Summer Solstice

Partake of the Mexi-fresh flavors at Puesto

 

Written by Amy Adams 

Puesto chef rolls masa for fresh tortillas. Photo courtesy of Puesto

Puesto chef rolls masa for fresh tortillas. Photo courtesy of Puesto

In want of a favorite haunt? A new resto to spice up your dining routine this summer—one that you’ll flock to for seconds, thirds? Consider Puesto for more reasons than one, but especially its festive ambiance, award-winning tacos and delicious, house-made margaritas. 

It’s a sinful scene from the moment you arrive. Fresh aromas permeate from the eat-in kitchen through the restaurant—a scheme inspired by Mesoamerican architecture and designed by famed artist Paul Basile—and out the open façade. The smell of mint, chopped onions and meat on the grill. Servers bustling about while guests chat and chow down inside or on the spacious outdoor patio. Paying homage to Mexico City, the décor is modern and vibrant, and features hundreds of concrete tiles that catch the natural light pouring in from skylights. It’s loud. But in a good way. It feels like a fiesta, or a backyard barbecue with everyone welcome. 

Photo courtesy of Puesto

Photo courtesy of Puesto

Like the vibe, the food is also flavorful, Mexico-City style: salsas are made from scratch, meat and seafood is sustainable, and tortillas are handmade maíz azul and stone-ground. There are a number of delectable menu items such as the green salad with whipped ricotta and squash, roasted plantains, and grilled corn with chili and lime… all delicioso, but an absolute must-try is the taco trio. What a perfect way to experiment with food flavors and indulge in something you’ve never tried before. It’s mouthwatering and easy to share. And no dish would be complete without one of Puesto’s fresh-made margaritas—pressed, squeezed, chilled to perfection, and trimmed on the rim. After all, don’t margaritas and summer go hand-in-hand? 

8577 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, CA ~ EatPuesto.com

Photo courtesy of Puesto

Photo courtesy of Puesto

In Full Bloom

Spring may be behind us, but petals and blossoms are always in season.  Spruce up your wardrobe for summer with a dash of florals. The sunny season may be the hottest time of the year, but there is no need to break a sweat to look cool, calm, and collected.  

 

Curated by Anne Mack

 

Rachel Pally Pascall Dress Print in Agave, RachelPally.com

Rachel Pally Pascall Dress Print in Agave, RachelPally.com

Kobi Halperin Lacy Cold Shoulder Top, KobiHalperin.com

Kobi Halperin Lacy Cold Shoulder Top, KobiHalperin.com

Tory Burch Batik Floral Underwire One-Piece in Samba Batik Flower, ToryBurch.com

Tory Burch Batik Floral Underwire One-Piece in Samba Batik Flower, ToryBurch.com

Tiffany Daisy Brooch with Diamonds, Spessartites and Tsavorites in 18 karat White and Yellow Gold, Tiffany.com

Tiffany Daisy Brooch with Diamonds, Spessartites and Tsavorites in 18 karat White and Yellow Gold, Tiffany.com

Temple St. Clair 18k Flower Serpent Amulet with Rock Crystal, Royal Blue Moonstone, Blue Sapphire, Tsavorite and Diamond, TempleStClair.com

Temple St. Clair 18k Flower Serpent Amulet with Rock Crystal, Royal Blue Moonstone, Blue Sapphire, Tsavorite and Diamond, TempleStClair.com

Voluspa Embossed Glass Scalloped Edge Candle in Crane Flower, Voluspa.com

Voluspa Embossed Glass Scalloped Edge Candle in Crane Flower, Voluspa.com

Memory Lane

The road to a luxuriously restorative staycation leads to Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara

 

Written by Amy Adams 

Seaside trails at Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara. Photo courtesy of Bacara Resort & Spa

Seaside trails at Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara. Photo courtesy of Bacara Resort & Spa

With the sun-drenched season in full flux, it’s prime time for a summer sojourn. While I truly love and long for the thrill of going someplace worldly or wildly tropical, sometimes a lengthy trip is just not realistic. Rather than struggle to find time to travel abroad for an extended period, I’ve resolved to be the quintessential “staycationer”—and a great advocate of exceptionally long weekends. Thus, when I was recently invited to join friends at Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara, my response was simple—yes!

