My Summer restaurant reviews (long, but take a look)
For my first summer at home from college in New York City, I decided I wanted to use my 3 months back in L.A. and try some of the top restaurants. My mom and I tried out quite a few and here are my opinions:
-Ca Del Sole: For a valley restaurant this was actually very good. The atmosphere is nice, not overly stuffy, and the service was excellent and everyone was very attentive. This was early in the summer so I dont remember many details about the food. I had a cioppino, which came with a good amount of seafood. This restaurant also serves weekend brunch which would be nice in the summer.
-Sushi Nozawa: This was sushi at its freshest. The restaurant has no atmosphere, and the staff is quite intimidating. We had the chefs special menu for two, which is basically a tasting menu. This started off with an excellent place of baby tuna sashimi chunks, the highlight of the meal. That was followed by a few rounds of sushi, all very good, yet because it is so simple there is not much to say in terms of combinations of flavors, etc.
-Sportmans Lodge Buffet Brunch: We went here for fathers day, and it turned out to be better than I expected from a hotel brunch. I had an egg white and vegetable omelette made for me at the omelette station, and also enjoyed fresh seafood, salads, and the well stocked frozen yogurt sundae bar, and miniature desserts. Champagne was also provided.
-Mexicali: I had been here once before, yet it enjoyed it more this time. My family started with the ceviche, which was very good and well spiced. I ordered a salad with chicken for my entrée, and though it was good I did not love the texture of the lettuce, not crunchy enough for my tastes. This restaurant has a very fun, trendy atmosphere.
-Chaya Brasserie (Beverly Hills): My mom and I walked into Chaya without reservations, and not quite knowing what to expect, but it turned out to be wonderful. I ordered two appetizers, as I do in many restaurants, as I prefer this to ordering one heavy entrée. I started with the duck salad, which was excellently paired with mango. For my second course I had the stuffed prawn appetizer, which was also delicious, and if I remember correctly had a bit of a coconut flavor.
-Urth Café: we went here after Chaya, as I had read about it numerous times. I enjoyed their signature honey vanilla latte. I went back a second time this summer and had a café Americano and a slice of their nonfat chocolate cheesecake. I found the cheesecake to be pretty good, yet I am used to eating nonfat/chemical-tasting foods, while my mom found it to taste a bit too much like carob and not chocolate-y enough. She did like their teas though.
-Max (Studio City): This restaurant was featured in L.A. Magazine as one of the top 7, yet I do not agree. The restaurant itself is pretty small, and while it is nice, it is really here nor there in terms of ambience. I had fish in a thai-type sauce, which was good, but somewhat sickening. My younger sister did enjoy her ribs though. I give the restaurant credit for having a few inventive dishes, yet I did not find it to be all that memorable overall.
-Border Grill: This restaurant also did not quite live up to its hype for me. My mom and I ordered a few appetizers instead of entrees, in the tapas style, which is a good way to get a feeling for the chefs abilities. While everything was good, nothing really stood out, yet I understand that when this restaurant opened there were not nearly as many restaurants which served this type of Cal-Mexican cuisine. I think this restaurant would be better for lunch.
-Trader Vics: After spending a week in Hawaii with friends, I wanted to go to Trader Vics, while my mom was a bit hesitant. It turned out to be a fun night, yet she commented that it definitely felt like an old hotel restaurant, especially the over-attentive, and older-aged waiters. We both had cocktails, which were definitely overpriced, yet still good. We shared a few appetizers, including a tuna-tartar type dish, which I always enjoy. We then split the lobster entrée, which was very good and a large portion, even when split. This is a great place to come with a large group.
-Manis Bakery: I went to manis alone on a weekday around noon. I am a bit of a health nut and had wanted to try this bakery forever. I had the 3 item breakfast, and chose egg white, fruit, and low fat apple cinnamon coffee cake as my 3 items. All were very good. I also had a mocha ice blended drink, which was not fantastic, yet I am a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf fanatic, so this homemade ice blended tasted bland in comparison with the ones from Coffee Bean, just as a homemade smoothie tastes duller than one from Jamba Juice. I would definitely like to try more of Manis bakery items though.
-Balboa: Although I do not eat red meat I still very much enjoyed this restaurant. Set in the Grafton hotel, Balboa is very well decorated. We were one of the first tables there which was a bit awkward to begin with, yet the place filled in as we ate. I had a lobster salad which was quite good and came with ample chunks of lobster. I then had the crab cakes, which were also very good. My mother, sister, and her friend all had steaks, which they really enjoyed. They shared some desserts, also very good.
-Delmonicos Lobster House (Encino): I never used to like this place before I went to college, as I found it overly stuffy, yet I enjoyed it this time. This was also the first time I had been there since they changed their name to include Lobster House, and changed the menu. Once again I had two appetizers, a lobster salad, just as good as any other, and then a large portabello mushroom stuffed with hot chunks of lobster and a bit of cheese. This was a rich dish but because it was an appetizer portion it was just right. The waiter was very friendly and helpful in recommending dishes.
