Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bettolino Kitchen

Hallelujia! A fine authentic Italian restaurant in Redondo Beach. Bettolino Kitchen is an extension of Gaetano's Restaurant yet a different ambiance and vibe. The food.....well.....with a Michelin star Chef Fabio Ugoletti from Firenze, how can you wrong.

The restaurant is situated where the old Gina Lee's Bistro used to be. It has been renovated and looks good; modern, clean lines, spacious enough that you don't feel you are eavesdropping on your next door neighbor. I love that the restaurant is open from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and later on the weekends. Sandi and I took advantage of that and made a reservation at 4:00 p.m. early enough to leave for the Pantages to see a play at 8:00 p.m.

We were the first customers. We were greeted by Sean, and later Vince and Andreanna, the very proud owners. You could see Chef Fabio busy at the kitchen working his magic. The bread they brought was freshly toasted accompanied by a dish of olive oil with herbs. I added some freshly grated parmesan to the oil which made it even better.

I wanted to order the Calamari e Cavoletti, shallot sauteed calamari with Brussels sprouts, pancetta, grilled polenta in a garlic sauce but since Sandi only eats the creature fried, I would have had to eat everything. We agreed on just ordering an entree. After reading the menu, I decided to have the Lasagnetta which is not your typical Lasagna as you might imagine This one is made of fresh pasta of course, with a hint of cocoa powder (don't say eewww), lamb ragu, porcini mushrooms, fresh herbs and a parmesan sauce. This sounded so good that I was not willing to split as we normally split 2 entrees in case one is not too good. I had a feeling, an intuition that this would be special. Call it, Karina's intuition. the lasagnetta did not disappoint. We were both engrossed in the task of trying to figure out how this dish came into being!  It looked pretty with what looked like a sea of very light cream surrounding the pasta. It looked like thin slices of beef. In fact I almost thought I was eating the most tender slice of beef when I suddenly realized it was pasta! The lamb ragu was outstanding. We once had a pasta dish with lamb ragu that Chef Fabio made at Gaetano's but only made it for a month. I was disappointed when it was no longer in the menu. Back to the lasagnetta; Sandi had left over sauce so her solution was not to waste the left over bread by sweeping the pieces to dry out her plate.

Dessert was the Affogato. Since this is solely made with espresso, I knew I was the only one eating this as Sandi doesn't like anything coffee. I was disappointed as it was not strong enough. To prove that, Sandi had a few bites and she didn't mind it. The coffee they served was the real thing. Excellent!

We really cannot wait to go back. The problem is I won't be able to try the other items on the menu as I will have to have the Lasagnetta again. A bigger problem is.... since my oatmeal diet hasn't worked out, Sandi and I "sort of" agreed we would have to eliminate pasta and bread for our diet for the next couple of weeks. We didn't sign any legal documents and since promises are sometimes broken....who knows?

Congratulations to Vince, Andreanna, Sean and Chef Fabio. You have a great thing going. I just hope you will always have room for me because I predict you will be very busy all the time once the news has spread.

Bettolino Kitchen is located at 211 Palos Verdes Blvd. in Redondo Beach, California.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Back to Avenue Italy

Sandi has not been to Avenue Italy on 31243 Palos Verdes Dr. South in the city of Rancho Palos Verdes. Tonight seemed as good as any night for her to try it so we decided to go early. Early was at 4:30 p.m. There was a couple at the bar and no diners yet; we were the first. We naturally expected very good service.

Abel was the server that catered to me and Yvonne last week. He remembered me and told us we could sit anywhere we liked. I ordered a glass of Prosecco for Sandi and I had a glass of Barbera. We started out with a basket of bread with a dipping sauce made of olive oil, Italian parsley, olives, garlic and vinegar. We thought it be best to split a salad and since we both like beets, we had the Beet Salad with candied walnuts, dried cranberries, feta cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

I have had the Bolognese but Sandi has not so I did my good deed by agreeing to split that with her and order a Capellini alla Checca; angel hair pasta with fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and mozzarella cheese. Abel was willing and able to split both with no hassles and no fee for splitting either. He remembered I liked my pasta aldente. I liked that! The pasta arrived. I asked for some parmesan and when he arrived with a big bowl, I asked if he could bring me some in a small dish. Lo and behold, he left the large bowl of parmesan. That made me very happy. Both pasta were very good. Sandi was impressed. She could not finish her portion again because she overdosed on the bread. She happily had them pack it in a "to go" bag.

