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Inexpensive wine-focused dinner for small party

I'm looking for a place to host a dinner party for about 7 people in the Santa Monica/LA area. I'd like to have a very wine-focused dinner...meaning lots and lots of wine (can be inexpensive) and some good food. Inexpensive is key.

I've been referred to Upstairs 2, and I've taken a look at Bodega Wine Bar in Santa Monica.

I emailed the people at Upstairs 2 to ask about setting something up, but I haven't heard back from them, and after reading a few posts regarding that restaurant on these boards, I'm a little leery of going there! I keep reading about the manager's bad attitude; this has to be a fun, light-hearted, really enjoyable evening.

Has anyone been to Bodega or have any other recommendations? I don't want to spend more than $45 or so per person, if possible.

Thanks so much in advance!

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  1. I've always had great experiences at Upstairs 2.

    Alternatively, you should check out Cube on La Brea/near Melrose. I'm not sure if they have a liquor license yet...but they have a private room, they'll work with you to create a 6-course dinner ( I think it was 6-courses) and you can bring unlimited wine with no corkage fee. We had 10 people and it was $40 per person --- it might be a little more with less people, but worth checking out.

    It might also be worthwhile to check out Lou --- this is in Hollywood, but I remember the food/wine being reasonable.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Obessed

      Ah BUMMER!! I just called Cube...they only do a private party for 10 people or more. :( That sounds ideal!

      I'm going to call Lou on Vine; I'm not necessarily tied to Santa Monica, so Hollywood is fine. You guys are awesome! Keep the recs coming.


      ETA: I just emailed Lou as well. Thanks again for the great recommendations!

    2. While I really want to like Bodega, I'm not sure that's the right place for a dinner party - for one, it's much more of a bar scene. Also, the food is more along the lines of pizza, some paninis, etc. It's decent, but nothing more in my opinion. I also personally don't find their wine list that interesting (nor, if I recall correctly, does it change that often).

      I've only been to Upstairs 2 once, and had a good time. I think that unless you were careful with menu planning, however, you could easily bust your $45/person limit - while the food is good, serving sizes are small.

      My recommendation would be to try calling/emailing Lou (www.louonvine.com) and see if they could set something up for you. At the very least, the wine list and food is much better than that which you'd find at Bodega. I had my birthday dinner there last year, and they were very helpful in helping me stick to my price range.

        1. I really like Upstairs2 a lot. Look into Wine Cellar and the Cheese Shop Beverly Hills.

          I want to suggest Bin8945, but I think it's outside your budget.

          Enoteca Drago has a nice private wine room.

          1. Try calling Peter or Ivo at Il Tiramisu in Studio City. they can probably work out a very nice wine pairing dinner for you, for a price you will like.


            1. Try Girasole or La Buca in the Larchmont neighborhood if Italian would be of interest as food at both is affordable.
              Might also try Violet in Santa Monica on Pico across from TJs.

              10 Replies
              1. re: carter

                Thank you, I will definitely call Il Tiramisu and see what they can do. I've called Violet, and their food looks delicious; they have a $12 corkage fee per bottle, which isn't bad, either.

                I'm also looking at Houston's...I know this is out of the realm of what I was talking about, but they have NO corkage fee and NO maximum of bottles you can bring. How is the food/ambiance at Houston's? I've heard it's a trendy/fun place, but I've never been there. If the food is great and the ambiance is great, I can bring a few bottles of nice wine and then the guests have the option of ordering from the wine/beer/drinks menu or having some of the wine I've brought.

                What do you guys think?

                1. re: MPJ

                  I would pick Bandera over Houston's; they're owned by the same restaurant group and offer the same no corkage policy. For a chain, the food is consistently good and I think the vibe is much better than Houston's.

                  1. re: MPJ

                    What about Rose Cafe?

                    In terms of Houston's, frankly, with regards to what you're trying to do, I certainly would avoid Houston's. It's a chain, first and foremost, and while the food is good for a chain, and ambience would not be a strong suit. Sometimes it's loud, or very loud, and the food to me doesn't deserve a wine flight... call me snobby.

                    I'd rather do a wine flight at Literati II in that price range.

                    Did you look into Napa Valley Grille or the Gardens on Glendon?

                    Perhaps also to consider are the Sawtelle places like Blue Marlin or Sawtelle Kitchen.

                    If you'd consider ethnic, you can probably save $$, like at Rahel or Sunnin or Shamshiri, or Nawab of India or Javan or Thai Boom or Musha...

                    A few other ideas...
                    Gaby's Mediterranean
                    Bossa Nova
                    Fritto Misto
                    On a nice summer night, I'd love Figtree's Cafe

                    1. re: Emme

                      Thank you for saving me from Houston's!! I had no idea. That's the last thing I want...no ambiance and chain-restaurant-like atmosphere. Seriously, thank you. :)

                      Eat on Sunset looks great, and I love the no corkage fee! It's really far from where we're ending up (Ocean in Santa Monica), but we have transportation.

                      So this is what I've got in the running:
                      eat on sunset
                      Library Alehouse (I've actually been there and really like it, they just have a crummy corkage policy: $15 and one bottle max)
                      World Cafe

                      Which has the best food?

                      Anyone been to Tasca Wine Bar?

                      I'm so sorry for being so indecisive...but I can't tell you how much this is helping me. I'm in DC and trying to plan this from across the country is daunting.

