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Loving food and living in Los Angeles for most of my life, there are a few chefs I have followed as they have moved around town. Some of my favorite places are the ones where a chef left the steady income of a big name brand to open a smaller, more personal, and casual place where they can showcase their talents without anyone reining them inside a certain kind of menu. The risk for doing what they love means their wallets will pay if the gamble with the public palate craps out, but after years and sometimes decades at the helm, hopefully the sixth sense of balancing creativity with cash flow comes as second nature, and they find their groove with their groupies.

Lunetta and Lunetta All Day share a kitchen and the captain at the helm is Raphael Lunetta with some partners who know food. I loved JiRaffe, and I have enjoyed his skills at Broadway Deli and Patina over the years, but Lunetta All Day may be my favorite iteration to date of the mélange of Mediterranean sensibility with Californian cuisine. Even the decor reminds me of the seaside cafés in the South of France, so of course I started with a nice glass of vinho verde for $6 during an afternoon Happy Hour.

There is a small but inviting outdoor patio with a small nook, providing outdoor dining when the temperature permits (which is most days in Southern California).

I came for the octopus tacos $9 for two, and they did not disappoint with tender morsels and good vegetables. Of course I also added hot sauce, and of course, they had three options 🙂

I was invited to an evening tasting of their new summer menu at Lunetta and enjoyed the meatballs for $16 so much that when I came back with a friend for lunch I raved about them, so she ordered them and literally cleaned her plate! This side salad came with the tender meatballs on creamy polenta, so it was a hearty but balanced meal.

I was going to order the grilled fish until I learned that it was salmon…so disappointed that even in California, Americans will eat salmon, but rarely eat any other fish. I understand restaurants can’t stock fish no one orders, so please EVERYONE in the USA, order a fish besides salmon and tuna!!!!! I beg you!!!! Try one that has a head and tail, that is NOT tilapia! Ok tirade over….so instead I ordered the tuna Niçoise which was delightful for $18.50 and came with a salad on the side like the meatballs!  The tuna was seasoned correctly, and I loved the farm egg with the rich yolk, cooked to perfection! I was carrying my French gray salt so I added some to my salad for the extra oomph I love, but I think most people would enjoy it was it was served.

We saved room for dessert and we were eying the table next to us eating the lemon ricotta pancakes (yes for lunch), so we ordered a brownie $3.25 and one pancake $5.25 with blueberry butter and maple syrup as a dessert 🙂

We discovered the brownie had chocolate chunks in it!!!!!Surprise hidden treasure of decadent richness that was just the right amount of sweetness. Spending time with a good friend is always a sweet experience, but sharing a meal together at Lunetta All Day made it a mini vacation to the mediterranean 🙂

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When an Italian insists on taking you to coffee, please indulge them and let them pick the spot! My sweet 89 year old ex-neighbor from Palos Verdes drove me to Caffe Tre Venezie in Torrance and treated me to a cappuccino and hazelnut gelato as she recounted all the fun she had on her birthday with her daughters. She has become a regular at this small cafe and she conversed in Italian with the owner about the coffee they use in the cafe compared to the one she buys; in the end they both agreed that both brands were good choices:)

 

Regent Coffee in Glendale roasts their own beans, and they offer personal pour over coffee packets, as well as the usual assortment of espresso drinks.

Two Guns has opened up several locations around the South Bay, and luckily for me the one closest to me has a full menu and delicious bites like this one that may be my favorite cinnamon roll, with flakey exterior and croissant like interior wound around layers of cinnamon.

My favorite local coffee is the flat white with organic milk at Blue Butterfly, where I am now a regular, enjoying the art on the walls inside, as much as the perfect people watching front sidewalk, and the patio in the back with a tiny fountain. The day when they greet me by name, I know that I will have officially become a local 🙂

Sausal means Willow in old Spanish (before this area became part of the US, this was Alta California, as opposed to Baja California which is still part of Mexico). The old styles of ranch cooking over flames and wood are now used with fresh local ingredients to create the cuisine that epitomizes the best blending of the old and new world sensibilities.

Since The Yelp Elite event, Experience El Segundo, I’ve been wanting to come back and enjoy the small town hospitality and flavors. As fate would have it, I am moving here! I will now be a local in a town that is literally midway between my South Bay friends and my Valley friends! While I was sitting in both Sausal the the local cafe, Blue Butterfly, the people who walked in were ALL greeted by name (none of them were named Norm)! I am very much looking forward to becoming part of this community 🙂

Happy Hour at Sausal is EVERYDAY from 3-6pm and their margarita was one of the tastiest and strongest I’ve ever imbibed for only $6. It was brilliant to serve it with a half salt rim because drinking from the midway point gave me just enough salt!

