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Hungry Cat: hot or hyped?

Do you think the Hollywood restaurant, Hungry Cat, deserves all the attention it's getting in the L.A. Times?

S. Irene raved about it in her initial review, then mentioned it in a Critic's Notebook as the best NE seafood around, and again it shows up last weekend in West magazine.

I went and was NOT impressed! Do you think I should give it a second try? And what should I order?

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  1. hot. a bit overpriced considering the portion sizes, but the quality of what they have to offer is top notch. plus there are no other L.A. restaurants out there that really do seafood in even close to a new england style.

    1. It's a great late night stop for very good food: excellent 'pug' burger and well received seafood dishes. The night we ate there only the one dessert disappointed arriving overcooked. Would it be on my list if I were visiting for a week? Probably not. But it's a worthwhile local hang although it's small industrial setting is not that inviting.

      1. I'm with you- - -been there twice, and I also have been less than impressed. Regarding the Lobster roll that folks swoon about, maybe I was there on an off night. So tiny, so much bread for such a small amount of lobster, and the lobster salad itself was devoid of flavor. Actually the bread part was good, but that's not what I want to spend over $20 for! In the beginning of our meal we ordered cocktails, and mine came 15 minutes before hubs' did. He'd ordered a Manhattan, and it was explained that the juices are hand squeezed- - -last time I heard, there were no juices in Manhattan's! Oh well, live and learn. I would have rathered both of us waiting the 15 minutes and having the drinks brought together.

        1. Hot & hip but over-hyped.
          Most things are pretty good, but don't expect to be completely "wowed." it is a solid neighborhood place, not a destination place, IMHO.

          1. It's one of my faves...not cheap, but I have never had less than a fabulous meal there. And the wine by the glass selection is all that it needs to be!

            1. Coming from New York, where we have everything, I wish we had a Hungry Cat! I love the place, from its cranky little location, to its funky staff, and excellent food. I've only been twice, but I enjoyed both enormously.

              - Sean

              ps I'm such a fan, I bought two t-shirts!

              1. HC is over-hyped. However if you know what's worth it and what's not, I think you can have a hell of a good time, especially if you're quaffing one of their artisinal drinks.

                I mainly stick with salads, pugburger and fries, maybe a few other things. The lobster roll is good but overrated, the clams with chorizo are exceptionally greasy and the fruit de mer is pricey.

                If you know your budget and stick with the sure-things, it is very enjoyable.

                1. Hype.

                  Just because it is is different does not make it good.

                  Also a bit overpriced.

                  1. i moved from socal to sf about a year ago and do miss the hungry cat considerably. for what it is i think it's great. while the menu is small and doesn't change too much (at least i don't think it does as the 3 times i ate there last year it was pretty much the same), everything is very fresh, well prepared, and it's affordable. what i liked was that i went the 3 times over a span of about 6 months, and the items we would order that we had before hadn't lost anything at all. they were just as good the third time as the first. and the cocktails, oh the cocktails. they were a little sweet for me the first time so i would usually ask them to hold the simple syrup, but for 8 or 9 bucks a drink they can't be beat. it doesn't 'wow' but i don't think it's supposed to.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Big Larry

                      I agree with Big Larry's point that some restaurants (Hungry Cat included) are not designed to "wow" the patron with lavish displays that tickle the senses. Rather (and I believe this can be divined from Chef Lentz's extensive use of industrial design elements in the dining room combined with the minimalist nature of the menu), some restaurants chart a course to become "mainstays" in a neighborhood. And, in doing so, they row against the tide that claims so many dining establishments which allow themselves to be marginalized as mere flashes in the pan.

                      In other words, The Hungry Cat fits more of a profile as a steady, reliable neighborhood institution rather than a restaurant that is "hot and hip" today and yesterday's news tomorrow. Their design and menu choices seem much more concerned with building a steady and long-term customer base over time *first* and then receiving public acclaim (for the right reasons) later rather than grabbing the limelight and then wondering how to stay in business after that.

                      I hope I'm right; because if I am, then we will be enjoying The Hungry Cat under David Lentz's inspired leadership for many years to come.

                    2. this place is definitely a prime example of the emperors new clothes. it's cramped, uninspired, overpriced and not worth the trip.

