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L. A. Times rips Gladstones

Honeyman Jul 9, 2008 10:11 AM

No surprise to the people on this board, though I've never thought they were THAT bad. But this is possibly the worst restaurant review I've ever seen in the Times. No stars.


  1. ellaystingray Jul 31, 2008 06:38 PM

    Some thoughts, notes and clarifications.

    One mistake in the article itself was that the old Gladstone's in the Santa Monica Canyon was on Entrada, not West Channel. I know this becuase I grew up in the Canyon in the 70's and 80's and that giant slice of chocolate cake was the dream of every kid at Canyon Elementary.

    To clarify the ownership chain Robert (Bob) Morris was the Managing Partner in the various original Gladstones/RJ's Rib Joint ventures which first started popping up in the early 70's. Now there are tons of rumors about what all exactly went down with all the various locations and the specific ownership of the Malibu location is wildly complicated. There was Morris and a restaurant group. Then financial troubles. Then an outside investor (Grace Restaurants if I remember) but Morris remained in charge of the operation. Then more financial trouble. At some point I think Morris bought it completely back himself. Then a sale to Riordan's restaurant group (which BTW also involves, or has before, Eli Broad and John Cushman amongst others) which then ran into financial troubles of its own at that location. It has never been an easy location from a financial perspective. Unless you were a bartender there.

    A common thread invovles the challenges of dealing with leasing oceanfront property from the city and having to beg the Coastal Commission if you want to change your salt and pepper shakers. It was the middle to late 90's when Riordan's company actually took control. Soon after, Bob went up the road an opened the Paradise Cove Cafe. You can tell becuase his name is on the sign.

    Needless to say, it has always, under all ownership groups, been ranked by Restaurant Business Magazine and Restaurant Industry News as one of the top 25 highest grossing independent restaurants in the country. Tavern on the Green was always number one but I stopped paying attention around 2002. As a somewhat interesting, but totally off-topic note, chain restaurant rarely report individual store sales and the rumor was that the Cheescake Factory in Marina Del Rey blew Gladstones away in terms of total revenue per year during the 90's.

    Just having huge revenue doesn't always mean you make a lot of money. I can guess that the craptastic quality--something we've all know about for years--can be tied to trying to pair food costs to a bare minimum in order to survive. Wild, I know. Doesn't seem it should be that way.

    The other problem is that no one wants to work in that kitchen. Oh, there are loads of beach kids lining up to park cars or work the front of the house where the tips are dizzying, but the kitchen in a restaurant like that is brutal. Aside from the fact that the actual kitchen is microscopic compared the business they do, even with all the space you want it is an avalanche of food. There are days where big purveyors like Sysco or Rycoff (I can't remember who they use) just have a truck parked outside--all day and night. Seriously. Unless you really need a job or have had a life long dream of turning out massive amounts of innocuous food, you just don't work there. Oh, I am sure some talented people have tried, but it appears they didn't last. Or they just succumbed.

    So having a really great location and a really really really busy restaurant isn't all it's cracked up to be. Some incredibly sucessful business people and restaurantuers have struggled with this place.

    Which brings me to my real point. Why review this place? Actually, that is not the real question that gets to my real point. The real question is: What is the goal of "The Review" in the L.A. Times? I get 52 reviews a year out of them and I feel like one just got wasted. It was a fun read, but it didn't tell me anything I didn't know. I get the whole "it's for the tourists thing..." But seriously, any tourist doing enough research to read an archived Times review would also have the food chops to know enough to stay away. Or just wouldn't care.

    If the Times wants to be the arbiter of good--great?--food in Los Angeles, it needs to stick to good to great food. OR, at least stick to the places who claim to have good or great food. You could take a dart and throw it a map of Los Angeles and the people in the house it landed on could tell you what we read.

    Look, it may be interesting that the highest grossing restaurant in Southern California has food that sucks, but is certainly isn't "news."

