Dear Mr. Gold:
My husband and I are about to celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary. Do you have any suggestions for a place that is incredibly romantic, where we can eat outside comfortably and (here's the challenge) that is healthy without being boring?
This is going to sound weird, but we don't eat wheat or dairy, and we also don't eat carbs and protein together in the same meal. Also, it's not a deal-breaker, but we'd like a place that serves aged mezcal. Are we doomed to eat at yet another overpriced, Westside "farm to table" establishment, or is there a place with real character that could fit the bill?
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Dear Ms. Su:
Congratulations! Both for your years of apparent bliss and for your pitch-perfect evocation of what it means to be a certain kind of Angeleno. Usually I scoff at the no-wheat/no-dairy crowd, especially that segment of it that disdains the farm-to-table restaurants that exist to serve their ever-so-specific needs, but in this case I salute you. You certainly know what you want.
You could, as you imply, satisfy all your requirements at many of the better Westside establishments. Spago, Michael's, Wilshire and L.A. Farm all have romantic outdoor seating, glittery soft light and a tolerance for whatever dietary quirks you may throw their way. And this is the point where I toss out the idea of a Middle Eastern restaurant -- let's say Alcazar -- where the meat and wheat are as easy to ignore as the sanboosik you pass by, and whose patio can be plenty romantic on a warm summer night. (The romance level on weekends depends strongly on your enjoyment of live crooning; check for the music schedule.) You will be drinking arak instead of mezcal, but that isn't necessarily a hardship.
Ultimately, though, ideas of romance differ. And at least today, I suggest Mon Land. You won't find a scented terrace with strolling violinists -- you'll be dining on what feels like a loading dock, around the corner from a Chinese megamall -- and you will be eating Mongolian-style hot pot instead of pheasant under glass. The art -- you may not even see the art -- is pretty much limited to pictures of yurts. But you will be together, huddled around a kettle of boiling broth, feeding each other chrysanthemum leaves and bean curd if it is one kind of day, or chicken testicles and beef intestine if it is not, while concocting secret dipping sauces and wearing garlic and cumin as an invisibility cloak. It is just you two among the businessmen, extended families and rich SGV teenagers, and only you know why you're there. If there happens to be a bottle of illegal añejo in your purse, that's between you and your conscience. Or you could just grab a mezcal nightcap at Las Perlas afterward for dessert.