I wanted the Tiramisu which I loved the last time but Sandi does not eat anything with coffee so I had the Limoncello Sorbet. She ordered the Spumoni encased in a chocolate shell. I do not like spumoni but she had me taste the chocolate part of it. I added it to my limoncello sorbet and that made it very good. If I may make a suggestion to the restaurant, it would be easier to eat the sorbet in a bowl as oppose to a narrow glass.

So far, Avenue Italy is still a good place for Italian food up on the hill. Hope it stays that way.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Terrine, a fairly new restaurant at 8265 Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles was the venue to celebrate my friend Mary's belated birthday. My niece Aimee took her family there and everyone was happy with everything.

Our reservation was for 8:30 p.m. but we arrived at 8:00 p.m. and they gladly sat us. The outside patio was very nice but was also very noisy so we opted for inside which was cozier. I brought a bottle of wine; corkage is $25. Our server was an energetic fellow that opened our wine for us and gave us the menu. He answered our questions and off we went.

I asked Mary if she liked Foie Gras and she wasn't really sure. I took a chance as I was confident she would like the Foie Gras Terrine which came with slices of baguette and prunes. After Mary's first bite, her eyes almost popped off her face. She loved it and so did I. It was so creamy and just delicious. I could have had only that with bread and wine and I would have been perfectly happy. We finished our slices of bread and still had the terrine so we asked our server for more bread. We finally got it after about 10 minutes.

On the menu was something called Half Mary's Chicken cooked in Chermoula spices/sauce. Mary was inclined to order the chicken named after her.  The chicken didn't seem enough so we ordered a side to share. Cauliflower in brown butter and Bearnaise and tarragon sauce. How could that not be good.  I ordered the Squid Ink Spaghetti with Serrano chile, basil and bottarga. Our server suggested we share both but Mary didn't want anything to do with my black pasta!

Mary loved her juicy and spicy chicken which I had a bite of and it was truly delicious. I enjoyed my spaghetti with slices of squid which were very tender and the whole thing had a bit of a kick to it. The cauliflower was cooked to perfection and we both loved the sauce.

For dessert, we had to order the "Birthday Cake" (that was on the menu). It was chocolate, sea salt caramel and toffee. They looked like tiny brownies. They were to die for. We loved them.

We never saw our server again after we ordered our dishes. Not once did he come to see how we were doing or if there was anything else he could get for us. I poured our wine till the end. The manager and part owner, Francois was highly visible but most of the time he just walked back and forth and occasionally brought food to the table. He walked by our table several times but never stopped. He seemed to be just concentrating on the food on every ones table and forgot about the people.

The busboy was the nicest, most concerned employee of the evening. I asked for his name and I informed him that I had a blog and that I would mention his name. Yesterday, both Mary and I could not remember his name;  one of the effects of getting older. I was so upset that I called the restaurant and gave them the table number and the name of our server. At first she said she would try and find out. The next time I called, she informed me that they are not allowed to give the names of the employees.

Note to the busboy who took care of our table 8 on 3-16-15 : You have my card, feel free to email me so I can properly acknowledge your services. So sorry for our lapse of memory. You deserve a raise!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Veggie Grill

I have never stepped foot in this restaurant only because of the name. A friend of mine who shall remain nameless for now just got back from the Philippines and wanted us to get together today for a quickie update suggested we meet for lunch. I had no suggestions to make as to where to meet. Sandi  was to meet us also. She suggested somewhere close to our homes.

Veggie Grill was the restaurant. The only reason I agreed is because, someone once mentioned they had "good stuff" in there. Since I am on a semi-diet and have reservations for a nice dinner with another friend tonight, I thought it would not hurt to try it out.

Soup was out of the question since the temperature outside was 90 degrees. Salad would be a great choice. They had a All Hale Kale salad which looked overly healthy so I did not have that. Instead, I had the Thai Chickin'. My other 2 friend ordered the Chickin' Wrap. We also ordered an appetizer to share, Crispy Cauliflower.

