Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants


For our birthdays, my husband and I always take each other out to a surprise dinner. It started when I was living in San Francisco and he was living here in L.A. I visited around his birthday and decided to take him out to dinner at this restaurant I had read about. But for some reason, I didn't want to say which one. So, I would only tell him that it rhymed with "weenie."

The restaurant was Angelini (Osteria) and it remains one of the best meals I have ever had in my life. I was with someone that I was newly in love with and I was eating branzino that had been pulled from a sea salt crust like a rabbit from a hat to be delicately fileted and placed in moist, juicy, fork-sized pieces in a bath of the most delicious sauce I have tasted ever upon my plate.

It was so successful, it became a habit. I was overjoyed, because my ex-fiance was, well ... more of a Taco Bell/KFC Superstore kind of guy, and the one time I took him and his friends out to a really nice seafood restaurant for his birthday it was not quite met with enthusiasm. Oh well.

So this year, where would we go? Would it be something new, like Hatfield's? Something we've been waiting to try, like Grace? Or maybe an old favorite, like AOC or Angeli Caffe? What will it be? Where would we go? I tried for a while to get clues, but I couldn't even get a general clue. Not even a rhyming clue. So we got in the car and started driving toward La Cienega. Not Hatfield's, or Grace. But La Cienega could mean anything. We turned right on La Cienega. Oh my god, is he taking me to Republic or Koi? I would not have expected that ... no, we are passing them up ... wait, we are turning on Melrose. Bastide is closed. He had better not be taking me to Dolce. Maybe we are going back to Taste? Wait ... this is ... Are we going here? OMG. We are! Yay! It is ............

AOC has been one of my favorite restaurants practically since it opened, but I have never been to Lucques. It is so unassuming, in fact, that I always forget it is there unless I go by it. There was no valet person in site when we pulled up and the parking lot was full to bursting, but we lucked out when someone left from a meter right near the restaurant.

We walked in and here is what we saw:

This large cozy fireplace surrounded by deep couches is the waiting area between the bar and dining area. It looks like a fantastic place to hang out and wait, so I was almost sad that our table was ready right away. That chair there that you can barely see peeking out between the fireplace and couch facing us? That was my chair.

Our cocktails I can barely describe. They are not listed on the menu on the website. And since this was a birthday dinner from my husband I did not: take pictures, ask for menus, take notes, etc. I am going off of memory and the Lucques website. My cocktail was called the Pisco Kid and was--obviously--made with Pisco, but beyond that I cannot recall. It was really good, though. J.'s was, I think, called Strawberry Fields and made with strawberry puree. I can't remember what else was in it but I had a taste and it was fantastic. I almost tried to make him switch.

Oh, hold on, thank you other blogger, who provides me with the relevant information: "Strawberry Fields — Beefeater Gin and Lime Juice with Fresh Strawberries and Mint; and The Pisco Kid — Pisco Capel with triple sec, lemon juice, and loquat." Loquat? No wonder I chose that. Who ever gets to have loquat?

Our table was also graced with some fresh bread, along with olives and almonds in fresh olive oil. There was also some salt, or perhaps fleur de sel that was so outrageously good that we were actually eating pieces of salt by itself.

Then we commenced with starters. J. got the spring onion soup, with fontina, thyme, and rye toast ($10) and I got the ragout of morels over grilled brioche with creme fraiche and herb salad ($18 - hey, it was my birthday!). I love the morels at AOC and it's not often I will pass up brioche, and of course Ms. Goin's homemade creme fraiche. This dish was excellent, earthy and tangy with the bread crunchy on the outside, soft inside.

For a main course, J. had the braised beef short ribs with sauteed greens, pearl onions, and horseradish cream ($27). This is a signature dish of the restaurant and it is pretty amazing. The short ribs were so tender that they would pretty much fall apart if you winked at them. There was also a hidden cache of creamy polenta underneath it all. I had lamb skewers with a potato-tomato gratin, black olives, anchovies and capers (?? don't know price). This dish was so beautiful that I actually did get out my camera and try to take a picture, but it was too dark for my night vision and I didn't want to use flash. The skewers were actual sticks form a rosemary bush and the meat was piled with rosemary and pepper and a little salt and perhaps some other herbs as well. I have to say, I almost never eat lamb, well ... I really never eat lamb. It's this thing I have after growing up on a sheep farm. The lambs are like my friends. I don't want to eat them. But I have to say, this particular lamb was mighty delicious. Suzanne Goin and her wood-fired oven are the only things that can overcome my sadness at chowing down on my little woolly friend.

