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uhockey reviews Day 3+4 Los Angeles: Griddle Cafe, Matsuhisa, Drago Centro, Julienne Cafe

uhockey Jan 23, 2011 12:45 PM

First of all - thanks to all for the recommendations, Chowhound continues to be the best resource I've yet found to optimize my experiences in the cities I visit. Having enjoyed 24 meals plus a few snacks over the course of 9 days in Las Vegas and Los Angeles the reviews will be slow in coming.

As usual, text will be posted here at Chowhound and full pictures will be available in the blog.

Thanks again, it was a truly memorable trip and hopefully my thoughts will help guide others to similarly great experiences.

http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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Matsuhisa
129 N La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Drago Centro
525 S. Flower St., Suite 120, Los Angeles, CA 90071

  1. uhockey Jan 23, 2011 12:46 PM

    Griddle Cafe: Full review below, pictures in blog:

    http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/12/g...

    Time to revive a classic – and steal an intro from myself…”When I travel I make it a point to eat at different places every single time. I scour Zagats, Gayot, Frommers, Chowhound, and Yelp for opinions and eventually glean my list down to a few great choices for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks - I am rarely disappointed, despite never going back to the same place twice. Never, that is, aside from places that are simply too amazing, affordable, or unique to pass up. For me, Hollywood's Griddle Cafe is one of those places. No glitz, no glam - just amazing food in a super casual setting with some of the most down to earth and friendly servers out there....and let’s not forget the great prices, absurd selections, and portions!”

    My fourth trip to LA in four years once again brought me to The Griddle during the day of my annual pilgrimage to Staples Center for a Kings game and once again by arriving early we were met with a minimal wait…as a matter of fact, given the crummy weather and early hours this was the first time we arrived at The Griddle Café to find half the restaurant empty – no worries though, by the time we left there was a line. Greeted promptly by our server, a somewhat curt but efficient fellow named Sergio we were given menus and drink orders were taken – water all around, tea for two, and that lovely French Press for mother and I. Browsing the menu while listening to cheesy 80s music overhead I commented that this was the first time I could hear the sounds of the kitchen – again this didn’t last as the place filled up.

    Browsing the menu and seeing options both old and new our decisions were easier than usual as we all wanted to try new things. As a new twist, Sergio actually inquired as to whether the persons ordering pancakes wanted one, two, or three – essentially a two dollars off per pancakes short of a full stack. With orders placed service would be swift with coffee and tea being refilled before they were even empty (resulting in two tea pots and two French presses on the large table at once;) busy or half full the service at The Griddle has never been anything less than impressive. Waiting a mere fifteen minutes while chatting and watching Sportscenter it would be no time before our desserts – er, breakfasts – would arrive.

    Ordered by my sister and far better than its humble origins would suggest, a stack of two BLUESberry pancakes would arrive fluffy and light, jam packed with fresh blueberries and topped with a puree of blueberry juice and sour cream. Fearing the sour cream would be too tart I was duly impressed by the manner in which the powdered sugar and juice tempered the creamy sour cream and even my sister, a maple syrup fanatic, took it easy with the syrup on this dish allowing its natural flavors to shine.

    For my mother, another fruited option – Barry Yellow. Similar in texture to the fluffy yet filling Blueberry option, this selection was loaded with pureed raspberries (complete with seeds) and lemon juice. Topped with merely butter and powdered sugar the buttermilk cakes were slightly more dry than I would have preferred, but with the pockets of jammy raspberry breaking up the dough the key was making sure to get both pancake and raspberry in each bite – then it was quite excellent.

    My selection would be a result of my aunt choosing the newest menu option – the “Red Velvet” panCAKE, the dish I’d originally targeted. A single cake, both in title and in texture, this monstrous cake was mildly sweet, bright red, and loaded with subtle cocoa tones. Topped with a thick swirl of cream cheese icing with a slight acidity suggesting a nondescript citrus the cake was quite good, though not as successful as the version at Larchmont Bungalow. Dense and heavy compared to the standard pancakes a single cake was definitely enough for one, or to share.

