We recently sat down with L.A. mama Tina Fanelli Moraccini, co-founder of Piccolo Chef, in Culver City. Piccolo Chef is a fun, innovative cooking school where kids learn how to prepare high-quality, fresh and healthy food in creatively themed classes. Tina and her husband of 20 years have two daughters, ages 7 and 3. Since 1996, when they moved from Italy, they’ve proudly called West Hollywood home. In addition to giving us an insider’s perspective of raising kids in Weho, Tina also takes us on a culinary journey, highlighting the most delicious restaurants to dine at with kids, or your spouse, even unearthing gems you may have never heard of! Tina offers, “We cook Italian pretty much every day of the year, which is why, at the risk of raising every Italian eyebrow in town, we usually opt for other cuisines when we dine out!” She spotlights her favorite dishes from a wide array of global cuisine, and you’ll learn where to order-up the best Indian food in town and the most decadent dessert! Foodies, get ready for a real treat!

Red Tricycle: What do you like best about living in West Hollywood?
Tina Fanelli: We live in the part of West Hollywood known as the Norma Triangle, a very special neighborhood that borders with Beverly Hills, so we get the best of both worlds! One of the best things about living in Weho is that it’s a wonderful walking area, so much so, that on the weekends, I rarely need to use my car! I’m blocks away from some of the best restaurants in town, not to mention shopping – even for groceries!

I also love that West Hollywood is rich in cultural diversity. Despite the reputation for parties and clubbing, it is a very family-friendly city with wonderful schools and parks. There are many families, both traditional and non, who live here and raise their little ones to respect the dignity and rights of all human beings… but most of all I love that in West Hollywood, people are free to be themselves.

RT: What are your favorite spots in West Hollywood for the following activities:

RT: Favorite family restaurant:
TF: Robata Jinya on 3rd Street is our favorite go-to for dinner with the whole family. Their ramen is made with fresh egg noodles, which the kids love. The Robata Grill is a fantastic way to present vegetables to the kids – we let them pick their favorite ones – they can even watch the chef grilling them from the other side of the glass wall!

Photo courtesy of hern42 via flickr

RT: Favorite shops to buy clothes/gear/toys for your kids?
TF: My kids are queens of high-low fashion. You will see them with Geox or Naturino on their feet, running around in summer dresses from Target or H&M. When they were babies, Petit Tresor was our local neighborhood go-to for anything for the nursery or baby gear. Now that they are a little older, Kitson Kids is a trendy clothing boutique in our neighborhood, and a really fun place to shop for gifts and toys as well. There are also some interesting finds at Plastica and Eggy on Third Street, too.

RT: Best place to get your kids a special treat?
TF: There are so many great places in West Hollywood for treats! But if I have to mention only one, our ‘usual’ is the Yogurt Stop. I like it because I can control the portions for myself and for my kids. Also, the people who own the place are unbelievably friendly, they give a free tiny sample cone to all kids who come in, they always have the place decorated in some sort of holiday theme and the music is fantastic. We also love the juices at Pressed. My favorite dessert indulgence is the chocolate pot de creme at Fig and Olive restaurant.

RT: Best rainy day hang-out with your kids?
TF: LACMA is a really amazing place to spend a rainy day and they have a wonderful, free program for kids called NextGenMetropolis is a remarkable installation for little and big kids alike. Also, there’s nothing like your own home on a rainy day when you turn the living room into a movie theater with streaming Netflix and some Parmigiano Reggiano popcorn!

RT: Best place to go to soak up the sun?
TF: My daughter learned how to ride a tricycle at the water fountains and put on shows for me in the tiered grass area of the Pacific Design Center. It’s such a lovely place to just relax and watch the kids run around the courtyard.

RT: Best place for Sunday brunch?
TF: There are several places within walking distance of where we live for incredible Sunday brunches, yet we almost always opt for Le Pain Quotidien on Melrose. There’s something about the atmosphere and the wonderful patio outside. The menu is excellent – we order several different things and just share them all. We also love the Dim Sum at BAO on Beverly Boulevard…the har gow is the best this side of Chinatown, the pea shoots are delicate and plentiful and the desserts are outstanding. The kids love the idea of tasty little bites of food, and with Dim Sum, they can try many different items.

