Friday, March 31, 2017

Once again, for the 43rd year, some of Southern California best restaurateurs gathered together to receive their awards as the best restaurants in their category.
It all took place at the Tustin Ranch Golf Club Restaurant sponsored by the Southern California Restaurant Writers.
The event opened with a wine tasting of Thornton Winery, Regal Wines and Jackson Family wines as well as Pedroncelli of Sonoma county.  The Hors D'Ouevres included Duck Carpaccio, Pesto Crostini and BBQ eastern oyster in the half shell.
The dinner menu, with a different wine with each course, included California Wedge Salad, Japanese Bento, Prime Ribeye and Sara's Cookie Medley.
The dinner was prepared by Executive Chef Bert Agor and Executive Sous Chef Sara Guccione.
Named Restaurateur of the year was Cynthia Peck of Angelo's & Vinci's Ristorante of Fullerton.
Named Manager of the Year was Sandra Schwaiger of Jagerhaus Restaurant in Anaheim.
Owner-Entrepreneur of the Year award went to The Perez Family of Luna's Mexican Kitchen.
Then the five and four star awards were presented to those restaurateurs present.
Besides judging the merits of Southern California Restaurants the Writers group is best known for its support of students entered into Community College culinary arts programs.  Under the Doris Crandall Scholarship Program all proceeds of the awards banquet and private donations are directed to student scholarships. These are presented in May of each year with the school selecting the students to receive the awards.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Our attendance last evening at a seminar on Costa Rica tourism offered many revelations on what this small Central America Republic has to offer.
If the beach is your thing here there are 300 stretching along its shores that front both the Pacific and Caribbean.  On the Pacific side perfect surfing waves break on empty beaches.
This country, with a population of five million, enjoys a climate that makes it a year round tourist and visitor haven with a dry season from November to April and a green season from May through September.
Since in geography Costa Rica is a corridor between North and South American it has some half million species of flora and fauna.  To preserve bio diverse regions there are twenty natural parks, eight biological reserves and a series of protected areas.
Costa Rica is considered the second safest country in central and south America but has no standing army.  It enjoys a 128 year history as a democracy.
For the tourist it is easily accessible since it has 25 airlines serving its two international airports.
The country is also in the  fore front with renewable energy.
Costa Rica places heavy emphasis on its tourism and both cities and countryside offer a huge assortment of hotels, resorts and places for visiting its national parks and scenic wonders.
This learning experience all took place at the Hilton Hotel in Universal City and the seminar was followed by a buffet offering some of the favorite foods of the country.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Last evening we attended the Ninth Celebration of the International Trade Community in Los Angeles.  It took place at the Consulate General of Mexico Headquarters  in Los Angeles at 2401 6th Street.
Topics discussed at the opening seminar included new trends in International trade and Southern California's partnership with Mexico in trade that annually amounts to billions of dollars.
Following the seminar we toured the trade fair with booths representing trading partners from both Asia and Central and South America.
Then an opportunity to taste beverages and some classic Mexican foods.
The event was well attended and proved an outstanding learning experience for this Writer.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

We already knew that Lucques in West Hollywood was an outststanding restaurant both for its California contemporary cuisines as well as its huge list of wines.  But our dinner last evening placed its culinary and wait staff to the elevation of five stars.
Promoted by the FeedFeed Team the media dinner combined the culinary talents of James Beard Award Winning chef Suzanne Goin with  Winemaker Steven Decosta of Austerity Wines..
Introduced by Kevin Masse the dinner opened with Leeks Vinigette with Prosciutto, Dandelion, Mustard Breadcrumbs & soft cooked egg.  The wine a 20015 Austerity Chardonnay from Monterey's Arroyo Seco.  We especially appreciated this vintage since we had been to this appellation in Monterey just the week before.
Our entree was Braised beef short ribs with sauteed greens cipollini onions and horseradish cream.  Winemaker Steven showed his knowledge and passion for wine as he introduced a 2015 Austerity Pinot Noir.  This was from Santa Lucia Highlands and again we had visited this area in the foothills of the Salinas Valley just weeks before and  knew of the high quality of its Burgundian varietals.
Our dessert was Chocolate Cremuex Tart with Cardamom Cream and our wine a 2014 Austerity Cabernet Saauvignon from the Paso Robles appellation.  In conversation with Steven we noted the robust character of this cabernet with bold flavors and a long lasting finish.
At Austerity Steven Decosta is making wines from selected appellations and regions of superior quality while holding the prices as reasonable levels.
Upon introduction by Kevin Chef Suzanne Goin received a most enthusiastic reception from the forty fortunate Media representatives that attended the event
Austerity terms its wines as of the highest discipline and the Lucques dinner certainly proved it
Lucques is located at 8474 Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood.  Telephone 323 655-6277, web

