Los Angeles is infamous for its traffic, and sometimes it just is not worth getting on any freeway or surface street until it’s a bit less clogged. Notice I said “a bit”…lately it seems there is no “off peak” time anymore, but unless you are masochistic or have the patience of a saint, avoiding anytime between 4-6 pm might save a life (your own if you have high blood pressure). Happy hours are a great invention to get some food and calming liquid into your system. Please don’t over indulge and drive drunk, but if you have some time and eat something, one drink might mellow you out for your 2-3 hour commute. I take the metro more  often than I drive, so not only do I get to indulge in adult beverages, but I also watch the cars on the freeway from my perch on the rails 🙂

I took the metro Expo line to the terminus at Santa Monica and discovered the Independence about a block away. Weekdays from 3-6pm they offer a selection of $5 drinks and bites. I had my first Paloma here and loved it! It was nice and tart and strong enough that even though I was walking, I only had one 🙂

I couldn’t resist the oysters, but I wouldn’t choose them again….the lack of expert shucking left bits of shell and they were not the freshest. Neighboring patrons had the mussels and meatballs that smelled wonderful, but I didn’t want to ruin my appetite for dinner.

I was out in Claremont and happened to be in time for Bardot’s Happy Hour from 3-6pm on weekdays. They have special promos most evenings and Wednesday is Whiskey night with $7 cocktails and delicious $3 bites like crab cake sliders. I had a food issue which was resolved so quickly and professionally that I went back the next week.

The drink and food specials change depending on the day of the week for happy hour, so when I went back it was Martini Monday night; $7 for top shelf brands like Ketel One, Grey Goose, or Bombay Sapphire. I chose a “hot and dirty”, basically a dirty martini with a splash of tabasco 🙂

The $5 tuna tartare was fantastic with a bit of seaweed, guacamole, mango, and micro greens to complement the very fresh and excellent ahi. The crispy fried and salted wonton chips were so good that I defy you to have just one!

I already love Red Herring for brunch, but after trying their happy hour, I also love them for later in the day. Their Happy Hour is Tuesday-Friday from 5-7pm when you can get wine or cava for $7 and duroc pork belly bacon BLT sliders for $5 on a parker house roll (you get TWO for that price).

Frida is a popular place for Mexican drinks and bites, but I’d never tried them until recently. They have Happy Hour everyday from 3-7pm, with additional late night Happy Hour Sunday-Thursday from 9-10pm and Friday-Saturday from 10-11pm. Well drinks are $5 and margaritas are $6 (add $2 for Cadillac or Agave). I chose the spicy and was very pleasantly surprised by the level of spice 🙂 

I didn’t want to drink on an empty stomach, so I ordered a veggie taco with portobello, zucchini, bell peppers, and tomato for $4. It was just enough to absorb some alcohol without filling me up too much to eat dinner.

When two friends braved the freeways to come see me, we stopped by for a quick drink and bite at Eden on Brand before a show. The space is modern, light, and airy, with the bar as the central focal point underneath a light sculpture.

One of my friends craved mac and cheese so we ordered it off the regular menu for $12. The pasta was a bit dense and thick for the lightly creamy sauce, but she enjoyed the flavors nonetheless.

Besides our drinks being discounted, their shrimp ceviche, with avocado cream, radish, and yuzu, was only $7 instead of $12. We all enjoyed this so much we would have ordered another if we had not been running late to the show. My friends loved their mojito, and when I told the bartender I preferred my paloma less sweet, he adjusted it perfectly 🙂

I think that happy hour doesn’t have to involve alcohol or savory food, and it can be anytime you want something to make you happy!

Three Twins organic ice cream makes me happy and if you don’t live near a location, you can buy their products in many markets nationwide. My cone of mint confetti in a teensy size was the perfect portion for me after a big lunch.

My other friends combined scoops of cardamom, strawberry, and Mexican chocolate to create their own bowl of joy:)

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I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area on and off for several decades, so I remember when Chinois opened in 1983. It was nearly impossible to get a reservation, and everyone who was lucky enough to get a seat raved about the food. I have fond memories of the Shanghai lobster with curry sauce, and I know some people who worked with Wolfgang Puck and they were so grateful to be part of the food revolution he created in Los Angeles.

