Thursday, September 29, 2016

When we decided to visit the new Costero California Bar and Bistro, located  in the Sheraton Gateway, we soon discovered that here casual dining has moved to a new quality level.
As a life time member of the Southern California Restaurant Writers we well remembered Orazio Parisi who was named 'Chef of the Year' in 2012.
Now he is Executive Chef at Costero and  has produced an outstanding menu that mixes pizzas with gourmet quality entrees like his lamb chops with an extraordinary port wine sauce or his pan seared  scallops atop a bed of couscous, caponata and pancetta vinaigrette
This menu mixes classics like Beef Tenderloin and Bone in ribeye with dishes that display the Chef's Italian background including Cioppino, Seafood Spaghetti and hand rolled garganelli pasta.
The Bistro effect shows through with six pizzas, five salads and thirteen small plates with items like Salmon belly tartare, Chipotle fish tacos and Focaccia bread.
 The dessert menu includes Gelatos and Sorbets and a Chocolate-Pistachio cake which was our favorite.
Costero has been designed with a large area devoted to its bar, lounge  with  a huge wall video as a meeting place to enjoy cocktails and craft beers in a casual atmosphere.  The dining room portion is located in its own area with a more relaxed atmosphere and ambiance.
A full page of the large menu is devoted to beverages with 28 wines available by the glass and 42 by the bottle. The selection including many well known California labels but also wines from other countries as well.
The beer selection, equally large, with six draft beers,  six local craft on tap and another six bottled craft beers on call.
Costero is located in the Sheraton Gateway Hotel adjacent to Los Angeles International  Airport.  Address 6101 W Century Blvd. Los Angeles, Telephone 888 627-7104, web 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

We never miss attending at least one of Thornton Winery Summer Series Jazz concerts. This was the 28th year of such events which take place at the .picturesque Courtyard and patio of the Winery and can accommodate some 600 people.
Those attending have the choice of purchasing general admission tickets for non reserve seating or the gourmet supper package which includes a reserved table and three course dinner.
Last Saturday night when we attended  Keiko Matsui showed a house of excited fans why her fame is world wide. Backing her up was a group of truly gifted sidemen with a percussion section that had both the wine glasses and fans jiggling.
For our dinner Chef Alfred Fierro Jr. stepped forward with an outstanding menu that offered a Cafe Champagne Salad of field greens, tomatoes, golden raisins, spiced pecans, with blue cheese. Served with it Thornton NV Champagne. Our notes on this vintage reported a great aroma full of fruit, fine acidity and balance and a pleasant finish.
Entree was oven roasted Salmon with marbled baby potato, chef's vegetables and a saffron sauce.. The wine, a Thornton 2014 Chardonnay. This wine was very true to its Bugundian heritage with light nose, dry fruit flavors on the palate and a long finish. Dessert was Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake with sugar crumbs. The wine an exceptional Thornton 2013 Barbera with a demanding presence and just right for sipping as Vocalist Kenny Lattimore and Michael Lington on saxophone took over on stage with a most enthusiastic audience.
These concerts will continue through October offering some of the brightest names in contemporary jazz.
Thornton Winery is located at 32575 Rancho California Road in Temecula with ample off street free parking to all that attend. For the complete concert schedule call 951- 699-0099 as well as information on tickets which can be purchased in advance of each event.
 And of course you can enjoy the cuisine of Chef Alfred Fierro any time at Cafe Champagne. On the web at

Monday, September 26, 2016

As we sat at a table with a view of the Marina we congratulated ourselves on our clever selection of the Oceanside Broiler for a Sunday Brunch that proved a feast.
It was all part of a weekend spent in Temeculia wine country and San Diego north county.  On a perfect summer beach day we had already strolled on the Oceanside Pier and watched surfers catching some waves with a good break.
This was our second visit to Oceanside Broiler but this time we wanted to check out Chef Thomas Mellen's brunch offerings featured each Sunday at the Marina facing restaurant.
We felt right at home with our greeting from General Manager Warren Hyde and then having Ty Tran assigned to our table as our waitress.  We had already become friends on our first visit and our first question was how was her eight year old daughter doing.  To which Ty promptly showed us her picture.
As to the selection at the buffet the question was what was not offered in the rows of steamers that lined both sides of the banquet room.
We opened with cocktail shrimp and steamed clams, then discovered the smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers.  We were back for a slice of roast beef, slightly pink, along with Alfredo pasta and green beans.
Our desserts included the bread pudding and chocolate eclairs.
This restaurant is large with a cocktail bar and lounge plus an outdoor patio with a second bar. 
Ocean Broiler is open seven days a week with lunch from 11 a.m. and the Sunday Brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Dinner six days from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Ocean Broiler has free off street parking and is located at 1325 Harbor Drive North in Oceanside.  The view of the adjacent Marina is free as well.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Kindred Resorts & Hotels is a collection of 57 independent proprieties spread across the United States.  Last evening we had the opportunity to meet with some of these people to learn more about their recent upgrades and in some instances a new  portfolio.
Of most interest to us was those properties located in the western part of the country.  Two of these are the Canyon Ranch which is focused mostly on wellness programs and Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort which is a mix of historic ambiance and modern luxury.
We talked with Bonnie St. Dryden at some length about what the Resort has to offer and some of its history which dates back to the 1920s.
Both these Arizona resorts are located at or near Tucson, Arizona and we told Bonnie that the closeness to Southern California would make them most desirable destinations  for some of our readers.
This all took place at the upscale Lucques Restaurant located on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood.
We started with cocktails and a get together to begin acquaintances and then moved to an excellent dinner with menu items like a market lettuce salad. a grilled Scottish salmon, braised beef short ribs with cipollini and horseradish cream with a dessert of chocolate cremeux tart with espresso hazelnut and cardamon cream.
The various properties represented by Kindred vary from lakeside retreats to luxury golf resorts to destination spas.
For more information on Kindred  check the web at www.
Lucques Bar and Restaurant is located at 8474 Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood.  Telephone 323 655-6277, web 

