Monsieur Marcel – Ooh La La in La La Land

I hope to get to Paris some day because I like many things about the French. Their “joie de vivre”, their art, music, clothing and especially their food. I often picture myself strolling up and down Parisian boulevards dining in one French bistro after another. Oh, and not getting fat. That would be very un-French. Since I was not getting out of the country today, I settled for getting out of the San Fernando Valley. I went with my friend Gail to The Original Farmers Market at Third & Fairfax, a Los Angeles institution since 1934. That’s where we stumbled upon Monsieur Marcel.

Monsieur Marcel is both a bistro and a marketplace, and very, very French. Before we could shop, we had to eat. There’s no indoor dining, it’s all outside. But as luck would have it, it was an eighty-degree February day…perfect for eating al fresco. To start with, what would be more French than French Onion Soup ($7.50). This one is perfectly done, with a rich, flavorful broth, tons of caramelized onions, and a gooey layer of Gruyère cheese. I’m not just saying it, but this is my new favorite onion soup. It was perfect.

sautéed leeks & artichoke hearts with St. Loup goat cheese

Quiche was very popular back in the eighties (for those of us who remember the eighties). It was served a lot at wedding showers and women’s luncheons. So, when I saw Quiche on the menu I was feeling a little nostalgic and thought I would give it a try.  This Quiche of sautéed leeks and artichoke hearts ($10.99) was the definition of French comfort food. It’s rich and decadent with chunky vegetables and goat cheese atop a lovely, crispy crust. This dish is definitely for splitting.

Endive salad with apples, walnuts & Roquefort cheese with a walnut vinaigrette

To counter-balance the richness of the previous two dishes, we ordered their endive salad ($13.99) with apples, walnuts and Roquefort cheese with a walnut vinaigrette.  The ingredients in the salad were crisp and fresh and the resulting salad was very flavorful. Three different dishes, with three different cheeses.

And speaking of cheese…After a most enjoyable lunch, it was time to wander into the marketplace. If you’re a lover of artisanal ingredients like I am, this place will give you goosebumps. They offer an extensive selection of high end wines, cheeses, charcuterie, chocolate and any other delicacy your heart could imagine.

Monsieur Marcel, Los Angeles Farmers Market, Third & Fairfax, Los Angeles, CA 90036  (323) 939-7792

Fig & Olive – Melrose Place, West Hollywood

“Foodie” is kind of a silly word and an overused word, but I don’t know how else to describe myself. I am someone who definitely enjoys and appreciates good food, and loves to talk about it. Or in my case photograph it and write about it. Having  gone to culinary and pastry school, and having a son who is a chef; food is to my family what the Green Bay Packers are to a family in Wisconsin. It’s a passion and an obsession. So, when I find a restaurant that pays homage to good food, I feel compelled to share the experience with anyone reading this, hoping that they can share in my experience as well.

Fig & Olive is every foodie’s dream. They have three locations in New York and this West Hollywood location has been opened about 10 months. I’ll start off by telling you I liked everything about it. Naturally the first thing I noticed was the space itself.  It’s extremely open and airy with soaring ceilings and warm Mediterranean colors. There are olive trees and rosemary plants throughout the space, and the decor is simple, contemporary and casual. It’s very tasteful.

A trio of olive oils from Spain, Australia and Tunisia

As soon as my friend Gail and I were seated, we were brought a dish of fresh rustic bread and a trio of olive oils. The olive oils were from Spain, Australia and Tunisia and each one had it’s own distinct and unique flavor. When I opened the menu, quite honestly I found it hard to contain myself. Sometimes I’ll go to a restaurant and have trouble finding something I like on the menu. My problem was that I wanted everything on the menu. Check out the menu here, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Fig Gorgonzola Tartlet

Branzino Lemon Ceviche

We started off with their Fig Gorgonzola Tartlet ($15) with prosciutto, walnut and arugula over a perfectly crispy puff pastry. Visually it was like art, with beautifully layered flavors of salty, sweet and cheesy. We also ordered the Branzino Ceviche ($8).  Personally I’ve never been to a restaurant that served a ceviche with Branzino, (a member of the sea bass family found in northern Italy). The flavors were fresh and simple and let the Branzino shine through.

Romaine & Endive Baby Beet Salad

Gail and I split the Romaine and Endive Baby Beet Salad ($16) with apple, maple pecans and topped with a dollop of warm goat cheese and pistachios. The salad is dressed with raspberry sherry and Manzanillo olive oil. The beets were so sweet and the perfect compliment to the warm cheese and nut topping.

Marzipan Cake

You guys know me now, so you know that I love dessert. All their desserts are made in-house and we had a tough time choosing which to pick. So I will say this to you. If you ever go in there, start with dessert. We ordered the Marzipan Cake with Olive Oil Gelato, Candied Olive Oil and Toasted Almonds ($9). Each component by itself was incredibly delicious, but as a composed dish, it should be illegal. The Caramelized Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream ($9) was also well worth the extra calories.

Caramelized Apple Tart

I love when a restaurant nails it. It doesn’t happen very often, and that’s probably why restaurants come and go. But Fig & Olive scored high on food, ambiance and service. That’s what the customer is paying for, and that’s what I got.

Olive trees and rosemary plants

Terra cotta tones and a wall of olive oils

a 50' tasting bar

Fig & Olive, 8490 Melrose Place, West Hollywood, CA 90069  (310) 360-9100

THE BOATHOUSE – Central Park

To me, New York City is like a crown with a lot of gems in it; some being the Empire State Building, 30 Rock and the Statue of Liberty. But that center stone, the one that shines brightest would be Central Park. I thought back to iconic movies like Barefoot in the Park with Jane Fonda, or Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Audrey Hepburn, that had scenes filmed in Central Park. The park was not just a back drop for the characters, but it became a character itself. The park could evoke feelings in us as movie watchers. Feelings of romance or excitement and adventure. So, when the cab let us off at the entrance to the park that gray day, I felt my heart race a little as I took my first steps down those cobbled streets.

My friend Kim, who was my traveling partner on this east coast adventure, and I were headed to the Boathouse restaurant deep within Central Park. The original Boathouse restaurant was built in the mid 1870′s but had burned down, and the new structure was erected in the 1950′s.  The restaurant was decorated in its most festive Christmas finery, garlands and bows everywhere. It’s not a large space, so every table in the restaurant has a glorious view of the lake which butts right up to the restaurant.  It was a gray afternoon that day, and the place was bathed in a diffused white light that made it feel very wintry.

The Boathouse had a nice sized menu filled with a variety of classic American favorites. Many of the choices were too heavy and dinner-like for me, so I opted to start with a light salad. I ordered the butter lettuce salad with Maytag blue cheese, sliced pears and spicy cashews in a sesame dressing ($10). It was quite good. I probably should have tried one of their more  sophisticated dishes to get a better idea of the quality of their food, but instead I ordered their Boathouse burgers ($19).

When I took the first bite, I realized that this is certainly not the type of place you come to get a good New York burger. Sadly, the burger was dense, not juicy and very under seasoned. It came with house made tater tots, a nice touch, 3 condiment sauces and crunchy pickles. It made a great visual presentation, but it lacked somewhat in flavor. I suppose if a great burger was what I was really after, then I should have gone to Peter Lugers or P.J. Clarke’s.

But ultimately what I came for was the Central Park experience, and for that The Boathouse restaurant delivers. The staff was very friendly and accommodating, and didn’t mind that we sat there for two hours to drink in the beauty of that iconic park. When I listened real closely, I could almost hear Barbara Streisand singing “On A Clear Day” and I thought to myself how happy I was to have come there.

The Boathouse Restaurant Central Park, E. 72nd St. & Park Drive North, New York, NY

The Sea Grill – OMG in NYC

She’s a grand old gal, and a ballsy chick. She’s elegant and iconic, yet gritty and dirty. She’s New York City. I just returned from a trip to the Big Apple, and few cities give me the adrenalin rush that New York does. I had never been to the city at Christmastime, and it was something that I just had to do.

The city moves at a frenetic pace. As a Southern Californian, we mosey, we get there when we get there. However, once I stepped foot on 5th Avenue I too got swept away by the energy of the streets. It was holiday time and the streets became just a sea of humanity. People coming at you in every direction. I wanted to be able to stop and take it all in, but I had to keep moving.  I was in awe of the city’s architecture and of the diversity of its inhabitants. Shops, food, dazzling store windows; it made my head spin. My goal was to do a classic New York Christmas, to go to all those places I had seen in so many movies and television shows over the years. My first stop was of course, Rockefeller Center, because nothing is more iconic than the tree and the skating rink.

With my two friends Eva and Carol in tow, we decided to have lunch at The Sea Grill. It’s a sleek and modern restaurant, and the entire back of the space opens to the Rockefeller Center skating rink. Tourist-y yes, but it was everything I hoped it would be. It really oozed New York elegance; shiny silverware, sparkling glassware and crisp white tablecloths and napkins. The atmosphere in the restaurant was almost electric. There were waiters buzzing everywhere, holiday shoppers and suburban families stopping in for a festive lunch.

Okay, I was a little shocked when I looked at the prices on the menu, but it was New York City after all, and I knew the view and the ambience would not come cheap. We ordered the jumbo lump crab cakes with stone ground mustard sauce ($39). The server was quick to tell us that they were 90% lump crab meat. Hmmm, I’d never heard food described by percentage before, but that sounded impressive enough to me. The plate was certainly enough for three people to split, and yes there was plenty of crab meat in the dish, but it lacked flavor and overall they were just pretty bland.

We also ordered the baby lettuce salad with Fuji apple and fresh herbs in a mustard vinaigrette and the roasted beet salad with rucola, toasted walnuts and Manchego cheese with a citrus vinaigrette, both $14. Each salad was fresh and flavorful and lightly dressed .

The Sea Grill offers a wide array of sushi, sashimi and shellfish platters. I love sushi, so I shared a few of their rolls with my friends, but at this point I had my eye on dessert.

We finished the meal with a piece of their Key Lime pie. Not too overly sweet, it was the perfect way to end the day. I wish I could have said the food was amazing, but the ambience and the experience was. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, very good. For me it was the quintessential New York experience. I’m so glad we ate there.

The Sea Grill, 19 West 49th Street, New York, NY 10020 (212) 332-7610

Plate Malibu

Turkey burger with organic lettuce, tomato, peppers & avocado with sweet potato fries

It was my friend Zonia’s birthday today and I was taking her out to lunch to celebrate. We were headed to a restaurant called Plate in Malibu right on the Pacific Coast Highway.  It’s located in a non-descript strip center that it shares with a health food market, but it has a glorious view of the Pacific Ocean. As we park the car and walk toward the restaurant, we both stop and take in a deep breath of that salty, ocean air. Ah, we’re relaxed already! I’ve been to Plate several times and I keep coming back for that simple reason, the food tastes really good.

The restaurant is not very big, and the decor is minimalist and zen-like. The entire front of the space is glass with an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean which naturally enhances the dining experience.

Ginger Pear Iced Tea

I’m an iced tea aficionado, so I’m very impressed with their exotic selection of organic iced teas. Zonia ordered the raspberry, and I got the ginger pear. I’ve never seen tea served like this before, but the tea steeps in a little pitcher and then the waiter pours it over the bottom pitcher of ice. Next time I would share the drink with another person as it’s certainly enough for two, and because it was expensive.

I’m a burger girl. If I had to pick my last meal, it would be a burger and fries. But like everyone else these days, I’m trying to make healthier choices and eat less red meat, sooooo I opt for the turkey burger (pictured above, $12.50). It was just as satisfying as any beef burger I’ve ever had. The burger is charbroiled and topped with fresh, organic lettuce, tomato, peppers and avocado. Buns are important, and this one was perfect as it didn’t fall apart as you ate the burger. Their fries are fried in rice oil and they were light and crunchy.

Curry chicken salad in a papaya over organic greens with a honey raspberry vinaigrette.

Plate touts itself as healthy and organic, and that was evident in the curry chicken salad ($12.00). Everything tasted so fresh. The spice of the curry, the sweetness of the papaya and the bitterness of the greens was a lovely layering of flavors, and the toasted croutons added  a nice textural contrast. You can tell I really liked this dish.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

So what’s a birthday without cake. You didn’t think we were going to leave without dessert did ya?  Their rendition of flourless chocolate cake was light and not too sweet, and nicely plated as well. A great ending to a very enjoyable lunch.

The service at Plate was professional and attentive.  Parking can be a problem at other restaurants along the PCH, but there is plenty of free, rooftop parking. It’s stress-free dining at it’s best. Plate is opened seven-days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I appreciate that they use natural, organic and locally harvested ingredients; free-range chicken, cage free eggs and meats from known sources. Come on people, if you’re dining out, these things should be important to you.

Plate, 22601 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265    310-317-6800

Leo & Lily – Woodland Hills

Smoked salmon plate with tomato, red onion, capers, cream cheese, hard-boiled egg and Jerusalem bagel

The buzz was out on the streets, and I must have been told by at least 10 people in the past several weeks that I needed to try a new restaurant in Woodland Hills called Leo & Lily. Although it’s a densely populated area, Woodland Hills in the west end of the San Fernando Valley is by no means a dining mecca. In fact, from my perspective, it is in dire need of good tasting food. So, I assembled my crack team of enthusiastic food aficionados (Gail and Amy) and decided to pay Leo & Lily a visit and find out what the brouhaha was all about.

The restaurant itself doesn’t sit directly on Ventura Boulevard, but slightly off, maybe about 500 feet. That’s great because the entire front is a lovely outdoor patio with plenty of seating, and you avoid all the fumes from the traffic along the boulevard. There’s lots more seating inside the restaurant, which is warm and welcoming.

Inside Leo & Lily was warm and welcoming.

Since it was an unusually cooler day in the valley, my team and I decided to dine on their outdoor patio. As I glanced over the menu I was surprised how ambitious it was, as they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. (You can peruse the menu here.) We began our lunch with the sweet potato fries ($3.50) and the portobello mushroom fries ($3.95). The sweet potatoes were good, but for my taste I would have preferred them a bit crispier and with a touch more seasoning. The portobello fries however, were some of the best tasting stuff I’ve ever had. The outside had a crunchy, perfectly seasoned exterior with big pieces of flavorful, portobello mushroom inside.

The Portobello Mushroom Fries, served with a garlic aioli, were the stand-out hit of the day.

Sweet potato fries

We were greeted by owners Guy and Maureen Zaradez who were working their way through the patio area making sure that their customers were happy and being taken care of.  Guy was telling my group how he’d been in the restaurant business most of his life. He explained how his goal was to bring healthy yet affordable dining to his customers, serving freshly baked breads and pastries, as well as making most everything else in-house.  You could see that they had poured their heart and souls into this venture.

Owner Guy Zaradez brings his Mediterranean flavors to Woodland Hills

Our entrees arrive, and they are beautifully plated. We’ve ordered the sirloin steak sandwich ($11.95) which comes with an asiago cheese and onion jam on a whole wheat ciabatta, along with a tasty side salad. The steak is thinly sliced, and the sandwich achieves a great layering of flavors.

Steak sandwich with asiago, onion jam, whole-grain mustard on a whole wheat ciabatta

For Gail, the vegetarian in the group, we ordered the L & L Veggie Chopped ($10.95). This large salad comes with chickpeas, tomato, red onion, cucumber, red pepper and ricotta cheese with a creamy tahini dressing.  All the vegetables were fresh and crispy, and the salad was so generous, that she had to take some home.

L & L Veggie Chopped

The last entree that we ordered (pictured at top), was the smoked salmon plate ($10.95).  Our server tells us the the salmon is smoked in-house. It was tender and buttery and served with red onion, capers and cream cheese. It comes with a Jerusalem bagel, a crispy, sesame encrusted bread, which is something I’ve never had before, and really enjoyed.

Having enjoyed our lunch so much, we decided to finish off the meal with something sweet since Leo & Lily make all their desserts in-house. We ordered the raspberry breton ($3.95) and the flourless chocolate cake ($4.95).  Having been wowed by the presentation of the entrees, I guess I was a bit disappointed that the desserts were just plopped on a plate. A dollop of whipped cream and a few raspberries would have gone a long way to make the dessert feel more complete.

The flourless chocolate cake was the clear favorite.

The raspberry breton was a tad on the dry side.

Having been opened only 5 weeks so far, it seems Leo & Lily have worked out practically all of the kinks. The service was efficient and extremely friendly. There was sufficient parking in their lot as well as street parking, so we didn’t have trouble accessing the restaurant. But most importantly the food tasted great. I enjoyed the casual atmosphere as well as the thoughtfully prepared dishes. Leo & Lily, welcome to Woodland Hills, we’re glad to have you.

Leo & Lily...casual, affordable and healthy!

Leo & Lily, 22420 Ventura Boulevard Woodland Hills, CA 91364  (818) 222-6622

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Vermont Kitchen & Bar – Los Feliz

Ahi Tuna Tacos

I just love getting out of the San Fernando Valley.  It’s been my home for over thirty years, but there is a wonderful world that exists beyond Ventura Boulevard. One of my favorite neighborhoods to go to is Los Feliz. It’s like being in a 1940′s film noir. A place where you might have expected to find Robert Mitchum walking the streets wearing a felt fedora. I love the architecture of this neighborhood, original 1930′s and 40′s buildings mixed in with 1970′s strip centers. I was spending the afternoon with my friends Amy and Gail and we decided to try out a place for lunch called Vermont Kitchen & Bar.

Vermont Kitchen & Bar

The restaurant has a very cool and funky vibe. The building is from the early 1940′s and had originally housed Sarno’s Bakery & Italian Restaurant. The interior has so much character with it’s exposed brick walls, arched ceilings and columns. For lunch they have a fairly large menu offering sandwiches, burgers, brick-oven flatbreads, salads and both large (entree size) and small plates. To start with, our server Cody suggested that we try the Ahi Tuna Tacos ($13), with cumin-avocado puree, jicama slaw and served in taro root shells. The dish comes with 6 small tacos which was perfect for three people to share.  I loved this dish; the ahi had tons of flavor and the taro root shells were a delicious departure from the more conventional tortillas. I will order this dish the next time I return.

Veggie Burger with grilled red onion, tomato, avocado and roasted red pepper sauce

For Gail, the vegetarian diner, we ordered the veggie burger ($11) with grilled red onion, tomato, avocado and roasted red pepper sauce. I split this with her, and I definitely did not miss the meat. The veggie patty was moist and the onions added a great layer of flavor. It also came with a little side salad.

Wild Forest Mushroom with sauteed leeks, cheese sauce, white truffle oil and parmigiano reggiano

Cody suggested that we try one of their brick-oven flatbreads and we chose the Wild Forest Mushroom ($14), with sauteed leeks, cheese sauce, white truffle oil and Parmigiano Reggiano. We all enjoyed the fresh and earthy combination of ingredients and they nailed the flatbread. It was a very satisfying dish.

Sweet Potato Fries & Hot and Skinny Fries

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, then you know I order fries with every meal. We ordered the combination of sweet potato fries and hot and skinny fries ($6). These had a real kick to them, and I gotta say I loved ‘em!

Vermont Kitchen & Bar 1714 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027 323-661-6163

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Larchmont Grill – Hollywood

Plunked on a corner right on Melrose Avenue in the heart of Hollywood, is a perfect little neighborhood gem called the Larchmont Grill.  The restaurant resides within a beautifully restored Craftsman home which seems strangely out-of-place amid a sea of retail businesses. The neutral color palette, crown moldings and fireplace give this spot a very warm and homey feel. On the first floor is a small but comfortable bar and a dining area, but I was wowed by the second floor that’s used for private parties and special events. The space is tastefully decorated, and even boasts an outdoor “porch” area. Co-owner Mark Donofrio, who told us he opened the Larchmont Grill three years ago, was kind enough to give my friend Kim and I a tour of the restaurant.

Co-owner Mark Donofrio

The menu is diverse offering a nice selection of “comfort food” style dishes with a modern spin. Mark told us that the restaurant grows its own vegetables in a garden near downtown that they share with several other restaurants, as well as purchasing produce from a local farmer’s market.

Sweet potato fries with aioli, malt vinegar, & ketchup

Since I try to have fries with every meal, we start with the sweet potato fries ($6) that come with aioli, malt vinegar and ketchup to dip them in. I enjoyed the variety of dipping sauces as each sauce gave the fries a completely different taste. As expected, we finished them before the other dishes even arrived.

Crab cake sliders on homemade brioche buns

Kim and I both enjoyed their take on crab cake sliders. They were moist and flavorful and came on the tastiest homemade brioche buns with a chipotle aioli. And yeah, we got more fries.

Barbecue chopped chicken salad with sweet corn, tomatoes, red onion, cheddar cheese with a buttermilk, ranch dressing

With six salads to choose from it was hard to make a choice, since they all sounded really good. We went with the Barbecue Chopped Chicken Salad ($15) and it did not disappoint. It was a great combination of flavors with tons of chicken chunks, and the tortilla strips gave the salad a yummy crunch.

Ahi club with avocado, bacon, butter lettuce, beefsteak tomato with a Caesar mayonnaise

They take the classic American club sandwich and add medium-seared ahi to it.  Though a tasty sandwich, the ahi didn’t shine through for me because it get’s overwhelmed by the bread. I would have rather tasted all those beautiful ingredients they use instead.

Brussel sprouts in a balsamic reduction

But the breakout star of the day had to be the side dish of Brussel sprouts in a balsamic reduction.  They were sweet, crunchy, and earthy with just the right amount of carmelization on them so that they just melted in your mouth. We couldn’t finish them, but they were not going to be left behind. I took these home in a box to be enjoyed later in the evening.

The service was friendly and efficient. Both servers took the time to tell us about the dishes and how they were made. I appreciate a knowlegeable staff.  If you give the Larchmont Grill a try, let me know what you think, I’d love to hear!

Larchmont Grill 5750 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038  323-464-4277

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9021PHO – Westlake Village

Pho heaven’s sake, why did it take so long to get authentic, gourmet Vietnamese food in the west end of the valley!!!  But let’s count our blessings that it’s finally here.  Chef Kimmy Tang is the culinary force behind 9021PHO, her Vietnamese bistro that opened in Westlake Village a mere 4 months ago. Her flagship location is in Beverly Hills, and she plans to open a third very soon in Culver City. The space is open and contemporary. It’s very zen-like on one hand, yet exudes a warm energy, much like Chef Tang herself.

Chef Kimmy Tang

When we ask Chef Tang where she trained, she tells us she is entirely self-taught. She said that she had opened her first restaurant called Michelia in 2001, but that she closed it 7 years later. She explains to my friend Gail and I how she traveled throughout Europe and Asia for several years, honing her culinary skills and expanding her horizons before opening the Beverly Hills location in 2009. We watch her as she buzzes from table to table, making sure her customers are happy and well taken care of. So let’s talk about the pho.

Pho Chay with tofu

Pho, (pronounced fuh) is a traditional Vietnamese soup, with French and Chinese influences. She offers versions with beef, chicken, tuna or shrimp. Since Gail is vegetarian and we’re splitting it, we order the Pho Chay ($8.95) made with tofu, straw mushrooms, onion, baby corn and rice noodles in a vegetable broth. This serving was certainly enough to serve four diners. The broth is light and fragrant with star anise being the most prominent of the spices flavoring it. The big pieces of tofu don’t make you miss meat at all, and the bok choy still had a nice crunch to it.

Panko friend sole

9021PHO boasts a rather large menu. It offers everything from a selection of appetizers, salads, noodle and rice dishes to seafood and meat dishes. Since we wanted a little taste of everything, we both ordered one of the lunch specials ($9.95). It came with a crispy, crunchy egg roll, soup, a slaw type salad, rice and a dessert all within a bento-style box. I ordered the panko-crusted sole, and it was excellent. The best part was the French, spicy aioli that Chef Tang makes fresh everyday. The fish was moist and flavorful on the inside, and had a perfect golden, brown crunch on the outside. I couldn’t finish it so I brought the rest home. However, when I walked in the house I popped the left-over in the microwave…and it was gone.

Gail the vegetarian ordered the tofu with onion, bell pepper, eggplant, straw mushroom and baby corn in a black bean sauce. They also offer a choice of jasmine rice or brown rice. Our server told us that every day the special comes with a different dessert. Today’s dessert was a cold dessert soup of red beans and coconut milk. I’ve never tasted anything like this before.

Vietnamese iced coffee

Pho people who enjoy their coffee drinks, the iced coffee is a must. The Vietnamese coffee has a deep, bold flavor; it’s mixed with condensed milk and served over ice.  It packs a real punch, in fact as I write this, I’m still buzzing from it.

I think Westlake Village has a real winner on it’s hands. It’s obvious that Chef Kimmy Tang cooks with both her heart and her soul. In a sea of pho restaurants that dot the city of Los Angeles, her flavors are more refined and elegant than most. I for one welcome her to the valley. If you give 9021PHO a try, I’d love to hear what your impression was. Tell Chef Kimmy I said hello!

9021PHO -  30990 Russel Road, Westlake Village, CA 91362

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Charlie’s Pantry – Studio City

Sweet potato tater tots, need I say more

When Noreen and I asked the woman behind the counter at  Charlie’s Pantry in Studio City, what is your must-have dish, she told us it was the sweet potato tater tots. Well girlfriend wasn’t lyin’. These tiny, little nuggets which come with two dipping sauces, have a little crunch on the outside, and a soft texture on the inside, and no grease whatsoever. We couldn’t stop eating them until they were gone.

Charlie’s Pantry has been opened only a scant three months, but I have a feeling they’ll be around for a long time.  This lovely bistro is part restaurant and part gourmet market offering specialties from around the world. It’s bright and airy, and we felt as though we were  dining in a good friend’s backyard as we sat at the large picnic table in the center of the room.

Charlie’s Pantry offers a substantial lunch menu of freshly made soups, salads and sandwiches. I love my comfort food, so we decide to start with the Man’s Grilled Cheese sandwich. It comes with apples and walnuts, is charcoal grilled and slathered in rosemary butter and drizzled with a port wine reduction. You get the creaminess of the cheese, tartness of the apples and crunch of the nuts all in one bite, BUT it’s the rosemary butter that sends this sandwich over the top.

Man's Grilled Cheese with Rosemary Butter & Port Wine Reduction

To counter balance the carbs, we decide to order the Palm Beach Salad. For me, this was a perfect combination of flavors. The chicken breast that was crusted in almonds was moist, the organic greens were fresh, and the fennel, cranberries and toasted almonds added the sweet and crunchy to the dish. The orange citrus honey dressing only enhanced the salad without over whelming it.

Almond crusted chicken breast, baby spinach, Belgian endive, raddichio, fennel, cranberries and roasted almonds

Having tried one of their sandwiches and salads, we thought we should give a soup a try. We order the matzo ball soup which is an overly generous portion. For me, matzo ball soup is the ultimate in comfort food. This broth lacked that rich, chicken flavor I was hoping for and the matzo ball was dense and meatball like; not light and airy like my yiddishe mama’s. Sorry Charlie, this dish fell short for me.

Matzo Ball Soup

At this point, Noreen and I look up at each other and start to laugh because we can’t believe that two, five-foot women were able to consume so much food. But everything is so good that we feel dessert is in order. Charlie’s Pantry offers a nice array of homemade desserts from tiramisu, cheesecake, cookies and pastries. However, we spy the beautifully colored French macarons displayed in the case and decide that’s the direction we should go.

French macarons

These cookies were a lovely ending to a great meal.  They were light and chewy and not overly sweet. Perfection.

Charlie’s Pantry offers a breakfast and lunch menu, and a deli case filled with a mouth-watering selection of homemade delicacies. It was also easy to get to as there is underground, valet parking and they validate. Yay!  A real bonus in LA, right!

Noreen in front of Charlie's Pantry

Charlie’s Pantry 12265 Ventura Boulevard #101 (in between Coldwater & Laurel Canyon), Studio City, CA 91604

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