Restaurant Review #75: Restaurant 2117, Sawtelle, West LA

I had read on Chowhound that 2117 was a wonderful but largely undiscovered restaurant, so I went with high hopes. Unfortunately, for me, 2117 falls under the same category as Osteria Latini: it is mighty tasty food--for people with boring palettes.

The small menu (one page of appetizers and one page of entrees, plus a few specials) is not very vegetarian friendly, especially if you are a true vegetarian who does not eat fish. Almost all, if not all, of the entrees are centered around some type of meat. My friend ordered the roasted chicken, which came scattered with cauliflower, brocolli, diced potatoes, and string beans, all in a thin, mustardy sauce. The chicken was nicely cooked and somewhat juicy, but like most roasted chickens, it had a residual dryness. Though the chicken appeared to be coated in a spice rub, it was really just salt and pepper. The sauce was necessary for the chicken to be at all interesting in flavor, but I like bold flavors, and this sauce had a timid, home kitchen flavor.

The potatoes were pretty good, but the other veggies were too saucy and buttery to showcase their own flavors. The menu says that organic or unsprayed produce is used whenever available. I appreciate the gesture, but it is, to some extent, still just a gesture. Organic produce is abundant in Los Angeles, both in grocery stores and at farmer's markets, and anyone who wants to can commit themselves to only buying organic.

I ordered two appetizers for my meal--the red snapper carpaccio and the wild mushroom risotto, which was the risotto of the day. I've only had risotto once before, and wasn't too excited about it, but it seems to be an often praised dish, so I thought I should investigate what I might be missing. The risotto was good as a comfort food dish, but the flavor of the mushrooms failed to stand out. At one point, I became alarmed by what I thought was lobster in my dish (shellfish and I do not get along) but it turned out to be...not lobster. I thought it must have been a lobster mushroom, but the texture was too crunchy and fibrous for that to have been the case. Or was it? I've never eaten a lobster mushroom before, so if they don't have the usual mushroom texture, maybe that was what it was.

Some bites of the risotto were too buttery, and overall, I thought it was missing a flavor, a spice or herb that would have completed it. Then it dawned on me--2117 seemed to rely primarily on butter, salt, and pepper for seasoning. But what about herbs? And spices?

Well, my carpaccio was topped with a small mound of cilantro, so I guess my analysis isn't completely right. This dish was definitely the best of the three. Thin, perfectly bite-sized slices of red snapper were marinated in a ginger citrus soy sauce and topped with crunchy white fried noodles, raw shredded zuchinni, and cilantro. The dish seemed like a variation of a marinated albacore salad served with a mound of shredded daikon (one of my all-time favorite disihes). But here's where my objections come in. Red snapper has a very subtle flavor, and the sauce was a good match for it--not overwhelming. But eaten in conjunction with the toppings, the fish was largely lost. The noodles didn't taste like much, and I got the idea of the contrast in textures, but I didn't think it worked well--I thought it was distracting, and that the noodles became unpleasantly mushy when mingled with the sauce. Raw zuchinni doesn't taste like anything, and also seemed added just for texture--and interesting idea, since it's crunchy, like the noodles, but soft and moist, like the fish. Lots of cilantro was not really a good idea, since cilantro can be overpowering. I could tell that the dish was thought-out: white fish, white noodles, green zuchinni, green cilantro, orangey sauce. It was presented very well, too. Flavor-wise though, it didn't quite work.

If I hadn't been on a tight schedule, I might have taken advantage of the $35 prix-fixe dinner, which I believe consisted of two appetizers, and entree, and...dessert? I also would have liked to sample their wines, as they seemed to have a solid wine list. This comes from someone who knows very little about wine, but knows enough to know when the offerings are not good (white zinfandel, anyone?).

I liked the atmosphere-elegant but unpretentious. You have a choice of sitting indoors or outdoors. I chose indoors, because, well, where in LA can you actually eat outdoors without it being noisy and/or smelling or car exhaust? I think that 2117 may have done a decent job of creating a nice outdoor dining area, but I was still concerned that the pedestrian traffic to nearby businesses and the nearby parking lot would be unwelcome intruders to my meal. All of the tables have table cloths, and the lighting is on the lower side. With the tablecloths and candles, I found the bare cement floor to be a bit jarring. The restaurant was small enough that I felt like using my flash would have been to obtrusive. The tables are small--three plates barely fit on our table for 2--and might have been uncomfortably close together had there been more customers. I've found that when I eat at 6:00 on a Wednesday, though, even the best restaurants tend to be empty, so I can't use this as a measuring stick. 2117 does take reservations, but we didn't need one to get in.

The food took a bit longer to arrive than I expected, but it may have just seemed slow because I was in a hurry. It did arrive all at the same time and all at the right temperature, though. The service was attentive but subtle, refilling water regularly, taking away empty plates promptly, and asking if everything was okay.

For a simple, elegant, and reasonably priced meal, 2117 is not a bad bet at all. But if you like intense, bold flavors and lots of innovation, 2117 will disappoint you.

By the way, I have photos, but the site has been giving me trouble uploading them for the last week. Hopefully I'll be able to get them up soon.

Restaurant 2117
2117 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025-6200 View Map
(310) 477-1617
Interesting article on Sawtelle restaurants


Restaurant Review #74: Broadway Deli, Santa Monica

Broadway Deli is very popular, with waits easily 30 minutes for weekend breakfast. They offer something for everyone--a deli, a cheese counter, an extensive wine list, a full bar, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. You can come in for a meal, or treat the place like an upscale grocery store. You can also come for happy hour and get wine and cheese pairings, which I hear are a great deal. And they even have one vegan dish--their buckwheat pancakes.

