What do Chefs Pepin, Bourdain, Ripert and Bernstein all have in common? They entertained and fed La Diva one Friday night!

Godhead Anthony Bourdain. I loves him.

Darlings, how many times in your life do you get to be in the same room with FOUR PEOPLE you really admire? I'm not talking about the regular people in our lives but celebrities that are actually talented and industry leaders? It doesn't happen often, if at all, for some people.

But, La Diva had that very experience a few weeks back on Friday the 13th. Me and my sidekick, DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah!) were lucky enough to attend the Celebrity Chef Series at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami with Chef Anthony Bourdain hosting an interview and cook-off with Chefs Eric Ripert and Jacques Pepin.


All Celebrity Chef photos taken by Juan Monino, 2009

La Diva was thrilled. As well as scoring the tix for free, La Diva was going to be meeting up with interesting new foodie friends that we'd been trying to have dinner with for months! This was going to be a great night!

Here's my take on each of the guests:

Anthony Bourdain, an irreverent and knowledgable host and adventurous travel hero, I love his passion for food (and his ability to eat freakin' offal!) and of course for his smart-alec ways.

Eric Ripert, beautiful and talented (always a brilliant combo) who does great food porn. I'll never forget watching him make, and eat, a decadent dish of sea urchin roe with a simple buttered pasta for Tony's Food Porn episode....sigh..... (and I must get to his restaurant one day...)

Pepin, a classic French chef that found success and popularity in America over two decades ago and was ever-so--patient with the sometimes difficult Julia Child. Jacques Pepin is such an affable, food television veteran, he makes entertainment cooking look so easy.

All of them get my respect and attention for the various roles they've played in advancing my food knowledge and education.

The ever-charming Chef Jacques Pepin. You can click on the photo to learn more.

The night started off with a question and answer segment for both Ripert and Pepin and then was followed by a cooking competition between them. The challenge was like an episode of the TV show "Chopped" with the contestants given a mystery basket and a time limit to complete the dish. They were to use chicken, fish and oranges and complete the dish in one half hour.

I have to tell you how very impressed La Diva was with Pepin's calm and methodical way of cooking in front of a large audience as well and his constant explanations and comments of what he was preparing during the entire show. Darlings, when one is cooking, it's actually quite hard to talk all the time, even if you are a "talker." I find it quite challenging at times to constantly talk in my class while focusing on making the food at the same time especially for three straight hours. With Eric Ripert barely uttering a word, it was obvious Pepin's 20 years behind the camera gave him a distinct edge. It's harder than you think to constantly talk and "engage" your audience while cooking as well as doing it successfully and Pepin has again proven himself to be masterful at the task.

Some memories from the night:

Jacques worked with daughter Claudine and was charming, boyishly "sneaking" wine in a silver mug and saying one should always pretend it was coffee in front of an audience! And when he expertly peeled an orange in one long skin for the camera, the audience clapped with appreciation.

Bourdain to Ripert about Jacques Pepin's speed at creating THREE dishes while Ripert struggled with one: "Hey, Ripert, Grandpa's kickin' your butt over there!"

Darlings, DON'T expect me to remember what they made. Between the wine I drank and the terrible camerawork, it was difficult to even see the dishes let alone remember them from over two weeks ago now! The cameraman didn't seem to have a clue as to how to focus on the dishes and spent most of the night on Pepin, which was frustrating. I doubt the cameraman had ever even watched a cooking show.

Bourdain was an excellent host and displayed an obvious respect and admiration for both Ripert and Pepin. His wit and candor in his question asking and story-telling made La Diva feel she could sit, watch and listen all night. Never a dull moment with Bourdain as the host, one was not quite sure what would come out of his mouth next.

Like this question he posed to Pepin and Ripert: "What is the memory that will make you wake up screaming?" All agreed that Chef Joël Robuchon was a "bear" to work for and dished out mega abuse that had evoked nightmares in Tony for years!

