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Santa Monica / Venice - Date Night Dinner Recs

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I need some Chowhound help with picking a restaurant for dinner with my girlfriend this Saturday night. She and I are looking for a place in Santa Monica or Venice with some tasty food, but also a fun atmosphere.

In an ideal world, we could walk to the restaurant or take a short cab ride (we live near 15th & Montana and don't mind walking a couple of miles). Looking to spend no more than $200 after tax and tip (and including a couple of drinks). We're open to all types of food, but we've eaten a lot of sushi lately and might rather avoid it. A lively atmosphere is definitely a plus. My girlfriend has been pretty busy lately and wants a fun night out. Lastly, we're hoping to try a place that we haven't yet been.

A friend recommended Gjelina, but they're entirely booked. It looked perfect.
Chinois on Main looks interesting - but I've never eaten there. Is it outdated?

In case you find it useful, here's a list of places that we've tried lately - and thus would like to avoid:
Anisette - Awesome.
Riva - Awesome too.
R+D Kitchen - Ok.
Musha - Tasty, but the food's perhaps a little too heavy for this occassion.
Jiraffe - Pretty good. Perhaps something a little more livelier?
Chaya - Haven't eaten there in years. Food was average. Atmosphere is good.
Rustic Canyon - Nice place. But I find the menu to be a tad boring.
Border Grill - Pretty good food. Nice to have an alternative to traditional mexican food.

Really looking forward to your recommendations!

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  1. Chinois is really nice, has good food, but it's not nearly as hip as Gjelina, and it's a little pricey. Gjelina would be perfect. They do have communal tables where you can just show up and grab a seat. But you'd have to arrive early. Probably best not to risk it. I don't like AK as much, but it is also hopping. Same type of "buzz" factor as Gjelina. Wilshire's back patio is gorgeous, romantic and still kind of cool with wonderful food. It's not as crazy in terms of "scene" as these other places, but I love Wilshire. You said you don't want to, but if you're willing to drive a little, you should check out The Bazaar in Beverly Hills. It's the most fun "experience" for a sceney night out: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/605717

    1. If you haven't been to Chinois I strongly suggest giving it a try. I love the bold flavors there, and that all dishes are presented to share. Yes, it has been there for over two decades but they have a large enough menu that undergoes revisions so things stay fresh. If you are looking for a lively scene tables are fairly close together and the popular place has a buzz; if you are a cook or foodie ask for seats at the back counter looking into the open kitchen and you will have a different type of entertainment. Many of the dishes are garnished with mounds of greens and herbs. Stick with almost all the smaller plates -- i particularly like the rock shrimp and the minced lamb in radiccio cups -- and one large entree for two people will help keep the bill down and leave room for dessert -- get the sliced filet in szechwan sauce or the whole deepfried catfish in ponzu. Don't waste room or calories on the fried rice, order something else. Service is friendly but very professional. Report back.

      1. i haven't been but what about Wilshire?

        1. how about Bar Pintxo? Spanish tapas (some are excellent, some just quite good), lively, busy, with a cool wine list in BTG, quarto, or bottle sizes. Alhambra Negra beer, posibly the most sublime bubbly beverage this side of 1990 Krug. Chourico and fried quail egg tapas, tuna-roquefort-anchovy on endive, and bacalao. mmm, bacalao.

          10 Replies
          1. re: jdwdeville

            But very uncomfortable chairs at Bar Pintxo, and you're sort of squeezed together. It's a great place for a quick stop, but not the best for a date night, IMHO. Primitivo is more date-like if you're looking for a wine bar/small plates.

            1. re: jdwdeville

              I forgot to mention that I've eaten at Bar Pintxo. It's okay. I found it a bit overpriced for what it was. And I couldn't help comparing them to the tapas I've eaten while in Spain. It's hard to live up to that.

              On another note, I noticed Joe's received a Michelin star. What's that place like?

