Thursday, March 20, 2003

bombay cafe

When you discover a great new restaurant before everyone else does, you feel a certain amount of pride. When you finally get around to discovering a restaurant that everyone else has been loving for years, you feel a certain amount of shame. Such was the result of my maiden voyage last night to Bombay Cafe, on Pico, near Bundy.

What's taken me so long? Probably my natural hesitation towards Indian food in general -- I'm not big on Tandoori, and much of the other stuff always tastes greasy to me. But Bombay Cafe doesn't taste greasy, and everything is full of flavors, alternating from the rich to the sweet to the spicey. We started off with some chutney and nan, and then went on to have the dal of the day -- black lentils, with a consistency like a thick porridge -- and the spinach and cheese paneer thing, and a lamb frankie -- almost a lamb burrito/omelette. Delicious. The nan -- we had a garlic nan and an onion nan -- was wonderful.

And did I mention the cocktails? Well, there are cocktails. I had a ginger margarita and then a mojito. And it was good. And it somehow took me how many years to finally go to this place?

Wednesday, March 19, 2003


When I arrived at Grace, the new occupant of the space that Muse used to rent on Beverly and Martel, I was excited. I was looking to the future. I was hopeful. This was, after all, a brand new restaurant within walking distance of my abode, and, more exciting still, I knew absolutely nothing about it. Hadn't read any reviews. Hadn't heard from anyone who went there.

The interior design was gorgeous -- high ceilings, hip lantern chandeliers, a nice retro sitting area. All looking promising. Sure, it seemed a wee bit loud, but we could make do with that. And I was also pleased to see that Grace, unlike Muse, did not seem to be only a gay restaurant. Unless there were a lot of incredibly well-put-together transvestites there. (No problems with a gay restaurant, except that most gay restaurants, I find, tend to have mediocre food. Because gay men and women go to tons of other restaurants for quality of the food, and thus, the "gay restaurant" has atmosphere, rather than cuisine, as its first priority.)

Phil then showed up, and the maitre'd seated us. Wait, where are you taking us? Why are you walking past the seating area? Past a couple of empty tables that could certainly accomodate us?

Sure enough: the boondocks.

They took us to the "other room." No lantern-like chandeliers. No large noise. But absolutely no excitement or fun. It felt like the waiting area. It felt like the women's side of an Orthodox wedding, and we can hear the dudes on the other end of the building getting down to some accordian music.

Big mistake. I hate restaurants that clearly have one good room and one "overspill" room. One of the things I love about places like Campanile and Lucques is that though there are more than one room -- and you might prefer one to the others -- none of the rooms feel like you're flying in the back of the plane with the chickens.

So Grace wasn't starting on the best foot. Then we looked at the menu. Okay, a lot of new American grill, with the entrees in the 22-30 dollar territory. So comparable prices to, hey, Campanile, Lucques, and many other restaurants I like very much. And could be eating at.

We started with the pork shoulder appetizer, which came surrounding a little dollop of polenta. I think it was polenta. Sure tasted like polenta. We were originally going to share the dungeness crab salad, but the server -- who was nice, I'll give her that -- warned us that the dungeness crab salad was the size of, like, a Hot Wheels car. Maybe a little bigger. Well, the pork shoulder wasn't much bigger than that. But fair enough, it was tasty.

Phil ordered a bacon wrapped rabbit, served on a little sword, that was tasty, if gamey, which is what you have to always describe rabbit as, because then you remind yourself why you just spent 25 dollars on a bunny. It's not a cute little woodland creature. It's game. I ordered a filet of beef with red peppers, forgetting that I don't like red peppers, and with a blue cheese butter, that was quite good. The beef was perfectly cooked; I was happy with that.

Still, though, I was feeling a little cranky about our seating. Phil at least sat in the banquette, which meant he had the added joy of looking at the large group of beautiful women sitting behind us. Things improved, albeit slightly, when two striking women and their shlubby dates showed up and sat on either side of us. Thank God Phil and I attacked the perennial favorite conversation topic of "Favorite U2 Songs" and "Favorite Bruce Songs" and "Favorite Karaoke Songs" -- Phil likes to sing "Don't Fear the Reaper," who knew?

The server coerced us into the special dessert, which were churros with a cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows for dipping. Even if she did the coercision, I appreciated it, because these churros were damn, damn good. Very tasty. The meal as a whole cost $120 with tip, which doesn't sound bad until you realize we only had one drink and two glasses of wine. Thanks for the churros, Grace, but next time I'm going to Opaline. And fuck you for the bad seating.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003


The trouble with ascertaining the quality of a Mexican joint is that after you've doused yourself in a significant number of tequila drinks, everything starts tasting pretty good when you shovel it into your mouth. But, the flip side is that though everything tastes pretty good, nothing tastes amazing.

So I take my read on Lares, on Pico up the street from McCabes with a large grain of (margarita) salt. I'd had many friends rave about the place recently as the best "non-nouveau" Mexican in the city -- less trashy/tacky than the El Cholos of the world, but not meandering into any of the fusion delicacies that make a Border Grille a Border Grille.

Fair enough, but though I enjoyed the carnitas -- rather than being finely shredded as at most joints, they were coarser chunks of the marinated pork, and I liked it that way -- and certainly enjoyed the margaritas ("Do you want a specialty tequila?" the waiter asked, and we looked around at our table full of men and all decided that sticking with the house, low-quality tequila was just fine for this crowd, thanks), I wasn't overwhelmed by the quality. It was good, but not knock-em-sock-em, wow.

This was also a case where I thought I had never been to the restaurant, and then arrived and said, oh yeah, I've been to this place. Which is kinda a disappointing experience for a would-be foodie, when you think you're venturing into new territory, but instead are walking where you have walked before. Like thinking you're travelling to Bangkok and finding out, no, it's Palm Springs again.

One last note on Lares: it's a two story restaurant, and I actively recommend sitting upstairs. Downstairs feels like every trashy Mexican, in the Sevillian dungeon style. Upstairs, however, has much more charm -- open space and lots of bad but colorful paintings on the walls, feeling much more like a Mexican Hal's. Kind of.