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The best Tasting Menu in LA for a special ocassion?

Hi, I'm a Chowhound newbie so please be gentle!

I'm looking for suggestions, hints and ideas on the best tasting menus in LA. My father is in LA on business and is staying on for the Breeder's Cup. I'll be in LA for the Breeder's Cup via work. We have 10/28-11/1 before the racing travelling and sight seeing. I'd like to treat him to a tasting menu somewhere one evening during that time.

I've been been looking through old threads and have seen suggestions for Melissé, Providence, Saam @ The Bazaar and Osteria Mozza. Some of the threads were older though and I know places can improve (or not) over time! So any fresh suggestions would be great. Budget wise about $500 total including tax and tip is the upper end of what I'd look at but less is always appreciated!

I'm leaning towards Saam for José Andrés' "Molecular Gastronomy" and associations with Ferran Andriá's El Bulli as that has always been a food Mecca for my father. Reviews seem to be very divided though?

Any help is gratefully recieved! Thanks.

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  1. Spago has just reopened.....and is always wonderful. I'd consider that as well. I think Melisse, Providence, Saam and Osteria Mozza are all still excellent. Don't think you'd have a bad experience/meal at any of those. Though I haven't been to Saam in quite a while. If you and your father lean towards seafood, then Providence would be your best bet. And local restaurants are starting to get the first shipments of truffles....and I know Providence is featuring them now. Probably Melisse as well. If that's of interest.

    2 Replies
    1. re: perk

      The Providence tasting menu has been a highlight of my LA dining experiences.

      1. re: perk

        Spago's new food looks amazing but there is no tasting menu it is a more trendy shared plates ordeal but you can construct your own tasting menu in a way now.

      2. The only tasting menu I've had among the restaurants you mentioned was at Providence, and like wienermobile, I really enjoyed it. And based on my many friends’ experiences at the other restaurants you mentioned, I agree with perk that you’ve identified winners.

        Obviously you’ve done your research, and eliminated Urasawa at $375 pp for food only.

        I don’t like when people make suggestions for places they have never tried. But since you’re from out of town, I’ll make an exception just to bring awareness. Since you’re attending the Breeder’s Cup at Santa Anita, I suggest you look into the Royce at the Langham in Pasadena. I want to try it. I just haven’t tried it yet. And it's the closest place to Santa Anita in the caliber you're discussing.

        1. Not knowing what the "new" Spago would be like, I would rank your options like this:

          1. Providence
          1A. Saam
          3. Melisse
          4. OM
          5. Valentino
          6. Hatfield's

          1. Considering your preference for the Molecular Gastronomy type of food, I would say Saam is a very good option. I don't think I've come across too much disdain for the experience at Saam. Chowhounders may tend to dislike Bazaar, but the 2 restaurants, although related, are miles apart in terms of the experience they provide. I think it's also worth considering ink, although I think the Tasting Menu isn't as fun as just ordering half the menu. And I always like to throw n/naka's hat in the ring, as the chef throws in the occassional "molecular gastronomy" flourish in an intelligent way.

            1. I've only done the Chef's tasting at providence. The food was very good, but I was somewhat underwhelmed by the service. I think I would choose Melisse, from everything I've seen the menu is more than modern enough to appeal to those who appreciate technique, and it seems a bit more substantial than The Bazaar.

              Have you considered somewhere like Ink? The atmosphere/service is likely a good bit more casual, but the food seems like it would fit the bill.

              1. Thank you for all the help! I'll look into all the suggestions but it sounds like Saam will fit the bill.

                lil mikey - We're staying at the Langham during the BC and have the Chef's Table booked for a corporate dinner (hopefully a celebratory one!)

                2 Replies
                1. re: Miesque

                  Wonderful. I hope you report back on your experience at Royce and Saam. And I hope your horse wins the race.

                  1. re: lil mikey

                    Thanks...fingers crossed! I'll report back after our trip.

                2. In this order.

                  1. Melisse
                  2. Providence
                  3. n/naka
                  4. Saam
                  5. Tasting Kitchen

                  Been a little disappointed with Valentino's lately. And it should be pointed out taht the tasting menu at Osteria Mozza is an all-pasta menu. Spago's is probably a good idea, but the menu has changed and I haven't tried it.

                  1. I'm solidly in the Melisse camp... I'd go there. HOWEVER, it is NOT even remotely close to molecular gastronomy -- it is somewhat modern (southeast) French. If that isn't going to be your father's cup of tea, then Saam may be for you.

