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Westin Kierland Resort Scottsdale

Of all of the cities in the U.S. operating under a duality, I find myself drawn back to one in particular time and time again: Scottsdale. Known as "The West's Most Western Town," this locale embraces its laid back desert ambiance while simultaneously styling itself as a contemporary destination with plenty to offer in terms of art, shopping, dining and nightlife. The city has undergone a renaissance in recent years, becoming well known as a "hip" spot akin to trendy areas like Miami, Atlanta and San Francisco, also establishing itself as a tourism hotbed in general. This due in large part to the good folks at the Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau who do a masterful job showcasing the myriad of travel treasures this city has to offer.

The allure of Scottsdale is not surprising given the throngs of well-known restaurants, bars and nightclubs dotting the downtown area, with many catering to the style-minded millennial population. The city hosts many annual cultural events that are a draw unto themselves, like the Scottsdale International Film Festival, the Arabian Horse Show and the Barrett-Jackson Auto Show. A variety of locally-owned art galleries and studios grace the city, along with the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. Scottsdale is also home to a bevy of chic boutique and world-renowned retail shops. I’m personally partial to Scottsdale's "Fashion Square," which is reputed to be one of the country's most profitable shopping malls, that’s replete with nationally known retail brands at every turn.

This municipal growth has also vitalized the city’s hotel industry, with Scottsdale boasting a multitude of luxury properties that personify the city's sundry sensibility. One such establishment is The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa situated right in the heart of the "new" Scottsdale.

Having stayed and played at this property, to me it exemplifies the dual nature of Scottsdale (and Arizona in general) in that it exudes a classic and quaint western charm in combination with the modern amenities expected of a contemporary luxury destination. This high caliber hospitality most certainly includes an elevated customer service standard, as I found the staff here to be decidedly knowledgeable and professional. Throughout my stay, their primary focus seemed to be how they can further enhance my experience as a guest—and for the other guests I observed. There was no query too large or small for them to answer, and the apparent combination of experience combined with a willingness to go above and beyond made for an atmosphere where guests not only felt welcome, but truly cared for.

Jennifer Franklin, Director of Communications for The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, also underscored how the resort is levering technology to further enhance the guest experience. “One example is that guests can use our texting program day or night to make a request or provide feedback during their stay. It is typically used for housekeeping requests, such as ordering additional towels for the room, or for in-room dining requests,” she said.

Relative to the guest rooms, the resort gives travelers plenty of options to assure a style of accommodations that suits their specific needs and budget. There are eight room/suite options available, each with its own flair. One decidedly popular and oft-requested midrange choice is the Deluxe Room—a 426 square foot space that is available with either two double beds or one King bed. To ensure guest comfort, it includes a luxurious leather chair with ottoman, desk area, large credenza, coffee maker, flat screen TV, bathroom boasting a separate tub and glass-enclosed shower, and a private balcony/terrace area providing a lovely view of the mountains or on-site golf course. For those with larger parties, one great option I personally enjoyed during my own visit is to reserve two Deluxe Rooms and connect them with a third Executive Parlor room, which adds a comfortable sitting area, large flat-screen TV, full bath, wet bar and Murphy bed to the mix.

Amenities-wise, the resort offers a depth of practical luxuries that characterize a convenience-centric guest experience: high-speed internet, smoke-free rooms, in-room dining, famed “Heavenly Beds,” comfortable linens, robes and bath towels and even an in-room movie/video game service. Health-minded guests make use of the resort's large and amply outfitted 24-hour fitness facility. It includes cutting-edge workout equipment and free weights for both cardio and strength training, along with specialized services designed to aid a fitness regime, such as the running concierge, nutritional assessments, fitness classes (including the hydra tone "aqua fitness" class), as well as a range of different yoga sessions. At this property, there’s simply no excuse to go completely off-road from your exercise routine.

Speaking of staying active, golf is one of the area’s most popular activities, and this resort offers guests a one-of-a-kind “Kierland Golf Experience” to make the most of it. This includes packages granting special access to the impeccably manicured golf course and to the latest and greatest gear available for guest use. They also put on daily golf clinics, and general instruction is provided by golf professionals. No matter your current skill level, there is something for everyone to learn by taking part in one of the resort's many golf tutoring sessions. There are even kid's classes for younger, aspiring golfers. In all, it’s an excellent way for the whole family to enjoy some together time outdoors on the gorgeous greens.

Indeed, this resort provides an overarching atmosphere of fun for all ages, creating opportunities for revelry along with a hearty dose of relaxation at the on-site Agave spa and adjacent pool facilities. I absolutely adored the "Tommy Bahama Relaxation Reef" experience. This exclusive island cove area of the 900-foot “lazy river” comes with several perks, including an assortment of plush lounge seating, umbrellas, coolers and a dedicated server for food and beverage service. There are also a variety of private, lavishly-appointed specialty cabanas available poolside to keep hotel guests cool and comfortable. Those feeling frolicsome can hit the property’s Adventure Water Park area complete with a 110-foot-long waterslide. Or, ride the waves at FlowRider, an adrenaline-pumping board sport simulator catering to both kids and adults.

Of course, no luxury resort location would be complete without fabulous in-house dining options, and there are no less than ten here. The Westin Kierland’s most notable, however, is "Deseo"—the signature hotel restaurant that brings a range of imaginative South American style cuisine to the fore (coupled with an incredible selection of South American wines, as exemplified by its distinguished inclusion in Wine Enthusiast magazine's “100 Best Wine Restaurants for 2015”). During my own visit to the energetic eatery, I marveled as the staff worked as a highly trained unit under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Chris Masco. Backed by 20 years of cooking experience, Chef Masco has studied and performed his art around the world and earned numerous distinctions for his skill in the kitchen. Today, diners are Deseo are the benefactors this tenure, which has manifested in a tantalizing, seasonally-driven menu that draws locals and hotel guests, alike.

The current iteration of the menu includes seafood sensations like Ceviche de Escalopes, a bright combination of diver scallop, the aromatic Mexican herb culantro, passion fruit leche de tigre marinade, pickled jalapeno and nitro popcorn. Another savory fish dish is Tiradito Nikkei, which features Hon Hamachi (the best quality yellowtail available in the world), truffled ponzu sauce, rocoto chile pearls, cilantro, avocado and nori seaweed.
For the carnivores, Deseo also presents a light Latin take on the traditional steak tartare with its Tartare de Carne—a pairing of thinly sliced Arizona Prime beef tenderloin, plantain, aji verde, limon confitado (preserved lemon) and chorizo en polvo (a powder of chorizo). My personal favorite menu item was the Wagyu Beef Empenada with spiced tomato sofrito, green apple salsa verde and huitlacoche “corn smut” (also referred to as the “Mexican truffle”).

Distinctive dining aside, Franklin pointed out another fun fact about resort: that it’s one of the few places in the United States where guests can watch and hear a bagpiper play at sunset each night. “Our bagpiper entertains our guests on our Dreamweavers Canyon overlooking the Acacia golf course each evening,” she said. “It’s a beautiful setting with beautiful views. Guests can relax there with a cocktail and listen to the bagpiper. It’s the perfect way to finish off the day.”

There are so many facets of this property, and the service proffered therein, it would be imprudent to detail them all. But, it’s this expansive range of features and options that makes the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa a premier, tried and true destination exemplifying all that today’s Scottsdale has to offer.





150"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: www.Twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

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With summer nearing its end and the new school year in sight, now is the time to start planning for your student’s success both in and out of the classroom. Here are some inventive and otherwise snazzy finds that will have your child feeling good and looking great throughout the school day.

Solo Active 17.3-inch Laptop/Tablet Backpack (www.Overstock.com) - $65.00
Looking for a new backpack that is roomy and durable, and can haul a laptop, tablet or both—all while withstanding the rigors of daily use? Look no further than the Solo Active 17.3-inch Laptop and Tablet Backpack from Overstock.com. This specially designed backpack contains a padded compartment that holds laptops up to 17.3 inches wide. A separate interior pocket is designed to securely hold tablets or e-readers. Several other zippered pockets and an organizer section provide plenty of room for other supplies necessary for daily schooling. Lightweight and durable, this polyester bag features padded shoulder straps and a cushioned carry handle for a comfortable carrying experience. The water-resistant bottom lets you set the bag down worry free, and the reflective strip on the front panel provides increased visibility for safety. Load this bag up with everything you need for school or travel—it’s a great carry-on when you fly to keep your devices secure and also close at hand.

Fire HD Tablet and Kindle e-Readers (www.Amazon.com) - $99
Here’s some back-to-school tech with built-in features designed to help students with their homework, increase reading comprehension and improve studying skills. Amazon.com’s Fire HD tablets, available in five fun colors and two portable sizes in a kid-proof case, are a means toward this end. Reported to have “the world’s best content ecosystem” with access to over 33 million movies, TV shows, books, apps and games, each tablet features front and rear cameras, Dolby Digital Audio and high-definition displays for crisp, vivid viewing. It also has up to 128GB of expandable storage. Parents will also love the “Amazon FreeTime Unlimited” app that allows them to choose what content their children have access to (with access to over 10,000 popular educational apps, games, movies, TV shows and books). Robust parental controls allow caregivers to set daily limits and restrict categories such as games and video, while leaving unlimited time for reading. With the summer break coming to an end, parents need all the help they can get to bring studying back into their children’s daily routine and keep it there—Amazon’s Fire HD tablets and the FreeTime app can certainly help.

Safe Catch Elite Tuna (www.SafeCatch.com) - $3.50 per can
No matter the grade level, back to school is prime time for those tasty tuna sandwiches. Now moms can have peace of mind with this mindful fish find: Safe Catch. The company cites that it’s the only company that hand selects and individually tests each tuna fish to the strictest Mercury limits of any company on the market: over 10 times stricter than FDA regulations, and 4 times lower in mercury than Wild Planet tuna. The proprietary technology and processes of Safe Catch, which allows them to have complete traceability and test every single fish, is quite incredible. Safe Catch only sources sustainable wild caught tuna and each fish has to pass their stringent testing, as not every tuna qualifies to be a Safe Catch Tuna. Given the high safety standards, this is reportedly the only brand of tuna that meets Consumer Reports’ “Low Mercury” criteria set for pregnant women and children. Safe Catch Elite is, in fact, the official tuna of the American Pregnancy Association.

