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French 75: Run away! Run away!

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We had dinner there tonight and it was an abomination. Mr. Writergirl, who's much more forgiving than I, called it "the worst meal we've had in Los Angeles." First of all, they make their signature cocktail wrong! A "French 75" is supposed to be made with champagne, gin, lemon and sugar. They make there's with champagne and cognac, which I had never heard of before (although according to Wikipedia, that's a "French 125," which explains why they spent about $1.25 on the bottle of champagne they used.)

On to the food. The coq au vin (one of their "specialities") tasted like they had baked the chicken for way too long, and then poured Heinz coq au vin sauce on it. There was no simmering and merging of flavors in a lovely sauce. Dry chicken covered in an oily flavorless sauce. Served over a pile of mashed potatoes. The mashed potatoes were dry and flavorless. I added salt liberally, hoping to make them edible. It was futile. Summer squash and green beans were also forced to participate in the coq au vin, in protest they refused to give any flavor.

The pommes frites were tasty, but not as hot as I like them. My husband said the gin and tonic was strong (which doesn't necessarily mean good.) The service was friendly, but spotty. It's like they read a manual on how "fancy" restaurants behave (refold napkin when guest goes to the restroom etc.) but couldn't quite pull it off (water? helloo? may we PLEASE get that water we asked for? My husband can't choke down his entree without it!)

My husband ordered the beef stroganoff (another "specialty"), which he couldn't even come close to choking down. It was bland, except for the huge peppercorns. Mr. Writergirl, while he can tell a good meal from a bad one, doesn't usually complain openly about meals. "It's food" is the worst he usually has to say. So when he says without prompting "it's the worst meal we've had in L.A." take heed! Really, this meal was so bad I almost wanted to cry. Including tip, we paid exactly $100 ($83 + tip)

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  1. Which French 75 did you go to? Sounds like you had a very melodramatic experience.

    What restaurants in L.A. do you like??

    1 Reply
    1. re: Francesca

      I went to the new one in Century City. I haven't been to the other branches (in fact, I didn't know it was a chain until I read Chowhound.) What restaurants in LA do I like? I'd say most of the ones I've been to have been enjoyable. None have been been anywhere near as bad as this. In fact, if you search my name you won't come up with a completely negative review I've written on another restaurant. Sorry you thought I was being melodramatic, I was actually going for funny...dammit, I knew I should have added an emoticon! ;-)

    2. I've always enjoyed French 75 - though never been to LA one. Was quite the description though.

      1. I've never been impressed at all with the Laguna branch - steak frites are the only thing I've ever had done well there, but people here get all over my case when I complain about it. Worst 'French' food I've ever tasted. Last time I was forced there, waiter was so obnoxious & then so unbelieving that 'his' food was almost inedible. In contrast, I do like Rouge (which is going to become French 75 too soon & Chat Noir, his other restaurants, but neither is trying as hard to be a formal venue). I've heard the Irvine branch is better, but not willing to spend the $$ to try & give them a 4th chance!

        1. My mom had a less-than-stellar experience at one of his restaurants, and mentioned it to one of their corporate staff when she was booking a luncheon for work. The woman was very gracious and apologetic, and sent my mom a gift certificate to use at any of their restaurants.

          1. Since I just posted pretty much the same experience, let me just say that I concur.

            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

            1. Yikes! Didn't go to a French 75, but I did went to Chat Noir (same restaurant group) in Costa Mesa -- and I had a relatively positive experience, review here:

              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

              1 Reply
              1. re: AquaW

                Funny thing:

                You say the carafe=2 glasses, but their website says 4.

                I'm inclined to say it was 2 based on what I saw at last week's bubbly hour at the Century City French 75. The difference between the carafe and glass prices was too low to be for a 4:1 difference (a case of too good to be true). And the carafes I saw going around seemed too small to hold almost a whole bottle.

              2. I hate all of his places. Over priced and poor food does not make for a great dinner. I live near Tustin Market Place. There is BJ's Opha and Bistro 75. I like Belvedere on the rocks. BJ $6.50 Opha $8.50 about a two ounce shot, Bistro 75 $13.50 ONE OUNCE. This is a rip. The food is poor quality. I have found out that they no longer buy from Newport Beef. This is the company that supplies most of the top places there Prime Beef. If you want to be around the beautiful people enjoy.

                1. I haven't been there for dinner, but I have to disagree on the lunches in CC.
                  Sandwiches (which, while nothing to write home about, are pretty good), start at $11.95, and it's not too hard to get out of a worklunch for under $20. That's cheaper than Gulfstream or Houston's, and better than the abysmal Breeze (Clementine's is in another league, but there's room for more than one place).
                  That's more expensive than the food court, but not too horrible.
                  Also, it's possible to be in and out in under 40 minutes, making it a quick lunch.
                  I, for one, am a fan. A good addition to the lunch choices in the area (from what I've heard, the dinner prices are much higher, and not justifiable considering the food quality).

