My Sunday “find” often includes the sprawling, sumptuous brunch at the Westlake Four Seasons. Now I add their madcap, high-energy “Mercato Italiano” smack in the middle of the usually serene lobby dining area on Saturday evenings.
Not what you would expect at the property that features a sedate world-class longevity health center, right? But walk in from the front door and the crew setting up the a spiffy eight-foot salumi cart designed by Executive Chef Mario Alcocer is center stage.
An abundanza array of cured meats and cheese delicacies fill the salumi cart, ready to be sliced-to-order. There’s Chef Alcocer near the cart, working with his crew, in between dashing in and out the lobby side door to check on his brand new major pizza wood-fired oven outside. The temperature is a roaring 800 degrees to quickly make savory thin-crust pizzas.
Once back inside, the chef calls out his wares to the entire room – actually more fun than the real Italian market place we visited in Firenze, where vendors were as often talking on their mobiles as to customers.
Lots of young guests line the stations. At first the youngsters stare in awe, gazing their food is cooked in front of them. There’s lots of talk and laughing with the chefs –a great, fun way for youngsters to start eating healthy. From the sound of it, many of the families are regulars. Italian cuisine is known for its simplicity and fine ingredients, and this menu proves it well.
Guests comfortably dine at tables ringing the Mercato, choosing from tray-passed dishes or choosing from the cars. Chef Alcocer’s long, tempting and well-researched menu includes fresh baked focaccia, local olive oil, a range of bruschetta and an antipasti extravaganza. Each week, different traditional dishes such as pollo al forno and malanzane ala pergamina are featured.
We admit to a helping each of Baked Turkey Meatballs, Chicken Picatta with Figs and Rosemary, Cauliflower Puttanesca, Polenta Gorgonzola with a Wild Mushroom Ragu (we could have feasted on this dish alone), and Vesuvio Potatoes.
Servers at the Mercato are happy to explain the special list of Italian wines and the dishes. Hotel Manager in Training, Matt Pearson, gave us special insight. He introduced us to the house-made limoncello – considered the national drink of Italy. Made from the zest of Sorrento lemons steeped in grain alcohol until the oil is released, and then mixed with simply syrup, it is very popular because of the intense lemon flavor without the sourness or bitterness of lemon juice.
Known for their skill at making international desserts, the hotel bakers have whipped up such classics as tiramisu, crostata and cannolis, perfectly paired with fresh-roasted Italian espresso. Another cart (no fair) is filled with sweets – pastries, candies, toppings.
Mercato Italiano is available Saturday evenings from 5 p.m. for an unbelievable (all you would like to eat) price of $40 per person and $20 for children. Kids 10 and under dine at Mercato Italiano for free with reservations at 5 p.m. (One discounted child’s meal per full-price paying adult.) From 5-6 p.m., guests of all ages delight in the colourful creations of Cathy the Balloon Artist.
Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, Two Dole Drive, Westlake Village, CA. 91362, 818-575-3000 ().
Gerry Furth-Sides is a photojournalist, with a specialty in food and cultural diversity. Her experience ranges from Newsweek editorial and television broadcasting to to west coast radio-TV tours, representing the California food growers, and co-hosting the TV show, “To Your Health,” with Dr. Bradley Frederick. Writing credits include American Institute of Wine and Food Newspaper (AIWF); Frommer Guidebook series, America on Wheels; LA Family Magazine (“Kids in the Kitchen” column).