changing color, Ashland Creek running among the old grows of Lithia Park, and even a couple of deer grazing peacefully in someone’s front yard one block off the main drag.

We were taken by the quiet beauty of red, orange, and yellow leaves shining line precious jewels against the cloudy sky. I was thinking of how important it was to see this tempest of colors, to feel the autumnal air, to walk in silence, and – to sip from a public drinking fountain some Lithia water, so called because of natural lithium oxide deposits that presumably produce a healing tonic effect…

 

Upon checking in at the Lithia Springs Resort, we were greeted by the friendly staff, and immediately invited to the afternoon tea that is taking place daily in the beautifully decorated Tea Room, Library and lobby with a fireplace, designed by the owner/creative director, Becky Neuman.

High-quality tea, home-made scones with lemon curd and jam, and fresh berries were surely rejuvenating after a long drive, and made us feel welcome, however, the best was yet to come.

What a wonderful surprise was awaiting in our Hillside King Suite, overlooking a wooded hill in fall colors, and with a large tub to enjoy a hot mineral bath right in our bedroom!

A two-sided fireplace, open to the bedroom and to the spacious living room, a cozy kitchenette with a breakfast nook, and a plush sofa with a coffee table and armchairs – the suite was luxurious, and oh so welcoming!

It seemed there was no necessity to go outside, if it weren’t for the 11th Annual Ashland Culinary Festival Kickoff Event that was happening at the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites and included Celebrity Quick-Fire Cooking Challenge, the 2nd annual Mixology competition where local bartenders competed for the title of Top Mixologist, wine tastings by the Bear Creek Wine Trail, and small bites from the best Ashland restaurants.

The Cooking Challenge Teams were studded with celebrities: Judge and Emcee Cory Schreiber & Rolar Yondorf, a former Festival Judge, from Porters Restaurant; Judge Fabiola Donnelly & Chef Kate Cyr, the Festival Committee Member, from the Neuman Hotel Group; Judge John Ash & Dennis Slattery, a former Festival Emcee, Ashland City Councilor and SOU Professor; Top Chef 2007 & 2008, Neil Clooney of Smithfields & Trish Glose from KTVL Channel 10.

Bartenders from eight distinctive restaurants took part in the 2017 Mixology Competition: Arturo Almazan – Smithfields Pub & Pies; Freddie Herrera – Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge and Garden; .Jess Jeffery – Alchemy Restaurant & Bar; Ross Jones – Larks Restaurant; Sondra Mayer – Brickroom; Blake Satre – Ostras Tapas and Bottle Shop; Saphire Stevens – Oberon’s Restaurant and Bar, and Greg Waites – Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant.

The next day, hands-on culinary workshops were held at different locations, spreading throughout the city, and the 2017 Junior Chef Competition showcased Junior Chef Teams of Ashland High School – China Larsen & Quinn Vogel; North Medford High School – Coy Wimberly & Dezmond Barros; South Medford High School – Chase Tonini & Kyle Smith; Grants Pass High School – Kassidy Kipert & Cecil Dowdy.

Junior Chef Competition was followed by a daily festival program, Sip, Sample, and Taste with a long list of vendors, and Chefs Competition of 12 local chefs competing while using ingredients from local farms and artisans. This competition went on for two days, and involved the following chefs and restaurants: Josh Dorcak – MÄS; Brent Herud – Larks Restaurant; Melissa McMillan – Sammich; William Shine – Hearsay Restaurant; Shawn Alamo – The Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant; Javier Cruz – Simple Café; Skye Elder – Brickroom; Alfredo Nava – Omar’s Fresh Seafood and Steaks; Stefano Cipollone – Standing Stone Brewing Co.; James “Cyrus” Gray – Southern Oregon University (The Hawk Dining); Tony Efstratiadis – Plancha; and Jackson Kelsay – Amuse Restaurant.

We were pleased to check out Luna Café & Mercantile, located right there, where the Festival headquarters were, in the Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites – very modern, with astronomy-themed decor. By using products grown and raised in Oregon, namely in the Rogue and Applegate valleys, the restaurant supports local farmers and artisans, and serves the freshest, healthiest food as well as local wines and cheeses, specialty coffee and handmade chocolate treats.

Free range rotisserie chicken with herb relish, and burgers with Tillamook cheddar and Luna sauce on a house bun are some of the delicious hits of the menu!

For a formal dinner with great cocktails and wine, we headed to Larks restaurant in the iconic Ashland Springs Hotel – the most prominent and famous landmark of the city.

White wine and garlic steamed mussels, pork osso bucco with celeriac potato puree and wilted spinach, and local rabbit cacciatore with house-made pappardelle, bacon, and manchego black pepper sour cream were surely memorable creations of the “home kitchen cuisine” by the Executive Chef Franco Console, followed by the flourless chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert.

Our short “long weekend” in Ashland proved to be relaxing, healing, and energizing. To learn more, visit: www.travelashland.com, www.ashlandchamber.com, and www.neumanhotelgroup.com.