Also interesting was the fact that both Ripert and Pepin are married to Latinas with Pepin's favorite dish being his wife's "arroz con pollo" and black beans! They also commented on their favorite Miami restaurants including Casa Tua, Michy's and Prime 112 Steak house. Tony, naturally, commented on his (and mine) fave Miami Beach dive bar, Max's Club Deuce. (Happy hour is from 8 am til 7 pm and the place is daaaark and nas-tay, just the way we like it!)

Also discussed was the fate of the old school, fine dining restaurant in the new economy. Would it survive or die out with so many chefs opening up scaled back casual restaurants? Both Pepin and Ripert agreed that there is a certain customer that will always frequent the fine dining restaurant and expect impeccable service and ingredients. I couldn't agree more, it always amazes me to see lines out the door and booked-for-months reservations for the ultra-expensive restaurants in town.

As expected, Tony Bourdain lambasted Guy Fieri a few times and cracked us all up with his comment: What's with the backwards sunglasses, Guy? You're 40-years-old for God's sake!

Also, Ripert had mentioned something that made him grind his teeth and Tony quipped: " Guy Fieri makes me grind MY teeth!" You can only imagine how funny it was to hear Bourdain say it in his snappy, snarky style!

In summary, the show had a great flow and was highly entertaining with three interesting personalities not clashing or fighting for stage presence but complementing each other. It was nice to get a glimpse of the personal lives of these industry icons. My only complaint was the lousy camera work.

Friday the 13th Part II!!!

The back bar and prep station at Sra. Martinez restaurant in Miami's Design District

After the show, we went over to Miami's hot Design District to check out Chef Michelle Bernstein's latest endeavor, Sra. Marinez, a modern tapas bar. (Sra. Martinez is Senora Martinez, Michelle Bernstein's married name) It was 10:30 pm and the place was jumping and not a table to be had. Luckily, La Diva spotted four open spots at the bar to eat, so we didn't have to wait, which was good as the wine was starting to make my head spin and La Diva needed some food STAT!

I like sitting and eating at the bar. You get to see all the action and we happened to be in front of the chefs responsible for plating cheese and slicing the Spanish jamon for the tapas plates. It was also a great spot right next to the kitchen and Michy popped her head out now and again to check on orders going out and what was happening "front of house."

Lovely serrano jamon and manchego cheese croquetas, mmm....

Letting our host's lovely wife order (as she had been to Sra. Martinez's numerous times) was a great idea as she knew the menu well. We had a lovely sampling that started off with the traditional Spanish appetizer: freshly roasted piquillo peppers (which according to my neighbor, who lived in Spain, raves about.) Of course, we titillated our taste buds with a few fabulosa cocktails as well!

Finlandia Vodka, Strawberries, Basil, Jalapeño Syrup, Lime

Milagro Tequila Blanco, Lime Juice, Chili Syrup & Regatta Ginger Beer

Gran Sierpe Pisco, St. Germain, Lychee, Orange, Lychee Syrup

The cocktails were really nice...similar to La Diva's cocktails for my small bites, BIG DRINKS class that utilizes flavored sugar syrups for customized full flavors.

Sorry about the blurry photos but I had to post the DIVA Select Calasparra rice from Spain, m'kay?

Here's what else we had, straight from the menu with my comments in parentheses:

Valdeon Blue cheese, Marcona Almonds (Classic, comforting and melt-in-your-mouth delicious)

Spinach, Feta OR Jamon Serrano, Manchego (We had the ham and cheese, melty-cheesy-crispy-crunchy-fried-goodness!)

Arroz Negro (Black Rice) (Calamari was incredibly tender grilled over creamy black rice. Must try making this myself one day...)

Long Stem Chokes, Lemon-Coriander Dipping (Again, if you fry anything it's good but to fry something I love like artichokes? DIVINE, darlings! And the mayo dipping sauce was decadent!)

BBQ Eel, Apples, Soy, Apple Butter (Honestly, La Diva got a bit "left out" on this dish. I didn't have any marrow on my bone! While everyone else was "oohing" and "aahing," La Diva looked on, still not sure what the whole bone marrow fascination is all about!)


Spicy Chocolate Dip (TO DIE FOR! Who doesn't like fried cake with a warm and spicy, chili chocolate sauce?)

