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Epic dinner in LA?

Hello, San Diego Chowhounder here. My husband and I would like to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary with an epic dinner and a few days of foodie debauchery. We are considering taking the train to LA for this plan.

What restaurants do LA Chowhounders consider "not to be missed." For the dinner, we are willing to go crazy in a "money no object" place, but would like some suggestions for solid, fine dining with excellent food. We are willing to drive wherever necessary.

I know LA is crammed with food trucks. What do you consider the best of the best in casual fare?

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  1. I like Capo quite a bit in Santa Monica. You could stay next door overnight Shutters. Red Medicine gets a ton of love on this board for creative unique small plates; although it is fairly casual. Sotto is a favorite for Italian small plates as is Il Piccolino.

    1. Money is no object translates (for me) into only one restaurant: Urasawa.


      5 Replies
      1. re: Servorg

        Urasawa is my bucket list meal. Average check is over $1000.00 for two.

        1. re: wienermobile

          A true "bucket" list experience since one needs to bring a bucket of cash along to settle the tab.

            1. re: josephnl

              When I went to Urasawa, he was very nice and engaging. We got into a long conversation about cheap Chinese food in SGV. I guess I should qualify that with, I'm Chinese, and I follow the traditional "rules" when I'm eating sushi.

            2. You could do one of Mozza's special legendary dinners at MOZZA2GO in their Family Night Dining Series, Mangiare in Famiglia. Summer Grill dinner ( Cedar Smoked Salmon, succotash, Seafood Spiedini, Lamb Salsiccia charmoula & harissa, Tri-Tip potatoes & onions and Cherry Pie) or their Whole Hog dinner (SALUMI & PATÉ pickles & spicy mustard,PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO SOUFFLÉ, pork leg ragu ROASTED PORK SHOULDER chicory salad & salsa verde MILK ROASTED PORK LOIN caramelized ricotta & sage GRAHAM CRACKER PIGS gelato & sorbet), both coming up soon on different Friday and Saturday evenings. One seating per night.

                1. Will echo others in their hearty applause for Urasawa for your epic meal. Know that reservations are a must at Urasawa.

                  I'm confused - Are you using train or car? If you're sticking around for further food debauchery, know that L.A. is sprawling, and distances between good food joints can be vast. You'd best be served by driving from points A to B to C...

                  As much as I love, LOVE the train - For your food purposes, I recommend taking the car to L.A. this time. (Unless you're renting a car upon arrival in Union Station via train).

                  Just a notch below epic, but definitely perennial L.A. Hound favorites worth trying: Red Medicine, Animal, Spago, Park's BBQ, Mozza, Providence...

                  Sushi: Try Edomae-style sushi at Mori Sushi. My favorite sushi-ya in SD is the (non-Edomae) Sushi Ota (incredible uni you guys got there in SD, by the way!)

                  Other great Japanese kaiseki restaurants in town (besides Urasawa) include: n/naka & Shunji

                  There are many "cheap but damn good" recs on several other recent threads on this board. The L.A. Chinese food scene is more happening than SD's. I recommend hitting the San Gabriel Valley.

                  I haven't done the trucks in a while - Last truck I recalled liking was Lobsta Truck (check their twitter for their 411)...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: J.L.

                    Yes you could do Spago before their Closing on July 9 For Fall Reboot. Wonderful patio dining.

                  2. Are you renting a car when you arrive in LA?

                    1. Oh this is wonderful, thank you all for the suggestions. We are planning on taking the train to LA, and then renting a small car if necessary. This is a great list to start working up our itinerary.

                      1. For casual try Langer's deli near downtown for the best pastrami you'll find anywhere. Lunch only till 4pm and closed Sundays.

                        1. In addition to Urasawa, the other restaurant that I consider "epic" for a special event is Melisse. In January, my friends and I did the carte-blanche with emphasis on the fall/winter game menu, so there were a bunch of supplemental dishes. With wine, tax, and tip, it came close to $500 per person. But the food was exquisite, with almost too much foie gras and truffles. Just the regular 4-course menu, which gives you a lot of choices and supplements, is exceptional.

                          Spago's tasting menu also is fantastic for a fine dining experience. Puck now runs the restaurant at the Bel Air Hotel, which is a beautiful location, but I can't speak about the food.

                          I also love the food at Animal and Red Medicine, but they are smaller restaurants and noisy. Some people will mention Providence, but I've largely been disappointed with my visits there.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Jwsel

                            Both Providence and Melisse are more on the "traditional" European style of restaurant, and in my opinion do not equal or surpass those standards.Of the two, I prefer Providence to Melisse, which I thought was overpriced for what it was and even hokey (I seem to remember they didn't have any serious champagne on the list, and the waiter-no sommelier-didn't really know much about what was there) we were even served the wrong main course that we waited a very long time for in their tasting menu (with little apology after that).

