hippo

I love discovering tasty, new-to-me places in my (or a close by) neighborhood. Hippo in Highland Park had been on my radar for a while now- multiple friends had raved about it, and I couldn’t help but drool over their Instagram. So when we had good friends in town staying with us recently, I knew just the spot for dinner. Nestled off the busy street, just behind Triple Beam Pizza (another fave!), Hippo’s rustic, Italian-American vibes make it seem very New York to me. Perhaps that’s why I liked it so much from the moment we walked in, but once we tasted the food, it truly won me over. The bread basket of housemade focaccia was perfectly crusty and chewy, and I strongly suggest you start with the burrata di bufala (imported from Lazio-Italy!), served with even more delicious, carby goodness. I was a huge fan of the veggie starters- from the cool haricot verts with serrano chili toasted hazelnuts & Frenchie vinaigrette, to the griddled cauliflower with cauliflower “tahini” & walnut raisin caper relish, the flavors were truly unique. Of course, several housemade pastas are on the menu (and worth an order!), including the semolina spaghetti with guanciale, tomato & spicy pickled peppers, as well as the winter squash cappellacci with browned butter, sage & amaretti! Carefully handmade pasta, perfectly cooked to al dente, truly makes all the difference. Be sure to check out the rest of our meal in the slideshow above- there were honestly so many noteworthy dishes! We actually already had plans for ice cream after dinner, so I didn’t get a chance to try Hippo’s desserts- but there’s always next time! Post-baby, I’d like to go back for “Hippo Hour”, their version of happy hour, for some tasty small plates and a cool cocktail as well!


misi

Where do I even begin with Misi? This South Williamsburg beauty from celebrated chef Missy Robbins focuses on handmade pasta dishes and vegetable antipasti inspired by simple Italian cooking. That’s truly just it. The menu is very straightforward- ten antipasti and ten pasta- but everything is executed with such finesse, that it feels like a luxury dining experience. You may remember Chef Missy Robbins from Lilia, her in North Williamsburg hotspot in a converted auto body shop. She’s back with a bit simpler concept, but doesn’t skimp on taste or flavor. Misi had been on my husband’s and my must-visit list for some time now, but since we've been spending so much time in Los Angeles, we still hadn’t gotten the chance to stop by. Finally, on a recent trip to New York, we decided to walk in early on a Friday evening (risky with no reservation!), and were lucky enough to be greeted by Missy herself! After a private tour of Misi’s beautiful pasta room (check out my Instagram story highlights for more), we were seated at some of the best seats in the house overlooking the open kitchen, and started to devour the menu while watching the sunset over the Williamsburg bridge.

It was hard to narrow it down- so many dishes sounds appealing- but we ended up with three antipasti and three pasta! A nice, light meal for two people, no?! Scroll through the slideshow above for details on each dish, but honestly I’m not sure I could even choose a favorite. The raw fennel & celery salad with parmigiano & walnuts was the perfect light, crunchy complement to the garlicky, grilled runner beans. And as simple as the fettuccine with buffalo butter, parmigiano extra vecchio & black pepper was- wow- it truly blew us away. There’s sometimes nothing better than fresh, simple ingredients done right. Missy even told us that the fettuccine was the first dish created for the menu at Misi, before the restaurant was even open! Definitely a must-order if you’re lucky enough to go. We were both pretty full by that point, but I’m never one to pass on dessert, and once again Misi keeps things nice and simple. There are six housemade gelati available (plus the current off-menu pistachio!), as well as a nice offering of digestivi like grappa & amaro. We went with the super creamy pistachio gelato (loved the chunks of toasted nuts), as well as mint stracciatella gelato, which was smooth and refreshing, with just the right amount of mint infusion. We had such a delicious and memorable meal thanks to Chef Missy Robbins, I truly cannot thank her enough. The passion and care that goes into her food is evidently clear, and as a #chefswife myself, I respect her so much for that! Cheers to plotting our next visit sooner than later!


felix trattoria

Pasta, pasta, pasta! I had been told by many a pasta-finatic that if you’re on the hunt for delicious Italian food in Los Angeles, you head straight to Felix Trattoria. Being that it’s in Venice, it’s not the quickest dinner venture for us (not to mention reservations are hard to come by), but when I was planning a recent date night with friends, I made Felix a top priority. Chef Evan Funke’s take on traditional, regional Italian cuisine enriched with local Cali ingredients is nothing short of spectacular. Pasta and bread are the true standouts, and you can even watch them get made right before your eyes! The pizza bianca (with melt-in-your-mouth buffalo mozzarella) and the classic focaccia sfincione are not to be missed. You really can’t go wrong with anything from the handmade pasta menu, which offers various regional specialties from all around Italy. I love an orecchiette, and this one served with sausage, broccoli, peperoncino, and canestrato was delectable down to the last bite! Even the veggies at Felix were memorable: I loved the mint and pesto Siciliano coating the green beans in the fagiolini verdi dish! Also impressive were the branded ice cubes in my negroni- how fancy! Even though we were pretty stuffed by this point, you know I don’t skip dessert. The torta della nonna (a perfectly moist olive oil cake) really hit the spot, and allowed us to finish our meal on a not-too-sweet, but totally satisfied note. Scroll through the slideshow to check out the rest of our meal, and trust me when I say- get there soon! Felix (Latin for “happy” or “lucky”) easily gets my vote for best Italian in LA, and I already cannot wait to return in the new year!


juniper & ivy

 
 

