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Visiting LA - Help Me Dot i's

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I'm visiting L.A. the first week in January and have reviewed the various recommendations on this board over the past few months. I'd like advice to help make my final choice.
In Toronto we have excellent ethnic cuisines and restaurants, so want to try things I can't get at home - as well as one blow out.
I'll probably be staying somewhere in West L.A. but will choose a last-minute internet offer.

I've tentatively selected the following in the 'interesting and not available in Toronto' category:

Guelaguetza
Typhoon

Moving upscale, my limit (for two including wine) is about $300 US (Cdn dollars don't go as far these days), although I will exceed that if it's spectacular. My favorite meals for each of the last 3 years have been tasting menus - even better if different wine is poured with each course. On previous L.A. trips, my favourite overall was at Citrus - but that was about 6 years ago. Other good meals were at Chinois (the lobster was outstanding, and the rest was OK) and Matsuhisa, which offered several different tasting menus, so we could try about a dozen different dishes between us. Patina gave us a terrible table and the servers ignored us. Rockenwagner was OK but nothing special. And Campanile was the most disappointing - not my kind of comfort food.

So here's the candidates that I've gleaned so far - additions welcome, but remember I want something that I can't get in Toronto.

Josies
Luques
Melisse
Spago, Beverly Hills

Thanks in advance for your input.

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  1. Welcome. Since I followed a number of your recommendations on my visit to Toronto in August, I feel entirely obliged to offer you my own modest recommendations for the Southland.
    For tasting menus: The tasting menu at Spago would appear to be the best in Los Angeles. Please notify them when you make your recommendation. It is far superior to the normal menu choices.
    Personally, I much prefer the tasting menu at Aubergine in Newport Beach, best on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evening. It can be stellar.
    If you are going to try one sushi bar and are looking for that fine balance of quality and expense, I would suggest the chef's choice at Sushi Sasabune on Sawtelle in West Los Angeles. It is Edo style sushi, with a very high quality of fish. I favor the unfiltered sake. If you want to control what you are served or have a heftier budget in mind, I would suggest reviewing the posts here. There are some sublimely knowledgeable people posting about sushi restaurants.
    If I had only one Mexican restaurant to visit, it would be La Talpa on Pico in West Los Angeles. It is where we go (directly from the airport) when returning from a long trip, for the past 20+ years.
    Also quite fond of Le Saigon on Santa Monica Blvd. in West LA for Vietnamese. #13 I believe is their do it yourself spring rolls which are a wonderful example of inexpensive and delightful cuisine.
    Mandarin Deli on Broadway, downtown LA, has a fun menu that never ever changes. Counter Intelligence includes a good review. NBC Seafood in Monterey Park is excellent dim sum, excellent seafood dishes at night.
    Father's Office in Santa Monica is much too loud, but serves I believe the best hamburger I've ever had in a restaurant. They also re-define french fries served a la carte.
    There is, by the way, a popular tasting menu at Yongsusan, a Korean restaurant, that I have been meaning to try but have not just yet. It receives regular accolades on this Board. It also comes in at about $22 a person US, which would be quite a savings from the tasting menus I have identified above.
    By the way, the best cheese store in the Southland is the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. Just last week I was chiding Norbert, one of the owners, that he didn't have any Cheeses of Nazareth for the holidays. Yes, I am indebted to you.
    Best wishes for the New Year. Have an excellent trip, Alan Z.

    5 Replies
    1. re: AZ

      Thanks for all your time and recommendations. Yongsusan gets a few votes, so despite the burgeoning Korean scene in Toronto it's now on my list. Of course, some will have to be lunch - depends on where we shop. Only must visits are Rhino records on Westwood and Necromancy on Melrose (wonder what a psychologist would make of those choices?).
      Glad you enjoyed Toronto, and for those mystified by the cheese connection, I knew I was a Chowhound when it took me 45 minutes to go get my camera in Amman, Jordan to take a picture of the cheese counter in the supermarket. (Do a search if you're still mystified).

      1. re: Estufarian
        m
        michael (mea culpa)

        Only must visits are Rhino records on Westwood>>
        Please note that the old Rhino on Westwood is now their clearance outlet. The regular store's at another location. If you like music, you should check the selection at Amoeba Music on Sunset near Ivar in Hollywood. Huge stock! Lots of posters and promo items. Prices slightly higher than Rhino but there's lots of used stuff.

