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Santa Monica for the weekend

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The boyfriend and I are spending a weekend in Santa Monica / Venice in early March and are looking for some dining recos. We are consider a move, and thus looking not just to wine and dine, but get a true sense of everything LA has to offer. We would like to eat a few meals in Santa Monica / Venice area, but are willing to venture out for at least one good meal.

I've seen some posts of a similar vein and have checked out a few places based off those. Red Medicine looks great, as do Fig and Gjelina. However, I have a few added "needs" (otherwise known as frivolous wants) to throw into the mix...

- So many of the restaurants I see touted here are very pricey. While we're up for one splurge night, a $15/glass of wine pains me. Of Red Medicine, Fig, Gjelina, Sotto and a few others I've seen recommended, which splurge is most worthy?
- I love Korean BBQ. Any recommendations that are nearby?
- I've seen quite a few moderate sushi places recommended. What's your fav? Irori looks like a good option for when we first get in.
- Dim Sum. My parents lived in HK for awhile, so authenticity (carts and chicken feet please) are key. Anything we don't need to trek an hour away for?

Thanks all - Sarah

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  1. Only place for Dim Sum on the Westside is The Palace at Wilshire and Barrington. I'm not a dim sum expert, but have always enjoyed the food.

    For decent priced sushi, Hide on Sawtelle.

    For Korean BBQ, again not much on the Westside. If you don't want to go to Korea town, there is Tofuya at Sawtelle and National.

    2 Replies
    1. re: jsandler

      All are good choices, but I think for all around vibe, food and drink, Sotto is the call.

      1. re: jsandler

        if you go to Hide on sawtelle, be aware that they take CASH ONLY.

      2. Don't fret -- Gjelina is surprisingly reasonable for food. I see no reason to or order any of their (larger) "plates" -- the gems are the small plates: the pork belly, the mushroom toasts, the meatballs top around $13.. Their veggies, mostly from the woodburning oven, are $8. Salads, shareable, around $9. Split a pizza to start (the lamb meatball!) about $15. Save room for the butterscotch pot de creme for dessert. One pizza, one salad, two veggies, two small plates, one dessert -- more than enough food for two and you aren't even $40 pp before beverages, tax, and tip.

        1 Reply
        1. re: nosh

          1) dinnerat gjelina always costs me more than $40/pp before beverages, tax and tip.
          and
          2) be aware that they serve an abbreviated menu of just pizza and charcuterie between lunchtime and dinnertime and go back to that abbreviated menu after dinner.
          3) keep in mind that it REALLY HELPS to you carefully time your visit to gjelina so that you don't end up going when they're jammed. also, if you are going at ANY normal mealtime, get a reservation. (my approach is to show up at 2pm for lunch).

        2. Thanks all. Yes, I am realizing my Asian loves are not on the West side. Perhaps that's for the best when you're a foodie with a soy allergy?!

          In adding Animal and Picca to the mix, what splurge should we choose...
          Animal
          Picca
          Sotto
          Gjelina

          I have covert reservations at all of the above at the moment (sh, don't tell!).

          1 Reply
          1. re: SarahN

            Sotto

          2. Santa Monica is a pricey part of town, hence pricier restaurants in general.

            Looking at the map, Red Medicine and Sotto are pretty far removed from Santa Monica proper (they're closer to Beverly Hills), but of all the places you mentioned, I like Red Medicine most.

            KBBQ in Santa Monica? I got nuthin' for you, sorry. Maybe the other Hounds can chime in on this one. The board favorite is Park's BBQ in Koreatown (mid-city). In fact, most of the board KBBQ faves are in Koreatown.

            Moderate sushi: Sushi King (11th & Wilshire) may do the trick in Santa Monica proper. Irori is not in Santa Monica (it's in Marina del Rey), but that's not too far away. Consider Sawtelle Blvd. (in nearby in West LA), with its myriad of great places, as a huge food resource.

            The only edible dim sum near Santa Monica is in West LA, at Palace. It's OK. Again, the board favorites for dim sum are Elite & Sea Harbour, both in the San Gabriel Valley. As a total sidenote, dim sum in Hong Kong is moving away from the antiquated cart system, and is all about ordering direct from the kitchen a la carte these days.

