Thursday, December 29, 2016

The menu at Red O Restaurant in Santa Monica brings the cuisine of Mexico to a new level of sophistication.
We thought it much closer to the cuisine of restaurants in Mexico City while maintaining some of the classic southwestern food Southern Californians know so well.
On our visit first we met with Manager Gavin Palmer who told us something of the history of the Red O Restaurants and how they have evolved including frequent changes to the menu.  Then we chatted with Chef Seth Vider who has kitchen experience in several western states before joining Red O.
I told Seth that I had to careful when it came to hot spice so he made some menu suggestions for me that would avoid the heat,.
The 'To Start' menu offered some classics like Guacamole, Quesadilla, Tamales and Taquitos and is specially designed for sharing.  My dining partner and I opened with the shrimp and calamari Ceviche which include avocado and jicama. It was excellent with only the slightly hint of spice.
Then we also shared a tasting of scallops which came on a bed of flavorful thin noodles and topped with a avocado-corn salsa.
We stayed with the seafood side of the menu and followed with Maine lobster tail which arrived perfectly cooked to still be moist served on a bed of of cilantro-fennel rice.
We also ordered two of the 'sides to share' which were the Cotija mashed potatoes and fried sweet Plantains.
All this time we admired the decor and ambiance of the restaurant which is divided into several different areas including the glittering bar with its hundreds of unique shaped bottles, in fact much of the restaurant walls also include this striking display.
Service was both friendly and professional and we had admire how the staff handled what was a very full restaurant the night of our visit.
Our dessert, which we also shared, was the chocolate tart with fresh berries, canella whipped cream and a caramel sauce.
Red O Restaurant is open for dinner seven days a week at 1541 Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica with valet parking. For more information call 310 806-2243, web

