Friday, November 13, 2015

review - Gasolina

Gasolina Cafe
(818) 914-4033/21014 Ventura Blvd./Woodland Hills, CA 
Open Daily 8am-4pm

Looking for something different in your choice of restaurants that is simultaneously healthy and delectable? You need look no further than Gasolina Cafe in Woodland Hills. Gasolina, under the ownership of chef Sandra Cordero, opened a mere eight months ago and is already boasting quite a fan following. Give them what they want and they will come is indeed a true saying. It's a small and narrow place with seating at a few tables in front and on an outdoor patio, reminding you of a typically pleasant European cafe. 
On hand to greet me and my friend Jim on Friday the 13th - it was my lucky day! - was striking Chef Cordero - cordero in English means lamb - and the name truly fits, for she is as sweet as a lamb. She made us feel right at home as if she were cooking for us in her own home. If you know the Spanish, mi casa es su casa. Cordero is half Spanish and half Dutch. Sandra grew up a farm girl in Galicia, Spain, appreciating olive oil and the use of farm fresh eggs and other pure ingredients. She started cooking at an early age, so it is no wonder that she now possesses expert knowledge like how to whip up delicious lamb balls, papas bravas and empanadas with a flaky crust. You have to aim to please everyone, so this empanada's crust is a slight variation on the one you’re used to.

Cordero and her Kentucky born hubbie ride motorcycles as a hobby, and she somehow wanted to incorporate this biker enthusiasm into her very first voila...Gasolina. Stop in and fuel up is their slogan. Gasolina is open daily from 8 am to 4 pm serving unusually prepared breakfast and lunch. Sara presented us with a menu and then asked our preferences, bringing shortly thereafter about three selections each. I started off with homemade mint lemonade; my friend had a fresh watermelon juice. The lemonade is a real tart treat as opposed to the sugary ones I've been accustomed to. Next up came our first entree. I had patatas bravas which are similar to home fries on a plate with chorizo, serrano ham, aioli, brava sauce and a sunny side up egg on top. If you have never tasted papas bravas, they are crunchy on the outside with all the rich chewy potato goodness on the inside.  Jim had the garlicy shrimp scramble with shrimp, egg, garlic laced with fresh asparagus and toast.
We sampled each other's; the taste was divine, not overly spicy; everything blended together just right. Next up came the house cured salmon sandwich with beet cured salmon, herbed crema, cucumber and watercress. For me, the piece de resistance was the cordero lamb burger served with avocado, lettuce, cucumber relish, romesco sauce and aioli. I love lamb, and this was so juicy with the avocado and sauces giving it that extra zing.

For dessert there was a precious chocolate mousse with berries. Jim and I shared the churros con chocolate, a long time latino favorite. The churros are laced with sugar and come warm and scrumptious. Gasolina is particularly proud of their shop blend coffee, so both of us sampled a wonderful cappuccino with our desserts.

Also on the menu to whet your appetite are lentil stew, as well as great salads like chicken and baby kale, shrimp and avocado... and pulpo gallego salad with octopus a la plancha. They serve Spanish style toast as well. Sandra explained that she imports all her cheese from Spain and that they "source local farms, serve good quality ingredients, use organic milk and local cage free eggs and chicken. We operate a scratch kitchen where everything is made in house and to order." All egg dishes, sandwiches and salads range in price from $10-$16.

So with such fresh healthy food at moderate prices and served with a smile by Sandra herself, who could ask for anything more? Everything es muy sabroso. Stop by any day from 8 am to 4pm and fuel up!

