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When an Italian immigrant in Los Angeles says that an Italian restaurant is good, that carries more weight for me than someone who has either never been to Italy and/or someone who has never had an Italian home made meal. Having both been to Italy (different regions) several times, and had the wonderful fortune of knowing Italians who have cooked for me in their home, I am picky, so I was nicely surprised that Avenue Italy in Palos Verdes served up some delightful bites.

I judge restaurants by their bread; if it is great, it is a portend of more great flavors to come, but if it is bad, my suspicions and doubts begin to taint my opinion of food coming out afterwards. Thankfully the focaccia was a great preview of things to come, with an olive oil and herb side that was addictive.

We decided to order the Insalata di Barbabietole from the regular menu for $15 with baby spring greens, roasted beets, candied walnuts, dried cranberries, feta, and a lovely balsamic vinaigrette.

Their calamari for $18 was perfectly executed, with a light crisp exterior and tender calamari accompanied by a lightly spicy tomato sauce that was so good we could have eaten it by the spoonful!

Even though we only really ordered two appetizers, we were too full to order anything else, so we know what that means….#ReturningSoon 🙂

Yelp held an Elite Event event at Heroic Deli and Wine Bar a few months ago, and after tasting nearly the entire menu, I had to go back with a friend who loves authentic Italian food as much as I do (she speaks Italian and lived in Italy). The chef, Barbara Pollastrini, is one of only 40 Ambasciatori del Gusto (Ambassador of Taste), and the only one based in the US. Marry this kind of expertise with a wine list of bottles rated 90+ points  that exemplifies the best of Italy and California, and you have a destination worth visiting even if you are not a local.

We got there early enough to begin with the Happy Hour menu and their cacio y pepe arancini for $8. It was a crisp peppery bite to start our taste buds salivating.

I love artichokes so next happy hour appetizer were the fried artichokes for $8, served with an aioli for those who like some creaminess to dip into.

My friend and i had been sadly disappointed by the octopus we had ordered at another meal in a well known large restaurant downtown, but we were thrilled with the Polpo Croccante with potatoes for $24 here. The octopus was perfectly tender on the inside and crispy on the edges, with garlicky russet potatoes that were so good we nearly attacked the waiter who tried to take the plate away before we had eaten the last bite:)

One of the highlights was the fresh live Santa Barbara prawn and live uni on blue ocean pasta with crispy prawn head for $36. Thankfully we are good friends or we might have fought to eat this entire dish!

Because the chef makes her own guanciale, we finished our savory courses with the amatriciana for $22 with slow roasted tomatoes that showcased the quality of great ingredients expertly handled.

The owner Jeffrey Merrihue was there and remembered me from the Yelp event, so he offered us the torta di mele, a deconstructed apple pie ($10) with salt caramel, bufala ricotta, lemon zest and vanilla gratis and suggested that we try the Soave as a slight change from the Italian Chardonnay. Since I had only tried the Italian Chardonnay because of his suggestion at the Yelp Event, we tried the Soave and once again learned that there are many exceptions to a rule. Both wines were nicely balanced, the Chardonnay had no oak, and the Soave was not at all sweet! Bravo! Also bravo to our waiter who managed to exactly evenly split the last glass of wine we ordered into two equal servings 🙂

Heroic is a beautiful environment with excellent service, quality ingredients, and a talented chef, and has become one of my favorite places to eat in Santa Monica.

I was happy to finally try Felix Trattoria; a very appropriate emotion since Felix means “happy” or “lucky” in Latin:) 

There is a huge window in the dining area so that you can see the handiwork being done to prepare your meal. Whether you have tasted handmade pasta and loved it, or always wanted to try traditionally made pasta, Felix will make you happy if you are lucky enough to get a reservation. Delicate squash blossoms filled with ricotta and green garlic for $15 were light crisp bites filled with creamy goodness, a great way to start off a meal.

They had a lemon spaghetti with sea urchin on the menu, served with a portion that could have been eaten separately, but I preferred to mix it in to enhance pasta with more of the flavor of the sea. This was a rich dish, so the small portion was plenty considering the satisfying umami on the plate.

The hit of the evening was the oxtail ragu with DOP Pecorino Romano for $26. Meltingly tender meat coated the hearty pasta accented with the sharp salty sheep’s milk cheese. It was perfect and if you only order one pasta, I highly recommend this one!

We chose a wine from Sardinia based on the waiter’s suggestions. Gostalai Nepente di Oliena 2012. It was my first taste of Sardinian wine and I look forward to trying others 🙂

They have a small bar area and valet parking for $10, which is highly recommended unless you can find parking on Abbot Kinney.

Having good restaurants downtown makes a world of difference, especially when driving anywhere during rush hour traffic to get to dinner can be a nightmare (I actually had to change a dinner reservation twice because it took an hour to drive 5 miles)! Not wanting to subject non-Angelenos to the parking lots called freeways, the option of walking to a good meal made their visit much more pleasant.