I've been three times, and here are my observations:

The service ranges from okay to eh. It can be hard to get a server's attention when you need something.
The atmosphere casual, and the booth tables are big--good for loud talkers and groups of 4-6. It's also noisy, due to the size, the open kitchen, and the general hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant. Everything is overpriced, meaning that the price exceeds the quality.

The cornflake encrusted French toast is great and addictive. The vegetarian omelette is very bland--little to no seasoning, and no tomatoes! Who puts carrots in an omelette and omits tomatoes? The coffee is watery and lacks any real flavor. The fruit cup doesn't have particularly high quality fruit.

They have valet parking in the alley behind the restaurant for $7, or you can park wherever you're lucky enough to find a spot--perhaps the public garage on Broadway. They're open until midnight Sunday through Thursday, and until 1am on weekends.

Broadway Deli
1457 3rd Street Promenade
Santa Monica, 90401
(310) 451-0616


Restaurant Review #73: Ramayani Indonesian Cuisine, Westwood

I chose Ramayani for my first Indonesian food experience because, well, it seems to be the only choice on the Westside. I put off this adventure for a while though because from looking at the menu in the window, I couldn't see how the food would be any different from Thai food. I've already had Thai about a million times due to the obscene number of Thai restaurants that were located within walking distance of my college, and I often look for something new to me when I'm going out to eat, so I wasn't sure this would cut it.

At 7 pm on a Thursday, the restaurant was largely unoccupied, but I'm not sure why, except maybe that Indonesian food is unfamiliar to most people and therefore not particularly popular. According to the reviews I've read, Ramayani is one of the best Indonesian restaurants in Los Angeles (of course, you can never be sure who wrote those reviews), so I might have expected it to be busier. I wouldn't go here on a date or with anyone else I was trying to impress, but the very casual atmosphere and $10 entrees are perfect for a casual meal with a friend.

The noodles you see above were pleasantly spicy and very tasty, sweet yet salty. My only complaint was the inclusion of brocolli and carrots in the dish, since I don't like them. I'm sure that the spices used in Indonesian and Thai food are different, but I couldn't tell you what those differences are after tasting this dish.

Chicken in a coconut milk sauce

The restaurant is small, and its ten or so tables form an L-shape with booths making up the stem of the L. A large TV in the front corner of the restaurant was turned up very loud and turned to a news station--not a welcome addition to my meal, and my main complaint about the restaurant.

Our server was a very quiet older man who scarcely understood English ("Is there shrimp in this?" was unintelligible to him, but he did ask if egg was okay when I ordered my noodles vegetarian). If you don't speak the language, I think it's best to point to what you want on the menu, and if you're allergic to something, good luck finding out ahead of time if it's going to show up in your food or not. In spite of the language barrier, there were no problems with the meal, and our water was refilled regularly.

Though the atmosphere at Ramayani leaves something to be desired, the food does not. An extensive and varied menu offers something for everyone, vegetarians included. In addition to twelve appetizers and many, many main dishes, Ramayani also has an extensive menu of sweet drinks, including the ever popular boba tea. There seem to be enough similarities between Thai and Indonesian food that if you like one, you'll like the other.

I barely poked at my friend's chicken dish--I generally find coconut-milk-based sauces uninteresting (except for the one I make, of course), so I wasn't really into it. Her dish came with some interesting sides--one was like salty puffed rice cereal (not a winner with either of us) and the other was a hard boiled then deep fried (I think) egg with a red pepper sambal (I think) that reminded me of a red pepper based relish I often ate in Spain called pisto.

Fish cake soup

This soup was very spicy--almost too spicy, but not quite (I'd say I have a slightly above average heat tolerance). The broth was richly flavored, and the fish cakes had a fascinating texture. Casava, also known as tapioca, is a staple food in Indonesia and prominently featured in the small, rectangular fish cakes. I just loved the gooey texture. This soup did not keep well at all as a leftover, because much like the tapioca pearls in boba tea, these fish cakes got soggy on the outside and dry and cakey on the inside--but that's just how cassava is.

Chicken Stew

1777 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024-5607
(310) 477-3315


Restaurant Review #72: Juliano's Raw, Santa Monica

Dining room

The first thing you'll notice when you walk into Juliano's, as I like to call it, is the low lighting, the sleek gray interior, and the potent aroma of a couple hundred fresh hibiscus. Since raw philosophy dictates that nothing be heated above 120 degrees, the restaurant doesn't smell like the food it serves. I like that someone clearly realized this and thought of a way to create a pleasant scent for the restaurant that wouldn't detract from the food--incense, for example, is too strong to contend with the flavors of a meal. At the same time, the flowers, as well several candles, add warmth to what would otherwise be a cold space.


There aren't a lot of good tables at Juliano's (or a lot of tables, period), so try to arrive early to get a quiet corner table. The menu is a trip--Juliano is very in-your-face about his opinions on food, and you might find yourself chuckling at the description of sprouted buckwheat crisps baked in the sun for ten hours on a rock in Palm Springs. That's a joke, right? Honestly, I'm not sure. Read the menu and you'll understand. It contains so much information that you'll probably want to hold onto it and keep reading after you've placed your order. Here's a preview from the online menu:

Mushroom nut burger w/ macadamia cheese on a sprouted buckwheat bun w/ pickles, tomatoes, onion, guacamole, homemade heirloom ketchup, mustard & French fries.

Thai spring rolls

So what is raw cuisine? According to Juliano himself, "Raw is cuisine in its real form: organic, from the earth, and uncooked. For food to be considered raw it can be chopped, blended, pureed, juiced, dehydrated, or combined into infinite flavor combinations, but whatever the end result, all raw recipes are vegan (no meat, fish eggs or dairy) and living."

What do you mean, living? Once you pull a plant out of the ground, isn't it dead? Well, I'll leave that up to you, but according to Juliano, living means uncooked, and uncooked means not heated above 120 degrees.

