Bruno’s Italian Restaurant, Ocean Avenue’s Little Secret...

On Ocean Avenue, eclipsed by popular, but pricey restaurant , The Lobster (love ya, Lobster!) sits a small Italian restaurant that I have passed for more than 20 years. It’s called Bruno’s, and it’s now my new favorite spot to get pizza. Next to all the fancy hotels and restaurants surrounding it, the place looks unassuming, but once I entered through the back door, the smell of authentic, old-school Italian cuisine took over.  The room had no more than a dozen tables, all covered with red and white checkered table cloths – a real throwback from my childhood. It reminded me of going to our local joint, Tony’s Pizzeria on Fridays before my parents dropped me off at the local roller rink for a night of skating and (innocent) flirting with the boys. My lunch buddy and I walked up to the counter and introduced ourselves to the owner, Bruno. We told him that we came here for a good pizza. His eyes lit up, and he declared proudly that all of his pizzas were made by hand, and that we were in for a real treat! He had his wife seat us at a comfortable booth, apologizing that he had to tend to his bread baking. A few minutes later, while we were perusing the menu, his wife delivered some bread to us. OMG! It was the bread Bruno just finished baking. It was warm, soft in the inside with a perfectly baked caramel- colored crunchy crust on the outside. I normally forego the bread before a meal, but this bread, spread lightly with butter, was amazing. It had to have been the freshest bread I have ever tasted! We then ordered a green salad and a large pizza with two toppings. The...

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...

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...

Martinis, Lobster and a Pink Gorilla...

A week before my birthday, my business partner and BFF invited me to dinner to celebrate.  “Anywhere you want to go,” she offered.  “Mastros, Cut, The Wilshire, Spago, your choice!”   I thought about it for a few minutes.  I love all of those restaurants, but wanted something different.  Where’s a relaxing place that has great lobster tail for a decent price and  serves a nicely chilled Grey Goose Citron Martini, up, with two olives and a twist of lemon?    “It has to be The Galley,”  I said, “that nautical-looking dive on Main Street.”    “Really?” My business partner was surprised.    In truth,  she was IN for a nice surprise, (especially because she was paying.) On the day of our dinner date, my husband and I walked up to the restaurant.  Still the funky entrance, like you’re going into a smoky, dive bar forgotten by time.  As we walked in, it still had the same ambiance (dark and sort of tacky) but many more colored Christmas lights enveloped and lit up the entire joint.  It was so cool, so kitschy.  On my left there was an old-fashioned bar  and to my right, tables and booths for diners.   And the place was pretty full! I learned that the old hang out recently had a face lift. Santa Monica’s oldest restaurant and bar had been beautifully preserved along with the historic pieces that have been at the Galley for 71 years.  Pieces from the 1934 film Mutiny on the Bounty are draped among the bevy of lights, and a boat used in the movie now resides on the heated patio in the back of the place.   The Galley also has a collection of 11 war propaganda posters from the 1940s, framed and hung around the establishment. Still marveling...