    Having already tried nearly all the pancake options on our multiple trips my selection would once again come from the French Toast section of the menu – this time Crème de la Crème with Griddle Café’s signature egg dipped Griddle Bread subsequently dipped in Graham Cracker crumbs before frying and subsequently loaded with slightly unsettled cheesecake and more graham cracker crumbles. Three thick slices, perfectly custardized inside and golden and buttery on the exterior I found the cheesecake topping particularly pleasant in its mildness. Adding only a drizzle of The Griddle Café’s pure maple syrup was a good, albeit unnecessary, decision as it worked quite nicely with the graham crackers and cream cheese both.

    Honestly, there isn’t much more I can say about the Griddle than what has been stated in my previous three visits – the fact that I keep going back, from Ohio, says all you need to know. Obviously I cannot comment on the savories, but if you like sweet breakfasts this is the place for you and will continue to be a place for me on Kings game days (which would clearly be a health hazard if I lived locally.

    )

    Continuing my traditional trajectory on leaving The Griddle it was time for some walking – this time the Hollywood Walk of Fame, then some driving around Beverly Hills, and finally a trip to Venice Beach to stare at the Ocean. Of course given my gluttonous nature the trip wasn’t without a food agenda – I’d heard rumor that there was a Bread Pudding themed restaurant right on the beach – Schulzie’s Bread Pudding – and that they served Blue Bottle Coffee. My favorite dessert style and my favorite coffee producer seemed like a can’t miss.

    Having walked up and down the beach for an hour or so in the only sunny weather of our trip the tiny shop was easy to find – tucked in next to a Middle Eastern place called Sabba and close to an empty Muscle Beach. With no bread pudding in site on arrival I asked the young man what time they started serving and he said “whenever ya like” – little did I know the Bread Pudding was pre-made in a tiny refrigerator. With eight total options including Brilliant Blackberry, Celestial Chocolate Chunk, Luba’s Peach Cobbler, and Biggie’s Figgie Pudding I opted for the Fig and Almond option, served with an ice cream scoop and drizzled with a balsamic sauce along with a drip brew cup of Single Origin African Dark roast. Paying the surprisingly modest tab of $5 I made my way back to the family to share.

    While I will note that the coffee was superb – as good as all my previous Blue Bottle experiences had etched in my mind, the bread pudding was rather boring. Perhaps due to the storage, perhaps due to the temperature, perhaps due to the ingredients – everything about it was just sort of bland – without the small chunks of fig and balsamic reduction the bread itself was almost flavorless. Sharing around everyone agreed – homogenous and sub-par, especially from a place claiming it as a specialty. Disappointing for sure I’d perhaps consider a repeat visit for other flavors if I lived locally, but I’d not waste the stomach space or calories as a tourist when Los Angeles has so many wonderful bakeries.

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    Griddle Cafe
    7916 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046

    1. uhockey Jan 23, 2011 12:48 PM

      Matsuhisa: Full review below, pictures in blog:

      http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/12/m...

      Dining with two who prefer their seafood cooked but wanting to have some high quality sushi during our most recent trip to LA there were a number of choices, but in the end I went with the most “LA” of the group. Considered by many to be the birthplace of Japanese fusion in the United States and having spawned greater than twenty “Nobu” restaurants around the world we were admittedly familiar with the branding of chef Matsuhisa when we arrived – even if a meal at Nobu New York seemed like a lifetime ago in May 2007. Having been only mildly impressed with what Nobu New York had to offer for the price I felt obligated to return with a more refined palate and more open mind.

