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May 27, 2008 05:05 AM

SF Fan of LA Surprised by New North-South Differences [moved from L.A. board]

My better half and I are San Franciscans who belie the stereotype and really enjoy visiting LA. Time has a way of slipping by: We realized recently it had been several years since we'd been down and thought we'd visit sometime soon, so I started checking out this board.

Golly gee--big changes!

Our practice was to hit one Korean, one Chinese--preferably but not always a regional cuisine we don't have in SF--one hot-shot spot, and Canter's for a pastrami fix (which I like only late in the evening).

I checked out a number of menus of mostly new and high-end places and was startled by 1. the sci-fi prices at some 2. the dearth of "provenance" and, particularly, organic being mentioned as a house principle as it is at so may places here. A significant number of SFBA California. American, and/or Med cuisine spots advertise their commitment to local, sustainable, and organic foods I've come to pretty much expect it (and, because we eat that way at home, I also prefer it).

I'd appreciate any responses (but I hope those who don't share those values don't feel compelled to make a stink over our difference of opinion).

Thanks in advance.

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  1. Im not an Angelino, i just got back from a weekend in LA and i was raised up north so i think i understand where you are coming from, almost.

    But without addressing the differences, you gotta switch to langer's for your pastrami fix. its perfection.

    as for the prices - we had dinner at AOC on saturday which was really good, if typically somewhat pricey for small-plate sized servings. on the way home i got a call from my dad describing an abysmally expensive and really poorly executed small plates experience at a newer place in sf - im just not sure everything in sf is less than everything in la, even if some food is pretty pricey in both places.

    had dinner with 6 other people at ruen pair sunday night for less than 65 dollars before tip. easily the most authentic thai food id had since i was in thailand. cant find that for that price in SF (Thai house express is amazing but like twice the price)

    1 Reply
    1. re: tex.s.toast

      As I mentioned, I like to eat deli (the v. rare occasions I do) late evening, for instance, after a performance. Also, we love Canter's for its feeling of another era. I eat meat once a month or less and am a total night person. A daytime pastrami sand would throw my entire rhythm off, since I eat v. little in the daytime and stay up late (v. late when I'm at home, less so when away).

    2. I'm in a similar situation - SF local, visits LA often, strongly devoted to sustainable/local/organic.

      I find that it's quite common for LA restaurants to utilize SLO ingredients without advertising them on the menu as is the fashion in SF. Couldn't really give you a reason for this - it's just the fashion at places that don't model themselves after CalCuisine such as Lucques. My approach is to find a restaurant that looks good, call them up, and ask them questions about where they source their meat. Quite often, I'm provided with answers that are more than satisfactory.

      As for the prices - prices of mid priced restaurants in LA are definitely higher but portions are much, much, much bigger. I find that I have to order fewer dishes to be full, so I spend just a little more on dinner than I do in SF. I prefer the SF model b/c I like to try a lot of different dishes over the course of a meal - but if I order like that in LA I end up with a tone of leftovers.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Morton the Mousse

        I looked at restaurants' web sites, not just their menus, and found little or nothing indicating their provenance or pride of source. If I have to go to the trouble of making long distance calls to find out if a restaurant serves "S,L,O", I say the hell with it. If it's a secret, if it's not something they're committed to sufficiently to include it in their blurbs, I don't trust them to provide it. That sounds crankier than I meant it to--sorry!

        BTW, I did check out Lucques, with which I had a nice exchange of emails several years ago before a trip--probably last one--down south: it must have been brand new. I didn't end up going there, as it happened, instead trying some then-new Italian spot on Beverly. I didn't see a whole lot about SLO on L's web site either.

        I really appreciate the response.

        1. re: Fine

          I hear where you're coming from. In the case of LA as well as many cities outside of Ca, its about cultural norms and expectations, not keeping a secret or lacking commitment. There isn't a large demand for menu transparency, value statements, and sourcing details, and some diners may consider it pretentious and a turn-off.

          However the talented chefs down there know that the best produce comes from the farmers' market, and the best meat comes from small ranches. I've found that I can use the website and menu to get a general feeling that a place follows SLO practices, and confirm it with a quick phone call. I've found that 80-90% of the places I end up calling confirm that they use reputable sources for ingredients.

          If you prefer to work entirely on-line, the eatwell guide provides a large, albeit incomplete, list of SLO places -

          Bottom line: organic, local, and sustainable food is abundant in Los Angeles, you just have to do a bit more digging to find it than you would in the Bay Area.

          1. re: Fine

            Having lived in L.A. for 20 years... and now in Sonoma County... it really irks me how much advertising of SLO ingredients goes on up here. In my cynicalness I shudder to see info about all the great Sonoma Lamb, Turkey, Cheese, Tomatoes etc., because its come to be an apology to a boring, tasteless, overpriced meal....

            I guess in L.A. we didn't have to worry about the provenance of ingredients at Michael's, Joe's or Ivy on the Green (all Cal-Cuisine places) because we would commonly spot the Chefs at the Santa Monica farmers market etc., and because we could taste the difference.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              Please, please direct me to those places. I LOVE Sonoma lamb but few places I know offer it.

