Dinner for 2 NYC Hounds...
A friend of mine has offered to take me out to dinner here in LA as a thank you for my letting him crash with me for a week. We are both from NY and we are both foodies although I am a bit more adventurous than he. I ate at Mozza (both the pizzeria and osteria) and while both were good, I found them similar to Otto and Lupa in NY. I was blown away by Babita and had very good sushi at Sushi Gen. Again though, I've been told that for higher end sushi, NYC and LA may be close in quality. I'd like to do something uniquely LA.
I'd like to keep the budget around $75-100 for 2 people. He does not drink at all. We are more than willing to travel as far as neccessary for a fun experience. I hope this is a specific enough request. Thanks in advance for your help.
P.S. I'll post my amusing story about my 5 minute wait at the Mozzas on weekend nights with no reservation, and no, I am not some kind of VIP. : )
Das Ubergeek's recommendations are (as always) top notch, and I agree with them all. :) Here are a few of my favorites that are "L.A." (some are already mentioned above, I'll add links):
* Sushi Sasabune: Hands-down my favorite *authentic* Sushi restaurant in the U.S. (I've been to Matsuhisa, Nozawa, (and Nobu and a few others outside of CA), and I still like Sasabune compared to the others. The fish is so fresh, so perfectly prepared. Price-wise, the old master has raised his prices a bit, but there's an "American Omakase" that I believe is ~$60 per person. Their other option - "Nihon Omakase" (which has more exotic items) - is out of the budget you were targeting, $90 per person (but so worth it! :).
* Palms Thai: Great Thai food, and home of "Thai Elvis" (a Thai gentlemen who *seriously* sounds just like Elvis when he's singing his songs!). It sounds like a gimmick, but luckily the Thai Food itself is fantastic! (All my Thai friends and their families know of "Palms Thai" in Thai Town.) There are Thai restaurants that are more provincial-specific, and some that serve dishes that surpass Palms Thai in some dishes, but for overall dishes and a truly unique "L.A." experience, it's Palms Thai. :
* Sea Harbour: Sea Harbour has risen up in the past few years to become arguably the best Hong Kong / Cantonese-style Seafood Restaurant, focusing on Quality, instead of joining the unfortunate Price War that's brought down the level of food in older places like Ocean Star and NBC. Their Live Jumbo Shrimp (Bai Juo Hsia) is one of the best dishes you can get.
* Azeen's Afghani Restaurant: This was a really enjoyable restaurant. Unique Afghanistan food, well prepared, and in the nice area of Old Pasadena.
110 E Union St.
Pasadena, CA 91103
* Shin Sen Gumi (Yakitori): A wonderfully rustic, down-to-earth Japanese Yakitori-style restaurant. The whole experience is definitely L.A. (more like a Tokyo suburb, heh), as the entire staff will greet you when you enter "Irasshaimase!!!", shout out dishes that you order, and thank you when you ask for the check and wish you well on your way out. "Osu!!!" And the food is wonderful Yakitori-style food (Meats and Vegetables on mini Wood Skewers, roasted over mesquite coals). Try either their
Gardena location: http://www.shinsengumiusa.com/G_yakitori/index.php
Fountain Valley location (larger): http://www.shinsengumiusa.com/FV_yaki...
Honestly, if you want stuff that you just cannot get in New York, you're going to want to take off the suit jacket, put on some work boots, and head to the ethnic dives. In 90% of them you won't come close to $75 for both of you even if you both drink.
Thai food. In New York, every neighbourhood has its one (or more) great family-run cheap Italian joints. Here, it's Thai food. North Hollywood is my preference -- any one of the Thai places on Sherman Way between the 170 and Woodman Avenue is leagues better than any Thai I've had in any of the five boroughs, and while I'm not an expert on Hollywood's Thai Town, I understand that it's the same story there.
Mexican specialities. Ex-New Yorkers bitch about not being able to find bagels and pizza; Angelenos who move to New York bitch about the lack of fish tacos and Oaxacan food. For the former, hie thee to East LA, wander Whittier Boulevard, and have dinner at Tacos Baja Ensenada. For the latter, right in so-trendy West LA is Monte Alban, one of the hidden minimall gems of Oaxacan food. Or head up to north Glendale to La Cabanita for Mexico City-style food that's pretty much impossible to find in New York.
Chinese specialities. You've got Queens; we have the SGV. I find that my forays along the 10 freeway have been so much more satisfying than my forays along the #7 train. Go to Green Village and eat the pork pump, or the bean curd with pork sauce, or any of the Shanghainese specialities (but if you want XLB, known in New York as soup dumplings, there are other, better places). Go to Newport Seafood and pick the creature you want to become your dinner. Go to Seafood Village and feast on Chiu Chow-style crab, with the required seafood porridge that takes the place of rice. Go to the Hong Kong Superstore in Rowland Heights, and next door get fish balls and squid on sticks, just like in Mong Kok, then wander across to Shau May and have Taiwanese snacks or shaved ice with various toppings. If it's chilly, go to Little Fat Sheep or China Islamic and have a lamb hot pot -- and if you go to China Islamic, get thin sesame bread instead of rice.
