Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Four Days in L.A.

I have to apologize to anyone who is still reading this blog, because the last few posts have been so darned BORING. I have been swamped with work lately, and the blog has definitely taken a back seat. I also have to admit that I am also struggling a bit with what exactly to write about. Having run across Pete Wells' somewhat famous article in Food and Wine slamming "cheese sandwich" food blogs, I am feeling a bit flummoxed. A certain amount of the "dear diary" approach necessarily bleeds into any food blog - because after all, you write about what you know - but I never intended for this to become a recitation of what I had for lunch (or dinner) each day. I want to inject some personality into it, but I don't want to come across as a self-centered navel-gazer. I want to showcase local products and businesses, but I also want to appeal to people who live outside of San Diego. I want to talk about restaurants, but I don't want to alienate people who can't afford to (or simply don't care to) eat out. It's hard to please everyone.

Anyway, I am not sure if this is much of an improvement, but I thought I'd talk a bit about where I've been for the past several days. Essentially I and my co-counsel were held hostage (in a good way) in Department 39 of the Los Angeles Superior Court. I had a case that was set for trial next week, and the Judge took it upon himself to beat us and the other side into a settlement. We finally reached an agreement yesterday, after four long days of negotiations and driving back and forth from San Diego (except for the one day when we took the train, which didn't work out so well.) During this ordeal, we were pretty much restricted to what we could find to eat within walking distance of the courthouse.

The downtown courthouse sits on a block between Hill Street and N. Grand Avenue. The backside of the building fronts directly onto the Music Center and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I had actually been to the cafe within the Concert Hall before, but I assumed that it was probably open only when performances were scheduled. Happily, I was wrong. Given the stale popcorn and hot dogs available at the courthouse cafeteria (why oh why don't they just lease those to a worthy vendor?) the gourmet deli fare of the Concert Hall Cafe was a welcome diversion. The Cafe is a venture of the Patina Group, which owns Patina Restaurant, the Pinot chain, Nick & Stef's steakhouse, and the concessions at numerous area museums and cultural venues, such as the Hollywood Bowl and the Opera house. They also run several restaurants at Downtown Disney (must be some connection there.) I have long been a fan of their "Pentolino" cafe at 333 S. Hope Street - which carries pretty much the same fast-gourmet fare as the Concert Hall Cafe and also has a sit-down cafe.

The Concert Hall Cafe has a small hot food selection - sort of cafeteria style - serving chicken parmesan, pasta, steak, etc. as well as a fresh salad bar. The pre-packaged selections include cobb salads, club sandwiches, crudite, fruit, olives and cheeses, and desserts - oh, the desserts. They make wonderful brownies, cookies and scones. This time I discovered the "rustic" cherry tart - Essentially a small buttery tart shell filled with sour cherries and topped with a streusel-like crumble. The prices are a bit outlandish - especially on the low end for some reason. Three dollars for a small bag of chips? I also thought $2.75 was high for a cup of coffee (not an espresso mind you) but it is good quality food. They also have bottled beer and a decent selection of half bottles of wine.

On the first day, before we discovered that the Concert Hall Cafe was open, we walked across the street to Kendall's Brasserie in the Music Center complex. This is also owned by the Patina Group, and serves mainly French bistro stand-bys, such as mussels with frites, steak frites, fruits de mer, sandwiches and salads. The menu and theme were quite similar to the Pinot restaurants - possibly a bit more casual. Where the Pinot "theme" is Provencal, this place screams Parisian bistro. I've only eaten in one Pinot restaurant, the one near South Coast Plaza, and I thought it was very good. This was also fine, but very standard. The trap of offering a simple menu, is that it is utterly worthless unless it is perfect. Why serve Mussels with soggy frites? I also hated the iced tea. They called it cranberry iced tea but it looked and tasted like unsweetened red Kool-Aid. I did see some fish that looked good, and the burger and croque monsieur looked satisfying. If you were also being held hostage across the street it is perfectly adequate, say for a business lunch, but I wouldn't go out of my way

On the day we took the train, we found ourselves with three hours to spare as a result of a really annoying Amtrack fuck-up. The 5 PM train was late getting into the station, and they sent it out without bothering to post the track number. Sneaky bastards. Given the long delay until the next train, my co-counsel Greg suggested we walk a couple of blocks over to Philippes, a LA institution that claims to have invented the french dip sandwich. I'd never been, but I love those retro"institution" type places. There aren't very many left in San Diego anymore. Philippes is an order-at-the-counter place, with sawdust on the floors and fluffy diner-style pies in a glass case. The menu is extensive, but everybody gets the same thing - the french dip sandwich with a choice of beef, pork, ham, lamb or turkey. I ordered the beef sandwich and a side of cole slaw, and Greg ordered one of each of the lamb and beef and the potato salad, which he wisely hid behind a napkin holder to protect it from my wandering fork (I still snuck a bite while he wasn't looking). On the tables are jars of their signature mustard - feisty and sweet with a healthy dose of horseradish. I dolloped it on my plate and used it as a dip.
The prices were refreshingly retro as well - the sandwiches are only about 4 bucks a piece and the pies were about 3 bucks a slice. I was too full to try any, but they looked promising. The place has been in existence since 1908, but relocated in the 50s to make way for the 101 Freeway. I don't think the menu has changed much since. Philippes is located on Alameda, just East of the train station, south of Chinatown close to Olvera Street.

Disney Concert Hall Cafe
141 S. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles
(213) 972-3550

Kendall's Brasserie
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles
(213) 972-7322 (reservations recommended)

1001 N. Alameda Street
Los Angeles, 90012
(213) 628-3781

photo credits:, (brigsnla),


  1. Whaddaya mean "still" reading your blog?! Of course!
    I'm certainly not finding it boring! Loved to hear about your adventures in LA

  2. Hi Alice,
    Nice post. I used to eat at Phillippes when I was in Grad School at USC. Tasty stuff.

  3. Hi Alice - So does Pete Wells determine what I, or you eat? Who really cares......
    You have your voice, and I'll settlev for that. After all, I just do cheeese sandwiches....

  4. Bron - thanks for your kind words, I've been enjoying your blog, especially the great photos!

    Jack - Glad I could bring back some memories for you! :-)

    Kirk - Oh pulllease, your blog is so far beyond cheese sandwiches. In fact, I am dying to try one of those bahn mi things. I've gotta get out more.

    Rorie - thanks so much! I am free now with my case having settled, so let's plan that lunch!

  5. suddenly, my blog is self-conscious. "my blog is about ____." um. nothing? (for what it's worth, this new reader thinks yours is great.)

  6. Mipmup - thanks! I like yours too, hence the link! Cheers! - Alice