 

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After Labor Day, the tourists have headed home, the weather is ideal, and there’s plenty of parking. What a perfect time to visit San Diego’s favorite “village,” La Jolla.  Vacationing in my hometown was very appealing.

 

Where To Stay

I jumped at the chance to stay at the Pantai Inn. It has earned a prestigious #1 ranking for La Jolla hotels at TripAdvisor. Perched fittingly on the corner of Coast and Ocean Streets, this small gem sits amid beautifully landscaped gardens and patios, overlooking the Pacific.

The Pantai Inn pays homage to Balinese art with its furnishings and design. Included in the rate is free parking, complimentary buffet breakfast, and high speed Internet. Coffee, tea, bottled water, plus freshly baked cookies are available throughout the day. Turndown service includes chocolates at night.  It’s easy to understand how the Pantai Inn received such high rankings with its little touches and attention to detail.

Footloose

Stroll north from the Pantai Inn along the bluff to The Cove, then double back to the Children’s Pool. Both have been populated by seals and sea lions, which have become a bitter issue with residents, business owners, and environmentalists.  Wander through the shops and art galleries on Prospect and Girard.  Grab your swim gear and drive to the Shores Beach. Go at low tide and take a long walk north past Scripps Pier to Black’s Beach (bathing suit optional).

A Day At the University of California San Diego

Stop first at the Birch Aquarium now celebrating its 25th anniversary. It’s part of the internationally famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

On campus, don’t miss the Geisel Library (thanks, Dr. Seuss) and the outdoor Stuart Collection, especially Fallen Star, Sun God, and The Wind Garden.

The Theater District features the Mandell Weiss Center for Performing Arts and the historic La Jolla Playhouse. The latter was founded in 1947 by Hollywood stars Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, and Mel Ferrer. Over the years, it has won 35 Tony Awards for productions that have moved from there to Broadway.

Get Physical

Take a hike through Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (only one of 14 California State Parks so designated). Six trails loop through the park and there are free public guided tours on weekends and holidays at 10 AM and 2 PM. Golfers, take note: the world famous Torrey Pines golf course is open to the public.

Where To Eat

Duke’s is a short walk from the Pantai Inn. It’s named in honor of Duke Kahanamoku, Olympic swimming and water polo medalist, the father of modern surfing, and a royal Hawaiian family member.  This casual oceanfront restaurant serves contemporary twists on traditional island favorites. We arrived in time for “Pau Hana” (Happy Hour).  Request a table upstairs on the terrace. When we couldn’t decide between a couple of wines, the server brought out tasters (no charge); classy touch.  We opted to split the crab cake appetizer.  Our two entrees were the Hawaiian style baby back ribs, served with amazing grilled cornbread, and a perfectly prepared Kaffir crusted ahi steak. The decadent Hula Pie ended the dining experience in time for a sunset stroll back to the Pantai Inn.

Cusp Dining & Drinks is where fresh coastal cuisine rules. The menu features locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. At happy hour, along with discounted drinks and “bites,” champagne starts at $4 per glass and the price goes up $1 on the hour ($5 at 5 PM, etc.). Chef Ingrid Funes, from El Salvador, not only oversees the kitchen, she is the pastry chef.  While enjoying unique cocktails, we split a rock shrimp, chorizo and Manchego cheese flatbread.  Our dinner choices were lamb loin with roasted beets and carrots and the uniquely prepared seafood special of the day.  Dessert was a decadent chocolate crunch bar. A Cusp bonus is the dramatic 11th. floor ocean view. Look for the elusive “green flash,” an optical phenomenon that sometimes occurs as the sun sets.

Information

Birch Aquarium – There’s free parking and lots of kids’ activities. For schedules, etc., go to www.aquarium.ucsd.edu.

UCSD – Logon to www.ucsd.edu for maps, campus tours, and parking info.

Stuart Collection – Find background and an art location map by logging on to

stuartcollection.ucsd.edu.

LJ Playhouse – Information for the schedule, to purchase tickets, directions, and parking can be found at www.LaJollaPlayhouse.org.

Torrey Pines State National Reserve – Discover hiking and walking options at www.TorreyPines.org.

Duke’s – Their menu can be found at www.DukesLaJolla.com. Eight Duke’s Restaurants can be found in Hawaii and three on the mainland: La Jolla, Malibu, and Huntington Beach.

Cusp Dining & Drinks – It’s located atop the Hotel La Jolla, Curio Collection by Hilton. There is complimentary valet parking and a $30 price fix menu on Thursday nights. Check it out at www.CuspRestaurant.com.

Pantai Inn – More about this special place can be found at www.PantaiInn.com or call 858-224-7600 for reservations.

 

The Hawaiian island of Maui is widely known as one of the most beautiful destinations on planet Earth. Its luscious green peaks and pristine beaches are nothing short of breath taking. Upon landing at the Kahului Airport on the northernmost coast of the island and hearing the tranquil sound of live Hawaiian music at baggage claim, it becomes clear why this is a treasured vacation spot of many people. This busy father, husband and businessman found it to be the perfect sanctuary to escape from daily burdens and worriment.

