Tara Weingarten

Stories by Tara Weingarten

  • Restaurants: Frugal Gourmet

    There's still no such thing as a free lunch. But thanks to the soft economy and the hard line many companies are taking on expense accounts, fancy restaurants nationwide are offering (very) early-bird specials. Chefs say they're not making money on the deals--they just hope you'll come back for dinner.SAN FRANCISO: At Redwood Park, the new blue-plate special goes for $24, including a soup en croute, a salad, a meat or fish entree and a chip-and-dip combo (potato gaufrette with onion mascarpone). A recent offering: corn and jalapeno soup en croute, a salad of warm squab and spinach with bacon, and skirt steak with paprika butter.LOS ANGELES: Known for chef Makoto Tanaka's modern Japanese cuisine, the Mako in Beverly Hills serves a $35 daily bento box, filled with treats like tuna carpaccio with grilled onions in saffron-soy vinaigrette and sauteed sea bass in a spicy sun-dried tomato sauce.MINNEAPOLIS: The three-course lunch at Aquavit is only $10; choose the shrimp beef-brisket...
  • Living The High-Roller Life

    The rich are different from you and me. For one thing, they can afford to blow scads of money in Vegas on such a regular basis that the casinos often put them up free in one of their over-the-top luxury suites. Unless you brandished a $500,000 casino credit line, these palatial digs have been off-limits.But with the economy flagging, the number of high-stakes gamblers--or "whales,'' as they're very affectionately known in the industry--heading to Vegas has slumped. And rather than let their sweetest suites gather dust, some casinos are opening them up to everyone else. Everyone, that is, who has the means to splurge on a $6,000-a-night room.What does that get you? Let's check out the MGM Grand's The Mansion, modeled after a Tuscan villa. You're greeted with a flute of French champagne, then escorted to your 4,800-square-foot suite decorated in fine European fabrics and antiques. Your private butler offers to unpack for you and draw an aromatherapy bath with Bulgari salts. The staff...
  • Hotels: Living The High-Roller Life

    The rich are different from you and me. For one thing, they can afford to blow scads of money in Vegas on such a regular basis that the casinos often put them up free in one of their over-the-top luxury suites. Unless you brandished a $500,000 casino credit line, these palatial digs have been off limits.But with the economy flagging, the number of high-stakes gamblers--or "whales," as they're very affectionately known in the industry--heading to Vegas has slumped. And rather than let their sweetest suites gather dust, some casinos are opening them up to everyone else. Everyone, that is, who has the means to splurge on a $6,000-a-night room.What does that get you? Let's check out the MGM Grand's The Mansion, modeled after a Tuscan villa. You're greeted with a flute of French champagne, then escorted to your 4,800-square-foot suite decorated in fine European fabrics and antiques. Your private butler offers to unpack for you and draw an aromatherapy bath with Bulgari salts. The staff...
  • Road Test | Game Mp

    I'm not the greatest tennis player. OK, I'm kind of lousy. And racquet companies love people like me, because we're convinced the newest technology will improve our game. So I headed to the Mulholland Tennis Club, in the hills above Los Angeles, to test out eight of this year's new racquets. Of them all, Prince's More Performance Game MP model demanded my attention--and not just because of its hot color scheme, matte copper with black-and-white accents. It's hard to imagine, but almost the entire head is a sweet spot. A melodic "ping" seemed to greet each ball, encouraging me to play on. And all the More Performance racquets are made without grommets (which rub against the strings), so they vibrate less than traditional frames and should help prevent painful tennis elbow. And the handle offers a cushy squeeze grip. It's the perfect racquet for experienced players looking for finesse, not all-out power.TIP: Looking for a larger sweet spot? Advantage: Prince.
  • Road Test: Z Car

    I knew the car was hot when the Porsche Boxster S pulled up alongside me at an L.A. light. "Whoa," said the driver, raising his Gucci sunglasses. "Is that the new Z?" Absolutely. Nissan's redesigned signature sports car is back with a vengeance. The Z's reintroduction--the model was pulled from production in 1996 due to sagging sales--marks Nissan's attempt to revive the carmaker's image as a leader in sporty wheels. This two-seater just might do the trick. Priced from $26,269 to $34,079, it's a lot of car.Nissan drew on what was captivating about the old Z: the car's long nose, flared wheel wells, hatchback and rear-wheel drive are nods to its halcyon days in the late 1970s. The tight steering and short-throw on the gearshift made me feel like Speed Racer. But the car is sluggish from a standstill. Inside, the Z has racing-inspired seats. But since Nissan put so much into the engine and suspension, it had to cheap out on something: flimsy plastic sheeting covers the door panels and...
  • Risky Business

