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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:)

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”.

 A visit to Domaine Carneros was a sparkling way to start my vacation in Napa!

Having met Eileen Crane at Madame Chocolat‘s Decadent & Delicious event a few month’s ago, I couldn’t wait to go to Domaine Carneros in Napa. The beautiful property looks out over sprawling hills covered with vines.

The tour of the property actually starts in the vineyard with explanations of the soil, foliage, and fruit.

The beautiful Chateau has a large patio overlooking the vines where you can order flights of sparkling wines and accompaniments like this cheese plate. The plates are tailored for the flights you are drinking, so the one we chose complimented the sparkling wines.

The tour with alcohol is $25 which includes tastes of two sparkling wines and a red wine (tour without alcohol is $10). Since I had a glass of the spectacular Le Reve ($20) on the patio with the cheese plate I opted for the tour without alcohol because I wanted to remember the rest of my day 🙂

Having been to Sonoma Wine Garden when they first opened for breakfast (see my previous post), I have been wanting to go back for a meal and finally did last week. Sunset on a balmy Southern California day is the perfect time to take advantage of the rooftop views of the Pacific and to bask in the last rays of sunshine on the outdoor patio.

The tomato basil soup with a drizzle of basil oil and garlic croutons, was a perfect way to start. 

I chose the Caesar Salad ($12) because it had white anchovies (my favorite), but I was pleasantly surprised by the high garlic content of the dressing and the Parmesan crisps which added a nice crunch to the crisp leaves of romaine.

Cindy chose the beet salad with shaved fennel and goat cheese ($12) and cleaned her plate. She loved the presentation as much as the flavor combination.

We both had the 2005 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon from the Alexander Valley and very much appreciated the ability to order a half as well as full glass (Cindy never drinks more than a half glass). A truly wonderful way to end the day is watching the sunset over Santa Monica, sipping wine from Sonoma, with a great friend.

Sonoma Wine Garden on Urbanspoon

L’Epicerie recently opened only a block away from the Culver Plaza Theater, so I went in for lunch. There are a few shelves of culinary goodies in the center of the space, along with a long communal table/bar area that would be very cozy for drinks.

The cafe and take out section is to the right and the restaurant section is the to left as you enter, but since I didn’t know the system, I walked up to the cafe section and placed my order for a grilled vegetable crepe. They handed me a number and told me the seating area was only the small space to the right of the door. If I had known, I would have sat in the restaurant section (which also has a larger menu) for table service.

The grilled vegetable crepe ($10.50)came with a small side of arugula lightly dressed in a vinaigrette.

The inside of the crepe was stuffed with grilled red and yellow peppers, onions, tomatoes, and various earthly mushrooms, including shittakes. I was pleasantly surprised by the filling, which had a nice ratatouille flavor, but I was less impressed with the crepe itself. The crepe was bland and a bit too thin and soft to provide anything other act as a tissue paper holder for the aromatic medley interior.

Since I was off to see a movie, I had no time for coffee or dessert, but perhaps that would be a better food experience here. The breakfast choices of steel cut oatmeal and morning pastries also looked enticing. They do serve wine, so for anyone working in the area (Sony is across the street), this would be a good place to come after work for their 4-6pm Happy Hour.

L'Epicerie  on Urbanspoon

Bretto’s beautiful display of liquors drew me into the place from the busy Plaka area of Athens like a thirsty traveler to an oasis. I didn’t know when I walked in that Bretto’s is the second oldest bar in Europe and has a more than 100 year history as a distiller of unique alcohols. Every bottle you see is a different flavor ranging from Cherry to Rose, and even Saffron!


The original distillery made Ouzo and they have literally pages listing different types, along with fine brandies, wines, and other spirits. Their private label flavored spirits are ONLY sold here (in three sizes) and you may taste all of them, or purchase as many bottles as you wish on the premises. They even sell Cuban cigars here starting at only 3 Euros ($5)! As I looked through the extensive 3-ring binder of choices (clearly looking overwhelmed), the manager, said to me, “What are you in the mood for, this has too many choices; let me choose for you.” I gladly accepted his help and said I would like a nice dry white wine, with a little bit of fruitiness, so he recommended #23 for 6 Euros ($8) which was absolutely superb. Since there are literally CHAPTERS of wines and spirits to choose from, it really is best to ask the experts behind the bar to recommend something based on your taste.


The actual barrels used in the distillery are in the shop, so this place literally has the beginning (making the spirits), middle (selling the bottles), and end (drinking the finished product) of a distillery all in one place.


There is no food served here other than small bites of cheeses, ham or salami (excellent quality snacks), so come in for your appertif or a drink after dinner (they are open until 3am).

They are easy to find, just look for the rainbow of colors lighting up the storefront in the center of the Plaka.

Although I traveled to Santorini alone, it is a wonderful place for lovers with the dramatic vistas, easy island way of life, and warm people. I saw a total of three wedding in the 11 days I was on the island. Apparently Santorini is a wedding destination for many couples and there are wedding specialists who will help you arrange a ceremony at the venue of your choice. The first wedding I saw was in Oia, the picturesque town in the Northern part of the island; I caught this photo of the bride and groom as they were exchanging vows during sunset.

Santorini is also known for the vineyards and wine produced on this unique volcanic island. The most well known varieties are Assyrtiko, Nykteri, and Vinsanto.

Vineyards here are unlike those anywhere else in the world, as they literally make the vines into baskets to protect them from the winds and to help them get moisture in this very dry land with no ground water.

Many vineyards are open to the public for tastings and tours, so one thing I did was go to a wine tasting on the Caldera at Santo Wines.


There was also a wedding going on here when I was wine tasting.

I can see why people choose this as a place to get married, with views like this.

Another very Greek and fun thing to do is attend the outdoor cinemas in the summer.


They show film under the stars while serving drinks (alcoholic and not) and snacks. As you can see there are side tables for your food and drinks, and they even include an intermission in the film so you can use the bathroom or replenish your supplies midway through the film.

Cost is 7 Euros ($10), so the same as we pay in the states to watch a film in a stuffy cinema, and since the films are all shown in the original language with Greek subtitles, this is a perfect way to spend a warm summer evening.

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