Let me start with the Crispy Cauliflower. It was delicious especially dipped in the sweet ad spicy orange sauce. The wrap looked quite sad. One comment was it was too salty. My other friend ate the whole thing but I think she just talked herself into thinking it was good. My salad looked promising. It was pretty; I would say: pretty bad! I felt like a rabbit on Easter Day. It was a beautiful arrangement of vegetables but completely tasteless and I got a real surprise when I was told that the terrible chicken was not chicken and that's why they called it chickin'. It might have been tofu which I normally like but this had no flavor.

Will I go back to Veggie Grill again.......when hell freezes! I forgive my friend Ana who probably is still suffering from jet lag.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


My partner in crime and I have gained some weight which is no surprise as we have been eating and not exercising enough. In fact, we gained the bulk of our fat since we got back from Europe. No more going up and down numerous stairs on the Metro (even when we walked from one meal to the next), and no more walking all day. Being back in Los Angeles meant hopping into our cars and just driving from one meal to the other. Dancing 1 hour and 45 minutes a week and occasional trips to the gym is just not enough any more. Sandi suggested we go on a diet.

Diets do not work! If they do, it is only temporary and then you end up gaining more weight. We could not really eliminate carbohydrates; heavens!!!! Nor could we eliminate meat; we need protein. Fruit diet is no good as fruit has a lot of sugar. Instead, I decided to stop having pastries, croque madame, French toast, etc., in other words no trips to L'Amande Bakery (in the morning). I further decided to hit 2 birds with one stone and have oatmeal since it's good for me plus hopefully would lower my cholesterol. My whole strategy was to eat a healthy breakfast, something small for lunch and a regular dinner.

Monday was my first day. I opened a packet of the Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal, added whole milk (will try low fat in 2 weeks), and cooked it in the microwave. It was not too bad, it wasn't great either. I planned not to have lunch so I had a hard boiled egg to keep me from getting hungry. A cup of coffee and vitamins and voila....I survived my first day of a healthy breakfast. That evening, we went out for dinner.

Tuesday, I got a little more creative and added some fruit to my oatmeal. Boy was I super proud of myself. It was better than the first day. Wednesday came along and all of a sudden the fruit wasn't as sweet as the day before.  For lunch I had an oatmeal cranberry cookie.

Today my fourth day, Sandi and I were at the gym at 6:00 a.m. We both have been craving the German Potato Pancakes and the Dutch Baby at the Pancake House in Redondo Beach. By 7:30 a.m. we were ordering our breakfast. We split both so it really was not that bad. Wow! it was so delicious; we really enjoyed that.  I still had the healthy oatmeal cookie, so that was lunch.

We have been curious to see if the new hamburger at Carl's Jr. was any good. Only one way to find out. So as not to feel guilty, we attended a Rumba dance class at 6:00 p.m. and then headed over to Carl's Jr. The new All-Natural Organic Burger, a grass-fed free range char broiled beef patty with no antibiotics,no hormones or steroids is served on a fresh baked bun with cheddar cheese, tomato, onions and pickles with mayonnaise and ketchup. It was delicious. My only complaint is I did not see the hamburger at first (ordered the single) It was in there but it was all the way protruding below the bun so I had to push it up. Together with the French fries, it was a perfect meal.

So for those of you who are not sure if it is worth the trip to Carl's Jr. the answer is a definite YES!

Note: Tomorrow, I resume the oatmeal breakfast.

Avenue Italy

Aside from Jujuya in Rolling Hills Estates and restaurants at  Terrenea or Trump Golf Course, there are not too many good restaurants around. My friend Yvonne wanted to get together for lunch and she suggested the Italian restaurant at Golden Cove in Rancho Palos Verdes. Perfect.....I've never been there.

Avenue Italy is located at 31243 Palos Verdes Dr. West in Rancho Palos Verdes overlooking the ocean. It's a charming place and our server, Abel who used to work at Il Toscano was a welcome sight. He knew Yvonne quite well since they used to go often before the decline of the quality of food and service and finally closed.