In addition to an exquisite seascape, the quaint port-town of Lahaina offers a perfect place to search for a memorable keepsake or to simply embrace the true Hawaiian culture. A quick walk down Front Street or a stroll past the famous Banyan Tree will quickly orient you to the laid-back feel of the native islanders. My wife, a true introvert, often found herself gabbing with the locals due to their innate ability to connect with those who surround them. The Banyan Tree in the center of Lahaina is a perfect portrayal of the deep-rooted Hawaiian kin that reside on the island of Maui. Planted in the year 1873, this local historical token has grown to completely enwrap the Lahaina town square.

Stunning accommodations are “a dime a dozen” around the Island of Maui. However, the Honua Kai Resort and Spa near Kaanapali on the East coast is exquisite beyond belief. Clear blue relaxation pools lined with colorful green landscape makes for the perfect relaxation spot. Upon waking up each morning, we quickly found ourselves drawn to the oversized lanai (balcony) to bask in the astounding views while enjoying a breakfast prepared in our fully equipped kitchen. The thought frequently came to mind – “Why would I ever leave this place?”

During one of our daily explorations of the stunning Island, we wandered to one of Maui’s best-kept secrets – Slaughterhouse Beach. Hidden from the view of the coastal highway and tucked away in a beautiful cove, this beach is perfect for a day of relaxation. The high-towering rocks that surround you are topped with palm trees, which gives this beach the perfect ratio of shade and sunlight.

The luxuriant green hills that constantly surround locals and travelers alike are hard to ignore. We heard about a short hike through the hills that led to a dream-like waterfall which we attempted one afternoon. At the front end of the picturesque “Road to Hana” is a small trailhead called “Twin Falls”. A small, tree-engulfed shack which welcomed us provided a variety of juices that perfectly complemented the short one mile hike that followed. During walk through a thick forest of bamboo trees, the sound of falling water will slowly began to surround. Upon arrival at the falls, we found a calm 10-foot-deep pool of crisp-cool water being replenished by a steady waterfall. The sound of the crashing water was enough to put us in a Hawaii-induced relaxation coma.

As we sat in our seats at gate seven of the Kahului airport awaiting our red-eye Delta flight back to the mainland, I couldn’t get my mind off the sweet smell of the Maui Air. My mind is frequently taken back to our precious time on the Island. Now returned to the reality of an office, frequently as I lift the water glass from my bamboo Maui coaster I find myself asking, “Why am I not back in Maui?”

 

 

Photography by Emma Krasov; Friedrichstadt-Palast and Staatsballett Berlin press images

In the 1982 Hollywood classic “Victor, Victoria” Henry Mancini’s song stated the obvious, “Around the Rue des Beaux-Arts, where all the cabarets are… you’ll agree, what they mean when they say ‘Gay Paree’!”

Meanwhile, Gay Berlin surely holds its own. It actually mocks “Paree” in its Pariser Platz, named after the battle of Paris in 1814 that defeated Napoleon. This is also the location of the iconic Brandenburg Gate which became the symbol of German reunification after the Wall fell in 1989.

A walk along the historic Unter den Linden under the fragrantly blossoming linden trees will grant the views of classical sculptures next to new construction cranes, and take you to the major city sites, like Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island.

The best way to observe Berlin’s multiple monuments and architectural wonders is from a hop-on hop-off City Circle sightseeing bus that rides past the most important ones.

Berlin Victory Column, designed by Heinrich Strack in the mid-1800s to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War, by the time it was inaugurated in 1873, acquired additional meaning after Prussia had also defeated Austria and its German allies in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, and then France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 in the Unification Wars. These later victories were reflected in the addition of the 27 ft sculpture of Victoria, designed by Friedrich Drake.

The Rotes Rathaus (Red City Hall) is the red-brick town hall of Berlin, built in 1869 in Italian Renaissance style by Hermann Friedrich Waesemann is located in the Mitte district, where I was staying in a comfy and cozy Mercure Hotel Berlin Mitte, recognizable from afar by its wall-size “Berlin’s largest mural” on a side of the building.

 

Checkpoint Charlie (the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War of 1947–1991 can also be seen from City Circle bus that makes stops near all the sites along its route.

Or, take U-Bahn – the fast and efficient city subway to the legendary Friedrichstrasse (very much comparable to Rue des Beaux-Arts) with its world-famous revue theatre Friedrichstadt-Palast, or to Charlottenburg district – home to Deutsche Oper Berlin on Bismarckstrasse (you’ll know you’re heading in the right direction by the composers’ names written on U-Bahn station tiled walls). Walk through a tree-lined Schlossstrasse to Charlottenburg Palace with exquisite Baroque interior and impressive collection of art, surrounded by serene park grounds with a lake.

Friedrichstadt-Palast, where I watched the over-the-top glamorous “The One” Grand Show puts up the following statement signed by Berndt Schmidt, General Director: “Respect Each Other. As a theatre owned by the city of Berlin, the Palast has the utmost respect for all legitimate views and lifestyles… In light of its past, the Palast consciously advocates diversity, freedom and democracy. While democracy is far from perfect, it is the only form of government that allows both the majorities and minorities their freedom. Our history shows that freedom is not simply there – and it is often lost again more quickly than one would think. It must be asserted every single day.”

