Whenever Jack and I travel to L.A. to visit his family, we always share a large family-style meal at Carousel Restaurant in Glendale. Jack’s family is of Armenian descent, spending much of their life in Beirut before they moved to Southern California when Jack was a child. They tell me that Carousel is the best, most-authentic Lebanese restaurant in the L.A. area. I can’t vouch for its authenticity, but I will say that it serves incredible food.

Carousel has two locations, one in Hollywood and one in Glendale. I’ve only been to the Glendale location, and it is a large airy space with indoor and outdoor seating. It is perfect for large groups, especially since the food is designed to be shared. The walls are decorated with ancient swords and trinkets from the Middle East, as well as photos of Lebanon.

Lebanese Meza: sarma, hammos, pickled beets, carrots, cheese, cucumber, olives, tabbuleh, muhammara, cabbage salad.

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Kid-Friendly NYC in the Winter

Central Park. This photo was taken by my dad when he and my mom visited me in NYC for Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates exhibit (February, 2004).

I have always had a special place in my heart for New York City. Most people who met me after 1998 are not aware that I once seriously wanted to become a Broadway actress when I “grew up.” However, once that dream faded away, I still longed to one day move to NYC. This wish came true in my early 20’s when I was accepted to graduate school in Manhattan. I stayed in NYC for 2 1/2 fabulous years, which to this day remain some of the most special years of my life.

But, like Los Angeles, it has been many years since I lived in NYC and I am very much out of the loop when it comes to food, entertainment, and activities. Furthermore, I have zero experience with kids in the Big Apple. Which is why, when my friend Holly mentioned that she was spending a week in NYC with her husband and two small children over the holidays, I reached out to my New York friends for some recommendations on kid-friendly activities during the winter months. Here are their recommendations:

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L.A.’s Best Restaurants

Jack and I recently traveled to Los Angeles to spend the holidays with his family. Jack grew up in L.A. and I went to college there, but these days we are very out of the loop when it comes to restaurants in the area. So, as I’ve been known to do, I reached out to my friends and family via Facebook to get their recommendations for restaurants in the area. We received a lengthy list of dining spots, from casual to fancy, which I thought I’d share with you here.

Lebanese Meza at Carousel in Glendale

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Earlier this year, local chef Mourad Lahlou opened his new restaurant Mourad, a follow-up to the highly acclaimed Aziza. I was eager for Mourad’s opening after I got a taste of its offerings at Jack’s work holiday party last year (the company he works for owns the building in which Mourad is located). I’ve since eaten there twice, and I was very impressed by the comforting Moroccan-inspired dishes served family-style at this Michelin star restaurant.

Chicken for Two with preserved lemon, green olive (Castelvetrano!), marash

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Odys + Penelope

Whenever I plan a trip, I like to reach out to my friends and family to get their thoughts on restaurants, hotels, and activities in the area. I don’t really have the patience for weeding through guide books or the internet to find the best spots, and I find it so much more efficient (and fun!) to rely on my network of well-traveled friends and loved ones. This is why, when Jack and I recently spent the holidays with his family in Los Angeles, I immediately turned to Facebook for advice on where to eat. We received a plethora of recommendations, all of which looked incredibly delicious. We ultimately decided to go with Odys + Penelope, but I will file away the other restaurants for future visits, as they all sounded fantastic.

Odys + Penelope was recommended by our friend Lauren, who has lived in the LA area for several years now with her husband and two boys. She definitely knows and appreciates food, and she owns the sinfully decadent gluten-free baked goods company BossyCakes. So, when she described Odys + Penelope as her “number one” restaurant in LA, we were intrigued. We did a little research and discovered that O+P sounded right up our alley, as the space is rustic and urban, with an approachable menu using local/seasonal ingredients and good quality meats, poultry, and seafood.

Well organized bar over exposed brick wall at Odys + Penelope

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When Jack and I were planning our trip to Italy earlier this year, I reached out to my friends on Facebook and asked for recommendations. My friend Marc forwarded my post to his friend Donna, who had just returned from a trip to Italy. Donna (whom I have never met) generously emailed me a two-paged document full of tips for Rome and the Amalfi Coast; this list included Roscioli, a restaurant just south of Campo de’ Fiori in central Rome.

