In the old space that once housed Hatfield’s, then Eva Restaurant, is now an outpost of a successful Belmont Shores import. The new location of the Lebanese chainlet called Open Sesame is admirably strategic; it’s well north of other Mediterranean haunts on Pico but south of those in The Valley. It adds to the diversity of dining options on Beverly Boulevard, and from my experience a couple weeks ago, a viable choice for flavorful food which also doubles as healthful. Those seeking vegetarian, vegan or Halal compliant will be happy that this popped up in the neighborhood.
City-wide pastry and sweets addicts know and love Huckleberry for their wonderful selection of treats. Always a proponent of the highest quality ingredients – down to their organic flour – Huckleberry’s impressive display case is quite the Westside attraction but their fresh salads, sandwiches and weekend brunch dishes also hold their own thanks to Executive Chef, Head Baker, and Co-owner Zoe Nathan.
Now, on Thursdays, nobody will have to bid adieu to the cafe favorite earlier than they have to enjoy a family-style dinner. With a new seasonal menu featured weekly, you’re offered a different experience each time. Take-out options are also available on the 3-course, $30 per person weekly. To get the menu of the week, sign up for the restaurant’s e-newsletter.
Correction (10/10/11): Venga! is now closed and will re-open at a future date as a Mediterranean Restaurant with an Israeli focus.
There is a new cafe, patisserie and gelateria all rolled up into one on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills. No, it’s notÂ Bouchon, but from one lunch experience, I ended up very surprisingly pleased with the results.
You will appreciate the small, concentratedÂ menuÂ once you step inside the nondescript shop. Although it’s hard to tell exactly what they do since the dessert cases face sideways, it seemed like the neighborhood had at least mildly become acquainted withÂ Venga! just two weeks into their opening on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Owner Shahriar Besharat and Pastry Chef Kriss Harvey (who has studied under the tutelage of Pastry Chefs all over the world as well as with Master in Gelato Giuseppe Scaringnella and in the Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna; Joel Robuchon Las Vegas is on his resume) have cultivated a brightly-lit cafe with a minimalist look and menu – but the strength rests in these few items.
For instance, theÂ slow cookedÂ chicken sandwich is prepared in a vacuum and packs punch with slices of jalapeno and carrot. It’s tender thanks to its preparation, but it’s also got great flavor.Â The Croque Monsieur (or Madame, should you choose to add a sunny-side up egg for $1, as we did) is delicious. Too often have I had a Madame with bread that was too thick and overwhelming. At Venga! the layers were harmonious in thickness as well as taste – not too rich, and just enough. The quiche with spinach, shiitake mushrooms was also tasty. The crust was golden and delicious. I almost wanted another slice. The tomato salad with whipped cheese and basil is also a beautiful rendition (perfect for before the end of summer) – especially with the heirloom varieties that are used.
But you mustn’t leave before you have dessert. This would be a grave omission. There are plenty of gelato varieties to choose from, but my favorite was the Almond with Caramelized Almond flavor. The Passion Fruit Sorbet was also super potent and a perfect flavor for a hot day.
The macarons are also delicious, and a tad denser than others that I’ve had. I can’t argue with more flavor in my macarons, however, and there are plenty of flavors to go around. I love the dustings on the outside of some of them, which add quite delicious details. Salted Caramel and Coconut are now my go-to.
A must-try is the CanelÃ©, which is done quite expertly with the outside coated with a crispy beeswax. The inside was a soft, tender, almost-custard texture – just how a perfect CanelÃ© should be. As you peruse the brightly-lit pastry cases, you’ll definitely have a hard time resisting all of the beautifully presented pastries in all their colorful glory. I’m due for a return visit to try some more.
Alas, I’ve learned that they have free wifi! This could be a dangerouslyÂ indulgent destination (yet productive?) for me in the near future. Blog or eat? Lunch, dinner or dessert? Now, I won’t have to choose.
All food and drink were hosted.
As they say: “Better late than never.”
I had wanted to make it out to Sotto for awhile since it opened back in March, when it had taken over the space formerly occupied by the all-abuzz Test Kitchen, the establishment that was a literal revolving door for LA chefs to test out their menus on adventurous diners. Gone are the one- (and two- and three-) offs and in come Steve Samson and Zach Pollack – permanently.
Sotto is the incarnation of Steve and Zach’s thankful relocation to LA from behind the Orange Curtain, and I am so glad they are here. With the inclusion of a stellar cocktail program making it an all-around solid place for food and drink, my pocketbook itself is thankful I’m not actually located on the Westside. Regardless, Sotto is a place I would gladly become a regular.
