Saturday, October 21, 2017

 We found much of interest in our visit to Pacifica, located just south of San Francisco, which is currently celebrating its 60th year as a California city.
The very word castle brings about interest and imagination so, of course, we had to check out Sam's Castle. 
 And indeed a castle it was situated atop one of the highest points in Pacifica with a view that sweeps over the city and its magical coastline.  I It was built in 1908 by a San Francisco magnate, Henry Harrison McCloskey. His wife was born in Scotland in  a castle so the Pacifica structure was modeled to duplicate it.
 Over the next century the castle had many roles including a speakeasy during Prohibition, a brothel, and during World War ll a Coast Guard barracks.
In 1959 the late Sam Mazza purchased the castle and then filled it with exquisite works of art and antiques he had acquired  during his career as a decorator for 20th Century Fox.
After his death the Sam Mazza Foundation took over the property which has been renovated and is now open to public tours by the Pacifica Historical Society.
We were met and greeted by Jeanette Cool, executive director, of the Mazza Foundation who related its history to us. 
Then Scott Cunningham of Cunningham Design, who has been responsible for the renovation and remodeling, took us on a personal tour of all the castle rooms and described some of the fantastic paintings and works of marble sculpture.
It proved to be a remarkable experience.
Sam's Castle is located at 900 Mirador Terrace, Pacifica, web www.sammazzafoundation.org.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The seaside location of some of Pacifica's restaurants greatly added to our  dining experiences during our visit.  At Puerto 27, which features Peruvian foods, we had a table with a window  view of the rugged coastline and lines of breakers.
This restaurant is the true success story of Julio Perez and his wife Zoila who left Lima, Peru for a better life in the US.  Now Puerto 27 has four locations in the San Francisco area.  We did have the opportunity to chat with Julio Perez and he gave us a tour of the restaurant with its three stories,  all with sweeping views of the adjacent ocean.
This is a big restaurant with a large bar and lounge and several dining rooms.
Our waitress, Maria, was most helpful as we studied the many Peruvian Ceviche and Antcuchos, street style skewers, on the menu.
I ordered the Puerto Pasta with shrimp, chorizo, basil, aji amarillo cream and shaved manchego cheese.  It arrived in a huge bowl with about twice the amount of pasta I could eat.
My dining partner went with the salmon with was grilled with squid ink calamari rice and mango salsa criolla.
It would take many visits to explore the many interesting appetizers and entrees on this menu.
For dessert I ordered the vanilla bean pisco  flan with roasted strawberries while my partner decided on the Mango cheese cake with raspberry sauce.
Puerto 27 is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. with a Brunch menu on weekends.
It is located at 525 Crespi Drive, Pacifica, Ca. Telephone 650 733-7343, on the web at www.puerto27.com.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

When visiting a new town or city it is always a good idea to make the local visitors bureau your first point of call.  Almost every place has some points of special interest that require local knowledge to learn about and locate.
So when we set out to stay in Pacifica and learn about the city and what it has to offer our first stop was to the office of the Pacifica Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.  There we met Jamie Monozon who is chief executive officer.
She had all kinds of suggestions for us and much written material as well.
 Pacifica which is currently celebrating its 66th year as a California city.  Situated only a few miles from San Francisco Pacifica has through the years been able  to develop its own decor, ambiance and services that are very much its own identify.
Geography has played a role in this development of a city that has managed to maintain an image of a small friendly community while being surrounded by larger more dense cities on three sides.  To the north San Francisco, to the east, a range of mountains, separate it from the vast populations of the Bay Area Peninsula.
On our recent visit to Pacifica we immediately noticed this small community friendliness with almost everyone we met.  Here people have time to get to know each other and are most willing to welcome and aid visitors.  This framed by the scenic rugged Pacific Ocean shoreline that here alternates between sandy beaches and rugged rocky headlands.
Besides offering all the basic services of the community Pacifica has much to offer the visitor.  There are a number of beautiful inns and hotels with frontage by the ocean including The Lighthouse Hotel which we stayed.   Also some exceptional restaurants, some with an ethnic cuisine, that also took in the beauty of the coast and sea.
At the Best Western's Lighthouse Hotel our room offered, besides a long list of amenities, a view of the surf breaking just yards from our full glass patio window.  We had much to do in exploring what Pacifica has to offer but our hotel and room showed much of its seaside beauty.
To learn about Pacifica's early history Jamie recommended a visit to the Little Brown Church and its historian Kathleen Manning.  After breakfast we were there in a very short time.  This was another joy about Pacifica, every place we visited was just a few minutes away.
Little Brown Church has a history of its own.  It was built in 1910 just a short distance from the railroad station.  In that era there was a railroad, named Ocean Shore Railroad, that extended from San Francisco along the coast to Santa Cruz.
Over decades the church enjoyed many roles including services, community center and meeting place, a public school and movie house, than headquarters for the Pacifica Police Department.  Now a project under the title Pacifica Community Museum Center has taken over after an extensive renovation.
All of this was related to us by Kathleen Manning who is executive director of the new museum.  Along with Docent Paul Slavers we toured the museum which includes memorabilia from the Ocean Shore Railroad, which ceased operations i 1920,  as well as the early history of the region dating back to the explorations of the Spanish who discovered the region.
The Little Brown Church Museum is located at 1850 Francisco Blvd., in Pacifica.  For hours call 650 359-5462, on the web at www.pacificahistory.org.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