I love living walking distance to downtown El Segundo. Even if I had to drive to get to the center of town, parking is easy and free for 2 hours on Main Street and for unlimited time on side streets. No, I don’t work for the city tourism board, I’m just a resident who loves this hidden mecca by the beach as much as the blue butterflies who call this city home.

Jame Enoteca now calls Main Street El Segundo home and I am very happy to have them in the neighborhood. Two veterans of the restaurant world own and operate this small space, focusing on quality ingredients and brilliant execution of classic techniques with a modern twist. My favorite places are those where the chef/owner is sur place because there is no quality control that is better than owner quality control.

Their specials change, but it’s a pretty solid bet to choose whatever strikes your fancy from the blackboard. Seeing a 36 hour tomato sauce combined with one of my favorite pastas was a no brainer choice for me.

It was as delicious as I imagined it would be, generously sauced, in a portion just right for my appetite, but also small enough for a bigger appetite to order a side or dessert.

Another blackboard special was the squid ink with rock shrimp, which was offered with cheese(!) which off course I declined, preferring to enjoy this perfect dish Italian style.

I am sure there will be future visits, so there might be a future post, but the lines are already forming as the seats are beginning to fill with local regulars, so go before getting a reservation becomes as rare as a blue butterfly sighting:)

As much as I enjoyed the places up on the hill in my last two posts, I have to drive down the mountain to get to other places. One of my favorite appetizers is fried calamari, or actually any kind of calamari, but here in the US, it tends to only be offered fried. Portions for appetizers in the US also tend to be big enough to make a meal for me, so when a friend came to visit, we went to Avenue Italy, and shared a salad of beets, roasted nuts, and spring greens, with a fried calamari appetizer and left completely sated. The welcome basket of freshly made focaccia came with a nice olive oil herb dipping sauce to entice our appetites to wake up.

The marvelous service at the Mediterranean style eatery split our $15 salad before bringing it to our table because we had said we were sharing:)

The lightly floured crispy calamari for $15 was very well executed, with just enough crunch, while the squid was still tender. The marinara sauce was very good too, adding a nice zest along with the freshly squeezed lemon juice that we added to the plate.

Blue Salt Fish Grill is next to my Optician, Venice Optical (who offer fabulous prices on eye exams, glasses, and lenses). So when I went to pick up my new glasses, I stopped for an appetizer of….yes, fried calamari! This is a fast casual place, so not at all the ambience or prices of a full scale restaurant. Amazingly, they offered me a free appetizer with my order of an appetizer! Yes, ceviche with chips! And wines by the glass start at only $6 for decent quality and go to about $11 for a very nice pour of a good bottle. I almost felt as if I was in France again:)

Their calamari portion was hearty enough to warrant the $7 price, plus the sides would help make this a meal. I didn’t care for either of the sauces, but I loved the crispy calamari with just extra lemon.

I am so happy to have found places that still serve the tentacles (my favorite part) and that have mastered the art of crispy on the outside, yet tender on the inside 🙂

Mi Piace has become one of my regular places to meet friends for drinks, a bite, or both in the center of Old Town Pasadena. Its central location, with stress free parking options of a big public parking lot behind the restaurant or valet in front, make it an easy choice. They have daily specials, a happy hour, and a comfortable ambience that is versatile enough for a business meal or event, while also casual enough to go in on the spur of the moment from shopping on Colorado. Prices are moderate, between $15-$25 for most main dishes, less for pasta dishes, and glasses of wine between $9-$18, with bottles beginning at around $40.

One of my friends saw the photo on the drink menu and asked the waitress for “This” pointing to a fruity vodka libation made with fruit purée and garnished with a real flower:) It was a bit sweet for her taste until she stirred it a bit to mix the fruit purée with the other liquids.

They have some vegetarian salads, but some salads, like the Insalata Mediterranea, with salami, turkey, provolone, grilled zucchini, white beans, cucumber, olives, and red onions topped with feta cheese, make for a complete meal on a plate.

Their seafood pasta, with calamari and shrimp, is normally served with spaghetti but I requested angel hair, and added red pepper flakes, making it a personal variation. The serving was big enough for me to take half of it home, and although the sauce was a bit sweet for my taste, but it was done well enough that I looked forward to the leftovers.

Two friends split an order of the full sized pasta Penne all’ Arrabbiata garlic and crushed red pepper flakes in a marinara sauce as a side, so this picture is of HALF of an order.

One of the daily specials was this salmon with mango pineapple salsa, that my friend praised for the freshness of the fish and the bright fruity flavors.

The Piccata di Pollo chicken scaloppini with artichoke hearts in a white wine lemon butter sauce was a classic recipe served in a portion big enough for a large appetite or to take some home for another meal.

Since we had a leisurely late afternoon meal, we had after lunch drinks, of 12 year old Macallan served in beautiful gorgeous crystal before heading off to take naps 🙂

I ate at Estiatorio Milos in Las Vegas, but their restaurant in New York City was one of the best seafood meals I’ve eaten in the US. Many of the items on the menu are flown in directly from the Mediterranean, and the fresh flavors shone in every dish. It may have “slightly” helped that my eating partner was Greek and spoke to the chef in Greek before our meal:)

The interior decor is a simple wispy white, with a private dining area above the main dining room.

If a chef says, “Let me give you some things to start with”, you should just say “Yes, thank-you” and smile. The first appetizer was a simple crab claw, so fresh, tender, and juicy that we did not even taste the sauce on the side. The olive oil for the bread had freshly snipped oregano leaves in it, which the waiter snipped from the tabletop plant before whisking it away.

The second appetizer was langoustines served with a brandy shot which the chef said should be used to dunk the heads in before sucking out the insides. We did as we were told after eating the ethereal meat from the tail 🙂

The third appetizer was a stack of lightly fried zucchini chips with a wonderful coarse salt and sour cream center which were so addictive we “somehow” finished it.

After THREE appetizers, the chef chose a fresh branzino, already deboned for us. When he asked the simple question of “Did you want the head?”, I was immediately overjoyed. The fish was simply done with capers and parsley, with nothing masking the purity of fresh fish.

A side of greens,

and after the main dish course, there was of course fresh cheese,

and greek yogurt with honey and fruit to finish the meal when you tell the chef that you have no room for dessert 🙂 A bottle of Nichetri wine from Santorini and all this fabulous fresh seafood was over $500 for two with tax and tip, but if you want to taste the best of Greek seafood in the US, it’s still less than the price of airfare….

Circo is across the street from Estiatorio Milos, and is as Italian as Estiatorio is Greek. The Maccioni family’s casual offspring (Sirio is from Le Cirque) has a fun circus atmosphere with seriously old school roots in its menu. A $25 lunch prix fixe menu is a bargain for a midtown restaurant with this kind of quality.

The lunch menu was more than I could eat, so I chose the Cacciucco Alla Livornese, one of their signature dishes, with monkfish, prawns, calamari, octopus, mussels, and clams for $29. It was everything a hearty rustic seafood should should be, with earthy aromas and depth of flavor.

My companion ordered the arugula salad for $14 and added chicken $7, because after the meal at Estiatorio, there was literally no real estate left for more food.

Even though neither of us had room for dessert, a plate of little bites was offered with espresso, a sweet way to start the afternoon.

Tavernaccia da Bruno is my favorite restaurant in Rome, and my only regret is that I waited until my third day to eat there, because after I ate one meal, I knew I would be coming back everyday. When going to Rome, go to Katie Parla’s Blog Parla Food, for her suggestion and review of this place, I am forever grateful. The medium sized restaurant is a few blocks from the Trastevere Rail Station which has direct service to the airport for only 8 Euros or $9 US, so make this a stop on your way to or from the airport as either your first or last meal in Rome. If you can only eat ONE meal in Rome, come here:)

The space is warm and inviting, and filled with locals during lunchtime. I was the only non Italian speaker every time I went at lunch. Dinner crowds were much more international with virtually every language spoken in the dining room. The wait staff are all warm, friendly, and professional.

I met some fun food loving people at the table next to me from Germany, Heike and Kara, so they let me photograph some of their food, like this tomato bruschetta,

 and this guanciale drizzled with honey.

I can’t decide what my favorite dish was, it’s a tie between this wood oven roasted veal, with the tastiest crunchy skin served alongside garlic roasted potatoes for 13 Euros or $15 US,

or the most tender succulent tripe I’ve ever eaten for 12 Euros or $13 US,

or the moist wood oven roasted suckling pig redolent with rosemary and garlic, 13 Euros or $15 US,

 or the meltingly luscious eggplant parmesan with a crackly crust, 10 Euros or $12 US.

The easier decision is the winner of my favorite in side dishes because after I tasted the chicory with garlic and red pepper, dressed in olive oil and lemon, I ordered it every time with every meal, 5 Euros or $6 US.

The price for a very good quarter liter of wine was only 2 Euros or $2.50 US, which was also the cost of a liter of water, all the main courses ranged from 10-13 Euros or $12-$15 US, and the sides were 5 Euros or $6 US. They have pizza at night if you want a classic Roman version, and an espresso is only 1.5 Euros or $2 US. All my four meals were about 20 Euros or $23 US for a main, side, wine, and water.

The best thing about a neighborhood place like this is that they all welcomed me like family after my first visit, and I made friends with Heike and Kara, who shared two meals with me there. Sharing food with good company is the best part of life, especially in a place where both are excellent.

Even though school has started for many, the Summer lingers on all year long for adults who live by the seashore. My friend Robin recently moved and I went down past the “Orange Curtain” to see her new place and to spend a day by the pool. One of her friends is living on the beach for the month of August, and as the sun set, we decided to go get dinner. Even though I know and love many places in Laguna, like Sapphire and 230 Forest, I’m always happy to try new places suggested by locals.

After going through a list of possibilities, we were driving up PCH when we drove past Mare and both my friends literally swiveled their heads and said, “Let’s go to Mare”! Since they both thought it was a better place than the other options they had suggested, we pulled into the one remaining parking spot behind the Holiday Inn. Ok, I admit, going to a hotel restaurant, especially a Holiday Inn hotel restaurant is not normally my choice for dinner, but when two local food lovers literally decide in chorus that it is the best idea, I put my skepticism aside and enjoy the journey.

The outdoor space is absolutely lovely with flickering candle lights and a wall of warmth. Triangular canopies provide shade in the day but add a nice architectural feel at night. The style is casually elegant with wrought iron railings and a modern interior. Definitely sit outside if there is a table and wait if there isn’t a table.

The first taste of this bright garlic, olive oil, and parsley dip for the bread was addictive. We ate it so fast we asked for a second plate before we even ordered our appetizers.

The second plate of dip ended up being a zesty sauce for the $13 fried calamari we ordered to share as well. The sauces that came with the perfectly crisp squid were fine, but nothing exquisite, so we asked for more lemon and used the the garlic bread dip as our calamari dip!

Since we all loved carpaccio, we also shared the $14 filet mignon and although the picture does not do it justice, this was a great version of the classic, with quality olive oil and generous arugula, capers, and Parmesan.

I ordered the chef’s special, a $22 spaghetti verde with shrimp and peppers that was the definition of summer on a plate. The home made pasta was cooked al dente, the shrimp were tender and the zingy little peppers added just enough color and pizazz to make the lemon and butter based sauce sparkle. Everyone at the table loved this dish and I would gladly order it again. After the hearty appetizers, I barely made a dent in this bowl of pasta, so it became my lunch the following day, and it reheated to be as tasty as it was the night before.

The friend who was living on the beach decided while we were still in the parking lot that she wanted the $24 limoncello infused radiatore pasta* with Maine lobster, shallots and a pinot grigio sauce. If I had not ordered the special, I would have ordered this delightfully rich sumptuous dish.

My friend Robin ordered the $19 chicken with portobello mushrooms made with a Sicilian Marsala wine served with sauteed spinach and rosemary potatoes. The chicken breasts were tender and moist and the sauce was complex but I felt it need just a touch of salt.

Since all of us barely managed more than two bites of our entrees after eating all of the bread and appetizers, we all went home with lunch for the following day. And even though we didn’t order it for ourselves, one of the friends took home some meatballs for her boyfriend which she said were the best meatballs she has ever eaten. I would have taken an order home if I was not already bursting at the seams with an entree to take home already.

A wonderful night ended with the sight of a full moon as we walked out of the restaurant 🙂

*For people who are allergic to gluten they offer gluten free pasta for $3.50 more or whole wheat pasta for $2.50 more.

Mare Culinary Lounge on Urbanspoon

A couple I met at a wine tasting event at Wally’s recommended Ado to me, and since people who know good wine usually know good food and visa versa, I went to taste for myself. Ado has two locations, the original, located in a converted house, and a smaller more casual outpost, both located in Venice. Both locations are in areas where parking can be a challenge, but the larger one has valet parking, so that was the one I chose.

The current menu is somewhat different with slightly higher prices than what is on their website, so be aware of that if you are planning to go based on what you see from their menu online.

The house is charming with a seating area downstairs, upstairs and on a terrace outdoors.

I rarely see watercress available, so I chose this salad with hearts of palm, roasted almonds, pecorino cheese and watercress for $13. It had a light balsamic dressing and the textures worked well together.

I wanted to order the menu item I saw online for tagliatelle with wild boar, but it was not on the menu. Instead I ordered the tagliatelle with rabbit and dried figs for $24. The pasta was wonderful, freshly made, light, and al dente, the ground rabbit was tasty, and the unusual addition of dried figs somehow worked with this dish, giving it some sweetness, but mostly some texture and a slightly earthiness with the crimni mushrooms.

I had a nice glass of Rosso for $15 with my meal, and a very good decaf espresso to finish.

The service was excellent with professional Italians who were clearly trained professionals, and the ambiance is relaxed yet upscale enough to make this place a destination for either a special occasion or a place to go in the neighborhood when you don’t want to cook. They are open 7 days a week, so you can go to their house for dinner any night you wish:)

Ado on Urbanspoon




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