You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘wine’ category.

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.

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 🙂

My brother from another mother, Bob, is as much of a food lover and cuisinier as I am, so when he said, let’s go to to Restoration Kitchen, I simply asked him to send me the address 🙂 Restoration kitchen opened as a wine bar, but they got so well known for their food that they are now more of a restaurant than wine bar. The owners know their wine, and when they asked me what I liked, they regretfully said, they used to stock Old World Bordeaux but it did not sell so they offered me tastes of three that they thought I might enjoy with similar flavors. They picked three nice possibilities, and I chose the last offering of a 2014 Colome Argentinian Malbec for $14. They offer flights of red or whites for $12.50-$16.50 of any wine offered by the glass. Their bottle prices are very reasonable for the quality, a 2014 Duckhorn Merlot was only $63 which is only slightly more than if you were to buy the bottle in a wine shop.

I had never been to Old Town Torrance before and I loved the small town feel with all the small businesses on walkable streets. It felt like an old town, with many places to eat, shop, and hang out within a few blocks.

Bob suggested we start with the wild mushroom flatbread, topped with arugula, fontina, mozzarella, lemon zest, and thyme for $12.50. It was a generous appetizer, shareable by more than than two, or easily a meal for one.

I chose the lamb lollipops with a basil pesto, hummus, cherry tomatoes, and flatbread for $12.50 as my main dish. They did not ask me how I wanted my lamb, but it came out a perfectly nice medium rare. I found the meat needed more sear and char, but I like the basil pesto. The hummus and flatbread were uninspired versions, but not bad either.

The hit of the evening was the crispy confit chicken leg with farro and mushrooms for $12.50, which was Bob’s favorite, but he generously shared 🙂

It was a great balance of textures, flavors, and aromas. If you only order one dish here, this should be it!

I usually don’t eat sweet desserts, but Bob could not resist the the chocolate pot de creme with toasted Swiss meringue, olive oil, and sea salt for $6.50 There was also a secret ingredient that added texture and crunch.Bob did some sleuthing with the chef and found out what it is but he was sworn to secrecy!

I think Old Town Torrance will become a regular stop on my eating and shopping itinerary:)

Eataly Eyfest part 2 🙂

Most of the raw ingredients were fairly priced for the quality.




 A fair price for this quality of canned tuna.

 Olive oil sold by the size/weight.

The most outrageous price of anything I saw in the market; you can buy these salts online nearly anywhere for the same price as 1 OUNCE here, you can buy 2 POUNDS!

 Huge bulk quantities does not mean you get a price break.

 Large selection is nice to peruse…


My friends live all over the world, so when anyone who lives more than an hour away by car, train, or plane, comes to Los Angeles, I do my best to see them for a meal, a drink, or both 🙂

Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne of AOC are also responsible for one of my favorite restaurants, Tavern, where I have been enjoying meals ever since they opened, and the famous Lucques. I would not hesitate to go eat at any place where these two talented women are at the helm. As I waited for my friend, I had a glass of the sparkling brut rosé for $12 and enjoyed the cool interior air-conditioning on a 90F+ day.

One of the specials that day was a perfectly seared fish served with an addictively crisp skin, arugula, grapes, and fennel. My recommendation for anyone eating at any of their restaurants is to ALWAYS order the fish special because it never disappoints, and always restores my faith in restaurants having the ability to train and retain excellent chefs who know how to treat fresh fish with a light but expert touch.

We also ordered the flaked albacore salad with raw bok choy, mizuna, and lemongrass for $24. We slightly preferred the first dish, but we would have had no hesitation ordering this dish again.

Since my friend had lived in France, our dessert choice was of course a selection of cheeses. Served with walnuts, dried apricots, and of course bread, it was a fitting way to enjoy the end of a meal.

As we segued to our final course, we switched to wine,

and moved to the patio as the sunset 🙂

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:)

Sometimes I feel like Goldilocks tasting food across the city; some dishes are bad, some are just bland, and I keep searching for ones that are just right, hoping to find the best ones. Unlike the notoriously bad review by the New York Times of American Kitchen and Bar, I do my best to post something likeable or hopeful about every place I go, unless something happens so beyond good taste or good manners that I remove a review, which has only happened once (for exceedingly bad manners).