    An open invitation to the Times since I know things are getting a little shorthanded over there: If you need to review Gladstone's again, let me know. I'll do it. I can spot soggy calamari from the car. You guys go review restaurants that reflect your experience.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ellaystingray
      russkar Jul 31, 2008 08:45 PM


      1. re: ellaystingray
        Fuser Aug 1, 2008 01:17 AM

        Actually I find it annoying that all reviews are of the "finest" restaurants and not of the places people really tend to go. Reviews tend to be written by food snobs for food snobs. Newspapers should warn people about tourist traps like Gladstone's because more than one person who's never been there won't take their out-of-town visitors there because it looks nice by the ocean. This review wasn't done by the LA Times before, so the argument that other reviews of it exist makes no sense. Why would they not write about it? People get tired of the rarefied world of the foodies and want to know about restaurants they frequent. And they want to be warned about the bad ones.

        1. re: Fuser
          ellaystingray Aug 4, 2008 10:24 AM


          I agree that some food writing is snobby. I agree generally that the paper can do a service by mentioning that the busiest restaurant in Southern California has terrible food. But sending a reviewer of that caliber to Gladstone's is like using a bazooka to hunt squirrel. Any .22 caliber food writer with a fork and a laptop would have found the same thing.

          There are plenty of places that review the "places people really tend to go." But "The Review," happens only 52 (or so) times a year. If it is going to have credibility when reviewing Providence, Mozza, Urasawa in the context of the great restaurants in this city, country and beyond, I don't feel it is useful to spend time on a place like Gladstone's.

          If simply being busy is such an important criteria, it would seem to follow that they should review the Cheescake Factory and Houston's as well. Or if the ocean is so important, The Charthouse, Duke's, Paradise Cove Cafe, Mariasol, Back on the Beach etc....But herein lies the rub. There are always going to be too many restaurants to cover no matter what criteria you have. And just becuase you haven't reviewed it before, is not in and of itself, good criteria for choosing to review a place.

          I think the issue here is this. I just don't think anyone who reads the L.A. Times restaurants reviews, or would go looking for the archived reviews, wouldn't already understand that Gladstone's isn't the right place. The gazillions of people who do go, and go back, just don't care. And that is fine. As has been mentioned above, I seriously doubt this review will have any impact on Gladstone's business. That, in and of itself is a good reason to question whether it was a good use of the column. NOW, if the review found that Gladstone's, miraculously, had great food....that's news!

          I am not saying all reviews should be good ones, but they should at least be of places that are trying to do good food.

      2. d
        dtud Jul 13, 2008 04:59 PM

        thank goodness! it would be so nice if restaurants with a view cleaned up their act and served good food in addition to having a nice atmosphere. this place is poor. food is really bad and i'm happy that the times would give people a warning. duke's and the charthouse blow this place out of the water. . . and that's not saying a whole lot. both are good - but it be great if they stepped it up a little too.

        1. The Chowhound Team Jul 9, 2008 07:19 PM

          Folks, since the majority of the posts on this thread focus on the review/publication, we've moved this thread to the Food Media & News Board. If you'd like to add your opinion of the food at Gladstones, please do so on a new thread on the LA board.


          1. Akitist Jul 9, 2008 05:18 PM

            My only Malibu Gladstone's experience was long ago, and fairly pleasant. We weren't looking for fine dining, just lunch while we had the thermostat in our car replaced (overheated in Topanga Canyon). 4 people, nowhere near 500 bucks, and our guests do drink. Obviously things have changed.

            The Universal Citywalk location was pretty sad, the one time we went there. Shame because it was conveniently located for us. Its demise is unlamented.

            1. hrhboo Jul 9, 2008 05:16 PM

              I ate brunch there a few months ago with out-of-towners and have still not forgiven myself.

              1. monku Jul 9, 2008 03:56 PM

                Read recently that Former Mayor Richard Riordan is one of the current owners. Hamburger Hamlet copied the tall chocolate cake idea from Gladstones, one of the ingredients is coffee. Robert Morris was the originator of Gladstones and back in the heydays of Gladstones it were consistently one of the top single unit grossing restaurants in the US.

