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Posted by Caveman Cooking on March 22, 2010

aka Ramsay Saves Mama/The Snack That Saves

The reason this entry is named after a ubiquitous breath mint is because it is, as the old commercial said, “Two! Two!! Two posts in one!!!”. Okay, so the ad actually said “mints” instead of “posts”. But, the point is readily apparent … I hope! 😉

Chef Gordon Ramsay with Mama Rita's staff

Chef Gordon Ramsay with Mama Rita's staff

Part 1 is “Ramsay Saves Mama”. If you saw Friday night’s episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” you saw a restaurant named Mama Rita’s featured as the bistro in need of rescue by the famed Chef-zilla, Gordon Ramsay. Just so happens that Mama Rita’s was one of the first restaurants we ever tried in our new neighborhood, only then it was our neighborhood-to-be. We had been looking in the Newbury Park/Thousand Oaks area for over a year before our recent move. During our first serious gander at where we might want to live in the area, we found ourselves at this Mexican restaurant’s doorstep in need of sustenance.
Unfortunately, my Chile Verde was dry and the Cavewoman’s Quesadilla needed to be redone three times before it was done right. Needless to say, when Gordon Ramsay complained that the food was dry and lacked flavor, we weren’t very surprised. He also encountered the same slow service we found last year. It was so regrettable to us since we loved the beautiful decor which includes copper topped tables in a modern hacienda motif. The chips and salsa rocked, too! Turns out, they were cooking with frozen ingredients and basically zapping everything in the microwave. Plus, the head chef wasn’t really living up to her title. So, Gordon threw everything out of the freezer and got them cooking with fresh, local ingredients. He also left his mentor chef behind to help develop the new menu and retrain the staff.
Even though we knew it would be packed the following night, we just had to go and see for ourselves if Ramsay’s influence and advice had transformed this eatery. We arrived at 6pm and were seated within 15 minutes. I was driving, so the Cavewoman ordered a Margarita on the rocks – I had a sip and it was done perfectly. We ordered up some guacamole to start and it was made with fresh, ripened avocados and was a perfect compliment to their still rockin’ chips and salsa.
Mama Rita's owner Laura Papenfus

Mama Rita's owner Laura Papenfus

For the main course, Cavewoman went for a repeat of her ill-fated quesadilla order. Only, this time, it was done perfectly right off the bat! Plus, it was accompanied with a generous dollop of guac. I went for something different – a Ramsay inspired Carnitas dish. Slow roasted, succulent pork shoulder spiced with fresh ground Caraway seeds and Pineapple juice, served over Spanish Rice with sweetened corn, a fresh veggie medley, pickled carrot shavings and red onion, and fresh corn tortillas. I so wish I my camera hadn’t died, because it was a huge plate of colorful and flavorful food. The meat was so moist, “dry” wasn’t even in it’s vocabulary. Possibly the most unique version of Carnitas I’ve ever tasted … it was goooooood! Even the kid’s burgers looked meaty and fresh. They certainly ate them quick enough!
While we waited for our dessert of cheese stuffed Churros with vanilla ice cream and chocolate dipping sauce, Mama Rita’s owner Laura Papenfus came over to talk to us. We chatted about the change in the menu and how the show had made such a difference … even though it had been shot 10 months prior! She also informed me that on Friday’s they make her grandmother Rita’s (yes, the namesake) famous traditional Carnitas. I’ll definitely have to give those a try!
We were so happy for Laura that Gordon Ramsay was able to help her turn things around. The food was now stellar, though the service still a bit slow. However, the fact that the place was absolutely packed probably contributed to that. When we left at 8pm, the bar and waiting areas were still standing-room-only with patrons eagerly awaiting a table. I think they may have a lot of sellout nights in their future.
EDIT: Unfortunately, Mama Rita’s was not able to overcome the bad economy of the last few years and has since closed it’s doors.

Harry & David Gift Basket Goodies

Harry & David Gift Basket Goodies

Part 2 of this post is “The Snack That Saves”. The time demands of putting our new place together, a recent increase in my VO workload, and just life in general, have really put a dent in my time to cook. As a result, we have been sampling much of what our new area has to offer in the way of restaurants. However, a recent housewarming gift from the Cavewoman’s cousins John and Sarah, in the form of a Harry & David gift basket, really saved the day today.
Before illustrating the incredible recuperative powers of said basket, an introduction of it’s givers is warranted. John, is my wife’s first cousin from her dad’s side of the family and is one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met. Sarah, married John in 1992 and, for the last ten years, has been co-host of the top-rated morning radio show in the San Francisco area, airing weekdays on The Alice. However, back in ’92 she was a part-time on-air talent at KLOS in Los Angeles where I was working as the Production Director. Her stint there only lasted three months, but that was long enough to introduce me to my future Cavewoman. So, you could say, I owe them!
The Snack That Saves

The Snack That Saves

Now, I owe them even more because their gift basket truly came to the rescue today. After spending the last two days trying to get the garage cleared of the myriad of boxes that have inhabited it the past two weeks my body decided that a 9am bowl of cereal wasn’t going to cut it by 3pm. Since the Cave-in-laws were coming down for dinner, I didn’t want to ruin my appetite, but I needed something … BAD! That’s when the light bulb went off … the gift basket!
I pulled out the H&D Summer Sausage; Cheddar Cheese; Honey Roasted Nuts; and some crackers, sat down at the kitchen table and was going to have my little snack. Suddenly, the Cavewoman and Cavegirl seemed interested in what I had thrown together and joined me at the table. That’s when my wife grabbed a pear and asked if I wanted a slice … again, a light bulb goes off! I shot up, grabbed the H&D Sweet Hot Mustard and an Artisan roll from a local bakery, and turned this nice little snack into a truly delicious treat. The flavors of the bread, sausage, cheese, pear and mustard combined for a dazzling taste-bud delight. It also gave me the fuel to get back to work and not only nearly complete the garage, but also hang a huge picture over the fireplace! Harry, David, John & Sarah to the rescue!!
And, for some reason, my breath now feels minty fresh. 🙂

©2010 Caution: Caveman Cooking/UHearMe, Inc. All rights reserved. This originally appeared on the Caution: Caveman Cooking blog at authored by Caveman. This may be shared and reprinted as long as this entire copyright message accompanies it.

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