So with all this being said, I will begin with the bad. Jinya Ramen recently opened on Sawtelle and I was looking forward to good broth to rival the excellent Tsujitawhich has lines around the block for a table. Unfortunately when their own press release says the broth is “pumped up with industrial quantities of dashi and dried fish” it means INDUSTRIAL, which a is distinctly different than QUALITY. As a franchise, I did not expect much, but I was appalled to see them using a MICROWAVE to heat up some ingredients! The spicy pork miso I ordered was presented beautifully, but after a few spoonfuls, I could not eat this exceedingly sweet slightly foul smelling soup.

Later that night I had an upset stomach and I woke up with the horrible consequence of having eaten an industrially produced soup stock. It is well worth the wait to eat at Tsujita.

After that experience I had to go get a bowl of something good to put into my system, so I headed over to Urth Cafefor their marvelous vegetarian chili. It is on their menu everyday and my favorite vegetarian chili (besides the one I make myself).

The quality of the ingredients and the blend of perfect spices, make this a filling and savory bowl of comfort food for any cold or rainy day.

After trying something new and something old, I wanted to try something different, so I went to Vino and Tapas in the Valley before a movie screening in the area. They have a Happy Hourfrom 4-7pm with drinks ranging from $4-7 and tapas for only $5. Since they open at 4pm the place was empty, but that was fine with me since that meant I could get in and out before my movie with ease.

I ordered a Kaiken 2009 Malbec which was quite nice, but ended with the much nicer DeLoach Pinot Noir, both $6 each during Happy Hour and served in the perfect glassware for the varietal!

I hardly ever see chicken livers on any menu, so I had to order them. They were a bit overcooked and a bit bland, so I asked for some salt, but even adding seasoning could not save this dish.

I also ordered some mushrooms with garlic, herbs and a Chardonnay sauce which were so delectable that I ate the sauce with slices of bread to soak up every last bite!

To get rid of the taste of the chicken livers, I ordered the meatballs in tomato sauce which had a nice basil flavor and decent tomato sauce. It was not an outstanding dish, but it was executed well and a nice rendition of the classic.

It was wonderful to end on the excellent flourless chocolate cake dessert for $8 with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate sauce. It is a very rare event when I finish a dessert and I finished this one!

I am very grateful to have a happy sweet ending to this week before Thanksgiving, and I am very grateful for all of you who read my blog and for all that I am able to share with you!

Vino Wine & Tapas Room on Urbanspoon

There are some places which I return to religiously because I know they have consistently excellent food and service. Il Grano is one of those rare restaurants which combines an addiction to fresh ingredients (the chef grows his own tomatoes), with consummate culinary skill, and superb presentations.

It has been about two years since I last wrote about Il Grano, and I am glad to report that they have maintained both their gracious attitude as well as their gorgeous decor.

Somehow they have also managed to keep their prices on par with places which are not nearly as fastidious about their purveyors and ingredients.

Bob’s Lunch special is still only $20 for three courses. The Mercato salad is a work of edible art, pleasing to both the palate and the eye. It is a perfect vegetarian starter.

The simple salad with the lunch special was not as spectacular, but still colorful and composed of delightfully fresh (home grown) tomatoes and greens in a light vinaigrette.

The special lunch includes a choice of the market fish or lasagna and I had to try the skate in a sea urchin broth. The dish succeeded in showcasing the fresh flavor of the sea urchin without detracting from the tender skate (picked out earlier the same morning at the fish market). The beautiful edible flowers and dried tomato added both visual and textural accents. The squid ink around the inside of the bowl added a contemporary artistic flourish of flavor which made me smile 🙂

The lasagna made with hand pulled spinach pasta and bolognese achieved that nearly impossible distinction of being both hearty and light at the same time. My 50+ year old Italian dining partner declared this the best lasagna she had ever eaten in her life.

The dessert of chocolate gelato came with personally chosen fruit (yes the chef/owner personally tastes everything he buys at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market). When the owner takes the time to pay attention to the small details like the berries he uses as accompaniments to gelato, it goes without saying that the gelato is superb.

I chose the passionfruit sorbet which was one of the best sorbets I have ever eaten. Served along with a perfect slice of peach and berries selected to compliment the colors and flavors, this is now my favorite Summer dessert.

In addition to the 3 course lunch menu, my friend wanted to try the cannoli, which featured a peach infused filling and caramel sauce on the plate. As a former pastry chef, my friend was so impressed she insisted the chef come over so she could compliment him.

They offer a special weekly menu which features the chef’s home grown tomatoes in every item on the small bites menu, so if you would like to experience the fruits of love, make a reservation on a Wednesday.

For wine lovers, Il Grano has a wine list of over 700 wines and an enomatic wine serving system to preserve the integrity of fine wines by the glass. Keeping it all in the family, the chef/owner’s wife’s family owns the Terrabianca vineyards, and they offer their wines on the wine list.

Excellence should be applauded, and Il Grano deserves a standing ovation.

Il Grano on Urbanspoon

Even though I have been to Napa numerous times and I have toured countless wineries, I had never been to Beringer until this trip. I’m so glad that I finally toured the estate with people who had never been to Napa. Just like the Empire State building, Beringer is one of those places that everyone knows about, but locals rarely revisit (even though I’m no longer a local).
Dug by hand eight stories underground, the caves are now reinforced with steel and concrete for stability, but the age old wisdom of temperature control underground is a natural solution to the summer temperatures of over 90 degrees in the Summer (it was 94F when we were on the tour).
Take the tour of the caves and see how they did things before electricity (and refrigeration)! The barrels are from before prohibition, and the way the caves were built was an ingenious solution to the logistics of pressing grapes and keeping the temperatures cool.
The grounds include working vineyards and each of the rows of vines is labeled with the variety of grape.
The Rhine House at the entrance is the original home of the Beringer family and some of the woodwork and stained glass are original parts of the house (now a gift shop).
The gardens are spectacular, with huge trees, bushes, and flowers, all perfectly arranged in a kaleidoscope of colors around the manicured lawn, but my favorite was the fountain which offered a refreshing respite of soothing sounds and a vision of relief from the hot sun to visitors.

Synchronicity is a wonderful thing; one of my friends sent me a text to see if I had four 12″ saucepans I could lend her for the Los Angeles Food and Wine Event in Santa Monica…in exchange she gave me a ticket to the event!

I arrived before the event actually began, so there weren’t any crowds yet for the tables; it was nice to meander and see who was there before it was open.

Waiters and waitresses circulated with small bites as people arrived. This fellow had a chorizo and pork belly mini slider.

My friend Molly finally donned her chef whites in the 90 degree heat and looked every bit the professional.

My pans were used for the Kerry Heffernan booth, and it turns out he was the guest chef from NY at the event!

Kerry’s dish was a crab and pasta ragu with green beans and micro cilantro.

Graham Elliot‘s presentation of fresh sea urchin, scallop, seaweed, and ocean foam was the most beautiful of the venue (he is about to taste Joe’s watermelon BBQ plate in this pic).

graham elliot on Urbanspoon

There was even an option for vegans from Real Food Daily.

Real Food Daily on Urbanspoon

A sesame croquette.

Nyesha Arrington from Wilshire had beautiful flowers in her hair. And a beautiful snapper with peaches and mirco greens on her plates.

Wilshire on Urbanspoon

A very popular booth was Joe’s Stone Crab, where Andre Bienvenu presented me with a BBQ watermelon taste which was followed with a hard lemonade shot that danced in my mouth!

Joe's Stone Crab on Urbanspoon

Of course he also had stone crabs at his table!

My favorite bites of the night came from Bar Pintxos, their Paella with truffles and pork had the longest line at the venue for good reason, and their Jamon Iberico was the ultimate decadent snack (sorry no pictures, I was too busy eating to take photographs:)

Bar Pintxo on Urbanspoon

There were wonderful wineries pouring at the venue, including some I had never seen before, like Ackerman Family Vineyards.

Alexander Vineyards‘ Cyrus was my favorite of the night, but J Ludlow, Bernardus, Saintsbury, and Rombauer also offered very good wines.

There were live DJ’s spinning tunes all night long.

There were desserts from Fonuts (I loved the strawberry buttermilk and the booth loved the coconut chocolate), sweets from Godiva (in convenient to go packages), and even ice cream at one vendor!

Summers at the shore are marvelous, especially with great wine & food on a balmy night; tonight was indeed a testament to “all true benefits are mutual”.




%d bloggers like this: