Supper Club is a new restaurant review segment for T.R.L. .
A small but well-earned promotion for me at work was the impetus behind my bride’s decision to take us on a night out.
“I have a surprise for you!” she said, eyes glittering with anticipation. “Make sure you are not working on the 27th”.
As we approached the date in question, I asked if we were staying local or traveling.
“We are driving to LA and spending the night”, she replied warily, as if I were trying to discern our plans in advance.
A little about my wife at this point in the story. She is a SoCal woman born and bred and has spent lots of time in the great outdoors. We’ve road-tripped a bunch of places, camped for days at a time in a forest with no plumbing, electricity or, god forbid, cell service. We’ve taken our bikes on the Amtrak for an overnight to Santa Barbara, cycled all over Catalina Island, vacationed for a week in a Texas lake cabin…you name it. A quintessential outdoor girl.
When I think of Stephanie I don’t think of sleek LA, with its famed sidewalks and monied denizens…its sprawling concrete and polished steel. But thats where we were headed. Friday the 27th of February arrives, we pack an overnight bag and head north.
We arrive early at our hotel, a non-descript place on Beverly Blvd that we would call home for the next 23 hours. We decided, after taking our stuff upstairs, that we would walk over to The Grove which we passed on the way in. My wife is still not telling me our plans for the night, by the way.
The Grove is an upscale outdoor mall with shops and restaurants, a movie theatre and special events. We walked slowly down flagstone paths, people-watching and window-shopping.
We also discovered the LA Farmer’s Market, adjacent to the Grove and containing stall after stall of local and area products: fresh meat and poultry here, just-picked produce over there and specialty vendors touting everything you could imagine: 100 different types of hot sauce, an amazing variety of exotic spices, a vintage toy store, you name it. We walked through, trying to see it all, stopping only to split a Reuben sandwich (lacking…) and later, a few pints of local brew.
We made our way back to the hotel for a break, then dressed for dinner. Earlier I had made reservations at a favorite steakhouse of mine, only to be told by Stephanie to “cancel them”.
“Cancel them? You know how hard it is to get a decent restaurant reso on a Friday night in LA?!”
“Yep. Plans have changed”, she said with a wink.
Since parking is the Great LA Nightmare, we decided on Uber for the lift to my bride’s secret spot. A short 10 minute ride over, we stopped in front of a grey building. La Boheme. What follows is my review of the experience there:
When you first walk in to La Boheme, the multi-level dining areas, chandeliers and striking garnet red tones are impressive. A small, 10-seat bar to the right welcomes you as does a young lady perched at the host desk to the left.
We sat at the bar and were instantly greeted by the bartender, who handed us drink and food menus and a Happy Hour listing. Steph told him that we were waiting for friends and would just be ordering cocktails to start.
“Wait a sec…who do you know in LA?!” I asked. Anything north of Anaheim was foreign to her at least in terms of cities and experiences, let alone acquaintances.
“Drink your drink,” she replied with a smirk, then turned to the bartender, asking if the Happy hour items were available in the dining room, since we would soon be adjourning there.
“Typically not, however since you two are the only ones here right now, I’ll see what I can do”, he said.
Happy Hour La Boheme
His comment caused me to look around and see that, indeed, we were the only ones in the place. It was early (7pm) but I thought there would at least be some traffic, given my prior LA dining experiences. Favored places always seem to get cracking right after sundown…
Lost in my mental meandering, I didn’t feel the first tap on my shoulder, but turned at the 2nd touch to see the face of my best friend and crime partner Chris Cox. I did a quick laugh and shook my head. Now it made sense. A few weeks earlier, I had read on his FB page that Chris was going to be performing in LA, but I hadn’t made it a point to remember the date. Stephanie had conspired with Chris to get me to LA tonight to meet up and then watch him perform at Greystone Manor later. More about that in a bit.
With Chris was a couple friends, Ron and Phil, and we decided to go to our table. Introductions all around, then Jeff our server was ready for a drink order.
A short thing about LA waiters. All of them want to be anywhere but where they are at any moment in time. There is an audition waiting for them, a party, an event….truly something they are missing and in a hurry to attend. Anything but waiting tables.