        1. re: michael (mea culpa)

          What a great help - where else could I find out info like that!
          I browse Rhino for those eclectic, especially whimsical, recordings that seem to be their specialty.
          In particular, almost anything Produced and Engineered by Bob Wayne (his masterpieces were under the Big Daddy name - who else follows a Producer?). Not to many places catalogue their recordings that way!
          Where is the other one? (I'll check the web-site).

          1. re: Estufarian
            m
            michael (mea culpa)

            Where is the other one? (I'll check the web-site).>>
            Old Rhino at 1720 Westwood Blvd. New Rhino at 2028 Westwood. Happy hunting.

      2. re: AZ

        I think Talpa's sucked for the last few years. We went there regularly until I was 13 or 14, because that's when it hit the knee of the curve of its degeneration. I've been back a few times since then, and it's realy nothing special anymore, although the nice waitresses from my childhood, Mina and Elina, are still there. Their ingredients aren't very good, and the quality in general just isn't anything to write home about.

      3. For your upscale, I'm partial to Mélisse. Have you been to Pinot in Studio City yet? That's another good one, as is Bistro at Coldwater (Ventura & Coldwater Cyns., Studio City) with those faaaaaaabulous chocolate soufflés.

        I can't imagine spending USD300 at Mélisse... unless you bought some VERY expensive wine... in my experience it tends to be about USD100 a head if you buy wine.

        You won't spend ANYWHERE near that much at Guelaguetza, of course. I have to admit that for all I like Guelaguetza, the best Oaxacan I've found in WLA is called Juquila and it's just west of Santa Monica Blvd. and Federal Ave. The decor is nil but the mole is great.

        4 Replies
        1. re: PRSMDave

          Great news. That leaves me more to spend elsewhere! Melisse looks to be #1 consensus. I'll decide on the ethnic based on final hotel (the prices haven't yet collapsed and we can't use Priceline from Canada).

          1. re: Estufarian

            Hotel Bel Air and Melisse are about the same price. $20.00 appetizers, $40.00 entrees, $15.00 desserts, $50.00 wine, tax, tip, about $250.00 out the door.
            Talk about budget busters. I tried it once just to do it and it was fine. About $100.00 more than it was worth but a nice experience nonetheless.

            1. re: Just Larry

              And that's about $165 Cdn!
              Consensus is Melisse this time, then save up for next trip.

              Thanks again.

              1. re: Estufarian

                $165 Canadian EACH!!!!!!!!!!!
                Bust Away...........

        2. m
          michael (mea culpa)

          It's been a long time since I was in Toronto and I do recall many ethnic establishments there but not with specificity. Perhaps if you indicated which ones you have covered in Toronto, we could zero in on some other types here. As for high end places, you might consider the Bel Air Hotel (excellent degustation), La Cachette (chef formerly at L'Orangerie), Locanda Veneta for good Venetian style as well as possible star gazing, Valentino for great Italian and a huge wine list. Also of note, Shiro in South Pasadena for the catfish and some good starters.

          3 Replies
          1. re: michael (mea culpa)

            Thanks for the recos. Toronto has too many cuisines to list - but short on Mexican and Scandinavia (wonder what they have in common?). Won't the Belair bust my budget though?

            1. re: Estufarian
              m
              michael (mea culpa)

              Won't the Belair bust my budget though?
              You can eat at the Bel Air Hotel for $60 each or more plus liquor.

              1. re: michael (mea culpa)

                I'll keep it for next time - made reservations at Melisse and Spago Beverly Hills (need to save my devalued Cdn $ for next time - so many restaurants.... etc.).
                Thanks again.

          2. You've already received some very good recommendations. But, of your candidates, I highly recommend Melisse. Of the three "best" meals I had in the greater Los Angeles area during 2001, two were at Melisse, taking advantage of the "carte blanche" (chef's choice) menu option. The best single course of 2001 was the pig's head at Melisse. The other "best meal" was at Aubergine in Newport Beach. Melisse and Aubergine are my two current picks for best restaurants in L.A. You couldn't make a mistake among your candidates, however. They are all top drawer.

            Of the recommendations by AZ, I agree that Sasabune is one of the best sushi restaurants in Los Angeles, although I think Tsukiji in Gardena and Tsukasa in Little Tokyo are even better and offer a greater variety of exotic, seasonal fare. And the wonderful North Korean dynasty food offered by Yongsusan is quite unlike anything you'll likely have available in Toronto. I'd substitute Yongsusan for Typhoon.

