Aroha: the Foodiest Restaurant in Town

Aroha dining patioCourtesy of Aroha Restaurant

Aroha New Zealand Cuisine and Bar has been in the little cluster of restaurants at the corner of Lindero Canyon Road and Russell Ranch Road since 2014, but I’ll bet you haven’t even noticed it*. The restaurant is tucked away behind Cici’s (pancakes) and Barone’s (Italian), across from Lure (seafood) near the Marriott Residence Inn. Aroha just put in an awesome outdoor bar, though, so this summer if you drive by on your way to Target or In & Out, you’ll likely see a bunch of people on their patio for happy hour and wonder what the heck you’re missing.

The answer is you’re missing the fanciest, tastiest, most exotic dishes I’ve seen on any menu in the surrounding area so far.

Aroha crab cakesOur starter: Lump Crab Cakes
with spiced avocado mousse and a micro licorice salad

The atmosphere at Aroha is fairly chill. The dining room and patio are inviting and comfortable, tastefully appointed with Crate & Barrel-esque minimalist furniture, but not precious. The waitstaff are friendly and knowledgeable about the menu without making you feel inferior for never having tried lamb or venison, or not knowing what horopito is. (It’s an herb.)

And then you see the menu.

Aroha New Zealand beer

We started with a New Zealand beer and a fancy-sounding cocktail that was supposed to turn pink when you squeeze the lime into and mix it in.

Then since I had to have the most “New Zealand-y” dish on the menu, I chose the venison.

Aroha venisonAward Winning Horopito Crusted New Zealand Venison:
pan roasted with sweet potato, cherry compote, pistachio, and vanilla-parsnip purée

I had never tried venison before, but like I always say, I’ll do it for my readers. You’re welcome. The chef recommends his venison be served medium-rare, so I rolled with that. I took care to put a little bit of each item on my plate into a forkful, and tasted. The result made me feel like Remy in Ratatouille describing the combination of flavors exploding in your mouth.

Aroha salmon

My husband had the salmon. He said “It was awfully good.” Normally he would stop there, but when I pressed him for more words, he shared that he enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere juxtaposed against the sophisticated dishes. The pricing on the menu items makes Aroha an indulgence, a dinner we would splurge on for a special occasion. Just being there made it a special occasion.

Which meant we had to have dessert.

Aroha Pavlova

Aroha Pavlova closeupThe Pavlova

The Pavlova is the national dessert of New Zealand, so naturally we had to order that. At Aroha (which means “love”) it arrives as three fluffy pillows of sweet meringue surrounded by fresh kiwi and strawberries, topped with passion fruit seeds and flowers. It tastes like homemade marshmallow. Sweet and exotic. I paired it with a super sweet dessert cocktail, Harold’s Hata, which tastes like a coconut White Russian. Tasty, but it’s all you need for dessert and you should NOT drive home after drinking it.

Aroha’s young chef Gwithyen Thomas is a New Zealand native who moved to our area for love. His wife and baby son were at the restaurant on the night we dined there, and his enthusiasm and love of food and what he does shined through in our conversations. He told us about how the deer and salmon were raised, flown here, and prepared, and how his kitchen and dining room staff have the same love of food that he does.

And it shows. Check out Aroha for happy hour or a full meal. It will be an experience, I promise you that.

Aroha New Zealand Cuisine and Bar
30990 Russell Ranch Road.
Westlake Village, CA 91362
(805) 405-5054

(*If you have, please share in the comments – I’d love to know if you dined there and what you thought!)

My husband and I dined as guests of Aroha. All opinions are our own.

Stonefire Grill Takeout for an Instant Weeknight Meal

Stonefire Grill Takeout. It’s kind of like magic. No cooking, minimal cleanup, everyone gets something he or she likes, and then you’re done. Kitchen fairy? Nope.

stonefire grill bags

Last Wednesday we had A Day. You know the kind—play rehearsal, baseball game, karate practice…and that’s just the kids! Parents on opposite sides of town, trying to divide and conquer. By the time we would be done with all of this activity, it would be late and everyone would be hungry.

This was the perfect night to try the Stonefire Grill takeout menu. We ordered a family meal ahead of time, which you can do by phone (805-413-0300) or online, then at the appointed time, I parked in a reserved space for takeout customers. THAT was actually a super handy feature, because sometimes Stonefire is crowded (okay all the time at this location) and it can be hard to find parking. Nobody in the Bubble wants to feel that pain, right? That’s one of the reasons we live here!

Gym photobomb

Anyway once I happily parked, my karate student child and I went to the front desk, gave the staff our name, and in a few minutes we had bags of freshly cooked food ready to go. The 10 minute ride home was tough because it smelled so delicious and we were hungry!

Stonefire front desk

The meal we had included tri-tip (half barbecue, half salt & pepper), a pizza, breadsticks, a cartwheel salad, and a giant slab of carrot cake. There was enough there for all 4 of us plus leftovers! We were tired from our day, and so delighted to not have to make food (me) and to be able to eat right away (everyone).

Stonefire family meal

It was reasonably priced for the amount and quality of food we got, too. As much as I love dining at the actual location of Stonefire Grill, where the kids can be loud and refill their drinks as much as they want to, this was really convenient and we didn’t have to settle for fast food.

Stonefire Grill Takeout – Thousand Oaks
3635 E Thousand Oaks Blvd
Thousand Oaks, CA 91362
(805) 413-0300
Click here to order online

We received a complimentary meal to facilitate this feature. All opinions are our own.

Local Fare at Vintage Grocers

box of groceries

Vintage Grocers opened last fall in The Promenade at Westlake, offering a huge choice of groceries and fresh food, with an emphasis on locally sourced items. Those are not limited to fresh ingredients for the cheese or poke bar—Vintage Grocers also sources packaged and non-perishable items from nearby farms and artisans. Some of their local growers will be at the Westlake store this Saturday, April 1, from 11AM to 2PM so you can meet them, learn about how they make their food, and sample their products!

Vintage Grocers truly is a market for the community, by the community

I was amazed to see what you can get at Vintage Grocers that is made locally. My family and I enjoyed a sampling of these products recently so we could share them with you, too.

Breakfast

Trail mix with bowl of oatmeal

I’ve been getting up early during the week, and to make breakfast easy and quick I’ve been whipping up large batches of quinoa oatmeal and freezing it ahead of time. I pop some in the microwave to heat while I’m fixing my coffee and feeding the cat, and when it’s hot I toss some Perfect Balance Trail Mix on top.

trail mix closeup

I love the mixture of flavors from the unusual (for trail mix) ingredients: including pistachios, organic goji berries, cashews, Canadian farm fresh cranberries, walnuts, organic mulberries, Hawaiian macadamia nuts, and more. The company is based in Venice and they use mostly organic foods. There are little cubes of raw cacao that melt in the hot oatmeal and I forget that I’m eating a healthy dish.

Snack

granola bites

I’ll admit it: I don’t have a lot of time or patience when I get hungry and I get the munchies in the middle of the day. I will literally reach for the closest food at hand that is ready to eat. That’s why when I found Lark Ellen Granola (from Ojai!) bites in my Vintage Grocer bundle, I was excited and I knew that I would devour these bites. And I wouldn’t get a stomach ache or feel guilty, because they are made of sprouted seeds and nuts and full of taste. I spent the weekend decluttering, and I was annoyed every time I had to stop to eat because I was on a roll. Once I started grabbing a few chunks of granola bites, though, I could continue and snack at the same time. These are perfect for kids’ (or parents’) lunches!

Dinner

eggs tortillas salsa

We got this adorable little package of Kaliko Farms Eggs and we simply couldn’t wait to try them, but it was dinnertime. Easy solution: eggs for dinner! We have breakfast for dinner at least every two weeks, and in general we consume a lot of eggs, so the whole family was eager to see how much better or different these would taste. Kaliko Farms is based in Malibu and their animals are treated humanely, because “happy, healthy birds will produce top-quality eggs.”

boy eating eggs

The verdict: each kid basically inhaled his eggs with no tortilla or salsa needed. My husband and I opted for taco-style eggs, and we loved them. So there is something to the idea that local, organic eggs from happy birds taste great! Kaliko Farms will be at the event on Saturday, so you can meet the people behind the eggs!

Dessert

Beachy Cream Ice Cream

Since summer is coming and we’re already getting nice warm days and evenings, ice cream is on the menu at our house again! This Beachy Cream Ice Cream from Santa Monica is made of organic ingredients using dairy from a creamery in Marin County. Local farmers’ markets supply the ingredients to make flavorings from scratch.

boy smiling at ice cream

boy eating ice cream

happy boy with ice cream

My husband loves bananas and ice cream, so he definitely enjoyed this banana-flavored ice cream, even more because I topped it with Malibu Honey, from bees that gathered nectar from flowers in the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains. And if you’ve ever glanced at this website before, you know I am a big fan of the Santa Monica mountains. I asked him how it tasted together and he said “Good!” (He’s not a man of many words, so I can embellish by adding my own opinion: it’s delicious.)

beachy cream ice cream and malibu honey

This is a small sampling of locally-sourced products you can get at Vintage Grocers. I encourage you to visit their new store in Westlake and see what strikes your fancy. The store is huge and roomy, so you won’t even bump into other shoppers while you are perusing their shelves. You might find a new favorite thing for your pantry.

Hey! What About Mom?!

I got to the end of this post and realized there are no pictures of me in it, so here’s a selfie with an Apricot Lane avocado.

woman holding avocado

It looked so good and it was perfectly ripe after sitting in a basket for a few days so I put it on a salad. Bonus! These avocados will be at the store next week!

ripe avocado cut in half
salad topped with avocado
Head on down to Vintage Grocers (and come this weekend to meet with local growers!) to see for yourself!

Vintage Grocers Meet the Growers flyer
Special thanks to Vintage Grocers for sponsoring this post. All opinions are our own.