One of the Happy Hour Specials was the batter fried shrimp taco for $4 that was piled high with crunchy slaw. I had to cut it in half to get a bite into my mouth!

Since I had not eaten lunch, I ordered the chorizo quesadilla for $7, that was big enough to share.

Did I mention, I had not eaten lunch? I also ordered the short rib empanada, perhaps my favorite $4 happy hour bite, filled with tender tasty beef, and surrounded by a perfect crunchy pastry.

My first Happy Hour experience was so good, I had to repeat it a week later, with a beef mole tostada, loaded with so much tender, delectable chunks of shredded beef that every mouthful made me smile:) Even more amazing than the flavor was the quality and quantity of the serving at Happy Hour of only $4.

I could have easily stopped eating after the beef tostada, but I wanted just one more bite, so I chose the wild caught crispy ling cod fish taco off the regular menu for $6.50. Served on a blue corn tortilla, with charred tomato crema, and lots of grape tomatoes, this may be one of be best fish tacos I’ve ever eaten!

For vegetarians or vegans they offer a cauliflower taco $6

The margarita was so strong, that I stopped by Blue Butterfly for an Americano before driving away. I think I’ve found two places where I will become one of the regulars they know by name:)

The Eataly finale ends on a sweet note 🙂

After perusing every sit down or take away option, my friend and I decided to eat lunch elsewhere. We made our decision based on our very picky standards; she has lived in and traveled extensively through Italy, and she has even taken cooking classes in Italy. I am just picky, especially after having eaten incredible meals in Rome for very reasonable prices.

The rotisserie had a lamb special that day, but once we got to the counter, they said, “Sorry, no lamb today, they sold it yesterday by mistake, so we have tri tip today”. Neither one of us wanted to pay over $20 for a small pizza or plate of simple pasta plus another $20 for a decent glass of wine.

Being in the newly remodeled Westfield Century City Mall, there were many other wonderful options, so we went to my old favorite Rock Sugar, and came back for a coffee and pastry.

We looked through all the pastry and dessert cases,

and the candy cases, including the chocolate cases, and gelato stand,

 but we decided on coffee and viennoiseries.

 I chose the raisin twist,

and she chose the almond cream. We tasted both but we each wisely chose our favorite. Because there were no seats, we ended up having our coffee standing up at the coffee bar, just as we would have done in Italy 🙂

Since we were fortified with some sugar and caffeine, we wandered upstairs to shop in the cookware and toys section, where we saw the SMEG500, a Fiat fridge!

For the ultimate Italian wine cooler/conversation piece! As the saying goes if you must ask how much it is, you should not buy it (you must apply to purchase it)!

One of my friends used to live in South Pasadena so she suggested that we meet for lunch at Heirloom Bakery. They have a nice outdoor patio and they are only a few steps from the South Pasadena Metro stop, so it’s a pleasant and easy stop for breakfast or lunch. I chose the turkey panini with fresh spinach and tomato with a schmear of pesto that helped elevate the flavor beyond the ordinary.

My friend chose the quiche of the day and I had a taste so I could write about it. The filling was light but I found the underdone. The fresh tomatoes on the side were a nice touch, but some needed some dressing and a better presentation imho.

My friend ordered the bean salad as a side and this definitely needed some zest and seasoning.

On another evening my friends and I walked over to Communal half a block away from the Farmers’ Market for some craft beers and more food.

They were very generous with allowing us to taste several before making up our minds. I decided on the locally brewed Smog City Amber Ale. We ordered the twice fried Kennebec fries for $5 but they were too starchy for my taste, although my friends liked them.

We also ordered the crispy chicken wings with spicy porter BBQ  sauce and we all enjoyed them $8.

The hit of the evening were the mussels (a special) with a spicy tomato broth and a fabulous garlic toast that was absolutely perfect for either a full meal or for sharing.

After sorting out paperwork with the French administration, an Australian friend and I headed to a L’Arcade Café in the central square of Saint Germain-en-laye for lunch. Although I had recommended some other places without a view, I did the touristy thing because she was so keen on sitting out on a terrace looking out into the center of town, hoping that it would be better than the other cafes in the same square. The dark clouds sprinkled a bit of drizzle, but the sun also came out intermittently. It was a lunch of many good and bad facets, just like the weather…

Our view of the square was very nice, and even though we had three servers during our 1 hour meal, service was friendly and professional.