                  1. Do you wanna go to Paris Las Vegas or Paris? Do you wanna go to French 75 or a real French bistro? Try Mimosa, Cafe des Artistes, Pastis, Bistro K, Julienne instead.

                    1. I tend to think out of Rouge, Chat Noir, French 75 (Laugna Beach), and French 75 (Irvine) that Irvine is the best of the bunch. Rouge is beyond deafening the times I've been. Chat Noir is too uppity, maybe for the very special occassion. Laguna Beach...a little old fashioned (not my style, I realized later).

                      Irvine locale is relaxed. I see families, couples, friends. Probably the hippest gathering place for all sorts of groups. I also like the different seating options. A few secluded areas, the casual open space, and a seductive bar. The menu is reasonable in selection, and I don't have to drive more than five miles for a quaint dinner. I'm sorry you had such a bad time. It did take the fourth branch before I found the right place. I'm a sucker for their burger and crepes....but as you can see, atmosphere is a big influence as well.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: pizookie75

                        Rouge is now French 75 too.

                        1. re: torta basilica

                          Thank you torta basilica, I keep forgetting.....and before that it was Chimayo too.

                      2. I haven't been to French 75 in several years, and the times I did go it was still only the original Laguna Beach location. The food was still good then, so I can only imagine that the food issues they are having are due to the pitfalls of expansion and attempting to replicate a concept, with quality suffering as a result.

                        The reason we haven't been back in so long was due to an extremely bad service experience, which seemed amusing after it was all over, but was infuriating at the time.

                        My husband and I were out with another couple, some friends we hadn't seen in awhile. We had forgotten to make reservations but called last minute and the French 75 host said come on over, and we were seated quickly. When we sat down, a manager immediately came by to curtly inform us that we were seated in an area which was reserved for a large special pary in about an hour, so we would have to be willing to relinquish the table then, and if needed we would be moved to another table. We said that was fine.

                        From that point things went downhill. Through the entire meal, the same manager repeatedly stopped by our table to give us time updates and remind us that the clock was ticking. We repeatedly nodded our heads and said we were aware, and that she could just let us know when we needed to move. When it came time for dessert, great agonizing took place among the staff as to whether we should stay at that table for dessert or move to another, and finally it was decided to let us stay.

                        We managed to finish dessert under the deadline, but then the husband of the other couple decided he wanted some coffee, but alas, our time was up. We were told by our waitperson that we could move to the bar area, so we settled our dinner check, went to the bar, and were told by a waitperson there that we could have a seat at one of the tables. She took our coffee order and we again attempted to resume our discussion in a relaxed way, which had become increasingly difficult.

                        Well who should come storming up but Miss Manager and say, "Excuse me, who told you you could sit HERE?" At this point we had really had our fill of this snotty treatment, so we got up and left. As a side note, I should mention that we were not barefoot high school students - we were two well-heeled adult couples who could obviously afford to come back often. The treatment we received had us shaking our heads in amazement, and we ended up standing out on the front patio ranting, griping and laughing about the whole thing for at least 20 minutes.

                        Apparently, we were overheard, as a man who seemed to be the general manager came out and cut in on our conversation to apologize for his co-worker's behavior, and comped us the entire $285.00 tab - which we greatly appreciated, but also felt it still didn't compensate for the fact that our entire evening with our friends was tainted by this harassment.

                        Chances are the rabid manager who was behind that horrific experience is no longer at French 75, but the bad memory lingers in the subconscious, and we have not been back. Not sure if we want to give it another try based on this thread, but perhaps they need some time to work the bugs out at the new locations....(just trying to be optimistic!)We do like David Wilhelm and his cuisine, when it is prepared well.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: closetfoodie

                          Being a student of such things, I think you may have the record for a comped amount without actual physical injury or property damage. While $285 might not compensate emotionally, it does show a genuine desire to make things right and is more than I can say for nearly any other effort I have seen recently.

                        2. Haven't been to the LA French 75, (and I don't need to), but I'm partial to the Laguna French 75, ever since my husband and I had our first date there (at the time it was a club called Andre's.) I liked what Wilhelm did with the place in opening the orignal French 75, especially when Justin Monson was in charge of the kitchen. It's classic, charming and just my style. Since he left, there were several noticeable chef changes, but things seemed to have stabilized the last year or so and we've enjoyed ourselves and overall like the food quite well.

                          I was sorry to hear that their French food consultant and chef, Yvon Goetz left the company not long ago, as he had started to implement the menus with more authenticity. Now I see that the Laguna French 75 has added a sign outside on the front of the building that says something like "champagne, jazz and steaks". I don't like that, because it appears they have moved towards being more of a steakhouse, which I think is the wrong direction.

