Restaurant Review #224: Viva La Pasta, Simi Valley

Gnocchi al pomodoro e basilico

With its location near Ralph's in the Wood Ranch shopping center, you probably wouldn't think to try Viva La Pasta for dinner unless you had heard good things about it. Despite the cheesy name, I decided to try it because it had lots of good reviews on Yelp! They also send out lots of coupons in the mail, which I guess finally wore me down. Besides, there are not a ton of dinner options in Simi Valley that aren't chains. I figure I might as well attempt to eat at them all. There are more independent restaurants than you would think, but it takes a bit of effort to not just fall back on Chili's or TGIFridays.

Minestrone soup

Viva La Pasta has much in common with Two Guys from Italy, a German/Italian (mostly Italian) restaurant I'm quite fond of in Moorpark. Soup or salad comes with all the entrees (though it's a less generous portion of soup). You can create your own pasta from among 29 sauces and 11 types of pasta (one of which is gnocchi, my favorite). They also have chicken, beef, veal, and seafood entrees; pizza; and panini.

Side salad with vinaigrette

The minestrone soup was good--not really noteworthy in any way, but good. The side salad contained a mix of good lettuce and crappy iceberg lettuce, some quirky chickpeas, a wedge of refrigerated (read: mealy) tomato, and a lone pitted kalamata olive. Despite the mediocre veggies, the vinaigrette dressing I chose made the salad quite good. I usually just order vinaigrette because it is the least bad salad dressing option at restaurants (ranch belongs on buffalo wings, not lettuce), but this vinaigrette was zingy, with plenty of vinegar and garlic. It had the thin consistency of a homemade vinaigrette and none of that artificial, gloppy thickness that some bottled vinaigrettes have. The server, though clearly having a bad day or not much of a people person, was nice enough to tell me that a salad came with my meal when I tried to order an appetizer salad.

Italian sausage and roasted peppers

Ah, the service. That was really the only off-putting part of the meal. When we asked for a few more minutes to read the menu, our waiter took way too long to return. Our water was only refilled once, some time in the first ten minutes of our visit. Wines by the glass are not listed on the wine menu, so you have to ask about them, which means you don't get information about prices or options up front. (They don't appear to serve any alcohol besides wine, but maybe you have to inquire about that, too.) Our server seemed distressed that we tried to order dishes by name instead of by number. One member of our party, who wanted to have cheesecake for her meal, was served her "entree" before we even got our soups and salads. However, the rest of the food did arrive quickly.

Risotto Misto

The risotto misto--arborio rice prepared with chicken breast and Italian sausage in a chicken broth, white wine, and saffron sauce, was just okay. For some reason I was expecting it to be creamier, but re-reading the menu description, I realize that it doesn't say anything about cheese being an ingredient. The sausage was particularly good, and the dish was better with some red pepper flakes, although the spice tended to overwhelm the dish's mild flavor. At least it was filling, but I prefer my homemade gorgonzola risotto and I would try a different dish next time. There are only two risottos on the menu, so it doesn't seem to be one of the restaurant's specialties. This one was about $15.

The gnocchi al pomodoro e basilico (lead photo, potato pasta in a tomato and basil sauce) was a create-your-own pasta option. The gnocchi were neither too fluffy nor too dense, and their irregular shapes indicated that they were most likely homemade. The sauce was perfect--a little sweet, a little salty. If only they sold sauce like this in jars at the grocery store. If you're a light eater, this dish will give you enough to take half home, but if you're a big eater, you might think the dinner portion looks like a lunch portion. I thought the portions were the right size and commensurate with the price. This dish was only $10.


The cheesecake also tasted homemade--a little on the salty side and not overly dense or creamy like Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, but a little lighter, like the cheesecake you get at Persian restaurants. The portion is reasonable enough that you can eat the whole thing yourself without going up a size.


I love cannoli. This rendition reminded me of the one at Two Guys, but the filling was a tad lighter. When you eat the hard outer shell and the thick, creamy filling together, it tastes similar to a glazed donut.

Overall, everyone enjoyed their food and thought the prices and portions were reasonable. We all agreed that we'd go back, too. The dining room atmosphere is classier than Two Guys and this is one of a few tablecloth restaurants in Simi (nevermind the white paper covering the tablecloth), but it's still casual enough that I would call it a long-term relationship date restaurant. I would pick someplace fancier and with more enthusiastic service if you're trying to impress.

Viva La Pasta has lots of enticing promotions that make the restaurant a great bargain. A dinner for two that includes soup or salad, entree, coffee, dessert, and a bottle of wine is $34.95--for both people, not per person (look for a coupon in the mail, or print it from their website). Sunday brunch is $16.95. There are daily specials that come with soup or salad, an entree, and dessert. And you can get gift certificates on Restaurant.com for $25 off a $50 meal. Restaurant.com often has 80% off sales, so you can get a $25 gift certificate for $2 instead of the usual $10.

Viva La Pasta isn't perfect, but on the whole, I recommend it.

Viva La Pasta!
525 Country Club Drive
Woodranch Center
Simi Valley, CA 93065
Hours: Mon - Thurs 11:30 am - 9 pm
Fri - Sat 11:30 am - 10 pm
Sunday 10 am - 9 pm


Restaurant Review #223: Golden Deli Vietnamese Restaurant, San Gabriel


Golden Deli is supposed to be the best Vietnamese restaurant in LA, so I came with high expectations. I braved an hour's worth of scary freeway driving with lots of large trucks to eat my favorite cuisine (or is sushi my favorite?), which I don't eat nearly often enough.