            People rave on and on about The Godmother sandwich at Bay Cities Deli in SM - Go try one.

            SoCal is sprawled out like no other metropolitan area in the U.S. The first thing I learned when I came to LA is to learn to love driving. For everything. And I think good food is worth driving for.

            2 Replies
            1. re: J.L.

              "...learn to love driving".

              Absolutely. I always tell newbies to splurge a little and get a fun car with a great stereo. You need to enjoy the process of going from A to B. And if you do, you'll appreciate the town so much more.

              1. re: J.L.

                of the two sushi choices mentioned, sushi king and hide,
                pick hide for better fish quality
                pick sushi king for better ambiance.

              2. I've noticed Santa Monica being asked about a lot in recent thread topics, possibly more than other cities or distinct areas of L.A., not counting large regions like the O.C., SFV, SGV, or the Westside... Is it just me?

                Going down your list:

                - Splurge: I see some folks have already chimed in on this, and I haven't tried any of the restaurants in question, so I'll skip that one.

                - Korean BBQ: On the weekends, with no sporting events or other traffic-influencing factors, it's possible to get to Koreatown from Santa Monica in half an hour. For great overall KBBQ, Soowon Galbi is my top choice. Two that are next on my own must-try list are Palsaik Samgyupsal for pork belly and Park's for all things beef, also in K-Town.

                Obviously not the same thing, but if yakiniku can sate your KBBQ craving, and you really want to stick to the Westside, I've gotten strong recommendations for Tokyo Kalbi (haven't been yet). On the flipside (Korean...ish, but not BBQ) Chego is also very good, but the restaurant is small, crowded, and noisy.

                - Sushi: As jsandler mentioned, Hide (cash only) is great moderate-priced sushi, as is Irori, which we've been to many times. Sushi King in Santa Monica proper is also good, but if we're not going higher-end, we swing to the lower-end and end up at Ninjin, which is decent for the price.

                Kanpai near LAX is supposed to be really good too. Their menu, with a lot of non-traditional rolls, may make it seem like many "Americanized" sushi place, but apparently the traditional sushi is really good (better than Irori, according to my sister), and you can get Restaurant.com gift certificates for the place.

                Based on the rec of CH vet J.L., I'm hopefully going to try Wakasan in Westwood soon. Their omakase starts at $45 ($35 on Mondays). I don't know if that puts it out of the moderate-price range, but it's definitely more affordable than omakase at Shunji, Morinoya, n/naka, Mori, Kiriko, Zo, etc. (the former three being more like Wakasan in that they're izakaya rather than more strictly sushi like the latter three).

                - Dim Sum: Apparently a lot of the really good dim sum places are moving away from carts toward ordering off the menu, to improve the quality. Not authentic, but I don't mind not having to wait for the fong zua, xian zhu juan, and xia chang feng* to come around the room. I especially don't mind the that the starch hasn't started congealing in the dishes by the time they're served off the cart. :-)

                [Edit: J.L., hope you don't think I was copying you when I basically said the same thing about things moving away from "cart" to "(a la) carte". :-) We must have been replying at nearly the same time.]

                The Palace, as jsandler also mentioned, is the most authentic dim sum place that's not even a half-hour from Santa Monica, but it does not compare to the places that are an hour away. Less authentic, but actually decent in quality is Bao in West Hollywood, so not as much as a trek and may be a good compromise. No chicken feet, tho.

                *Sorry, I'm using Mandarin, which was how I learned the names. You know, I actually don't know what most dim sum dishes are in the more authentic Cantonese (except for har gow and siu mai, of course). Looking them up, fong zua (chicken feet) are fung zao, xian zhu juan (bamboo tofu skin roll) is sin zuk gyun, and xia chang feng (shrimp rice noodle roll) is har cheong fun, in Cantonese.

                (I assume you mean early May rather than March?)

                [Edit: Going back to your first paragraph, about getting a true sense of what L.A. has to offer, not sure you can do that over a weekend and (agreeing with J.L. and foodiemahoodie) it will require venturing out for more than one meal. :-)

                But if a lot of driving is not feasible for your weekend trip, here are a few more places in SM proper that we've been to and enjoy: Tender Greens, Umami Burger, La Playita, Tacos Por Favor, Big Jo's, Lares, Fritto Misto, Dining Room at Hotel Shangri-La.