Chamilia Jewelry Charms (www.Chamilia.com) - $35 - $40
From feeling good to looking good, fashion is always a big part of school culture. And the Chamilia brand of jewelry accessories will surely get you some attention. The company was established in 2002 and, since 2013, has been a member of the Swarovski Group—a world leader in quality and innovation. Each of the more than 400 exclusive charms available from Chamilia are made from .925 sterling silver or 14 karat gold and feature either genuine Swarovski Crystals or Zirconia, or Italian Murano Glass. The brand follows strict Swarovski Group guidelines for quality and aesthetic excellence. As part of its “Give With All Your Heart” program, Chamilia announced the launch of a new charm that will support Humane Society International (HSI), one of the only international animal protection organizations in the world working to protect all animals. This sterling silver charm features an image of a paw print with black enamel detailing along with the brand’s signature millegrain frame. It’s sure to win the hearts of every animal lover in the school. Each Chamilia charm fits any of the company’s bracelets or neck chains, and each also comes with a keepsake charm card.

Children’s Shoe Styles by Tsukihoshi (www.Zappos.com) – Starting at $50
Even the littlest students should put their best foot forward with some super cute shoes! Tsukihoshi (pronounced ski-ho-shee) has some great designs that’ll have them steppin’ out in style and in a highly thoughtful way—no surprise given the company’s pedigree. With a long and storied existence going back to 1873, Tsukihoshi is the largest manufacturer and distributor of children’s footwear in Japan. The brand has been collaborating with orthopedic specialists since 1985, perfecting a line of children’s shoes that not only focuses on aesthetics but also on the health, protection and comfort of children’s feet. Tsukihoshi’s line of hyper-functional footwear has now reached America in time for the school year. Moms will love that all Tsukihoshi shoes are machine washable and have a green tea extract insole to help fight germs and odor, which is great for active kids who love the playground. Known for their hook & loop and Velcro closures, which provides easy on/off capability, Tsukihoshi offers signature fit and comfort for toddlers through pre-teen. Each style from the Baby, Child, and Youth sizes features bright color combinations that kids are sure to love.

Manhead Merchandise (www.ManheadMerch.com) - $20 - $40
Manhead Merch is a worldwide, full-service merchandise company that caters to the music and entertainment industry as well as the adoring fans. The company provides a full spectrum of touring merchandise services designed to support music artists in small clubs, sold-out arenas and everything in between, all over the world. For example, products from artists such as the group Fall Out Boy include the Fall Out Boy Floral Zip Hoodie and Fall Out Boy “Till The End” Tee printed on a 100% cotton slim fit shirt. Manhead Merch has released new gear for “The King of Pop Culture” and for that insta-famous pup, Doug the Pug (the charismatic Internet sensation). More than 1.6 million Instagram followers watch as he travels to events all over the country. Now, a partnership with Manhead Merch is taking his gear to the next level with products such as Doug the Pug “Pug N Chill” Black Tee and Doug the Pug “Doug Is My Homeboy” Tee. With these your children are sure to be stylin’ all year!

Personal Care Products $3.00 - $38.00
Personal care is also important during the school year, so here are some great finds to keep your skin and teeth looking their best. First, Coppertone has a variety of new products, including CLEARLYSheer AfterSun moisturizer and CLEARLYSheer Faces Sunscreen lotion. AfterSun helps replenish moisture to the skin after time spent outdoors with Vitamin E and a fresh mango scent. The light, breathable formulas in Faces Sunscreen lotion won’t clog pores or cause breakouts and is perfect for everyday protection, even under makeup. From the newly reformulated Sport line is the Coppertone Sport Spray that stays on strong when you sweat, when skin is at its most vulnerable to UV rays. Another great product for more sensitive or acne-prone skin that protects from the sun’s harmful rays is the Dermatologist Solutions’ Super Fluid UV Mineral Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 from Kiehl’s. This ultra-lightweight, everyday sun protector features a 100% mineral based filter. It helps defend even the most easily irritated or acne-susceptible skin from the sun’s harmful rays, without the problems that chemical filters may cause.

A healthy, winning smile is also a school staple and finding the right toothpaste is essential. Sometime between ages 8 and 12, most kids are ready to leave fruit and bubblegum-flavored toothpastes behind. They start to be concerned about fresh breath, but aren’t quite ready for the strong mint flavors found in adult toothpastes. Tom’s of Maine is making brushing teeth “Wicked Cool!” with its first natural toothpaste designed for kids ages 8 and over. This mild mint-flavored toothpaste fights cavities, strengthens enamel and freshens breath.



Products That Score for Back to School







"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: www.Twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided and/or sponsored to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***





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Ah, summer…a time to brighten up our wardrobe, shamelessly take a barrage of selfie and ussie photos, enjoy music into the warm summer nights and benefit from lengthy restful slumbers amid vacation downtime. To help you do all of that and more, here’s an assortment of product picks that can promote and even prolong some summer pleasures.

******STYLE & BEAUTY******

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Rhea Footwear (www.RheaFootwear.com) - $55 to $150
The right shoes aren’t just stylish, comfortable and durable, they also keep feet firmly on the ground, protecting from the slips and falls that send millions of people to the hospital each year. That’s the premise behind Rhea Footwear, which is designed to take technology and style to the streets one thoughtfully-designed pair at a time. Now, men and women can slip into shoes that feel as good as they look, while enjoying unprecedented security on all surfaces, from slippery floors at poolside parties to rain-slick concrete. The outsole of every Rhea shoe features an exclusive rubber compound with a patented micro-channel tread pattern that pushes liquids away from the bottom of the sole to provide more sole-to-surface contact and prevent slipping and sliding. This season you can stride in secure style!

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Tosaly Masterpiece Tote and Twill Scarf (www.Tosaly.com) - $2,026.40; $90.73 scarf (both vary with the current Euro exchange rate)Fluorescents remain all the rage this season, and luxury European designer, Tosaly, is taking full advantage of this trend with its timelessly classic Masterpiece tote collection—this summer’s must-have bags for jaunting around town…or jet-setting around the world! The range of Tosaly Masterpiece totes, crafted from the finest Italian leather and hand stitched by master artisans, includes bold vibrant fluorescent summer shades like hot pink, orange, green, and yellow as well as some neutral tones. All bags have the signature gold crown stamp that assures it’s an authentic Tosaly design. The sizzling haute Masterpiece tote also features a buckle opening mechanism with envelope details on the sides and an interior boasting Italian lambskin leather with various pockets and compartments that help keep things organized. Gold pyramid studs adorn the base. You can even kick this baroque bag up a notch by tying on a beautiful twill scarf to protect the handles while acting as a colorful accent piece. Prepare for stares with these attention-getting accessories.

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Keep the Peace Bedding (www.KeepThePeaceBedding.com) - $280 to $400Now here’s a “cool” invention for the hot summer months! Keep the Peace Bedding is an innovative comforter invented to help couples sleep better, together. Designed as a solution for couples battling different temperature preferences while sleeping, Keep the Peace comforters feature a unique zipper concept to create separate but connectable comforters that allow individuals to choose the desired warmth—vis a vis the material—for their “side.” The zipper makes it possible to fold back or completely remove one side of the comforter without impacting the preferences of the person sleeping on the other side. The intended result is an end to bedroom disagreements about temperature and a better night's sleep for both people, which in turn promotes increased health benefits. Maybe even a healthier, happier marriage to boot?

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Savvy Sleepers 100% Satin Pillow Cases (www.savvysleepers.com) - $36-$42Savvy Sleepers Pure luxury satin pillowcases are an ultra-smooth indulgence or your hair and skin while you sleep. Celebrities have been using this anti-aging beauty secret for years, and you can too! Savvy Sleepers protect your skin from facial creases that can lead to wrinkles and, because the satin is so smooth as compared to cotton, it also saves your hair from split ends or breakage. These posh pillowcases will make your blow outs last longer, averting crazy “bed-head” when you awake. Savvy Sleepers are unisex and soothing for sensitive skin as well as men with facial hair. They’re also dermatologist recommended and reportedly used by plastic surgeons from California to Switzerland. And, every Savvy Sleeper has a secret built-in pocket for love notes, lavender or a sweet surprise. These pillowcases are great for home or to pack for traveling. They’re also a great gift for birthdays, bridal showers, new moms and anyone who is looking to sleep better and without undermining their beauty. Available in 7 sexy shades like White Russian, Nappuccino and, ‘Rendezvous Blu’.

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Hair La Vie “Revive” Deep Hydration Masque (www.HairLaVie.com) - $35
Summer sunshine, swimming and other activities can be harsh on your hair, but take heed: Hair La Vie’s “Revive” Deep Hydration Masque can keep your locks looking and feeling great all season long! This all-natural moisturizing and strengthening treatment is infused with 11 vitamins, essential oils and nutrients to repair damaged hair while deep conditioning the scalp. This masque uses keratin and bamboo extract to rebuild the structure of your hair from the outside. Unlike many other moisturizers, this all-natural treatment was formulated to produce maximum, long term results. Formulated specifically for those with weak, damaged, brittle hair due to coloring, chemical processing, heat styling and harsh climates. It does not contain any parabens, phthalates, dyes or alcohol.

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Skinn Cosmetics Tight & Tone Body Contouring Serum (www.Skinn.com) - $42.50
It’s summer, so skin is in. Ensure your bod looks its best with Skinn Cosmetics’ Tight & Tone Body Contouring Serum, which is specifically formulated to target three of the most common but hard to treat problems on the body: saggy skin, dimpled skin and those pesky stretch marks. Skinn Cosmetics' T5 Complex uses plant-based extracts, potent actives, and a master blend formulation to create an effective body serum that instantly penetrates and yields fast results. Unroasted Shea Butter and Avocado Seed Extract entrapped in Bentonite fight the appearance of stretch marks and increase firmness to diminish the orange-peel look. Boosting the formula even more are caffeine, a blend of artichoke extract and Levan to diminish fat deposits. Today is the day you can restore the youthful contour, texture and tone of your body…before it hits the beach.