              1. re: fatassasian

                Joe's is okay, it's not really lively more of an older crowd type place.
                I personally liked AK, I've recently been hooked on their pork schnitzel (http://gourmetpigs.blogspot.com/2009/...

                )

                Wilshire is also a good place. They have good food and good drinks.

                BTW, Gjelina has a communal table for those w/o reservation, if you want to still consider that place.

                I haven't been to Chinois since the remodel so I don't know what the atmosphere is like now, but I used to absolutely love their lobster curry with crispy spinach. Speaking of which, I should go back ...

                1. re: burumun

                  How does the communal table at Gjelina work, exactly? Do you have to hover over people and take their table as soon as they leave (a la Father's Office)? Or, do you leave your name your name with the host and wait until he seats you?

                  I'm not the biggest fan of hovering. Too much strategizing involved to have a good time.

                  1. re: fatassasian

                    I've never had to wait for a seat at the communal table (but I've never gone on a Saturday) - I'm pretty sure the hostess will seat you though, no hovering involved. But again, never experienced it firsthand so I can't say 100% - I just never saw ppl hovering.

                    1. re: burumun

                      People definitely hover. I always arrive early and have never waited for a seat but never on a Saturday night. People HAVE hovered behind me, though.

                  2. re: burumun

                    The communal table at Gjelina is now hostess controlled. You get on a list, they seat you.

                  3. re: fatassasian

                    Joe's (on Abbot Kinney not main Street) has fantastic food. It is the same chef as Bar Pintxo but totally different food, much better in my opinion. It's a little fancy and not as crazy a scene, but if you haven't eaten at Joe's I would highly recommend it. I still think Wilshire is the best bet for a date. But the advantage of Abbot Kinney is you can wander around, especially the first Friday of the month, all the shops and galleries are open late. Oops, edited to say I see your date is Saturday. Still, speaking as a Venetian, Abbot Kinney is a great place to hang. Hal's doesn't have the greatest food, but it's also a classic spot on the street with a decent bar scene. It's hard to go wrong on Abbot Kinney.

                    1. re: grubtrotters

                      I strongly suggest Chinois.

                      What is absolutely amazing about Chinois is that the staff has remained almost unchanged since day one. Bella Lantsman is still the GM and one of the best at front of the house. Rene Malta is now chef de cuisine and is doing an admirable job of executing Chinois classics as well as adding his own personal stamp. Many restaurants are definitely hurting during this economic downturn, but Chinois was very busy Saturday night.

                      The Chinois experience is greatly enhanced if instead of family style service, you let your waiter plate each dish. Regulars do this all the time and the staff is more than willing to oblige. One other trick at Chinois is to order one dish at a time - don’t treat this as a Chinese restaurant and have 3 dishes at once. It is fine dining in a casual atmosphere.

                      We tend to just order our favorites, knowing that this is what they do best.

                      Our favorite dishes at Chinois are:
                      Sashimi of fluke and tuna tartare with sevruga caviar
                      Tempura ahi tuna sashimi with fresh uni sauce
                      Warm sweet curried oysters with cucumber sauce and salmon pearls
                      Roasted Cantonese duck with fresh plum sauce and steamed bao
                      Grilled lamb chops with cilantro vinaigrette and stir-fried eggplant
                      Duck Fried Rice

                      Pics here:
                      http://lizziee.wordpress.com/category...

                      1. re: grubtrotters

                        I think if the OP starts out at somewhere on Abbot Kinney, like Joe's, he and his GF can walk the street to places like The Otheroom, Hal's, The Brig, or even The Roosterfish or Wabi Sabi. Each place has its personalty and level of energy - they can calibrate and go with what fits their level of energy.

                  4. Via Veneto on Main is lively and has great food.

                    1. My recommendations would be Primitivo or AK or Salute. Definitely go to Hidden for drinks, afterward.

                      Chinois is fantastic, but don't think it's very lively.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: yogachik

                        Try Matteo's in WEst LA....good Italian food, red leather booths, leopard print carpeting...totally retro and unbelievable food!