The Franciscan Inn – Hotel Stay – Sunday – January 10 & Monday – January 11, 2021 – Santa Barbara, CA.

When my contact over at The Franciscan Inn & Suites gave me the info on her gorgeous Santa Barbara property it was in 2020, and they were doing some renovations. When I figured out what to do on my Birthday – January 10, 2021, I thought I should contact her Debbie Neer and see if I could do a stay at The Franciscan Inn & Suites. She said yes right away, so I was so extremely happy. Debbie told me that it would not be the most perfect stay because of all of the Covid restrictions, but I opted to go anyway. Their daily breakfast and happy hour had stopped, and the pool was open but not their Jacuzzi. Debbie said that once I check in their staff would not clean my room or come anywhere near my room for my duration of my stay. All of this was just fine with me. I really wanted to celebrate my Birthday regardless of Covid and how high all of the case numbers were in Los Angeles, and Ventura County. I figured I could be just as safe in Santa Barbara as I would be at home, I was right. This hotel is right down the street from The West Beach in Santa Barbara, and what better way to be safe during a pandemic, go to the beach and naturally social distance. The scenic views are astounding; so was taking in all of the fresh ocean air. My stay, given all of the restrictions was truly wonderful, just the perfect Birthday getaway. Debbie said that when things get better she would have me back for the full experience.

My room was large, and sublimely elegant, well appointed with a huge bathroom. This is Debbie’s favorite room. Super easy access seeing that it is on the first floor and on the street, super close to their parking lot. The king bed was super comfortable; the large flat screen TV was the best just what the doctor ordered.

I did some Togo orders from some great local restaurants. The staging was done in the lobby where they usually have their daily complimentary breakfasts. It has a comfortable interior, with big oversized chairs, and a nice fireplace to set the mood. Their staff was very safe, friendly and accommodating.

The Franciscan Inn & Suites has a lovely pool, set at 82 degrees. The weather was just perfect; I luxuriated in the sun, and got some exercise swimming.

All and all this was a great Birthday treat for me and very much appreciated. A nice small country style Inn – 1 block away from the beach in the most beautiful part of California, what more could you ask for?

The Franciscan Inn & Suites
109 Bath St,
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 963-8845
franciscaninn.com

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Cuban Cultural Icon José Alberto “El Ruiseñor” Nominated for Best Latin Tropical Album – “Mi Tumbao”For the 63rd Grammy®Awards!

January, 6 2020 – Hollywood, CA. ———–The 63rd Grammy Nominations were announced on November 24, 2020. The astonishing surprise was the Nomination of Cuban born José Alberto “El Ruiseñor”, Nominated for Best Tropical Latin Al-bum “Mi Tumbao”. The excitement is building and it could not have happened to a better man.

The original Grammy date of January 31, 2021 has been moved to March 14, 2021, for health and safety reasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis in Los Angeles.

José Alberto Tamayo Diaz, aka The Nightingale. Born into a musical family, Jo-sé’s parents played a key role in his musical journey; his father was a tres player and his mother was a singer. At fourteen years young José flourished as the leader of the Cuban based band, Grupo Rock Lasser; his charisma and populari-ty spurred his passion, and the rest is history. José Alberto has dedicated his love of Cuba through his music. A win for José Alberto in March would make him the first solo Cuban male vocalist to win a Grammy in 21 years, since Chucho Valdez in 1999. El Ruiseñor confesses, “The Grammy Awards are way up there, it is the Oscars for music, winning a Grammy award would mean a lot to my country.”

Hailing from Bayamo, the capital city of the Granma Province of Eastern Cuba, “Bayamo is my life”, Alberto admits proudly in reflection of his group BNM, Ba-yamo National Movement. For over 30 years, Jose has thrived as a prominent citizen of Cuba, and has constantly worked hard for his city, his music and his valuable culture. As the most internationally awarded solo artist of Granma, José Alberto El Ruiseñor has dedicated many songs to his fellow countrymen. With the pandemic numbers growing, he curated an online philanthropic concert, to recognize the efforts of doctors and nurses titled, “Cuba Saves”, broadcasted from his own backyard. Before the pandemic he was keeping up with his hometown roots by performing every Saturday in the main street of Bayamo.

The album title, “Mi Tumbao” translated to “swag” or “grace to move,” transcends the listener into the origins of Cuban music, and the raw roots of his Cuban na-tion. The album breathes three decades of artistic life, composed of Guaracha, Son, Salsa, Cumbia, and Merengue. Homage is vibrantly paid to his influencers and godfathers of Cuban music; Sindo Garay, Ñico Saquito and Miguel Matamo-ros, all who were introduced to him by his father. The album has 10 illuminating, action packed tracks, some unpublished and others adaptations of known Cuban classics. In the feature track “Emigrante” (Immigrant), José narrates the over-looked struggles of migrant life with pure vulnerability, through lyrics such as “This has to change, down ambitions, there is only one heaven in this world, why so many divisions.” A timely song meant for acknowledging all the current prob-lems brought on by controversial governments. In contrast, José transforms the internationally known anthem, “Lagrimas Negras” (Black Tears), to more of an inspired traditional salsa.

