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New Yorker in LA-a review

First, a big thank you to all the LA hounds-I couldn't have done it without you. It's been years since I've been out your way and knew nothing. Second-these are quick impressions of a New Yorker in LA-I tend to lose track of what I actually ate in any detail.

Pie and Burger: The long counter had an opening right in front of the pies. We had burgers-nicely charred and moist and fries-large cut, crisp and potato-y (I might skip the fries for more pie)-the lemon pie was good (not the best-that prize goes to my mother) and the coconut, which was great-toasted coconut, the custard filling perfect.

Arroyo Chop House: a bit disappointing-I was looking for something easy and in walking distance to where I was staying. The Caesar salad was not well made-not enough garlic, no discernable anchovy and the steaks-rib eye and filet mignon-were ok but nothing special. The waitress oversold the steaks, going on about the age and how it's the best you'll get…then tried to sell us on the shrimp appetizer. When she failed, she brought two "to try" and then came back moments later "did you try them?" A bit much-don't know if it was just her or the place.

Getty Museum Restaurant: Do take your out-of-town guests here-the space, the view-and the food is solid. Carrot soup, crab/shrimp cake, Tasmanian sea bass, cauliflower risotto-all very nice-not surprising, but it’s a break from the museum and a great space.

Spago-thanks for convincing me-I might have skipped it, thinking it not a proper chow destination, but it was very good, and the terrace is a fine place to sit. The tasting menu was paced perfectly-the tuna cone, salmon blintz, bacon en croute, ravioli with black truffle (one of the best dishes anywhere), game bird (can’t remember-wine pairings to blame!) with a licorice sauce, bread pudding. Flawless service and, yes, Chef Puck was making the rounds.

Crepe Vine: a good spot for lunch near the Norton Simon and Gamble House-very relaxed and pleasant-chicken and mushroom crepe tasty, the dessert crepes not too filling at all-enjoyed the raspberry crepe. An odd point-the bathroom is out the door and down the alley and you need a token to use it.

Opus: a true believer-I spoke to the chef briefly as he explained his philosophy of providing fine dining at a reasonable price-I really liked him and wish him success. Certainly the best value for the money in this category. I could have done without the techno-music, but did notice he was drawing a much younger crowd than most of my other stops. And, we did drive rather than take the metro (earlier post.) That amazing soft boiled egg, asparagus soup with oxtail ravioli, rabbit three ways, lamb with the best lentils I can remember having and the root beer float dessert that was at once surprising and familiar. The service not up to the food (uh, this is a white from Italy…) but well meaning. At those prices you can’t complain too much.

Huntington Library Tea: I don't know that it's worth going out of your way for, but a good stop if you are at the Huntington-I like the all you can eat idea, and the scones were excellent, as was a cucumber/mint salad. Everything else was fine…the space is a bit cramped-it's not an elegant space, and there's no view to the gardens.

Providence: perfection from beginning to end-the quiet, subdued space, knowledgeable service, wine pairings-inventive, quality ingredients. This would be my splurge pick. Himachi with the soy gel filling, sweetbreads with peas, John Dory, scallops…all wonderful. And a white chocolate mousse with mint and sweet olives that was to die for. I can’t do the food justice here, just go.

Downtown Market: I wish I had someplace like this near my workplace-was short on time (blame the wine pairings at Providence) so only tried the gordita with pork at Ana Maria's-delicious. We even managed to find a seat (-Charmo-you were right about the marathon crowds-none at all.)

Babita-if you live within 100 miles of this place and haven't eaten here, shame on you! This is one of the best-I think it's joining my top restaurant list. First, what a wonderful place-I loved talking to the chef (and he's proud of his chowhound standing)-but what food…chiles en Nogada is so different, so heavenly. Potato/cilantro soup-like a fine reduction more than soup, beef cheeks and semifreddo with a goat milk/caramel sauce. I would eat here every week if I could (and there's easy street parking-just watch that German Shepherd on S Pine!)