    Talk about a tough opening weekend. Hollywood & Highland, Tinseltown's much-anticipated $615 million shopping and entertainment complex, debuts Friday. On the surface, the gigantic megamall appears to have everything going for it. Its elegant Kodak Theatre will house the Academy Awards for the foreseeable future. Wolfgang Puck has committed to run the kitchen of the auditorium's ballroom. And nearly 90 upscale retailers have signed long-term leases.But the pricey project, a dozen years in the planning, may be doomed from the start because of the soured economy. "Their timing is, to put it charitably, not exactly what the doctor ordered," says Kurt Barnard, a longtime business analyst and editor of Barnard's Retail Trend Report. "Right now, very upscale luxury products are at best limping. For this mall to even limp, it'll need crutches."It's not just the rotten economy dogging retailers lately. Shop owners know that Americans are also concerned about safety from terrorist...
  • Alice's Wonderland

    Over the past 30 years, Alice Waters, creator and proprietor of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., has revolutionized the way Americans think about food. In an attempt to recreate the memorable dining experiences she had as a college student in France, the New Jersey-born Waters hit upon a simple formula: eat organically grown produce that's in season, and meats and fish that haven't been shot full of hormones and preservatives. Her message turned out to be the chef's equivalent of architect Mies van der Rohe's "less is more." Indeed, Waters, 57, is credited with bringing to the culinary mainstream her reverence for fresh, local ingredients in dishes with a Mediterranean sensibility. Many of the country's best chefs have trained in her kitchen, and a number of them will be among the 600 lining long outdoor tables at the University of California, Berkeley, next Sunday for a 30th-birthday bash. Proceeds from the $500-a-plate lunch will go to Waters's five-year-old Chez Panisse...
  • Put The Pedal To The Metal

    If you're a speed freak (the lead-footed, not the pill-popping kind) looking for a fix, head on over to the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School in Sonoma, California. It's one of at least a dozen driving schools around the United States that can turn you into a veritable Mario Andretti. After shimmying into flame-retardant jumpsuits and full-face helmets, drivers climb into their vehicles: low-slung, open-wheeled 150-horsepower formula race cars with wings. Instructors teach the heel-toe downshift, where the right foot straddles the brake and gas pedal simultaneously, allowing the driver to brake and rev the engine at the same time in order to change gears. Circling the curvy 2.5-mile track, drivers test how late they can brake into a corner and still not go into it too "hot," as they say. They also practice hitting the "apex," or sweet spot, of a corner in order to zoom out of the curve fast. Speed on the straightaways reaches 110mph--and no police officer in sight.Driving fast isn't...
  • Attack Of The Wine Bugs

    Vineyard manager Dave Pirio scans the perimeter of the 53-acre PlumpJack Winery in Napa Valley, Calif., looking for the enemy. Kneeling low to the ground, he flips over big, shiny grape leaves one by one, hunting for the dreaded glassy-winged sharpshooter. The half-inch-long, muddy-brown insect has single-handedly decimated 30 percent of the wine crop in southern California's Temecula Valley over the last four years, and now threatens to wreak similar havoc here in the nation's premier wine region. "It would be absolutely devastating to our industry if that bug got in here," says Pirio's boss, PlumpJack general manager John Conover. "Our economy would tank."To grape vines, the glassy-winged sharpshooter is as deadly as a malarial mosquito. The bug spreads a fatal bacterium called Pierce's disease that chokes off a vine's circulation, making it impossible for water to circulate and nourish the plant. The bacterium itself is present in small amounts in almost every vineyard, but...
  • Champagne, Anyone?

    You can drive just outside Paris and lay down some serious francs to visit Sleeping Beauty's ersatz Euro Disney castle. Or you can drive for a little over an hour northeast of Paris and pay about the same money to spend the night in an honest-to-goodness, 300-year-old chateau formerly visited by Louis XIV and Napoleon. The French know about the bargains available in this region, but they haven't told many Americans. Champagne, the area famous for making bubbly, is also home to dozens of spectacular manors, castles and chateaus that are open for business and surprisingly affordable. ...
  • Invasion Of The Vintners

    When French winemaker Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle began buying up vineyards in Chile's Rapel Valley in the mid-1990s, the vines were bursting with grapes. So she took a pair of pruners and walked up and down the rows, methodically lopping off and discarding the crimson bunches. "The Chilean workers were aghast," says Marnier-Lapostolle, a fourth-generation descendant of the Grand Marnier family. "They couldn't understand why we'd be wasteful and throw away grapes." But it was the first of many lessons they got in making a better bottle of wine: too much fruit on the vine dilutes the flavors. Marnier-Lapostolle drastically reduced each vine's yield, from nearly 60 bunches of grapes to about eight. ...
  • G'bye Truffles, Hello Ribs