The restaurant was easy to find, thanks to the exterior shot I'd seen on Yelp! and the good fortune I had to hit a red light at the major intersection where it's located. Just as I was wondering if I was hopelessly lost and hopefully late to meet a client, there it was. Parking and wait times for a table are both supposed to be nightmares, but on a Monday at 1:00, I didn't have trouble with either.


The eggroll appetizer was recommended repeatedly by Yelpers, and yes, these are the best eggrolls you will ever eat. Served glistening with frying oil and hot enough to sear your tongue for a week, the eggrolls have a crispy, paper-thin exterior that gives way to an addictive filling of ground meat and spices. Yes, I took home the leftovers and ate one cold in the middle of the night. I just couldn't wait until the next day or the ten minutes it would have taken to re-crisp it in the toaster oven. They're an awfully good bargain, too, at $5.25 for five eggrolls.

Pho tai

Try as I might--okay, I don't try. I always order the pho tai at Vietnamese restaurants. Now, I know you're not going to believe me on this one, but St. Louis still wins my vote for best pho. Yes, it does. St. Louis has a significant population of Vietnamese immigrants and some of the best Vietnamese food I've ever eaten. Aside from San Francisco and Westminister/Garden Grove, of course. No place in LA has managed to satisfy me with its pho--the broth is never meaty enough, the meat is never tender enough, and I like a lot of star anise.

To drink/for dessert, I ordered an avocado milkshake. I know it sounds gross, but trust me--it's delicious. Think vanilla, but with umami. This treat probably has enough calories to get you through three days, but you've already ruined any pretense of a diet with those eggrolls.

The service was good--the food arrived astoundingly quickly, considering it was obviously freshly prepared, and our waters were refilled regularly.

If I went back, I'd definitely order the eggrolls and the avocado milkshake again, but I'd try a different entree. Well, ideally, I'd try about three. If you've been suffering through what passes for Vietnamese food elsewhere in Los Angeles proper, Golden Deli is worth the drive. Take your friends, too, so you can mooch off their plates.

Golden Deli
815 W. Las Tunas Dr.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 308-0803
Golden Deli website


Restaurant Review #222: sugarFISH, Marina del Rey

Tuna Sashimi

sugarFISH is a sushi restaurant by Chef Kazunori Nozawa (of the cult favorite Sushi Nozawa in Studio City) that emphasizes simplicity and quality over trendiness and pretention. You won't see the words "spicy," "crunchy," "rainbow," or "California" anywhere on the menu. In fact, you'll see very little on the menu, period--it's so basic that it's only a page long.

In addition to simplicity, sugarFISH emphasizes the omakase concept, where you let the chef choose everything you eat. But unlike most restaurants, at sugarFISH, omakase is not synonymous with super-expensive or with surprise. The price is clearly stated on the menu ($23 at lunch, $27.50 at dinner) as are the fish you'll be eating.
The dining room is colorful and narrow, with booths for two or four people lining one wall and a sushi bar on the other. What's unusual about this sushi bar is that there are no sushi chefs and no fish behind it. The chefs only work in the kitchen. If you find it intimidating to sit at the sushi bar, or if you want to have a private conversation during your meal, the arrangement at sugarFISH is a good thing--it means that half the seating in the restaurant isn't automatically off-limits.

My friend and I met for lunch at 12:45 on a Saturday afternoon, and the restaurant was virtually deserted, with only four other patrons. Emptiness is usually a bad sign in a restaurant, and I hadn't bothered to read any reviews before I went--I saw "Nozawa" on the website describing the place and assumed that was all I needed to know. That the restaurant is in a popular Marina del Rey shopping center off Admiralty Way that was bustling with shoppers made the emptiness all the more disconcerting. But, continuing to place my faith in Chef Nozawa's reputation, I ordered as I usually would, rather than testing the waters with a small order first to see if the fish was any good.

Snapper with chili ponzu

We opted to share an omakase (called "Trust Me"), sans shellfish, which neither of us can eat. The waitress didn't hassle us about substituting the crab roll for a yellowtail roll. We also added an order of snapper. A la carte sushi is priced at $4.25 to $5.75. Nothing carries the dreaded "market price," and nothing costs $5 per bite. It's probably the most affordable, patron-friendly sushi menu I've ever seen. The portions are smaller than they are at many sushi restaurants; however, sugarFISH is one of the only sushi restaurants I've been to where the sushi was the appropriate size to eat comfortably in one bite, the way it is supposed to be eaten.

The first dish we were presented, edamame, was cold--not refrigerated cold, but obviously not just cooked. Truthfully, I am not sure what the proper temperature to serve edamame at is, but I prefer mine warm and was turned off by the idea that my edamame might not have been freshly prepared. Thankfully, the soybeans turned out to be an aberration.

Salmon nigiri

Despite what many people think, nigiri is actually supposed to be about the rice, not the fish. The rice at sugarFISH is incredibly fresh--maybe too fresh, because the rice underneath the first fish, the snapper, was almost hot. But it was perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, and loosely formed. Chili ponzu sounds like it might be an overwhelming sauce for a fish as delicate as red snapper, but it came through as a subtle enhancement. I thought nothing of the sesame seeds sprinkled on the salmon when the dish came out, but on tasting the pairing, I wondered why more chefs don't see the brilliance in combining light, toasty, and nutty flavors with this fish.

