Manhattan House Redux: The Sweet Summer Menu to Savor

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Chef Juan Torres, right,  restauranteur Brett Schwartz, left

What can we say about Manhattan House? Located in Manhattan Beach, this is a restaurant that as we’ve said before, could hold its own in DTLA, or the heart of the “other” Manhattan. Sophisticated, fresh, farm to table cuisine; a buzzing atmosphere; and a terrific, supportive staff combine to make a stellar dining experience.

We were delighted to meet the restaurant’s new chef, Juan Torres. His take on the restaurant’s cuisine will veer into the Italian-inspired, while keeping the focus on seasonal ingredients.

“We are going to be introducing six fresh pastas made in-house every day. We’ll also be including whole animal butchery twice a week. I’ve been training our staff on the pasta as we speak, eight hours a day we’ve been working on it,” Torres attests.

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We began our meal with cocktails: the gorgeous La La Land and the spicy The Thriller.  The latter features a heady mix of Karma tequila blanco, Cointreau, fresh kumquat and serrano chili, and lime juice, served on the rocks. I thought La La Land was something special, a smoky flavor permeating the Grey Goose La Poire, with lemon, vanilla, Chartreuse, and dill, served up.

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Each made a great companion to our first courses:  a lush heirloom tomato burrata salad, with balsamic and EVOO;  and a crisp, deliciously spiced yellow tail crudo, which thin shavings of fresh zucchini, onion, and red pepper.

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Both were beautifully presented.

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Gluten free and vegan never tasted as good as with the roasted cauliflower, a heady mix of the cauliflower with crispy buckwheat, celery, pomegranate, pine nuts, and a lemon caper vinaigrette. Light yet entirely fulfilling, it’s a perfect summer dish.

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The house take on beet salad is no slouch, either. A variety of golden and red beets accompanies pistachios, mixed greens, armidda, and a light balsamic dressing.

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But perhaps the most sublime dish is the saffron risotto with sweet corn and basil. Golden, delectable, and rich, it is not heavy, suffused in flavor, and wonderfully aromatic.  Truly something to savor – and I don’t say that lightly.

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Squid ink pasta with was an intense dish, earthy, hearty, and seemingly infused into the house-made spaghetti noodles. With it, we tried the La Vida Pura, another perfectly suited on-the-rocks craft-cocktail, this made with Del Maguey ‘Vida’ mezcal, grapefruit juice, passion fruit, mint, and Peychaud bitters.

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We finished with a whole branzino special. A perfect fish, rubbed with garlic salt and pepper, grilled over zucchini and a lettuce and tomato salad, it was flavorful, tender, simple, and utterly beautiful.

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But let’s not forget dessert: two very different dishes here. We had the restaurant’s signature Panna Cotta, creamy and smooth, a blend of vanilla, raspberries, and basil.

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And we were able to try a brand new desert, a light, fragrant granita, with rose’ jelly. Slightly astringent, it was both refreshing and unique, the rough texture of ice contrasting just about perfectly with the smooth jelly beneath it; the flavor sophisticated and edgy.

Be aware that because specials, fresh ingredients, and seasonal favorites come and go, you may not find the same dishes daily.  But rest assured, what you do find will be delicious.

There is only one more thing to say: no matter where in LA you live, you should spend an evening at Manhattan House. There’s plentiful, free lot-parking, too. Dinner nightly; brunch on Sunday.

Manhattan House is located at 1019 Manhattan Beach Boulevard, just off Sepulveda Blvd.

  • Genie Davis; photos by Jack Burke

Primo is Prime Italian South Bay Style

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The beach cities south of LAX have too-long languished without a wide choice of fine dining experiences. But that’s all changed now, with a bevy of epicurean delights springing up all over the South Bay.

Among them is Primo, a homey, welcoming, yet upscale setting with warm staff and authentic Italian cuisine. Proud of it’s many imported Italian ingredients, the restaurant offers something for everyone, from delicate pizzas to hearty fish and meat dishes.