Appetizer sampler plate

Juliano's isn't cheap--high quality, fresh organic ingredients aren't cheap, after all. A smoothie is $10, but it's not bulked up or watered down with crushed ice, either. It also contains an unbelievable number of ingredients, which, surprisingly, aren't excessive and work together very well.

KLEEM $9.24
Ras, blue, straw & other blood cleansing berries blended w/ love honey, Mac Milk & cream of sapote, peach, nectarine, persimmon, cherimoya, apricot, cherry, melon & mango.

Non-garbanzo hummus
My favorite dish at Juliano's is Harem in the Raw, a platter of hummus, falafel, and other related goodies.

In a purple shell you'll find hummus, heavy mint, heat, caramelized & fresh onions, cucumber, lots of ginger dressing, tomato, parsley, falafel balls, avocado, black olives, eggplant & Buckwheaties.

It's easy to be skeptical of Juliano's cuisine--it's totally different from what we're used to eating. But if you're open to a unique experience and don't hate vegetables, you'll probably be pleasantly amazed at the creativity of each dish, the newness of the flavors to your palette, and the range and intensity of flavor in each bite.

Even the bathroom has ambience

Juliano's Raw
609 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Restaurant Review #71: Spumoni, Santa Monica

I almost never go out for Italian, because it's so cheap and easy to do at home. In fact, probably at least half of my daily meals are either pasta or pizza (it's my secret to staying so slim). There is definitely a difference between restaurant Italian and slapped together on a weeknight Amy Italian, but there's even more of a difference between the invisible hamachi in my fridge and the sushi at Kiriko, so Kiriko and it's many cousins tend to win out 95% of the time.

I was curious about Spumoni though because of the incredible garlic aroma I smelled whenever I walked by, so I finally caved.

Though Spumoni seems to specialize in gnocchi (they have a whole page's worth of gnocchi entrees), what I really wanted was a pizza--an artichoke heart and garlic pizza, to be specific. Yum. Pizza bliss. It was served piping hot and had plenty of cheese, just the right amount of garlic, and, unlike most places, they didn't skimp on the artichokes at all. I also had leftovers for two more meals.

Spumoni doesn't have the greatest atmosphere, and it's usually crowded, but when all you want is a good, filling, reasonably priced meal, Spumoni is perfect.


713 Montana Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90403

Restaurant Review #70: Trastevere, Santa Monica

Trastevere is a seemingly nice restaurant on the Promenade which is designed primarily for tourists and is not nearly as special as it pretends to be. The garlic herb dipping sauce that came with the bread was addictively good. The veggie pizza I had for my meal was fine, but nothing memorable. Unfortunately, the most salient part of the meal for me was the rude, rude, I-am-too-good-for-you-because-I-am-an-aspiring-actress-and-you-are-not-wearing-designer-clothes-or-makeup service.

A visit to their website (link below) will give you a good idea of how cheesy and poorly run this restaurant is.

Not recommended unless you have a hole in your head.

360 3rd Street Promenade
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 319-1985


Restaurant Review #69: Baja Fresh

When I was a newbie to LA, I used to really like Baja Fresh, largely because they had three different kinds of salsa and understood the value of limes. I've recently changed my mind though.

But wait--why am I reviewing a fast food restaurant?

1. it's expensive for fast food and for the portions ($8-9 for a burrito and a soda)
2. the tortillas are crispy
3. a black bean burrito made me sick to my stomach for several hours.
4. Baja Fresh, unlike McDonald's, is a regional fast food chain, which means that those of you who are new to the area may not have eaten here.
5. The salsa is not particularly good, and one of them tastes like burnt...nothing. Just burnt.

My advice? Skip Baja Fresh and visit an authentic hole-in-the-wall instead. You're no more likely to get sick, and the food will probably be better and cheaper.

Restaurant Review #68: Stroh's Gourmet, Venice

How did I discover Stroh's Gourmet? Well, it's funny you should ask. I was waiting at the bus stop on Abbot Kinney to catch the bus home from my first day of work in LA when a homeless schizophrenic man decided to come up and chat with me. I've dealt with my share of crazies, having lived in major cities my entire life, so I wasn't too worried. My bus would be along any minute. But it wasn't, and his escalating anger about not being able to get a haircut because he was black was starting to worry me, so I decided to take refuge at the nearest place I could.

I walked into Stroh's and went up to the first person I saw, assuming that he was an employee. When the crazy schizophrenic guy (I know, because he showed me the pills he wasn't taking, or, I should say, shook the pill bottle at me) followed me in, this guy dealt with him incredibly calmly, unlike the usual irrationally angry and confrontational way people tend to handle conflicts in LA.

Well, it turned out that the guy didn't work for Stroh's, he worked for their lettuce supplier. He was an organic farmer. So because of this crazy schizophrenic guy, not only did I discover Stroh's, I also discovered how utterly amazing organic lettuce is--Maggie's Farm has such good lettuce that I actually munch on it plain, one leaf at a time. You can find them at the Santa Monica farmer's market.

Anyway, back to Stroh's. They sell a variety of thick, thoughtful sandwiches made with real bread--roast beef, caprese (tomato, basil, and mozzarella), turkey avocado and brie, and a couple of others. I've tried most of their sandwiches, and haven't been disappointed by any. My favorite, vegetarian tendencies be damned, is the roast beef. They also have a selection of fine cheeses, amazing cookies and other simple desserts, chocolate bars, gourmet sodas, and other goodies you expect to find at a small gourmet sandwich shop.

In spite of being gourmet, Stroh's mostly does not feel pretentious. Some of the staff are native French speakers, and a bit curt, but otherwise, hey, it's casual Venice. There are a couple of tables outside on Abbot Kinney, but this is really a to-go kind of place. Sandwiches cost about $6-7 each, and cookies are $1.50 or so. Go early, or your favorite sandwich might be sold out.

