Before moving to California, the owners of Finbars Italian Kitchen lived in a Brooklyn neighborhood densely populated with Italian families. Like the rest of the neighborhood, they attended St. Finbar parish, where they gossiped and traded recipes with “grandmas, moms, and quite a few uncles that all know how and love to cook.” Later, as transplants to the West Coast, they infused the “straight to the point food” they knew and loved with fresh, California-style ingredients such as cilantro, zucchini, and celebrity secrets. Their menu soon grew to reflect both their traditions and culinary developments, with dishes such as chicken tequila fusilli, pad thai linguine, and New York prime steaks. Today, they serve their freshly made dishes in two locations, where live music entertains diners on weekends.
On the café's sign, a tiny green leaf glows like a hyphen between the words “Sweet” and “Basil.” Through the glass doors, the ebb and flow of conversation rolls against the canary-yellow walls. Peeking around at the black lacquered tables, patrons see steaming pies draped in thick, emerald cloaks of pesto, whose scent hints at garlic, pine nuts, and the eatery’s namesake herb, basil. Forks spool richly sauced pastas and bury themselves deep into stuffed calzones. Scoops of spumoni ease feasts to a close, unlike the decision to show off how strong a homemade table is.
At first glance, South Coast Pizza Parlors might look like an ordinary family pizza joint. The requisite video and redemption games chirp and ring near the entrance. Six big-screen televisions flicker with sporting events. But the difference is in the pizza--the kitchen crew crafts dough and sauce fresh every single day, drizzling pies with classic toppings such as green peppers and pepperoni, as well as more non-traditional options including vegan cheese and soy chorizo.
To Master Chef Massimo Navarretta—who grew up farming and wine-making in Campania, Italy—it makes little sense to separate wine from food. At his eatery Onotria, which received Wine Spectator's Best of Award of Excellence in 2011 and 2012, he groups dishes on the menu by wine pairing, rather than by main ingredient or ability to be balanced on the tip of a tiny dessert spoon. Seafood-based plates, such as prosciutto-wrapped tiger shrimp or poached octopus with artichokes, complement a glass of dry, sparkling white wine. Lightly breaded pork medallions accompany a light, dry red, while hearty lamb chops or filet go with a bolder varietal such as zinfandel or merlot. These dishes can serve as tasting plates for groups, entrees for individuals, or finger food for visiting giants.
To create the seasonal menu, the kitchen uses hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, as well as organic and biodynamic ingredients. Meals are served under a high-peaked ceiling with wooden rafters, in a dining room with exposed-brick columns and mottled walls that echo the look of an old-country trattoria.
Proprietor and chef David Myers has never been a man to cut corners in the kitchen. He honed his attention to detail while working for Chicago's legendary Charlie Trotter and French gourmand Daniel Boulud, and then went on to earn praise of his own, including a Michelin star for his Sona Restaurant in West Hollywood.
At Chef Myers' Italian-spun invention, Pizzeria Ortica, patrons can peer at the open kitchen and watch as his team carefully assembles locally sourced and artisanal ingredients such as crushed tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, cured pork cheek, and fennel pollen. An 800-degree wood-burning oven adds crispy finishing touches to Neapolitan-style pizzas built atop handmade dough, served alongside traditional antipastos and steaming portions of pasta.
A rustically modern interior of exposed white brick and large, glowing overhead lights offers a perfect complement to the restaurant's simple yet gourmet cuisine, as does a selection of Prohibition-era-inspired cocktails. Behind the bar, mixologists muddle fruit and herbs culled fresh from the farmers' market, and then mix them with gins, scotches, and whiskeys.
An open-flame hearth is at the heart of Cosi's kitchen space, giving sandwiches and pizzas their toasty crunch. But there's a lot more to the menu than what happens under the flame. The T.B.M. sandwich piles tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella inside warm flatbread and the tandoori chicken sandwich brightens up grilled chicken breast with red peppers. Even the salads make for hearty lunches; the cobb mixes greens with grilled chicken breast, bacon, and gorgonzola in a sherry-shallot vinaigrette. The crown of any meal here is undoubtedly the s'mores, which you get to roast over a tabletop fire pit before dragging your sleeping bag into the kitchen for a night's rest.