The project is backed by English label Tumi Music. With legendary A&R director Mo Fini at the helm, the UK based label specializes in authentic and original mu-sic from all corners of Latin America.

José Alberto’s innate vocal techniques, and the ability to relate to the common man through his music, will captivate and inspire any and all of its listeners.. Miracles do hap-pen and this time it’s all rolled up in a profoundly talented troubadour, José Alberto; he is a force to be reckoned with. If you’ve never heard his music before, now is the time to listen; make yourself a cubano and a cafecito, take the old Victrola for a spin, your feet will do all the work. José Alberto’s contagious rhythmic vocals are going to get you!

José Alberto:
facebook.com/josealberto.tamayodiaz
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4QtJHV589M
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QqQbjv4t_w
Tumi Records:
www.tumimusic.com
Media Inquiries:
Jodi Jackson
JJ Entertainment
323-356-0797
Joddith@aol.com

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The Southern Belle Cafe – November 19, 2020 – Lunch – Cathedral City, CA. mber 19, 2020 – Lunch – Southern Belle – Cathedral City, CA.

Tucked away in a mini-mall in Cathedral City is a new Southern type-eating establishment. I very briefly talked to one of the owners. He and his partner Dr. William Schneid have been together for 48 years, both with individual careers, Dr. Schneid was a private investigator and his partner was an undertaker. There was a Southern restaurant before so the area is used to this kind of food at this location, but from what I gather those owners were not being good to their staff or their customers and had to close shop. I could tell there is a lot of repeat business; I spoke with a few customers all enjoying their Southern fare. They are doing the county program Great Plates Delivered Program. The program is designed to support adults 65 and older and adults 60-64 who are at high-risk from COVID-19, in staying home and staying healthy by delivering three nutritious meals a day, and provide essential economic stimulus to local businesses and workers struggling to stay afloat during the Covid crisis. Also, they are fully operational in the tent outside in the parking lot, and were very Covid safe.

Here’s what I tried.

Spicy Shrimp Po’ Boy Classic Southern po’ boy with fried shrimp, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and handmade remoulade sauce. This was a big hit for me; love a good authentic po’ boy.

Cheesy Grits N’ Shrimp, Cheesy grits with Cajun seasoned shrimp, and crumbled bacon. Lots of cheese and the shrimp seemed very fresh, another great menu item.

Fried Okra, a nice starter to any meal.

Egg and Sausage Benedict, 2 poached eggs and homemade breakfast sausage on an English muffin topped with Hollandaise sauce served with fruit. This is a nice filling breakfast, with all of the bells and whistles.

Hickory Smoked Pork Ribs, ribs smoked with homemade BBQ sauce. Fall off the bone ribs, with a great sauce.

Dessert:

Cheesecake, this was delicious, and hit the spot.

Also, you have to try their sweet tea with your meal, it is a Southern Staple.

If you’re in the mood for authentic Southern cooking in the desert then this is your go-to place.

The Southern Belle Café
35400 Date Palm Dr.
Cathedral City, CA. 92234

(Sidebar – It is always in the best interest of the restaurant to let me taste many food items. I always bring one or two guests who nibble on what I order; because there is no way that I can eat all of the food tasted. But for my readers to see what all I suggest is really key, unfortunately this restaurant did not let me try many items, so I will do an honest review of the 5 items that I tried, and that is why this is such a small review. After reading the menu I also notices that they didn’t bring me some of the sides that went with it, another mistake on their part because I can’t totally review what the menu items were that were served with the missing sides. Also telling me they were bringing me a certain number that they decided on and then cutting two of those menu items off. I am never fully able to review a restaurant given that I have such a limited trial. As well as not wanting to waste my time if the restaurant doesn’t want to fully satisfy my request and needs for my writing. The review prior to this one let me try everything I asked for and did it graciously with the utmost respect to what I do as a writer. I have been doing my website since 2011, with over 600 reviews, so I know what works, every now and then you get a cog in the wheel. If your planning on going there to eat, give yourself ample time, the service was super slow, it took almost a half – hour to get a cup of coffee. My lunch took an hour and a half, could have been because I was doing a review so maybe I was not a top priority, however customers seemed to be getting their food a lot faster. I am not taking away from the star of this show, their food, which is delicious, just wish the whole experience had been better and stress-free!!!)

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Papa Dan’s Pizza & Pasta – November 18, 2020 – Dinner – Palm Desert, CA.

I just had a feeling about this restaurant, like I was being summoned by the pasta and pizza Gods to give it a whirl. I didn’t give up on my intuitive prowess, I called a few times and sent emails, but when I finally got one of the owners Ira on the phone, it was love at first sight. We just clicked and he gave me a much-welcomed phone conversation, so I knew what a great experience this would be from my phone call. Go Figure!

There is always one of my tastings that stand out for many reasons, this one is it!!

