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Oct 7, 2013 10:58 AM

Birthday dinner with the wifey. Suggestions? I eat a lot, she does not.

Max budget probably ~$200. We'll eat anything and will drive wherever within LA proper.

The only caveat is that I can eat a lot, and she cannot. We will generally split meals wherever we go. What this means is that tasting menus are OUT. I was thinking Melisse, but since we can't do tasting they even do a la carte?

Shunji also seemed like a good choice - for instance, we could split the kitchen dishes and each have our own sushi omakase.

Tapas/Small Plates style places work well too: Son of a Gun/Animal are considerations.

Do you hounds have any other suggestions? To be clear, it's MY birthday.

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  1. What's "LA proper"? Melisse is in Santa Monica, it's in L.A. County, but not L.A. city... ;-)

    Blah blah Shunji, blah, Tar & Roses, blah Night & Market, blah broken record. :-)

    You're a pretty prolific poster, I think you know most of the popular suggestions. Can you give us anything more to go on, perhaps your wife's tastes?

    I've been wanting to try Flores and Scratch Bar. Orsa & Winston? Unless they need all at a table to participate at the same "level" your wife could get the $60 5-course and you could get the $95 9-course. The family-style 4 course for $50/person sounds interesting. Don't know how much food that is or if they do a la carte add-ons.

    11 Replies
    1. re: PeterCC

      Well, I won't drive to OC. Let's put it that way.

      I aint no Porthos =P

      She leans heavy/unctuous, I lean light/fresh...

      Like I said, we're not opposed to anything.

      1. re: ns1

        She eats fewer but heavy/unctuous dishes, you eat more but light/fresh dishes, I guess that works out! :-)

        What are the last couple of Chowhound-popular (Chow-popular? Chowpular?) places you and your wife's been to recently, assuming you want to avoid repeating.

        How about some place in Koreatown? You can fulfill D(N)otM at the same time. Find out for yourself what Kang Hodong Baekjeong is like?

        We went to Pizzeria Mozza for our anniversary last month. Really enjoyed it. That or Osteria or Chi Spacca? (Haven't tried either of the latter two, but on my ever-growing list...)

        1. re: PeterCC

          I end up eating half of her heavy/unctous dishes too!

          I haven't been eating at very expensive places lately ($100pp+). My last expensive meals were @ Littlefork and Salumi Bar (Chi Spacca). Both awesome, but do not want to revisit for this occasion.

          I'm saving KHB for when I can go with friends.

          Honestly, Shunji/Animal/SOAG are probably on top of the list - we haven't been to any of the 3.

          1. re: ns1

            You haven't been to any of the 3?!? ;-) Well, you know what my vote would be... Actually, the order that you presented would probably be how I'd rank my personal preference for a dinner.

            If you do go with Shunji, call ahead and explain the eating disparity and see how they can work it out. I think they do prefer everyone to participate in omakase*, but they definitely cater to the individual. My wife and I have done the split-the-kitchen-dishes route and she's also asked to stop her portion of a meal while I continued eating, so they are accommodating to that.

            *I think omakase is a more economical, not to mention fun, way of experiencing Shunji. The omakase is generally less than if individual items were priced out with a la carte pricing.

            1. re: PeterCC

              Shunji is perfect. Especially since you haven't been.

              Just tell you'll both do the cooked dishes and then you'll continue with 20 pieces of sushi and she'll just get no sushi or just a couple of pieces.

              He was flashing pictures of spiny lobster on his FB page. You'll both want the spiny lobster 3 ways and the head made into miso soup. Tell him you're adventurous and will eat anything. Her portion will probably run maybe $100 and yours around $175. Spiny lobster makes it a significant price increase.

              Bestia is really killing it. Pastas can be both light and rich and delicious. You can just load up on more pastas. Their calamari and octopus preps are outstanding.

              Happy B-day!

              1. re: Porthos

                "Max budget probably ~$200." I took to mean total (don't know if w/ or w/o drinks, before/after tax/tip, etc.) rather than per person, so the ise-ebi may have to wait... :-(

                1. re: PeterCC

                  yeah that spiny lobster would blow out my budget. I mean I COULD, but I'd rather not.

                  1. re: ns1

                    Tough to do Shunji $200 all in including tax, tip, drinks.

                    I'd pick Bestia. Make that res now.

                    1. re: Porthos

                      wow that bestia menu looks spectacular, esp. the salumi. It also looks like the wifey would tap out super quick ^_^

                        1. re: ns1

                          of course this all depends on when the occasion is.

