on dating + (hound approved) dining. strategery and the dreaded "asian circle," or is it just me?
as chowhounds, we can all pretty much agree that food is everything. every meal o' the week. eating is so basic, so imperative, that few things in life are more important. in fact, i can but think of one - MATING. as such, when it comes to finding a place to eat, the ONLY times when other factors (besides quality of the food), should ever be taken into consideration are when one is - as my english friends like to say - "on the pull."
that said, it's pretty apparent that LA is probably the least pull-friendly town in the world for the gastronomically inclined. not because there aren't great restaurants around, but simply because, to get to most of them, you have to drive clear across town no matter where you're coming from!
nothing kills a vibe quicker than walking out of a damn good yakitori joint or oxacan-molestravaganza to suddenly find yourself... in a desolate strip mall in torrance or el monte. in fact, i'm guessing that that's how the dreaded "asian circle" arose. i don't know if your peoples do it, but mine certainly do - where you and your friends stand around in a huddle outside a restaurant for two hours after the meal, shooting the shite about nothing while deciding where to go next.
needless to say, that won't do on a date. in any other major city in the world, you could probably get some kick ass food relative to your locale, stumble into a bar for a kip, then proceed straightaways to snogging in a nearby park, all without having to tip the valet.
in LA, you can always DRIVE SOMEWHERE ELSE, but damn if that ain't inconvenient, and not just for drinkers.
i live at the bottom of a tonkotsu vat, so this doesn't necessarily apply to me. but where would you go that is ped-friendly (ambulators, not children) AND chow approved?
third street santa monica is nice, if you don't mind dining at buca di beppo or monsoon.
the grove? is there actually anything good there? i've heard a good thing or two about that french bistro-y place next to the wanna-be bellagio water fountain but ain't ever tried it, as it reeks of faux-ness.
hollywood and highland? sure, if CPK is your thing. hardly chowish.
i guess you could say i'm looking for the proverbial kick-ass-northern-chinese-hot-pot, that's right next to the city-square-with-the-ice-skating-rink-and-the-jugglers. kind of like finding the supermodel who's also a harvard grad, without having to compromise. does it even exist?
suggestions? you know, for my less dorky friends who actually have social lives ;).
Only place that comes to mind is around Mission Street in South Pasadena - a good mystery book store, great wine store, and several (I've heard) very good restaurants within walking distance.
Welcome to LA.
We're slaves to our cars in everything we do in our everyday lives. The vast expanse of LA does afford us some great ethnic foods and diamonds in the rough.
Face the fact that everything here is GUD (Geographically Undesirable)....I dated a girl for 2 years who lived 30 miles away until I found one 10 miles away.
On the other hand....
I've visited friends in San Francisco and Manhattan and it never seemed to me as good as we have it here. You have to have a plan of action of where you're going to go and how you're going to get there because just hopping in your car (if you have one) isn't an option because you can't just roll up somewhere and park your car like we can do here. Most people have small places so you just can't hang out at their place so you have to go find a place to dine and hang.
Everywhere's a compromise--pick your poison and appreciate what we have.
I'm sorry, but I really have to defend New York. As a NYer (and as somebody who's lived in LA briefly before), I've got to say that LA was such a bitch to get around. I was staying in K-town and ate Korean and Mexican until I got sick of it (granted, the Korean and Mexican is so much better than what you get in New York). Many times, I yearn for some mole at Guelatzaga (sp?) or soon tofu at Beverly. The Grove, which is nearby, has absolutely nothing -- unless you're a fan of the Cheesecake Factory. And other areas are really very difficult to get to. I found the best thing in NY is a wonderful subway system. I never feel like I need a plan of action. Just hop into a subway and you're at your destination a few minutes later. So easy, quick and cheap. And if you live in Manhattan, you can walk everywhere.
But I do agree with monku that just appreciate what you have. I miss fresh masa!
I have to follow Miss Needle's example and defend San Francisco. You apparently weren't observant enough on your visit (or maybe your friends are all transplanted Angelenos) that San Franciscans engage in an exotic pastime called walking and are blessed with the resources to make it an entertaining pastime.
