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Help me choose which restaurant (Jar, Grace, Lucques, or Campanile)

Hi Chowhounds:

I know this topic seems redundant (my apologies), but please read on. My parents asked me to pick a restaurant for my 30th birthday (it's a big one, so I'm going big). There are a million places I've always wanted to try, but I've narrowed it down to Jar, Grace, Lucques and Campanile (it's close to our home and we've never been). I have searched reviews for all of these restaurants on the board but would like further feedback given some qualifiers. I'm basically trying to please all parties, who have different tastes, interests, nueroses ;). However, just to let you know, based on reviews and a review of their menus posted online, I'm most intrigued by Grace (their menu seems pretty creative on first glance) and Campanile seems like a dark horse (some positive, but a lot of critical reviews on here).

Okay, here are some specific things I'm looking for.

1) Must have good service (which might eliminate Campanile?). If my parents are shelling out hundreds of dollars on a meal, I don't want them to be treated poorly. I'm looking for a more Colonel Pickering v.s. Henry Higgins experience (i.e., LIZA:...[Col. Pickering] treats a flower girl as if she was a duchess. / HIGGINS: And I treat a duchess as if she was a flower girl.).

2) Must have interesting food with some more "safe" choices on the menu. My husband and I enjoy new food experiences (we like being a bit daring), but my parents tend to be a little more conservative. For example, my mom does not like most seafood or "game-y" meats (or things a little strange to her, i.e., cheeks, tongue, etc.) and my dad is mostly a meat eater. However, he can be encouraged to experiment.

Over all, we tend to like lighter fare (i.e., think California cuisine or light French fare) but can groove on unexpectedly well-prepared (heavier) comfort food.

3) Substance not hype. I think people tend to jump on the bandwagon and "enjoy" places because it's the hot new spot or everyone seems to like it. I'm looking for good food, not just another culinary notch on my belt. For example, when I was living in NYC, everyone RAVED about Babbo. I tried it twice and was disappointed (I thought MB's Lupa was much better). Bottom line: Dazzle me with the food, not the name. My parents also don't live in LA, so they don't care about going to an LA-area "name" restaurant.

4) Consistancy. It's great if you had an amazing experience at (blank) restaurant once, but I'm not eating there on the same day that you did. Have you gone to said restaurant several times and never (or rarely) been disappointed? I'm also looking for opinions of people who have eaten at these places recently versus a couple years back (or even a year back; sometimes restaurants can go downhill very fast).

Two last things--one question and one request.

1) Are the menus posted on all these restaurants' sites sample menus, seasonal menus, or pretty much their standard menu? Does anyone know? I'm particularly concerned since it's now just the start of spring, so restaurants with seasonal menus will probably be revamping their menus soon (if they haven't already).

2) If you post a restaurant recommendation, I would love some feedback on food recs from that restaurant.

Thanks so much, and I hope no one gets mad about this seemingly redundant topic, since these restaurants are all well reviewed and commonly commented on. I just want to know how they stack up next to each other (and yes, I did read the post "grace or lucques," which I did find very helpful: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/33887...). When you go out so rarely to spendy places, you quake at choosing poorly.

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  1. Happy birthday, Alag77! I think out of those fours places based on your criteria, you should go with Grace. Campanille has gone downhill, though their deserts are amazing. Luques is inconsistent. Jar is good, but I don't think it's particularly interesting or creative, sort of like the food you could make at home. Grace's food is amazing every time no matter what I order, it's a beautiful space that's perfect for special occasions, the service is attentive and friendly and the menu is big and varied enough that you should be able to find something for everyone. The one caveat I should warn you about is their food is fairly rich. I think it's worth it for a special occasion, but I know you said you prefer lighter fare.

    To answer your question about the menu they have posted online, they actually have a much larger seasonal menu in addition to that menu....maybe they could fax it to you? And as for requests, the rabbit is exceptional (it's on the seasonal menu, but they carry it often) and I also love the boar.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Newkie

      Thank you, Newkie. I appreciate the thorough response. I'm leaning toward Grace, too.

    2. I think you should go to Jar. It meets all of your requirements - specifically dad, who's a meat eater, and the consistently good service and food.

      Campanile is inconsistent with spotty service, Grace is more for the adventurous eater - your dad might not find anything to eat - it's very rich.

      1 Reply
      1. re: yogachik

        Yeah, Jar looks good, but I'm so enthralled with Grace...I might just hang my parents out to dry on this one (and to get back at them for taking me to Asia d' Cuba last year because they met the mother of the owner on some Australia trip they went on--it was horrible and $20!!! for valet parking).

      2. I really do like Grace a lot, and would definitely choose it hands-down over the other options (although to be fair, I haven't been to Lucques in years [for no good reason other than that there are so many restaurants and so little time!]) - although I do agree that it's more inventive and might run afoul of your parents' more conservative tastes. If they're willing to experiment a little, however, I'm sure they can find something on the menu!

        (Gosh, btw, I LOVE Lupa.)

        3 Replies
        1. re: jacinthe

          I would go with Jar. I find the food at Grace to be oversalted (for my taste) and the menu at Lucques lacks the "safe choices" which you indicated is important.

          1. re: maudies5

            The two meals I've had there were definitely heavy on the salt.

          2. re: jacinthe

            Yes, I loved Lupa. You could really tell the pasta was top-notch and the atmosphere was so nice and easy-going. I thought Babbo was just a lot of hot air. It was a little too stuffy for me and I wasn't wowed by the food (or service).

          3. I'd go with Grace. The service is always fantastic (has been for me, anyway, and I've been there a half-dozen times). Something I'll never forget: I made a reservation there to celebrate my parent's anniversary. When I made the reservation (two weeks prior), I asked that we get a quieter table. When we arrived, we got a great table, but 20 minutes into the meal, a group of boisterous birthday celebrators sat at the table next to us and were being quite loud. Before I could even say a word, the waiter came over, took our wine glasses and appetizers on his tray and walked us to a table in the back room. I was VERY impressed.

