I never get a chance to eat downtown, mainly because I rarely have a reason to be there, I hate driving there and the parking is a pain. And yes, I know there are tons of good restaurants there.. but the parking! And the traffic!
Anyway, a perfect excuse to have dinner downtown came in the form of theatre tickets to see "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at the Ahmanson. (It's in town for another week? I highly recommend it! Tons of fun - a touch (okay, rather) un-PC in parts, but it was very enjoyable). Since my friend and I were going to be down there anyway.. well, might as well grab dinner beforehand.
Reservations were made at 5:45 at Cafe Pinot, after vacillating between it and Nick and Stef's (a more varied menu - or steak and mac & cheese? It was such a hard decision, believe me). Yes, we realised there were restaurants closer to the Ahmanson - if we wanted to stick with a Joachim Splichal restaurant (since they do seem to dominate downtown dining), there's Kendall's at the Music Centre and Patina at the Disney Concert Hall. And then there are tons of other places to eat. I can't even remember why we ended up at Cafe Pinot, but we did.
It's about a 10-15 minute walk from the Ahmanson, as it's located at the Los Angeles Library. It's a very pretty setting. We were given the choice of indoors or outdoors, and chose the former. It was a nice afternoon and the air was starting to cool. There were a couple of full tables, but the rest unoccupied - it was rather early, after all.
Our waiter, after taking our drink orders, asked if we had an event to go to afterwards. "Yes Thoroughly Modern Millie," we trilled, and he nodded his head in assent. After our dinner orders were taken, a basket of bread, accompanied by a large slice of butter, mm butter, was placed on our table.
To start, I got half a dozen oysters, served with wedges of lemon and the standard shallot-vinagery dipping sauce. My friend got the corn soup - corn "pureed over and over", with curry and apple - no cream, no butter.. just a drizzle of oil atop as an accent. There's no way you can go wrong with oysters as long as they're fresh, so I was very happy with my appetizer. I had a couple of sips of the soup, and it was very good, but could have benefited from a little more of the curry flavour, or perhaps some salt. (I lightly salted a corner of her bowl and tried it then, and the salt definitely added some oomph to the dish.)
Then as main courses, I got the spicy lobster bolognese while she got the three mustard crusted rotisserie chicken. My pasta was nicely al dente, and the bolognese consisted of small chunks of lobster, carrots, onions and perhaps another vegetable or two, in a nice lobster stock. I was very pleased by it - lately, I've become somewhat of a texture freak, needing my food to have a pleasant mouth-feel as well as tasting good, and this sufficed nicely. My friend said her chicken was very good - I did not taste it, although I did nip some of her french fries. What do they do to their fries? I *love french fries, but there was a peculiar taste to these (I've noticed it with some other restaurant fries as well) - perhaps the parsley they fry the potatoes with? I ate quite a few as I tried to figure out why I didn't like them as much as plain ordinary french fries... ah, but they were nicely crunchy on the outside and just a touch mealy on the inside, so good (aside from that taste..)
We weren't going to get dessert. Really. But then the menu came, and on it were chocolate "bunyols" served with vanilla ice cream. Curious, we asked the waiter what these bunyols were - I was thinking it was just an elevated way of saying "fried dough" - but then he used the magic word, "profiterole," somewhere in the description. We are both suckers for profiteroles. So we had to order them - little balls of fried dough, with a gooey chocolate center, served with vanilla ice cream and more chocolate sauce, blueberries scattered on top. Even though they didn't turn out to truly be profiteroles, it was still an excellent dessert. They did not taste overly fried, which is good - rather like miniature doughnut holes, with that yummy chocolate center.
Service throughout was excellent. Water glasses were refilled promptly, and there was a certain charm to the way the waiter said, "Thank you," after all our requests. You don't get that in many restaurants.
And it's absolutely lovely being seated outside on a warm summer afternoon/evening. You don't hear the hustle and bustle of the traffic in the courtyard, but the looming skyscrapers remind you that you are indeed downtown. It's like being in a calm oasis.
By the time we left at 7:30, the outdoor dining area was more or less full while indoors was still rather empty. Tab, for 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, 1 dessert, 1 iced tea and a glass of wine came to just under $80, without tip.
And even though my heels hurt my feet beyond belief - I mainly wear flipflops in the summer, and my poor feet chafed against the unfamiliar confines of leather in sweltering heat - we were glad that we had a nice walk back to the Ahmanson, to give ourselves time to digest before settling into our seats for the musical.
All in all, it was a very nice prelude to the evening. I need more excuses to come downtown. And I'd like an expense account too, if anyone has one of those s/he'd like to donate to me.