As reflected in the love of cheap but great holes-in-the-wall that is so frequently expressed on this board, price and gratification are not necessarily or directly proportional. That reality was no more evident than this weekend, which was an occasion for a couple celebrations, as the SO and I celebrated our anniversary on Friday and her birthday on Saturday. Since Friday night was also the Cardinals game (oh yeah, the Dodgers were there, too), my tolerant lady friend met me at O’Brien’s, a pub and sports bar on Wilshire (at 23rd) in Santa Monica. I’ve drank there once before, but never eaten. It may become my go-to spot for watching a game and enjoying a really friendly pub atmosphere, a nice selection of beers, barmen who are anxious to have you taste different brews (and whiskeys) and well-prepared food. For example, the potato skins were terrific. Clearly made in-house, full of soft mashed potato and a nice crispy-but-not –leathery exterior, and stuffed with very good bacon. The barman said something about the provenance of their high quality bacon, but I didn’t pick it up. Also had the fish and chips. The chips were fine, though unremarkable. The fish, though, was really good. Not greasy, but crispy outside and moist inside. Overall a very pleasing eating and drinking experience, and the Cards won (in 13 innings – the SO stayed through the 9th, probably only because it was our anniversary).
For the birthday dinner, we met 3 friends at Nikita, the newish, oceanside tribute to conspicuous consumption owned by Larry Ellison, right next to Nobu Malibu. I’m trying to be fair. Almost all of the food was good to very good, and the setting is awesome. Our table on the outside deck was right by the rail and above the sand; can’t get a much better spot than that. But, the amateurish service, given the extravagant price point, was really off-putting. The wait staff was very congenial (and were not attitudinal in any way), but were pretty mistake-prone. There was a considerable wait for our initial round of drinks to arrive. That was not a big deal. Then, after we ordered food, the starters came after an acceptable interval; BUT, just as one duo of waiters was placing the starters in front of us, another duo or trio of waiters was placing our entrees right beside them. What?!?! At first they looked at me shocked when I said this can’t be. I, of course, said they must take the entrees away and, after the first course, bring new entrees (not the same ones kept warm); they pretty cheerfully complied and removed the premature entrees. Then, not 5 minutes later, waiters bearing entrees reappeared! I said, “you guys don’t quit, do ya?” They just laughed and continued to place the plates on the table. At that point, I noticed that one of the entrees was not a dish that anyone in our party of 5 had ordered, and I questioned whether these entrees actually belonged at our table. Eureka! Light bulb went off and they were whisked away and taken to another table. Ultimately, at a suitable interval after our starters were gone, the correct entrees appeared, and we were assured that they had been prepared anew; and, happily, they appeared to be newly created. Then, several minutes later, a waiter brought us a side dish (roasted mushrooms) and placed them on our table. Since it wasn’t anything we’d ordered, I thought that we were being comped in recognition of the service miscues, although no staff person said anything to that effect (and typically some such comment would be made), and a side of ‘shrooms is an odd item to serve as a comp. On reflection the next day, it dawned on me that the ‘shroom delivery was probably another fuck-up, and they had been ordered by another table. They were, however, very good.
As for the food, the bread was delicious (waiter said the flour was flown in from Italy), an eggplant mousse amuse was good, and the burrata with heirloom tomatoes was excellent! The entrees were good to very good. We all stuck with pastas for entrees (probably for budgetary reasons); they were good but far from transcendent. The portions were incredibly small. The pastas were mostly in the $20-25 range and they were in the portion size of a small to medium sized appetizer. Eleven (11) tiny ravioli (not a typical decent-sized rectangle, but something more like a small tortellini) was what my SO got in a very light carbonara sauce. I had a similar number of tortelli with some bits of roasted cauliflower and a tomato coulis. The shrimp risotto with pesto that a friend had was actually quite good (and that’s a dish I usually find better at my house than most restaurants). Were it not for the locale, setting and upscale atmosphere, I would have felt totally violated by the price for what we received. I don’t mind paying $100+/person when I am well fed with food that tastes really special and doesn’t leave me hungry. Here with tax and tip, and no bottles of wine (we had less than 2 drinks per person) and no main dishes, the tab was $85/person. Not horrendous given the setting, but I won’t go back unless it’s just for drinks at the bar or if it’s on someone else’s nickel. This time, it was all my nickel.
Bottom line, I really enjoyed my time at O’Brien’s way, way more than I did at Nikita. Would rather have spent the $$$$ on a nice gift for my SO, but, again trying to fair, I realized we paid largely for dining where we dined as much as for what we ate. And that’s okay once in a while. And we did see Cindy Crawford with Randy Gerber. She is aging well.
The weekend ended with a Sunday spent on Catalina. You get a FREE roundtrip ferry ticket if you go there on your b'day. So, I got back $72 of the dollars I spent at Nikita. Burgers and fish & shrimp tacos at Erics. Whatever, it's cheap and you're on Catalina. But really good drinks at the bar at Descanso Beach Club and also a nice Cobb Salad. The quality came as a happy surprise. All in all, a fun weekend. Go Cards!