Restaurant Review: Gaetano’s Torrance, CA

First of all, I can’t believe my husband and I had never been to Gaetano’s. It had been voted South Bay’s Best Italian for 4 years straight. We arrived to a full house and then some for sure. It’s located in a strip mall in Torrance, I wouldn’t have guessed this little place was the winner of so many awards but everything seems to surprise me these days.

The atmosphere was very family like, welcoming, and definitely a lot of regulars & families were there. I really wanted to try everything on the menu, which ranged from classic Italian dishes and appetizers to house specialties and believe me, I’ll be back for more once I’m off this restrictive pregnancy diet.

Veal Picatta
Veal Picatta

I ordered the Veal Picatta. The meat was tender and cut like butter. The pasta was cooked to al dente & the vegetables were very crisp. I really can’t say more about this dish. It was very tasty for sure. I was eyeing the desserts, but that will have to wait until after I deliver. Maybe they’ll deliver to the hospital?

Our own server  wasn’t that attentive with us, but all the other servers around were, so I take that into account. At any rate, I’ll definitely be back this summer to try the rest of the menu.
Gaetano's Restaurant & Catering on Urbanspoon

Quick and Easy Recipe: Orecchiette with Bread Crumbs

I’ve been on a Giada kick. Lately, perhaps subconsciously, a majority of my recipes have come from her first cookbook based on the popular show, Everyday Italian. Yes, her recipes take longer than thirty minutes & sometimes are a bit of a challenge but it keeps me on my toes. One of my favorite things about this cookbook is she uses a lot of things you may already have on hand & uses them in a recipe so easy that you wonder, “Why didn’t I think of this?”

One of those recipes came in the form of pasta & breadcrumbs. Yes, breadcrumbs! Like everyone else, I associate breadcrumbs with frying or baking but mixing with pasta? That’s definitely a first for me! The dish turned out delicious. Crunchy pasta with prosciutto was a wonderful combination. Also just as wonderful is that it doesn’t break the bank. If you don’t care for prosciutto, you could always use ham, bacon, or salami. It’s a pretty versatile recipe & it’s very adaptable as well.

You can find the recipe that I used here.

Giuliano’s Delicatessen and Bakery Torrance, CA

I’ve learned over the past year of living in Torrance that a good deli is hard to find. Sure there’s plenty of chain delis around, but I wanted something authentic. Something like the small delis in Hermosa Beach offered me. I thought I’d try my luck with Giuliano’s in Torrance.

I admit that once I walked in I was a bit confused by the layout. They had a few tables in the front, but all of the sandwiches and small market were in the back. The market was filled with many Italian pastries and goods. The deli’s pastry case had many cookies and baked goods that I grew familiar with over the years. As tempting as the pastry case was, I controlled myself and proceeded to look at the sandwich menu.

The woman working the register was very helpful and once I had selected my order, the Chicken Bella Nonna, she added “Wonderful choice, you’ll love it!” I hope she was right.

Giuliano's Delicatessen and Bakery sandwiches are of good portion and price

The presentation was nothing spectacular but a good portion for the price. The bread was fresh and chewy, however the chicken was a bit dry while the vegetables were cooked well. Needless to say, it was an imbalanced combination. The sandwich could have used a little more seasoning despite its numerous components such as olive oil, provolone, zucchini, chicken breast, fennel, sauteed mushrooms, and tomatoes. The potato salad was also nothing to write about. Just your standard tasting salad, similar to those that you could pick up at your grocery’s deli. As my friend and I chatted away unwinding on a Friday evening, we noticed that they started closing shop. Sure enough, we were informed that they closed at 7pm which to me was unheard of. I hope that my lackluster sandwich wasn’t due to the fact that the restaurant was closing in an hour’s time. Maybe I’m old fashioned but I believe any meal should be prepared right no matter what time it’s being served.

ETA: I did enjoy their Redondo Branch. Way better by leaps & bounds!

