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May 24, 2012 09:03 AM

Lela's Restaurant - new in NW Fresno

Pronounced lee-lah, from chef Manuel's childhood name for his grandma, and not to be confused with the pizzeria on West Ave.

Located in the old digs of Parma at the NW corner of Herdon and Marks, four of us ventured in last night to TOFTT and we were all thrilled that we did.

A long narrow plate with housemade crackers and some of the best hummus we've tasted arrived immediately, their welcoming complimentary dish. The wines we brought were immediately uncorked and poured so they could breathe. The space is very inviting and pleasant with excellent art on the walls created by Manuel's mother.

We chose two appetizers to share, Crab Cakes and the Polenta Points with Andouille sausage. The crab "cakes" turned out to be five round golf ball size offerings drizzed with a little lemon aioli, three of us deemed them meh and too bready and one of us being just OK. The polenta dish was a winner across the board with the polenta being soft cubes rather than the expected slimmer browned pieces, covered with tasty grilled peppers and onions and the best andouille sausage we've had since New Orleans. Lady PB and I shared the Carrot Ginger soup and the Spiced Beet Salad, both very well executed.

For mains, our DCs chose the Halibut for him and the Filet Mignon w/ Gorgonzola for her. The generous thick piece of fish had a perfectly seared crust with the interior cooked to a moist perfection. The small taste of filet I tried was outstanding, as was the 16oz Rib-Eye that i ordered, which was one of the prettiest pieces of meat (along with that filet) that we've run across in a long time, it sat on sauteed spinach, asparagus spears and mashed potatos, covered with a sublime red wine reduction sauce. The meat was cooked perfectly rare with an even red from top to bottom.

I had wanted to try their Skirt Steak that I'd seen earlier on their lunch menu, but our server, Randy, checked with the chef and reported that wasn't happy with the product he'd received and would not serve it this evening.

The only disappointment was the Lamb Sirloin that my wife ordered, while another generous portion, and cooked perfectly, there was too much gristle and the silver skin that ran through it made it tough to get any tender bites for the most part. They thanked us for pointing that out, apologized profusely, and removed it from the bill. As it turned out my rib-eye stuffed both of us and Lady PB took enough home for a full meal the next night.

[ETA: neglected to mention that the Savory Bread Pudding side dish with the Lamb was also a home run]

We were able to converse at length with Randy learning more about the staff backgrounds. Chef Manuel, who came out and introduced himself, has Erna's Elderberry House on his resume and a couple of others that I'm blanking on at the moment. His philosophy is to source as much locally grown produce and meat as possible. Randy is responsible for the wine list which will be in a constant flux that will feature many of the small production vintners on the central coast and a few of the better Napa Sonoma and even an OR label or two. Turns out he has worked at Trelio and is close to the Shacklefords and using Chris as a main source of finding the little hidden gems, along with Jim Lamar of J&L Wines, who has supplied our area with the best from Paso Robles for quite some time. There is also a smattering of French, Spanish and Italian varietals. From the white selections 9 of the 27 are available BTG (2 of the 8 sparklings), from the reds 11 of 47 BTG, there is one rose and 5 dessert/appertif offerings.

Bottom line, if you live in NW Fresno you need to get to Lela ASAP, we need to support this new neighborhood venture. Hell, if you're within 50 miles, you need to put it on your list.

7089 N Marks Ave
Ste 101
Fresno, CA 93711
(559) 432-9900 (not yet active


[ETA: just recalled that they will be serving coffee when a few replacement parts arrive for the new $9K machine]

A few of the interesting wine selections:

Chardonnay - Zotovich 09 Sta Rita Hills, Kistler Sonoma Coast

Sauv. Blanc - Thomas e FILS "Le Crele" Sancerre

Pinot Noir - Witness Tree 09 Willamette Valley, Longoria '10 Sta Rita Hills (14/57), Zotovich 09 SRH, Donum 08 Russian River

Rhone style reds - Andrew Murray "Tours les Jours" 09 Syrah Central Coast (7.5/30), Zotovich 09
SRH Syrah, Dashe Cellars '10 Dry Creekj Grenache

Big Reds - Shafer Merlot, Robert Sinskey Cab blend, Rutherford Ranch Cab Sauv, Round Pond and Shafer Cab Sauv.

Zinfandel - Karly Ten Point '10 Amador County, Dashe 09 Dry Creek

Italian, Spanish & Malbec - includes Sangiovese, a Super Tuscan, two Tempranillos, Graciano, three Malbecs, a Nero d Avola, and a Barbera d Asti

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  1. Memory jogged by one of my dear DCs, other background experiences of Chef Manuel mentioned were Veni Vedi Vici, Parma and Fresno City catering, believe Gary Danko's was also in there.

    1 Reply
    1. re: PolarBear

      Did you happen across the hours and days of operation? You mentioned lunch as well...Thanks!

    2. Thanks PB!! I heard that Manny was going to open his own place, so glad that it appears a success! He has worked at some great places in Fresno - and he was the chef that turned me and my DH onto rib-eyes when he worked (just temporarily) at Lantana.

      I have always been impressed my his culinary skills, and cannot praise him enough as a chef and person. We will be heading that way sooner rather than later and cannot wait!

      1. perfect halibut in the CV? Heck PB, I live just outside your 50 mile radius (58 or so, to be sort of exact), and I just put it on my 'must try' list! Thanks for the report!

        3 Replies
        1. re: susancinsf

          if it helps I'd say it puts you within the 50, since I believe the distances are measured to the DT city centers, you can deduct 10-13 miles or so. Lela's just across Herndon from us and from our house I clock Merced right around 45 mi. ; >P

          Give us a heads up when you come if you'd like company and we happen to be free.



          1. re: PolarBear

            will do, thanks!

            and on a tangentially related topic for others in the Great Central Valley: Raley's has both fresh wild-caught King Salmon and fresh wild-caught halibut on sale today (though 'on sale' is of course still a relativel term, $15.99 for the salmon and $17.99 for the halibut, IIRC). I got some just as the truck came in, so as fresh as we can hope for around here, and perfect for entertaining my pescatarian BIL. In Merced, of course, the only way to get perfect halibut (or salmon) is to cook it yourself....

          2. re: susancinsf

            susancinsf, Manny said he will replace halibut on the menu with either petrale sole or John Dorry when halibut season is over. By the way, Ihad beyond perfect halibut at Bouevard in SF on Saturday, but that is another thread.

          3. I live walking distance from Lela's and have been there three times for. lunch and once for dinner. I can't wait to returned. My first lunch was the grilled veggie panini. The second time Manny had a special of spicy shrimp tacos and last week I had the chicken in pita with chicken vegetable soup. Everything including desserts is made from scratch and full of flavor. For dinner I had the Mary's half roast chicken with delicious roasted vegetables. There was more than enough for me to take home for lunch the next day. Service is excellent and the wine list is eclectic and priced well.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ahmward

              >>> wine list is eclectic and priced well<<<

              ahmward, happy to hear the wine list is priced well. Or was that just a reaction after the Boulevard list? Can't wait to try Lela's and it's in my backyard too.

              1. re: Gail

                Gail, we eat out frequently and have collected wine for more than 35 years but at a restaurant we aren't impressed by a 4x markup. It's nice to go out to dinner and know the wine you choose is priced fairly.

                1. re: ahmward

                  Yes, I understand!! When the food is so good and the wine is 4x, it's often best to pay corkage.