Stroh's Gourmet
1239 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 450-5119


Restaurant Review #67: Jack Sprat's Grille, Westwood/West LA

Portabella burger and air fries

At the suggestion of a friend, I decided to try Jack Sprat's Grille, a place I normally would not go to because, well, it's not Indian, Vietnamese, or sushi.

When I think of a grill, I think casual. But this is not a grill, folks--it's a grille. When you add that "e" to the end, you get tablecloths and nice utensils.

Our server was very professional--he was either a career waiter, or just very good at his job. He came to take our order promptly, came back in a reasonable amount of time when we weren't ready yet, and came back to check on us several times during the meal. This should be standard, I realize, but I guess the places I frequent don't realize this. Maybe it's a cultural thing. In Spain, for example, it would be pushy to be too attentive, because it's assumed that you want to take your sweet time to consume your meal and converse with your friends. Spaniards in an American restaurant would probably feel like they were being hustled out. They might be right!

For once, I didn't turn ordering into a science. Usually, I have to read the entire menu at least twice, ruling out items until I finally am left with just one thing to order. This time, I made life easy. I saw portabella burger, and I ordered it. And of course, I got the air fries, because what kind of reviewer would I be if I didn't order the restaurant's signature side dish?

Our food arrived swiftly. It only took a moment to confirm that my giant marinated mushroom cap was quite tasty. Though it tasted a bit too strongly of balsamic vinegar, like every other porto burger I've ever eaten, it was otherwise very good. Spread on the inside of the pumpernickel bun was a bit of tasty guacamole. Then, the burger was topped with thin carmelized onions, and sat on a bed of shredded lettuce, 2 slices of tomato, and a very zippy mustard-like sauce.

A common problem with burgers and sandwiches is that they aren't made to actually be picked up and eaten by anyone with an average sized mouth (or perhaps a female mouth--I could go into my rant here about how things are so often designed for men's mouths, hands, bodies, etc.). I ate my burger with a fork and knife, which feels pretentious to me, but I don't like getting food all over my face. Eating it with utensils was awkward too, but probably not as bad as trying to pick it up and squish it into my mouth. Shredding the lettuce was a good idea, as it meant there was no lettuce stem to chomp through and it kept the sandwich ingredients in place more easily. Maybe they should slice the tomatoes into thin strips, too. As far as the bun, I wasn't paying much attention to it. I generally don't like pumpernickel. I gouged out the top part to eat the guacamole, but that was about it. It was nice that it was a quality bun and not the flimsy white bread variety, though.

The air fries were really good when they first came out, but as they cooled off, they quickly became stale and lost their flavor. There were a ton of them--so many that had I taken home my leftovers, I could have made a meal out of the French fries alone. They were served with ketchup, which I thought masked the flavor of the actual fries. I've never been a fan of ketchup. There were some mustards on the table which probably would have been a better match, had I tried them. Now that I think about it, the mustards are clearly meant for the soft pretzels served as an appetizer. I took one bite of the pretzel, decided it was too dry, and didn't eat it. I prefer the mushy soft pretzels from Wetzel's to the more traditional crusty ones. I've never cared for crust. The pretzel might have been better had I not been late to dinner--maybe, like the air fries, they're better when they're first served. My friend, however, thought they were fantastic, and a welcome creative change from more traditional bread courses.

My friend ordered the green corn tamales. He thought the tamales were well-cooked and well-textured, but the sweet corn taste was a little bland, and would have been improved by adding a bit of cheese to the middle of the tamale. The side of guacamole was excellent and its tang complemented the tamale's sweetness nicely. The side of rice was generally good and had a sweet tomato sauce, but was a little dry in spite of the sauce, and the side of black beans added a salty flavor to the meal and did not disappoint. He recommends going to El Cholo for the best green corn tamales in town (which are seasonal, by the way), but thinks that Jack Sprat's version is not bad, for a healthy version.

Sweet corn tamales

Jack Sprat's Grille

(310) 837-6662
10668 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

There is parking in the alley behind the restaurant.


Restaurant Review #66: Panera Bread

Asiago bagel

First, a confession: I used to work here. That means you get both my former employee bias and my former employee inside scoop.

Working at Panera was one of the best jobs I ever had, and one of the most fun. At the end of the day, the employees get to take home whatever baked goodies are left over, as well as any panini. There are no preservatives in the baked goods, so they don't last long--but the bread and bagels freeze very well. Whatever the employees don't take home gets donated--and I assure you, there is still plenty of stuff left to donate--more than gets used, oftentimes. After you've worked there a few weeks, you usually don't take home a whole lot of food.

I still enjoy their bagels, and buy them now, even though I ate oodles of them for free while I worked there. That's saying a lot. Bagel purists may not like these bagels. They are all sourdough-based and don't have a very hard exterior--and these traits are precisely why I prefer them over more traditional bagels. Panera's bagels also big enough to make for a filling meal.

Panera also sells an assortment of cookies and pastries, almost all of which I don't like very much. Why? I think they taste funny, probably because unlike the bread, everything else Panera makes is chemical-laden. The ingredient list on the special sauces that go on the sandwiches is about 50 items long. This is common nowadays, but not how I like to eat. I've strayed far enough into the land of organic foods that I can really taste the difference between something with just a few ingredients and something with way too many. The meats and cheeses are the usual mass-pressed variety, and everything comes from Sysco or the equivalent, so it's not the greatest quality, but it's definitely not McDonalds. Given what they have to work with, almost everything is quite tasty, and suitable for most people, even me. Panera is considered to be a fast-casual restaurant: not quite fast food, not quite a real restaurant. It's definitely a few notches above Subway and Quiznos.