            I'm surprised that Campanile disappointed you on a previous visit. The quality there is consistently high, although like all restaurants one can encounter missteps. Campanile remains among my favorite restaurants in L.A., a position it has held for a long, long time.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Tom Armitage

              More food for thought (at least)!
              Looks like melisse will be my choice - not sure about Korean as we have many in Toronto - perhaps lunch.
              I know Campanile is still highly recommended - but we found it very noisy, the food boring and the service disinterested - you can't win em all. And it wasn't cheap. Fortunately we're all different (voice from the back - "I'm not").
              Thanks for the recommendations.

            2. OK - being an ex-Torontonian myself, I think I can help a bit.

              I would focus on Mexican and Korean food. Neither are well-represented in Toronto and both are excellent in LA. For Mexican, you must try some of the lower brow places; may I suggest the al pastor (marinated pork) tacos available at El Gran Burrito (open 24 hours). Also almost any torta but especially the Tora Cubana at El Gallo Giro (multiple locations). For a more upscale experience, I would go to the original location of El Serenata de Garibaldi and have the beef chile colorado and a wine margarita.

              On the Korean side, you should try some good Korean BBQ. Check out Soot Bull Jeep for that. A higher end Korean place to try is Yongsusan.

              For more expensive dining, if you're looking for good food I'd go to 5 Dudley in Venice or possibly Joe's (also in Venice). There are also a couple of places to try more for the scene than the food (but believe me the "scene" far exceeds anything found in Toronto). The two standouts in this category are Asia de Cuba (at the Mondrian hotel) and Les Deux Cafes (in Hollywood). It's best to eat outside at both places.

              You should also eat at a traditional LA hamburger place - where the fast food burger was invented. My own favorite is at the Pie'n'Burger in Pasadena though others here favor the Apple Pan or Jay's Jayburger. All are essentially variations on a fast food hamburger, but the burger actually tastes good.

              That should keep you busy for a few days anyway. If you get bored, go to Csarda's for Hungarian food - better than the numerous lousy Hungarian restaurants in Toronto.

              7 Replies
              1. re: Dylan Yolles

                Where is Csardas located? I'd love to try it.

                1. re: Joan Winston

                  Csarda's is on Melrose near Vine. They have an impressive weekend buffet as well.

                2. re: Dylan Yolles
                  m
                  michael (mea culpa)

                  I would focus on Mexican and Korean food. Neither are well-represented in Toronto and both are excellent in LA. >>
                  Following up on these thoughts, I'd suggest Ciudad in downtown for a tasty panSouth American cuisine and Xiomara in Pasadena for a nouvelle Cuban taste.

                  1. re: michael (mea culpa)
                    m
                    michael (Mea culpa)

                    I'd suggest Ciudad in downtown for a tasty panSouth American cuisine>>

                    Correction: pan Latin American

                    1. re: michael (Mea culpa)

                      Thanks - I'll definitely try at least one latin American. Korean has taken off in Toronto. There are at least a dozen restaurants in the area east of Christie on Bloor (in Toronto) - even the street signs now say 'Korean Business District'.

                    2. re: michael (mea culpa)

                      Correct me if I am wrong but wasn't Ciudad universally panned here fairly recently? I have stayed away because I have never heard anything nice said about it.

                      1. re: Just Larry

                        In my experience (3 visits so far), Ciudad has great appetizers, rum drinks, and desserts, and so-so entrees. It's also loud ... usually in a fun way but sometimes in an annoying way.

                        Recently, it seems there are a lot of places around town where the appetizers show a lot more creativity and freshness than the entrees, but that's a subject for a different thread...