owner.chef Sandra Cordero

Thursday, October 22, 2015

review - Sloan's Ice Cream at Westfield Topanga

Los Angeles
The Village at Westfield Topanga

6250 Topanga Canyon Blvd. Suite 1560
Los Angeles, CA
Sun-Thurs 8AM-11:00PM
Fri-Sat 8AM-12AM

“Simply put, we created Sloan’s to be a dreamland for everyone, kids and adults of all ages. Our focus has never changed. In fact, we just keep enhancing the experience and now we’re ready to immerse even more people in the Sloan’s brand,” said Sloan Kamenstein, founder, owner and a classically trained chef who honed his craft at London’s Le Cordon Bleu culinary school and trained in kitchens throughout France. “One taste, sniff and glimpse of Sloan’s sends the senses soaring. The time has come to share Sloan’s yumminess beyond South Florida.” - Sloan's Ice Cream.
You know that giddy, childlike feeling of excitement that comes over you when you see something you cannot resist? Well, that's what hit me when I entered Sloan's Thursday afternoon. Piled high on shelves to the right are stuffed dogs, bears, ducks, sea otters and other creatures of various colors and sizes. There's even a life-sized zebra near the restroom. Also on the right is a huge candy display where you may watch an employee make homemade fudge - which, by the way, is to die for - and candy caramel apples. I haven't seen those since I was about 5 or 6 years old. To the left are homemade brownies, cookies and donuts - and then the piece de resistance - the ice cream stand with a multitude of flavors including Birthday, which is made from real birthday cake.

Store manager Rachael Aguon was on hand to give me and my friend a grand tour. She explained that the first store was built in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1999 by Le Cordon Bleu graduate Sloan Kamenstein and that the store is primarily of pink decor because his mother adored pink. Sloan and one partner make all the ice cream and pastries by hand and ship the ice cream to California in special trucks once a month. So it is made in the home base of Florida, and boy oh boy, is it distinctive: rich luxurious texture, real buttery, with all good ingredients. Birthday tastes like real birthday cake, because, as I mentioned above, birthday cake is frozen and then mixed into the batch. You can taste the smooth texture of the yellow cake and the frosting - no kidding! Pretty Rachael is out here from Florida to help oversee the new store at Westfield Topanga. She knows her stuff and makes you feel right at home. She loves her work, and it shows in spades. 
Doggie Treats
 We were treated to scoops of ice ream - my friend had a luscious hot fudge sundae and I sampled the birthday as well as black and white malt which has real malted milk balls throughout. She then proceeded to bring over a chocolate chunk cookie and a sea salt caramel brownie, both of which I saved for later. The chocolate is plentiful and melts in your mouth, and the brownie is so rich I must have gained a pound just from smelling it.

There are over 30 flavors. Talk about Baskin Robbins. No, don't! Sloan's is far better. I'm a fudge lover and so I chose a few flavors to purchase. Rachael gave it to me as a gift. How sweet is that! It is some of the best fudge I have ever eaten - chocolate raspberry, chocolate peanut butter, cookies and cream...and birthday cake! Rich, smooth, creamy, just like the ice cream: makes a great gift for your friend or relative especially with the holidays right around the corner. Another great item at Sloan's are doggie treats. That's right, you may purchase little cookie treats - not chocolate, of course, as chocolate is bad for animals - but made out of pure ingredients that our four-legged friends just crave.

I had heard that I must check out the bathroom at Sloan's. (see photo above) Spoiler alert! Well, no, you'll still find it fun. You can be seen through the window. For privacy, all you have to do is lock the door and the window fogs over.
Sloan's is for kids of all ages. It's a super fantasyland a la Willy Wonka...and the treats are all fresh, homemade and delectable, and all at moderate prices. Who could ask for anything more? While you're there, check out the rest of the exciting Westfield Topanga mall. It's a thoroughly satisfying experience on a pleasant sun-filled California day!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Clifford Clinton's Clifton's Cafeteria Downtown

Clifton's Cafeteria
648 Broadway
(downtown Los Angeles)

A downtown Los Angeles institution since the 1930s is Clifton's Cafeteria. The restaurant closed a few years back for restoration and just reopened on October 1, 2015. It's a sign that Broadway is back, as Carrie the Killer Musical Experience is playing right down the street on the opposite side at 615 Broadway between 6th and 7th streets.

