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Mar 17, 2008 10:32 AM

San Franciscan's trip report

My requests for recommendations:

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  1. Didn't want to get back in the car last night (Sunday), none of the places on my list were close, so we walked over to Abbot Kinney. Had dinner at Lilly's because Joe's had run out of food by 9pm! Funny how the place looked deserted from the street even though the inside and outside dining rooms were both packed.

    Good old-school French / "Continental" (demi-glace, etc.), a style that hardly exists in the Bay Area any more. Mushrooms and asparagus in puff pastry was lightened slightly by having thin rounds of puff pastry rather than a thick bowl but still classic. Salade aux lardons was clearly adapted for local tastes, lots of salad, not much pork, only a few croutons. Onglet and rack of lamb were excellent. Good cheese plate, came with walnuts, grapes, and a green salad (huh?), no stupid jams or honey. Great wine list, nice how everything's available by the glass, had a chilled Brouilly and a superior Saumur. Fun atmosphere, good service.

    The bill was significantly cheaper than a similar meal in a similar place would be at home. Probably helps that they don't (have to) use organic / sustainable / humane ingredients.

    Lilly's French Cafe & Bar
    1031 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291

    3 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Lilly's has always had a very "French" feel to it. I have found the food to be good and the price point verging on the expensive side for what you get.

      Robert, are there more reviews to come? Or am I not looking in the right place?

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Are you claiming that all upscale restaurants in SF exclusively use local/organic/sustainable ingredients? Many use some, but few use only. I imagine that many good restaurants in LA use local ingredients, when available. I haven't dined in SF in about 6 months, but I don't recall seeing many mentions of "humane" practices, other than (maybe) Chez Panisse.

        On the Salade aux Lardons front, when I've had this dish in France, the lardons were definitely a garnish and not the main event.

        1. re: pikawicca

          I'm not making any absolute claims. In SF, when I see a wine list as sophisticated as Lilly's, the menu invariably lists provenance for some of its ingredients and/or includes a vague claim such as, "We use local, sustainable, and organic ingredients whenever possible."

          Re the salade aux lardons, Lilly's had maybe 20% the amounts of croutons and lardons that I typically get in France. Also the egg wasn't runny enough (though there is a California law about that and I didn't think to specify).

      2. Monday lunch at Antequera de Oaxaca.

        Fabulous smoky smooth red salsa with normal chips came with menus. Didn't order chapulines since they don't serve beer.

        Shared the botanas platter for two. Best chicharrón ever, asked if it was house-made, they said no but the secret is it's very fresh. Great chile relleno de pollo and enchiladas in the best mole rojo I've ever had,. Excellent simple guacamole. Memelitas (thick handmade masa patties) good but didn't really need six of them! Chorizo a bit dry and bland, tasajo (carne asada) a bit boring but great with the salsa and string cheese.

        Chicken in mole negro, some of the best I've had, only slightly sweet and that's balanced by nice acidity. One leg-thigh piece.

        Amarillo de puerco, most subtle of the three moles, exceptional balance of different kinds of chiles. More of a soup than a sauce. Small serving (maybe four big chunks of pork, 7-8 chunks of potato and chayote, some green beans) was reasonable after the hefty appetizer platter.

        Very friendly people. Total bill with tax $33, more food than we really needed to order, good value considering the quality.

        Antequera De Oaxaca
        5200 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038

        2 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Yes! You went to Antequera de Oaxaca.

          I love the amarillo de puerco! Probably one of my favorite dishes in LA. Was the chile relleno the one with the chicken picadillo and reconstitued dried chile?

          1. re: kare_raisu

            Seemed like rehydrated dried red chile, yes. Great dish.

        2. Monday dinner for four at A.O.C.

          Pork rillettes a bit eccentric, had a smoky flavor rather than usual quatre-epices, but great on warm grilled toast.

          Salt cod fritters with aioli, moist, excellent.

          Gnocchi with lobster, pancetta, and truffle butter, just as good as it sounds, dumplings were nice and chewy.

          Arroz negro with squid, ink, and saffron aïoli, fabulous, as good a version of this as I've had.

          Wild mushrooms persillé, aromatic, buttery, excellent.

          Long-cooked cavolo nero (dino kale), great concentrated flavor.

          Farro and black rice with pinenuts and currants, nice al dente texture, good balance of flavors, only barely sweet.

          Roasted dates stuffed with parmesan and wrapped in bacon, nice (could easily have missed this since it's at the bottom of the cheese page).

          Lamb skewers with sunchokes and Niçoise olives, not very memorable.

          Grilled skirt steak with roquefort butter, good though the blue cheese didn't make a lot of sense with the wine we were drinking.

          Two cheeses, with no pointless accompaniments: Italian buffalo-milk blue cheese, amazing, super-ripe, creamy, funky rind, similar to Stilton; and Brebirousse, nice, ripe, reminiscent of Livarot.

          Food for four came a very reasonable $130 before wine, tax, and tip.

          Wines: great list. We had a Touraine sauvignon blanc ($30), Austrian zweigelt ($42), Valle d'Acate Cerasuolo 2004 ($50), Chinon ($32). All delicious. The French wines were very good values.

          Great service, nice atmosphere, quiet. Back patio had tables open all evening, so I guess this isn't quite the scene it was a few years ago, though our friends who live nearby said it's packed on the weekends. Reminded me a lot of À Côté, probably my current favorite restaurant in the Bay Area.

          8022 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048

          6 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Glad you ended up going to AOC despite the occasional nay sayer. The arroz negro is rich and delicious with that aioli. Just out of curiosity, which wine did you have with that dish?

            I agree that the meats are probably a weak link in the experience. Too bad you didn't try the brioche with prosciutto, gruyère and egg. It was one of my favorite dishes of the evening next to the grilled boneless trout stuffed with nettle.

            1. re: Porthos

              I need to try that gourmet Egg McMuffin very soon! I think AOC's grilled beef and lamb dishes can be hit-or-miss, but they do best with pork and seafood

              1. re: Porthos

                The arroz was on the table for a while (maybe due to the dark dish people couldn't see that there was some left), I had it with all three reds.

                If we'd noticed that brioche we'd have ordered it for sure. The menu's a bit confusing, easy to miss things.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Which red did you think went best with the arroz?

                  Also, don't try to make up for the AOC miss by ordering the "Egg, guanciale, radicchio, escarole & bagna cauda" pizza at P. Mozza. You'll be tempted but it's too busy and has so much radicchio and escarole on it that it resembles a salad.

                  Go with the salumi with fresno chile and consider the bianchi and adding fennel sausage to it.

                  Also, don't forget to order lost of antipasti.

                  Looking forward to your P.Mozza post.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    That arroz is pretty wine-friendly, I think it would be good with any wine with a decent amount of acid. Went well with all three of those, anyway.

              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                Interesting. The time we got the cavolo nero it was pretty heavy duty. When we nuked the leftover the next day it left a puddle of olive oil.

                I also had better squid ink risotto at Enoteca Drago, fwiw. Nothing like in Italy or Croatia, but cheaper than a flight to Europe. Nice thing about AOC is that since the portion is small, you won't get to eat that much of the stuff you don't care for anyway. Thanks for the review.

              3. Tuesday breakfast at Rose Cafe since it was close and on our way. Nice patio. Oatmeal was good though a bit expensive even considering they threw in a couple of strawberries and a little of their delicous granola. Eggs "San Pietro," I'm not sure that eggs Benedict are improved by using Bearnaise instead of Hollandaise but it was nicely done.

                Lunch at Malibu Seafood since it was close to where we'd gone hiking. Fried fish sandwich and fried calamari exceeded expectations. Clam chowder was fine. Cole slaw was a bit sweet for my taste. Wrong place to order a fish taco. I'm sure we would have eaten better if we'd ordered some of the beautiful fresh fish grilled, but it was a classic seafood shack experience.

                Rose Cafe & Market
                220 Rose Ave, Venice, CA 90291

                2 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Bug, trying again:

                  Malibu Fish & Seafood
                  25653 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90265

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Yes, the grilled fish is the way to go. Prepared the simplest way possible, I think an herb rub with some butter was what I had. I agree the place is mcuhbetter than one might think it will be.

                  2. Tuesday dinner at La Casita since it was near where a friend is staying in Bellflower.

                    Given the "alta cocina" claims I was suprised there was no wine or even beer. Lemonade with chia seeds was good. Horchata was as always too sweet for me but had good flavor.

                    The chips with mole negro and pepian verde and rojo were good though messy and they got soggy. Pepians great, mole below average, too sweet and one-dimensional.

                    The tortillas may be made in house, but they didn't seem particularly fresh.

                    Queso Azteca (vegetarian queso fundido grilled in plantain leaves): very good. Fun how it varied from bite to bite depending on the mix of cheeses and vegetables.

                    Ensalada de nopales: the cactus was well-prepared and firm, but the salad seemed to be totally unseasoned. Out-of-season tomatoes shouldn't have been included. Bland and boring.

                    Pozole: best I've had in the US. Corn had the right texture, broth was complex and deeply flavorful.

