NYer coming to LA for birthday: top picks? buffet brunch? upscale Chinese w/ Dongpo pork + Peking duck?
- StevenCinNYC Aug 4, 2014 10:43 AM
Hi. We're coming to LA for the week of Labor Day. I've been a couple times in the past but really don't know LA. I'd love a couple recommendations. Whenever I travel, I try to sample the best of local cuisine.
My favorite restaurants in NYC are Eleven Madison Park, Aquavit, and Dovetail--these are fairly innovative and yummy places with great service in my book.
In the Bay Area, my favorites include Fifth Floor, Firefly, Cafe Kati, Stacks pancake house, Baker+Banker, Park Tavern (wider range here--formal to casual, innovative to comfort food to Asian fusion to pancakes).
What should my L.A. favorites list include???
In addition, NYC doesn't really have a great Sunday brunch buffet, but I love them so I always look for a great one when I travel. Most recently had a great one at the Four Seasons in Georgetown and over the years have had others at the Park Hyatt Bellevue in Philly, the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes and Hyatt Grand Cypress in Orlando, Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay, and the Four Seasons in Las Vegas.
Top pick for a gourmet Sunday brunch? A little over the top is just fine!
Finally, I was hoping for an upscale Chinese place for my birthday. I love Peking Duck and Dongpo Pork. But if that isn't what L.A. does best, I'm open to other cuisines/ideas.
Lastly, my stomach is sensitive to hot peppers and garlic so those places that use them in every dish are not for me.
Thanks very much!
IIRC ipsedixit does have a favorite place for dongpo, but it's a hole in the wall type place, and that kinda sums it up for the vast bulk of what makes LA a great place to enjoy a diverse, authentic yet very affordable sampling of most regional chinese cuisines and dishes. a lot of these mom & pop places do one thing really well. a place that does a decent dongpo pork is likely to do a very indifferent duck (if they make it at all). as a matter of fact the only place i can think of that might do both would be shanghai no 1 - and the duck won't be peking duck. but it would be upscale in terms of decor and their braised pork belly is very good.
however, dim sum is a different matter. what you would spend on brunch for 2 at the four seasons will get you a pretty exquisite meal at a place like sea harbor or elite. (yeah, this is the same sea harbor recommended by ipsedixit.)
I think if you do confine yourself to upscale hotel spots, you'll go back to NYC thinking there's nothing LA has that you can't get in New York. Have you ever been to New Orleans and noticed how you can get some great meals in some rather crusty places? To some extent that's true here as well. Maybe take a day or two and flip your concept from upscale to downmarket and see what you can find and enjoy.
re: mc michael
I've modified my request (above) because this seems to have been confusing.
I was looking for one upscale Chinese place (given up on that) and one buffet brunch place (Yes, it's mostly hotels that do upscale buffet brunches in my experience--found that).
Aside from that, I'm just looking for people's favorite restaurants that have menus that are not based on garlic and hot peppers.
I'm not familiar w/ the eateries you've listed, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that, if you're looking for food in LA that's going to meet the adjectives you've listed, you're going to be disappointed.
IMO, our main advantage over NYC (from the little I know of NYC) is cheap and ethnic.
You may also wish to let us know in what area you'll be staying and how much traffic you're willing to tolerate (although you might not actually encounter much after Friday evening).
Sorry if I made it complicated. I'd like to experience whatever L.A. does best in general, but not hole-in-the-wall Chinese. In terms of adjectives, I like NYC and SF each for its own strengths and hope to appreciate L.A. that way, too, but no garlic and hot peppers.
We're staying in Santa Monica, but we're touring around so we'll be in different places on different days (not sure of the specifics yet, but we're going to Hollywood, Griffith Park, Pasadena, Anaheim, Downtown, Pacific Palisades etc.). Not sure on driving limits; probably don't want to drive more than an hour or so unless it's one of our destinations???
No, I think I understood what you're asking for, and that's why I think mc michael's post above is right on. From the numerous times people from NYC have posted (or, more accurately stated, from people who are looking for similar-to-this-in-NYC), my impression is that NYC does "middle-end" and "high-end" well (not technically terms, of course).
While LA has those kinds of places, the responses historically have been that NYC does that type of ambiance/cuisine/whatever much better and that looking for an LA-equivalent of middle- to high-end (when compared to NYC) usually ends up in disappointment.
LA does hole-in-the-wall Chinese really, REALLY well. I suppose the HK seafood places might have a more upscale ambiance, but I honestly don't know if they'd be upscale enough for you.
I sort of consider "Asian fusion" a dirty word unless you're talking about Lukshon. The prob is that some of the dishes are quite spicy.
Are the places you've listed in SF farm-to-table type places? We have those, too, in LA, but I don't imagine they're going to be better than they are in SF. But Gjelina (which is awfully close to your location) is probably worth a try.
We do Mexican really well. We do Thai pretty well. We don't do New American particularly well (at least, compared to NYC). We don't do Italian well (compared to NYC).
Regarding Pacific Palisades, don't really know if it's much of a destination unless you're planning to hike there or to go the Farmer's Market (which is quite nice, BTW). Otherwise, IMHO, it's a bit of an ultra-upscale suburb.... Great place to live, but....
To be clear, I'm not looking for NYC food or SF food or Seattle food (another place I love to eat). I thought for people who knew those restaurants, it would clarify the sorts of places I like in those locations and it might be helpful for identifying places in L.A., but based on what you and others have said, it's probably not a good approach.
I'm sure you're right about the differences between NYC and L.A., and understanding those differences is helping me adjust my expectations. I do really like New American so I'm glad you let me know not to look for it in L.A. SF does that well and a couple places in Seattle, too (Crush, for one, that is really good). Cafe Kati in SF does great Asian fusion, but it's the only place I know for it (and it's not spicy which is great for me).
I enjoy all kinds of restaurants as long as they garlic/hot peppers are not an issue. I've been fortunate to travel a great deal for work in the past, getting to sample foods from around the US, EU, Scandinavia, and one trip each to Asia (Taipei, Siem Reap, Bangkok) and S. Africa. I'm not looking to eat chocolate covered bugs or drink snake blood squeezed from a dying animal, but I do enjoy a range of local cuisine.
It sounds like you favor upscale places attached to hotels. In that vein, you might enjoy WP24 and Cut for Chinese and steak respectively.
But if you can get away from hotels, the picks ipse presented have very good food.
Additionally, you might like Chosun Galbi for Korean BBQ.
You might also check out Night + Market for Thai innovations.
Red Medicine might also be worth a try.
re: mc michael
WP24 is a very good suggestion.
As to brunch, maybe Michael's in Santa Monica, or on the patio at the Hotel Bel-Air.
Rivera DTLA for an innovative take on Mexican/Southwest flavors. Not everything has hot peppers, but no garlic? Better check!
Crossroads on Melrose if vegetarian cuisine might be of interest.
"High End Chinese"
We have no Shun Lee Palaces
We do have Meizho Dongpo in Century City, which does very good classic Chinese dishes in a modestly upscale environment.
If you want fancier surroundings but hit-or-miss (and more of the latter than the former) Chinese food there are a few choices:)
Hakkasan, Mr. Chow's or Joss Cuisine (all in Beverly Hills
re: Ciao Bob
Thanks, Yes, Shun Lee is the kind of place I was wanting to find, but I understand now that it's not the kind of place LA really does. I don't need it so desperately that I'll bother with the mostly-miss places. Thanks for making that so clear.
The best Chinese food I've had was in Taipei (I've never been to China). I went to some really great restaurants; I'm not a night market kind of guy though, especially with my dietary restrictions.
I love those steamed juicy buns, Peking Duck, dongpo pork, and those black sesame rice balls. I had some really good Hakka dishes, but I don't recall the specifics of them. I also had great dim sum on that trip, but it's trickier in NYC--people won't always tell you (for language or knowledge reasons) what's in each dish so I don't bother.
In the US, I like the upscale places or the moderately upscale ones where families go for special occasions.
So unless I'm with someone who knows the owner, I don't risk it with the more casual places. There was one called Golden Pond in Philly that was really good that handled special dietary requests very easily. I don't know if it's still there, but I don't expect to find too many casual places that cater to my needs. I respect that, and I don't push it.
If you're coming as far as Pacific Palisades, you might as well continue north on PCH and go to Nobu Malibu, beautiful spot right on the beach, most beautiful place in all of LA. Best spot we have in the Palisades is Maison Giraud. Decent enough sushi at Pearl Dragon, which has the only liquor license, everything else is beer & wine.
Venice has a lot of hip and urban places to go on Abbott Kinney, like Gjelina, Tasting Kitchen, Salt Air, Willie Jane. These are all close to Santa Monica.
High end in Santa Monica is Melisse. Check out the Penthouse in the Huntley Hotel for drinks at sunset, best view.
Most of the hotels along Ocean Avenue in .santa Monica will offer brunch as well, not are if they are all buffets though. It is worth the hour and a half drive to Laguna Niguel to visit the Ritz Carlton or Studio Montage down there and have brunch or dinner overlooking Dana Point. That's in Orange County, though.
Thanks, that's very helpful. Yes, I saw that the St. Regis in Laguna has a buffet brunch, but it seemed a long way to go. I've been to that area a couple times for work (stayed at the Ritz there for one assignment--beautiful!) and a couple times by the John Wayne airport.
I'll check out those places.
I'd like to modify my request to eliminate everything related to brunch, hotels, and Chinese food.
I've gotten plenty of material on all that. Thank you.
At this point, if you'd care to add anything, I'd welcome your favorite restaurants where it's really easy to avoid garlic and hot peppers.
One poster already mentioned a plethora of places on Abbot Kinney in Venice. Having lived in LA for 25+ years (from PA, by way of SF and Deutschland), the transformation of Abbot Kinney from a funky, gang riddled and drug addled pothole, to an upscale, pricey, gloriously pleased with itself food and shopping mecca, is really something. Galleries and $5 doughnuts abound. However, in the middle of all that change, Joe's Restaurant still remains among the best LA has to offer. It came in, replacing the iconic Rockenwagner, and remains a top notch, quintessential southern California food destination. It's tiny, but has a great menu for brunch, lunch and dinner, and you can stroll up and down Abbot Kinney and ogle all the current trends like Gjelina and the Tasting Kitchen, knowing that you've eaten at the place that came before them, and will outlast them all.
Not sure about the garlic part, but I like Huckleberry (desserts and sandwiches) and Milo and Olive (Californian take on pizza, pasta, and salads). Same owners, both in Santa Monica. Not cheap, but not horrifically expensive, either. Just be aware that the line for both can be very, VERY long....
This is true (of both places). However, I imagine the OP being from NYC is accustomed to cramped quarters. And the patrons there are very "LA," for better or worse. And while people disagree about the quality of the food, I've personally never had a bad meal at either place. They're also geographically convenient for the OP.
As for XLB (not aimed at you, Dirty), doesn't NYC have at least a few good examples? I like J&J's XLB better.
For that reason, I wouldn't recommend DTF or Langer's (since it seems that the quality is similar to Katz's, no?).
Bring a cushion (aside from being cramped, the seating surfaces can be SO hard).
Another thought for the OP -- maybe try Mercado. Yes, it's Mexican, but it's nouveau Mexican and thus may *not* have the flavor profile you wish to avoid. We had brunch there (they serve dinner, too), and we thought it was excellent. You'll need some seat cushions here, too.
I also like Santa Monica Seafood a lot (primarily for their tuna melt), although not everyone likes their version of this dish (and I think Dirty might be one of them, just based on the description). It has very, VERY mild bell peppers that are almost pureed. I think they still might have a soft-shell crab sandwich, but I didn't find it that enjoyable (the crab was great, but the huge amount of lettuce detracted from the texture).
