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May 9, 2001 05:27 PM

Paging Mr. Foss - Christine's, Depot, or Aioli... or Kincaid's?

  • j

Which do you prefer? This is for dinner with my young mom and her friend who are working in Torrance this week. They've already had Japanese (my first choice), and Chez Melange is just kind of too pink and stuffy for us. I'd like to wow them. Many thanks.

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  1. I don't want to steal Julia's thunder, and I definitely want to know your thoughts on those places, but could you also offer an opinion on Cafe Pierre in Manhattan Beach?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Jeff Shore
      Richard Foss

      Cafe Pierre was one of the pioneers in Manhattan Beach - it started as a little creperie back in the 60's and got more and more ambitious. The place got its name by accident back in those early days - nobody named Pierre has ever been associated with it. It originally opened as La Crepiere (French for The Crepe Maker), but the sophistication of the average Manhattanite being what it was, everybody called it Crepe Pierre. Owner Guy Gabriele changed the name from La Crepiere to Cafe Pierre when it became obvious that nobody could pronounce or spell the real name, and he intended to change it again to Cafe Guy but never did so because everybody already knew the place as Cafe Pierre. Guy told me that the situation has its advantages - if somebody claims that Pierre himself confirmed their reservation or ordered something, the staff knows they're lying. (I have heard the same thing happens at Musso and Frank's - people still try to get a table by claiming they're a personal friend of Frank.)

      But I digress, as usual...

      Cafe Pierre's menu partly reflects Guy's heritage - he is half Italian and half French, the son of a charcutier. The Franco/Italian fusion that other people do as a calculation is the home cooking he grew up with. He also has long had an interest in South American and regional Mexican cuisines, and he has given his Mexican-born chef a great deal of latitude in developing things. The result has been consistently interesting. The wine list at Cafe Pierre is a thing of beauty, with a number of value-priced bottles and a good by-the-glass selection.

      Cafe Pierre recently started offering late night meals, making it one of the few places in the South Bay where you can get really good food after 10 PM. I like to drop in late and have a glass of wine and a snack...

      The experience at Cafe Pierre used to have one drawback - tables that were very close together so that it was difficult to have a conversation without noise from adjacent tables interfering. They moved the tables around after a remodeling a year ago, and it seems better now.

      1. re: Richard Foss

        Thanks for the amazing rundown. I'll be going there in the next few weeks or so and report back...

        (You don't know anything about any places that have French/Italian style accordion music, do you? My wife and I love accordion, but every time I call to ask a restaurant - Cafe Pierre, Mimosa, Carafe, Frenchy's Bistro - if they have accordions, they react like I've just asked them if they spit in their food.)

        1. re: Jeff Shore

          I just realized that I do know a place that has both good food and French accordion music - Aimee's in Redondo Beach. They have an accordion/guitar duo some weekends. The prices are fairly moderate and the welcome is very French.

    2. Julia--just a quick note to point out that we have many thousands of users. So rather than be "just another Julia", if you'd include a last name or use a "handle" (anything to make your nametag distinctive), it'd allow everyone to get to know you and not confuse you with other Kevins, past or future!

      of course, your nametag is your business, so if you'd prefer to be just plain old "Julia", that's totally your perogative!


      1 Reply
      1. re: Jim Leff

        Much respect, M. Leff. The web site is wonderful, and I feel about it the way I feel about potato chips - it's slightly addictive, salty, greasy, delicious, and guilty. I can't read just one (post).

        I understand the moniker delimma, but as of yet I am the sole L.A. julia. If another one pops up, I will stand up as the REAL slim julia (although that might not last for long, as I am so inspired by talk of Monte Cristos, burgers, burritos, beignets, and the like).

        All the best,

      2. r
        Richard Foss

        You have four good places there, and which works best depends on what you most value. Here are brief thoughts on all four:

        Christine's and The Depot both started out as Melange Group partnerships, and like most siblings they have diverged as they grew older but the family resemblance is still there. The Melange hallmarks of excellent service, good bargains on the extensive wine list, and considerable experimentation in the kitchen are all present. Christine's is reliably good, with interesting variations on Mediterranean ideas as the main theme. Ask your waiter about the specials and what is best, as the staff here are expert and honest. I tend to order several small plates and share around, and I have never been disappointed.