                Outside of SM, but still nearby: Killer Shrimp, Zankou, Reel Inn, Hole in the Wall Burger, Shaherzad, Diddy Riese, Baby Blues BBQ, Amandine, Santouka.

                That should give you a some idea of L.A... or at least of the Westside.]

                11 Replies
                1. re: PeterCC

                  Hehehe PeterCC... No worries :-)

                  1. re: PeterCC

                    Sorry, made a mistake when talking about Wakasan, calling Shunji, Morinoya, and n/naka izakaya. Morinoya is actually izakaya, n/naka is kaiseki, and Shunji is sushi/kaiseki.

                    Wakasan's Facebook page describes itself as izakaya, but J.L. calls it washoku. I haven't been able to find a clear definition of washoku; most of what I've found just define washoku as traditional Japanese cuisine, which seems overly broad. Maybe J.L. or someone else can clarify what is meant when using washoku to describe a restaurant as compared to using izakaya or kaiseki (or another term for a specific sub-set of traditional Japanese cuisine).

                    1. re: PeterCC

                      To me, washoku just means homestyle. You enter, eat what he has prepared for you that day. It's simple, no flourishes, just tasty and comforting. A bit of pickled veggies, a serving of fresh sashimi of the day, some fried foods, etc.

                      Simple, but soulful.

                    2. re: PeterCC

                      respectfully disagree with the recommendations of Chego and Killer Shrimp.

                      1. re: westsidegal

                        Heh, out of all the places I listed, I had thought someone would disagree with Reel Inn first for some reason. Any specific reason why you disagree on those two, beyond personal preference? Though, if it's just a matter of preference, personal taste's so varied that I would think people on CH would constantly be disagreeing with others' recommendations if that's the threshold. So I've got to assume it's something more, like you don't think the restaurants themselves are good (be it for the food or service or something else). If that's the case, what are your recommendations for better places that serve similar food?

                        I'm especially interested in a better choice over Killer Shrimp, as when they closed down several years ago, I went on a hunt for a suitable replacement. I tried Bourbon Street Shrimp, the Cajun Shrimp at Bubba Gump, and they were not even close. I even went to JACKshrimp in Newport Beach, which is supposedly owned by the sister of the owner of Killer Shrimp, and it was the only suitable substitute, but I wasn't gonna drive 1-2 hours just to get it more than once or twice, so I was very happy when Killer Shrimp reopened and I can now get their original in the bar/lounge area for $10 on Mondays. :-)

                        1. re: PeterCC

                          Respectfully agre with Westsidegal. And I'd take off Zankou (okay fast food chicken, but usually dry white meat, no crisp on the skin), Reel Inn (funky place - funky in a good way in that beach shack kinda way - but food is fair-ish at best), Baby Blues is some of the worst BBQ I've ever had, Lares is standard Mexican food - the sort you can find in a few hundred (or more) joints in L.A. A lot of rec for slightly above average fast food joints. Sorry PeterCC, but maybe you were trying to convey a certain kind of local flavor. Many of those places were my haunts from yesteryear, when I was younger and found some kind of romanticism in the edgier, funkier side of life.

                          1. re: foodiemahoodie

                            For what it's worth, we are in our 20s and I have a shellfish allergy. So you all win and lose by an account or two. :)

                            1. re: foodiemahoodie

                              I was definitely just throwing around local places so SarahN had an idea of what's out there that's easy to get to at the spur of the moment on the way home from work (assuming she makes the move and settles in SM for both home and work--if home and work are farther apart, obviously that opens up more possibilities). That's why I just listed the lot of them without comment and grouped them by proximity to SM.

                              I'm sure you'e right about Lares. I also had Tacos Por Favor and La Playita listed. Are they the best Mexican in L.A.? Is Versailles (which I hadn't listed, but do like) the best Cuban in L.A.? I'm sure they're far from being the best L.A. has to offer, but for the price and convenience, I think places like those are worth listing.

                              Can't eat at Fig or Rustic Canyon or the epitome of whatever cuisine every night. Can't afford it.

