Tuesday, June 10, 2003


There was once a day and place when Hollywood was littered with bars with no signs, where the actual name of the bar was nowhere to be found except on the lips of the regulars (and, okay, maybe on the cocktail napkins). That day and place was, ah, probably 1995 or 1996.

Went for birthday drinks for a good pal to Vine, a bar on Vine Street, across the street from Office Depot, two blocks north of Santa Monica Blvd, and, thus, two blocks north of Three of Clubs, underneath its eternal Bargain Clown Mart signage. Vine is green -- kind of a lime green -- on the outside, with the address on the front. Inside, the decor is quite nice -- industrial, loft-style, with high ceilings (tall guys like yours truly like that), a long bar, and banquettes lining one wall. No art. Minimal stripped down lights. The music was a little odd -- I remember a reggae treatment of Tracy Chapman's "Baby Can I Hold You" -- but overall, I liked the vibe.

What I didn't like was that when I ordered a cider -- a cider! well, I had just eaten a big meal, I didn't want something heavy, and, aww forget it -- it cost 7 bucks. That's just plain wrong.

Continuing our mini-trend of LA breakfast eateries, I had brunch yesterday at Hugo's on SM blvd with a former co-worker. Or, as it's often affectionately known, the Gay Denny's. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...) Hugo's deserves merit as being one of the few other breakfast places offering up pumpkin pancakes. (Kokomo in the Farmer's Market and Babulu on Montana being the two other options for this breakfast treat.) I didn't get the pumpkin pancakes, though, opting instead for an eggs scramble with sausage and bacon and scallions. (They're also big on eggs scrambled with pasta, a popular choice despite the Atkins moment in which we continue to find ourselves.) It was tasty, though for the price -- $9.50 or so, and, whoa, $2.25 for iced tea -- it reflected the high cost of living in Boys Town -- Doughboys, for example, is much cheaper, with bigger portions. (Though a much bigger wait, too.)

Thursday, June 05, 2003

good earth

Saturday, my father and I met up for brunch. My dad is a creature of habit. We've been going to the Good Earth, on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City, for something like fifteen years.

But there are other reasons why walking into the Good Earth feels like walking into 1982. First of all, there's just the bizarre decor: industrial loft warehouse space, with lots of ... trees and plants. The laminated, large menu, which has tons of healthy food -- but very 70s healthy food, not like Real Food Daily, but instead a lot of sprouts and garbanzo beans. (And yet, lots of meat, too, as I had a favorite chicken and avocado sandwich.)

I know a lot of people who hate the Good Earth. In fact, one reason why my father always suggests we go there is because his girlfriend hates it, so his only chance is to go with me. I don't think it's great food.

There are good breakfasts there, and, something I like, if you get an egg dish, you can get a side of toast or... at no extra charge... a side of pancakes! Pancakes as a toast options. That's awesome.

In addition, they serve apple butter with your bread. I love apple butter!

But really, anyone who's been to the Good Earth'll tell you, the iced tea is where it's at. There's cinnamon in there, I think. And some strange... herbs. And... it's good.

Also, one time, I saw Eric Stoltz there. Thus making it feel like I had walked into an early 90s independent movie.

Friday, May 23, 2003


I don't think I could ever be Orthodox; I love swine just far too much.

Good news for me that I'm a Catholic living near West Hollywood, because the pressed pork and cheese sandwich at Cheebo on Sunset Blvd is mighty, mighty delicious.

I went there for the first time last week with Robert and Margy; I had the pressed pork sandwich, which had the texture of carnitas, shredded, pressed with onions and esamago cheese between two slices of foccacia. Delicious.

When I went this week, Rufus had the turkey burger and said it was great. I like that they serve you home-made potato chips instead of bread to nibble on, except that it then makes ordering their terrific french fries a little bit redundant, unless there's some starch diet I don't know about.

Cheebo is becoming my new favorite "nice" lunch joint. It doesn't have the crowded feeling of Ammo, but there's a slightly similar vibe. One of the things I like about Cheebo is that it surprises you: you walk in to its bright orange walls and Eurostaff, and you think, uh oh. But the servers are exceptionally friendly, and it turns out the food is friendly, too. Go.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

library alehouse

Ordy wanted to do Father's Office. Manfredi wanted to do Father's Office. But I had gone to Father's Office to watch the Laker game the day before. So what to do?

"How about Hal's?" I asked, hopeful. A no go.

"Lares?" I said. (I was suggesting westside locations, in an effort to win Ordy over to my choice, since it would favor him proximity-wise, forcing Matt Manfredi to go along with the choice.) Ordy said he could do Lares. Manfredi then called. "How about Father's Office?" Persistent. I put up the white flag: fine. But then I called back. I then threw out Library Alehouse. It sat in the air. Then: "I ... could do Library Alehouse."