The Road to Holiday

When I was younger, I drove from Orange County to SB to visit friends in college. As I recall, my zesty little four-cylinder Volkswagen could hover around 3000RPMS and make the trek in exactly three hours. Now, with a lot more cars on the road and avoiding bustling L.A. traffic hours, I can still make the trip in about the same amount of time. Let me remind you, the view along the way is breathtaking. Once you’ve meandered through L.A. and reach Ventura, the highway opens up and starts to skim the coastline, with miles of glittering ocean waves crashing on the left and towering rugged rock formations on the right; pause at the scenery and feel worlds away. Suddenly, the drive is less about “just getting there” and more about being in the moment, leisurely embracing the journey. If, however, you simply aren’t up for driving, taking a train is an effortless, and rather relaxing, alternative. (Tip: Download the Amtrak app to book your ticket, and monitor departure and arrival times.) Depending on your station of departure, the ride may take a little longer than the drive (from OC to SB, roughly four hours), and you’ll arrive at the resort without a car, but arranging for transportation is easy. That is, if you leave the resort grounds at all. 

Hotel Luxe

Bacara Resort & Spa is part of The Meritage Collection (with Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach a sister location), so expect nothing less than an ultra-luxe, ready-made escape. Upon arriving at Bacara, I immediately think, Wow, it’s taken entirely too long to come back here. But why? The short answer: time. But, alas, finally I’m here, in something of a daydream and still riding the high from the beautiful commute, the sky is a vibrant blue, the sun shining, and falls of brilliant magenta bougainvillea are dancing in the breeze. The expansive property, gorgeously sculpted by 78 coastal acres of scattered smooth white stucco bungalows with red-tiled roofs in a sea of lush landscape and walking trails, immediately evokes a sense of serenity and relaxation. Anxious to see my accommodations, I quickly check in. The walk to my suite, however, is anything but brisk. Quiet and tranquil, swaths of verdant lawns and vibrant flowers punctuate rolling pathways, while birds sing sweetly and flutter about hefty trees that shadow the lane as I trail to my room. My oceanfront suite, definitely affording more space than one person needs, feels elegant and indulgent. Spacious and well-appointed with a private patio and sweeping windows facing the sun-baked shoreline, it is absolutely bewitching—and all mine for the next few days. Below is a natural estuary at the foot of the grounds. Inside, in true Meritage fashion, is a beautiful array of fresh fruits, cheese and wine. 

The resort’s expansive and beautifully-appointed lobby. Photo courtesy of Bacara Resort & Spa

The resort’s expansive and beautifully-appointed lobby. Photo courtesy of Bacara Resort & Spa

The Pursuit of Happiness

Although one could easily laze away in the comforts of this domain, order room service and spend the day reading on the patio and soaking in the hypnotic crystalline vistas, the resort is brimming with a bevy of things to see and do. I start my mornings with a workout. Counterintuitive? Perhaps, but I’m much more likely to explore a new exercise routine while on holiday; plus, there’s the matter of burning off a few extra calories from indulging in chef Vincent Lesage’s decadent tasting menu at the new Angel Oak restaurant. From hiking trails and spin classes to swimming and golfing at one of the nearby courses, a variety of recreation is offered, including a trip to the resort’s legendary—and luxurious—42,000-square-foot spa and wellness center. 

Thinking that this getaway couldn’t possibly get better, we tour Santa Ynez Wine Country, hosted by Visit Santa Ynez with transportation by Stage Coach Tours, and yes, I realize, it actually can. Not one for guided tours, I thoroughly enjoy this unique experience. The tour bus is exceptionally nice, a perfect size for our small group, and the bus driver incredibly hospitable and knowledgeable, entertaining us with stories about the area. Roughly an hour’s commute from the resort, we tour and taste wines from Gainey, Brander and Lincourt vineyards, then partake of a phenomenal private lunch of fresh vegetables, risotto and meats at Mattei’s Tavern. Since leaving home, it’s been, quite literally, one indulgence after another…

…after still another. Driving from the vineyards, through the hills, and back to the resort, the ocean comes into view. So close to home, yet so far away—a three-day trip, a lasting memory. One not far from my mind. MeritageCollection.com

 

Santa Ynez Wine Country. Photo courtesy of Amy Adams

Santa Ynez Wine Country. Photo courtesy of Amy Adams

Austin Knight Johnston

At only 30 years old, the founder and CEO of AKJOHNSTON Group already is renowned for creating world-class marketing and event experiences

 

Austin Knight Johnston, photo courtesy of Dhrumil Desai

Austin Knight Johnston, photo courtesy of Dhrumil Desai

What prompted the launch of AKJOHNSTON Group? 

