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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.
            http://rainydaysandsundays-c.blogspot...

            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'.