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La Frite Sherman Oaks -- My Kitchen Nightmare

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I've lived within walking distance of La Frite for the past 25 years but have eaten there only about five times, each time leaving with the vow that I would not return to eat such poorly prepared food.

I was happy to learn that Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares was going to do a number on the place and was happier still to get a reservation for the night of the finale -- when all the changes GR had wrought would finally be put into place.

All the reservations were for 5:00 p.m. Having watched previous episodes over the years, I came prepared to expect long delays in service and knew I should not expect a normal restaurant experience.

Still, I was surprised on a number of levels. First, the service was actually quite decent. We were approached by our waiter almost immediately after being seated and were brought the bottle of wine we ordered very quickly.

La Frite's new menu from GR is a perfect example of modern French bistro fare. Unlike La Frite's older menu, which suffered from trying to offer everything under the sun, this one is much better focused while still offering a great variety. There is also an emphasis on crepes.

My wife ordered the country pate to start and the crepe cordon blue for her entree. I asked for the mousse of foie gras de canard to be followed by moules dijonaise.

Both of the appetizers were terrific. The country pate had a lovely rough texture and was beautifully served with pickled slices of fennel, radishes and cornichons. My foie mousse was served in a small glass bowl topped with a Sauternes gelee. Absolutely delicious.

Although the entire restaurant was seated at the same time, there was an empty table next to us for some time. After a while, a couple was seated who clearly had no idea what was going on; they'd just randonly stopped by to get a bite. They looked at the new menu and were disappointed that the old menu was gone. The husband had a Croque Monsieur that looked great and which he seemed to enjoy yet they said they would probably not come back because they missed the old menu. They had no idea who Gordon Ramsay was and said that although they lived on the Westside, they preferred coming to restaurants in the Valley, like Le Petit Chateau.

Their entire meal had been served quickly and without a hitch. We were still waiting for our entrees while the tables surrounding us had been served theirs, even though they ordered after us. I was starting to think that we were about to become the evenings' designated disaster.

We watched several tables send back their entrees. One problem in particular seemed to be that diners expecting Brie in their crepes were not getting any.

Our waiter was apologetic about the wait but unspecific about when we could expect our food. One of the young women at a table next to us that we had been chatting with commented how remarkably patient I was. I had to explain to her that I was very likely the least patient man she had ever laid eyes upon.

It was now about 7:40 and I could take no more. I went to the bar and asked for my check. The manager (owner?) was very solicitous and asked if we had been at the particular table he was pointing to. When I said yes, he said there would be no bill. I thanked him for his graciousness, tipped the waiter and we left.

On a side note, it was interesting to watch how well the production team did their business. They moved effortlessly around the crowded restaurant capturing snippets of conversation at every table without seeming to be there. GR was also very pleasant and made a point of visiting with every diner.

I think the changes made to the menu are a dramatic improvement but I'm not sure the restaurant is committed to keeping them. The restaurant has been there 35 years and serves a customer base that I don't relate to. I'm not sure they will like the changes. For my part, though, I want to go back. And soon, before they revert.

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La Frite
15013 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

Le Petit Chateau Restaurant
4615 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91602

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  1. Thanks for the review. I've always wondered what a KN opening night was like from a diner's perspective. :)

    1. can I ask how you managed to both find out the date of the finale AND book a rez?

      13 Replies
      1. re: ns1

        There was an article on the eaterla.com website that listed the shooting schedule for GR shows in the greater Los Angeles area. There was an email contact to request a reservation from the production company. If you're interested, there's probably still time to try to get to one of the other restaurants.

        1. re: Bob Brooks

          They just started one in Eagle Rock, an Itlaian restaurant whose name I can't remember but it starts with a "C". The next one will be Kingston's restaurant (Jamaican)on Fairoaks in So Pasadena. That will be in a few days.

          1. re: Neta

            Now there's a nightmare - a Jamaican restaurant with EVEN slower than normal service... ;-D>

            1. re: Neta

              I wonder if that's Capri? If so, it's a very odd and slightly unique place that feels like it hasn't changed for about five decades. Sort of like La Frite, come to think of it. I actually have a soft spot for these kinds of places, as there are precious few left in Los Angeles, and am not sure they need to be Ramsay'd.

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              La Frite
              15013 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

              1. re: nimo

                The restaurant owner contacts Ramsay for help since their businesses are failing miserably. The show actually puts a lot of money into the remodeling of the restaurant in order to try to make it more esthecially pleasing to the customers. They also hire professional chefs to prepare his menu and they o try to teach the "cooks" in these restaurants the new more appetizing menu items. However, it is usually overwhelming for these cooks to try to learn so many recipes in the short time they are given. Hence, the hold-up in the kitchen on the premier nights. As you have probably noticed, if you have watched the show, a lot of these cooks haven't got a clue and because of limited budget, the owners can't afford to hire more inspired, motivated chefs for their kitchens.
                Bottom line though, it's simply a reality show. Nothing more.

              2. re: Neta

                Probably either Camilo's or Colombo's, both on Colorado, and both in the 20-30-year old category.