Ira Mosley and his partner Papa Dan, in crime, business and everything else that life has to offer is truly an amazing story in itself. Both Dan and Ira deal with the daily operations. They own a few other businesses nearby, beauty salon and beauty supplies. Even though Dan takes care of their salon and beauty supply, he is at the restaurant literally daily doing most of the back office things, like bills and payroll etc. Papa Dan’s Pizza & Pasta has been thriving since 1984. Ira hails from the Bronx, where he talked to me about his Jewish upbringing and some of his grandmother “Lena’s” recipes. She was an excellent baker and would make flanken, kugel, babka bread, as part of their daily diet, she also spoke fluent Russian. He loved her food and used that inspiration for many of Papa Dan’s recipes. Everyone knows that Jewish and Italian food and people are pretty similar.

They have been together for 38 years and they both came from different lives but managed to merge their lives and create many successful businesses here in Palm Desert. When Ira met Dan, he already had 3 children and began tallying up the grandchildren and then the great-grand children, so Ira gave Dan the privilege of being a stepfather and a step-grandfather, and even step-great-grandfather from his already existing family. But their family does not stop there. Their staff is family to them as well as anyone that walks into Papa Dan’s Pizza and Pasta. And really from the moment you walk in you feel like family, it’s just that kind of vibe. Fabian my server had been working at Papa Dan’s for the last 20 years, as well as the other server Giovanni had been there for the last 7 years. Ira told me that there are many regulars; I met one who was dining across from me when I was there, this gentleman comes in 4 times a week. Plus it is super cool to dine there on your own; they really pull out all of the stops to make any size party feel super comfortable.

Ira doesn’t ever want to change a good thing; he has been getting the same, cheeses, pasta, tomatoes, and other things from the same purveyors since they opened. But they do change the menu twice a year and add on seasonal items as well.

Here’s What I Tried:

Appetizers:

Papa Dan’s Sampler – A wonderful combination of Calamari, Fried Shrimp, Mozzarella Sticks and Fried Ravioli, with a side of cocktail sauce and tomato sauce. Everything on this sampler is delicious, but I especially enjoyed the fried ravioli, crispy stuffed with oozing cheese.

Salads:

Papa Dan’s Chopped with mixed greens, Salami, pepperoni, diced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, scallions, Parmesan cheese, tossed in their own house-made Italian vinaigrette dressing. A lovely rendition of this Italian staple, and the presentation is gorgeous as well.

Caesar Salad, with Fresh Romaine, Fresh Parmesan Cheese, Pepper, Croutons and Caesar Dressing. This salad is super fresh and crisp and the pepper croutons are like nothing else I have ever tried, just that good.

Pasta and Specialties:

Italian Pot Roast, a generous portion of Pot Roast, seasoned with Italian Spices and Marinara Sauce, topped with Mozzarella Cheese then baked. The roast melts in your mouth, this is what you would want to make every inch of you feel comforted.

Eggplant Parmigiani, layered with Tomato Sauce and Cheese, served with a side of Pasta. The eggplant is cut lengthwise which makes them meatier, and they are sliced super thin. I adore a good parmesan and this one did not disappoint.

Veal Marsala, with sautéed in Garlic, Mushrooms and Marsala Wine Sauce. This dish for me is all about the marriage of the Marsala wine sauce and the mushrooms, just got to have it.

Pizza:

Papa Dan’s, Pepperoni, Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions, Olives, Green Peppers and Extra Cheese.

BBQ Chicken Pizza, with Bullseye BBQ Sauce, Chicken, Cilantro, Mozzarella Cheese, & Crispy Fried Onions (New York Thin Crust).

They did their large pizza for me, half and half. The crust itself is worth a trip here, perhaps a destination dinner. Coming from anywhere it would be totally worth it!

Pasta Bowls:

Pesto Sauce, with Fresh Basil blended with Olive Oil, Cream, Garlic, and Pine Nuts & Parmesan Cheese. The cream adds such a delicious rich nuance, truly wonderful.

Alfredo Sauce Traditional, with Light Creamy Sauce with special blends of Parmesan and Romano Cheeses. I just love a good Alfredo, and this one is just fantastic, with these lovely fettuccine noodles it is soothing and comfort food at its best.

Seafood:

Seafood Scampi, with Orange Roughy, Calamari Steak, Scallops & Jumbo Prawns, sliced & sautéed in Garlic Butter, with fettuccini noodles. If you’re a seafood lover like I am then this dish is for you.

Orange Roughy, a Tender fillet, pan-seared until light and flaky, topped with Picatta, and Garlic Butter. The fish is super moist and flaky and the sauce was just simple and did not take away from the freshness of the fish.

Daily Specials – Wednesday – All enhanced by their specialty sauces. Chicken Picatta – sautéed in a Garlic, White Wine and Butter Sauce, topped with Capers. Served with Linguine. The combination of the egg breading, the butter and the garlic is just off the charts for me, I would order this every time.

Deserts:

Hombre Cake, I never tasted anything like this, a layer cake with each layer having different berry flavors, wow, amazing.

Lemoncello, with Lemon Infused Sponge Cake topped with Imported Mascarpone and White Chocolate Shavings. If you love anything sweet with lemons then this is the desert for you, personally my favorites sweets are with lemon, so I just loved this cake.

Wines:

Chardonnay, Black Ridge, for sure pair this wine with the fried shrimps, and the salads.

