Tuesday, November 11, 2014

review - Fresh Brothers, Encino

Fresh Brothers
(Ventura at Woodley)

Founded by three brothers from Chicago Adam, Michael and Scott Goldberg, Fresh Brothers had its first opening in Manhattan Beach in 2008. Boys from Chicago know a thing or two about pizza, and Adam and his brothers started using the finest, freshest ingredients within their very own recipes to attract customers. It worked, to be sure, because at this point in time, there are 14 stores, if you include the stand at LAX, in LA, OC and the Valley... and the business keeps on growing with several openings planned from 2015 onward.

The Encino store that I visited on Veteran's Day is a small, casual space with totally up.to.date features. It opened in April of this year and within my hour and a half stay, there was a steady stream of customers, including a mother with her children (see photo below). Kids are most welcome. In fact, on Saturdays there is a Kids' Club where kids come in and while eating their pizza, may participate in face painting and making things out of pizza dough. That's right. The operators of the store give pizza dough - which, by the way is handmade in their kitchens every day - to the kids, who mold it like clay, keeping them active and happy while they are on the premises. As if eating pizza were not pleasant enough!  There are 10 full TV screens - two on each wall - where you can watch your favorite channel ...great for Monday night football, soccer matches, Olympic games, etc. But what about the food?

Well, pizza is not the only attraction at Fresh Brothers. There are also luscious salads, like the delicious Caesar I had...and an abundant number of appetizers, like Buffalo wings, chicken tenders, even gluten-free, mozzarella sticks, fresh knots - garlic bread tied in tasty knots and dusted with parmesan and served with marinara sauce on the side. There are also vegan tenders and savory fries served with your choice of six homemade dipping sauces: hot, mild, BBQ, roasted garlic BBQ, super hot and sweet chili. Sound yummy? Well, indeed, they are. And...the piece de resistance, a meatball slider to die for, served on a King's Hawaiian roll and topped with pizza sauce and mozzarella. The sliders come in an order of three and you will want to gobble them right up, they are sooo scrumptious. But, save room for the pizza!

You may try a favorite or build your own on thin crust, skinny crust - half the dough means half the carbs - or deep dish for just a mere $2.50 extra. My friend is vegan so he chose the vegan pizza which had an ample amount of green olives. He raved about this! I had the original sausage pizza, with a full layer of sausage underneath the cheese. Yes, uber delicious! There are Hawaiian style, Old School - meatballs layered with pepperoni and smothered with spicy Giardiniera, cheese only, fresh vegetable, BBQ chicken, margherita, and Da Works with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, and onion. Sizes are medium, large and extra large, all ranging in price from $16 to under $25. A steal!

You may add an Isabella's chocolate-chip cookie or a vegan brownie, if you dare! The food is fantastic; the service ultra friendly. Manager and cook Scott Davidson spoke with us frequently, stopping by our table to make sure everything was just right. Yes, sir, it assuredly was! Fresh Brothers may be small, but iis big on flavor, fresh ingredients and easy on the purse-strings.  You can dine in or take out, and there is delivery. Fresh Brothers also caters your favorite party or social event. It's great and I'll be back!

call 818-528-2100!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

review - Coral Tree Cafe

17499 Ventura Blvd, Encino

Along the lines of Mendocino Farms, Coral Tree Cafe is a big, wide open comfortable space with a high barn-like ceiling, in which to sit and relax while you're having breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Open from 7 am to 10 pm daily, you may order breakfast until 3 pm. Their menu offers quite a nice selection of omelettes and other egg dishes - organic eggs - salads, homemade soups and sandwiches, all with a healthy slant on life. They also have a wonderfully delicious bakery section with muffins, scones, cookies and a dual, white and black, chocolate mousse pie that is absolutely scrumptious.

If I have a choice between breakfast and lunch, I will 9 times out of 10 opt for  breakfast. I was torn between the Applewood omelette with smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and sauteed mushroom, or the eggs benedict. I chose the omelette, which with organic farm eggs is not only healthy but ultimately fresher in taste. Served with it are cafe potatoes and a house made baguette. You may substitute baby field greens for the potatoes if you wish. All moderately priced at about $12, the omelettes included are: turkey chorizo, the Mykonos, chicken sausage, arugula pesto, porto bello and for vegetarians, the Brentwood kale and farmers market vegetable. Other egg specialties of the house are huevos rancheros, natural pastrami hash, Spanish rice skillet and vegetarian benedict, a lox plate, eggs bruschetta and a hi-pro breakfast of grilled chicken breast, and scrambled organic egg whites served with brown rice. The menu also includes cereals, oats and grains as well as various pancake and waffle dishes. I had fresh squeezed orange juice. At $5.50 it was a delicious treat and definitely worth it.