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Lenovo Tab S8 (www.Shop.Lenovo.com) - $169.99
The Intel-powered Lenovo Tab S8 is a great device for all your summer activities—especially when you need a tablet that’s super small, lightweight and speedy! The device’s Intel Atom processor allows for quick processing speeds and better app functionality. This tablet is especially great for those who like to take a ton of photos to capture those precious summer vacation moments. Actually known as “the photographer’s dream tablet,” the Lenovo Tab S8 has both front and rear cameras and produces images with vibrant color and clarity. You can also jam to your favorite tunes while out and about, as this tablet also has twin front speakers featuring Dolby Audio that output stellar sound quality. It’s also great for binge-watching your favorite TV program or streaming a summer blockbuster. Because it’s so small and light, you can just toss it into your bag and head out—whether you’re hitting the pool, the gym or the airport.

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VocoPro TabletOke (www.BestBuy.com) - $149.99
Having a summer soirée? Getting together for family game night? Do you just looove to sing? How about karaoke to add even more fun into the mix! VocoPro makes that easy with the TabletOke—a digital karaoke mixer with two digital wireless microphones and a built-in Bluetooth music receiver that’ll turn a smartphone, tablet or laptop into a fully functioning karaoke machine! All you need is a sound system or portable powered speaker with an 1/8" audio input to connect to the TabletOke and you have the setup for a great karaoke party. You can connect to the TabletOke via Bluetooth with any compatible device that connects with the included 1/8" to 1/8" cable. Search for thousands of songs on the Internet, or use any of the many karaoke apps available on either the iTunes store or marketplace for Android users.

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BeatBuddy (www.MyBeatBuddy.com) - $299
Know someone who likes to play guitar and sing, but has no drums?  No problem!  Take their summer jam sessions to a new level with BeatBuddy—the first drum machine in a pedal that allows users to have control over a live sounding beat. Audio technology company, Singular Sound, invented BeatBuddy out of frustration at not being able to find a drum machine that enabled hands-free live control. Other drum machines were either complicated table-top devices that are difficult, if not impossible, to control while jamming, or are poorly made afterthoughts in loopers that grant no control of a single repetitive beat loop—no fills, no rhythm changes, no accent hits, no tap tempo, no pause/unpause feature and, of course, no computer interface. The BeatBuddy was designed to be the perfect solution to this frustration, proffering the power of a drum machine with the simplicity of a pedal.


By Merilee Kern, ‘The Luxe List’ Executive Editor


Merilee1"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at
www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: www.Twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided and/or sponsored to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

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Imagine a desert oasis where you can enjoy award-winning cuisine and partake in nightlife unlike any other. Well, Scottsdale is that place and it’s a perfect locale for a quick weekend getaway.

Don’t know where to eat or what to do? No time to research and plan a dining, imbibing and socializing schedule ensuring your brief vacation is an utter sensation? No worries! Here are a few tried-and-true, chock-full-of-fun location recommendations that are sure to suit.

Proof, an American Canteen at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale
Hungry for some home cooking? Proof restaurant at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale presents homestyle comfort fare sourced exclusively from the 50 states. Popular lunch options include homemade bite-size buttery Pretzel Knots with warm Vermont cheddar cheese; finger-licking-good Rib Bites in a rich and thick Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce; and Chicken and Waffles—buckwheat waffle, smoked blueberry syrup, peach compote, bacon brittle, almond honey butter. Those who prefer to eat healthy, or vegetarian, are also in business as the Heirloom Vegetable Crudité is sensational, comprised of raw seasonal veggies, cucumber-basil Greek yogurt, lemon garlic hummus, crab remoulade and more all served up over cubed ice in a gorgeous copper bowl. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this relaxed American Canteen offers guests a glimpse of old Americana with nostalgic soda fountain, televisions, games and a bustling bar.

Breakfast at Proof is an experience all its own! If you can take the heat, the spicy Bloody Mary, with its proprietary tomato mixer base, topped with a thick-cut piece of fiery-sweet candied bacon is an absolute must! The savory Pulled Pork Eggs Benedict topped with a jalapeno hollandaise may very well top the list of your favorite breakfast dishes of all time.

Happy hour cocktails amid the Sonoran sunset at Onyx Bar and Lounge at Four Seasons
Adjacent to the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale’s signature restaurant, Talavera, Onyx Bar & Lounge receives its namesake from the amber, color-ribboned onyx framing the bar, drawing comparisons to desert sandstone and inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright. The bar top is custom-made out of a single mesquite tree, sanded smooth and veined with black. The lounge features a menu of small plates and fresh sweet and savory cocktail combinations.

Dinner at Talavera Restaurant at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale
Talavera introduces a modern take on the classic steakhouse, with unique steak and seafood pairings, a range of specialty sides, accompaniments and starters as well as comfort desserts to-die-for. The restaurant features vibrant decor, dramatic views and possibly the best patio dining in the Valley. Its energetic ambiance is representative of its upscale casual approach to resort dining, with a range of menu choices fit for every taste and occasion.

Specializing in locally and regionally sourced cuisine, Talavera clearly prides itself on prime cuts of meat, poultry and game that are sourced from boutique purveyors, including Arizona ranch-raised meats. Vegetables are locally sourced as well, with heirloom tomatoes from local farms and olive oil procured from a nearby mill. Executive Chef Mel Mecinas, quite an affable and approachable chap, combines these über-fresh ingredients into exquisitely delectable signature dishes such as Buffalo Tenderloin with bacon, roasted carrots and ancho-tomatillo sauce, or Venison Loin with baby squash, mole, foie gras and cotija cheese.

During my own epicure adventure at Talavera, I opted to start with the Chilled Seafood Platter that was a cornucopia of fine seafood, including ample amounts of Maine lobster, oysters, prawns, King crab, scallop and tuna sashimi served simply with a variety of cold dipping sauces. I also couldn’t resist ordering the Rougié Foie Gras—seared to perfection and exquisitely paired with rhubarb chutney, bacon and a perfectly moist and sweet slice of peach pound cake.

For an entrée I opted for another signature dish that’s an excellent deviation from the ordinary surf and turf: the Chilean Sea Bass. This appropriately-portioned fresh fish was served atop a creamy potato “risotto,” which added a great textural contrast to the soft sea bass—all and further crowned with a delectable dollop of braised oxtail. Another in my party selected the Lamb Rack that had a Mediterranean spin as it’s served with an eggplant-olive caponata—a Sicilian stew of sorts—all kicked up a notch with a garlic jus. I also sampled the Mexican Jumbo Prawns—five firm, sweet and perfectly butterflied crustaceans enveloped in a rich and creamy lemon caper butter and with grilled lemon and a spicy Capsicum chile pepper for a spicy and citrus punch of flavor. While the food at Talavera is certainly hearty, portions are appropriate so you’ll likely have room for dessert. I suggest savoring one of the fleeting specials that feature creative configurations using that season’s fruit bounty.

Dinner at Virtù Honest Craft at Bespoke Inn
With a menu described as “wandering Mediterranean,” Virtù Honest Craft opened under the culinary talents of Chef Gio Osso who gained national praise for his cuisine at the now-closed Estate House in downtown Scottsdale.  Virtù’s rotating menu features items like hand-made pastas, braised oxtails and house-made sausages. Diners can also choose from a 30-bottle global wine list, craft beers and handcrafted cocktails.  Accolades include The #1 Restaurant of 2013 by The Arizona Republic as well as being named one of the top 20 best new restaurants by Esquire magazine.

The quaint restaurant is located within the intimate, luxurious Bespoke Inn, but is open to the public. Chef Osso describes the eatery’s food and atmosphere as a “beautifully composed symphony of sights, scents and tastes,” which is a fitting depiction considering "Virtù" is the Machiavellian term for achieving excellence—something Chef Osso has been doing throughout his career at countless award-winning restaurants in the Phoenix area. Now having ventured out on his own, Chef Osso’s passion is evident in his deft execution of seasonally-driven dishes that give a nod to his Mediterranean family roots.

At Virtù, the dishes are not complicated or fussy. In fact, most are relatively simple conceptually but don’t let the lack of menu complexity fool you. The quality and freshness of the ingredients and is stunning as is the culinary skill proffered during preparations. Dishes feature the season’s best seafood, prime meats, freshly made pastas and regional produce—each expertly executed by the kitchen brigade. My own visit to Virtù allowed me to sample a variety of dishes from each section of the menu: sharables, salads, pasta and entrees.

The Burrata Board starter was downright exceptional. The creamy and buttery Italian cheese spread accompanied by shavings of beautifully marbled, salty prosciutto di parma and sweet fire roasted fresh peppers served with grilled toast. The tenderized Charred Octopus with lemon chick peas and arugula and fennel was also a crowd pleaser, although I could have personally used a touch more of the spicy orange Calabrian chile butter upon which all other components was served. However, that nit was quickly forgotten with the arrival of the golf ball sized Brown Butter Gnudi stuffed with a mild and slightly sweet ricotta. The soft pasta and cheese was aptly countered with hearty and firm roasted mushrooms, decidedly al dente English peas and hazelnuts all topped with shavings of a pecorino pepato—a semi-hard Italian sheep's milk cheese dotted with black peppercorns.

However good the courses leading up to it, it was our entrée dish that stole the show: the Bistecca Tagliata. This behemoth 40-ounce Wagyu tomahawk ribeye, cooked to a chef-recommended medium rare, arrived to the table on a large wooden cutting board after having already been sliced in to strips. Suffice it to say it was more than enough meat to accommodate a family-style dinner for my table of three…and then some. The exterior seasoning and sear on the steak was impeccable, locking in the juices and maintaining the integrity of the superbly marbled meat. The fresh and light accoutrements of cherry tomato pomodorini that exuded a sweet basil essence along with Mediterranean rucola and shaved parmesan were apropos.