RT: Best place to grab a bite for lunch, and what do you and your kids like to order there?
TF: Chado Tea Room! We’ve been bringing the kids there since they were only a couple of days old! We either get the Afternoon Tea service or just order off the lunch menu. Their sandwiches are crazy good. We like the Punjab (They marinate their eggs in Lapsang Souchong Smoked Tea for the egg salad), the Mediterranean (watercress and olive tapenade with goat cheese), the open-faced salmon on dark rye or the Souchong Chicken Sandwich (with Cranberry/Lingonberry sauce). The tomato soup is a must, as is the final touch: the scone served with homemade fresh Chado Cream and strawberries.

RT: Best place to get some fresh air?
TF: West Hollywood Park just reopened and it is amazing. My kids love to bike or scooter on over, then continue up and down the newly-paved pathways of the park. The large grassy area is perfect for picnics. We end with a quick trip to the new state-of-the-art library for a pile of books to come home with.

Photo courtesy of Adrian Black via flickr

RT: Favorite date night spot with your hubby?
TF: On the rare occasion that we do get out alone, we like to go to Hirozen for the Tasmanian Sea Trout, which is unbelievable. We also like Mercato di Vetro, which is walking distance, for their insane branzino, served with curried cauliflower, yogurt and cilantro. Also in the neighborhood is Flavor of India, which has the best Indian food in the area, and that is saying something. It is our local comfort food and we require it on a weekly basis, if not more!

RT: Best-kept neighborhood secret(s)?
TF: The new farmer’s market in Sunset Plaza is supposed to be amazing. It just opened, so I still need to get over there, but I hear the fruit is very good.

La Conversation is a fabulous little place for breakfast. What’s so great about it is that there is no wi-fi there, so people actually enjoy the…conversation.

It’s not such a secret anymore, but the kids’ section at the West Hollywood Library has the best selection of books and kid’s DVDs. There’s a beautiful Children’s Theater inside for storytime, which they do twice a week for the little ones.

RT: What are some of the annual festivals or events your family enjoys going to in the West Hollywood area?
TF: Art and Design Walk is something we never miss. It’s an annual event produced by the Avenues of Art and Design up and down Melrose Avenue and Beverly and Robertson Boulevards where you can join the Bugaboo caravan (seriously-it’s a stroller-fest!) with a glass of Prosecco in your hand. There are hundreds of showrooms, galleries and boutiques hosting open houses and receptions all along the avenues – there is so much to see. And it’s great for families! We’ve been taking the kids since they were babies.

RT: Do you have particular things you want to do with your kids before they grow up and are too cool to hang out with Mom anymore?

TF: I would like to try as many new things as possible with them, especially when it comes to food. I strongly believe that the earlier they are introduced to exotic flavors, spices and cuisines, the better their chances of expanding their palate now, as well as later on in life. I also tend to link food and taste with memories, so I hope that my kids will remember, for instance, where they were the first time they tried truffle cheese, who they were with, what they were doing.

RT: What was your inspiration for starting Piccolo Chef?
TF: My co-founding partner, Lilian Palmieri, and I were working for the Italian Government when we came up with the idea of bringing a true culinary experience to kids of all ages. Lilian was inspired by her son, who was 8 at the time, and was an amazing chef, yet he couldn’t find cooking classes to completely satisfy his interest. The classes were either too adult or too ‘kiddie’.

I was inspired by my daughter, who I would bring into the kitchen with me after a long day of work as a way of spending quality time together before bedtime. By cooking with her, I was able to introduce all sorts of healthy foods into her diet, and I found that she quickly learned how to make healthier choices when selecting what to eat. Lilian and I, with Piccolo Chef, wanted to instill a sense of good taste from the very beginning, in order to promote a lifetime of healthy and good eating.

RT: What’s next for Piccolo Chef?
TF: Lilian and I co-authored our very first Piccolo Chef Cookbook, due out this fall. It is based on 4 years of award-winning cooking classes for kids and teens. We are also opening a second Piccolo Chef location in the San Fernando Valley, in a broadcast center! That’s all I can say for now… so stay tuned!

Photo courtesy of Antonello Busiello

Do you have any other tips for discovering (and eating your way through) West Hollywood with kids? 

— Beth Shea