About Me

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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Above it all.

Hot air ballooning above Albuquerque, New Mexico.

An amazing way to get above it all. Despite an at-time crippling acrophobia, even I was able to appreciate the world and the view around me. Just simply astounding.

Next time I do this, it will be over the Napa Valley. It's all about the adventure, 
and living the most exciting life you can.

Monday, February 27, 2017


Saturday night we were in the Westwood section of Los Angeles, heading up to the campus of UCLA to attend a concert at the university's famous concert venue, Royce Hall.

In our dating years it was an area of town we frequented. But with the changes in our lives and a move south to Long Beach our old haunts just simply drifted from our lives.

So it was with considerable pleasure we chose a restaurant at random, based solely on location and cuisine (Italian) and discovered a real gem: Sprazzo, on Westwood Boulevard just a few blocks south of Wilshire. The warmth of the owner, the ambiance and the fresh, vibrant food was one of those discoveries you treasure when traveling frequently. 

Even at home you can sometimes surprise yourself, and it speaks to the value of the Traveler mentality of trying new things.

Saturday, February 25, 2017


It's a not-so-secret secret that only one of the major movie studios on Hollywood is actually IN Hollywood. Paramount Pictures.

But if you go just a few miles north you'll encounter the giants of the 
industry: Disney, Universal and Warner Brothers.

This is the Warner lot's entrance #4, just off Hollywood Way. The famed water tower is clad is an ad for STRANGE BEASTS.

A slightly better kept Hollywood secret is that Warner Brothers, like Universal Studios just up the hill, offers a movie studio tour. And, if you're more into how movies are made and not so much theme park "movie stuff", then Warner's is the studio tour for you.

It is what Universal's tour was back at the beginning, and it's a must-see for movie fans who want to learn more about the industry and not just experience a thrill ride based on a movie they saw.

Strongly preferred and recommended.

Friday, February 24, 2017


Martini and a salad. The healthy alternative.

Salt Lake City airport. High West 7000' vodka.

The only way to fly.

(Read an excerpt of the upcoming book Chasing Martinis here...)

Thursday, February 23, 2017


I find myself in serious need of an escape to the desert.

In my experience, there are two types of locations in this world which will settle your mind and reiterate your place in this vast universe: the empty desert and a lonely seashore.

Standing alone in either is a lesson on the relative importance of things.

And so I find myself in need of a trip to the desert.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Florida's famous I-75, aka The Everglades Parkway.

Aka Alligator Alley.

If you have car trouble, don't pull over too far....

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


It's the trend worldwide, even though it's technically how food worked for all but the most recent of memories. Farm to table. My own experience growing fruit and veggies in the back yard demonstrates readily how different fresh tastes.

We grow avocados, limes, several types of tomatoes. Onions, cilantro. 

Essentially guacamole.

Heck, if we could figure out how to grow corn and make corn chips we'd have paradise.

But I digress...

I love a great farmer's market. Even better, I love cooking and eating the ingredients much more than prefab food or vegetables that taste like juice-filled cardboard.

THE Farmers Market, as far as Angelenos are concerned, is at the corner of 3rd and Beverly. Founded in the early thirties, it's now a huge tourism site, as well as a weekly custom for thousands of families through the L.A. region.

Part tourist attraction and part foodie haven.

The Los Angeles Farmers Market. Worth a trip. And if you can't get there, check out your local version.

After all, local is the idea...

Monday, February 20, 2017


This morning brings word that a restaurant in rural France was
awarded a Michelin Star. Except that it wasn't. 

The owner of the bistro is taking it all in stride, but had this happened to a true Michelin starred restaurant, there would have been Hell to pay. To many restaurateurs the stars are catnip, and earning them can be both glorious and ruinous to a reputation.

According the Michelin, the stars are awarded in this way:

One star - Very good cooking in its category
Two stars - Excellent cooking, worth a detour
Three stars - Exceptional cuisine, worthy of a special journey

I have never had the privilege of dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant (to my knowledge). But it's a fascinating world of reviewers and restaurateurs. The pursuit of a star can be all-consuming, while the loss of one...well, devastating, or worse.