Of course, dining out is often enhanced with a libation or two and Virtù's elevated bar program is befitting of its cuisine. The restaurant boasts inventive signature cocktails such as the Virtù Starter Kit, featuring Cocchi di Torino vermouth, gin, grapefruit bitters, bitter lemon soda and orange essence. There’s also Virtù's take on the classic gin and tonic, the Virtù G+T, made with gin, white port, giffard apricot, Mediterranean tonic, thyme and cardamom. Perhaps a little game of truth or dare might be in order with The Fortified Truth, made with blueberry-infused Amaro Montenegro, Irish whiskey, Cocchi Barolo Chinato, fresh lemon, Cassia bark and grapefruit essence. Visit Virtù to eat, drink and make merry amid a lively atmosphere.

Lunch or Dinner at FnB Restaurant
Enjoy the Arizona wine and dine experience at FnB Restaurant, a trendy eatery in the heart of downtown that’s known both for its inventive food and for serving local wines. Chef Charleen Badman, a James Beard nominee, is known for her visionary vegetable creations—even being referred to as “the vegetable whisperer” as I was told by a staffer. In fact, her braised leeks with mozzarella and a fried egg dish was named one of the 10 best restaurant dishes of 2010 by Food & Wine. Of note is owner Pavle Milic’s other venture, Bodega/AZ Wine Merchants, varietals from which oenophiles can sip and savor while at FnB.

FnB is an intimate café-like scene with a décor that’s trendy yet rustic and a vibe that beckons—and celebrates—gastro-snobs like myself. The food is locally sourced but the menus are globally accented as Chef Badman's cuisine is bold, imaginative and often out-of-the-box. The locavore-minded restaurant's wine program also covers its bases by offering an Arizona-only wine selection in addition to a "Plan B" out-of-state wine selection featuring expertly selected reds and whites that pair perfectly with the eatery's seasonal fare.

Speaking of cyclical menus, what's on FnB’s dish docket varies not only season to season but often daily, depending upon what's fresh and that day. Locally grown vegetables figure prominently on the menu in various fabulous forms that constantly change. During my own dinner seating, I had the pleasure of experiencing Chef Badman’s ingenuity with dishes like joy bus French fried squash blossoms with halloumi, chermoula, lemon and olives; socca (a chickpea pancake) with aleppo pepper, roasted Roma tomatoes, goat cheese and sicilian pistachios; and salad of watermelon and beets, pumpernickel, curry-style vadouvan spice and feta. However, meat lovers don't despair; as there are mouth-watering options for you as well, including crispy chicken parts with sake sauce, miso pickles and Japanese pepper flake; churro lamb leg with summer squash, roasted tomato, olive, crumbs and mint; and fish in the form of pink grouper with avocado, grapefruit and carrot furikake atop brown rice.

If you'd like a little after-dinner retail therapy, head directly next door to the Bodega Market where you can pick up ROC 2 coffee, Sweet Republic Sweets and Wild Clover Botanicals, just to name a few of the local artisanal offerings. I myself left with a few bottles of “Fire in the Hole” hot sauce. You can also purchase fresh-baked breads, farm-raised cheeses and a bottle of local wine so you can take a taste of Arizona home with you.

Kick up your heels at the famed Rusty Spur Saloon
After you’ve duly wined and dined it’s time to let your inner cowpoke out to play! Head on over to the Rusty Spur Saloon—Scottsdale’s last real cowboy saloon. Registered historic landmark, Farmers Bank of Scottsdale 1921 – 1931, closed during the Depression, but the old bank vault is still there, holding liquor instead of money. It’s been referred to as one of the three happiest places in the U.S. - Disneyland, Las Vegas, and the Rusty Spur Saloon... “Where the party never ends!!!” Patronized by John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Jennifer Aniston, Vince Vaughn, Dierks Bentley, and John Rich (Big & Rich). They offer live entertainment every afternoon and evening - Country Western, Blues and Rockabilly. Be sure to pin your own commemorative dollar bill to the wall!

Enjoy a glam night out at The Living Room at W Scottsdale
Maybe you prefer to glam it up a bit? If so, head on over to the W Scottsdale where the only question is: would you rather linger downstairs in The Living Room, a plush and swanky lounge, or upstairs on the chic Shade Lounge that encompasses the entire pool deck? The Living Room is known for its extensive martini menu, avant-garde clientele, and for live music every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night from 9 p.m. to midnight featuring local and national recording artists. Alternatively, head upstairs where you can party either indoors next to mood-setting fire and water design elements, or socialize alfresco on the stylish and expansive outdoor patio with dedicated sections for bottle service seating. Sip on creative concoctions and top-notch wines while the DJ spins Euro-inspired beats. At either venue at the W Scottsdale, be sure to dress to impress!

While in the 1950’s Scottsdale was known as “The West’s Most Western Town,” today this renaissance city is a modern and chic hub boasting a progressive epicurean scene and bustling nightlife—the perfect recipe for a wonderful weekend getaway.

Eat, Drink and Dance in Scottsdale



Merilee1"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: www.Twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

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1MAINChefChristianGraves 3 credit Courtesy JSix Kimpton Restaurants LOWRESCourtesy JSix Kimpton Restaurants LOWRES

Located in San Diego's kinetic, community-centric East Village, JSix is a neighborhood bar and restaurant offering warm hospitality alongside culinary whimsy and craft cocktail ingenuity. With a seasonally-driven menu committed to hormone-free, sustainable and organic “farm-to-fork” dishes, JSix patrons are sure to experience stellar food and drink with a side of gracious hospitality.

My personal favorite aspect of the offerings at JSix is its cryptic “Chef's Mercy" experience—an entirely customized and randomized five-course tasting menu allowing chefs to go “off road” and dish up whatever suits their fancy—with the goal of dazzling the awaiting palate, of course. Unlike a typical "chef's choice" menu where actual menu items are tapped for selection, JSix's Chef’s Mercy allows executive chef, Christian Graves, and his able brigade to prepare any dish they can conceive based on that day’s, or moment’s, available ingredients and inspirations. The result is an enigmatic epicurean adventure well worth the price of admission—certainly the $65 cost-per-head or $85 with wine pairing.

If you’re a culinary control freak who needs a little more convincing, here are six reasons to succumb to the JSix Chef's Mercy menu:

1.  Dishes are a manifestation of what the chef feels is the best use of, and result from, that day’s ingredients. JSix prides itself on utilizing organic ingredients that support local farmers and the local economy, so the printed menu changes seasonally and the Chef’s Mercy menu, well, in real time based on what’s in the refrigerator, the pantry and the heart when the order presents. Chef Graves also strives to utilize as much of the ingredient as possible, whether it's an animal protein or produce, which also can affect the dishes making it into a Chef’s Mercy course. I had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Graves recently and he emphasized his lighthearted approach no matter which menu direction a patron decides to go: "To have fun while you cook, which translates into the dish. To keeps things fresh, playful and unfussy. The ingredients speak for themselves, staying true to their flavors."

2.  The Chef can express his culinary prowess with more creativity and flair than the more “mass appeal” items inscribed on the menu. Chef Graves boasts an impressive background with accolades that include being named San Diego's hottest chef by Eater and winning the Silver Fork Award from San Diego Home and Garden. While regular menus are typically strategized to best ensure dishes will resonate with the masses, Chef’s Mercy allows the kitchen crew to stretch their culinary legs and take imaginative risks they may not have the opportunity to otherwise. As well, in addition to creating incredible flavor and textural profiles on-the-fly, JSix dishes are always a visual delight with impeccable plating duly showcasing the high level of culinary skill and technique.  

3.  Allows patrons to savor a more complex cross-section of flavors available at the eatery. JSix's seasonal fare is "as eclectic as the East Village neighborhood." Chef Graves creates each of his dishes in response to what is available locally at the given time, including ingredients indigenous to California's coast. As the Chef’s Mercy courses unfold, in total the experience delivers a diversity and range beyond what a typical dinner would entail.

4.  Gives adventurous, non-finicky eaters the chance to participate in informal “field testing.” Since the menu at JSix is ever-evolving with Chef Graves continually considering menu items to add up ahead, the Chef’s Mercy menu allows patrons to actually help shape the culinary direction of the eatery—something hardened foodies will especially appreciate. Not only is the Chef's Mercy menu a brave, fun, exciting and mysterious culinary adventure for the guests, it's also an adventure for Chef Graves and his team as well. While the dishes are based entirely on Chef's whim and what is available, as well as what has stimulated him in that day or moment, the intrepid guests' reactions to the fare could actually shape future iterations of the regular menu.

5.  Through expertly strategized pairings, patrons can experience a wide cross section of domestic and international wine varietals by the glass. The wine pairings for each course are impeccable and often showcase international and domestic varietals from boutique wineries that you may not otherwise know about—or consider pairing with a certain kind of food. Being introduced to these wines with low commitment by the glass, oenophiles can readily expand their repertoire and their own wine pairing prowess. Of course, in addition to copious wine varietals, JSix has an impressive artisan craft cocktail menu spearheaded by head bartender, Chris Burkett, who balances a classic approach and timeless techniques with ingredient-focused concoctions.

6.  It’s distinctive dining at its finest. The JSix Chef’s Menu proffers a dining concept not readily replicated elsewhere and, of course, the dishes themselves are entirely unique—perhaps never to be seen again. That's what makes the Chef's Mercy menu an experience unlike any other: the dishes and pairings you taste have probably never been tasted before, and may never be tasted again. So many factors contribute to the creation of these meals, it’s like capturing culinary lighting in a bottle. The possible combinations and endless variety make every Chef's Mercy menu a gastronomic marvel.

So there you have it. Six rock solid reasons that will hopefully inspire you to head to JSix for a Chef’s Mercy exploit all your own. Amid the excitement and mystique of impulse-induced fare, rest assured you’ll be served scratch-cooked American cuisine that’s curated with care.

San Diego’s ‘Chef's Mercy‎’ Menu



Merilee1"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: www.Twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

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1 MAINProperty Exterior 3 credit Peter Vitale
.Property Exterior 3 credit Peter Vitale

Arizona’s high desert has a unique magic and mystique all its own and, when it comes to the Four Seasons Scottsdale, guests can also expect the unexpected—starting with its Sonoran Desert locale.  For one, "lush" and "desert" aren't normally two words one would associate, but in the high Sonoran Desert you'll find iconic saguaro cacti standing tall amid bright desert marigolds, delicate summer poppies and vibrant green velvet mesquite all strewn about the rocky mountainous landscape. This gorgeous backdrop is befitting of the Four Seasons Scottsdale—an AAA five-diamond desert oasis that duly delivers on high hospitality standards expected of an award-winning luxury resort, though proffered with an unpretentious, salt-of-the-earth, rustic charm. Here the relaxed resort ambiance complemented by Southwestern-styling beckons guests to kick back, unwind, and enjoy all the property has to offer, which is quite a lot. Guests are treated to an array of amenities, including a top-rated golf course, pool, spa, fitness center, both casual and fine dining, and service that’s second to none.

