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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 🙂

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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 🙂

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.

Red Herring is the kind of local place that makes everyone wish they lived in the neighborhood. I’ve already become addicted to their brunch so there will surely be more posts about other meals in the near future. Whether you wish to eat indulgently or lightly, they have an option that will delight you. Every bit of fruit in their greek yogurt and fruit granola cup for $8 is juicy, ripe, and tastes as good as it looks.

If you want to indulge in a classic brunch plate of bagels and smoked salmon, they use bagels from their neighbor Belle’s Bagels, and those tomatoes are some of the best ripe heirlooms I’ve had the pleasure of eating in a long time, spinkled with just a few flakes of sea salt.

If you are in the mood for something classic with a twist, the two eggs with hash browns and mushroom confit for $13 elevates diner fare to something beyond anything you will ever find in a chain restaurant.

For those who want a combination of something good and something bad, their Breakfast Caesar for $13 with kale, romaine, bacon, poached egg, and tomatoes allows you to enjoy thick crisp bacon while munching away on kale.

Whether you sit upstairs or on the ground level, the friendly staff, stylish decor, and deft expertise in the kitchen, will make you want to return. I will be back 🙂

My friends live all over the world, so when anyone who lives more than an hour away by car, train, or plane, comes to Los Angeles, I do my best to see them for a meal, a drink, or both 🙂

Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne of AOC are also responsible for one of my favorite restaurants, Tavern, where I have been enjoying meals ever since they opened, and the famous Lucques. I would not hesitate to go eat at any place where these two talented women are at the helm. As I waited for my friend, I had a glass of the sparkling brut rosé for $12 and enjoyed the cool interior air-conditioning on a 90F+ day.

One of the specials that day was a perfectly seared fish served with an addictively crisp skin, arugula, grapes, and fennel. My recommendation for anyone eating at any of their restaurants is to ALWAYS order the fish special because it never disappoints, and always restores my faith in restaurants having the ability to train and retain excellent chefs who know how to treat fresh fish with a light but expert touch.

We also ordered the flaked albacore salad with raw bok choy, mizuna, and lemongrass for $24. We slightly preferred the first dish, but we would have had no hesitation ordering this dish again.

Since my friend had lived in France, our dessert choice was of course a selection of cheeses. Served with walnuts, dried apricots, and of course bread, it was a fitting way to enjoy the end of a meal.

As we segued to our final course, we switched to wine,

and moved to the patio as the sunset 🙂

Grand Central Market has evolved into a food mecca, with far too many great options to try all in one day, but a friend and I tried to eat our way through the market anyway 🙂

We started off at Belcampo with their $14 lamb burger, made with garam masala aioli, tamarind chutney, mint, cilantro, and red onion on a wonderfully soft bun. I love that all their meats are grass fed and that they have complete control of every aspect of their operation from raising the animals to processing and butchering them. Yes, the prices here are higher than your local chain grocery store, but I prefer to buy less from places with practices I want to promote, than feed the corporate machinery.

We split the medium rare burger and loved the textures and flavors. If we had not planned to try other places in the market, we would have eaten one of these each!

We also shared a plate of the sweet potato fries, seasoned with celery salt, and they were so crisp, salty, and sweet that we fought over the last fries!

Ramen Hood was our next course. It was the only vegan ramen I’ve ever tried, with sunflower seed broth, king oyster mushroom, bean sprouts, scallions, and chili threads, we added a vegan egg for $2 more making the total bowl $12. It was much better than we imagined, with full flavors and the “egg” not only looked like an egg, but the texture was very close to one. A satisfying bowl, but next time I think I would try the spicy version that I saw my neighbors eating at the counter simply because I think some added heat might enhance the flavors even more.

We were pretty full but wanted to try a small bite at Madcapra, made with locally sourced organic ingredients, so we got just the green falafels for $3.50. They were dry and bland on their own, but once we added the dipping sauces, they were good.

Sticky Rice serves organic locally sourced Thai comfort food, like this rice noodle plate with beef that was so big I had to take half of it home! The assortment of condiments was a very nice way to add heat and zing to any dish on their menu.

We ended our eating spree with a walk to the now closed Fabrique for some lattes; I chose the lavender, which was smooth and creamy

and my friend had the rainbow latte, a beautiful ending to a great day of food:)

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