Unlike the best omakases I've had, the kitchen didn't pay any attention to the timing of sending out the dishes, so we weren't really eating everything at peak freshness and our table became cluttered. We hadn't finished the tuna sashimi when the nigiri started arriving, and we hadn't finished either when the handrolls came out. Also, the Trust Me, as we learned the hard way, is not really designed to shared--we had to cut the two hand rolls with an ordinary table knife, which was a little annoying and kind of ruined the presentation. At least we were encouraged to eat the hand roll right away, while the nori was crispy.

Toro, the fatty underbelly of the tuna, is supposed to be a standout among cuts of raw fish. I'll admit that it rarely excites me (unless you count the spike in my heart rate when I see how expensive it is). This toro handroll was no exception. Maybe I just don't have enough appreciation for subtle flavors, but the yellowtail handroll didn't taste like much to me, either.

Scallop roll

At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I actually don't understand why virtually every sushi restaurant, including, surprisingly, sugarFISH, feels compelled to mix its scallop sushi with orange mayonnaise. Raw scallop is naturally sweet and can easily hold its own. The mayo was used sparingly, though, and the roll was not bad.
A highlight of the meal, besides the freshness of the fish, was the sauces (mayo notwithstanding). The house-made ponzu that came with the tuna sashimi was maybe the best I've ever had. The yuzu sauce that graced the halibut was equally good. At the end of the meal, I wouldn't say we were full, but then, it's hard to get full on sushi. As my out-of-town friend commented, "In New York, you go out for sushi, then you go out for pizza." sugarFISH doesn't offer any desserts, but there are a Pinkberry (for however much longer it can last) and a Starbucks in the same shopping center--handy if you always crave ice cream after sushi like I do.

Yellowtail nigiri

Another unique feature of sugarFISH is that a 16% gratuity is included with every meal and the menu says that no additional gratuity is expected. Since I leave 15% even when the service isn't good (more if it is), I really don't mind having 16% added to my bill automatically. I also like that there's no pressure to leave more than 16%. Some restaurants, I've noticed, now calculate "suggested gratuities" of 18, 20, and a whopping 22% at the bottom of every receipt. Perhaps the best part of the automatic gratuity, though, was that when it came time to pay the bill, I didn't have to do any extra math. And the bill was that it was only $44 for 2 people--one of the least expensive sushi meals I have ever had and with plenty of variety and no sense of deprivation.

Though I was satisfied with my meal overall, and certainly with the quality of the fish and the prices, I'm not sure I would go back. With the lack of other patrons, the atmosphere was a bit of a downer. I'd also prefer a menu with a wider selection. Of course, there is little else to complain about. The service was the best I've had in ages--granted, our waitress didn't have much else to do, but at some restaurants the waitstaff seem to disappear into the back and do nothing the whole meal if business is slow. And they also have special meals designed for takeout--a rareity among sushi joints.

sugarFISH has another location in Brentwood that opened on July 10--perhaps it's busier. Though the Brentwood location is a little closer to me, I assumed that parking would be a nightmare and opted to drive the extra miles to the Marina del Rey location because of the copious parking I could see in the satellite view on Google Maps. The two restaurants have completely different interiors, so it doesn't feel like a chain: see photos here. sugarFISH is also one of the only quality sushi restaurants I could find in the general vicinity of West LA that was open for lunch on a Saturday.
4722 1/4 Admiralty Way
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
Phone: 310 306-6300
Mon-Sat 11:30 am - 10 pm Sun 12 - 9pm
sugarFISH website


Restaurant Review #221: Greek House Cafe, Simi Valley

Chicken kebab plate

Simi Valley's Greek House Cafe, located in a small strip mall on the busy corner of Sycamore and Cochran, has a nice sign out front, but that's pretty much the restaurant's only decor. This little hole in the wall is kind of dingy--not the kind of place where you want to linger and eat your food--but you shouldn't pass it up. It's affordable, many dishes will tickle your tastebuds, and you can avoid the dreary atmosphere by ordering takeout.

Greek salad

The Greek salad is one of the menu's few disappointments. The iceberg lettuce and flavorless tomatoes kill it, and the dressing is unnoticeable. Sadly, it seems like the only restaurants where you can get good lettuce and tomatoes are those that make it a point to get their produce from farmers markets (and those restaurants are in the minority, even here in SoCal where there's no excuse for subpar produce).


Skip the salad and order the avgolemono ($1.75 cup, $3.25 bowl) instead. This traditional Greek chicken soup with orzo, egg, and lemon may sound unusual and even off-putting, but it's even easier to eat and even more comforting than what most Americans think of as traditional chicken noodle soup. It's thick, creamy, and the "noodles" are like plump grains of rice, so there's no slurping and no mess. I guess the egg is just used as a thickener, because there is no flavor or consistency of egg in the soup. The lemon isn't overwhelming, but adds an interesting and surprisingly addictive tang to every bite.