-Top of the Glen (Beverly Glen shopping center): This new southwestern restaurant is very good, though unfortunately I still very much miss Santo Pietros. We were given a complimentary black bean cake appetizer, which was pretty good. Miniature corn muffins were served in bread baskets, and while I only tasted one, it was quite good. My mother, friend, and I all had salads as entrees. I had the barbequed chicken salad, which was pretty good, yet again the lettuce was not crisp enough for my taste. My mother had an ahi tuna salad, which was very good, yet the dressing was a bit too sweet for her tastes and should be ordered on the side next time. My friend had the southwestern cobb salad which was very good. I appreciated the health conscious food preparation, such as a few lowfat dressings and lean meats. This would also be a great lunch spot, as the whole shopping center is very relaxing.
-Ocean Avenue Seafood: We started with a raw tuna tower, which I had been craving since Hawaii, where I had an amazing tower of tuna, avocado, and wantons at a fabulous restaurant called Alan Wongs. While the tower at Ocean Ave. wasnt quite as good as hawaiis it still hit the spot. My mother was craving lobster, and while the lobster tails we both had were good, the restaurant seemed a bit factory-ish. They do have a good cocktail menu, and I enjoyed a nice baileys coffee after dinner.
-Cobras and Matadors: I loved this place, especially because I am a fan of ordering appetizers in place of large entrees. This restaurant doesnt have a liquour license, so we did as most do and bought a bottle of Spanish wine next door and brought it in. We ordered five tapas, which were each excellent. These included perfectly prepared mussels, a very good baby greens salad, excellent grilled octopus, a cured pork which I didnt eat, and a tortilla Espanola, which we ordered b/c they were all out of the lentil cakes, yet it turned out to be very good, as a bit of starch was needed with all of our other fish dishes. While I drank a bit too much wine, leaving me nauseous all of the following day, this restaurant was excellent.
-Casa Vega: I had been here once or twice a few years back, but had limited memory of it. My sister and I ate here on a Thursday night, and while it was very very crowded, we were seated really quickly. I understand that this restaurant is supposed to be dimly lit, but I find it a bit too dark, as I had to hold my menu up near the candle on the table to be able to read it! We were given a basket of tortilla chips and salsa, which were good yet the chips were a bit too salty. I ordered a grilled chicken salad, which was good, but markedly less flavorful than the other food, such as my sisters chicken burrito. Her burrito was excellent, and you could definitely taste the authentic Mexican style, as opposed to the cal-mexican food at places such as baja fresh. This is definitely a very trendy valley restaurant scene, though you cant really see the people there due to the darkness!
-The House (on Melrose): after many failed attempts at scoring reservations at other restaurants for a Saturday night, we decided to try The House. From the outside we were a bit taken aback by the somewhat non-descript exterior, though the inside is very nice. This was an actual house, turned into a restaurant, and it was a very cozy, pretty interior, a nice change from other extravagant places. My mom and I both had nice glasses of wine, and shared a lobster salad appetizer, which was very good, and included very fresh corn and avocado. I then had the corn crusted catfish, which was very good, and though I realized im not a huge catfish fan, I still appreciated the preparation. My mom had lamb chops, which she very much enjoyed. This restaurant was overall very good.
-Campanile: I had heard great things about this famous restaurant, yet truthfully I was not that impressed. The decoration is very pretty, and I found the atmosphere to be better than some of the food. We went on Thursday, which is Grilled Cheese night, though we didnt know you need to be seated in the front room to order from the grilled cheese/special sandwich menu, and I felt a bit embarrassed when they were hesitant to even let us look over the grilled cheese menu, as we were seated in the nicer back room. My mom and I shared a greek salad, which was very good. For my entrée I had the prawns, which were good, yet not amazingly so. After our entrees, my mom asked for a dessert recommendation, and though she does not enjoy fruit desserts she followed their recommendation of the broken napoleon and did not enjoy it much. Perhaps they could have asked her what type of dessert she enjoys, but perhaps she should have read the description more carefully, not the waiters fault. Overall, this restaurant is a bit formal, yet the food is not all that amazing I cant explain it, but I just found Campanile to be a bit off.