Giulianos on Urbanspoon

NYC Foodventures

In NYC there’s something for everyone, and that includes food. With so many cultures making up the 5 boroughs of NYC, you never run short of food choices.

As a NYC native, I spent this trip not going to the typical tourist spots, but to stop at different food joints as well. After all, there’s more to NYC than chain restaurants in Times Square.

My first stop was Trattoria Trecolori an Italian restaurant in the Theatre District. A business casual atmosphere complete with hardwood floors, wooden tables, and high ceilings set the tone. The typical bread & butter service was given. However, the menu was more than your typical chicken parmesan. Instead there was lesser known Italian flair including a generous portion of Calamari alla Luciana which was squid sautéed in its own ink atop the saffron risotto mixture.

Calamari alla Luciana at Trattoria Trecolori NYC Theatre District

Other than making my teeth black, I loved the dish. I recalled the last time I had a squid sauce dish, and that was last November. Needless to say, those dishes were few & far between and I’m glad I found it here!

Penne a la Vodka at Benito's in Little Italy, NYC

Next stop was an obligatory trip to Little Italy. Sadly, out of the many cafes that serve authentic Italian food, we managed to pick the lemon of the bunch. On the inside, Benitos looked like the type of café you’d expect: brick walls, gaudy décor, and checkered tablecloths. The food was also the norm: linguine, penne, fettuccine, and lasagna. However, like the décor, the food was overdone. My Penne a la Vodka tasted entirely of alcohol. I couldn’t taste any of the components of the dish. At that point I was thankful NYC had mass transit because I didn’t think I would be able to drive home!

Iced Cappuccino at Bella Ferrara in Little Italy, NYC

Fortunately, redemption was at hand down the street at Bella Ferrara Bakery. The smells of Italian cookies and desserts wafted to my nose as I began to recall childhood memories. We however wanted to take in the experience further, so we opted to enjoy our dessert on the patio that overlooks Little Italy, which is perfect for people watching.  The coffee gelato and amoretto flavored hot chocolate were heavenly. I am proud to say that Paciugo in Hermosa does come pretty close but Little Italy showed me exactly how it was done. Light flavoring and texture, but just enough to hit the spot.  The hot chocolate had a fragrant and sweet flavor that was the equivalent to having a liquid version of Italian cookies.  We had such a wonderful experience at Bella that we came back for a second helping of profiteroles & iced cappuccinos.

Roast Beef Sandwich at the Carnegie Deli in NYC

We ate at the one & only Carnegie Deli. After getting used to the very tightly knit seating where you get to know your neighbors more than at a normal food joint. Elated to find a traditional New York deli, I ordered the matzo ball soup and a roast beef sandwich.

Matzo Ball Soup Carnegie Deli NYC

The matzo ball soup was more like two oversized matzo balls & a side of chicken broth but it didn’t matter to me!  All components of the dish were delicious from the savory broth to the slightly dense but moist matzo.

The roast beef sandwich could easily be a lunch and dinner for one person. With this being said, my husband and I split a heaping portion of roast beef encased in two small slices of bread. I’ll admit I’ve  had better roast beef sandwiches but just the experience of feasting on something that would require me to open my mouth with a tire jack a la Garfield & Friends was just fun. I would come back for the matzo ball soup alone next time.

Margherita Pizza, No 28 Pizza in Greenwich Village, NYC

Of course a trip to NYC isn’t complete without having authentic New York pizza and we did just that in Greenwich Village at No.28 Pizza. It was the tiny café with the big taste. We sat at the small patio to enjoy the cooler weather than we had experienced earlier in the week & take in the sites of the Village which we hadn’t seen in a while.  The margherita pizza oozed of fresh mozzarella cheese while the fresh tomatoes still were steaming as it was fresh from the oven. Also fresh was the ever so green basil which topped the dish. I’m glad to say that the pizza tasted as good as it looked. It definitely ranks up there with Joe’s Pizza just down the street. I’m glad we tried something new on this trip because you always need options. Furthermore I’m glad our new venture was a good one.

