Thursday, November 29, 2012

Stella's Serious Italian Restaurant

My husband and I took a friend of ours to this restaurant in Dana Point, down south. We were not familiar with this restaurant. We had planned to go to Salt Creek Grill but they were not open for lunch and by 12:30 p.m. we were all starving and we ended up at this quaint Italian restaurant with a nice view of the ocean.

Among the 3 of us we ordered the Pizza Bianca, Linguini Bolognese and Ravioli di Morano. Before our entrees, we were served some focaccia bread which was quite good.
The Ravioli was stuffed with cheese and the spinach was scattered on top along with the basil and finely chopped shallots in a light vodka cream sauce. The spinach was almost an after thought. Bonnie was under the impression she was ordering a spinach ravioli (stuffed with spinach).  She had me try it and I was not impressed at all. The pizza was thin crust which is how we like our pizza, with homemade mozzarella, reggiano, ricotta di bufala, garlic and olive oil. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was wrong with it. The combination of the mozzarella and ricotta just didn't do it for me. It was a bit heavy. I may be a spoiled as I know great mozzarella from Osteria Mozza or Obika. The linguini bolognese had a regular meat sauce with a couple of meatballs.  We ate it all as we were starving but it failed to wake up my palate. The food seemed to travel on a car pool lane (before transponders) just eager to get to it's destination.


So, my comment on Stella's Serious Italian Restaurant is:  SERIOUSLY????

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Original Pantry Cafe

If you haven't been at this historical landmark restaurant, you ought to go... preferably on a weekday for a late breakfast. That way you beat the traffic from where ever you are coming from. The Original Pantry Cafe is located at 877 S. Figueroa St. in Los Angeles.  It is still currently owned by former Mayor Richard Riordan. The famous cafe opened in 1924. There are a lot of very interesting trivia on how many pounds of bacon, potatoes, etc. they consume in a year. Visit their web page at:

Deborah, Sandi and I decided to have a late breakfast there yesterday. We got there shortly before 11:00 a.m. just in time to order breakfast. Sandi has never been there before; Deborah and I raved about their wonderful sour dough bread.  Sandi ordered the bacon and eggs we were to split and I ordered the sour dough french toast. Deborah had the sausage and eggs. They all came with the potatoes which were delicious especially with some ketchup.  My two weird friends don't like ketchup on their potatoes. The bacon was very crispy and tasty.  We all enjoyed the sour dough with butter.  Of course I had to slather some marmalade on it; again Sandi and Deborah just ate theirs plain. (What can I say?)  The french toast was fluffy but it was nothing special. We couldn't taste the "sour" in the bread.  It was a good thing to divide the 6 pieces among the three of us.

FYI, if you ever go to the Pantry Cafe, make sure you have some cash as they do not accept credit cards or you just may end up washing dishes! Don't forget to take some fresh sour dough home.

Believe it or not (for those of you who know me; I'm sure you do believe) after our breakfast, we wanted to kill 2 birds with 1 stone so Deborah drove to Cafe Dulce at Little Tokyo so we could pick up some bacon donut holes. I got a bunch to freeze with the spirulina and tapioca rolls while Sandi got some green tea donuts and some of the rolls as well.

Yesterday was a semi-good day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Aliotta's Via Firenze

This restaurant owned by Michele Aliotta has been in business for 19 years!  When I used to work in Torrance, I went there fairly often.  Somehow, I have forgotten all about it since yesterday.  I thought it was time to refresh my memory.

Michele Aliotta the owner from Sicily was there, so was Manny who has been there since the restaurant opened.  They greeted us like long lost friends....well.. I was long lost but was glad to be found!

I remembered our server Cliff from the last time I was at the restaurant which could have been at least 2 years ago. My friend and I were starving but we were careful not to eat too much of the warm bread.  Since we were going to split 2 entrees, we had to figure out what we were in the mood for.  I just knew one of the entrees had to be pasta and I've always loved their Capellini with fresh tomatoes. Very simple yet not too many places can make it the way they do and of course it is always aldente. We both agreed to order the Rack of Lamb, a favorite of our server Cliff. I don't always listen to "favorites" of servers since everyone has different tastes. I have done that too many times and was only disappointed. He suggested the fresh pumpkin ravioli and since we both love pumpkin ravioli, we said "Yes" to that.