Sustaining quality for over 30 years is a Herculean task, but it should be noted that Hercules is a mythical man. As talented, smart, and good hearted as Wolfgang Puck is, he is human, and with such a global brand and so many operations, it is impossible to maintain excellence on all levels at all times.

On a recent visit to Chinois with two friends who also enjoyed the place in its heyday, we were sorely disappointed. With only two tables of three occupied during the entire lunch service, we thought that it was a bit odd, but we looked forward to having a semi private dining experience. We all had our favorites (still on the menu) so we split everything, starting with the famous Chinese chicken salad. A very generous portion, but it was surprisingly bland. There was no zing from rice wine vinegar nor any other flavor that stood out.

The catalyst for coming was one friend who craved the warm curried oysters with cucumber sauce and salmon pearls. Normally the portion is 4 but because there were 3 of us we opted for 2 more so we could each eat 2 apiece. The beautiful presentation was mouthwatering, but the oysters were lukewarm, barely crisp and as much as I like oysters, this was not tempting enough for me to eat more than one. Sadly the bed of plain watercress was my favorite part of this dish because at least it had a peppery flavor.

I chose the whole catfish with ginger and ponzu, looking forward to a skillful preparation. The large fish was deep fried for so long and on such a high heat that it was dry, and unfortunately the ponzu sauce could not save the flesh. At least it was crispy unlike the oysters.

As you can see from the picture, the head was so overdone, there was not any way to tell where the eyes had been.

I appreciated sharing nostalgic memories with friends, but sometimes it is better not to try to relive experiences. We will continue to eat at Puck’s other restaurants, but we won’t be returning to this one. Service was professional and my friends made sure they knew it was a birthday celebration, so the meal ended on a sweet note as I made a wish 🙂

A dear foodie friend (hmmm I think all my friends are foodies) invited me to eat lobster with her for my birthday, saying we could take as many hours as we wanted savoring all the nooks and crannies (we ended up eating for 3 hours). She suggested Boston Lobster because she had eaten lobster at another restaurant where the chef used to work and enjoyed it. Knowing that if we went later than 5 pm there would be a long wait, we got there at 4:30 pm and found easy parking, lunch time specials still in effect, and a choice of seating:)

Because the lunch specials were still in effect, we ordered two to compliment our lobster, both were under $8, included a hot and sour soup, and white rice. The soup needed some vinegar but it was tasty and chock full of goodies like bamboo shoots, tofu, and wood ear mushrooms.

We chose the lunch special garlic pea sprouts for our vegetable side dish. It was a generous serving with lots of garlic and lots of stems.

Another lunch menu special were the clams with black bean sauce. We found the sauce a bit runny and the black bean flavor was not very prevalent. If you like your black bean sauce flavor mild, you would enjoy this dish.

We came for the lobster, and it looked like every other table came for the same. Although most lobsters weight around 4-5 lbs ($19 per pound) and there were only two of us, we still managed to eat most of it. We chose their house special preparation, which was also how every other table chose to have their lobsters. The lobster was fantastic, perfectly cooked and obviously freshly pulled from the tank. Next time I would choose my usual preference of ginger and scallion preparation, because after attacking a pound of this beast, the richness of the specialty preparation slowed me down. On a very positive note, we washed it all down with a bottle of very nice Pinot Grigio (they provided an ice bucket for our wine after we asked for one), and changed our plates about 4 times during our feast.

Our waiter came by after about 2 hours and said that we knew how to live, drinking wine and savoring lobster; I couldn’t agree more!

Thank-you Georgia for a fantastic meal 🙂

Meeting a friend in Los Angeles means sometimes finding a midway point so that we don’t go crazy trying to deal with traffic for 40 miles and 3 hours (yes, it can take 3 hours to drive 40 miles here).

Studio City was a good halfway point between the East and West Valley, so we chose Granville. The first thing I ordered was this spicy Bloody Mary made with organic vodka for $10 that came with a celery salt rim and was so good that I considered ordering another one:)

My friend ordered the Granville salad with chicken for $14, which is basically a Greek salad and as you can see from the picture, a huge portion.

I ordered the Spring Chicken salad with antibiotic/hormone free chicken, seasonal berries, gorgonzola, pecans, and a caramel dressing that is one of their specialties for $13.50. I think next time I would order my friend’s salad simply because the sweetness of the berries and dressing made it a cross between a savory and sweet plate.

