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Help needed on the west side, with a few parameters...

Ok, I am not the biggest fan of hounds who just come on the boards to ask for recommendations...but I'm drawing a blank and would like some help, and promise to repay with a full report on wherever we choose!

Am looking for a spot on the west side for a somewhat celebratory dinner (two upcoming birthdays, and just life in general)...next weekend with my daughter, her husband, and my stepmother. If possible I'd like something mid-range, nice but not outrageously expensive, comfortable for conversation, and perhaps a bit off the beaten track, in the way that after the meal all would say to me, 'this place is great! Don't know how you found it but we will be back!'. (well, that at least daughter and her husband would be back since they live on the west side, stepmother is from NoCal like me and just happens in the area that weekend...)

So the parameters: I will eat anything; would prefer not to spend more than around $30 to $35 per person, NOT including alcohol but including everything else (so looking for entrees in the high teens or low twenties). Daughter and her hubby are Muslim, and don't eat non-halal meat or drink, but they love and will eat seafood of all kinds. Indeed, he particularly loves sushi, but daughter is almost 8 months pregnant, so that's out. (and I don't want to torment her, she actually loves it too). OTOH, stepmother and I are definitely drinkers, and stepmother is pretty knowledgeable about wine, so a good wine list is a big plus, almost a must...Unfortunately, stepmother isn't that fond of Mexican (probably not the best choice for the others anyway, since it is sometimes hard to avoid pork products....). Everyone loves good Italian, but for daughter and hubby, there would have to be a fair number of entrees without meat...California cuisine is good too....we all appreciate gracious, friendly service, and none of us are really into trendy or hip....reservations a must.

We'd much prefer something on the west side, preferably near LAX, Santa Monica, Marina del Rey, Westwood, or somewhere in that general area. Doesn't have to be in a touristy location or have a view or be near the water or anything like that. (Daughter lives just outside of Westwood, stepmother will be coming from Long Beach but is fine with anywhere in the area, I will be staying the night near LAX).

I was intrigued by reports of Lido Grill opening soon in SM, just because D's hubby is Tunisian and might enjoy trying a new Tunisian tapas place, but I am reluctant to try a place just a few days after it opens...and it looks a bit industrial and 'hip', at least for the older ones in the party..Also, while I realize that some of the Persian places in Westwood have both halal meat and wine lists, I haven't found any that really thrill me, and daughter and hubby eat at their favorites often anyway....

I've eaten at Ocean Avenue Seafood in Santa Monica, and thought it was decent to pretty good, but it is somewhat pricier than I am looking for, and perhaps a bit mainstream (in the sense that when I ate there, I felt I could have been anywhere...I don't think it is a chain, but it had a bit of that feel to me). I've seen recommendations on the board for Lobster (? think that is the name) but sounds like that is out of the price range I am looking for...

Personally, if it were just me without the restrictions, I'd probably either head for Mexican food somewhere, or I'd also like to try Josie, but for this group it may be too meat-centric and also perhaps a bit pricey(?).

I don't suppose there is a really, really good vegetarian restaurant on the west side with a fabulous wine list?

Anyway, would appreciate thoughts and suggestions, including dishes to try? As I say, will report back! Thanks!

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  1. Actually, other than on price, Josie would be a great choice as it offers lots of good non-meat options. Keeping price in mind, though, perhaps Il Moro on Purdue South of Olympic would be a suitable place. www.ilmoro.com

    5 Replies
    1. re: New Trial

      I am tempted by Josie, but they don't have a slot available until 8:30 which would be a bit late....(at least on Open Table; haven't tried calling them)...I've eaten at Il Moro with my hubby I think, a while ago, and can't remember much about it, which may not be a good sign, or could just be a sign I am getting old... how does it compare with some of the Italian places in Westwood?

      Anyone have comments on Literati2? That looks to be close to what I am looking for, but I don't recall hearing much about it...

      1. re: susancinsf

        literati 2 is decent - not a huge amount of variety on the menu but what's there is solid - can't say anything about the service, it was good when we were there, this place is definitely worth trying

        1. re: susancinsf

          Many restaurants, Josie included, have slots beyond those offered through Open Table.

          Il Moro is quite good, better than La Bruschetta, Matteo's or Tanino in Westwood, though not as good as All'Angelo, Angelini Osteria, Drago, Enoteca Drago, La Botte, La Terza, Osteria Mozza, Valentino's or Vincente--most of which would not meet your price point and/or geographic preference. Oh, just had a thought at another great Italian option: Il Grano on Santa Monica Blvd. West of the 405. I have also heard good things about Il Carpaccio in Pacific Palisades but have yet to get there.

          Literati II has been underwhelming every time I have been. Nook is far superior in virtually every respect.

          1. re: New Trial

            I haven't eaten at Il Grano since we lived in Santa Monica (and that was six years ago) but I remember an absolutely stunning double pork chop (for you, obviously, not for the halal-meat Muslims) cooked to medium-rare ("you can DO that?!" "of course."), excellent pastas and amazing service.

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              hmm...may have to try that sometime when hubby and I are down there without the 'kids'...maybe as a break from Grandma and Grandpa duty! :-)

      2. Chez Mimi gets pretty good notices, and the menu seems to have enough non-meat dishes to accommodate your needs. I have never been there but was seriously considering it for my birthday last year. Can't speak to the wine list but website indicates a full bar too. http://www.chezmimirestaurant.com/mai...

        I have only been to Literati 2 for lunch, not impressed, super slow service and expensive for what it is. My folks thought the same about dinner.