Geoffrey's-with a view like that, they don't need to serve good food, but I found it pretty tasty. The service is a bit spotty (missing napkins, having to ask twice for my wine, etc) but it's hard to complain when you look out at the ocean and it's 75 degrees and you're thinking of your friends back in NY where it's 10 degrees…well, you get the idea. I wouldn't eat here after dark. This is perfect for dining near the Getty Villa-15 minutes away (we had no traffic.) The roasted corn/pepper soup was very good, duck breast salad not so good, crusted ahi seared correctly and fresh.

Musha-I really enjoyed this-not, however, a quiet, romantic spot, unless you consider Japanese girls shouting out orders romantic...loved the crunchy sesame green beans, the egg/octopus dish and the risotto.

Joe's-a very staid Venice beach spot (I say that in a good way compared to a few blocks over)-and a great deal for lunch. Had the special, a monkfish and salad, only $15. Good service and wines by the glass.

Jiraffe-very fine-I liked the second story perch we were offered…I was slightly put off by the waiter-a little too much (handing the dessert menu with the words "your mission, should you decide to accept it…") Enjoyed the blue potato gnocchi with rock shrimp and the seafood risotto, along with the lemon soufflé.

Sam's by the Beach-ah, to be a regular. This is a perfect example of a small restaurant lovingly run-good, solid food, interesting wine selection, friendly but professional service…there were three birthdays being celebrated the night we were there-and I would recommend it for anniversary's as well. I also noted the warmth shown to a single diner. Chorizo risotto was wonderful, as was wild leek soup, the venison special and the bread pudding. Fairly large portions.

Violet-a strange spot-waiter the very caricature of the Santa Monica culture (no offense!)-I didn't really find the small plates that small-one could, at least at lunch, linger here awhile. I liked the beet salad and the mac and cheese (not too rich.) Didn’t have it, but the burger was full-sized.

Chadaka Thai-in beautiful downtown Burbank. I felt this was a fairly good, sit down place. The value for me was a place to eat before a 9:00 flight out of the Burbank airport-literally 10 minutes away. Not the best you'll have, but pretty solid in the area, and relaxing. I liked the crab noodles.

I have to say-it's a lot easier driving in LA than it is in NY-so don't be afraid to drive around…and, for the most part it seems people eat early here-with an 8:00 reservation, we were closing down some places. And it really confuses the valet attendants when you want to take a little walk before retrieving your car.
I'm only sorry for the places I missed-oh, and my incoming Amex bill. Thanks again, all.

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  1. Wow, great report, you really got around! We had the same server at Opus, I think (uh, this is an Italian white.)
    Not sure why you thought Violet was strange, although the interior is not its strong suit.
    Where is Sam's at the Beach?
    Glad you didn't leave saying that L.A. is all flash and no good food!

    4 Replies
    1. re: Chowpatty

      Sam's is in Santa Monica Canyon next to Georgio Baldi.

      1. re: Chowpatty

        Violet-the waiter had spikey hair, tatoos and an amazingly laid-back attitude (you may want to, you know, share) and it was a strange color--I didn't mean to be too harsh, but it reminded me of my college days (and we're talking 70's) but with better munchies.

        1. re: David W

          if the waiter is buff looking too, you may have been served by chef/owner Jared Simons (I noticed that several times he's at the host stand) ~ does he bare resemblance to the guy on the Website? (www.violetrestaurant.com



          1. re: AquaW

            I think he was at the host station-this guy was a little more like the folks on the boardwalk at Venice Beach...I'd add there was nothing actually wrong with it, it's just that the seriousness of the food didn't seem to match the vibe...maybe I'm just ready for my rocking chair (you kid's get off my lawn!)

      2. Wonderful recap. Thanks very much.

        And, yes, Babita is truly a (hidden) gem.

        1. Thanks for the report. Sounds like you've hit a lot of the good spots. Opus, Babita and Providence are on my hit list.

          So if you were to visit LA again, which in your list above will warrant a repeat?

          8 Replies
          1. re: notmartha

            I'd say, in order- Babita, Providence, Opus, Sam's, Musha, Pie and Burger (you can't get good pie in NY)...I'd be glad to eat at any again except Arroyo, which really turned me off-but I liked the atmosphere, quality of food and/or personality of the above the most.