And somehow I got the impression that "just rolling up somewhere and parking your car" was just what rameniac was trying to get away from.
You might want to put Abbot Kinney on your list of soon-to-be pull-friendly streets. This street already has enough restaurants/eateries, a few bars and a coffee shop that fill some of those requirements - heck there's even the dreaded PB now - most women love this place... I don't know how many of the stores actually stay open later so this may be a minus, but I believe a lot of the shops stay open late one friday a month. Art galleries seem to be making a resurgence here and most are actually pretty nice - they're in buildings that are architecturally significant. G2 just opened on the corner of Abbot Kinney and Milwood. Sandro Gebert next to Hal's is opening soon (I think end of this month), and Steven Smith (the fashion photographer) has opened a gallery in the first floor of his studio/residence/shagpad located a few doors south of Stroh's. And Trek Kelly has his studio across the street from Steven Smith. I don't know how much progress has been made but there's a wine shop under construction a couple of doors north of Jin as well. A few doors north of this place is a recently vacated building that looks like a shoe-in for another art gallery. And a mixed-use building is just about to open at the corner of Abbot Kinney and Venice. There's a few spaces on the ground floor that are set up for retail/commercial. Now the only thing missing is a kick-ass ramen stand... ;)
My first thought was Main Street - I like Library Ale House the best (weak knees for good beer) and some other decent eats are on the street, along with some shops that offer distractions. But I felt it was too obvious. It gets quite crowded and I personally think the Chowhound restaurant quotient is higher on Abbot Kinney. I feel it's pretty hard to get a bad meal on this street. Now if Rameniac is dating someone who is accepting of more breadth and not too concerned about the level of dining, then Main Street is a great choice.
Musha is a fun choice - I like your stroll to Renee's and if you still feel like strolling, you can turn around and walk to 3rd Street. It's definitely pedestrian bumper pool there, but sometimes a first date needs that...
There are decent enough choices on Main St, though my first pic, Via Veneto is not really first date, unless it's a first date with your best friend from childhood who you finally realize you're in love with... I do like La Vecchia Cucina, Firehouse (esp if she/he is a healthy eater or got dietary issues), Lula, World Cafe (for really casual and good drinks) 3rd St is definitely pedestrian.
Of course for an afternoon date, late lunch at Le Marmiton and a stroll down Montana with great stores to promote conversation like The Dog Bakery.
Well you can catch food at a restaurant on the PCH like Moonshadows or Geoffrey's (food is only okay at either place), have a few drinks and then try to walk down to the beach to make out on the sand or wait for the grunion to show up if the timing is right.
Or downtown Culver City area; La Dijonnaise for bistro faire (or Don Jorge's on Venice and Cattauraugus for okay tacos) and then a show at Jazz Bakery or (when it finally opens) a couple of pints at Father's Office. Or Sabores De Oaxaca at Venice and La Cienega and then flitting into various art galleries on La Cienega before settling into the Mandrake bar for some excellent Moscow Mules.
Unfortunately the things I suggested don't have astounding food, but they seem like interesting overall dates. Generally I cook more than I go out.
I absolutely can't stand the "asian circles," especially when people continue to stand around even if a decision has been made on where to go next.
We also called it the 'parking lot fellowship.' I think there are some streets in which you can do some walking after eating, but would not have all that you are looking for, like you mentioned, usually not as chowish. I do enjoy 2nd St. in Long Beach and Main Street in Huntington Beach, but what I wish is that we had an area like in Vancouver, Robson Street. Oh well! I look forward to finding something interesting if anyone knows of any.
Well, 3rd Street Promenade has at least a couple of other "acceptable" options -- there's Houston's and Border Grill and even the branch of La Serenata would be better than Buca di Beppo.
South Pasadena is also a great suggestion, because it's less touristy and the food options are better.
What about South Lake in Pasadena? Is there anything edible in Westwood these days (I never never NEVER go to the Westside anymore -- there's simply nothing there that I want to sacrifice a 2-hour-each-way drive in rush hour traffic for)?
What about Little Tokyo? Or downtown Beverly Hills? Downtown Huntington Beach? Is there any non-revolting food left on the Hermosa Pier, or the end of Washington Boulevard in Venice?
