Thursday, April 24, 2003


Birds, over on Franklin near Beachwood Canyon, is no one's idea of a great restaurant, yet I do have some built-in affection for it, both because it's within walking distance of the house where I grew up, and because I spent a lot of time in Birds when I was finishing an MFA degree at nearby AFI. There's always a nice neighborhood crowd there. Yet last night, I had an exchange that got me a little miffed. The shtick of the place is that it's mostly chicken dishes, and you usually get a choice of a side, which includes baked beans, herbed potatoes, caesar salad, etc.

Me: I'd like to get a chicken burger, and I'd like to get fries as my side.

Server: I'm sorry, you can't get fries as your side.

Me: But it says here that you can get fries as your side for the hamburger, for a dollar extra.

Server: Yeah, but we're not allowed to do that for the chicken burger. I'm sorry, it's strange, I know, but it's the rule here.

Me: It's the rule.

Server: We have a really small deep fryer.

Me: But this menu also says I can get an order of fries, a la carte, for $3.95.

Server: Yeah.

Me: But I can't get them as a side for a dollar extra, because I'm getting a chicken burger and not the hamburger.

Server: Yeah.

Me: I'll get the chicken burger, a side of baked beans, and an order of fries.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003


Laurel Canyon is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city -- ramshackle, bohemian, full of curvy roads, it's never lost a kind of rock and roll charm, and it's never fully emerged from the early 70s. There's only one restaurant in the canyon, and so when I'm considering meals nearby, I often forget about Pace. It's easy to forget -- tucked as it is underneath a small grocer's market, halfway up the drive up the canyon to Mulholland. But it's a lovely spot, dimly lit with a small patio, and offering up a range of pastas and grill items. One friend remarked that the space reminded them a bit of New York, and I can see that -- there's kind of a West Village quality to the place. The food is good; last night I had a farfalle with a bolognese ragu and mushrooms, and it was tasty.

But this is a place about atmosphere -- and you do pay for that atmosphere, for though it's casual it's not cheap -- and I like that the serving staff seems to know everyone, that the place is full of regulars, and that there's a relaxed vibe fitting a relaxed canyon. So relaxed, I forgot for most of my meal that Monica Lewinsky was at the next table over.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003


r23 is a wonderful restaurant, a tasty restaurant, but you must be guarded, strong, prepared. No, not for the neighborhood -- yes, it's the loft district downtown, and no, I don't recommend wandering around from street to street at 11 p.m. at night if you're a small woman.

Guard yourself for the r23 surprise. If you go in and decide, okay, I'm not going to get any specials, then you're looking probably at a bill that'll come to $25 per person, if you're getting an entree, appetizer, and maybe a little sushi or sake. But then there's the specials list. It's printed up. It doesn't have prices attached to it. Your server will keep asking you, "would you like one of our specials," with her hand seductively steering you to the specials list. If your meal is like ours from a week ago, she'll do this several times.

Should you resist? Well, no, you don't have to resist, and the food is very, very good, but feel free to ask the price of the specials before you select. Because some of the prices, they're pretty special, too. And sometimes they'll play this game: you'll order something on the regular menu, and they'll recommend a special that's very similar. So you get that. Then get the bill and, hey, what a surprise, it's $20 more! Thank you, r23!

(In r23's defense, when a compatriot of mine spilled a large amount of sake on his favorite shirt, they immediately offered him some super-duper stain-removing potion. (And no, they didn't offer a "special" stain-remover when he ordered the regular one off the menu.) Sadly, the next day, he spilled on his shirt again at Campanile. Same shirt. No stain-removing potion available! Clearly, God wanted that shirt stained.)

Now that we have that out of the way. I like r23 because it's a neighborhood I so rarely go to. Because the design of the restaurant -- in a little alley between 2nd and 3rd streets -- with its brick walls, high ceilings, and Frank Gehry cardboard chairs -- is very cool without being cold. Because the entrees and appetizers are often inventive -- I had a crabmeat casserole for my entree, quite good -- without going to the astronomically priced Nobu heights. Though, much like Nobu and Matsuhisa, I find that the sushi at r23 isn't the best part of the place. I find the sushi fine, but I think I'd rather hit Sasabune or Nozowa if I'm hankering for the raw fish. But for a softshell crab appetizer that can't be beat, I go to r23 "So this is what Downtown looks like."