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

 All the communities of the Monterey Peninsula are close together mileage wise and Monterey and its famed Old Fishermen's Wharf were only minutes away on Highway One from our base at Hofsas House.
 There is much to see at the Plaza and at the Wharf itself.  We had made a previous visit to the adjacent History Museum and Custom House but this visit was to have dinner at the Abalonetti Bar & Grill that has achieved fame over sixty years for its many recipes of Calamari. 
We immediately liked what we saw at this restaurant.  It offers both indoor and patio dining and includes an attractive bar at one side and on the other 'Monterey's Original Antipasto Bar".  This collection of goodies invited closer inspection.  The variety of antipasto included grilled eggplant, marinarted artichoke hearts, feta cheese. assorted olives, in all ten items.
 We opened with the fried Monterey Calamari, the benchmark for sixty years, then looking over the long selection of entrees chose the Shrimp Scampi.  This came with tomatoes, artichoke hearts and a most flavorful bed of rice.
But first from the bar a pina colada, always a favorite close to the water.  Also an opportunity to chat with Manager Aracely Perez who told us something of the history of Abalonetti which first opened in 1951 and how ,from the beginning, the restaurant became known for its many calamari choices.
 Besides seafood think pasta at this restaurant. The Antipasto Bar demanded a photo shoot with Ernest and lovely hostess Daniella.  Our waiter, Joe Sanchez, has been with Abalonetti over twenty years and so could provide us with much history of the restaurant and Fishermen's Wharf.
 In town there are nineteen wine tasting rooms and bars, all showing the wines of the Monterey appellation which has become recognized as one of California's best for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  And in May the annual Winemakers Celebration takes place.
While strolling through downtown we discovered the Fifth Avenue Deli and once inside, with a view of the tempting delights, decided to buy lots of goodies to take home and enjoy in our very own kitchen back at Hofsas.
    And waiting for us there was a bottle of 2013 Ventana Pinot Noir, from an estate grown vineyard located in Monterey's Arroyo Seco.  So we moved from kitchen to balcony to watch the sunset and golden glow that followed and then back to the kitchen for our Tiramusi dessert.

Monday, March 20, 2017

One day we set out to explore Carmel By The Sea's surrounding countryside   We had long wanted to visit Point Lobos State Reserve with its stunningly  beautiful wild coastline, its majestic forest and miles of well maintained hiking trails.  At one place we found John, a docent who has been offering his wit and local knowledge to people like us for ten years.  We did con John into giving us a Cypress Grove Trail brochure which also relates how the Allan Memorial Grove came about to  preserve the unique Monterey Cypress trees.    The Cypress Grove Trail is a loop trail that winds through coastal scrub and woods to cliffs and ocean views.
Actually Point Lobos has an interesting past being in the early days a whaling station, an abalone cannery, a granite quarry and shipping point for coal.  Later A.M. Allan started acquiring land recognizing the value of the cypress grove.  In 1933 Allan's heirs donated fifteen acres in Allan's memory and later sold much of the present Preserve to the California State  Park system.
 Our stay at Carmel By The Sea was blessed with a remarkable of number of cloudless, windless sunshine filled days which were perfect for the many scenes that demanded a photograph.
We also had to visit and photograph Mission San Carlos Bopromeo del Rio Carmelo. Here the graceful Basilica Church, the center of the Carmel Mission, is registered as a National historic Landmark.
 Carmel By The Sea has a long stretch of beautiful white sand beach, the white color due to the underlying rock that the sea slowly grinds to sand.  The beach is very popular and in easy walking distance from almost anyplace in the business end of town.  Also there is a scenic road along the coastline from Ocean avenue to Carmel River State Beach.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

