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Jun 11, 1999 10:46 AM

LA eating dilemma

  • k

So here goes. Knowing very little about the dining scene in LA, I was advised to try some rather expensive eateries. This is okay, except that I can only afford one, and I need some help deciding where to go. The two choices are Lucques and Chinoise on Main. I feel like vistiting a Wolfgang Puck establishment is a must, but I also love a great meal and I've heard Lucques is one of the best.

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  1. "Knowing very little about the dining scene in LA, I
    was advised to try some rather expensive eateries"

    I'm puzzled. Do you WANT to go high end? Or are you
    going high end just because you don't know any
    good non-high-end places to eat? More importantly,
    what kind of food are you interested in? If you search
    through the postings on the "Elsewhere in America"
    board, you will find lots of information on eating in
    Los Angeles, including a fair amount by yours truly who
    now lives in L.A. L.A. has fabulous food of every
    type, from Southern BBQ to North Korean dynasty food to
    Oaxacan moles to Japanese sushi to Uzbekistani
    cuisine to Isaan (Thai) food. Once you've figured out
    what YOU want, ask (for information), and you shall

    That said, both Lucques and Chinois on Main are good
    places to eat. Lucques is a current "hot spot,"
    because it's newly opened. If you like
    Mediterranean-influenced cuisine, odds are that you
    will get a very good meal there. I've only eaten there
    once, with mixed results, but have heard much praise of
    the food at Lucques from others. Chinois on Main is in
    the Asian-French fusion category. I'm absolutely crazy
    about the fois gras in pineapple/ginger sauce served
    there--it's definitely a destination appetizer for me.
    Although Chinois has been around for quite awhile and
    isn't the subject of as much hype being as is currently
    enjoyed by Luques, I've always been very happy with the
    meals I've had a Chinois. If it makes any difference,
    Chinois is the more crowded and noisier of the two.
    When I go to Chinois, I like to eat at the back
    counter, right on the open kitchen, and watch the cooks
    do their thing. That's something you can't do at
    Lucques. Joe's in Venice is also excellent and one of
    my favorites. If you go through the other posts on
    L.A., you will find among the other recommended
    high-end places: Spago Beverly Hills (Wolfgang Puck's
    newest restaurant); Patina, Joachim Splichal's flagship
    restaurant; Valentino's and Vincente's, both serving
    great Northern Italian food (I'm especially fond of
    Gino Angelini's cooking at Vincente's); Matsuhisa's,
    Nobu Mathuhisa's famous site for his non-traditional
    variations on sushi and sashimi; and the perennial
    favorite, Campanile.

    If you can be a little more specific about what you
    really want, I'd be happy to share any further thoughts
    I may have--especially on non-high-end places.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Tom Armitage

      Ouch, Tom. Point taken. Actually, I appreciate the advice to review all the old posts. I found some excellent suggestions of all types. Jonathan Gold was particularly helpful throughout. I'm heading for Guelaguetza, Tlacolula, and Sanamuluang as soon as I get off the plane.
      How do you feel about a place called Serenata di Garibaldi in Santa Monica? I was told it's a great spot for Mexican food.
      On the upscale side, I'm debating between Lucques, Campanile, Patina, and Spago. I imagine some reservationist will make the decision pretty easy.
      If you can think of any other delicious, cheap, and interesting eateries that may have not been posted in the past, I'd be open to more ideas. I'm particularly interested in a meal that I may not be able to get in NYC, or at least a meal that is better in LA. I know the Mexican out there far surpasses NYC's, from what everyone says, but I've got that base covered.

      1. re: Kate

        Guelaguetza is a great choice. There are two
        locations: One on the west side of town in Palms and
        one near downtown L.A., on 8th Ave. I think. Both are
        terrific, although I have a slight preference for the
        funkier place near downtown L.A., even though it has
        the disadvantage of not serving beer (you can bring
        your own). Be sure to have the mole negro. Forget
        Tlacolula--Jonathan Gold and others have confirmed that
        the food there went way, way downhill, despite
        Jonathan's initial burst of enthusiasm. I don't even
        know if it's still in business, but who cares.
        Sanamluang is one of my regular hangouts, and a great
        place for Thai noodle and rice dishes. Be sure to
        order the Pad Kee Mow with shrimp, #51 on the menu
        (spicy flat noodles with green chili, mint leaves and
        onions). Other recommendations include the shrimp
        cake, larb, grilled beef salad, fried garlic and pepper
        over rice, and spicy mint leaves fried rice. If you
        have time to visit other Thai restaurants in the area,
        try the wild boar curry at Palm, and the crumbled pork
        with Chinese olives and the fried morning glory greens
        with garlic at Ruen Pair (across the mini-mall from
        Palm). All of the above Thai places are on Hollywood
        Blvd. within a few blocks of each other. And they are
        only a few of the many other outstanding Thai
        restaurants in the area!!

        I'm not a fan of Seerenata di Garibaldi. There are two
        locations: one in West Los Angeles (not Santa Monica)
        on West Pico, and one in East Los Angeles on East First
        St. If you want to eat good Mexican food in Santa
        Monica, go to Border Grill on Fourth St., run by Susan
        Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken (the "two hot tamales" of
        TV fame).

