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If can't get into French Laundry for 50th bday where should we eat in Los Angeles?

We live in Southern Oregon. My hubby decided he would like to have dinner at The French Laundry for his birthday which is in early December. I have done my research and see that there is clearly no guarantee that I can get a reservation (see that the best chance is to have a platinum American Express and use their concierge service, but we don't have one and it is $450 to get platinum AE - don't want to spend that much just to have a better chance to get a reservation=).

So, the question is if I can't get into TFL where should we go in LA? We have been to Providence three times and Bazaar once - looking for that type of experience but would prefer to go someplace we haven't been before, though may opt for Bazaar since have only been once before. We will be inviting 2 other couples to join us for the weekend.

We have also been to Gjelina's, Bestia, MBP but looking for something a bit more special for the bday dinner. Suggestions??

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  1. Urasawa. More intimate and more expensive than French Laundry.

    In the Japanese vein because LA does that so well: n/naka. More romantic than either one.

    I like both better than my meal at French Laundry.

    25 Replies
      1. re: Porthos

        Thanks for this suggestion - it looks fabulous and that's exactly the kind of experience we want - tasting menu or omakase!! Sadly, one of the people we want to have join us doesn't eat sushi - I am sure he would grin and bear it, but for that price we want everyone to really enjoy the meal =)

        1. re: FromHomeToRoam

          Look at SAAM, Allumette, or Providence.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            +1 for the Providence Tasting Menu. Best meal I've ever had in Los Angeles.

          2. re: FromHomeToRoam

            n/naka is very accommodating on that front, if that is something that interests you.

            1. re: andytseng

              n/naka is a good choice too - kind of a cross between Melisse and Urasawa.

              1. re: andytseng

                Another nod to n/naka. A singular experience. Chef Niki is amazing.

              2. re: FromHomeToRoam

                I went to Urasawa once with a group of 8, including one who ate only vegetables. No fish, shellfish, or meat - and they accommodated her needs quite nicely. Anyone could debate the "value" of that meal -- the price was the same as the rest of us -- but looking just at the food value, may miss the point.

              3. re: Porthos

                I am so psyched for n/naka...... Glad to hear it is romantic, I was picturing more austere......

                1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                  Lucky for you, austere is NOT how I'd describe n/naka.

                  1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                    Try staying at a local B&B in Yountville and asking the concierge to work their magic. I've scored 2 TFL tables this way.

                    1. re: J.L.

                      AMEX Concierge has never failed me -- anywhere.

                        1. re: PeterCC

                          Never needed one for Totoraku.

                          AMEX has gotten me last-minute reservations at Luger, and Luger doesn't even accept CC (except their own).

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Can they get you a table at Rao's in East Harlem, NY?

                            1. re: Servorg

                              Never tried. And Rao's doesn't really pique my interest for whatever reason.

                              And I don't like to abuse her services (or her staff's). Sometimes the reservations she gets me isn't so much having an "in" (although many times it is), but simply hard-work and diligence on her part (i.e., reservations at Ko). And she gets a nice holiday present from me each year for her efforts.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                I've heard it's the toughest table in the US to get, outside of private clubs.

                                1. re: Servorg

                                  If we want to be technical about it, does Rao's even have reservations in the true sense of the word?

                                  If the common belief is to be taken at face value, the tables at Rao's are owned like family heirlooms -- passed down from generation to generation. It's sort of like the restaurant version of Green Bay Packers season tickets.

                      1. re: J.L.

                        The concierge at the Vintage Inn in Yountville scored us a table at TFL last time my family and I were in Napa. Lovely place to stay as well.

                    2. re: Porthos

                      Porthos...I was planning to try to celebrate a very special occasion with my mostly vegetarian partner at The French Laundry. After reading your post and looking at the menus, I'm wondering if n/naka might not be a better choice. Of course the food takes top billing, but I want the atmosphere and service to be special as well. What do you think? I too am concerned about getting a res at the FL (although I do have an AmEx Platinum Card which is supposed to help)...is this a problem at n/naka?

