IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR- Ends March 3 or Later in California Restaurans

if you haven’t visited a Chinese restaurant in the area recently, now is a fun time to go. Most of them put their best foot forward and create a festive. scene and food.  But quality and selection varies so much that except for Sushi Bars they are as hard to rate as it is for the average Chinese citizen to get on a train to their home town to see their relatives. Plus you are dealing with a 4,000 year old cuisine that is more complex than any other in the world. Thus choices and quality vary immensely. Amazingly however the choices in Ventura County are better than most of California with the exception of the Monterey Park area and the Peninsula South of San Francisco because of the tremendous impact of Chinese Hi-techs in Silicon Valley. In the county you can choose from delicate Cantonese, Hunan, spicy Szchuan and the now most popular overall Mandarin.

Competition is very strong and failure is common.

But here are the indisputable 3 best choices for multiple but variable reasons in Ventura County. We have eaten at all the best in New York, San Francisco , Monterey Park as well as Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. 


For over 30 years is “Chester’s Asia” on Pickwick in Camarillo. Continuously Family owned it offers food at 2 levels as consistently cooked by one of the owners . Since it is in West Ventura County it serves a simple demographic with basic standards. But if you are an adventuresome  afficionado you ask for Keith, the co owner brother Try to get 6 diners and tell him you want “The Frankaboutfood.Com Banquet” You will be served at least 6 different courses with appetizers such as Chinese Steamed Dumplings. The  check will come to a little over $22 per person before booze. They have a full service bar and wine selection but we “usually”believe in drinking the beverage of the country which is Tsingtao Beer. (largest in the world). Chinese food is strong in flavors and thus usually overpowers most wines . If you have insistant wine drinkers go for a Zinfandel . However it turns out that Champagne or any Sparkling wines may be the best and most fun match. Thus pick up one  or two bottles of “Cristalino Brut-Yearly rated the best Wine Value in The world) at Vons of Safeway for under $7.  Pay the corkage That can save you at least $30 fpr 6. It will be a night you will never forget.

And remember that only “” and no other always turns dining in to fairly priced fun. 

Scan Tsingtao


Is “Lakeview Garden” next to the Regent Art film spot on Lakeview in Westlake . Jason and Pam are Chinese refugees who escaped from Viet-nam and took over from the worst Chinese restaurant in the County more than 10 years ago and have turned it into one of the highest volume per square foot dining spots in Ventura county. Every night they are jammed with arty  diners most of whom also plan to see the sophisticated films next door . The choices supervised by Master Chef Jason are wide-portions are large- Pam oversees the very pleasant  dining room with prompt and knowledgable servers   with the efficiency of a Marine Corp  Sargeant because amazingly  they also do tremendous  takeout and delivered dining to the upscale communities of Westlake Village, North Ranch, Agoura, Thosuand Oaks  at a level equal to or above  the hotest pizza joints in Southern Califosrniaat but with net billings that exceed the average price of a soggy pizza. At one time or another their 4 chldren have worked the dining and takeout and this has enabled them to all graduate from one of the fine California University educational institutions.


Is one of the dining sleepers in Western Civilization. It is the tiny Sesame Grill on Kimber in Newbery Park and may…may  have a total of 6 small tables. The classic lady boss and perhaps one other server stay cool in the chaos as their goal is to not bump into each other and get the food to you quickly. They move you fast but the selection is good size,very fresh and very sophisticated . The flow of takeout is constant and you will sit there amazed . They could easily fill a location 4 times the size if they could find a cook as amazing as that chef that hides in the small kitchen. The problem is that I dont think the take reservations and they are jammed daily in to the late afteenoon or evening. Takeout might be your introductory experience.

Visiting Time for Relatives and Friends Plus Exciting Wine Values For The Holidays. Our Most Comprehensive FAF in 13 Years

img221_edited-3 While the cartoon above does not deal exactly  with the question about what wines to serve with Holiday dining through Christmas and New Years,, it clearly resolves the answer about turkey. The answer is everything since Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc go great with the white meat and Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon certainly match up with those always moist and succulent legs. The big surprise is that Sparklers well priced around the world seem to go great during Holiday revelry from the opening toast to the end of the evening …and the great thing is all that cheer can come at Bargain prices. The best selling wine worldwide is about $6 and available everyware .