The Palast’s predecessor, the Grosses Schauspielhaus theatre was founded in 1919 by impresario Max Reinhardt, who engaged the amazing expressionist architect and interior designer Hans Poelzig, and artistic director Erik Charell.

The theatre foyer with layered fountain-like columns led to a cavernous, domed amphitheater with stylized stalactites. This vast grotto was dramatically lit with colored lights, and the ceiling was dotted with lights emulating the night sky. Lavish, risqué revues, typical of Berlin’s decadent 1920s nightlife, were being produced, until the Nazis came to power, and everything changed.

The building was seized in 1934, and renamed Theater des Volkes (The People’s Theatre). The spectacular vaulted dome was considered ‘degenerate architecture,’ and removed. Nazi propaganda shows were staged until 1945, when the theatre was damaged in a World War II bombing. Rebuilt and renovated in 1984, it became the flagship theatre of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) until 1990, and after the fall of the Wall, the Palast established itself as the first address in reunified Germany for extravagant and spectacular show entertainment. It continues to be Europe’s biggest and most modern show palace.

Being of Jewish descent, homosexual, and modernist, the original theatre creators, Max Reinhardt, Hans Poelzig, and Erik Charell suffered under the Nazi regime, and were memorialized in 2015, when the Palast inaugurated a sculpture dedicated to their achievements, depicting a stage spotlight, and placed next to the new building on Friedrichstrasse 107.

“Colors of Respect” poster designed by Zhoi Hy, became a symbol for the Palast mentality, inspired by the colors of the rainbow flag, designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. It has since been a symbol of the LGBTI international community.

The abundance of rainbow colors spilled out onstage at the Palast current show, “The One,” set to run until mid-2018.

Directed by Roland Welke, with 500 costumes by the world star fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, lighting by Emmy Award winner Peter Morse, choreography by Brian Friedman, Craig Revel Horwood, and Marguerite Donlon, and songs by Daniel Behrens, Christian Lohr, Gregor Meyle, Maya Singh, and KT Tunstall, the show features Roman Lob and Brigitte Oelke as solo artists, and more than 100 of their colleagues from 26 nations.

“I have dreamed of working on a revue ever since I was a little boy; when I had seen the premiere of Folies Bergère on TV at my grandmother’s,” said Gaultier. “The following day, I got into trouble at school for drawing girls with feathers and fishnet stockings. But I also noticed that I was being admired for my drawings as I started to become more and more popular among my classmates. Now, more than a dream is coming true for me: The first revue for which I have designed the costumes takes place in Berlin. This city defined the cabaret of the twenties, and the Palast is a place with a rich and eventful history, having reinvented itself more than once. I am flattered and honored to be a part of this production.”

“Only in dreams, on stage, and in movies, everything is possible,” said Welke. “That’s why I want to combine these elements; the three-dimensional images of theatre, the cross-fade and slow-motion effects used in the film industry and the endless possibilities of dreams that are not limited by natural laws. A rushing stream of images, where everything changes and nothing stays the same.”

On my short two-day visit to Berlin I was lucky to catch a Staatsballett Berlin show “The Sleeping Beauty” by Tchaikovsky, performed at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Berlin’s new State Ballet Company – Staatsballett, founded in 2004, was created by merging the previously independent ballet companies at Berlin’s three opera houses. Today, it’s acknowledged as one of the world’s leading ballet companies performing in three venues – the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Komische Oper Berlin, and the Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater. Starting with the 2014/2015 season, a renowned choreographer and director Nacho Duato took over as Artistic Director of the Staatsballett Berlin, bringing in a wealth of experience and his own much admired choreographic techniques.

The company’s dancers present the entire range of the ballet repertoire including all of Tchaikovsky’s ballets as well as neo-classical and contemporary works.

“The Sleeping Beauty,” choreographed by Duato, with set and costumes by Angelina Atlagic, lighting by Brad Fields and musical direction by Robert Reimer (Deutsche Oper Berlin orchestra) featured Ksenia Ovsyanick as Princess Aurora and Marian Walter as Prince Désiré, supported by the talented ensemble. The entire ballet was performed with abundant energy and skill, however, Rishat Yulbarisov in the role of the evil Carabosse completely stole the show. The 6’4” agile and highly powerful dancer, clad in a shiny strapless black dress with a full skirt of rustling ruffles, dominated the stage in his every graceful move, surrounded by a soundless, acrobatic team of the evil witch’s shadowy sidekicks – Alexander Abdukarimov, Taras Bilenko, Joaquin Crespo Lopez, Artur Lill, Lucio Vidal, and Wei Wang. (Currently on summer break, the show will resume on September 15).