Then came dessert. I looked at the menu and literally wanted everything on it. Equally. I was at a loss, I couldn't decide. And then, there was J., who was sick and wasn't going to get dessert. I have that awful evil black little knot of insecurity inside that tells me when I get dessert and no one else does, that I am fat and disgusting. I know that I'm not supposed to listen to that little monster, but it's inexplicably persuasive.

But I remembered taking a sidelong glance over to the table next door and seeing a mug of thick hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows and some almonds which made my neighbor ooh and aah. So I ordered that ($5) and it really turned out to be the best dessert choice for me anyway. It was rich, thick Valrhona hot chocolate with rectangular homemade marshmallows and a little bowl of almonds dusted with cocoa powder, cinnamon and cayenne pepper or some kind of chile powder. Beauty. I love spicy hot chocolate. I need my sweet to be hot and spicy, or salty for me to really fall in love in love with it. I was in love with those almonds. I ate them all and polished off the hot chocolate before it cooled.

Thank you, darling husband, for a fabulous birthday dinner. I want to go back for the bar menu sometime and sit in those luscious couches by the fireplace.

The photos above came from the Lucques website, by the way and were taken by Aaron Cook.

8474 Melrose Ave.
(323) 655-6277


That hot chocolate sounds delicious!! And the bar looks delicious, too...

Do you think your husband is allergic to Lucques? Or to having no sidewalk?

said by Anyanka at 6:51 PM Delete

No he is allergic to mosquitos. :( You should see his bites. He is going to the doctor now because I am making him.

At least I know it's probably not a weird disease because I have bites too and mine are not all crazy blotchy.

said by KT at 6:58 PM Delete

What a fantastic post. Thanks for sharing. (no seriously I mean that!!) My birthday's not until January but I just might have to figure out a way to get taken to Lucques.

It occured to me that perhaps you should have ordered two desserts anyway; it was your birthday, you should never pass up dessert!

said by JoAnna at 10:54 PM Delete

Thanks! I definitely recommend Lucques. That wood burning oven is like magic.

Do you think I could have gotten away with ordering seven desserts? Even on my birthday?

said by KT at 7:36 AM Delete

wow, you are prolific and i am behind. the danger with your posts is still that they make me hungry. but i also got that LA Weekly insert about the 99 best restaurants in LA and plan to trudge through them, using your reviews as a handy guide within the guide. thanks!

said by Milla at 11:39 AM Delete

hell, go for one for EACH birthday. It's the only reason I'd welcome increasing that number. :-D

said by JoAnna at 11:39 AM Delete

Milla:I try to post every weekday, because it seems like I accumulate things to post about faster than I can post them. And the fact that you get hungry when you read them is totally flattering. I hope I can get a good way through the 99 restaurants list ... we'll see! I've got two down (since the list came out) and 97 left.

JoAnna:Next time I have a birthday dinner, I am taking you with me to help me eat all of the desserts. And I will order a dessert for each birthday. All, um ... twenty two of them. Yeah, that's it. Twenty two.

said by KT at 11:59 AM Delete

Happy (belated?) birthday!

I have not yet eaten at Lucques. I know--SLAP! I did, however, just order the "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" cookbook because everyone is going ga ga over it. I'll have to get there soon. Thanks for the great post.

said by Acme Instant Food at 12:52 PM Delete

Ooh! I hope you post about the cookbook, I have seen some really amazing looking recipes from it.

I am planning on attempting to make her AOC fingerling potatoes tonight ... or at least the LA Times recipe "based on" them.

said by KT at 1:15 PM Delete

I was just there last weekend! I love it so much. It is the perfect spot after work. Nice glass of wine and beautiful atmosphere. THanks for the terrific post and belated Happy Birthday!

said by Rachael at 2:44 PM Delete

Thank you! I didn't realize until I went that one could just go for a drink. I'm definitely going to try to remember that!

said by KT at 2:46 PM Delete

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