The "Glamour over Houndliness" post got me thinking that traditional houndliness may not be everything. I, as a wanna be chowhound, have usually tried to find places with great (or maybe just different) food first, with competent service next; plain surroundings are almost required as a condition of houndly purity.
Also, I have been sorely disappointed with my last few theater outings in Los Angeles (Elton's Aida and Lion King were the worst, and many of the smaller productions were so disturbing that I wonder why I keep going). I remember reading someone's restaurant column (Paul Wallach?) noting that "reataurants are the closet most people will ever get to theater". So why not purposely substitute restaurants for theater?
I picked 3 venues that used to be called "Dining Adventures": Diaghilev, Dar Maghreb, and Windows. (Places that have Theater as Dinner, like Papadakis in San Pedro, are out.)
Visited Diaghilev tonight. Treated as if I had sold World Com last year at $60/share. Dmitri, the maitre d' made me feel like the movie mogul I am not. 5 separate waiters kept both their eyes open and their distance.
Undistinguished, though not overpriced wines. The servers are expert wine pourers (no dump-the-rest-of -the-bottle-into-the-biggest-drinker's-glass-and-hope -you'll-order-another-bottle games).
Split an order of veal and chicken ravioli ($12) in a sublime saffron sauce; the most exquisitely tender yet elastic texture to the pasta and one of those magical marriages of the veal and saffron flavors. Split a nondescript but competent salad ($6). Got two orders of whole sole ($36 each - nearly the most expensive thing on the menu) just to watch the waiters dissect and rearrange the fish into reconstructed filets; lemon butter sauce the consistency of Hollandaise left, of course, in a sauce boat at the table with numerous cheesecloth-wrapped lemons. The fish was dense, firm, and delicate with that ocean air flavor of freshness.
Competent but not elegant cheese platter ($18), though it had enough cheese for four; and not just 3 skimpy pieces of bread, but a whole sliced baguette PLUS a few dozen crackers and what seemed like an entire fruit bowl.
We left feeling like a million bucks (no, not all green and wrinkled), and more satisfied with the performance than with most theatrical productions. The bill was $100 apiece.
But here is what was not on the bill: caviar blini amuse bouche (not oesetra, but not bad), good bottled water (we went through 2 bottles), 4 kinds of bread plus lavosh and breadsticks plus 2 kinds of butter, all constantly replenished, split orders (ravioli and salad split in the kitchen and delivered on separate plates, each with a cover meticulously and simultaneously removed at the table), carmel cookies, a chocolate dust stenciled napkin (spelling "DIAGHILEV", of course),2 glasses of Essencia dessert wine, nice harp/piano combo playing classical Russian music, and parking.
One caveat: don't let them pour the vodka unless you really want it - it's $7 a pour.
I would propose that theatrical chowhoundishness is an important subcategory of the genre. Diaghilev is to this genre as La Taco Rica is to the traditional type.
Next: Dar Maghreb and Windows.
Anyone have additional ideas?
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