Dining Out With a Really Hard-to-Please Guy

When I wrote about dining out a year ago, I made it a point to let our readers know that Conejo Valley Lifestyle would only accept advertisement from restaurants that we would recommend to friends and family. That still holds true.

I am a royal pain when it comes to being satisfied when dining out. Being a pretty good “home chef,” I am very reluctant to pay $100 to $200 or more in a so-called “fine dining” restaurant that serves mediocre food in a noisy room backed by subpar service. In fact, I rarely dine out unless I am traveling and have no other choice. Frankly, I’d rather eat a cheesesteak sandwich for dinner in Philly than get ripped off because there is a white tablecloth in front of me. We no longer go out to steakhouses because I can do better on my backyard Broil King. It’s easy. The steaks at Gelson’s or Whole Foods are better quality than what most restaurants serve.

I do have several favorites. Unfortunately, none are Italian, which is my favorite cuisine. My veal chops, bolognese sauce, linguini and clams, chicken parm, lasagna and antipasto keep us right at home. When it’s time to dine out, I look for excellent food highlighted by fresh local ingredients, great preparation and presentation, reasonable prices for food and wine, good and knowledgeable service and, most importantly… a meal prepared differently and better than I can make myself.

Brent’s Deli

Let’s start with the basics, and what’s more basic than a deli? Since I am an East Coast Philly boy and have dined in the best delis that New York and Philadelphia have to offer, I was thrilled when Brent’s Deli opened in Westlake Village several years ago. I have never been disappointed at Brent’s. My favorites on their extensive menu (what good deli doesn’t offer what seems like a hundred or more choices?) are brisket, pastrami, cabbage soup and chicken matzo ball soup, their very evil steak fries, and the Spanish omelet. When I brought an ex-pat New York native business associate who was working and living in Ireland to Brent’s for lunch, he was almost in tears as he devoured a huge pastrami sandwich. Brent’s is often mobbed and rightfully so.

2799 Townsgate Road, Westlake Village, 805.577.1882, BrentsDeli.com

Aroha New Zealand Cuisine

Next up is Aroha New Zealand Cuisine in Westlake Village. Aroha means “love” in Maori, and you will love the food and service. The menu revolves around fresh seafood, fish, lamb and venison from New Zealnd, as well as locally grown organic farm-to-market vegetables. Gwithyen Thomas, the owner chef, may still be in his 20s, but he brings years of international award-winning talent to the entire menu. When it comes to preparation, seasoning and presentation, Gwithyen is a minimalist. He allows the natural flavor of the food to shine through. The wine list favors New Zealand offerings, so if you enjoy an excellent Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc, you are in the right place. My favorites are the Cloudy Bay Clams, New Zealand King Salmon, great crab cakes made with lump crab meat and the award-winning Horopito Crusted New Zealand Venison. He will also specially prepare gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian or allergy-sensitive dishes. The outdoor patio makes for a very pleasant dining experience for dinner or their special Sunday Brunch.

30990 Russell Ranch Road, Westlake Village, 805.405.5054, ArohaRestaurant.com

Deliteful Low-Carb Restaurant & Bar

Deliteful is new to our community. Delightfully different and delicious, this fine dining restaurant in the Oaks Mall is located on the lower level entrance across the parking lot entry to Nordstrom. Owner Tracy Webster offers excellent dishes minus the sugar and artificial sweeteners, 100% gluten-free ingredients and meat and poultry free from antibiotics, hormones and GMO feed and chemical additives like MSG. All this at first glance is almost too “dietary correct” for a macho guy like me, but I quickly got over it, because the food is excellent and the ambiance is first-class fine dining. Tracy is from South Africa and many of the dishes have that unique influence. They also have a full bar and a good wine list. The Short Rib Trinchado was perfectly braised and served with Peri Peri spices, bay leaves, black olives and seasonal veggies. I love braised meats, and this dish was to die for. The wild-caught salmon with mustard and dill was also perfect. Their grain-free, gluten-free breads are made from almond flour, coconut flour and flax meal and are more filling than traditional highly refined wheat flour breads. Their muffins and cakes are GfGf as well as sugar free and low carb. Stop by and visit Tracy. You won’t be sorry and you will surely come back for more.

The Oaks Mall, Lower Level, 805.418.5118, DelitefulMeals.com

Moqueca Brazilian Cuisine

Moqueca is, I am happy to say, another new entity in town, with a second location at the Oxnard Harbor. Their food is very different, and after my first visit, I gotta say, “Wow! Really great!” The most famous dish of Espirito Santo’s state is the “Moqueca Capixaba.” The name “moqueca” designates the method of preparation in a clay pot to cook the fish or seafood and vegetables. The ingredients can include lobster, shrimp, fish, onions, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro and unique Brazilian specialties like urucum seeds and malagueta pepper. These ingredients are added to a rich broth made from moqueca and yucca flour with a splash of coconut milk and then spooned over white rice with a few drops of some very spicy oil. Mix it up and dig in. Spectacular! Several other Brazilian chicken, fish and beef items are also offered on the menu, as well as pasta. I am ready for several return visits.

1610 Thousand Oaks Blvd, Thousand Oaks, 805.2303585, MoquecaRestaurant.com

Tasty Alternatives

Until now, Wood Ranch in Agoura Hills was my only BBQ destination, but CharHouse at the corner of Lindero Canyon and Kanan Roads in Oak Park is a nice new alternative. They offer excellent ribs, tri-tip and sides. At the same location, On The Thirty offers an attractive sports bar theme. Both places give us “North Ranchers” a good alternative to driving into Westlake or T.O. When we visited On The Thirty, I found their pizza to be really good. The crust, sauce and cheese were right on target to satisfy my New York pizza taste. If you just have to visit a steakhouse, my first choice is The Grill on the Alley. Italian? I find most places are overrated or very ordinary. However, I might suggest Marcello’s on Hillcrest near the Oaks Mall for some unique regional dishes and really good lasagna. For the best Chinese food in the entire Conejo Valley, visit the Zen Garden in Oak Park. It’s worth the drive, and they also deliver.

If you have a recommendation, please share it with us at ConejoValleyLifestylePubs.com

Bon Appetit!