                  2. I also would like to suggest Yongsusan on vermont. The meals are set, I'd recommend the 22.95 over the 19.95. It has more interesting things. As well, the more expensive menus just add more and more seafood. So dinner for two will be about 50. If you go with other people, reserve a private room, they're very nice and intimate.
                    Melisse is wonderful. I like Saddle Peak Lodge and Cafe four oaks for their canyon locations (saddle peak in malibu more upscale, good game, four oaks closer in beverly glen).
                    I prefer the Gueleguetza on 8th St, more eclectic crowd. Stop by at Taylor's Steak house on the next block before for a drink, nice old fashioned bar. On the weekend, there are women across the street from gueleguetza at the corner of Irolo and 8th selling homemade tamales (with and without meat) as well as atole. I've only spoken with them in Spanish, but they may speak english. Give it a try (Tamales are $1 each, the atole, sweet hot corn drink, also $1 and champurrado, sweet hot chocolate corn drink $1).
                    An excellent taqueria - El Taurino on Hoover near 11th, also good atole. Good variety with what passes as exotica, not only carnitas, machaca, carne al pastor for taco fillings, but sesos, lengua etc. The food is marvelous.
                    Also in the evening, if you're up for a little trip, go to the Serenata de Garibaldi in East LA. No need to be worried about the neighborhood, they have a guarded lot in the back if you're concerned. As well, on weekend evenings, there are pickup mariachi bands who wander into the restaurants up and down the street. I also think the east l.a. serenata superior to the santa monica one which is too crowded, too much of a scene and doesn't ever offer the dessert of mexican cheese with quince paste and cream (ate de membrillo con queso). Ask for it. They don't always offer it. And they make their own aguas, tamarind water, melon water horchata (mexican rice horchata, not spanish horchata de chufas), etc.
                    Trust me, the pastrami at Langers can give almost any pastrami in the US competition, even Carnegie deli NYC. They're open for lunch. Consider it.
                    Last, very cheap - two suggestions (one I gave to another chowhound visitor and he liked it very much), there is a buffet at the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights. It's a bit of a drive from the Westside but the site is interesting, looks much like the Buddhist temples you'll see in China, and the lunch buffet is something like $5 and quite good vegetarian chinese food.
                    And try a french dip sandwich either at Phillippe's on Alameda or at Cole's Pacific Electric Buffet. Local specialty, I ask the ladies at Phillippe's to double dip mine. A bit moister that way.
                    And you may have noticed a sanddab discussion. If you're staying on the west side, think about Chez Jay on Ocean in Santa Monica, an older institution, the sand dabs aren't cheap but they do a good traditional job with them and the bar has a bit of character.

                    Enjoy your trip. (Someone else can tell you about the Thai food court in Hollywood where the Thai Elvis performs).

                    1. Welcome to LA, where it mysteriously gets sunny every January 1 (I think Pasadena once went down to the railroad tracks and sold its soul to the Devil for this, but I digress...) Others have done a great job recommending some delicious places; the list below is just some suggestions for probably-can't-find-this-in-Toronto, and at reasonable prices as well. Oh, and it probably also reflects the fact that I grew up in the SG Valley:

                      Thousand Cranes (Little Tokyo) for the Sunday brunch overlooking the Japanese garden

                      Little Malaysia (El Monte) for the best Penang/Nonya cooking around; right nearby are El Gallo Giro, for the epic Torta Cubana, and a good Vietnamese "seven courses of beef" place, the name of which escapes me

                      El Rincon Chileno (Melrose) for great Chilean seafood and comfort food

                      Messob (Fairfax) for yummy Ethiopian combo dishes, honey wine, and roasted-before-your-nose coffee

                      Mangga Grill (Tustin) A bit of a drive, but the best Filipino food I've ever had; huge variety too

                      Tung Lai Shun (San Gabriel) Islamic Chinese; don't miss the sesame/scallion bread

                      Din Tai Fung (Arcadia) Super-fresh dumplings and chicken noodle soup like your Taiwanese Jewish grandma used to make :)

                      Comedor Camacho (Venice/Normandie) Literally a shack; great Nicaraguan stews, plantain dishes, fruit drinks

                      Shamshiri (Westwood) Chicken/rice/pomegranete concoctions from Persia, huge portions

                      Derby (Arcadia) OK, so I'm sure you can get better steaks in Toronto, but not with Johnny Longden memorabilia while drinking colossal $5 Irish coffees with old folks watching the races....

                      Happy New Year!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Bradbury

                        Last time I drove by, the Derby was boarded up and out of business.

                        1. re: Chino Wayne

                          > Last time I drove by, the Derby was boarded up and out of business.

                          The Glendora Derby is history, but the Arcadia branch is still up and running.

                          (Still, I listed it last for a reason...)

                          1. re: Bradbury

                            Ah, you listed it last, as in the last nag to the finish line...?

                      2. j
                        Jon Leventhal

                        Question: How important is ambiance to you? If it is, avoid Sushi Sasebune. While the sushi is pretty good,it is a dump. Same with Nozawa. IMO, they are better for a quick lunch. Also, regarding Sasebune, they really push the chef's special. They start you off with a mushy, overly sauced, poorly cut Bonito sashimi plate. Then they give you way too much sushi. Another thing, most of the sushi, because it is so cold (fish, not rice) seems to taste the same. Crab rolls are best thing on menu.