-Asia de Cuba: definitely one of the best restaurants we tried. My mom was not that excited about going here, as she thought it would be overpriced, oversauced, miniscule portions, yet she was very wrong and loved all of it. The restaurant itself feels like a nice hotel wedding, very white, as is all of Phillip Starks design. We were first seated outside, but requested to be moved indoors, as it was warmer and a nicer, quieter feeling. I had an excellent raspberry and champagne drink, and the drink menu was as impressive as the food. Asia de Cuba is family style, and the portions are very large, so this is the perfect place to go with large groups. As we were only two people, we still ordered too much food, mostly because we wanted to sample more of the menu, and we could have fed four on the amount we ordered. We started with their famous calamari salad, which was enormous. We ordered the dressing on the side, which turned out to be very smart, as it was very good, but would have been too much if it was tossed in with the salad. We had to force ourselves to stop eating this salad in order to save room for the rest of our food. I then had the tunapica appetizer, as my main dish, which was layers of wanton cracker and tuna sashimi chunks, with a bit of almond and coconut, very good, yet I didnt eat much of the wanton. Because I was afraid this wouldnt be enough food I also ordered a side of Asian vegetables, which came in a huge dish and I barely made a dent in it, though they were very good. My mom had the cuban chicken which was also very good, yet she was only able to eat about a quarter of it. Although we were very full we ordered the Bay of Pigs ice cream/brownie/banana split sundae for dessert which was enormous! We each had about 4 bites, but it was very good and could have easily fed four people. This was an excellent restaurant that i would definitely go back to.
-Alex: this was deserving of its top 7 spot. We thought it would be too formal and boring as we entered, but it turned out to be better than I expected. I started with the tuna carpaccio, which was small yet perfectly prepared. I ordered another appetizer, the crab cakes, as my main dish, and they were excellent, with great crab and not overly breaded. My sister and her friend shared two entrees, the lobster 3 ways, which was very nicely served, and the filet mignon, they enjoyed them both. My mom had the endive salad and a steak, which came with great spinach which was lightly creamed. For dessert we ordered the tarte tatin, which i did not try, as I am not a fan of apple desserts, and the triple chocolate marquis, which had layers of chocolate, hazelnut, and a crunchy chocolate bottom layer, which was an excellent combination. Most tables ordered either the chocolate or grand marnier souffles, which have to be ordered at the same time as the entrees, though our waiter told us that the marquis was better and we trusted him. Overall this restaurant was a very elegant place with a carefully created menu.
So there was my summer thus far... I have one more weekend in L.A. and would appreciate suggestions for one more restaurant. I was considering Josie, Angelini Osteria, Jar, and Chinois on Main, but would appreciate any other suggestions. Hope my opinions were on track with those of my fellow 'hounds.
Prove 'em wrong! Make 'em eat crow! Post about some favorites (start a new thread, though!) and make your case so compellingly that people run and try those places, attain advanced bliss states, and never again give credence to conventional wisdom!
Give me a supposedly "bad food" area and I'll gleefully find treasure there. Any soulless sprawl, any strip mall can contain a hold-out, a maverick, an upstart, a hidden gem. Hyperdeliciousness is everywhere, but most people just go with conventional wisdom...and conventional wisdom is NEVER the product of hip chowhounds out there prowling for greatness.
It's great when someone visits and takes the time to post on her adventures. Thank you. Based on what you've said, I think you'd like The Ivy--either one(BH or Santa Monica)--good crab cakes, Diaghilev, 1020 N. San Vicente Blvd., Franco-Russian cuisine, and Hillmont, a new place started by the owner of Cobras & Matadors on Hillhurst, I believe.
If you want to graze around for different foods, I'd suggest The (Old) Farmer's Market at Beverly & Fairfax, checking out the crepe place, the Gumbo Pot (cajun), and Loteria, real good tacos.
If you are feeling adventurous, I'd suggest trying some Oaxacan at Guelaguetza (there's one 33371/2 W.8th in Koreatown and a larger one on Olympic toward downtown), some Italian and stargazing at Orso, 8706 W. 3rd (get a patio table), and the Hamburger Platter at Thai American Express Cafe, 2903 W. Rowena in Silverlake. Ciao.
Great report! Re Border Grill - actually, it was the same at lunch. We ate lunch there a couple of years ago and it was OK but did not live up to our expectatiions. My husband was disapointed - he is a BIG fan of the The Two Hot Tamales. The food was not bad, but could have been better. Would be willing to give it another try. Thanks for listening!
Thanks for the reviews, Sara! And don't worry too much if your opinions "were on track" with other 'hounds; a little diversity of opinion can be a healthy thing, especially when a restaurant is somewhat uneven in consistency (see: Border Grill, Cobras and Matadors, Asia de Cuba, etc.)
As for your remaining weekend, now that you have the Westside and the Valley pretty well covered, how about a trip east to the SG Valley? Consider trying Devon, Little Malaysia, 888 Seafood, and the torta cubana at El Gallo Giro if the cash is running short. :)
P.S. Nobody ever would serve ME a Bailey's coffee my first summer home from college ... how did you pull off that trick? ;)
Oh, one more thing ... if you make it to Pasadena I wouldn't bother with Madre's (J.Lo's new place); I tried it yesterday and was colossally disappointed. More on this later when I have the time. (For what it's worth, my two other colossal disappointments this summer were Talesai and Giorgio Baldi...)