The Lamb was so terribly delicious, juicy and tender with "almost burnt" crunchy garlic slices which went well with it.  They were served with broccoli and potatoes that were full of flavor.  The Capellini was a good side dish as it was so fresh and it complemented the lamb perfectly.  The Pumpkin Ravioli was the same story; another perfect dish with an incredible sauce. 

Even though we were full, we did have some room for dessert.  I also remembered my last dessert that I had there; I could not remember the name but  I knew it was a crepe.
Cliff reminded me the name of this wonderful dessert: Sacchetto, which is a crepe with creme brulee filling. This was prepared by our table side.  After he filled the crepe he then folded it and sprinkled some sugar on top then torched it.  After that he squirted some chocolate sauce and I think some caramel sauce then served it with ice cream. It was incredible. What a nice finale.

Michele came over and reminded us that anytime we wanted something that was not on the menu, he would try and make it.  He always aims to please and we were more than pleased.

Aliotta's Via Firenze is located at Torrance Blvd. in Torrance.  We can't wait to go back with our other friends hopefully sometime soon.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving at the Muenchow's

It's been many years since I last cooked a turkey.  I bought my fresh 15 lb. turkey and when I looked for the gizzards, they were MIA....I only found the neck; could they have forgotten to include them. My first of several calls went to my friend Cindy.  She told me they were located at the other end.... after performing exploratory anoscopy, I found the gizzards.

I cooked the turkey face down as suggested by my other friend Sandi.  Her son always cooked his turkey that way so all the fat would settle in the breast therefore making it juicy. I decided to do it that way after stuffing a mixture of butter and fresh herbs into the skin. After 2 hours and more consultations with Sandi, we both decided to flip the turkey (not an easy task). To make the long story short, the turkey turned out good but not great. I think this turkey was in great shape; not enough fat! Oh well.....

I had mashed potatoes cooked with butter, whipping cream and some feta cheese.  I also made a wild rice stuffing with mushrooms, onions and sausage which I cooked separately. For vegetables, I made a maple-ginger-roasted mixed vegetables with pecans. This dish was very colorful and I must say it tasted as good as it looked.


For dessert, I had ordered a bread pudding from L'Amande Bakery with salted caramel sauce. I sprinkled a bit of sugar and put it under the broiler and when I checked on it, the pudding was literally on fire! It was now bread pudding flambe.  Luckily, only a small portion was burnt and I mean black as coal. I didn't want to waste it so I had part of the burnt portion. I drizzled some salted caramel sauce; o.k. it was more than a drizzle... I figured I deserved more sauce.....took a bite and you won't believe what transpired.  The crunchy burnt top which was a bit bitter was incredibly delicious with the salted caramel sauce. Gary, my brother had 2 servings and he claimed that he normally does not like bread pudding. The picture I took of the bread pudding was before it went to hell.

I had forgotten how much work is involved in preparing a turkey but I must say it was worth it.  Everyone seemed to have a good time.

Next year is another story.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Beef Tournado

We had our niece and her husband over for dinner the other night.  I served Beef Tournado which was Filet Mignon marinated in Bordelaise sauce and wrapped with a slice of thick bacon.  I had purchased these steaks from Specific Pacific Foods.  I have known Mark the owner for 15 years. He has an array of quality meats, seafoods, appetizers and desserts.
Visit his website at and prepare to salivate.

I baked these steaks and they turned out juicy and tender.  I had to unwrap the bacon as instructed and cooked it separate. It turned out perfect on top of mashed potatoes.
Since that was too simple, I decided to make Braised Carrots with Thyme. This was a recipe of Daniel Boulud; so I figured that I couldn't go wrong.

The recipe called for butter, carrots, garlic, thyme sprigs and chicken stock. After cooking the ingredients on the stove for about 10 minutes, I had to cover the carrots in parchment paper, cover the skillet with a lid and braise the carrots in the oven for 30 minutes until tender. At the end, I had to discard the thyme springs.

It was very good but I think I could have skipped the paper and braising. Simmering would have accomplished the same thing.  I don't know....but then again, I am not Daniel Boulud!

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Eagles Have Landed

They are more like swans than eagles.  L'Amande Bakery in Torrance finally started making their long awaited (I have been waiting long) tarts.

These are not just beautiful but they are more than deeelicious. I have tried all of them except for the pistachio. I love them all, I truly do... but one really stands out.  That is the salted caramel chocolate almond. This is going to be among my last desserts if I were told I had one last meal before I die provided I am not on naso-gastric tube-feeding. I suppose I could have it pureed!

