Things We’ll Miss – Campanile – Los Angeles, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Campanile, a long established restaurant housed in a building formerly owned by Charlie Chaplin, closed its doors at the end of October after 23 years under famed Executive Chef Mark Peel. Having read the tragic news on EaterLA a month prior and not wanting to miss the opportunity to check them out, I knew where I wanted to celebrate my birthday.

Mmm bread…

When we arrived, it seemed we were not the only ones trying to squeeze in a visit before the month ended. We were seated by the cute little Spanish tiled fountain and were surprised to see a handful of koi swimming around. Being a real estate nerd, I couldn’t help but admire the high vaulted ceilings, the beautiful glass skylights, and the all-around industrial “look” — it was like sitting in a piece of history.

Yes, I took a picture of the ceiling. Antics like this will surely get me on asianstakingpicturesoffood…

As we perused the menu, we were a bit disappointed to hear that there weren’t any off-menu specials that Tuesday night, but no matter — I spied the Bigoli di Nero on the pasta list and I had to have it. We started with a round of cocktails (a Sazerac for him, a Thorned White Rose martini for me) to accompany the delicious La Brea Bakery bread that was brought to our table. Thanks to a check-in offer (I love smartphones), we also enjoyed a complimentary amuse bouche – a teeny tiny caprese tower. So cute!

Amuse bouche

Before long, our food arrived. I was very pleasantly surprised with a dish that exuded the fragrance of ocean. The Bigoli di Nero – described simply as “octopus bolognese, aleppo pepper, shaved parmesan” – captured the essence of what I love most about seafood pastas with its rich flavorful sauce that enhanced the subtle, natural brininess of the ink pasta. The shavings of parmesan were a perfect complement. I ate every last bite, reluctantly sharing a single bite with M out of courtesy. The seafood stock may have reduced a teeny bit too long but I could overlook the saltiness because the flavor was just so well developed.

Bigoli di Nero

M ordered the Pan Seared Scallops entree, served with “creamy polenta, vanilla butter carrots, asparagus, wild arugula.” His scallops arrived beautifully caramelized and clearly the star of the entree. He remarked that they were perfectly cooked, barely opaque in the center. He polished off his dish with his only comment being that the creamy polenta had a flavor resembling mashed potatoes more so than maize. Still, he said, it tasted delicious, especially if that was the flavor profile the chef intended.

Pan Seared Scallops

Our usual dining pattern consists of a shared appetizer, two entrees, and a shared dessert, but since we decided to forgo the starter this time, we did what any normal couple would do – order two desserts. M (or perhaps it was his sweet tooth talking) selected the Boca Negra – a dense, chocolate ganache tart topped with chocolate sauce and served a la mode with banana ice cream. It was so rich and decadent and, lucky for me, not too sweet since it was largely dark chocolate. Yum!

Boca Negra

Occasionally I’ll have a moment when I read a menu description and, without hesitation, know that I HAVE to have it. Perhaps it stirred up an old memory, or perhaps I had been craving it and didn’t even realize, or perhaps it sounds so fascinating that I just have to see how it works out. Such was the case with the Caprese Cheesecake, a simple slice of New York style cheesecake served in the most interesting way I’ve ever had it: topped with “blistered cherry tomatoes, balsamic reduction, fried basil,” truly paying homage to its namesake caprese. The blistered tomatoes were candied and syrupy sweet, pairing well with the tart white balsamic. The fried basil was a nice crispy garnish to contrast with all the creamy and gooey textures going on. Our final reaction — it was weird but it totally worked. Now why didn’t I think of that first??

Caprese Cheesecake

All in all we had a great dinner experience. Our only regret is not being able to try more dishes on their menu (hint, grilled cheese Thursdays, hint) before it was too late. But have no fear — we’ve heard through the grapevine that Chef Peel and team are scouting out a new home for Campanile and once they find it, you can bet that I’ll be there bright and early, waiting for a famous grilled cheese sandwich… and maybe some squid ink pasta too. Farewell for now, Campanile!

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Keep up with Campanile news on their Facebook page: facebook.com/campanilerestaurant

See their Yelp reviews here!

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Cowboy Star – A Taste of the Wild West

Food Adventures, San Diego

During our meal at Melisse’s Norcal vs. Socal Foie Battle we had the fortune of meeting Angie Weber, one of the owners of Cowboy Star in San Diego. So this past weekend we decided to take a trek down to the Gaslamp District for Memorial Day Weekend and paid a visit to her restaurant and butcher shop. Angie invited us to sit at the Chef’s Counter that evening and we delightedly accepted. So follows is a recollection of our taste buds’ adventure to the wild west!

View of the open kitchen from the 6-seat chef’s counter.

Painted Lady: Absolut wild tea, elderflower, cucumber.

I selected one of their many beers and Alice chose the Painted Lady. It was an interesting cocktail concoction with pretty little flowers. Alice recalled the vodka being a little sharper than she expected. Paired fairly well with her skirt steak.

Amuse Bouche: Salmon Tartare on Toast

Table Bread: Molasses Bread, one of three choices

Honestly we didn’t really care for the amuse bouche. The salmon was good but the toast wasn’t very crunchy – it felt as though they’ve been sitting out for a while. A little bit on the dry side as well.

Dinner began with a small selection of breads with the Molasses Bread being one of our all-time favorites of table breads. Great by itself but I love to spread a generous amount of butter over it.

Starter: Off-the-menu foie gras terrine with huckleberry compote and toasted brioche

This is where it gets exciting. C-Star has two off-the-menu foie gras dishes – the terrine and the seared foie. We really wanted to get both but, having already mentally decided on our favorite preparation of foie, went for the terrine.

Very vibrant dish with an assortment of eye-catching colors and tower of brioche. The terrine had a smooth consistency and easily spreadable over the brioche. Extra brownie points for one of the line chefs providing seconds of the toasted brioche after noticing how quickly we plowed through them. I discovered that the best way to eat this was to combine a hefty chunk of terrine with the huckleberry compote and sauce on a piece of toast and eat it all in one bite. The huckleberry flavor is reminiscent of blueberries and really cuts the fatty foie with its sweet and tart flavors. I think we made a good call on this one.

A’s Entree: 10-oz American Wagyu Skirt Steak

A’s Side: Roasted Bone Marrow, nice and fatty

C-Star really takes a lot of pride in cooking their steaks to perfect temperatures, advising no more than medium rare for all their cuts. This makes me smile because I have seen too many wasted steaks being ordered medium or well-done. People just don’t know what they’re missing out on!

Alice had been debating which of the variety of steaks to select for her entree but finally settled on the skirt steak. Clearly described as American Wagyu hailing from Snake River Farms in Idaho, the skirt steak was tender, cooked perfectly rare to order, and had just a bit of a chewy texture. It was served with a slightly sweet jus that balanced the flavors well. The roasted bone marrow blew her away. It was rich and decadent and piping hot straight out of the oven. She liked piling a little scoop onto each bite of steak, while I preferred to enjoy its flavor on its own.

M’s Entree: 8-oz, 21-day aged Filet Mignon w/ Seared Sea Scallop

M’s Entree: Beautifully rare center, perfect temperature

The filet was, as expected, delicious and melted in my mouth. The scallop was a great supplement to the filet, even temporarily stealing the limelight with its depth of flavor and golden sear. A quasi surf-and-turf arrangement to please the palate.

There was quite a bit of black pepper but this wasn’t a problem for me because I like copious amounts of black pepper on my steaks. However, I could definitely see how this could hinder others’ enjoyment of the dish if they are not especially fond of black pepper to begin with.

The accompanying sauteed asparagus and mashed potatoes helped to balance the umami flavors of the steak and helped to enhance the star of the dish.

Dessert: Fromage Blanc Cheesecake w/ Candied Kumquats and Honeycomb

A light and fluffy contrast to a high-protein dinner – fromage blanc is an excellent substitute for cream cheese. The candied kumquats which used mainly the sweet peel complemented the cheesecake without bringing an overly tart flavor. The honeycomb added extra excitement with a burst of sweetness but unless you want an unpleasant taste and stickiness of wax in your mouth, it’s better to suck on the honeycomb rather than to chew it. Overall a wonderful light end to a heavy dinner. I wonder if C-Star has a pastry chef?

Too bad their merchandise page isn’t up yet. I want one of those C☆ hats all the staff wears.

Cowboy Star is definitely on our list of must-eats in the Gaslamp district. The food was delicious and the service was fantastic. We’re telling all of our friends and family about it, starting with you our readers!

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Check out Cowboy Star: www.thecowboystar.com

640 10th Ave
(between G St & Market St)
San Diego, CA 92101

See their Yelp reviews here!

Happy National Cheesecake Day!

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Did you know July 30th is national cheesecake day in the US? We didn’t, and we certainly didn’t expect an estimated one hour wait for dinner today at our local Cheesecake Factory in Marina del Rey. Apparently every slice of cheesecake is 1/2 off today for the occasion! Luckily, the hostess clued us in to the adjoining beachfront bistro with the ambiance of private cabanas. We were seated immediately in a lovely corner cabana not 10 feet from the sand. A pleasant surprise and a tremendous improvement over the expected standardized decor. (Fun fact: did you know that every Cheesecake Factory location looks exactly the same decor-wise in order to give travelers a sense of familiarity?)

View from our little cabana

We decided to go for shared small plates and ordered the fried calamari, crab & artichoke dip, crispy crab bites, and margherita pizzette. The crab dip was our least favorite, as it was too creamy and not artichoke-y enough. It reminded us of a less salty version of the crab dip at Palomino’s in Westwood. The fried calamari was not particularly special, but it wasn’t too greasy and it went well with the garlic aioli (not so much with the cocktail sauce). It could really benefit from a good marinara sauce. The crispy crab bites and the pizzette were tied for our favs. For whatever reason, ever since I was 12 or so I have always remembered that Cheesecake Factory makes some pretty bomb crab cakes. These were mini-cakes that were wonderfully crispy-crunchy on the outside and flaky and flavorful on the inside. The pizzette was a nice little flatbread pizza topped with a bit of marinara sauce, generous helping of mozzarella, and lots of chopped basil. It turned out really well, especially considering they don’t have a woodfired oven.

"Tapas"-style dinner

“Tapas”-style dinner

Flatbread margherita pizza

Of course, we had to save room for dessert. I was very sad to discover that they sold out of the Oreo cheesecake, but the banana creme cheesecake was a delicious substitute. The bavarian banana creme layer was fluffy and light, a great complement to the rich original cheesecake underneath. It was almost too sweet for me, but the slices of fresh banana helped cut the sugary-ness. Martin went the traditional route with the fresh strawberry cheesecake, topped with three beautifully glazed, bright red berries.

Sweet, sweet indulgence

Classic goodness

We reveled in our luxurious-feeling cabana, engaging in deep conversation over a cappuccino and latte. Instead of traditional heat lamps, a few feet away from our table was an adorable little fire pit. What a fantastic way to spend a warm summer night!

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Check out The Cheesecake Factory: http://www.thecheesecakefactory.com

4142 Via Marina
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

See their Yelp reviews here.

The main building looks like any other Cheesecake Factory. Walk downward toward the beach to the separate hostess podium at the bistro side.