Where can I take my foodie fling visiting from SF for a romantic gourmet dinner?
I moved to LA only a few months ago and recently started seeing someone (a real foodie) who's coming down from San Francisco to visit me for the weekend. I wanted to impress him by taking him out to a great gourmet meal -- but it's already Wednesday night and I still haven't made reservations, so it has to be a place that is likely to still have space for two for a late dinner on Saturday.
Location doesn't matter so much. Price is also not a huge concern if the food is fabulous. A well-lit, romantic vibe would be great.
One thing: he's a pesco-vegetarian, so a menu that has a couple good non-meat dishes would be preferable. But some non-veg options for me would be great, too. I think we're both particularly fond of Italian, and a place with a superb foie is always a good indication of an overall strong menu.
Is seafood an option for him? (I am not sure what pesco-vegetarian is). If so, WATER GRILL downtown would be a great choice. I think you could get in there for sure, after the theatre crowd thins at 8 pm. It is a terrific restaurant and about the best seafood in LA. I like it even more than PROVIDENCE, though I know some disagree. If you go, the barramundi on the menu currently is the best piece of fish I have ever had, and I don't even care much for fish. I've had it three times now, I keep going back. You can check the menu:
For Italian, see if you can get in late at Osteria Mozza. I just had the 8 course pasta tasting menu and it was terrific, I think he would love it (you too):
AOC also has tons of vegetarian choices. LUCQUES is my favorite place in town, but right now there are no strictly vegetarian dishes on the menu. They do have wonderful fish, though.
For fish, I have always liked Joe's on Abbot Kinney in Venice. Josie sometimes has a decent piece of fish on the menu. Chinois has some famous fish dishes that could be fun to share. Providence is probably the best fish option in the city. Mozza and Osteria Mozza have pasta dishes without meat, so that could also be an option for him. All of these places would qualify as gourmet.
It's January, so I don't think you should panic about reservations -- restaurants are desperate for people this time of year.
Mozza is great if your from out of town. Go about 30 minutes before they open and sit at the Moz. Bar. You do not need a reservation and it's the best seat in the house. Great food and maybe a star or two.
The Little Door
Inn of the Seventh Ray
Foie gras in an Italian place? hrm.
At the LIttle Door the food won't be as great as some of the other places already mentioned (Providence, Joe's) but will be the most romantic I think. I recall Josie as being quite well lit, which detracts from romance a bit, but on the plus side, it's quiet and grown up (I find the food, though well made, overambitious and ultimately not particularly memorable).
Most of the time the romance is created by the two people dining, and all that is needed is that the ambience not kill it. So with that in mind, I think Joe's would be a very good choice. It's intimate (tables are quite close together so if that's not liked, you might want to skip it); I haven't been to either of the Mozza places, but hear they are deafeningly loud, which is a romance killer as far as I'm concerned. That's the place you choose when you no longer have anything to say to each other. :)
I still really like JiRaffe for a good combination of excellent nouvelle French cooking and a very nice ambience.
Opus might also be a good choice. I really like the chef's innovative cooking and while some things are misses, the hits are great, and to my mind at least, the dishes that fall short aren't disasters.
I really like Chez Mimi for romance. Not itlaian, French. I forget if the have the gras, but the menu is REALLY good. IT is just so very romantic. My now husband took me there on Valentine's Day when we were dating. it helped seal the deal.
I will concentrate on the "foodie" aspects and hope that the romance will take care of itself: I second the rec for Chinois on Main in Santa Monica. It is Wolfgang Puck's flagship fusion restaurant and the food is boldly flavored. Yeah, it can get a bit loud, the decor is over-the-top, and its been around for seemingly forever. But everything is served to share, there are predominantly seafood offerings, and they really know how to take care of you. Good desserts, too. Order two or three starters or small plates (including the fried rock shrimp) and one entree (perhaps the impressive and fun whole fried catfish in ponzu) and enjoy the food and the vibe. He may actually enjoy sitting at the counter looking into the open kitchen -- he'll be gazing into your eyes most of the rest of the weekend.
A somewhat romantic, quiet, and very useful place to know not far from the airport is Cafe Del Rey, on the marina. Nice views of the boats, good food, convenient to and from Lincoln -- good for a dinner coming from or going to LAX, or for a brunch.
For a foodie from SF, I just wouldn't choose Italian. They have so much up there, from the rustic in North Beach to the most cutting edge. Unless he is interested in trying out one of Batali's Mozza's, either the Osteria or Pizzeria, I just feel hardpressed to think of something we have here that they don't there. Same with someplace like AOC or Lucques -- I'd prefer Zuni any day.
Sushi? I just don't view it as romantic. Sensual, yes. But sitting at the bar, much of the intimacy is shared with the chef. Urasawa is an ultra-special place, but you both need to be up for the experience and expense. Sushi Zo is a favorite on this board, if that's the direction you wanna go.
A couple of areas L.A. has that the Bay Area doesn't, or that we do better down here, are ruled out by dietary restrictions. Korean BBQ, not without beef or pork. Thai, again you are somewhat limited. Chinese, the SGV probably has some better regional, dim sum or soup noodles, but it is incremental and probably a haul.
Two final thoughts: Breakfast/brunch is more romantic than most dinners. Even if it is just wonderful croissant and quiche at Amandine.
If the timing works, try to stop at Taqueria Sanchez on Centinela south of Washington for their amazing, flavorful, not rubbery shrimp tacos. Could be very convenient to or from the airport, but they close early in the eve.
Albeit out of the way, Inn of the Seventh Ray is romantic and seems to fit all the culinary requirements as well. I also second Providence and Water Grill for really sensational seafood and personally I can't wait to try Bashan (have reservations - may not fit the romance bill - don't know yet - we'll see...). For Italian, Trattoria Tre Venezie is at the top of my wanna go-to list and I would also recommend Valentinos or Cicada for romantic & Italian.
Inn of the Seventh Ray would be an interesting brunch destination. But for someone coming from the Bay area? It is just trying oh so too hard. A lot of driving, to a place where the food is "organic, natural" but not vegan or even strictly vegetarian. I'm not a big fan -- high prices for pseudo-hippie, less than luxurious, not really tasty, and not even strictly healthy food. We put up with it as a compromise here in L.A. -- you can do far better in SF for a similar drive.
Osteria Angelini or Angelini Osteria!!!!! http://www.angeliniosteria.com Small but I think it is very romantic even if I was there with a fellow Chow Mom. I was there for lunch a couple of months ago there were definitely items on the menu that included white truffles w/scrambled eggs, etc. There are plenty of DELECIOUS meatless options. Their bread basket is yummy too.
i do hope you tell us where you go and how it went - gastronomically and romantically...well maybe not all the the details