            The food is similar to what's on their website menu, give or take a few things. I love their beef dishes and seafood. My only complaint is that sometimes, there's just too much going on in one dish. But regardless, the food always tastes great.

            Campanile is definitely hit-or-miss with service and food. I've been to Lucques once, and it was great, but the service was not up to the level of Grace.

            Clare K.

            1. Definitely avoid Campanile, very mediocre food and service and expensive. I've only been to Lucques once and thought it was just OK given the glowing reviews, but in no hurry to go back. I haven't been to it yet, but have heard nothing but great things about Grace

              1 Reply
              1. re: Ernie

                I've eaten at Lucques about 3 times over the past few months and it has always been amazing. The desserts are good, but the appetizers and entrees are always unbelievable . The menu they have online is their actual seasonal menu. They also have prix-fixe Sunday Suppers (3 courses for $40) however you can only order the Sunday Supper and not off the regular menu. They post the Sunday Supper menu by Thursday, but it might not be the best way to go if you want to have guaranteed 'safe choices'.

              2. we had a totally tremendous meal and service at CAMPANILE two weeks ago on a thursday. not a bad dish between the four of us.

                but you really can't go wrong with any of your choices. they're all good!

                if you haven't tried CAMPANILE yet, perhaps don't risk your birthday dinner for it, but try it for thursday grilled cheese night or perhaps brunch on your birthday weekend. reservations necessary.

                1 Reply
                1. re: revets2

                  Hi Revets, Thanks for your feedback. I've always wanted to try Grilled Cheese Night actually. Perhaps soon...

                2. Okay, so I made my choice. I made reservations at Grace, and I'm saving Lucques for September (taking the 'rents to Cirque du Soleil and they are insisting on taking us out to a really nice dinner afterwards--they are so generous). Thanks for all the feedback. It was very helpful. BTW, Clare, when I made reservations online, in the special accomodations sections, I shamelessly wrote that we were going for my 30th birthday and so I would love them to "wish me a happy birthday and tell me how young I look" and that "a good table wouldn't hurt either--if that's not asking too much." We'll see. I'm VERY excited. I'll try and write about my experience later.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: alag77

                    Great! I'm glad you chose Grace, and I hope it lives up to our experiences. I'm sure they will be very accomodating for your birthday - good idea to leave it in the notes. Can't wait to hear all about it!

                    Clare K.

                    1. re: alag77

                      I've been quiet on this thread because I find myself pimping Grace quite a bit on the boards, and so I'm glad you ultimately decided to go here anyway. It's everything I like about going out: classy decor, wonderful service, inventive cuisine that seems to strike a familiar chord. There's a dish with hearts of palm and saffron that Chef Neal makes that's outstanding. Have a wonderful birthday and I can't wait to hear all about it.

                      1. re: alag77

                        lucques is nothing to write home about. if you know how to cook (even a short rib) you will do better at home.

                        campanile's dishes lack balance, imho. i think they survive more on their reputation than their product.

                        i haven't been to grace yet but i think i might reserve one

                      2. I've been to all four of your selections, and though I like Lucques a lot, my favorite is definitely Grace. The advantages of Grace seem to be thoroughly discussed by others here, but I did want to add - when they first opened, they had an amazing olive-oil-poached cod, but a few months later it disappeared from the menu. When I cried to the waiter, he said that they had to get rid of it because too many people sent it back to the kitchen thinking it was undercooked - when in fact, they just didn't understand what poached fish is supposed to be. Anyway, he said it might be possible to special order it ahead of time. I've never done it, but I've always remembered how incredibly delicate and tender and delicious that fish was. I would definitely order it as a birthday treat!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: aching

                          Why is everyeone picking on Campanile...?
                          I dine there about twice a month. Is it always great..no. Is it an overall reliable favorite...absolutely. No restaurant hits the money every single time and I've been to them all over and over. I am always greeted cheerfully and the staff is just super. If you are looking for a good experience and are open and friendly, they will return the attitude. They see it all there believe me and know how to read a table. They tend to be a little more serious but if they sense you are into it, they will open up and have fun. Mark Peel is also a gifted chef and he knows how to inspire others to cook his style of unfussy farmers market food. Los Angeles and the entire country is full of his protoge"s. And unlike other luxury restaurants...Mark is actually there cooking. In fact, like last week when someone comes to town and I need a drop dead sure fire meal, I go there because I know it will likely be a hit. Plus I love the bar and the dining room (set downstairs). I also dont think its "expensive". There are LOTS of choices that dont break the bank. If you cook at home and source great products...its not cheap no matter what you do and to have a professional chef take that same food and make it for me in ways I never thought of while I read the paper and drink a glass of wine..thats a no brainer. And the wine list: WAY better than it used to be. Its far less eclectic than in the past and I think it is fat with reasonable choices at the moment. Pinot lovers will be particularly happy. All said, I love the place and make sure to go on Thursday night for "Sandwich Night" . Its a bargain. Enjoy.

                          1. re: thomtompkins

                            Sandwich night at Campanile is one of the most over-rated things ever to grace this board. Totally unexceptional sandwiches, limp fries, and long waits.

                            1. re: Ernie

                              I'm glad you feel that way Ernie - more room at Grilled Cheese Night for me. And though I'm not a fry person, I love the fries. As for regular dinner, you can still get a good meal at Campanile, but the service has really gone downhill.

                        2. Grace was a great choice. You should try Jar as well. Might want to do that instead of Lucques in October -- Jar may be safe but the food is always fantastic, whereas Lucques can be spotty.