When we left San Francisco our destination was Carmel By The Sea.  This was our third visit  to the Monterey Peninsula in less than six months.
But Carmel By The Sea is indeed unique and certainly offers charm in a location of much beauty.
 And we found the perfect place to capture the essence and beauty of the place.
It was the Hofsas House Hotel which has been offering the tranquility of the town and region for seventy years. Here was a small hotel with Bavarian decor, ambiance and classic European style hospitality.
 On arriving at Hofsas House we were charmed and awed with our room which was actually a suite with large bedroom, private balcony for enjoying a sweeping view to a glistening sea, a complete bath and a kitchen with refrigerator, micro wave, sink, and inviting table and chairs for sipping wine while nibbling on crackers and cheese.  Hey, we thought, it can't get any better than this.
 But we were wrong. Located in the center of  town Hofsas House  invites one to a pleasant stroll while leaving your car idle and, for a change, costing nothing, since this town does not have parking meters and free two hour parking can be found everywhere.
 One morning while enjoying our Continental Breakfast at Hofsas House we had the opportunity to meet  Carrie Theis, grand daughter of Donna Hofsas who founded the hotel seventy years ago.  We complimented her on our wonderful suite and learned that all 38 rooms are one of a kind with amenities like fireplaces, private balconies, wet bars, and Dutch doors allowing guests to enjoy the ocean air.
There is free WiFi but hard to believe anyone would want to spoil the relaxed atmosphere of Carmel by using it.  We certainly did not and never  turned on the TV either.
Tomorrow we will describe some of the nearby countryside we explored during our visit.
Hofsas House Hotel is located on San Carlos Street, north of Fourth Avenue in Carmel by the Sea.  (This town does not have numbered house addresses).  Telephone 831 624-2745, web www,

Saturday, March 18, 2017

San Francisco restaurants have long had a style and presence uniquely their own.  We discovered this once again on our present trip to the city.
Pier 39 is number one tourist  destination in San Francisco and on our visit there we discovered the Fog Harbor Fish House and their special Dungeness Crab Menu.
This Crustacean has been identified with San Francisco the way lobster is with Maine. So from this menu I ordered the steamed crab served in the shell with butter and roasted fingerling potatoes.
However the regular menu is also large and devoted to many seafood cocktails, an award winning clam chowder and a large selection of fish and seafood entrees.  Moreover the meat and poultry menu is complete as well.
The restaurant has a full bar and lounge and a whole page is devoted to the premium wines of nearby Napa and Sonoma valleys.  Lake County is famed for its Sauvignon Blanc so we selected a 2016 Robledo and were not disappointed.
 The restaurant  enjoys an ideal location on the second level of Pier 39, has both outside and indoor seating in the reception area and a perfect ambiance for its location. And the views are stunning of the Bay, Angels Island and the Golden Gate Bridge.
 For More information on hours at Fog Harbor Fish House call  415 421-2442, on the web at
While in the Marina District we found the Dorian Restaurant.   This restaurant suggests the rich Victorian culture of a bygone era with a decor of panels of antique artifacts and art, a classic chandelier and several seating options. .  As it turned out  Brunch was a new addition to this restaurant which is known for its dinner service.
 The menu at Dorian emphasized that everything from snacks to entrees is designed to be shared if desired.  The restaurant is divided with a circular bar and lounge at one side and dining in adjacent room.  The wine list is large and there is a full selection of craft beers as well.  The main bar area, with brass accents and a teal and purple color scheme, is anchored by a prominent whiskey display while upstairs there is a study which incorporates leather and dark wood.
My dining partner and I had brought our appetites with us and so we both ordered the Dorian burger which came with fancy sauce, bacon jam, white cheddar, caramelized onion and fries.  Other selections included mussels and clams, roasted Mary's chicken and American wagyu flat iron steak.
 Some of the brunch offerings included Huckleberry Scones, grilled shrimp chop and soufflied French Toast with huckleberry and apple
The Dorian is located at 2001 Chestnut Street at the corner of Fillmore Street in San Francisco.  The restaurant serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  For more information call 415 814-2671, on the web at