                14 Replies
                1. re: monku
                  wilafur Jul 9, 2008 04:13 PM

                  iirc, gladstones was suffering big time when riordin and his partners bought gladstones and turned it into one of the highest grossing resto's in socal.

                  1. re: wilafur
                    carter Jul 9, 2008 04:22 PM

                    How do you think it even got a review at all?!
                    Because it is the former mayor's place, it is high grossing, and any publicity is good publicity, as they say in the promo business!!!
                    the LAT still sucking it up when necessary.

                    1. re: carter
                      monku Jul 9, 2008 05:09 PM

                      Kaching-Kaching.......that's $40,000+/ day in receipts......that's a lot of shekels.

                      Back when it was a decent restaurant I was appalled how sloppy and messy the kitchen was. They used to have AYCE eat shrimp and lobster specials, I figured you couldn't mess up stuff like that. There can't be much attention paid to detail when you're shoveling out that much food/day.

                      1. re: carter
                        RicRios Jul 9, 2008 05:52 PM

                        You're absolutely correct!
                        They LATimes review won't make even a microscopic dent in their ticketing.

                        1. re: carter
                          mpalmer6c Jul 9, 2008 06:05 PM

                          No, bad restaurants get reviewed because they are popular. A little family-run restaurant with bad food usually doesn't even get a mention. It's hard to believe that people would regard the LAT review as "good publicity" (I'm a newspaper guy).

                          1. re: mpalmer6c
                            Chowpatty Jul 9, 2008 07:02 PM

                            I don't know about good publicity for the restaurant, but certainly a good ploy for the Times to drive readership and discussion. Brenner's reviews are deliciously nasty compared to the more sedate S. Irene!

                            1. re: Chowpatty
                              ChinoWayne Jul 11, 2008 10:47 PM

                              You think Leslie's reviews are "deliciously nasty", head over here:


                              and you can read all about the nastiness at the Times.

                              1. re: ChinoWayne
                                goodhealthgourmet Jul 12, 2008 03:10 PM

                                on the same page, a piece about the potential demise of the entire food section...


                                i found one comment particularly fitting for this discussion:

                                "Without the Food section, how will consumers maintain a balance of power against celebrity chefs gone wild without restaurant reviews written by Good Cop, S. Irene Virbila, or Bad Cop, Leslie Brenner?"

                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                  ChinoWayne Jul 12, 2008 05:55 PM

                                  I am afraid the Times is getting the "fish monger treatment", Mr. Zell is going to gut it of everything of substance, other than a superficial exterior.

                                2. re: ChinoWayne
                                  Servorg Jul 12, 2008 05:22 PM

                                  Leslie is not the only one who can "sling venom" when it comes to the restaurants around LA. Here is a link to Emily Green's take on Geoffrey's in the "Bu". It made me laugh the first time and each time I read it.


                                  1. re: Servorg
                                    ChinoWayne Jul 31, 2008 01:30 PM

                                    Looks Like More Trouble In River City

                                    Leslie Brenner's byline, as "Times Staff Writer", was on a story about email culture today, the same day that the Times ceased publishing the paper version of "The Guide".

                                    1. re: Servorg
                                      Servorg Sep 17, 2012 10:21 AM

                                      Somehow that old link doesn't go to the delightfully savage review Emily did at that time. But I was able to dig up a current link that is good: http://articles.latimes.com/2004/may/... Hey, we don't want to miss the fun of the L.A. Times proving that they can be tough on L.A. icons when necessary, do we? ;-D>

                            2. re: wilafur
                              monku Jul 9, 2008 04:47 PM

                              Don't know what you mean by "suffering big time," but doesn't sound like the food is the attraction or the secret to riches. Its location is probably the prime attraction and doesn't sound like it takes a rocket scientist to make it a financial $ucce$$.