Lines were around the block the first weekend, making Clifton's the most popular restaurant downtown. It's assuredly interesting, a uniquely fun experience with its museum sized stuffed animals on display and with tables on the first and second floors and now on three tiers in one section between the first and second floors. There are small cascading fountains, jungle-like painted walls; the entire atmosphere is like being on a tres civilized safari.There is a huge bar on the second floor - with a life-sized tree in the middle, jutting up to the third floor, and on the third, an amazing array of spacious rooms that all open onto a foyer. Each room has gorgeous decor including a great number of elegant European-style settees. There is certainly ample space here for some very interesting Hollywood parties.

On the main floor, there is a box of new toys for small children, from which they may choose a plastic sword or coloring book, to keep them occupied. Behind the eating area on the first floor is the big, open kitchen. Helpful hosts and hostesses walk you in and show you the carving station, soup and salad bar. hot entree and sandwich bars. There is a bakery with display cases in the main foyer as you first walk into the establishment, where you may purchase homemade goodies like croissants, pastries and cookies. The chocolate chip cookies are rich in chocolate and really scrumptious.

Let me say that I had the famous turkey dinner. It was very good, with the exception of some runny cranberry. I've had better, but the whole experience of having an attendee bring me butter for my roll and another person bringing me a glass of ice water and one assisting me to the elevator outside the kitchen was one I cannot forget. In fact, I cannot remember a restaurant where I could get a meal for $20 and get this much gratuitous attention. Everyone is there to serve and accommodate you to a fab dining experience. Let's see if this is still the case in another six months to a year. It is a grand reopening after all!!

Pay Clifton's a visit. The decor alone is worth it. Judging from plates that I could see, their burgers and mile-high fries appear quite special.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

review - Blue Dog Beer Tavern: Breakfast AT BLUE'S

Blue Dog Beer Tavern
4524 Saugus Ave, Sherman Oaks

Fantastic news for San Fernando Valley residents! Blue Dog Beer Tavern in SO is now open for breakfast Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm. I was excited to attend the breakfast grand opening Saturday September 19 and particularly thrilled to be invited to sit with co-owner Tony Kouba and his friends. Also on hand to greet us was co-owner Paul Scrivano. Both were exceedingly warm, friendly and helpful in choosing which of Blue's scrumptious breakfast dishes we should try. It seems that their success in the last six years for lunch and dinner boils down to a good old sense of community philosophy that, according to Scrivano, is to give the customers what they want. "If they come in over the next few weeks and ask for something that is not on the menu like lox and bagels, then that's what we'll include." Don't try to change the customers by giving them what you want; satisfy them! Judging from the crowd inside and out on the ample porch, it works. The restaurant seats about 90 people inside and out, and it was filled to capacity. The food was uber delicious.

My friend Jim and I savored the Breakfast Toast items. I had the fried egg, Applewood smoked bacon and avocado toast; Jim had the fluffy, soft -scrambled eggs with chives... and the blueberry compote on housemade ricotta cheese. All were plentiful servings and really delicious. A word or two about the blueberry toast. The fruit is a good-sized portion and ultimately juicy, and in combo with the ricotta, the taste is unique and flavorful. Tony ordered another blueberry compote and insisted on sharing it as well as a toast with caramelized cinnamon apples and whipped cream (picture below). Mmmmm! If you have never had dessert for breakfast, well try this one; it's the next best thing to total bliss. If I had known the portions were as big as they were, I would never have ordered Sunshine Sammy, a lightly grilled potato bun filled with bacon, cheddar, avocado, chipotle aioli and topped with a sunny side egg. Wow! And it was served with housemade fries too! According to Tony, only the freshest ingredients are used, and all potatoes and meat are made and ground on the premises. Bread comes in from the outside, but is cut to their own specifications in house. All the breakfast items are reasonably priced at $8/per item. There are also a morning quesadilla, and a Taco' the Morning To You for only $7. Paul mentioned that French toast is planned, and they are open to unlimited suggestions. Mine would be to probably add omelettes and some kind of breakfast potato like hashed browns or cottage fries. Waffles would also be nice, especially with that blueberry compote/ricotta spread on top!
with Tony Kouba
On the beverage side, there are fresh squeezed orange juice, fab mimosas, a house Sungria, a Pinot Noir with OJ, sprite and cut fruit for a mere $8/per glass. To top all that off, there's deliciously brewed Stumptown coffee from Pennsylvania, including flavors like cherry and toffee and fudge for a mere $3/per cup + refills.
with Paul Scrivano
For the health-conscious eater, there's also  Bowl o' Granola and a Savory Breakfast Risotto served with a sunny side egg, grape tomatoes, all blended with pesto sauce and spinach in a salad bowl, for only $9.