Gay Berlin was on my mind while I was traveling on U-Bahn with my trusty Berlin Welcome Card. On U-5 line construction site there was a depiction of a train car with passengers of different races, ages, genders, and sexual identities sending a clear message of inclusivity and acceptance. CSD Berlin was advertised – the coming up on July 22 Christopher Street Day a.k.a. Berlin Pride. The first CSD took place in 1979, and since 1993, the gay/lesbian city festival has been celebrated every year becoming the largest of its kind worldwide. These days, up to 750,000 people celebrate the CSD in Berlin with more than 50 floats moving toward the Brandenburg Gate.

Many Americans remember Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit (in office October 2001 – December 2014), the first openly gay German politician who famously proclaimed, “I am gay – and that is also a good thing.”

Apparently, Berlin was considered the gay capital back in the 1920s. Despite the financial struggles of the time, a vibrant scene of bars, clubs, and cabarets existed in numbers still unrivalled today. According to some historical accounts, there were about 400 venues for homosexuals at that time, ranging from the famous cabaret Eldorado (closed down by the Nazis in 1932) to the ladies’ dance hall Zur Manuela, and to the large balls organized by various homosexual associations.

As early as 1897, Magnus Hirschfeldfounded, a German Jewish physician and sexologist, founded the Wissenschaftlich-Humanitäre Komitee (The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee) in Berlin as the first ever gay and lesbian human rights organization. From 1919, he ran the legendary Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Science), which made an important contribution to the emancipation of gays and lesbians all over the world.

After the suppression of the entire gay and lesbian community and subculture by the Nazis, it wasn’t until 1971 that the homosexual scene recovered again – which is when the gay movement Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin (Homosexual Action West Berlin) was founded.

Today, Berlin is one of the most open and tolerant cities in the world. Gay bars, clubs and parties as well as wide-ranging cinema programs, the Gay Museum and many other venues and events, including the annual CSD, for LGBTI community, are readily available and well-attended.

VisitBerlin website provides tips, practical information, and points of contact for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersexual people. LGBTI-friendly hotels in Berlin are listed in Pink Pillow Berlin Collection. All participating hotels have signed the gay-friendly hotels promise: to treat all guests with same courtesy, dignity and respect; to actively contribute to social LGBTI projects; to create a work environment of respect and tolerance; to offer guests information about the LGBTI scene; to participate in VisitBerlin’s semi-annual LGBTI information days.

Find more information at: https://www.visitberlin.de/en.

Press images: Friedrichstadt-Palast “The One”: photography by Sven Darmer. Staatsballett Berlin “The Sleeping Beauty”: photography by Yan Revasov (Princess Aurora) and Ed Shelley (male trio).

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Photography by Yuri Krasov

If you fly to New Orleans, Louisiana a.k.a. NOLA, on a Friday afternoon, you might want to start your weekend in the French Quarter – the beating heart of the city – big, generous, full of life, and untainted by years of visiting tourists from all over the world, walking down Bourbon Street in huge crowds day and night in various degrees of public intoxication.

The real NOLA, in all its sublime beauty, Southern charm mixed with French chic, and over-the-top exuberance is still here, every step of the way!2. DSC_0429 copy

Have a lavish dinner at Kingfish, a popular casual joint on Chartres Street, serving mean cocktails (try the signature NOLA’s Sazerac or Vieux Carre), and new Louisiana cuisine by renowned Chef Nathan Richard.  You can’t go wrong with local specialties, like Louisiana BBQ Shrimp and Crispy Grit Cake or Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo. And if you consider yourself and adventurous eater, don’t shy away from Alligator “Wings” in Café au lait barbecue sauce. Served in a small cast iron skillet, they look just like your party chicken wings, but those are baby gators’ tender limbs (awww!) www.kingfishneworleans.com.

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A short walking distance away catch a Friday night special – Trixie Minx Burlesque Ballroom at The Jazz Playhouse in the lobby of Royal Sonesta Hotel on the corner of Bourbon and Bienville. The weekly show is performed by a rotating cast of New Orleans and international touring burlesque performers, who dance onstage and throughout the room to the sounds of live jazz and blues music with wonderful vocalists. Burlesque Ballroom is the only weekly show that accompanies burlesque with live music – just like it used to be during the original heyday of 1950s Bourbon Street burlesque culture.4. DSC_0511 copy

This intimate production that fills The Jazz Playhouse with a conspicuous speakeasy vibe, is extremely popular with tourist groups, bachelorette’s parties, foreign visitors, and just about anyone who’s lucky enough to be in NOLA on a Friday night! Trixie Minx, a classically trained ballerina-turned-burlesque performer, producer, healthcare advocate, and cultural ambassador – and a true NOLA celebrity – can be seen here making every show a late-night spectacular. http://www.trixieminx.com, www.sonesta.com/us/louisiana/new-orleans/royal-sonesta-new-orleans/jazzplayhouse.

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If your luck is with you all the way, you’ll stay two blocks from Bourbon Street, at the Maison Dupuy, “the French Quarter Hotel,” on Rue Toulouse. Overlooking a cozy courtyard with a heated blue swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs and cabanas, from your room balcony you might see an elegant wedding happening right there, by the three-tiered marble fountain in the center. Maison Dupuy has on average 63 weddings each year, so the chances are pretty good you can catch one on any given weekend.

