Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Reviews Are In

I mentioned a while back that I wanted to review some restaurants in Westwood. Unfortunately, I haven't really been eating anywhere in Westwood lately besides Quizno's, and I think we all know what Quizno's tastes like. (Delicious!)

Lucky for you (and me), I have had a chance to go to a few new restaurants outside of Westwood and would be happy to share my unsolicited opinions about each establishment with you.

Tournesol Bistro Provencal
13251 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
(818) 986-3190

We joined our friend D. at this French restaurant last Monday evening for a celebratory dinner. The decor is low-key and charming, with a French countryside mural in the large dining room to the rear of the restaurant.

The restaurant offers specials every night of the week; Monday night is lobster night, featuring 1 1/4 lb Maine lobsters cooked six different ways. Literally everyone at the table devoured a lobster that night except for me - I don't eat crustaceans - and seemed extremely pleased with their dinners. I had some of the soft, crusty bread with butter, brought out to the table still warm, along with a bowl of the chicken and rice soup.

The soup was excellent but simple with just chicken, rice, and carrots added to a rich, flavorful stock. I finished up with a Caesar salad that had a bit too much dressing. The lettuce was crisp and the dressing itself was slightly spicy - perhaps red pepper flakes were added? We left satisfied and I would recommend the restaurant to Valley residents, though I don't know if it would justify a trip over the hill based on this one experience.

The Arsenal
12012 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
(310) 575-5511

We joined my old friend K., visiting from Africa, for drinks and appetizers on Thursday evening at the Arsenal. I'd heard a lot about this place from him when he lived here; I've eaten across the street at one of my long-time favorite restaurants, Bombay Cafe, but never made it over to what I thought was just a crappy dive bar.

It turns out that the Arsenal did used to be a crappy dive bar, but was recently renovated into a sophisticated bar and restaurant with excellent food. There are three rooms: a dining room, the main bar, and a smoking lounge. We sat in the smoking lounge with a view of the palm trees and the stars.

I had an excellent drink known as the Crazy Dutchman (chocolate infused vodka, vanilla schnappes) and a small plate of the best sliders I've ever eaten. Made with high-quality sirloin placed on parkerhouse rolls, they were succulent and filling. Future Mr. Cityelf had a full-sized hamburger and fries that he polished off pretty quickly, which I took as a good sign. Our favorite place in town to get a burger is Tom Bergin's on Fairfax, but I think the Arsenal will now be running a very close second.

The best part was that despite having an upscale atmosphere, the attitude was laid-back and the prices were really inexpensive. We'll be heading back here soon.

Bossa Nova
7181 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood
(323) 436-7999

Five of us got together on Friday night for a girls' night out/surprise baby shower at Bossa Nova, a Brazilian/Italian joint across the street from the Seventh Veil. The main dining room is actually a large courtyard with stone walls, a concrete floor, and a burbling fountain.

Two of us had the marinated chicken breast, one had the New York steak, and two others had the marinated lamb skewers. Each plate came with white rice, black beans, yucca flour, and a choice of fried plantains or french fries. I chose the plantains and found them a bit burnt, but perhaps I'm not yet well-versed enough in plantain cooking. The chicken, rice, and beans were delicious enough to make me devote my mouth to eating instead of talking. The lamb skewers won high praise from H., who ordered on the advice of our friend K. She actually recommended the restaurant and also had the lamb skewers, the only item she ever orders at Bossa Nova.

I wasn't crazy about the ponche (a sort of Brazilian sangria) that I ordered, but it came in a generous portion, so I drank up anyways. More enjoyable was the Caipirinha that one of my fellow diners let me sip, which was similar to a Cuban mojito. It's made with cachaca, a spirit distilled from sugarcane and similar to rum.

We finished up with dessert from Stolichnaya Bakery, a small place I stumbled onto by accident but will be visiting again. It's located next to the Whole Foods at Santa Monica and Fairfax and makes really, really good cakes, as I learned after one bite of moist, rich chocolate cake. I had to nearly roll out of the restaurant after so much good food.

The only minor drawback was that service was a tad slow, but our waiter more than made up for it in friendliness and by accommodating us with a cake cutter and extra plates for our dessert.

Hmmmm...okay, after all this writing about food, I'm hungry. I'm going to have some dinner myself, but I hope I've directed you to some good eats. Bon appetit!

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