Category Archives: Fowl

Chicken Mole (Casa Vega, Studio City CA)

Chicken Mole – Casa Vega, Studio City CA

I’ve had chicken mole at many places, and Case Vega makes a pretty darn good mole. The rice & beans topped with cheese is pretty standard; tastes like most any Mexican restaurant’s rice and beans. Well, the beans are above average, actually. But the mole, one of Casa Vega’s house specialities, is pretty wicked. It’s a well-balanced mole, imbued with  smoke and chocolate and it swarms in your mouth with heat, smoke, meatiness, and sweet.

Chicken Mole, Casa Vega Studio City CA
Chicken Mole, Casa Vega Studio City CA

The Spot: Casa Vega, Studio City CA

If you can deal with the boisterous, noisy, margarita-dosed crowds and mediocre service at best, Casa Vega can be a fun place to hang with friends. (Really, the service needs a new manager to train the whole staff…it’s just too slow.) It’s generally better (safer) to drink there than to eat, but some dishes (like the chicken mole) are worth the poor service. For Mexican fare, especially in a city with great Mexican food like Los Angeles, Casa Vega is  pricey and not your best value. But Casa Vega is about fun; it’s  an old-school restaurant. Launched in 1958, its walls are peppered with dark Mexican-themed paintings that are nearly 40 years old. I don’t think it’s changed much since its opening, so that’s what you’re paying for. There’s not much old-school respect in L.A. so you can find more quirky places like this in the Valley. Margaritas are pretty great, as is the people-watching. There are always odd celebrities in the joint, and a curious cross-section of Angelenos.

Casa Vega's Old-School Neon Sign
Casa Vega's Old-School Neon Sign

The Grade: Very Good, maybe Great (depending on margarita intake)

The Damage: ? expensive.

The Skinny: Casa Vega, 13301 Ventura Boulevard,  Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
Phone: (818) 788-4868

Hours: Mon – Sun, 11:30 am to 2:00 am

No reservations! (That means go early or drink often whilst you wait)

Casa Vega on Urbanspoon

BAKED CHICKEN (Pressed Chicken)

CHICKEN – Pressed Chicken

Bistro Don Giovanni, Napa CA


Baked (Pressed) Chicken, Bistro Don Giovanni, Napa CA
Baked (Pressed) Chicken, Bistro Don Giovanni, Napa CA


The Dish: Pressed Chicken

Simple, hearty dishes make Bistro Don Giovanni a favored dining spot for Wine Country locals in the know. I’ve dined at Bistro Don Giovanni a few times over the past year, and I really love their pressed chicken. It’s baked in the oven then finished in the pan, giving a crisp, crunchy skin that covers a perfectly cooked, lusciously juicy half-bird. 

It comes with a deep swirl of peppercorn gravy, but I always ask for more; it’s so good the amount on the plate is just a tease. The chicken is paired with a nice seasonal vegetable; it might be broccoli rabe or new potatoes, but it’s always equally good. 

The Damage: $19

The Grade: Excellent (4 out of 5)

The Skinny: Bistro Don Giovanni

4110 Howard Lane (Highway 29), Napa, CA 94558-1635

Phone: (707) 224 -3300 




DUCK CONFIT (roasted duck confit)


Favorite of Francophiles, duck confit is made from the duck leg, which is salt-cured, then slowly cooked in an oven at low temperature so it poaches in its own fat. The curing usually takes a couple days, and the slow-poach roasting can vary from 2 to 10 hours. It’s often served at room temperature or below over green salad, but I far prefer the version served hot.

Roasted Duck Confit, Bistro Ralphs, Healdsburg CA
Roasted Duck Confit, Bistro Ralphs, Healdsburg CA.

Bistro Ralph’s roasted duck confit is a generous portion (two legs, not one), and the meat peels gracefully off the leg bone.  The richness of the duck is well balanced with perfect polenta and duck jus in a nice wide bowl, making a perfectly hearty winter meal. The addition of the huckleberries, to me, was entirely unnecessary because they just weren’t integrated well. Nonetheless, it didn’t interfere with the excellence of the dish. I’d have to say this was among the best duck confit dishes I’ve had in the past 3 years.


A lot of really good restaurants survive in Healdsburg and, while others may get the notoriety, Bistro Ralph’s unpretentious vibe and unbelievably good martinis keep locals recommending it to tourists who weren’t savvy enough to make reservations at Cyrus a month in advance. It’s a bit narrow and, like many other local restaurants, a bit noisier than it should be, it serves solid fare at hearty portions for the prices.



109 Plaza Street, Healdsburg CA
Phone: (707) 433-1380
Website: (Note: only basic info online to date; no seasonally updated menu)

Hours: Lunch 11:30 – 2:30 (Mon-Sat); Dinner 5:30 – 9:00 (Mon-Thurs) – 9:30 Friday & Saturday; closed Sundays.