From the lunch menu my friend and I shared a Chinese chicken salad which was first rate with little tangerines and nuts substituted for crispy noodles, also nicely priced at only $12.95. My friend ordered penne al forno which consists of pasta, chicken, Italian bacon, spinach, roma tomatoes, roasted peppers, mushrooms, parmesan, fresh basil and a touch of cream. He loved it... a hefty portion for a mere $12.95. We were served an additional kale salad and two sandwiches, one of which was truly delectable, with turkey meatloaf served on a rustic ciabatta roll. Sandwiches are quite big and range from $10 to $12. Also on the sandwich menu are grilled steak, veggie wrap with house made hummus, tuna, roast turkey and curried chicken.

On the menu it is specified that all meat and poultry are antibiotic, hormone and nitrate free. And only the highest quality extra virgin olive oil and canola oil are used. All panini breads are baked in house as well as the cookies and a delightful chocolate pudding cake that I sampled, called bread pudding, which is excessive and regal to the taste buds. For beverages, there are coffee, signature expresso and tea drinks as well as fresh fruit smoothies.

If you wish a casual lunch which includes breakfast food and sandwiches, soups and salads all prepared with the freshest, highest quality ingredients, go no further. Coral Tree Cafe will suit your needs, and there's plenty of room to stretch out and just unwind or relax with your friends or business associates. And remember you're eating healthy! The fresh juice bar is so tempting, not only with its fresh squeezed orange juice, but also everything else under the sun with a drink called The Garden Salad which has carrot, tomato, celery and fresh basil and The Everything Nice with watermelon, apple and lemon. There's even a Farmer's Daughter with apple and strawberry. Now that's originality!

Coral Tree Cafe is also located in LA at 11645 San Vicente Blvd and offers catering as well as online ordering for your convenience:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

review - Vino Tapas and Wine Bar

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

This is a revisit. Read my original review from November 2013 here: http://howtoeatheartily.blogspot.com/2013/11/vino-wine-and-tapas-bar.html
with owner Alla Volk

18046 Ventura Blvd.
Encino, CA 91316

Tel: 818-343-2525

Vino Tapas and Wine Bar in Encino has some very exciting news to share. Beginning July 1, this one of a kind establishment will be open for lunch from 11 am to 3 pm daily. Owner Alla Volk was on hand to greet me June 24 and was so ecstatic about extending her hours. Alla plans a special paella and sangria day, most likely Sundays, shortly after the lunch schedule starts up. The deliciously authentic wine, sangria and tapas Vino has to offer are praised by everyone who stops by and now there are more opportunities to spend time there....and the cuisine is authentically Spanish, which has a lot to say for a Russian owner. Ole, ole!

Yes, Alla prides herself on her Spanish chef and her selection of genuine Spanish-style tapas, which include albondigas and tortilla espanola. When she puts the special paella day into full swing, she intends to offer not one or two different kinds of paella but perhaps six or seven to match the menu of Spanish restaurants in Spain where she has eaten and savored every morsel. With this kind of passion for her art, Alla is a true restaurateuse par excellence, and you know you are in good hands when you visit Vino Tapas and Wine Bar.

On this second visit, my desire was to try several things that I had not eaten the first time, so I ordered calamares fritos, crisply fried squid served with romesco and aioli side sauces  and my friend, higadillos salteados, pan seared chicken livers with garlic, paprika and thyme served in a sizzling cast iron plate.
The calamari were absolutely yummy tasting and those chicken livers were so deliciously prepared. I know it requires a special taste, but both my friend Jim and I were brought up on the exquisite flavor of liver so we truly appreciate it in all of its forms. Of course, who can resist the potato croquetas, crispy mashed potato croquettes filled with chicken and served with tomato aioli, the patatas bravas, crispy potatoes with spicy aioli sauce and the slider, that scrumptious mini burger with lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, bleu cheese and tomato aioli, served with fries? This is one of the very best sliders I have ever tasted! Jim also tried the delicias, bacon wrapped dates filled with caramelized walnuts and bleu cheese and the gambas al ajillo, shrimp sauteed in garlic, herb and white wine sauce. He simply raved about both, especially the dates wrapped in bacon. We both savored more than one glass of the luscious homemade sangria.

For my main course - or big tapa - I ordered short ribs, which are braised over night with spices and herbs, and served with green beans, tomato confit and mashed potatoes. I had had the filet mignon on the last visit and must admit it's a toss up for me between the filet and the short ribs, as they are both beautifully prepared and succulent...and just enough, after devouring so many tapas. For dessert, I tried the bread pudding with cranberry and vanilla ice cream and Jim, the banana bread with bruleed banana and chantilly cream. Que rico!, as the Spaniards say...and who am I to disagree? I came to be satisfied… and I certainly was!

I rarely talk about presentation, which, in my book, is 50% of a good restaurant meal. For me, it's the food that counts most, but yes, presentation makes the food more appealing. Vino Tapas and Wine Bar present all of their small and big tapas and desserts in fine artistic form. I particularly enjoyed seeing the short rib dinner on the bed of mashed potatoes and vegetables delectably protruding from the hole in the center of the large plate, drawing immediate attention to it.