Chardonnay Chateau Souverain, CA. A buttery, creamy Chardonnay, I loved this wine with The Seafood Scampi.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Canyon Road, this wine was bold and paired great with the Veal Marsala.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Black Ridge, a bit peppery, nice pairing with either pizza.

When you are consistently voted “Best Pizza in the Valley” that’s really saying something! When you walk through the door and catch the aroma of their simmering pasta sauce and mouth-watering pizza baking in the oven, you’ll understand why we are truly the best. Papa Dan’s sauces and pizza dough are made fresh daily so everything you order is a delicious masterpiece. You’ll feel relaxed and cozy within the old world, New York-style atmosphere, or outside on the misted patio that makes dining a pleasure even on the hottest days.

Ira sat down with me and my party to tell us about all of the dishes and had many super fun stories about his past and his life, he has had many personal obstacles but managed to be a huge optimist and create a mini-empire for him and Dan in Palm Desert. Ira knows most folks by name and he talks to all of his customers, he really wants people to feel comfortable. He also wants people to know that Papa Dan’s has a lot more to offer besides pizza. Ira says, “ Its is an all encompassing restaurant, we are sticking to all of the Covid guidelines to cleanliness and sanitizing.”

They have an outdoor patio with heat lamps that are partially covered, in the summer misters keep you cool, and is pet friendly, but is also just part of this wonderful experience, being outside under the stars, with gorgeous fall weather, just a perfect night.

There have been many celebrity sittings, Jerry Vale, Matt LeBlanc, ZZ Top, Phil Mickelson and a slew of others, but they are not bothered and left to enjoy their delicious meals.

From now on you will find me here when I am in town, it for sure will become my go-to restaurant in the desert.

Papa Dan’s Pizza and Pasta
73131 Country Club Dr.
Palm Desert, CA. 92260
760-568-3267
www.papadanspalmdesert.com

Open 7 Days a week from 10am to 9pm. Lunch specials are available from 10 to 3pm daily. They deliver daily until closing.

* Note some content was taken off of their website.

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Oishi Sushi – Dinner – November 17, 2020 – Palm Springs, CA.

From what I had heard this restaurant is super popular when I went to pick up my order there were many people were waiting to get their food to take home. They only do delivery and take out, so I was super happy to take my order back to my hotel and indulge in some of the best Sushi that Palm Springs has to offer.

Here’s What I Tried:

Edamame, always one of my favorite ways to start a sushi dinner, these soybeans were fresh and tasty.

Seaweed salad, always a nice addition to any sushi meal, this one did not disappoint.

Yellowtail Carpaccio, this melted in your mouth, super fresh fish with a nice sauce, just perfect.

Shrimp Tempura Roll, a nice large roll, simple and direct, but was just what the doctor ordered.

Sushi Combo, its is the perfect marriage of the freshest seafood, with a California roll, just amazing.

Lobster Popcorn, this was by far my favorite dish, crisp breaded lobster with panko, and then underneath was a perfect lobster roll. My go-to for sure at Oishi Sushi.

I never really got to talk to Burt who arranged my tasting for me. He was way too busy the night I picked-up my food, but that was good for him. My experience with pick up was no mess no fuss, just easy and simple. It’s a very clean, modern restaurant, and their to-go is a well-oiled machine, no real wait time and all of the food was just perfect. Everything that I tasted was fresh and wonderful; this is the place to order sushi in Palm Springs for sure.

Oishi Sushi
392 N. Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Canyon, CA 92262
760-322-1253
www.oishisushitogo.com

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The WESTCOTT – Hotel Stay – November 16 & 17, 2020 – Palm Springs, CA.

A while back I stayed here when it was called The Posh Hotel, back then it needed some help, it was not completed and needed some construction, but it had the best bones. What owner Mathew Westcott has done is taken those bones and transcending them into a charming, fresh new concept that is elegant and welcoming at the same time. But the real beauty here lies in the way both Mathew and his assistant Brian treat you during your stay. They will bend over backward to make everything perfect for you. From the moment you check-in, they offer you a cocktail, seeing all the time that all of your needs are being taken care of. If you want a truly unique experience in Palm Springs that will make you feel like family this classically inspired Art Deco hotel is for you.

Mathew’s Westcott took ownership in the summer of 2017. He also is a neighbor of mine in West Hollywood. He says it had always been a dream of his to own and operate a boutique hotel in America. Raised in the UK, his dream came true. He knew his life plan would happen. Even with Covid he keeps his occupancy up and creates an oasis from the urban hustle and bustle of home.

Mathew’s father was a Hotelier, so the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tress. Both parents supported him and his career dreams. But it took him a while to make all of this a reality. He first moved to New York and was an investment banker on Wall Street. Then he took the plunge and moved to Los Angeles, specifically West Hollywood. From there, the most logical lateral move was to Palm Springs, so when this property opened up he jumped on and knew this would be the best investment ever. It has paid off and with his creative manner and love of people he has turned his Design District boutique hotel into gold. He welcomes all demographics and wants everyone to feel comfortable with all of his hotels abounding luxuries. You feel so pampered and very taken care of.