Library Alehouse gave me the larger menu I craved -- after lunch at Houston's and dinner the night before at Father's Office, I needed to move beyond sandwiches and fries -- and it gave Manfredi the large beer selection he was jonesing for. It gave Ordy also about a ten block drive. All of our needs fulfilled!

Parking is a pain over there on Main Street in Santa Monica -- a neighborhood which, kindly, blends both permit street parking with 24 hour meters. But eventually, I found a spot, and went on in. The scene at the Alehouse always has a bit of a fratty feel to it -- not quite a South Bay vibe, but definitely lacking too much of an edge, without being a full on sports bar crowd. That said, the beer list is pretty terrific. Since I didn't want to look like a complete girlyman, instead of ordering a cider (look, I like beer, just wasn't hungering for it last night), I had an Apricot Ale. Not bad. No, I swear.

Eventually, after an entertaining "what a small town this is" situation involving the surprise presence of an ex of one of our merry crew -- which both ex and crewmember handled perfectly -- we then were seated in the back patio -- which, unlike the front area, is pleasant and fairly quiet, with dim lighting and an open-air vibe. The surprise about the Alehouse is always that the food is actually pretty good -- I had a good jambalaya, following an appetizer of a chicken quesadilla. Matt had some wuss ahi tuna thing, while Chris had a manly man steak sandwich. Many beers were enjoyed.

All this, and the Alehouse has one of my favorite Bread Puddings in the city -- though ask for it a la mode, and not its usual preparation, on a bed of whipped cream.

update: Matt reports: "It wasn't an ahi tuna. It was a turkey burger with mushrooms."

Weird looking turkey burger, then.

Friday, May 09, 2003


I've always found Puran's a bit of an odd duck. First, there's the weird Farfalla congruence: both restaurants have locations on Hillhurst in Los Feliz and La Brea near Hancock Park. (True, the Farfalla on La Brea changed it's name ... n.b. I've always found that the Farfalla on La Brea to be mediocre, while the Los Feliz location to be pretty good... weird) Then there are some of the low-budget details of the place -- the laminated menu, which offers cheeseburgers in addition to pastas and grilled items. Want wine? There's a larger list at the Los Feliz location, but on La Brea, where I dined the other night, there are two choices: red and white. We ordered the red, which, lo and behold, was the J. W. Morris merlot, familiar to all Trader Joe's fans as a $3.99 special. (Much better than you'd expect for $3.99, but still...) The mark-up wasn't too bad, to 10 bucks. Fine.

That said, it's a nice neighborhood atmosphere, and I liked the waiter a great deal. But what was a pleasant surprise at this last visit to Puran's was the food I ordered. Namely, the peppercorn steak. Amazingly tender, smothered in a dark sauce with onions. And only $15.99. Hard to find cheap steak, and even harder to find good cheap steak. I'll be back.

Thursday, April 24, 2003


Birds, over on Franklin near Beachwood Canyon, is no one's idea of a great restaurant, yet I do have some built-in affection for it, both because it's within walking distance of the house where I grew up, and because I spent a lot of time in Birds when I was finishing an MFA degree at nearby AFI. There's always a nice neighborhood crowd there. Yet last night, I had an exchange that got me a little miffed. The shtick of the place is that it's mostly chicken dishes, and you usually get a choice of a side, which includes baked beans, herbed potatoes, caesar salad, etc.

Me: I'd like to get a chicken burger, and I'd like to get fries as my side.

Server: I'm sorry, you can't get fries as your side.

Me: But it says here that you can get fries as your side for the hamburger, for a dollar extra.

Server: Yeah, but we're not allowed to do that for the chicken burger. I'm sorry, it's strange, I know, but it's the rule here.

Me: It's the rule.

Server: We have a really small deep fryer.

Me: But this menu also says I can get an order of fries, a la carte, for $3.95.

Server: Yeah.

Me: But I can't get them as a side for a dollar extra, because I'm getting a chicken burger and not the hamburger.

Server: Yeah.

Me: I'll get the chicken burger, a side of baked beans, and an order of fries.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003


Laurel Canyon is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city -- ramshackle, bohemian, full of curvy roads, it's never lost a kind of rock and roll charm, and it's never fully emerged from the early 70s. There's only one restaurant in the canyon, and so when I'm considering meals nearby, I often forget about Pace. It's easy to forget -- tucked as it is underneath a small grocer's market, halfway up the drive up the canyon to Mulholland. But it's a lovely spot, dimly lit with a small patio, and offering up a range of pastas and grill items. One friend remarked that the space reminded them a bit of New York, and I can see that -- there's kind of a West Village quality to the place. The food is good; last night I had a farfalle with a bolognese ragu and mushrooms, and it was tasty.