      Pulling up to the small space just moments after our 12:30 reservation we were once again greeted by a friendly valet - $6 if I recall correctly. With the weather sunny and clear we made our way to the small door where we entered to find ourselves nearly face to face with the hostess. Greeted pleasantly she noted our reservation and my request for a space close to the sushi bar without being at the sushi bar (aunt was afraid it would smell “fishy.”) Dressed in my Kings jersey I hadn’t even found my seat when I was greeted with “Go Kings Go” from a sushi chef who later introduced himself as Kiri-san as we chatted about the Kings recent offensive struggles. While I’ll note that talking to Kiri was one of the highlights of my meal, another was standing directly next to him – Nobuyuki Matsuhisa himself working the sushi bar.

      Seated with water filled in a mere moments we were next handed menus – both the standard Matsuhisa menu and the daily specials of fresh fish and prepared items (replicated on a whiteboard near the window.) Browsing the options in addition to the scene – many regulars, a table of guys in suits talking music, and even a pair working on a script – as light Asian pop played overhead the restaurant definitely has an traditional feel to it with all the blonde woods and traditional lighting, but at the same time there is something entirely “swanky” with the spot lighting and energy of the room.

      With an entirely Japanese workforce staffing the restaurant on this particular afternoon and the room nearly full I will note that this was one of the louder sushi spots I have been in, but at the same time the service was refined and all specials were explained at length, fishes described in great detail, and plates delivered and removed rapidly on completion. With Matsuhisa mostly working the sushi bar but occasionally coming out to greet diners (and to chat with me about Dustin Brown, the Kings captain) I’m sure the top notch service was in part due to his presence…or perhaps his presence was due to the fact that they knew a certain celebrity would be stopping in at the end of the lunch hour…y’know, that Raging Bull guy.

      Orders placed the first items to arrive would be the house miso soup. A rather traditional presentation of the soup and filled with medium-firm tofu with scallions and saline broth I quite liked the simple presentation, especially as it was included as part of the lunch orders.

      With Nobu himself slicing fish and teaching one of the younger sushi-san behind the counter we sat and talking for perhaps fifteen minutes before our main courses would arrive – and of course we checked out the interesting restroom, and myriad posters signed by various celebrities as well. When orders arrived, complete with instructions on what should and should not be consumed with soy sauce, we all chuckled as we realized my aunt would have to maneuver chopsticks…even if her order of Tempura and Chicken with Teriyaki should have been simple to handle. Featuring an orange imbued chicken teriyaki, salad with walnut vinaigrette, and lovely lightly battered shrimp, zucchini, onions, and pumpkin the dish was tasty and ample in portion – and provided plenty of entertainment to us which ended when a diligent server arrived with a fork (she’d refused to ask, but clearly it was too painful for him to watch.

      )

      For my mother’s selection the decision would be her Japanese restaurant “go to” of Rock Shrimp Tempura with Ponzu. Lacking the creamy sauce that often overwhelms this dish at other spots this was perhaps the best Ponzu shrimp I’ve ever tasted with the creamy citrus flavors actually melded with the tempura batter. Light and succulent, tender and sweet, ample in portion and balanced with just a slight bit of chopped scallion – it’s not what I’d order at a sushi restaurant, but I was glad to have experienced it.

      For my sister the decision was Matsuhisa’s Combination Sushi – a collection of eight standard fish nigiri plus a cut tuna roll. At $28 the plating included Shrimp, Egg, Squid, Salmon, Tai, Tuna, Egg, Saba and the Tuna Roll. As I mentioned earlier, sushi in Ohio is nothing special and my sister has been known to enjoy that at Whole Foods quite well, but she mentioned that everything was quite good.

      For my lunch I opted for the “Special Sushi” featuring eleven of the daily fresh catch and inclusive of dessert for $50. Starring cuts of Medium Toro, Nishin, Jumbo Clam, Bonito, Shrimp with Eggs, Amberjack, Sea Eel, Kohada, Kinmedai, King Salmon, Japanese Giant Squid, and Egg the only flavor which I’d never experienced before was the Nishin – apparently a form of Herring that was quite fatty and potent, but tender and mellowed by a brushing of Yuzu. Considering a slice of Kinmedai was listed on the menu at $9 while the medium Toro (probably the best slice of fish I’ve ever eaten) was marked at $7.50 the value of this lunch was notable and the Giant Squid, Jumbo Clam, and Amberjack were all exemplary.