                              Interesting it is the top grossing restaurant in Los Angeles and #37 in the US

                              1. re: monku
                                wilafur Jul 9, 2008 05:41 PM


                                Quote from the above article.....

                                "Riordan is not afraid to take the credit for the turnaround. When he bought Gladstone's in the mid-'90s along with other shareholders, including fellow millionaire power-brokers Eli Broad and John Cushman, the restaurant was "desperate financially," he says."

                          2. russkar Jul 9, 2008 03:33 PM

                            We like Gladstone's for the View and the $10- corkage. I wouldn't dream of Dining there for dinner but for a Great View (pre-dinner) and an Appy along with your own Wine it's pretty good and very cheap. Then head to Brentwood or SM for Dinner.

                            1. l
                              la tache burger Jul 9, 2008 02:39 PM

                              yeah, but the chocolate cake ain't bad, kept waiting for the reviewer to get there, wondering if she'd have anything bad to say about it. Granted, it's been a few years, but I'd bet it's the same, and ... good.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: la tache burger
                                Jwsel Jul 9, 2008 02:42 PM

                                Isn't that the same chocolate layer cake they served at RJs in Beverly Hills? I believe RJs and Gladstones shared ownership (at least at one time). The only chocolate cake I've seen that is similar is the chocolate layer cake served at Cheesecake Factory (though even that is smaller than the RJs/Gladstones monster slice).

                                1. re: Jwsel
                                  la tache burger Jul 9, 2008 02:47 PM

                                  I believe you're right about the RJs/Gladstones connection -- at least I'm pretty sure the chocolate cake is the same, and ... good.

                              2. c
                                cincyn Jul 9, 2008 12:52 PM

                                as they should.....

                                1. Azizeh Barjesteh Jul 9, 2008 12:34 PM

                                  Did she just get the server fired? She said his name and age and how he said bad things about the food. Maybe at Gladstone's they wont care, but where I work, I'd be quickly terminated.

                                  Either way, the one time I visited Gladstone's (in Long Beach) I made a mental note to never return. It was right by my old house, but still. Now I live right by the Malibu location and have zero interest in it.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh
                                    slacker Jul 9, 2008 12:36 PM

                                    She never said the name/age, just "server."

                                    1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh
                                      hrhboo Jul 9, 2008 12:37 PM

                                      I don't think that's the waiter's name or age, sounds like the guy preparing the foil doggy bags has been doing it for 27 years.

                                      1. re: hrhboo
                                        Azizeh Barjesteh Jul 10, 2008 11:53 PM

                                        Ahh, okay. When I was at Gladstones, the person who did the doggy bag foil thing was our server. Maybe they have a guy just for the foil tricks.

                                    2. s
                                      slacker Jul 9, 2008 12:22 PM

                                      "It's terrible to gaze out to the ocean and imagine the volume of precious seafood being pulled out and ruined every day by this restaurant." What a great line, and so applicable to a lot of restaurants.

                                      1. Das Ubergeek Jul 9, 2008 11:51 AM

                                        I'm so glad she spoke the truth. Gladstone's is... awful. It's beyond awful -- it's absolutely chaloshes. There's a reason it's mostly tourists -- they don't know better, and I suspect the local hotels have the usual arrangement.

                                        So, if you're a tourist, and you're reading this, skip it. If you want to be overcharged for good (or just decent) seafood with a view, go to the Lobster or even to Ocean Avenue Seafood in Santa Monica, or to Duke's further up PCH.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek
                                          monkuboy Jul 9, 2008 12:09 PM

                                          I was wondering, do people really have that bad a taste that they crowd into such places with horrible food? But then look at El Coyote - same thing. I thought maybe it's because they go to drink and don't care what the food is like, but then that wouldn't explain crowds at places like Red Lobster or Olive Garden.