I also have an issue with the soups, because I've gotten sick from them on multiple occasions. If you've ever gotten sick at Panera and you had the soup, the soup was probably the culprit. Don't eat the soup, and you should be fine. If you don't get sick from the soup, consider yourself lucky, because the french onion soup is damn tasty. And if, like me, you like to soak wads of bread in your soup, you're in luck, because you get a wad of French bread with every bowl of soup. Another thing I'm a fan of is the You Pick Two combination, where you can have a soup and a salad, a soup and a half sandwich, or a salad and a half sandwich.

What do I recommend? Well, as someone who has eaten every menu item created before January 2004, let me tell you. The frontega chicken panini and the portabella mushroom panini are great. However, the new Wilshire and 5th location in Santa Monica seems to be lacking the requisite panini grill that makes the bread nice and crunchy, so I've stopped ordering them. The bacon turkey bravo is also a very tasty sandwich--it's served on tomato basil bread, which has a bit of cinnamon steusel topping sprinkled over the crust. It also has Panera's yummy signature sauce (yes, that stuff I was complaining about being all chemically). I also like the lemonade and the cheesily named IC Honeydew drink. My favorite bagels are the popular cinnamon crunch, asiago, and the nine grain. My favorite breads are the French baguette and the tomato basil loaf. If you were wondering, "Why asiago?" it's because asiago was the only cheese that adhered to the bagel rather than sliding off when it was cooked.

On the other hand, there are also some things I do not recommend (in addition to my warnings about the soup, above). The tuna salads and chicken salads are pretty disgusting. The Ciabatta bread is pretty tasteless. I thought that the brownies were the most chemical-tasting of all the bakery items, though I knew some people who loved them. The turkey artichoke panini doesn't taste like artichoke at all, unless the person who prepared your panini put extra artichoke spinach dip sauce on your sandwich, and they probably didn't, because you're only supposed to use a certain amount of each ingredient. The panini are pre-made each morning because it takes a while to heat them up, so don't try to special order a panini. It ain't happenin. The other sandwiches are made to order, though.

Panera is a pretty decent company. They originated in St. Louis as St. Louis Bread Company. They have a 6 hour paid employee training session before you start work where you learn about the company, learn what you'll be doing on your first day, and get to sample lots of their food. They pay pretty well, but negotiating your start rate up is key, since the amount of raise you are eligible for is dependent on how well your store does. Raises are offered every six months, which sounds good, but in an industry where the average employee only stays at his or her job for four months, that's not so good. At my store, which was a second tier store in terms of performance, I would have only been eligible for a 10-cent-per-hour raise after six months. That sucks. However, almost everyone at my restaurant had been there for longer than six months--some had been there for years, at least, until we got a jerk of a manager in who seemed intent on getting rid of all the old employees, either by firing them outright or by cutting their hours. This manager got fired in less than a year on discrimination charges--it seems that Panera takes their non-discrimination clause seriously (I don't think that whoever hired him could have known he would make inappropriate comments to my lesbian friends). Panera employees, in my experience, are somewhat slow and prone to messing up your order, but are very friendly and apologetic.

I had some really great managers though, minus the one I just mentioned. Many of the employees were from low-income backgrounds and lived check to check (when you've got a kid and you make $7.50 and the dad is gone, no matter how responsible you are, it's hard to make ends meet). If it was the end of the month and you were broke, a manager would buy your meal for you, no problem. As it was, we got a 65% discount on meals. Apparently most similar restaurants only give a 50% discount, though I don't know if that's true. I always thought restaurant employees got to eat for free. If you have to have a low wage job though, working at a restaurant is really the way to go. They pay more, it's more interesting and busy than most retail, you save a ton on groceries, and you'll never starve.

So why did I quit? Well, when you have a college degree, it's extra-hard to deal with customers who think you are unintelligent and to stomach the barage of well-meaning comments from friends and family about what you ought to be doing for a living instead. I don't think I'm above cleaning bathrooms and making sandwiches. I really liked making sandwiches.

But I am glad I don't have to wear that khaki Panera cap anymore.


The bagels are all baked very early in the morning before the store opens, so get there early to get the freshest bagels and get them before they run out. This applies to everything else as well--if it's out, it's out. They can't make more. Every afternoon the dough for the next day's breads, bagels, and cookies is delivered. There is no extra stuff on hand, nor is there anyone there during the day who knows how to bake it properly, except possibly the managers, who are usually overwhelmed with things to do.

All or most locations have free WiFi.

The company policy is to let all guests stay as long as they want as long as you buy something. We had patrons who spent hours and hours in our store with only a cup of coffee and a bagel, and that was okay. No one will harrass you. There are no clocks. They want you to lose track of time and relax.

Coffee refills are free, but the coffee isn't that great. It is, however, brewed fresh every two hours (in theory) from freshly ground coffee beans.

The blended coffee drinks are made with lots and lots of half and half, so if you're cutting calories, don't drink them. The IC honeydew does not contain half and half, however, and is much better for you.

Please don't try to pronounce "croissant" with a French accent. You are not French, and I know it. You sound like a pompous ass. And if you are going to insist on this ridiculous affection, I will definitely expect you to start pronouncing "Los Angeles" in Spanish.

The pre-recorded jazzy elevator music they play sucks and at my store was the most frequent customer complaint (aside from, "you screwed up my order!").

You can get your bread sliced thick or thin. You can also get your bagel "bread-sliced," which will give you lots of fun bagel strips to dip in cream cheese.

Two small cream cheeses cost the same as an entire tub, which is the equivalent of four small cream cheeses.

The orange juice is not fresh-squeezed.

The sign in the window that says "Now Accepting Applications" is always up and does not indicate that the company actually needs to hire anyone. There is some law that says that companies have to take job applications at all times even if they aren't hiring. Incredibly silly. This doesn't explain Panera's prominent signage to me, though.

French Toast Bagel (similar to cinnamon crunch, but not as sweet)

Panera Bread

501 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Tel: (310) 566-3080

8647 South Sepulveda Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90045
Tel: (310) 641-9200

12131 Ventura Boulevard
Studio City, CA 91604
Tel: (818) 762-2226

2733 Pacific Coast Highway
Torrance, CA 90505
Tel: (310) 517-0324

Restaurant Review #65: Santino's, Santa Monica

Cheese and Olive Plate

Though I didn't really love Spanish food while I was in Spain, I'm pretty nostalgic, so I decided to try Santino's, a tapas restaurant on Lincoln near Navy. No one on Chowhound had anything to say about it in 24 hours, which is unusual. I'm of the opinion that there are no undiscovered gems in this city of 19 million, but at least there weren't any bad reviews. So I went.

My first surprise was that Santino's is a place your order at the counter kinda place. The inside was bright and sunny at 6pm, and not a soul was in sight save the counter boy, who was not terribly friendly. The interior is wooden and worn with lots of red and green paint. Coolers along one wall hold sodas and other beverages; another small cooler holds bottles of beer. I didn't see anything Spanish, but then, Spanish beer is nothing to rave about. I wonder if any of the Spanish places in LA serve sidra? (Bonus points if you can shoot it out of the wall!) A flat panel TV plays music videos in Spanish. My second surprise was that my camera battery died right after I took the above picture.

My third surprised was that there were very few Spanish items, or even Spanish-influeced items, on the menu. Half of the menu lists panini and salads. Apparently, tapas are not just a Spanish thing--they're also Argentinian, and the cuisine of Argentina has a lot of influence from Spain and Italy. This explains the menu, and my confusion. Santino's is apparently an Argentinian restaurant, not a Spanish restaurant!

After I ordered, I saw it: the dreaded refrigerated display case. Was that where my tortilla espanola was coming from? I didn't actually see anything I ordered sitting in this case, but...

My eggplant was damn cold. Granted, it was supposed to be a cold dish, but I just hate when restaurants serve me something that's refrigerator cold. The eggplant, heavily marinated in a garlicky, red peppery, olive oily sauce, was cut into about one-inch squares and had a pickly zing to it. It was pretty good, but too strong to eat a full plate of, even though it was a very small (but somewhat heaping) plate. Of course, tapas are meant to be shared.

Next to hit my palette was the tortilla espanola, shamelessly listed on the menu as a Spanish tortilla. I like to think that even the American who knows no Spanish at all can figure out what "tortilla espanola" means. A tortilla espanola is essentially a thick omelette consisting primarily of eggs and potatoes. It's round like a tortilla, but the similarities end there. This tortilla was about 2 inches thick, with huge chunks of potato--more potato than egg--and a few slices of sauteed onion. The potatoes tasted distinctively old, like the dish had been cooked at least a week ago, hidden in the corner of a thrift shop for a while, and then microwaved. Also, I'm not sure how they cooked this, since it's pretty damn hard to flip an omelette that thick and potato-heavy.

The dish I had the most hope for was the olive and cheese plate, since I love both. The menu promised Spanish olives and imported cheeses, including manchego. I've eaten a lot of manchego (I think it's the only cheese anyone eats in Spain, besides roquefort) and I can assure you that none of the cheese at Santino's was manchego. And the Spanish olives had those damn red things in the middle! Call them pimentos if you want, but those don't count as food. No Spanish olive I ever ate in Spain had a red filling. Santino's olives were the mushy mass -packaged jar variety, and the cheese was no better.

The total for these three dishes was only $11.50, and I have leftovers. Two plates will probably fill most people.

The best dish--and this says it all, I suppose-was my friend's ham and cheese sandwich, a very thin, lightly grilled sandwich made on very thin Bimbo bread (don't you think Bimbo is a better term than Wonder for smushable white bread?). It came cut into triangles and was especially good with the olive oil and herb dipping sauce it came with. She also ordered an empanada, but I'm not feeling very carnivorous right now, so I didn't try it (the ham wasn't noticeable in the sandwich, I think because it was so thin--I normally dislike ham).

While we were there, two cops came in to get some grub to go, and one other civilian pair sat down at a table for a quick bite. That was it. There was no service to speak of--once the food was on our tables, that was it. One female employee stopped by to ask if we needed anything, and we asked for to-go boxes, but thirty minutes later we had to go ask again at the counter. The to-go boxes are styrofoam, which I realize is standard, but that doesn't mean I like it! I've gotta start remembering to bring my tupperware for leftovers. As my friend said, "I can't believe styrofoam is legal!" Let's ban styrofoam and legalize...something else.

Overall, I'd say that Santino's is more of a snack place than a meal place. I don't really recommend it, but I wasn't too upset about the experience since it was cheap as hell and pretty quiet.

(310) 392-5920
3021 Lincoln Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90405


Restaurant Review #64: Key Club, West Hollywood

I went here for a friend's birthday party for a night of dinner and dancing. I didn't quite have the normal club experience because I was there for a party, but I'll share anyway.

We arrived around 9:00 and were seated at our two reserved tables. They seem to only have round tables, which don't push together well for large parties, but it's not like you can talk to someone at the other end of a long table anyway, so maybe it doesn't matter. However, as someone who ended up sitting in the table crack, I'd have to say that I would have preferred a long rectangular setup.

By about 9:30, the music was already turned up so loud that it was difficult to carry on a conversation, which is unfortunate given that most people are not dancing at 9:30, nor do they want to be. Fortunately, my food was much better than I ever would have expected from a club. I think there was a $25 minimum per person, and not much in the way of vegetarian options--the sole vegetarian entree was...drumroll please...pasta! I had some sort of tuna sashimi dip with fried wonton chips that was quite good, and I am picky about my sashimi and generally not a tuna fan, either (note: this dish is no longer on the menu). The dish was also well-presented. I also had the spinach and artichoke dip, which was a delicious heart attack in a dish.