Friday, September 16, 2016

 One of the things that made the Kobrand tasting so special was the presence of the actual owner or winemaker of the featured wines.  The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills was the place where Kobrand conducted their Tour d'Italia 2016.  The event introduced exceptional wines from Toscana in the north to Sicily in the south.
The Folonari family is famous in Italian winemaking since the 1800s and at one point introduced Chianti in a straw covered bottle under the Ruffino brand that became very popular in the US.  We had the opportunity to meet Giovanni Folonari, son of Ambrogio and the two have turned to producing carefully crafted vintages.  Giovanni in no stranger to California since he earned his degree in Enology at the University of California at Davis.  The wines include a Brunello under the label Tenuta La Fuja and a Montepulciano under the Torcalvano brand.
We also had the opportunity to chat with Roberto Pighin who has joined his father in operation of Fernando Pighin & Figli which produces Pinot Grigio wines.  The Pighin Coat of Arms Rooster appears on the label of every bottle.  A second white grape, Cabernet Blanc is produced as well.
 We were somewhat awed when we met  Sebastiano Rosa  for his reputation preceded him to the Beverly  Hills tasting.  He graduated from UC Davis in 1990 and since has been associated with some outstanding wineries in Tuscany.  Now he is director of marketing and sales for Agricola Punica which are from vineyards in Sardinia.  These vineyards are of the Carignano varietal along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Agricola Punica includes a team of well known winemakers and most of the wines use Carignano as the main grape in their wines.  They are also making a white wine with Chardonnay and a local Sardinia variertal called Vermentino,
 We were particularly intrigued with these wines since they were the first wines from Sardinia that I could recall tasting.
 The Kobrand tasting also offered us  yet another opportunity to continue our  research into Sicilian wines as a further look into our Italian heritage.
  The Moretti winery located at Noto in the far south of Sicily is the work of Antonio Moretti who has enjoyed a most  successful career in business and as an entrepreneur.   The vineyards have been gathered from local farmers and now include some vines over thirty years of age planted on south facing hillsides.  The grapes are local in origin and include Nero d'Avola for the red wines and Grillo for the white wines.  Young in age we found both the Feudo Maccari Nero and Grillo exceptional  in quality.
  From his Tuscany Winery called Tenuta Sette Ponti Moretti features both Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon vintages.
 The Kobrand tasting was well attended and the Peninsula Hotel showed an excellent assortment of Italian deli specialties.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

