New Dishes and Old Favorites This Year at the Grill on the Alley

The Grill on the Alley, with a location in the Westlake Promenade – you know, the restaurant with the wall of fire out front – is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The original location opened in 1984 in Beverly Hills, and now there are Grill restaurants here in Westlake Village, Hollywood, San Jose, Florida, Chicago, and Dallas. To celebrate this milestone, the chefs added some dishes to the time-honored menu of grilled meats, fish, and sides, and on a recent date night my husband and I headed there to try them out.

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I always like to taste what the restaurant is famous for, so of course we started with server-recommended drinks – nutty brown Atticus IPA on tap for the husband and a cucumber gimlet for me. It was the perfect refreshing start to the meal, and even though I’ve been eating a mostly gluten-free diet for several months (a totally different story), I had to try the giant slab of sourdough bread the menu so descriptively boasted as a signature of the restaurant. It was served with a trio of spreads: The Grill’s classic sweet butter, fresh sundried tomato tapenade and extra virgin olive oil with balsamic vinegar, crushed red pepper and thyme. This came with a colorful partner – enormous shrimp arranged in a cocktail dish. There were no leftovers.

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I am a big filet mignon fan, so when it was time for the entrees this is what I chose without hesitation. All of the grilled entrees are cooked on the restaurant’s white oak-fired grill. You can even see the stacks of wood just waiting to flavor your meat or fish.

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Our server explained that on the new menu you can choose from seven different sauces for your cuts of steak: Boef Onions with Bordelaise, Béarnaise Sauce, Green Peppercorn Sauce, Truffle Butter, Bleu Cheese Herb Crust, Oscar Style, and Pepper, Bacon, & Onions. I’m afraid I can’t tell you what “Oscar Style” means because the server had me at “truffle butter” and I was done. Toast.

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I was happy to end the meal right then and there but they also brought a trio of sides. There are five sides served for sharing. We chose the Braised Brussels Sprouts, Lobster Mashed Potatoes, and Chipotle Cheddar Cream Corn, because it would just have been gluttony if we had also ordered the Cauliflower Gratin and the Wild Mushroom Risotto. (But we wanted to.)

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Plus the entrees were served with braised broccolini and creamed spinach. Everything was mouth-watering and each bite demanded a pause for savoring. I joked that there’s no need to ever make Thanksgiving dinner again because The Grill is right down the street and I’ll never match or exceed their Brussels sprouts, which are prepared with carrot, onion and bacon hash, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and tossed with roasted pecans.

Are you hungry yet?

Let’s talk about the Center Cut Blackened Ahi Tuna Steak entree, which my husband chose. I was having a food moment of my own, but he actually stopped eating for a second to muse about all the places he’s eaten ahi in his life. It’s his favorite thing to eat. He’s very critical of seafood dishes, because they do not often measure up to the times when he’s gone fishing and basically plucked a fish out of the ocean, cleaned it, and grilled it over a campfire.

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But this dish, he said, was the best ahi he’s ever eaten. I’m not making this up, people. Even though I think of The Grill as a steak place, my husband’s reaction to their epic tuna makes me say that if you’re going to dine here, order the ahi.

I’d hate to disappoint this post by skipping dessert, so we didn’t. We ordered hazelnut creme brûlée, again at the server’s suggestion, and man, am I glad I listened to that guy.

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If your summer is already packed with plans taking advantage of the gorgeous weather and the many outdoor events we can attend in and around our beautiful town, you can multitask by ordering a picnic dinner or lunch from The Grill. You just need to order it 24 hours in advance, and each meal is packed in a reusable insulated tote bag and includes two 30th anniversary plastic commemorative wine glasses, wine opener, mixed nuts, signature sourdough bread and butter, table cloth, napkins, plates and cutlery. The prices are very reasonable starting at $32.95 for a basket of shrimp and crab louie and key lime pie for 2. (Wine is extra.) Here is the full picnic menu.

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Epic tuna, mouth-watering food and cocktails, and an elegant picnic menu just in time for summer. All served up in an elegantly decorated location right around the corner, with cozy booths perfect for date night. We all win!

The Grill on the Alley
Westlake Promenade
120 E. Promenade Way
Thousand Oaks, CA 91362
(805) 418-1760
Website

grill dining room

My husband and I received complimentary meals to facilitate this feature.

Raya at the Ritz-Carltzon, Laguna Niguel

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View from our table. If you need me, I’ll be right here. At least in my imagination.