                                          1. re: monkuboy
                                            Das Ubergeek Jul 9, 2008 12:12 PM

                                            A lot of people think that if it's crowded, it must be good. Look at Mexicali. Or El Cholo. Or (CAAAAAAACK) Tito's Tacos.

                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek
                                              monkuboy Jul 9, 2008 12:24 PM

                                              haha, I LOVE Tito's Tacos (seriously). Maybe that's what it is - some of us have different gene defects, lol.

                                        2. cagey Jul 9, 2008 11:39 AM

                                          It is "that" bad when you consider the location, the crush-amount of traffic it gets (mostly tourists), and the appalling prices (that they don't *dare* to post on their web site). They do have a happy hour menu that is somewhat cheaper, but outside of that - yes, zero stars. Makes me miss the beach snack bar that used to be on that spot years ago.

                                          "Happy Rocks' " only saving grace (imho) is the public part of the deck outside where you're free to bring your own picnic food - that's right, beer and wine too. That land belongs to the Calif. Coastal Commission and is free use for the public. We've never been told we can't, so... Grab that Taco Bell from across the street and enjoy!

                                          1. monkuboy Jul 9, 2008 11:34 AM

                                            That IS the worst restaurant review I've ever read - bravo to the reviewer for having the guts to speak the truth. The food editor must have been asleep when they let that pass by.

                                            13 Replies
                                            1. re: monkuboy
                                              ChinoWayne Jul 11, 2008 10:42 PM

                                              Have you read Frank Bruni in the last few weeks?

                                              1. re: ChinoWayne
                                                MMRuth Jul 12, 2008 05:31 AM

                                                He's been on a roll lately!


                                                1. re: MMRuth
                                                  ChinoWayne Jul 12, 2008 12:29 PM

                                                  Yeah, the Ago review was what I was referring to, but apparently he is not alone in his opinion of the joint, Alan Richman, and the New Yorker's "Tables For Two" column have also chimed in: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/reviews...

                                                  1. re: ChinoWayne
                                                    MMRuth Jul 12, 2008 01:46 PM

                                                    There is another review of his that was quite scathing - I'll have to search here to see if I can find it. Thanks for the link.


                                                    This is beautiful:

                                                    "Ago offers a Blueberry Martini, which comes garnished with the dry, mottled lemon that seems to have appeared on the lip of every glass of Diet Coke served this decade. It isn’t fit for a Smurf."

                                                  2. re: MMRuth
                                                    Ruth Lafler Jul 13, 2008 09:38 AM

                                                    Thanks, MM -- that review made me LOL. I particularly liked:

                                                    "Then came an entree that perplexed us, a pale slab of meat with one long bone.

                                                    “What is this?” asked one of my friends.

                                                    “The special veal chop,” said the food deliverer.

                                                    “But I ordered rack of lamb,” my friend said. I had heard him.

                                                    “Yes,” said the deliverer. “That’s rack of lamb.”

                                                    My friend pressed: which was it?

                                                    “It’s the special rack-of-lamb veal chop,”

                                                    Also, the comment on the noise level: "bring ear plugs and ibuprofen"

                                                2. re: monkuboy
                                                  goodhealthgourmet Jul 12, 2008 02:59 PM

                                                  "The food editor must have been asleep when they let that pass by."
                                                  actually, leslie brenner, who penned the review, IS the editor of the food section.

                                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                                    Das Ubergeek Jul 12, 2008 04:40 PM

                                                    Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

                                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek
                                                      RicRios Jul 12, 2008 05:26 PM

                                                      Zell. Sam Zell.

                                                    2. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                                      Servorg Jul 12, 2008 05:12 PM

                                                      And a frequent contributor (and maybe current lurker?) to CH in the old days.

                                                      1. re: Servorg
                                                        goodhealthgourmet Jul 13, 2008 07:16 AM

                                                        are you thinking of "lesley b?" that's actually someone different - from eaterla.

