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DineLA: More Round-Ups, More Reviews!

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Many of LAist's contributors have been checking out L.A.'s dineLA Restaurant Week -- and we've discovered that some experiences definitely offered more value than others. I decided to close out my own Restaurant Week experience with a casual lunch and a more upscale dinner: for the former, I took LAist editor Zach out to lunch at eat. on sunset, while I saved the fancy hotel dinner at Circa 55 for my special guy. Both restaurants offered exactly what I was looking for in a Restaurant Week experience: tasty, unique dishes for reasonable prices in a beautiful location. And did I mention good service? When it comes to dining in this city, nothing sets apart a fine meal so much as excellent service.

eat. on sunset is a part of the Patina Group -- and the menu matches its sister restaurants' upscale aspirations. I opted for the $15 lunch, while Zach went for the regular menu, although there were veggie options available on the dineLA menu (editors are just so picky sometimes, le sigh!).

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Both of us agreed that the butternut squash soup (my appetizer choice) was a real highlight -- creamy, sweet, but not too sweet, with some tasty croutons sprinkled on top. It's like that yummy Trader Joe's butternut squash soup, but just a smidgen better. Zach went for the truffle mac n' cheese for his starter -- can we say CARB OVERLOAD? Anyway, it was rich (duh), with a tasty breadcrumb topping.

The carb party didn't start there: I moved on to a cassarecci pasta with Spanish chorizo, and Zach went for more traditional comfort food: tomato soup with grilled cheese sammies. I couldn't get enough of the tomato soup, and wanted to gulp it down by the bucketful, while Zach shied away from its sweet taste & thick texture. I found the grilled cheese a bit dry, but perfect when dipped in the tomato soup.

My pasta was great -- perfectly cooked, with a very strong chorizo and saffron flavor. The basil balanced out those intense flavors with a light sweetness, but I still found myself trying to sneak sips of Zach's soup. Man that was good! I hit my limit with the Valrhona chocolate pudding, however -- as sweet and creamy and luxurious as it was, it was just too much after such a big, carb-heavy meal (entirely the fault of our own choices, and not the restaurant's preparation).

I would definitely go back to eat. again, especially since it's in easy walking distance of my work, and it looks like a great, casual place to hit up for an early dinner with friends or a loved one. DineLA got me turned me on to this place, and I'll be glad to go back.

A few days later, I took my honey bunny out to Beverly Hills for an intimate dinner at Circa 55 (the lighting was a little too dim to take pictures -- plus, I felt like a tool whipping out my digital camera in such nice settings). It's located in the Beverly Hilton hotel, former location of classic Hollywood cocktail lounge Trader Vic's, which has now been relegated to a much smaller pool-side location. Circa 55 is a hotel fine dining experience, for sure. While the space itself it far too big for its britches, and the food, while enjoyable, is not stratospheric, I did appreciate the excellent, attentive service we received, as well as the general ambiance and decor.

The menu was classic steakhouse, with a Cal-Asian twist. We tried out the crab cake appetizer as well as the chicken vegetable soup, which was a highlight: seasoned with fresh herbs and garnished with a hand-made, savory pork dumpling.

After the soup, I barely had room enough for the herb-crusted halibut, which was accompanied by a fantastic spicy pepper sauce. For once, a restaurant dish was seasoned exactly to my liking! It was HOT! I loved it! Fantastic! My honey, on the other hand, ate his New York steak up in about five minutes flat -- although he felt that the blue cheese relish was a bit much, the steak itself was cooked exactly to his specifications (which is to say, bloody raw).

I had a beautiful trio of raspberry, lemon, and mango sorbets to end the meal, served in a white-chocolate cup. My guy, on the other hand went for the "Journey Through Chocolate" -- a flourless chocolate cake, a layered chocolate tart, and a chocolate soup. I enjoyed a dirty martini with my meal (not quite as stiff as I would have preferred, but then again, I'm a bit of a lush), while my dude enjoyed a nice glass of California merlot with his steak.

The service was fantastic -- our waiter checked in with us every few minutes, advised us on menu choices in a laid-back, friendly way, and made sure our every need was attended to. More and more, I'm coming to believe that it's the service that really sets L.A. restaurants apart, and I'm always so grateful to patronize a place that really pays attention to its diners. Thanks to Restaurant Week and the dineLA organization, I've been able to suss out a lot of great places in the past few weeks, and I can't wait to see what next year will bring to the table.

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All photos by Carrie Meathrell and Zach Behrens for LAist.

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