                        Melisse feels like a hotel restaurant and has little energy. Not exactly a fun dining experience, and while the food is OK, its not worth the tariff.

                        If you want good ambiance, go to The Hump for Sushi. Also, Spago (outside seating) is lots of fun and very pretty. Lucques has an OK ambiance, but food is uneven and service spotty.

                        Another question: If you got such a crappy table at Patina, why didn't you ask to be moved? At those prices, there shouldn't be a bad table.

                        Jon

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Jon Leventhal

                          Ambiance is a small part (unless it's below an acceptable point). Food is paramount and wine selection (at fair prices) is next.
                          At Patina it was full (Saturday night) - the choice was to leave or stay - and we wanted to at least try the food - but the lingering memory doesn't include a recollection of any of the dishes!
                          Thanks for the additional input.

                          1. re: Jon Leventhal
                            m
                            michael (mea culpa)

                            How important is ambiance to you? If it is, avoid Sushi Sasebune. While the sushi is pretty good,it is a dump. Same with Nozawa. IMO, they are better for a quick lunch. Also, regarding Sasebune, they really push the chef's special. They start you off with a mushy, overly sauced, poorly cut Bonito sashimi plate. Then they give you way too much sushi. Another thing, most of the sushi, because it is so cold (fish, not rice) seems to taste the same. Crab rolls are best thing on menu.>>
                            On the subject of sushi, R 23 in the artist's district downtown is worthy of your consideration and worth going to the effort to locate. It's a nicely done minimalist space in the middle of some warehouses and lofts with a wide selection of sushi well presented.
                            923 E. Third Street.

                          2. c
                            Cyrus J. Farivar

                            If you're going to be staying in W. LA, one place that I like that is kinda smallish, but fun, and pretty cheap is Pierview, up PCH a little way past Malibu.

                            It's a smallish restaurant with a bar on the side. The food is very good, with typical "California" stuff...burgers, sandwiches, salads, etc...pretty-good sized portions.

                            But, what I like most about it are the outdoor tables for two on their heated balcony that is 50 ft from water's edge! Great place for a date! ;)

                            It seems to be a local hangout, every time I've been their it's been fairly full.

                            Pierview Cafe
                            22718 West Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265
                            (310) 456-6962

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Cyrus J. Farivar

                              We plan to hit Santa Barbara too, so this may be a good place along the way. Thanks.

                              1. re: Estufarian

                                If you're going to Santa Barbara, you should really go to La Super Rica on Milpas and Alphonse (take the Milpas exit off PCH and drive until you see a white shack with a huge line outside, on the righthand side of the street). It's an outstanding stand that sells tacos and stuff like that. Excellent horchata and salsa verde, too.

                            2. If it's not too late for your visit, give the Saddlepeak Lodge a try - it's listed in Calabasas but it actually up the road from Malibu / Pacific Coast Highway. It's unique, and offers exotic game entrees.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: DonnaB

                                It's on my list for 'next time'. Sounds great, thanks.

                              2. Thanks to everybody who recommended restaurants – and apologies to those we ignored – you were right!
                                We discovered why the discounted hotel and car rental rates were so slow in appearing. A little thing called the Rose Bowl was happening at the same time (and if you think we’re uneducated hicks up here in Canada, how many of you would know enough to avoid the Vanier Cup!).

                                The net result was that, after waiting 2 hours for any rental car to be returned, we headed up to Santa Barbara first. Knowing (hoping?) we had great meals waiting in L.A. we settled for a steak (OK – not great) at Chuck’s Steak House of Hawaii – actually this was a ‘destination’ for us as it has a good selection of Williams-Selyem Pinot Noir at excellent prices – it’s our favourite US Pinot Noir; we go for the wine.

                                Returning to L.A. we had just made reservations at Spago (thanks to AZ’s recco below which convinced us) which we had avoided on previous trips – too trendy we thought! I stated below that ambience was a very small factor in our choice – but Spago proves me wrong. The entire evening was breathless; hustle; bustle; diamonds; noise; comings and goings; white mink with arctic fox trim; diamonds; torn T-shirts; plunging necklines; diamonds; facelifts; and Wolfgang Puck orchestrating everything. We came for the food and stayed for the show. In fact, we were there for over 4 hours as we had the tasting menu, with a different wine accompanying each course. It was amazing – even without the show. (As an aside, about half the females within view only ordered salad – now I know where to go for a cheap date, although my circle of friends doesn’t include any of the starlet-types on view).