                    1. Welcome to Chowhound!

                      Like many fellow Hounds, my only pick for your molecular gastronomy request is also Saam (Beverly Hills).

                      The rest of my picks are just really nice tasting menus I've enjoyed, though not necessarily "molecular":
                      n/naka (West LA)
                      Providence (Mid-City)
                      Noé at the Omni (Downtown)
                      Mélisse (Santa Monica)

                      Other places for a modernist kick/flair (no tasting menu, though):
                      Red Medicine (Beverly Hills)
                      Ink (West Hollywood-ish)

                      Good luck!

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: J.L.

                        Based on your father's "molecular gastronomy" interest, he may now be leaning towards the Noma style food that can most readily be found here at Red Medicine. Have called in advance before to set up a tasting menu w/ wine pairing at $150pp and were blown away by what this former alum of Alinea put together. To this day, it's still the most transformative dining experience I've had in LA (and that includes numerous visits to Ink, Bazaar, Providence, and several incarnations of Bastide).
                        My first, and only recommendation given your criteria.

                        1. re: FranklinJefferson

                          +1. The level of molecular gastronomy at Red Medicine is much more sophisticated and artfully applied as opposed to Bazaar which is sometimes more about technique than the food.

                          1. re: Porthos

                            Interesting. The first time I ate at Bazaar I thought it was fantastic. Part of that may have been influenced by my date. The second time I went - I was underwhelmed. Part of that maybe have been the company at the table (a chef or two), but the novelty was gone. The first time at Red Medicine didn't blow me away. (I haven't gone back for a second time). I didn't think anything was wrong with it - and though it had a cutting edge feeling - did hit me over the head with a molecular gastronomic "Blinded Me With Science" Tour de Force (which Alinea did). More Noma than Alinea. But I think for me, the bloom is off the rose with that partcular kind of cutting-edge cooking. There is food which goes past reason and straight into the pleasure zone - where that first bite triggers endorphins and other neurotransmitters where you emit an involuntary gasp of delight - you lock eyes with your dining companion in solidarity - now THAT is great. I didn't get that at Red Medicine. It was "Hm. That's good. " It wasn't an off-night, it was just a concept that I can admire, but do not worship.

                            1. re: foodiemahoodie

                              Been to Bazaar about 7-8 times. It lost its luster about visit 4 and has been very boring since.

                              Been to Red Medicine about 5-6 times and I'm still enamoured with it. Certain dishes are rustic and genius (brussel sprouts). Other dishes are enlightened, ethereal, and genius (green gage plum/strawberry desert, foie gras dish back when it was "legal"). I've always thought that I would easily pay 2x as much in a formal setting for a tasting menu of Chef Kahn's more elevated dishes.

                              For LA, it's our best at balanced molecular gastronomy and cooking while still being good eats and without having to resort to cheap shots like fried pig ears and bacon gilded everything.

                            2. re: Porthos

                              I've never been to elBulli or Saam, but somehow I feel like that's the whole point of those places (well, before elBulli closed, that is). A friend of mine who was lucky enough to get a reservation at elBulli its final year said it was an amazing experience, but it was essentially a show, not a meal. But it seems like that might be what the OP's father is into - the OP specifically mentioned Ferran Adrià. Therefore, I think Saam would be a better bet than Red Medicine, where molecular techniques are certainly at play, but are not at the forefront, or even present in some dishes.

                              (BTW, Noma also uses molecular techniques (René Redzepi is an elBulli alumnus), but is not a molecular gastronomy restaurant. Noma's prime directive is to create a sense of terroir, and molecular techniques are a means to an end, not the end itself. I doubt anyone who is in love with hardcore whiz-bang molecular gastronomy will gravitate away from places like elBulli, Alinea, WD-50, Saam, etc., in favor of places like Noma and Red Medicine, even if that is the current trend in modern fine dining.)

                              1. re: mrhooks

                                All very spot on Mr. Hooks.

                                See below though. Saam is out so it's Bazaar, Melisse, Providence, or Red Medicine tasting menu.

                                Ferran Adrià was mentioned since dad considers el Bulli a dining mecca. Noma is the new mecca now where pilgramages are made.

                                1. re: Porthos

                                  I guess the distinction was a little unclear for me: was elBulli a mecca because it's elBulli (because of its importance to the world of modern fine dining, which has since been taken over by Noma, or even just because it was the hardest-to-get (non-Japanese) reservation in the world), or specifically because the OP's father loves molecular gastronomy? Or perhaps a bit of both?