                    Pepian verde with pork (or chicken) & the daily special of pork (or chicken) with mole negro and pepian verde and rojo: the waiter should have warned us that these were almost the same dish. The pepians were great, though we'd already tasted them on the chips. The pork was lukewarm, undersalted, and didn't have much pork flavor. The meat was wet (seemed it it had been boiled in plain water) so the sauces didn't adhere or sink in. Very disappointing, left a lot on the plates.

                    All in all, disappointing. $55 for three was a pretty bad value compared with Antequera. We should have gone to Artesia.

                    La Casita Mexicana
                    4030 Gage Ave, Bell, CA 90201

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I would have been interested to hear your opinion of Babita.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        You missed the best dish at La Casita -- chiles en nogada -- and you don't mention the (generally wonderful) soup that comes with the meal. Perhaps you skipped it because of the pozole. You liked most dishes and thought the pozole was the greatest in the country but didn't care for the salad or the pork. You finish your review by complaining about cost, which came to less than twenty bucks a head, and characterizing the experience as "[a]ll in all, disappointing." I recommend focusing on the chips, house soup, and chiles en nogada next time. You'll go slightly over $20.

                        1. re: sbritchky

                          They didn't give us any soup.

                          I didn't order chiles en nogada because pomeganates are out of season. Seems like a bad sign that they offer it year-round.

                          I wonder if the cook wasn't off that night? Everything was made ahead, the daily special was a minor variation on dishes from the regular menu, and the watery pork was a very amateurish mistake.

                          The price would have been fine if the quality hadn't been so spotty.

                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Good note to others coming to L.A..... Babita has been around for at least 5 years... and has been very consistent... with just a few bad reports... La Casita is relative new.... so if coming to L.A. is a rare occurrence, Babita should be a first choice.

                          Hell, this meal at La Casita sounds worst than Frida.

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            La Casita has been open since 1999.

                            It's too bad about the poor meal, I've always really enjoyed my visits there and like it better than Babita.

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              haven't eaten at La Casita, but still must concur. And they aren't offering the chiles en nogada at Babita right now, because pomegranites are out of season, but the seafood was wonderful, and they had a Lenten special of Capirotada, which was just the best...hmmm guess I should have mentioned that sooner...not much time to go check it out..

                              so while I am on the topic, there is also Capirotada on the Lenten menu at Tacomiendo...I need to get over there tomorrow and try it ( strictly for comparison purposes, of course, as to how different it is in an upscale vis downscale spot. though I admit it, only a few weeks in LA off and on and I am developing an addiction to the tacos de carnitas at Tacomiendo. But that is a topic for another post...)

                              1. re: susancinsf

                                Ah... you like those Cloves in the carnitas don't ya?

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  yes, maybe that's it, though the tortillas are pretty darn good too: I've been trying to figure out this need to get my fix, which I consider just a bit irrational given that tacos are one of the few decent types of Mexican food I can get in SF as well, and I keep thinking I should go get more albondigas or such while I am here, and the car steers itself to Tacomiendo. Indeed, it was the very first place I hit when I came back into town yesterday! (nice that it is so convenient to the 405 :-))

                                  Of course, it is only a few blocks from daughter's place, the tacos come with grilled cebollitas, the salsa bar has zanahorias, and parking is either free if the lot isn't full, or only 25cents an hour if one is forced to use a meter (these Angelenos don't know how lucky they have it when it comes to cost of parking meters!) I guess my new addiction isn't totally irrational :-)

                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                    Have you tried the Chile Relleno there?

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      nope. besides tacos, only thing I have had is the chilaquiles, which were very disappointing: I think they used the chips (not their tortillas) and they were very soggy, drowned in way too much green sauce that had a strange aftertaste....huge portion, but I didn't finish it.

                                      The lengua is also very good; carne asada is a bit oversalted for my taste....hubby was down with me last weekend, and said the shrimp fajitas from the lenten menu were very good (what can I say; I wouldn't order fajitas there and thus didn't try them, but he did enjoy them).

                                      11462 Gateway Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                                      1. re: susancinsf

                                        The great thing about Tacomiendo on Gateway is that they are about 40 feet from one of the top 4 or 5 sushi places in all of LA, Sushi Mori.

                                    2. re: susancinsf

                                      theyy're not always 25 cents an hour. if you mean gateway and pico where the meters are a quarter an hour, i'll buy that.

                                      but not necessarily other locales.

                                      how's the fish dishes at tacomiendo? thanks.

                                      1. re: kevin

                                        The fish is usually grilled to a great texture (seared, slightly crunchy exterior... very tender interior)... I am not thrilled by the actual fish used (frozen farm raised Tilapia or Pacific "Snapper" and other Rock fish)... but appropriate given their prices.