During my recent visit to the property, I lunched with Kim Cole, the resort’s Director of Public Relations. Cole emphasized that, along with its unique setting and sense of place, an intuitive approach to service is what sets the resort apart. It’s this instinctive method of service that delivers yet more surprises while on-site, as I have personally witnessed staffers doing their utmost to meet a guest’s every need and whim—even before asked to do so.  Cole puts this fabulous phenomenon into perspective, noting, "Our approach to service is to listen, first and foremost, to guests' spoken and unspoken needs. Being able to anticipate needs, and hopefully meet and exceed them, is a hallmark of the Four Seasons brand." In Scottsdale, they are certainly doing the brand proud.

Cole continued on the property’s mission-critical service standards, citing they are, “among the most comprehensive and rigorous in the industry.”  As an example, she explained that housekeeping employees have a detailed list of check points all throughout the guest room that must be completed and, when done, an inspector also then examines the room to ensure it is guest-ready. This “checks and balances” system serves to assure the property achieves its goal to “not only meet, but to exceed guest expectations whenever possible.”

Of course, nothing is more important to a guest experience than the room in which they stay. At the Four Seasons Scottsdale, there are 210 luxuriously appointed guestrooms, including 22 suites and 3 standard rooms located in 25 of the property's adobe casitas that are designed to blend flawlessly with the desert surroundings. The interior decor features custom furnishings and handmade art sourced from regional craftspeople and artisans, including the Huichol Indians. Guests staying in the casitas can choose from a variety of breathtaking vistas, including the Sonoran Desert, Crescent Butte Mountain, and the Valley of the Sun. Those staying in the other suites enjoy a private plunge pool, garden shower and outdoor kiva fireplace. Other rooms provide a large balcony overlooking various aspects of the desert landscape sprinkled with indigenous flora and fauna.

However, for those desiring the most luxurious accommodations the Four Seasons Scottsdale has to offer, a stay in the three-bedroom Pinnacle suite will surely satisfy. This 3,000-square foot suite boasts two king beds and two double beds, three full bathrooms (two with garden showers) as well as a guest powder room with shower. This is all situated in a private building on high ground with a remarkable view of Crescent Butte Mountain from any of the suite's private patios. The Pinnacle suite is perfect for entertaining as it boasts a pantry for food preparation, a dining area and ample seating in the living room, all surrounded by plank hardwood flooring below and intricate wood-beamed ceilings above. A special touch guests revel in is a telescope for viewing the spectacular night sky, complete with detailed astrological chart.

Dining at the Four Seasons Scottsdale is also unexpectedly humble and without haughty airs. The cuisine is certainly elevated but straightforward, blending the piquant flavors of the Southwest with fresh, seasonal American cuisine that’s served up in an energetic ambiance representative of its upscale casual approach to resort dining. However relaxed the atmosphere, sourcing of the victuals, themselves, is serious business and here only the best, and freshest, from local purveyors will do. Cole enthusiastically explained, "Executive Chef Mel Mecinas, who hails originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, helps guide the culinary program at the property at every level.  He has helped change our approach to food and beverage, emphasizing partnerships with local growers to supply the majority of fresh foods at the property.  We source olive oil exclusively from local Queen Creek Olive Mill, meats from local purveyors, tomatoes from Sunizon Farms out of Wilcox Arizona, local produce from Maya Farms, and the list goes on.  Chef Mel has a passion for simple presentation of the highest quality, most locally sourced foods."

There are a variety of dining options that Chef Mel oversees at the Four Seasons Scottsdale. For one, Proof restaurant is a great option no matter the time of day or night. The restaurant features homestyle comfort food that’s served up in an American Canteen-styled setting reminiscent of old Americana courtesy of thoughtful design elements like a nostalgic soda fountain, games and country pantry styling. Televisions and a bustling bar foster a lively and communal vibe. I personally didn’t expect a Four Seasons to feature a restaurant quite this laid-back and approachable, but it was certainly a pleasant and welcome revelation. 

During the daylight hours, guests can also enjoy light, poolside fare at Saguaro Blossom—an all outdoor seating eatery and bar. The restaurant services the cabanas and lounge chairs, also extending complimentary amenities of chilled water, fruit kebabs, chilled towels, and tasters of fruit smoothies and other beverages. Saguaro Blossom specializes in light poolside fare, much with an elevated Tex-Mex twist.

Drinks and small bites at the Onyx Bar & Lounge are also a must—especially as the sun sets behind the Sonoran Desert. This daily show-stopper is in view from the lounge’s outdoor common patio area replete with plush couches and other seating.  Onyx features a menu of small plates, and fresh sweet and savory cocktail combinations among fine wine and bubbly options.

But, it's Talavera where Chef Mel’s culinary prowess is most apparent. Talavera is a steakhouse specializing in prime cuts of meat, poultry and game from boutique purveyors, as well as a wide variety of seafood. Chef Mel combines a cornucopia of über-fresh ingredients into exquisitely delectable dishes such as Seared Rougié Foie Gras with rhubarb chutney, bacon and a slice of peach pound cake; Buffalo Tenderloin with bacon, roasted carrots and ancho-tomatillo sauce; and Venison Loin with baby squash, mole, foie gras and cotija cheese.

In all, the Four Seasons Scottsdale is doing its rich history proud. The property was held by cereal heiress, Lois Kellogg Maury, and was home to a finishing school for wealthy Eastern debutantes. Known as the Crescent Moon Ranch, the school also rented out guest cottages to seasonal visitors who undoubtedly took advantage of what this unique region has to offer. Today's guests can still experience adventures in and around the property. Cole commented on one of her favorites noting, "I personally love the proximity to Pinnacle Peak Park.  I love that our guests can walk directly from the property to this picturesque hike, where they have panoramic views of the beautiful desert and city beyond." Other nearby activity options include playing golf in the renowned Weiskopf-designed courses at Troon North; the resort's Cowboy for a Day experience in which guests learn how to rope, groom, and saddle horses before going on a trail ride; hot air ballooning; bike tours and rentals; Hummer tours; rock climbing and canyoneering, just to name a few.  Guests can also get their blood pumping on-site at the fully stocked fitness center that has plenty of free weights, Nautilus machines and cardio equipment to ensure an effective workout session.

If relaxation is the order of the day, guests can simply hang out at the free-form, bi-level pool (one of which is adult-only) in or out of a luxury poolside cabana. During some seasons pool guests are even treated an evening "dive-in" movie, which is great fun. Understanding many resort-goers are ready to be pampered, the on-site 14-room spa offers a full range of head-to-toe services in addition to five signature treatments.

Also family-friendly, the property has numerous options to accommodate the younger guests. There are complimentary offerings for families year-round, like items to childproof guest rooms; the use of high chairs, bottle warmers and playpens; and child-size bathrobes, as well as baby and children's toiletries. The resort’s Kids For All Seasons (KFAS) space is a children's camp that hosts activities for children all year long. KFAS offers complimentary access to a pool table, ping pong table and Lego table, as well as board games, movies, daily crafts, and rooms dedicated to playing Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. Parents also love that, with 24 hours’ notice, the resort can arrange reliable babysitting services for an hourly fee.

Whether you're a family looking for a fun vacation, a couple seeking quality alone time in a peaceful desert paradise, a gaggle of gal pals looking to unwind and catch up, or if you simply want to get away from the daily grind, the Four Seasons Scottsdale is a picture-perfect hideaway that has it all—including a charisma and charm uniquely its own

The Four Seasons Scottsdale



Merilee1"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: www.Twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

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1 Main
Credit TheLuxeList.com

Let's face it. For some Dads, gifting a tie, a bottle of aftershave or a pair of slippers for Father’s Day just won’t do. And a “fallback” gift card from a drugstore carousel reeks of desperation—or utter laziness. For many men, life is all about experiences…and beer, lots and lots of beer. Luckily, San Diego boasts an inspired service—Brew Hop Tours—that’ll make Dad truly “hoppy” this holiday. Whether he’s a hardened beer connoisseur or just likes to have a good time over a cold brew, this gift idea is for you!

San Diego has evolved into a hotbed region rife with micro and craft breweries catering to folks who favor the hoppy, yeasty goodness of a painstakingly formulated, expertly executed beer. Brew Hop Tours lets beer lovers get up close and personal with San Diego’s burgeoning craft brew culture at its source, providing a far more sophisticated version of a beer-driven bar hop experience.

All of this company’s tours are private and customized especially for each guest’s particular tastes and desires. Will it be just you and Dad on the tour, a small group, or a dozen (or more) of his closest friends or family members? Would he like to be picked up at home, a hotel or a trolley stop? Will a plush VIP luxury SUV suffice or will he need a limo or an even larger transport? Does he want to spend just a couple of hours or make a whole day of it? How many different breweries would you like him to visit during the tour? Would his group like a guided behind-the-scenes tour? No matter what your preferences for the experience you wish to gift, from the very first phone call staffers will be “foaming” at the proverbial mouth to accommodate you.

All tours do include a private vehicle with a driver who doubles as a VIP host who will guide Dad and his guests through the tasting experience. When making the arrangements for dear old Dad, you may choose from over 60 local breweries, including Stone Brewing Company, The Lost Abbey and, my personal favorite, Ballast Point where the craft beer ingenuity is matched by an elevated culinary program and all is served up in a super cool and relaxing atmosphere.

Gift-givers may opt for a two and half hour tour featuring one or two breweries (starting at $75 per person) or a full five hour tour featuring three or four breweries (starting around $119 per person). The experience includes guided tours at each brewery (when available), copious sample-size beer tastings at each brewery his tour visits as well as gratuities for all bar staff. Any additional tip for the driver, who serves as your personal host, isn’t included but is certainly appropriate. And note: while food isn’t part of the tour experience itself, guests can certainly choose to order eats at any of the locations that offer a menu and pay for that aspect separately.

