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Is Private Catering the Way to Go?

I've never organized a private catering event, and I'm frankly quite new the LA food scene.

Is private catering the best way to ensure good food at a reception? I know hotels are famous for bad food, and restaurants have a hard time seating and feeding 100 identical meals at a time as opposed to their usual nights of staggered orders of a variety of foods throughout the evening.

Caterers have to travel and cook in mobile kitchens, but they do it all the time, right? So far, searching on this board and through word of mouth has led me to:

Kitchen for Exploring Foods (menu seems a little boring as in I see nothing I haven't seen before, but if it's well made why not)

Kai European Catering (they seem really chic, and they'll do decorating as well. Menu seems pretty interesting and creative)

Jackson Somerset (a very professional website, not as slick as Kai's but very lovely. Food items seem lovely)

Would these private, travelling caterers serve me better than the in-house caterers at event locations such as:

The Romanesque Room in Pasadena

La Venta or Verandas, run by New York Food Company?

I'm at such a loss, and all of the caterers require deposits for tasting that are applied to your final bill. If I tasted food at all these places, I'd be out several hundred dollars!

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  1. I have a couple of good recs:
    Auntie Em's Kitchen has great catering. Very creative seasonal menus, not crazy expensive, and they offer staff and bartenders. www.auntieemscatering.com There macaroni and cheese with roasted garlic and spinach is great!

    Joans on Third is also quite good, but very expensive. They off staff as well. www.joansonthird.com The stuffed leg of lamb is really good.

    A couple of times we have thrown birthday parties and ordered lasagnas and meatball, etc from the Italian deli in Glendale on Broadway-the name escapes me, but I will get back to you. We pick up and then get desserts else where.

    Good luck-sounds like fun.

    3 Replies
    1. re: sambrown3

      How expensive is very expensive? Would $100-150 a head cover food and staff for a party of 100?

      1. re: sambrown3

        Let me second the rec for Auntie em's. They do a great job, with wonderful food and they really work with you to come up with a special event that's really what YOU want. And they work within your budget. They don't charge for tastings.

        1. re: sambrown3

          I think you are refering to Mario's in Glendale. Awesome sandwiches there

        2. I had a bad exprience with Joan's on Third catering a party for 35 in my home...(could never get a live person on the phone from their 'catering department' the serving sizes they provided were way too skimpy, then they blew out the power in my kitchen with a faulty appliance they brought with them, (the head waiter told me it 'happened all the time' when they brought this one item to sites) I recently used Danielle Steckler...www.paperpalate.com...and she was fabulous.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Blakekitty

            Her site and Daily Candy article sound lovely, but it doesn't look like she can do 100 in a kitchenless facility. "Specializes in intimate parties..."

            1. re: Pei

              hi all, danielle from paper palate here. thanks so much for spreading good words about us. it is so exciting to see posts about my work on a site i have been visiting for years. wanted to let everyone know that i do do large parties as well as small intimate gatherings so please keep is on mind. i know catering gets a bad food rep but we are here to chang that. cheers- p.p.

          2. I don't know what you're catering, but I used the Kitchen for Exploring foods for my wedding reception (home reception, though this was a few years ago) and everything was delicious and well-prepared, and creative without being scary to guests. They did their own set up and decoration of the serving tables, the cooks and servers were very professional, and they cleaned up beautifully.

            7 Replies
            1. re: Amuse Bouches

              May I ask how many guests you had, whether you did buffet or sit down, and how much (total or per guest) it cost you?

              Creative but not scary to guests, and equally delicious and visually appealing, are important to me.

              I have also heard they take a long time getting back to new customers. Was it easy to contact them during your planning?

              1. re: Pei

                We had about 70 people, and did passed hors d'oeuvres and stations. I think about 6-8 types of passed hors d'oeuvres, 2 stations -- one panini (made in the garage "kitchen" but grilled to order), another entree-y station, and a big display of crudites and cheeses, plus a lemonade bar for the nondrinkers (we poured and served our own champagne), and cake service and berries (we supplied the cake) was I think about $40pp four years ago. There was PLENTY of food, and they wrapped up leftovers and left them for us in the refrigerator.