You could always go to someplace like Sapori in Fisherman's Village, MdR, and then wander around afterwards.
There are at least a couple of non-revolting places in downtown Burbank (Granville, Market City Caffe, Picanha if your date is into major meat). You're screwed for clubs, but you can shop and have a drink and wander about, maybe take a movie. Same with downtowns in Glendale, Fullerton, Whittier, Studio City, etc.
re: Das Ubergeek
Yeah South Lake area in Pas has some decent places, like Green Street Restaurant, and Celestino
I think Bev Hills is not bad, although all the stores are closed at night. Still nice to walk around in I guess. Il Pastaio there has good Italian food.
I second Abbot Kinney, I think it has lots of good eateries (Jin Patisserie, Abbot's Pizza, Joe's, 3 Square...) and really nice to walk around in.
Westwood? Not if you're gonna /drive/ there, I mean there are some decent food but nothing worth driving. Plus parking there is a b*tch so what's the point of walking around?
Sawtelle has plenty places, although not a 'romantic' walk per se.
How about Brentwood area?
If you want to spend the money, AND tip the valet (it has to be a really special date) you can go to the Ritz Laguna Niguel, spend couple hundred food, walk on the beach there, go back and hit the bar/lounge, etc?
What's wrong with driving? I love my car ... and really, driving somewhere and the time it takes to get there only builds up the anticipation. Sort of like ... um, foreplay.
And, what's wrong with (as you call it) the "asian circle"? It's the only reason to get my ride slammed with Eibach coilovers, and to slap on a set of Brembo BBK with a some 19" wheels to match. Gotta have eye-candy when standing around shooting the shite.
But if you really want a self-contained foodie ecosystem how about Valley Blvd between Del Mar and New Ave. in SGV? You've got everything from karaoke, to Hunan and Shanghai and Cantonese and Beijing food, as well as (very mediocre to bad) ramen, joints that specialize in hainan chicken rice, Taiwanese pub food, and even a Norm's in case you've got a hankering for steak and eggs after a 3-course meal of bbq duck, crispy pork and chow fun at Sam Woo BBQ.
Definitely not for asian food but Santa Monica, as mentioned, and West LA in general I think are decent. I used to live in a crappy apartment off Bundy just south of Wilshire and it was a reasonable walk to Brentwood or a short walk/drive to Santa Monica. Lots of options and casual enough so the girls don't feel like they have to wear heels. One stretch of Pico has the Arsenal, Liquid Kitty, and a few decent but not stellar eateries. I now live in MDR which is limited for the same stuff but there are still options. It's one of the reasons why I don't ever want to move to the suburbs. That being said, assigning someone as a DD is never a bad idea. Our rule is that they eat for free in exchange for driving!
Rameniac- Driving around to different neighborhoods to hunt down food is for better or worse IS the apparent experience here in LA. Sorry bud, I hate to break this to you but the only semi ivy league supermodel that I know is Cindy Crawford (Northwestern/Elite Modeling Agency). Good luck on that one, as I too once was looking for a Gisele clone that actually knew current events.
I think the WeHo area is the place of choice for a mixture of good food, and extra curricular activities afterwards. Sure you wont be eating at Santouka, or having sheeps heads hot pot here, but with the relative decent good eating spots Comme Ca, Carlitos Gardel, Sona, Absolutely Phobolous, Madeo, Angelini, Katana....... you do have the ability to go to night spots like the belmont, stk, bar lubitsch, winstons, four seasons bar, etc.....
Yes I do live in WeHo so I am really biased, and please take this with a grain of salt. But this was the sole reason why i decided to move to this neighborhood, where you can actually see cabs go by every 5 minutes on the streets.
Laguna Beach is pretty pedestrian friendly after a nice dinner (and there are a few-couple places that are chow-friendly). I'd also recommend Newport Beach/Balboa Pier. If you get fresh steamed seafood from Quality Seafoods in Redondo Beach, you can stroll the tourist-friendly pier. Beach locations are pretty romantic too....
