We’ve lived through years of pandemic crises, white-knuckled Dry January and detoxed from holiday calories, but now it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. It’s a moment made for courtship, canoodling in public and celebrating our love lives. It’s also an evening to eat something delectable, have a tipple or two and relax the dessert boycott. Valentine’s Day is set aside for foolish hearts to unite, but really any evening suits.
Of all the romantic dinners in Los Angeles, one of the most memorable is at Chinois on Main, Wolfgang Puck’s venerable Asian fusion restaurant in Santa Monica. Decorated by his now ex-wife, it’s a destination restaurant to consecrate all of life’s precious moments. On Valentine’s, the much loved partner-manager Bella goes all out, decorating with hearts, flowers, swags of red and gold. One and all get a sweet greeting from Bella, who seems to know everyone who comes in as well as enveloping newcomers in her loving hospitality.
Indicating a table near the front of the dining room, she says, smiling with delight, “That’s the proposal table. I don’t know why so many people get engaged there, but they do.” Bella is much too discrete to name any engaged lovers, including some celebs, or tell any Hollywood tales, though she has a million. Starting with Bella’s kindly inquiries about how customers would like their evening to proceed, and waiter Felix’s genius suggestions, the Chinois staff snugly wraps diners in the blanket of their affection; everything taken care.
On a recent visit, we went for the classic dishes and mixed in some of the new. However, choosing dishes can be tricky since their portions are generous. Felix understood our hesitation and immediately fixed the dilemma. He had the kitchen send out half-portions of the generous appetizers. Getting stuffed on a romantic evening, falling asleep instead of holding hands, is a certain buzz kill.
Valentines Day brings a special menu for the evening including leek soup with caviar, lobster and Wagu beef—and of course Valentine’s sweet treats ($175 per person). This prix fixe dinner takes away the burden of choosing. You won’t need to have half-portions during this meal! It’s the ultimate pampering.
Count on the servers to help with wine as well as food. Felix choose a wonderful Pinot Noir for dinner and clever cocktails to begin. We started with the Shrimp Tempura ($35 for a whole order). A dish that is too often mediocre—kind of limp and greasy—this was exemplary. Don’t resist the Tiny Dumplings ($15), get a whole order. The bite size is just right for popping into your sweetheart’s mouth.
The Chinois Chicken Salad ($31) is an “always order” for long time customers. Bella says that Chinois invented fusion cuisine and now nearly every Asian-leaning restaurant has a chicken salad patterned after this original. Neither of us can resist a carb; the Szechuan Pancakes served with stir fried duck and mushrooms ($27.50) satisfied that craving perfectly. Crispy at the edges with rich meat on the bone, this is… ahem… hog heaven.
Felix, ever the gentleman, would not take no for an answer when he brought over the sweets menu. Stay for dessert. Go for the Trio of Crème Brulee ($15). The three tiny pots of chocolate, caramel and ginger custard are the last lingering culinary kisses of the evening…
Or better yet, go on Valentines Day for the set menu.
CHINOIS ON MAIN
2709 Main St.
Hours: 5:30 to 9:30 Sunday, Wednesday Thursday
5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Valentines prixe dinner $175 per dinner
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign for our newsletters today