A pleasant surprise was the generous serving of smoked salmon appetizer for 14 Euros which included crème fraîche and a bit of lemon. The sliced bread on the plate was a bit dry, but had good flavor nonetheless.

My friend ordered the Caesar salad for 14 Euros. The dressing should have had at least a bit of anchovy or garlic, but it tasted very much like plain mayonnaise, and the rest of the salad did nothing to compensate for the lack of punch. Yes, that is balsamic you see drizzled on the salad, and no I have no idea why they would add that to a caesar salad…..

I ordered the filet de bar (sea bass), which came with plain basmati rice (under the rocket greens) and a small salad of rocket and sun dried tomatoes for 17 Euros. The fish was crisp but not overly cooked, and the sauce vierge of olive oil, tomatoes, and shallots was pleasant if a bit bland. The dish was very plain and could have used a spark of acid, or heat, or seasoning, but it was a fine choice for my slightly upset stomach.

We went clothes shopping at the stores after lunch, and stopped by for some fresh fruit and viennoiseries on the way back for our afternoon snack, proving that sometimes the best meals are the ones you put together yourself:)

One of the advantages of walking in Paris is that you may find places you would miss using any other mode of transportation. The slower pace of life here can take some adjustment, especially for people from cities in the US, but there are rewards of pleasurable discoveries like La Trésorerie (they are working on an English version of their website, but they have people who speak English answering their phone lines). Prices are reasonable, neither the lowest and nor the highest for brand names and types of products; you may find lower prices in the big department stores during sales, but this place will have less crowds and better service.

I don’t really have room for any more pots and pans, but it’s always fun to browse:)

Tea and coffee sets and cups give you an option of making a beverage at home.

They have utensils from butter spreaders to zesters.

If you need extra hooks, they have those too.

Lights, tables, throws, curtains,

and coordinated linens to enhance your decor.

They even have practical things like cleaning supplies and tools.

The most practical part of this store was their attached cafe,

with Swedish snacks and sweets to sustain you as you shop:)

A cappuccino is the best way to start a day in Rome, especially since nearly every bakery, bar, and caffe makes an excellent cup. The bakery near where I was staying, Desideri Caffe, opens at the crack of dawn and serves locals heading off to work (I got my last cappuccino in Rome before my flight at 6am). The price of coffee is controlled at a certain amount if you drink it at the counter, and it was only 1.10 Euros. Yes, this wonderful cappuccino was only $1.20 US! Being a bakery, they had plenty of sweet temptations, but the best reason for me to go back was after one visit, the man behind the counter knew me and asked if I wanted my “usual”:) The residential parts of Rome, like Monte Verde, are big extended families, and once you arrive, you are welcomed, usually with a smile.

As lunch time approaches, the sweets in the case become sandwiches, to go or to eat at the tables inside or on the patio of the bakery, which also has a full bar if you want a shot of alcohol in your coffee.

Isola Tiburina, or Tiber Island had more tourists, as you can see by the signs in English,

and the cappuccino at Tiberino was more expensive at a whopping 1.50 Euros, or $1.70 US at the counter. It was hands down the best cappuccino I’ve ever tasted. Yes, thank-you, more please…except I would have been a jittery wreck all day. It was a good thing they were out of cornetti, the breakfast pastry that is not a croissant, or I would have added a sugar high to my caffeine high:)

Their sandwiches for around 5 Euros or $6 US, looked amazing, but I had other plans for lunch.

Enoteca Spiriti is a wine bar opposite the Temple of Hadrian, not far from the Pantheon. It was the least touristy place I found in the area, so I took a chance and had lunch there.

Every one of the men wore a blue suit with a red tie, and all the women carried expensive handbags. They all seemed to know each other, greeting each arrival with kisses and or handshakes. I wondered if I had walked into a secret club, but then I learned Temple of Hadrian now houses a bank. Ah no wonder so many people were drinking water in a wine bar!

The decor and artwork were very original and low key.

My small tuna salad for 12 Euros or $13 US was as simple as it looked without any flavor to the dressing but very fresh ingredients, and well presented. My glass of sauvignon blanc at 6 Euros or $7 US was equally fresh and pure,

which seemed to be the theme of the place, extending to the breadbasket.