Yvonne felt having pizza so she ordered the Parma Pizza; prosciutto crudo, arugula, cherry tomato and shaved parmigiana. I was tempted to order another kind of pizza so we can have a variety but I thought it would make more sense to order pasta so I can critique the way they cook and flavor their pasta. I opted for the Spaghetti Bolognese with traditional beef meat sauce. I informed Abel that I do like my pasta aldente.  Yvonne agreed to split both entrees; with a glass of Malbec, we were all set. Before our wine came, we got a basket of bread.

The pizza was very good, thin crust but not very crispy which was fine. The spaghetti bolognese was packed with flavor and it was aldente.  I probably should have taken a picture before I drowned it with parmigiano!

We had left over pizza as Yvonne didn't eat as much as I did....surprised? We decided to share an order of house made Tiramisu. How good could it be? It was light, not too sweet and delicious.

On the menu was a note that the chef would make any special dish upon request even if it is not on the menu. I can't wait to go back and try their many other specialties.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Scratch Bar

For Christmas, my son gave me a "6 Course Dinner for Two" at the Scratch Bar in Beverly Hills. It's been 3 months and I thought it was time to use it. I invited my partner in crime, Sandi for this dinner last night. We were there as it opened at 5:00 p.m. I believe in arriving early so we get great service (we hope), and less chaos.

Our server, Brandon was charming, informative and very down to earth. The other servers that brought in the food were also professional. Since our voucher was good for the 6 course meal, all Brandon had to know was any food restrictions or allergies.

We were started with this one roll, their house bread with the herb butter. This was no ordinary roll. It was sour dough, crunchy and chewy at the same time and just wonderful. It had sea salt sprinkled all over so it was sour and salty at the same time. It was unfortunate that we had to split the little roll. Oh well, we thought we don't really need the bread as there were more things to come. They brought us a tiny glass with Mussel on a skewer and below it was a refreshing lime juice. At the bottom of the glass was uni and an avocado mousse. We were instructed to eat the mussel first, drink the juice and scoop the uni and avocado mousse the last. It was very good. Sandi who doesn't like mussels, asked me what that was and was surprised when I told her it was a mussel. She agreed it was delicious. There is hope for her.

The next dish was Braised Pork Belly with a Raw Oyster with a spritz of lemon juice, sprinkled with sea salt, topped with coconut broth and dried chamomile flowers. We both picked them up and popped them in our mouths. I love oysters and Sandi only likes them fried but even she liked this one. The oysters were followed by beautiful Prawns with onions and a cabbage puree and pistachios. This had a bit of a sour flavor but oh so good!

The next surprise was a work of art. It was Cauliflower of all colors including dehydrated ones with pickled onions and sea salt. It looked like it had a dressing which I forgot to ask our server what it could have been. I almost turned vegetarian as I could eat this everyday! The final dish was the Hanger Steak with broccoli, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms in a bed of potato puree. I could not believe our luck as everything was wonderful.

Just as Brandon brought us our dessert which was Dark Belgian Chocolate on a pecan brittle with raspberry and salted whipped cream, I asked him if I could have another roll as I still had some wine to finish. He happily said yes...and he took the dessert away to keep it cold while we consumed the roll. Now that's flexibility and service. The dessert was great. I asked him who the pastry chef was and it turned out to by the wife of the chef.  After we inhaled our desserts, intuitive Brandon must have sensed we could have something else so he brought us (on him)  a scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream with Dehydrated Vegetables. Sounds horrible, what a way to ruin an ice cream BUT was soooooo gooooooood!!!! Unbelievable, again, I could easily have turned vegetarian. Just as he took the dish away, he managed to ask us if we had room for a slice of the Caramel Popcorn. We were too full by this time but this sounded intriguing and I could not let it pass. Out came the slice of the cake. We both thought it was way too sweet. We should have stopped after the ice cream. Serves us right for not knowing when to stop.

The restaurant is named Scratch Bar because everything is fresh and made from Scratch. We loved this restaurant. The servers are not pretentious, they know their stuff, the ambiance is informal. The food is very good. I commend Chef Phillip Frankland Lee and his wife, Pastry Chef Margarita Lee. They have a  good thing going. Scratch Bar has a Chef's Counter wherein you can make a reservation to eat inside the kitchen while Chef Phillip cooks a 14 course dinner for $140 per person. They are located at  111 N. La Cienega Blvd. in Beverly Hills. They are next to Matsuhisa and across Lawry's.

