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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:)

Unless I’m getting on a plane, I don’t get up early, but a friend was visiting who doesn’t speak French, so to make sure she got on HER plane, I got up at 6 am! I was definitely in need of great coffee after seeing her off, so I headed over to Ten Belles. This perfect cappuccino almost made me forget that it was barely daylight. It was the best cappuccino I’ve had in Paris (so far)!

Canal St. Martin can be a desolate place in the winter, but with the lush greenery of summer, even rain clouds couldn’t detract from the beauty of this area.

Yes this is a working canal with water locks that open and close.

Some areas are off limits due to the water locks, but there is plenty of walkable waterfront to stroll.

Besides coffee, I was in this area to pick up some Pain des Amis (bread of friends) from Du Pain et Des Idées; this is now my favorite bread and my only regret is that I only bought a quarter loaf instead of a half loaf! Baked in a wood fired oven, the smokiness in the crunchy crust and the long slow rise of the yeast makes the texture of the interior mellow, nutty, and slightly chewy. If you love good slow and low smoked BBQ with a smoke ring crust, this will be your paradigm for bread.

The seven hour process (as opposed to most bakers who only allow a 90 minute rise), the quality ingredients, and the passion of the baker are evident in every delightful bite. Even carrying it home on the metro was a challenge since the smell permeated through the bag enticing me to eat it all the way home. I was not at all tempted by the viennoiseries offered, finding them either too underdone or overdone, but everyone else seemed to clamor for the chocolate banana croissants. They had a line out the door and were already sold out of several items by 8:30 am, so get there early (they open at 6:45am). I am going to set my alarm and buying a whole loaf next time since I’ve already polished off most of the quarter loaf while researching this post 🙂

 

There are very few places I will go for coffee. I’m highly sensitive to pesticides and since coffee is usually grown in countries with lax regulation, I only drink organic. Unfortunately, you can’t always trust some cafés which say that they serve organic coffee on their menu. I found out recently that one place I had been frequenting had falsely advertised. My headaches and upset stomach led me to ask the owner the source of his coffee, and because I knew the purveyor, I also knew the coffee and tea listed on the menu as organic were not. Like my friends at Lindy & Grundy, who know which restaurants actually serve grass fed pasture raised meat, I know which cafés actually serve organic coffee.

Conservatory in Culver City is a small family run business that not only serves organic coffee, but they also roast their own beans. Because I live close by, I get only enough to last for a few weeks at a time. They label the bags with the roasting date, so if you forget when you bought a bag, it’s marked. The middle bag is of Blood Orange Rooibos tea, which has a citrusy aroma and tangy taste that makes a non tea drinker like me happy to imbibe it. The tea is my nighttime beverage because sipping this noncaffeinated red tea it actually helps me get to sleep.

I transfer my purchases into my own containers when I get home.

You can drink your coffee, tea, or cocoa at the Conservatory, although seats can be scarce during prime coffee hours right after lunch when the employees of Sony Studios across the street come in en mass. They offer pastries and munchies to go with your coffee or tea, and their large servings are in huge cups that resemble bowls, so this is a great place to come for some conversation, to study, or for a calm break. One of the joys of coming here is the wonderful service from the always friendly family behind the counter who greet regulars by name. If you don’t live nearby, you can still become a regular because they ship their coffees and teas to all 50 states:)

Conservatory for Coffee on Urbanspoon

Today’s post is short & sweet because the place I am writing about is small and sweet 🙂

Churros Calientes lives up to its name, the churros are freshly made with organic flour, and come out piping hot. The storefront is only about 300 square feet with a counter and two tables inside, and a few outside, so you instantly bond with the other patrons.

The owner asked me to compare his churros to ones I had eaten in Spain and I would have to say these are BETTER. They are crisp, tender, and lightly dusted with organic sugar, adding a touch of sweetness that makes them excellent plain. Because they are also freshly made (and fried in a light oil), they are a bargain at $3.85! Where else can you get a made to order hot dessert for that price?

I ordered the churros con chocolate for $6.75 which included a thick creamy drink made of organic cacao beans with the churros. When asked why I was not drinking the chocolate, I responded that I use it to dunk my churros, just like in Spain. If you are a serious chocolate fiend, perhaps you can drink the super rich hot chocolate, but after one sip, I used it as a “sauce” for my churros.

The small cafe also serves soups, salads, paninis, and a range of organic coffee and teas, so if you want something besides churros, you can get it here. Several people came in for orders to go, and since I couldn’t finish my order, the owner packed my leftover chocolate & churros to go for me.