   We spent much of one day in  Palo Alto including a stroll on University avenue, which centers the downtown area.  This is the hub of the south Peninsula's activities both during the day and especially at night with its many clubs and restaurants.  It also is the gateway to Stanford University.
When the Stanford family founded the University in honor of their lost son they purchased so much land that the school still is the largest land holder in the County.  Much of the campus is open to visitors and our goal was a visit to the Iris & Gerald Cantor Arts Center.  This includes a magnificent historic museum building as well as the Rodin Sculpture Garden.  In the museum we viewed a current exhibit  on California water which included some truly awesome oil paintings depicting its sources.
 That afternoon we were introduced to Dinah's Garden Hotel which enjoys a history that includes its seven acres of gardens, tranquil waterfalls and art objects that whisk one to the South Pacific Islands.  We were greeted by General Manager John Hutar and after check-in invited to take part in the afternoon's pool party.  This included tasty appetizers, cocktails and live entertainment.
 What made the scene so remarkable was that it was all taking place just  a block from one of Palo Alto's busiest thoroughfares.
That evening we were at Sam's Chowder House and Oyster Bar for dinner which put us at the center of the bustling excitement that prevails on University Avenue both day and especially at night.  Think fish here, famed New England and Manhattan clam chowders, an Oyster bar with six varieties of the species, local favorites like Cioppino or seafood Risotto, or a whole Maine lobster, steamed or grilled.
We talked with Natalie Warmbrodt, manager, and learned that Sam's also has special events like a Happy Hour and an oyster night.  We split an order of fried Calamari with another of our group and then challenged the Seafood Risotto which was a huge portion.
Then back to our luxury room at Dinah's for some well earned rest.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Coast side of San Mateo County  offers a lush countryside and includes farming communities like Pescadero.  We drove to Pescadero to visit at a goat farm, a new experience for us.  Just getting there was memorable with a scenic drive on Highway One where you pass one pristine beach after another, most with State Park status.
Harley Farms Goat Dairy has been around since 1910 but in recent years has been restored with an historic barn which now includes a meeting room as well as the equipment for making their prize winning cheeses.  Exhibits of cheeses like Garden Chive, Honey Lavender, One year old Feta and Garlic herb Fromage are also there for sale.
We had the opportunity to mingle with some of the 200 alpine goats on the 200 acres, many of them most friendly for petting and photo opts, followed by a tasting of the wonderful cheeses.
It appeared to us  that the opportunities for outdoor activities are limitless in San Mateo County.  We already mentioned the beaches but then there is Pebble Point Harbor with its sport fishing and boating, while just a short distance away Mavericks offering a surf break that now lures surfers from around the world.  The Harbor has been created with both inner and outer breakwaters and is home port to a commercial fishing industry.  In all it can dock some 369 vessels.
 Wunderlich Park is located in the mountains that separate the Pacific Coast from Silicon Valley on the Bay.  Here we took a short hike on a trail that moves through a forest of redwoods, oaks and madrones. Wild animals are abundant and we traded stares with two black tailed deer.  Adjacent is Folger Stable, an historic showplace, still used for horses and also includes a Carriage Museum.  The numerous trails are for both hikers and equestrians.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Our trip of exploration to San Mateo County Silicon Valley  started with the arrival at San Francisco International Airport aboard a one hour Jet Blue flight.  Then a short shuttle to the elegant Hyatt Regency SFO Hotel. 
That evening we dined at the hotel's 3Sixty where we met Executive Chef Bernard Foster who showed us a menu that included Asian influence matched with California produce and products.  We started with crab cakes, then a salad with a variety of lettuce.  Our entree was a crusted halibut with  vegetables including browned red potatoes.  Our dessert a strawberry shortcake.
Our wines included two 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Clos Du Val and Sequoia Grove, both from Napa.
The next morning we started our 'As Fresh as it gets Media Tour' with a visit to the Filoli Center located in Woodside.  This estate includes a huge mansion surrounded by well cared for  acres of gardens.
It is situated on 654 acres and now has ninety thousand visitors each year.
Included is a center for growing organic herbs and spices and we had a sit down tasting of just what is being produced.
San Mateo county is flanked by the Bay to the east and the Pacific Coast to the west.  Dividing the two is a range of mountains which include a forest of redwood and oak.  Wunderlich Park shows this very well with several  trails  open  both to hikers and horse back riding
Continuing west we arrived at Half Moon Bay, walked the historic downtown, and enjoyed the sea air of the adjacent Pacific Ocean. Its beaches draw hundreds of thousands of visitors year round.
That evening we stayed at the Half Moon Bay Lodge which is surrounded by lush gardens and 36 holes of oceanfront golf. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Phoenicia Restaurant in Glendale has achieved fame for its Lebanese cuisine but it also has an outstanding cellar of wines from Lebanon.  Last night while dining at this five star restaurant the conversation turned to wine since our party included Neill Foster, a Grand Master of the Knights of the Vine, as well as restaurant and wine writers Jim Woodin and Ronnie Greenberg.
Lebanon has a history of making wine for almost six thousand years.  Most of its wineries are located in the Bakaa Valley just eighteen miles from Cana where the Bible tells us Jesus turned water into wine.
Most wines from Lebanon show a French influence and the red wines are generally blends of French varietals like Cinsault, Mourvedre, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot.
Two of Lebanon native varietals are still to be found, Obaideh and Merwah.
Our dinner opened  with appetizers that included Hommos; Labni, Lebanese cream cheese served with garlic; Warak Enab, grape leaves stuffed with rice, oil and vegetables, cooked in lemon juice and olive oil, and Tabbouleh, chopped parsley, crushed wheat, tomatoes and onions. Some hot appetizers we tasted included Kibbeh Makli, beef dumpling stuffed with ground beef; Bourghoul , onions and pine nuts as well as San Bousek, freshly prepared dough with ground beef and pine nuts and Rekakat, a selection of Lebanese cheese baked in a pastry dough.
 Our samplers of grill selections included Beef Kafta, ground beef, onions, parsley and spices, grilled on skewers.  One of our favorites are the  lamb chops marinated with spices and grilled. Also chicken breast kabob, perfectly prepared rice and the best french fries we have had in a long time.
This is a restaurant where everything is done well and most professionally.
Phoenicia is located at 343 North Central Avenue in Glendale with off street parking. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. except on weekends there is live entertainment with a 2 a.m. closing time. For more information or reservations call 818 956-7800.