Try the chocolate truffle pie; I guarantee chocolate lovers will be ecstatic. The lemon tart has just the right tartness. The Swiss walnut has loads of walnuts in it and the cream on top complements the sweetness. The fresh fruit (strawberry) was perfect with the very light custard that brought out the sweetness of the fruit.

Don't be surprised if you get to the bakery and they're all gone, as my car tends to drive me there quite often.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

La Maison du Pain

La Maison du Pain; House of Bread & Pastries is located at 5373 W. Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles. This little Patisserie is run by 2 sisters, Josephine and Carmen from the Philippines and have been in business for several years. They have a following of regulars and some irregulars like us.

Sandi and I got there shortly after 10:00 a.m. We were lucky it was not crowded and part of the reason could have been the rain.  There were so many things to choose from. We could not decide if we wanted a sandwich or just stick to desserts or do both.
We must have walked back and forth like guards at some fortress before deciding what we would get.

Between the 2 of us, we got a Beignet, Cheese Brioche, Sugar Brioche,Blueberry Puff Pastry Square, Almond Paste in a Puff Pastry, and 2 mini Turkey,Ham & Cheese sandwiches. I had a cappuccino and Sandi had tea. We were impressed with how they served their tea. It looked like a seedling had just sprouted its first leaf.  When you lifted the lid of the cup and pulled on the leaf, out came this pyramid-shaped tea bag; very cute.
We thought we would start eating the sandwiches and have the sweets as our dessert.  The pastries were good; we both especially liked the cheese brioche though we thought it would have been better if it was served warm to give the cheese a chance to melt a bit.

We could not eat more than what we ordered and we both didn't want to feel we missed out on other things, so we bought the Olive bread, Salted Bread and the Gruyere Cheese Bread to take home. Sandi and I were to split everything down the middle as in community property. I couldn't resist getting the dark and white chocolate mousse. My husband loves dark chocolate, my son loves white chocolate and I love both. (What a loving family)

After dinner, I had a bite of both..... they were rich yet light.  The Gruyere cheese bread was excellent.  It it best heated or toasted. If  you like Gruyere, this bread is perfect as all you have to do is add is a bit of butter.

It was nice meeting the 2 delightful sisters, Josephine and Carmen....Maraming Salamat!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Delectable Cuisine at Livello

I got another one of those deals: 4-Course Dinner for 2 with a glass of wine for $105.00.  My friend Sandi and I first discovered Livello 4 months ago.  We had a wonderful experience that we couldn't wait to go back.  In August, I went back with some relatives from Boston and then again last month: a bunch with my girlfriends for Sunday Brunch.

I had purchased 2 vouchers for me and Sandi and the other one was for Cindy and my brother Gary. Sandi was planning to go even as she was trying to recover from the flu. At the last minute, she decided it would be best if I could find someone else to take her place. I asked my son Erik if he would be able to meet us at 6:30 p.m. and the answer was "Yes".  Nothing like a free gourmet dinner.

I was very happy to see Joseph the server, who was more like an old friend. He waited on us and it just made our dining experience more enjoyable. We all started with the Cucumber Sunomono; Sunomono meaning a variety of vinegar. It reminded me and my brother of how the Filipinos serve cucumbers which is essentially; vinegar, sugar and pepper. I liked this version better as the cucumbers were sliced very thin which gave it a more delicate consistency. The second course was the Veal Meatballs which were pickled  in cherry pepper reduction. When the meatballs were gone, the bowl still had some of the sauce. Luckily, we had not finished our second basket of good old french bread, so the bread readily soaked up the nice sauce.

For our entree, 3 of us decided on the Oxtail Tortelloni with Butternut Squash, Veal Sherry Reduction. Erik picked the Broiled Spicy Lemon Prawn with Stewed Mung Beans, Salsify Chips.  We all enjoyed our Tortelloni; loved how it was really aldente.
Erik looked at his impressive dish and commented: "It's just one prawn." At least it was a Big prawn. I didn't dare ask if I could try or the poor boy might have gone ballistic!

Before our final course, the executive chef, Joseph Elevado came to meet us. I asked him if it was true that he was leaving Livello and unfortunately he said yes.... He is moving to Las Vegas and opening a restaurant at the Wynn after the New Year.  It was great to finally meet him as we kept missing each other. Fortunately, Chef Benjamin Dayag is still there and will continue to be the chef.