But it's always fascinating.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Three decades ago my wife and I honeymooned on Poipu Beach, southeastern corner of the island of Kauai. Not long after hurricane Iniki had devastated the area. It was a beautiful and somewhat remote area of the Hawaiian Islands. In many ways it still is.

We returned a few years ago to find that Poipu, like so many wonderful and 
remote areas of the world, has grown up.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


It's a wet and stormy morning here in SoCal as we wake up from what is reportedly 
the most intense weather system we've seen in a couple of decades. It will be a sad morning 
for many as light breaks and we can see the damage wrought by the wind and rain.

So I need a zen moment. Sunrise in the Monument Valley is a perfect place
 to have that moment of peace and tranquility. 

Friday, February 17, 2017


Another Friday is upon us, and that means it's time to think about the weekend 
and what we're going to do for fun. Time to chill and reset.

This week's Friday Martini is from Pescatore, a Midtown Manhattan eatery and wine bar on 2nd Ave, near 51st. Great food, fun atmosphere and really good martinis.


Have a great (and safe) weekend.


Thursday, February 16, 2017


End of the day. 

A lone shopper getting a few last pictures in before presumably heading back to the hotel to get ready for the evening's plans. It's sunset in Venice.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


As a pretty vocal martini enthusiast I am frequently asked two questions: What's my favorite brand of vodka or gin; and whether I prefer my martinis "shaken, or stirred". The brandi is a difficult question given the variety available on the market today, but my preference generally goes to the crisper and less oily varieties: Tito's is my go-to, and barring that it's usually Stoli given its ubiquity on most pub lists. 

But other brands, less commonly found on the menu, are also favorites: 7000', Hanger1, Ultimat, Tahoe Blue, Vox, Belvedere and Svedka for vodka. I like to experiment with local brands and regional favorites as they are found. My gin choices are more limited to Bombay, Tanqueray and New Amsterdam.

And as to whether I'm a "shaken or stirred" man, well, that's not as easily defined. Yes, there's the whole James Bond thing, but the question is a legitimate one. And my answer might surprise you.

But first, a diversion.

As with many things, the delight of a well-made martini is only partially in the tasting. The overall experience, from beginning to end, is part of a martini's allure. Ordering, with specifications as to "up" or on the rocks, with olives or a twist of lemon (or even lime), specifying a particular brand -- with the corresponding "what is the house vodka/gin?". It's all part of the dance to getting the best overall experience. From the sound of the shaker, to the delivery of the drink to the table (usually spilled), the first sip and the final act of eating the olives, the martini is both a drink and an experience.

Unshaken martini at SHARP'S ROASTHOUSE
The Bond films, of course, have given the world the shaken vodka martini. It wasn't invented by them...and isn't even the drink author Ian Fleming assigned his super-spy in the novels. But the movies popularized the drink and sent millions of consumers into their neighborhood pubs asking for their drink to be shaken, not stirred. 

In truth, most vodka and gin enthusiasts agree that stirring is a far more effective and correct method to mixing the vodka/gin with vermouth and ice. It creates a smoother blend and generally makes for a more sippable product. So I must prefer my martini to be stirred, and not shaken.

Not so fast.

In my travels I've consumed a lot of martinis and encountered a number of variations on the theme. Two stand out in my mind as delivering smooth and deliciously cold drinks without a lot of shaking or stirring. Chandlers, in Boise, Idaho, has a justifiably famous 10 Minute Martini, which sits in the freezer for that amount of time to congeal versus be beaten into submission. The time spent in the freezer allows the elements of the drink to come together naturally and gently. giving the finished product a smooth and natural flavor.