Rum Sauteéd Bananas & Figs, Fig Walnut Ice Cream (OMG, figs n cream n rum n bananas n nuts....mmmm)

Ego or vanity? Ego wins and I post a crap photo of me but a great one of Michy!

La Diva had noticed Michy had popped out of the kitchen again to survey her jumping restaurant and I seized the opportunity to request a photo and have a quick chat. (see, I TOLD you it's good to sit at the bar!)

Michy is truly a nice lady, I've met her twice now and you know she is all about "doin' you right" at her restaurant. Quality is important to her and it shows in everything from the decor to the exquisite food presented. I told her I had met her before, was thoroughly enjoying our meal and, by the way, "Would she ever be a permanent judge on Top Chef?"

"It ain't gonna happen!" she quipped. Ah well, as blogging buddy Shamu says: "A girl can dream, can't she?" We chatted a bit more about her FABULOUS bitch-slap to mean-spirited Top Chef judge Toby Young about her "paella pronunciation correction" and laughed about it. She was so open and accommodating. What I found admirable about Michelle Bernstein was that in spite of the frantic pace of her restaurant, she still took the time to talk to me with genuine interest and eye contact. Thanks Michy!

Oh yes she did!
The fabu CFM choos hubby bought me for our anniversary! 4.5 inch heels.....and Diva didn't fall once!

The restaurant staff was wonderful, food was excellent and La Diva adored the impeccable service especially from the General Manager Jorge himself. With a sneaky sense of humor, he not only offered to take our photo but also used it as an opportunity to have a bit of fun and sneaked in a photo of him in the kitchen en route to deli for our photo session! Tee hee! You know La Diva loves a good sense of humor! (the photos did not turn out though, BOO to my crappy old camera.)

At the end of the night, Jorge was having dinner at a small table behind us, and La Diva introduced myself and gave him a card and thanked him for the great service. He was very cool, and especially loved it when I said to him: Do you like MY SHOES? Displaying standard Miami protocol, we kissed each other on both cheeks and bade the other a good night. Sigh. The beautiful Epic hotel the week before and now this: two fabulous weekends in Miami in a row and high season hasn't even started yet!

Want to see ALL of Chef Michy's dee-lights at Sra. Martinez? Click HERE for her divine menus. Also, a HUGE thank you to our restaurant hosts Billy and Helen and to Design within Reach Coral Gables who kindly provided the tickets!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!!!
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Culinary Throwdown challenge: SALT

Darlings, as you know from past posts, La Diva lurves her Culinary Throwdowns and Dim Sum Sunday food challenges. And seeing as I was the winner (yeah, dat's right, snitches, bow down!) of Troll's last challenge for SMOKE and FIRE, I get to pick and judge the next challenge! (be afraid)

With all the power bestowed upon me, I have decided to give it back and asked Moi to judge instead. She's much more fair-minded than La Diva and has the witty way of words. And besides, this is really all about "pushing boundaries" for me and a bit of fun! Everyone likes to win once in a while but I do love to see all the creativity and interpretations of everyone's entries, so don't be shy.

Ever since Troll's Steak and Potato challenge, La Diva been wanting to do something with SALT.

That's right! At one time in the world, plain old salt was more valuable than gold and should not be underestimated or undervalued in our kitchens. La Diva don't care what kind of salt, as long as it features predominately in the making of or taste of the recipe. (no, blogging buds, you KNOW I'm NOT talkin' bout just adding plain old Mortons iodized salt in your stew and calling that a challenge!)

David Lebovitz's chocolate-covered salted peanut caramel cups. Click on the image to take you to the divine recipe!

Here are some ideas to get you started:
  • salt-crusted
  • salt-encased
  • salt-cured
  • salt-topped
  • salt-rimmed
You can use any salt you like but I encourage you to get out of your cooking box and try something new.

WEDNESDAY, December 9 is the deadline, so that gives you plenty of time after Turkey Day and before Christmas to participate! As always, let me know in my comments section you are "UP" and Moi and I will come round and check out your entry! Now, be the "salt of the earth" and get to thinking about your entry or you "won't be worth your salt" if you don't participate!

(Don't have a blog? Email La Diva and I'll put your entry on my post.)

