The Westlake area of Thousand Oaks has yet another reason to tempt you out of the San Fernando Valley as you nose about for upscale places to eat.
Not many years ago, dining out in Westlake, which sits just across the Ventura County line on the Ventura Freeway, meant fast food or the fare you get at such places as Denny's. Now, Westlake offers at least half a dozen places that make the drive worthwhile--the latest being Mandevilla Restaurant on South Westlake Boulevard.
Tom Sweet and his partner, chef Nick Blinoff, opened Mandevilla earlier this year. The two worked together for seven years at Ca del Sol in North Hollywood, so they know how to put together an upscale restaurant.
And the name?
"It's a flower native to South America," Sweet says. "I was sitting in my backyard with my wife trying to think up a name for this place, and I looked at the ivy growing nearby and thought the name 'Ivy' wouldn't say much about a restaurant, would it?
"Then I looked at some mandevilla and at the beautiful, long-lived flower it bears, and that was it."
The image of the flower is a motif in the decoration of the restaurant, which occupies the site vacated by the erstwhile Viva la Pasta.
Sweet and Blinoff serve a continental menu, and there's a story behind that, too.
"This is an ideal partnership," Sweet says. "We did all our planning in only three meetings. At the first we said, 'Are we going to do this?' At the second we decided on the location, and at the third we said, 'We're serious. Let's do it.'
"And having worked with Nick for so many years, I left it up to him what to do with the menu. I knew it would be good, but until about three days before we opened, I had no idea what would actually be on it."
* A Belgian endive salad with Stilton bleu cheese, candied walnuts and a sherry vinaigrette;
* A big shrimp cocktail with marbleized horseradish cream and a tangy cocktail sauce;
* A "pizza of the forest" with mushrooms, asparagus tips and goat cheese; a "pizza of the sea" with shrimp and pesto; a "pizza of the canyon" with pepperoni, kalamata olives and artichoke hearts;
* Pan-seared sesame-crusted ahi tuna with a shiitake and ginger broth;
* A poached salmon filet with a vermouth tarragon sauce.
Prices range under $8 for most of the restaurant's appetizers, slightly more for the pizzas. The entrees go to $18.
The wine list, meanwhile, offers a number of excellent Northern California vintages, along with a few from the up-and-coming new wineries of the central California coast near Paso Robles.
Mandevilla seats 66 inside, another 45 outside on a patio. Reservations are a good idea. It is located at 951 S. Westlake Blvd., just south of the Ventura Freeway, (805) 497-8482.
Do you know what vinho verde is? How about Raposeira?
If you recognize these names, you know something about the distinct wines of Portugal--and you need to get yourself to the eclectic Northridge restaurant Alexis.
Fatima Kavvadias, who runs this place with her husband, Alexis, recently began offering vinho verde--a white sparkling wine, sometimes dry, sometimes semisweet--and the champagne wine Raposeira, both rarely seen in these parts.
She also offers a true port wine and two Portuguese red wines much like the familiar pinot noirs and merlots grown in California vineyards.
Fatima Kavvadias is herself Portuguese, and the new wines make it clear why this restaurant has been around for a quarter-century now: Fatima and Alexis Kavvadias like adventure.
Alexis Kavvadias is Greek, so much of the restaurant's menu ranges over the specialties of his own heritage--lamb, beef, chicken and fish cooked as the Greeks do.
But Fatima came home from a recent trip to Portugal with two new dishes to go along with her new Portuguese wines:
* Bacalhau assado na brasa--dried codfish slowly reconstituted with lots of garlic and olive oil, and served with baby black olives and roasted potatoes.
* Calamari a Lisboa--calamari prepared with fresh Dijon mustard, red wine, pine nuts and herbs.
Alexis is at 9034 Tampa Ave., Northridge, (818) 349-9689.
Juan Hovey writes about the restaurant scene in the San Fernando Valley and outlying points. He may be reached at (805) 492-7909 or fax (805) 492-5139 or via e-mail at email@example.com.