                                                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                                          Servorg Jul 13, 2008 07:22 AM

                                                          No, (unless Leslie Brenner is also responsible for eaterla - which I'm sure she isn't). Leslie Brenner of the LA Times was a frequent contributor here on the LA board in the past.

                                                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                                            Servorg Jul 13, 2008 07:32 AM

                                                            Here you go: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/49735

                                                            1. re: Servorg
                                                              goodhealthgourmet Jul 13, 2008 12:06 PM

                                                              aha - that was before my chowhound days ;)

                                                    3. r
                                                      RicRios Jul 9, 2008 11:29 AM

                                                      "No stars."

                                                      More than that.
                                                      Their website states "No star: Poor to satisfactory".
                                                      She explicitly wrote "Rating: Poor".

                                                      9 Replies
                                                      1. re: RicRios
                                                        mollyomormon Jul 9, 2008 12:14 PM

                                                        Seriously, though. How is this the review of the week? What's next? A review of how the food at Saddle Ranch is subpar?

                                                        1. re: mollyomormon
                                                          Jwsel Jul 9, 2008 12:22 PM

                                                          There's nothing wrong with the LA Times reviewing Gladstones. As the article says, it is the highest grossing restaurant in the area. Why not give tourists a heads up?

                                                          I remember Gladstones in the late 70s, early 80s being pretty good. The last time I went was in the late 90s and it was a truly dreadful meal. This line of the review sums up everything:

                                                          "It's terrible to gaze out to the ocean and imagine the volume of precious seafood being pulled out and ruined every day by this restaurant."

                                                          1. re: Jwsel
                                                            westsidegal Jul 9, 2008 04:54 PM

                                                            i believe that the ownership changed during that time--possibly explaining the changes.

                                                            1. re: Jwsel
                                                              tatamagouche Jul 12, 2008 02:39 PM

                                                              Yes, I remember it being one of my favorite places in the world in the late 1980s (but I was young and dumb and from Oklahoma, which is getting there slowly but is mostly far from chowish).

                                                              Sad to hear it but I agree it's not surprising.

                                                            2. re: mollyomormon
                                                              I got nothin Jul 9, 2008 12:56 PM

                                                              Also, it says at the end of the article that S. Irene Virbila is on vacation.

                                                              1. re: I got nothin
                                                                hrhboo Jul 9, 2008 01:10 PM

                                                                I doubt she would have rated it any higher.

                                                                1. re: hrhboo
                                                                  I got nothin Jul 9, 2008 01:25 PM

                                                                  I agree. I was simply suggesting that as a reason why a review was done for Gladstones. Different reviewer might equate to different types of restaurants covered (including over-priced tourist traps like Gladstones).
                                                                  Although, I have admit that as a young child I enjoyed the New year's day brunch at the old Gladstones in Newport Beach, where you would pay 1/2 price if you wore your pajamas to brunch. Or at least that's what my parents told me.

                                                              2. re: mollyomormon
                                                                ahuacatl Jul 10, 2008 12:57 PM

                                                                Good idea on the SR review. I jog past there quite often and there always people eating. Now I can understand going there if you're too drunk to get to Universal Studios for dinner, but I've seen sober looking people eating there. I ate there once when they first opened because they gave us a neighborhood coupon, the food was either free or 2 for 1, can't remember, but either one, it was a rip-off.

                                                                1. re: mollyomormon
                                                                  tastyjon Aug 1, 2008 12:35 AM

                                                                  Why not? Even if one doesn't live near it, anyone heading up PCH has probably seen it, and if carting visitors, it looks like a great place to stop and enjoy the coast.

                                                                  It's arguably one of the best situated restaurants in terms of "coast meets major roads" and judging by profits, they are making the most of it. As much as hounds love the shabby strip mall finds and scary area gems, sometimes you have to go for the most obvious of places, especially when showing off the city.

                                                                  Given how many places there are to eat in LA, divided by the number of food reviews they can do per week, LAT can't even hope to cover a decent percentage of them without dedicating a decent sized team.

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