Smoke and Fire Culinary Throwdown: Smoky Tortilla Soup with Duck

Mutant chiles rock!

Darlings, I believe one of the best ways a person can further their culinary eduction is to constantly push yourself and try cooking things you've never cooked before. By my participation in my blogging buddies' cooking challenges, La Diva can get out of her comfort zone and hopefully discover something new.

The culinary throw-downs are competitive in a friendly way and they give me an excuse to get away from my usual meal-time stand-bys, whether it's a new recipe, unfamiliar ingredient or technique. Fellow cook and blogger Troll's latest culinary throw down challenge is SMOKE and FIRE and La Diva was ready to embrace the challenge!

Lately La Diva's been lovin' Rick Bayless's show "One Plate at a Time: Mexico City" on PBS and he has inspired me to try tackling more Latin/Mexican/Southwestern recipes and familiarizing myself with more of the myriad chili varieties available here. After excitedly poring through my new Gourmet Today cookbook, I came upon the perfect recipe:

Smoky Tortilla Soup with Duck

This recipe was challenging to La Diva not because it was difficult to prepare but because it was so time consuming and with many steps. Also, if you can believe it, I've never cooked duck before. I don't know why, it's not that I'm afraid of duck, not at all, but I just never really think about it when I'm planning my menus. In fact, I make a mean Thai red curry duck but have always taken a shortcut by simply using chopped roast duck bought from the Chinese barbeque!

And finally, because a Diva prefers to consume her calories from drinking massive amounts of wine, I don't often make very rich and fatty food. So, another step out of La Diva's comfort zone was to embrace a dish using a heck of a lot of rendered duck fat!

Taking the skin off two duck legs, I fried the duck skin in its own fat into nice, crispy duck chicharonnes. I then fried the tortilla strips in the duck fat. Also, the tomato/onion/pasilla/chipotle/cilantro spice blend used to give the soup it's smoky, earthy flavor was reduced after sauteing with, yep, you guessed it, even more duck fat!! With the addition of fried tortilla strips to thicken the broth as well as used as garnish along with sliced avocados, LOW FAT this soup is not!

Smoky Tortilla soup with Duck with fresh lime, avocado, cilantro, duck chicharonnes and duck-fat fried tortilla strips!

The soup, though a lengthy process to make, was delicious. You get SMOKE from the chipotle chile (which is a smoke-dried jalapeno chile) and you get FIRE from the heat of the chile itself! (the heat was actually quite mild) Adding a handful of crushed fried tortilla strips to the broth as it cooked thickened it up and really gave the soup texture. I loved the taste of the duck, this would be a great soup for a cold OR hot day!

Well, I certainly did challenge myself but the true question is: Would I make this again? Yes. But, when it comes to fat, La Diva is a bit like Jack Sprat and will cut meat off a steak before eating a bit of fat so I think next time I would omit the chicharonnes and perhaps not cook the tortilla strips in the duck fat! DECADENT AND RICH AND OH SO TASTY, I think Rick Bayless would be proud!

(On a side note, the tomato chile sauce was SO DELICIOSO that I think I might just use it as a smoky salsa in itself! I'll post the recipe later!)

La Diva didn't have the luxury of her fave photographer DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah!) and had to take the photos herself! Still, you can click on the photo to see the richness of the broth!

Take a gander at what everyone else made for the throw-down. Click HERE and then go to the comments section and click on the blogger that says "I'm up!" If YOU would like to participate in the next Culinary Throwdown or Dim Sum Sunday challenges, Email La Diva and I'll give you all the details!

LA DIVA WON!!!! YAY! MY FIRST WIN! And I even get to "sport" the Culinary LOGO! Woo hoo! Go to Judge Moi's site to read about the challenge entries and her witty post!

Adiós queridos!

Here's the recipe for the smoky salsa. If you want to try making the soup, add this to the duck fat and simmer until reduced to 2 1/4 cups for 10 min. (from 3 1/2 cups sauce) and then add to the stock. Stock: add to 4 cups chicken stock and 4 cups water and simmer with seared duck legs for two hours or until the meat falls off the bone.