      With dessert already included on my tab – a selection of daily ice cream or sorbet – the others decided to peruse the dessert menu and with little hesitation decisions were made. For my included dessert the choice was Honey Sorbet with fresh fruit, a creamy fructose laden tennis-ball-sized scoop paired with better fruit than we’ll see for the next 5 months in Ohio. Never one to just order ice cream for dessert I will note that this was one of the tastiest ice creams I’ve had in some time and the mouth feel was smooth as silk.

      Knowing ice cream was not going to be fancy enough I also decided to taste Matushisa’s Mochi – Red Bean and Coffee flavors, also paired with fruit. Mild and sweet, a bit sticky but not at all gummy the mochi skins were excellent while the ice cream within was mild and creamy. Had I known my sister’s dessert was to come with coffee ice cream I’d have likely ordered something different, but I’m actually glad I didn’t because the flavor was that of sweetened black coffee and a lovely last taste for the meal.

      For my sister’s dessert she would defy her dislike for green tea and embrace her love for Tiramisu in the form of Nobu’s famous Green Tea Tiramisu. Certainly not your traditional Italian style this slightly bitter cake was full of matcha flavor counterbalanced with what I can only assume was Cointreau given the boozy orange top notes. Creamy with mascarpone and nicely presented the dish was decidedly heavy – like most tiramisu – but at the same time smooth and airy. Paired with coffee ice cream, clearly a nod to the original, there may have been a bit of bitter on this plate but the sweet certainly wasn’t overshadowed.

      The best dessert of the afternoon would belong to my mother - Banana cake with banana sorbet, caramel, and butter cream icing. A large round somewhere between bread pudding and angel food cake the texture of the cake was light and moist while the baked in caramelized bananas provided pockets of explosive sweetness. Topped with banana sauce, sticky caramel, and a spread of buttery icing before a large ball of banana ice cream (complete with chunks of frozen banana) was dropped atop the flavors were all familiar and although the least innovative, it was simply the most tasty.

      The final dessert, my aunt’s choice, was a daily special - Gianduja Chocolate Fondue with Marshmallows, Ginger Cake, Fresh Fruit, Matcha Gelee, and Wafers. Featuring one of my favorite maker’s 62% dark chocolate melted atop a candle there was really no way this dessert could fail and it most certainly did not. With each fruit fresh and sweet and the marshmallows, cake, and wafers all prepared in house I have to say the Matcha Gelees did not appeal to my aunt, but I thought the bitter/bitter of dark chocolate atop matcha was really quite excellent.

      With the bill settled I chatted a bit more with Kiri-san before we settled the bill and stood up from our seats. With Matsuhisa wishing us a farewell and a “go Kings” we made our way to collect the car from the valet…the valet who pull up with our rental Hyundai only moments before he would park the Mercedes of a living legend.

      …sure we saw Robert DeNiro drive up in his Mercedes. Sure Nobuyuki Matsuhisa himself was cutting fish and plated a number of my sushi selections. Sure better fish can likely be found at a lower price in the Los Angeles area. Sure we couldn’t have been guaranteed some of the things we saw or tasted on the afternoon of December 23rd, but the fame and potential of such things were enough to prompt our Matsuhisa Beverly Hills reservations. In the end the simple fact is we don’t have good sushi, revolutionary sushi chefs, or celebrities (let alone perhaps the greatest actor of all time) in Ohio – and honestly, I would have been more than happy to settle for “great” as opposed to “killed on premises amazing” sushi at Matsuhisa even without the star gazing because the food and service were excellent – but I’m not going to lie, seeing Nobu and DeNiro was pretty cool.