Moussaka plate

Moussaka, a uniquely spiced eggplant/ground beef/bechamel casserole, is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods when it's done right. I think the moussaka at the Great Greek in Studio City is more moist and flavorful. Greek House Cafe's version is perhaps not as creamy or as luxuriously spiced, and I don't think I'd order it again. (Moussaka plate: $10.50 lunch, $11.50 dinner)

The pita bread, however, is perfectly soft and fresh. It's imported, and has a consistency unlike that dried-out "pita" they sell at the grocery store. For extra flavor and texture, it's brushed with either olive oil or butter (I can't tell) then grilled. I dare say it's not very good for you, but it's so delicious you won't care.

I haven't tried everything on the menu (yet), but I think the best dishes at Greek House Cafe are the appetizers--hummus, tzatziki, melitzanosalata, tabouli, feta, and kalamata olives. The feta and hummus are some of the most flavorful I've ever had. You can try all six of these appetizers at once by ordering the cold appetizer plate for 2 ($11.95). The gyros ($7.95 lunch, $8.95 dinner) are also outstanding, if impossible to actually pick up and eat as a sandwich because they are so huge.


The only dessert at Greek House Cafe is homemade baklava ($2.25). The portion size is enormous--a single serving is enough for two to four people. This is not my favorite baklava--it could be crispier and have more depth of flavor--but it will do.

The prices are very reasonable--two people could have a feast for $30--but be warned that it's cash-only establishment. If you show up with only plastic in your wallet, though, there is an ATM in the convenience store next door.

Greek House Cafe would be good anywhere, but it's especially welcome out in the suburbs, where there are more chains and fewer independent and/or ethnic eateries.

Greek House Cafe

2375 Sycamore Dr Ste 5
Simi Valley, CA 93065
(805) 955-9899


Restaurant Review #220: Cafe Firenze, Moorpark - Restaurant of Top Chef's Fabio Viviani

Osso bucco

I wanted to go to Cafe Firenze even before I knew what it was--the restaurant of Chef Fabio Viviani, the #4 contestant from season five of the television show Top Chef. The glitz of Los Angeles proper doesn't generally make its way out to places like Moorpark, which is several miles over the Ventura County line, a few miles north of Thousand Oaks. I was curious--could a place out in the boonies measure up? An 80% off coupon code for Restaurant.com made it easy to find out. I got a $25 gift certificate for $2 and off we went.

Strawberry balsamic martini

I couldn't believe how packed the restaurant was on a Tuesday night at 8:00--we had to wait a good 15 minutes for a table. We camped out on some broken-in leather couches in the boisterous bar area, where the low lighting was on par with a night club but the flat screen television tuned to a sports channel brought back the bar vibe. I don't know what the singles scene is like in Moorpark, but the bar at Cafe Firenze would seem to be a good place for it. They don't just have the same old boring drinks, either--they have a very extensive list of innovative martinis (complete with $10 price tag--is that considered cheap these days?). I tried the strawberry balsamic martini, made with fresh strawberries, lime juice, vanilla vodka, and perhaps another ingredient or two. If they weren't so expensive, I definitely would have ordered a second one (or two, or three)--this drink was fantastic.

Caesar salad

My mom ordered the caesar salad as an appetizer and thought it was the best caesar salad she'd ever had. To me, it tasted the same as every other caesar I've ever had--it was tasty, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Proscuitto and melon appetizer

I was very excited to try the proscuitto and melon appetizer, which is something I've never had before. I gather that it's supposed to be a very simple dish based on two ingredients that, when high quality, are delicious enough to stand on their own but are even better together. So to me, it seemed like this appetizer really had too many ingredients, with balsamic vinegar, burrata cheese (like fresh mozarella, but softer and more moist), arugula, and fried balls of dough that were like donut holes, without the glaze, if they had been sitting out for 24 hours. The canteloupe was grilled, and the way the natural sugars had carmelized along the grill marks was heavenly.

However, with only two slices of canteloupe and a whole heap of proscuitto, the ratio of the dish's most important ingredients was off. The arugula (my favorite leaf lettuce) really didn't add anything to the dish--some might think that it's peppery crunch was a nice contrast to the more subtle flavors of the cheese, melon, and ham, but to me it just seemed out of place. The fried dough balls definitely seemed like an afterthought--even if they hadn't been stale, they wouldn't have added anything to the dish. I would have gladly eaten a pound of the cheese in one sitting, though, and the portion was quite generous for an appetizer and for the price. I was almost full afterward. Curiously, the appetizer pictured here looks nothing like the photo of the same dish on the restaurant's website.

Lobster ravioli

The meal portions were kind of hit or miss, however. The lobster ravioli was about the same size as my appetizer, while the lamb shank was enough for two meals. The flavor of this dish was pleasant, but it just didn't seem as rich as lobster ravioli usually seems. Maybe that's a good thing if you don't like heavy food, though, and in my opinion, the richness of lobster is perpetually overrated. The shrimp provided a nice touch--they aren't usually part of a dish like this. It might be worth ordering again, but perhaps something else on the menu would be better.

Lamb shank

The lamb shank was a disappointment because it was overcooked, dry and hard in some places and not nearly as tender as it could have been in others. It certainly didn't fall off the bone or melt in my mouth. The wine reduction sauce was flavorful, but couldn't compensate for the dry meat. I took home the leftover meat, shredded it, and put it in a stew. The gnocchi with mushrooms and gorgonzola cream sauce was another story--if eating so much fat in one sitting wasn't just asking for it, I'd gladly consume this dish a few times a week. Nothing could be smoother or richer than the combination of savory mushrooms, gnocchi so soft they don't even need to be chewed, and cheese fused with cream. I'll take this dish over fettucini alfredo any day.