Friday, March 17, 2017

Like everything else we experienced at San Francisco Union Square Hilton Hotel the food and service was special, especially at the Urban Tavern.  This restaurant has been designed to show a contemporary California cuisine with a decor that hints of the past with unpainted wood beam ceiling and native southwest designs but otherwise strictly 21th century.
We had the opportunity to meet and discuss Urban Tavern with James McCasland, Hotel Concierge Manager and a member of Les Chefs d'Or USA.
The menu is divided with names like smalls, not so smalls, bowls and sides.  Chef is Michael Raub who offers foods that emphasize fresh vegetables that appear in every entree.
From Smalls that included chicken meatballs or spiced cucumbers we chose the braised Spanish Octopus which came with gigante beans.  Our Not so Small entrees were the Brandt Beef Skirt Steak which came with crispy potato, wild mushroom and toy box tomatoes.  Also Pacific Northwest Arctic char with beluga lentils, roasted brassicas and fennel.
Pastry Chef is Caryn Martinez and from the desserts listed simply as Sweets we chose the TCHO Sea Salt Brownie Skillet with honeycomb candy, brandied cherries, hazelnut and orange whiskey jelly.
For the quality of the food and personal excellent service we thought the prices moderate.
Urban Tavern is open for breakfast with a unusually bountiful buffet including some Asian dishes and a large selection of bakery items.
Open daily for breakfast 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Bar to 11 p.m..
Street entrance at 333 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco.
Tomorrow we will tell of our dining experiences in the Marina District and San Francisco's most popular tourist destination, Pier 39.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