I was 21 and had just left a great-paying job, but I was tired of long construction projects for theme parks. I realized then that I enjoyed live production projects that were really three-to-six-month design and ‘construction projects.’ So, I set out to use the equipment I had kept from my first lighting business and made some serious sacrifices to try and get clients. Some had followed me, and I was working with them, but most were uninterested in 2008, as budgets for this industry had all but disappeared. I think I grossed $40,000 that year (about half of what I needed to break even) out of Public Storage units and I moved back in with my parents—humbling, to say the least. So, with no money and no clients, I did what business owners don’t do enough: I looked for the weaknesses in myself, my brand and my company to see what improvements or enhancements I could make to ensure that the business would one day thrive and have clients lined up for our premium expertise and experience. The logic behind naming the company after myself was that I wanted to put my personal signature on the quality of work and service we deliver. Thus, AKJOHNSTON Group was born and barely crawling for the first four years of its life.

What is the group’s primary focus and how does it function? 

Today, we produce world-class experiences that are designed, directed and executed by our firm. Experiences we create are as conventional as corporate events and trade show booths and as nonconventional as international music tours, PR stunts and marketing functions that showcase brands and passions. My approach was, and still is, nonconventional. While others are planning and brokering to vendors, we actually own audio; lighting; video; staging; flooring; print, metal, wood and specialty fabrication; trucks; and in-house design and production teams. These resources and assets are here in our building and exclusively dedicated to serving and supporting our clients and shows. This process and approach supports high-quality, low lead times and tight budgets when we are able to orchestrate the departments for each project. For a clearer and historically tested model, we run like a movie studio, with various departments handling a particular vertical with their own assets and teams, with crossover in the logistics and planning processes, to deliver impeccably.

What did you do before? Is there any crossover from your previous work that you apply to this business?

I could tell you I have done this before, but my most valuable experience was actually gained in high school while working as a barista at Starbucks. About a year ago, even, I worked with Orin Smith (former CEO of Starbucks, current Chairman of Disney) and told him that I am successful today because of the workplace he created. It was there that I got my first production by following Starbucks’ ‘Connect, Discover and Respond’ customer service protocol. I also learned that my employees are partners or my team, which is how I always refer to them…and I really figured out how to connect with people and how a quality, consistent and fast product can be enhanced by a smile and a great experience. In my world now, we call this ‘experiential marketing,’ which is all about brands listening and responding to customers in memorable ways…really, the simplest idea, but difficult to master.

How did you go about building your business to where it is today? 

Well, I did not have a business partner, investor, loans or even credit cards for the first seven years, and we still have not marketed the company while growing about 200 percent per year, and with no debt. The success of this company is due to the success of our clients and their acknowledgment that we helped build their success. I have always said, ‘good work speaks for itself,’ and I have to think the panic attacks and lack of sleep thinking about ways to deliver better have helped this be a reality. The best and worst quality I have that ties to this point is that I really care, and my team really cares. That will really mess you up in the head though. It’s not something that you can turn off, and when something does not go perfectly, it can really be rough.

What is your specialty and how do you leverage this expertise at AKJOHNSTON Group? 

Our expertise is telling stories. Brand stories, cause stories—every event and activation offers you the theatrical moment to take guests on a journey to connect in new ways that are memorable. These stories can be short or long, and are told with spaces, elements, lighting and sounds that we get to create over 500 times per year. It’s shockingly complex and hard to get tired of. 

Talk about the service package that AKJOHNSTON Group offers clients. In what way is it unique to their needs? 

We compete in a crowded space of companies with similar capabilities—but we execute it all in house. When clients see 35,000 square feet of equipment, fabrication and our creative departments here, it’s like being on the Universal Studios tour!

How extensive is the group’s portfolio? Which projects are among the most interesting and challenging of those it has completed thus far? 

I wish we did not have non-disclosure agreements, but I can tell you about some stuff you can see today. We just launched the Toyota Mirai; create The Chainsmokers’ arena tour scenic; handle everything for Irvine Company and Hoag Hospital; we finished a cat-shaped, shag carpeted ‘Kitty Pool’ for a client; and we built a mini-golf course of dead technology for Amazon in Las Vegas. So, yeah, those are some of the crazier ones that you can see right now in public. Truly, every project is challenging, and if it is not, we usually decide to make it challenging by adding some special piece that has not been done before to every event or element, large or small.

When not working, what are some of your outside interests that help inspire what you do professionally? 

Trick question, since most of my downtime is spent thinking about work projects. But, a weirdo hobby I have that I very much suggest is to go to hip hotels and order a drink at the lobby bar, then just watch people. Have the bartender make you whatever they feel is best, with no direction, and just get a feel for the time, space, music, vibe, and people. 

Austin Knight Johnston, photo courtesy of Dhrumil Desai

Austin Knight Johnston, photo courtesy of Dhrumil Desai

AKJOHNSTON Group

533 South Rose Street, Anaheim, CA 92805 ~ 866.212.2192 | AKJohnston.com