Saturday nights seem to have a hip-hop theme, which doesn't really entice me to dance, so I didn't. They had a large screen that plays music videos, which I think is tacky and distracting. Isn't the point of going out to dance and socialize, not to stare at a screen?

After dinner, my group got a table downstairs, with the usual ridiculously expensive bottle prices ($250 for Absolut? Ha, ha). It seemed a bit quieter in this area, as I think we were below the dance floor.

They were out of mint, so I couldn't have my usual mojito (sigh), and the drinks were pretty small. The service was average to slightly above average.

The interior is pretty nice, and there is no cover if you get there early enough. They also have limited valet parking next door, for a charge (it may have been $10). I wouldn't complain about going back if someone else had a party here, but if I were just to pick a place to go for a night out on the town, or if it were my party, I'd try something new. However, I'm really not into the Hollywood scene, hip-hop, or loud, large, expensive clubs, so I'm not the best person to ask.

Key Club
9039 Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069 (but it's really part of Hollywood, fyi)

Restaurant Review #63: Wahoo's Fish Taco, Santa Monica

Wahoo's Fish Taco is essentially a fast food chain, but it was new to me when I moved out here.

What's the big deal about fish tacos? I've heard people sing their praises before. I suppose that tacos are usually on the heavy side, and made with the right kind of fish, a fish taco would be refreshingly light, not to mention a bit healthier. But fast food fish?

I ordered just one fish taco to test the waters. Oddly, it was wrapped in two white corn tortillas. Is this standard Wahoo's practice or was it an accident or the work of a quirky line cook? Two tortillas is way too much tortilla, though it does keep any sauces, grease, or juices from leaking through and making a mess on your hands. The fish itself wasn't very flavorful, and the taco was quite small, especially for the price. Overall, Wahoo's signature menu item relies too heavily on the accompanying salsas for flavor and isn't big enough to sate anyone's appetite.

Wahoo's Fish Taco

418 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Restaurant Review #62: Ocean Avenue Seafood, Santa Monica

Ocean Avenue Seafood is not a restaurant I would have picked out myself, but it wasn't a bad place to have someone else take me. The interior is nice and very warmly lit. The restaurant is quite large, and on a Friday night, it was sometimes hard to hear my friend over the general noise of the other diners. The service was polite and friendly, and the food was good, though it didn't wow me. I had ordered a caesar salad for an appetizer, and was disappointed to get whole hearts of romaine, which are very veiny (I don't like lettuce veins) and difficult to eat. I felt ridiculous cutting my salad with a fork and knife, but there was no other way to eat it. I enjoyed my salmon entree, but can't remember the specifics of it, and the online menu is incomplete. For dessert, I had a chocolate macadamia nut torte, which was tasty but became mysteriously tough and chewy while it sat there, waiting for me to eat it.

As a bit of trivia, Ocean Avenue Seafood is owned by the same company is the nearby I Cugini.

Ocean Avenue Seafood
1401 Ocean Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Restaurant Review #61: Rambutan, Silverlake

Rambutan is a very popular, relatively new Thai restaurant in Silverlake with a sleek, sexy interior. It's gotten a lot of good reviews, for both the food and the atmosphere. I haven't spent much time in Silverlake, and I'm somewhat new to Los Angeles as well, but I get the impression that Eastsiders have been appreciative of recent hip additions to the neighborhood like Gingergrass and Rambutan. Citysearch claims that Rambutan was voted the #1 Thai restaurant in LA, and while I place so little faith on Citysearch's claims that I actually use them as a barometer of

I ate at Rambutan on a Saturday night. I kind of knew the moment I walked in that I wasn't in my kind of place--as much as I like sleek interiors, low lighting, and deep house grooves, everything else that comes with that kind of atmosphere usually makes me supremely uncomfortable--snooty waitresses, trendy clothes, crowds, and loudness. I don't like it when a restaurant resembles a club. I don't like places where the tables are so close together that I have to stick my butt in my neighbor's plate in order to get to my seat; where the hostess looks me up and down because no, whatever I'm wearing is not fashion forward; where I have to wait for a table but there isn't a waiting area so I have to cram myself into a bar that I'm not ordering a drink from (I'm not a big drinker).

So if you're like me, do yourself a favor and try Rambutan for lunch or early on a weeknight. You'll probably have a much better experience that way.

Rambutan Thai
2835 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Website (warning--plays loud music!)

Restaurant Review #60: T's Thai, Santa Monica

T's Thai is a small, very casual, very simple restaurant a few steps away from the busy intersection of 4th and Wilshire. It looks nicer from the outside than it does once you're inside--I wouldn't take a date here. The food is very inexpensive and the menu is what you would expect. I didn't think the pad Thai was very good, but the red pineapple curry was delicious. Like most Thai restaurants, with any entree you can choose your protein, including tofu, which makes this a good choice for vegetarians and even vegans, since they took care to ask me if egg was okay when I ordered my pad Thai with tofu.

T's Thai

1215 4th St.
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Restaurant Review #59: Border Grill, Santa Monica

Mmm, dipping sauces. A nice change from the usual plain ol' red. I loved the green salsa and ate a lot of it straight. It reminded me a bit of green chutney, but with a hint of. . .banana? I know, I'm crazy, and that doesn't sound appetizing, but trust me, it was good. I also liked the chips--they had a great crunch, and weren't greasy.

I really like Border Grill's margaritas. They are pricey, at $12 for the cheapest, but they are very tasty and damn strong--plenty of lime, tequila, sugar, and Cointreau. Just one kept me drunk for two hours. I like my food and drink on the intense side.

Plantains and rice are hard to mess up. Brazilian and Cuban restaurants do them better, but still. Yum.