See below So here we go again for “That Time Of The Year” when the spirits flow as do the wines.Topping the list as always this time of the year are Sparklers and where  they come from, In recent years Champagne has experienced explosive growth and a tremendous range of pricing. Thus the classic French  “Methode Champenois” double fermentation can be found in wineries worldwide. The United States ,Spain and Italy are now prime producers of Sparkling wine . It cannot be called Champagne unless it is grown, pressed and aged in that small area 60 miles East of Paris. But remarkable progress has been made in the above countries with accompanying very competitive prices. The French continue to think that the rest of the world is stupid and will run head over heels only for The Sparklers that say “Champagne” from that small area.. We disagree and see below for FAF choices as shown, Far to the right is Charles Heidseck- Silver Top Lable which last year was the best true Champagne value available as low as $26. They are now in the mid $30s. If you must have the French stuff LOOK FOR MONTAUDON at TOTAL WINE saled at about $28 Next on the right is the perenial priced right domestic Louis Roederer Reserve- Black Top Lable made in Napa by the French vintner of $300 Crystal. It can be found in all Supermarkets for around $18. One step from the left is far away our #1 Choice Sparkler, the Gold Top Label !!!!l Louis Buillot Cremant De Bourgogne  hated by the overrated Louis Vuitton Moet and Chandon Dom Perignon Champagners and located a few miles out of their vaunted district. BUT in blind tastings equalled about 1/2 the Champagnes in the world. Buy Brut only. Rose Rose is also available but perhaps not the equak. Total Wine now has 50 cases!!!! (600 bottles ) on hand all the time since I recomended it in last year. It is under $14 on sale.  It constanty beats Veuve Cliquot in blind tastings by the supposedly expert Champagne “Mavens” especially if they are lawyers. Finally at the left in the white upper lable is The Spanish made Methode Champenoise dual fermenation sparkler Cristalino. It is reputed to be the #1 wine seller (en toto el mundo ) in the world at $6 prox. Von’s Westlake tell us it sells more of it than any other Von’s based upon my constant rec. Think aboud that New Years Party !!! A case of 12 is under $72. Serve with a towe cover  and your friends will think you have hit the lottery. Again Brut only. Note that all the Sparklers pix were taken on my desk at home in Westlake so you know I have imbibed all.    


x      img282


Finally and quickly the basics!!!! As we have observed for 50 years now, Asia and Europe dominate the car biz in this country because of lower personnel cost,land cost  and dedicated workers. The same thing has taken place now in Australia, Portugal, Spain, Argentina ,New Zealand, Italy and South Africa when priced against high land and labor costs in this country. Southeast France now also competes strongly in The Provence area with its great value Rhone wines. The Guigal name dominates legitimately from $12 for Southern Rhone  to $100 plus for Chateauneuf Du Pape. If you must be loyal to your country consider anything from COLUMBIA CREST in anything they make (always 100,000 cases and more) at a time from Cabs to Chardonnay etc. The French cannot believe what comes from them and insists they are subsidized. They are not. They are brilliant. Most around $10. Now simply to  quick basic points, our #1 choice in Red along with the rest of the World is Malbec Reserve by Norton fom the highlands of Argentina. They have been doing it for almost 150 years. Under $12. Our #1 White value is Kim Crawford.,  a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand  at $11 prox.  If you love Chardonnay consider Ausralia as you search. Last year it was hinted that they had 100,000,000 cases, yep!!!! cases in their warehouses. That’s more than 1 Billion bottles ,,,and as you know those Aussies drink mostly BEER. If you are looking for a domestic step up look for Loeb in the Sonoma- Napa area. Their Pinot and Cab are great and saled under $20. New Zealand’s Framingham offers wine that tastes like $50 from Napa especially in Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. I love them both at $20 and $16 My background is such that I would prefer to recommend small businesses for you to visit. But the facts are that Costco and Total Wines dominate so strongly in different ways. If you know what you want. Costco is the low price leader but with no help and lesser choices. Total Wines offers 6 times the selection plus trained help that will lead you to what you are looking for. If you have time and courage look for anything that Cameron Hughes  is offering only at Costco, Try a bottle or two. He is the #1 worldwide upscale  NEGOTIANT who is considered to have the greatest palate ..period. He travels the world…..THE WORLD .looking for values for which to put under his label. He is very strong on Pinot Noir but has great values on Cabs, Chardonnay.Most of his stuff is under $15


