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Feb 17, 2001 10:58 AM

For out-of-towners, any place better than Chinois?

  • p

My hometown friends of 20 years ago are making the big trek to LA. They live in smaller towns in the east. They want to eat well, see stars, and have a great LA experience. I would like to expose them to some tangy, tasty LA food, so I was planning to take them to Chinois, but wondered if anyone had a better idea. They arrive in early April. Ideas?

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  1. It all depends on what they like. Are they adventurous? Do they mind noise and bustle (Chinois' one drawback)? However, food-wise, it's hard to beat.

    Not to be overly Puck-ish, but, in a more conventional (and less frenzied) vein, Spago really can be good. I recommend going early, though -- by 8:30 the crowd is packed at the bar, waiting. A 6:30 reservation will get you unhurried personal service and a better table, if a more geriatric and less celebrity-studded crowd.

    I think a good way to come at this question is, what are they missing? What do they truly crave? If the idea of warm curried oysters is not Nirvana to them, then perhaps another restaurant is a better choice.


    12 Replies
    1. re: R.G.Diamond

      Thanks for your reply. Some adventure is a possibility with this crowd, although too much will scare them. I'm thinking the Ivy might be safer. I was at Spago on Sat. this week. The food was so-so (except for the dessert which was terrific) and the crowd was sparse. Good thing this place is closing.

      1. re: Pam J

        Pam, I think you are referring to Spago Hollywood (the original Spago), whereas I interpreted R. G. Diamond's response to refer to the newer Spago Beverly Hills.

        Ivy is a hang for celebrity seekers. The food is nothing to get excited about.

        Alternatives include the popular Joe's in Venice or equally popular JiRaffe in Santa Monica. Less well known, but one of my favorite places, is Nouveau Cafe Blanc in Beverly Hills, a small, spare room where Chef Tome Harase prepares some elegant French/Japanese fusion dishes (with emphasis on the French side of the equation), that I much prefer, in general, to the preparations at Chinois. As a bonus, the prices at Nouveau Cafe Blanc are relatively reasonable.

        1. re: Tom Armitage

          Thanks for the mention of Nouveau Cafe Blanc. Shame, shame - I had never heard of it until your post. Anything else you care to share about this really, really cool sounding place, please feel free to let us know!

          1. re: Jeff Shore
            Leslie Brenner

            Chef Tomi Haresi was a relatively early proponent of Franco-Japanese fusion; he opened the original Cafe Blanc on Beverly and Virgil in 1988. I was wowed by what he did then, but have never been to Nouveau Cafe Blanc, though I've long been meaning to try it. Thanks for reminding me of it, Tom--I want to get there soon!

            1. re: Jeff Shore

              Cafe Blanc's food ranges from very good to spectacular. Two drawbacks relate to its size: few tables, so early seating is a good idea, and the spartan-ness of the small room leads to very live acoustics--depending on the diners, you can either hear the guy on the other side of the room chomping his beans or you can't hear your dining companions at all.

            2. re: Tom Armitage

              Tom -- thanks for the thoughts on the Nouveau Cafe Blanc...I have not had the opportunity to visit that place. Sounds nice. Maybe we will hit a celeb place for the viewing and then eat at Nouveau. -- Pam

              1. re: Pam J

                Going to a restaurant in hopes of seeing movie stars or other celebrities is pretty dicey business. The odds favor being disappointed, so you wind up not seeing any celebrities and having a mediocre or poor meal to boot. What a bummer! However, there is a web site that purports to provide information on “Where the Stars Dine.” I’ve put the link below. For celebrity spotting, I’d suggest Spago Beverly Hills on N. Canon Drive (NOT the original Spago Hollywood on Sunset Blvd.), at which some stars have designated tables where they sit when dining there. Even if you don’t spot any stars, at least you’ll have the concession of eating food that, although expensive, is generally regarded as being among the best in the city. And don’t overlook Campanile, a consensus favorite as well as a personal favorite of mine, where stars also alight on occasion.


                1. re: Tom Armitage

                  Funnily enough there's a little neighborhood Italian place in the Pacific Palisades called Vittorio's. Lots of celebrities eat there. Anthony Hopkins eats there all the time, usually with his mother, and we've seen lots of other actors there; in fact almost every time we go there's somebody famous eating there. Every Tuesday they do a whole broiled Maine lobster to die for. Even though I'm a lobster fanatic and always get my Maine lobster simply steamed or boiled, this version is a winner. Another place we always see celebrities is the Beach House on Pacific Coast Highway. But we've just discovered a new place called Josie on Pico Boulevard. It used to be called 2424 Pico. The original chef there went to the Beach House and Josie was formerly the chef at Saddle Peak and I believe also the Beach house. They have a wonderful wine list and the food is outstanding.

                  Celebrities also eat at LA Farm on Olympic. I once saw Sean Penn there. He blew his nose into the tablecloth. So much for celebrities.

                  1. re: Joan Winston

                    I have learned to avoid potential celebrity hangouts. The service tends to gravitate towards them to the detriment of everyone else, and it becomes excruciatingly embarrassing when they think their privacy is being violated (which it invariably is).

                    1. re: Griller141

                      Best celebrity spotting, hands down: the lobby bar (it serves good, if overpriced food) at the Chateau Marmont (not to be confused with the Bar Marmont).

                  2. re: Tom Armitage

                    My vote goes to the Newsroom Cafe on Robertson - I've seen Alicia Silverstone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers there; the food is healthy and yummy (all natural fruit and veggie shakes, delicious salads, etc.), and the service is courteous and attentive to ALL (not just the celebs). Always a good lunch spot!

                2. re: Tom Armitage

                  Yes indeed, I meant the B.H. Spago (soon to be the only one). Sorry for confusion. Thought the other had already closed.

                  Cafe Blanc is very very good, although a tiny cafe, more than a restaurant. Not for those wanting a scene. Tomi is a great chef -- a former Chinois chef, I believe. Finally he got padding on the chairs, a great improvement. He makes, without question (and when available) the BEST LOBSTER BISQUE IN THE WORLD. It will ruin the dish for you forever. But that's a good thing.


            3. For a few stars and studio/tv/music execs that alternately amuse and annoy, go for the Ivy. For a really cool place, pretty good food and (young) stars you can't quite recognize because (a) it's too dark or (b)you're too old, try Les Deux Cafe (outside)in Hollywood.

              Personally, I'd go to Valentino for the food and not worry too much about the celebs.

              1 Reply
              1. re: reid

                Thanks...I think I'll take the crew to one place for star watching and another for food...too hard to combine the two for a really good meal.