Mercado does look good, but the menu seems to have garlic and/or chili peppers in almost every dish so probably not for me. I really like Mexican food, but I only rarely find a place that doesn't approach the flavor palate without a base of garlic and chili peppers. They do exist, but they are few and far between.
re: milo and olice
be aware that ALL the seating is communal, and
during the busy hours (normal meal times and weekends), the hostess will ask you to move to a different seat if there's a way that she can defrag the seating by moving you.
my advice: only go there at OFF HOURS.
re: gjelina (on my regular rotation)
this restaurant actually has regular tables in addition to the communal tables. they only offer an abbreviated charcuterie/pizza menu from (i think) 3 pm to 5:30. my recommended arrival time is 2:30. their wine is pricey, and, to my palate, not all that. their vegetables are AMAZING. do not miss their vegetables.
Now you're playing with fire! I generally avoid bagels, smoked sturgeon, or pastrami outside NYC. I'm not saying that other places might not have good versions, but when you live in NYC, why bother?
That said, even NYC isn't what it was. Growing up, my favorite was Herald Square delicatessen, plus Wolf's on 57th. Then, the Carnegie (and Stage) in the theater district. Katz's is great, too. I only went to 2nd Ave a couple times, and it was up there, but never held the same place in my heart (though I think I liked the egg creams). Most of these places are closed now, but we still have a couple plus Russ & Daughters, Barney Greengrass, and Zabar's. Most of the good bagel places have closed, too, but a few remain. I feel compelled to mention Yonah Schimmel (knishes from 1910) which is still around.
AFTER ACTION REPORT
Here is our whole itinerary for the trip:
We stayed at the JW Marriott Le Merigot in Santa Monica. It's an OK property, but the service was weak and disjointed--it was closer to a Courtyard than a JW, but the location was great and our room was nice. We were on points so we didn't pay the hefty price (though it was hundreds of thousands of points!). Didn't eat there so no food to report.
10a Art Deco Tour, LA Conservancy (started at Pershing Square)
12:30: Had very nice lunch at Bottega Louie, incredible butterscotch pudding. We sat in the cafe area to avoid waiting for a table. Nice server, fun, hip atmosphere. Very good food.
More Deco after lunch
5p birthday dinner @ Osteria Mozza Absurd hosts refused to seat us at 5p with an empty restaurant because our two friends hadn't arrived yet; they said it was "imperative" that we don't sit at the table. After that though, once our friends arrived, our server was nice, and the food was good. Still, I wouldn't go back based on the hosts.
8p Hollywood Bowl: Music of the Movies, John Williams, conducting LA Phil, with Seth MacFarlane and other guest. Great!
11a Buffet Brunch at La Culina, Four Seasons Los Angeles. This was a really great brunch. We sat outside at a very nice table, beautiful day, pleasant shade, and the buffet was incredible--great food, a big variety, and nice service. We felt completely relaxed and indulged. There was a great selection and everything was excellent. There were breakfast items, smoked fish, raw bar, Asian options, carving station, cooked savory main courses, a Mexican taco bar, special drinks, charcuterie, pasta dishes, a kids table (low to the ground), and desserts, They had this great dense caramel (dulce de leche) that we put on the pastries and dessert. I've put it all into photos.
2p Millennium Biltmore Hotel Tour, LA Conservancy
additional deco (Million Dollar theater and Spring St)
DINNER AT Blair’s Restaurant. This was a very nice meal--total departure from Mozza in that the whole staff was so relaxed and accommodating. They let us sit even though our friends hadn't arrived, they let us choose our own table, they were consistently friendly and accommodating, and the food was great.
Dinner at Geoffrey--This was the only disappointing meal. The view was great, but everything else just wasn't. Our server was friendly, but totally inappropriate, making odd jokes and not giving good service. At one point he told us that all the food was pre-made, everything already has garlic in it, and nothing could be done about it. Then, he came back and said it wasn't a problem. Later, when our food hadn't come for a very long time, we hailed him down, and he said that everything in the kitchen was mixed up. This we believed.
Adamson House gardens (house closed)
Santa Monica Pier
California science center: Pompeii, Endeavour, other exhibits
Will Rogers State Historic Park (got parking ticket! It's a bit of a scam.)
Dinner at Maison Giraud: This was a nice surprise. We thought it would be a formal traditional French restaurant, good, but maybe a little stiff. We were wrong. It was totally casual and relaxed. The chef visited some tables and joined one diner for part of her meal. The food is very traditional, but it's executed very nicely, our server was great, and we enjoyed the whole experience.
