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Since I am leaving this week for Paris, I wanted to share an “American” meal with my friend Mika before my trip so we went to Wilshire in Santa Monica for their Dine LA week dinner. Their special menu is only $34 for three courses with the option of pairing two wines for an additional $15. I chose the 2009 Inception Chardonnay and the 2004 Chateau Reignac Bordeaux and enjoyed both the quality of the wines and the value of the pairing.

Mika loves lobster, so for her appetizer she chose the Lobster Bisque, tarragon crème fraiche, with olive oil fried croutons. It was a wonderfully creamy version with plenty of lobster flavor and the tarragon creme fraiche added a nice accent in both color and taste.

I chose the little gem and endive salad, apple, walnuts, served with roaring 40s pomegranate vinaigrette; a great combination for a salad! I was pleasantly surprised to find bits of blue cheese in the salad which complimented the crisp lettuce splendidly. I also enjoyed the sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and the light hand with which this salad was dressed; a bigger version of this salad would be a perfect lunchtime meal.

For my main course I chose the miso cod, crispy rice, and shitake mushroom salsa. The fish was meltingly tender and very flavorful with miso, but it was not warm (much less hot). I enjoyed the Shitake mushrooms, but I found the rice cake a bland disk of slightly crunchy rice.

Mika chose the braised short rib, mashed potatoes, with glazed cipollini onion and enjoyed the meat, sauce and potatoes immensely. This is a great dish for any meat and potato lovers. I tasted the meat and found it a good version of braised short rib, but I felt it could have used a bit more braising time.

We chose the same dessert of flourless chocolate cake, with black pepper ice cream. This was a very rich and light cake for a flourless cake, so the black pepper ice cream was a refreshing counterpoint. Somehow we both managed to eat the entire slice!

Service was professional, the decor was welcoming and relaxing (the bar area is a local hotspot if you are looking for action), and the outdoor patio is a perfect spot for a warm afternoon or evening meal, so Wilshire is the perfect go to place in Santa Monica.

American food has certainly evolved from the Blue Plate Specials of unknown meat with brown gravy served with frozen vegetables. Wilshire is a wonderful example of the great dishes that are being served today in America, and although I look forward to leaving for Paris, I also look forward to eating at Wilshire again upon my return.

Wilshire on Urbanspoon

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In memory of my beloved Tiger who loved this song by Santana and whom I will always love.

Since it was another beautiful 80 degree day in Southern California, I wanted to have lunch outside and the sunny colors of Maison Richard‘s patio off Melrose beckoned to me. Yes, this is the place that was Michel Richard on Robertson Blvd for 33 years. The new space is bigger, sunnier, and brighter with the yellow sunny color of Provence. There is an adjacent bakery with pastries as beautiful as paintings (and as tasty), and some pates, cheeses, and salamis so you can pack a picnic to go if you are in a hurry.

Since it is still Dine LA week, there was the $16 lunch menu (which I had to ask them to get me), but I opted for the Whitefish with mustard sauce and vegetables. Since house wines were only $5, I asked whether the Rosé was dry or fruity and the waiter gave me a taste so I could decide. My verdict: crisp and fruity, as Rosés from the South of France usually are (and this wine was from the Golfe de St. Tropez) so I nodded yes to a glass with a smile.

The Whitefish came with a small salad, dressed in a light vinaigrette with tomato, and olive and diced pimentos.

The Whitefish ($14.95) came with julienned zucchini and carrots. The mustard sauce served on the side was very rich and very flavorful, but I added only a small drizzle to my fish to accent the tender filet. The portion was much too big to finish, but I enjoyed every bite. It was wonderful to have a basic French menu to choose from and to have gorgeous pastries to peruse. I have decided that for my next trip to Maison Richard, I will come for dessert, and if I have room, I will consider a light meal after I finish my dessert!

Maison Richard Cafe & French Bakery on Urbanspoon

One of my favorite Italian restaurants is Il Pastaio in Beverly Hills with pasta that is so delicate and light that it literally melts in your mouth. With Dine LA week in full force, I tried their sister restaurant next door, Enoteca Drago for lunch.

I went on a wonderfully sunny day in January, where in Beverly Hills, the temperature was about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Dining outdoors, I got some sun and enjoyed people watching at the same time. The friendly welcome was a harbinger of the professional service to come as I was invited to pick any seat on the patio and told about the Dine LA $22 menu as soon as I sat down.