Smoky salsa:

1 dried pasilla or mulato chile
1 dried pasilla de Ozxaca chile or chipotle more or 1 canne chipotle chile in adobo
1 14-15 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
1 medium white onion, chopped
1/2 c packed fresh cilantro sprigs
2 large garlic cloves
1 whole clove or pinch of ground cloves
5 whole allspice or 1/4 t ground allspice
1 3/4 t salt

Heat a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat until hot. Cut dried chiles open lengthwise and open out flat. (if chiles are too brittle to open, toast whole chiles for afew seconds on each side, pressing down with tongs, to soften slightly, and then cut open); discard seeds and stems. Toast chiles in hot skillet, pressing down with tongs, turning once, until color changes slightly and chiles are more fragrant, 10-15 seconds. (If using a canned chipotle, simply discard seeds, do not toast!) Transfer dried chiles to blender, add 1 cup water and let soak for at least 20 minutes (without blending) add canned chipotle if using.

After chiles have softened, add to blender: tomatoes with juice, onion, cilantro, garlic, salt, clove and allspice to chiles and blend until smooth. You will have 3 1/2 cups salsa.

Damn tasty but a lot of it. I think it would be good to eat some as is and then use the rest over eggs or spooned over chicken and baked with cheese and served with rice.

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Ruth Reichl lectures at Miami Book Fair

Published for 68 years (!) Gourmet magazine led the way for foodies before it was even trendy! Wonder what delight is wrapped and tied in the parcel on this vintage cover?

Darlings, as you probably know, Gourmet magazine, an industry icon, has published it's last issue after 68 years. La Diva gets terribly sad when anything that's wonderful and has survived and thrived that long experiences an untimely demise.

Fortunately, the Gourmet "brand" will still live on with their latest publication "Gourmet Today," a five-pound behemoth of a book jam-packed with 1000 "new" recipes. Ruth Reichl edited and contributed to the tome and was in Miami this past week to promote the cookbook and lecture at the Miami Book Fair. La Diva had already planned on going but assumed the lecture would be on the weekend.

La Diva was wrong. I found out about her Monday night lecture at 6pm in downtown Miami at 4pm! Diva didn't waste any time and bolted out the door. In my haste, I forgot my trusty camera but made it in plenty of time to purchase the cookbook for Ruth to sign after the lecture.

Ruth was just like she is on her television shows: passionate, informative and endearing. She told a few personal stories, talked about food trends, how Americans' palates have changed and progressed but most fascinating to me were her stories about the magazine itself. With obvious sadness, she explained how there will never be another magazine like Gourmet again and La Diva heartily agrees.

Ruth said that Gourmet had EIGHT test kitchens and TWELVE people employed whose sole purpose was to test recipes. And boy, did they test! Relentlessly! There was a time when one staff member tested a recipe 12 times and a horrified, budget-minded editor demanded to know why? So that the reader will have their dish turn out JUST LIKE THE RECIPE each and every time. And that's part of what makes Gourmet magazine and their recipes so wonderful!

And so our beloved Ruth continued talking about how American eating trends have changed: "Just look at what is now available at our supermarkets?" Indeed, a stroll down any major supermarket aisle offers a cornucopia of ethnic foods, spices, rice varieties....."Everything you could possibly want."

Another comment that was not lost on La Diva was: "You better learn to cook vegetarian if you have friends or kids under twenty-five-years old!" and then lamented about meeting her son's new girlfriend that was not only vegetarian but vegan! She explained how today's youth are more ethical and aware in their eating habits and food choices.

The floor opened up for questions and of course, La Diva, being the shy gal she is, stepped up to the mic. After telling her how much I enjoyed her show on PBS on Saturdays, "Adventures with Ruth", where she explores cooking schools around the globe, I explained my situation.

I told her I am a self-taught cook since I was eight-years-old and have learned so much from tv shows, cookbooks and talking to chefs, but at my age, would it still benefit me to consider culinary school to expand my knowledge and technique?

Ruth was emphatic in her reply: YES! She explained that no matter how many times she's made a risotto, she'd go to Italy and then learn something else about the dish and how she continues to learn. La Diva was definitely inspired.

