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Wilshire -- Is it better? (long)

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Restaurants & Bars

Wilshire -- Is it better? (long)

NAspy | May 4, 2008 10:09 AM

Last night was the first time we have gone since Virbila crowned the new kitchen lineup with 3 stars in a review several weeks ago. We had reservations for 6:15; it was to celebrate my older daughter's 11th birthday and Wilshire was her pick.

Wilshire has been a family favorite restaurant since my partner and I and our two daughters (11 & 7) tried ice cream night last summer. Since then, we have had several dinners there, both as a family and with other adult friends. While the food is not the best in Los Angeles, the overall food quality, service and family friendliness, as well as that beautiful outdoor seating area, has made it a top pick for us for many occasions.

Last night was a mixed experience, mostly due to the changes in clientele and service. While Virbila may applaud the die off of the young, hip crowd that used to hum around the place, I found their absence has detracted from the energy of the restaurant. Now the tables are populated by much older diners. There is a definite atmospheric difference when your dining experience is continually interrupted by self-important 50-70 somethings dithering loudly about the heat lamps and the table placement, fiddling clumsily with their ear roaches (bluetooth inserts), and shifting tables and chairs around to suit their particular fancy, By the way, I will be 50 this year, so if I am being ageist, so be it.

Then there was the service. We wondered if they were understaffed last night. Our server was handsome, young, friendly and not all that attentive or knowledgable. This was a definite break from the past, and not a positive one. I know most of these guys are waiting for their big break and are waiting tables to make a living, but have a little committment to your work, please. He waited way too long to take all our orders. Our drinks orders took 15 minutes to arrive, and he had clearly forgotten about the bottle of wine I ordered, and when he brought it, it was not sufficiently cold. It was eclectic enough to attract the attention of the sommelier who sauntered over, espresso cup in hand, to congratulate me on my choice. At one point, I saw the new chef stride through the patio...in appearance, at least, he is clearly of the Anthony Bourdain "pirate/chef" variety, with a dashing goatee, earring, and head scarf.

On to the food: my hamachi starter was fantastic, the best raw fish I have had outside Sushi Zo; much better than Il Grano's crudo, in my opinion, if that comparison can be made. The rest of the table had Caesars and the beet salad, and they were all top rate.
My kids have adored the short ribs at Wilshire and split an order last night; they did not like the new version, and I don't know why. My older daughter said it was too rich. We forgot to have it boxed up. Their plates were left full; there was no inquiry as to why. Again the service was off in that servers didn't know which of us had ordered which dish -- maybe I'm picky, but I think in a restaurant of this caliber, we shouldn't have to direct the plates, our server should have taken note of that.

I had the duck, which I have had before and I liked it very much, though the chopped bok choy that it came with did not play well against the duck or the tomato chutney accompanying it. I did order a side of creamed spinach; this was excellent. For once, the cream aspect did not utterly drown out the intense flavor of fresh spinach. Everyone adored the yukon mashed potatoes; my niece liked her chorizo rigatoni (this is offered as an appetizer, but they made it entree sized for her); my sister enjoyed her petite filet (though they forgot to bring any horseradish or other accompaniments and we had to ask more than once); partner liked her salmon, but father in law thought his lamb was chewy. I would say the food quality is the same as it always has been: very good, sometimes excellent, sometimes underwhelming.

Desserts were fantastic. The doughnuts and coffee ice cream (all desserts and ice creams and sorbets are made in house) were big winners, as was the banana cake with coconut ice cream. A couple of us had the sorbet/ice cream selections and were very thrilled. My father in law managed to snag the bill and pay -- I think the total for 7 of us (3 salads, one appetizer, 6 main dishes, 2 sides, 3 cocktails, 4 other drinks, one $50 wine and 5 desserts) came to around $450 with the gratuity added in. I think very reasonable for the food quality.

So why am I complaining? While the food is still excellent, I now see Wilshire as NOT the kind of place I would come with a younger group, or to see stars, or to enjoy a high energy dining experience. Attention needs to be paid to the service as well. These things did take something positive away from the experience, and though the first timers loved it, it may be a while before we venture back.

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