I started with the Vitello Tonnato, which I have never seen on any menu here in Los Angeles. For those who have never had this dish of thinly sliced veal with a creamy tuna infused sauce, this version is an excellent introduction; the tender veal and caper accents made this a mouthwatering appetizer.

For my entree I chose the shrimp ravioli with lobster sauce and zucchini puree. The ravioli was unusual with one side of each ravioli made of squid ink pasta. I found the lobster sauce magnificent, but the texture of the pasta here was not the light heavenly version found next door at Il Pastaio. The squid ink pasta was partially to blame for this, but I literally needed a knife to cut the ravioli and it made me long to go next door for the ethereal pasta at the sister restaurant.
The shrimp were slightly over done, but not to the point of being rubbery and the filling was a nice if not inspired mixture of seafood.

I chose the pear Napoleon for dessert and received this architectural medley of pear chutney with almond ice cream and almond brittle. It was beautiful and not too sweet, but a bit difficult to eat, even with the spoon and fork given with the dish.

The service I received here was among the best; no one hovered, yet as soon as I placed my silverware on the plate after eating, it was immediately removed. I was asked if I wanted any drinks with my meal, then asked if I wanted coffee with my dessert. After every dish I was asked how I liked it and I am sure if there had been any problems it would have been rectified immediately. Timing is very important when it comes to service, and the timing of the staff here is impeccable.

Enoteca Drago on Urbanspoon

It’s one of my favorite times of the year; Dine LA’s Restaurant Week started and I had to get fellow food lovers out to enjoy some meals out for the two week “holiday”. I always go to Capital Grille every time I go to Las Vegas, but since they opened in Los Angeles, I thought it was time to introduce this restaurant to my friends who live here. My meat loving friend Mika was in dire need of a replacement for her former favorite steakhouse Pacific Dining Car because the last meals we ate there had been woefully overcooked and just not up to par.

Dine LA’s Dinner at Capital Grille is $34 and allows a choice of Caesar salad or Field Greens, or Clam Chowder for an appetizer, then an entree choice of 10 oz Filet Mignon or their famous bone in Kona crusted dry aged Sirloin with shallot butter, or Seared Citrus Glazed King Salmon, with a choice of mashed potatoes or spinach, and a dessert choice of flour less chocolate espresso cake, ice cream, or Creme Brulee for dessert. Many restaurants participate, and I appreciate it when they give you or tell you about the Dine LA menu when you are seated, but unfortunately this was not the case here. Not only did I have to ask for the menu, but I had to ask for more than one menu (we were a party of THREE). They apparently did not print up enough and were allotting only ONE menu PER TABLE! Our waiter Arby allowed us two once we promised we would give them back (?!?!?!?); for this caliber of restaurant this made them look very cheap and unorganized. Arby redeemed himself by making up sweet wine spritzers for Mika and Alia which they loved.

The Caesar salad was a nice version, featuring thinly sliced parmesan and some fresh croutons that Alia loved. There wasn’t enough garlic or anchovy in the dressing for me, but it was tasty enough to finish and most American diners would be very happy to have this less intense version.

Mika had the field greens and liked the vinaigrette even though she found there was too much dressing when she got to the bottom pieces of greens.

Alia chose the salmon and asked for it to be cooked through; it is refreshing to have a restaurant ask how you prefer your fish cooked instead of assuming everyone wants their fish well done. She loved the citrus glaze said it was one of the best salmon preparations (and she would know, being a salmon aficionado).

Both Mika & I had the bone in Kona crusted dry aged Sirloin with shallot butter, although I ordered mine rare and she ordered hers medium rare. We were both relieved to find they cooked our steaks EXACTLY as we had ordered, hers pink and warm, and mine red and cold on the inside. The meat was juicy, had a nice sear, and tender for the cut. It really did not need the shallot butter, but it is a nice rich addition for those who want to be decadent.

Alia chose the chocolate ice cream for dessert and it was surprisingly dark (in a good way).

Both Mika & I chose the flourless chocolate espresso cake, a dense, sweet, rich finish for a fabulous meal, served with fresh raspberries and whipped cream.

A meal in Los Angeles is always fun, but when combined with discounted menus and friends, it is a priceless experience.

