Tucked into the back of the , the is Malibu's hidden gem. Quiet except for the soft thwack of tennis balls from nearby courts, and shady from the market umbrellas overhead, this comfortable, intimate, al fresco patio cafe is an oasis of sorts.
Here, you can shed the cares of your day as you relax into the comfortable chairs, contemplate the peaceful hills, listen to the light splash of a new fountain and tuck into one of their specialties.
The three most popular items on the lunch menu are the Tomato Bisque Soup, the Salmon Wrap and the Salmon Salad.
As it happens, the last couple of times I've been there, I can't see past the Salmon Wrap. As soon as I spy it on the menu, I stop reading. I know what I'm having.
Owner Dolores Rivellino, aka The Godmother, is happy to share the recipe, which she included in her charming memoir The Malibu Cookbook: A Memoir by The Godmother of Malibu.
But she has a warning.
"That's a tough one to make ... you have to do exactly as we describe in the recipe. People always ask for our recipes, and then they make them at home and they don't taste exactly like they had at the restaurant. They don't have the patience to do exactly what we do."
It goes with the territory, she advises. "Follow the recipe, and you'll get a very similar remake of what we serve here."
The key to this wrap is exquisitely fresh fish. She sources hers from or her fish vendor, and insists that it be wild and quiveringly fresh.
Rivellino knows home cooks don't have access to her vendors, and so she dishes out practical advice.
"While the key element to this wrap is fresh salmon, that's not always possible. I don't think frozen stuff is necessarily bad, but you have to find out how long it has been frozen!"
She's also similarly exacting about produce.
"Everything that comes in that door, we check. We want to make sure it is quality stuff. We deal with small operations that are into the quality restaurants. We make sure our suppliers keep to a certain standard. I make the produce guys' lives really miserable. I don't want lettuce that is getting brown around the edges. I want it picked that day, or at most, the day before. I'm very neurotic that way!"
We diners are the beneficiaries of that neurosis.
Rivellino is plainspoken about her food beliefs. "To me, food is so damn important. When I eat out, I don't even care what it costs, as long as that meal is really excellent!"
The salmon wrap recipe was devised by Marlys Titus, the cafe's former chef and Rivellino's original business partner. She is now retired.
"She is really almost like a sister to me. She probably was responsible for most of our recipes. She lives nearby, and we still call her. She does recipes for us."
The Godmother's would make a nice little movie. A former hospital administrator, Rivellino up and decided to open a food place in Malibu. The partners started with a truck (the original food truck, perhaps?), graduated to a shop at Cross Creek, and finally landed the location behind the Racquet Club.
"Through the grace of God and lots of luck, we are still here, 31 years later."
Some 35 to 40 diners at each lunch shift are so, so glad they are.
The Godmother of Malibu Salmon Wrap
Serve with fresh fruit.
6-ounce salmon fillet marinated in Shoyu Sauce*
4 ounces Wasabi Sauce*
1 cup fresh spinach, washed and patted dry
2 spinach flour tortillas
1 cup cooked brown rice
2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
4 ounces Hellman's or Best Food Mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon wasabi powder or paste
Marinate fresh salmon fillet in Shoyu marinade for 1 hour. Place on hot flat top or hot medium-sized fry pan and grill for 3 minutes on each side.
Warm 2 flour spinach tortillas on grill or fry pan. Spread each tortilla with 2 ounces Wasabi Sauce. Cut grilled salmon fillet into 4 equal long strips.
Place 2 salmon strips along bottom quarter of each flour tortilla. Place 1/2 cup warm brown rice next to salmon strips on each tortilla. Divide the spinach between both tortillas and place it on top of salmon and rice. Roll tortilla up over salmon, rice and spinach in a "snug" manner. Place seam side down on plate and cut in half on an angle.
Makes 2 salmon wraps.
Enjoy…"Mangia Bene," as The Godmother says.
The Godmother of Malibu Cafe (23847 Stuart Ranch Road, 310-456-3254) serves lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Earlier this month, it started , which includes Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.