Mathew’s design concept is just wonderful, most of what you see at The WESTCOTT is Mathew’s fine design style. He shops at all of the local vintage antique stores in the immediate area. I felt like it is something taken out of the pages of Architectural Digest or Interior Design Magazine. Just check out all of the super fun design nuances that The WESCOTT has to offer. From the themed décor in the bedroom to all of the chic tchotchkes in the living room, you will always be seeing more fun stuff throughout your stay. This 1930’s hotel has a lot of architectural history, Mathew says, “I am a caretaker for the building and not a hotel owner”.

They have a big swimming pool as well as a hot tub. At night they play Netflix on the wall next to the hot tub. You can request whatever you would like to watch, that was a super added bonus for me being able to catch up on Season 4 of the Crown. They have a lovely happy hour at 5:30PM and they serve a generous continental style breakfast from 8-10 am. Mathew made delicious cinnamon muffins that blew my hair back.

There is so much more to say, you too will be in the lap of luxury with The WESTCOTT’s super inviting accommodations. They made me feel like royalty and done with the utmost respect and grace, I just loved it! So next time your coming to Palm Springs take the plunge.

The WESTCOTT Boutique Hotel
530 E. Mel Ave.
Palm Springs, CA 92262
760-992-5410
www.thewestcott.com

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Brown’s BBQ and Soul Food – November 16, 2020 – Lunch – Palm Springs, CA.

Brown’s BBQ and Soul Food Started 10 years ago. The story goes how Charles Brown got his start as a chef, in 7th grade he skipped school, he was fourteen years old. His mom had put food out to cook for dinner. Charles did not want his Mom finding out he skipped school. He says she would have given me a good whooping. So to stop her from being mad at him he figured he would cook the dinner before she got home, all from his photographic memory and watching her cook. Charles cooked greens, chicken, cornbread, and black-eyed peas. To her amazement when she got home dinner was on the table. Everything came out perfect and he got away with it. He has family on both sides that were in the restaurant business in some form or another, so it is in his blood. From cafes to markets he learned at a very young age he learned what the hospitality business was all about. Charles has 4 boys and he is doing the same thing, getting them versed in all facets of the restaurant business. His two sons Brandon and Charles were both cooking in the kitchen while I was there. He says both his aunt who lived in Compton and his mother really inspired his culinary magic. Brown’s BBQ and Soul Food is the only soul food restaurant in Palm Springs. Typical customers are locals, some folks flying into Palm Springs from Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona, make a pit stop on their way from the airport to pick up their provisions from Brown’s BBQ and Soul food. Well, I am here to say that it is very understandable because the food is just out of this world. He says that his customers love his personality and his killer smile and he loves talking to people. He says before they leave they are laughing.

This is real deal Brown’s BBQ and Soul food at its best. Located in a spot that’s convenient and en route to Palm Springs, to grab your ribs, chicken, and all perfect soul food to take back for your dining pleasure.

Here’s what I had:

Buffalo chicken wings with French fries, the spicy goodness is really a showstopper, just fantastic.

Baby Back Ribs, huge ribs, with tons of meat, and just perfect menu item.

Fried Chicken, this chicken is so tender and moist with the outside super crispy, just amazing, by far the best fried chicken I have ever had.

Mac n Cheese, super rich and creamy, but at the same time, you get all of the cheesy goodness, a must-have.

Black-Eyed peas. This is a Southern staple usually eaten on New Years Eve Day for good luck, but hey we all need good luck all year round, so I would take this menu item for a ride.

Collard Greens, very nutritious and great, made in the traditional way, just spectacular.

Yams, with a touch of cinnamon, but super simple, a real treat.

There is not a lot more I can say; just let your taste buds do the talking! Brown’s BBQ and Soul Food is just the best soul food ever, run don’t walk to this incredible restaurant.

Brown’s BBQ and Soul Food
410 W San Rafael Dr,
Palm Springs, CA 92262
(760) 832-6985

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Zin Bistro Americana – Dinner – October 30, 2020 – Westlake, CA.

I am always amazed and surprised about all of the unique microcosms that Los Angeles and elsewhere, have to offer. Located on Westlake in the City of Westlake, Zin Bistro Americana provides a vacation-like atmosphere for all of the locals who live on the lake and own boats, and beyond. There are over 500 boats that are operating on the lake, some are just for cruising, and some belong to homeowners that have their own slips. But all are recreational and provide a much-needed dose of fun for the folks that live in Westlake. What most of the restaurants have done is to have a their own slips on the lake in the back of their restaurants. You can order drinks and food and park your boat in their slip, while enjoying your evening with Zin Bistro’s great food, on the water. I witnessed firsthand many of these fun activities; everyone is having a blast and super fortunate to have this great restaurant as a local dining option. I would call it Disneyland for adults. But don’t get me wrong there were also plenty of teenagers and kids that were also appreciating their evening on the lake. Once you’re off the boat there is a lovely patio with an outdoor dining area that looks out on the lake and had the great entertainment of the very versatile singer Jeanne Tatum. No matter where you sat you could see and hear her, so the ambiance coupled with the food was so amazing. There are not a lot of places where you can dine on a local lake and be entertained. The night I was there it was just the most perfect weather, but they also have heat lamps, and a fire pit for colder nights. Zin Bistro Americana did not disappoint, my experience was just off the charts.