The Capital Grille on Urbanspoon

Whenever Cindy comes to town, we always try to experience a new place. Today’s lunch was new not only for Cindy, but for me since Vu has just been remodeled and redone inside the Jamaica Bay hotel in Marina del Rey. Cindy had never been to the Marina, so I thought this would be a great location for her to see the small beach and boats that make up the charm of this area.

With indoor and outdoor seating that takes advantage of the views from two sides, the remodel has made the space feel open and inviting at the same time. Warm earth tones and casual furnishings make this a spot you would want to live in, or at least hang out in for a few hours.

It was a perfect Southern California beach day, so we opted for a sunny table which felt great for our later afternoon lunch. Cindy had the Vu Salad with roasted beets, mixed greens, caramelized red onion, corn nuts, baby tomatoes, beet vinaigrette ($9). The beet vinaigrette added some nice color and a slight sweetness to the tender greens and the corn nuts added a nice texture to this delicate salad.

We split the Calamari and we were surprised by the tenderness of the thick sticks under the crunchy chicken fry; it was so good I could have mistaken it for Abalone. The calamari was so good by itself the pink lemonade sauce was unnecessary (I also found it a bit too sweet). We never did get a black peppercorn biscuit, but it was a great dish as it was served ($11).

Being the carnivore, I had to order the Bison Carpaccio, which was mustard seared, and served with pickled shallots, celery root confit, peppercress, and extra virgin olive oil (which was lacking in my dish but I actually preferred it dry) $14. I loved the fact that this dish was on the menu and I loved eating it even more with the small contrasting bites of celery root confit and pickled shallots. I would come back here just for this dish.

We wanted to linger in the sun at the beach, so we ordered a dessert to share, the French Toast with strawberry jam, maple syrup ice cream, strawberry & thyme relish ($8). Although Cindy does not like fruit (go figure), she liked the strawberries on this dish because they were cut up into a minuscule dice. The French Toast was just the right amount of crunchy and tender and the ice cream was a nice treat for those who like their desserts a la mode.

Vu has a Happy Hour from 4-7 with bites for $5 (including a steak tartare) and drinks for $6 and on Sundays the do a reverse Happy Hour from 8pm-closing, so you might want to come by around sunset for a drink and a bite by the beach.

Service was good and the setting was comfortable, and in spite of the few menu/kitchen discrepancies, the food was worth coming for, even though the place is in a hotel. Valet parking is free during the day (please tip your valet), so come and enjoy the view at Vu.

It’s been about 2 years since I have reviewed Shik Do Rak (read my previous post here) and although many of the good points remain, some things have changed. As I noted in my previous post, it is very rare to find any Korean restaurant which serves non Koreans (especially non Asians) well; I have literally been told “No, we are not serving” when entering with a Caucasian and seeing that the restaurant is obviously open and serving.

Shik Do Rak still does well when greeting all customers, they still smile and open their doors to all who enter. Since none of us was Korean (they spoke to me in Korean and I said “What?”, and one of us was Caucasian, we were happy to be welcomed.

The portions are still huge and very reasonably priced, with huge portions of Kalbi (marinated or not) for under $28; the grill was about 15 inches in diameter and what is on the grill was only about half of one order. Before any meat arrives they toss the onions and mushrooms on while the grill heats. The Kalbi is very well marbled and they provide scissors and tongs so you can cut up the meat safely so you can maneuver it on the grill.

You have the option of cooking your food yourself, or having them cook it for you and bring it out, as they did for this pork dish. The ventilation is fairly good, with huge hoods over the grilling tables (one side of the restaurant has no grills so they cook your order in the kitchen and bring it out to you if you are seated in the non-grilling section). Your hair will probably still smell of BBQ, but not to the point where dogs will follow you home. The pork was tender, slightly spicy, and crispy on the more grilled pieces; watch out for bits of bone clinging to some of the cartilage.

Numerous side dishes arrived before the main courses to be eaten as condiments and although all of us love heat, but the grated radish was too hot to eat more than a few bites at a time, and the gelatinous green dish was tasted and left alone after my friend Mika said that “It tasted like nothing” and had a strange texture. The burdock root, tofu skins, and bean sprouts were all good, as was a slightly too sauced bowl of green salad. Mika had to have rice so she ordered that as a side (all Korean restaurants only serve rice on the side because they feel that if you have meat,fish, and sides rice is merely filler).