This historical hotel’s location originally was home to the nation’s first cotton press. Later, utilized for industry, the intersection of Rue Toulouse and Rue Burgundy housed sheet metal companies. Only in the 1970s the Dupuy brothers successfully turned the building into a posh hotel it is today. It’s the last hotel to have been built in the French Quarter, since in 1975 the Vieux Carre Commission banned the future development of the neighborhood to preserve its historic significance.

Spread out throughout five joined townhouses, made of red brick, Maison Dupuy hotel maintains the original architectural features – ornate French doors, long windows, wrought iron balconies, and 200 spacious rooms with all the modern conveniences, including pillow-top mattresses and flat screen TVs.

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For a leisurely breakfast, look no further than to the hotel’s own restaurant, Bistreaux. Festively decorated with wall murals that replicate Toulouse-Lautrec’s cabaret paintings, with sunlight streaming through the wide arched windows, the white-table-cloth venue serves Continental and American breakfasts, including a stuffed French toast with cream cheese, jam, and fresh strawberries to give you a great head start. www.maisondupuy.com.

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On a nice day like almost any day in NOLA, just strolling through the French Quarter is a treat on its own. Stop at the historic Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street – the grand dame of NOLA’s hotels. Here, in the lobby there’s a famous Carousel Piano Bar & Lounge, where you can sip a cocktail while suddenly noticing that the entire circular bar is revolving around the central stand like a slow moving carousel.

Have a quick lunch of Po’boy or Muffuletta sandwich (both local specialties) at Arnaud’s Remoulade on Bourbon Street.

Or take a tour of the French Quarter with Two Chicks Walking Tours, admittedly “based on what we would do with friends on an afternoon in the French Quarter.” The tours meet by the world-famous Café du Monde, where you can actually oversee through a side window the process of making those airy beignets covered in powdered sugar that are served with the NOLA’s favorite chicory coffee.

On a tour, you’ll see the mighty Mississippi River passing through the city on its way from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. With 200 ft depth, it’s not your recreational body of water. NOLA residents have a lake for that. The major parts of the Crescent City are named in relation to the river – Uptown up the river, Downtown – down the river, plus there’s River Side and Lake Side.

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The tour will take you to Jackson Square with the iconic Andrew Jackson horseback statue and the St. Louis Cathedral – the oldest cathedral still in use in North America. Jackson Square is also the location of an open-air artist colony, where artists display their work on the outside of the iron fence. You might see the artists at work and perhaps have your portrait drawn by one of the many talents utilizing Jackson Square as their studio.

You’ll stop by the historic open-air French Market, reminiscent of its European counterparts. With abundant shopping, dining and live musical entertainment it’s a traditional gathering place in NOLA.

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Step into the oldest watering hole in NOLA, Tujague’s on Decatur Street, established in 1856, with the original 1700s wooden bar stand, delivered from France, and walk to the second floor balcony for a city view enjoyed by the locals.

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From Café du Monde to the bazaar at the end of Esplanade Avenue, there are five blocks of specialty retail shops and a community flea market with only the original, locally-made art, jewelry, clothing, and cuisine. www.twochickswalkingtours.com

You won’t notice how soon your little weekend will come to an end, but if spent in NOLA it might very well be the best weekend you’ll remember all year!

Additional information at: www.neworleanscvb.com, Facebook (Visit New Orleans), Twitter (@NewOrleansCVB) and Instagram (VisitNewOrleans).

 

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Photography by Saul Schwartz

On the evening of our first night in Hawaii, after a brief struggle, I found a secluded spot on Waikiki beach to propose to Fern.  This took place while we were forcing ourselves to adjust to the six hour time difference from our Washington, DC area home.  Writing out my ten line proposal in advance proved to be good foresight.  I didn’t fumble though carefully chosen words even though my foggy brain was suffering from jet lag.

Our trip began with a lovely dinner at a beachfront restaurant facing the wide white sand beach looking toward Diamond Head.  We shared our first fruity mai tais in the Hawaiian Village.  Starving since there was no food on our flight from Arizona, we hungrily feasted on grilled mahi mahi sandwiches while dining al fresco.  The fish was substantial, meaty and did not taste oily or fishy.  During the meal, watching throngs of tourists and locals walking along the beach on a pleasantly warm night, I scanned the adjoining high-rise hotels to find a private place for a memorable moment.

Underneath gently swaying palms, we then strolled out to the Pacific Ocean to watch the force of the waves and feel the seventy degree ocean temperature with our feet and hands.  I then scouted an artificially lit pole where I was able to retrieve my written proposal and read it with passion to Fern.  After she said yes, I took the sparkling ring we had picked out together and placed it on her finger.  After one year of dating, we were fiancées.

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Shortly after Fern and I met at a widow/widowers group she told me that Hawaii was on her bucket list of places to see. Our trip was planned to overlap with the anniversary of our first date in April of 2014.

