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.

Sweetfin Poké at the Village in Woodland Hills

sweetfin poke mango albacore

I’ll sum up my meal at Sweetfin Poké in one word: satisfaction. It’s satisfaction in a bowl, folks. You heard it here first.

To expand, I’ll even say it’s surprise, delight, savory, and filling.

Sweetfin Poke exterior

But let’s go back to the beginning. This is only the second location of Sweetfin Poké in the universe; the first is in Santa Monica. I love that so many forward-thinking businesses are choosing Woodland Hills as a place to expand. Anyway, when they invited me and a guest to try their poké bowls, I went with more curiosity than anything (okay yes, my appetite too) because raw fish as the main ingredient of a meal has never been my number one choice. But if I am going to torture myself with death-defying workouts in the name of a good story, I’ll put raw fish in my mouth for you. (Cue the Breakfast Club music.)

sweetfin poke drinks

Sweetfin Poké is a fast-casual style restaurant on the first level of The Village toward the south end. You can build your own bowl by choosing the meat, the base, the sauce, and any add-ons, or choose from a list of “signature bowls.” And it doesn’t have to have raw fish – you can choose tofu or chopped vegetables instead. And even with the signature bowls, you can subtract, add, substitute, and generally go crazy with mixing and matching.

sweetfin poke menu

Because I am a novice, I let the staff pick for me. I ordered (with manager Calista’s help) the mango albacore bowl which comes with ponzu-lime sauce, macadamia nuts, and fresh ginger. But I had them omit the ginger (I’m not a fan) and add sweet potato and kale to the bowl along with a rice back. All bowls also have scallions, white and black sesame seeds, and salt. I also poured myself some lemon water after sampling all of the freshly brewed teas, which had interesting flavors but I wanted to have a palate cleanser for my meal.

sweetfin poke meal

My trusty plus one, Jennifer, is more of an experienced sushi fan, so she went for the spicy tuna bowl with avocado, creamy togarashi sauce, hijiki, and crispy onions on top, using kelp noodle cucumber slaw as her base. She liked the mango black tea.

sweetfin poke spicy tuna bowl

Much to my delight, I really liked the tuna! It was actually a great vehicle for all of the other flavors that were mixed into my bowl. Jen enjoyed hers too, and we both ate it all, which is a bummer for my husband, who loves to eat and review my leftovers.

sweetfin poke popcorn chips

He did get to sample the dessert-type goodies they sent home with us though. These flavored popcorns were unique and tasty, and he loves the fresh taro root chips seasoned with sriracha powder.

The bowls are only $7.95-$9.95 for a small and $11.95-$13.95 for a large. I had a small and it was the perfect size to satisfy but not make me feel stuffed. The atmosphere in the restaurant is open and friendly, if a bit too cold. We sat outside since it’s still summer in November in SoCal.

sweetfin poke outdoor seating

I am looking forward to returning to Sweetfin Poké with my fish-loving husband, and my wacky kids who will love the climbing features just outside the restaurant. Let me know if you try it out – I’d love to get some suggestions for other flavor combinations to try!

Sweetfin Poké
at The Village
6256 Topanga Canyon Blvd. #1310
Woodland Hills 91367

Some Awesome New Things: The Habit, Sunday Cats, and Vellabox Candles

New Things That Are Awesome!

vellabox candles

Vellabox Candles and Gifts

My family and I tried some new things recently and three of them were awesome enough to share with you here. Picture me curled up on the love seat with a tasty burger in one hand, an organic freezer pop in the other, enjoying the light from a flickering candle. (That’s not at all how it happened, but it’s the way I would like you to imagine me.)

The Habit’s Golden Chicken Sandwich

habit golden chicken sandwich

The Habit is a fast casual burger restaurant on Canwood between McDonald’s and Trader Joe’s. I have been there a few times since it opened a few years ago when the mood has hit me. It’s a little bit more newsworthy now because a new location will be opening at Thousand Oaks and Westlake Blvd, which means I’ll have two Habits to choose from when the mood strikes again.

habit agoura hills

The Habit announced its limited-time Golden Chicken Sandwich ($6.25) on October 5. It’s the first fried chicken sandwich the restaurant has offered, and this one comes “hand-dipped into house-made seasoned flour and buttermilk, fried to perfection and topped with a new spicy red pepper sauce.” Since I don’t like spicy things, I made my food taste-tester (my husband) sample this one. He liked it but would not give me any more details. So there you go.

habit agoura hills interior

I rate this entry awesome because The Habit is nicer than a fast food burger joint, serves up the food quickly, and prepares their “charburger” with a relishy sauce that gives it some extra flavor. Plus, they have soft serve ice cream for dessert.

The Habit Burger
29145 Canwood Street
Agoura Hills, CA 91301
(818) 707-7300

Sunday Cats Freezer Pops

IMG_9025

Sunday Cats has nothing to do with cats, as a matter of fact. But when a box of the freezer pops came in the mail, my kids ripped it open and immediately assumed these organic freezer pops (the company calls them “freezies”) were treats for the cat. Sigh. I mean, the box did come with little cat-themed scissors…

boy with sunday cats

I did not pay him to pose like this.

Sunday Cats makes “the first organic and natural version of the pop! Real fruit juice, whole food electrolytes (perfect for those little soccer players), NO sugar, NO artificial flavors, and NO preservatives. Vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free.”

pineapple sunday cats

They come in watermelon, strawberry, and pineapple. Strawberry is super sweet, like a power-punch of very ripe actual berries. Watermelon is my favorite – refreshing but not too sweet. Pineapple actually tastes like real pineapple. Because it is.

I’m actually lucky I got to try one myself. The kids pretty much devoured these all by themselves.

Sunday Cats Freezer Pops
Order online. Box of 6, including shipping: $11.29

Vellabox

vellabox october

So, I still haven’t tried any of the subscription boxes of things and stuff that I keep seeing in my Facebook and Instagram feeds. Clothes, books, crafts, cooking supplies…meh. I just haven’t been interested. But then I read the description of Vellabox. It’s candles, you guys! I love candles! I mean I really love candles. This subscription service sends you candles! “We source the highest quality candles hand-poured by American artisans and combine them with a bonus lifestyle gift and a unique packaging style to create a memorable unboxing experience each and every month.”

And what an unboxing it was. I actually let my son open this one because to be honest, I had forgotten I agreed to review this thing, and so I didn’t recognize the name of the company. He didn’t do too much damage, and he really enjoyed opening the beautifully-wrapped candles. And then I enjoyed smelling them. For a long time.

IMG_9024

This box is the Vivere October box with a fall theme, complete with pumpkin spice granola bar. The big candle filled my house with a crisp apple-cinnamon scent and made everyone think I was baking something. Psych! I think a Vellabox subscription would make an excellent host/hostess gift for that family member whose home you’re crashing in for the holidays.

Vellabox Candle Subscriptions
Order online. $10-$30 per month plus shipping

I received complimentary samples from each company. All opinions are my own.