In Los Angeles’ foodie-driven, nouveau café society atmosphere, restaurants come and go as fast as you can ask for the menu. But some staples stay on and on. Why you might ask? Well, because they are good and have garnered a loyal clientele, and of course the old word of mouth.
Your LA Travel Diva dines out often for work and personal pleasure and of course has her favorites. But more times than not others agree as evinced by the popularity of the place. Hence a purely subjective pick of the two top oldies but goodies of the year 2012, the Palm in West Hollywood and Locanda del Lago in Santa Monica.
The Palm is a graciously trendy, neighborhood restaurant/Hollywood hangout, serves the best Caesar salad in town, pours generous, well mixed cocktails, dishes out prime steaks and burgers that melt in your mouth, and employs one of the best, most competent wait staffs in the city. Like my two favorites, the Palm also boasts a top-notch general manager known to all as Cedric (last name Castro).
Here’s a review we wrote last year that says it all:
We toss to order,” explained Humphrey Lansiquot, executive chef of The Palm in West Hollywood (alas Humphrey has left the Palm since we wrote this, and a shame it is, but the new chef, Pedro Inoscenci (whose cusinewe recently sampled is wearing his toque well). Humphrey was telling us the secret behind the best Caesar salad in Los Angeles. Although the restaurant is largely known for its steak and lobster, the Caesar salad is a favorite among its loyal clientele.
“We start from scratch with crisp lettuce, house made dressing, Parmesan cheese,croutons and anchovies, and then toss it all together when the order comes in,” he said. It’s a totally traditional Caesar, even though Lanisquot hints at “secret ingredients.” We are always surprised that other restaurants fail to understand the simplicity of a great Caesar, for instance soaking the greens in a creamy dressing instead of the lemon juice, olive oil and touch of garlic it requires.
The popular neighborhood restaurant attracts a steady stream of business people, industry sorts and celebrities who go for the good food, Hollywood-style chop house ambiance and the incredible “Three Course Business Lunch” special—a four course meal for $25.95.
Friday lunch regulars for the past few years, we almost always order the special, one of the great bargains in town. Starting with that Caesar, we creatures of habit pretty much stick with the steak au poivre. Occasionally we’ll daringly order the fish of the day (the swordfish and salmon are always outstanding). A choice of vegetables comes with the special and we lean toward the sautéed asparagus and that sinful pile of half onion rings, half fried potatoes. For dessert, what else besides the Palm’s legendary cheesecake?
Big juicy prime steaks and lobsters the size of a football with claws are the specialties at The Palm, which has restaurants in living-large locations such as New York (the birthplace), Atlanta and San Francisco. There’s even a second L.A. location downtown. But it’s the WeHo store that opened in 1975 that became the first Palm outside New York City that serves as host to Hollywood royalty. The walls are filled with caricatures of famous folks and often the party pays homage to the likes of Sinatra and posse.
Though regulars are its lifeblood, who enjoy the bar (and bargain happy-hour menu), The Palm welcomes everyone with a big Italian hug. Portions are super-sized, so bring an appetite—though doggy bags are graciously (and discreetly) filled.
On the other end of the foodie totem pole, Locando del Lago serves up an entirely different menu and atmosphere than the Palm. This place also hops with locals and tourists, tipplers and tasters, but the food is more creative with its fusion of Italian meets SoCal. It also boasts an exceptional staff, especially the general manager, Jonathan Mitchell, who ironically was last seen at the Palm before hopping over to the beach area.
The food at Locanda del Lago continues to amaze and impress with its hints of Lombardy combined with specialties of Lake Como and other Old Country dishes that are impossibly authentic and delicious.
On a recent visit, the breezy trattoria-like room, decked out in Christmas regalia, was alive with locals and regulars sinking their teeth into garlic-laden creations of executive Chef Gianfranco Minuz, pairing courses with wines from a well-selected list, and chatting merrily away. The ambiance was pervasively warm and cozy, the crowd a mix of young and mature. Many folks had come in to eat after Christmas shopping sprees along the nearby Third Street Promenade.
Hardly a newcomer to LA’s culinary scene, Locanda del Lago has been going strong for 21 years. “Our menus are rooted in authentic, quality cuisine of Lombardy and evolve from it to create a balanced selection of dishes that full advantage of the best flavors of the season, much of the spices, fruits and vegetables grown in Los Angeles, proudly exclaimed our pal, the GM, Jonathan Mitchell.
Menu favorites include vitello tonnato, ahi tuna tartar fixed with avocado, red onion, balsamic dressing and plantain chips, Branzino (in season)served with artichokes on a bed of lovely spinach and the all-time winner osso bucco. There’s also an exceptional wine list which Jonathan is happy to help you with since he is quite the authority.
Desserts are not to be missed here especially the cannoli--two heavenly cylindrical tubes stuffed with light and fluffy ricotta cheese, seasoned with just the right amount of sugar and dried fruit. But you can’t go wrong with anything chocolate or fruity.
Locando del Lago is located at 231 Arizona Avenue, Santa Monica, just off the Third Street Promenade, in Santa Monica. For reservations call 310-451-3525.