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.