They are only open in the evening and since they are literally next door to the Laemmle Royal cinema, it’s a great place to stop after a foreign movie. Where else besides Los Angeles can you watch a German film, eat at a Japanese place across the street, and get a Spanish churro next door? (Ok, maybe New York, but we have better weather here:)

Churros Calientes on Urbanspoon

Zazou, in Redondo Beach, was one of my favorite restaurants when I lived in the South Bay, and one my first night back, I decided to go with a place I knew, even if it had changed. I chose the 8 hour braised short ribs with mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach for $29. It was a beautiful LARGE plate and I looked forward to my first taste, but unfortunately the meat was not as tender as an eight hour braise should have made it. The flavors were good, not outstanding, but a decent blend of reduced beef stock. The fresh spinach saute and potatoes were both fine side dishes and the carrots and onions from the braising liquid added a nice textural component to this dish. This plate was so large, I could only eat half of it! My waitress was so wonderful she laughed when she asked if I wanted dessert, seeing I had left so much of my main course on the plate. I told her no dessert, but a decaf espresso would be great.
The decaf espresso was great, with perfect crema and made with excellent Lavazza beans.

Zazou on Urbanspoon

I went to Paciugo Gelato, in Hermosa Beach, for my dessert since it gave me time to drop off my leftovers and walk off some of my dinner. I love gelato and to have a place in Hermosa that does it well was one of the changes I loved finding in my old hometown. A small cone or cup can hold up to three flavors for under $5, with exotic options like strawberry lavender, wedding cake, and black pepper olive oil, you can chose something new or in my case, two old flavors, like coconut chocolate rum and extra dark chocolate. The perfect way to end a day is with a stroll along the beach and a cone of excellent gelato!

Paciugo Gelato Caffe on Urbanspoon

A new day meant finding a great coffee place to start my day and it looked like Two Guns Espresso in Manhattan Beach was THE place to get something called a “Flat White”. They use 3 shots of espresso and 6 oz of steamed milk (I got soy) for this smooth nonfrothy drink. I loved it. I especially loved the friendly baristas and the fact that they use Caffe Vita beans from Seattle which emphasize Fair Trade and Organic beans. If you frequent the area (or their shop) get a frequent user card and get a free drink after buying nine. The first Tuesday of every month is Ducati night when you can  drink free coffee as you peruse the latest models of this classic Italian motorcycle.

Two Guns Espresso + Coffee on Urbanspoon

After my Flat White at Two Guns Espresso, I really didn’t need anymore espresso, so even though they had organic coffees and teas, I opted for a light but sustaining breakfast, so I went to Planet Earth in Hermosa. I chose their house made granola with soy milk for $5.95. It was delicious, with bits of dried unsulfured apricots, cherries, coconut, and almonds. They have plenty of options for vegans, those who are dairy or gluten sensitive, and anyone who wants their food to be organic, free trade, and home made. The only drawback to the place is that they are so disorganized they had trouble keeping up with orders and ran out of ingredients like bananas for my granola by 10 am. One customer waited 20 minutes for eggs, another waited 10 minutes for a quinoa bowl. Since most people don’t have the luxury of time for breakfast, especially on a weekday, they need to work on their executions and supplies so their mises (preparation of their ingredients for the dishes) are en place (ready). No matter how good their intentions and supplies, they will not survive without better organization.

Planet Earth Coffee and Tea on Urbanspoon        More Beach Bites tomorrow 🙂

There are very few places I will drink coffee in the United States; Urth Cafe and The Conservatory, are my local favorites. I recently discovered Jameson Brown in Pasadena, and after just two visits, it has risen to the top of my favorites list. Like the Conservatory, they roast their own beans, and like Urth Cafe, they offer good pastries and snacks with their coffee. All three of my favorite places offer organic teas and water process decaf for those of us who are sensitive to the pesticides found in most commercial products. There is plenty of easy street parking and a few outdoor tables. Inside, the brick building is bright, open, and inviting, with a couch, a fireplace and WiFi for those who want to stay awhile and work or study. Friday and Saturday nights they have musicians who play for food and coffee, so this can be your local live entertainment spot.

The Mayan Mocha is my favorite beverage here, so much so that I not only drove 20 miles here the day after I first tasted it, but I also took two to go home with me (to be reheated later). Made with Ghiradelli chocolate, cinnamon, and a bit of spicy chipotle chili, this twist on a classic had a nice warmth which is absolutely addictive. The first day I ordered it, it was presented like this:

The next day a different barista made this gorgeous design on my Mayan Mocha:

One of us got the regular latte and even though I preferred my Mayan Mocha, this was an excellent version of the classic coffee drink.

For those who want other unusual variations, they also offered a snowball (made with coconut and white chocolate), and a lavender latte, and even the largest of these inventive drinks is less than $4.50 each! Their special drink this week is an iced latte horchata.

Their chocolate chip cookies were a decent version, not as decadent as Madame Chocolat‘s, but also not as boring as commercially made ones.

The bear claw was am excellent breakfast pastry, with a nice almond paste and streusal interior.

For those wanting less sugary snacks, they also serve bagels and Romanian flatbread, which is similar to a large savory tortilla.

Jameson Brown offers everything you could ask for from a coffee house, quality ingredients, skilled service, a welcoming atmosphere, and that rare ingredient found in all great establishments, a commitment to always doing their best.

Jameson Brown Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

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