Restaurant Review #136: The Cellar, Century City

Chicken pesto sandwich

The Cellar is probably a place you have never been to and will never go to unless you work in Century City. It sits far back from the sidewalk--walking past, you would probably mistake their outdoor seating for that of another mediocre office tower lunch restaurant. And The Cellar closes early, around 9:00, so it's really only meant as an after-work destination--Century City isn't exactly the place to go for a night on the town, after all.

The decor is straight out of the 80's, and there is something soothing about being in a place whose decor is so out that it has no hope of being in again for at least 20 more years. Outdated interiors, so commonplace in less moneyed places like St. Louis, are an anomaly in a city like LA where restaurants constantly compete to be the newest and hippest. At The Cellar, there are still ashtrays in the bathroom stalls and wood paneling on the walls. Whereas Century City is all about power suits, powerful jobs, and powered waterfalls, The Cellar strips all of that down to burgers and booze.

The kitchen serves small portions of cheap happy hour appetizers like buffalo wings and potato skins, in addition to a respectable list of burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, and other bar food. Regulars told me to skip the skimpy chicken fingers, and that the nachos, quesadilla, and buffalo wings were my best bets. Since I was starving, I decided to go straight for the entrees.

I am paranoid about having food in my teeth, so I would never order something as disaster-prone as a chicken pesto sandwich. But my friend doesn't suffer from the same anxiety and chooses freely from any menu, and still manages to maintain his pearly white smile. How does he do it?

Lately I've found all chicken to be lackluster, and this sandwich was no exception. I will say that they really didn't skimp on the pesto, though. Surprisingly, they didn't use pesto mayonnaise, but a generous layer of straight-up pesto.

French burger

The Cellar offers several different burgers, each with different toppings and cheeses. The French burger, topped with onions and cheddar cheese, was juicy and delicious. Maybe it's because I finally took the plunge and ordered my burger cooked medium rare (it was too dark for me to notice if it was still mooing), maybe I was starving or clouded by my first drink, or maybe The Cellar just has surprisingly good burgers. The fries, on the other hand, were on the dry side and weren't very good after a few minutes.

Apple martini

As I've gotten older, I've come to like sweetness less and less. Sweet now must be combined with something bitter, in the form of port or chocolate or coffee, for me to really enjoy it. I started with a Tom Collins, which was fine but not worthy of seconds. The apple martini looked just right, but was so sweet that the only reason I drank it anyway was because, well, I just wanted a buzz. My followup lemon drop was the best drink of the night.

I almost feel like I'm on the set of Cheers

The bartenders/servers are initially pretty attentive, ready to take your drink order before you've even sat down and quick to offer refills, though the food service was slower and after a couple of hours we started having to flag them down when we needed another drink or the check. The attitude here is neither cheesy nor upscale, just straightforward.

The Cellar gives out free chips and salsa daily (serve yourself by the door), sells $1 hotdogs and chili during Monday Night Football, and has karaoke on Tuesday nights. They are open for lunch and after work, and closed on weekends. You can park for free in parking spaces in the back after 5:00, though you're unlikely to snag one, or you can park on the street in the front after 6:00. They validate parking in the parking structure located directly behind the building, so you’ll only pay $2. You can reserve a table in advance, but generally don't need to. On a Friday night, the place never got more than a third full.

If you've been to The Cellar, how was your experience? Leave a comment!

The Cellar
1880 Century Park East
Century City, CA 90067

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