Third St Promenade in Santa Monica
Table read at Fox Animation studios
Tar pits/Page Museum
Peterson Car Museum
Miracle Mile Art Deco (Mays, Desmonds)
Dinner at Red Medicine. This was the most innovative meal of the whole trip. We had a total of six dishes--4 savory, two sweet. Of the four savory, the best by far was the halibut. It was a great dish with incredible textures and flavors. The other good savory dish was the "biodynamic leaks" which were clever and flavorful if a bit challenging to eat. The "chicken dumpling" were misnamed and disappointing in that they were fairly standard Vietnamese chicken meatballs with lettuce wraps--not dumplings at all. The other disappointment was the AKAUSHI BEEF which was apparently very carefully prepared, with the beef seasoned, torn into long strips, and then braided together into something that might be generously described as looking like a sausage (it was far less appetizing and looked liked something else to me). The beef was fairly dry and flavorless. I didn't get it. The two desserts we had were both enjoyable, but the Redwood Ice was actually incredible (see photo). It's got a "lid" made of white chocolate that you have bash through with your spoon (fun!) and then you scoop out from the bottom each spoonful. It's very similar to a Korean shaved ice, but far yummier and more creative than any I've had. The other dessert, the Black Carrot, was very interesting. It was enjoyable but didn't approach the Ice.
Rodeo Drive and Beverly Wilshire
visit Skippy at stables in Pasadena
Private tour of JPL
Private tour of Moby's house
Dinner at Jar: Jar has a great atmosphere. I felt as if we were stepping back in time to a hidden old Hollywood speakeasy. It's basically a steakhouse and the food is good, but it's really more about the space and the experience from my perspective.
Dinner: 7:10 Carthay Circle with 9:45 World of Color Package
Disney has frozen in time the Carthay Circle Theater on the night of the premiere of Snow White. The original theater is gone now, but they have photos, and it seems that they have replicated it to a large extent, but it's a restaurant. It's a very large restaurant with a bunch of different rooms and spaces. Even though they are trying to be a high-end experience, you feel like cattle most of the time. Even with a reservation, we had to wait 30 minutes for a table, we couldn't eat outside even though we wanted to, and instead we ended up in a charmless side room that had all the tables close together. Our server was super nice and accommodating and really the best part of the whole meal, but the food was pretty good, too. We had the World of Colors package which limited our menu choices, but in return we got special coupons that gave us special reserved standing area for the show which was really great.
Another epic report from an LA visitor! Thanks for updating us. Sounds like you had a pretty good time eating? Sorry to hear about the weird service at Mozza and Geoffrey's....
I do think the Adamson House is worth a visit (if it's open next time you're in town). Haven't done the Conservancy tours myself; did you like them?
Thanks. I was grateful for all the advice and wanted to follow up.
We did have a very good time eating. Only Geoffrey was really disappointing.
The LA Conservancy tours were great. The Deco tour was the best. Our tour guide, Robin Holding, was spectacular. She spent extra time giving us advice and showing us more stuff after the tour. We spent parts of two days visiting the places she recommended. I really want to do their Historic Theater tour to get inside some of these great old theaters. The Biltmore hotel tour was good, too, but the Deco tour was much better, esp Robin.
Here are the photos from the trip if you're interested: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevenc...
I actually have a long list of things that we didn't do. I've pasted it below.
Restaurants we didn’t try: Comma Ca, Plan Check, Post & Beam, Sycamore Kitchen, Milo and Olive, Hinoki and The Bird, Gjelina (Kara recommended), Willie Jane
Pacific Dining Car (locations in Santa Monica and downtown): 24 hour place Kara recommended. Dine in train cars. Breakfast all day. Pancakes looked really good (banana pecan).http://www.pacificdiningcar.com/locat...
Pancakes article: http://www.laweekly.com/squidink/2012...
