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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...