Restaurant Review: Cafe Firenze, Moorpark, CA
Jun21

Restaurant Review: Cafe Firenze, Moorpark, CA

Love Cafe Firenze! Cafe Firenze is one of our favorite restaurants; upscale without being stuffy or snobby, with high quality ingredients and a wonderful, warm atmosphere. When I heard, on Top Chef, that Fan Favorite, Fabio Viviani, had a restaurant in Moorpark—about 30 miles away from where we live—I imagined a little Italian eatery out in the middle of nowhere. I never expected the majestic, gem of a place—hidden in the Albertsons shopping center—surprisingly cosy and charming, even with the large, high-ceilinged rooms, and beautiful, regal decor. The booths, especially, are cosy and intimate. (Though we all agreed we could live without the decorative pillows—pretty, but not practical!) You enjoy the royal, fine-dining treatment—even if you’re there with little ones—without the snobbery of the Los Angeles west side. As musicians, we appreciate the subtle, tasteful, live music by the talented guitar player. (Think Sting or Eric Clapton.) The staff couldn’t be nicer, and are very knowledgeable about the food. You can tell that Fabio really appreciates them (giving credit where credit is due), and they are happily supportive. Left to Right: Adam, Executive Chef John Paolone, and Lindze Our favorite waitress, Christina—she tells it like it is! He certainly couldn’t do it without them—since he’s currently opening two more restaurants in Chicago; following the huge success of Siena Tavern, which opened in February 2013. Our favorite, kid-friendly place for special occasions, we’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve at Cafe Firenze, with our three-year-old, Aja.  Valentine’s Day at Cafe Firenze, 2012 Perfect for a date night too; even our picky, jet-setting friends were impressed! Kharen and Randy Bernstein They loved the Chicken Scaloppini and Crostino Di Burrata. Parmesan Bread, Burrata Cheese, Grilled Pancetta, with a Brown Butter Sage sauce. You won’t go wrong with any of the pastas, but you HAVE to try the Braised Short Rib Ravioli. (To die for!) Braised Short Rib Ravioli in a rich and decadent Taleggio Cheese Sauce. Since my new obsession with Caesar Salads, I try them everywhere I go, and this one didn’t disappoint. Next time I’ll try the Ossobuco, before attempting to make it from his fantastic new cookbook Fabio’s Italian Kitchen! Click here for the Cookbook Review and Cooking Demo at Cafe Firenze  >> Click here for the full dinner menu >> What are your favs at Cafe Firenze? I’d love to hear from...

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Fabio Viviani’s Cooking Demo and Cookbook Review
Jun20

Fabio Viviani’s Cooking Demo and Cookbook Review

This past Saturday I dragged Sam to Top Chef Fan Favorite, Fabio Viviani’s Cooking Demo and Book Signing—well, it wasn’t the kicking-and-screaming kind of dragging, since Cafe Firenze is one of our favorite restaurants. (Click here for my restaurant review >>) This time I had the foresight to let them know I’d be coming, and smart business man that he is, Fabio personally responded, guaranteeing me a good seat. Despite the aggravation of having had a flat tire between his morning Cooking Demo at Firenze Osteria, and this second session at Cafe Firenze, he greeted us warmly. He wasn’t phased by the slightly unstable setup, in their first time using the light and spacious patio—this time only turning away fifty, instead of the usual one hundred fans. He jokingly removed item by item as they jiggled while he pounded the poor pork on the vibrating table! The general tone, as he passionately shared memories and family traditions, was very laid back—more like hanging out with him over good eats and drinks, than watching him sweat over a hot stove, attempting to teach us how to cook. He enjoyed circling the fire pit!   Mama’s Boy…? His mother, Renza, refused to give up the family’s precious recipes unless he agreed to publicly share what he put her through as a boy. (Payback!) He still had to coax details out of her, since “sausage. and. beans.”—her typical recipe instructions—just wouldn’t cut it for a cookbook. Sign up for info on Fabio and Mamma’s upcoming cooking class >> Should be very entertaining! When he was five, after unintentionally setting her on fire, his 87-year-old great-grandma, Maria, kept little “Fabiolino” by her side in the kitchen, to keep him out of trouble, and contain his abundant energy and penchant for mischief! Stirring polenta and apple cake for hours on end, he learned from her to “do it right, or do it twice.” Already displaying character, to help feed his family, he took a night job when he was eleven (ELEVEN!), when his mom had to quit her job because of a problem with her hands. He would unload fifty-pound bags of flour and carry pies from the 120 degree basement to the 10 degree pie store from 1 – 7am—causing him to be sick and miss school, and get suspended. No wonder he hates baking! “It’s not about how bad I had it but about how good I want it from now on.” He Keeps it Simple As a child, he only had one pair of shoes, slept on a folding chair in the kitchen, and lived on eggs from their forty chickens, fruits and veggies from his...

