Food review: Leo & Lily’s Cafe

The south end of the valley, from east to west, is home to mess and mayhem. Lined with neon signs and the most random collection of businesses available, there is hardly any relief. Off busy Ventura Blvd, however, Leo & Lily’s provides a sense of distance from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the Valley. So much distance in fact, it can be an easy miss. Leo & Lily’s sits tucked and waiting on the corner of Del Valle St. and Ventura Blvd. in Woodland Hills, Calif.

This small gem has the feel of a cafe with the soul of a high caliber restaurant and a neighborhood bakery rolled into one. If dining on an evening, the sparse lighting and closed businesses surrounding the eatery could easily give way to a pass. Do not be swayed. No one likes a crowd. The walk in and choose your seat atmosphere adds to the cafe feel one would not get had the establishment been busy.

The eatery is named after two children who have been given the title of “inspiration” to the owners, according to the Leo & Lily website. Along with a brief history, pictures of the small staff can be found giving this place a very family oriented feel. Inside the restaurant, a small assortment of tables and chairs fill the floor. The south end is host to a coffee bar with pastries and sweets for quick pick ups.

Too many restaurants don’t add drinks to their menu which, followed by a prompt drink order, usually leads to confusion, frustration and wrong choices. Leo & Lily’s however, has an abundance of specialty drinks. One surprise on the drink menu was the Amanda Palmer. A twist on the classic Arnold Palmer, the Amanda Palmer uses a jasmine tea instead of the traditional black tea which makes the drink new and refreshing in itself.  Another drink that made it’s way to the table was the iced blackberry jasmine green tea. A delicious concoction who’s name says it all.

Now came dinner. Across the table sat a dish named Nana’s Meatloaf. A homemade turkey meatloaf over gorgonzola potatoes with sautéed spinach and turkey gravy. Meatloaf may not be the common taste, but for those who enjoy it, this dish truly felt homemade and was presented as well as it tasted. Along with the meatloaf came the Steak Pomme Frites. A pan roasted flank steak, medium rare for personal taste, with house fries, balsamic reduction, roasted garlic aioli and crispy shallots. Their steak deserves a price tag 4 times the amount they charge as the tender marinated steak falls apart in your mouth and hardly require you to cut through with a knife. This tiny corner cafe has managed to do something in two dishes that most major restaurant chains have failed to do time and time again. And there was still dessert to be had.

After careful consideration and a visit to the glass case of pastries and macaroons, dessert was decided upon. A vanilla cream creme brûlée and tiramisu. Garnished with a raspberry, the creme brûlée’s thick sugary shell was quickly cracked to reveal the custard inside. You can really tell a dessert is good when you’re already trying to learn to make it while gorging down spoonfuls. Along side it came the tiramisu. Quite a generous slice of tiramisu in fact. Despite a full stomach, the moist and creamy coffee flavored Italian dessert was also devoured with ease.

As appetizers go, try the famous bread basket. Each assorted basket comes with kalamata tapenade, butter and feta cheese as dips and spreads. For dinner, the Steak Pomme Frites are a safe a delicious choice, however, it seems Leo & Lily’s can do no wrong with meat after that dish. For dessert the vanilla cream creme brûlée is delightful and entertains a fancy dinner in a simple place.

And now to return for the promising breakfast menu…