LA had its restaurant week a few weeks ago and I broke my usual streak of never eating out (seriously, have you tried eating out with a 2 year old? Even with the best behaved toddler on the planet, it's not exactly a relaxing experience) and ate at no fewer than THREE restaurants in one week. Mini reviews below.
A note about reviewing Dine LA -- some people feel that you should never judge a restaurant based on a special event -- dining on a holiday, or during a promotion. Since the purported purpose of the DineLA event is to get people into the restaurants that otherwise would not be there, I personally think that a restaurant should actively be putting its best foot forward during this type of thing, instead of participating grudgingly. For the record, the pricing scheme of Dine LA has three tiers for different level of restaurants, and prices range from $16 for a 3 course lunch at a "deluxe" restaurant to $44 for a 3 course dinner at a "Fine Restaurant".
Meal One: One Pico
One Pico is the restaurant at Shutters on the Beach, which is an upscale faux-casual hotel that is actually right on the beach. I ate lunch here with my parents on my birthday, and have eaten there before.
Ambiance: One of the best views in LA, as you're looking out right over Santa Monica beach to the ocean. Room feels very light and beach cottagey decor, but with fireplaces for cooler weather.
Service: Nice without being obsequious.
Food: I started with a roasted beet salad with burrata, which was nicely done. The vegetables were well cooked and paired nicely with the cheese. It wasn't the height of creativity, but it was tasty. My main course was a lobster pasta -- instead of a creamy sauce that you might expect, the pasta was served with a roasted tomato sauce that was lovely in the cool weather, and large chunks of lobster. Again, not spectacularly unique, but well-executed. Dessert was a tarte tatin,with brown butter ice cream. I could eat a lot of brown butter ice cream. Portions were on the small side, but that was perfect for lunch.
Return: Probably (did I mention it's my parents' favorite place in Santa Monica?) The food is perfectly competent, and the view is spectacular. I probably wouldn't drive out of my way for the food alone, but it's certainly tasty enough.
Meal Two: Craft in Century City
This meal was dinner, courtesy of the fantastic Joy the Baker, thanks to my quick Twitter trigger finger. We were joined by Sonja of The Active Foodie (Poor Joy didn't realize she was getting into dinner with two lawyers, but we were very good and limited our shop talk).
The Ambiance: The room is really lovely -- one of the prettiest I've seen in LA, and they have a nice outdoor patio that looks out onto office building greenery. It is in Century City, however, which can't help but have a bit of a sterile feel.
Service: Pretty pitch perfect.
The Food: Really good. Everything we ate was really fantastic, from the Endive Salad and Salmon Rillettes (1st course, served family style) to the buttery autumn vegetable puree (side dish, also served family style). We practically licked the butter out of the potato dish. Joy and I both ordered short ribs as a main, which were excellent renditions of a classic dish, and Sonja had steak. Dessert was a particular tour de force -- desserts were presented family style, but included three butterscotch panna cottas with dates, three different ice creams (I think we all liked the salted hazelnut best, but the lime sorbet was a close second), a plate of cookies, and then caramel popcorn as mignardises. Craft is great ingredients, perfectly executed. You're not going to see deconstructions or foams, but everything tastes really good. (Aided, no doubt, by the kitchen's VERY liberal use of butter).
Return: Absolutely, for a special occasion (if I can get over my distaste for Century City.) I'm already pressuring the husband to check out the more casual Craftbar.
Meal Three: Restaurant at the Hotel Shangri La.
I met a group of L.A. Food Bloggers for lunch at the Hotel Shangri La in Santa Monica. In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that due to some connections of Erika Kerekes who was one of the organizers of the lunch, our meal was graciously hosted by the hotel and their PR firm. Also at the meal were Patti of Worth the Whisk, Cathy of Show Food Chef, Gaby of What's Gaby Cooking, Wendy of Pink Stripes, Cheryl of Black Girl Chef's Whites, Brooke of Food Woolf and Gisele of Pain Perdu. The conversation was definitely a highlight.
The ambiance: We ate outside near the pool. The access was a little strange (there was a VERY tall gate into the pool area, and I'm not THAT short), and the patio itself is nothing special in terms of view, but they've decorated it very nicely, with modern furniture and lots of shade. The dining room also seemed nice, in a modern and clubby sort of way.
Service: Service was very friendly, but quite slow. Lunch took nearly 3 hours. We fortunately had a lot to talk about, but I think the restaurant (which is quite new) was unprepared for a rush of diners during restaurant week. I'll give it some time to iron out its kinks.
Food: We shared some bruschetta, which were very tasty and fresh, with good, but not fussy, ingredients. My first course was a pumpkin lobster soup with vanilla cream which was fantastic. The soup was served inside a mini pumpkin, which could be eaten along with the soup, and the vanilla paired perfectly with the creaminess of the lobster and the pumpkin. Presentation was beautiful, and this was delicious. A real highlight. Main course was slightly less successful, but I probably ordered wrong -- it was a Niman ranch pork chop. It was served in a deepish bowl which made it difficult to cut the pork chop, and I had forgotten that I don't really like pork chops. This did escape the usual complaint of not enough flavor, but in certain bites the pig flavor was a little much. The polenta it was served with was fantastic, however. Third course was a pumpkin cheesecake, which was delicious and different from the usual -- it was flavored with cardamom, which was a nice match to the pumpkin instead of the usual cinnamon, and the crust was praline and ginger. Very tasty, and I ate more of it than I should.
Return: I'd give it a little time to iron out some kinks in the service, or go when you have a lot of time, but if you're in Santa Monica I would say this is definitely a good option. It's probably not a drive in from Pasadena just for dinner place, but it's some place I'd be interested in returning to see how the restaurant develops. And to eat more lobster bisque.