This was my third trip to Oahu; it was Fern’s first.  Since it had been ten years since my last trip, I really did not remember how much Oahu is an island of contrasts.  After verifying that Tokyo was one thousand miles closer to Honolulu than Washington, we then realized why Waikiki streamed with at least as many Japanese tourists as from the American mainland.

In the mornings, I jogged by the large high-rise, high-end resort hotels and the wide streets lined with glitzy retail stores.  The paved path aligned with Waikiki beach for about half of my jog, and the rest of the time I ran by  designer brand retailers, surf clothing stores and restaurants along the very commercial Kuhio Avenue, the main street.

Our excursions on the north shore of Oahu were eye-opening.  One evening we ate on picnic benches eating shrimp and scoops of rice from one of the food trucks.  The shrimp was tasty but unpeeled and very messy to eat.   As I wandered to the rest room behind the truck, I walked by a large group of feral cats and run down shacks that stood less than one mile from stunning ocean front houses.

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On the north shore we made our way to the Polynesian Cultural Center and spent several hours wandering among the six villages featuring the island nations of the South Pacific and Hawaii. The highlights included a canoe tour through the lagoon and the canoe pageant.  In the pageant, each island featured music with colorful, traditional costumes worn by the dancers who performed atop the canoes.  Ironically we learned that the performers were actually students from nearby Brigham Young’s Hawaii campus.  In many situations, students live on one of the islands and working at the cultural center was part of their student experience.

In reflecting on Oahu, I think of one of my favorite Yogi Berra quotes.  “Nobody goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.”  Certainly at times, we were delayed in Honolulu traffic and annoyed by the big city aspect of Oahu.  Indeed, our Honolulu airport experience was tense and we had to rush to make our flight out when we left the island.  But there were many more magical moments when as an engaged couple we could be alone, listening to the waves rolling and enjoying the serene beauty of the beach.   We may have been the only adult couple riding the Pineapple Express through the Dole Plantation, but the experience was surprisingly romantic as we kept ourselves warm and dry by huddling together during a tropical rainstorm.

Five nights on Oahu provided us with an overview of the islands’ highlights.

Our trip to Pearl Harbor gave us another study in contrasts, as we watched tourists from Japan and the American mainland stand side-by-side in somber reflection on the terrifying destruction inflicted. While touring the Arizona memorial, we learned that servicemen and women who survived the sinking of the battleship were entombed with their fallen comrades when they died years later.  Clearly that was the defining moment of their lives.

We flew from Honolulu to the Big Island, where we spent another five days.  The highlight there was the fiery orange lava flow in Volcano National Park.  The black rock prevalent throughout the Big Island reminded me of the lunar landings I had seen back when men landed on the moon!

Fern and I plan to travel to the other populated islands of Hawaii.  We’ll never forget the excitement of getting engaged on Oahu.

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Who: Saul Schwartz (author) and his newlywed wife, Fern Bradshaw of Alexandria, Virginia.

We chose April in Paris for our honeymoon; this was our first trip to the French capital. The day after our wedding at Lansdowne in Leesburg, Virginia, we flew nonstop from Dulles Airport to Charles De Gaulle Airport.  We spent one week in Paris traveling within many of the twenty arrondissements (districts).  Fern and I quickly learned to navigate the sixteen numbered lines of the busy but extensive metro, along with the commuter rail lines, enabling us to tour many world class art museums, beautiful architectural wonders; as well as religious, historic and cultural sites.  We purchased the Paris Pass in advance, which included unlimited travel within central Paris on the metro or train, along with entry for most attractions (but not the Eiffel Tower).

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High points: A romantic three course dinner at 58 Tour Eiffel, located at the first level of the 986 feet Eiffel Tower proved to be our culinary highlight, as we enjoyed a panoramic view of Paris transforming from day to night as we celebrated Fern’s birthday.  On the banks of the Seine in a corner of the Tuileries Gardens, we discovered our favorite art museum, Musee de l’Orangerie, which displays eight spectacular water lily murals by Monet in two oval rooms, along with works of the major impressionists.   Climbing the 387 steps to the top of tower of the French gothic Notre Dame Cathedral rewarded us with close-up views of its stone gargoyles on the ledge, 13th century church bells, dramatic stained glassed windows, but no hunchback.   We spent a full day exploring the vast grounds and grandeur of the Palace of Versailles,  strolling through some of the 250 acres of manicured gardens with fountains and statues and Marie Antoinette’s separate chateau – the Petit Trianon – many acres away from the castle and the king (Louis XVI).

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Cultural connection to Washington, D.C.: L’Enfant’s design of Washington, D.C., with circles, grand avenues, monumental architecture and public gardens parallels the layout of central Paris.  The Arc de Triomphe, engraved with names of military leaders, is a dramatic tribute to French soldiers lost in wars, standing in the center of Charles de Gaulle plaza.  From the viewing deck of the triumphal arch, after climbing 234 more steps, we observed a series of twelve wide avenues radiating out.  Similar to the layout of the Washington Mall from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and then to the Lincoln memorial, the Arc di Triomphe is on a historic axis through a sequence of monuments and grand boulevards to the courtyard of the Louvre museum and a smaller arch.  Like Parisians we strolled through the grand central alley of the Tuileries Gardens, lined with statutes, fountains and varied plants and trees, from the Louvre museum to the massive Concord plaza.  This outing reminded us of walks along the Washington Mall.