But this is a place about atmosphere -- and you do pay for that atmosphere, for though it's casual it's not cheap -- and I like that the serving staff seems to know everyone, that the place is full of regulars, and that there's a relaxed vibe fitting a relaxed canyon. So relaxed, I forgot for most of my meal that Monica Lewinsky was at the next table over.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003


r23 is a wonderful restaurant, a tasty restaurant, but you must be guarded, strong, prepared. No, not for the neighborhood -- yes, it's the loft district downtown, and no, I don't recommend wandering around from street to street at 11 p.m. at night if you're a small woman.

Guard yourself for the r23 surprise. If you go in and decide, okay, I'm not going to get any specials, then you're looking probably at a bill that'll come to $25 per person, if you're getting an entree, appetizer, and maybe a little sushi or sake. But then there's the specials list. It's printed up. It doesn't have prices attached to it. Your server will keep asking you, "would you like one of our specials," with her hand seductively steering you to the specials list. If your meal is like ours from a week ago, she'll do this several times.

Should you resist? Well, no, you don't have to resist, and the food is very, very good, but feel free to ask the price of the specials before you select. Because some of the prices, they're pretty special, too. And sometimes they'll play this game: you'll order something on the regular menu, and they'll recommend a special that's very similar. So you get that. Then get the bill and, hey, what a surprise, it's $20 more! Thank you, r23!

(In r23's defense, when a compatriot of mine spilled a large amount of sake on his favorite shirt, they immediately offered him some super-duper stain-removing potion. (And no, they didn't offer a "special" stain-remover when he ordered the regular one off the menu.) Sadly, the next day, he spilled on his shirt again at Campanile. Same shirt. No stain-removing potion available! Clearly, God wanted that shirt stained.)

Now that we have that out of the way. I like r23 because it's a neighborhood I so rarely go to. Because the design of the restaurant -- in a little alley between 2nd and 3rd streets -- with its brick walls, high ceilings, and Frank Gehry cardboard chairs -- is very cool without being cold. Because the entrees and appetizers are often inventive -- I had a crabmeat casserole for my entree, quite good -- without going to the astronomically priced Nobu heights. Though, much like Nobu and Matsuhisa, I find that the sushi at r23 isn't the best part of the place. I find the sushi fine, but I think I'd rather hit Sasabune or Nozowa if I'm hankering for the raw fish. But for a softshell crab appetizer that can't be beat, I go to r23 "So this is what Downtown looks like."

Sunday, April 06, 2003


Last night, I had dinner at Mimosa, on Beverly. It's long been one of my favorite restaurants in LA. Let's review the reasons.

- They make a terrific cassoulet, which is easily in my five favorite dishes list. Maybe cassoulet would even be my death row last meal. White beans, chicken, sausage, ham, cheese. Mmm.

- The room is so homey and cozy -- yellow walls, with framed photos, mirrors, dishes -- resembling less the shabby chic of the Ivy and more authentically someone's dining room.

- Great appetizers, including a delicious tomato tartin with pesto. If you like tomatoes, get this.

- Supposedly they have some deal one night a week where you can get mussels and fries on the cheap.

- Not that hard at all to get a reservation. What makes it even easier is that the hostess is terrific -- she was great when I called about giving us a good, comfortable table. We didn't sit in my favorite seat, though, a four seater which on week nights you can often get for two, off to the side right at the entrance, where both of you sit on the banquette.

- The people in our table that we requested were taking their sweet time, even though the hostess had told them they had to finish in under an hour. Not fun. So our seating as a half hour delayed. But the hostess gave us glasses of white wine and a refill, and then sent a complimentary appetizer, best described as a French pizza of pancetta and cheese. That's a sign of good service.

- I've had two birthdays there, and the day I found out I had been tapped for a much-pursued job, my father and I had dinner there to celebrate.

- Did I mention the cassoulet?

Monday, March 31, 2003

chaya venice

Consider Chaya Venice. Its bar scene is definitely reminiscient of a Hal's 30something meet market. It's restaurant area is an upscale grill and fish menu. I can't decide if I like it or not. This was my third voyage there. Not feeling like doing a heavy steak, I instead did the three-appetizer thing that I sometimes like to do. Which meant a caesar salad (okay, nothing special), popcorn shrimp (fried, tasty but uninspired), and lobster enchilada (finally, something delicious).

The key to Chaya is to get sequestered in one of the booths in the back. You bypass much of the loud noise, you cozy in with your group, and you're given a good perch to people watch. And there are people to watch, oh yes.

My favorite neighborhood sushi place is Hirozen, over on Beverly Blvd, across the street from Mandarette. It doesn't have the glitz and bridge-and-tunnel pick-up scene of Sushi Roku. It doesn't have the fascism of the "eat this or else" Sasabune. And it's reasonably priced and better sushi, compared to Cafe Sushi, it's nearby neighbor.