In her description, Donna wrote: “Wine and Food Pairing at Roscioli’s – you have to do this if you love wine! I found out about this from Anthony Bourdain and we ended up shipping a few cases of food and wine back. One of the best food and wine pairings I’ve ever had. But be forewarned: he doesn’t like American wines. Haha! But it doesn’t matter. The wines he pours are phenomenal, better than most American wines I’ve had.”

Roscioli actually has several different locations and functions: Salumeria Roscioli (the main restaurant and salumeria), Rimessa Roscioli (wine and food tasting space that Donna recommended), and Antico Forno Roscioli (the Italian bakery). We were not aware of these distinct spots, so when we asked our hotel concierge to book us a table at Roscioli, he assumed we meant the restaurant, rather than the wine tasting. But, as often happens in life, the mix-up was pure serendipity, and our meal at Salumeria Roscioli ended up being one of the best meals we had in Italy.

Entrance to Roscioli. Specialty foods and wine on display for purchase.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have so many fond memories of helping my mom bake chocolate chip cookies when I was growing up. She made chocolate chip cookies so often that she actually had the recipe memorized and she let my brothers and me taste the dough at every step of the baking process, culminating in the licking of the beaters. We Disharoons are definitely purists when it comes to our chocolate chip cookies: we wouldn’t dare add oats, nuts, or (God forbid) raisins. And now that I’m an adult, this is still my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, and they are always a crowd-pleaser; they are chewy and delicious, and they go great with an ice-cold glass of milk.

Fresh-baked chewy chocolate chip cookies, right before I devoured them

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Cafe du Nord

Edit 4/22/17: Apparently Cafe du Nord is no longer owned and managed by the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group and the menu and recipes have changed. Rest in peace, Best Burger in San Francisco!

Cafe du Nord first opened its doors in 1907. Located in the Swedish American Hall in the Upper Market neighborhood of San Francisco, the space previously hosted many famous musicians before they made it big (Neil Young, Spoon, and The Kinks, to name a few). In 2015, the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group (Flour + Water, Central Kitchen, Aatxe) restored the space and reopened Cafe du Nord as a bar and restaurant offering live music and food until 2am.

Entrance to Cafe du Nord

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Last Friday Jack surprised me with a celebratory dinner at Quince to toast my upcoming move to a new position at work. I had been to Quince once back in 2007 when it was located in Pacific Heights (that site eventually became Baker and Banker, and now Octavia). In 2009, chef/owner Michael Tusk moved Quince to its current location in Jackson Square, and began serving a more formal prix fixe tasting menu. Soon afterwards, he transformed the adjoining space into an Italian restaurant named Cotogna (which means “quince” in Italian), which serves a similar menu to the one previously served by the old Quince.

Quince is no stranger to accolades, and it currently possesses two Michelin stars. From the moment we walked into the restaurant we were impressed by the quality of service, ambiance, and food that made up our dining experience. The dining room has a welcoming and elegant decor, with warm floor to ceiling curtains and exposed brick walls. Quince is definitely a “special occasions” spot.

Jack and I both started with cocktails, and they were gorgeous and delicious. Jack had a whiskey-based drink which had gold leaf in it, and mine was a refreshing gin-based cocktail that was equally beautiful. They were both well-balanced and delightful.

Whiskey-based cocktail with gold leaf. It was beautiful!

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I was excited to try the restaurant FnB when I was in Scottsdale for a girls’ weekend a couple weeks ago. FnB prides itself on its “globally accented seasonal menus,” and even offers a predominantly local wine list featuring Arizona wines. Chef Charleen Badman was nominated for the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Southwest in 2014 and 2015, and the restaurant itself has won numerous awards since it first opened in 2009.

The restaurant is located inside the charming Craftsman Court in downtown Scottsdale. It was warm and cozy, with unique art on the walls.  Our waiter encouraged us to order all of our dishes to share as a table, which was a great way to sample much of what the restaurant has to offer. Many of the dishes were hits, though there were a few disappointments. But the menu was creative and fun, and full of fresh local produce.

Ready for our family-style meal at FnB

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