                      1. It's good, but definitely overhyped.

                        portions are modest - but the items can be a hit and miss (the lobster roll was way too greasy for me -- having it accompanied but a giant heap of fries doesn't help either). The oyster chowder was very good tho, and they have very good wines to complement the items as well as a fun cocktail list.

                        1. This place is a sort of litmus test. It's not to everyone's taste or budget. I do think the lobster roll is no big whoop and would not judge the place on this. The HC has a certain joie de vivre. The staff are engaging. The seafood--raw and cooked--is good. The wines are for seafood. The fresh juice cocktails are tasty. There's an attention to quality in ingredients and preparation that you pay for. Some could care less about this. Personally, I think it's worth it if I'm in the area.

                          1. We've been to the Hungry Cat several times.
                            Food has been excellent
                            Drinks are killer
                            Prices are reasonable
                            Hard to find anything wrong with that

                            1. I've been 4 times when my burger craving has struck, great burgers, cozy place.

                              1. My favorite local. It's not supposed to be some fantastic place, but a simple good choice for a nice casual meal with a couple friends. Great drinks. Great burger. Great oysters. (just had oysters at Kendall's downtown - and was really kind of freaked out by what I was served) I always have good fresh oysters here, much like Zuni in SF. Not everything on the menu is great, but tell me where it is. Everyone has particular tastes, likes and dislikes. I don't particulary care for the lobster roll but a couple of my friends love it. Who am I to tell them that they do or don't know what they're talking about. It's great to be able to go there after a long day at work with someone and sit at the bar, have a great cucumber martini, glass of wine or a beer, some oysters, and a salad and relax. The bartenders are great people and the wait staff is equally personable.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: bigsleep

                                  Agreed... I enjoyed our visit there although I admit I was not wowed by everything, I did enjoy the whole package. I think it's a great place for what it offers and I've totally recommended it to friends who have enjoyed it as well...

                                  Drinks are killer, they care about the food, service and autmosphere is cool and casual. I am sometimes amazed at how few places offer all of that...

                                  --Dommy!

                                2. Called early one evening and made reservations for 10pm that same night. Some of the items are the menu were great-kumamotos on the half shelf, the oyster chowder, fish special of the night-as they were simply prepared and very fresh. Other items, notably the lobster roll, were underwhelming. Overall, good service, comfortable space, good selection of drinks. Would I take a visitor from out of town, from a city with a bevy of great seafood places.. say SF or Boston? Probably not for the food..but it is a great example of a local place that cares about what they do and listens to customer feedback--all the while maintaining a fun atmosphere.

                                  1. Has anyone actually gotten in without a reservation? We were told on the phone that the bar was first come first serve and we could wait. We arrived at 8;00 and were told that it would be a 45 minute wait. We waited and waited until 9:00 when the hostess told us we were "getting there." ON a Monday! I couldn't believe it. Her attitude made me felt like she was the doorman at some hip club and I was not wearing the right boots. I would have rathered that the hostess tell us on the phone there was no chance rather than sit there for a full hour with no explanation, no attention, etc. I don't know if I could go through that again.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: applepie

                                      I went there last friday at 8:30, no ressie, and were sat at the bar in a half an hour. I had the special that night, poached prawns in shell over grits in a chanterelle sauce. I thought it phenomenal. This was my second visit. My first was not that great in regards to the food.

                                    2. We thought it was awful. Nothing was good and we ordered everything they recommended.

                                      1. i like the food there. items can be a bit pricey for what you get but from everything i've had they seem to use quality ingredients. yes, the lobster roll is a bit expensive and the fruit de mer is a bit over priced but overall a good neighborhood restaurant. maybe not a destination...one bone to pick...i've been there 3 times. twice after 9 on a weekday and once on a sat night. twice with reservations and ended up waiting way too long for a table. the last time i went was on a sat. after a movie at 11:30 at night w/ no reservations. we waited about 30 minutes but watched at least 5 empty tables the whole time. at the end of the 30 minutes, sure enough, we were seated at one of those tables.

                                        1. I love The Hungry Cat - the food, the dressed down casual atmosphere, the service. I have one HUGE problem with it. The last three times I have dropped in - after checking the website for their hours - it has been closed. 'We shut early' 'We changed the hours' etc etc. I love the place. But it is never open when at least the website says it will be. Along with the above mentioned great things, I also like a place you can count on.

                                          1. I think it is over hyped too. The space is not very comfortable or inviting...the portions are tiny and the prices are high. I dont mind paying for good food, but lets not forget that the underlying goal of eating is to fill yourself up. At HC, 1 app and 1 entree doesnt do it.

                                            1. Way hyped. Ate there twice and now you could not get me to go back even if I wasn't paying... very boring food. I've much had better shrimp than what they offered. A letdown indeed. And the atmosphere made me feel like I was trapped in some cheesy Universal City restaurant... yuck.

                                              1. ditto. I was so excited about this place but will never return. who needs a greasy lobster roll and mediocre oysters when there are so many other places offering much better culinary surprises?

                                                1. I've been to Hungry Cat 2 times and liked each visit. It is pricey for the portion size, but the flavors and quality were good. I especially like their clams and chorizo. I thought the lobster roll was tasty, if pricey, but the fries that come with it are great. I know they have a reputation for good mixed drinks, but like how they have Tecate beer available as well.

                                                  1. Hype! Over priced, mediocore food, and average service. All in all, nothing special or noteworthy.

                                                    But I guess you can look at it this way, if you want a three star experience you can go to Hungry Cat or Guy Savoy in Vegas. They're both three stars according to the wonderful S. Irene at the LA Times. Maybe if you look at it that way it's hot?

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: spham3

                                                      A provocative comparison, but rather like comparing oysters and foie gras.

                                                    2. I've made it there several times over the last year. I always sit at the bar - faster service, especially with the drinks. On my first visit, I was wowed by the whole fresh squeezed citrus concept of the drinks. Ordered the Luke's Lemonade (fresh lemonade, good vodka, mint) and have been going back just for that drink. Also had the halibut with morels on incredibly rich, cheesy grits. It was wonderful and, in spite of the small-ish portion, very filling. I've also loved the roasted beet salad and the cheese plate - grilled bread, 3 cheeses, honey-soaked walnuts. Other things I've ordered have never quite matched up to those dishes, IMHO, especially the lobster roll.

                                                      1. Seems that the true secret of the HC -- that they're open for Sunday brunch, and not for other days of the week -- isn't widely known. Absolutely amazing and reasonably priced, unlike the dinners, which, while high quality and tasty, don't necessarily offer enough food to leave you full. Can't recommend the softshell crab omelette enough, which is usually the special, and they have Nueske bacon, which takes pork to an entirely other world. Actually, I've had everything on the (quite small) menu at this point, and it's all great.

                                                        1. burger- very good
                                                          clams and chorizo- greasy mess
                                                          oysters- very good
                                                          salads- meh
                                                          brunch items- just okay

                                                          Atmosphere can vary-it's a really odd space. We've been several times, and if we stick to the oysters and the burger we leave happy. The drinks are tasty but I'm not sure quite why they get the props they do. Knock a couple bucks off the prices, ignore way overblown S Irene hype and it's a fun joint.

                                                          1. Hungry Cat is probably one of the worst Seafood restaurants I have been to. Oysters sent back, steamers were sandy, crabcake was OK and the location awful- service still charged me for Oysters i couldn't eat. Over hyped.

                                                            1. I've eaten at HC a bunch of times, the menu is really hit or miss. I go back consistently for the crab soup - I can not stress how delicious this is!! I'd lick up every last drop if I could. The burger is also very good.But the rest of the nemu overall is pretty average, everytime I've had shellfish there it's been poorly cleaned with a lot of grit left behind.

                                                              1. Well, since the time of the original post and now, they've gotten a new manager and cycled through a few staff. Chef Lentz and his main crew are still there, and I'm of the opinion that they're currently doing quite well in terms of food quality. The bar is as good as ever and summer has brought in some great product for the menu. Don't know how HC in Santa Barbara is doing, but the one in Hollywood is expanding in late summer / early autumn, with the possibility of some patio grilling while renovations take place.

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                                                                The Hungry Cat
                                                                1535 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90028