I went there Friday night, and while waiting for my friend to arrive, outside on the little benches, I made small talk with another waiting customer, former Ben Stiller Show/Newsradio star Andy Dick. He described Hirozen as his neighborhood cafeteria. Nice guy. Good taste in sushi.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

bombay cafe

When you discover a great new restaurant before everyone else does, you feel a certain amount of pride. When you finally get around to discovering a restaurant that everyone else has been loving for years, you feel a certain amount of shame. Such was the result of my maiden voyage last night to Bombay Cafe, on Pico, near Bundy.

What's taken me so long? Probably my natural hesitation towards Indian food in general -- I'm not big on Tandoori, and much of the other stuff always tastes greasy to me. But Bombay Cafe doesn't taste greasy, and everything is full of flavors, alternating from the rich to the sweet to the spicey. We started off with some chutney and nan, and then went on to have the dal of the day -- black lentils, with a consistency like a thick porridge -- and the spinach and cheese paneer thing, and a lamb frankie -- almost a lamb burrito/omelette. Delicious. The nan -- we had a garlic nan and an onion nan -- was wonderful.

And did I mention the cocktails? Well, there are cocktails. I had a ginger margarita and then a mojito. And it was good. And it somehow took me how many years to finally go to this place?

Wednesday, March 19, 2003


When I arrived at Grace, the new occupant of the space that Muse used to rent on Beverly and Martel, I was excited. I was looking to the future. I was hopeful. This was, after all, a brand new restaurant within walking distance of my abode, and, more exciting still, I knew absolutely nothing about it. Hadn't read any reviews. Hadn't heard from anyone who went there.

The interior design was gorgeous -- high ceilings, hip lantern chandeliers, a nice retro sitting area. All looking promising. Sure, it seemed a wee bit loud, but we could make do with that. And I was also pleased to see that Grace, unlike Muse, did not seem to be only a gay restaurant. Unless there were a lot of incredibly well-put-together transvestites there. (No problems with a gay restaurant, except that most gay restaurants, I find, tend to have mediocre food. Because gay men and women go to tons of other restaurants for quality of the food, and thus, the "gay restaurant" has atmosphere, rather than cuisine, as its first priority.)

Phil then showed up, and the maitre'd seated us. Wait, where are you taking us? Why are you walking past the seating area? Past a couple of empty tables that could certainly accomodate us?

Sure enough: the boondocks.

They took us to the "other room." No lantern-like chandeliers. No large noise. But absolutely no excitement or fun. It felt like the waiting area. It felt like the women's side of an Orthodox wedding, and we can hear the dudes on the other end of the building getting down to some accordian music.

Big mistake. I hate restaurants that clearly have one good room and one "overspill" room. One of the things I love about places like Campanile and Lucques is that though there are more than one room -- and you might prefer one to the others -- none of the rooms feel like you're flying in the back of the plane with the chickens.

So Grace wasn't starting on the best foot. Then we looked at the menu. Okay, a lot of new American grill, with the entrees in the 22-30 dollar territory. So comparable prices to, hey, Campanile, Lucques, and many other restaurants I like very much. And could be eating at.

We started with the pork shoulder appetizer, which came surrounding a little dollop of polenta. I think it was polenta. Sure tasted like polenta. We were originally going to share the dungeness crab salad, but the server -- who was nice, I'll give her that -- warned us that the dungeness crab salad was the size of, like, a Hot Wheels car. Maybe a little bigger. Well, the pork shoulder wasn't much bigger than that. But fair enough, it was tasty.

Phil ordered a bacon wrapped rabbit, served on a little sword, that was tasty, if gamey, which is what you have to always describe rabbit as, because then you remind yourself why you just spent 25 dollars on a bunny. It's not a cute little woodland creature. It's game. I ordered a filet of beef with red peppers, forgetting that I don't like red peppers, and with a blue cheese butter, that was quite good. The beef was perfectly cooked; I was happy with that.

Still, though, I was feeling a little cranky about our seating. Phil at least sat in the banquette, which meant he had the added joy of looking at the large group of beautiful women sitting behind us. Things improved, albeit slightly, when two striking women and their shlubby dates showed up and sat on either side of us. Thank God Phil and I attacked the perennial favorite conversation topic of "Favorite U2 Songs" and "Favorite Bruce Songs" and "Favorite Karaoke Songs" -- Phil likes to sing "Don't Fear the Reaper," who knew?

The server coerced us into the special dessert, which were churros with a cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows for dipping. Even if she did the coercision, I appreciated it, because these churros were damn, damn good. Very tasty. The meal as a whole cost $120 with tip, which doesn't sound bad until you realize we only had one drink and two glasses of wine. Thanks for the churros, Grace, but next time I'm going to Opaline. And fuck you for the bad seating.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003


The trouble with ascertaining the quality of a Mexican joint is that after you've doused yourself in a significant number of tequila drinks, everything starts tasting pretty good when you shovel it into your mouth. But, the flip side is that though everything tastes pretty good, nothing tastes amazing.

