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Planning a Santa Monica trip in February; need additional advice

Many thanks to those who contributed to my initial post to help us choose our base of operations. If interested, see link below:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/929787

We will be staying in Santa Monica from 2/14 - 2/19, coming in from Portland, OR. The purpose is to celebrate our 20th anniversary and we will be looking for a fine dining experience on our actual anniversary (Tuesday night), as well as one other fine dining experience. Pretty open budget for this trip and we definitely like restaurants that have great cocktails. We will want to spend most evenings in Santa Monica/Venice area.

I have researched previous Santa Monica/Venice posts and the places that l am most interested in are:

Capo
Rustic Canyon
Melisse
Tar & Roses
Tasting Kitchen

If we were to do seafood, the menu at Water Grill appeals to me more than Catch, but if the reverse is true please let me know.

On Valentine's Day (which is a Friday, so I am expecting busy restaurants), we will arrive early evening and would love to just walk to a place that has some nice bar seating and have cocktails and great food (we are not much for the Valentine's Day out experience generally but we will have to eat!). Do any of the above places fit the bill for that?

Lastly, we are willing to venture out a bit further (but not WAY further) for one dinner and top contenders are (in no particular order):

Nobu
Bazaar
Lucques
n/naka
Red Medicine
Jitlada

Are we missing anything on the above lists? Thanks in advance!

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  1. I think the fine dining night would be well spent at Melisse, if you stay in the 'hood. And if you ventured a bit further out, you might want to consider Providence. I'm not a Water Grill fan...I think it's gone downhill. Others on the board will disagree. For a casual seafood experience, Santa Monica Seafood on Wilshire has a cafe. Very fresh and good and reasonably priced. No cocktails, but wine and beer. I'm sure others will have good ideas about a casual spot for Valentine's Day....but another option might be a picnic in the room with food from Bay Cities Deli. The godmother sandwich is pretty spectacular. I'm not sure how late they are open, though...and I just reread your post that you're arriving that night. So....time may be an issue there. Have a great trip. Report back!

    1 Reply
    1. re: perk

      Some wonderful restaurants very close by in Venice including Gjelina and Superba Snack Bar.
      Nobu Malibu is one of the most beautiful restaurants in LA. And don't miss Sweet Rose Creamery.

      Bay Cities Italian Deli is open till 7pm & 6 on Sundays & closed Mondays

    2. After all these years chinois still only restaurant I'd drive to sm for. Have a great anniversary and be sure to get a frozen custard concrete at pier burger on the pier. I drive for that too. Oh wait also Gilbert's el Indio ... Basically u won't go hungry!

      14 Replies
      1. re: jessejames

        I am also still a big fan of Wolfgang Puck's Chinois on Main.

        1. re: wienermobile

          so many good memories there and such classic dishes: the catfish, the lobster thing, the sliced steak, the fried oysters with the salmon roe -- even their chinese chicken salad...it seems stuck in the 80s in a good way!

          1. re: jessejames

            The strategy for dining at Chinois is to concentrate on the smaller dishes -- usually almost as large as the big plates with the baby lettuce and herb salads accompanying and less expensive. The mains to choose between are the whole deep-fried catfish with ponzu or the sliced filet in szechwan sauce. You may want to try to sit at the back counter looking into the open kitchen if you enjoy that sort of show. Every Puck restaurant I've ever eaten in has excellent, professional service.

            1. re: nosh

              i choose both nosh - two dynamite dishes.

              1. re: jessejames

                I agree both are great, but with both large plates you now have a more expensive dinner and you have less room for the smaller plates.

                I love the stir-fried lamb in the radicchio cups.

        2. re: jessejames

          Gilbets's el Indio, however, is a dump.

          1. re: bringiton

            just hope the dump happens after you leave

          2. re: jessejames

            Hmmm, just checked out Chinois and that is starting to look like a contender, as well. Thanks!

            1. re: cobpdx

              The food is good, but just know, it has a really outdated interior. And as most places with all hard surfaces, gets loud.

                1. re: wienermobile

                  Oh definitely, I just can't take the interior any more....it was interesting and cool....about 20+ years ago.....

                1. re: Thor123

                  Whole Sizzling Catfish* with ginger and ponzu sauce

            2. From you list of "venture out a bit further" restaurants, go to n/naka, with Red Medicine second. A distant second.

              1. Water Grill definitely a 2nd place to Catch. But the menu does look good. I found it to be hugely disappointing.

                Of your last list - n/naka by a country mile. Nobu is big and impressive-looking. A lot of drama. Food is good, but n/naka will knock your socks off, make your toes curl, and other foot-related metaphors. Bazaar is more interesting (and the decor is big, big fun),

                1 Reply
                1. re: foodiemahoodie

                  <Water Grill definitely a 2nd place to Catch>

                  I was taken to lunch recently at Water Grill…
                  Having been a fan of DT's Water Grill I was anxious to give the new location a try.
                  The Burrata dish was excellent…but I've never had a bad one anywhere.
                  My Sea Bass tasted 'off'…I love this fish but theirs tasted like a combination of gas and charcoal.
                  I doubt I'll return.

                2. You can stay close to your Santa Monica base of operations and thoroughly and inexpensively scratch your seafood itch by taking lunch at Tacos Punta Cabras. See one of the many LA board threads about it here http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8905... and peruse the Yelp photos here http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/tacos-...

                  Try it. You won't be sorry.