Bianca, being the shamelessly fantastic person she is, was adamant about taking me out for a memorable dinner for my birthday. I hadn't been to Carlitos Gardel in an age, and desired the grilled epiphany that is Argentine steak.
West of the racy pomp of Melrose's main shopping strip, Carlitos Gardel stands aloof and dignified. They take care of you here. The interior is quietly textured, with sounds of violin music and a sommelier named Gerardo who cares deeply about what works best with your desired experience and its courses. We settle down with a bottle of Blú sparkling natural mineral water to clear the palate.
I am helpless before the concept of sausage, and the Chorizo is grilled firm and dense with a brisk skin. Its intense, intoxicating scent would perk up the noses of a wolf pack in the next county. A small, polite salad with a mild vinaigrette accompanies it.
Bianca keeps to her seafood and vegetarian diet. The Mussels are utterly married to the warm marinara sauce in which they stand like a Druidic circle of shells. There is a tang of the sea resonant within the sauce.
With these we savor a half-bottle of what is now our favorite champagne, Pol Roger Brut Réserve. Simply smelling it was revelatory, and the taste is not nasal and fizzy as we find so many champagnes to be, but with an airy snap.
I am ready for my steak experience, and am given a big brawny wood-handled steak knife.
My choice for the evening is Oja de Costilla a La Criolla, a grand example of the varying terrain of a rib eye: fatty and char, grainy and plush, glistening inside. It is medium rare, stopping just shy of pink, spicy and somehow sweet. The knife cuts it with slight resilience. The fourteen-ounce rib eye is blanketed with a rich green chimichurri sauce.
A Mendel Malbec from Mendoza (I don't mean to go overboard with alliteration, really) is paired with this; it practically paints the glass as it runs around the interior, yet is elegant, not a powerhouse (again with the alliteration).
For another time, perhaps, the Churrasco Portabella is also worthy of mention; a 14-ounce New York steak is stuffed with portabella mushrooms, provolone cheese and spinach, and permeated with a Cabernet Sauvignon and mushroom sauce. The brown juices from the steak turn reddish with the sauce, the cheese mellows the interior, and it is enough to stop you from participating in conversations.
The Grilled Chilean Sea Bass, however, was possibly the greatest thing on Melrose that evening, perhaps an experience that will forever be chased. Juicy, yes, and buttery, melting and refined. Peas dot its surface, thankfully, instead of capers, which would have overborne the taste. A few vegetables assist, and a masterfully made hillock of mashed potatoes, pumpkin-colored with spices.
Fitting with this is another of Gerardo's recommendations, a Sauvignon Blanc whose name we regretfully missed, reminiscent of strawberry and peach and air.
We made room for this: Dulce de Leche Pancakes. Basically they are crêpes, stretchy and firm with a softly persistent flavor of griddle and batter. Inside, on top of, and next to it is pure, unbridled caramel that is almost too much sugar from Heaven, like nearly dying from a too-enthusiastic visit with your harem.
A glass of Sandeman 20-year Tawny port tempers it a bit, pulling it away from the brink of painful sweetness and away from vulgar metaphors.
Parking is street during the day, and valet at night.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Hollywood, Argentine )
Another strip mall prize, thanks to Heather P.
JP is tiny, a square space with well-considered color: walls of clay, mustard and aluminum, woven chairs, perpetual surfing on TV and a myriad of colors on the chalkboard menu. A blues guitar repents overhead, or southern rock. A casual island spot in the midst of sunblasted midwestern Valley.
The lanky saint behind the counter is John, who is a really nice guy. He's so pleasant that if I were someone's busybody old aunt I'd be introducing my nieces to him. People who come in seem to know him, and I expect that Johnny Pacific's going to be a hotly defended neighborhood treasure.
But what was I supposed to be talking about... empanadas! I scan the fingernail-chewing array of fried meat pie choices: ham and cheese, all melty and familiar. Kailua pig (which doesn't taste fried at all, and it reminds me of Hawai'i). Spinach and cheese. A pulled pork? Does anyone else do that? Damn.
The "JP Frittes" are Belgian style, in that they're seasoned and come with dipping sauces: I can recommend the Basil Aioli, the Sweet & Sour Thai, and the Chimmi-Churri that has a back-of-the-throat garlic kick.
Everything is served in boxes & paper, simply, sans frills. The drinks are various choices of freshly squeezed and homemade, such as the just-sweet-enough lemonade, but you can get a can of Inka Cola if you have a mind to.
There's even dessert empanadas... how about a "Flanada" with homemade caramel sauce? A chocolate & coconut? I'm going to have to run over to one of the Empanada's Place locations and do some comparative eating...
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Brazilian, American, The Valley, Argentine, Hawaiian/Oceania )
This place peeks out onto Melrose just after the shopping district starts west of La Brea.
You will see Hollywood fashionistas* and other various beautiful people here, but it's not just a cool atmosphere. The restaurant seems really small and comfortable, but you want to sit outside in the massive covered patio, decorated in wood, orange and green.
Lala's serves excellent Argentine fare, specializing of course in meat-heavy dishes such as steak milanesa. Their empanadas are large and tasty, and their Chicken Suprema (breaded with chopped tomatoes) and Pechuga Dijon (with a creamy mustard white sauce ladled over it) are wonderful. Bianca likes the Al Champignon (grilled double chicken breast in a red cream sauce, topped with mushrooms). She also recommends you do this: get the mashed potatoes, which are already fluffy, and ask for them "Champignon" as well, covered with the mushroom sauce.
I'm looking forward to getting here for lunch and trying a chorizo sandwich.
The service varies. Our last waitress was cute and pleasant but had better things to do than check up on us or ask if we wanted dessert, instead dropping the bill on the table and vanishing before we could form the words "can we see a dessert men... no?" Other waitstaff are energetic and nice.
There is plenty of valet parking, but it's a touch expensive, even for L.A. (getting your ticket validated inside will reduce it to a slightly less wince-worthy $5.25). A second location is in Studio City, but I must doubt that it's going to have the same Melrose vibe.
* Apologies for using the word "fashionistas" in a sentence.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Argentine )