So I take my read on Lares, on Pico up the street from McCabes with a large grain of (margarita) salt. I'd had many friends rave about the place recently as the best "non-nouveau" Mexican in the city -- less trashy/tacky than the El Cholos of the world, but not meandering into any of the fusion delicacies that make a Border Grille a Border Grille.

Fair enough, but though I enjoyed the carnitas -- rather than being finely shredded as at most joints, they were coarser chunks of the marinated pork, and I liked it that way -- and certainly enjoyed the margaritas ("Do you want a specialty tequila?" the waiter asked, and we looked around at our table full of men and all decided that sticking with the house, low-quality tequila was just fine for this crowd, thanks), I wasn't overwhelmed by the quality. It was good, but not knock-em-sock-em, wow.

This was also a case where I thought I had never been to the restaurant, and then arrived and said, oh yeah, I've been to this place. Which is kinda a disappointing experience for a would-be foodie, when you think you're venturing into new territory, but instead are walking where you have walked before. Like thinking you're travelling to Bangkok and finding out, no, it's Palm Springs again.

One last note on Lares: it's a two story restaurant, and I actively recommend sitting upstairs. Downstairs feels like every trashy Mexican, in the Sevillian dungeon style. Upstairs, however, has much more charm -- open space and lots of bad but colorful paintings on the walls, feeling much more like a Mexican Hal's. Kind of.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003


There are certainly better menus elsewhere, but for overall experience and atmosphere, I find Lilly's on Abbot Kinney pretty darn near irresistable. The food itself is good -- when I went Friday night, I started with a yellow and red tomato tartin in a green basil sauce that was one of the best things I've ever eaten there, and then followed it up with a good pork tenderloin served on a raft of mashed potatoes, with caramelized onions et al. (I often will get the Hanger Steak, kinda of a flank steak in a shallot sauce, served with french fries.) But I like the atmosphere even more than the food. First, there's the clientele -- a real age mix, low on hipsters, with just a feel that this is mostly a Venice crowd of architects and artists and so on. The outside patio is romantic and lovely; the indoor space, underneath large odd paintings, is also pleasant. And if you get there early, it's great to sit with your friend or companion and have a glass of wine. The service can be spotty -- so understand that you're going to have a full-on, two or three hour dinner. And enjoy.


Found a great, cheap Oaxacan place right near my therapist's office, so that I can wolf down some mole before wolfing down some... uh, well-being and self-awareness. It's on Santa Monica Blvd near Barrington -- kind of smack dab in the heart of that huge unwieldy thing known as West Los Angeles. Jequila is just a door or two east of Cafe 50s. I had a carnitas burrito in black, chocolatey mole. Bueno!

Thursday, March 06, 2003


I hadn't been to Ita-Cho in probably a year or two, but went last night. Right next door to Angelini, thus, it's another one of the "within walking distance" choices in my hood. We had their Japanese fried chicken, which was delicious. But we also had their eggplant marinated in miso. I usually hate eggplant. Check that: I always hate eggplant. But this eggplant was so sweet, and didn't have the usual eggplanty texture. It was very nice. After that, and some requisite edamame, we had some sashimi -- halibut and yellowtail. Doesn't sound like a lot of food, but we were full, and lo and behold, it was only a $45 bill for two. Not bad at all.

I rarely go to Ita-Cho, and this was the best experience I've had there. I find the lighting a bit too bright, and the design a bit too plain. That said, last night was an amusing array of B-level celebrities: Eric from Hole, Heather Graham, and Julie Delpy. No, sadly not all together. Now that would have been something.

Monday, March 03, 2003


A true Los Angeles phenomenon are the burger and hot dog kiosks which litter the city. From Mo's Mo Better Meaty Meat Burgers on Pico, to Jay's Jayburger in Los Feliz, to Yucca's Tacos and Burritos on Hillhurst, the city is full of small stands where one can find yummy grease to clog one's arteries. I might compile a list of these. Some day.
father's office

There's been much hype and even more newsprint inches devoted to the burger at Father's Office on Montana. FO, a long-standing Santa Monica dive bar, was bought and refurbished and redesigned, with Chef Yoon, an emigre from Michael's designing the menu -- and designing the burger, which probably wins the gourmet burger sweepstakes in LA. (It's comparing apples and oranges to compare a high-end burger with the glories of a burger from Apple Pan, In-N-Out, Pie and Burger, and other LA low-end burger kiosk choices.)

The burger comes served on a french type roll -- it's a long burger -- with terrific quality meat, "bacon compote," gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, and maybe a little bit of arugula. It also comes served with fries and a little bit of mayonaisse, Belgian-style.

"We do not have ketchup," a waitress snidely informed me on my maiden voyage. Doesn't matter. The burger is so full of flavor, no additional condiments are necessary. And the fries, well, they're terrific, too. There are other appetizers on the menu -- I've had the patatas, which are mighty tasty, and the almonds and olives, but really, don't come for the tapas. Come for the burgers.

