Inn of the Seventh Ray – Now & Zen

The Inn of the Seventh Ray in LA’s Topanga Canyon is literally nestled amidst centuries old trees, flora and fauna of every kind, waterfalls and a babbling brook. It seems to exist in the land that time forgot. When one enters the canyon, either from the 101 freeway in the San Fernando Valley, or from Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, you enter a “zen” zone. It’s a community that seems to be stuck in the late sixties, and I say that in a good way. A very good way.

We entered the restaurant on this warm March day through wrought iron gates and made our way down a brick spiral stair; sun shining, birds chirping and New Age music playing quietly in the background. The restaurant exudes a positive vibe as it combines both nature and it’s natural approach to dining. *Note- they even had “fair trade” sugar packets on the table.

We chose a table right next to the creek that runs alongside the restaurant. I’ve dined outside many times before, but usually on a busy street all the while inhaling car fumes. I kinda didn’t care how the food tasted because I was just enjoying the peace and tranquility of this environment  and breathing the fresh air.  As we sat,  our server brought us a basket of bread and told us that all their baked goods are made in-house using only organic grains and without refined sugar or bleached flour. Within seconds, Gail and I had finished the bread and were looking for more.

Breads made from organic grains and no bleached flour

We started with their homemade tomato soup ($9) which I would describe as subtle in flavor, not overly-tomato like, but very natural. It was a large portion and could have been a meal in itself.

A homemade tomato soup $9

On their lunch menu they offer four salads. We chose the trio of roasted beets, with watercress, Forme de amber Bleu Cheese (not overly pungent), candied walnuts and walnut oil. ($15) If you like beets, I would highly recommend this dish as it was a great combination of flavors, perfectly roasted beets and plenty for two people to share.

Roasted Beets Trio with Watercress, Bleu Cheese, Candied Walnuts and Walnut Oil $15

Feeling like I needed a little carbohydrate, we decided to order one of their flatbreads. We ordered the wild mushroom with organic spinach, creme fraiche and gruyere cheese ($14). The homemade flatbread had a nice crunch to it, as well as being gooey and cheesey, with large, plump mushrooms bursting out under the spinach.

Wild Mushroom Flatbread, Organic Spinach, Creme Fraiche & Gruyere Cheese $14

Being as dessert obsessed as I am, I couldn’t wait to see what they had to offer. There were five “healthy” sounding choices, but we opted for the blueberry financier cake with ginger ice cream and blueberry creme fraiche ($9). This was the one times I wished I wasn’t sharing with Gail. This was some serious comfort food without being overly sweet and cloying. We thought the overall meal was amazing, proving that food tastes better without food colorings, preservatives and refined sugar. The food at the Inn of the Seventh Ray peacefully co-exists with the environment. When you dine here, you can leave your Xanax at home.

Blueberry Financier Cake with Ginger Ice Cream, Caramel, Cinnamon & Blueberry Creme Fraiche $9

But the day doesn’t end there. A visit to Topanga Canyon is a great little day trip. Wear your bell-bottoms and fringed jackets and you’ll fit in perfectly. Men with pony-tails, welcomed! The canyon is filled with a great array of antique stores, gourmet food shops, and funky clothing stores, not to mention the canyon’s ethereal beauty. And by the way, everywhere I went I saw Buddha heads,  and I found myself calling everyone “man” and “dude”.

As we headed back to the San Fernando Valley and 2012, there was still one more treat. You can pull off the side of the road at the top of Topanga Canyon and below is a spectacular view of the valley. Just stand there and take it all in. OHM!

The view from the top of Topanga Canyon looking into the San Fernando Valley

The Inn of the Seventh Ray  128 Old Topanga Canyon Road, Topanga CA 90290

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 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

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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All That Was Missing Was the Guys from Entourage

View of Century City from The London West Hollywood rooftop

It’s been 31 years since I moved to Los Angeles, but I still get excited about living here.  A half-hour away from my house and it’s as if I’m in another world. A ninety minute lunch can feel like a mini-vacation, and that’s what this afternoon’s excursion felt like. Today’s partner-in-crime was my friend Kim who I met at my very first job when I moved to LA. We met at a Century City accounting firm where she was the office manager and I was the receptionist. The job lasted 2 months, but the friendship endured over 30 years.