Thursday, December 22, 2016

We like the concept Owner Dan Tapia has brought to his newly opened 4th and Olive Restaurant in downtown Long Beach.  A disabled Navy veteran Dan has established a policy of hiring disabled veterans who currently make up half the staff.   This Writer, a Purple Heart veteran himself, decided it was worth the long drive from the San Fernando Valley, visit the restaurant and meet Dan Tapia
4th and Olive shows an interesting menu featuring traditional foods of the Alsace which were designed by Chef Alex McGroaty who gained fame at Salt's Cure in West Hollywood.  Inside, the restaurant offers a spacious somewhat rustic decor and ambiance, is well lighted and with a well designed bar and lounge at  one side.  Currently the bar features wine and beer and with a list that leans to imports from France and Germany.
Some of the menu items sampled at our table included the Duck liver mousse, Pork shoulder chop with roasted apple and fennel, and the beer bratwurst sausage with  in-house made sauerkraut.  Many food items on the menu are made in-house including sausages, braised meats, pretzels as well as the bread pudding dessert we had.
We liked the friendly German beer garden concept at 4th and Olive and found the service staff courteous and competent.  The night we were there the restaurant had a good many customers who seemed to know one another offering the happy atmosphere of a neighborhood tavern.
4th and Olive is located at 743 E 4th Street in the East Village neighborhood of Long Beach.  Phone 562 269-0731, web .  The restaurant is open  for dinner  4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., on weekends from 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The San Fernando Valley, when it comes to restaurants, offers a large assortment of small eating places  showing a huge variety in ethnic cuisines.  Once we counted eleven restaurants within five miles of where we live all offering a different ethnic cuisine.
Which brings us to our latest discovery, Caffe Italia, which we found practically hidden in the backwaters of Sherman Oaks.  Located in a strip mall on Burbank Blvd. here one finds excellent Neapolitan and Sicilian Italian appetizers and entrees as well as excellent pizza.  The Sicilian dishes caught this Writer's eye since his heritage is from that Island .  Caffe Italia is relatively new, opening earlier this year with a well planned menu, a chef with excellent credentials and a modest, comfortable rustic ambiance.
Owners are Partners Ferdinando Donadelli and Cosimo De Vaia, both, like this Writer, with Italian heritage and  the concept of targeting the restaurant as a place for everyday dining with classic hearty fare of the Old Country.
We opened with the calamari and noted that it came with fried zucchini as well.  We had not seen this pairing before but liked it and left not  a morsel on the plate. Also the Burrata with creamy mozzarella, oregano, basil and arugula with a balsamic dressing.
There is, naturally enough, a large selection of pasta, some most intriguing, but this day we decided on classic spaghetti and meat balls in a light marinara sauce.  My dining partner, with more appetite, selected the grilled ribeye steak which arrived smothered in sauteed mushrooms, pan fried cubed potatoes and heaps of veggies.  Our meat balls were excellent and the plate was so heaped with pasta that we had a full helping to take home with us as well.  We did taste the ribeye and found it tender, moist and flavorful.
We had to find out more where all this good food was coming from and so cornered the chef, Gerardo Posa, when he wasn't busy.  Gerardo has a much  traveled career since starting in 1988 including a stint at one of the top restaurants in Aspen, Colorado.
He has been with Caffe Italia since opening and we told him how impressed we were with his talents.  Our waiter was Edwin Vargas and he was a true gem.  Actually he has been a waiter for only six months, but my how well he has learned his craft. 
We did want a dessert and Chef Gerardo suggested the Torta di Ricotta which was a wonderful Ricotta Cheesecake.  Unlimited refills of black tea completed our most satisfying luncheon at Caffe Italia.
Caffe Italia is located at 14056 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 901401,  Telephone 818 465-3690, web  I t is open for lunch Monday thru Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner seven nights a week.  Hours vary on weekends so call 818 465-3690.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Where the outer reaches of Santa Monica end and Brentwood begins can be confusing to the passerby but any confusion ended when we arrived at the gate of L'Ami Restaurant.  And we use the word "gate" literally since and iron gate does guard the entrance of this picturesque restaurant.
Inside this description continues with blue painted ceilings, passageways decorated with fixtures from an earlier era and open air terraces.
Just as inviting is the bar lounge with white shearling covered bar chairs for conversation around the fireplace.
Our party was greeted by General Manager Tropez Aubour and Chef Francis Bey and after some conversation it was decided to let Chef Bey chose our French and Mediterranean styled appetizers and entrees.
So soon before us was  the Mezze Appetizer with homemade Pita, flatbread, kibbeh, falafel and Spanekopita.  Also grilled Octopus, broiled mussels with crispy bread crumb and spinach and the beets-burrata tower that included baby arugula and candied walnuts.  Also an outstanding Foie Gras au Torchon. which we all agreed was one of the best we had ever experienced.   Our entrees started with Chicken Grand Mere that included mushrooms french beans, bacon, pearl onions and fingerling potatoes.  To go with it  the wild mushroom farro risotto.
Other entrees on the menu include Scottish salmon, roasted Maine lobster, baby lamb shank, and filet mignon.
 Service here is impeccable with the table swept clean after each course to be replaced with fresh china and silver.  The wine list is large and offers selections from the best wine producing countries, world wide. 
 Our wines was Barons de Rothchild 2014 Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina.
Summing up L'Ami presents a classic French cuisine in a quiet, serene ambiance and an elegant graceful decor.
We immediately decided that this was indeed a five star restaurant.
L'Ami is located at 246 26th Street in Santa Monica and open six days a week.  For more information call 310 310-8064, web

Friday, December 16, 2016

Last evening we had the opportunity to learn much about the river cruise industry with a visit to AmaWaterways whose headquarters is located in Calabasas.  This company has taken river cruising to new levels with custom built ships and the best culinary reputation
Calabasas is our next door neighbor since we live in the west San Fernando valley but we were unaware of it being the headquarters for AmaWaterways which offers river cruises in Europe, Africa. Cambodia-Vietnam and Myanmar
We learned about what Ama has to offer with a briefing by Rudi Schreiner, president and Co-Owner.  His wife, Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-Owner was our guide as we viewed the work areas and facilities at Calabasas.
One of the things that has brought fame to Ama has been its emphasis on culinary and wine experiences on its cruises and in fact offers wine cruises in Europe.  It has also been recognized for its culinary excellence by the La Chaine des Rotisseurs, a world culinary organization.
For us it offered a new prospectus on river cruising and what it can offer the traveler.
AmaWaterways is located at 26010 Mureau Road in Calabasas.  To learn more about the cruises check out the web at