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      Matsuhisa
      129 N La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211

      1 Reply
      1. re: uhockey
        OCAnn Jan 27, 2011 07:41 AM

        Nice review. I've always like the ambiance/feel, service and food of Matsuhisa in BH.

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        Matsuhisa
        129 N La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211

      2. uhockey Jan 23, 2011 12:49 PM

        Drago Centro: Full review below, pictures in blog.

        http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/12/d...

        While Valentino may be Southern California's most vaunted Italian dining space and Osteria Mozza the "hottest," it would be hard to say that there is a bigger name in SoCal Italian than "Drago" with the family's multiple restaurants throughout the area. With my frequent trips to the city it surprised me that I'd never been to any of Celestino Drago's spaces and for this trip I made it a point to remedy that - a task made especially easy by the relatively new Drago Centro just down the street from Staples Center.

        The Sicilian native's first downtown venture - and at $7 million his most expensive by far - Drago Centro sits in the heart of downtown and its focus is clearly the business sector with its clean and sexy design, notable cocktail list and bar menu, and relatively modernistic approach to rustic Italian food. Helmed by Ian Gresik, a man with considerable talents and training all over the globe, I was told by multiple folks that the secondi were "good," but the pasta was where the money was at. Arriving early for our 5:00pm seating we actually saw Chef Gresik in the elevator coming up from the parking lot - and again when we were leaving and he was taking house made pizza's to the valet crew.

        Having wandered the business sector, my first time walking in downtown LA, for a bit before returning to the restaurant we sat at the bar for a few moments and nibbled on crispy breadsticks before we were seated. A very large restaurant, apparently a former bank according to the hostess, I have to say the designers did an excellent job with the conversion. Enormous windows, arched ceilings, and lots of black, silver, and glass left the space feeling contemporary while the Italian inspired modern to post-modernist art gave the restaurant a bit of a Eurocentric feel without screaming "Italian."

        Seated and presented menus our waters were filled and cocktails were offered - an excellent but pricey list which we declined instead opting for iced teas and diet cokes, plus my standard of water. Greeted by our waiter, a pleasant gentleman whose name I forget, the menu and daily specials were explained and questions about portion sizes and half orders were answered. Left to decide it took a while to decide which pastas sounded best and I have to admit I was a little off-put by the number of staffers clearly eyeing our table since we were the only people in the restaurant.

        With orders placed our first bite of Drago Centro would be the daily amuse of Porcini Mozzarella with Apple Caponata. A tasty bite and slightly more than a mouthful the texture here was creamy and light while the flavors were largely that of the earthy mushrooms melding with the heavily reduced salted apples. House made I was quickly glad my sister had opted for the burrata appetizer as the only problem with this dish was that it was only a bite and a half.

        Following the amuse we'd be visited by the bread attendant who provided a basket with two relatively unmemorable types - wheat sourdough and olive. Pairing the bread with a clean and slightly citrus olive oil certainly helped, but overall the bread's purpose seemed solely to assist with sopping up sauce from the courses that would follow.

        Having mentioned the Burrata above, the first proper dish of the menu to arrive was indeed “la burrata,” an absolutely wonderful dish with creamy house made burrata, sliced endive, basil pesto, and crispy crostini. Paired simply, not overly sweetened or salted like some preparations, everything about the dish was spot on – creamy and crunchy, slightly bitter with the endive , and the burrata was perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted.

        Not tremendously hungry my mother’s meal would be that of a salad and a small pasta. For the salad her decision was the l’insalata di mele with pink lady apples, bacon, candied walnuts, spinach, and arugula. Tasty and fresh with just a touch of vinaigrette there really was not much you could fault about this salad given its ample portion for $9.