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Meeting Alex Guarnaschelli: Iron Chef, Chopped Judge

I’ve enjoyed watching Alex Guarnaschelli—on Chopped, The Best Thing I Ever Made, and then beating out 9 other super-chefs to earn the coveted title of Iron Chef on Next Iron Chef. She’s always seemed very real to me, and her cooking demo and book signing this past Sunday at Let’s Get Cookin’ in Westlake Village, California, proved this to be true. I was ecstatic to get the tickets—a whopping $110 for the demo and signed cookbook—since celebrity chef demos usually get sold out on release. (Didn’t make it past the waiting list for Fabio Viviani of Top Chef fame.) Old School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook Released on April 9, 2013 Available on Amazon.com for $20.85 It was definitely worth every penny. By the time fellow-foodie, cousin Becca, and I got there—45 minutes early—the only empty seats were in the last and second-from-last rows. We were in the company of some serious foodies and Alex fans—although the lady sitting right next to me didn’t even know who she was! Me and Becca with our cute plastic food trays. The line was out the door for the open book signing, in the hour preceding the Cooking Demo. No wonder Alex already looked a little wiped when she got to us, but still managed to be charming and very entertaining. She has a cute, devilish smile and wicked sense of humor, and wasn’t phased by anything; not even the sometimes spotty camera work of LCG’s owner, Phyllis Vaccarelli—chasing the camera with the food very playfully. She’s clearly used to being surrounded by big fancy cameras; requesting that we not take pics or record the demo, because she can’t resist playing to the camera. Most impressive was the way she handled the self-admitted ADD sufferer in the front row—the rest of us were getting way more annoyed than she let on, until about the twentieth comment/question prompted her to snap (just a little), but she immediately recovered with a sweet smile and quip. A band of chefs hustled to prepare the four selections from Old-School Comfort Food for us to try, while Alex demonstrated how to make them. I loved how nonchalant and relaxed she was with her cooking, ironically instructing us to “carefully place the meatballs in the sauce,” while cheekily dumping them in. Good lesson for me—control freak that I am! I was amazed at her ability to multi-task: preparing all four dishes below, while answering questions and sharing lovely anecdotes of her experiences as an only child in a foodie family, and being mom to an almost-six-year-old daughter—who chooses to watch Ina Garten over Mom. And all with...

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Rosti Tuscan Kitchen—Spring Menu

We popped into Rosti Tuscan Kitchen in Calabasas last night, for a quick family meal, and I was happy to see the fresh, Spring Menu with Seasonal items. They have three locations in Southern California: Santa Monica, Encino, and Calabasas. If you’ve been following my blog, you will know that I have a major thing for bread, so requested a basket of the softest, doughiest bread they have; by the third basket they had it right. (The first one was set down the second I sat down—before the rest of my party arrived; the second one was toasted in the oven—slight misunderstanding.) Sorry if that was annoying, but I don’t eat anything “unworthy” (My #1 rule of Weight Loss and Maintenance!)—and crispy, toasty bread just doesn’t cut it for me! Glad I held out because that might have been the best Ciabatta bread I’ve had—ever! I personally prefer fresh butter on it, instead of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I know, not very Italian of me. I managed to stop at two slices. Yay me! The manager, Taryn, who much to our delight transferred over from the Encino branch—where we used to schlep for our weekly pasta fix—usually hooks me up with super-soft-and-doughy bread. In fact, she let me in on the dangerous secret that you can purchase a whole loaf of this amazing bread and warm it up at home; not a good idea for the likes of me. They get it fresh from Agostino Bakery in Oxnard, CA. We ordered the English Pea Soup with Spring Vegetables to start. Lovely and fresh, though I did think it needed a little salt. Sam (hubby) and Aja (toddler) shared the Penne Pomodoro—with melted cheese (Sam’s addition). In our humble opinion, they have the best Pomodoro sauce around. Sam sometimes orders extra for dipping the bread. Mmmm good. Love the fresh basil leaves. Same comfort-food fix as Mac & Cheese, but better for you. I shudder to think of the number of times during my pregnancy that I inhaled an entire order of this by myself. Once I had pre-committed to eating the whole thing, there was no stopping me. Oy! No wonder Aja loves it too. Sorry—that’s the best pic I could get out of a hungry and somewhat-fussy toddler! In an effort to make healthier choices, I ordered a small Salad with Turkey Meatballs. Arugula, Endive & Radicchio Lettuces tossed with Parmesan, Grilled Zucchini, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette; Topped with Turkey Meatballs. We eat a LOT of turkey meatballs at home (homemade, Trader Joe’s, Costco) and I prefer trying different things when I am out, but I was happy...

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