For our finale, we had a choice of 2 desserts. The 3 of them ordered the Tiramisu. I ordered the Toasted Honey Panna Cotta with Champagne grapefruit, cashew and meringue. The tiramisu was good but my dessert was far better...refreshing and was a wonderful way to end my meal.

The dining room we normally have our dinner was occupied by a wine tasting party. We were in the room where the bar and fireplace is located. It was quite dark; that is why my picture with Chef Elevado was not clear.  The only reason the food pictures turned out is because I was equipped with my mini hallogen flashlight and both Cindy and Gary have been trained to hold the light while I take pictures. I thought it would be slightly embarrasing if one of them held the flashlight on us.

Sick Sandi feels a lot better today and wanted to know what she missed. I am afraid I will have to make another sacrifice and accompany her to Livello in the near future.  I think we will have to wait until we get back from Las Vegas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Remembering Cinnabon

Yesterday, Veteran's Day, I went to Joanne's to buy 6 yards of black cord.  I was about to take a number when the lady before me handed me her number and said I could have hers.  It was #52 and they were currently serving #4!  Forget the I wandered into the mall and came across Cinnabon and smelled the aroma that went straight to my brain.  How could I have forgotten my old flame?  There was a time that I would inhale the big cinnabon for breakfast quite often. That's when I gained some weight.

I was intrigued by what they called "Center of the Roll."  Who doesn't like the center of anything which is usually the best part. They had 2 kinds: one plain and one with pecans. I bought the one with the pecans for my sick friend. I had planned to give her some chicken soup but there was no soup in site. I got the plain one for me. These are smaller than the regular cinnabons but a lot bigger than the minibons.

This morning when I got back from the gym I thought it was a good time to wash my car for the extra calories to burn before I attack my "center of the roll." I microwaved it and it transformed into this edible-looking roll. Once transferred into a plate, I dissected it and had my first bite......the gooey cinnamon was delicious with my strong cup of Italian roast coffee.

I am thankful that Joanne's was a madhouse yesterday or I wouldn't have landed at Cinnabon. Note: My sick friend is still sick. Today, I finally brought her some chicken soup.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Good Old Fried Chicken

We can't always gave gourmet food.  There are times we all crave "comfort food."
My favorite fried chicken was from Chicken Factory Fried Chicken. It was actually broasted chicken and I remember the aroma that would literally drive me crazy while driving home.  There hasn't been anything like it since it closed its doors.

Occasionally, you find good fried chicken at various restaurants.  In case you haven't discovered Albertson's Fried Chicken; I suggest you try them. They are not bad at all. They are very crispy outside and nice and tender inside. They continually make them from late morning to evening. I like to eat my fried chicken a certain way; with honey.
It is delicious; adding sweetness to the saltiness of the chicken skin....uhhmmm good!
If you normally put ketchup on your chicken, I urge you to stop that habit. It's 2012 and it's time to change (again) although I can assure you this change is for the better.

Albertson's also has 2 kinds of potato salad, one is creamy with chunks of cheddar cheese and the other is with blue cheese and bacon.  I tried both and couldn't decide which to get so naturally,  I got both.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pistachio Croissant

I had forgotten how good the Pistachio Croissants are at L'Amande Bakery in Torrance.  It is hard for me to get something other than my favorite Raspberry Croissant, especially when you have them still warm and you see the raspberry cream when you pull it apart.

The other day, my aunt Evelyn came to visit all the way from San Diego. We met at the bakery and she wanted to know what she should get for breakfast the following day. She bought a variety of croissants and I talked her into buying the fresh scones (it was 3:00 pm and they had just come out of the oven).  The scones were to be delivered to a friend of hers. Needless to say, she enjoyed everything. The next day, she got the pistachio croissant and raved about it.  The following day after church, I went in and had the pistachio croissant for breakfast. Boy oh was verrrrry good.
I have to inform you that if you do not have the luxury of consuming what you buy in the same day, you can preheat your oven to 350 degrees and heat it for 3-4 minutes. The owners do not recommend it as they want us to eat everything fresh; but it's not a perfect world.

When you feel like doing your body good and not sacrifice the pleasure of eating something delicious, try them.  I read about a research at Pennsylvania State University that pistachios reduced the levels of LDL (cholesterol) while  increasing antioxidant levels.  So, in Karina's world, this is a very good thing!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Back on Track at The Royce

WOW! What a fantastic night it was. The last time I was at The Royce, I was not the happiest camper. The food was good but not to what I was accustomed to since I have been there several times. Five months have passed and thought I would give it another chance.

