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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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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Review: Cheesecake Factory’s SkinnyLicious Menu
Mar04

Review: Cheesecake Factory’s SkinnyLicious Menu

I had lunch today with my dear friend Helen, who is visiting from Toronto with her beautiful family. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Cheesecake Factory has a special “SkinnyLicious” menu. Oh so good! I haven’t been there in quite a while, because I would find that no-matter what I ordered, I would leave there stuffed, and yet still feeling unsatisfied and frustrated—probably because the portions are huge and seemed more about “quantity” than “quality.” When I first moved to this country I was shocked to see the humungous carrot cakes and salads served in the same wooden bowls we used to serve our family dinner salads in South Africa. I remember sitting opposite my close friend Dina, who was one of “them”—meaning, she could order and eat whatever she liked and still stay skinny. She would have pizza… and dessert, and I would have my usual—a salad. But I would finish the entire salad and walk out stuffed, while she would eat a few slices of the pizza and a few bites of the dessert and be done. I’m proud to say that today I felt like I might finally have become one of “them” myself! Or at least I am seeing fleeting moments of it. I didn’t order a SkinnyLicious Salad—mostly because almost every day of my life I eat chicken and salad, so eating out is my opportunity to taste different things and be inspired as a chef. I ordered the Wild Mushroom Flatbread, which was the perfect size—giving me my pizza fix without the guilty, overstuffed feeling. I ordered a garden salad—with the balsamic vinaigrette on the side—to fill me up. The old me would never have trusted myself to eat pizza in the middle of the day, because that would mean that I had blown the day, and the rest would just be a slippery slope. Especially on a Sunday! But today I happily enjoyed my flatbread, and when I felt peckish around 4:30pm, I made a lovely big salad with fancy balsamic vinegar (I’m loving these right now) and olive oil. Not the usual I’m-giving-up-and-starting-tomorrow chips on the couch. Yay me! My focus was the wonderful time spent with my friend—you know the special ones, where no matter how long it’s been, it feels like you were never apart—not on the food. The actual reason for this blogpost was to let all you Cheesecake skeptics out there know that their SkinnyLicious Menu is definitely worth trying out. I might just have to go back real soon for the Chicken and Mushroom Lettuce Wraps and SkinnyLicious Grilled Artichoke. Or the SkinnyLicious Caesar...

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Fantastic Fresh Fish in Oxnard, CA

We came across a real gem in Oxnard yesterday and I just had to share! Fishermen’s Catch, Oxnard, California 805-985-6200 1185 S. Victoria Oxnard, CA 93035 My brother, Gary, who is visiting from San Diego, CA, had some recollection of going to a fish market in the Oxnard Harbor years ago, and thought it would be a fun family outing to take a drive and walk around the harbor, and just “find a place” to get fresh fish and chips. Maybe not the best choice two days before Christmas, with a 50% chance of rain. This was the car ride from hell. In trying not to be my usual control-freak self, I didn’t check my toddler’s car seat (since I didn’t put her in myself), and the straps were totally twisted. This is probably why her head was bobbing up and down like a bobble-head doll in the bumper to bumper, stop-start, jerky drive! Holding her head upright while she napped did not help the tingling sensation I have had in my back for the last few weeks. (Though I did appreciate not having to listen to her whining the whole way there.) So on one side I had the bobble-head-toddler, and on the other side an extremely grumpy husband. (I convinced him that we should schlepp out there, even though he insisted it would be cold and rainy and was a bad idea.) He didn’t even have to say “I told you so,” as the GPS took us on a 45 minute detour off the freeway in the freezing rain—after the hour and a half of bumper to bumper traffic on the freeway. Not fun. The first place to come up in a Google search was Sea Fresh. It looked pretty good, but not quite what my brother remembered. According to the owner, the fish market that my brother was thinking of was so dirty, that some folks he had directed there a few weeks ago returned to eat at his restaurant instead. A couple of locals who were walking into Moqueca—the Brazilian restaurant (which they raved about) on top of Sea Fresh—gave us very vague directions to a “Fisherman’s Market.”  After some research on my iPhone—with 1% of battery power totally stressing me out—we figured that they must have been talking about Fishermen’s Catch in Seabridge Marketplace, Channel Islands. We, of course, managed to get lost—mostly because the address on google is incorrect. (See below) When we FINALLY pulled up—after being on the road for hours, everyone grumpy and irritable—I was really disappointed to find the final destination in a strip mall, next to a Coffee Bean....

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