Father's Office is, above all else, a bar, and there's an enormous list of beers on tap -- from larger fellas like Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada, to small folks like Mendocino Brewing Company. The beer list is helpfully separated by category -- ambers, pilsners, stouts, etc.

The drawback to Father's Office? The crowd and the noise. There's no line system or list to get a table to eat. You basically have to pinpoint a table where you see that the people seated might be finishing up their meal and hover nearby. (Only there, you might be out of luck and after finishing their burgers, they might want to just sit and drink for a while -- I recommend looking for older people eating, as they're less likely to hang around.) Or you could try the strategy of "making friends" with people seated, asking them if they'll choose you to be the recipients of their table when they leave.

Once you do get to sit, you'll find that the acoustics are painful -- think tarmac at LAX -- and you'll have to select one of your crew to go up to the bar to put the orders in -- no table service here. But it's all right. It's okay. You're about to eat one of the world's great burger concoctions. Sit back and relax, and bring your tray table and seat back to their upright position.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

lucy's el adobe cafe

Living in LA, you quickly realize that there are three different "kinds" of Mexican food. There's nouveau and inventive Mexican cuisine -- think Border Grille, or even Allegria on Sunset Blvd. There's Quacan (sorry about the spelling), represented both at the divey level with Guelagetzla or at the more upscale Tlopazola Grill. Then there's old school divey Mexican -- heavy on the queso, heavy on the grease. The often-heralded king of old school Mexican is El Cholo -- both the older edition on Western down in Koreatown, and the Santa Monica update. Then you have El Compadre on Guitar Row up on Sunset, serving margaritas on fire. Meaning, there's a flame coming out of the margarita. Whoooooee. El Charro up in Los Feliz has been a sure-fire fount of good eats, too. El Coyote on Beverly has a notoriously maligned menu, and cheap margaritas that evidentally aren't that cheap anymore.

Lucy's El Adobe, on Melrose, is an LA institution, and like many institutions, to eat there might not give one any idea of why it's an institution. 'Cause it certainly ain't the food. Way overpriced -- we're talking $14 for combination plates of un-enormous sizes -- with food ranging from mediocre to inedible.

Yet, it's got a great charm to it. This was, after all, the place where the Eagles and Linda Rondstadt and Jerry Brown and Jackson Browne et al always ate in the late '70s, and I once, in fact, attended a fundraiser there where both Linda Rondstadt and Jimmy Webb performed. Lyle Lovett has even been known to thank Lucy's El Adobe in his liner notes on several occasions. And on the wall in one of the main rooms, there are autographed photographs of L.A. and California musicians, newscasters, former Governors. And yes, even a photograph of my mother. Kinda great.

The Margaritas are good and tasty. And with some searching, you can find a reliable thing to order. For me, it's the chorizo and eggs. Goes down smooth. And there's a certain elegance and charm, sometimes, to eating bad Mexican. In my opinion, anyway.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

angelini osteria

I'm about to begin the apartment search, making the huge move from Melrose-Fairfax to Venice or Ocean Park. Though I know that there are many fine eating establishments in Venice, one thing that will make me regret the move is the loss of easy, walkable access to Angelini Osteria. This place never disappoints me, food-wise, and last night was no exception. We split a proscuitto di parma, served with a buffalo mozzerella cheese and arugula. Then I ordered a mainstay for me there, the Lasagna Verde, a meat lasagna unlike any you've ever tasted, draped with caramelized basil. Pretty damn good.

I make the special recommendation to go on Sundays, though, because there's a lamb stew special that's one of my favorite dishes in the city.

The downside with Angelini is the seating. It's cramped, and depending on where you're sitting, the acoustics can be awful. I took my father there for Father's Day, we were seated in a two-person at the front, and not only could we barely hear each other, we could hear far too much of the guy sitting to our right. So it goes.

Also, be careful to not confuse Angelini with Angeli, Evan Kleinman's longstanding restaurant on Melrose; odd that an unrelated restaurant would open up five blocks from an Italian restaurant with a similar name that's been around for years, but so it goes. I like Angeli, too, especially the bread and the rustic soups, but Angelini is really in a class by itself -- probably the best pasta in the city, and that includes Drago and Il Pastaio. And price-wise, it's very reasonable -- most pastas for 10-14 dollars, grilled items all around 20. Does that not sound reasonable? Think of it this way: you're going to be paying half of what you'd pay at the Little Door and getting a meal of twice the quality. Stop complaining.

The grilled items are good, but really, go with the pasta. Happy times await, at least await all of us who aren't on the Atkins diet.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003


Walked into Jar last night to find the restaurant pitch dark. An apologetic maitre'd came up to us. "Unfortunately, our power went out ten minutes ago. But we can make you a reservation at Lucques." Then, three seconds later, the power went back on. I guess I have the Fonzie touch.