    Poor Alain Ducasse. After a stumbling start at his eponymous New York showcase, the world's most honored French chef last week won the three stars (out of four) from The New York Times that are the minimum you'd expect for a $145 prix fixe. Unfortunately, this happened just as fashion is shifting away from superdeluxe French-American restaurants serving chicken "swathed in an insolently retrograde Albufera sauce... with foie gras butter and a blend of Madeira, Cognac and port." The new restaurant paradigm is a place like Don Juan on Halsted, opening next week as an outlet for the cooking of the highly regarded Chicago chef Patrick Concannon. It's a Mexican cafe with a menu built around a dozen choices of tacos (including lamb, shrimp and vegetarian) ranging in price up to $4. "I just wanted to open a place where I'd like to go myself," says Concannon, 34. But he also thinks he's on to a trend. The next generation of chefs, he predicts, will aspire to running restaurants where kids...
  • But Can You Sniff The Twist Cap?

    So you think you know wine? Let's see if you can tell apart these two wines, which both went on sale in October. One is a $135 bottle of 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, an ultralimited bottling of just 120 cases from PlumpJack Winery, part of a luxury lifestyle conglomerate (wines, restaurants and posh resorts) whose owners include the fabulously wealthy art collector Gordon Getty. The other, a 1998 Cabernet sold under the Alcott Ridge label, is made by the truckload at the E&J Gallo wineworks and sold exclusively, at about $7 a bottle, by that well-known purveyor of motor oil, appliances and fine wines, Wal-Mart.Now, to make things even easier, here's a hint: one of these bottles has a standard cork, just like that 1945 Petrus you've been eying for about $4,300. The other is sealed with essentially the same device found on a $1.69 bottle of Coke: a twist-off screw top. It is, of course, a trick question, because it is the $135 PlumpJack (which earned a "90+" from the eminent...
  • Take The Money And Run

    Leonardo Dicaprio used to hang out at Dana Giacchetto's loft. Courteney Cox took him on vacation. Everyone--Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, Alanis Morissette--gave the hip investment adviser money. Giacchetto promised to invest it conservatively. "A lot of numbers make me nervous," Cox said once, "but Dana really cares about helping me understand how it works." According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Giacchetto borrowed $825,000 from Cox's portfolio, apparently to pay office bills and cover losses on other accounts. He probably never explained that part to Cox--that would have made her really nervous.Last week Giacchetto, 37, surrendered to authorities at the FBI office in Manhattan. The Feds say that the money manager, who ran an investment company called the Cassandra Group, illegally took control of about $20 million in client funds. At least some people got their money back, but Giacchetto still faces a $1.25 million fine and 15 years in prison. Giacchetto's lawyer...
  • Life In The Fastest Lane

    Even as a kid growing up in Los Angeles, I liked cars. In first grade, when my friend Jana brought over her new black and pink patent-leather Barbie wardrobe, stuffed full of evening gowns and handbags, I asked her which kind of car she thought Barbie drove. She shot me a look not unlike the stares I get from friends now when I rhapsodize about someday getting behind the wheel of a C4 Porsche. The truth is, I suffer from a common California ailment: automotive obsession. And after a lifetime of managing my need for speed, I discovered a way to indulge it.My salvation came at the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School in Sonoma, Calif. This is no fantasy camp. It is a rigorous, demanding driving course. But it's also an extremely high-speed version of one of the hottest travel trends: controlled danger. There is a variety of popular and costly ways to risk your neck--piloting a high-performance racing boat, canoeing down the Amazon, snowshoeing in Greenland. At the Russell School, you...
  • Mansions Off The Rack

    Your first surprise when you visit the new development of Oceanfront, 23 miles south of Santa Monica, Calif., is that it's actually on the ocean; in real-estate parlance, a name like that may just mean it's in a state with a coastline. The houses aren't finished yet, but it's easy to imagine how nice it would be to come home to one after a hard day breaking in a new crew for your racing sloop. Visualize the four-car garages filled with Ferraris, the three crystal chandeliers gleaming above the 16-foot dining table. Dad's simmering in the hot tub while the fake boulders scattered about the grounds, which double as speaker enclosures, murmur Pavarotti. Mom is on the elliptical trainer in the gym, while the boys are in their rooms, playing Doom Warrior over the built-in computer network. All this can be yours for as little as $10 million. Better get that IPO out in a hurry, though: the houses go on sale Feb. 19, and only the first 79 families in line will get to buy one. After all...
  • Performance Cuisine