After the lecture, I hurried out the door to get my book signed and was stopped by Miami Herald reporter Connie Ogle to see if I would really go to school? We spoke for a bit and I told her how much I would miss the magazine and that yes, it was true, every time I cooked a recipe from Gourmet magazine, the dish did turn out and that I was indeed considering going to culinary school. Ms. Ogle was kind enough to quote me and add a La Diva web link in her article and you can check out her post here.

Ruth signed my book and we shared a quick giggle about the luscious spring pea and fresh cheese salad she had devoured on a recent episode of her show. La Diva was thrilled to share a passionate foodie moment with an esteemed industry favorite.

Click on the photo to get the new cookbook for less than La Diva paid for it!

Looking at the new Gourmet Today cookbook, I'm so impressed to see the variety of ethnic cooking represented and simply sophisticated selections. Just the soup section alone offers Tunisian Soup with Egg Noodles and Chard, Spicy African Chicken and Peanut Soup, Greek Egg and Lemon Soup and a Smoky Tortilla Soup with Duck. Ruth Reichl is correct: Americans did not eat like this in decades past.

But La Diva did. For the years and years of the 80's and the 90's that I lived and traveled in Australia, I enjoyed Chinese sang choi bao, Moroccan fish chermoula and spicy grilled Portuguese chicken in the same way that Americans enjoyed spaghetti and meatballs, fajitas and Cajun-style blackened fish! And judging by the excellent selection of worldly recipes from Gourmet Today, America has caught up to Australia by also displaying a ravenous culinary curiosity and embracing our multi-ethnic food culture.

Do you want to hear Ruth's interview with local food guru Linda Gassenheimer from NPR last week? Click here. The interview echoes much of what she spoke about in her lecture.

To leave you with a final quote from Ruth: "We cook to tell the people we care about that we love them." And La Diva SHALL continue cooking for people she loves...only 999 recipes to go!cooking class, cocktails, parties, cocktail party, Miami, coral gables, events, bartending class, cocktail class, Laura Lafata, Miami Beach, miami cooking classes, bachelorette parties, bachelorette party, personal chef, corporate events, catering, personal chef, party entertainment

Livin' la vida fabulosa con La Diva!!!

The Epic Hotel Miami from the pool.

Darlings, sometimes things are worth waiting for. La Diva and her trusty sidekick, DJ Nevah L8 (4 dinnah), have been working SO HARD to make BIDNESS and FABULOSITY happen for us that our anniversary went by a few weeks ago and we didn't even have time to celebrate our love! Wha?

Finally, after changing our play date around twice to accommodate clients, we took Friday off and checked into the beautiful Epic Hotel in downtown Miami! Now, darlings, back last February, La Diva wrote a post about her stay at the Epic Hotel, as it had just graced us with their DIVINE-NESS opening only in December '08. What had changed since our last visit?

Our bedroom on the Club Level in Suite 2919.

The biggest change was the customer service was taken to another level! What level is THAT, I hear you ask? Why, the CLUB LEVEL of course!

Upon checking in, gregarious and friendly Front Desk Manager Cosmin Nicula immediately upgraded us to a one bedroom suite on the 29th floor with city views. He also informed us that it was "Club Level" and we would have access to the Club Room. La Diva was very happy to have access to the Fitness Club and we gathered our gear and headed up to our suite.

Floor to ceiling windows make for stunning views from the bedroom.

Gorgeous. Incredible. Rock star.
Were the words that came to mind upon entering the room. Yep, Diva was gonna be happy here tonight!

Taken from the foot of the bed, m'kay?!

La Diva and DJ Nevah L8 explored the room's amenities and the views from the TWO balconies, one off the living room, which was large enough for a few lounge chairs and a table for four. The other balcony was situated, of course, off the bath.

I LOVE this building across the way with the round pool and round "sky-light" above it! Tres gorgeous!

Key Biscayne causeway on the left.

Looking east to Brickell Key, Port of Miami and the sea beyond! (Click on all the photos for more detail, you'll be glad you did!)

Instead of the views EAST out to sea and of Brickell Key, this time we enjoyed a South-westerly view of the city including Brickell Avenue with glimpses of the Key Biscayne causeway and the sea beyond. Also, the Epic is located directly on the Miami River so just below our room was the drawbridge giving large vessels river access.

