I went to LA for a conference at the end of April and posted here for recommendations and folks were incredibly speedy, friendly and helpful in their responses (linked below). So thank you all! I was really lucky to have this resource to help guide good eating. And it was a luxury to travel with a hound extraordinaire, who had the energy to travel for the good stuff with me. You have such great food options there! I barely scratched the surface, but have great tips saved for my next trip.
I started my trip lamenting my lack of foresight, debating between Starbucks baked goods and Creative Croissants at JFKtheres a Creative Croissants at LAX too, and it seems that what was most creative was that those limp, anemic baked products were called croissants at all! Anyway, it did not at all reflect on the food goodness to come.
First meal in LA was at Shahrzad in Westwood (1422 Westwood Blvd 310-470-3242). The much lauded fresh bread was okay, but not particularly exciting, and a far cry from the amazing fresh breads that exist in Iran. I was impressed with the breadth of the menu; few NY restaurants offer quite the range of Iranian foods offered there. We started with the Combo appetizers which was great. The stuffed grape leaves were clearly freshly made, and among the best I've tasted anywhere, perfectly balancing olive oily richness, lemony flavor, and good insides. The cotelette was incredible--a fried ground chicken patty with loads of saffron and I have no idea what else; rich and delicious. For the mains, we got their tahchin, a delicious brick of fried rice/egg/saffron and yogurt, topped with delicious sweet/sour sautéed barberries; like getting a moussaka at a Greek place, pre-made baked foods can suffer, but this was much better than it might've been. We also got the shirin polo, which was a major disappointment. Well done Iranian rice is fluffy and light; this was dense and moist, and the orange peels and candied almonds and deliciousness that should adorn shirin polo were sparse. It was served with delicious tender, moist juicy chicken, braised in saffron, onion-y broth (the ultimate Iranian comfort food for me).
We stopped at the Iranian grocery next door--great roasted seeds and pistachios, and tangy Iranian fruit roll-up-y things. Oh, and fresh green baby almonds (this alone is why I should've posted much earlier; they're very likely out of season now. But stop by next Spring!) Got a box of rice flour cookies (noon berenji) which were lackluster.
And, alas, I never made it to an Iranian ice cream place. Was so excited to try Mashti Malones (Orange blossom ice cream? You guys are so lucky!) I'll come back soon!
Breakfast in Santa Monica was take-out from Urth Caffe. Really wonderful crisp croissants, with an amazing buttery ooze through layers of crunch. Bread pudding was decadently creamy buttery, but was nothing compared to the amazing croissants. Coffee good and strong.
Got tacos at Tacos Por Favor (1408 Olympic Blvd at 14th in Santa Monica, 310 392 5768) chorizo was great, fish okay, and great salsa and pickled carrots. I wish we had casual Mexican half this good in NYC.
Dinner at Lucques was amazing. The service was casual, friendly and attentive, and the food out of this world. The appetizers were amazing, most notably the fava bean puree and marinated artichokes, with duck ham and crumbled fetathe herbs in this were complex, and the textural contrasts were amazing. The spring onion soup was like a light, deconstructed French onion soup; the ragout of morels was also great. I tried a bit of my friends braised pork bellyrich and amazing. I got the famous short ribs, which was perfectly done, but way too rich for me. Wines by the glass were reasonably priced and great (dont at all remember what we got, sorry, but know that we enjoyed them). And desserts were good, but Im embarrassed to say Ive forgotten them entirely. We were far too happily sated at that point.
During the conference itself, I really had very little time, and had no chance to check out all of the great Japanese and Korean places downtown that were recommended. Had two lunches at Grand Central Market, where I was way too overstimulated to note the names of the places where I ate. I delighted in the sour cream, and white cheese, and ubiquitous limes, and ate great great tacos, and gorditas (never seen a gordita, ever, in new york ). Also got amazing chili coated dried mangos, and marveled at the millions of dried peppers on sale. Have I mentioned that there's nearly no Mexican in New York? And I love that there's an Iranian fast-ish food place there, though it was far too packed and the service too scattered for me to get something given my time constraints.
Oh, and the obligatory work dinner at Ciudad--we ended up having a preselected, more limited menu. Empanadas tasted frozen and barely warmed, salad forgettable, skirt steak surprisingly decent and flavorful, assorted cakes blech.
So, thanks all, for all of your recommendations. Enjoy these places, and all the places I didnt get to enjoy--Gueleguetza, all of Little Tokyo, Javan, Mashti Malone's, Tacos Baja Ensenada, and loads more. I'm looking forward to coming back!