What is also utterly unbelievable about Vino Tapas and Wine Bar apart from the great food, presentation, service and warm atmosphere with Spanish paintings on the walls, are the moderate prices. At happy hour from 4 pm to 7 pm, the tapas are only $5, and the big tapas - filet mignon and short rib dinners - only $15 each. It is not everywhere that you may order authentic Spanish food, get lovely guitarra music later in the evening, and do not have to complain about spending too much money. And now that Vino Tapas and Wine Bar will be open for lunch...what a double deal! Que suerte (luck) for us all!

Grade: A+

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

review - The Red Room Food and Wine Bar

17499 Ventura Blvd, Encino
(adjacent to the Coral Tree Cafe)

Sitting right next to the Coral Tree Cafe at 17499 Ventura Blvd in Encino, The Red Room Food and Wine Bar may be small in size but, boy oh boy what a more than ample treasure! It's a pleasure when owner and ambiance are a match, and Fernando, originally from Argentina, is really proud of his huge international wine selection and literally beams as he serves his product. There is a large black board on the back wall above the bar that lists all of the wines, which come from as far away as Spain and as close as the best vineyards of Encino, California.

Fernando brought me a lovely glass of rosee from Navarra, Spain - 2011, and after he received my thumbs up, he wanted to explain his connection to what he calls the poetry of wine tradition. He obviously has a passion for the grape as he in great detail talked about how 3 grapes, not of the very best quality, when crushed,  fermented and dried, can produce the greatest tasting wine. A little known fact, at least for me, as I usually associate the best with the best! I will think differently from now on. I also savored a glass of cool refreshing Braquetto and later, from a nearby Encino vineyard, 19 ROWS Syrah, a scrumptiously dry red wine. Not being a primo wine connoisseur, I learned a great deal from Fernando’s vast knowledge.

As well as being known for their fantastic wine selection, the Red Room offers delectable cuisine with only the finest and freshest ingredients. Fernando and his pretty server Nikki offered my friend and me quite an array of delicious tapas. Sonoma lamb meatballs with merguez spices, goat cheese polenta and charmoula yogurt, topped the list, followed by Burrata, an incredible flatbread with nicoise olive tapenade, burrata cheese, a local cherry tomato and basil. My friend really praised the Ahi Tuna Tartare with avocado, Persian cucumber and Belgian endive wedges. We sampled two very different salads. One, my favorite, is Panzanella Salad with Persian cucumber, feta cheese, heirloom tomato and red onion. It is the first time I have not seen lettuce in a salad, but it is unnecessary. The flavors of the fruits and vegetables mixed together provide a pleasing, mouth-watering feast, unlike any other I have tasted. The second offering Kale Chopped Salad with organic kale, quinoa, toasted almonds, golden raisins, parmesan cheese and lemon vinaigrette is quite hearty and most definitely prepared with healthy eating in mind. Next came some delicious tacos with Mexican shrimp, steak and chicken. Riquisimo! (rich!)

We were given three entrees to share: Grilled Scottish Salmon, Bistro Steak served with fries, and tender boneless Short Rib, resting on a bed of crushed heirloom potatoes and roasted carrots and covered with red wine sauce. I love fish of any type, and chef Joseph Gillard chatted with us briefly about the salmon. When asked by my friend if he can tell simply by tasting from which waters the salmon has been caught, he gave a resounding "Yes!" It was Atlantic salmon we were sampling, known for its farm-raised goodness. Needless to say, the short rib was so tender it melted in the mouth and the sirloin steak was right behind it in tenderness, and flavorful deliciousness.

For dessert, we enjoyed a cheesecake, which had the smoothness of a rich creme brulee and served with homemade blueberry jelly. All jellies are made on site.

The Red Room has a lot to offer: reasonable prices, incredible wines, unparalleled cuisine...and also three nights of guitar music on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. There is a comfortable enclosed patio, perfect for chilly nights, right outside the bar itself. Ask for Fernando! He's a world-class charmer and really knows his stuff. I will most assuredly return for more great food, drink and company.

Grade: A+

Fernando and Nikki

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

review - The Original Pizza Cookery

The Original Pizza Cookery
6209 Topanga Canyon Blvd (at Erwin Street), Woodland Hills
(818) 887-4770

It is always exciting when a restaurant exceeds your expectations. I remember visiting a Pizza Cookery in the 80s on Ventura Blvd either in Encino or further out and thinking that the pizza was excellent. But it was a tiny, hole-in-the-wall pizza joint for takeout. There was not enough room to sit down to enjoy a full meal. So this was what I expected June 10 when I visited The Original Pizza Cookery in Woodland Hills. Boy oh boy, was I in for a surprise! When I walked in what I saw was a comfortable sit-down restaurant with a pleasant Italian decor - tiny Christmas lights everywhere - and when I looked at the menu, there was everything on it from soup to nuts - Italian, of course! I suddenly realized I was in for one gigantic treat. As you probably know by now, Italian is my favorite food. Si, Si, con tutti i mezzi (by all means)!

Owner Jordan Klempner was on hand to welcome us. He told me that this restaurant has been opened for 40 years, and that they just recently added a new lunch menu. Now that's success! 40 years and still thriving! They must be doing something right... the prices are low...and you get good sized portions.

I ordered a fabulous Barbequed Chicken Salad with honey dijon dressing, a half-portion of whole wheat spaghetti with meat sauce and a mini pepperoni/meatball pizza. The salad was so plentiful and delicious, I did manage to eat the pasta, but took the pizza along. My friend Jim had a Caesar Salad, stuffed shells and a mini mushroom/garlic pizza. He raved and raved, as we both savored our lunches like two little kids in a candy store. As I have frequently told most of you, there is always room for dessert. When I heard the menu included spumoni with cookie sticks, I could not resist. I was amazed that such delicious food came at such a reduced cost. I remember eating a year ago at a famous Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills and being disappointed at the small portions served and at such overwhelming prices. Pizza Cookery has every other Italian restaurant beat with a half-portion of pasta - $5.95, and believe me, you get more than enough. My Barbequed Chicken Salad was a mere $7.50, and the pizza cut into 4 slices, with two items, under $14. Amazing!
 There is also a special gluten-free menu for pizza, sandwiches, salads, drinks and bakery items - and a vegan menu, for both lunch and dinner, for eating in as well as take out. Pizza Cookery will also cater your next party or social event.

Some of the specialty items on the menu include: minestrone soup as appetizer, as well as a variety of delicious salads. As far as entrees are concerned, you have a choice of great hero sandwiches that range from tuna to Philly Cheese Steak to grilled chicken to the famous Chicken Parmesan Sandwich, all priced under $12. Pizzas are made available on whole wheat crust as well as regular, and soy mozzarella may be substituted for regular mozzarella. Pizza specials include vegetarian deluxe, southwestern, as well as Greek and Mexican pizzas and a Mediterranean pizza made with olive oil. All pizzas contain the freshest of ingredients including oregano, tomatoes, garlic and cilantro. Combination pizzas range from small at $17 to large at about $25. Pizza Cookery sure wins out over corner pizza stores because Pizza Cookery is high on taste, never skimping on quality. Pasta specials include lasagna, fettuccine alfredo, manicotti, canneloni, chicken parmesan and eggplant parmesan, with an extra nice price under $13 and with house salad included, only $18.25.

I should have been born Italian. I eat more Italian food than any other type of cuisine. So, now that I've re-sampled Pizza Cookery - actually tried the Original Pizza Cookery on Topanga Canyon in Woodland Hills. for the first time in 40 years - I've got a lot of catching up to do. I'll be back.

visit them online at:

Owner Jordan Klempner

Sunday, April 20, 2014

review - Farmer Boys Downtown LA

  • 726 S Alameda St Downtown
  • Phone number(213) 228-8999
  • farmerboysla.com
  • Business websifarmerboysla.com
    I had never eaten at this delightful place before Saturday when we were on our way to the Mark Taper Forum to see The Tallest Tree in the Forest. The portions are huge, and the discounts are great. I had a ham and cheese omelette with hash browns, toast and a side of bacon plus a large cookies and cream shake - yummy - for only $11+. Unbelievable! I'm going back Wednesday before we attend Porgy and Bess at the Ahmanson. I highly recommend Farmer Boys for their great portions, prices and all around good eating. They also specialize in a fish and chips platter - with 4 pieces of pollock - (pictured) which is to die for...and burgers, sandwiches and their specialty milk shakes, made with real ice cream.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Slaw Dogs

chatting in Woodland Hills with founder/owner Ray Byrne
The Slaw Dogs
Est. 2010
Open 7 days a week
at 3 locations:
Pasadena                            Woodland Hills                       Duarte
720 N. Lake Ave., #8         19801 Ventura Blvd               1355 Huntington Dr.
626-808-9777                      818-887-8882                          626-358-8898

Hot dogs are an American institution. We do not want to live without them. Everyone loves them outdoors or in. When Raymond Byrne was barbecuing hot dogs and hamburgers at home a few years back, some onions, cabbage and other vegetables happened to tumble all over the meat, giving them a snazzy, extra special taste. A light bulb flashed- would people agree and want to buy them? And so was born one of LA's best hot dog eateries The Slaw Dogs, first in Pasadena in 2010 and then in Duarte and Woodland Hills. Slaw Dogs' ultra-innovative approach to creating dogs and burgers places it on a new frontier of the restaurant scene.

I visited Slaw Dogs in Woodland Hills late one Sunday afternoon for dinner. What I walked into seemed a 'hole in the wall' - tiny but comfortable, clean and almost familiar, like a little diner, local food stand, or pleasant hometown hangout. On hand to greet my friend Jim and me was owner/operator Ray Byrne, who offered us an array of samples, which he prepared and cooked himself. Customers may watch their food being prepared, which is another appealing feature of Slaw Dogs. 

Slaw Dogs is family oriented, and Byrne offered a young girl at the table across from us a coloring book which absolutely delighted her as she and her young parents awaited their meal. On tap for us? We sampled a scrumptious bratwurst dog with cherry balsamic dressing. Mmm! Next up came a macaroni and cheese burger. Yes, Slaw Dogs does specialize in hot dogs of all kinds, but it is as popular for its burgers. Mac and cheese on the burger and around it with everything else on it like tomatoes, lettuce, onions, bacon and dijon mustard. Delicious! Did I mention that Byrne makes all of his own sauces from scratch, including curry ketchup, dijon, BBQ, spicy sesame aioli, chipotle mayo, roast garlic aioli, horseradish mustard and buttermilk ranch? Yes, indeed!

And...you may build your own dog or link... in four steps. First, you choose your link from among Vienna all beef, turkey dog, kosher beef dog or worlds best veggie. You also have a choice of spicy chicken, chicken apple, Bavarian bratwurst - which I had - or ghost pepper pork hot link. Step two is to choose from among the homemade sauces above. Step three is to add three items for free from among diced onions, relish, jalapenos, sauerkraut, cole slaw, diced tomato, celery salt and garlic salsa verde, among others. Step four is to pile on custom toppings for a mere .99 cents each from among beer chili, bacon, pastrami, ground beef, fried egg, cheddar, swiss, pepper jack, parmesan, nacho, goat cheese, feta, mushrooms, bell peppers and onions, truffle oil and garlic pieces. The build-on dogs are a mere $3 or $4.99 each with additional add-ons for only .39 cents each.

There are wonderful salads for only $7.99 and fabulous sides like garlic fries, sweet potato fries, beer battered onion rings, slaw dogs' special tots - just sumptuous, potato salad or regular fries. Most sides range from $1.99 to $3.99.

If you decide not to build your own, you may choose from the main menu. Most dogs on this first menu range from $4.99 for the traditional to the Mac and Cheese Dog at $6.99 onto the TNT Super Dog at $8.88. If you make it a combo meal, you have a choice of potato salad, coleslaw or fries, a fountain drink and a hunk of yummy homemade fudge made by Amy, Ray's wife. The add-on price is $2.99-$3.99. Burgers, all made with pure angus beef range from $4.99 to $7.99. I also sampled the pulled pork burger (photo below) which is to die for.

If you are a hot dog or burger lover, you cannot afford to pass up The Slaw Dogs. Reasonably priced and so very delicious, its totally original hot dog and burger creations are the best anywhere. So, go on over to Woodland Hills, Pasadena or Duarte (addresses above) and enjoy! I sure did and I'll be back for more!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Buca di Beppo

505 West Foothill Boulevard
 Phone: 909.399.3287
Mon - Thurs: 11am-10pm
Fri & Sat:
Anthony Martinez, Paisano Partner
Buca di Beppo roughly translates in English to Joe’s Basement. Buca means hole, a slang word for basement or cellar and Beppo is an unusual way to spell the nickname for Giuseppe or Joseph. The chain of close to 100 establishments is owned by Buca Inc., which in turn is owned by Planet Hollywood.

I have always been a lover of Italian anything...food, music a la Sinatra, Como, Bennett, LuPone, cinema with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, and of course, la familia...Mama Leone's Ristorante in Boston and New York were among my favorite eateries in the 60s and 70s when I lived on the east coast. Leone's had a real Italian atmosphere with its strings of mini lights strewn everywhere and the food was sheer heaven. So, when I heard I had a chance to revisit Buca di Beppo here on the west coast, I was thrilled, as its unique basement-like club ambiance with wall posters and vintage pictures of Italian-American pop culture closely spaced literally everywhere - like the photo of Sophia Loren's eyes popping out of their sockets as she views Jayne Mansfield's low-cut dress - all of this is enough to keep one entertained for hours. And the food, indeed, in this super duper one.of.a.kind restaurant chain is amazing, with its family-style portions to die for. Gracious manager and host Anthony Martinez of the Claremont restaurant where I visited was on hand to greet us and stopped by our table several times to see if we were satisfied and happy with our meals, which was, to be sure, an understatement. We were having a great time.

Sunday March 9 was National Meatball Day, so naturally I was primed and totally enthusiastic about ordering their famously giant juicy meatballs. My friend and I also ordered lasagna and veal parmigiana to share. The veal was tender and succulent and the lasagna loaded with tasty ricotta cheese. My mouth is still watering, thinking about it. Our server, adorable Cheran suggested fried calamari as appetizer and my friend chose the mussels bianca. I have never eaten mussels but was so curious watching Stan eat what seemed a massive bowl of mussels right out of their shells. He literally devoured the entire dish by himself, and I did not do too badly either with the delicious fried calamari. We also had a wonderful caesar salad, some great mozzarella cheesy bread, and last but never least for dessert, the Mt. Vesuvius chocolate cake, which is served with raspberry sauce and covered with whipped cream and ice cream. There is warm chocolate sauce like lava which spurts out from the center of the cake, and thus the name Mt. Vesuvius. If it sounds too good to be true, you said it, it is exactly that.

There is a wonderful list of wines, cocktails and cordials with which you may start your meal. Another specialty on the dessert list is a delectable Italian creme cake and also a luscious tiramisu.  As to the famous entrees, besides veal pamigiana, you may also order chicken parmigiana, eggplant parmigiana, chicken saltimbocca, and salmon sorrento. On the pasta side there are great spaghetti plates with meat or marinara sauces and meatballs, fettuccine alfredo and ravioli with meat sauce. There is also quite an array of specialty pastas, pizzas and sumptuous anipasti, all at reasonable prices, but I must admit, Bucca di Beppo is by no means cheap. It's a high-class authentic Italian American restaurant where you want to go when you're in the mood to splurge. The decor, the food, the great friendly service all add up to a party atmosphere that will easily suit a birthday, anniversary or that extra special dining night out, whenever you feel like it. Look for a Buca di Beppo near you! Buon appetito!

with friendly service from Cheran and Phil

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cafe Cordiale

14015 Ventura Blvd
Sherman Oaks
It is so uplifting to see a family business thriving right here in the San Fernando Valley, in Sherman Oaks to be exact. For over 28 years David and Margaret May and their son Peter have been running Cafe Cordiale on Ventura Boulevard, which remains to this day a very popular restaurant for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch...and a hot late night club for live music as well. How many eateries in Los Angeles have this unusual feature?! Cafe Cordiale is definitely singular with an ultra modern allure and great food.

Ever so pleasant manager Patty, who greeted us on arrival, explained in detail how the restaurant turns into a night club. The red curtains in front of the kitchen window close and the two tables in front of them convert to a stage...and the partition separating the two dining rooms goes up, creating one big space. Amazing! I will just have to return some late evening to join in the fun and see it for myself. But first, on to my lunch-time experience and the elegant dining I encountered at very moderate prices.

I was feeling adventuresome and suggested trying different entrees for my friend and I to share. Patty said they would come family style. I started out with a Caesar salad and my friend, a chopped salad. Both were very ample portions, a meal in themselves! We proceeded to order three entrees: Baked Shepherd's Pie, made with ground beef  - instead of ground lamb, but still succulent and sweet - and mashed potatoes, fish and chips, and salmon and lobster cakes, all of which are personal favorites. Since chef David May comes from England, it is easy to understand why these three choices are on the menu. Shepherd's Pie is a tradition on British and Irish tables, and of course, fresh fish is a staple as well. With my New England background, influenced by these very traditions, I felt like I was in heaven; I had definitely come to the right place. Everything we ordered was tip-top. The salmon and lobster cakes were like homemade, and served with tomato, basil and onion salad and fries. My grandmother frequently made salmon loaf when I was a kid, and these patties reminded me of its great texture and delicious taste. Needless to say, the Shepherd's pie was scrumptious. For dessert I had the French Apple 'Tarte Tatin", baked & carmelized apples on a puff pastry, with vanilla ice cream. My friend ordered the black and white chocolate mousse pie. Both exceeded expectations.

Other lunch entrees include chicken marsala, grilled tilapia, sandwiches, including vegetarian, and soup and salad all reasonably priced from $8-$12.95, with grilled salmon, of course, slightly higher at $17.95. The dinner menu includes beef/lamb dishes, seafood and poultry selections all under $20. Monday through Friday lunch times are 11:30am-4:30pm and dinner starting at 4:30, 7 days a week. Weekend brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 am to 4: 30pm, with breakfast items from 11am to 3pm.  Breakfast includes specialties such as eggs benedict, eggs Florentine, tortilla scrambled and smoked salmon scrambled… and a cordiale grand breakfast for only $15.95 that features eggs, bacon, sausage and multi-grain nut pancakes. There is an extensive wine list and a great selection of cocktails available at every meal. Cafe Coridale is also the perfect place for holiday and special event parties, featuring a variety of menu items. 
Peter May and his dad, chef David May

Late night live music is offered six nights a week, Tuesday - Sunday, accompanying a late dinner. Music featured includes R&B, Soul, Jazz, Pop, Latin, Blues and Rock. This joint is jumpin' from 11 am every day until the wee hours of the following morning...and the service is consistently warm and friendly. It's no wonder that community customers consider Cafe Cordiale their home away from home.

Call 818-789-1985 for menus and music schedules or go to

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market in Sherman Oaks

14141 Ventura Blvd

Looking for a casual place for lunch that is ultra spacious and airy with a unique look and feel to it? And, more importantly, one that serves sandwiches that are hand-crafted with only the healthiest ingredients to suit your individual needs? If your answer is yes, and I'm sure that it is, look no further than Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market where you can truly Eat Happy, now in its latest location in Sherman Oaks at 14141 Ventura Blvd.

Where else can you expect to see a full grown tree inside and passing right on up through an open hole in the roof! This accounts for the refreshing air which permeates throughout making the restaurant cool and comfortable, especially during peak hours, lunch time from 12 to 2 pm, when Mendocino Farms is, shall we say, swarming with customers. My friend and I stopped by around 12: 30 and we had to wait in a short line. Not a big deal! Time passes quickly, as you must browse through the large menu, which is an event in itself, and make your selection, place your order with the friendly hostess who greets you at the door, and then proceed on in to sample goodies at the deli counter, where you may also purchase beverages and pay for your order. Once your order is paid for, you find a table, and when your order is ready, it is brought conveniently right to you. Tables are neat with marble finish, and if you do not wish to sit in a chair, in some areas, you have your choice of a large comfy leather sofa on the opposite side of many tables.