Dining room

The dining room is divided into several sections. Part of it is adjacent to the bar, so if you don't like noisy dining, ask for a table in the back room. Regardless of where you sit, the restaurant has a very impressive feel because of its high ceilings and weighty decor--heavy beams, oversized chandeliers, high-backed leather chairs. It's definitely nice enough for a date or impressive enough for a business dinner. The service was friendly and competent, if a little slow at times.

I guess the most surprising/disappointing thing about the restaurant is that while it was fairly good, I expected it to be amazing. I thought that someone who a) made it on to Top Chef in the first place and b) got as far in the competition as he did would serve better food. Eating at Cafe Firenze actually made me doubt the legitimacy of Top Chef as a competition. This certainly wasn't the food of one of the top chefs in the nation--it's not creative enough or perfect enough. Of course, a lot of the best chefs in the country have no desire to be on a reality cooking show, so that limits the applicant pool.

That being said, if you put aside your expectations about what a Top Chef's restaurant is supposed to be like, you'll probably be pretty pleased with your meal. At most Italian restaurants in the United States, you already know what to expect before you even set foot in the door--that's why I don't really like going out to eat for Italian. The menu at Cafe Firenze breaks that mold by serving more than just lasagna, fettucini and pizza, and there aren't a lot of restaurants like it in the area, which is dominated by low-key places and chains. Even though I didn't love everything I tried and the prices are a little high for the 'burbs (though not for the amount of food you get in most dishes), I would go back, especially since it looks like new items have already appeared on the menu since my last visit (I want to try the octopus).

Key lime martini

Cafe Firenze

Italian Restaurant and Martini Lounge
563 W. Los Angeles Ave.
Moorpark, CA 93021
Cafe Firenze Website
Tue., Wed., Sun. 11am-10pm
Thur., Fri., Sat. 11am-2am
Closed Mondays


Restaurant Review #219: Eggs N Things, Simi Valley

Scrambled eggs, bacon, and potatoes O'Brien

There are a variety of reasons why I don't really like to go out for breakfast. I am not a morning person. Breakfast is cheap and easy to make at home. I don't like to eat right after I wake up. I hate the smell of bacon.

Perhaps worst of all is that it's impossible to get through a meal without those near-invisible traces of syrup that are on the menus and the edges of the table finding their way onto your fingers, elbows, and shirt. You can never see the stuff until it's too late. I don't understand why the servers and busboys at most breakfast joints can't do a better job of cleaning up. It takes a little more attention to detail and a little extra elbow grease to track down and clean up all the sticky spots and shifts are often fast-paced--I get it. But shouldn't a sit-down restaurant have higher standards of cleanliness than your average fast-food restaurant?

Crepe appetizer

So one of the things that I liked so much about my experience at Eggs N Things is that there were no traces of leftover syrup on the menu or the table. The dining room is sparsely decorated except for the country-kitsch yellow wallpaper. Sunlight pours in through the large windows lining the front of the restaurant, and though the view of nearby Target's parking lot leaves something to be desired, at least there is plentiful free parking. While the staff seemed fairly brusque, they were generally prompt. What they lack in charm is perhaps made up for by the free crepe that starts your meal--hot off the griddle, bathed in melted butter, topped with berry jam and dusted in powdered sugar. If I go back, I'll probably order the crepes for my meal.

Blueberry pancakes

Being a newcomer, however, I ordered the blueberry pancakes. While fluffy and perfectly cooked, they could have had more blueberries and more moisture. I prefer IHOP's pancakes, which seem to border on greasy but don't need to be drenched in syrup to be swallowable.

Omelet with hash browns

I didn't try the food that the other people in my party ordered, but I can say that everything looked properly cooked, the portion sizes were generous, and everything is reasonably priced. On a weekday at 11:00 a.m., there was no wait for a table. The restaurant is quite large, so I imagine they can even accommodate the weekend rush fairly well (though I can't say for sure, having only been there once). In the same week, I also went to Coco's, which just drove home what a superior breakfast joint Eggs N Things is--it's celebrating its 20th anniversary in Simi for a reason.

Eggs N Things
2955 Cochran St
Simi Valley, CA 93065
(805) 527-0055


Restaurant Review #218: Two Guys From Italy, Moorpark


Our party of five showed up at Two Guys From Italy on a Thursday night around 7:30. We were a little taken aback at first because we were asked to wait for a table and the restaurant looked nearly empty. But then a friendly woman told us that she had two large parties coming in and she wanted to give us a quiet table in the back where another group was finishing up. Once we found out that the wait was to try to give us a better experience, we didn't mind. I used the time to peruse the menu, and started falling in love with the restaurant as soon as I hit the beer list. Just to have a beer list that consists of something more interesting than Corona and Heineken is exciting; to have a full-page list of interesting German brews, complete with descriptions, is a godsend for beer lovers. (They also have a wine list for you oenophiles.)