This tour experience is a truly thoughtful, unique and super-fun way to say "thanks" to Dad this Father's Day. Go ahead, arrange a day for him to Brew Hop on down to some of San Diego’s best and brightest craft beer houses where he’s certain to raise a frosty glass in your honor.


Brew Hop Tours San Diego a Failsafe Father's Day Gift


"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: www.Twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

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1 MAIN Courtesy Hilton Anaheim
Courtesy Hilton Anaheim

While some vacations are about getting away from it all, Hilton Anaheim's “Center of SoCal” package is about being right at the heart of it all—in this case, having both close proximity and specialized access to the very best entertainment venues Southern California has to offer. From now through August 31st, Hilton Anaheim is offering summertime pleasure-seekers incredible values both inside and outside the hotel, assuring budget-minded travelers can experience top-notch accommodations as well as the best attractions the region has to offer.

Hilton Anaheim's “Center of SoCal” package includes accommodations, breakfast for two adults and two children under twelve (a $100 daily value), Wi-Fi (a $14 daily value), access for two to the property’s first class health club (a $28 daily value) and over $300 in savings per person at an array of top-tier Southern California attractions—twenty at my last count. In tandem with this stay-and-play promo, Hilton Anaheim is also prominently featuring a #RandomActsOfSummer program with seasonal activities like hula hoop contests and ice cream carts to thrill everyone in the family. All combined, these programs are fantastic for families, couples or groups of friends seeking to see, do, smile and save when visiting SoCal while also enjoying accommodations where comfort and convenience are paramount.

When I learned of this special summer package I was intrigued. As a mother of two, I know all too well how difficult it can be to keep everyone content and entertained during the summer months, let alone elated—and, if lucky enough to be achieved, how costly said elation can be. Hilton Anaheim's “Center of SoCal” package presented a rare opportunity to access a myriad of marvelous attractions, some among the most famous in the world, from a single locale and with stellar savings to boot. So I had my family pack their bags and off we went to the “Center of SoCal” for a package experience of our own. And, boy did it deliver!

Accommodation Sensation
Arriving at the Hilton Anaheim is somewhat like arriving at a behemoth hotel in Las Vegas. It’s an expansive property with staffers, guests and others bustling all about the lobby area where there is are shops and an on-site a Starbucks. Most prominent in the lobby is MIX Lounge, the contemporary centerpiece of the hotel's atrium lobby that serves as a gathering place to enjoy cold beer, signature cocktails, an extensive wine list and delectable appetizers while watching the flat screen TVs or socializing, or both. Adjacent to the lounge is MIX Restaurant, which features an extensive variety of imaginative dishes—many created from organic and natural ingredients sourced in the region. Here you can enjoy a hearty menu or buffet breakfast, a satisfying lunch or an intimate dinner. With all of this action, the lobby has wonderfully kinetic energy befitting the excitement ahead.

With no less than 1,572 guestrooms and 100,000 square feet of meeting space, Hilton Anaheim is easily the largest hotel in the Anaheim Resort District, and boasts the most rooms of any property in Orange County.  However, rest assured that you will not be lost in the shuffle. Matt Kovac, Director of Sales and Marketing at Hilton Anaheim, underscores, "Our goal is to give the hotel a boutique feel, even though we are a large property, by continually improving with renovations that help guests tailor their stay with us based on personal preference."  Specifically, some of those said renovations include more intimate and comfortable public spaces; a new Chef’s Table designed by HGTV’s host and architect, John Gidding; a reimagined “Mix” restaurant and lounge with three separate seating areas for business or leisure; and a new, sustainable design for the lobby-level Starbucks featuring natural wood and clay tile. Overall, the common spaces are plush and pleasant on the eye with a décor dominated by neutral tones and natural textures interrupted here and there with chic white furnishings, all accented with lighting that’s soft and calming.

The accommodations themselves are also impressive, especially the studio suites that are one of the room options available with Hilton Anaheim’s “Center of SoCal” package. At 620 square feet, the studio suites are twice the size of standard guest rooms. Furnished with either one king or two queen-sized beds, this suite option offers an extra-large multifunctional room that serves as a living room, dining room, and bedroom all-in-one, which is ideal for families or anyone who prefers some extra space. Furnishings include a sofa and a wet bar with refrigerator. Floor-to-ceiling picture windows allow commanding views of either the Disneyland Resort, the pool, sundecks or the surrounding area. Studio suites can also connect to standard guest rooms offering even more flexibility based on individual needs. Each guest room at this property offers a luxurious Hilton Serenity Bed, 37-inch flat-screen HDTV, work desk, and a digital panel that allows guests to connect and charge several devices at once.

Hilton Anaheim is also embracing technology, making it easier for guests to request things at the touch of a button. “We’re focused on the future with a new digital check-in APP that speeds up the check-in process for guests. All areas of the hotel are tech-friendly and ready to accommodate most tech accessories. We are also working on an app that helps our guests navigate around the hotel," Kovac said.

Entertainment Abounds
While there are nearly two dozen activity options as part of the package, with everything from surf lessons to museums to professional baseball to trampoline and skate parks, I customized an action-packed itinerary that I knew would captivate my own family’s imaginations and sense of adventure—one I felt exemplified the grandeur of the “Center of SoCal” package. The complete vacation experience that ensued exceeded all expectations and is assuredly one that we will keep in our hearts and minds forever. Here’s what we did.

Gondola Adventures, Inc.
You don't need to go all the way to Italy to enjoy a spectacular gondola cruise. Find yourself transported to “The City of Love” right in Newport Harbor, courtesy of Gondola Adventures, Inc. I highly recommend cruising at sunset for a truly breathtaking experience. No matter the time, the gondolier will serenade you as the boat meanders its way through the channels where you can get an up close and personal view of beautiful homes that exude the beach lifestyle. Be sure to steal a kiss with your special someone as you pass under the various bridges. The “Center of SoCal” discount includes a complimentary 1/2-hour ($60 value) in addition to any 1-hour purchase or complimentary bottle of Champagne ($15 value), and kids under 16 ride free with two adults on any non-meal cruise (up to $30 value). Take heed: the maximum gondola capacity is 6 passengers. For an extra special touch (and added cost) you can add various enhancements to the experience like roses and rose petals, chocolates, wine and even a super cool message in a bottle with a decorative box.

Universal Studios Hollywood Theme Park
Where else can you go behind the scenes of a real working movie studio and sets from famous flicks; experience some of Hollywood’s best blockbuster movies with incredible immersive thrill rides and shows; and sidle up to a few super-cool movie characters like Shrek and Beetle Juice? Universal Studios Hollywood Theme Park is just that place, featuring heart-pounding rides and riveting attractions for movie lovers of all ages, like Fast & Furious, Despicable Me, Transformers 3D, The Mummy, King Kong, Shrek 4D, The Simpsons Ride and, of course, Jurassic Park, The Ride. The masterminds behind each experience have truly outdone themselves, having created attractions that engage and heighten multiple senses and engulf your body and mind—in the best possible way. Also be sure to catch WaterWorld–you’ll see an action-packed show filled with drama, amazing stunts like jumping jet-skiers, perilous plunges, firefights, massive explosions and (spoiler alert) an incredible plane crash. Oh, and prepare to get wet! Center of SoCal promotions for the park include 15% off adult and children's admission ($28 value). Do note this offer is not valid at the gate and must be pre-purchased prior to arrival. The park's “Front of the Line” ticket upgrade option allows one-time priority access to each ride, show and attraction, so you spend more time having fun and less time standing in line. I can assure you the related expenditure is well worth it to avoid languishing in the SoCal heat for long periods of time.

Medieval Times Restaurant (Buena Park)
Travel back in time to an 11th century castle to witness knights don authentic armor and compete, joust and sword fight for the honor of their kingdom and the title of King’s Champion. Medieval Times is a family-friendly dinner show that offers up hearty fare (on the evening of my visit: bread, tomato soup, corn, seasoned potato and “Dragon’s Wing”—halved roaster chicken) amid heart pounding action, including truly stunning displays of horsemanship and falconry. Cheer for one of six knights dressed to impress and impale, as an exciting story set in Medieval Spain unfolds. You will gleefully clap, cheer, groan and grumble as the action ebbs and flows and “your” knight attempts to fight his way to victory. It’s a super-fun dinner show unlike any other. Center of SoCal promotions include 40% off an adult ticket and 25% off children's tickets ($56 value). Also available for an additional $20 per person is the King's Royalty upgrade which includes VIP first-row seating (all sections) or second-row (center sections); entrance group photo dressed in your choice of royal garb; commemorative program; knight’s cheering banner and one "behind the scenes" DVD per party.

Knott's Berry Farm
In 1920, Walter and Cordelia Knott moved to Buena Park onto 20 acres of rented farmland. Today, America's first theme park, Knott's Berry Farm, is 160 acres of hair-raising roller coasters and thrill rides, children's rides, live entertainment, dining and shopping. Center of SoCal promotions include: $40 adult admission ($67 value) and $30 junior admission ($37 value). Again, spend a little extra to purchase the Fast Lane wristband and skip the regular lines on 12 of the park's most popular rides. For adrenaline junkies, the roller coasters and thrill rides at Knott’s are no joke. The favorite among my crew is the Xcelerator, on which riders rocket from 0 to 82 miles per hour in a mere 2.3 seconds, launching hundreds of feet into the air before immediately hurtling 90 degrees straight down. On the inverted Silver Bullet coaster, riders' feet dangle in the air as they climb to a height of 146 feet before soaring down an initial drop of 109 feet that leads to no less than six inversions in a 2 minute timeframe. Then there’s the Supreme Scream, which transports brave, open-air riders straight up to a record-breaking 252 feet in midair, before power-blasting them straight down in three seconds flat at gravity-defying speeds topping 50 miles per hour—after experiencing three seconds of total weightlessness! These are just some of the many rides that’ll delight and fright thrill enthusiasts at this park. But, not all rides here are scary. There are numerous family rides and fun activities like Voyage to the Iron Reef, the brand new 4D interactive ride that encourages you to grab a freeze ray and join the battle to save Knott's from the mysterious creatures that are emerging from the waters beneath the Boardwalk. There is much to do at Knott’s so try to make a full day or night of it, or both!