My friend finished with a Breve, or a cappuccino made with half and half, before braving her drive home.

After filling out the customer card on my first visit, I got an email for a free entrée worth up to $17 the week of my birthday with the purchase of another, so two friends and I went to their Glendale location. We started with the artichoke hummus, a perfect plate to share, just as our waiter Gary suggested. The crisped flatbread had a nice sprinkle of shaved red onion and the texture was just slightly chewy, a nice pairing for the slightly lemony hummus. This is a very generous portion, so unless you are very hungry or want to take some home, I would recommend this for at least 3 people to share (and we still took some home).

I couldn’t decide between the trout with pepita crust for $20 or the 12 oz pork chop with cajun spice for $24 so I asked our waiter, and easily decided on the pork chop when he said the pork chop was a favorite. One of my friends still opted for the trout so we traded bites. We enjoyed the crispy skin, but the fish was overcooked and dry, which no amount of lemon could help, so we told our server and he offered either a redo or something else. They removed the charge for the fish when she opted for a substitution of the poblano quinoa for $13.

She liked the poblano quinoa better but would have preferred less lemon or something to offset the flavor, like some butter lettuce to scoop it up or some endive spears. She said she liked it enough to take her leftovers home (where I’m sure she will eat it with some lettuce).

I chose the pork chop that was done perfectly medium, juicy, and the cran mango compote served on top gave a bonus burst of flavor. The yukon mashed potatoes and spinach with garlic were nice supporting players on the plate, but the pork chop was truly the star. I ate about half of the plate and took the rest home, but my other friend literally cleaned his plate (I think he would have licked it if he could have gotten away with it).

They gave me a complimentary birthday ice cream scoop with a candle that I had no room to eat, so we asked for 2 spoons so my friends could enjoy it. When we got the bill, they had given us the wrong discount so we brought that up to our server who said if he couldn’t make it right he would send his manager to us. It was resolved without needing to escalate it to management, but it ended our evening on a slightly uneven note since our service was so good. I would definitely go back, but I would also always inspect the bill before paying it.

Chang’an‘s casually chic space will soothe the frazzled nerves of anyone who abhors the frenetic atmosphere in many Chinese restaurants. Smooth jazz, attentive service, and a decent wine list befitting their perch atop the Hilton Plaza. If you time your visit to coincide with their daily Happy Hour, you can enjoy some of their specials at discounted prices, including their cold sake for $10 instead of $15 per 400 ml.

Their Kumamoto oysters were $3 during Happy Hour instead of $3.80, and I got the last 4! If you allow the chef to choose your oysters, they are only $1.50 each during happy hour.

Every table seemed to have the lamb skewers, so we ordered two at $4 each during happy hour, not realizing how big they were; we could have easily split one skewer. They were so heavily cumin flavored that we would not order these again, but for sheer quantity of meat and tenderness, they are a bargain.

My friend ordered steamed scallops at $4 each and enjoyed the delicate touch on the scallop atop the glass noodles.

I went for the steamed oysters at $3 each; they were identically prepared and the addition of the glass noodles made each one a heartier appetizer.

We needed a vegetable dish to round out our meal, so we got the broccoli, beef tendon, bacon, and shrimp stir fry for $12. This was probably our favorite dish because it combined all the textures and flavors of land, sea, and garden.

To end our evening we had the Chinese sausage fried rice for $11 that was served with shrimp chips! The rice had distinctly sweet and silky sausage bits throughout and is a good choice for those who are meat and rice lovers. We ended up taking half of it in a doggie bag because as usual our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.

Another benefit of eating here is that they source their products from organic vendors, and they include a service charge with every bill to help with the pay disparity between the back of the house kitchen staff and the front of the house waitstaff.

As I’ve written in a previous post, my friends live various distances from me in the greater Los Angeles area, so a visit requires advance planning to avoid peak traffic congestion and special events, like a game at the Coliseum, or a concert at Staples Center. Spending time with my friends is always worth the trip, and sometimes I get the added bonus of a meal with a view. We had an early dinner at 22nd Street Landing Seafood Grill and the handy paper place mats showed exactly where we were 🙂

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Fresh fish dinners run in the $30 range with soup or salad, steamed vegetables and a side. I chose a lobster bisque that had pieces of lobster but tasted more like an underseasoned creamy potato soup than a bisque.