We thought Officine Brera was the perfect fit for the ever expanding Art District in downtown Los Angeles.
We were at the restaurant for a special dinner to introduce a new inspired menu for Princess Cruises showplace Sabatini's, its signature Italian restaurant for almost two decades.
 Princess Cruises carried two million guests last year to 360 destinations around the globe.
The new menu items have been crafted by Chef Angelo Auriana who owns Officine Brera as well as The Factory Kitchen, also located in the Arts District.
Some fifty members of the media were in attendance at the dinner featuring the new elevated menu items to be featured on Caribbean Princess and Grand Princess and then expanded to the entire fleet of seventeen ships.
Chef Angelo Auriana was personally on hand to introduce to new menu items.
Our Antipasto was preceded by Villa Sandi Fresco Prosecco.  It was brandade pink snapper mousse with Olivia ciaatta and olive oil.
With Primo our wine was 2016 Poggiotondo Vermentino, a blend of Northern Italian white wines
The dish casarecce curly eggless buckwheat pasta with mushroom sugo and gnocchi piemontesi, house made potato dumplings
Il Secondo course is a famed recipe of  Chef  Auriana, slow braised beef shoulder, root vegetables, potatoes in natural jus.   The 2015 Poggiotondo Toscana IGT wine was a perfect match for this Il Secondo which also included dentice pink snapper filet, artichokes, cherry tomatoes with pisarei e verdure house made bread dumplings
Finishing off this most interesting menu was our Dolce, castagnole freshly fried doughnuts, with sugar and a salty bourbon caramel sauce.
Adopted from an former shoe warehouse Officine Brera is spacious with an artfully crafted cocktail bar and lounge as well as an open kitchen, and both indoor and patio dining rooms.
It is located at 1331 East 6th Street in Los Angeles with a spacious parking area and valet parking. For more information call 213 553-8006,on the web at www.officinebrera.com.

Friday, October 6, 2017

For many Americans the wines of South Africa remain to be discovered.  We already knew about these vineyards and wines grown and made at the very southern tip of the African continent.
However when we attended  the seminar  conducted by Jim Clarke, marketing manager for Wines of South Africa we too learned much about the location of the vineyards and the wines they produce..
 Included was the tasting of three of the region's best known white grape wines and three of the red varietals that are from vineyards located at the very southern tip of the sprawling huge African continent.
Leading white varietal in Chenin Blanc and indeed South Africa enjoys the largest number of Chenin Blanc vineyards of any wine producing country worldwide.  The Fram Chenin Blanc we tasted from Pascal Schidt Selections was a 2014 vintage from the Citrusdalo Mountain region.  It earned high points on our score card.
The Sauvignon Blanc grape does particularly well in the Sanctuary Peak region which enjoys the influence of the southern ocean.  We liked the Downes Family 2014 Sauvignon Blanc from this region for its lush aroma and flavors.  The third white wine we tasted was Colmant Brut from Kysela Pere Et Fils. Ltd which also offers a Colmant Brut Rose.
Growing grapes and making wine has a long history in South Africa.   Grapes arrived with the first European settlers in 1659.  In that era South Africa was most important as an provisioning port for ships moving on to the East Indies and the spice trade.  Then in the 17th century Stellerbosch began the production of red wines.  Today 54 per cent of the  vineyards are planted with white grapes, the most popular Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay and Colombard.   With 45 per cent of the vineyards in red varietals the leaders are Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinotage and Merlot.
The cabernet sauvignon we tasted at the seminar was from the Stellenbosch, Jonkershoek valley region, a Neil Ellis 2013 vintage.  The age showed in this wine with softer tannins and silky smooth on the palate.
We were particularly taken with the Ken Forrester Renegade which is a blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Grenache.  We tasted the Renegade 2012 Red Blend and found it remarkable in its light aroma, soft tannins and a lasting finish.  We might add that the first Forrester vineyard dates back to 1659. 
We noted as we moved through the tasting that South African vintners are not in a rush to bring vintages to market.  Many enjoy years of cellar and bottle aging.  Also remarkable was the fact that the highest price for a wine we tasted was $21 retail.
Twenty wineries or their importers were represented at the tasting.  On conclusion of the seminar an excellent buffet luncheon was served.  We were very impressed with the facilities offered at the Marina City Club in Marina Del Mar.  It proved an excellent choice for the South Africa wine event.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Unusual, different, fast service,  casual decor and unique ethnic foods.  All this describes our luncheon at the newly opened Bibibop Asian Grill located near the Beverly Center in Los Angeles.
The concept here is serving Korean based foods and sauces,  all in a bowl on a bed of rice and noodles.
The toppings include egg, two kinds of chicken, steak, warm vegetables and then a choice of six different Korean styled sauces.
The vegetables include potatoes, bean sprouts, beans and corn.  Also lettuce, sesame kale, cucumber, carrot, red cabbage, Kimchi and cheese.
The whole concept of Bibibop is to bring the bold flavors and ingredients of South Korea to the U.S.  The name and menu is inspired by the traditional Korean dish called Bibimbap which translates to "mixed rice bowl'.
We found Bibibop yet another way to present fast food.  The menu, while full of interesting meats and vegetables, is limited in that all is served in a bowl.  Prices are modest and  the bowls chuck full so there is no excuse for leaving Bibibop hungry.
There is a large selection of beverages and the Muso soup is free, self serving, fresh and we found delicious.
This is food that can be enjoyed any time of day or evening.
The Bibibop we visited is located at 8425 Beverly Blvd. and open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.  On the web at http://bibibop.com.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