Service at Blue's is friendly and uber fast. And the atmosphere is so laid back and comfortable with a big screen TV for sports watching. The walls are handsomely adorned with many, many pictures of dogs of every breed. Bring the kids, and you and your pets will be accommodated on the porch! It's my kind of hangout. I'll be back!

Monday, July 6, 2015

review - The Melt in Westlake Village

The Melt Westlake
180 Promenade Way
Next to Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas
Westlake Village, CA
Westlake Manager Miguel Vargas Aims to Please.

Hardly your average burger palace, The Melt, founded in San Francisco in 2011 by Jonathan Kaplan, is a unique chain of family oriented fast food restaurants with an emphasis on healthy food, food that contains all natural ingredients...and lots and lots of cheese. Simple food like grilled cheese sandwiches, cheeseburgers, BBQ bacon chicken sandwiches, and tomato basil soup have never tasted this good, this fresh. And it's all offered in a clean relaxed atmosphere and at affordable prices.

The newest store in the chain is The Melt in Westlake Village, open since May of this year and run by Miguel Vargas, an affable lad who waits on tables taking customers' orders, spreading cheer in whatever way he can. He is there to serve and does a pretty damn good job of it. He was there on Monday July 6 after the holiday weekend for my visit and was more than eager to fill me in on the details of what makes The Melt different from your typical burger joint. It stresses family dining, putting an extra special emphasis on kids as well as adults. The menu  provides great economical meals for kids like a cheeseburger, grilled cheese, mac n' cheese or chicken caesar salad, served with a sliced apple and including a drink like milk or house-made lemonade all for slightly over $5. Amazing offer!

On the adult side of the fence there are burgers such as the original with aged cheddar, lettuce and tomato with melt sauce on a potato bun, or the spicy mission with Monterey Jack, charred jalapeno, avocado and pickled onions with house-made spicy ketchup - organic with no fructose corn syrup utilized. There's also the 'Shroom with fontina, mushrooms, fresh spinach and grilled onions on a wheat bun or the bacon BBQ with aged cheddar, double bacon, grilled onions and tomato with BBQ sauce on a potato bun. All of these burgers, by the way, range in price from $4.95-$6.95. There is also quite a variety of fries: naked, sweet potato and well dressed that includes russets, cheddar, fontina, and jack with bacon and crispy onions. $2.45-$3.95. My friend and I had the BBQ bacon burger which was absolutely delicious. I also chose the Trio Mac n' Cheese, made from scratch with creamy aged cheddar, fontina and jack with crispy onions. Yummy! My friend chose the T-Mac with truffle,with fontina, provolone, and mushrooms with parmesan. $3.95-$5.95. I also tried the artisan crafted Two Tomato Basil Soup, a delicious puree for only $2.95. The soup also  makes a great dipping sauce for the various kinds of fries. Sweet Corn Tortilla Soup is another option.

The wall says it all about what Jonathan Kaplan started in San Francisco back in 2011.
Miguel was quick to point out that all natural ingredients are used in all the food, including the soft serve ice cream which is truly scrumptious. For those with a big, big appetite, there are s'mores topped with soft serve vanilla bean ice cream. And... homemade milkshakes: vanilla bean, double chocolate, cappuccino, cookies & cream, mint chocolate chip and snickerdoodle. On my next visit this will be a must, as I cherish the taste of a good milkshake and, based on my sampling of the soft serve, I'm sure these are fabulous, for a mere $4.95.