                1. re: carter

                  Nope it's Capri. I guess my $25 restaurant.com certificate won't get me much there after Ramshack re-invents their menu. :(

                  1. re: jackattack

                    Does Capri still have their famous identical twins working there?

                    1. re: nimo

                      yes

              3. re: Bob Brooks

                Was your meal comp-ed in exchange for being on TV? Did you have to sign some kind of waiver?

                (I've always wondered about that!)

                1. re: rmb123

                  per eater patrons must pay for their own meals.

                  1. re: rmb123

                    No. The meals are not comped and everyone is expected to pay for their food. We were comped because we never received our entrees after having been there for two and one half hours.

                    1. re: Bob Brooks

                      Thanks for the information. I was sure the people in those episodes were actors who were pretending to be enraged, but now I know better!!

              4. I think they work the show so that a certain number of guests will be enraged and will get up and leave, you see it on almost every Ramsay tv episode.

                1. Does anyone know if the same menu (and other) changes have been made in La Frite's other location, in Woodland Hills?

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                  La Frite
                  22616 Ventura Boulevard, Woodland Hills, CA 91364

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: ozhead

                    I strongly suspect not. The restaurants are owned separately. Also, I've heard that La Frite Sherman Oaks has hired the chef that apparently was recommended to them by GR, so I guess they're very committed to the changes.

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                    La Frite
                    15013 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

                    1. re: Bob Brooks

                      I have always been satisfied with both the food and service at the Woodland Hills store (also the drinks -- they serve a very nice, and very large, martini), though I have not been there in probably 2 years.

                      1. re: Bob Brooks

                        Sorry, both restaurants are owned by Andre Ramillon, but the Woodland Hills unit will be closing next summer as the property was sold and the building will most likely be torn down.

                        1. re: valleypizzaeater

                          valleypizzaeater,

                          Do you have any further details/proof about the Woodland Hills location closing? Are you saying it will be closing Summer 2012?

                          1. re: bbrownlie

                            I spoke with the manager of the Woodland HIlls location and, yes, the property where it is located was recently sold, and, the restaurant is currently renegotiating its lease. I understand nothing is for sure until a new lease is or is not signed, but the restaurant has no plans to close at this time.

                        2. re: Bob Brooks

                          both the sherman oaks and woodland hills location are owned by the same owner. The old menu is available in Woodland hills, The sherman oaks menu has ben updated. You can see them both at www.lafritecafe.com

                        3. re: ozhead

                          Just made dinner reservations in Woodland Hills and looking forward to a great dinner. Had a long discussion with the manager about all the changes. She assured me that we'll have our favorite meal at the Woodland Hills location. I was a long time (a few decades) customer in Sherman Oaks and used to walk there often. I loved the food and knew that I could always count on Le Frite for a great bunch or dinner. I was so sad to hear of all the changes; my friend went Saturday and told me it was pretty awful...lots of people looking at the new menu and walking out; decor cheesey. So even though it's not walkable to Woodland Hills the drive will be worth it. Can't beat the ambiance nor the delicious food.

                        4. what a fair & informed review -- thank you.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Maxmillion

                            Had lunch in the SO location Friday. Gail, the daytime mgr said they will put back old time favorites, such as the old onion soup - I had the new and it is terrible - some burgers will be back, and roast chicken. I liked what GR has done. The Nicoise salad was a big improvement on the old. Give them a couple of weeks to get a good rhythm, and new menus printed.

                          2. I have been going to La Frite since I was a child. Last night, my daughter and I went in to have our favorite dishes there. Only the onion soup remained. Ramsay's new decoration of the place looked like it came from Ikea. The appetizers had two pates which is redundant. My family loves their goat cheese ratatouille and the grilled steak with bernaise sauce. The restaurant was reasonable enough that we could have large family dinners there for birthdays using 20 seats. Now, it is ridiculously expensive for a Sherman Oaks restaurant. This isn't Beverly Hills. 39.00 entrees etc. They had great mussels before, the new mussel dish is very small and was fine but not as good as their previous one. I took my daughter and her college friend. We had onion soup ( 4 bowls) as I used the second onion soup as my entree. We ordered their new small bowl of mussels, which we all tried, very small portion for an entree. The girls had water and they ordered a crepe for dessert. The bill was 76.00 without tip. It would have been far better if Ramsay had asked what the most popular dishes were, kept them and retained the feel of an affordable local restaurant. If the three of us had eaten a full meal, the bill would have been in the 150.00 or more range. This is above my pay grade and the majority of loyal customers . I give this Ramsay changeover a fail. He didn't keep what was right with the restaurant and instead gave it the standard French bistro menu with Beverly Hills prices.

                            -----
                            La Frite
                            15013 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

                            12 Replies
                            1. re: pbw7

                              Did you go there when the Sherman Oaks location was still Yellow Fingers (before they were threatened with a law suit if they didn't change their name)?

                              -----
                              Yellow Fingers Restaurant
                              22616 Ventura Blvd, Woodland Hills, CA 91364

                              1. re: Servorg

                                I did. Yellowfingers was one of my mother's favorite restaurants, and we have continued to go to La Frite for years. (I live right around the corner.) The new pricing sounds very scary for the location.