These are just a few of my many foodventures in NYC, just to whet your appetite. New York City is a culinary world open to anyone willing to try. With so many choices, you can’t go wrong!

Recipe: Spaghetti & Clams

Here’s another quick and easy recipe that brings me back to college. This time, instead of taking the shortcut & using pasta roni (C’mon, you did it too!) I’m doing this all from scratch. Spaghetti & meatballs gets old really fast, so try something different like this. It doesn’t take much time either.

Ingredients

8oz spaghetti

2 6oz cans drained clams

1/4 c olive oil

4 TBSP butter

1 TBSP Italian seasoning

1/4 C Grated Parmesan cheese

Method

Cook pasta to package directions. Drain.

Mix olive oil & butter together sprinkle Italian seasoning. Add clams & stir until heated through. Add clams to spaghetti & stir. Season with Parmesan cheese.

Spaghetti & Clams

Spaghetti & Clams

Restaurant Review: Cafe Pierre Manhattan Beach, CA

Cafe Pierre, located in the heart of Manhattan Beach brings a little of that French and Italian charm. Over a dozen of us foodie bloggers were invited to a wonderful dinner hosted by @TinyNancer and @ThatsSLife. I gladly obliged as I wanted to try authentic French food and meet my fellow bloggers as well. This meal was accompanied by the flash of many a camera. I for one was glad that I wouldn’t be the only one being the food paparazzi this evening!

Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach

Starting off with bread accompanied by olives and herbs and an eggplant caponata which is composed of olive oil, garlic, basil, and balsamic vinegar. The bread was warm and very fresh. The olives were a bit spicy, however the eggplant was sweet and smooth in texture which was very agreeable. This was just the beginning of what would be a very memorable meal.

Next up were a series of dishes served in mason jars that were all made from scratch. The presentation was unique and memorable. Among the selection of jarred dishes were pig trotters ($8) head cheese with mustard dressing ($8) hand cut prime bavette beef tartare ($14) pork rillete ($10) and sardines.
Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach
Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach
Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach

I found that the beef tartare had the one of the best presentations. Although it was slightly spicy for my taste, it was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach

The pork rillete was remniscient of pulled pork sandwiches found back south in Tampa. The rillete didn’t have the sweet taste associated with Cuban pulled pork, rather a very very mild adobo taste. Truly nothing like filipino adobo but very faint notes of it were  in the dish.

Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach

I’ve always been fond of sardines and these were no exception. My only qualm was picking out all the bones from the fish, which proved to be slightly amusing.

After the interaction, discussion, and of course consumption of the jarred meals, a series of starter dishes were brought out that included  brandade provencale which was salted cod and potato puree with toasted bread crumbs and olive oil ($12), house cured Tasmanian trout with lemon,serrano,and honey mustard ($13) roasted marrow bone with pickled radish and red wine onion compote ($11) and escargots with garlic flan ($12).
Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach

I loved the texture of the brandade provencale. However, the taste was nothing too memorable.
Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach

The house cured Tasmanian trout with its accompaniment of lemon, serrano, and honey mustard was another one of my favorite dishes of the evening. Very light in taste (and hopefully in calories) the portion was just right and something I would probably order again.

Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach

I wasn’t a big fan of the marrowbone. I may be in the minority on that one but to each is own. It was a bit too gelatinous for me.

Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach

The escargots, served with a garlic flan and pine nuts had a chewy texture and was earthy in taste. The garlic flan made for a wonderful complement. This was the first time I tried escargot and yes it probably won’t be the last time I eat it.

Pan seared sweetbread veal sweet bread with roasted carrots and parmesan jus ($28),70 hours beef short ribs cipollini onions, swiss chard, fries and red wine sauce ($28), and Becker Lane pork special were just a few of the selections on the next round of entrees.

Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach

The sweetbread was a bit too rich for my liking, however I truly loved the carrots and parmesan jus.

Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach

The short rib was very tender and the steak fries were cooked well. I’m not too big on red meat but I think I’ll make an exception with this dish. Out of all of the entrees, this one was my favorite by far. As long as the steak is cooked to the point it cuts like butter and is juicy and flavored well, I’m a fan. Looks like I’ll be coming back to Cafe Pierre for this one.

Cafe Pierre,Manhattan Beach

Chef Lauvand spoke to us about some of the dishes. He explained that
the pork dish originated from an acorn fed pig. The shoulder alone weighed 50lbs and the sausage was stuffed in house. He was proud to say that the charcuterie and jar meals were also made from scratch.

The pork sausage was definitely one of my favorite dishes. Growing up on chorizo and longaniza, and many sausage & egg quesadillas in college, I think it’s safe to say I can’t turn this down despite my diet which was admittedly forgotten about that evening.

The dessert course included chocolate and vanilla bread pudding which I had never tried previously to that night. I liked the chocolate pudding just slightly more. The poached pear had a nice texture considering that I’m not too fond of a pear’s uncooked texture. It was a light dessert, something I’d get on my own since the dinner portion was pretty filling. Finally there was nothing to complain about as far as the apple tart was concerned. The fruit and crust were cooked properly and the portion was perfect. These three desserts were a wonderful way to end the meal but if I had to pick one it would be the bread pudding.

I thoroughly loved the meal. If I had to narrow it down to my favorites of the evening, they would be the pork rillete, house cured Tasmanian trout, short rib pork sausage special, and bread pudding. It was a experience that I will mention to friends time and time again. I truly enjoyed getting to know my fellow bloggers and also be given the opportunity to dine at a wonderful restaurant in my own backyard. I would definitely recommend Cafe Pierre as one of the places to go on a date, just like Valentine’s Day which is right around the corner!

Cafe Pierre is located at the heart of Manhattan Beach and is open for lunch and dinner. A metered parking garage is conveniently located behind the establishment. Reservations are highly recommended. The average menu price for dinner is $22. I would like to thank the ladies at @ThatsSLife for hosting this wonderful meal and for inviting me to join them.

Cafe Pierre on Urbanspoon
Cafe Pierre in Los Angeles

Dine LA Restaurant Week Review: Ugo Culver City, CA

Ugo is a trendy Italian restaurant on the corner of Cardiff and busy Culver. With two large patios, its corner location affords diners the option to enjoy a meal in the sun or under the stars. The dining area was very clean and the servers were very hospitable upon arrival.

Insalata Caprese,Ugo,Culver City,Dine LA,Restaurant Week

The Dine LA menu was at a reasonable $16 for a three course meal. For starters, I ordered the Insalata Caprese since I could never turn town fresh mozzarella cheese atop tomato slices with basil. My instincts were right. Everything on the plate was fresh, tasty, and fairly healthy. It was a good way to start.

Pollo Spinaci Pizzette,Ugo,restaurant week,Dine LA

The main course was the Pollo Spinaci Pizzette which was a very light personal sized pizza with chicken, spinach, onion, peppers, and potatoes. I liked that it wasn’t greasy at all and it showed that you can put other things on a pizza rather than the traditional sauce & cheese. It was a break from the norm and the only thing I would add is some garlic, the flavor just needed a little kick to it.

Napoleon,Ugo,Culver City,Dine LA,Restaurant Week

Finally I had a Napoleon for dessert. The presentation was great but the pastry was a bit hard to cut into which made eating it a bit of a mess. I think they should have let it “thaw” a bit. This piece felt like it just came out of the fridge.

All in all the meal was great, especially for the very reasonable $16. The whole meal was brought out in a timely fashion as well as the check. My only complaint is that the server didn’t check on us after each course was delivered.Nonetheless I would return again for lunch.