        For my appetizer I opted to start off with a half-portion of perhaps Drago’s most famous pasta – le pappardelle al fagiano. Featuring hand torn pappardelle topped with a ragout of roasted pheasant, morel mushrooms, and game stock I’m sure anyone who has tasted each of these ingredients can imagine the dish was very rich. With the pasta perfect and al dente the mildly gamey bird was perfumed nicely by the earthy mushrooms, yet while each bite was delicious I must say it was largely homogenous. Perfect flavor pairing I was glad I opted for a half order because even for a person with an appetite like mine a full order would have bordered on “too heavy.”

        With appetizer plates removed around 5:30 it would be only a short while before the second courses would arrive, yet by this time Drago was beginning to fill up nicely. With myself opting for two more half-orders of pasta for my main course, the first to garner my attention was the lo gnocco alla romana with semolina gnocchi, oxtail ragout, gorgonzola creme. Certainly not your Italian Grandma’s traditional gnocchi these pockets of potato and semolia were nearly 2.5x1.5x1.5 inches in size and slightly crisp inside with a buttery molten interior. Topped with sweet and savory ragout of oxtail in balsamic and a lightly creamy chees sauce I will note that this certainly wasn’t what I expected when I ordered it, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

        My other selection would be a rather standard one and a good but not stunning example. A dish I first tasted on a wonderful trip to New York with my mother and sister when we lucked into a last minute table at Babbo, i ravioli di zucca with butternut squash ravioli, amaretti crumble, brown butter was quite tasty with the creamy sweet filling a lovely pairing with the butter and crumbled cookie. The unfortunate aspect of the dish was actually the pasta – simply too thick, it detracted from the texture of it’scontents.

        For my aunt’s main course the choice was obvious the moment we saw the menu - gli spaghetti alla chitarra con pesto alla trapanese. Featuring perfectly cooked house-made basil spaghetti lightly tossed in almond pesto and drizzled with intense and sweet tomato sauce plus a shaving of Pecorino the dish was simply presented yet quite complicated in its breadth of flavors.

        My sister’s selection would be another filled pasta, but much more successful than the ravioli. Titled gli agnolotti and featuring rich ricotta agnolotti, blanched spinach, and crispy pancetta in a foamy butter and white wine reduction the flavors in this dish were perfectly balanced with smooth and creamy tempering crispy and savory, plus the spinach lending its vegetal textures to the melange. This was probably my favorite pasta of the evening and an impressive portion with over a dozen individual agnolotti on the plate.

        The last of the main courses would be my mother’s il risotto di zucca with risotto, butternut squash, spinach, fontina crème. With nicely prepared risotto and a lovely cream sauce I was somewhat disappointed that the dish lacked much textural variability. Soft rice, cooked squash, cooked spinach – the flavors were all there, but after a couple of bites it was just more of the same.

        With the meal moving along briskly there was plenty of time for dessert before we had to make our way towards Staples center and as such we browsed the menus and placed orders. With a daily special that sounded excellent I opted to pair dessert with coffee – “Drago Blend” by LAMill. Bold and dark with ample refills this was a stellar cup of coffee with honey tones most prominent, but also with what tasted a bit like cinnamon. Perhaps not an ideal choice for a fruit based dessert, but perfect with what I’d be ordering.

        For my dessert, la souffle – an obvious choice when I saw it was to be prepared with amadei dark chocolate. Served in a cast iron pot this was not a traditional souffle, but rather somewhere between souffle cake and a proper souffle – parhaps a fallen souffle would be most appropriate. Dense and moist, lovely on its own the souffle was paired with warm amadei milk chocolate cream and a side of hazelnut gelato with caramelized hazelnut crumble. As good as the burrata and some of the pastas were, it was this dish (and actually all of the desserts) that still stand in my memory best.

        My sister’s dessert selection was, according to our server, enjoying its last week on the menu due to the seasonal change. Titled la coppa d’autunno with pumpkin, persimmon, brown sugar caramel, brown butter gelato the dish was essentially cake and ice cream in a sundae glass. With the brown butter gelato certainly the most dominant flavor of the dish there was no lack of nuance found beneath the sweetness. Moist persimmon pudding cake, slightly gritty (in a good way) caramel, fibrous pumpkin – this was certainly an autumnal dish, but it works quite nicely in early winter as well and I imagine it could be adapted to any season quite well.