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Innovative chef Michelangelo Aliaga decided to move to the beach cities with his wife and family after the birth of his twins. “In the process – some may say it was fate, that the opportunity to be a part of Primo’s start and growth presented itself and it was too good to pass up. What we do every day is more than just cooking. Each dish has our passion, our energy, and our love for Italian food,” he asserts. “We’re passionate about each product that we bring from Italy.  Many of the ingredients that we use in our dishes, such as our olive oil,  prosciutto, cheeses in all their varieties, and salamis, take months or even years to produce. That kind of devotion to food and its history is an experience told not by the chef but by all the people that make the ingredients are the best of the world, ‘the artisan producers.'”
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So with these ingredients in mind, how was the kitchen? Our meal began with craft cocktails that were light and refreshing, a great accompaniment to the fresh, hot bread and imported olive tapenade.
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A starter of octopus served over sliced tomatoes and potatoes provided a terrific contrast in textures, the cold cooked potatoes and thinly sliced tomatoes offering an excellent base for the tender yet chewy fish.
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The Cesare Salad featured whole, fresh anchovies along with a lovely, savory dressing. The quality of the cheese shavings was also excellent.
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Our first course was a thin crust pizza with goat cheese and imported Pecorino, salty and yet refined, with a crust that had the slightly chewy yet light texture of the dough, which had a hint of sweetness.
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Our secondi focused once again on the sea. My salmon with pistachio crust came with broccolini and fingerling potatoes; it was juicy and ample, a superior cut of fish that was fresh and flavorful.
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The signature Brodo di Pesce had a rich and spicy broth, tomato based, that served as a richly nuanced contrast to generously portioned chunks of tender fish, crab legs, and mussels. Again, a generous portion with plenty of texture and flavor. The crisp bread accompanying the dish was just right to soak up the last of the broth.
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Dessert was a highlight: house made, fresh spumoni gelato – gelato flavors change nightly. Along with chocolate, strawberry, and pistachio, vanilla was added to the traditional spumoni flavors.
The personable staff made the meal feel well-attended, but not rushed. Come for the food with its fresh, carefully curated ingredients, for the convivial atmosphere, and the dedication to innovative renderings of classic dishes in the kitchen. Primo is primed for success in the beach cities.
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Primo is located at 24590 Hawthorne Boulevard in Torrance.

Manhattan House: Beach Town Chic

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The beach communities of Los Angeles – outside of Santa Monica and Venice, that is, is sometimes a desert. A food desert that is, although that’s certainly changing, one great restaurant at a time,  with a growing range of restaurants that offer superlative cuisine. Manhattan House is one.

What’s not to love about Manhattan House? This is a restaurant that features produce grown seed-to-plate in local community gardens, making the veggies and herbs always fresh and fine. Organic and GMO-free ingredients compliment seafood, vegetable fare, and meat dishes – creating a dining experience that’s delicious for everyone. And, one that is ever-changing. Nightly specials and a menu that varies with the season means you could dine here often and never get bored.

With a chic but rustic feel, the dining room itself is comfortable and stylish, with both booths and tables, as well as a friendly bar. And – it’s just blocks to the beach – with it’s own parking lot.

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The menu changes regularly, but always on hand are excellent craft cocktails, a solid beer and wine list,  a plethora of fine vegetarian and seafood options, and specials that sing with inventive touches. Chef Diana Stavaridis creates surprisingly beautiful dishes, including many ever-changing, seasonally-based specials.

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These included our starter, squash blossom with Dungeness crab, stuffed with lemon zest, pea tendrils, and avocado mousse, a terrific blend of flavors that was both delicate and satisfying. Perhaps even better was our salad, asparagus with large and lovely Fava beans, fingerling potatoes, and Parmesan cheese on spring greens.

Man house asparagus

Our carnivore tried the lamb meatballs, which she pronounced succulent and juicy; we went with toast. Not just any toast – but the house-made sourdough, a bread so good the restaurant sells it as take-home fare.