So we ate at Jar, which was empty except for one other couple. "It's a slow night anyway, because people are saving for Valentine's Day, but the power outage didn't help," said our server, who was gorgeous but, sadly, had a ring on her finger. The food was terrific as always -- it's the Campanile and Jozu's crew chophouse, but I've always done better with the broils and roasts. So after having a tasty grapefruit, onion, and crab salad, we dug into pot roast that was so tender, with creamy horseradish on the side. For our sides -- which is most of the fun -- we had the wonderful garlic fries, and spinach in garlic that wasn't as interesting as I hoped. It's a lovely designed space, and reasonable for a chophouse type restaurants -- most of the meats are 20 to 25 dollars.

In the past, I've had great encounters with the crab deviled eggs, the iceberg wedge salad, and the braised pork belly with kale appetizer.

The space -- the old Indochine and before that, way before that, the Monkey Bar -- has been better utilized here, avoiding claustrophobia and the noise that accompanies it.

Recommended: go right after a power outage there. Great service, and very little competition for waiters' attention.

Sunday, February 02, 2003


If nuclear holocaust hit Venice, the cockroaches left behind would probably be hanging out at Hal's. It's been an Abbot Kinney mainstay since long before Abbot Kinney was a staple of the Angeleno vocabulary. I've never had a great meal there, but I keep going back. Why?

1) The space. It's a large space with high, warehouse ceilings. Large colorful paintings on the walls. It manages to remain big without being spare. Can get a little noisy, however.

2) A very good cheeseburger. Not quite up to Father's Office snuff, but I'd put it on the high list of best high-end burgers in our fair city.

3) Great ethnic and age mix. LA lacks racially diverse nightlife and restaurants. Hal's always seems to have a mix.

4) Not the Hollywood scene. Instead, much more of the Venice neighborhood crowd, mixed in with a lot of the art and design and architecture folks.

5) Though the restaurant is overpriced, the bar area is very reasonable.

6) Also, the bar scene is somehow a pick-up scene that doesn't feel like a pick-up scene. Which is good.

7) "There are a lot of MILFs here," said a friend. Yes.

Friday, January 31, 2003

bar noir

Drinks last night at Bar Noir, a small but beautifully designed bar off of the lobby in the boutique Maison 140 hotel. It's at Lasky and Charleville, right near where Little Santa Monica and Wilshire meet, around the corner from CAA.

Supposedly it gets crazed and crowded on weekends there, but last night, it wasn't so bad. And in fact, the one design defect of the bar -- that it's not enclosed, that while you're sitting there you're also staring at the similarly designed lobby -- probably allows crowds to overflow a bit. The clientele is a bit beautiful people in black, but the couches and pillows and French provincial armchairs that fill the place -- as opposed to a stark, minimalist design -- make it a nice place to grab drinks in Beverly Hills. There's apparently a wide selection of martinis and mixed drinks -- someone recommended the lemon drop -- but we just opted for glasses of wine and caught up. My recommendation, though, is to go only if you think you'll get a place to sit -- the small size that gives the bar an intimacy, would probably give standing clients an intimate claustrophobia.

I went there with an ex whom I hadn't seen in five years. Many bars wouldn't have delivered on those unique circumstances. Bar Noir did mighty fine.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

chi dynasty

Being a Chinese fan in LA is like being a sushi fan in Boston. You're often out of luck, a victim of geography.

You can find great Chinese in Monterey Park, and good Chinese in Chinatown, but in the 323 and 310, pickings are slim. I like the Mandarette, on Beverly; I just ate there last week and had sauteed string beans and garlic, and orange flavored chicken. I love Mao's Kitchen, an under-priced funky (but not divey) place in Venice right near Market Street and Pacific that serves non-greasy Chinese at picnic tables, with Communist propaganda posters on the walls. Here's a photo:

"They wouldn't let anyone get away with a German restaurant called Adolf's, or a Russian joint called Joe's," Mickey complained. "That's because people don't like German food," I said.

Last night, I went over to Chi Dynasty, on Hillhurst in Los Feliz. This place has been around forever; when I was a teenager, it was my family's neighborhood Chinese joint. The sign outside advertises that there are two locations: Taipei and Los Angeles. I have to wonder what the Taipei location is like. I'll probably never find out for myself.

The inside decor is the exact tacky decor you get at J&R Seafood on the westside -- lots of stiff chairs and mirrors. Not a lot of character. With all the wait staff wearing tuxedos or black suits. So be it.

We shared Hunan Lamb and Orange Beef, which were fine; the Lamb, a bit too soft; the Beef, too sweet. Started off with the traditional minced chicken in lettuce leaves, and that was actually very good, probably the best I've had in a long time. Drank a Tsing-tao; the bill was $48, pre-tip, 2 glasses of wine and a beer. Nothing special. And I've had meals at Maos where I've gotten two appetizers, two entrees, and a vegetable and stayed under $40.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003


Friday night, had dinner at Ammo on Highland, north of Santa Monica Blvd. I'd been there for weekend lunch before and quite liked it -- despite the omnipresence of WB actresses and hipsters in hooded sweatshirts, I thought the lunch food was interesting, and they make a great chicken sandwich. I liked the spare wood decor, and the boxy lantern lights, reminiscent of the ones at Ciudad downtown.

