Entering Chef Melba's Bistro is a treat for all the senses. Located right on Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa Beach, just a short walk from the multi-level parking structure near the corner of Pier Avenue, this newly-opened eatery captures the heart and spirit of the California lifestyle in an atmosphere that balances beach-city casual with South Bay sophistication. The dining area is decorated intones of brown and black with pale cream-colored interior walls that match the crisp cream-colored table linens.

The front and the side exterior walls of the restaurant are actually wide-open, floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The kitchen cooking area is open to the dining room, creating a sense of connection between the chef and the diner that is very pleasing. Soft sounds of mellow jazz float in the background, but it is the tantalizing aroma of garlic and other wonderful things simmering on the stove that first tickle, then rivet the senses. It is an atmosphere created for one purpose - to enjoy Melba's exemplary cooking.

Executive Chef Melba Rodriguez grew up on the east coast and graduated from culinary school in the state of Virginia. She had her first professional cooking positions in this area, and then in 1986 she relocated to Southern California to begin a career with the well-known University Restaurant Group. In 1989 she was promoted to executive chef of the prestigious King's Fish House in Long Beach and several years later was recruited by McCormack and Schmick to preside over the kitchen of their El Segundo outlet. For ten years she was the only woman chef within the organization (nationwide) and she proved her business savvy to be as sharp as her cooking skills. The time was ripe to fulfill her life-long dream and launch her signature restaurant.

Melba emphasizes that in describing her menu as "California Lifestyle" she is striving to promote both a lighter style of cooking and the use of natural, unprocessed ingredients.

"California lifestyle is more than just a catchy phrase; it is how people should eat - light and natural. Here in Southern California we are so lucky to have access to so many of the freshest, carefully-grown ingredients, and we are doubly-blessed in the South Bay. My fish is fresh every day, my produce is vine-ripened and grown without additives that drain the flavors. My chicken and beef come from ranchers who do not use chemicals or hormones in the feed. These are superior ingredients with superior flavor."

Lunch and dinner options list a variety of appetizers, soups, salads and entrees that showcase the bounty of our area as well as Melba's creative culinary genius. I dropped by recently and discovered that the luncheon menu abounds with appealing choices.

If you are longing for a unique and flavorful mid-day meal try Melba's baked summer vegetables with roasted goat cheese ($3.90) or organic spinach soup ($2.90 and a vegan specialty, made fresh daily!) coupled with the orchard salad (($9.75 - Asian pears, grapes and walnuts tossed with Melba's own fig vinaigrette (and yes, she makes it from fresh figs!) or the Bistro Salad ($14.90 with four huge, grilled prawns resting on a bed of fresh greens).

The curried chicken with raisins, carrots and celery is a sandwich ($8.75 served with fruit or shoestring fries) that is sure to become a much-requested favorite, as will the Chinese chicken wrap ($6.75) with wonton strips and spicy peanut dressing.

Chef Melba's Bistro is located at 1501 Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa Beach…. There is considerable three-hour metered parking on the surrounding streets, and the Pier parking complex is close by. The Bistro is available to private banquets from 10 to 40 guests. Off-site catering available for larger functions. The entire menu is available for take-out. For reservations and information, call 310-376-2084.