Man House bread whole

The wild mushroom toast is a potent, rich, and fragrant dish. Don’t be afraid to share. It features shiitake mushrooms and Taleggio cheese and it as hearty as any meat dish.

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Something lighter? The English pea toast combines delicate pea tendrils and basil pesto with ricotta and Parmesan. I’m sure it, too, is shareable – most of Manhattan House’s menu is designed to be shared over a series of smaller and larger courses – but personally speaking, this one was all mine.

Main courses?

man house SCALLOPS

Pan roasted scallops with eggplant, pine nuts, breadcrumbs, and sun-dried tomatoes for me, with Spot Prawns & Polenta for my partner.

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On another occasion, we went with vegan entrees that are truly a garden of taste: the roasted cauliflower, a dish often overdone and over-fried in far too many eateries these days, was a much more refined dish here, with buckwheat, celery, tangy pomegranate, pine nuts, and a lemon-caper vinaigrette. Keeping it simple, the warm market vegetables, which varies seasonally, featured eggplant, asparagus, rainbow heirloom carrots, and zucchini.

Man house smores

For dessert, of course we had to try the S’mores, unconventionally served as if the dish were a parfait, and here it is: layers of marshmallow brulee, dark chocolate, and gluten-free graham crackers in a lovely glass jar. The house cake the evening we dined was olive oil. I was skeptical, but with kumquats, candied pistachios, the cake was surprisingly light as air. Coffees are fine, too.

man house olive cake

Manhattan House is hugely popular – so do make a reservation, although bar seating, with small treats available on the menu such as nuts and olives, is a pleasant way to wait for a table should one arise.  Can’t wait? The restaurant is now offering local home delivery.

 

Manhattan House is located at 1019 Manhattan Beach Blvd. in Manhattan Beach. Dinner is offered 7 nights a week, with a Sunday brunch. The restaurant is participating in Dine LA so don’t miss the chance to check out the innovative dishes.

 

Staying SLO Brew Style – A Weekend in San Luis Obispo

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You’ve likely heard the expression: slow down, relax? Well there’s no better place to do that these days than in the heart of San Luis Obispo – SLO. Staying SLO style allows you to taste terrific beer at a variety of breweries, stroll Mission Plaza, and enjoy small boutique shops. It also means a stay at SLO Brew and Lofts, where great food, drink, and loft space might just mean you never leave the property.

Let’s start with a look at why many visitors come to SLO and SLO Brew in particular: the beer.

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Brewer Luis Lapostol led us through a tasting of some of the best beers in town. Always a home brewer, Lapostol joined the SLO Brew team three years ago,  working with brewmaster Steve Courier. “I was always a home brewer and always interested in craft beer. I came in and asked Steve if he needed help. His first question was what kind of beer I liked. We were expanding, and craft beer was expanding – I was in the right place at the right time,” he attests.

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SLO Brew was the first purveyor of craft beer in the state. “The people who built the original brew system in 1988 built it outdoors,” Lapostol told us. “When we moved to this location, the tanks were jack-hammered out and rolled down the street.”

We started by tasting a terrific Cali Weisse, the California version of a Hefeweizen, an American Pale Wheat Ale, with a subdued yeast character, a little subtle clove, and dry bright hops. We also tried the Reggae Red, a smooth brew with a bright flavor and a dash of hemp seeds, and the Cascade Pale Ale, which is not a year ’round brew but a rotating flavor. “We do have some pale ale all year round,” Lapostol says.

The Cascade is a single hop beer, but many brews on the menu are not. “We use up to eight different types of hops. It’s an art to create the mixtures, to see what a certain hop tastes and smells like. With the Cascade we are using a very old West Coast variety, one of the most widely used hops, a grapefruit and pine needle flavor that Sierra Nevada also uses,” Lapostol explains. 