              We all have different taste and different hopes in dining out: What may be boring to you may well be fresh, superb ingredients needing little enhancement to me (the Chez Panisse philosophy as opposed to, say, what I infer is the Coi approach). It seems to me the "chemistry set" "foamy" chefs aren't exactly giving their experiments away--LOL.

              Of course, we don't "all" recognize chefs or necessarily have a schedule that permits religious attendance at farmers' markets either.

              As for being able to "taste" organic, all I can say is WOW!

              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                Agreed. So many of the better restaurants in LA source as many ingredients from local sources, initially through the fantastic farmers markets around SoCal, and then from there build long-lasting relationships with these farmers as well as others through the grapevine. It's matter-of-fact for most, and while some do post their local sources on menus or on the storefronts, most places don't use this fact as a marketing tool. I think they're too busy and as the ingredients change often, updating restaurant websites is the last thing on their minds. This sucks for people like the OP, but it seems that most of the restaurants around LA that go through the extra steps of local sourcing have reputations that are built on their end-product, which again mitigates the need to openly market this angle.

                I'm not one that revers local chefs who are at or on the verge of celebrity status, but I do recognize a few regularly at the Wednesday and Saturday Santa Monica farmers market. As you mention, Joe Miller of Joe's is always on the hunt - early before the place officially opens - for either his staples or something new that he can incorporate into his tasting and prix fixe menus. You'd think he'd charge a lot more for using some of the best ingredients that he personally sources, but it's just the opposite - probably one of the best deals for a high-end quality meal in LA.

                Joe's Restaurant
                1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  Agreed as I have stated numerous times on this board... Joe's is my preferred fine dining in L.A.... I prefer the food at Babita a little bit... but Joe's is the complete package in terms of wine, atmosphere etc.,

                  Like I you... I don't revere chefs either... the only reason I know Joe Miller is because he has stopped at our table numerous times to check on us.... etc.,

                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                    You guys are lucky -- Michael, who was the chef at Bin 8945 is now at Joe's. I'd love to know what he is contributing...

          2. I'm also an LA native who has transplanted to SF -- and, as fate would have it, am heading down this week.

            The restaurants I will be hunting out are more authentic Japanese which seems to be missing in San Francisco; places that serve chankonabe and full-on yakitori establishments. I will also be spending a chunk of change for a meal at Urasawa (my BDay present to myself).

            As opposed to Canter's, I'll be heading for Phillipe's for an original French Dip and possibly a Zankou Chicken.

            For Chinese, I usually go to Monterey Park for Islamic Chinese, something else I have been unable to get in San Francisco.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Carrie 218

              I was referring particularly to the replies on LA Board re wedding gift that mentioned places that charged $400 pp and up!

              There's one Islamic Chinese in SF; the one time we tried it we were not impressed with the quality.

              We did go to a couple of tiny, Grade "B" spots in a huge Chinese mall last time in LA: They featured fascinating regional cuisines that were totally unfamiliar. Not sure I'm up for "Bs" anymore though--getting too old.

            2. I thought Langers was the deli most known for their pastrami...have you done a comparison of theirs and Canters and prefer the latter?

              5 Replies
              1. re: ChowFun_derek

                i asked this exact question on the LA boards before my visit about a month ago:


                consensus seemed to point towards langers, and after the visit i must admit, i think i understand why (this is without tasting Canter's).

                it may just about approach perfection on bread, an amazingly on point combination of salty, peppery beefiness. my only gripe: the pickles could have been better.
                seriously, there is no excuse for anyone claiming to love pastrami not to make the trek to langers.

                1. re: ChowFun_derek

                  both are excellent. especially if you live someplace like Honolulu where the best pastrami you are likely to find comes from costco and the best rye bread from safeway.

                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                    ...but which do you think is Better????
                    We are after all Chowhounds who need to know!!!

                    1. re: ChowFun_derek

                      zzzzmy personal feeling is that the pastrami is slightly better at Canter's, but the rye bread is unquestionably better at Langer's. I've never actually weighed them, but it always seems that the Canter's sandwiches are slightly larger. Canter's slices the pastrami thinner (I think) which i tend to like more. Others do not agree. I don't think any reasonable hound would say that either was less than a superior sandwich.

                  2. re: ChowFun_derek

                    If you're strictly after the pastrami sandwich, I would put my money on Langer's. They've been around for frickin' ever, and if I recall correctly, they make their own pastrami and rye bread.

                    Canter's has also been around forever as well, but they don't have a claim to provenance like Langer's does. They're pretty much your classic Jewish deli experience where the standards are good to very good. It's located in the heart of one of LA's largest Jewish communities. Langer's, which is located in the now-gang-riddled MacArthur Park area, has no equal west of the Rockies, and some even argue that they are the best bar none... I've posted the links, but check out their respective websites as well...

                    Langer's Delicatessen
                    704 S Alvarado St, Los Angeles, CA 90057

                    Canter's Fairfax Restaurant
                    419 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036