My friend Ana and I left Torrance at 4:20 p.m. and got there 2 minutes before our reservation time which was 6:00 p.m. Our expectations were high. Not everyone can be perfect all the time so everyone deserves a second chance.

The ambiance couldn't have been better in  this very elegant setting at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena. We were served immediately with a complimentary glass of a sparkling Rose to go with the Amuse-bouche which consisted of squash soup, a crab cake and a fantastic pepper dipped in miso soy sauce with bread crumbs. That was unbelievably delicious.

We both decided to go for the six course Tasting Menu. We planned to order different dishes so we can try them all. Both Ana and I didn't budge; we both liked the same things and only differed on the second course. Our first course was the Beet Sorbet with Caviar which had creme fraiche & kaffir lime zest. Who would have thought of making Beet into sorbet? Well Chef David Feau, who came from the Patina group and former protege of Guy Savoy (whom I have personally met) is truly unique and continues to whip up some non traditional hocus pocus; in other words, he is a magician. The beet sorbet was very refreshing, the sweetness of the beets and the saltiness of the caviar was perfect combination not to mention the temperature; not hot, not room temperature but a sorbet.

For the second course, Ana decided on the Cuttlefish/Piquillo; bone in cuttlefish a la plancha, herring-sierra gold potato,ink & piquillos. I decided  on the soup; Cauliflower/Mushroom which was cauliflower & sorrel , hen egg, cauliflower mushroom. Loved my soup; tried some of Ana's cuttlefish which she also loved; I fell in love with hers too. I never had cuttlefish before let alone with the combination of ink and piquillos. This was something I would highly recommend.

Our third course was the Chestnut/Verbena. Chestnut-filled agnolotti, hazelnut, lemon verbena jus.  It didn't look as exciting as what we had so far. It just looked like a pool of foam. Looks can be deceiving.  This was a very nice surprise. When we dug into it, all you could taste was the nice chestnuts and the aldente agnolotti. Wow, I wonder how hard it is to make this dish. I could have eaten 2 bowls of it!

Our fourth course was the Wagu/Spelt Berries. Double seared wagu, ginger braised brussels sprouts, spelt berries emulsion and bone marrow tempura. Also delicious. I didn't find any berries and that's because Spelt berries are not berries. I found out that it is a form of grain kernel that can be used as alternative to buckwheat or other types of grain and is rich in nutrients. We both cleaned our plates.

We were full by the time our fifth course came but like real troopers, we had to march on.  We both ordedered the Picandou/Du Lot which is a peppercorn rubbed fresh goat cheese with tomato jam and acacia honey. It was a nice way to end our meal before dessert. Before dessert, they brought out a plate of petit fours which consisted of madelines, something coconut which I didn't like only because I don't like coconut and the winner was the cheesecake which was absolutely wonderful.  After that was a sorbet of quince to cleanse our palate. I am sorry to say that we both didn't care for it.

For dessert, we agreed not to order the same thing. One was the Chocolate Cake; cocoa minute cake, cajeta-caramel, warm chocolate curd, cafe glace. This was our least favorite. I understand that they have to make a traditional dessert for people that are less adventurous. The clear winner was the Date/Grapefruit; halawi date sticky toffee pudding, steamed miso egg white, finger lime grapefruit.  These all came together like the L.A. Philharmonic! We didn't know what a finger lime was..(lime from Australia)
When eating the grapefruit ice cream and the pieces of white pulp (fingerling lime),something interesting happened; the pulp actually popped in your mouth.  The steamed miso egg white was mysterious to us both. How can an unlikely combination taste really good? The date sticky toffee pudding was super accompaniment to the miso egg white and finger lime grapefruit. Ana and I were literally in ecstasy! As if we didn't have enough dessert, they brought out samples of a variety of chocolates ala Royce which of course we had to consume.

I have to mention that our service was impeccable. Andrea our server from my last visit was attentive and enthusiastic as ever. Eric Espuny came and made sure everything was in order.  It was a pleasure to meet Chef Feau who took the time to introduce himself and was gracious enough to have his picture taken with us. Many thanks to Chef Feau and to Eric Espuny for a wonderful evening.

For your next special occasion, do try "The Royce". I must say that the hour and forty minute drive time and the cost of the Tasting Menu of  $125.00 was well worth it.