                              1. re: PeterCC

                                Fig at Five, is available 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. For that hour everything on the menu, including desserts is 50% off. Great food. Great Deal.
                                http://figsantamonica.com/

                                1. re: wienermobile

                                  Weinermobile, it's on my list already. :-) Was planning on going next week with the fam. Unfortunately OpenTable shows no reservations available between 5-6 pm for the next 8 weeks. I'm assuming (hoping) Fig doesn't put every available reservation on OT, so phone calls are in order.

                          2. re: westsidegal

                            Chego is still great! Went last night and couldn't believe how packed it was on a Wednesday. Rumor is they are going to (finally) start opening for lunch sometime soon..

                        2. For the splurge, either Red Medicine, Picca, Fig or Animal of the ones you mentioned. They are very different restaurants and cuisines so it is really a matter of what you like best.

                          The closest Korean bbq is probably Wharo in MDR and the Japanese-Korean hybrid chain Gyu-Kaku in West L.A. (Pico across from the Westside Pavilion). Wharo is more authentic than Gyu-Kaku. That having been said, I would recommend you make the trek into Korea-town for a significantly better version--Park's is a Board favorite.

                          Moderately priced sushi brings to mind Sugarfish (multiple locations) though be aware it is interactionless sushi--no chef in sight, everything is brought out of the kitchen. It is decent and reasonable. Better, and pricier (though not in the upper reaches), would be K-Zo in Culver City or Bar Hayama on Sawtelle. Personally, I would spend more and go to one of the better sushi places such as Kiriko (also on Sawtelle) or Shunji (Pico near Centinela).

                          Dim sum, the Palace or Bao are your only real choices unless you head Downtown or the San Gabriel Valley, or down to Sea Empress in Gardena.

                          1. Hmm.
                            Well you are all certainly giving me much to think about!

                            Normally when visiting a city, I go for whatever seems like it will provide the most memorable, distinct food experience. When adding the twist of a future home, that gets a bit more complex...
                            Obviously, venturing out of SM is necessary to get good food in LA. Likely we will end up living & working in SM or Venice, so I want to spend as much time as possible getting to know that area. That said, on paper I'm attracted to many more restaurants outside of the area. Suppose a visit will tell the full story?

                            Nonetheless, love recos for sushi and more casual dining options in the SM vicinity. I've heard Sea Harbour is very good for Dim Sum, so perhaps that will be our big drive meal. And I do like West Hollywood... so maybe Animal for our splurge?

                            New Trial, you mention how different each splurge option is... now channel this: Food-focused (I wouldn't make it at home) more down-to-earth/casual over stuffy/pretentious, small menu, sharable, good wine... who wins?

                            Thanks

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: SarahN

                              It's definitely smart to live and work in (or near) the same cit(ies). My commute is a fraction of coworkers who live a dozen (or even half dozen) miles away.

                              Oh, one more place in SM that I'm surprised no one has brought up as it's mentioned in nearly every other SM-related thread is Rustic Canyon (the restaurant, not the park). I haven't been, but everyone I know who's been (both IRL and on CH) have raved about it. I have been to its sister restaurant Huckleberry (across the street) and the food there was excellent, though the service was so-so.

                              1. re: SarahN

                                Animal, Picca and Red Medicine are all reasonable choices given those criteria. All three are very inventive, offering food you would not likely make at home. All three offer wine or interesting drinks. Animal is meat-intensive, Picca offers a modern twist on Peruvian, and Red Medicine is a reinterpretation of Vietnamese with molecular gastronomy tendencies. All three are casual, fun and noisy. You would likely be happy regardless of which you choose.

                                1. re: SarahN

                                  Truth be told, you won't likely even make a dent into the true kaleidoscope of the SoCal food scene in just one weekend.

                                  Locals like me spend weekdays and weekend for years sniffing out worthy eateries of all types (I guess that's why we're called Chowhounds).

                                  1. re: J.L.

                                    Of course. The true benefit of an LA move would be those years of weekends at new restaurants. Considering this the sneak peak weekend to see if we want more, right?

                                    You all have me at roll the dice on restaurant choices. Often being overly analytical foodies does not play out well.

                                2. for your splurge night, my vote goes to gjelina. it's my favorite on the westside and the only place where i can be blindfolded, put my finger down on the menu in four different places and have no doubt that what will arrive will be absolutely delicious. also, their butterscotch pot de crème for dessert is to die for...