Archive for the ‘fresh ingredients’ Tag

Roman Pizza   Leave a comment


Mani ai Pizzeria’s doors open at 6:30 p.m. We arrived just as a small line was forming. This is a no-frills pizza joint that serves great pies and entertains, at least we were entertained by the pizzamakers. There was neither tossing nor twirling of unbaked dough, but a calm, systematic approach to churning out 15 made-to-order pizzas at a time.

2017-02-23-19-57-11We shared a mixed salad, a liter of the house red and a Margarita pizza. That was our first order before we were mesmerized by the assembly-line process with a personal touch.

Pieces of dough are pulled from a large mound and formed into the size of tennis balls. These are rolled flat and stacked. Initially, there were two men making the pies. One rolled, creating a flurry of flour, one checked supplies and fed the wood-burning oven. The maestros then methodically cover some with sauce, most with cheese – a lot of cheese – and then the specific topics that included mounds of mushrooms, zucchini blossoms, raw sausage (it cooked in the oven), more cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. The marble slab looked like a carpet of pizzas.


I wondered if the first ones in the oven would be the last out. This wasn’t the case. The guys know their stuff. The pizzas are served unsliced. The crust is thin and easily folds  in half. The ingredients are fresh and flavorful. We enjoyed ours so much we ordered a second just so we could keep watching — and eating!



Chicken Champion   Leave a comment


I have a hard time ignoring a restaurant’s boastful claims and proclamations. Even though I’d never heard of the Castle Café before, this meant I had little choice but to order its “World Famous Pan-Fried Chicken.”

I’m glad I did.

The menu and our server noted that the order takes 30 minutes to prepare. Fortunately, I was in good company, so time passed quickly; it was my order delaying our meal. When it arrived, I wasn’t disappointed. Chicken Fried Chicken is also on the menu; what distinguishes the pan-fried version is that it’s cooked on the bone – part of what contributes to the half-hour prep. The former is a chicken breast pounded thin.

For the famous rendition, it’s possible to order all white, all dark or a combination. I opted for the latter. Four pieces of golden, crispy chicken served with real mash potatoes, cracklin’ gravy, mixed fresh vegetables, and cole slaw made this a hearty meal. Homemade, hot-out-of-the-oven Parker House rolls made this a complete feast.

The juicy chicken and gravy made from the pan remnants evoke images of Sunday dinner. This was an impressive meal.


Other offerings include burgers, grilled and fried entrees and house-smoked meats for pulled pork or brisket sandwiches. A metal tray served as the plate for the brisket topped with tangy barbecue sauce served on a brioche bun with French fries; this was clever plating.

If anyone asks, I’ll agree the fried chicken deserves its accolades – even if it is a small world, afterall.

Castle Cafe
Four-and-half Plates
403 Wilcox
Castle Rock, Colorado

Breezing Through Lunch   Leave a comment


The views from Las Brisas restaurant in Laguna Beach are enough to make you drool. So is the food, which is more appropriate.

Our day at Laguna was postcard perfect with the ocean and sky fading into the same rich blue color on the horizon. It was almost a shame to be indoors, except we had a window table.


Las Brisas serves upscale Mexican food; these are not your typical street foods but creative interpretations with an emphasis on fresh fruits, vegetables and fish.


My Grilled Chicken Taco Grande was more a taco salad. Unlike any I’ve had, it included golden beets, pineapple salsa, cotija cheese, grilled free-range chicken breast on a bed of mixed greens topped with tortilla strips. A honey-Dijon vinaigrette is suggested on the menu. Instead, I opted for the mango vinaigrette, which just made more sense to me. Every bite was refreshing and the meal could easily have served two, although I enjoyed it by myself.


Equally impressive is the Tostada Grande, which, again, is unlike any tostada I’ve seen. A fried flour tortilla stands upright on the plate like a fan. Beets, organic greens, beans, red onions and guacamole are arranged around it.

I was certain the tortilla, which was orange, was made with sweet potato. Our server said it had simply been dyed to achieve the color, but I am sticking to the flavor I detected as the explanation for its hue. If it had been sunset, I might have had considered another possible reason.

Las Brisas
Four Plates
361 Cliff Dr.
Laguna Beach, Calif.

Il Vicino Pizza   Leave a comment


Typically, I have plenty of time to study the menu on the wall at Il Vicino. That’s because the line is long enough that I can read through the descriptions of pizzas and other offerings while waiting to place my order at the counter. Recently, however, there was no line, so even though there was no pressure to make a quick decision, I felt uneasy. I worried that people aren’t frequenting this gourmet pizza place like they should.

The small eatery offers more than dozen types of pizza, several calzones and Panini, salads and a few pasta dishes. From a traditional Margherita to pies with roasted chicken, tuna, even spicy shrimp. It’s often difficult to decide. Even with no one in line behind us I was torn.


We eventually settled on two salad/pizza combinations. The Pizza al Pesto is embellished with fresh pesto, sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, pine nuts and mozzarella. The bread-like crust was thick with wood-smoked flavor. The Spinach Salad was the perfect complement with a fresh pesto dressing, roasted red peppers, red onions, pine nuts and Gorgonzola cheese over a bed of spinach. The other combination included the Campagnola: a traditional marinara, sausage, mushrooms, and, instead of goat cheese, Asiago cheese. The sausage stood out in the crowd of ingredients. The beautifully-plated Insalata Il Vicino was a rift on a Cobb Salad with rows of chopped roasted chicken, diced egg, Gorgonzola, artichoke hearts and walnuts.


While leaving, the line in front of the menu board began to back up. Whew!

Il Vicino
Four Plates
11 S. Tejon St.
Colorado Springs, CO