I thank Erik for this wonderful Christmas present.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Culina at the Four Seasons

I could not contain my excitement when I read that Vito Mollica from the Il Palagio at the Four Seasons in Firenze was coming to Los Angeles at Culina to showcase his cuisine. This is all due to the 5th anniversary of the Four Seasons. We could only sample his cuisine from February 28 to March 4th (2015).

I talked 2 of my friends to come with me. The night before our reservation, I called and spoke to someone at the restaurant and made sure they had the Cavatelli Cacio e Pepe with baby calamari and marinated prawns. She must have looked at the menu, did not see it and came back saying "No, we don't." I asked her to speak with the manager or chef because it was advertised that it would be available for lunch from Feb.28 to March 4th. She came back on the line after checking with someone and happily told me they would have it for sure.

I drove the 3 of us to the Four Seasons Hotel and was impressed by the ambiance of the restaurant. Even their outdoor seating was impressive. We were handed the menu and I didn't see the special prix fixe nor did I see the Cacio e Pepe. I had to ask our waitress about it and only then did she give us the special menu. They must have had limited copies as she gave us 1 to share. I still did not see the cacio e pepe so I asked her about it. She looked at me like I was from Mars, then finally said she would ask the chef. As she turned to leave I gently grabbed her forearm as I wanted to ask her something else. She gave me the dirtiest look as if saying: "How dare you touch me".  My two friends were shocked at her behavior. Could that have been sexual harassment, I wonder.  She came back with the Italian Chef as she probably didn't want to deal with us anymore. Sous Chef Allasio was the nicest man, asked us how we would like our cacio e pepe. Mertz didn't want any seafood, Sandi only wanted the shrimp and I told him I would have it the way he normally prepares it with baby octopus and shrimps. He was more than happy to oblige.

We also decided to order from the regular menu. Caesar salad and the beet salad would be a good introduction to our pasta. At this point, a very nice gentleman named Jorge was all of a sudden our waiter. He took our order and he was the total opposite of Ms. Prissy. I asked him what Ms. Prissy's problem was and he just told me not to worry about it. He was also diplomatic. The three of us ordered a glass of Prosecco which made put us in a merrier mood. We did enjoy the salads.

We got Chef Vito Mollica's specialty dish; the Cavatelli Cacio e Pepe with baby calamari and marinated prawns or at least, I did. Mertz had hers without any seafood and Sandi had hers with shrimps. The cavatelli was absolutely delicious. We all loved our respective cacio e pepes.  I was blown away by the most tender and succulent shrimps and baby calamari which was equally tender. Sandi and I both thought that the cavatelli was a perfect choice of pasta instead of the traditional spaghetti. It could have had a bit more pepper but that's better than having too much like I had at Osteria Mozza recently wherein too much pepper ruined it as I could hardly taste the cheese or the pasta. Like I always said, it is not easy to perfect this simple dish. Chef Vito Mollica nailed and perfected this dish!

Everyone was full but it was unanimous that we had to order dessert. We could not agree on what to share so we all ordered our very own dessert. Mertz had the Tiramisu with meringue,  I had a bite and it was as good as the ones we had in Rome. Sandi ordered something else but got the Chocolate Molten Cake. Jorge apologized and was going to get her what she ordered but since it looked good, she decided to make a sacrifice; it is Lent after all. She ended up liking it (not much of a penance).
I ordered the Affogato with cotton candy. We were all impressed with the presentation of this affogato. Jorge poured something on it and the cotton candy flattened like a souffle. It was divine. All that strong coffee, probably espresso with vanilla gelato. It was served with 2 cookies studded with pine nuts. Even the cookies were super delicious, chewy and nutty. FYI, the desserts were all from the regular menu.

Chef Allasio came out one more time to ask us if we liked our dishes. We were too full to give him a standing ovation. He was nice enough to sit next to us and pose for a picture. He was sure to let Chef Vito know how very pleased we were with the Cavatelli.

A note to the manager, Mr. Vahdani, Director of Food and Beverage: Jorge our server was gracious and professional, in our opinion a very valued employee. He should be training other servers. When we come back I will make sure he is working that evening.

Culina at the Four Seasons Hotel is located at 300 South Doheny Drive in Los Angeles.