In addition to these top SoCal locales, the “Center of SoCal” promotion also includes discounts with LegoLand, Anaheim Angels, Discovery Cube, the Grammy Museum, the Titanic Exhibit and Bodies: the Exhibition, Vans Skate Park, M+M Surf School, Davey's Locker whale watching, Mission San Juan, Lux Bus America, the Nixon Presidential Library, Big Air Trampoline, Santa Anita Racetrack, Pageants of the Masters and Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

Amid such special offers, access and accommodations all courtesy of Hilton Anaheim, it’s time to start packing for your own SoCal excellent adventure.

Hilton Anaheim's ‘Center of SoCal’ Package



Merilee1"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: www.Twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

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Copyright Skyworth Digital Holdings Ltd. 

Even with TV technologies seemingly advancing at light speed, one innovation—Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED)—will undoubtedly be a truly revolutionary change in the world of color televisions. Designed to offer the richest colors, outstanding clarity and deepest contrasts, OLED TVs are also lighter in weight and use less power when compared to traditional televisions. They are also adaptable in that they can be further optimized with sophisticated features like Cinema 3-D, Smart TV, Motion Clarity and more. These TVs have entered the American market thanks to the likes of LG, and firms such as China’s Skyworth are poised to dominate the East Asian market.

The High-Tech Transition
Around 10 years ago, TV manufacturers had a choice. Some chose plasma, but most chose Liquid Crystal Display or “LCD” (also known as Light-Emitting Diodes or “LED”). Over the last decade, consumers have been able to buy TVs based on one of two display technologies, LCD or plasma, and this has undoubtedly been great for competition. However, over the years the industry seemed to consolidate, and several manufactures have quit production and even fundamental research. Plasma essentially disappeared in 2014.

Today, OLED is poised to position itself as the display technology of the future. Unlike LEDs, OLED uses an organic element that glows when the electric current begins to flow. This organic substance is only one aspect of the new design approach that reduces the weight as well as the thickness of the TV. When that glow passes through a series of filters, viewers get a more spectacular high definition image. And, while both OLED and LED TVs use light emitting diodes, the design of each is quite different. LED TVs simply use an array of LEDs as the backlight for a traditional LCD TV, shining through a screen of LCD pixels. But, with OLED TVs, because the organic element creates its own light source for each pixel (which, for the consumer, translates into less power needed), the improvement over LED's color, clarity and black level is downright dramatic.

Super-Sized Screens
The OLED display innovation is changing the way we will think about television. LG’s latest line of OLED TVs are going big using this innovative technology on expansive 55-inch, 65-inch and even 77- inch screens. LG’s CURVED ULTRA HD TV features a massive 105-inch screen (measured diagonally) with 5120 x 2160 5K resolution. This LG model’s sleek design and exceptional picture quality are complemented by a forward-facing 7.2 multi-channel sound system created in partnership with Harman Kardon. Embodying LG’s new ULTRA Surround concept, the speakers create a sound environment that’s very close to live quality.

Bold Beginnings
Whenever technologies change in the electronics field, Skyworth, known as a forward-thinking powerhouse, is usually one of the first companies to invest to bring innovative solutions to market.  Early in 2011, Yang Dongwen, Executive Director and CEO of Skyworth Digital Holdings Ltd. and CEO of Skyworth Group, and other company’s executives teamed up with South China University to create the Guangdong OLED Industry Alliance where manufacturers, universities and researchers could come together to create and develop products. Because of that singular vision, in November of 2013, Skyworth launched China’s first OLED TV thus edging itself into the list of the world’s top brands in the field of OLED TV.

Given its range of features and benefits, it’s no wonder Skyworth has been the fastest growing brand in the color TV sector for 6 consecutive years.  Always forward-thinking, Skyworth is working ahead on research and development for the third generation OLED display technology, which will leverage all of the software and hardware through the system to deliver a whole new and unparalleled user experience.

For example, rather than providing consumers with a nondescript information display and bland set of controls, Skyworth plans to not only transform the visual display experience for the user, but also the entire live experience in a way that’s never been offered in the home or even in 4D cinemas. Imagine watching a thrilling movie on TV, and your home’s lighting, stereo system, air conditioner, and even humidifier automatically adjust to the change of scenes in the movie you’re watching. This is the wholly immersive, high-level cinematic experience the company is aiming for.

On the Horizon: The World’s First ‘Truly’ Smart TV
According to Yang Dongwen, the strategy for the development of Skyworth’s “smart home” platform is based on research uncovered among every family member, making it the first to establish a viable working model for the home theater experience of the future. This platform will integrate aspects of online and offline features based on how they are used in the daily routines of most families. One of the ways they will accomplish this is to roll out Smart TV 5.0, what the company considers to be the world’s first truly smart TV system. In building out its “smart home” platform, the company seeks to establish itself as an early entrant into the smart home market and create an Internet ecosystem that provides users with smart terminal products, content and services meant to guarantee an unparalleled experience for the user.

“In the last 5 years, we’ve seen the most important change in the media and TV landscape: the notion that TV is no longer a broadcast signal receiver but rather a smart entertainment device,” Yang Dongwen notes.  “Our integration-friendly OLED TVs are now equipped with USB, Internet connection capabilities, plus operation systems that can install software.”

As a home theater devotee, it’s exciting to look back at the recent changes in TV over the last 5 years in particular.  It’s even more thrilling to consider what the near future holds with new developments poised take the home entertainment experience to an all-encompassing new level. Stay tuned.

Mind-blowing TV Technology Intensifying Home Entertainment

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By Merilee Kern, ‘The Luxe List’ Executive Editor 

Merilee1"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: www.Twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided and/or sponsored to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

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Courtesy Lee Kum Kee

With summer soirées underway, party throwers and goers are on the lookout for fabulous foodstuffs that’ll elevate the at-home entertaining experience. This season proffers a brilliant bounty of gastro gems, from fiery gourmet condiments to smoke-infused grilling staples to heat-and-eat chef crafted meals, that’ll ensure you savor your summer like never before. Enjoy this tasty food and beverage roundup.

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Deni Hand Held Food Smoker with 2 oz.
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Deni Hand Held Food Smoker (www.QVC.com) - $55
Quickly smoke your edible summer staples with the Deni hand held food smoker. Simply fill the heated chamber with the included hickory or maple wood chips, insert the device into a covered pot, pan or dish, and let the smoker do the rest of the work! This convenient little culinary tool lets you enjoy fully smoked flavor without the bulky size or lengthy preparation of a traditional smoker. Not just for meat proteins, this gadget is also great for infusing smoky goodness into sauces, fruit, teas, cocktails, meats, seafood, butter and even chocolates! Its small size delivers big, deliciously deep flavor to your favorite foods with ease.

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Mrs. G's Hot Pepper Jellies (www.MrsGsJellies.com) - $8.50/jarMrs. G’s began one Christmas, 20 years ago, when Cindy Greaver had more time than money to invest in holiday gifts for family and friends. Instead, she made several batches of hot pepper jelly and soon after everyone was asking for more! Mrs. G’s is now in its second year of business. While the company has grown substantially, the products haven’t lost the small batch charm that keeps fans coming back again and again. Mrs. G’s uses only the freshest non-GMO ingredients, all prepared in a local FDA-certified kitchen to ensure excellence in both taste and quality. Available flavors include Ja-Ha, Jalapeno Garlic Lime, Mango Ginger Habanero, and Peach Habanero. 

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 Lee-Kum-Kee Sauces Credit Lee-Kum-Kee

Lee Kum Kee’s Sriracha Chili Ketchup (www.LKK.com) - $4-$5 per bottleThe heat is on! Looking to spice up your BBQ spread? Lee Kum Kee offers an array of condiments, but their sriracha-infused sauces are summer cookout essentials! Not only does sriracha add a fiery kick to each meal, it contains red peppers which are known to help boost metabolism and aid in weight loss—think of swimsuit season! Lee Kum Kee’s Sriracha Chili Ketchup is deliciously zesty, blending sweet tomato ketchup with sriracha chili sauce. It gives your summer dishes the best of both worlds by adding a lively and feisty bite to your grilled meats and veggies, sandwiches, spreads, salad dressings, dips, sauces and marinades. In this same vein, swap your traditional mayo for their Sriracha Mayo. It combines traditional flavors of sriracha with the cool and creamy texture of mayo to create a spicy yet versatile condiment. For hundreds of years Chili Sauces have been used in Chinese cooking, adding flavors and heat to dishes. With an impressive 125-year history, Lee Kum Kee is a quality brand that has stood the test of time.

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Fromager d'Affinois Cheese (www.FromagerdAffinois.com) - $8 per 8 oz./$16 per pound
Celebrate summer with sinfully delicious cheeses from famed French cheese producer Fromagerie Guilloteau. Its Fromager d'Affinois plain is a double-cream cow’s milk brie-like cheese offering a mild and smooth flavor with a hint of sweetness and a bloomy edible white rind. It is the perfect addition to any cheese plate or picnic basket, and can be paired with all manner of crackers, baguette, fruits, and sparkling wine. Add it to traditional recipes to elevate the flavor! The company’s Fromager d’Affinois Florette, dubbed as a “goat brie,” is a double-cream, one hundred percent goat’s milk version of the company’s famed cheese. Unlike most goat cheeses that deliver sharp and almost pungent tangy flavors, Florette offers a more refreshing and subtle taste–delicate in consistency and creamier and softer than most goats’ milk cheeses. Florette is also distinctive for is its pillowy, velvety rind and unique shape. The luscious texture of this cheese makes for a perfect snacking cheese–pair with fresh strawberries or fig preserves for a sweet-salty bite. Both are outstanding complements to traditional summertime fare and are sure to satisfy the tastes of all your cheese-loving friends

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Three Bridges Chef-Crafted Meals (www.ThreeBridges.com) - $7.99
Three Bridges’ fresh chef-crafted meal solutions make “real” foods deliciously accessible and easy to prepare. Never frozen, Three Bridges meals are made fresh and are meant to be refrigerated. The high quality ingredients are evident with every bite, and you can see and taste the gastro-goodness in each thoughtfully created recipe. With seven different meal options, Three Bridges Chef-Crafted Meals are great by themselves or as a tasty summer BBQ side dish. With options like Chicken Paella, Sausage & Basil Lasagna and Sausage & Jalapeno Mac & Cheese, there's a recipe to satisfy every palate.