Now for taking the visitor from Idaho and Kansas who may have never seen the ocean.  Clearly every one has heard of Malibu,the home of the drunk, drug taking Maserati wrecking bigoted movie stars. And you certainly would like to take your guests to dine there a mere 20 minutes away from your home via an exciing drive through the hills to one of the most interesting beach areas in the United State with homes on the water worth up to $50 million. Well there are places to visit and places to avoid. Below is the pier at Malibu, Malibu Farms Cafe  is a down to earth fairly priced dining spot owned by a grower artisan that offers flavorful dining for lunch or dinner with fresh products from the farm served as you look at the surfing . You will connect with the beach.Daytime is preferred or visit early and stay for dinner. There are places to see and places to avoid. Malibu Nobu Sushi is now overrated and overpriced. If your guests are serious about Sushi take them to the #1 Sushi bar in Ventura county. Kaminari, It may be 5 minuter from where you live on Village Glen off Agoura Road, one block East of Wesdtlake Blvd.  The three Sushi masters have almost 100 years of training in choosig fish . You will be transported to The Ginza. especially if you order that day fresh Uni from the Santa Barbara channel or a special oyster. The latter will stay on your mind for the rest of your life. Kaminari is to Sushi what Nobu Matsuhisa was 20 years ago before he went to NewYork and copped out. Howard is the owners name at Kaminari . Mention that sent you and you will have a meal that you will never forget. It could, howecver cost about ?$100 prox per person… but worth every penny.

Malibu Farms Dining Area on The Malibu Pier Scan0076 Mastro’s on the beach is the most expensive steak joint in the US. Dinner for 4 can easily cost $600. Need a closer look at the beach and sea lions drive 5 minutes down to Duke’s Food is OK for the price but not as satifying to me as Malibu Farms , Avoid Gladstone’s at Sunset completely. It is tremendously overpriced. Malibu Farms is fun and real. If you are planning a visit to downtown to The Disney, The Dorothy, Staples,Nokia or Moma and you have some hot shots from Manhattan who will rave about the restaurants of Manhattan with prices to match consider astonishing them with either WP 24 or Rivera. Both are expensive but worth it. WP 24 is a Wolfgang Puck product on the 24th floor of the Ritz Carleton overlooking the city in a beautiful room that features upscale Chinese food served by pros. A one block walk to Staples or Nokia. Dim Sum bar dining is also available at a much lower cost.

When Thomas Keller left the Los Angeles Hotel Scene to eventually expand his talents nationwide, he did not leave the town bereft of cooking talent. John Sedlar had been around at the top level from spots in Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and now in downtown L.A. with perhaps more adventuresome food than Keller. He currently operates Rivera in a remarkable room in downtown LA 7 minutes from all the big attractions. It is impossible to describe his style since he attacks from all angles, Small plates, Tapas, Full courses from the world. He has been a risk taker for 40 years and delivers world class food at superb levels. Expensive!!!! Avoid the ethnic Chinese or Japanese area downtown Hard to park, overprices suspe3ct. . If you want the best Chinese food in the United States,go to Monterey Park 15 minutes from downtown .It is worth the trek. For serious Japanese food consider The Sawtelle area around the 101 freeway and Pico and Olympic or farther South in Fontanas Gaardena a large Japanese liviong area. For serious Italian food at fair prices consider Tuscany or Rustico locally. They are as good as any in the state….yell ‘em I sent you. or downtown near all the attractions . in a spectacular room Check out Drago Centro on 5th st. I am now going to take a nap!!!

9021Pho Is Back With a Bang

 9021PHO created by Asian Superchef Kimmy Tang reopened on August 18 at its new location at “The Lakes” adjacent to The Thousand Oaks Entertainment Center on Thousand Blvd.

Kimmy brought her unequalled, healthy non gluten food yet sophisticated Viet cuisine with touches of French, Chinese and California 2 years ago to the off Lindero location but quickly outgrew that space which was also hindered by limited parking.

The very comfortable and convenient new high ceilinged room encourages conversation even when the restaurant is busy. Food is served quickly from an open stainless steel kitchen.

Pho kitchen_edited-1Kimmy as seen above in the orange head scarf escaped from Saigon with her parents during the Viet Nam war and wound up (after a soujorn in a Filipino Rescue Camp) in “Downtown??? Bakersfield”???? However her amazing wanderlust and inquisitive mind enabled, her somehow to travel the world with stints in all parts of Europe and Asia resulting in a current menu that appeals to all. It should be of special interest for those who like and think Chinese Food but often find it too oily and heavy. 9021 Pho features lean meats,fresh poultry, fish  and  vegetables that will leave you culinarily enriched yet not uncomfortable. Of course, it lives up to its name by always offering giant bowls of the now ubiquitous PHO soups with multiple ingredient choices for around $9.95. It cannot be consumed by one person and easily feeds 2 for lunch. Small bowls can be added to entrée courses for $3.95. The artful, colorful and extensive menu offers fun lunches, exclusive tantalizing Asian  rolls and other appetizers plus salads and a wide variety of Asian main courses featuring crustaceans, chicken, pork, beef and wonderful noodle dishes…  plus unusual flavorful Asian fruit and Ice cream oriented desserts. All portions are very generousl. Thus we rarely leave without a container of PHO and a selection of food available for the next night’s dining at home. Wide choices of wine, sake and beer are fairly priced as is main menu comparable prices that are similar to most Chinese restaurants but in a dramatically superior ambience with charming service to match. Be prepared to be amazed. Children are very welcome and always seem to have fun. Location : The Lakes – Parking- Primarily in the rear -Plentiful Phone 805-494-6633 Most Credit Cards Accepted 10-7 ad best_edited-1




