Quelling My Craving For Awesome Mexican Food at Casa Martin...

I missed my traditional Cinco De Mayo meal, due to an event I was managing that night that had nothing to do with the holiday.  So last week, I was still craving something Mexican.  A burrito, a couple of tacos, a quesadilla.  Any of those would do. But where to go? I vaguely remembered a place that a friend told me about that opened a month ago.  Casa something.  Near Bruno’s, on Ocean, right across the street from Chez Jay.   I slowly cruised up Ocean, and found it — Casa Martin.  I turned into the tiny driveway that led to a small parking lot, grabbed the last space and made my way to the front of the place.  It still has signage of a failed (plumbing?) business underneath the new Casa Martin signage.  I wondered, is it open? I opened the door of the place, and walked into a beautifully designed modern cantina.  None of the kitschy decor you usually see in Mexican restaurants.  We were greeted by the friendly, attentive owners, who were brothers.  One of them led us to one of the tables in the small, cozy  space, and handed us a menu.  And what a menu it was!  So many things to choose from. I was convinced I could fulfill my cravings. After scanning the menu of appetizers, soups, salads, vegetarian entrees and a plethora of traditional Mexican cuisine offerings, we settled on a few simple items.  We began with the Queso Fundido ($7.95), a dish of melted white cheddar cheese topped with chorizo and a stack of freshly, hand-made corn tortillas. It was so good.  The cheese was creamy and tangy, and the chorizo gave it a little substance and kick.  Paired with the corn tortillas, that were warm and...

My Little Greek Restaurant...

Since 1988, before the Third Street Promenade was fully redeveloped into a thriving shopping and entertainment destination, The Stop’N Cafe was providing Greek Cuisine to long time Santa Monica residents and Promenade pioneers. I was one of them. 25 years ago, I lived on 2nd St. off of Wilshire, in one of those infamous “rent control” apartments when I was in my 20s with my boyfriend. We paid 500.00 a month for a 1-bedroom apartment a stone’s-throw from the ocean. Those were the good old days! We both liked Greek food, and ventured there to satisfy our Greek cuisine cravings a couple of times a month. Flash forward to 2013 — we now live in Bel Air, because we could not afford to buy a house in Santa Monica 14 years ago! But, to get my Santa Monica fix and stay in close touch with the community, I permanently located my PR business here. There’s a few places on the Promenade that I like to go when I am there, and the Stop’N Cafe is one of them.  It’s small and simple with celebrities’ autographed photos and Greek artifacts on the walls. There’s also a small patio in the front, with seating that’s perfect for people-watching on the Promenade. The menu offers a plethora of Greek Specialties. For starters, there’s Hummus (Garbanzo beans, Tahini, garlic and lemon – $6.00), Tabouli, (tomato, spring onions, parsley, cracked wheat, lemon – $6.00), Tzatziki (fresh yogurt, cucumber, fresh mint and garlic – $6.00), Spanakopita (blended feta cheese and fresh spinach , baked in Filo pastry – $6.00) Falafel (Garbanzo beans, parsley, cilantro, garlic and fresh herbs – $6.00) and Taramosalata (red caviar spread, lemon juice, olive oil and onions – $8.00). You can also order a Falafel Pita...

Rendezvous At Chez Jay...

An aging, crusty, jaded reporter (his name has been left out to protect the innocent),  met a slightly aging, jaded PR executive buddy (that would be me) for dinner the other night.   Chez Jay provided the perfect backdrop for us to catch up. The circa 1959 establishment itself is old, kind of crusty and definitely jaded.  All the things I love in a restaurant!  Oh, and the martinis are well-chilled and made to perfection and the cuisine is classic old-school.  The perfect spot. To those who are not familiar with the place, it’s on Ocean, directly across from those large, luxurious beach front hotels.  You may have passed it many times, not even knowing it was there.  It’s a little shack, a dive, a hole in the wall with a strange sophistication and worldly experience. We walk in, peanut shells on the floor crunching beneath our feet. The peanuts they serve are famous — I heard one of the peanuts even made it to the moon!  Awsesome. There’s a large bar on the left, taking up the entire left side of the interior. Lots of regulars are there, who have been warming those bar stools and drinking a cold one for more than 20 years.  It’s an eclectic mix; executives, tourists, beach bums, celebrities  journalists and PR executives.  I order a Grey Goose Citron Martini, up, with 2 olives and a twist of lemon, extra chilled.  My friend orders a beer. Across from the bar, there are a handful of small tables with red and white table cloths, as well as a few red booths, reserved for diners.   There are photos and memorabilia displayed everywhere.  A jukebox is playing 50s and 60s music.  Original owner Jay Fiondella was a world traveler and quite a...

Adding Spice to Life

The front window facade and the lighting fixtures have the look of an old-time country store, and when I walk in I somehow feel that I am at my grandmother’s house. A vintage kitchen displays merchandise, the wood floors give the place a warm, homey feeling and then, there’s the smell of a myriad of spices. Like a kid in a candy store, I want them all! Usually, I go to my local grocery store to buy them, but today my culinary talents took a huge step forward by making a visit to Penzey’s Spices. There’s one in Santa Monica, and I’ve always wanted to check out what they offer. When I was first starting out in my cooking adventures, I would follow the recipes exactly, to the smallest detail. Now, it’ so much more fun changing it up, especially with different spices. What’s really impressive about the place is the huge selection — more than 250 salts, peppers, spices, rubs, seasonings, seeds, dried peppers and other dried fruits and vegetables from all over the world. I don’t know where to start! I am always looking for new spices for roast chicken and BBQ steak, so I start there. Do you know how long spices are good for? I ask one of the helpful sales people. She tells me that ground spices last up to one year, and whole spices last up to two years. Storage of the spices, she said, is also key. Spices must be stored properly to maintain their original intensity and freshness. They can be stored in a glass container and be free of exposure to light, moisture, air and heat. Good to know. So many spices, so little time! As I meander down each isle looking for the perfect...

Blue Plate Taco Reinvents the Southwestern Dining Experience...

On a bright, sunny, surprisingly warm day in Santa Monica, my gal pals and I decided to take some time to enjoy the day and experience a new place for lunch. We met at Blue Plate Taco.  Located on Ocean Avenue, at the new, ultra modern Shore Hotel, we chose an inside table; the windows facing the patio seating were so large and bright, it was a perfect perch to soak in the sun and the ambiance of the place. The design of the Blue Plate Taco is decidedly “Southwest Meets The Hamptons.”  Beach-y, yet rustic. A cool collection of  large round lighting fixtures circled around each other to form an artistic “chandelier,” creating a centerpiece for the room.  To the right was a diner-like counter with an open kitchen, facing out to the patio tables and Ocean Avenue, creating the beach-y feel, and the natural wood and leather- accented chairs and tables created the southwestern flair.  Comfortable from the get-go. The menu was superb.   If you wanted to eat light and healthy — check.  If you wanted to be decadent and bad — check.  We went both routes.  We started out with a big bowl of house made tortilla chips and fresh guacamole ($9.00)   Avocados are very good for you!  The attentive waiter then brought us each a sample of the tortilla soup to taste ($7.00 for a cup; $10.00 for a bowl.)  It was divine — creamy, rich with chicken chunks in every bite.  And, chicken is a great protein!   The next dish to arrive, the Mixto Ceviche, with shrimp, calamari and lobster ($15.00), became an instant healthy favorite of mine. The “main” courses for us consisted of tacos and salads — all reinterpreted from the classic renditions.  We ordered a Mexican...