                                The tasting menu hit all the culinary seasonal high spots – game, foie gras, and both black and white truffles. Amazing value for $85 when you consider it was 8 courses (+ 2 amuse gueules) and the Parmesan Risotto alone was $55 on the regular menu (and our portions were at least half the size). We started with the two amuses; a spicy tuna tartare in a sesame cone, followed by a warm crab gratin accompanied by the Billecart-Salmon Rose (one of my favourite champagnes; on the wine list at $15 per glass but served ‘complimentary’ with the amuses). Then came the first scheduled course, Chestnut Cappuccino with shaved black truffles. OK the presentation is a bit stale, but the wine was an old Terrantez Madeira – a great match and only the third time in my life that a restaurant has offered/suggested Madeira. For those not in the know, Madeira is my absolute favorite wine –hence my tag, Estufarian. Next came Veal Sweetbreads (another fave ingredient) with Date-Onion Soubise and a salad of sweet onion, fennel and persimmon. The wine was a white Crozes-Hermitage, Sybila from J-L. Chave. Then followed a huge scallop with caramelized cauliflower, Indian spices and Cilantro-Mint Chutney accompanied by a Pfeffingen Riesling Spatlese Trocken. Then came the Risotto with a healthy layer of shaved white truffles. This distracted me from the wine – I recall it was from the Langhe region of Italy, but not the name. Inhaling this course put me in the true L.A. state of mind and I spent a while observing the goings-on in the room. Seeing heads snap to view the ‘young lady’ recently seated at the adjacent table, my attention was drawn to the cultured way she carefully manicured her nails with the dinner knife. On the other hand (no pun originally intended) it wasn’t the hands that were attracting the most attention from the passers-by. And, did she know how to eat oysters! Then she ordered another 6. Of course, I could have been hallucinating from the truffles.
                                Back to food. The Scottish Pheasant with Leek Ribbons, Chanterelles and Black Truffle juice was adorned with more black truffles and lardons and was served with a 99 Chambolle Musigny from Olivier Jouan. Then things went horribly wrong. The Venison Filet Mignon, advertised as being with Roasted Apple, Seared Foie Gras and Pear Cranberry Chutney came instead with Braised Red Cabbage, Dried Cherries, Juniper and Chestnut Puree. The wine was a 99 Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine Pontifical. What to do? The foie gras was one of the things that prompted us to do the tasting menu. Again as an aside, although we had a ‘primary’ server, many of the courses, including this one, were brought by other servers. In some cases our understanding of their English led to a communication barrier, and we had to ask for clarification a few times. But this time our primary server appeared and we explained the challenge. The response was exceptional. A separate foie gras course was ordered and served and was accompanied by a glass each of sauternes. We were more than placated.
                                In the interests of avoiding further indulgence and boring of readers, the remaining courses were a pear sorbet; French cheeses (Roquefort, Epoisses, Camembert, P’tit Basques and a goat cheese whose name I don’t recall) with a Recioto di Valpolicella from Giovanni Allegrini; and Apple Strudel with Vanilla Ice Cream and a Monbazillac from Grande Maison. Coffee and mignardises followed.
                                The all-in cost was around $350 – a bargain considering the quality (and quantity) of food and wines we were served. And note that the wines did not include any Chardonnay (except in the champagne) or Cabernet Sauvignon. My wife rated this meal as being in her all-time top 3. I was less generous, but it cracked the top 10.

                                After this blow-out we vegged out for the next few days, although we did take in Guelaguetza (Palms). Great food. Nothing anywhere near as good in Toronto. And really friendly service too. Many thanks for the recommendation. We didn’t make it to the downtown area, so had to pass on those places. Maybe next time.

                                Despite the warnings we did make it to Typhoon – and we should have listened to you all. It was bad. In our partial defense, we were after the non-Toronto experience, so went for the insects. We shouldn’t have bothered. The Scorpions on Shrimp Toast just tasted like overcooked shrimp, while the White Sea Worms had some texture, but negligible taste. The wine we ordered was out of stock too. The other courses we tried – described as spicy – had no discernible spice and little flavor. And the eating implements consist of a fork + chopsticks only. This makes the consumption of the noodle dishes a challenging affair. The noodles are very long and sticky – there’s almost no way to eat this delicately. You’re fighting the dish whatever you do and only the most expert eater can avoid distributing sauce everywhere. It took both of us to fight the Bah Mi simultaneously and I think it won. But the place was packed, with people eating at the bar tables too.