Even their toilet had an attachment if you wanted to rinse yourself after your meal, which I nearly wanted to do when I went to pay my bill and the waitress tried to add an additional service fee of 3 Euros, but since I had gotten the bill at my table, she couldn’t ask me for more since I had the itemized total tally in writing in my hand. Bankers aren’t the only ones trying to add fees!

I had a much better experience, and much better food at Litro, which was very conveniently located directly in front of a bus stop on a line I took into the touristy parts of town 🙂 The wonderful thing about Litro is that they are open all day, serve everything from snacks to full meals, and they have a good selection of wines and desserts. It’s a casual place with a small patio. It’s so warm and friendly, one day one of the owners was there playing with his son and feeding him as he was serving the customers.

There are daily specials on the chalkboard outside, and one day it was a bruschetta with guanciale for 5 Euros or $6. This was a perfectly grilled toast topped with pork “jowl bacon” dressed with excellent olive oil, the tender thin slices of smoked cured meat nearly melted onto the hot bread, and was so redolent with thyme and pepper, that my mouth had a little dance party! I had a nice glass of Mescita for 4 Euros or $5 with the bruschetta and that kept my hunger at bay until restaurants opened for dinner three hours later.

On another day between Roman lunch and dinner restaurant hours, I was so hungry, I needed a meal, so I ordered their tuna salad for 12 Euros or $13. This salad was easily the biggest one I’ve seen since leaving Los Angeles! The bottom of the bowl was filled with even more goodies, from tomatoes to cucumbers and olives, besides the eggs and uniquely fabulous Italian tuna in olive oil with bits of crunchy croutons. This salad was so delicious that I actually wanted to go eat it again but I was so full from my other meals, that I never got a chance to go back for another. This picture really doesn’t do the salad justice, but I was too hungry to even toss the salad before digging in, and once I did, I couldn’t stop eating until I had finished the entire bowl!

They had fabulous bread which arrived in a bag! I should have taken the bag with me, which is why I think they served it in a bag, especially since it was 2 Euros or $2.30 US for the bread.

The Trastevere neighborhood has become touristy, but it’s still got some charming corners tucked away on the little streets leading into the central piazza, like this one with Vin Allegro.

They are a very well stocked wine bar with a virtual store room in plain view.

They have a generous happy hour where for the price of a drink, you get to choose as much as you wish, as many times as you wish from the two tiered buffet. The buffet has everything from sandwiches to salads, vegetables, to meat, and everything in between.

I sampled a bit and enjoyed everything on my plate. You could easily make a light meal from the buffet happy hour if you didn’t want a full dinner. They also have a menu if you prefer something hot to go with your wine. Most glasses are about 5 Euros or $6, so when you consider you can eat as much as you want with a drink for this price, it’s an amazing value. Add the charming ambience and indoor /outdoor seating, and you have a very good address to go to before or after dinner.

The Piazza Navona is a huge draw (you’ll see why in a later post), and sometimes finding a place in the heart of tourist central is a challenge, but I found a place to sit and people watch nearby, without all the crowds. Mimi & Coco is a wine bar, but like all the wine bars I saw in Rome, they offer food and coffee as well. My glass of organic red wine was 5 Euros or $6 US (5 Euros seems to be the standard price in Rome for a nice glass of wine). Chips and pretzels were offered with my drink, and the tables of tourists next to me were eating California sized pizzas and salads. A great plus at this place is free wifi, so I got to catch up on my social media as I rested my legs and watched other people navigate all the cobblestone streets:)

Winter is cold and rainy in Paris, but Barcelona is only a 2 hour flight away and about 10 F warmer, so I decided to finally go see all the Gaudi buildings and try the food I’ve heard so much about in person:) I have friends who go to Barcelona as often as Los Angelenos go to Las Vegas, so they suggested I stay in the Gothic area or Barri Gòtic, which is the old town and literally a few blocks from Port Vell, the Ramblas, and the beach. I found a great place on Air BnB with a marvelous host, but whether you prefer a five star hotel or a youth hostel, there are plenty of options in all price ranges.

This statue of Columbus marks the waterfront at one end of Port Vell and one end of the Las Ramblas, the famous walking promenade similar to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.

Since I arrived around midnight, I asked my host where to go for coffee and croissant the next morning (you can take me out of Paris, but I still need my French breakfast)! He couldn’t remember which corner café of two nearby was the best so I tried the closest one on Carrer Ample.