With three of us, we ordered three dishes, so besides the two meat dishes, we had Jap Chae (glass noodles with vegetables and beef). Once again the portion was huge, served on a 15″ plate and piled high. It was well seasoned and loaded with fresh vegetables, but I found it a bit oily.

We were the only non Koreans in the entire restaurant, and it was packed so two years later, what changed? The portions are still huge (we took a third of the food home) and the food is still fresh and well seasoned; I still think that this is the best Korean BBQ restaurant outside of Koreatown. But on the negative side, the one disturbing change was that tables which arrived after we were seated got served (ate and left) before we did and we were ignored after our dishes were served, even after trying several times to flag down a waitress to refill our kimchee dish. Their service is still miles above many places for their treatment of non Koreans, but I am disappointed that they are becoming a more segregationist restaurant rather than standing out as a place were everyone is served without regard to their national origin.

Shik Do Rak - Northridge on Urbanspoon

Although some people are weary of tasting menus (yes Anthony Bourdain I am talking about you), most of us revel in being able to sample a chef’s skill in a menu designed to amuse, beguile, and seduce diners into a food nirvana.

Some friends and out of country visitors went to the Hollywood location of Katsuya on a night when an infamous celebrity (a certain tall thin blond heiress) had paparazzi swarming the place. Since we were not sought for photographs, we entered the place easily and were escorted to an ensconced booth facing the sushi bar. No one could decide what to order (besides a few bottles of a delicious Sancerre), so we each went with the tasting menu of five courses ($65).

A ceviche began the meal, with nicely dressed citrus ponzu sashimi of yellowtail, tuna, salmon and a sprinkle of jalapeno and cilantro in a tea cup sized serving dish. A nice light beginning for a very delectable journey.

The second course was actually four samples of the most famous dishes offered: crispy shrimp, lightly battered and fried with a rich creamy sauce on the side, the yellowtail with jalapeno, crispy rice with spicy tuna, and spicy albacore tuna with crispy onion. Everything was nice if not necessarily inspired. I found the crispy shrimp too rich with the sauce, but nice without it. The spicy albacore with crispy onion too salty, and the spicy albacore tuna on crispy rice was not at all spicy but tasty, but the jalapeno yellowtail was perfect.

The next dish was Kobe beef with a small slice of foie gras. I loved the foie gras, but found my beef too cooked (medium); it is a shame for such a wonderful piece of meat to be overdone, but in the tasting menu they do not ask how you want the meat portion prepared, so if you are like me and love your meat rare, be sure to tell your server before you order.

The final savory course was tuna, halibut and unagi sushi with a rice paper wrapped baked crab hand roll. It was divine, but we were all too full to completely finish this penultimate course; we tasted what we loved and left the rest to save some room for dessert.

Since there were five of us dining, we got to see that each dessert plate had a different flavor of mochi ice cream along with the cream filled profiteroles and fresh fruit we all got.

We literally had to stagger out of the restaurant (good thing the paparazzi were gone by then). Next time we will order more judiciously, picking out our favorite dishes amongst those we sampled, but we were glad to have tasted it all celebrity sighting in Hollywood included.

Katsuya on Urbanspoon

The address for Upper West has changed hands at least three times in the last five years, so when I saw this place stay without changing names for more than a year, I thought it was time to try the latest incarnation.

I went for lunch ad was surprised to find diners filling nearly half the space; it’s always a good sign when a restaurant known for bar food and happy hour has a lunch crowd. I asked my server if the salad plates were a meal or a side serving and he said if I ordered a salad, it was probably enough by itself (he was right). I chose the organic baby spinach, dill mustard vinaigrette, blackberries, goat cheese, red onions and edamame ($8) topped with a grilled skirt steak (+$7).

The portion was huge, completely filling the 14″ plate. Happily, the steak was tender and done as I had ordered it (rare), unfortunately the salad did not have either the red onions or the edamame, and the drizzled sauce (meant to accompany the steak) on the salad made the salad a bit too salty. I also ordered a glass of the special lunch sauvignon blanc ($5), which was a generous pour and very passable as a house white.

Would I go back? Maybe. They have a great happy hour menu from 5-7pm with menu items like Thai Calamari, Lamb Nacho bites, and jalapeno hummus, all for $7 and wine or beer from $4, so perhaps I will try them for their strong points and hopefully they will still be Upper West by the time I go back for another try.

Upper West on Urbanspoon

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