                                  Not that it matters at this point...

                                  BTW, if the OP (and father) doesn't mind the drive, there's also the molecular menu at AnQi in Costa Mesa, which IIRC received a very good review here.

                                  1. re: mrhooks

                                    If the former, then the OP should go to Totoraku.

                                    If the latter, then it's Saam.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      The molecular gastronomy is the aspect he enjoys (he's a scientist). His favourite local-ish restaurant is The Fat Duck.

                                      1. re: Miesque

                                        Never mind about AnQi - the molecular menu requires a party of eight. Too bad, because Southern California doesn't have many pure molecular gastronomy restaurants in the vein of elBulli or The Fat Duck. And now the only two I can think of are out of the realm of possibility. I hope your Father approves of Providence then - it's got some molecular stuff (definitely more than Mélisse), and has more of a fine-dining atmosphere than the other choices left (Red Medicine, Ink).

                            3. re: FranklinJefferson

                              That sounds fabulous. How many courses did you get for that price with wine?

                              1. re: dvsndvs

                                11 courses (not counting various complimentary Amuses) and 7 different wines plus 2 cocktails to start!!!

                          2. You won't be dissapointed by any of those choices. I have had the tasting menu's at them all, minus Osteria Mozza. I think it depends on your choice of atmosphere. Melisse is the most elegant, for instance. But hands down Saam is the most fun. If you want to keep it under $500 inclusive for two though, be careful what you drink. I think at Saam we spent $1600 for three, with wine pairings and the recommended bottle of white, and coffee.

                            1. Well...booked Saam. Got a call yesterday to say that with the truffle season starting they would now be having a Truffle influenced tasting that night - $275pp. I've show my father Melisse and Providence to see if either of those take his fancy instead. If not we may just have dinner at The Bazaar.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Miesque

                                Let us know what you decided....and how you fared. You can show your dad this thread to prove you certainly did your research!

                              2. Saddle Peak Lodge in rustic Malibu Canyon has a wonderful tasting menu especially if you love game meats.

                                1. A little update on the Bazaar!

                                  We opted for a drink at Bar Centro before dinner (Salt air margherita and a virgin something or other the bar tender made up for my Father who was driving). We moved to the restaurant proper and were seated right at the kitchen sharing a long banquet style table with two other pairs of diners. As it was the SLS' 4th anniversary they were offering $4 glasses of Cava, $4 Philly Cheese Steaks and $4 chocolate assortments. Obviously we had to take them up on all of these!

                                  We shared eight dishes: (in order of presentation)
                                  Olives, modern and traditional
                                  Prawn cocktail
                                  Caprese Salad
                                  Chicken Wings
                                  Carrot fritters
                                  Braised beef cheeks
                                  Philly Cheese Steak

                                  Everything lived up to expectations! We moved to patisserie for some salt caramels and fleur de sel florentines which were delectable. The lemon poppy seed cupcake was the only marginal disappointment of the night.

                                  (And yes, we had two winners at the Breeder's Cup!)

                                  1. I'm bumping this thread. I'm a Toronto Chowhound who will be visiting LA in the spring. The only tasting menu I've tried in the LA area was at Spago a few years ago.

                                    I'm leaning towards Melisse or Providence for a tasting menu, to celebrate a milestone birthday. We'll have around 8 people at the dinner, ranging in age from 25 to 88. Which restaurant with a great tasting menu would be on the quieter side, to allow for easier conversation at the table?

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: prima

                                      Melisse & Providence are strong picks, BUT this sort of fine dining can be had in most major North American cities. I think the quiet, contemplative & exquisite modern kaiseki menus served up at n/naka are more unique to L.A., and are a "must-try".

                                      1. re: J.L.

                                        Thank you, J.L. I didn't have a chance to try any modern kaiseki when I was in LA 2 years ago. I might try n/naka with a smaller group of more adventurous eaters one night, and organize a dinner with the group of 8 at Melisse or Providence on another night.

                                        1. re: prima

                                          Both have smaller private rooms available, you could inquire about prices. From what I recall of Providence the larger tables towards the center of the room. Noise level was low to average during my visit on a Sat night. Other hounds will have better feedback.

                                          I can't judge Melisse as well - it was during a foie protest I was there in support of foie...don't worry ;)

                                            1. re: prima

                                              Melisse will suit your needs just fine, and as Rod said, it has a private room for your party.

                                              While Providence does not have a private room, per se, they could easily cordon off their side area (dog leg from the main dining room) and seat your party in that area.