    You can't buy a souvenir leather jacket with a hand-painted "Guernica" on the back, but even so, Picasso, the flagship restaurant in the superluxe Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, is the world's fanciest theme restaurant. What sets it apart is that instead of old Abbott and Costello clips and fried mozzarella balls, it's got a dozen Picassos on the walls and an $80 tasting menu that showcases chef Julian Serrano's virtuosity with flan. This is Planet Affluence, a chance to eat foie gras in the presence of $50 million worth of art, and even if you're someone who is nauseated by a painting of a blue woman with both eyes on the same side of her nose... well, at least you're not looking at Eddie Murphy's fat suit from "The Nutty Professor."If, as owner Steve Wynn believes, Bellagio is the future of Las Vegas, then Picasso represents one trend shaping the future of dining: the ultra-high-concept restaurant. As the availability and appreciation of great food have spread across the land,...
  • Venice, Vegas, Vici?

    It's only a week until showtime, and Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas's newest hotel magnate, is sweating the details. Some 3,500 construction workers--which works out to about one per room--labor around the clock to finish the Strip's latest megaresort, the Venetian. Built for roughly $1.4 billion, it is the town's second most expensive project ever: only the $1.8 billion Bellagio resort, which opened to rave reviews six months ago, cost more. The pressure is especially great for Adelson, not just because he's staked his ego against Las Vegas's No. 1 tycoon, Steve Wynn, who built the Bellagio. Adelson--who made his fortune by, among other things, creating the Comdex computer expo in 1979, which he sold 17 years later for just under $1 billion--has another reason to worry. He's put $320 million of his chips into the Venetian, scheduled to open May 3.That's a pretty big bet even in a place where everybody comes to roll the dice. Adelson's plan is that folks will frequent the 6 million...
  • Pluto? Try 'Trans-Neptunian Object.'

    STOCKS GET THROWN off the S&P 500 and socialites get knocked off the A list, but never in the history of the solar system has there been a demotion like this: astronomers are taking steps to delete Pluto from the list of planets. No, the smallest and (usually) most distant of the nine planets, discovered in 1930, hasn't decamped to Alpha Centauri. Rather, some astronomers believe that Pluto never deserved to be ranked with the likes of Jupiter, Saturn and Earth in the first place. As soon as this week or as late as this spring, the International Astronomical Union is expected to vote to reclassify Pluto as a ""minor planet,'' of which there are close to 10,000. Or it could be reclassified as a ""trans-Neptunian object,'' or TN-1. That's a fancy way of saying Pluto is just another icy rock in the sea of asteroids beyond Neptune called the Kuyper Belt. ...
  • Harpooning A Comet--And Other New Space Probes

    Over the next 25 years or so, NASA hopes to launch between 30 and 40 small probes to explore planets and other celestial bodies. Scientists used to send up one gigantic, astronomically expensive craft every 10 years or so. If it malfunctioned or di dn't reach its destination--as was the case with the Mars Observer project, lost in the early '90s--a decade's worth of work and countless dollars would disappear into a black hole. Today's new generation of space vehicles will take on more narrowly targ eted missions. They're smaller--about the size of a refrigerator--and comparatively cheap: most cost less than $200 million. Within a decade or so, they'll be smaller and cheaper still. Here are a few of the more ambitious projects planned:Stardust: Set to launch in early 1999, the craft will travel 242 million miles and fly through the path of Comet Wild-2. An arm, looking something like a giant fly swatter, will extend to capture icy dust and organic compounds from the comet and return...
  • Bringing The Loot 24/7

    ASK JOSH HERMAN IF HE CAN remember the moment he realized he was a success, and the burly 26-year-old doesn't hesitate. It was Feb. 21, 1996, the night he attended his client Snoop Doggy Dogg's party at Monty's restaurant in Los Angeles, a celebration of Snoop's acquittal on murder charges. Handed a bottle of Cristal champagne as he entered the rooftop eatery, the white boy straight outta middle-class West L.A. strolled over to chat with rapper Tupac Shakur and producer Suge Knight. Surveying the many rap stars munching on filet mignon and lobster, Herman realized, as he tells the tale, that ""everyone in there was out on one of my bail bonds.'' ...
  • A Deadly Serious Fight

    NANCY TULLY WAS AN ATTRACTIVE, outgoing young woman who worked as an X-ray technician by day and studied for her college degree by night. Then she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As the disease took its course, she found herself confined to a wheelchair, scarcely able to speak. Three months ago, severely incapacitat- ed, Tully traveled to Northwestern Uni- versity in Chicago for a bone-marrow transplant using an experimental new technology. Today, at 34, she is back at home in Florida, swimming daily and guardedly hopeful that she is on the path to recovery. ...