With all of the restaurant closures due to the pandemic, Zin Bistro Americana reopened their inviting patio back in July, truly invigorating their already faithful clientele. Who doesn’t want to go out, feel safe, be pampered, and listen to live music?

Here’s what I tried:

Cocktails:

Belvedere Martini, served in a proper martini glass, just the way I like it. Cold, refreshing, just the perfect martini.

Pomegranate Martini, this is for the cocktail drinker that wants something fruity but not too sweet, and a drink that will surely quench your palate, just wonderful.

Cucumber Margarita, with Tanteo Tequila, they usually put jalapeno in this drink to add a kick. I preferred it without, it was light with a nice cooling effect from the cucumber, and if you’re a margarita drinker then you must try this one.

Starters:

Oysters on the half shell, these little darlings are plucked straight from the sea, and the sauce complimented the superb freshness.

Ahi Tuna, rice cake, with avocado, spicy mayo, and ell sauce. The presentation is just gorgeous; the combination of the eel sauce, and spicy mayo drizzled across the rice cakes made all the difference in the world. It just adds another element to this fantastical dish.

Lamb Lollipops, with julienne vegetables and mint pesto. This is more of an entrée size dish, so you can order this one for the table, there are 4 nice size lamb chops and the flavor will blow your hair back. It is served on top of some enjoyable julienne vegetables, all with that delightful mint pesto. A must-have!

Seared Scallop Risotto, with lemon risotto and braised asparagus. They give you one large scallop with the most delicate risotto, a dish that you wish would never end, it is just that good.

Soup:

Guinness Onion Soup, served in a gratin, with an oozing cheese topping, you can taste the Guinness in every bite, a true winner.

Lobster Chowder, super creamy, chock-full of lobster pieces, in an impeccable lobster broth.

Mains:

Chilean Sea bass, with bok choy, steamed rice, Provencal. The fish is flaky and moist, the butter adds to the overall lusciousness of this dish, another layer of great flavor. I would order this every time, truly magnificent.

Chicken Fried Lobster, with spinach, mashed potatoes, and thyme beurre blanc, this is one of their favorites among their loyal following. It’s a big serving with delectable mashed potatoes and sautéed garlic spinach. This one for sure is for the lobster lover.

Desserts:

Cheese Cake, light and delicious, a great way to end my fantastic dinner.

Chocolate Cake, served with glorious vanilla ice cream, rich, deep, everything you would want from your chocolate cake dessert.

Wines:

Cakebread, Napa Valley, Chardonnay, a nice crisp Chardonnay, this would pair nicely with the oysters and the lobster bisque.

Ferrari-Carano, Sonoma County, Chardonnay. A buttery, creamy wine, pair this with any of the seafood dishes, as well as the Lobster or Sea Bass.

Owner Rouz Yazdanyar wants everyone who comes to his establishment to be treated like family; he wants every person to be comfortable. There are lots of regulars as well as some celebrities who love coming here and do not want to be recognized. The vibe is very welcoming, a place where everyone knows your name. His Mother, “Majineh”, inspired his hospitality career, always being supportive of her son’s endeavors. He started in 1999, working at the local staple Fin’s Seafood Grill in Westlake. Rouz is a fixture in this area, and he welcomes everyone coming in just like they are his immediate family.

Chefs Phelipe Cruz and Juan Cruz, pride themselves on delivering delicious flavorful foods to all who consume. One of the great things that I noticed is that they don’t over-salt their menu items, you can really taste their fine ingredients and recipes, that did not go unnoticed and I really appreciated that little nuance. Everything I tasted was otherworldly, combining the freshest ingredients with a mélange of gorgeous tastes. Their purveyors deliver only the freshest foods six days a week. They really know how to take wonderful recipes and make them their own at Zin Bistro Americana. You can see that everyone is thoroughly enjoying his or her dining experience. My server Ricki was so accommodating, she was happy, and was always smiling, a real joy.

Zin Bistro Americana is where you can enjoy al fresco lakeside patio dining at its finest. The patio seats up to 150 customers, and they have live music every Friday and Saturday nights. The sunset was pink and purple, with lots of local boats drifting by. Romance is clearly in the air, with couples, some slow dancing, and couples out for their weekend date. You can also see larger parties of friends and families, enjoying their delicious food and entertainment, and all taking in their exceptional lake views.

My takeaway is that with everyone so nervous about Covid and the election, racial unrest, etc., it was so nice for me to be able to get out, leave all of this tension behind and truly be in the moment at Zin Bistro Americana. Enjoying everything this great establishment has to offer. They are following all safety and CDC guidelines, everything was very clean and I felt very safe. So to my readers, next time you want a mini-vacation in Los Angeles, try Zin Bistro Americana, you will be so happy you did!

Zin Bistro Americana
32131 Lindero Canyon
Westlake Village, CA.
818-865-0095
Zinwestlake.com

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Via Maestra 42 – Dinner – October 2, 2020 – Santa Barbara, CA.

There is always going to be of my reviews that really stand out, because of the food, the ambiance, but in this case the unabridged charm of owner Renato Moiso. His million-dollar smile will make you feel so comfortable, like you have known him all your life.