        1. A somewhat outside-the-box choice that actually might fit your criteria would be Meals by Genet, an elegant Ethiopian place on Fairfax (of course) which has a good selection of vegetarian options. The dinner comes out on a huge "family-style" injera platter, with separate mounds of your picks (veggies, meats). The atmosphere is quiet. They do have nice wines too.

          Meals by Genet
          1053 S. Fairfax Ave.
          Los Angeles, CA 90019
          (323) 938-9304

          1. Nook, Joe's on Abbot Kinney, and Piccolo in Venice would all work. Piccolo is Italian, so they've surely got veggie pasta options, in addition to nice wine. Joe's is an excellent restaurant on Abbot Kinney that does outstanding fish and many other options. Nook would be the place where everybody would say "I'm not sure how you found this, but I'll come back..."

            3 Replies
            1. re: glutton

              I second all of these recs, especially Nook. The food is great and there is something for everyone (there is even tofu on the menu.) The wine list is decent, the prices are extremely reasonable, and there is definitely that "hidden gem" factor. If you're leaning toward Italian, however, try Piccolo or Via Veneto.

              1. re: recovering_vegetarian

                Thanks..Nook does look to be close what I am looking for...may well check that out! Maybe if I am lucky they will still have shrimp and grits on the menu...

                I also looked at the Piccolo menu online, looks pretty pricey....

                1. re: susancinsf

                  Warning... Nook can get LOUD, which doesn't fit your "comfortable for conversation" criteria...

            2. La Botte is great, quite, has a good wine list and lots of non-meat. I think it would be at or, slightly, above your price-range.
              Buy a bottle -- or more - of good wine at the Wine House and go to Nanbankan or Bar Hayama. Both have real good Japanese with huge non-raw choices and are interesting and off the beaten track.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Ciao Bob

                Thanks...I did want to mention that Asian is not out of the question though a bit more problematic...perhaps Pacific Rim?. daughter and hubby loved the concept though not the service or actual food at Roy's near Staples, for example...my daughter and I are probably going to head to Thai Boom for lunch that day, so Thai is not the best idea....and, unfortunately, while SIL would probably enjoy the Japanese options you mention, daughter generally does not like Japanese other than sushi.

                1. re: Ciao Bob

                  The Wine House reference made me think of Upstairs. it's tapas, so they've got variety, which might work well for this group. And you know the wine will be good...

                2. Axe in Venice on Abbot Kinney might fit the bill.

                  1. Agree with earlier responses re: Nook, Il Moro, and Upstairs 2, all of which seem to meet your criteria. I especially like Upstairs 2 because the food is consistently good, the wine list is fantastic, and even in a packed room the noise level is never excessive. If you're considering Josie (which I think far exceeds your target price point), then I suggest you look at Violet, farther east on Pico.

                    Unlike most the other responders, I've had nothing but good meals at Literati 2, especially when we booked after the initial dinner crush.

                    In the Marina area, I recommend Lilly's (on Abbot Kinney, near Joe's) and Beechwood (on Washington).

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: glasshousejmb

                      Nook, if you can get in and especially if they can fit you into one of their booths or bigger tables. In my experience, Literati 2 is a third to a half more expensive, not quite as good and special, and that doesn't even count the additional few bucks for valet parking if you don't want to risk cheating in the supermarket lot. Il Moro is similarly expensive to Literati 2 and not really distinguishable from all of the other Italian. Upstairs 2 gets great feedback but is more smaller-plates and wine-centric, both which can quickly up your price level.

                      Go to the online menu at nookbistro.com and put together a meal: some mussels, mac'n'cheese and maybe soups and salads to share as starters, their excellent shortribs and some fish dishes and maybe a chicken or burger as generous mains with sides, and then a couple of desserts to share. You will have a special, satisfying meal and stay within your price range.

                      My only other idea would be to call Shamshiri Grill on Westwood Blvd. and ask if their meats fulfill your restrictions and whether they have seafood or vegetarian options. Their kabob, koobideh and shawarma entrees are huge and easily shared and they have a variety of Persian salads and stews. I've been in there when multi-generation families are celebrating and happily feasting.

                      1. re: nosh

                        shamshiri grill has a TON of vegetarian and seafood options, but i don't believe that they have much of a wine list. a whole portion of their menu is devoted to vegetarian dishes and there are even additional ones scattered throughout the menu.

                        1. re: nosh

                          thanks for the tips. I have called Nook and made a reservation...very friendly on the phone. Wish I had known to ask for a booth; may call back. Is there an area to ask for that will be less loud?

                          I had already rejected Upstairs as being too wine-centric for our purposes, and all of the Italian places recommended (including Il Moro) looked fairly pricey. Plenty of outstanding Italian restaurants in or below that same price range here at home anyway. As for Shamshiri, while I haven't tried it, and I think their meat is halal (and if it isn't, there are plenty of vegie options), daughter and hubby told me they have eaten there multiple times (which is why I assume the meat is halal, or else they are ordering vegetarian options), and really wanted to try something new...besides, they like Flame better, and I have eaten at Flame, but if Flame really is better...well...no. It could be that I am just not that fond of the genre..., though I will admit that the wood-fire baked flatbread at Flame is the best I have had outside of the Middle East...

                          Anyway, thanks for the mention of the shortribs at Nook, I had my eye on those! :-) (and will report back!)

                      2. maybe a little too casual, but i'd consider 26 beach.
                        they have a very varied menu, and would definitely come in under your price guidelines.
                        the food is very good and the room is very pretty.

                        i'm not sure about their wine list, but they only charge $10/bottle for corkage, so you could easily bring in a couple of bottles of your favorite wine.