                          I also wonder why Rouge changed its name to French 75--are all the bistros going to eventually be named French 75? Is he building a brand to sell later? I've eaten at Rouge/F75 a couple of times, and its menu is somewhat similar to Laguna's. Can't understand why someone would be so down on Laguna, yet fine with Rouge/French 75 Fashion Island. I like them both and I don't see much difference in the quality of the food. Obviously, my history with Laguna French 75 draws me there, but if the food wasn't good, I would NOT be there. But this chain thing bothers me. I don't know what changes (if any)have been made to Laguna French 75 recently, but I think I'll have to go and check it out.

                          1. Friend and I had 'bubbly hour' at French 75 Marketplace last night. They advertise 'free appetizers' and a wide selection of happy hour drinks. Horrible, oily, greasy thin slice of pizza (servers offer them around the bar at an average of, hold on to your seats, once every 40 mins. Between the time we arrived (5:30) to the end of happy hour (7pm), we were only able to eat the FREE appetizers (2 oily slices each) twice.

                            Drinks at happy hour price is $7 for a mango martini and $8 for jack and coke.

                            WE ARE NEVER GOING BACK THERE. NOT FOR HAPPY HOUR. NOT FOR DINNER. EVER.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ml22

                              That was our experience at the Century City branch. Over more than an hour, we received one or two "free" appetizers. On the other hand, a few of the bar appetizers were decent. I liked the fries and a fried crab appetizer we had.

                            2. When French 75 (Laguna Beach) was good, I'm pretty sure the chef was Juston Monson. He has since opened his own place.... Vine - Wine Country Cuisine, in San Clemente. It seems to be one of the few really good restaurants in deep-South OC.

                              Re Culinary Adventures' other "ventures", we do like Savannah Chop House and thought Chimayo (Fashion Island) was good too. Seems like the French 75 thing has gotten away from them.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Midlife

                                Chimayo in Fashion Island changed to Rouge and is now French 75.

                                1. re: Philly

                                  Yes. I know that it's not Tamayo now. What I was saying was that when it was..... we "thought Chimayo (Fashion Island) was good too".

                                  I don't want to start any rumors here, but I had heard that Culinary Adventures is shopping for buyers, so they're working overtime to find the right formula.

                              2. Sorry you had a bad experience. I've never been myself, but I was wondering why you left more than 20% tip (if my calcs are correct) for such a lousy experience? Perhaps my question should have it's own thread, but is it now standard to leave 20% rather than 15% for substandard service? Just curious. Chime in anyone.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: foodfoodfood

                                  This thread is repeated frequently on Not About Food. And I was wondering that, too.

                                  1. re: foodfoodfood

                                    Well, it's been over four months now, and I can't remember exactly why we tipped what we did, but the service wasn't especially bad, other than not getting water. It was the food that was really bad. I don't think it's fair to take that out on the waitstaff. Our waiter was actually quite friendly (somehow we got into a conversation about dogs, which earned him points with us!) Also, I'm sure my husband paid and tipped, and he's the type that would rather leave $100 and get the heck out rather than wait five minutes for $4 in change.

                                    1. re: writergirl

                                      I've got to pay more attention to the "date posted"! Thanks for responding anyway! You are right, I tend to focus on % rather than overall pic...what's another 5 bucks when you're dropping $100. I was just curious as to the customer's motivation behind tips. My husband is a former waiter and now small restaurant owner so I've learned to pay attention when someone has left more than 20 or less than 15, but I have found that it is more the mindset/custom of the individual diner (like your husband) and not so much the level of service. And you're right, why take it out on the waiter if they were friendly and attentive. The best way to send a message is to never go back.

                                  2. I think that all of his restaurants are horrible. High prices and low quality seem to be the theme developing in the OC dining scene. People down there need to stop settling for mid level quality grub. Go find the hidden gems that OC has to offer and you might even end up saving money on your dinner.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: chefs

                                      Testimony to that was Tim and Liza Goodell's move up to LA, as Aubergine was not properly supported and finally had to close as they were losing money, yet when it was in its prime, it qualitatively rivaled most any restaurant in LA.

                                      1. re: carter

                                        We enjoyed Aubergine back in the mid 90's but it certainly wasn't in the league with L' Orangerie , Bastide, La Cachette, Patina, or Le Chardonnay.

                                        1. re: russkar

                                          That is very good company indeed, although Bastide was never open when Aubergine was in its prime. Chardonnay was a perennial favorite and I cried when they demolished the place to make way for Dolce. Never have liked Cachette and have always felt that Patina in its Melrose location was way too stiff to enjoy a meal.
                                          But Aubergine served some verrry good food in its earlier days. I would drive from Sherman Oaks as testimony.

                                      2. re: chefs

                                        Having lived in OC for most of my life I really can't remember finding any "hidden gems" over the last few years?

                                        Several years ago OC had CHEZ CARY (the finest restaurant in OC , ever). Since it closed to make another Parking lot we only have had average plus places to choose from.