Friday, December 9, 2016

Once again we were awed with the skills shown by third semester culinary arts students at Los Angeles Harbor College.
As part of the school's excellent culinary arts program the students present a series of dinners in a college recreation room they call 1111 Harbor Bistro.
In this series of dinners each one has a different cuisine so there is a German, Italian, Caribbean and the night of our visit Chinese cuisine.
The five course Chinese Contemporary Menu opened with Asian Green Salad with smoked salmon and ginger-lime Vinaigrette with Shrimp Crisp.  The soup Duck Noodle with soft boiled egg.
Intermezzo was Asian five spice pear sorbet with plum wine. The entree was twice cooked pork ribs with black bean and Chile sauce and sweet and sour pork tenderloin stuffed with mushrooms, cabbage and water chestnut accompanied with Yang Zhou fried rice and stir fried Chinese long beans.
Our dessert cold raspberry soup with Almond cake and almond bean curd with Lychee and tropical fruit.
Preparation and service is all by students and and the excellence of both could be the envy of many restaurants.
The Chinese menu was prepared by Katie Bucci, Erica Nelson and David Garcia.  We must add that the design of the printed menu was to be admired as well.
Executive Chef Erik Pastora is in charge of the College Culinary Arts Program.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Beverly Hills was the location, the chic Citizen Restaurant the place where Madeira's centuries old history in the wine world was once again explored.
The seminar and wine tasting was sponsored by some of Madeira's most prestigious wineries such as Henriques & Henriques, founded in 1850, Justino's founded in 1870 and Vinhos Barbetto. 
Conducting the seminar was Roy Hersh of Sammamish, Washington who has established a reputation as an authority on dessert wines.
Madeira has enjoyed over five centuries of fame  for its wines whose patrons included Thomas Jefferson in the New World.  It is said the signing of the Declaration of  Independence on July 4, 1776 was toasted with Madeira wine.
Both white and red grape varietals are used in making Madeira wine.  The red grape is Tinta Negra while the the white varietals are Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia.
These varietals produce the longest lived wine in the world thanks to the unique terroir of the Island as well as the methods of maturation and barrel aging.
The tasting in Beverly Hills was well attended  and allowed the comparing of Madeira wine which are classified as dry, medium dry, medium rich or rich.  This is determined by what grape varietal was used.
Strict control of all Madeira wines is conducted by the Madeira Wine Institute.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

We have been fascinated with railroads all our life.  So it was a given that we would enjoy our visit to the Lomita Railroad Museum. 
Tucked away on a side street just two blocks from Pacific Coast Highway this museum has a most interesting history.  It exists thanks to Mrs. Irene Lewis who deeded the land it stands on and then set upon herself the task of creating the museum as it is today.
Founded in 1967 the Lomita Railroad Museum is dedicated to displaying the "age of steam" and celebrating its 50th anniversary this coming year
The Lomita Station is a direct copy of a 19th century Greenwood Depot at Wakefield, Massachusetts.  The Locomotive at the museum was built in 1902 and was used by Southern Pacific Railroad until 1958 in Southern California.
There are two caboose cars on the property for walk in viewing.
What we found so interesting here was the small items attached to railroading that we knew nothing about.
Like Date Nails that were driven into new ties so it could be determined later what the life expectancy of the ties would be.
Also torpedoes which were placed on the track by a flagman if the train stopped on the mainline between stations.  These torpedoes were flares that exploded with a flash of light warning the engineer to slow the train and be prepared to stop.
On our visit we were fortunate to have Alexander as our guide and docent and he was most knowledgeable and courteous which added much to our visit.
The Lomita Railroad Museum is located at 2137 West 250th Street in Lomita, Ca. 90717.  Telephone 310 326-6255, web  The museum is open Thursday thru Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed holidays. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

We left Beverly Hills convinced that our next trip to the Caribbean would be to the Virgin Islands.  Besides offering all that could be desired of an island paradise it belongs to us and flies the Stars and Stripes.
Commissioner  of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty was there to tell of plans for  Centennial Celebrations in 2017 on all the Islands. 
A select group of travel media was present as the Commissioner pointed out that California is sixth in the leading states whose citizens visit the Virgin Islands each year and that the Department of Tourism is boosting efforts to increase flights and means to attract more west coast visitors.
Also speaking was Keisha Nelson of Media Relations who pointed out that all three of the major islands, St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas have special events planned for the coming year including the St. Croix Food and Wine Experience.
The Media luncheon took placer at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse in Beverly Hills.
Transportation from the U.S. mainland is provided by several air lines and almost every cruise line does visit the islands on a regular schedule.