                            I think LA restaurants are best when they do what LA does best: creative, innovative cuisine and atmosphere: Animal, Red Med, both really great right now.

                            Of a different level, perhaps, is Lucques, but also delicious and substantial!

                            1. re: mrouq

                              I've had dozen of terrific meals at Melisse and Providence - and they hold their own against their Euro counterparts just fine. In fact I'm also shocked by how good Melisse is by comparison. I come back from a European culinary extravaganza, go to Melisse and expect the bloom to be off the rose. And each time I remained convinced it is a world-class restaurant. And I've never experienced any problems save one time about 10 years ago when a soup could have been warmer. I'm surprised a waiter didn't bring over one of the sommeliers for you for the champagne. They always do it for me.

                              1. re: foodiemahoodie

                                I have to agree with this. I am also very surprised that the waiter did not bring the sommelier to the table (or he didn't come on his own), because I have found the sommeliers wonderfully knowledgeable.

                                Also, I find it baffling for someone to say that Melisse doesn't have serious champagnes. I find they have a nice balance of "famous" champagnes (Dom Perignon, Krug, Louis Roederer), but they also have some wonderful lesser-known champagnes and wines that are available at reasonable prices. I'm also impressed that, when I've sought recommendations from the sommelier, the suggestions tend to be toward the less expensive options, yet have paired phenomenally with the food.

                          2. Can I just say that when most people say "epic" THEY STILL DON"T MEAN $1,000 for a meal.

                            Other wonderful restaurants for celebrating an anniversay at a lower price point would be Spago, Providence, Melisse, and Lucques. Craft has a lovely pre fix lunch service.

                            And another night you could treat yourselves to excellent sushi, Animal, Red Medicine (which I alone don't like but everyone else on these boards do), Hungry Cat, etc

                            11 Replies
                            1. re: JudiAU

                              "Can I just say that when most people say 'epic' THEY STILL DON'T MEAN $1,000 for a meal."

                              However, when they add to the word epic the following thought "For the dinner, we are willing to go crazy in a "money no object" place..." then a $1,000 dinner may not be out of the realm of what they are thinking.

                              1. re: Servorg

                                Eh. "Money is no object" still doesn't necessarily translate to $1,000.

                                1. re: JudiAU

                                  That all depends on ones personal priorities and what one can afford to spend on them. $10 might be too much for some and $1,000 no big deal for others. I'll just let the OP decide which is which and hope they report back on wherever it is they end up.

                                  1. re: Servorg

                                    It may be Epic, but would you consider it an anniversary type place??? I 've never been but on a day like that I want to spend my time on my date and not on worrying about the sushi sitting too long because you are chatting.

                                    I love, love sushi but I normally wouldn't go to a sushi restaurant for a romantic evening where you are looking at the Itamae more than your date.

                                    1. re: AAQjr

                                      i went with my fiance after i proposed to her and while, yes, your focus is on the itamae, the preparation, the food, etc., we were both so amazed by the meal that we fully enjoyed the meal and each other's company. Sitting next to Wolfgang Puck also added to the over-the-top experience .

                                      You're right though -- it's by no means "romantic" in the traditional sense. But if you both love sushi and good food, sharing that experience together could be more magical than a candle-lit dinner.

                                      It's also a four-hour meal, so there's plenty of time to chat!

                                      1. re: AAQjr

                                        It all depends on what your priorities are. If you want to stare lovingly into your spouse's eyes and quote Elizabeth Barrett Browning then probably it ain't a good choice. If you want something that will knock your "chow socks" right off your tootsies then it's probably a great choice. "How do I love thee? Let me count the seared O-toro" ;-D>

                                    2. re: JudiAU

                                      Ah, you might say money is no object, and I used to be in that camp until a recent meal, with wine pairings (and tip) set me back $1800. This was Joel Robuchon. Nothing like leaving a meal feeling completely sated and a little bit raped.

                                      Urasawa now sounds more reasonable. Not a bargain by any stretch of the imagination, merely just expensive.

                                      Still, my choice to impress someone with a meal is Melisse. Urasawa is still very impressive, but not everyone eats raw fish and there's plenty of that there.

                                      1. re: foodiemahoodie

                                        Trust me, if you had been raped you would not be making this comparison.

                                      2. re: JudiAU

                                        "Eh. "Money is no object" still doesn't necessarily translate to $1,000."

                                        Sure as hell does for me!

                                      3. re: Servorg

                                        Yes, we are willing to go to the $1000 stratosphere. San Diego is very shy on places like this. We have Addison, which is wonderful, but we ate there two years ago. Time for a new splurge!

                                    3. For a dinner that I believe best represents the current LA restaurant scene, I have to recommend Animal or Manhattan Beach Post.

