Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Brendan's Irish Pub - Agoura Hills

Brendan's Irish Pub
30315 Canwood St, Agoura Hills, California 91301(818) 874-9400

There's an old Irish proverb that goes What butter & whiskey will not cure, there's no cure for. Good food and drink are the perfect remedies for everything. Where should you go? To Brendan's Irish Pub, that is, in Camarillo, Newbury Park and Agoura Hills. Proprietor Brendan Searls opened the one in Newbury Park in October; his Agoura Hills pub opened in March 2012. What a spacious and wonderfully laid back place it is to have a Guinness and chat with a group of friends or to go all out and have a scrumptious Irish meal like corned beef and cabbage, Irish stew, shepherd's pie, Kenmare lamb shank or a nice filet. For those of you non=Irish folks, shepherd’s pie is ground beef simmered in Guinness gravy with sautéed peas, carrots and onions then topped with a mashed potato crust. Does it whet your appetite? Well, it should. It’s delectable!

I am of Irish heritage on my mother's side of the family, my grandparents both from County Mayo; Brendan told me he's from County Cork, and from the minute you start conversing with this affable gentleman, it is obvious that he is possessed with a wee bit of the devil. He loves to live life to the max, which means to drink and eat to the fullest, and so has designed his pubs to provide the most ultimate pleasures for every customer. Those who are not familiar with Irish cuisine may take comfort in the fact that there are plenty of menu choices for lovers of good old American grub like burgers-of every kind, salads, salmon, chicken pot pie, fries, onion rings, potato skins and chicken strips. And of course, for folks like I, who prefer to eat a la When in Rome, do as the Romans do, there are delicious Irish appetizers such as corned beef sliders, whiskey wings, blarney beef sliders, drunken mussels as well as potato leek and roasted tomato soups. Other Irish specialties not mentioned before include bangers and mash, fish and chips and steak and mushroom pie. The service is great and the prices surprisingly reasonable. I, of course, ordered a steak, the bone-in blackened ribeye at $28. There's also a filet mignon at $24 and a prime cut sirloin at a mere $18. I could not believe the low prices...and the portions are huge. My ribeye was oh so tender and juicy and covered the plate, served with mashed potatoes, and mixed vegetables of broccoli, carrots and zucchini. I had to try the small portion of shepherd's pie, which is a favorite dish of mine on St. Patrick's Day. Big portion, high on flavor! My friend ordered the lamb shank at $20 and raved and raved. He also loved the drunken mussels in Gobshite Ale, and the mixed berry salad.

For dessert, Brendan offers a Sherry trifle, Irish brownie, seasonal fruit cobbler and their famous bread pudding studded with a whiskey glaze. I, chocoholic that I am, had the brownie smothered in vanilla ice cream and my friend, the bread pudding, which I did sample...and yes, it's to die for. I did indulge after dinner with an Irish coffee, another all-time favorite.

As well as Guinness,wine and beer of every kind, sangria, and plentiful mixed drinks, Brendan proudly displays over 200 liquors on shelves near the bar. The ceiling is an attractive and rare copper-colored metallic. We sat at a lovely table, but there are also spacious booths for your dining enjoyment. The restaurant is definitely big with plenty of leg room so you can sit back and enjoy a dynamite meal, lift a glass of your favorite libation and celebrate the Irish traditions. Brendan's Irish Pub is open for lunch and dinner, and I'll definitely be back. Faith n' begorrah!

with owner Brendan Searls originally from Cork, Ireland and  marketing director Tyler Rex

Friday, November 8, 2013

Vino Tapas & Wine Bar

18046 Ventura Blvd.
Encino, CA 91316
Tel: 818-343-2525

When I heard I was invited to Vino Tapas & Wine Bar in Encino, the first thought that came into my head was...Spain, the beautiful country that offers sangria, gourmet paella and scrumptious tapas. I wonder if an LA restaurant can duplicate this real European ambiance and cuisine? Located in Encino, close to Tarzana, the establishment owned by Alla, is hardly large; in fact, it's a long, narrow room with an ample bar in the rear and whose lush wall decor includes glorious still life paintings by renowned Spanish artist Luis Melendez, among others. Yes, Vino Tapas & Wine Bar does have the look of old Spain. Now, what about the food?

Alla, who was away at an appointment, left handsome manager Chris Warmling in charge and we could not have been in better hands. Chris graciously allowed us to photograph the room and made suggestions about serving us a variety of tapas to satisfy our cravings. Happy hour is every day from 4 pm to 7 pm, and since we arrived at 4: 45, we were right on time to partake of a lovely, rich sangria, made on the premises. Our happy hour tapas included a sampling of albondigas, Spanish meatballs in tomato sauce; eggplant crujiente, crispy and drizzled with honey - one of the more delectable and distinctly different eggplants I have ever eaten; and croquetas, crispy mashed potato croquettes filled with chicken and served with tomato aioli. There was also a tortilla espanola, the traditional Spanish potato omelet; patatas bravas or crispy potatoes with spicy aioli sauce - truly heavenly; ceviche de pescado, seafood marinated in fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and shallots served with pita tostada chips. And to top it all off, sliders, or mini burgers with lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, bleu cheese and tomato aioli and served with thin fries! What a divinely prepared array of flavorful treats...and with the authentic taste of Espana! Dish after dish arrived at our table, and my thought was, OMG, I ordered a filet mignon and my friend, paella for two. Would we have room? It was all too delicious, but box some of the tapas, or I will never be able to eat the entree, listed as a big tapa on the menu.

with manager Chris Warmling

When the steak and paella arrived, I could not have been more thrilled with my tender, juicy filet, beautifully cooked, which was topped with bleu cheese and served with green beans, tomato confit and mashed potatoes. I sampled the paella, and found it delightful, except from memory, I expected yellow saffron colored rice, which is the way I had it in Spain. Maybe that rice is difficult to obtain in the states? Not sure, but not a major prob, as it was all delicious including shrimp, mussels, squid - a lovely seafood paella Valenciana. There are also soups on the menu such as gazpacho and mushroom and a nice selection of salads, but because of the overabundance of tapas, we decided to pass.

But...there's always room for dessert. I ordered the flourless chocolate cake and served with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. It was sheer bliss! My friend had leche frita a vanilla citrus custard with berries and wrapped with a thin fried coating. There's also the Spanish staple... flan, bread pudding and banana bread.

Besides the sangria there's a terrific wine list to suit every palate, and the price for the small tapas, about $8 each...and the steak? Only $15. The paella is $26, but considering the plentiful amount of seafood, that's really quite reasonable.

I noticed that the clientele included couples, both young and middle-aged, and a group of young ladies, perhaps dining out after work. Vino Tapas & Wine Bar is a nice, casual place to sit back, relax, and share friendly conversation over a great glass of wine or sangria and some truly delicious tapas, big and small. As they say in Espana, que sabroso! Alla delivers 'delicious' with a touch of class.