                1. re: Pei

                  And I don't remember them taking a long time to get back to us, but I was planning from New York, so the times were a bit hazy. I think I'd call up the places you're looking at, ask them to send you some sample menus in their price range, and then maybe do tastings at the couple that appeal the most.

                2. re: Amuse Bouches

                  Can second and third Kitchen for Exploring... My family has used them for a 40 person formal, sit-down dinner as well as a 200 person informal backyard reception, including 3 buffets of different types of 'finger food" and desserts.

                  Buffet tables were beautiful and food well-liked. Same for sitdown. Major kudos for allowing my control freak mother to "supervise", while still accomplishing everything seamlessly. My mother was so impressed with the dinner event, she actually retired her clipboard for the reception...like many caterers, you can work with them on special requests or modifications(e.g.,they made my Grandma's chocolate cake recipe, but enough for >50 people). Our costs were similar,... maybe around 50-60 pp for sitdown, but they did absolutely everything, We had hors d'heuvres, fish course, entree, salad, dessert, etc. and bev. service. Mom had no issues with getting them to return calls, but SHE'S MOM (sorry, she's permanently booked).

                  1. re: Local

                    Those seem like an incredible price for a sit down meal with service staff! Thanks!

                    1. re: Pei

                      oops, fumble...mom said she provided all beverages...also the oven roasted salmon was the behemoth my dad had caught north of Puget Sound, ....but catered food was good, not elaborate, but definitely not just stuffed chicken chests.

                3. Pei,

                  In Pasadena check out Dereks Bistro, he has a catering company. There is a caterer on Fair Oaks across from Central park, I have used she was very good. The Ritz Carlton has good food, impeccable service and is well appointed. Keep in mind, I have never gotten "Oh my god that is to die for food" at any catered event ever. I think it is too hard to prepare huge simultaneous plates at once. You can expect very good food and the non foodies will think it is "oh my god to die for" from any of the aforementioned. Good luck

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: robertpasadena

                    Good enough for me! I just want it to be better than the typical "Gee I could make this at home" $30-60 meal you can get at most place in LA, which is where my boring non-foodie friends and older relatives usually eat. I want them to see how lovely a Western banquet can be, especially with a glass of fine wine.

                    1. re: robertpasadena

                      Happy Trails is the caterer on Fair Oaks. Put 'em on your list...been to one event, over 10 years ago...food was good. I do remember the business was for sale a while back, so maybe different owners...dunno.

                    2. I was recently at a wedding for about 300-400 people. It was catered by Kai's European catering and it was fantastic. One of the best catered events that I have been to and especially for that amount of people. Decorations and set up were beautiful as well as great food and waitstaff. I wouldn't go with Somerset from past experiences.

                      1. As the owner of New York Food Company and La Venta...it is very interesting to sit on the side and hear this discussion...good luck finding a caterer/venue. Most of the businesses I know personally and will do a fine job for you....do ask for a tasting of the food you would like to serve....do use an experienced caterer...not a restaurant

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: nyfoodjoe

                          Please do e-mail me if you don't mind; I have some questions about NYFC. Thank you!

                          chezpeiatgmaildotcom

                        2. I used to work for both Kai and Jackson Somerset and your description of each company is correct. Kai is very high end and chic and JS is more mainstream. Kai pays more attention to the quality of his food and how it's presented than JS.

                          1. Elements, a young upstart caterer near Old Town Pasadena, catered our wedding banquet at the Asia Pacific Museum, and we could not have been more pleased. The food alone was about $30 pp, including appetizers, drinks, and entrees. They will subcontract with a rental company, and will handle everything, including floral arrangements. The main cost for us was in the staffing and the rental equipment which ran about another $35 pp, because we wanted waiters rather than a buffet. I wanted an Asian theme, so they served hors d'oeuves of stuffed chicken wings, pork satay with pineapple/spicy peanut sauce and roast duck vegetable rolls; then, a dinner of steamed salmon w/ginger, red onion,lemongrass, caramelized ribeye steak with jasmine rice and fresh veggies. Delish! The set-up and execution was marvelous and I am still getting compliments months afterwards on the decor and food! Carol Grogan was the contact at 626-440-0100 or at www.elementskitchen.com She and the young chef O'Neil are the owners. Good luck!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: cfylong

                              ps They do not charge for a tasting, which swayed me from The Kitchen for Exploring Foods.