Contrary to its name, Two Guys From Italy is actually run by "a chick from Bavaria," as owner Valeria refers to herself. She purchased the restaurant in 1998 and has allowed her native southern German cuisine to influence a small part of the menu (ten entrees). The rest of the menu is Italian--awfully good Italian that you'd never guess came from a German. The lengthy menu would take weeks to eat through--there are eleven types of pasta and twenty-six sauces that you can combine any way you want, along with several meat and seafood entrees and pizza. If you want to try to get through the menu a little faster, you can try the restaurant's lunch buffet.

Tortellini con nocini

The tortellini con nocini is one of the create-your-own pasta options. The nocini is a creamy gorgonzola sauce with walnuts and one of the best pasta sauces we've ever tried. The chicken Marco Polo, two thin, juicy chicken breasts with mushrooms and artichokes in a slightly tangy, deliciously heart-attack-inducing cream sauce, was also a winner. If you're sharing plates though, don't order these two dishes--the flavors of the different sauces clash with each other.


A recent trip to Germany and a couple of years of German lessons had me in full-on trip nostalgia mode, so I ordered a German beer (Wiesen Edel-Weisse) and a German entree, the rouladen, which is a three-quarter-inch thick piece of beef rolled around pickled vegetables, onions, and bacon and drenched in gravy. I can't say I've ever had this dish before, so I didn't have anything to compare it to. The beef was moist and tender, and while I was somewhat concerned about the pickles being overpowering, I didn't even notice them. The onions were similarly mild. The dish paired wonderfully with the beer, which was served in the correct glass and expertly poured by the waiter. The dish came with a side of spaetzle, a sort of fried, homemade noodle-dumpling perfect for sopping up excess gravy, and sweet-tart braised red cabbage (not pictured).

All of the entrees come with your choice of soup or salad (the lentil soup tastes wonderfully homemade) and a basket of warm bread and olive tapenade (that doesn't taste like a tin can).


Of the items on the dessert list, the tiramisu and cannoli are made in house and the rest come from outside vendors. The cannoli's thick, crunchy, bubbly shell oozes with dense, super-sweet cream that has a hint of vanilla.

I'm not a cannoli expert, but I really loved this one. Like a Sprinkles cupcake, however, it's perhaps too much of a sugar high for one person.


As for the tiramisu, I think that once you've had one tiramisu, you've had them all. This one didn't change my mind--not that it wasn't good, it just didn't wow me. We also tried the blackout cake, which was similarly good but generic.

Blackout cake

The service at this restaurant is superb. Of the many servers we interacted with, all were friendly, pleasant, and seemed happy to be there. All of our dishes arrived promptly. Valeria, the owner, visited our table several times during the meal. The decor is, shall we say, very red and green, with lots of hanging plants, a wall of mirrors and some neon (yes, it's a bit dated). There's nothing trendy or showy about Two Guys, and it's not the kind of place you take someone who is hard to impress. It's just a casual, comfortable, reasonably priced restaurant with excellent food and excellent service. And that's why I like it.

Two Guys From Italy
484 E. Los Angeles Ave
Moorpark, CA 93021
Mon - Fri: 11am - 9pm
Saturday: 4pm - 10pm
Sunday: 4pm - 9pm


Restaurant Review #217: Indian Haweli, Simi Valley

Aloo gobi

Simi Valley isn’t known for its restaurants. Food snobs on Chow.com, a message board website for culinary enthusiasts, refer to the distant suburb as “a culinary wasteland” and “a real down and dirty low class locale.” Another commenter moans, “My co-workers and I are stuck in Simi Valley for a few months on our latest project. There seems to be nothing but fast food, chain restaurants and disappointments out here.”

Those in the know who come to the boards seeking advice attempt to avoid incurring the wrath of those who wouldn’t be caught dead at a TGI Friday’s by timidly labeling their threads, “decent sushi in Simi?” and “Simi Valley chow?” After all, who knows what kind of ostracism could result from associating your screen name with an opinion that there is good food to be had in Simi?

There’s no question that it’s easy to get spoiled dining in Los Angeles, and that it’s best to practice culinary relativism when grubbing in Simi if you’re not a native. Pretend like you’re in the Midwest, for example, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Chicken tikka masala

Take Indian Haweli. Its first strike might be that a fair number of Simi residents probably shut down as soon as they get to the second, unfamiliar word in the restaurant’s title—at best, they might call it “Indian Hawaii.”

Its second strike might be that it’s located in a strip mall next to a bait and tackle shop and a sewing machine and vacuum store. Of course, anyone who has been dining in and around Los Angeles for more than a year knows better than to rule out a place based on this characteristic. Just think of all the celebs who dine at Zagat-acclaimed Hamasaku in the corner of a two-story strip mall in West LA (and what is West LA if not a series of strip malls?).

Dining room

Those who can overlook the restaurant’s ragged edges, though, like the institutional acoustic ceiling, the bumped and bruised chairs, the dorm-style plastic tube lights and the buttercup yellow walls that look like they were painted by a mildly industrious yet slightly lazy teenager will not find much else to complain about at this restaurant.

For starters, there is no leathery-skinned, bleached-blond woman with the body of a 12-year-old talking too loudly about her last audition at the table six inches away from yours, because the restaurant’s 12 tables are not arranged to maximize profit per square foot so much as to create a serene dining experience (and besides, that woman is a safe 30 miles away at Urth Caffe in West Hollywood). Cheery yellow and orange panels further separate each table from the ones behind and in front of it.