We found the perfect place to see our San Francisco. It is the Cityscape Bar and lounge atop the Hilton Union Square Hotel.
Here on the 45th floor one if offered a 360  view of the City. 
We called it our city since it has had a direct relationship with four generations of our family.
This  four Diamond Hotel was our lodging on an assignment to write about what was once upon a time my home and workplace.  And what lodging indeed.  Located on the 42nd floor our room offered a sweeping view that included much of the city to the west all the way to the ocean.  In another direction the Golden Gate Bridge and a large sweep of bay.
In the short time spent in this room I never got tired of looking at the landmarks that were so familiar to me, Russian Hill, Twin Peaks, the Hayes Valley, Mission Street and the stretch to the ocean that was the Sunset District.
All of this we first viewed over cocktails at the dramatic Cityscape bar and lounge.  For any visitor this should be considered a must for seeing almost all of this city that is unique not only to the USA but the world.
Which explains why year after year it is the top tourist destination in the country.
My family's saga with San Francisco started when my grandfather immigrated from Italy and arrived to work  laying tracks for the San Francisco Railroad Company.  This to earn enough money to bring his wife and two daughters, including my Mother, to the U.S. as well.
When the earthquake struck in April 1906 they lost all but what they could carry to Golden Gate Park where they resided in an Army tent for the next six months.
But prosper they did and the following generations as well.
This time we were in the lap of luxury at this Hilton Hotel that offers, not only great facilities, but also a most courteous, efficient staff.
Tomorrow we will tell  of our dining at the Hotel's new, smart Urban Tavern and our return to places in the city with long memories for us.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Restaurateur Terrence Antonelli's. L'Opera Restaurant is always a memorable experience with a kitchen bursting with  talented chefs, a  superb service staff, and a pleasing decor and ambiance. And this has now been going on for 27 years.   Terrence is also always alert, ready to make changes and adjustments to fit the wishes and desires of his clientele.  On our recent visit we noted the new lighting arrangement in the  dining room and a new Happy Hour menu for the bar and lounge.
A look at the L'Opera menu is a pleasure in itself with pages of exciting appetizers, anti pasta, pastas and entrees all with Italian names and then descriptions in English.  Agnello al Carciofi is rack of lamb, Costata di Minzo, bone in rib eye steak, then there is Ossobucco alla Milanese, braised veal and Cioppino, the classic fish dish.
Through its 27 years L'Opera has received many awards for its excellence.  The Southern California Restaurant Writers consistently lists it as five stars, and Golden Bacchus for its outstanding wine list. One year Terrence Antonelli was named  "Restaurateur of the Year" and, another year,  Executive Chef Walter Cotta, as "Chef of the Year".
One of the principal reasons for L'Opera's perennial success is the fact that Terrence considers and treats his employees as family and most, from every position, have many years of service. 
On our recent visit for dinner, from  our table, we had a good view of the bar, which was busy, and noted that within a very short time there were no strangers, with everyone getting to know those around them in friendly fashion.
This carries over to the dining as well with Sommelier Scott Fisher coming by to introduce himself and offer suggestions on what wines might be of most interest that evening.
Our wines, selected by Scott, were 2014 Stolpman Vineyards Viognier from  San Barbara followed by Emeretus Hallbey Ranch 2013 Pinot Noir from the Russian River appellation.
Our dinner started with Degli Innamorati, baby greens with strawberries, feta cheese and a balsamic dressing.  Next was small samples of a Lasagna il pollo pasta and the polenta fritta.  Our entree was Filetto al Gorgonzola, a 12 ounce Filet Mignon with zucchini and asparagus.  For dessert we enjoyed the Panna Cotta, an Italian creamy milk custard with Frangelico and topped with fresh fruit and a berry sauce.
L'Opera Restaurant is located at 101 Pine Avenue, Long Beach, Telephone 562 491-0066, web 
Hours are lunch 11:30 a.m. Monday-Thursday, Saturday dinner only 5 p.m to10 p.m, Sunday 5 9 p.m.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

On our travels we never miss the opportunity to visit an Aquarium if one is available.  This is true from Monaco, Camden, New Jersey, Newport, Oregon and California.  But best of all is near by Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.  For here, in a one hour drive on 405 Freeway, we can return as often as we like to watch exotic creatures and wonder how they came to be.
As you enter the Aquarium you are handed a 32 page book entitled "Map and Explorer Guide" which explains in great detail what there is to see and do. Increasingly the Aquarium is focusing on conservation of both species and resources. There is an excellent Watershed display which shows how water moves from the mountains of Southern California to the ocean and its impact on animals and people.
Always popular is the Shark Lagoon which allows visitors close up views of sharks of many species. A special shallow pool allows children to actually touch and interact with bamboo, nurse, epaulette and zebra sharks.
Exhibits have been created to match the geography and life of separate parts of the Pacific Ocean. First is the Southern California and Baja Coast, then the North Pacific coast Gallery and the Tropical Pacific Gallery with its beautiful corals. The Tropical Reef   contains  species from South Pacific waters. It represents the archipelago of Palau in Micronesia and shows the corals and fish of the region
On our recent visit it was a busy day at the Aquarium with hosts of small children, others in large groups being chaperoned by harried adults. It was most interesting to watch the children and enjoy their wonder and excitement as they studied each exhibit. There was much for them to see with the live seal, penguin and sea otter exhibitions.  There is a special Children's Program twice a day and a special program on the sea otters..
 The exhibit of jelly fish is particularly fascinating to us with their long graceful lace-like tentacles trailing them in the water in every changing patterns. Beautiful to look at but in some species deadly to the touch.
We also looked in on the Lorikeet Forest with the decor as a tropical island. Part of Explorers Cove, it is a walk through, hands-on aviary filled with dozens of Australian lorikeets. These are friendly birds that will without hesitation land on your hand, arm or your head if you care for that sort of head wear. Also it is possible to purchase a cup of nectar which will further induce the Lorikeets to become part of your person. With children it is a sure winner.
There is so much to see and do at the Long Beach Aquarium that one visit in not enough to enjoy all the exhibits and programs. New to us was the  Steelhead trout exhibit and how urban development has changed its habitat.
The Aquarium of the Pacific is family education and entertainment at its best. There are ongoing education classes for all age groups and a continuing schedule of special events.
The Aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day but December 25. It is located at 100 Aquarium Way in Long Beach. For more information call 562-590 3100 or on the web at Parking is convenient with a special rate for those purchasing tickets to the Aquarium.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