                          bestia is a tough res, much tougher, in my experience, than shunji.

                          i think shunji can be done for under 200. stick with beer.

      2. In addition to the location questions that Peter asked, how important is atmosphere/ambience? Since it is an occasion, do you want it particularly romantic, or in a nice setting, or with a view (which obviously cuts down the options considerably, since great food remains paramount)? Or, is a hip/happening or lively (as opposed to sedate) scene important? Also, I assume it's "wifey's" birthday, so does SHE have a preference in terms of setting. Having had 3 of them (wifeys), I know it's often prudent to take their desires into account. We are celebrating "the lady friend's" upcoming birthday next weekend at Nikita, largely because she wants the beautiful setting on the water, right next to Nobu Malibu. So, do you have any such ambience-type criteria to satisfy?

        4 Replies
        1. re: Wayno

          We've done both so at this point I'm just soliciting options.

          btw, it's MY birthday :)

          1. re: ns1

            My LF took me to Animal this year for my birthday, and we had a situation similar to yours. I eat WAY more than she does (and drink way, way more), and I'll eat many things that she won't, as she is much less of a carnivore, and her carnivore leanings are only in the direction of beef and chicken (no duck, pork, lamb, etc.). Animal, despite its pushing the culinary envelope pretty far, still worked out well for us; plenty of small plates, easy to share. She could get filled up on more mainstream items, and I could induge my extra/excess capacity with items to which she was pretty averse. No romance in the environment, but uber-hipster (but I didn't find it obnoxiously so). And, fortunately, I'm immune to loud noise (which would be a problem there for some folks).

            1. re: Wayno

              thanks for the feedback!

              black keys soundtrack not a problem here.

              On a related note, OMFG that September Animal menu looks outrageously awesome.

              1. re: ns1

                "black keys soundtrack not a problem here."

                : )

        2. Just go do any tasting menu you want and your wife can start passing dishes from her side of the table to yours depending on if it's not something that either tickles her fancy, or she has topped off her "tank" at some point.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Servorg

            If we both did a 10 course tasting menu, I would consume 50% of her tasting menu. That is too much food for me, and I most certainly wouldn't want to waste good food.

            1. re: ns1

              Since the dishes tend to be smaller overall you could end up at 35-40% of hers and both appetites would be satisfied (which can be an issue with tasting menus when you the sort of Jack Sprat thing going on you describe).

          2. I am a very big fan of Son of A Gun and that $200 will buy you a lot of wonderful food.

            20 Replies
            1. re: wienermobile

              true. we'd be able to tackle a lot of that menu...

              oh shit, there's also trois mec.

              1. re: ns1

                Heh, tackle.

                Trois Mec would put you over budget.

                    1. re: PeterCC

                      it's 75 bucks + 18% + tax = about $100pp, inclusive of tax/tip.

                      I finally got the "Tackle" reference. LOL

                      1. re: ns1

                        Ah cool! Thought it was more for some reason. You still have to score a res, though... :-)

                        1. re: PeterCC

                          ....and remember they are only open Monday-Friday. Closed Saturdays and Sundays.

                          1. re: PeterCC

                            Yes, that would be the toughest thing. I'm a ticketmaster gangster though, so I got faith in myself ^_^

                            1. re: ns1

                              I just looked. lots of tickets available for non-Friday nights.

                  1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                    From a budget perspective, SOAG is winning. From a desire perspective, Shunji is still winning the battle.

                    decisions decisions...

                    1. re: ns1

                      one thing i find...what's the word i'm looking for here?...let's go with...frustrating.
                      although it's a 'soft' frustrating.

                      anyways, one thing that's "frustrating" about shunji is they think, it seems to me, in terms of dishes, and not dollars, when doing the omakase.

                      for example, when you order the 'sushi only' omakase, they ask you how many pieces of sushi you'd like.

                      now, i appreciate them not wanting to talk about money in public. it's tacky, after all.
                      however, i wish i had the sand to just go, look, we're going to want a coupla, few beers apiece, and walk out of here for around $______. do yo thing, playa.

                      i realize sushi items can range broadly in price, but sometimes it's hard, when you're trying to keep to a budget, to just go i'd like X pieces of sushi.

                      i still think you can do it and feel full enough for your price point.

                      by the way, if you want to do sushi, i'm pretty sure you can swing kimagure ike in pasadena for 200 per. it's really good, if not at shunji level.