Perhaps the most delicious thing I have ever eaten in my entire life was served to me this spring at Raya.

I am only 42 years old, and for most of my life I consumed bland, processed American style foods. It is only within the last ten years that I have branched out a bit and tasted more adventurous flavors. I do this especially when hosted by restaurants, as I was on this occasion at Raya. After all, I figure, these people have gone to great lengths to impress me. I might as well pay them the compliment of tasting their preparations, even if the ingredients are items that I might have shied away from otherwise.

And so it was that on my first trip to Raya several years ago I tasted octopus carpaccio. That dish, I’m afraid to say, was not among the top ten tastes of my life, although it was spectacularly presented and my husband, a seafood lover, was quite impressed.

No, on this evening with my dear friend Melanie (whose tastes are more refined than my own) early last month, at a sunset-side table perched above the Pacific Ocean, tended to by the world’s nicest server and chef, I practically licked clean a bowl of lobster bisque poured over a 63-degree egg, whipped avocado, and spongy cubes of queso fresco.

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I do like lobster bisque, but this was unusual, intriguing, and induced groans of delight in both of us. I had not known about the 63-degree egg, that it is a thing in restaurants now like pork belly was a thing year or so ago. It doesn’t matter what thing is en vogue, for me. I just like what I like when I like it.

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This is Melanie. She is very happy. I’m making the same face behind the camera.

And everything our server set before us was something I liked, starting with a crisp white wine to toast the sunset, a basket of fresh gluten-free Brazilian cheese bread rolls, spongy delights of airy dough served with goat butter, ricotta spread, and tomato jam. Sea bass and ahi tuna ceviche served with plantain & yuca chips. Rock shrimp quesadillas with whipped avocado aioli and a thick marinara-like salsa.

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Sea scallops with pork belly in a pool of sweet creamy polenta with perfect little sprigs of cilantro, snap peas, and heirloom grape tomatoes that taste like spring itself. (These were favorites over the mushroom huarache, whose ingredients were all so very promising, but the combo came up short of its table-mates.)

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And because our server knew it would be a mistake for us to have never tasted Raya’s truffle manchego fries, she brought us an entire basket. “Oh well,” we sighed, “it is our job to make room for these, isn’t it?” Somehow we found it, and we were very happy we did. Truffle is a taste I reserve for indulgent moments. Come to think of it, so are French fries. Together, with Raya’s homemade chipotle aioli, they make a most satisfying indulgence indeed.

And then, dessert.

Many superlatives came out of our mouths that evening about the things we put into them, and a lot of those happened during dessert. The California Citrus Torte is served with strawberry margarita sorbet (my favorite dessert flavor among all of this), a thin white chocolate wafer, Veuve Cliquot jello cubes (what?!), lemon grass, and a sprinkle of what looked like white chocolate chips at first but were made out of malted milk.

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We also sampled (um, and devoured completely) the sorbet trio: raspberry, passion fruit, and coconut. All three were fresh and delicious and tasted like the embodiment of their names.

Raya delivers the style, service, and taste you would expect from a dinner inside a Ritz-Carlton. If you go out to a fancy dinner only once every few years, do it here. It is an experience you will not forget.

Raya at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
One Ritz-Carlton Drive
Dana Point, CA 92629
(949) 240-2000
Website and menu

 

Celebrate Mother’s Day at Mr. Chow at Malibu Country Mart

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I’m a big fan of Malibu Country Mart. The only time I ever go there is when I am meeting someone from Santa Monica or other parts on the West side, or people who also love to go to the Malibu Country Mart. It’s such a lovely, breezy place, and the drive there along Las Virgenes is always beautiful. My car doesn’t have a working CD player or any way to play mp3’s, and the radio doesn’t come in well, and I lose cell signal, so I often drive the route without sound. So relaxing.

Malibu Country Mart is a perfect spot for a Sunday drive and Mother’s Day brunch. Mr. Chow is holding a prix fixe meal event from 11:30am -2:30pm in honor of Mother’s Day. Did you know that it’s the 100th year of Mother’s Day? Why not make it extra special? At Mr. Chow, every mom will get a complimentary glass of Champagne, and a rose.

Interior 5 Photo Credit  Alen Lin Photograph 5.7.14

Mother’s Day Brunch
Mr. Chow at Malibu Country Mart
3835 Cross Creek Road, Malibu, CA

Sunday, May 11, 2014
11:30am – 2:30pm

$55 per person
For reservations please call: 310-456-7600

See MrChow.com for more information.