Renato also has an import company of all things from Italy, so you know he uses the best Italian ingredients from Italy for a lot of his recipes. The restaurant’s name – Via Maestra 42 is Renato’s hometown address in Piedmont. He speaks about family and recipes, and how important all of that was to him growing up.

Here’s what I tried:

Antipasti E Insalate:

Zuppa del Giorno, Fresh vegetarian stock soup, dairy-free. One soup was a broccoli and the other a garbanzo bean, both with amazing unique flavors. Renato told me both his kids are dairy-free and vegan, so he came up with the perfect recipes for them and of course for all of us to enjoy.

Insalata del Buongustaio, fresh creamy Burrata cheese with local heirloom tomatoes and basil. Served on a bed of baby arugula with lemon Parmigiano dressing. Burrata cheese is the best cheese as far as I am concerned; they did a great job on this salad.

Carpaccio di Bresaola Con Rucola, thinly sliced cured beef Bresaola on a bed of baby arugula tossed with lemon Parmigiano dressing, topped with shaved Grana Padano cheese. This cured meat melts in your mouth, paired so nicely with the arugula.

Insalata Portobello. Organic greens tossed with balsamic dressing, topped with Fontina Val d’Aosta cheese roasted peppers and marinated Portobello mushrooms. The presentation is so glamorous, and the mushroom was so tasty with the wonderful Fontina cheese.

Primi:

Ravioli Zuccotto, Pumpkin and ricotta cheese-filled ravioli in a browned butter and sage sauce. Sage and pumpkin is really a no-brainer in Italian cooking and this one hits the spot. I just loved the freshness of the pasta and the combination of ingredients.

Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese, the pasta is cooked to perfection and the sauce is real comfort food, just wonderful.

Polenta del Montanaro, Classic fresh polenta dish, with sautéed Portobello and porcini mushrooms, a drop of white truffle oil. I could not get enough of this dish, the porcini mushrooms are so fragrant, and the brown sauce is just to die for.

Secondi:

Branzino, with sautéed spinach and cubed potatoes. This is a must-have, so flaky and delicious, simple but elegant.

Costolette d’Agnello Alla Griglia, Grilled Lamb chop marinated in a mint vinaigrette served with Truffle mashed potato and sautéed fresh vegetable. The lamb is super tender, and the potatoes are out of this world.

Dessert:

Panna Cotta all’Amaretto, Traditional cooked cream dessert with amaretto crumbs. Topped with dark chocolate sauce. Light, fruity, for a light dessert this one is perfection.

Gelato, they have an incredible assortment of Gelato, made by the company Bindi from Milan, Italy, but they wholesale in the US.

Nipper’s favorite Tortino di Cioccolato Caldo, Rich chocolate soufflé served warm with vanilla beans gelato and fresh whipped cream. This is so decadent, but just mind-blowing. I wish I had room for more food. Next time I am just going to go in for dessert to try this 7th wonder for the world again.

Wine:

Mionetto, Prosecco, Doc Treviso, very light and refreshing, a perfect way to start my magical experience.

Attems, Pinot Grigio, Friuli Doc, 2018. This is a delightful white wine, very fruit forward and I would pair with any salad, or cheeses.

Roero Arneis, Bruno Giacosa, 2018, this wine paired perfectly with the Branzino, it lent itself to add to the buttery nuances in the fish.

Cantaloro Toscana Biologico, 2016, this wine was amazingly great with the lamb.

Barone Fini, Merlot Trentino, 2016, the perfect wine with the lamb chop. A bit dry but jammy as well. Also with the chocolate soufflé, you can’t miss with that combination. Renato paired all of these glorious wines; he did such an amazing job!

Via Maestra 42 is just the best of the best. It offers sumptuous Italian specialties, with a smart ambiance. I got there a bit on the early side, but by the time I left there was a line outside waiting to get in. Renato told me of how his customers are so loyal, when everything was closed his customers gave him anonymous money to stay afloat. He is truly a fixture in this community and knows everyone. Anyone who walked in he greeted and said how are you, where have you been, just like family. I thought I was special, but the truth is he treats everyone with his charming wonderful attitude. Yes he did treat me like a princess, I will admit. He added so many menu items to my delightful dinner. Dessert just kept on coming with more unique samples. Really what a pleasure to have experienced his wonderful restaurant. No need to fly to Italy, it’s all here in Santa Barbara. Renato even texted me the next day to say how great it was to meet me. Ok, so yes I am gushing, all the more reason to try Via Maestra 42 – When in Rome!!! Or in this case – When in Piedmont!!

With tears in his eyes Renato shared with me the passing of his beloved mother Carla, this review is dedicated to her, she passed a little more than a month ago, and I could see what a devoted son Renato is. He told me that his mother was the love of his life. So poignant and beautiful, a real gentleman! Carla told him to in regards to food, “You should enjoy a little bit of everything”, meaning moderation is the key.

