Cocina Condesa For a Fine Meal in Studio City

Cocina Condesa dresses up street food for a delicious dining experience in a colorful, welcoming restaurant.

cocina condesa taco platter

photo courtesy of Cocina Condesa

As the weather warms up I find myself making more excursions east of the grade. Those adventures are made even better when I get to have wonderful meals at the end of them! Here’s a spot I’d like to recommend if you are going to Universal or anywhere in Hollywood. On the way home, hit Cocina Condesa for dinner. It’s a bustling Mexican restaurant and mezcaleria on the south side of Ventura just east of Colfax.

cocina condesa exterior

You can’t miss Cocina Condesa, because its colorful exterior and welcoming patio tables stand out from the surrounding businesses on Ventura Blvd. The dining room and bar welcome you with the lively conversation of its many patrons, and the warm natural wood decor. Families, dates, business meetings, and girls’ nights out were all around us when my friend Suzanne and I recently dined there as the restaurant’s guests.

Cocina Condesa markets its food as “Mexican street food,” but it sure doesn’t come across that way. The dishes have roots in Oaxacan cuisine, and with chef Eddie Garcia and mixologist David Rubin’s influences, the blends of taste and texture are at times fully satisfying and also surprising.

Our server explained that Cocina Condesa is primarily a “small plates” restaurant, and by now Los Angeles is pretty accustomed to this sort of thing. Plus, we lucked into visiting on the restaurant’s Taco Tuesday, during which selected tacos are only $2.50 each. Bring on the plates! Pair that deal with $8 house margaritas, and you have one fine hora feliz.

To start, we tried a few of the new drinks on the menu along with the requisite (and satisfying) chips & salsa & guac.

cocina condesa chips and salsa

First course

In the mule mug is the Bronco: Whiskey, Fresh Ginger, Soda, Fresh Watermelon Juice, Fresh Lemon Juice. For a ginger-lover, this is a solid, refreshing beverage. The watermelon juice makes it taste like summer. I tried the pink one, the Paloma: Tequila Blanco, Pinch of Salt, Squirt, Fresh Grapefruit Juice, Fresh Lime Juice. It was delicious. The best margarita I ever had in my life was at a tiny streetside bar in Loreto, Baja California Sur. The Paloma is the first drink that reminded me of that!

Then we tried some of the tacos from the Taco Tuesday menu – the asada was our favorite with perfectly cooked steak and toppings, but the vegetarian entry, with squash, sweet corn, and mushrooms, was a surprisingly sweet counterpoint to the other items we tasted. Everything we tried was quite delicious but another taco, this one on the regular menu, was our hands-down favorite: the Cerveza Battered Camarones Tacos. Basically, shrimp tacos. Topped with papaya jicama slaw and avocado sauce, this taco was the perfect combo of flavors.

cocina condesa shrimp tacos

Cerveza battered camarones tacos – photo courtesy of Cocina Condesa

Another favorite was STREET CORN, which I put in all caps because it is not to be missed. The chefs will take the corn off the cob for you but we opted to eat it the authentic, messy way. This corn is prepared with tapatio aioli, cotija cheese, chili and lime.

cocina condesa street corn

Street corn

Between the small plates and sampling a few of the bigger meals (meant to be shared), we had to try some mezcal. It’s a tequila-ish alcohol that Cocina Condesa serves with a wedge of orange with chili powder on it. The act of drinking it is meant to be similar to tequila: down the shot and then suck on the wedge of orange. But I decided to sip this, and really savor the flavor. Basically it tastes, to me, like liquid smoke, perfect for the barbecue lover!

cocina condesa shot of mezcal

We tried the short rib birria dish, which is braised beef short ribs, topped with grilled frisee tomato salad and sautéed shitake mushrooms and served over pureed potatoes. The beef was so tender and savory, this was a very close second to the shrimp tacos. There was nothing left over.

cocina condesa short ribs birria

Everything about this dish is good

We also had to try the mole. I mean, if there is mole on a menu, isn’t a requirement to eat some? So we chose the chocolate mole chicken enchiladas served with Mexican rice and a scene-stealer: refried white beans. First time I’ve ever seen that.

cocina condesa chicken mole enchiladas

Refried white beans, upper right

Like good researchers, we saved room for dessert. There are a few good options, but the most “street-foodie” seemed like the right choice, and boy were we happy with it.

cocina condesa mini churros

These are mini-churros served on a nest made out of a brown paper bag alongside a bowl of caramel dipping sauce which honestly, you can just eat by itself with a spoon. What a satisfying end to a delicious meal in a great place.

A few cool things about Cocina Condesa:

  • Easy to get to off the freeway – from here, take the 101 to Laurel Canyon, south to Moorpark, east to Colfax, south to Ventura, turn left. Roll on up to the brightly colored Cocina Condesa and if there’s no street parking just valet for $6. Make it easy on yourself.
  • All dishes are served on unique plates made of wood, like slices of trees preserved and shined up for admiration and use. This is a small detail but every dish that came out was served on these and I was delighted by them
  • There is a back room with its own bar that you can rent out for parties.
  • The location is studio-close, so the staff is beautiful and you might be dining or drinking alongside cast, crew, or executives from shows in production.

Cocina Condesa
11616 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City 91604
818-579-4264
Website

 

Jeannine’s Lets Kids Eat Free in February

Jeannine’s Gourmet Food Hall invites kids to eat free with an adult during the whole month of February!

jeannine's signPhoto from Jeannine’s website

Since Jeannine’s opened in The Shoppes at Westlake last year, I’ve been there a handful of times – for coffee, lunch meetings, even cocktails with my girlfriends. But I must say I didn’t consider bringing my kids there because it seemed like kind of an upscale-casual place to me. The bright dining room with its translucent chairs, a bottle of wine on every table, and even the cozy booths, the joint feels fancy.

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But I’ve been doing my kids a disservice, then, because they too like the fancier things sometimes. And as we discovered, Jeannine’s isn’t too fancy for them, in fact, it’s just right.

During the month of February kids 12 and under eat free from the kids’ menu if they dine with an adult who pays for an entreé. The meals are only $6.50 each, but that savings can go towards the purchase of a tasty cocktail.

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The Black and Basil, basically a blackberry margarita. Delicious.

My children sampled a few items from the kids’ menu, and Mom and Dad had to taste everything, too! Consensus: the homemade chicken tenders are not to miss! They have a crispy homemade batter with tender juicy chicken inside. Served with ketchup and ranch, this normally comes with fries or fruit cup but we added mac & cheese because wherever we go we have to try the mac & cheese.

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Jeannine’s kids’ mac & cheese is a kid-friendly version of the dish for adults: a three-cheese sauce with delicious pasta, but without the breadcrumb topping or the bacon. My kids both loved it.

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As for the adult entreés, you really can’t go wrong here. Jeannine’s offers a daily updated menu and there’s something for everyone. On this evening we had the salmon and a tri-tip salad served with onion ring slivers in a tangy dressing. Both were delicious.

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But what about the fries? I knew you were going to ask that, so we did our duty as storytellers and shared an order of fresh made fries.

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Served piping hot in a bucket with plenty of salt, these definitely passed the “But are the fries good?” test. Jeannine’s also has  tasty sweet potato fries on the menu if you’re into that sort of thing (which I am).

If you haven’t been to Jeannine’s yet, this month is the time to go – kids eat free all month long, and this is good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Be sure to check out the lighted, animated fountain across the way after your meal. My kids enjoyed watching it and running around after dinner!

Jeannine’s Gourmet Food Hall
30770 Russell Ranch Rd.
Westlake Village, CA 91362

My family enjoyed a complimentary meal at Jeannine’s. All opinions are ours.

Casual Elegance at Luke Bar & Restaurant in Woodland Hills

  luke bar & restaurant ext nightPhoto courtesy of Luke Bar & Restaurant

Ever since moving to The Bubble over five years ago, I have been on the lookout for places to meet my friends from the Valley and beyond. Places that have easy freeway access, plenty of parking, a lively atmosphere but not too loud for talking, and oh yeah, great food and drinks too. I have my hot spots in Sherman Oaks and Studio City, but Woodland Hills has been kind of a dead zone for me.

Until now.

Luke Bar & Restaurant opened just a few months ago in the space formerly occupied by La Frite. That good old standby for folks who’ve lived here for decades doesn’t look the same at all. And while La Frite was beloved by many, I am here to tell you that its new occupant is welcome, dazzling in its food and drink offerings, and relaxing enough that catching up with a dear friend, or watching the game with your pals, or dressing up for a fancy date can all be done here to much satisfaction.

luke bar & restaurantPhoto courtesy of Luke Bar & Restaurant

I visited Luke with my friend Jennifer on a Tuesday evening during dinner hour. We had just missed Luke’s “Cocktail Hour,” which is better than happy hour, obvs. Much more refined, with classed-up appetizers and a drink menu that includes a flight of mini cocktails for $12. This happens Tuesdays through Thursdays from 5pm to 7pm. Needless to say, I’ll be back for that alone.

We settled into to our big round booth facing the bar, all smooth dark wood and exposed beam ceilings. The space was dimly lit and the noise among diners and bar patrons alike was at comfortable conversation level. We felt like we were in a casual pub, but looking up to the crystal chandeliers, we were both happy that we dressed up just a little. It didn’t matter that it was only for each other. The setting welcomed but didn’t require it. We would have been just as comfortable in jeans and Chuck Taylors.

basil collinsthe Basil Collins

The full cocktail menu is filled with inspired recipes. My favorite title is Writer’s Elixir, but that seemed more hardcore than I was in the mood for that night, so I tried the Cranberry Lime Caipirinha in a brown-sugar-rimmed glass, which went down nice and easy. Jen ordered the Cafe’ Castillo, a blend of altos reposado, Kahlua, and almond milk horchata, garnished with a cinnamon stick. A sweet winter treat. Let’s just say that went down easy too. The star of the drinks course was the Basil Collins, even though this tall green concoction is garnished with a sliver of star anise. It looks groovy, but neither of us like the taste of black licorice, and we were happy to find that removing it quickly (after snapping a photo) meant the refreshing tart drink wasn’t marred by that wicked flavor. (But if you like black licorice, Tito’s vodka, St. Germaine, lemon, and basil, well, you have a winner.)

Okay, so, already we have a great meeting place for drinks. Luke is right off the 101 – exit Topanga and then keep heading east. Stop when you see the lighted sign and the pretty red twinkle lights in the bushes. There’s parking in the lot, on the street, and available by valet.

Appetizers can be the main event of your meal if you want – we tried the black tiger shrimp served with chickpea fritters, harissa aioli and micro bulls blood, a delicate pink edible flower. We also had the tuna Napoleon, a tartare that was a fresh rendition of the old-school favorite. In fact, many of the items on Chef Thomas Deville’s menu are nods to classic dishes but with updated twists – like the Italienne chopped salad with its not-too-many cannelini beans (one of my favorite dishes of the evening), and the gastropub-type burger, to which you can add a slice of foie gras.

saladshouse salad and Italienne chopped salad

For the entree I switched to red wine, because I ordered the steak, naturally. All that dark wood and candlelight, how could I do otherwise? The wine list at Luke is just as unique and classy as everything else, meaning I didn’t recognize any of the names on it, but the ones I tasted were delicious. Jen’s glass of Habit, a Gruner out of Santa Ynez, was refreshing and smooth, and my Stolpman Estate Syrah from Santa Barbara paired excellently with a cut of steak I’ve also never tried before.

manhattan steaktwenty eight day dry aged Manhattan

The 28-day Dry Aged Manhattan is a ball of meat that’s basically a NY strip that tastes like filet mignon, flavored with a salty-savory rub created by the eponymous Luke himself. (That’s Luke Hartzog, former Wall Street wiz who simply loves food. And it shows.)  I’ve been doing restaurant features and reviews for over a decade now, and I’ve learned to eat and drink just enough of each dish to get the true flavor of it and the sense of what my host is trying to accomplish. But at Luke I ate the whole thing. I couldn’t help it.

Like good friends (and dinner companions who know I’ll be writing about this later) do, Jen ordered something pretty different. The short rib Bolognese is served with house-made tagliatelle, using ribs that have been smoked on site all day. The smoky flavor and the rich homemade pasta were a perfect blend.

bread puddingBread Pudding

Luckily Jen and I both had room for dessert. Luke has a few signature dishes: the apple pie nachos, which are great for sharing with a group, and the bread pudding, which is…great for fighting everyone else off and keeping for yourself.

Here’s a fun little thing they do at Luke. We did have some leftovers to take with us, but after our server took them away to be boxed up, she never brought them back. Instead, at Luke they send your leftovers to the door, guarded by the host, so you don’t forget them when you leave.

As if we could. It was such a lovely discovery, this place where you can pause and enjoy yourself along busy Ventura Boulevard, that I would actually go to Luke on purpose, not just to find a halfway point to meet a friend. But it’s nice to have both reasons.

So. Who’s ready for cocktails?

Luke Bar & Restaurant
22616 Ventura Boulevard
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
(818) 876-6000
LukeLA.com

My friend and I dined at Luke as guests of the restaurant to facilitate this review. All opinions and pining to return are my own.