                                      Casual LA food is all about Mexican, Korean, and Chinese (if you're willing to travel to SGV). Since you're from SD I suppose you can skip the Mexican. I'd suggest searching around this forum. There are plenty of threads detailing the best cheap eats in LA.

                                      1. Jose Andre's Bazaar.

                                        Do lunch at Swan Thai in NoHo. Order Nam Kow Tod, Sum Tum, and Yam Pla Duk Fu.

                                        Happy Anniversary!

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: beeroux

                                          Bazaar is the first place that came to my mind. I would consider our one experience there to be epic. Great food, creative (often theatrical) presentation in a unique setting. Epic in every sense. Some of the most inventive and delicious dishes I've had in years and a night we won't soon forget.

                                          1. re: ahab

                                            dissenting opinion, I went for dinela and thought bazaar was completely forgettable and a clone of one of his many other restaurants.

                                            1. re: ns1

                                              Well, I've only been to Jaleo in DC, and Bazaar was a very different experience in every aspect. Perhaps you've been to another of his restaurants that's more similar.

                                              I haven't done DineLA, and maybe it's better than most Restaurant Weeks, but I've never been a fan of Restaurant Week menus, and it's hard for me to imagine having an epic meal when eating off of one. Bazaar's DineLA menu is much broader than I expected it to be, but it doesn't include many of the dishes I remember most from my meal there.

                                              In any case, you were underwhelmed. I was impressed. I read a lot of reviews (both negative and positive) on this site before we ate at Bazaar, and I'm glad I didn't let the dissenters dissuade me. Nothing worthwhile is universally adored.

                                        2. What area are you staying in LA?

                                          1. We are not sure where we are staying. This trip will be in September. We will probably have one major splurge dinner, and a few smaller scale meals.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Dagney

                                              My husband and I are planning a 10 year anniversary trip to California and will be in LA for the last week of Sept. I haven't booked a hotel yet and we have never traveled to California. We would like to book a hotel in an area that has great restaurants within walking distance. Does anyone have any reccos? Thanks.

                                              1. re: principessa del pisello

                                                I recommend the Sofitel. From there it is a quick cab ride to some of LA's best higher end restaurants: Red Medicine, Hatfield's, The Mozzas, and Providence.

                                            2. Melisse (carte blanches), Urasawa, Providence. (the chefs tasting menu). In that order, but I really enjoy them all. A great meal could be had at Spago's too.

                                              1. Melisse. (With the caveat that I am new to the area, but I have been to Melisse and I'm already planning a second trip.) Exceptional.

                                                1. I'm going to vote for Melisse (especially if you can get their foie gras before the ban starts if you're into that) and also the Bazaar.

                                                  One of my favorite dishes in town is the crocante ceviche at Picca (A remarkably delicious and complex tiger's milk ceviche with fried calamari) , but I don't think their meal as a whole is that banging, so I would sit at their bar (they have like a sushi bar seating option though its not sushi) and get just that amazing dish on my way to dinner :)

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: sarahbeths

                                                    Went to Melisse last night. Foie gras menu was incredible. Definitely a must do, even if you miss the foie menu.

                                                  2. A lot of people are mentioning Melisse and Bazaar. Although, since you're coming from San Diego, the food style at Bazaar is more difficult to find down there.

                                                    Make a reservation for Saam at the Bazaar, which will get you the better quality food. When I think of the word 'epic', i think of grand and overwhelming. The sheer onslaught of dishes fits into that image. It's also fun to talk about the dishes as you eat.

                                                    Alternatively, you can call certain restaurants, which can prepare you something special in advance, like a more rare type of game meat or fish.

                                                    1. I would personally choose Spago. For the highest quality dining, I agree with others that Melisse, Providence, and Urasawa are the best LA has to offer. But for an enjoyable meal, I strongly prefer Spago. The portions are larger, the menu is more eclectic, the dishes are better for sharing, the atmosphere is much more pleasant, and it's just an overall better dining experience -- all IMHO.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. Hatfield's "Spontanee Tasting" is fantastic. Happy Anniversary! Hotel Bel-Air is romantic and special.

                                                        1. You would do very well to stay at one of the hotels on the beach in Santa Monica. September is one of the best months of the year in L.A. and you'll be close to lots of great places if you stay in S.M.

                                                          Restaurant Recs for LA:

                                                          Osteria Mozza
                                                          Rustic Canyon
                                                          The Tasting Kitchen

                                                          1. The Bel Air Hotel is where I plan to take my wife for her birthday. If you have never been, it is something to consider. The grounds are extremely beautiful to stroll around before and/or after dinner. It is a "special occasion" place. The restaurant is run by Wolfgang Puck and the weather should be warm in September so you can dine on the patio. It is expensive, but is the ultimate (in my opinion). You can also go for breakfast or lunch. It is not casual, but it is very relaxed. I have not been since the refurbish. No restaurant can match it for the setting - it is very beautiful.