Next up: the Stein Slammer Oktoberfest beer, which boasted a malty sweeter taste that’s easily drinkable and not too hoppy. We followed that with Barley Champ.

“Barley Champ is a brown ale, and I always wanted see it added to our selection. We had nothing on that color spectrum of beers between black stout and Reggae Red. Steve didn’t initially want to do an English-style brown, but I finally got the go ahead,” Lapostol laughs. “It’s hoppy for brown ale, but what I wanted. The name is mine, too.”

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Lapostol relates that because this beer worked out well, SLO Brew is considering a smaller pilot system to do more experimental beers, present them to a tasting panel, and get notes. “We hope to look into doing that part of the process before offering a beer on tap,” he says.

The seasonal Holidaze that we tasted was born of a “fun idea to try something new – pumpkin pie porter with graham cracker crust, vanilla, and a fresh pumpkin taste. We brought in pumpkins, put them through our pizza oven, roasted the pumpkin, and mixed it in mash. We also added graham cracker flour to the boil,” Lapostol attests.

The rich Nitro Oatmeal Stout presented well with small bubbles and a creamy mouth- feel redolent of caramelized sugar, espresso, and oatmeal.  “You need a beer with substantial body to nitrogenate successfully,” Lapostal notes.

Calling brewing a “definite balance of art and science,” Lapostol says SLO Brew is still known for it’s first brew, The Original Blonde Ale. “It’s an approachable craft beer that showcases a balance of malts and hops.” The refreshing beer has a mouth-feel that’s not too sweet, a beer that SLO Brew calls their “beach and hiking beer. It’s accessible and light, an ale not a Pilsner, a little crisper than a Pilsner.”

Naturally, along with tasting SLO Brew’s beers, we tasted their food, both for lunch and dinner. The menu is fresh and delicious. From a crisp flatbread pizza to perfect fries, we were impressed.

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The pizzas are varied: above is the pizza of the day, with onions and cilantro on a cheese-rich crust.

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Fried but not greasy, a delicious guilty pleasure, the lightly breaded and seasoned calamari and artichoke hearts above go just great with a beer or two. Served with sliced lemon, Arrabiata sauce and lemon aioli, they’re a don’t miss.

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More great-with-a-beer dishes: macaroni and cheese and fries.

For dinner, we went with more refined choices.

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Above, a sweet farmer’s market soup of the day: corn.

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Above, a really wonderful salad: the Complete Greens is a mix of kale, frisee, arugula, French Feta cheese, quinoa, sliced green apple, red onion, and almonds all in a light herbed vinaigrette.

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Fish tacos, above, featuring grilled, marinated mahi-mahi with tomatillo salsa, lime cabbage slaw, pickled red onion, and avocado crema. On the side is hearty serving of peruano beans and a fried jalapeno.

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One has to save room for dessert: in this case, the decadent Beer on Beer Brownie Sundae, a stout chocolate brownie with SLO Brew beer gelato and IPA caramel sauce. Yes, you want that.

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Last but not least, it doesn’t have to always be beer at SLO Brew’s bar. Above, SLO Fashion with Brew Rye Whiskey, house simple, and orange peel on the rocks.

So after a good meal or two and some beer, it might be time to listen to some music – SLO Brew often hosts live acts.

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And then – it’s time to chill out in one of the property’s six luxurious, sleek lofts upstairs.

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Beautifully designed spaces are stylishly modern with urban touches. We were in the one bedroom Castaway, with a record player, classic tunes, a fireplace, and a gorgeous kitchen, with a fridge stocked with SLO Brew cans.

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Our stay was on a rainy weekend, and while we took advantage of the central location to check out the art museum, the Mission, and take a stroll along the swollen, pretty creek, we also just stayed in. Spacious, with hardwood floors and bright colors, the Lofts make a great hideaway.

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Other loft spaces are great for families, and there’s a common room, above, that’s just waiting for a party.

So SLO down – SLO Brew is waiting.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke, additional photo SLO Brew