                                We did try and hit some Santa Monica places but struck out. We tried Chez Jay for sanddabs, but were there on Sunday at 1:00 and they were serving a brunch. So we decamped to Fathers Office – which didn’t open until 3:00.

                                Our main destination, based on several reviews was Melisse, which we saved for our final evening. After our success with the tasting menu at Spago, we put ourselves in the chefs hands here too. The atmosphere here is very different, very French, with plenty of space between the tables. An oasis of calm.
                                Again, two complimentary amuse gueules. A tomato tart with Goat Cheese and duck, followed by a Cucumber Cappuccino with lobster salad. Both of these were as much about texture as flavor. The wine was a Novi Syrah Rosé. A comment here on wines – at Spago the bottle was always presented first and the wine poured after. At Melisse, glasses were served – the bottle wasn’t presented (although later in the meal we started asking to see the bottles; even then they followed the wine).
                                The first course was a soft-boiled egg, partially scooped out and topped with crème fraiche and osetra caviar, with a puff pastry ‘finger’. The wine was a Huet Sparkling Vouvray (very difficult to find, I’d never seen it before). A wonderful course although the presentation was a bit hackneyed (first had this several years ago and also subsequently). But truly memorable flavors. About this time we also noticed the butter, one of the best tasting I’ve encountered. Ridiculously high in butterfat – I speculated Normandy, but in fact it was an AOC butter from Deux-Sevres in the Loire. The butter was so good that my bread supply dwindled, but replacement was never offered (I might have declined anyway – there was no shortage of food). Moving on, the next course was lobster with a butter emulsion with cabbage and a watercress coulis. A piece of art on the plate, and the emulsion held up until the course was eaten. The wine was a superb Viognier, exploding with aromas of wild strawberries – can’t remember the last time I had one that was such a textbook example. It was from Pierre Gaillard (whom I don’t know) and is not technically a Condrieu as part of the vineyard lies outside the demarcated area.
                                Next came a Monkfish ‘Osso Buco’ with shallots, red wine, mustard and parsley oil with parsnips, served with a Corbieres, Chateau Manzanoblee (mainly Carignan plus Grenache + Syrah). Again, great textures although the flavors weren’t as well defined. This was followed by Scottish Hare and Foie Gras with wilted spinach, chestnuts and raisins. The wine was a Linne Balada Cherry Red (a field blend from Paso Robles, predominantly Zin with some Mourvedre and Petite Sirah) – again new to me). This didn’t quite work. The hare didn’t have the gamy tang I expected and the bitterness of the spinach was jarring. Also the raisins seemed overly sweet. This one was better on paper.
                                The main course was Lamb Done Two Ways. A great earthy dish. The loin came with Cipollino onion, tomato, artichoke, an olive tapenade and polenta, accompanied by a side pot containing lamb shank prepared osso buco style. The wine was a 2000 Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Erich Texier.

                                Next came a choice from the cheese trolley – some duplicated those offered at Spago, but we got to choose our cheese here. This was served with a 1996 unfiltered Noval port – it didn’t say LBV on the label and I didn’t see a bottling date. It didn’t have sediment so I’m pretty sure it was an LBV in ‘fact’ even if not in name.
                                Then came a Muscat d’or sorbet with a quince soup and finally different desserts (which we couldn’t finish) a sticky toffee pudding, and a Chocolate Crème brulee. Coffee followed but no mignardises (other tables did get them, but we probably couldn’t have managed to eat any more).

                                We staggered out, 2 ½ hours later, our wallets lighter, but not our bodies. The cost was about $15 more than Spago all-in.

                                This was a great meal – which unfortunately followed a great ‘experience’ at Spago. Both restaurants were excellent. Spago was more exciting all-round and the food was more spectacular. Melisse is more traditional with textures as much as flavours, but definitely more subtle. Value for money has to go to Spago. The courses were more numerous, the wines were poured more generously, and I’ll take white truffles anyday over Osetra caviar.

                                Again, thanks to everyone for their suggestions. We couldn’t eat everywhere (or any more for that matter).

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: Estufarian
                                  m
                                  michael (mea culpa)

                                  You not only know how to eat, you know how to describe it very well. Find any music?