I haven't spent a ton of time in San Diego (to my dismay), but on a recent trip to the west coast, I got the opportunity to dine with good friends at Juniper & Ivy. Chef Richard Blais, best known for winning Top Chef All-Stars, whips up "refined American food with left coast edge", bringing his super fresh and creative approach to the kitchen. Just reading over the menu, you'll notice inspiration from several different global cuisines, including Asian, Italian, and Moroccan, to name a few. The four of us shared everything, and we were continually impressed with the balance and depth of flavors, dish after dish. The BBQ carrots were cooked perfectly, and I loved the jalapeño chimichurri underneath! While I'm typically not one to order pasta, this corn carbonara (with housemade coriander bucatini pasta!) was one of the best I've ever had. The runny duck egg was such a nice accompaniment. The Moroccan flavor profile of the lamb shank, with its harissa eggplant, black garlic hummus, and date jus, was totally up my alley. Dessert is always a highlight for me, and the two we ordered were so unique and tasty. I loved their take on an "almond joy" candy bar, with a light pavlova shell surrounding coconut sorbet, soft chocolate, and marcona almonds. The blueberry sorbet, served with corn semifreddo, semolina cake, and crunchy lovage meringue, was the perfect balance of sweet and savory. Scroll through the slideshow to see more details about our delicious and satisfying meal. I'm dying to return the next time I'm in San Diego, as there were several other enticing menu items as well! 


lilia

 
 

Ever since Lilia joined the New York dining scene, I'd been trying to find the perfect time to go indulge in a what I'd heard was a fantastic Italian meal. Chef Missy Robbins is bringing the best of Italy, think handmade pastas and wood-fired seafood, to Williamsburg, Brooklyn (in a converted auto shop, no less!). Reservations are almost impossible to attain, but my husband and I figured we'd test our luck right when they opened one rainy holiday weekend. No dice. The restaurant was already packed, but they have a lovely caffè with aperitivi and snacks to wait until your table is ready. We were seated pretty quickly, and soon began an Italian feast to remember. My husband got the opportunity to speak to Chef Robbins, as the vast, beautiful kitchen is open and on full display to diners. Her passion and creativity are truly evident in not only her words, but in each and every dish presented. Everything was so fresh and well balanced, not to mention cooked perfectly. As a starter, the cacio e pepe frittelle (think cacio e pepe pasta in a light & flaky beignet-type dough) were literally melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The handmade pastas, specifically the popular & uniquely shaped mafaldini, which is served simply with pink peppercorns and Parmigiano Reggiano, are some of the best I've ever had. Lilia has an amazing wood-fired oven, so it would behoove you to order a meat or fish dish cooked in this way. The grilled swordfish and veal flank steak were both cooked to perfection, with that slightly crisp, charred finish you can't get from other methods. As always, dessert was a must, and I loved the playful, yet sophisticated version of a build-your-own soft serve gelato bowl! We went with vanilla gelato, topped with lemony walnuts and amaretti cookies, however, I can imagine chocolate gelato with salted hazelnuts, chocolate stracci, and candied citrus would be to die for as well. Keep in mind that the caffè is open all day, so stop by for a cappuccino and pastry in the morning, or a sandwich and gelato in the afternoon! The fact that Lilia garnered three stars from Pete Wells, the New York Times food critic, is no surprise to me. I'm thrilled to add another highly impressive spot to my list of neighborhood regulars.

santina

kale sunchoke salad, pomegranate// squash carpaccio, honey agrodolce, crème fraîche

cecina (chickpea pancake), spicy calabrian tuna tartare, avocado salsa verde

The coastal Italian menu with a strong focus on fish and vegetables drew me to Santina immediately. As part of the Major Food Group (think Dirty French, Carbone, Sadelle's etc.), the restaurant joins a list of popular, acclaimed restaurants, and in doing so has high expectations to fill. Upon entering Santina, you're greeted by bright colors and a welcoming, Mediterranean-inspired interior, which is a nice reprieve from the typical dark and gloomy New York restaurant. I love the colorful, hand-painted, and unique dishes used as well. I was excited to try the super creative (and not to mention beautifully plated!) squash carpaccio, and it did not disappoint. The delicate butternut squash was balanced nicely with a honey agrodolce, pink peppercorns, pumpkin seeds, and crème fraîche. The cecina (Tuscan chickpea pancake) was served in the skillet accompanied by a delicious avocado salsa verde, and came offered with a variety of toppings. We chose the spicy Calabrian tuna tartare, which was super fresh. with just the right amount of spice. The kale & sunchoke salad was light and refreshing, perfect before heading into our main courses. There are several seasonal rice and pasta dishes on the menu, and we thoroughly enjoyed our fusilli Santina with Merguez sausage & mussels (the guanciale e pepe rice dish, however, was quite underwhelming).  The Guajillo chicken with eggplant yogurt was cooked perfectly and so full of flavor; the radicchio and frisée added a nice contrasting bite to the dish as well.  We had plans for dessert elsewhere, but I would definitely like to return and taste the sweets, along with many other things on the menu! I love that Santina easily caters to meat-eaters, pescatarians, and vegetarians alike, with many fresh and creative dishes available for everyone. Although the prices are a bit high, it's on-par with the neighborhood, and the solid food & fun atmosphere ensure I'll be returning again soon.  

fusilli santina, merguez, mussels // guanciale e pepe, pork jowl, peppercorns

guajillo chicken, eggplant yogurt