            1. re: David W

              Since I've decided that I can't look myself in the mirror if I so lack courage, I'll make this post.

              Despite the overwhelming rave on Babita, I've found it otherwise. Based on a single experience, neither Mrs. Judge Dee nor I think it's worth a return visit.

              1. re: David W

                i heard pie's n thighs, in williamsburg was good, is pie n burger better?

                also, yeah, you did hit up quite a few joints. even a few that some of us LA hounds have not hit up such as Babita.

                1. re: kevin

                  Pie's N Thighs-well, it's not to my taste-a shack in back of a bar under (and I mean under) the Williamsburg bridge...it's not convenient for me (I live in another area of Brooklyn, and you can't get there from here) but the pies are not the same...peanut butter, key lime, rhubarb. I tend to go for meringue pies, which are rarely served out, since they don't keep-you need a high turnover. So I'd give the nod to Pasadena on this one. Since I didn't try one of the fruit pies at Pie and Burger, I can't comment on them.

                  1. re: David W

                    i have to say, I did not enjoy my pie at pie and burger. i may need to give them another try, but the one off test was a bust. i split my time between new york and LA - DavidW, i too make the trek on the G. i think pies n thighs gets the win, though there are better places in NYC for pie

                    i am very curious about house of pies

                    here's my pic from pie and burger: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karensan...

                    1. re: kazhound

                      Your photo shows a fruit pie, which I did not try at P&B-I'd suggest if you decide to go back go for the meringue pies, especially the coconut.
                      The guy sitting next to us swore by the strawberry pie, and took home three slices.
                      For more on Pies and Thighs, follow the post-

                      1. re: kazhound

                        Re. House of Pies...Bad. Taste like pie from the frozen section of a supermarket, if that. It's very sad that they are called House of Pies and don't have good pies.

                2. nice hits, and I too am glad that there's a NYer who's not leaving condescending remarks about dining in LA. (but yep, most LA folks tend to eat a bit earlier than NY or DC)


                  1. Wow! You're a quick study. Thanks for the intel.

                    1. As much as I love Opus, I've had the same type of wine experience, and they scurry away before you can ask questions.

                      1. What a great report--and so inspiring for those times when I feel unmotivated to try new places. I'm so glad that other Chowhounders who gave you such good info.
                        You've also inspired me to finally try Babita!

                        1. Thanks for posting; very nice report.

                          1. Here's a tip re Opus (for eriny in particular) - we had the same bad wine experience and told them that when we went the next time. The sommelier came over and told us this time would be different (she had just started). It really was. She delivered all pairings and explained how they worked with the food, etc. Not only was the service better, the wine pairings made a lot more sense. Hopefully she will be more involved with dinners in the future, but if you let them know your issue, I bet she will be sure to do your wine service.

                            Also thanks to David W. I live less than 20 miles from Babita and have never been inspired to try it until now. That and Musha are on my short list!


                            1. Adding my thanks to the rest. Great write-up.

                              1. Wow . . . great review of what reads like an epic culinary few days. Based on the review I'm on my way to Babita. Thanks

                                1. As a frequent visitor to the Huntington, I would imagine that the reason there are no garden views from the tea room is because if you were dining there, you'd have too many lookie-loos peering in to see what you were eating... I know it's kind of a catch-22 but you have to admit - it's an impressive place that keeps getting better and the Tea is just a bonus...

                                  1. I hope that by the time you return we will have some new places for you to sample.

                                    1. This is an awesome list. As a recently transplanted NYer, I thank you!

                                      1. I like this very much. Makes me want to try Babita's and Providence...

                                        I've always eyed the Getty Restaurant too. I love the view from the Getty, but I assumed the food would be awful at that restaurant. Don't know why. This makes me reconsider.

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: katkoupai

                                          The Restaurant at the Getty is quite good. It can get a little expensive for lunch, but I think it's worth it, given the quality of food, the service, and the amazing view. This is a rare combination in LA. Besides, you can walk off just about everything that you ate and drank by the end of your visit!