        The Depot is deliberately wildly eclectic, but in years of going there I have had only two meals that were less than excellent, and one of those was a group dinner at which there seemed to be staffing problems. I have ordered some bizarre items here on the strength of Chef Shafer's track record, and most of the time I have been very happy. This is one of the places I go when I have been stuck in a rut for a while... The wine list and the bar both have many oddities, and the barman knows his stock.

        Aioli has solid pan-Mediterranean food, a dash of Spain and Provence, hints of the Middle East, and a hefty slice of Italy and Greece. The main dining room can be noisy on nights when there is live entertainment, so ask for a table away from the lounge or if you have a large party book their private room, which is one of the nicest in the South Bay. I booked a friend's college graduation party in the private room and asked them to just select appetizers and keep bringing them until we said stop, and it was a memorable evening.

        Kincaid's is less adventurous than the Melange Group restaurants, but the ocean-view location makes it a favorite with knowledgable tourists and locals alike. You pay for it, of course, but the food really is good and this place would still be popular even with the curtains drawn. The large dining room isn't particularly intimate, though dining outside on a pleasant evening and watching the sun set is wonderful. The food is not wildly adventurous but is really quite good, with a changing menu of game dishes and exotic meats. Try the smoked partridge breast over pasta if it is offered, as it was excellent when I was there. The wine list has a few good bottles but is very badly organized so that it can be difficult to find what you want. I don't remember the corkage charges here, but I remember considering bringing my own after my previous visit. Service is attentive but the pace of the meal is often slow; Kincaid's is not a place for a pre-theater supper.

        So in summary: To wow them with wild food, The Depot. To hit them with good food, a great view and ambiance and a walk on the pier afterward, Kincaid's (but your wallet may scream). For intimate, classy, and stylish, Christine's. And if you can't get into any of those for some reason, Aioli is a generally good place.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Richard Foss

          Thank you so much - that was exactly the response I was hoping for.

          Because my mom's friend isn't very adventurous when it comes to food, we decided on Aioli.

          The service was excellent. The breads were fantastic - there was a great lightly seasoned flatbread, a basil and garlic country style bread and a jalepeno cheese bread. We ordered the ceviche and fire shrimp as appetizers, both were good. The main courses were okay - two different pastas and a pork chop. The shallot sauce my mom ordered with the pork chop was delicious, but the meat itself wasn't as scrumptiuously juicy as the waiter advertised - which didn't surprise me, because I have yet to have a juicy pork chop! For dessert, we ordered the banana bread pudding, served hot, stuffed with fresh banana, with a slight crispy edge, chocolate sauce, and ice cream - it was very good.

          I would go back for the bread, wine, some tapas, and dessert. But probably not before I tried the other restaurants I listed.

          Thanks again - your advice is much appreciated!

          1. re: julia

            guys--pardon, once again, my interruption (I'm not picking on you, promise!).

            We, unlike some other online discussions, discourage frequent change of subject titles. The reason is this: many people use our HotPosts feature, which only shows the most recent postings on all boards (to check it out, see the link atop our homepage). Since HotPosts does not show the entire thread, titles like "Hard Choices" or "Wow" are really unhelpful for users choosing threads to read. So please choose a single, aptly descriptive subject title and stick with it unless discussion seriously digresses (in which case, please do change the title!).

            One more thing....because of our rubber-bands-and-glue tech setup, very long subject titles tend to choak our indexes, so please try to keep 'em fairly terse (like 4-5 words or so).

            Thanks, and we now return you to the chowtalk!



            1. re: julia

              The best, juiciest pork chop I've ever had was in Monterey, at Tarpy's Road House. It was served on sweet and sour cabbage, and garnished with apples, yet was not too sweet. Next time you're up north, give it a try.

          2. Having recently been to Christine's for the first time I can honestly say that I would only go back if I found myself in the neighborhood. The food was fine and the service was good. But there was nothing out of the ordinary to draw me back. We have been to Kincaid's probably 6 or so times. Those have all been on drives from the Westside, specifically to eat there. I have never had a bad piece of fish at Kincaid's. I especially like the halibut I have had. We also really enjoy their hot crab dip appetizer. I would not recommend the prime rib. My wife had also had their salmon with a honey/peppercorn sauce and said it was really good. They do not over cook the fish. I think they serve a very nice drink, if you like a pre-dinner libation. I am fond of bloody mary's and like the one here quite a bit. Is it a top 10% restaurant? No. But it is a nice looking place with consistently good, and unpretentious service. I would ask for a table by the window. We have had one in the middle and didn't like it.