                      1. re: josephnl

                        If you partner eats fish, then n/naka would be great. I can't imagine doing n/naka strictly vegetarian though (ie no fish or shellfish).

                        If your partner is strictly vegetarian, then go for TFL.

                        1. re: Porthos

                          Even with n/naka's dedicated vegetarian menu (http://www.n-naka.com/menu/n-naka_Veg...)? I personally wouldn't choose it over the non-vegetarian option, but then I'm not vegetarian. The menu looks fantastic.

                          1. re: Porthos

                            Porthos...you have seen that n/naka does have a strictly vegetarian tasting menu much as does TFL? Although my partner does eat some fish, he would likely opt for the "safer" all vegetarian menu. You would still opt for TFL?

                            1. re: josephnl

                              I did see that. But what makes n/naka great were the abalone pasta, the sushi, etc. I don't know if the vegetarian menu is wow enough for a special occasion. In fact, I don't recall much in terms of vegetables from my meal.

                              Not to say I've had the vegetarian option at either, but if the occasion were special enough where you are considering doing TFL, go to TFL simply for the "special" factor.

                              If you were able to go no diet restrictions tasting, then I stand by my previous statement that for price and taste, I prefered n/naka.

                              It probably comes down to whether or not you want to stay local or go up to Yountville.

                              1. re: josephnl

                                I've done the vegetarian menu at n/naka. It's fabulous.

                                I will pass on the question of n/naka versus The French Laundry. (But will say, if the latter is an option, it would be hard to pass up, and I say this a die-hard n/naka fan.)

                        2. I like Melisse better than the French Laundry

                          22 Replies
                          1. re: la2tokyo

                            Me too. Which is not a criticism of TFL - which is a terrific restaurant and dining experience.

                            Melisse is a closer experience to The French Laundry than Urasawa is.

                            Either "The 10" or Carte Blanche menu should leave you feeling fully celebrated! Have fun and congratulations!

                            1. re: foodiemahoodie

                              Love Melisse, but it is no French Laundry......

                              1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                I agree - it's not even close.

                                The concierge at our hotel in Yountville was able to get us reservations at the French Laundry.

                                1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                  Never had a great experience at Melisse. Food has always been OK, not spectacular. I enjoyed my meals at Providence more, but I would recommend Patina for a more intimate and quieter experience.

                                  Chef Nakayama at n/naka is very accommodating and may be able to swap out the sushi and sashimi courses, but that would affect 1/2 the tasting menu.

                                  1. re: TripleAxel

                                    I'm so stoked for my dinner at n/naka this week......

                                    1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                      If the former manager/sommelier didn't quit, then you would have had the ultimate dining experience if you were to get the wine pairing. His explanations on the wines and sakes and how they pair with the dishes they accompany is exquisite. Truly enhances the experience. The new person is not very knowledgeable at all....

                                      If you don't get the wine pairing, I'd recommend a bottle of Yuzu Sake, addictive!

                                      1. re: TripleAxel

                                        Sounds great, thanks for the advice, will inquire when we go.

                              2. re: la2tokyo

                                I agree with Melisse, which, as far as I know, is as close to TFL as we have in L.A. I've been to TFL a couple of times, and while I loved it both times, I would choose Melisse over TFL because I have some choice in what I order and their food and service is great.

                                There is only one other restaurant I've been to in the western U.S. with exquisite food and over-the-top indulgence on par with TFL, and that is Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In fact, that's where I went for my 50th birthday, and it was beyond perfect. However, I don't know if you would even consider going to Vegas.

                                1. re: brandygirl

                                  Robuchon in L.V. is terrific (been 4 times), but the last time I went I felt the prices were simply too high. Two tasting menus and two of the least expensive wine pairings ended up costing me $1800 with tip.

                                  That's crazy. More than my first two cars and motorcycle -combined.

                                  And there were a few courses that should've been better. I'd love to go again - but not if I'm paying.

