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Valentine's Dinner: A Chowhound Challenge

Cupidiot | Jan 31, 200609:02 PM

First things first: today is the 31st of January. I'm late to the reservation game: this much I know. By now, most of the best restaurants' reservation lists have long been booked solid. We'll have to weed out the obvious, all-too-popular choices, and hope for an opening at a smaller gem.

That said, I'm poor. As an unemployed college student who ordinarilly sustains life through financial aid and bowls of ramen (at Asahi on Sawtelle - I may be broke, but I still like the best I can afford!), I was never going to find my name on the best restaurants' reservation lists anyhow. (But don't you worry - once I get my PhD in Cultural and Ethnic Studies, I'll be able to afford.. erm.. bigger bowls of Ramen.)

So, here's the challenge: My spending limit for the night (which, ahem, should not to be confused with the limits of my love..) is around $120 - $150 - and yes, that would be for two people (one of them a senior, as Mom is pushing 65 now.. juuust kidding).

My girlfriend has voiced a desire for French food - a cuisine so well lauded and loved, yet so out of our ordinary price range (mostly.. there are a few affordable bistros here and there.. Soleil in Westwood, too). Using, I have found a small sprinkling of French restaurants that, contrary to expectations, have not as of yet filled up for Valentine's.

Ortolan, for instance, surprisingly has availability. Sure, it may be at 5 pm, but near-beggars can't be choosers. Of course, being near-beggars, Ortolan is not a feasible option.

So.. of those on the OpenTable list that I found I could afford, there's Pinot Bistro in Studio City (which I just discovered hails from the Patina restaurant lineage) - a bargain at $65/person, Villa Piacere in Woodland Hills, offering both high-end and low-end prix fixe selections (a rather cold receptionist told me over the phone that working under my $150 cap shouldn't be a problem), Lilly's French Cafe & Wine Bar in Venice (which will offer its usual menu, plus Valentine's specials), and, finally, Le Cafe in Westlake Village, which, like Lilly's, will offer its usual menu along with exclusive Valentine's specials.

Having never dined at any of these hopefully fine establishments, I'm not sure where to invest a sizable portion of my student loan. By looks alone, photographs I've seen online of Pinot Bistro and Villa Piacere make them look quite lovely... but much like buying wine for a pretty label, looks can indeed be deceiving. Reviews I've read for Pinot Bistro, for instance, have been terribly contradictory. "The room is beautiful," says one; "not at all romantic - very plain," goes another.

What can you, dearest Chowhounds, tell me of my options?

Are there other - better - options that OpenTable doesn't offer?

For recommendations, I ask only this: 1) if it's going to be prix-fixe, it's gotta be $75 or under per person, 2) the restaurant should be warm and inviting - something aesthetically pleasing - from pretty to beautiful, and 3) situated either on the Westside or in the San Fernando Valley.

Oh, they should hopefully have an opening or two. I don't mind if it's at 5 pm or at 11 pm, so long as it's worth it.

And there you have the challenge, beloved Chowhounds. My sincere thanks and deep appreciation in advance to anyone who takes the time to read through my long & ridiculous post and feels moved to help. Thanks.


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