        My mother’s choice for dessert was la panna cotta with vanilla bean panna cotta, candied kumquats, blood orange, and caramel sorbet. While a bit citrusy for my tastes, this was an obvious choice for my mother given her new found fancy for panna cotta. Creamy and rich the presentation of this dish was nice with crumbled butter cookies beneath. Paired with a smooth caramel sorbet – interesting in the fact that it was indeed more ice and less cream than the gelati – the mild bitters of the blood orange worked well with both components while the intensely sweet kumquats were best enjoyed with the panna cotta.

        The final dessert of the evening was the most simple, for sure. i bomboloni with doughnuts, strawberries, and mascarpone gelato featured four large and yeasty sugar dusted doughnuts resting atop small mounds of house made vanilla cream. Accompanying the balls of pastry was an excellent and mildly sweet gelato that acted as an ample foil to the sugary doughnuts plus some rather average Strawberries. While I realize it is indeed winter, for the price I’d have preferred fruit the quality of Matsuhisa – perhaps something more fitting for the season.

        With the time approaching 6:30 our bill would arrive – at approximately $60/person after tax and tip it certainly was not an exorbanant amount, but perhaps slightly overpriced for the quality of the pastas. Finishing another cup of coffee and settling the bill we were bid farewell by our server and made our way back to the elevators and down to the valet. A solid meal and obviously catering to the business sector I cannot say that Drago Centro impressed on the same level as Mozza or Valentino, but for the price and convenience I could certainly justify a return visit before an event at Staples or Nokia if I lived locally.

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        Drago Centro
        525 S. Flower St., Suite 120, Los Angeles, CA 90071

        1 Reply
        1. re: uhockey
          ipsedixit Jan 23, 2011 01:23 PM

          A solid meal and obviously catering to the business sector I cannot say that Drago Centro impressed on the same level as Mozza or Valentino, but for the price and convenience I could certainly justify a return visit before an event at Staples or Nokia if I lived locally.
          ___________________

          That, in a nutshell, is the raison d'être for Drago Centro. Well, that, and business lunches.

        2. uhockey Jan 23, 2011 12:51 PM

          Julienne Cafe: Full review below, pictures in blog:

          http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/12/j...

          A Kings win, the first I’d seen live in nearly 6 years, ended December 23, 2010 on a very happy note and waking up early on Christmas Eve we’d be departing Los Angeles en route for Las Vegas bright and early. Staying east of the city and having been made aware of a unique spot in San Marino, essentially a five minute detour to our morning, we checkout out and made our way through the quaint little city arriving at Julienne shortly after 7:30am – the patio would already be full and the inside bustling with patrons to both the restaurant and the attached gourmet restaurant. With folks clad in everything from Rudolph sweaters to USC Trojans athletic wear the crowd was a mixed group but everyone was smiling and happy as Christmas tunes piped in overhead.

          Seated without delay, our server Herbert would show up rather quickly with menus and drink orders were placed. Browsing the menu – eclectic but delicious sounding – we waited for a rather long time before drinks would arrive, however water was filled quite rapidly by an ancillary server. When drinks arrived – two coffees and two teas – they were in pretty glass mugs…mugs that would sit empty for substantial periods of time despite repeated requests for refills throughout the meal. While I cannot comment as to how many tables he was serving, I will note that all in all Herbert was quite sub-par and his interaction with our table was essentially the same as a runner – dropping off plates, collecting empty plates, but never checking in or offering refills unless prompted.

          With orders placed we were told it would be approximately twenty minutes before plates would arrive and took the opportunity to browse the store – a unique collection of artisan goods and house made items to go. Clearly catering to the Christmas crowd there were innumerable cookies and confections being picked up from the counter and all in all everything looked excellent. Returning to our table it would be only a few moments before our first item would arrive – well before our drink refills.