The Southern Italian dishes source Southern Californian ingredients beautifully – starting with a grilled salad enticingly called “Blistered Little Gems,” with anchovy garlic pestata, breadcrumbs, pecorino Moliterno. Yes, it’s a delicious warm salad, three words I never thought I’d ever have put together, but the way in which the flavored bread crumbs, anchovies and garlic gracefully season the still-crisp lettuce was an impressive, physics-defying feat. My knife cut through the greens as loudly as the crunch of the crumbs while bite after bite tickled my tastebuds. It was a starter that made me more than eager about what was to come.
From the ravings from friends in myÂ Twitter feed, however, I had missed out on the most blissful yet simplest of starters: The housemade bread with lardo pestado. So – you’re hereby ordered to try that. I, on theÂ other hand,Â won’t make the mistake, again.
Next were the Sardines and Sicilian citrus salad, with shaved fennel in a crushed olive-pistachio vinaigrette. I loved how the salty skin of the sardines were complimented by the fennel and parsley, making the entire dish a medley of fresh and flavorful textures. The grapefruit was the perfect citrus – not too sweet, a little sourÂ and adding nicely to the overall aroma.
When I see “beet salad” on the menu, I’m not expecting anything particularlyÂ revolutionary. I do like a beet in time, however; bring it to me via borsht or even cocktail.Â The bloody beetroot is vivaciousÂ in color and taste. The veggie stands on its own and well, you might have to try extra hard to screw that up.
But none of that really takes away from the heavenly experience I had devouring Chef Tony DiSalvo’s version. I call it a mashup. He adds hazelnuts – a decidedly rich choice and anÂ upgrade from your typical walnuts. And no, that is not feta or goat cheese. That is truffle panna cotta -Â the creamy, decadent umami to the dish which surprisingly doesn’t overpower.Â Â The baby lettuce used is more of a vessel for all these pickled, sweet and rich flavors,Â taking the place of your usual, bitter mixed greens like arugula and escarole.
And the beets. They are alternatingly roasted and pickled, and are all deliciously left as the centerpiece of the salad.
Yeah, I just described salad. I can hardly believe it, myself. This is one of those dishes (in addition to the perfect meatballs – but more on that, later) that just proves that Chef DiSalvo’s cooking is underrated. There are gems scattered throughout the menu, and the beet salad is just a teaser.
CBS (and vicinity) power lunchers, rejoice. If you’re tired of Chipotle and want a greener lunch alternative – at an also really competitive price point – Freshii brings tireless options with its 3rd Los Angeles outpost, at the 3rd and Fairfax Farmer’s Market.
Try soups, salads and wraps starting at $6.50. You can go with one of the chef’s recipes for simple ordering, or build your own. Some add-ons are free of charge, while others go for nominal fee. There are a ton of options, so while the plethora of choices may leave you either energized or overwhelmed – depending on your personality – you always have the option to go with a tried and true chef-designed item.
Freshii also prides itself on simple, easy, biodegradable and recyclable packaging. You won’t get any fancy plates or bowls with your meal, but you whether you grab and go or stay and dine, checking out your order is simple.
On my first visit, I also made my order simple by going with two of the “chef designed” items: The Spicy Lemongrass Soup ($7.59), which resembled a simplified yet delicious tom yum and the Antioxidant Chop Salad with added goat cheese. (To be clear, just one of these items was more than enough to fill me up, so I took both of them in their original containers to-go and finish, later.) The produce indeed was fresh and the salad tossed extremely well with just the right amount of dressing.
The most popular item at Freshii, which originally started as a salad-focused place, is the wrap – an item I still have to try on for size. But what I’m most excited about is their breakfast items. You can get a coffee or tea plus breakfast wrap for only $4.49. The only drawback is that they open at 9 AM so that means I have to venture back out after my 7:30 AM workday begins. But when you consider that the same price point is comparable to a McDonald’s breakfast, Freshii sounds like a fresh alternative.
In the near future, Freshii aims to have a delivery service. They’re also looking to become fully integrated with a breakthrough, tech-savvy system with iPads used for ordering, where you can personalize your own profiles with menu items that you frequent. So while you can probably visit Freshii every day for a full month without repeating yourself, they’re also aiming to make it personable – making it easy to remember your personal preferences so there’s always incentive to return to your favorites. For now, rest assured that you can call it in, grab and go.