“Have you made a decision on your water?”, he asked. A decision on my water…no, stud. LA tap is just fine. Cocktails were ordered and brought in fairly quick time.
Phil, Chris’ friend, said that we should order some appetizers. But first, he had a question for our waiter:
“How many pieces in the Bruschetta?” asked Phil
“Six…I think”, said Jeff
We ended up ordering their Avocado and Tomato Bruschetta, Ahi Tartare and (6) Oysters.
The bruschetta came out on a marble board with 3 pieces instead of 6 as Jeff “thought”, but no matter. We split the bruschetta into halves and dug in. Unfortunately, the bread tasted chewy and underproofed and was topped with the most boring tomato topping I’ve ever had.
Most versions of bruschetta that I’ve encountered share a lineage of flavor delivered by garlic, some black pepper, maybe a little kosher salt and a dash of balsamic vinegar. This had none of that. Perhaps a reductionist version was the chef’s goal; that being said, this missed the mark entirely.
Next up was the Ahi Tartare. At my restaurant we serve fresh Ahi poke, blackened Ahi sashimi and seared Ahi, and I’m used to seeing the bright pink flesh of the tuna take center stage. This one looked like it had been out at room temp for some time, and was approaching the color of liver. Surrounded by what looked to be a circle of Tostitos blue-corn tortilla chip rounds (?), there was nothing appetizing about the dish in appearance, and soon, in flavor as well.
I dug in with my fork and warily lifted it to my mouth. I was expecting the light flavor of fresh sea-water combined with the advertised yuzu and soy reduction. What I got instead was a muddy train-wreck of flavors set off by old, poor quality tuna. I put my fork down.
At this point I was unwilling to try the oysters, daring only to move past the disappointing starters and ready to give their entrees a whirl. My wine glass was kept full, my bride was by my side and good friends, both new and old, were at the table.
For dinner I ordered their New York strip steak. At this point I should mention that my original desire was to go to Capital Grille, if only because a ribeye was my one goal for the evening. They do great steaks at CG, but we don’t get to LA often and its always good to try local flavors.
Unfortunately, the medium rare steak came out RARE, which to me is way too underdone. It took me a long time as a younger man to move from well-done steaks to the (unknown to me at the time) more desirable medium-rare variety. At that age, I couldn’t imagine eating something that was so “undercooked”, but the balance of time and experience, plus the gentle urging of more sophisticated palates, led me to ordering my steaks in a manner less like shoe leather and more towards juicy and mouth-pleasing. That being said, going all the way to “spank the cow on the ass and send it out on a plate” was not my goal.
I didn’t send it back, as I wanted to see if perhaps I would enjoy the edges and fight through the center. But overall, the fair (not great) quality of the steak, combined with how rare it was, made me feel cheated.
For sides, the steak came with balsamic glazed cipollini onions; fat, white orbs which were overcooked and mushy. Instead of their polenta, I opted for simple mashed potatoes which came out creamy and delicious however, the portion size was about 2oz in a small souffle cup; great execution of the ingredients but let down by the stinginess of the kitchen. Lastly, a grip of broccolini, simply seasoned and with good texture.
All in all, I felt La Boheme was trading on its decor and its location in WeHo. A beautiful space with potential that’s not being realized on the culinary side.
Dinner Menu La Boheme
After dinner, Steph and I followed Ron and Phil to their townhouse while Chris left for soundcheck. After a few glasses of wine provided by our gracious hosts, we walked over to Greystone Manor, our destination for the rest of the evening.
Greystone Manor is a multi-use facility owned by nightclub and venue operator SBE. The layout is very simple with raised levels featuring a dance floor in the center with the DJ booth adjacent. Bars line both sides so revelers can stagger from the dance floor to the bar in short order.
Chris was holding court with some friends and fans and we made our way over to say hey. What followed from that point was a blur of fun, dancing, cocktails and strange visions such as this:
8400 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA
The Grove / LA Farmer’s Market
189 The Grove Drive
Los Angeles, CA
643 La Cienega Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA