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

Summer Goal: Attend Outdoor Concerts

During the summer, outdoor concerts are great opportunities to enjoy music outside for low cost or even free. There are still many scheduled outdoor concerts in our area.

outdoor concerts janss
Janss Marketplace Summer Concerts – Wednesdays 6PM through August 24

In summer, we’re more relaxed, less busy, and in my case, a little bored. We traveled a lot early in the summer but now we’re in the home stretch between trips and back-to-school, so I look around for stuff to do with the family, hoping to spark my kids’ imagination and get their bodies moving. Otherwise? Video games and YouTube (gag me). I mean I love a good YouTube video, but not all day long. Can you feel me, parents?

So I rallied the kids and husband and we went out to Janss Marketplace (you know, the one with Toys R Us and the newly redone movie theater and that awesome fountain) for their Summer Concert night. It happens every Wednesday at 6PM through August 24. The concerts are outdoors, free, and feature great local cover bands.

outdoor concerts radio rebels band 80's covers

On the evening we first went, Radio Rebels played 80’s tunes, and not just the ones you hear on Flashback Friday on the radio all the time. They played Def Leppard and Cyndi Lauper and Billy Idol and Men at Work and they sounded great.

There’s plenty of seating on the lawn in chairs that the staff sets up beforehand, and people brought blankets and their own chairs and food for picnics. Kids and adults were dancing near the stage, or in the fountain, as my kids did:

outdoor concerts kids fountain play

We had a great time just chilling at a table and watching both the band and the kids. It was so easy! I won’t be slacking off and skipping these anymore. Next time we’ll bring snacks or grab some dinner or a beer at the new Dudes’ Brewing Company first and then mosey over to watch the music.

outdoor concerts big bang television skirball

Skirball Cultural Center Family Amphitheater Performances – Saturdays and Sundays 12PM and 2PM through September 4

Since it’s been so hot the last few weeks, we’ve stayed inside during the worst hours, but at Skirball Cultural Center (you know, that place you pass when you’re leaving the Valley on the 405 and you think “I should check that place out someday”) the concerts are held in a covered amphitheater right outside the popular Noah’s Ark exhibit. Seating is shaded, so when we visited to watch Big Bang Television, a band that describes itself as “Hollywood Garage Pop,” we were comfortable and entertained.

noahs ark

Since I had never been to the Center, we got timed entry for Noah’s Ark (as guests of the Center) and explored that exhibit before heading outside. Even my big kids enjoyed the interactive artwork and climbing opportunities. Everything used to make this multi-staged exhibit, arranged by rooms to tell the story of Noah’s Ark, was something else in its previous life. Sunglasses became butterflies. Car seats and gloves became a gorilla. Forks became the majestic fur around a lion’s neck.

outdoor concerts big bang television skirball audience

There was music inside, too, as two energetic performers led the children in Noah’s Ark in drum circle activities. It was a great prelude to the outdoor concert, which was lots of fun. Big Bang Television isn’t a kid’s band, but their original songs had upbeat spirit and the lead singer’s high pitched voice commanded the attention of even the little kids in attendance.

skirball baseball

The Skirball Center is a great place to spend a day with your kids. Besides Noah’s Ark, they currently have a baseball exhibit complete with a Dugout – a room filled with kids’ activities and even a wardrobe with a baseball uniforms you can wear for a photo opp! In the art studio, kids can make anything they want, but they can also follow the guided activity (on this visit, my son made a board game). Snacks and lunch are available in the cafe. Tickets are $12 for adults and $7 for children 2-12.

Where are your favorite outdoor concerts in the area? Here are few that I want to check out:

Outdoor Concerts Near Agoura Hills

Agoura Hills Concerts in the Park – August 7 and 21, 6PM
Chumash Park
5550 Medea Valley Dr
Agoura Hills, CA 91301

Saturday Concerts in the Park – Platinum Groove, August 20, 7PM
Berniece Bennett Park
31800 Village Center Road
Westlake Village, CA

Sun Sets Concert Series – August 7 and 28, 6PM
Calabasas Lake
enter at Calabasas Tennis & Swim Center
23400 Park Sorrento
Calabasas, CA 91302
Free and open to the public

Malibu Wines – live music on weekends (21 and over only)
31740 Mulholland Hwy
Malibu, CA 90265
Free Admission, wine purchase suggested (and I recommend!)

Summer Jazz Concert Series – Sundays through August 28, 5:00-6:30PM
Gardens of the World
2001 Thousand Oaks Boulevard
Thousand Oaks, CA 91362

Summer Concerts in the Park – August 15 and September 5, 5PM
Conejo Community Park
1175 Hendrix Ave
Thousand Oaks, CA

Concert in the Park – Led Zepagain, August 20, 6:30PM
Rancho Simi Community Park
1765 Royal Ave
Simi Valley, CA

Concerts on the Green – Sundays through August 28, 6PM
Warner Park
5800 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Woodland Hills, CA
Free (but the most convenient parking is $15)

The Village Unplugged – Acoustic sets on Sundays at 3PM and occasionally during the week
The Village at Topanga
6600 Topanga Canyon Boulevard
Canoga Park CA 91303
Free (there is a charge for parking in the Village’s lots and garage)

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

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.