My friend Dante chose the leather divan bank to sit on
As far as the menu is concerned, hand-crafted sandwiches with only the best ingredients are made to order, and there is a huge selection to choose from. Some, like the scrumptious Steak BLT that I chose, come on a specific type of bread to help hold the sandwich together, but in many cases, you may choose you own artisan breads like mom's seeded whole wheat, ciabatta, buckwheat, cranberry walnut or gluten-free bread for just $1.50 more. Classic sandwiches include chicken MBT, the famous farm club, BBQ pulled pork on soft roll, modern tuna melt...and farm favorites like the steak blt, which I enjoyed, or "not so fried" chicken, which is roasted free range chicken rolled in Mendo's krispies with herb aioli, mustard pickle slaw, tomatoes, pickled red onions and with a side of chipotle BBQ sauce.  There are also, for the cheese lover, ham and gruyere grilled cheese, and for the vegan, vegan shawarma, which my friend simply raved about. A baby blue plate special is offered - a half sandwich with soup or salad... and children of all ages are most wholeheartedly welcome.
I had a cup of cream of tomato soup - smooth, creamy and delicious. I definitely recommend this and, as far as salads go, there's a kale caesar, the blue cow steak cobb, and save Drake farm salad, which is named after Dr. Dan at Drake Family Farms. Also promoted are places like Drago Bakery, Petaluma Poultry and nearby Coldwater Canyon provisions. These local farms and artisan friends give Mendocino Farms its great reputation of using only local fresh produce which in the long run is better and healthier for all of us. And the prices? Ultra moderate. All hand-crafted sandwiches range from eight to ten dollars and most salads, $10.95. All Boylan fountain sodas are sweetened with only all natural cane sugar and feature a wide range of flavors: black cherry, root beer, cane cola, ginger ale and lemon lime, and of course diet sodas are available in all flavors.

Mendocino Farms is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week Monday through Sunday from 11 am to 9 pm. Remember in Sherman Oaks, the newest location is at 14141 Ventura Blvd near Hazeltine.
Call: 818-205-9744.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Wolf Creek Restaurant & Brewing Company

26787 Agoura Rd

With its high-ceilings and vast wooden interiors, Wolf Creek Restaurant and Brewery is flat out good old American tradition. On the walls are paintings of famous Pacific Northwestern locales and in plain view a big open bar area smack dab in the middle with a large screen television. Freshly-made homemade beer and ale are waiting to wet your palate as well as the best homemade entrees and appetizers prepared anywhere. Manager Jim Sebastian is proud of the restaurant's fine reputation. As in the original Valencia locale founded by Rob and Laina McFerren, this newest Calabasas restaurant/brewery offers samplings of all hand-crafted beers and ales to customers and participates in Octoberfest and community wine and beer-tasting events. As far as the food goes, Sebastian boasts that at 6 am every morning bakers are in their kitchens making bread and all handcrafted desserts from scratch with only the finest ingredients. Few restaurants prepare all of the food on the premises; Wolf Creek is definitely one that does, and on that, you can rely.

Since I am a meat and potatoes kind of guy, when I think of the old west and cowboys and wildlife, I think big-portioned meals like steak, potatoes and vegetables, and of course, homemade cake or pie smothered with rich cream, fruit or ice cream. We asked Jim if there were appetizers or entrees that he would highly recommend and he suggested that we try the calamari and the creek style chicken wings. We were offered a combo of smoky-hot chipotle and sweet and spicy wings with an Asian flair. These were absolutely succulent and the fried calamari sweet and tender. Next up was salad. Caesar happens to be a favorite of both my friend and me, so Caesar it was. What was brought to the table as a half-salad was huge. The portions at Wolf Creek are very generous. And the prices...exceedingly reasonable with most appetizers priced from $7 to $10. There are three different steaks on the menu Gaucho steak, Cowboy steak and a Flatiron steak. At Jim's recommendation, I chose the flatiron, which was served on a bed of caramelized onions, topped with gorgonzola cheese and with garlic mashed potatoes, broccoli and giant mushrooms on the side. My steak was cooked to order, medium and was tender and juicy. My friend chose the Cowboy, a 10-0z ribeye which is cooked with spices, and served with garlic mashed potatoes, cactus thorns and ranch hand salsa. Both portions were enormous and moderately priced under $25.

Other popular entrees at Wolf Creek include baby back ribs, ale marinated tri-tip, ale battered fish and chips, jambalaya, BBQ chicken quesadilla, as well as a varied selection of chicken dishes including country fried chicken, chicken picatta, chicken dijon, bayou chicken and orange cashew chicken. For the pasta lover, there are among others Santa Fe chicken pasta, chicken ravioli, sundried tomato pesto, and pasta carbonara. And of course a large variety of sandwiches which include the California cobb, ale marinated tri-tip, chop house burger, turkey and avocado melt, fire-grilled ahi burger and a vaquero steak sandwich with that luscious flat-ironed steak and grilled asparagus. Wolf Creek also offers a wide variety of salads, and pizzas, so there are choices to suit every palate of the entire family.