Café au lait with a perfect flakey sugar topped croissant on the terrace was only 2.50  or $3 USD, which would not even buy an espresso in Paris, and if you add a friendly smiling waitress, you have a priceless breakfast:)

I was the lone person on the terrace at 9 AM, but I walked by later and saw it filled around 11 AM.

The café sits on the square with the Basilica de la Mercè

Carrer de la Mercè borders the other side of the church and has some of the best tapas bars.

Having had breakfast, my first stop was Park Güell. I knew it was a huge place so I wore flats, but if you are going, I recommend you wear hiking shoes or boots because the trails are steep, rocky and uneven. I saw several people with canes and admired their sheer perseverance. You could easily spend all day here.

The lines at the ticket offices at the site were long, so if you are coming by metro, buy your tickets at the station or better yet buy them online. If you are coming by metro, keep in mind it is at least a 10 minute climb uphill to the park, even if you use the escalators on the streets.

This is just part of the walk uphill from the metro, yes you must go to the top of the picture to get to the park entrance!

These are some of the groomed stairs in the park, but the steps are uneven stones, so use the handrails!

Once you make the trek up, you are rewarded with views like this of the Sagrada Familia

and Tibidabo on the other side.

The natural landscaping is functional as toilets are now built into the rock formation:)

The lookout point

with mosaics of different colors and shapes

at every curve is one of the most popular spots.

There are several other attractions at Park Güell and you can buy a ticket for the Gaudi House Museum separately or with the entry into the Monumental Zone. The rest of the park is free:)

Some people have left locks on fences here like they do in Paris, hopefully the weight will not cause the same problems it does in Paris….

Palau Güell is the first house Gaudi designed and you can see how he created coach entries in his soon to be famous curved stye

although the straighter top portion belies the hold of conventional form on him 🙂

I went to Barcelona to see Gaudi‘s buildings in person, but I also went for the food 🙂 La Boqueria is the main market in the middle of Las Ramblas (Metro: Liceu) and it was one of the highlights of my trip. It’s the equivalent of Pike’s Place in Seattle, if you are in Barcelona, go!

There’s a map at the entrance in case you want to figure out where you want to go, but simply wandering around is the most fun.

Fruit greets you at the entrance

along with candy, saffron

nuts, and dried fruit.

Many stands offer fresh juice, but some add sugar

so if you want no sugar added, look for “Sucs Naturals” which cost the same as the ones with added sugar at about $2 USD

and get an exotic one like I did, dragon fruit and coconut:)

Since Spain is known for pork products, you will find all variations here

including the famous acorn fed Iberico for the equally famous price of 395 Euros or $450 USD.

I got a cone of Iberico for 5 Euros and it was so big that I saved half of it for a snack later.

Barcelona is on the coast so seafood abounds in all shapes,

sizes,

and prices.

If you don’t want to cook, there are plenty of places to serve you whatever you would like to eat.

You can stock up on dried mushrooms,

dried salted cod, a specialty of the region,

olives,

or local meat.

Many places offered ready made boxes of food to go,

or cones of meat and potatoes,

or skewers of shrimps and calamari

or a combination of all three plus rotisserie chicken to go.

I was thrilled to find a stand specializing in peppers of all sizes and heat:)

Yes there is even an organic stand, but I saw no one buying anything there…

There was a line at the bakery

which also sold sweet treats like muffins and pastries.

You can even go nuts 🙂

After my juice and cone of Iberico, I wanted lunch, so I went to El Quim in the back of the market. It was packed but I managed to find a seat between two American tourists and three locals, all of whom were friendly and shared with me their favorite dishes to order at this landmark eatery inside La Boqueria.

Since it was 11 AM I ordered the BocaQUIM even though my seat mates were eating everything from fish and eggs with beer, to chocolate desserts with coffee and cognac! It’s wonderful to eat with people who will eat and drink anything they like at 11 AM 🙂

The BocaQUIM may be the best hot sandwich I have ever eaten! It’s the perfect brunch combination of toasted bread, caramelized onion with Modena balsamic, asparagus, egg, and pork loin. I’m craving it again just looking at the picture!

For only 6.50 Euros or about $7.50, it was quite large and I only finished this because it was so good,

and also because I had a wonderful glass of natural cava with it for under 4 Euros or $5 USD. I had already devoured half the sandwich by the time they delivered my glass:)

Time to take the metro back to take a nap,

nice that the metro has animated screens to keep me awake!

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