Lamb vindaloo

Among the restaurant’s best dishes are the aloo gobi, a vegetarian dish of tender, spiced cauliflower and potato—at least, it’s supposed to have potato—and the lamb vindaloo, succulent meat and potatoes sauced in an earthy brown medley of spices. All dishes can be ordered mild, medium or spicy, and when it comes to heat, the cooks mean business (even if you don’t appear to be Indian).

The lunch buffet, offered seven days a week, is a steal at $6.99. Included are six entrees, plain and saffron-infused basmati rice, and a salad of lettuce, tomato and onion, plus raita, mint and tamarind chutneys, two kinds of dessert and fresh naan. While the naan is delivered straight from kitchen to table, the rest of the spread can suffer from the common buffet problem of sitting out too long and not being hot enough. Those who arrive at 11:30 when the buffet starts won’t have experience problem, though.

Mattar paneer

There’s nothing new on Indian Haweli’s menu (or the TV in the front corner, which shows Bollywood movies), but then, when is an Indian restaurant’s menu ever unpredictable? All the staples are there, from samosas and vindaloos to kormas and masalas. To their detriment, many of the dishes belong to the creamy school of Indian cooking—that means it’s possible to get full just by looking at the matar paneer, a vegetarian dish of squishy, lightly fried cubes of theoretically homemade cheese accompanied by bright green peas that blink from beneath a lush orange sauce flecked with spices.

Adjacent to the restaurant is a small Indian grocery store. It's only three aisles across with a few convenience-store variety refrigerator and freezer cases, but the selection is almost comparable to an India's Sweets and Spices (an LA chain offering satisfying meals, cavity-inducing confections, and groceries)—or even, with its bounty of crispy Indian snack foods and ready-to-make dessert mixes, a store in Artesia’s Little India. Such a store would be a gem just about anywhere, but it's an especially welcome surprise in Simi.

Along with a plethora of spices and canisters of ghee (clarified butter) for patrons who want to make Indian food from scratch, there are Pillsbury samosas and frozen paneer for the faux home cook.

The quality and meager selection of the store’s sweets leaves something to be desired, though—their subdued flavor and a nearby box suggest that they may not be homemade. It doesn't help that they're kept in a display case—those always seems to leave food tasting stale and slightly off.

The sweets on the restaurant’s dessert menu, however, are so moist they seem like they were made to order, though that’s impossible given the time-consuming preparation of most Indian desserts. Try the ras malai, a delicate ricotta cake bathed in a sweet, cardamom- and pistachio-laced milk.

Despite its imperfections, Indian Haweli is an oasis in the supposed culinary desert, a restaurant where one can enjoy mostly solid food in a tranquil, crowd-free atmosphere at reasonable prices, where there’s no risk that the man at the table next to yours will be sitting close enough to accidentally sample your dish and where the waiters aren’t running on Red Bull or wearing 35 pieces of flair.

Indian Haweli
1750 E. Los Angeles Ave.
Simi Valley, CA 93065
(805) 520-1236
Indian Haweli website


Restaurant Review #216: Soot Bull Jeep, Koreatown

Soot Bull Jeep has a widespread reputation as one of the best restaurants in Koreatown. It’s also notorious for being one of the smokiest, due to its charcoal (not gas) grills at every table in a dining room that is entirely indoors (and has all the ambiance of a truck stop).
Indeed, I wanted to change clothes when I got home, but while I was actually at the restaurant, I barely noticed the smoke at all. There certainly wasn't a heavy gray cloud smothering the entire room like I was expecting from all the reviews I read. The real problem was the thick coating of black sludge on the underside of the grill—the part that's under the table, the part that I ruined a pair of jeans on.
The massive range hoods at every table actually do a rather good job of getting the smoke out of the place, but at a cost—they're noisy, and combined with the extra-wide tables (to acommodate grills), it's hard to have a conversation in this joint.

The waitress lit our grill right away, and that was when I started to wish I had worn a long-sleeved shirt--the flying embers were nipping at my forearms all night. She also plunked down a plethora of panchan, coaster-sized dishes of sides and condiments— pungent and slightly too spicy for comfort, in a good way—for eating with and between mouthfuls of meat. Our waitress didn't seem to speak English, so we were a little worried when she seemed confused about our order, but she did know enough to tell us which type of beef was the best (we were relatively clueless, having only eaten Korean barbecue one other time).

Her recommendation was right on, but despite this gesture of kindness and her extensive help grilling our food and snipping our meat into edible-sized pieces with scissors (this is a chopstick-only establishment), she was really all business and not terribly pleasant. Somehow ordering a second Sprite made her crack a wide smile, but that was the only indication all night that she might not have hated being there. Drinks come in cans and bottles from the convenience-store cooler at the far end of the dining room--in other words, no free refills. The water cups are small and the food is spicy, so ordering a large beer might be your best bet.

The menu is one sheet of laminated white paper listing various meat options: chicken, squid, beef tongue, pork, spencer steak (also known as boneless ribeye, known for its tenderness and marbling), short ribs, and a few other options. This is not a restaurant for vegetarians—even the tofu soup has meat in it.
The chicken was unexciting, but then, chicken usually is. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I tried the squid on the recommendation of some Yelpers, who raved about the crispiness of the grilled tentacles, but I found it to be flavorless and rubbery. The beef, however, is some of the most flavorful meat you'll ever eat, thanks to the marinade—stick to the beef, and you won’t be disappointed. The portions are a little small and seem a little expensive for the amount of meat you get—but then maybe not, for the amount of sides you get. We had at least 12 on each end of the table—plenty to go around.