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Biggest revelation: We did not find the French to be overly warm or inviting when we sought information such as directions from the hotel staff or restaurant suggestions.  An exception took place during our dinner at an informal Italian restaurant near the Eiffel Tower, Firmine.  After we showed the restaurant staff an article where the restaurant had been mentioned (that they had never seen before) they treated us royally, but – no free dessert or appetizer was offered even when we returned for a second meal the next day.

Our 21st century reality: In 2016, first hand observation of police presence in Paris was to be expected given recent world events.  However, we did not expect that our on our way from Charles de Gaulle airport to the hotel our Paris shuttle driver would be pulled over by police for making an illegal turn and then he was interrogated. During our visit to the Jewish Museum of Art and History in Marais the Jewish quarter, heavily armed camouflaged police patrolled outside the entrance.  Although the museum is located in a beautiful mansion, the collection is simplistic and lacked focus on modern day life for Jews in Paris.  Throughout the trip we heard French police sirens.  When we left Paris, we had to be rerouted from Paris to Zurich to Frankfort to Dulles because of the delayed security check of every passenger on a flight from Paris to Brussels.  As a result, we were in four countries on one very long day of return!  We unexpectedly enjoyed Swiss chocolate and a Bavarian pretzel.

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Fondest memory: On a Sunday morning, we wandered through Montmarte, a bohemian neighborhood, home to artists throughout the centuries and the Moulin Rouge cabaret.  We ascended the largest hill in Paris, walking by peddlers selling Eiffel Tower models or trying to engage tourists in find the ball gambling games.  At the top we briefly attended the service within the majestic white domed Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur.  As we began to descend the steps, a harpist began to play the Canon in D, which was the song Fern and I had walked down the aisle to in our wedding exactly one week earlier.

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The symbol of upscale hospitality, and the epitome of elegance and good taste, St. Regis San Francisco recently added a new attraction to its already well-loved and popular with out-of-town guests and city dwellers alike St. Regis Lobby Lounge. This new attraction is called, The Art of Tea, and presents the famed skyscraper hotel’s modern take on the sophisticated tradition of English tea time.

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Historians insist that while the custom of drinking tea in China started millennia ago, and in England – in the 1660s (by King Charles II and his wife the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza), the afternoon tea as we know it was introduced to the society by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in 1840.

The fascinating backstory goes as follows, “The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter (some time earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread) and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.

This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room.”

Later on, the afternoon tea tradition was adopted by the gatekeeper of the old New York establishment, and the major patron of St. Regis New York, Caroline Astor, who entertained her close friends there.

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Very fittingly, The Art of Tea is served in the lavishly furnished and decorated with wall-size murals St. Regis Lobby Lounge that would rival the best-appointed drawing rooms, indeed. While the traditional afternoon tea consists of freshly-brewed teas grown in India or Ceylon, and an array of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and miniature cakes and pastries, the St. Regis version offers so much more! The innovative interpretation by the Executive Chef Franck Desplechin and the Executive Pastry Chef Mie Uchida includes locally sourced seasonal products and teas from around the world.

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The guests might start their St. Regis tea experience with a glass of Schramsberg sparkling wine from Napa Valley, graciously poured by the Restaurant and Bar Manager, Daniel Spingler.

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The tea selection includes black, herbal, green, white, and fruit teas, with the most notable examples of custom-blended Flowery Earl Grey – light-body, uplifting, with floral notes, and Organic Emperor’s Jasmine – delicate golden with bright palate.

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The accompanying food is divided into Savory and Sweet sections. The former includes heirloom tomato waffle cone; porcini mushroom macaron; Santa Barbara Spot prawn slider; and Vande Rose ham croque madame with quail egg and truffle béchamel.

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The latter – huckleberry & blueberry pie shooter; red berry gateau opera with Valrhona Jivara chocolate and hazelnut biscuit; Meyer lemon tower with citrus marshmallow and smoked sea salt; and deconstructed crispy fig scones with dark chocolate glaze.

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For years, St. Regis Lobby Lounge has been a sought-after place to lunch, dine, lounge around with a signature cocktail, or indulge in a late night bite. Now, with the addition of the tea service, its charm becomes complete, and irresistible.

The Art of Tea is served every day from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. by reservation only. Reservations must be made 24 hours prior and for parties up to 4 people by contacting the Grill Restaurant at 415.284.4188.

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Lobby Lounge Hours: Sunday – Thursday: 12:00pm – Midnight; Friday – Saturday: 12:00pm – 1:00am. Food served daily 12:00pm – Midnight. The Art of Tea served daily from 2:00pm – 4:00pm. Reservations required.

St. Regis San Francisco is located at 125 Third Street, San Francisco, California, 94103. More information at: www.stregis.com.