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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.

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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.

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