Cafe Firenze

Being a travel and food writer might lead one to believe I am a devotee of Food Network, Masterchef, America’s Test Kitchen, Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen or one of the other food shows that come and go or are still here. I really am more interested in why Americans watch more food TV than in history of food and are more obese than ever before. I’ve heard tell folks watch Top Chef while eating take-out pizza. I will admit in our family while eating dinner we are talking about what will be served for the next day lunch. I do love to eat and I do love to cook, yet this is a phenomenon that doesn’t seem to be a flash in the pan. Sorry….I will leave the obesity question for later as I have interesting news!
When visiting Southern California and being excitedly told Chef Fabio Viviani’s flagship restaurant was a mere ten minutes away, I resorted to my best friend, Google, to find out what I had been missing. Apparently this Italian God, according to my husband’s first cousin, was not only incredible eye candy, he was on Top Chef. And he was audience favorite. Neither attribute particularly made my cynical palate dance but it was worth a try. I have always been leery of just a pretty face, most likely a front for the real chef, yet my interest was piqued.
The mother ship is located in a store front mall, so Southern California there must be a photo attached to the definition of So Cal strip mall with the restaurant prominently placed beside a lash extension salon and the local UPS store. Once inside, all references to the above disappeared. The welcome from the hostess to the terrific service from the waiter belied my hoity-toity snooty attitude, who is this guy anyway?, first opinion.
The building is cavernous yet warm and inviting, airy yet homey and the array of lunch items were impressive. The high backed bar greets the visitor directly behind the front door and as you wind your way to the tables the open kitchen view of scurrying sous chefs creates the atmosphere of highly skilled artisans awaiting an opportunity to satisfy your palate.

Force of Nature

Force of Nature

Since we were beginning a weekend celebration of our 16th wedding anniversary, we decided to have a bottle of wine instead of by the glass. This is much better than the standard gift at 16 years of wedded bliss of silver holoware. Can you imagine, hollow silver for celebration? The list must have been created by another Southern California phenom, a multiple year marriage to the same person! They ran out of exciting ideas after the seven year mark. The 15th anniversary is crystal, so we had our 15th combined with a crisp Pinot Gris from Rob Murray Vineyards in San Luis Obispo and we were ready to celebrate. I don’t see an anniversary dedicated to the consumption of wine so I have tasked myself with finding just the right year for this momentous discovery. Each year I continue to test to see if that year is the best fit to bequeath this honor. Rest assured I will not stop until the quest is met. When the wine appeared, the label was art personified. You are probably thinking, since this blog is written by a woman, I pick the wine by the label. Wrong in this account. If you saw the label, which we did not, any hard core testosterone driven male would have made the same choice. The quote on the bottle did have overtones of a 600 page romantic fiction novella, “We cannot command nature except by obeying her.” The first taste, luscious and crisp, perfection for around $50.00.

Not like Mom made!

Not like Mom made!

I wanted to compare my favorite dish at Carmel’s Casanova, linguine with seafood, to Chef Viviani’s. My husband opted for the Kobe meat loaf with roasted potatoes and mushroom reduction. Just as predictable as my choice. The pasta was al dente, perfectly cooked and I had been given a choice of a marinara sauce or a lighter fish stock sauce. The latter caught my fancy and I was smitten. Only with the food, only with the food. My husband’s Kobe meat loaf was gone, yet there was room for dessert. House-made gelato, vanilla and chocolate that were both light and dessert satisfying, yet the winner of the day and possibly the year was the Panna Cotta. Holy Italian Mother, quite a delight!
Now is the time I should say I was wrong about the beautiful boy. He can cook, he has earned his empire and my hope is he won’t believe his press. My cynicism was melting like the coffee creme sauce on the flourless chocolate cake.
Nope, I needed to see the boy wonder in action. Yes, I bought tickets for a cooking demonstration that following Sunday.
Stay tuned for the next saga in trilogy of Cafe Firenze, Fabio Viviani and the Italian kitchen in Moorpark, CA.

Best calamari this side of Monterey Bay!

Best calamari this side of Monterey Bay!

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