                                I agree with pbw7 that the old mussels dish was fantastic. It was one of the best moules frites in the city, And if they removed the goat cheese ratatouille, my mother is going to be very unhappy.

                                -----
                                La Frite
                                15013 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

                                1. re: Jwsel

                                  yes, the mussels are still good, but very small portion and not the slightly creamy sauce. They were better before. and yes, the goat cheese ratatouille is GONE! ;(

                                  1. re: pbw7

                                    The makeover is a work in progress. Make sure to let the owners know what you like AND DON'T LIKE about the new menu!

                                2. re: Servorg

                                  "Yellow Fingers"! That was one of my mother's favorite restaurants 30-40 years ago, she loved the onion soup.

                                3. re: pbw7

                                  Don't forget, the owner is the one that contacts the show and asks for Chef Ramsay's help because they are failing and close to going under. It's not the other way around.

                                  1. re: Neta

                                    Woodland Hills might have been, but the Sherman Oaks location was generally always crowded for dinner. It is/was always a nicer, more French-feeling kind of place.
                                    Woodland Hills always reminded me of one step up from a coffee shop in decor. Hated it by comparison, yet have friends who live nearby, so that is their choice, with proximity being the chief decider.

                                    1. re: Neta

                                      Neta,

                                      I spoke to one of the managers and was told the show contacted the restaurant this time. I'm not sure what to believe myself since you are correct about how it usually works. The show filmed several Los Angeles area restaurants at the same time (including La Frite), so, maybe the manager is right.

                                      -----
                                      La Frite
                                      15013 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

                                      1. re: Neta

                                        GR contacted us... To set the record straight and yes we were hurting and needed to do something.

                                        1. re: LaFriteCafe

                                          You need to remodel Woodland Hills.
                                          Sherman Oaks was always nice and cozy, in a very French kind of way.
                                          And since I live in Sherman Oaks, guess no reason to see what all the GR nonsense is about now until you change it back!!!

                                      2. re: pbw7

                                        Your points are all good -- I have only one question -- was the previous portion of Moules (mussels) overly huge or is the new portion just too small for the price?

                                        I ask bc one of the main things Chef RamJam quite sensibly suggests to improve restos - especially towards their future success -- is the size and portions of meals (as well as pricing).

                                        His main observation with restos losing money is serving massively proportioned meals that patrons then take home most of for the next day. Not wise.

                                        besides, Mussels are not the type of thing you take home and eat the rest of the next day, are they?

                                        So, how was the mussels portion size *before* the change? Did you eat it all? Was it a good price for the proportion? Did you ever take any home?

                                        1. re: Maxmillion

                                          The mussels ar less than half the portion they were and the sauce is not the very light cream sauce but, instead, a white wine which is more italian. I like the new trend of the seared tuna but canned tuna with the oil mostly taken out is standard in Paris. Mussels are incredibly inexpensive still. There is no reason t lop off more than half the portion as an entree . The sizing would make it an appetizer. I assume the price of 16.00 was not in line for an appetizer so they made it the least expensive entree. I thought the decor looked like it had been done in a day. There is a gold mirror that looks cheap. But, It is featured prominently . I suppose it will look better on t.v. than it does in person.. I spoke to the son of the owner and he said they just were not making it and it was change or close. I don't know if others have experience with Ramsay makeovers. In my view, he could have left it a better La Frite rather than turning it into a copy of his own restaurants. While I sat there and digested the paper menu and what wasn't there that we like, I was looking for the salad frisee with the egg on top Ramsay loves to include. I am just sorry that it now has become a place I can't frequent a couple of times a month due to it's pricing. And ,well, GR may have hated the goat cheese ratatouille but my entire family loves it.

                                          -----
                                          La Frite
                                          15013 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

                                      3. Just went yesterday. Been going to LaFrite since 1981...
                                        The Country Paté was wonderful, served with pickled onions, cornichons and perfectly baked toasts.
                                        The decor is such an improvement, with lovely lighting fixtures and new paint. Ikea? I think not. The unsightly dessert case is no more.

                                        I would like to recommend that the chocolate soufflé come back to the menu and please put the canned tuna back on the Nicoise. Even in Paris, they use canned tuna. Seared ahi is not the traditional way to go. Rather pretentious, GR.
                                        The staff, as always, is great.
                                        I'm going back next week with a friend.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: sbacktalk

                                          As others have stated, my favorite dish has also been the huge bowl of mussels with the most wonderful sauce.
                                          And you are so right regarding the tuna, with ahi or any similarity being a joke.
                                          The French do use canned tuna, not maybe chunk style, but a decent quality white-type tuna.

                                          1. re: carter

                                            The French probably use a tuna packed in oil, not water (likely an Italian variety).

                                          2. re: sbacktalk

                                            I checked out several recipes for French tuna salad nicoise and with the exception of one that called for canned tuna, they all called for seared ahi tuna. It this then an American thing? Maybe a California thing since we are known for preferring fresh to canned anything.

                                            1. re: Neta

                                              The seared ahi is either an American thing or a nouvelle twist. The original nicoise salad - the kind you can get in Nice - is served with canned white tuna packed in olive oil.