We have followed the culinary career and achievements of Sumeth (Sammy) Tila for decades but still the recent celebration of forty years as a Southern California Restaurateur needed to be recognized.  We were present when in 2004 the Government of Thailand Tourism Authority recognized his opening the first Thai restaurant on the West side of Los Angeles in 1976.
Later Sammy moved his Royal Thai restaurant to Newport Beach and then added a second in Laguna Beach.  Over the years Sumeth Tila has received many awards including 'Restaurateur of the Year" by the Southern California Restaurant Writers and his restaurants consistently earn five star awards for their authentic Thai cuisine.  Somehow Sammy also finds time  to conduct cooking classes at his restaurant in Newport Beach.
Last evening we visited the Royal Thai in Newport Beach once again.  After cocktails,  the restaurant has a most comfortable bar and lounge, we opened with a calamari tempura which came with a chutney dipping sauce.  Thai food is traditionally hot and spicy and everything on the menu is marked if spicy.  This was great for This Writer who has an allergy to peppers and spicy dishes.  Again avoiding the hot stuff I ordered the shrimp entree which came with Paht Jungle.  This was a delicious dish of mushrooms, bamboo shoots, green onions, snow peas, baby corn, carrots, all in a light garlic sauce.  White rice was perfect with the garlic sauce.
My dining partner chose the scallops for her entree and then seeing my Paht Jungle ordered it as well.  Another at our table ordered the Tom Kah spicy coconut soup  and followed with the beef entree accompanied with a spicy Kang Panang mix of veggies.
The restaurant has an exceptionally solid wine list but this evening with long drives ahead for all of us we stayed with the classic Thai green tea.  Our dessert was fresh coconut ice cream.
Our lovely Thai waitress named Mum was attentive and most helpful in describing some of the dishes we were studying on the menu.
The Royal Thai Restaurant in Newport Beach is located at 4001 W. Pacific Coast Highway, Telephone 949 646-THAI.  The Laguna Beach Royal Thai is located at 1750 South Coast Highway, telephone 949 494-THAI..  Both restaurants are open seven days a week.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

With its 50th anniversary arriving in a few months it was high time for us to make a return visit to Benjies New York Deli Restaurant in Santa Ana. 
We have written about Orange County's only N.Y. Deli before but it was time to renew our acquaintance with Owners Lloyd and Noriko Weinstein and once again feast on some our favorites like corned beef on rye, the Matzo Ball soup and chopped liver paste.
The restaurant  was opened in 1967 by Stan Weinstein, Lloyd's father and later taken over by his son, Lloyd.
Through the years Benjies has received many awards including some by the Orange County Register and the Southern California Restaurant Writers.
On this visit we were treated to a huge tray of heaping goodies like the pickled  tongue, corned beef, pastrami, potato and cold slaw salads, chopped liver,  and several varieties of pickles all with two styles of homemade bread.
We also had to try the house specialty, sauced dipped brisket of beef.
The menu at Benjies goes far past its deli with many traditional American entrees and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
There is also a most attractive bar and lounge which recently enjoyed a remodeling and makeover.
Many of the service staff have enjoyed long careers at Benjies.  We chatted with Waitress Sally Davis who has been with the restaurant for 44 years.
Benjies New York Delicatessen Bakery is located at 1828 N. Tustin Avenue in Santa Ana with a large adjacent free parking lot.  It is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Telephone 714 541-6263, web