A parking garage is across the street that offers two hours for free. Keep in mind that Ugo doesn’t validate.

My rating *** out of 5 stars
Ugo - An Italian Cafe on Urbanspoon
Ugo an Italian Cafe in Los Angeles

Restaurant Review: Il Toscano Torrance, CA

Il Toscano is located in the back corner of a strip mall near Palos Verdes. It doesn’t look like anything special from the outside but the inside is a different story.

We were greeted right away by the owner  who also seated us at our table. Italian art, instruments, and odds & ends were mounted on shelves through the dining area. The tables each had simple white table cloths, the walls were wooden. Nothing too fancy here, in fact it felt like I walked into an Italian kitchen. The staff was very warm and pleasant. A different staff member told us the nightly specials, took our drink order, and took our main order. However, this wasn’t your usual “so and so will be right with you, let me get your drinks”…. rather everything flowed very smoothly, as if for example each staff member was “assigned” to only take drink orders, food orders, etc.  The only other time I experienced a dinner service like this was at another Italian restaurant in Tampa. My dad said that’s how they do it in Italy. I guess I would have to take his word for it until I go there.

Table set up at Il Toscano

Calamari Luciana

We ordered the Calamari Luciana to start. This calamari was fresh and sauteed in a spicy tomato sauce instead of fried. I enjoyed it. I wish I knew of other places that offered this variation as it’s a bit healthier.

Sringhe al nero di Seppie

I ordered the Sringhe al nero di Seppie , which is a pasta made with squid ink, topped with jumbo shrimp. I’ve never had a pasta like this. It was very unique and the taste was light but the portion was generous enough that there was enough to take home. The pasta was cooked to al dente and the shrimp was seasoned well. I would like to learn this recipe because it’s a slightly different from the usual spaghetti.

For dessert, I ordered traditional Tiramisu. It was served quickly and was very tasty. Was it the best tiramisu I’ve had? No… but it tasted fresher than any other tiramisu I’ve had recently.

Tiramisu

The drawbacks to my experience were that it took us forever to settle the check. The server left us alone for a while after we got our desserts. Then it took us a while to get his attention to bring us our check and even longer to cash us out. For me that’s always the part of the meal that will either make or break my experience. Maybe it’s the curse of being a former server, but I believe the check drop off & return shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.

All in all the experience was pretty good. The staff was very hospitable, it wasn’t scripted. The food was pretty good… better than the chain restaurants for sure. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this restaurant if you are in a hurry as the vibe is slow paced and relaxed. I would probably return sometime in the future but it’s not my “go to” Italian restaurant. I’ll try to find something a bit closer to my house for that.

The average menu price is $15 per entree. Plenty of parking is available.

My rating *** out of 5 stars.

Il Toscano on Urbanspoon
Il Toscano Restaurant in Los Angeles

Recipe: Shrimp Fra Diavlo

Everyday Italian was one of my favorite cooking shows in college. It was when I realized that there was way more to Italian food then stereotypical pastas & garlic bread. Here’s a recipe from the first show that I saw.  This dish is slightly spicy and is a great accompaniment with a pasta of your choice.

Shrimp Fra Diavlo

Shrimp Fra Diavlo is a quick and easy dish.

Shrimp Fra Diavlo by Giada de Laurentiis

Ingredients

  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus additional as needed
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 3 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 3 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves

Directions

Toss the shrimp in a medium bowl with 1 teaspoon of salt and red pepper flakes. Heat the 3 tablespoons oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and saute for about a minute, toss, and continue cooking until just cooked through, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a large plate; set aside. Add the onion to the same skillet, adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the pan, if necessary, and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, wine, garlic, and oregano. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Return the shrimp and any accumulated juices to the tomato mixture; toss to coat, and cook for about a minute so the flavors meld together. Stir in the parsley and basil. Season with more salt, to taste, and serve.

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