I'm surprised no one mentioned Los Feliz. On Vermont Ave, you have more than a handful of underrated restaurants that are all within walking distance. Then you can hit up one of the bars in the area or watch a movie, then if you get the late night munchies, hit up Fred 62 for some late night dining.
sawtelle!!! between nebraska and olympic. you can have dinner (sushi, fusion, curry, etc.), then have dessert, then head to a bar and then end the night singing karaoke.....and if you are hungry after karaoke, grab a bite.
I agree with ispedixit about Valley Blvd. though that's mainly because I enjoy a good foot massage. Ideally, my date would too. Maybe that'd be the deal-breaker.
koreatown. you've got the food: korean, mexican, papas cristos, opus, etc. the wiltern. cafes open till 4 in the morning (cafe mak!). and then there's the red line- which can take you to downtown, hollywood, and los feliz.
God, I hate the "Asian Circle" too! Something... anywhere... now! (of course, there's always that one person who inevitably shoots down every idea but doesn't know what to do either, and winds up moaning & groaning about how the rest of the night panned out).
Sunset & Vine is a good neighborhood with decent eats (Hungry Cat, Bowery) and you can check out movies @ the ArcLight, some tunes @ Amoeba Music, or, if you're like bookish me, lounge around Borders. Finish it off by splitting a Waffle or some boba @ ZenZoo.
Abbot Kinney is also a nice 'hood, but only if you're into window shopping (lots of pricey boutiquey stuff, or California kitsch souvenirs if you head out to the beach).
Old Town Pasadena or Lake Street area have quite a bit of dining options--nothing's particularly exceptional, but there's a little bit of everything for every budget and a bit of stuff to do afterwards.
Of all the places suggested above I have to agree that Pasadena, and WeHo offer the best grownup group/romantic date spots. They both have many eateries both upscale and midrange, as someone before said for every budget. Rameniac you are asking for two things at once--a good place to hang with your friends and a spot where you can get well er romantic. All places above mentioned something, but if you want a little of everything each neighborhood mentioned has it's + and -. Pasadena and Weho, followed by Abbot Kinney, I chose because I prefer the upscale/grownup offerings in dining, for quality and variety(upscale and ethnic) as well as the extracurricular(no not that extracurricular) activities like bookshops, wine shopping, museums, theaters, shopping, all at once within walking distance. On the upshot WeHo and Santa Monica have the clubs to pick up, but Pasadena has the museums/independent bookstores quiet romantic setting. Santa Monica as you said has chains but so does Pas as well as WeHo, but Pas has Vroman's, WeHo has Amoeba(Border's?, really?). I would say beach towns/areas(take your pick Malibu, Manhattan Beach, parts Long Beach, Laguna, Newport, SM, Redondo, Huntington Beach) are nice and romantic for a relaxed atmosphere but dining options as well as cultural activities will be lower than inland ped friendly cities, really it all comes down to what one is looking for whether a romantic beachside setting or inland cultural amenities and there is no wrong answer. However therefore for me Pas and WeHo top my list for the above mentioned--variety. Fullerton is just barely a destination, but it is one, just barely, if you live in the area, I would also add Claremont to this same category barely just barely, if your in that area.
haha naw, i was just going off on a tangent about how with friends, the tendency is often to loiter around a place for lack of something concrete to do afterwards. but you can go anywhere pretty much to eat that's good, in that case.
it's dating where things gets a little more complicated - that's when you gotta be a little more picky, as you'd probably would want to take "vibe" and logistics into consideration. ideally, that shouldn't come at the cost of having something actually good to eat, which is why i'm curious as to where foodies like to go.
thanks for all the replies! this is shaping up to be a great thread...
By the way I've partaken, or actually been a victim of the "asian circle", which can almost ruin a night sometimes, so I relate. Best thing to do is have a plan of action beforehand. Even in the best ped friendly cities many people will fall to the so-called "asian circle". It also helps if all your friends think alike--hmm which is not always the case. Food though, everyone wants.
Bigger is not necessarily better. Small can be beautiful. Keep it local. And impress her/him with good conversation and good character. If all else fails, name-drop and let her/him know about your up-close and personal connection to J. Gold (hee hee!).
And about those dreaded Asian circles...consensus-building is over-rated, someone just take charge!