in the 14 years in Ventura County that we have  been writing, the most asked for question has been….Where are the best Mexican Restaurants? And the amazing thing has been that while Sushi Bars, Pizza Joints, and even Thai and Indian restaurants have increased , Mexican dining spots have gone downhill   In Oxnard after 50 years, the oldest in the county closed. In the Conejo, there  have been many fast in and outers. Many!!!

But one Mexican  restaurant deservedly has survived on  It is the widely acclaimed  Los Dos Amigos .  It is at 1421 EastThousand Oaks Blvd. The selection of authentic choices is very wide and very fairly priced. It further has a fine choice of fish soups that satisfy your taste buds. Every employee is truly Mexican and friendly. The room makes you think you are dining in a neighborhood spot in Mexico City. 1/2 the customers are Mexican families. The others in the room seem to have been coming for years. Margaritas are priced rigtht 

Good… Very… is our rating

Bad… is our rating of those few in and outers on T.0 and Los Arboles Blvd., Lupe’s is a prime example of a dining spot that is around but has gone downhill. 

Then strangely  in the last 2 years 2 upscale “gourmet??” Mexican spots have opened in  distinctly non Mexican but upscale locations. In our visits to both of  them ( Sabor and Casa Escobar) the diners seemed more interested in the bar and the Margaritas.  

There were no serious Latino diners in either place for two reasons . Our professional review  is that the the food in both places is merely OK. But with one Cadillac Margarita each the bill for my wife and me and came to 85 dollars at each one . And We are not talking about Mastro’s. They are however slightly less haughty for the money than Mastro’s 

INDIFFERENT… is our rating, probably  somewhat less of an authentic feel and certainly more than I would pay anywhere for Mexican food. 

If you found some Secret alternatives please e- mail me at


Kaminari for Serious Sushi

It is amazing. After 13 years of, the question most asked is “What is the best Sushi Bar in the Ventura County Area?” That would seem to be and is a tough question since sadly there are almost as many supposed “Japanese”  sushi bars in the county now as there are low end chain Pizza joints and with quality often ranging toward those lower at a similar level. And we have checked out just about every one of any potential from Calabasas to Oxnard.

But if the owner and ALL Sushi chefs are not native Japanese, we walk. We lived in Japan ate lots of true Sushi there and do speak fluent Japanese

And thus what we discovered is that because of a shortage of TRULY trained  (10 years prox) in  Japan “Sushiyas”, most of the current crop are non-Japanese Asians faking that they are Japanese Sushi Chefs. Not one of them that we talked to has ever been been near the world famous Tsukiji Fish market in Tokyo and their expertise begins and ends with slicing the dreaded “California” or “Ventura Roll”. If that is your style don’t bother to read further.

But if you are “Serious About Sushi” Kaminari (Japanese for Thunder) in Westake Village stands out from all the rest. When you enter this small room, you will be transported to the Ginza in Tokyo. You will be greeted by a charming diminutive Japanese server. Behind the bar are 2 true Sushi Masters who have been on this job  for a decade plus Chef Owner Hidekazu   with 40 plus years of slicing, chopping and squeezing behind him. He is also at the downtown fish market every morning with his Japanese Tsukiji trained eye selecting the freshest and best fish available. He will not accept Santa Barbara Sea Urchin (uni) unless it measures up to his high standards.The same goes for all the Ngiri sushi served as well as the very creative rolls that are also on the menu. He is as good as they comie!

Service is the best. But there can be a wait on weekends.

If you know what you want, you will immediately recognize the difference. If you are an adventurer, consider ordering “Omakase” which is Chef’s Choice while indicating a price limit starting with a low of at least $50 per person while adding your own special choices  such as Toro (BlueFin Tuna) or that very special Sea Urchin (Uni).