                                  1. re: michael (mea culpa)

                                    yes thanks - a couple of Cd's at each Rhino store. But not realy knowledgeable staff.
                                    Also took in Romeo Hall & Juliet Oates at the Falcon Theatre. Patchy performances (almost a parody of high school productions) but fun.

                                    1. re: Estufarian
                                      m
                                      michael (mea culpa)

                                      a couple of Cd's at each Rhino store. But not really knowledgeable staff.>>
                                      Did you try Amoeba Music? Check their site. Other alternatives: Aron's Records, Rockaway Records, SoundSations. But Amoeba is the biggest.

                                      Link: http://www.amoebamusic.com/

                                      1. re: michael (mea culpa)

                                        Thanks, I've bookmarked for my next visit.

                                  2. re: Estufarian

                                    Please come back to LA and dine more often. That was a most excellent and inspiring read (time for me to start saving up for Spago, I see...).

                                    1. re: Estufarian

                                      The Rose Bowl. Yes. I suppose we all have stories of landing on foreign shores and being the only one who doesn't know that is the day when ... for example every man, woman and child departs Paris before the official start of Summer Vacation to beat the traffic jams (only to create themselves the single largest embouteillage of the year), a fact I know (a missed transatlantic flight later) quite well in hind sight.
                                      But it seems you found your way after all, managing not only a good meal at Spago's, but your usual (which is to say unusual for the rest of us) recounting of the dinner in extraordinary detail. Particular compliments to you on your memory for wines. If you do this by taking notes, please don't say so. Even if it's not true, I am content with my imagining that you can hold all of it in your head. By contrast, at a certain point in a tasting menu I normally answer "s'lovely" when asked to explain in detail what it is we are all drinking.
                                      By the way, there is the added amusement during the tasting menu at Spago of feeling contented that you are getting a much better value than most of the other diners around you, because in fact you are. For some reason linked to culinary prowess, they offer far too valuable a meal for their prix fixe. If beyond that amusement one has been lucky enough to be taken there and treated on an expense account, it is (one confesses) all one can do not to request a bowl of cream to help lick one's whiskers.
                                      But seriously, I am sincerely happy that you had such a good time. It is a sparkling show. Wolfgang Puck is a great showman. The people working for him can cook on a very high level.
                                      On a small point, the Billecart Salmon Rose is a favorite of mine as well, (yes, s'lovely). Hope you try the Paul Bara Rose - it is our house champagne whenever the house is well stocked.
                                      Now for a little of what you missed - I am sorry that you did not find your way into Father's Office. On Sundays they open at 3, start food service at 4, become a wall of noise at 5. The French fries a la carte which I mentioned are served in a brown paper bag which is tucked neatly into a small shopping cart which arrives on a plate. I thought you might have enjoyed that tickle.
                                      I took my own advice last night and dined with friends at Yongsusan, the North Korean restaurant which features private rooms and very inexpensive tasting menus. A few bottles of Jinro (which does taste better as you drink more), a Royal Court tasting menu which included clam and mussel soup, black cod, their remarkable version of kimchee (best I have ever had) and a small taste of one of the mildest and most flavorful sausages I have encountered), coupled with quite a dignified level of service made this dinner a great deal of fun.
                                      I think in turn we have to wish you thanks and apologies as well. Thank you for your delightful, detailed descriptions. Apologies to you for crowds of Rose Bowl attendees, for creepy crawly things that you chose to eat despite those many warnings, and for the currency, which does not afford our Canadian friends the welcome to which they are entitled.
                                      May I end with a toast you? From one Alan to another, let us all have some Madeira, my dears!

                                      1. re: AZ

                                        In return, thanks for the suggestions. Yongsusan is my MUST visit for next trip.
                                        In regard to wines - it was my passion long before food (was brought up in England). I've been running a wine club (the best in Toronto!?) for 20 years so know my wines. I used to take notes (no longer) but only do so now as an aide-memoire - with several meals in a short time it's easy to mix them up. But at Spago's, the wines amazingly parallelled a dinner my wife cooked (she's the food expert) for New Years Day. We also had a Champagne followed by an Old reserve Amontillado Sherry (save my Madeira for the Estufarians - a tasting group here in Toronto), a White Atlas Peak (same grapes as Crozes Hermitage), an Amarone, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and a Cahors. And we finished with a port. Amazingly similar.
                                        And we'll go back to Spago too (but check on local sports events first).