The restaurant’s atmosphere may leave much to be desired, but when you have a juicy, charcoal-infused, grill-crisped, searing hot slice of beef in your mouth, you won’t care about any of the other stuff. You can eat it straight or plop it in a ruffly, palm-sized lettuce leaf and add a smear of bean paste. The multitude of sides mean that every other bite can have a different flavor, a different degree of crunch, funk, and heat. Dense, sticky rice will help you get full and provide a respite from all the spiciness of the kim chee.
Though this appears to be a cook-it-yourself restaurant, our waitress actually cooked everything for us (which I much welcomed). The only thing we had to do was to make sure not to leave the meat on the grill too long, which was easy to do since they never brought us any actual plates. I turned my rice bowl into a makeshift plate, but with its small size, eating my meal was a bit awkward. The only other drawback of the cooking method is that I felt like I spent most of the night eating three pieces of meat, then waiting five minutes for the next serving. Also, if you're a slow eater, this is the kind of restaurant where you can quickly get out-eaten by your table mates and find yourself a few bites short of a meal. Otherwise, it's very filling (though not as filling as the all-you-can-eat places).

The parking lot is tight, but there is a parking lot—a guarded, free one, at that, and one where we were able to find a spot at 7:30 on a Saturday night. If you're not so lucky, parking on the street might be a pain, and bring your quarters for the meters. When you’re trying to find the restaurant, don't worry if you can't read Korean—the black and white sign is in English, and relatively easy to spot despite the general barrage of signage that is Koreatown.

Soot Bull Jeep
3136 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 387-3865


Restaurant Review #215: O2 Sushi, Simi Valley

Hawaiian ceviche

I found O2 Sushi on Yelp! while looking for a nice, independent restaurant in Simi Valley, land of many casual restaurants and chains. Simi Valley actually has a surprising number of independent restaurants - you just have to work a little harder to find them since they aren't in freestanding, multi-thousand-square-foot buildings with giant red signs. Perhaps even more surprising are the number of sushi restaurants in Simi - at least ten by my count.

Albacore roll (front) and scallop roll (back)

I will admit that I am skeptical of eating sushi in a place that doesn't have the culinary reputation of Beverly Hills or West LA or West Hollywood because for me, sushi doesn't have a middleground--sushi that's just okay is not okay. But after examining O2's online menu and prices, I felt confident that the odds would be good with this place.

We went early, around 6:30, thinking we would beat the rush, but when we got there and found the place full, we thought perhaps people in Simi like to eat earlier than people in LA. Like all sushi restaurants, you can choose between a table or bar. The sushi bar is the focal point of the restaurant, brightly lit with a backdrop of blue-grey fabric mimicking water and a school of silver fish swimming energetically toward the ceiling. Almost all of the tables run around the perimeter of the restaurant, so there is a considerable amount of privacy. I could even push my chair back without hitting the person behind me.

The teriyaki filet mignon ($20) cooked medium rare is a nice change of pace from the usual teriyaki chicken (which they also serve). Since teriyaki sauce can be very sweet, I wasn't sure it would be a good match for such a fine cut of meat, but this sauce was very subtle and the steak was beautifully presented on an oblong plate with vibrant green asparagus, an orange pepper, a single curled shrimp and a rectangle of cantelope. The entree came with standard-issue miso soup and a fresh green salad with a tasty soy vinaigrette--not quite Maggie's Farm quality (my favorite salad purveyor at the Santa Monica Farmers Market), but not bad for the middle of winter.

Teriyaki filet mignon

The Hawaiian ceviche (lead photo) was a ring of wafer-thin half slices of lime heaped with voloptuous wedges of whitefish, tuna, salmon and yellowtail, interspersed with cilantro and almost unnoticeable slivers of red onion and marinated in a succulent citrus-soy vinaigrette. I didn't care for the whitefish, which was a bit crunchy, but the tuna was especially supple. And for $11, it was plenty of fish, too.

The albacore roll and scallop roll were sloppily presented compared to the other two dishes, but that didn't affect their flavor. The portions were generous, the rice was loose and moist, and the fish was top notch. The albacore roll had the perfect amount of wasabi packed in, and the mayo in the scallop roll, despite looking a tad menacing, didn't actually have any flavor (and that was fine with me).

The service was slightly erratic, but friendly. The waitress seemed to expect us to know what we wanted to order almost instantly, and the arrival of the food wasn't well-timed. But honestly, I'd rather have the minor shortcomings of this restaurant than a technically perfect meal where I can't hear the person sitting across from me, I'm bumping elbows with my neighbor and I'm being rushed through my 7:00 reservation to accommodate the next reservation at 8:30. And, like every place in Simi, parking is plentiful and free, and there's no need to contend with a valet.

Overall, I was very pleased with the high-quality fish, the relaxed ambiance, and the reasonable prices.

O2 Sushi
2902 E. Tapo Canyon Rd. Unit A
Simi Valley, CA 93063
O2 Sushi website