It was in 1976 that we attended an event in Los Angeles sponsored by the Government of Thailand Tourism Authority.  Its purpose was to recognize the role Thai restaurants in the U.S. were playing in the promotion of Thai cuisine and culture.
Since then Thai restaurants are in abundance supply but when we heard about  the popularity of a Thai restaurant in Westwood named Emporium Thai it was time for further investigation.  We were in the restaurant only a short time when we asked how long has this been going on?  
Here was a neat, artfully created dining room and bar where every patron was greeted on entry by smiling members of the wait staff.  If they felt you were new to Thai cuisine they were there to provide help through the large menu and willing to make suggestions and always asking a most important question with Thai food,  do you want it spicy or mild in flavors?  At this restaurant spiciness is on a scale from one to ten with not spicy, level one and level ten labeled lava.
We met with John Sungkamee,  the genial proprietor, who had a wonderful story to tell us about how his family came to America and how Emporium Thai will be celebrating its 18th anniversary next March.   John gives all credit to his mother, who besides being mother to twelve children, thought that some of her family moving to the United States would open more opportunities.  So she entered a lottery that was being conducted that offered members of a family opportunity to emigrate to the U.S.   To her amazement she was one of the winners and John, the youngest of the twelve children, then 18 years old, came to the U.S.
And his was one more of the success stories that we all love to hear of an immigrant doing well in their new country. 
First he worked in restaurants  carefully learning English as quickly as possible.  Then college to learn the skills to become a software engineer.  But then the opportunity came to open a Thai restaurant on Westwood Blvd., in the heart of Westwood.  So Emporium Thai came into being with more of the family arriving from Thailand including his mother.  A photo of his mother can be seen in the restaurant still smiling a welcoming greeting to her many guests even after her passing two years ago at the age of eighty eight. 
Taking over to aid us in our perusal of the  Emporium extensive menu was  family member, Honey Bee.  With her gracious manner, smile  and charm she had our complete attention.   We opened with Thai dumplings, both steamed and crispy as one of the appetizers which also included veggie egg rolls, Thai buffalo wings and crying tiger beef.    For our salad with Honey Bee's help we selected the Coco Mango Salad with Shrimp which included shredded raw mango mixed with dried coconut, fresh chili and lime juice.  Also we had to try the Crying Tiger beef which was outstanding in  presentation and flavors.
One of our group did enjoy spice so a Currie, one of house specialties, a Yellow Currie with chicken arrived at our table.  This was not for me with my no spice mode.  Two more delightful and delicious dishes arrived,  they were noodles called Pad See Ew Westwood  with shrimp  and an entree, Pad Kra Pow, Thai basil chicken that generally arrives with spice but for our table mild with spice absent.  Of the three at our table one wanted spice and lots of it, the other two mild or no spice.  Every dish arrived just as each of us requested.
 The bar offers  Asian styled cocktails and some wines, and John told us one of his future additions will be a more complete wine list.
When we left Emporium Thai we were convinced we had experienced the best Thai cuisine available in west Los Angeles which explained it being chosen as one of the top one hundred Thai restaurants in the USA.
And that John Sungkamee is indeed an outstanding restaurateur.
Emporium Thai is located at 1275 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles 90024, Telephone 310 478-2838,  web www.ethaicuisine.com.  Hours are Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.