        You can't go wrong choosing between Lucques, Campanile,
        Patina, and Spago. All good places capable of real
        "highs" for certain dishes on a given night. One other
        place I'd highly recommend, that is probably not
        available in N.Y. is Yongsusan, whcih features North
        Korean dynasty food from the ancient capital of the
        Koryo dynasty. Fabulous and interesting food in an
        elegant atmosphere with moderate prices.

        Happy eating!

        1. re: Tom Armitage

          There is in fact a Serrenata in Santa Monica. It is on
          Fourth Street near Santa Monica Blvd. It is where Fama
          used to be. I had a great lunch there 2 weeks ago.
          Seafood dishes are all great so far. I can't believe
          someone from out of town taught you something about LA
          restaurants. I guess that is what this is all about.
          Interestingly Serrenata is 1/2 block North of Border
          Grill on the other side of the street. Lunch this
          weekend at Border Grill was great too but a little

          1. re: Larry
            jonathan gold

            There is in fact a Serenata in Santa Monica, but it kind of bites: enough already with the leathery masa dishes, the griddled whitefish and the sauces by the quart. La Serenata was cute once, for about five minutes, when it opened in Boyle Heights, but its reputation soon far exceeded its charm. I'm not especially fond of the Westwood one either.

            Border Grill I like (though I could do without the 150 decibel shreiks on weekends). The tortillas are made to order by a master and the recipes are thoroughly thought through--and are often explicitly regional. The prices are high, but so (uniquely in the area, and I've been to nearly a thousand L.A. Mexican restaurants over the years) is the quality of the ingredients.

            BTW, exactly whose bona fides are you challenging here?

            1. re: jonathan gold

              I am not questioning you bona fides, Tom Armatige a
              couple of posts before mine emphatically stated that
              there is no Serennata in Santa Monica. You and I know
              that there is. It is in the old Fama space. I had a
              very nice lunch there 2 weeks ago. It was a non
              rubbery masa day. Last week we ate at Border Grill and
              it is better. Guelaguetza is the best though in the
              area. Have you ever been to El Indio, on Centinela
              just North of Culver in Culver City? I like his birria
              sauce so much that I even ate it over pasta once.

              1. re: Larry

                I used to love El Indio--he occasionally did a New Mexican-style chile verde that was out of this world--but as far as I know, the place closed down this year. If you know different, let us know.

                1. re: j gold

                  Now you have me worried. That is where I get my masa
                  for tamales and tortillas. It also works great for one
                  of my favorite foods, pupusas. The closest pupuseria I
                  am aware of near Marina Del Rey is El Salvador Con
                  Sabor at La Brea and Venice. I can get there in 20
                  minutes on a good day. You will not be disappointed.
                  They even do the vegetarian and rice masa pupusas. For
                  a change of pace try the one with cheese and loroco
                  flowers, not earth shattering but a new experience (at
                  least I had never had it before.

                  1. re: Larry

                    Speaking of pupusas, I have tried many, many pupusa
                    restaurants in LA in search of perfection. The very
                    best I have found is at Gloria's Mexican/American Food a
                    pink shack at the unlikely corner of Stoner and
                    Mississippi in West LA. J. Gold, I would love to hear
                    what you think of Gloria's. I have found that the El
                    Salvadorean food is great (pupusas, Salvadorean tamales
                    and platanos con crema) while everything else is ok. It
                    always amazes me when people order hamburgers there!

                    Happy Eating to All.

                2. re: Larry

                  Woops, caught with my bona fides down. Way to go,
                  Larry, you nailed me. I suppose the reason I goofed
                  on the Santa Monica Serenata is that I long ago lost
                  interest in that operation. There are so many places
                  to eat terrific Mexican food in L.A., why bother with

          2. re: Kate
            jonathan gold

            For the upscale thing, go to Campanile. Definitely. If you manage to catch a Monday-night family dinner or Grilled Cheese Night on Tuesday (the best grilled cheese you've ever contemplated), it's even reasonable.

            Have a grilled entree--the grilled prime rib with bitter greens is mind-blowing. Let the waiter choose an obscure Italian red and don't miss the bitter-almond panna cotta with coffee jelly for dessert.

            Otherwise: I like the new El Sazon Oaxaqueno on Washington Place at Inglewood, but mole at Guelaguetza is probably even better; Border Grill is just swell (if a little pricy) and La Serenata has never been a fave of mine, either. If you want to do the East L.A. thing, go to Gallo's Grill on Cesar Chavez at Ford for steaks (I love the dried-beef dish called cecina) and cucumber drinks (BYOB); to Ciro's on Evergreen for flautas, carnitas and nonpariel avocado salsa; or to Boca del Rio on Whittier for Veracruz-style seafood. Mi Ranchito, on Washington in Culver City, has good Veracruz seafood too; the less orthodox stuff is at Senor Fish in Eagle Rock.

            And try to get out to the huge Chinese mall on Del Mar just north of the 10 in San Gabriel. Of the 18 or so restaurants, choose the Islamic Chinese place.

            1. re: Kate

              As a long time booster of Campanile, I am saddened to
              report that my last meal there--on a Wednesday night--
              was not as successful as my previous ones. The food
              was generally good (and the panna cotta dessert was
              spectacular) but the seating arrangements in the
              middle room (next to the kitchen) were cheek-by-jowl
              and the noise level was beyond acceptable--it
              seriously dampened our enjoyment of the food.

              I would put a plug in for L'Angolo, a reasonably
              priced Italian restaurant on Melrose--we ate very well
              there in March.

              Jim Zurer
              Washington DC