                                  1. re: brandygirl

                                    Love Joel Robuchon Vegas. Have been several times. I like it way better than TFL (as good as Per Se). The food is best during fall and winter when truffles are in season. The bread cart, chocolate cart, and wine list are more impressive than the food itself. They also pick you up in a "complimentary" limo.

                                    The tasting at L'Atelier is actually a great deal around $159 and you can request the full Joel Robuchon wine list. The room and lack of bread and chocolate carts make it a less plush experience but it is still very very good.

                                    1. re: Porthos

                                      Yes, love that bread cart too. I was talking to a baker about that bread cart - we were thinking we could do a bread-only meal. With various butters, oils, cheese. Probably wouldn't catch on in these carbo-phobic times.

                                    2. re: brandygirl

                                      Thanks for the Joel Rubuchon recommendation. My hubby really likes that idea. They don't take reservations more than 60 days in advance either but may be easier than TFL. We will give it a try!!

                                      1. re: FromHomeToRoam

                                        Robuchon is amazing. Both my wife and I like it much better than TFL, and we have been to both restaurants multiple times.

                                        1. re: la2tokyo

                                          Well, at $1800 I sure as hell HOPE it's AMAZING! What's that? About double or triple TFL? But hey, it's Vegas, baby :)

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Yeah the last time I was there it was $1500 and I thought that was expensive. It's $435 for the tasting menu now? TFL is $270 including service, but if you add in the caviar and truffle supplements it can get close to the same price. At that price I would consider going to Melisse, ordering the Carte Blanche and spending the rest of the budget on wine, but Melisse wine is not exactly a great deal either.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              I've been several times and it's usually $500-800 for 2. The bread cart and chocolate cart are so good I prefer the 4 or 5 course prix fixe which runs you $169-189pp. The rest is spent on wines. There are even 2-3 course prix fixe options for less.

                                              1. re: Porthos

                                                Went there once many yrs ago, and our family had the smaller tasting menu. I agree, just fill up on the *phenomenal* bread! Service was impeccable, and I think it'd make a fantastic special b-day meal. They also seemed to have a "patio" area.

                                                Do they give a complimentary loaves to everyone? (b/c they gave that to us after we dined there)

                                                1. re: ilysla

                                                  They'll give complementary chocolate, or madelines, or cakes for the ladies to take home. Never got a loaf of bread though :)

                                                2. re: Porthos

                                                  http://www.mgmgrand.com/restaurants/j...

                                                  $435 for the tasting menu.

                                                  2 x $435 = $870.

                                                  Wine pairings are $295, $595 and $995

                                                  2 x $295=$590

                                                  $870+$590=$1460.
                                                  Plus tax. Plus tip.

                                                  That's for the "cheap" wine pairing.

                                                  Here's the a la carte menu.

                                                  http://www.mgmgrand.com/pdf/robuchon_...

                                                  For the $127-$250 meals.

                                                  http://www.mgmgrand.com/restaurants/j...

                                                  1. re: foodiemahoodie

                                                    I'm not saying you can't spend $1800 per couple there. I'm saying you can still have a great experience at 1/2 to 1/3 that price.

                                                    1. re: Porthos

                                                      In Vegas, money just doesn't seem all that expensive.

                                            2. re: FromHomeToRoam

                                              Let them know it is a special occasion. Last time I was at Joel Robuchon for my birthday the pastry chef baked a delicious cake for the occasion (in addition to the desserts served with the menu). I felt that was really special.

                                        2. The original comment has been removed
                                          1. Thomas Keller has an excellent restaurant in Beverly Hills called Bouchon.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: cujo

                                              to be fair, it's a bistro, and the menu reflects that; a lot of stuff that can be cooked days before and reheated, or used/recycled into other recipes. not to say that it won't be expertly executed using impeccable technique, but you're still talking home-style cooking/comfort food for the most part vs. what you might find on the menu at french laundry, which is more about pushing the envelope.

                                              bouchon may make the best fried chicken you'll ever have, but it's still just fried chicken.

                                              1. re: cujo

                                                Bouchon in Vegas is much much better than the one in LA. Heck, might as well go to Bouchon or Ad Hoc in Yountville instead.