Avoid the “All You Can Eat, On a Revolving Belt or Near The Water Hustlers”  You will get a lot of rice, soy sauce and very little True Fresh Fish

Kaminari is slightly higher in price than others but absolutely worth it for the serious Sushi Lover.


2891 Agoura Road, Westlake Village 91361
(Actually on Village Glen)
Most Credit Cards   Convenient Free Parking  



Drago Centro

The renaissance of downtown Los Angeles appears to be amazing. Philanthropists appear to have saved MOCA from outside interference and are embarking on exciting purchases.  Aside from The traditional  Dorothy Chandler , Ahmansohn and Mark Taper offerings of musicals and plays, the recently added exciting  Disney Hall now features very sophisticated  levels of music at the highest levels. Classic, Contemporary and Jazz consistently sells out its architecturally appealing  and acoustically tuned auditorium. Add in Staples Center and The Nokia theater a few blocks south and now hordes of residents at all ages from Calabasas West to Ventura are consistently enticed by these multiple choices. But then they face that dreaded drive East down the 101 with a 50-50 chance of arriving late. There is a solution !!!

Beat the traffic and ensure a stress free evening by dining EARLY downtown, 5 quick minutes away from all the above attractions A few years ago good dining choices were slim and expensive. But today there is a wide range from which to chose and we have dined at most of them. But we recently came upon a choice that we think is  very practical in many ways. Drago Centro offers very authentic Italian cuisine in a charmingly wide price range that is cheerfully served in a spectacular if slightly noisy setting.

>drago interior

You see, Celestino Drago is one of the finest creative Italian Chefs in this country and has been around Los Angeles for 3 decades starting with a small store front on South Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills before opening a very hot upscale location in Santa Monica. He has also assisted all his brothers by putting the Drago stamp on low key Enoteca Drago Pasta in Beverly Hills,  Panzanella in Sherman Oaks,  Celestino’s in Pasadena  and Tanino in Westwood. Celestino personally will soon be adding another for himself on Sunset in Hollywood.

But he is now concentrating all of his efforts downtown. At dinner you can choose wonderful pastas such as fettuccine with squid ink at less than $20. Tantalizing and sophisticated entrees of Chicken, Duck, Fresh Albacore, Salmon, Mediterranean Branzino and Steak are fairly priced from $27 to $36. The 5 Course Tasting Menu at $70 is the evening bargain of downtown. The very large wine list is fairly priced.

Drago Centro is open for lunch with  prices on Pasta as low a $12! plus a 3 course business lunch that is value priced at $25. Validated Parking is in the building directly below. However be aware that Drago is on the West side of South Flower just South of  5th street and the parking is immediately after passing 5th street. If you miss the parking location you may waste 15 minutes making the circle back.

Drago Centro 525 South Flower Street-213-228-8998- Most Credit Cards- Drago




Further Comments:

Before Drago opened, The Water Grill was our favorite downtown choice. It may be the best fish restaurant in the state.  Great choice of crustaceans. Very Professional but friendly service. Dining Room is a bit out of touch. Expensive.213-891-0900. 544 South Grand.

Patina at The Music Center: FuggedAboudid! Overpriced, overrated, arrogant. Only benefit is valet parking at the ground level entrance that gets you in and out of The Disney Hall in a hurry.

Rivera on Flower is the great John Sedlar’s latest. Many think he has been the most creative chef in Los Angeles in the last 25 years . Food leans toward upscale Mexican and can be a bit spicy. at upper end of pricing scale.

Some one else picking up the tab?? Consider spectacular  WP24 at very nearby Staples and Nokia. It may be the most expensive Chinese food anywhere….period.  But the food measures up to the spectacular room, view and  unequalled service. Save a few bucks by going early and sitting in the bar area and choose small plates as the sun sets over the city. Do it at least once in a life time. Easy Valet parking at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel below. 213-7438824

Cicada may be in the most beautiful dining room in the state. It emulates the dining room of the opulent Rex Steam Ship of Italy.  But for the price the food may not match  up to the ambiance. Prompt in and out Valet parking is a time convenience

Bargains-Pizza etc. Maria’s Kitchen now has a location in the area offering somewhat fast food at Maria’s prices. Easy underground parking in the building. Calori nearby is a small warm Italian family spot but usually jammed. Chinese Food is a few blocks away. CBS Seafood is best choice. It is not the typical tourist joint of Chinatown. Japantown with a wide choice of very authentic and fairly priced Sushi, Shabu Shabu and Tempura  is also very close by but parking is annoying. R23 is far and away the hot choice but a very tough reservation at any time .