For the salad lover, there's a caesar, field greens, chopped cobb and a smaller version on-the-side of either caesar or field greens for half the price. There are also four different kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches including the classic, the Italian Job on spicy garlic bread, the Mac Daddy with macaroni and bacon and the Truffle with two cheeses and fresh spinach. $4.95-$6.95.

It's nice to see a sense of humor in advertising, and I love the suggestion on the napkins: "Wipe that cheesy grin on your face" and their fun wall posters "Holy Macaroni" and "We have Nice Buns." Makes for a delightful experience all around!

I like a fast food restaurant only if it's spotlessly neat and if the servings are of ample size... and of course reasonably priced. The Melt meets my needs. It merits 5 stars. That mac n' cheese is to die for and so is the soup. Customers are flocking in, because they obviously appreciate good food. You will too. Stop by the Promenade in Westlake, or in Burbank or if you're in Hollywood, visit The Melt on Sunset, and simply enjoy!

Friday, March 13, 2015

review - The Twisted Oak Tavern, formerly The Lab, Has Grand Reopening end of March

30105 Agoura Road
Agoura Hills, California  
(818) 735-0091

As one sits enjoying a burger and homemade beer in the spacious dining room of The Twisted Oak Tavern, there are two things that catch your eye, the humongous cylinders at the end of the aisle where beer is made, still referred to as the Lab Brewing Co., and the twisted oaks outside the large window, whose breathtaking view infuses the establishment with an atmosphere of warmth, homeyness and nature-made fun. Formerly known as the Lab, the Twisted Oak Tavern reopened with its new name in January of this year, but next week commencing March 26 and ending on April 2 The Twisted Oak tavern will celebrate an official grand opening with an entire week of events. We'll talk about these further in, but first, let's talk food and beverage, what makes the Twisted Oak extra special.

I was exceedingly enthusiastic, of course, with the spaciousness of this restaurant and the view of the oak trees, but I had heard from many a source that the beer was incredible and the food was really first-rate. So, it was such a pleasure to meet award-winning brewmaster Roger Bott who was on hand to greet us and make us feel right at home. He suggested that we try an assortment of beer and food, and since I like just about everything, I was more than game. 

Our affable server Matt started us off with candied bacon strips and from the bar, my favorite nonalcoholic drink - ginger beer, made quite differently from what I was accustomed to drinking. It was prepared with fresh ginger… and lemon, which added a real sparkle, and needless to say, when anyone puts smoked bacon in front of me at any time of day, I am in heaven. After some picture taking and pleasant conversation with both Roger and Matt, we were served a small batch brew session, which included a blonde ale called Honey I'm Home, real savory; Belgian Pale; Belgian Breakfast Brown, a mild ale; Take Her Home Tripel - my favorite, and Cold Fusion. The beer samples, plus the delicious ginger beer put me in a terrific mood to appreciate the platter of food which Matt delivered to our table.

We were given a Twisted Oak burger, a chicken diablo sandwich with house fries, and a dinner serving of Lobster Risotto. It was lunch time but the chef was ever so nice to prepare us a dinner entree as well. Let me tell you, my friend and I raved about the risotto, as we are both fans of pasta and seafood. Scrumptious, to say the least! If that were not enough, they prepared us a special smoked salmon salad, consisting of baby kale, shaved Brussels sprouts, lemon dill crouton, red onion, house made ricotta cheese, house smoked salmon, and truffle dressing. There were so many incredibly wonderful flavors to savor that every bite was a true adventure. For dessert, my friend ordered the Dulce De Leche Lava Cake, and I chose the homemade Apple Cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Both were delectable. What impressed me about the kitchen at the Twisted Oak Tavern is that everything is made in house. Not only do they brew their own beer, but grind their own hamburg for the burgers and make the bread for the flatbread pizzas as well. I purchased a sausage pizza to take home and it was de...licious!