It started as a catering company, and then they opened the little restaurant. Fair enough.

Dinner, unfortunately, was very disappointing. An endive salad with pears and balsamic, supposedly with cheese, where the cheese was a little dollop. For entree, a tiny portion of "organic" chicken that was dull. My eatmate had better luck with ravioli that were stuffed with ... I forget, but they were good. Still, the real criticism of the place is that everything was far too overpriced for dinner. If you're going to be spending 20 dollars or more on a meat entree, then why not do it at Campanile? Angelini charges less for their pasta, and in my book, they're serving the best pasta in LA right now.

At least it's across the street from Aron's Records. I'll go there for brunch again.


Monday evening, I had dinner at Prado, the upscale cuban-Carribbean joint run by the people who also run Cha Cha Cha. It's over at Larchmont, and has been around forever. Hadn't been there in a few years. I like that the wine list has lots of wines for under a Jackson, and I like that the ceiling is painted to look like light blue sky with white clouds, kinda a Magritte deal. The food was pretty good -- I had as an appetizer what they called a gordita, a soft tortilla cornmeal cake topped with a chicken stew -- very good. Less interesting was my entree, the Jamaican corn tamales topped with a creme fraiche and a little bit of caviar. Came with rice and beans, a plaintain or two. The entrees in general are all a little overpriced considering the cuisine. I think I'd rather go to Cha Cha Cha, which has a funkier, happier feel. We did have a good Pinot Blanc. Service was good, but then, it was a fairly empty Monday.

Last night, I made my maiden voyage to Opaline on Beverly and Vista. Which wins points for me because it's within walking distance of my apartment, right near Beverly and Fairfax. The number of "restaurants within walking distance" are severely limited in my life: Authentic Cafe, Cobras and Matadors, and the blissful Angelini Osteria.

red used to be in walking distance, too, but I rarely walked those two blocks, simply because the "nouveau comfort food" there gave me little comfort. It was fine, I guess, in a nice space with big red booths along one wall, but it was one of those restaurants where you got the feeling that everything was priced about four dollars more than it should have been, considering the quality.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who felt that, for red went under a couple months ago, and has now been re-designed and re-jiggered by new owners into Opaline. At first, I was a little bit worried by the high number of people in black and tall lanky women. (Generally, I don't go for places frequented by people who don't eat, or at least don't look like they digest, their meals.) Also, the design of the place ain't exactly warm; very minimalist and spare. I had a glass of Riesling while waiting for my friends, at the pleasant bar/holding dock.

The service throughout the evening was wonderful, which ain't always the case with a place that's getting its sea legs. Recommendations were very good, not just the waiter but the two maitre'ds came to the table frequently, all making for a feeling that we were attended to.

The food was very good. We started with two appetizers -- a squid stuffed with chorizo, which was great in textures, and a gnocchi with ricotta and mushrooms, which was okay, but then, I've never been a huge gnocchi kinda of guy. For entrees, my friends had a cod thing (I forget what it was exactly) and a pork shoulder with couscous, where the pork, with a cinnamon and colliander taste, had a similar taste to carnitas. I love carnitas; this was good. I myself ordered a chicken pot pie, with organic chicken and "root vegetables." It wasn't your mother's chicken pot pie. Terrific.

Dessert, we had a hazlenut cake that was okay and a bread pudding with tangerine syrup and cumquats that was very good.

Price-wise, not bad -- three people and a $30 bottle of wine, it came out to $160 including tip, 50 bucks a head. I'd definitely make a return visit. It's not quite at the level of Campanile or Lucques for neighborhood eats, but it's also not quite the price.

Okay, now for the weird stuff. When my friend and I were being seated, we run into two old friends of my family, who've known my mom and dad since Berkeley days and then both worked with my mother at the LA Times. Then we sit down. I get up to the use the bathroom, and run into another friend of my friend who works in the business side of a network in town. Then I come back. Then the bus-boy recognizes me, because he used to make me smoothies at the gym. Then, one of the servers, not the one handling our table, recognizes me because she was a year behind me at film school.

All this, and at the next table over: James Woods with three old dudes and a bunch of young women. You go, Jimmy!

Clearly, Opaline would not be a swell place for me to have any covert assignations.

Not that I have any convert assignations to assign.

I spend too much money on meals out, and I spend too much time talking to friends about restaurants and places to go in this city. Thus, this blog -- to make me feel less guilty about the former, and to cut down on the latter.

The key inspiration for this little blog was Below 14th, the sidebar blog of a friend in Manhattan.