1. GOOD TIMES AT DAVEY WAYNE’S: 80s place recommended by Kara’s younger colleagues, secret entrance with retro feel
Straight out of The Brady Bunch set, this bar not only has the most epic secret entrance, but it's hooked up with hammocks, outdoor couches, an Airstream Trailer bar, and a DJ spinning beats on top of a retro, '50s TV table. Basically, this is your new home.
1611 N El Centro Ave, Hollywood, CA 90028http://www.thrillist.com/drink/los-an... http://www.thrillist.com/drink/los-an...
Huntington Collection, Library, and Gardens.
Frank Lloyd Wright: Hollyhock House: http://www.barnsdall.org/visit/hollyh...
LA Conservancy The Broadway Historic Theatre and Commercial District tour explores the social, cinematic, and architectural history of this unique street.
https://www.laconservancy.org/events/... Schedule: Every Saturday Time: 10 a.m.
Doheny Mansion.Greystone http://www.beverlyhills.org/exploring...
Guides to Abbot Kinney Blvd, trendy Venice shopping and eating area: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/guide/...
Hearst Castle (San Simeon
)Griffith Park and Observatory
The Japanese Garden?
Walt Disney Concert Hall?
See a show?
Annenberg Space for Photography?
The Magic Castle?
IFly Hollywood Indoor Skydiving?
Buildings to Visit
Interior of The Bradbury Building, 304 Broadway at West 3rd Street, 304 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013, Opened: 1893. (213) 626-1893
Urth Caffé 451 South Hewitt Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013 (213) 797-4534
Arts district, 7th and Matteo zinc, handsome coffee roasters
Old rail depot,
Interior of Bullocks Wilshire (if we can get in). 3050 Wilshire Boulevard Built 1929
Broadway: theaters (only saw exteriors, apparently the Los Angeles interior is esp nice, but also the Rialto)
most notably the Los Angeles and Orpheum theaters which are stunning (particularly the lobby of the Los Angeles) and were in The Artist and other films
Los Angeles theater
Million dollar theater
Central ave to 1800 block
Coca cola bottling building
West on Wilshire: at western, Wiltern theater (drove by)
re: Ciao Bob
It turns out that our friends are friends with him so he very graciously gave us a tour. His house is incredible, and he is the nicest person. I have to say that I never interact with celebrities, and he was so kind and down to earth. It was a very special part of the trip, plus his home blew me away.
nice report and photos, thanks.
good to hear the report on Culina -- underrated spot.
Red Medicine -- i'll take tasty over innovative any day (ie Jar). For me, RM always more misses than hits. It certainly fills a niche tho, but I always regret after I return.
man, you guys packed in a lot of fun!
Thanks. Yes, I'm a big fan of innovative, but only when it works. I learned to appreciate it in Barcelona where they have a very sensual approach to food. Somehow in the US, it gets a bit too intellectual at some spots so that they do things that are really interesting to hear about but not necessarily great to eat. In NYC, we have WD-50 which epitomizes that problem. RM seems somewhere in between. That halibut and the Redwood Ice were really great, but, as you say, hits and misses. What got me though was the complete lack of creativity on the "chicken dumplings" which were a total lift of standard Vietnamese fare--not just a miss, but not even trying and totally misnamed. And that beef dish was the other problem--totally creative and interesting, but not so good to eat. The server was also totally useless. She kept telling us that she's a foodie, we could close our eyes and choose any four items on the menu and not go wrong, and she also said, it's just food so don't worry about it. She knew the food, but she didn't bother to know or listen to us, just delivered her pat lines which were totally hollow and useless. A place like that, they should be ready to serve as bushwhacking guides, helping us appreciate the menu and find our way to what we would enjoy most.
We had a similar problem with the service at Corton here--they'd bring these super complicated dishes on multiple plates, sprinkle, ladle, and replate them, and then just walk away. I had no idea what I was eating. It was complicated and overwrought, and the servers did nothing to help the diners navigate the complex food.
frankly, you could have done worse at red medicine too...I didn't see any terrarium kind of dishes with layers of mush on your agenda...you're not alone re the service there -- I have found it haughty and detached.
those French fries at Jar, and the lobster bernaise and steak,...nothing novel, but add a cocktail and hot fudge sundae and hell that's a dinner without regrets.