My family was in town for an extended weekend and being the meal-focused people that we are ("Your mother's always worrying about her next meal," says my dad; "Your father has a fear of starvation," says my mom) we ate in some hefty bastions of gluttony and glamour.
PART ONE: CRUSTACEAN
We went here for dinner on Thursday night. Things got off to a bad start when they kept us waiting for half an hour before they sat us. We'd requested a table downstairs (my mom had made the reservation several months in advance) and yet they could only seat us upstairs, in a corner that was evocative of a 1st grade punishment. Our waitress was loud and mostly unhelpful. The food was ordinary. We had a sampler platter for the table to start and it was one step above a buffet at a Bar Mitzvah. My entree, the sea bass, was uncomfortably mushy and boring. My parents enjoyed their garlic shrimp, but not to the point of raves. All in all, I have no desire to go back.
PART TWO: ORSO
We had lunch here on Friday, after I snuck out of work early. We sat at a round table, near the door, and next to a wall with a black and white portrait of Ingrid Bergman staring down at us. The waiter was very helpful, giving directions to a lost lunch companion on my mom's cell phone (Orso is, indeed, hard to find). To start, I shared a salad with fresh artichoke, onions, and tomatoes with my friend and we both thought it was delicious. (My mom was less enthused about her cauliflower salad). My entree was the spinach and mushroom risotto which was probably top-notch in comparison to the other risottos of the world, but I got bored and full halfway through. The winning dish was my dad's: a seafood pasta with a great sauce. I really enjoyed the meal, but my parents were less impressed.
PART THREE: MASTRO'S
Here was our family's favorite food foray: perfect service, perfect food, perfect setting. We liked it so much, in fact, that we cancelled our trendy AOC reservation for Monday and went back here again. The 2nd time wasn't as much a charm, but we all left with our tummy's glad and our spirits high. Immediately, we were treated with cordiality and respect: both times seated right away. Our waiter the first night and our waitress the second night were both superb.
My dad and brother loved their Mambo salads (Ceaser salad with wasabi) and I loved my heirloom tomato salad (a seasonal special). My brother gorged himself on a Prime Rib so big the table tilted when they placed it down. The rest of us ate petit filets (mine with the bone in) that we all really enjoyed. The second night it was my brothers birthday, and they not only put a candle in the cake but spelled "Happy Birthday Michael" on the plate. This place is a class act, totally deserving of its reputation and status.
PART FOUR: THE IVY
Looking to sate our celebrity-stalking desires, we lunched at the Ivy on Saturday and Monday. And since the only celebrity sighting enjoyed was a brief glimpse of Tyrese (of "The Fast and the Furious" fame) we would have to be sated by the food instead. Luckily, all our meals were up to snuff. The corn chowder is fantastic, the crab cakes expensive but good, the calamari crisp (if maybe too dry), and the salads refreshing and creative (I preferred the chopped salad with turkey to the grilled vegetable salad I had my second time out). I think what really sets this place apart, though, is (a) its setting (flowery and beautiful) and (b) its iced tea. In all seriousness, this is one of the best iced teas I've ever had. I am, putting all modesty aside, an iced tea connoisseur: I drink it at practically every meal. Here, the tea was brisk and freshly brewed, adorned with perfectly thin slices of lemon and lime, and topped off with a beautiful and generous sprig of mint. Whoever their iced tea chef is, he has a special place in my heart.
PART FIVE: SPAGO
Let us now face the reality of our Saturday night: Spago treated us like crap. Kept waiting over an hour at the bar and then sat at a table with waiter who, it would seem, was doing us a favor by serving us, the evening would've been a disaster if not for the food which was, indeed, delicious. The bread was yummy, the appetizers (those pancakes--I forget the name--with smoked salmon and trout (?); and the little cones with sushi inside) were terrific, and my duck entree was really great as well. The desserts were beautiful but all in all, the evening couldn't defeat the dark cloud of bad service that lingered over it.
PART SIX: TAVERNA TONYS
Here was a special treat on Saturday, a Malibu discovery that had two great things going for it: (1) a lip-smackingly good Greek salad and (2) the fact that Pamela Anderson was married there, twice. The ambience was splendid and all the other dishes were good as well. My family really enjoyed this.
PART SEVEN: MR. CHOW
Finally, we come to our Sunday night dinner. Let me start out by saying that, yes, all the places we ate at were expensive, but Mr. Chow was EXPENSIVE and for what we got, I'm not sure you couldn't go to a really good place in Chinatown and get the same thing, and maybe even something better. What you're paying for, I suppose, is the scene: the paparazzi stationed anxiously outside, the shifting heads every time the door opens. What you're left with, though, is the food. We had our waiter choose our menu for us and for the most part he made good selections. I almost died eating a fried shrimp appetizer with a spice so pungent my entire mouth went numb for a good five minutes afterwards. The most impressive dish was the duck, sliced tableside quite expertly by a very focused-looking, knife-wielding chef. For dessert, definitely don't get the pear chocolate mousse cake. Pear and chocolate mousse don't go that well together. If anyone runs into Mr. Chow, let him know.