Understated elegance is a vanishing trait and not one you might expect to experience in Beverly Hills. But that is exactly what I found at the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel. The ambience starts as you park your car and extends all the way to the rooftop restaurant. At the same time, the buzz that make Beverly Hills famous is alive and well.
The lounge just off the lobby at the Peninsula is a power spot in Beverly Hills where you are sure to catch a glance of celebrities. The real treat at this property for me is just behind, in the elegant Belvedere restaurant with its quaint outdoor seating. On my recent visit we had the pleasure of dining here, where restaurant manager Ramon Ayon and master chef David Codney have been instrumental in creating an atmosphere reminiscent of the original Ma Maison of Hollywood lore.
The Mediterranean-inspired cuisine included numerous fish entrees that were expertly prepared. We chose the wild salmon and Santa Cruz harpooned tuna, which were very fresh and tasty. I noticed that the restaurant was very popular with local residents, which in this neighborhood is an eclectic group.
Manager Ayon has a great deal of experience in west L.A. fine dining, including a long stint at Le Dome, once the darling of elite Hollywood luminaries. We shared memories of Patrick Terrail and Ma Maison, where Wolfgang Puck got his start. Ayon is well on his way to creating the same buzz at the Belvedere. Visit its website to check out the menu or make a reservation.
The month of August is extra special here with BOLD — Beverly Hills Open Later Days. This event, put on by the Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau, has included surprise street performances, test rides in luxury cars, and of course, late-night shopping. Visit the city every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night this month to take part in the continuing festivities. For complete information, visit lovebeverlyhills.com/bhopenlate.
Westlake Village Inn
Next time you are looking for a nice one-hour drive from Santa Barbara and perhaps an elegant meal, consider Westlake Village. This high-end enclave has really aged well, and a perfect example of this is the Westlake Village Inn and its surrounding restaurants.
While it has always been a local secret similar to the San Ysidro Ranch, over the past decade the inn has become the social hub of the area's well-heeled residents. Recently, I had the chance to dine at both its Mediterraneo restaurant and Stonehaus winery venues.
Mediterraneo has indoor and outdoor dining overlooking a beautiful lake with the Westlake Golf Course in the foreground. As you enter through the majestic wrought-iron gates, you feel immediately transported to Tuscany or Provence. Mediterraneo is located on the Westlake Village Inn grounds, where it’s nestled between its very own private lake and authentic working vineyard on the 17-acre property. Mediterraneo brings the culinary excellence and stylish atmosphere of a European bistro to Westlake Village. The restaurant captures the beauty and warmth of the Mediterranean region with its diverse menu, featuring Greek, Italian, and French food. Mediterraneo offers unique bistro-style dining with its fresh, locally sourced dishes.
Stonehaus is the working vineyard, with a very large outdoor dining and tasting setup that has become the social hub of Westlake Village. Just about every day of the week a large crowd gathers here to sip wine and greet friends in a setting similar to a Southern European winery.
They have an excellent food menu that includes salads, paninis, and pizza. Most guests also choose a glass or two of wine as they pick their food up inside and head out into the winery-inspired outdoor seating area. There is also an outdoor bar in case you are in need of refills.
Getting There and Back
Santa Barbara can seem very laid back sometimes, and a trip to the city is warranted every now and then. Both of these suggested visits can be done in a day, but a little planning is needed to ensure a relaxing experience. On the Beverly Hills side, I would suggest departing Santa Barbara sometime between 9 a.m. and noon. This will give you several hours to explore Beverly Hills before dinner. Any time after 8 p.m. should give you clear sailing back to the Central Coast. Westlake Village is much easier, but still I would try to avoid the 4-6 p.m. rush hour through the Ventura/Camarillo area.