                      BTW, if anyone knows...a few "friends" have recommended The Penthouse at the Huntley Hotel; I have NO IDEA what their menu is like or the price range of their food/drinks, OR their corkage policy. I can't find anything on menupages. Does anyone have any insight on this?

                      1. re: MPJ

                        I'd not recommend eat. on Sunset - last time I was there, the food was only eh, and there wasn't much of a scene at all. And I was less than impressed with their service. The Penthouse is expensive.

                        I went to Tasca awhile ago (haven't been since they got their liquor license), and thought it was a charming place with pretty good food. You could probably stay in your budget there.

                        1. re: jacinthe

                          Thanks for the review of eat. I definitely want a scene! I figured the Penthouse was super pricey...I did some searching through Chowhound and saw what people were paying for dinners for 2; that won't work!

                          Tasca sounds like an option. The menu looks nice and they're bound to have great wines, as they're a winebar, right?

                          pseudo -- That sounds really nice, but it's almost 40 minutes from where we're ending up (Ocean Ave in SM). But the idea is perfect!

                          I'm revisiting the Beechwood idea...has anyone eaten there? I'm going to do a search. It looks super trendy and the menu looks great...but I can't seem to find their wine list online.

                          1. re: MPJ

                            Oh, then Tasca isn't much of a scene either. However, I found it far less pretentious than eat, with better food, friendly service, and a more relaxing atmosphere. I keep meaning to get back there, but unfortunately haven't, yet.

                            I know that a lot of people like Beechwood, but I've never been that impressed eating or drinking there. It is, however, more of a scene.. I don't know about their wine list, though.

                            Another idea, although the emphasis would be far less on food, would be to go to the Otherroom, on Abbott Kinney. It is a wine bar, and while it doesn't serve food, you can get takeout delivered there. (I've definitely seen pizza being delivered from Abbot's Pizza Company, which has really good pizza in my opinion, and citysearch says that they keep takeout menus behind the bar). It would be cheaper, though, especially since you can funnel most of your money towards wine, and the place itself usually has a rather interesting crowd.

                            1. re: jacinthe

                              jacinthe -- That sounds REALLY cool!! I'm going to make some phone calls/do some online research. I'm down for a great pizza if good wine is involved. :)

                              You guys are so great...seriously, thank you! I'd be doing this blindly otherwise.

                      2. re: Emme

                        i'd pick the food AND ambiance at houston's over blue marlin any day (i've only been to the one at manhattan beach) . blue marlin is, to me, a dandy restaurant for much more casual dining.

                      3. re: MPJ

                        I once tried to make a reservation at Houston's for a party of 6 and was told they only take reservations for 4 or less!

                    2. While this is not on the Westside, it is technically in LA.

                      A friend of mine recently hosted a party with about...11-14 people in attendance at Fatty's Cafe (a vegetarian wine bar in Eagle Rock), and the bill didn't go over 500 with tax and tip, if I remember correctly. We took up the patio area, which has their organic herb garden and lawn furniture, and it was a lovely and intimate space.

                      They're having a "white sale," and all glasses, flights, and bottles of wines are cheaper (and, in this heat, yummier!) than usual.

                      1627 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, CA 90041
                      323 254 8804

                      1. MPJ, if you and your friends are coming from SM, it's important to know what if your party is going to be a weekday or weekend as traffic in LA is pretty horrible. also, are you looking at $45 all in or $45 w/o wine? big difference.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: revets2

                          We're coming from the SFV (unfortunately). It'll be a Saturday night. I was hoping to avoid traffic by having an 8pm or so reservation for din-din. And the $45 was w/out wine. OMG if there's a place where you can get din-din w/wine for $45, sign me up!! Is that possible? I'm sorry if my first post was ambiguous. :)

                          So.............after much back and forth and scouring the boards for reviews of food, I'm leaning towards Cube. I know we can't get the private room (I'm going to call and try to finagle my way in), but if we reserve a table on the patio, I'm thinking that it'll be a nice meal. The guests can get a full meal or just appetizers/cheese/charcuterie, and I'll supply the wine. With $0 corkage, I can bring fantastic wine (I'm a Santa Barbara native) and we can drink our little hearts out (we have sober transportation) and all of the money can be focused on yummy food. And I'm hoping to arrange some sort of dessert platter or special dessert in advance so that I'm essentially paying for the wine/dessert.

                          What do you guys think? The more I read on the boards, the more I'm seeing Cube mentioned as a great neighborhood trendy-type place with good food, good prices, and a nice patio. And the $0 corkage doesn't hurt, either. IF ONLY I could get that private room! All the stars would align and all would be right with the world (for 5 minutes, anyway). LOL

                          ETA: I did it. I made a reservation for Cube. It's not the private room, but the woman I spoke with promised me one large table on the patio, kinda tucked on the side (she said), for a teensy bit of privacy. So everyone can eat what they'd like, and I'll bring EXCELLENT wine! Yippee!

                          MANY THANKS to you all, especially Obessed! Cube was so not on my radar, and it sounds like it'll be an excellent time.

                        2. Good News - I had a meal at Upstairs 2 this past weekend and was relief to hear that the nasty maitre d was fired. It was my fourth time eating at Upstairs 2 and have always enjoyed the food and wine pairings. I would call Upstairs 2 and ask if you could per-select your meal and wine for your party (this way you know how much you will be spending beforehand). I definitely recommend this place over Bodega.