Two pools for guests to choose: one at 79 degrees and the other a balmy 85!

You can see how windy it was from the waves on the pool's surface!

A brave DJ Nevah L8 enjoying the "warm" pool. I know I would have loved it but you gotta get out of it sometime. And that was the problem!

After a celebratory glass of wine, we donned our swimming gear and headed down to the pool. But, it wasn't meant to be: Mutha Natcha (who can be a right rude b*tch sometime!) was NOT cooperating and tropical gale winds made pool-lounging, swish cocktail-imbibing and leisurely magazine-reading highly uncomfortable.

Back up to the room with my Epic daiquiri (including the subtle addition of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur) to relax and "celebrate" our love and then dissolve into a nice, long bubble bath in the extra large spa bath tub! Dee-lite-ful! And the final luxury: a nice little snooze before we got dressed and had some pre-dinner cocktails!

From our balcony.

Upon awaking, I ordered a pot of coffee from room service. When John from room service came in with our coffee, I asked him if I needed to sign for it. "No, we don't charge for coffee on the club level."

"You don't?"

"No, Miss Diva. Will you be attending the wine reception tonight?"

"WINE reception?" La Diva's eye's light up.

"Yes, every night at 6pm, we offer club level guests to attend and enjoy free wine and appetizers."

"Yes, John, I will certainly be attending. Thank you."

Well, apparently, CLUB LEVEL meant you can enjoy the CLUB ROOM and was accessible to guests only with CLUB LEVEL status. "Club Level" did not have ONE THING to do with the fitness club. La Diva NOW completely understood the ramifications of Cosmin's upgrade to Club Level status and Diva was very happy. Silly La Diva!!!

The comfy Club Room on the 29th floor. Fabulosa.

Tables and a balcony make a pleasant setting for guests.

View from the balcony at the Club Room.

We dressed and headed over to the Club room and was greeted by Gene Ruotolo, concierge extraordinaire, who insisted on giving Diva a "run-down" of the offerings of the Club room and how the Kimpton Hotels prided themselves on their customer service attitude of "anticipating a guest's needs." Sigh. So NICE to talk with a hospitality professional who takes his job seriously.

Cool and kooky touch screen table that constantly amused DJ Nevah L8!

We picked a table with a plasma touch screen with built-in games and Ipod and began to play some lounge music as we looked out at the city skyline and sipped our wine. Bolando, our waiter, was delightful and sported an obvious love of his job and making people happy. Also part of the concierge team was the lovely Vanessa who did her best to make a Diva and a DJ feel comfortable in our home away from home.

Throughout the evening, Bolando, Vanessa and Gene continued to go out of their way for us, under-promising and over-delivering, and offering sweet plates with "Happy Anniversary" written in chocolate syrup, loaded with berries and cupcakes! La Diva SO appreciates special attention, it wins her undying loyalty every time!

The evening sun fades into dusk as the lights go on in downtown Miami's skyscrapers.

In fact, La Diva was SO enjoying the Club Level amenities, that we decided to cancel our dinner reservations at a restaurant near-by, and have dinner in our room and invite a few lucky friends to share the incredible view and drinks with us in our suite. That was the plan. That is, until Bolando informed us that we could invite our guests to join us in the Club Room at 9pm where they opened their bar to Club Level guests along with a "sweet dreams" dessert selection. Ahhh....very civilized! La Diva did not waste a second calling her "cool couple" friends, Jill and Doug.

One of three Bank of America buildings in downtown Miami. This one was designed by Chinese architect I. M. Pei. The building is very dramatic as the lights colors change with the seasons and city's events!

The I. M. Pei building lights up our bedroom at dusk.

Back to the room we went and ordered room service and more wine. Our friends were due soon and room service had not yet arrived, so we redirected it to be served in the Club Room and Bolando busied himself setting up a table for us outside on the balcony in full view of the beautiful Bank of America building. Our friends arrived and our private party with our private waiter, began. Bonaldo, ever-attentive and discrete, addressed all of us with Miss or Mr. preceding our first names, which I found endearing. A Diva could get very used to this!

