When I find a really good restaurant, I like to share it with anyone who will listen (or in this case …read). What makes a “good” restaurant? Obviously the food, but there’s more to it than that. The location, seating, table separation, service, the surroundings, ambience and of course, the price all play a big part.
In today’s food scene, restaurants come and go on within weeks. To last, a restaurant has to have something special going for it. Yes, it has to make us want to go there, but more importantly it must make us want to return. The first means nothing if the second isn’t the deal maker.
Personally I go for personal recommendations from friends, fellow food writers, and I’ve been known to even turn to Yelp. When I’m in a strange town or abroad, I generally look for a place that's off the beaten path a block or two and full of locals, always a good sign that the food is freshly prepared and will taste good. All in all, I’ll take a personal recommendation over a paragraph in a guide book any day of the week.
My recommendation for you today is located in Oxnard, California. Snuggled next to the California coast, just 60 minutes from Los Angeles and tucked away in the Channel Islands area, Oxnard is a great place to hang out. Pristine beaches, cool ocean breezes a burgeoning culinary scene and a friendly attitude makes this one of the best kept secrets on the California Coast.
When there, head over to La Dolce Vita Ristorante located in Heritage Square in the Downtown area. Family owned and operated, La Dolce Vita offers authentic Italian Mediterranean fusion cooking. Executive Chef and Owner Michelle Kenney fashions a kind of genuine atmosphere that offers a bold diverse menu featuring her own unique creations and offering excellent service. Downstairs, the LDV Lounge features a full bar and live entertainment. It’s one-stop yumminess from start to finish.
One of my favorite dishes at La Dolce Vita is the Portobello Florentine. It’s a big earthy dish full of succulent flavors. Pair it with a local Oxnard wine like a Rancho Ventavo Cellars 2010 Essa (Cab/Syrah) - Central Coast. You can thank me later for the suggestion. You can thank Michelle for the recipe below.
Be sure to make time to attend a cooking class at La Dolce Vita. I bet you didn’t think THAT kind of activity would be available to you. Yup, and it’s a knock-out winner. Prepare an Italian-inspired menu with executive chef and author Michelle Kenney out on the restaurant patio. Let the warm sun wash over you as you either watch her prepare the recipes or jump in and get your hands into the fun of it all. Hope that she greets you with her signature Limoncello sparkling drink. It sets the mood for a fun afternoon that is definitely worth your time and money.
Convinced? I hope so. This place is a definite must see and do. Until you get there, try Michelle’s lovely recipe for La Dolce Vita Portobello Florentine. The marinated Portobello mushroom stuffed with sautéed spinach, mushroom & pancetta, topped with gruyere and served with capellini and drizzled with a Marsala cream sauce is going to rock your world. Just sayin’.
La Dolce Vita Portobello Florentine
Courtesy of Executive Chef Michelle Kenney
La Dolce Vita Ristorante , Oxnard California
4 medium Portobello’s or Portobellini’s
1/8 c olive oil
Salt and Pepper
1 cup breadcrumbs
½ lb bacon or pancetta chopped and cooked
1/8 c parmesan cheese
1 c chopped mushroom stems the tender parts or button mushrooms chopped
3 tbls shallots chopped
1-2 tbls butter
2 to 3 cups of fresh spinach
4 slices gruyere cheese
3/4 cup marsala wine
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup chicken broth or vegetable broth if you want to make vegetarian (eliminate pancetta as well)
Pasta to serve over
Clean Portobello’s, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for 2-3 minutes on each side. (Sauté if no grill available)
For stuffing: Combine Bread Crumbs, bacon parmesan and 1 cup of spinach. Add broth to make stuffing hold together.
Put on top of mushrooms and bake for 6-7 minutes, add gruyere and bake until melted and golden brown
For Sauce: Sauté shallots with butter, add rest of chicken stock then add marsala reduce down for a few minutes, add heavy cream and reduce to proper thickness.Sauté spinach with a little olive oil and salt and pepper
Put Pasta on plate in a circular mound, surround with spinach, top with baked mushroom and pour sauce on top.