          For our appetizer the decision was made to split a scone because the hostess who sat us specifically noted “if they have any scones left you have to try them – so good.” With my mom skeptical of scones and my experiences mixed I will have to tip my hat – this was the best scone I’ve ever tasted. Slightly dry but punctuated with pockets of lemon butter, the Lemon Crème Brulee Scone clocked in at $5 and likely a full pound of weight. Easily half the size of a football the scone was more than enough to share and as good as it was on its own the addition of a crackling lemon cream and dried currants only made the dish better. This is absolutely a must order to anyone who takes the opportunity to visit Julienne – it is worth the trip from Los Angeles.

          With such an excellent start it would admittedly be difficult for our entrees to keep pace with the scone, but the effort was valiant. Beginning first with my mother’s seasonal pancakes - Pumpkin Pancakes with candied quince, crystallized ginger Butter, Pure Maple Syrup, dried currants – the pancakes were a tad heavy due to the ample amount of pumpkin within, but the lovely tender quince and ample notes of ginger worked to add some spice and levity to the dish. Almost savory on their own, the maple syrup was certainly necessary to this dish and served warm it accomplished its purpose admirably.

          My sister’s selection, Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Waffles with Honey Vanilla Crème Fraiche, Shaved Chocolate, Fruit was a disappointment in my opinion, though I’ll note she enjoyed it. With small and largely bland waffles – literally Eggo size, and not much more nuanced in flavor – serving as the base the best aspect of this dish was the impressive fresh fruit. Topped with grated milk chocolate and ripe strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries that balanced nicely with the mildly sweet crème fraiche it is a shame that the waffle itself didn’t hold up its end of the bargain.

          My aunt’s selection would prove to be the best option of the breakfast by a long distance – it was Griddle Café quality and perhaps better. Titled Baked Crème Brulee French Toast with Fresh Strawberry Sauce and Creme Anglaise the French toast itself was a large wedge of brioche, clearly premade given its level of custardization. Subsequently baked in the oven and then bruleed on each side to form a crackling sugar shell the toast was then doused in rich crème Anglaise, light maple syrup, and warm Strawberry compote. Dazzling in texture and taste, this dish along with the scone indicates that perhaps Julienne should brulee everything.

          My choice, obvious to anyone who knows me, was the Bread Pudding French Toast with Fresh Peach Sauce, dried currants. While I still cannot distinguish what made the “Bread Pudding” different from the “Baked” version of French Toast at Julienne, that isn’t a bad thing since my dish featured the same lovely custard toast baked to a golden crisp, but instead topped with the very essence of pureed peach and currants. While I must say I was a tad disappointed that my strawberries were less ripe and tasty than those provided to the others, they certainly weren’t bad – just a bit bitter. Left with one choice I’d go with the Crème Brulee French Toast, but that is largely represents my love of Crème Anglaise moreso than anything being wrong with my dish.

          Sitting and waiting with dirty plates on the table for some time before our waiter would finally return we watched a small line grow outside Julienne – clearly they are not hurting for business. Figuring that if we paid a dollar for every word uttered by our waiter the tip would only be about 7%, we settled for slightly more than that and made our way to the street having spent approximately $20 each on breakfast. Driving back through the quaint town and seeing all the Latin inspired architecture I can’t say I’d rush back to Julienne as a tourist across the country, but if I lived in Los Angeles I’d make the trek…but I’d avoid Herbert’s section at all costs.

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          Julienne
          2649 Mission St, San Marino, CA 91108

          1. m
            mc michael Jan 27, 2011 09:13 AM

            You have a decided talent for writing food (and I suspect other) reviews. Much appreciated.

            1 Reply
            1. re: mc michael
              uhockey Jan 27, 2011 02:05 PM

              Well thank you.

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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