Busy Brickell Avenue on a busy Friday night in downtown Miami.

Towards 11 pm, we wandered back to our suite to continue making merriment with our guests out on our balcony with the stunning views of downtown. True to it's title, Miami IS the Magic City. Our guests left after finishing a bottle of celebratory champagne and we collapsed into the most comfortable bed we've ever slept in! (I remembered that from last time!) With the sound-proofed windows and extra heavy black-out curtains, La Diva enjoyed a tranquil and unusually quiet slumber.

The next morning, La Diva ordered a room service breakfast and ate it out on the balcony and enjoyed perfectly poached eggs Benedict and the freshest, flakiest croissants. Last night's nibbles in the Club Room of tuna tartar, finger sandwiches, mixed nuts and a very fluffy and tasty hummus were DIVINE. And for dinner, La Diva had the best-tasting burger and fries I've indulged in for a LOOOONG time. Looks like the restaurant and hotel kitchen, had ironed out a few bugs from our last visit as all the food was not just consistently good, but well-cooked and delicious.

Concierge Gene had offered us a decadently late check out of 2 pm. But, the day was a bit cool and cloudy and the wind relentless, so pool lounging was not an option. At check out, Front Desk Manager Cosmin asked if we enjoyed ourselves?

Evidence of a great night!

We looked at him dreamily and said "Yes, thank you. We'll be back."

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A study of salt....Himalayan pink rock salt

Ciao, darlings, and are my little readers feeling better with that extra hour of sleep last night?! Ahh, La Diva does! I suppose one deserves a bit of a perk for the loss of an extra hour of daylight.

So this last week I continued my journey of discovering the gourmet salts of the world. La Diva's fave salt is Maldon, as it's just so light and flaky and easy to crush between your fingers over your food. I use it every day on everything and now was out.

So, La Diva hopped on her bike and headed up to the local gourmet market and was dismayed to see that the Maldon salt had gone up yet again to $12.50. When Diva started shopping at this store, Maldon was $7. That was three years ago.

Naturally, La Diva being a very, ahem, vocal gal, expressed my displeasure to the clerk. Since there was no way I was going to get out of paying double digits for salt in the store, she suggested I try something else that would give great flavor for the same price.

The salt was Himalayan pink salt from, the Himalayas of course! I must admit, the color and the packaging attracted La Diva also. The salt comes in a 7 oz. jar and is a pale peach-pink, looking like seven large rose quartz crystals. Oh, and it came with a nifty tiny grater. La Diva was sold.

Yeah, well, when I cooked next and went to grate the salt, it was not so cute. In fact, the salt was damn hard to grate, especially on the tiny grater! After attempting to get more than dust (for a lot of hard work) each time I wanted to season food, I gave up! La Diva spied her trusty, old-school mortar and pestle and grabbed it, tossed in a large crystal and crushed the salt into pink dust. Now, I could use it when I wanted without the tedious grating and managed to get a fair amount out of the salt rock.

Coming from an advertising/sales/marketing background, La Diva is always amazed at clever product packaging and quite often is suckered into buying something frivolous just because it's "cool" or "pretty." But, the salt was much more practical purchase thankfully!

Hmmmm....interesting! Chocolate covered caramel with Himalayan pink salt from Purdy's chocolates in Canada. Click on photo for more info!

So, how does the salt taste? Yep, the clerk was right, it is super salty. I liked it as a little would go a long way. However, even though I had crushed the salt to make it user-friendly, I still prefer the light, flaky crystals of Maldon! I'll use the Himalayan salt until it's gone. But by then, I'm sure I'll find from my next trip to the gourmet grocery the Maldon will be $13!! (But, it's fabulous, darling, and you deserve it, don't you? Of course you do!)

Have a wonderful day, darlings, La Diva is off to snorkel at South Pointe! (click!)cooking class, cocktails, parties, cocktail party, Miami, coral gables, events, bartending class, cocktail class, Laura Lafata, Miami Beach, miami cooking classes, bachelorette parties, bachelorette party, personal chef, corporate events, catering, personal chef, party entertainment