A la carte

Coolest Train Set In Town… I have enjoyed meals in railroad dining cars on a couple of continents, including this one – Amtrak’s service is short on innovation, but the atmosphere and ever-changing view more than compensate. I never thought I’d be able to get even a shadow of the experience in the South Bay, where the rails have long been subsumed by greenbelt. So it was a surprise when I visited The Dining Car, a wonderful project by Chef Hannes in El Segundo. Chef-owner Johannes Kraschitzer expanded into the long, narrow space next door and decided to recreate the ambiance of a railroad dining car, complete with electric trains running around and even inside the tables. It’s a charming, cheerful space in which to enjoy his Austro-Italian flavored California cuisine, and worth a visit even if you don’t have fond memories of the model train set you used to own as a kid. It’s just a building on Main Street, but it feels like it could roll away at the same time…

Nobility in Hermosa… Over the decades, the Bottle Inn has hosted some of the aristocracy of the winemaking world at their events. They’re doing it both literally and figuratively on February Second, when Count Sebastiano Capponi of Villa Calcinala stops in to show the wines from his family’s estate. After twenty generations of making wine in the hills of Tuscany, they should certainly have the experience with the noble grape. The Bottle Inn crew will rise to the occasion with a four-course dinner of classics like stromboli, osso bucco, and Italian style bread pudding, the kind of thing the first Count Capponi was eating back in 1524. It should be an event of royal style and flair for a mere $59 per person plus tax – reserve at (310) 376-9595…

First Glances… Grace Deli is hidden in an odd little spot next to a 7-11 on PCH in Hermosa that used to be a Hawaiian BBQ joint. The idea of serving deli sandwiches and burritos is a bit eccentric, but those who try the place may be won over by friendly staff, freshly made fast food, and modest prices.  A warning to spice wimps – the homemade hot sauce lives up to its billing – this stuff burns so good…

A Farm Stand In A Parking Lot… At a recent meal at Chez Melange that showcased fresh produce from the Friday farmers market, owner Michael Franks rhapsodized about the joys of working with the freshest of produce. The offerings on the plates that evening said more than any words could, a reminder of the incredible produce we can get year-round without resorting to half-ripe corn and tomatoes that have been shipped halfway around the world. One of the farmers I spoke to at that event mentioned that some people think of going to farmers markets only in summer, which is a shame. They are there rain or shine, with fruits and vegetable packed with vitamins and flavor. If you’re reading this column you are probably the kind of people who would really appreciate the chance to not only enjoy the best, but to get preparation tips from the people there who know the produce they picked…

Event Alert, Part Two… Tin Roof Bistro has been hosting some interesting wine dinners in their private room, and the next one is scheduled for Friday, February 25. Winemaker Justin Willett honed his craft in Australia’s Barossa Valley and Santa Barbara’s Arcadian Winery, and he and wine expert Peter Kerr will be presenting and explaining his California Central Coast wines at this dinner. The menu has some unusual items that take maximum advantage of the seasons, like a mushroom, root vegetable, and kale pot pie, duck confit ravioli, and lamb porterhouse with fennel and olives. It’s a fascinating menu and looks luscious – price is $89 per person inclusive for five courses. Call (310) 939-0900 for reservations and more information…

Tea For You, Too… Tea has taken a back seat to coffee lately, with connoisseurs paying premium prices for exotic beans, but the Asian leaf has as wide a variety of styles and flavors. You can sample an amazing variety of them at the new Tea Exchange on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, a tidy little place on the edge of the Metlox Plaza. I was impressed by the prices and selection – traditional Chinese teas like the prized Pu-erh, Japanese green and flavored teas, herb varieties like the rooibos, are all neatly packaged and arranged in alphabetical order. It’s a nice addition to the neighborhood, and I look forward to some enjoyable excursions to browse and sip…

 Events, We Have More Events… It’s a rare barbecue place that offers beer and wine dinners, but Mr. Cecil’s on Highland in Manhattan Beach is no stranger to going outside the boundaries. Next Tuesday, February 2, they will offer a four-course tasting that will be dear to the hearts of carnivores. This place is dear to the hearts of our readers, who have voted it the South Bay’s best – come find out for yourself about the BBQ place with the best sides in the business.  It’s $44 for food-only, $53 with wine or beer pairings – phone (310) 546-5400.

And that’s it for this week – any new restaurants I should know about, any exciting things you want to share? Tell me at Richard@richardfoss.com… ER

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