Vietnamese food. Yes, there's definitely Vietnamese food in New York, and some of it is excellent, but one of the defining moments on any Chowhound's culinary tour of our region ought to be Little Saigon, in Orange County. Get a seven courses of beef, or cha ca thanh long (grilled catfish with dill), or Hanoi-style bun cha, in which the pork and meatballs come swimming in a papaya-based fish sauce and you "roll your own". Get nem ran (usually called cha gio) at any number of places -- Vien Dong has good ones, as does Brodard. Banh cuon, banh mi (when was the last time you had a full-on sandwich for $1.75?), banh xeo, pho, mi, cha lua, com tam, it's all readily available. If you really want the sit-down linen-napkin experience, S Fine Dining near the Westminster Mall is about as fancy as it gets for Vietnamese in this area.
Korean food. Again, New York (well, New Jersey) has a lot of Korean people but I have found that the restaurants there are a bit "whitewashed", at least if you're not speaking Korean when you come in. That's not the case here, and we have at least three axes of Korean food -- Koreatown, Garden Grove and Buena Park. If you're LA-based, go to Koreatown. Have barbecue somewhere (Soot Bull Jeep springs to mind, but bear in mind you'll smell like a forest fire afterwards), then go to Ice Kiss and share a bingsu (Korean shaved ice with toppings) that's served in a metal dog bowl, then go to any of the sojuchips -- the Pointe, the Prince, Palm Tree LA -- and drink soju, flavoured or unflavoured, Korean beer, and order anju (snacks meant to be eaten while drinking).
re: Das Ubergeek
Thank you for all the info. You obviously understand why I find it hard to pick a "nice" place here. I have been eating superb tacos from great restaurants like Parian since i got here. I have made several trips to SGV as well as Korea Town. My experiences here have been better than much NY dining at any price. I am going to push for a more rustic dinner when my friend takes me out.
And yes, I smell like smoke every time I eat at Soot Bull Jeep but it's worth it every time. : )
I just don't eat in fancy-shmancy restaurants here very often (though, oddly, when I go to New York, I eat pizza and shmancy food -- go figure), but perhaps La Serenata de Garibaldi or La Huasteca? You said you've been to Babita, which is the standardbearer for "alta cocina" Mexican in LA, but these other two places are nearly as good and it's something that you really can't get anywhere else but maybe Chicago or Dallas.
For La Serenata, definitely go to the Boyle Heights branch -- while it's a bit of a mess trying to get there as they're putting the Gold Line subway through, it's worth it for the atmosphere, and my feeling is that the food is better. Just don't get the margaritas, they don't have a full liquor license so it's made with wine, which just isn't the same.
Das Ubergeek has the right game plan. Play to LA's strengths. K-town, ethnic asian eats, mexican. Korean in LA just rocks NYC Korean...even if we're comparing stuff out in Jackson Heights.
Sushi Zo is near the very top in LA but does not beat out Yasuda. Yasuda flies in more imported stuff and Yasuda's rice has no peer in LA or in NYC. Zo is about $30 per person cheaper than Yasuda though for the omakase. And take a huge pass on Sasabune. Aside from the unfortunate fact that there is now a NYC outpost, it's $75 per person for precut fish doused in sauce, paste wasabi, etc. Vile stuff and definitely not what you're looking for if you want traditional nigiri and pure ingredients.
I second the Kirko rec not for the sushi (good but not as good as Zo) but for the kitchen...especially if they're doing matsutake dobinmushi now.
Also second AOC. Kind of a wine bar setup like Lupa but the cuisine is more cal-inspired.
re: Das Ubergeek
The Restaurant at the Getty has a great view but perhaps too expensive and too romantic?
Fun? Unique LA? Palms Thai for Elvis ;)
Eat with your hands at Mouns-of-Tunis
Go classier at Lucques, Hungry Cat, AOC, Hatfields, or Tasca.
If you want ethnic, consider Rahel or Meals by Genet for Ethiopian. Also, Shamshiri is great for Persian.
Thank you. I'll look into it. Out of curiosity, have you been to any of the great NYC sushi places? (Yasuda, Masa, etc.) Nobu is considered very mid range for sushi if not mediocre in NYC. It's a fun scene and the cooked dishes are really great but for sushi, most real sushi hounds just go elsewhere.
I will look into Sushi Zo. I really love sushi. : )
Thanks for your help.
yes, i've been to yasuda but not to masa. yasuda is really good. but i dont know...there's just something about sushi in LA. as a whole i think LA has more competition when it comes to sushi. unfortunately, i can't say the same thing for "fine" dining here like per se for instance. i've never been there but i've been to french laundry and that was fine dining! but back to Zo. people on this board rave about it. your pieces come out one at a time. it's really focused on sushi and the quality is top notch. i like kiriko on sawtelle as well. very very good sushi.
Thank you. Is the sushi at Zo simple? I love real ingredient-centered stuff. Simple sushi and sahimi, If the fish is good, you shouldn't have to dress it up too much. I did like Sushi Gen but the fish was definitely dressed up, albeit with some yummy things. If we're going to do sushi, I'd love to keep it simple and clean. What are the prices roughly at sushi Zo?
Two places come to mind that offer a unique LA experience. Geoffrey's in Malibu on top of the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean for a sunset dinner, and Saddle Peak Lodge up in Malibu Canyon for saddle of elk sitting by the fireplace at our very own "hunting lodge" (as close to hunting as we get in LA - the paparazzi hunting the "stars").