Likewise, Sharp's Roasthouse, next to SeaTac airport in Washington, uses the undramatic but terrific method of pouring ice-cold liquor into a shaker with ice, which is then taken straight to the table and poured - without the shake. The tie it takes the waiter/waitress to deliver the drink is sufficient to mix enough water with the alcohol to smooth over the rough edges. Then they spritz the glass with vermouth rather than combine it in the shaker.

The flaw here, of course, is the lack of drama. One of the above-referenced sensory events in ordering a martini isn't just the taste, but the sound of the drink being shaken right before delivery to the table. In most cases it's from the bartender's efforts behind the bar. The sound of a shaker has, on the martini drinker, the same effect as the sound of a blender does for those who like margaritas or daiquiris.

So it's all part of the sensory experience of a drink before it even arrives at the table. 

So I must prefer my drink shaken, right?

Not quite.

As in all things: it depends.

So let me share my absolute preferred way to mix a perfect martini. It lacks the drama and show of a shaken drink, and has a bit more smoothness than even the stirred martini.

But boy does it ever make the perfect martini.

(From my book, CHASING MARTINIS.)


6 oz* VODKA or GIN (pre-chilled in the freezer)
Chilled martini glass
Fill ice in martini shaker.
Pour chilled Vodka into shaker.
Do not shake.
Carry shaker, glass
and spritzer to table
Spritz glass twice with Vermouth
Cover shaker wth Hawthorne Strainer
Pour Vodka gently into glass
Garnish with Blue Cheese olives
Let sit for two minutes

* My friends have voiced the opinion that 6 ounces of vodka or gin is a very strong martini, and they're right. Drink size has increased significantly since the vaunted days of the "three martini lunch". Caveat emptor.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Friday, February 10, 2017


I love martinis. I also love a really good steak.

Which is why I'm a big fan of Chef Tom Colicchio's Craft restaurants.

Craft, Los Angeles. Tito's Vodka. 

(And as always, please check out our preview chapter of CHASING MARTINIS.)

Thursday, February 9, 2017


(One of those rare occasions when I don't use one of my own photographs for an entry. The photographer is unknown. I use the shot based on family ownership of the neg.)

I have often referenced that my parents were instrumental in passing on their love of travel and adventure. This is an illustration of that. My father, an officer in the Navy, was very much an explorer and took advantage of his military career to travel around the world and experience a multitude of things.

When I was but a very small boy the family moved to Yokosuka, Japan for a year or so. Even at a young age the experience taught me the value of understanding other cultures and honoring them. It gave me a sense of exploration that while visiting other peoples and places might be at-times inconvenient or uncomfortable, the rewards far outweighed any difficulties I might endure.

The world was a place to be explored and experienced, not feared or reviled.

My sisters are engaged in the very bittersweet action of taking down my parent's home. Going through possessions, making sure the meaningful items are passed down and treated with respect. 

Family photographs are among the most treasured possessions in any household, and when my older sister forwarded this photo of my father standing triumphantly atop Mount Fuji in the pre-dawn light, I knew I had to share the image as an example of what I hold so dearly: the desire to explore.

A quote of mine, which I have shared before, is "What intrigues me most are those things in the distance, on the horizon. That is where I want to go; what I want to see next."

It keeps us moving forward.

James Barber atop Fujiyama waiting for sunrise

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


Among the best memories any of us has are mealtimes in a special place or at a special time.

They may be meals with family, at a family get-together. Or at a rendezvous that is a shared indulgence. It may be meeting friends for dinner at the nearby Chili's, or at a fine dining spot a world away. It might be at a Lolo on a Caribbean beach, or the local coffee house just up the street.

What often makes the difference is the family and/or friends.

As I look back at a lifetime of very happy experiences in some very exotic locations -- and more than a few just up the street -- I cannot help but be pleased that so many involved the people we treasure in our lives. It's a shared adventure, these lives of ours. And shared adventures require shared memories.

Aboard the MSY Wind Surf. Dinner with our Australian friends on the fantail at the Wind Rose restaurant, enjoying the sunset over the distant coastline of the Italian boot.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


One of the things I like to do is visit wineries. Wine tasting, in particular, is a fun and wonderful way to spend a day whether you're in the storied vineyards of Bordeaux or just visiting a wine tasting room you see along the roadside in New Mexico. With just a little bit of caution and self-restraint, wine tasting is a social activity in which you not only get a chance to sample and learn, but also compare notes with other patrons and the people behind the counter. It's a social event what has a really fun and exploratory aspect to it. 

Most true wine aficionados know about a wine-culture earth-shattering event in 1976 known by the nickname "Judgment of Paris", in which the California wine industry shocked the world by capturing the top slots in both the red and white wine categories. 

It was the beginning of California's emergence as one of the top wine regions of the world.

(California's status is an amusingly "guarded secret" in some countries. I was genuinely startled to learn that Australians, in particular, are largely unaware of the state's reputation for excellence. Heck, even the French were impressed enough...over time...that French winemakers now own several of the valley's best vineyards.)

Mike Grgich (pronounced as a lion-like "grr", followed by gich...as in rich) was the winemaker for the winner of the white category, a chardonnay from the California-based Chateau Montelena. Subsequent to winning the category for Montelena, he opened his own self-branded winery.

Of all of the wineries in the Napa Valley, Grgich Hills is my favorite -- and not just because it becomes easier to pronounce the more wines you taste. As you might expect the white wines it produces are uniformly excellent and not terribly expensive for the mid-level consumer. In particular I love their Chardonnay and Fume Blanc. Grgich makes terrific reds of course, but unlike virtually every other of my favorite wineries it's the white varietals I prefer here. 

(The Fume Blanc is a light and crisp, fruity wine which pairs nicely with lighter fare and cheeses. The Chardonnay is a bolder, gently oaked wine which is terrific for sipping on its own or with cream-based pastas, chicken and fish plates, and the more strongly flavored cheeses.) 

(Yes, I like cheese with my white wine...)

Best of all, they are in the usually-accessible range if you purchase at places such as Costco or BevMo. On sale the Fume can be found for $20-25, while the Chardonnay is about $10 more per bottle. Certainly not an everyday expense, but it's terrific as a special splurge. They also frequently appear on your local grocery store's "promotional discount" displays, so keep an eye out.

Speaking of which, the Ralphs Grocery chain has a nice write-up on the 1976 competition, as well as some great suggestions for the pairings of wine and foods, found here.


Monday, February 6, 2017


A wee bit of brand tweaking this morning, adding the bug line 


to our logo. 

The purpose is to broaden out the focus just a bit. After three years of travel items, I want to branch into other, related, areas and discuss other topics such as lifestyle, entertainment, night life, food, fashion or whatever else catches my attention. The effect of this will feature a few more essays and topics than what had largely become a daily paragraph about whatever shot I'd selected from the archives.

It's a gentle tweak, but hopefully one you'll enjoy.

Feel free to comment below.

And today's photograph, to kick us off in the right direction, is of an elegant evening under the stars and next to the fountains at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas. The restaurant featured is PICASSO

The food was good, though admittedly not spectacular. The ambience, however, consisting of patio dining on a warm summer evening as the fountains danced, was worth every penny (and there were quite a few pennies that night).

(No, your computer monitor isn't having problems...I put a filter on this shot 
to add a bit of watercolor-effect to enhance the image and mood.)

Thursday, February 2, 2017


While the very chic seaside city of Cannes, along the French Riviera, is primarily an adult playground full of festivals, shows and conventions, there are a few things set aside for the younger fashionistas and glitterati. This classic Merry-Go-Round is one example, sitting not too far from the convention center.

Thinking of the young, and perhaps the young-at-heart.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Waiting on a subway train can be tedious, particularly in larger systems. The BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit, is not an extensive system, but it covers a lot of ground. Um..."underground".

Today we boot up our new tagline: "Awaken the Explorer Within" and encourage you to follow up on our Twitter and Instagram feeds. It's a big world out there and we've really only getting started.