Two friends and I were excited to to enjoy lunch at Chef Melba's Bistro in Hermosa Beach, on what we learned was its 27th day of business. Chef-owner Melba Rodriguez (a brilliant talent behind McCormick and Schmick's grand success) was gracefully cooking everything to order in her new open-view kitchen, dutiful Guillermo was waiting and bussing tables, and happy customers were welcomed all afternoon for late lunches.

Her dining-room décor is simple, with clean table settings and linen napkins that exude warmth and tastefulness. Two walls are mostly windows, making this the perfect locale for enjoying a meal on a sunny day, a cool foggy one, or a starlit night.

The food is a natural extension of the chef's own good taste, with innovative "California lifestyle" creations. We began with Grilled Beef Dynamite, basted with cilantro, garlic and curried passion fruit fusion. Like a piece of exquisite art on the plate, then a little explosion on the tongue, the beef bites were perfectly tender and the unique blend of flavors worked like a charm.

The Chinese Chicken Salad Wrap with wonton strips and spicy peanut dressing, and Vegetarian Sandwich (tomatoes, spinach, onions and alfalfa sprouts on ciabatta roll) were very good and served with fresh fruit; shoestring fries are also available. I loved the Bistro Salad with grilled prawns, smoked bacon and a red-wine vinaigrette that I was particularly partial to; this was one of the menu's organic selections.

Light stir-fry dishes and fresh seafood entrees round out the appetizers, soups, salads and sandwich selections for lunch. Portions are just right, as are the prices ($4 to $17). The dinner menu adds pastas, low-carb meals, prime meats and poultry for slightly higher prices.

Melba's dessert menu exemplifies still more classy style, with selections like her signature "Chocolate Bag" with passion fruit mousse, and our favorite, the Apple Crostata with vanilla-bean ice cream and caramel sauce. Seasoned apple and pastry pieces are finished off on the chef's magic stovetop, and the dessert's presentation is extremely beautiful. One can almost here music playing with each bite - need I say more?

Rodriguez's specialty is clean, fresh, seasonal flavors; and in the easily accessible spot (especially at lunch-time), her new venture is destined for grand success. A four-course Sunday Brunch begins this month; cooking lessons and Thanksgiving catering (complete with organic turkeys) are on tap this fall.

Chef Melba's Bistro is located at 1501 Hermosa Ave. in Hermosa Beach.
Call 310-376-2084 for reservations and more information.