We all chose Halibut but with different sides, my choice was coleslaw, my friends chose mashed and baked potatoes respectively. The portions of fish were all very thin, and unfortunately, overcooked. I wish the appearance of a large surface area was less important to both diners and restaurant management in the US:( None of our plates were seasoned at all, but they offer cajun or blackened options on the grilled fish, so next time that might be an option, but with the thin filets, that would not have helped the doneness. Thankfully every table had salt and ground pepper, so at the very least we could add basic seasoning.

 The view and the company were spectacular 🙂

After dinner, we had beer for dessert at Brouwerij West (pronounced brewery). This immense space hosts musical guests, food trucks, and families (including dogs on leashes), with indoor and outdoor tables.

The Taproom offers full pours or tastes of their brews as well as cans to go and they encourage you to bring in food from outside, so you can actually picnic at their picnic tables. Brouwerij has a bit of something for everyone, and if you can’t decide, you can just get a few tastes and create a flight:)

Yes, these are all beers: the Picnic Lightning IPA, two tastes of the Starfish IPA and the Belgian Sans Souci, and the fruity Dog Ate My Homework, made with blackberry juice. My friend liked this brew so much that she took a four pack of cans home!

My favorite place for sushi in Little Tokyo is Sushi Gen, but sometimes their hours or wait is too daunting for people who are not as obsessed as I am about food. For a birthday lunch, several of us went to the birthday girl’s choice of Tenno, which is literally one block away and open all day. They have lunch specials under $10 for meals with soup and rice, so Tenno is a good place to stop for a bite on a budget. Please note that the budget prices are because the crab is imitation, and the portions of the fresh fish are very small; you get what you pay for, so if you can afford to pay a bit more and wait, I would highly recommend you go to Sushi Gen.

Although they are a self described fusion restaurant, we stuck to the mainly Japanese sushi and sashimi choices. I ordered the Spanish mackerel sashimi for $16.50, and the fish was very fresh, albeit served very sparingly for the price; I could have easily eaten three orders.

I was glad I also ordered the soft shell crab roll for $11.95 which was enough to share. The batter was more flour than panko, so it was a not light, and for some reason they drizzled a sweet “eel sauce” on the plate.

 One of my friends customized a sashimi bowl with four choices.

 Another customized a seaweed salad with salad greens.

The birthday girl chose a rainbow roll $11.95 (imitation crabmeat)

 

and a pink lady roll $12.95, which was a similar variation with spicy imitation crab, topped with a lemon slice, that you ate after eating the roll.

 

Once we told them it was a birthday celebration, they offered a mochi ice cream dessert with birthday candle to the birthday girl:)

After a long hot day in the mountains, some friends invited me to Top Island for dinner and I was grateful for both their generosity and their choice for Chinese food. I am very picky about French food, but I am borderline OCD when it comes to Chinese food. Having been sorely disappointed by nearly every place I’ve eaten since my return to Los Angeles last year, I was not even hopeful that this place could be decent, much less good. I was glad to have been pleasantly surprised.

Top Island is slightly upscale and the place setting on the table reflected that with a chopstick rest and better quality plates and bowls.

Complimentary boiled peanuts were set down as soon as we were seated.

Since Tilapia was the only whole fish done in any style, we chose the cod filet with ginger and peas. It was perfectly done, with tender moist filets in a light savory sauté.

One of my friends loves clams with black bean sauce and she literally licked her clam shells clean 🙂 It was a relief for me to taste not just one, but two dishes at a Chinese restaurant that were good enough to make me want to order them again.

Squab/pigeon was offered and although my friends were impressed by the gratis plate, I warned them that it may just be leftovers, and unfortunately, it did turn out that some of the pieces were gamey and tough.

We ordered a side of garlic greens which were flavorful, but had several tough fibrous stems.

Complimentary red bean soup was offered for dessert and after one spoonful, my friends declared it burnt and left the rest. Another offered plate were these pineapple buns which my friends loved, but since I’m not a fan of Chinese sweets, I declined, so they took mine to go in a doggie bag.

Overall, there were enough good dishes that I would go back. I would warn everyone that sometimes food is given away because it can’t be sold; the adage that if it’s too good to be true, it usually is, may apply.

When foodie friends say they are trying a place and invite me to join them for dinner, I almost always say “Yes!”. After an afternoon at LACMA, we were literally at the door of Son of a Gun waiting for them to open. Since there were four of us and only three of us love oysters, we settled on half a dozen to start. I could easily have eaten all of them and another dozen (my record is 3 dozen in one sitting). They were the freshest, most well opened ones I’ve eaten since I’ve been back in the US. The grated horseradish and a squeeze of lemon were all I sparingly added to my pair.

We decided to order a variety of dishes so we could taste a bit of everything; first out of the kitchen was the lemonfish poke with black radish escabeche, citrus, and crispy sunchoke for $18. The plates are small, so we each had about one bite. The ingredients were good quality but the flavors underwhelmed.

When we were warned by our server that the lobster roll was small we didn’t expect it to be this tiny for $11. Yes those are potato chips to give you an idea of the size, and once again we each had a bite of the two we ordered. We all enjoyed the buttered brioche more than the seafood dressed in a nondescript bit of lemon aioli that tasted of neither lemon nor garlic.

We tried the hamachi with galbi vinaigrette, radish, and radish sprout for $18 that was like the poke with the use of fresh quality fish but it did not wow any of us with the flavors.

Our favorite dish of the evening was the half pound of chilled peel and eat shrimp for $22 that did not need the side of lime mustard sauce.

We doggedly kept ordering, next was the yellowfin tuna, tortilla, leche de tigre, and avocado for $23. It arrived like this, and yes the size was about 2 tablespoonfuls.

Underneath the drape of tuna was a small mound of avocado mixed with crisp tortilla strips. I wish I could say that it was something other than a poor plating attempt to justify the price tag.

We tried some cooked dishes like the shrimp toast for $13 that was again a very small bite with more toast than shrimp.

We didn’t want to give up, so we ordered the trout almondine on asparagus rice with lemon brown butter and dill for $25. It was the heartiest dish we ordered and like most of the other plates, lacking any zest.

Everything we ordered was prepared with quality ingredients and the prices reflected that, but we were sorely disappointed by some of the very boring flavors and nearly all of the dishes. The blatant overcharging for miniscule amounts of seafood or fish while using bread, toast, or avocado to make the portions seem bigger was so distasteful to me that I will not be returning for anything other than the oysters, which is a sad conclusion to an evening where four of us spent more than $250.

Los Angeles is more than 10 times more spread out than Paris, so my friends are also 10 times more spread out here than in France 😦

One of my lunches was in Orange County at Panini Cafe, a small chain that has branches throughout Southern California, serving Mediterranean inspired plates, with a few Southern California standards like the tuna melt I ordered. I liked the lack of mayonnaise in the tuna salad, but as you can see from the picture, the cheese was not melted.

My friend and I split the sandwich and this eggplant stuffed with rice and ground beef. It was a very generous portion and redolent with earthy spices that gave it comfort food appeal. In true Californian style, we took half our meal with us in doggie bags, so the mid teen $ prices are a bargain for the fresh flavors and portions.

Another day another lunch, or in this case, brunch in South Pasadena at Mike & Anne’s. We started with a Bloody Mary, that was as potent as the $15 price tag.

For this meal, we both chose the salad Niçoise with seared rare ahi. The ingredients were farm fresh, but we had to asked for extra dressing to make the salad pop.

For the third lunch with yet another friend, we went to Cafe del Rey in Marina Del Rey. We arrived around 2pm when most people had finished lunch and got an unobstructed view of the marina from our booth. Unfortunately we waited for 30 minutes before anyone came by our table. I went to the host stand to ask for a server and they realized at that point that no one had been assigned to serve our table. When our waitress arrived she apologized profusely even though it was not her fault.

My friend chose the poached salmon kale salad and loved the mix of golden raisins, almonds, and chickpeas for $22.

I chose the quiche, made with applewood smoked bacon, spinach, and Gruyère, served with a side of arugula for $15. The quiche was very good, but I found the thick crust a bit underdone in the middle.

To walk off our late lunch, we strolled Abbot Kinney and had macchiatos at Intelligentsia where I added a bit of chocolate to end our day on a sweet note 🙂

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