                      1. re: linus

                        anyways, one thing that's "frustrating" about shunji is they think, it seems to me, in terms of dishes, and not dollars, when doing the omakase.
                        That's how "real" omakase works.

                        You can also let them know you want a $100pp omakase or whatever price point you want.

                        1. re: linus

                          I'm looking at a loose budget of 200 all in, which I generally equate to about $80pp before tax/tip/drinks. We're usually not heavy drinkers during dinner.

                          We are, however, very big on pre-partying =D

                          1. re: linus

                            I appreciate that frustration. I had that myself and ended up spending more than I wanted to at Mori. But I think most places, including Shunji (and Mori--I probably just had to be more assertive) will try to accommodate a price point (or a time constraint, or some other factor).

                            Try broaching the subject with the waitstaff if the itamae is busy making food or if you're uncomfortable doing so with the itamae directly (assuming you're sitting at the bar). They can talk more effectively to the itamae on your behalf.

                            They should be able to answer something like "I'd like around 15 pieces but don't want to spend more than $70. Is that doable?" And it should be doable. That's $4.67/piece, well the range of prices of the special fish at Shunji.

                            For example, from a recent visit, an assortment of fish/prices on the specials board, per PIECE:

                            Bluefin Tuna $5
                            Bluefin O-toro $9.50
                            Kinmedai $6
                            Renkodai $5
                            Shiokko $4
                            Kamasu $4.50
                            Mirugai $8
                            Tobiuo $3.50
                            Wild Albacore $3.50
                            Shima Aji $4.50
                            Iwashi $3
                            Sanma $4.5

                            Average price $5.08/piece. So maybe you're not served the otoro or the mirugai, which'd bring the average price of the remaining items above down to $4.35/piece. But you should still be able to get a decent sampling of the specials even asking for 15 pieces at $60 (tobiuo/binaga to offset the bluefin tuna, iwashi to offset the kinmedai, perhaps). Of course, you wouldn't have to do these calculations yourself; it's up to the restaurant to either try to match your requested price point or let you know they may not be able to do it.

                            Be aware that, even if the math works out, most places don't do single piece orders like I calculated above except for omakase (which I know is what you're asking about), so using half of the a la carte prices, which of course generally requires full 2-piece orders, may be inappropriate. There is additional labor in producing 15 individual pieces of nigiri from 15 different fish, vs. 8 orders of nigiri from from 8 fish.

                            Or maybe an itamae doesn't want to do a omakase purely from the least expensive fish available, I don't really know.*

                            *"I don't really know" is probably key here. I may just be spouting bullshit. Best thing is to talk to restaurant staff.

                            1. re: PeterCC

                              i totally get what you and porthos are saying. it's just they're really nice people, and i feel embarrassed telling them to stop at X dollars.
                              i kop to having to get over this.

                              1. re: linus

                                It's tough. Honestly I prefer the prix fixe "omakase" at Kiriko lunch and (now) at Shunji lunch for that reason too. With the economy, there's something to be said about not being anxious about how much your meal may cost.

                                I will say that most places in my experience either keep very good track of what's being served in omakase, one piece at a time, and so you should never be charged more than a la carte, or they err on the side of the customer. One place I ate at, neither the itamae nor I were sure if I was served the number of pieces of a fixed-price/course meal, so he gave me an "extra" piece to make sure I got *at least* what I ordered.

                                1. re: linus

                                  You can let them know at time of reservation over the phone or at the beginning of the meal. That's why he has 2-3 different pricing levels for omakase. No need to feel bad about setting price boundaries.

                                  Just be aware that you won't be getting the rare stuff which would obviously put you over a preset budget.

                            2. re: ns1

                              I don't think Animal would negatively impact your budget relative to SOAG; it's a little more pricey, but only if you get one or more of the few large plates on the menu. So price-wise, either could be a go. Animal, I think, has a better special occasion atmosphere (but it's not much different). BUT, if you want to take into account opportunities for convenient "pre-partying," which you said, below, you are into, consider where else in the same neighborhood you may want to imbibe. I'm not sure what's proximate to Animal for pre or post-dinner drinking (Animal has no bar), but if you pick SOAG you could, e.g., precede dinner with nice al fresco cocktails/wine at AOC. Or wines by the glass at Little Door. And not have to move your car between venues. Just another thought as you weigh the decisions, decisions ...