                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                            Sounds good. Maybe I will check it out sometime. :)

                                            1. re: katkoupai

                                              Regarding the expense of lunch at the Getty-with sparkling water, two glasses of wine, two apps, two entrees and two cups of coffee the total came to $105.00 before tip.

                                              1. re: David W

                                                Thanks. I would consider that a place to go for a special meal, then. Were you full afterwards?

                                                1. re: katkoupai

                                                  I think it was sufficient to satisfy-I know we discussed dessert, but we were heading to Spago for dinner and wanted to be in shape for that...and regarding expense, maybe the Getty seemed cheap in comparison.

                                              2. re: katkoupai

                                                As a few have chimed in about the "expensiveness" of The Restaurant at The Getty, I did mention how it can be a little expensive. I think our tab for two, including two glasses of wine, a lunch salad and a pasta entree was around $75-80 before tip. But the Cobb salad and the pasta dish were both excellent and would have no problem doing it again, as long as the quality and service are still the same. I think for most, it is a special meal, as the Getty Center is a special place. They are also open for dinner on Fri-Sat as well, and I think they've started up their mixers again on the weekends as well.

                                          2. A friend of mine told me that when he asked for more bread twice for their table of six...he got it.
                                            but they charged him $24 for it--$2 a piece. his bill was $900 for dinner for his wife's birthday. he liked the food--he is a chef--but thought the portions were way stingy, especially the oyster dish.

                                            1. Thanks for writing such a complete report.
                                              I do live within 100 miles from Babita and also have never been inspired to try it, but you make me think about trying it, there's something that doesn't atract me to it, I have read reviews, descriptions of the foods, and seen photos at flickr, and just doesn't appeal to me, now I think I have to go and see for myself...... But for sure I am going to pie n burger very soon, never been there either.
                                              Thanks again!

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: lvgoodfood

                                                I've seen those photos, too-they don't actually look that great. I think you owe it to yourself to try it-Chiles en Nogada is one of the best things I have eaten (you should call and check to see if they have it-and make a reservation.) You could make a day of Pie & Burger and Babita with stops at the Norton-Simon, Gamble House and the Huntington-I'm afraid that my cultural activities are often driven by the proximity of my somewhere I want to eat.
                                                Oh-and I'm sitting here in Brooklyn looking out my window at snow and wishing I was at Pie & Burger.

                                                1. re: David W

                                                  I'm looking out my window in the Westside of LA while munching on a great buttermilk bar from Primo's donuts in West LA and sipping a cuppa Mariebelle hot chocolate... low clouds and 60 degrees... kind of jaded about our weather out here but the donut and hot chocolate are great...The next time you're out this way and if your around the 405 and National and in the mood for a great donut or bagel, try Primo's Donuts on Sawtelle, just north of National, or The Bagel Factory on Sepulveda, just south of National... I hope the weather breaks soon for you folks...

                                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                                    Sounds like a great donut. :) Wish I lived closer (to be able to get one more easily).

                                              2. Thanks for the fantastic review, DavidW. I'll be sure to try Opus, Sam's, and Violet the next time we need to drive up to LA environs.

                                                Just a few comments on some of your places....
                                                I adore the Getty Musesum as well. I remember when it first opened. I was still in school. I told my professor that I was skipping class to visit opening week. Then again, I was a food and restaurant major, and we had reservations for lunch, so he was alright with it. Afterwards, everyone wandered inside while I took in the outdoors. Had a garden and architecture tour. So enjoyable, i think it's time for a return visit.

                                                Jiraffe - we met the owner on our visit. He was making the rounds. I believe it's Raphael Lunetta. His wait staff was like him, friendly with a little quirky. Must be his surfing vibe rubbing off on them. We loved the 2nd story table with a view too.

                                                We were in NYC for Thanksgriving (that's when I got engaged). Some of the best meals ever. Can't wait to go back (Norma's, Per Se, Craft, Mary's Fish Camp, Metrazeur, and Chic-a-Licious!)