As far as the beer goes, what started as a home-brewing kit one Christmas at the McFerrens has grown into one of the best blue-ribbon breweries in the valley. Beer, they believe, is the best beverage to accompany heavier foods, and who can argue with success? At Wolf Creek, it all blends together to perfection!

Desserts change daily, so you must ask your server what is on hand, but I will let you know there is more than one creme brulee and a Heaven/Hell cake that consists of angel food, chocolate and peanut butter icing with a garnish of fresh cream and fruit...to die for! Try it, if it's on deck! Whatever your choice, remember, they are all made from scratch for your ultimate enjoyment!

Wolf Creek has an extensive catering menu as well and is big enough, with a beautiful patio area, to suit any kind of catered affair such as birthdays, anniversaries or weddings. Don't hesitate to choose Wolf Creek for its simply excellent food and friendly service. It's great!


Friday, January 31, 2014

Lady Face Alehouse and Brasserie

29281 Agoura Rd,
Agoura Hills

The name Lady Face and the sketch on the restaurant's logo suggest something ultra feminine, dating back to the Renaissance days. It promotes great expectations! Once inside the doors, the spacious ambiance reminds one of a distinctive pub with brewery tanks in full view, but there are some very ladylike touches in art and decor that kind of sneak up on you here and there and take you back to that gentler, artistic period. In the final analysis Lady Face symbolizes a time and place where femininity was beautiful and reigned supreme...and a lady could still lift a pint with the best of them It's a classy yet casual joint quite unlike anything you have experienced anywhere, and, judging from the clientele, it appeals to both men and women from every walk of life. On the day I visited, there seemed to be a power business meeting with four men at the next table, as well as married couples nearby and casual friends of both genders meeting up for lunch. Owned by lovely Cyrena Nouzille, with brewmaster David Griffiths and Adrian Gioia, executive chef, Lady Face lives up to its great reputation and turned my visit into a delectable lunchtime treat.
Celebrating four years in the Agoura Hills location, Lady Face is not a chain, so that kind of uniqueness makes it even more special. In today's world it's hard to find just one place that you can eagerly anticipate returning to without its twin establishment smacking you in the face on the very next corner. The look, the ale, the food are all prepared to suit the gourmet palate. In tandem with the fourth year celebration Lady Face is offering a Belgian quadrupel ale brewed with raspberries. The ale is light, smooth and delicious. About twelve draught ales are brewed on the premises, as well as a half dozen incredible beers. Cask ale is served at cellar temperature and there are terrific happy hour discounts on all of them, as well as on wine and all luscious cocktails, from 3-6 pm Mondays through Fridays.

The philosophy of Lady Face is to serve hand-crafted and artisan products, which means fresh ales, and dishes with 100% natural ingredients prepared at the peak of freshness. What is offered on the menu, then, is only in-season, locally available or California-grown produce.

Well, what sounds fresh and delicious turned out to be just that, as the lunch served to both myself and my guest were 100% terrific. Our affable server Christina was exceedingly helpful in making choices that would not only satisfy my tastes but attract a wider audience and suit some of the varied tastes of my readers as well. I started out with a Lady Face Sangria, fruity and delicious. Even though I proclaimed myself a non-beer or ale drinker, Cyrena insisted on us sampling the fourth anniversary ale, which was indeed light and savory. For my first food selection, I chose French onion Soup, which I had heard was a wonderful choice. What made it different from other French onion soups was the beer stock included that blends to perfection with the onions and gruyere. My next course was a grilled romaine salad with a tangy bleu cheese dressing. As an appetizer my friend and I shared pulled-pork sliders on pretzel buns, which were oh so good. I had the salmon as my entree, and it was the preparation with fingerling potato coins, grilled long oyster mushrooms, peas, caramelized onion puree and lobster saffron emulsion that made all the difference in bringing out the dish's special  flavors. My guest raved about the steak tartare and manila clams. For dessert we shared a scrumptious chocolate torte with vanilla ice cream and Lady Face's specialty bread pudding, smothered with whipped cream.

Other specialties of the house include wood-grilled house-made flatbreads, mac & cheese with salt & vinegar potato chip crust, ale-battered fish & chips. wood-grilled burgers, and sandwiches, including a croque-monsieur and croque- madame. Burgers start at $10 and the salmon entree is only $15. How can you beat these exceedingly reasonable prices!

The presence of the gracious proprietor Cyrena made our visit that much more memorable, as she stopped by our table to introduce us to her restaurant, to bring us samples of her fine ales and to answer any questions. This was to be sure an unforgettable afternoon of fine dining, which I most highly recommend to one and all. Breakfast is served from 11: 30 am to 4 pm and dinner from 4 pm to 10 pm, with happy hour specials  from 3-6 pm and late night offerings after 10 pm!