I like it when a place has some kind of sampler so I can try multiple items. Ordering the Border Classics will give you a taste of three dishes. The chicken panuchos (center) used the same chicken as the quesadilla (below). I liked them, especially the guacamole on top and the colorful presentation. Though the chicken was on the salty side, the sweetness of the onions and guacamole balanced it out. The plantain and black bean empanadas (left) were delicious, very filling, and kept well as leftovers. The green corn tamales (right) really didn't taste like anything more than plain old corn.

They brought me a chicken quesadilla instead of the poblano one I had ordered, but it took so long that I didn't feel like sending it back. The chicken was very moist and had been marinated or cooked in "sweet adobo sauce," but it was too salty. The watercress salad it came with was really more of a garnish than a salad, I thought, and looked a little wilted. And why did they put a limp scallion on top of my quesadilla, I wonder? No garnish at all is better than a lame one.

Ceviche without shrimp made my day, since I'm allergic--until I tried it. I ordered the seabass amarillo ceviche (there are three kinds, another with rock shrimp and a third with halibut). The biggest problem I had with this dish though was how fishy it smelled and tasted. Fresh fish doesn't smell fishy, and I was afraid I'd get food poisoning from eating it, so I just nibbled at it. Maybe the fishy smell had something to do with the way ceviche is prepared--I'm not sure, but I wasn't taking any chances. I didn't get sick though, and I'm sensitive enough that I probably would have even from a few bites if it had been bad. Still, it was unappetizing.

The restaurant is very noisy, even before it gets full--the acoustics are just terrible. The service was sometimes fast, sometimes slow, and overall indifferent. I really like the colorful decor, particularly the style of graphics they use, which seems to be inspired by the Chicano group Los Four that did a lot of mural work in Los Angeles in the seventies and eighties (each artist also had a body of individual work). I don't know many people besides me who love their strange, colorful work.

Border Grill
1445 4th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401


Restaurant Review #58: Marmalade Cafe, Santa Monica

The Larkin

Marmalade is a small Los Angeles area chain serving breakfast, coffee, baked goods, and a multitude of sandwiches and salads. The menu has so many options that it's friendly to both vegetarians and their carnivorous friends. Or vice-versa. It's a very casual place where you place your order at the counter and seat yourself.

My favorite dishes are the beet salad, the albacore salad, and the Athens salad. The two-salad and three-salad plates are good deals and allow you to try multiple dishes. The menu is quite extensive and the food seems to be prepared by humans--veggies are cut imperfectly, for example. All of the salads are prepared in bulk and sit in a display case, but they always taste fresh--I imagine they are prepared each morning. The names of the sandwiches change at each location to reflect the neighborhood-a nice touch that makes this mini-chain feel more personal. The Larkin, pictured above, has bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado.

My least favorite dishes are anything purpoting to be Asian. Sigh. The coffee isn't great, either.

The staff is efficient and courteous--usually an indication of good company management and decent pay. Usually, at lunchtime they get swamped with business. It can be difficult to get a table, and you'll have to wait in line a bit for your food. I recommend calling or faxing your order in ahead of time.

Pros: Fantastic cake. Fantastic cookies. Fantastic dessert selection overall. Quality to price ratio is reasonable. Seems to have a loyal base of regulars. Consistent quality in service and food.

Cons: When you eat at the same restaurant too often, you start to notice a common underlying flavor in many of the dishes. This has happened to me with Marmalade, so I have to limit myself to the dishes that don't have this flavor.

Marmalade Cafe
710 Montana Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 395-9196

Also located in Malibu, Sherman Oaks, Westlake Village, Calabasas, Rolling Hills Estates, and at the LA Farmer's Market (because where else would people pay almost $20 for a salad and a slice of cake at a seat-yourself cafe?)

Restaurant Review #57: Coffeecana, Koreatown

Had someone else not pointed me to this place, I doubt I ever would have visited it, but this is the third strip mall gem I have found in the last month so I should probably get over my strip mall prejudice.

Coffeecana, located on the second floor of strip mall on Wilshire in Koreatown, serves both the usual lattes and cappucinos as well as boba, shaved ice (bingsu), and other exotic treats (which are not-so-exotic if you're Korean). The menu was quite extensive.

Additionally, the place was pretty quiet and had nice tables and chairs, which made it a good place for my book club meeting. On a Sunday afternoon, we were the only ones there. I've only been once, so I can't speak about the overall popularity of the place.

I had a shaved ice with red beans and fruit (served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and a cherry). It was $6 and it was huge--more than I could eat. The shaved ice was very tasty and I enjoyed the treat overall, although I would have preferred that all the fruit be fresh (the banana was fresh, of course, but the pineapple was from a can).

3959 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 389-2838

Restaurant Review #56: Abbot's Habit, Venice

I love Abbot's! I particularly like their blended mochas and bagels. They also serve baked goodies and sandwiches. Abbot's was a favorite lunch spot of a place I used to work.

The place is extremely casual and very Venice. If you want to get an immediate feel for this part of town, Abbot's is a great place to check out. It's not pretentious at all, and even during business hours is not populated by business types (but of course it's not, this is Venice), but rather by people who look like they're either coming from or going to the beach.

One of the many joys of this not being a corporate coffee shop is that your food may be a bit different each time you order it. The employees tend to do quirky things like make double or triple decker peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I like a place that doesn't roboticize its workers.

Sometimes the service is a bit slow, but not slow enough to stop me from visiting.

Cons: People sit outside with their dogs and take up the whole sidewalk. This is mainly a con because I am afraid of dogs. If you have a dog or like them, this would be a pro. Even though I don't like dogs, I like that the place is laid-back and allows them (inside I'm not sure about).

Abbot's Habit
1401 Abbot Kinney Blvd (at California)
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 399-1171