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Delicious Spree LA to Z...Cinch

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LAist is going on a delicious spree around LA from A to Z. This week, let's C. Today, Cinch Restaurant.

LAist's first time at Cinch was a miserable, frosty experience. The hostess was cold, our server was snobby and as slow as ice melting in the arctic. Even the temperature of the restaurant itself was cold and though we covered up, we were hunched over and rubbing our hands together to keep warm. We don’t remember the food at all other than that it was very very expensive for *eh*.

But that was a long time ago, and LAist likes to give second chances. Perhaps the hostess has mellowed out, the staff stepped it up in pace, maybe the food has improved, and the thermostat had been re-set.

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Cinch is two stories. Unless you know what you’re looking for, you might miss it because it is sign-less (very trendy). The restaurant’s dining room and main bar on the first floor, and then off to the side, there’s a small doorway that leads up a staircase to the second floor lounge and bar. It’s closed until 10 pm, after which, a large dark-suited, ear-pieced man checks ID. At first it was a clipboard list type of affair at the doorway to the lounge, but now they must have wised up to Westsiders’ impatience with such nonsense.

We had a few drinks in the first floor bar. Drinks, for the Westside, weren’t cheap. They didn’t knock us over, but at least they were strong enough that we didn’t feel completely cheated putting $18 on a credit card for two cocktails. And that doesn’t include the four dollars we left for tip.

Cinch’s interior is sort of a modern, earthy Asian theme. Not usual for a restaurant, the floor is carpeted, which might prevent some echoing, but still the restaurant is loud. The main dining room, with white stone walls, is broken into two open spaces by a running water sculpture that throws flickering reflections on the ceiling right overhead. There’s no general lighting overhead, but accent lighting and lots of tiny votive candles create enough light to see fellow diners and some of the artistic flourishes in the space. Normally, a ceiling is just a ceiling, but Cinch’s is 3D sculpted with large, lit holes and protruding circles. There’s a small room toward the front with all sculpted wood walls. It’s private, but not really, since it’s open to the main room. Cinch is a fairly big, fairly beautiful space.

As soon as we sat down, we asked for bread to tide us over while we looked over the heavily Asian-influenced menu, which includes an entire section of sushi. The server was doing the best he could, but he was still quite slow. The bread came to the table only a few minutes before our food. We don’t blame him, though. We fault Cinch for poor staff scheduling. They should have had at least two more servers in the dining room.

The kitchen sent a tiny stick of mozzarella wrapped like an eggroll and deep fried. An amuse is always a thoughtful touch, but thankfully we didn’t order and pay for something that tastes much better at TGi Friday’s.

For appetizers, the few salads aren’t even worth mentioning. The carpaccio was supposedly a Kobe beef, but it didn’t taste like anything special, especially since there were too many other things thrown on top – mushrooms, peppers, greens, spices – that masked the flavor of the beef. Pepper-crusted hamachi carpaccio had potential from the description on the menu, but it too was nothing special. Again, too many other things on the plate that drowned even the relatively strong hamachi.

The ahi tuna tartar was an overwhelming mess. Cucumbers in a haphazard “design” on the plate, a pile of tuna, a mess of green things, and a few won ton crisps that suffered from a too-low frying temperature like the amuse, tossed onto the plate as an afterthought. The fairly sizable crabcake was presented simply with tiny piles of mache on either side. But it tasted sort of like gooey, gluey crab salad from the deli case dressed up in panko crumbs.

The rack of lamb was plated with a suspicious dark smear across the plate that made it look like it had been used as toilet paper. Quite unappetizing. New York Strip steak was unfortunate. Perhaps the kitchen trying to hide something? A heavy sauce covered a thin, scrawny piece of meat and spilled all over plate. The meat must not have properly rested because its juices were gathering in a messy little puddle in the corner of the plate before it was even cut open. Perhaps calling french fries something as fancy as soufflé frites makes it okay to put only four or five on the plate. Unfortunate, indeed.

As commonplace as miso-glazed anything is these days, it'd be tough to ruin something that's a pretty much just a formula. The fish was atop some sort of vegetable that was cooked in such a way that we couldn’t identify it. Lots of things, too much in fact, going on atop the plate. The salmon was the only dish that was simply plated, but it was also so simple in flavor that is was bland. This was one plate that definitely needed all the sauce it could get because the salmon was dreadfully dry.

On cutting a Jidori chicken served with orzo, the Brie stuffing was overly hot, and completely spilled out of the chicken, drowning everything else on the plate. The chicken was difficult to cut and eat, though it was tender. Whatever lobster flavor the orzo did have was lost to the cheese.

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The Tofu Tasting was such a regretful disappointment. Two little seared blocks of tofu devoid of any taste were served with a miserable little mushroom eggroll, and a tofu cream on the plate. Certainly, tofu by itself is bland, but when prepared well (as tofu, and not as a disguise for meat though!), it can be amazing. We couldn’t believe we were paying $20 for something so small and so flavorless. At least it was true to its name - a taste of tofu.

Of course, we don’t usually expect a simple angel hair, tomato and basil to be amazing. But it was pretty damn far from amazing. The dish was barely warm, the pasta a little bit too al dente than pasta should be, the tomatoes and basil were fresh, but it didn’t taste like there was anything else on the pasta except olive oil. Not even salt. It’s okay to be somewhat mild when pasta is an accompaniment to a main dish. It’s even okay for pasta to be *eh” if you’re at Olive Garden and it’s only $7.95 for all you can eat. This sorry excuse for pasta was not okay in any way.

We didn’t order dessert. Thank god.

Cinch tries a bit too hard. This is comfortable, casual laid-back Westside, so thank goodness that most of the staff has let go of trying to make it feel like too-good-for-you Hollywood, but there’s still a little bit of it there. For such a gorgeous space, and particularly for the prices, the food was ridiculously just okay at its best, and pretty much just ridiculous at its worst. It seems like the kitchen is trying too hard to make the food fancy, but it ends up just looking like a big mess on the plate. They need to try a little harder to make it taste good first.

1519 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90403
(310) 395-4139

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