Pool and roof top dining area of The Rooftop by Gordon Ramsay

We arrived at the entry to the London West Hollywood, a 3-year old hotel just off the legendary Sunset Strip, and were immediately wowed by it’s sleek and sophisticated lobby. We took the elevator to the Rooftop by Gordon Ramsay and when we exited we were definitely transported to another world.  We were greeted by the staff that looked more like a casting call for HBO’s Entourage. This place was more like a movie set than a restaurant. Where were Vinnie and Turtle I wondered. We were on top of the world. The rooftop is surrounded by nothing but plexiglass, and the City of Angels surrounds you on all four sides. In one direction was Century City, in another downtown Los Angeles, and of course the remarkable view of the Hollywood Hills and the Sunset Strip below us. We were not even thinking about food as the view was just overwhelming.

Cucumber Viper

I looked at Kim and said, “this calls for a drink”! I’m not much of a drinker, but they had an amazing choice of signature cocktails. We both ordered the Cucumber Viper; a combination of Tequila, Orange Liquer, cucumber, fresh lime juice and agave nectar. At this point, we truly felt like we were on vacation. As I always like to do, we decided to split several dishes, so we started with the Spinach Salad with Shrimp, Scallops and Avocado. It was not a very big portion, but since we had other dishes coming we overlooked that.

Spinach Salad with Shrimp, Scallops & Avocado

Next we ordered the Short Rib Tacos with Pico de Gallo and Guacamole. It was very good and again a smallish portion, but great if you’ve got that audition for Entourage coming up and you need to keep that trim figure.

Short Rib Tacos with Pico de Gallo and Guacamole

The restaurant offers several fresh sushi items so we chose the King Crab Roll. Another very good dish.

King Crab Roll

But hey, if you’re on vacation you’ve got to order dessert, right?  So we did.  They brought us the Lemon Tart with Burnt Meringue.  As a pastry school graduate, I appreciate a well conceived and executed dessert. This tasted as good as it looked.

Lemon Tart with Burnt Meringue

So all in all The Rooftop by Gordon Ramsay did not disappoint. The menu, though not large, is very well thought out and has something that will appeal to all diners. Everything is fresh and flavorful and beautifully plated. But it’s the view of the city that is the real winner here. For that brief ninety minutes I felt like I experienced what it is that makes LA that hip, cool place that the rest of America thinks it is.

My friend Kim with the city of Los Angeles

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OBIKA Restaurant Review – Century City

$21.50 bought me an amazing lunch today. Noreen and I fled the valley  for the hinterland they call West Los Angeles.  She had some business she needed to take care of over at the Century City Mall, and while we were there we decided to grab some lunch, which you all know is my favorite pastime. We moseyed into a place called Obika Mozzarella Bar (pronounced Oh Bee KAH). I was immediately drawn to its sleek and modern design.

A mozzarella bar…interesting concept, huh. Well the specialty of the house is…you guessed it…mozzarella.  Their’s is imported directly from Italy  three times a week. That was the best darn mozzarella I ever had. We had it in a salad with juicy pieces of pink grapefruit in a Balsamic vinaigrette.  We also split the Pollo Ruspante, a salad of tons of free-range chicken and baby spinach, European radishes, sundried tomatoes, pomegranate (love, love, love) also dressed in the Balsamic vinaigrette. It was so light, but a great combination of flavors.

As a baker, I take bread very seriously. I don’t know why so many restaurants place little or no attention on the bread. C’mon guys, this sets the tone for the rest of the meal.  So, along with our salads they placed the cutest little linen basket on the table filled with four different kinds of very fresh bread and dipping oil.

At this point Noreen and I are really quite pleased with how lunch is turning out when we glance over at the table next to us. No salads for them. This couple had some serious looking lasagna on their plates. We figure, what the heck. So we order some for ourselves to split.  Good move. This lasagna was just like what mama used to make, if my mother was a little Italian woman from Italy. For me, lasagna is usually dense and heavy, but this was surprisingly light. Made with their imported mozzarella, it was so cheesy, and the noodles had a nice crispness on the edges. The tomato sauce, doused moderately over it, had a creaminess that complimented the mozzarella perfectly.

But alas, all good things must come to an end.  Noreen and I both felt this place was a winner and will probably come back to this Brave New World they call West L.A. the next time we venture out of the Valley.

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