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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Raphael Restaurant…You Had Me At Hello

The sign on the front of Raphael Restaurant, on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, said lunch from 11:30 until 2. When we opened the front door to the restaurant at 1:55 looking to be fed, we expected owner Arnon Raphael to send us packing. Instead, we were greeted with a very warm and welcoming hello, and told we could absolutely get a table.

I was looking forward to coming here as I had read that Adam Horton, formerly of The Saddle Peak Lodge, one of my favorite restaurants, was the executive chef. When you enter the restaurant you are immediately charmed by its sleek and sophisticated decor. Owner Raphael told us that his wife had designed the interior that boasts warm woods, stone, and stunning lighting fixtures that add to the overall dining experience. One side is the elegant but casual dining area, and the other side is a rather spacious and comfortable bar area.

My friend Kim and I were seated at a lovely booth right in front of the window. We were greeted by our server Joslyn, a Cameron Diaz look-alike, who was extremely friendly and professional. For me, the servers seem to set the tone of the experience, so, I could see we were off to a good start. Raphael has an extensive wine selection, serving 50 wines by the class. Kim chose a Santa Barbara, Pinot Noir, and I went with the Italian, Pinot Grigio.

Raphael describes their menu as “world cuisine”. I like that. I like to be able to enjoy tastes from all around the globe at one table. Their lunch menu is limited; 4 salads, 4 sandwiches and 5 larger plates as well as several side dishes. This is never a problem for me. I don’t need a huge selection to chose from, I just expect that the few dishes a restaurant does offer should be done absolutely perfect.

The sandwich we chose was the Scottish salmon with capers, red onion, dill Havarti and a luscious ramp aioli on a soft, sesame seed bun.

Scottish salmon with capers, red onion, dill Havarti, and ramp aioli

When the dish arrived it appeared a little “bare”.  Nothing, no garnish, no accoutrements, visually I thought it needed a little “something”. Well that being said, it didn’t really need anything. The salmon patty was so full of flavor and cooked perfectly. The combination of the elements on this sandwich didn’t require anything to spruce it up. It was perfect just the way it was. We did however, order the fries which were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. They were a great compliment to the salmon. When I return, I will absolutely get this dish again.

Som Tam Thai - green papaya, tiger shrimp, lime, peanuts, chile & cilantro

For the salad we chose the Som Tam Thai, a visually stunning dish of green papaya, tiger shrimp, lime, peanuts, chile and cilantro. I don’t handle the heat well, and this dish was a tad too spicy for me. Next time I would ask them to turn down the heat a bit.  The shrimp were big and meaty, not over-cooked which happens so often with shrimp in salads. The flavors were authentic, as if we were having this dish in a Thai street market.

They offered 3 choices for the dessert, none of which appealed to Kim or myself. Joslyn said that the pastry chef would like to make us a dessert that wasn’t on the menu. Wow, that never happened to me before, they are eager to please at Raphael.

Trifle of fresh strawberries & lemon with strawberry mini meringue kisses

We were presented with a trifle of fresh strawberries and lemon garnished with strawberry meringue kisses. It was tart and light and luscious, the perfect ending to our meal.

Raphael is the caliber of dining that you tend to find “on the other side of the hill”. It’s smart and well done, and offers you the whole package in terms of ambiance, service and cuisine. I’m so glad they’re in my neck of the woods.

Kim in front of Raphael

Raphael 11616 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City 91604 ( In between Colfax & Tujunga)

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SWEET BUTTER Kitchen Cafe & Marketplace

It seems my life in the San Fernando Valley expands as long as Ventura Boulevard itself. Everything I’ve done in my life over the last thirty years has either be on or slightly off of Ventura Boulevard. To me, it is the boulevard of dreams. Whatever you fancy in life can be found there from Studio City to Woodland Hills.

I made plans with two women from my pastry school to meet for lunch.  This is an activity I’m very good at, I honestly love lunch. And Marci, my baking buddy suggested a place called Sweet Butter in Sherman Oaks. Geez, just the name alone, I knew it had to be good. When we drove up I thought, “did they build this place just for me”? The outside is so welcoming, painted just that perfect shade of buttery yellow. You knew whatever was inside had to scrumptious.   Here it was the middle of January  and we were able to take advantage of their large outdoor seating area of comfortable banquets.  I’m all about the food, but all the quaint touches were not lost on me. Colorful flowers, patterned fabrics, lots of wrought iron. I love it!

And I loved their menu. Yes I’m a sucker for French bistro style food, that’s kind of how I would describe it. They don’t have waitress service, so you go inside and stand in line to order and it’s brought to your table. Therein lies the one thing that was a problem for me. I don’t like having to stare down the other customers with that look of “dude, that’s my table, I’ve been standing here for the last ten minutes”!  However, once seated, all was good with the world.

Fresh, fresh, homemade, and yes…fresh.  They have a great selection of salads. I got the “South of the Boulevard” with chopped Jidori chicken which was moist and flavorful, Romaine, black beans, grilled corn and tortilla strips (they added just the right crunch), with a creamy Chipotle Buttermilk dressing.   Simple and delicious. Marci got the Tuna Nicoise with Italian tuna. I didn’t taste it, but it looked great. The portions were fairly large, so I ended up taking mine home for a late afternoon snack. Each salad was under $13.00.

I’m also an iced tea, and coffee fanatic. I find so many restaurants don’t pay any attention to these beverages.  Well, Sweet Butter does. After lunch I had a cup of their Intelligentsia brand coffee, and it was delicious. Mama likes her coffee. That with one of their homemade chocolate chip cookies, and I was a very happy girl.

I can definitely see going back again and again as there was no shortage of tasty looking sandwiches, salads, soups and homemade desserts to choose from. Good food, and a great view of Ventura Boulevard…dang I love the Valley!

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