Via Maestra 42
3343 State Street
Santa Barbara, California 93105
805.569.6522   www.viamaestra42.com
Hours: Monday – Saturday 8:30am – 9:00pm – Sunday 11:00 – 5:00

In their own words: Via Maestra 42 was born on December 8, 2000 as the culmination of a lifetime spent working in the restaurant business in England, Germany and, of course, Italy. From these roots, sprang forth our vision of what an Italian restaurant should be. Via Maestra 42 was created in order to showcase the wonderful Italian products we have been supplying to restaurants in the area as All Italia Imports since 1993. In creating this extension of our family, we aim to provide an unforgettable dining experience, steeped in simplicity and warmth. We pride ourselves on consistency, using only the highest quality ingredients, organic when possible, in preparing our traditional Italian dishes. We highlight seasonal ingredients in creating the flavors Renato grew up enjoying. Via Maestra 42 is open 7 days a week. We serve a wonderful Italian breakfast Monday – Saturday starting at 8:30, with lunch service starting at 11:30 and continuing throughout the day until our dinner service at 5:00, which is served until 9:00. On Sunday we are open 11:00 – 5:00. We strive to create a memorable dining experience, whether in our restaurant or at your home with our custom catering service.
Ci vediamo presto!

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Dinner – The Black Sheep – October 1, 2020 – Santa Barbara, CA.

This place is truly innovative and creative. You have to let Chef Robert do what he does best, just deliver his super unique delicious menu items.

The Black Sheep believes that you can play with food, and experiment with it. They like to turn things on their heads, with unexpected elements. They source food from local purveyors. It is part comfort food, part deconstructed, but all of it is delicious.

Menu Gastromique, Chef selected with surprises:

Here is What I tried:

Gazpacho, tangy, flavorful, a great way to clear your palate and get ready for food blast off.

Shishito Peppers, some are hot, some are not, but all were light and delicious.

Green Zebra Tomatoes, with green cherry tomatoes, peaches, minty fine herb dressing, and pickled Fresno chilies. This is a truly gorgeous presentation and very healthy.

Seafood Aquachili with rock cod. Fresno chili and heirloom tomatoes tossed with rock cod, topped with avocado, red onion, micro cilantro and yucca root chips. The little flavor nuances are so amazing, another good menu option.

Mazemen Ramen Noodles with Santa Barbara sea urchin, eggplant tomato sofrito and salmon roe. This is what they are known for, their ramen, and it is a true winner.

Sweetbreads with basil olive oil, purple yam pureed mushrooms and leaks. This dish knocked my socks off. I am not squeamish about sweetbreads, I grew up eating them and love them, this rendition does not disappoint.

Pork Chop, with wild rice, chanterelle mushrooms, and spicy watermelon rind. This dish is for a super hearty appetite, a very large chop with nice wild rice.

Scallops with Gamba Hawaiian prawn, chutney, basil olive oil and micro basil. Another favorite dish of mine, the scallops are cooked to perfection, I would order this one time and time again.

Wines:

Gewürztraminer, Cambria CA, 2019. This is not a wine that you think it would be, but so much better. This wine is just great with any of the seafood dishes.

Pinot Noir, Windrun, Santa Rita Hills, 2017. A nice light Pinot, it was terrific with the pork chop and mushrooms.

Penville Mourvedre Enz Vineyard, 2017, another powerful wine that paired great with any of the meat dishes.

Dessert:

Almond Financier Pastry with salted caramel, just delicious, a great finish to a lovely dinner.

Chocolate Taco corn tortilla, cocoa powder, sugar, caramel, caramelized cocoa nibs, and vegan. So creative, just loved the super chocolate robust flavors in this dessert.

The interiors are whimsical and fun, with a bunch of cool art pieces, and vignettes. During Covid you have to sit outside, but I managed to take a peek at their exciting interior space.

My takeaway from The Black Sheep restaurant is how a family can come together and create a really unique dining experience. You can feel the love of father and son from the moment you walk in the restaurant. The Perez family created The Black Sheep restaurant on the premise of being weird, and being ok with it. Using the freshest of ingredients from the most sustainable sources. Global in scope, The Black Sheep menu features Latin, Asian, and Italian flavors but relies heavily on classic French technique. Chef Robert’s restaurant is one of the only places in town where one can eat sweetbreads, ramen, and Peruvian potato tacos all in one sitting! Robert’s creative, inspired dishes bring people the utmost satisfaction while sometimes leading them ever so slightly outside of their comfort zone. Chef Robert also aspires to do what’s right by sourcing his produce from the farmer’s markets and by being mindful of waste and water use. Ruben Perez is chef Robert’s son and business partner. They have worked hard to cultivate a welcoming environment where guests feel genuinely taken care of and appreciated, and they did a good job. The outdoor seating is very comforting, and where people can be themselves and feel like they are home. Such an amazing family, they hope to create a uniquely unforgettable culinary experience in an unpretentious, fun, casual environment.

It’s sexy, American, Asian Fusion at its finest. In my opinion they have done this and more, this is exactly what Santa Barbara’s exciting culinary scene needed.

The Black Sheep saying, “Come As You Are. Have Good Food.”

The Black Sheep Restaurant
26 East Ortega Street,
Santa Barbara, CA, 93101
(805) 965-1113
blacksheepsb.com

* Note some content was taken off of their website.

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