Returning to Grand opening week March 26 to April 2, every night of the week will feature something different, the most important being Thursday the 26th which will be ribbon cutting and the release of their barrel aged imperial stout named Boris. Friday the 27th will include a performance by the popular musical group Acoustic Saints. Saturday the 28th is charity night where food proceeds benefit the local animal shelter. Sunday the 29th is collaboration Sunday, where the staff will be brewing on a small pilot system on the patio with Enegren Brewing. The public is invited to hang out and participate. A new beer co-brewed with them a few months ago will be released called Big Dose, a barrel aged Belgian quad. Sounds like fun, so join in and help roll out the barrel for The Twisted Oak Tavern in Agoura Hills.

Those spacious booths! Can fit up to 8 people!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

review - Pizza Cookery for BREAKFAST!!!

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

If you are a fan of The Original Pizza Cookery in Woodland Hills on Topanga Canyon- and who isn't? - they are now open for breakfast 7:00 am to 10: 30 am daily, serving a unique variety of delicious breakfast foods. There are hefty omelettes, pancakes, divine French toast, large breakfast sandwiches including the breakfast burrito and much, much more.

The first item we were served was a breakfast pizza. If you like your breakfast hearty, with indescribable homemade flavor think: eggs, meat, cheese, and potatoes all blended together on a thin cracker crust. You get all the great tastes of these food items you love cooked to scintillating perfection as only a pizza oven can accomplish. When I took my first couple of bites, all I could say was "'s like eating a terrific omelette, potatoes and toast... only much better. Delicious!" And you can't beat Pizza Cookery's low price of $9.95. Each pizza contains eight slices, so there's definitely enough food for two. Besides the original pizza, which contains scrambled eggs, choice of bacon, sausage or ham with home fries, tomato, red onion, mushrooms, cilantro, mozzarella cheese and topped with fresh parmesan cheese, there are also the Greek Pizza, the Veggie or you may create your very own. 

Next our super friendly and consistently conscientious waitress Lynn served us a scrumptious skillet scramble. A skillet scramble consists of scrambled eggs with hash browns layered in a cast iron skillet, topped with mozzarella, cheddar, or provolone cheese and served with your choice of toast or an English muffin for a mere $10.95. We chose the Topanga with spinach, sausage, mushroom and red onion. It was richly satisfying. Also available are the original with your choice of bacon, sausage or ham with tomato, onion, mushroom and cilantro. For vegans, there is also the Veggie with mushrooms, red onion, black olives, tomato and green pepper. You may create your own scramble and substitute egg whites for a mere $1 charge. Amazing tastes all blended into one super awesome concoction that is totally unto itself!

The French toast was truly delightful, served with maple syrup, butter and fruit garnish. Also on the bill are pancakes, a Belgian waffle and specialties like bagel, lox and cream cheese. You may order eggs any style, a lox and onion scramble as well as scrambled eggs and onions. There are also a smoked salmon platter and a whitefish salad platter. For those who prefer cereal, it is offered both cold and... hot oatmeal. Bakery items include freshly baked muffins, cinna-mini for the ultra-sweet palate, croissants, bagels, English muffins and toast all nicely priced under $3.

Side orders include home fries as well as hash browns, bacon, ham steak, sausage links, sliced tomatoes, cream cheese, salsa and pure maple syrup. Beverages offered are apple or orange juice, low fat milk, iced tea or hot tea, coffee, cappuccino, latte and espresso, all under or close to $3. There are plenty of refills on coffee, and each guest gets a homemade cinna-mini with every breakfast order. And they are far better than those  tasteless pull-aparts you get in fast food restaurants.

Everyone loves The Original Pizza Cookery for its fine Italian fare and all I can add is their breakfast selections are the greatest. There is ample food prepared just the way you like it and service with a smile. Stop by 7 days a week from 7:00 am to 10: 30 am and enjoy a lovely breakfast experience!

visit them online at: