Sunday, February 24, 2013

I am hardly a chef, but I do appreciate good food and love to eat. So, folks, what you will find on this blog is a lot of lovin' for really fine restaurants/cafes and the great meals/specialties they offer. Stay tuned for a tribute to Porto's Bakery/Cafe coming soon...and...  and...
yummm; my mouth is watering...

Friday, February 22, 2013

review-Cookin' with Lenny Smokehouse

Cookin’ with Lenny Smokehouse
23360 Lake Manor Drive

Do you long for the flavor of a home cooked meal? In most cases nowadays - even in good, well-established restaurants - food is mass produced, without those extra special ingredients and TLC that mom used to add. True, most people are health conscious, so they avoid sugar, butter, eggs and cream, but every once in a while these cholesterol busters make food fun to eat. As Lily Tomlin's raging teen Agnes used to bellow, "Not so rich, not so good!" A biscuit can taste like it came right out of a Bisquik box - bland as hell - or, it can be savory and rich, which calls for milk and butter. If I'm going to eat a biscuit, like a sinful dessert, I'd rather splurge. Caterer Lenny Bent really knows how to cook and gives the food he prepares these extra special qualities. Once inside Cookin' with Lenny Smokehouse in Chatsworth, the laid-back, homey ambiance, exceptional cooking and genuine, personal attention will make your dining experience truly one-of-a-kind. It's that good, believe me!

As the name indicates, a smokehouse means meat - steak, tri-tip, pulled pork and ahhhh, babyback ribs. If they are cooked right, they taste out of this world. Well, suffice to say, Lenny knows how to make every meat dish savory with the right amount of seasoning and boy oh boy, are the portions hefty. I left with a couple of boxes for my tri-tip and a pulled pork sandwich, which I was told I must try. My friend ordered a ribeye steak. It too was huge and exceedingly tender. Lenny marinates his tri-tip to make it real juicy – a melt in your mouth quality - making all the difference. Very interesting mashed potatoes! I usually like them smooth, whipped, but his had pieces of potato mixed in… I loved them. So flavorful and definitely made from scratch! The barbecued shrimp? Spicy, yes, but succulent... and the ribs, to die for! We were presented a duet: two raspberry chipotle and another two, whiskey glazed with roasted garlic and pineapple. I could have ordered another helping, they were so delightful. There were those luscious garlic biscuits, big salads - I had a Mexican Caesar and my friend, a Commander, and for dessert: I can't resist cobbler, and so a scrumptious blueberry cobbler came my way. Warm and smothered with vanilla ice cream, enough for two people! My friend chose the Beggar's Purse, a rich chocolate concoction covered with a flaky puff pastry and served with white chocolate ganache and fresh berries.

Lenny cooks, is your friendly host and checks in periodically to chat with you while you await the various courses of your meal. He loves to talk about old movies made in Chatsworth. The walls, in fact, are adorned with posters of classic westerns, shot right in the area.  There is a lovely brick fireplace and a stage in front of it for musicians. I understand that on weekend nights, waitresses sing and Lenny plays guitar. A full jazz night is forthcoming. More about the layout: the kitchen opens onto the dining room and so, if you have a hankering, you can watch your meal simmering. Lenny comes right to the table with cart and electric pan to make bananas foster, another favorite dessert. (see photo below) Space-wise, there is also a huge patio out back with a separate barbecue and room to accommodate about a hundred guests.

Oh, did I mention that petite, pretty Olivia was our terrific waitress? Between Olivia and Lenny, we were wined, dined and entertained heartily for two hours. Cookin’ with Lenny Smokehouse is open every day from 11 am to 10 pm. All entrees are reasonably priced at $20 or less. Is that why Lenny boasts so many regular customers? That and…try Lenny’s! The unique wholesome experience speaks for itself.
lenny makes bananas foster
wow! cobbler just like mom used to make!

review - Fleming's Steakhouse

Fleming's Steakhouse and Wine Bar
6373 Topanga Canyon, Woodland Hills

by Don Grigware

With a couple of very slight criticisms, I highly recommend Fleming's for its delicious aged prime beef and fine service.
Located in the heart of Topanga Canyon, Fleming's means elegant dining. Its ultra modern design, spacious dining room with tables and booths, a full bar in front and kitchen partially visible to the side, all add up to providing the comfortable surroundings one expects in a top-notch restaurant. On the weeknight I attended, it was early – restaurant opens at 5 pm daily – so, not yet crowded. This made for a very relaxed, pleasant experience. Our friendly server was Steve and the maitre d Kenne Hoffman, both accommodating and very efficient.

A steak lover, I was excited to try the New York strip steak, which is always a favorite. My friend had filet mignon. As it turned out, both steaks were cooked to perfection. When you ask for a steak, cooked medium, it sometimes arrives overdone, with you querying, "Where's the pink?" Not so at Fleming's! It met my total satisfaction. My only suggestion is that there be some garnish on the plate or perhaps an onion ring or two, as the presentation was simply the steak, nothing more. Not a complaint, just a tiny suggestion! We shared the a la carte potatoes and vegetables: delicious garlic mashed potatoes, creamed spinach that I swear was one of the best I've ever tasted – must be the added cheese, and a dish of nicely prepared broccoli with tiny grilled tomatoes on top. For starters, I had the French onion soup baked with gruyere and parmesan cheeses. This is also a favorite of mine, so my only qualm is: I felt the soup needed more seasoning to give it that extra special touch a la francaise, but, as is, it was excellent, especially the thick and tasty mass of melted cheeses. My friend and I shared one other appetizer, the sweet chile calamari. It had a sweet and sour taste which was delectable. For non-red meat diners, Fleming’s also offers a lovely chicken breast, pork rib chop and select, fresh seafood, such as barbecued Scottish salmon fillet, shrimp scampi, Alaskan king crab legs and North Atlantic lobster tails. Something to suit and satisfy every pallet! And, the extensive award-winning wine list is incredible, featuring Fleming’s 100 wines, served by the glass.

For dessert, there’s a lovely Crème Brulee, but we chose to share Fleming's renowned Chocolate Lava Cake. It's a sinful concoction with luscious, warm chocolate filling, that literally spills out when you cut into the cake. It is served with ice cream, real whipped cream and cookies over chopped pistachios. It is difficult to stay on your diet when you eat at Fleming's. The rich food is simply divine, so plan a fast before and after you eat there, but, please, do not miss the foods I have mentioned, or their wonderful prime rib, a specialty in January – that will be carried over until February.

February 10th, that is. It is a special 3-course meal on Sundays for only $29.95. There is also a great menu planned for Valentine’s Day from February 14th -17th. To sweeten the deal every couple who dines between Thursday the 14th and Sunday the 17th will receive a $25 dining card toward a return rendezvous at Fleming’s. Now, that’s something to look forward to, so, guys, treat your wife or your sweetheart to an unforgettable night out at Fleming’s. The pleasant atmosphere lends itself favorably to a romantic table for two, but at the same time can also serve the event/party needs of a larger group. Some customers had their kids in tow the night I attended. That speaks volumes about Fleming’s popularity. There are 3 locations: Woodland Hills, Beverly Hills and El Segundo. Visit their website for more info like exact addresses, complete menus and pricing:

review - Dining at La Frite

Celine Ramillon carries on the tradition of her owner father

La Frite Café is celebrating their 40th year of serving the San Fernando Valley with their French/American cuisine. Chef-Owner Andre Ramillon opened his doors in 1972, and La Frite  is still a family run business to this day. Ramillon, born in France, attended culinary school and created La Frite’s original menu, known for its variety. At 69, he is still the head chef for both locations, Sherman Oaks and Woodland Hills. Every dish has a true French flavor and appeal. His children Alex (32) and Celine (31) are now running front-house at both locations and are learning to continue his legacy.

With many of the city’s movers and shakers and celebrity regulars such as Melissa Gilbert, Jon Voit, Tony Danza and more, La Frite has remained a staple on the boulevard for years. Serving escargot, steak tartare, mussels, crepes and other traditional French fare combined with hamburgers, eggs benedict and other American fare, La Frite’s menu is well varied and perfect for an array of different palates. “We can only hope to have the success our father has,” says daughter Celine Ramillon, “We have grown up here and many families have grown here with us. It is nice to see generation after generation enjoy our food and continue to come back.”

On Saturday May 19 to help celebrate the 40th anniversary Celine invited me and a guest to dinner at the Sherman Oaks cafe to partake of the restaurant’s finest cuisine and to experience the atmosphere that has made the establishment so popular over the decades. We were first greeted by Julian, who turned out to be our server for the evening. He quickly introduced Celine who was the perfect hostess. She had Julian move two small tables for two together so that we would have more than ample space to enjoy a hefty platter of scrumptious hors d’ oeuvres. The platter contained: pate, halibut beignets, brie, small pieces of garlic toast, mussels and steak tartare. There was also a separate bowl of escargots. Yes, the escargots are every bit as wonderful as you may have been told. If that didn’t provide enough appetizers, when I mentioned that French Onion Soup Gratinee was a favorite, it seemed that no sooner did I open my mouth than a bowl was placed in front of me. I do not exaggerate, it was the best I have tasted! The onions are delectably sweet and there’s enough cheese on top to satisfy two people. I realized I needed to make room for my entrée which I determined would be a steak. Filet mignon or New York steak au Poivre? It was an easy decision, as I have a huge appetite and the New York steak usually fits the bill. Not in the least disappointing! In fact, it was tender and ‘magnifique’ served with potatoes au gratin and broccoli al dente. 

My friend ordered short ribs which (as you can see in the photo) was a plate fit for a king. Surrounding the ribs are: polenta, Brussels sprouts, and turnips. I sampled a bite, and like the steak, the meat was tender and juicy. Both my friend and I raved and knew when we were told that we had to order a chocolate soufflé early, that somehow we would make room for it. Oy, such decisions while eating gourmet food! (ha, ha!) I love cobbler, so we shared both the soufflé – with real whipped cream – and a warm strawberry rhubarb cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream. And a cappuccino, to top it all off, … but of course! What a delicious meal!
I highly, highly recommend the ambiance, service and food of La Frite Cafe. July is the official anniversary, so make early reservations. The dress is casual, with most entrees moderately priced.

-don grigware
La Frite Woodland Hills 22616 Ventura Blvd. (Shoup & Fallbrook) 818.225.1331
La Frite Sherman Oaks 15013 Ventura Blvd. (Kester & Noble) 818.990.1791