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J Vineyards & Winery’s “Club J” Membership (www.JWine.com) – Varies
Whether you are raising a glass every night around the family table or choosing wines for a special event, J Wines seeks to enhance those special moments in your life. The varietal and sparkling wines of J Vineyards & Winery are the result of the finest Russian River Valley cool-climate fruit combined with gentle, respectful winemaking. A great way to experience all J has to offer is by joining its Club J. Membership opens up access to small production, single-vineyard Pinot Noir favorites as well as special cuvée sparkling wine bottlings—many of which are limited to only Club J members. The winery sends out four quarterly shipments a year, in March, May, September and November. Membership to Club J also provides access to invitations to its elegant events, private tours, concierge gift service and travel recommendations, complimentary wine tastings and other unique opportunities. There are various membership levels as well as customization to your personal tastes.

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Kura Protein Smoothie Powder (www.KuraNutrition.com) - 24.99 For those seeking to stay fit, trim and healthy during the summer months, and even where children are concerned, Kura is a unique protein smoothie powder unlike anything on the market. Each serving offers 14 grams of pure, pristine New Zealand-sourced dairy protein—long considered the gold standard of dairy since the cows and dairy are grass-fed, free-range and non-GMO. Kura also has 26 essential vitamins and minerals, five grams of fiber, and both prebiotics and probiotics, which support a healthy gut. And get this: the product has 4 times the omega 3s found in a piece of salmon! During the hot summer months, just pour your Kura smoothies into popsicle molds to create fun and healthy frozen snacks for your kids! Whether frozen or not, adding Kura to your family’s smoothies, you have the peace of mind that your brood is getting delicious fuel and energy during their day.


By Merilee Kern, ‘The Luxe List’ Executive Editor


Merilee1"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at
www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: www.Twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided and/or sponsored to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

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1 MAIN Lobby 1 Courtesy of Hotel Casa Velas
Lobby 1 Courtesy of Hotel Casa Velas

Nestled within an upscale residential neighborhood just a 5-minute drive from the Puerto Vallarta airport sits Casa Velas—a serene adults-only luxury boutique resort that’s helping set new and noteworthy standards in the all-inclusive realm.

As one of the many properties in the Velas Resorts portfolio, which have earned no less than 43 diamonds by AAA, I had high expectations for my own stay at the location—especially given it has garnered 8 of those diamonds in its own right. What I had not anticipated, however, was how “at home” I would feel while on site, which felt as much like a private estate home with an ever-attentive staff rather than a slick hotel operation with pre-programmed employees. Indeed, the layout of the grounds and the casually elegant and intimate atmosphere evokes the sense of being in a private hacienda. Furthering this sensibility is a staff that all regard guests by name, who welcome you “home” upon arrival (with each outing) and generally do their utmost to ensure each guest’s needs and wants are being duly catered to.

All 80 traditional Mexican-styled suites at Casa Velas are top notch, with each boasting a private terrace with plunge pool or in suite Jacuzzi, goose-down comforters, free WiFi, L’Occitane bath products and a fully stocked mini bar. For even more privacy and space, the exquisite 3,000-square foot, four-bedroom Presidential Suite, which sleeps 8, is replete with original artwork by Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante and also features a large dining room, living room, master suite with a spacious marble-laden bathroom, and an expansive terrace with an oversize plunge pool and Jacuzzi.

While the Spanish style architecture and interior design captivates, the setting in which it all resides is truly breathtaking. Lush tropical landscaping abounds with abundant flora and fauna at every turn that, of course, attracts wildlife. In fact, a bevy of wild peacocks have taken up residence at the property and can be seen meandering about throughout the day and night. A pack of “pet” snapping turtles live in a pond-like water feature at the hotel’s front entrance for which the valet staff will eagerly provide you with food to feed them.

Adding to the serene green vistas is the fact that the resort overlooks the lovely Marina Vallarta Golf Course where Casa Velas guests enjoy special privileges like free greens fees. Other on-site amenities include a full fitness center with Life Fitness cardio and Nautilus equipment, a full service spa and salon, and a pool area with plush lounge chairs, shady cabanas and a swim up palapa bar. If surf and sand are high on your vacation agenda, have no fear as the hotel will provide you with complimentary, on-demand shuttle service to and from its private and exclusive Casa Velas Ocean Club where guests enjoy cushioned loungers and cabanas on the beach itself, along with food and beverage service, as well as access to a pristine pool area and al fresco eatery all overlooking Mexico's Pacific Riviera beyond.

Even amid all of this haute hospitality, what is incredibly impressive about Casa Velas is its elevated gourmet food and beverage program that has significantly raised the bar for all-inclusive hotels worldwide. With its on-site gourmet restaurant, Emiliano, one of only two restaurants in all of Puerto Vallarta that have earned the AAA Four Diamond award, guests are treated to unlimited access to high caliber cuisine for breakfast, lunch, dinner and 24/7 in-suite service. Beverages at Casa Velas are equally progressive, particularly for an all-inclusive, with guests enjoying premium wines and liquor without restriction and can partake in fun nightly events like wine pairings; tequila, mescal and martini tastings; and other events that also allow guests to get acquainted and socialize.

If you’re a foodie seeking a culinary-oriented resort retreat, Casa Velas is for you. I particularly love the concerted and continual effort the property makes to keep its culinary options interesting and innovative, ensuring guests can have a unique atypical all-inclusive experience time and time again. 

Gourmet Tasting Menus
In addition to its regular menu, Emiliano also extends six different five-course meals (a new one each evening) that are masterminded by head chefs from Casa Velas' sister property, the AAA Five Diamond Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit. Menus draw from all three of their AAA Four Diamond restaurants: Frida, Piaf and Lucca . These dynamic menus rotate each evening and run for a week, starting with a French tasting menu and martini tasting hour on Sundays led by Piaf's head chef. On Monday, Lucca's Italian-Mediterranean sampling and wine pairing takes center stage. Tuesdays and Thursdays are an extra special treat as 20 guests are invited to a private "dinner with the chef." Here, Chef Eliseo Ibarra Ramos prepares a special menu while television cooking personality, Yolanda Yanar, gives step by step explanations on the menu's preparation. Wednesdays, Frida's head chef hosts a Mexican tasting menu and tequila tasting hour. Fridays offer a truly elegant experience as Chef Ramos prepares a gourmet French menu while a renowned pianist provides accompaniment and live entertainment. Saturday rounds out the week with cuisine and seafood specialties from Veracruz, Mexico.

Authentic Street Food
While Emiliano's gourmet tasting menus have proven enormously popular, the revered restaurant also features dishes that bring to mind the temping aromas and "tantalizing visions" of the street foods found in Mexico's colorful markets. Guests can sample entrees, appetizers and desserts from six different regions including Veracruz, Puebla, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Jalisco, and the Yucatan. Each day a different region is featured alongside Emiliano's larger menu of additional Mexican and international selections. What's more, servers are dressed in corresponding regional costume and are happy to answer questions about ingredients and preparation to any foodie's satisfaction.

Where the Gastro Garden Grows
During my stay I strolled down to Casa Velas’ impressive on-site organic botanical garden where the resort grows its own herbs, flowers and vegetables. These uber-fresh ingredients find their way into fresh cocktails and culinary creations as ingredients and garnish. For example, home‐grown albacar, thyme, mint, lemon and cactus are used in the kitchen, while home‐grown mint is used for mojitos, cilantro for margaritas and hibiscus flowers in martinis. Want to bring the taste of a Casa Velas specialty cocktail home with you? The chefs will gladly send guests home with their favorite recipe. Guests will also spot, or better yet smell, clove, mint, aloe vera, spearmint, and basil leaves in the resort’s spa treatments.

A Mighty Mini Bar
Casa Velas' commitment to luxury, well-being and elevated eats extends beyond the bounds of the resort's restaurants and bars—extending right into the guest rooms. Instead of the usual boring, calorie-laden mini bar fare, Casa Velas provides freshly "made on demand" crudités. Guests can choose from the "Mexican turnip," a combination of carrots, cucumber, jicama, or an alternative selection featuring celery, beetroot and pineapple. Guests can also choose from three different light and healthy dressings including mango, chipotle or albahaca (basil). Crudités are available upon request from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and, of course, are included in the all‐inclusive daily rate.

Service Standouts
I had the pleasure of dining with Luis Angarita, Casa Velas' General Manager, who spoke about what sets the resort apart from others in the region. He underscored that, more than anything else, Casa Velas prides itself on providing top-notch service at every level of the operation. He also reiterated the resort’s focus on food as part of an all-inclusive, noting it’s a major draw. "Food, creativity and presentation comparable to top restaurants in world capitals,” Angarita gushed. “Name your favorite specialty cuisine–Mexican, French and Italian, it’s exquisitely prepared by award winning chefs…everything, from unlimited food and wines to premium beverages, in suite service, and even gratuities and tax are part of the all-inclusive daily rate."

With its efforts to continually innovate coupled with the quiet, private and secluded nature of this Puerto Vallarta oasis, it’s no surprise U.S. dignitaries the likes of Condoleezza Rice, and two Mexican presidents have been hosted at Casa Velas. But, one need not be a dignitary to be treated like royalty here, as the staff goes over and above to ensure each guest is having a personalized and pampered experience.

With its heightened level of hospitality, Casa Velas is playing an integral role in re-defining the all-inclusive category at large, and is a decidedly fine choice for the standards-driven jet setter.


Epicurean Exploits Abound at Casa Velas Hotel Puerto Vallarta



Merilee1"The Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary events, and notable products and services. Submissions are accepted at www.TheLuxeList.com. Follow her on Twitter here: www.Twitter.com/LuxeListEditor and Facebook here: www.Facebook.com/TheLuxeList.

***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***

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