Bistro Ralph on Urbanspoon

Smothered Chicken (Creole Lunch House, Lafayette LA)



Creole Lunch House is an old home turned diner in Lafayette, the heart of Cajun Country in South Louisiana. It’s a lunchtime favorite with blue-collar workers and downtown office workers alike, and definitely not on the tourist or guidebook radar (yet). You’ll see the oyster shell parking lot and the little wooden sign next to the institutional green wooden siding of the house. The unpretentious décor of Creole Lunch House includes artworks by local artists, although it’s mostly a nice afterthought to the basic tables and chairs. The real art is the food. You’re really there for the little chow line to sample a small smorgasbord of Southern specialties, cooked with love by the Creole ladies of the house.

Little Chow Line at Creole Lunch House, Lafayette LA

THE DISH: SMOTHERED CHICKEN (over rice & gravy)

Southern style smothered chicken would have as many variations as there are Southern grandmothers, but the basic ingredients include onions (yellow and green), celery, bell pepper, oil, flour, salt, and pepper. Some folks use bacon drippings and/or chicken stock to enhance the gravy.

I’m not sure the exact recipe the Creole Lunch House ladies serve, but the smothered chicken there is awesome. And you can choose from a fantastic offering of side dishes that include Southern favorites like rice dressing, rice & gravy, yams, collard greens, and cornbread muffins.

If I lived in Lafayette, I’d probably eat at Creole Lunch House two or three times a week, as the main dishes vary daily, and the hearty plates would be my lunch and a good leftover dinner. (Do you see all that styrofoam take-out packaging??)

To me, the food is more Southern and soul, but there are some Creole specialties as well. This is South Louisiana, after all. The sweet ladles at Creole Lunch House really pile it on the plate, so go hungry.

Smothered Chicken Plate, Creole Lunch House, Lafayette LA


THE DAMAGE: under $9 for a lunch plate and soda. unbelievably cheap.


713 12th Street, Lafayette, LA 70501

Phone: (337) 232-9929

Website:  Nope

Creole Lunch House sign
Creole Lunch House sign

Spice-Rubbed Quails (Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena CA)

Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen – St. Helena CA – Restaurant Review

The Spot: Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena CA (Napa Valley)

Cindy\'s Backstreet Kitchen, St. Helena CA

The Vibe: Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen is a really pleasant dining environment, a charming converted home (on a back street) that feels like a Northern California version of a New Orleans restaurant. You enter through a white picket fence and brick courtyard to the door; off to your right is a clever metal gate that’s sculpturally cut like corn stalks. There’s a lovely patio area outside, two rooms and a bar area downstairs in the house, and dining rooms upstairs as well.

The restaurant interior is rustic farmhouse white with black accents, awash in natural light from large windows. It’s got black and white striped fabric booths and black and white wallpaper; both feel like contemporary California interpretations of classic French décor. (Hey, a perfect metaphor for the food. We know Cindy’s smart!) There’s an eclectic (cool) art collection, including some great works in the rooms upstairs (which you can peruse en route to the loo).

Negative points for leaving the barside TVs on during lunch. Ugh. Downer. Send those kids and creeps to a sports bar. Even if the TVs were off, be warned that it can get a bit loud.

Corn Stalk Fence, Cindy\'s Backstreet Kitchen

The Service: We must be honest: it was really, really dreadful. Even on the most languorous day, we don’t want to wait so long for someone to bring bread, for someone to acknowledge us, for them to come back to take our order, and an excruciating wait to get the check.

The painfully slow service is really an issue that Cindy Pawlcyn or her management staff should resolve. Does anyone need a two-hour lunch? Even slow-moving tourists want to get to a vineyard.

The Dish: Spice-rubbed quails. Occasionally, Cindy’s offers another small roasted fowl like squab (commercially raised pigeon) instead of the standard quail dish.

Accompanied by roasted potatoes and a Moroccan pepper salad, it’s a decent amount of food that combines to make a savory, very enjoyable meal. You have to know that small birds do involve getting your hands dirty and gnawing. Like a rat, sort of, if you expect to get all the meat off.

We’d certainly return for a small bird dish or for Cindy’s other meaty temptations (but would pray for more attentive service next time).

Spiced-Rubbed Quail

The Damage: The spice-rubbed quails are $21.95, the top menu price.

The Grade: Very Good (2 out of 5)

The Skinny: Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen
1327 Railroad Avenue, St. Helena, CA
Phone: (707) 963-1200
Owner / Chef: Cindy Pawlcyn
Executive Chef: Pablo Jacinto