Waaaaaay back on March 20th, I said "I owe you restaurant reviews for Amuse (Venice), The Park (San Luis Obispo), and Mama Voula's (West L.A.)" but now I have even more to add to that list.
I'm no so full of myself that I think my restaurant reviews are zagat-worthy, but I think that someone googling for a place might want another person's opinion...especially if the reviewer isn't paid to write restaurant reviews for a living!
Anyway, here goes... By the way, here's my decoding chart
This is in the space that used to be Van Gogh's Ear. I liked VGE because you could go there and get tea and a sandwich or a salad and feel like you were hanging out at the home of your cool friend, who's mom was a great cook. The upstairs was huge, fun, artsy and reminded me of hanging out in my friend Cara's hayloft back home in illinois. So for those just coming to Los Angeles, or those who've never been to VGE, you won't have the same "baggage" I'm bringing, literally, to the table.
The Amuse dining room is cramped. Please do not call it cozy. They used less than half of the space of the upstairs for seating. I felt as if I could participate in my neighbors' conversation (ugh, about Sideways, no less!) Staffers kept walking behind me to get to the wine buffet and nudged my chair every time. The feng shui of the place was terrible. Plus, our table was incredibly small. We couldn't fit our plates and glasses on it without constantly juggling and shuffling. What the hell are they doing with the rest of that space? Maybe Brooke and Nick have converted half of it to living quarters?
I also felt that the service was lacking. It was uncomfortable to flag someone down to get more water. One of the servers put a plate down in front of Kelly, and there was a black spot on it. Instead of simply replacing it (ideal) or brushing it off with a napkin (satisfactory) he smooshed on it with his finger, right in the middle of the plate, to try to remove it. (It didn't go away, it just got smeared. EWW!?) The servers were detached and acted rushed. It didn't contribute to a comfortable vibe.
I almost regret to say that the food was fantastic. Nearly every thing we ate was eye-rollingly good. Smoked trout. Short Ribs, a salad with frisee, and one thing I no longer remember, plus a dessert of apple crisp (I think!) The exception was the sautéed strawberry and green tea flan dessert, which we sent back because it tasted ...salty? The server exchanged it no problem, for which I'm grateful.
We were there a long time, and we ordered two items plus shared a dessert, and I still felt like I could have eaten a little more, but I was happy enough to be out of there when the check finally came.
 My regret does not stem from jealousy of their success, I'm thrilled for them. They're taking the small plates concept to an elite level and I couldn't be happier about it. It comes, instead, from how great the place COULD be -- how a few things they should have been done, but weren't. More attention, more space, a little music to drown out my neighbors' conversations... just a few of the things that will keep me from coming back and keep me from whole-heartedly endorsing the restaurant.
Mama Voula's, West L.A.
If these three people worked for me, I'd be a happy, HAPPY restaurateur. A cook, an assistant, and a server. Efficient, friendly, fast. This is a greek restaurant, which is rare enough in Los Angeles, especially since Skorpios is gone. The place is in a strip mall at the corner of Santa Monica and Brockton, just a block east of Bundy. Friendly lighting and mouth-watering smells draw you in. The fact that every table was filled was a good sign, but we were starving so we sat at the tiny counter. This turned out to be great: I got to watch the cook do his thing while we were waiting. No, it was not Mama Voula herself, but I believe the elderly woman depicted on the menu would have had a hard time keeping up with the young man working there. He was poetry in motion.
Little bursts of flame when lamb chops were flipped on the stovetop. Sprinkles of oil and herbs on top of hummus served with wedges of pita. Orders kept coming in and he kept cranking them out. Every so often, he'd have to re-light a burner on his stove; he'd do it without missing a beat. His assistant intuitively brought more plates, clean sauté pans, refilled mise en place on the salad station. (Would you laugh at me if I told you it nearly brought tears to my eyes?) The server was a darling, friendly Asian woman who spoke English to the customers and Spanish to the cook and his assistant. She handled the entire room herself, including phone orders, carryout customers, and the demanding table that seemed to order one item at a time.
Here's something I find special: there was a little countertop bell that she'd ring when she placed an order, and he'd ring when he had an order up, but instead of slamming on it in a rushed, panicky movement, they each tapped on it gently. That vibe was carried out through the entire place. If it sounds kind of Kumbaya, so be it. I know what its like to work that hard, and at that pace, so to keep a happy, nice vibe going on is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I could picture them taking a break, drinking cold beers at the end of the night. I wanted to buy them all beers... but we left a nice tip instead.
Speaking of beverages if you choose to go to this place, the market on the corner sells a modest assortment of greek wines. Just don't go past the meat counter if you are squeamish!
The Park, San Luis Obispo
This is where the locals go for birthdays & anniversaries. I'm too tired to write more, so please, suffice it to say, if you are in San Luis Obispo and you want to have a LOVELY meal in a beautiful, comfortable restaurant, this place is very nice. It's obvious the food was made with love.
Last thing I ate or drank: Big tall glass of water.
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