Sunday, April 29, 2012

Food and Wine to Celebrate Lob City (That's Right - the Clippers!)

Staples has two NBA playoff teams
What do Hersey Hawkins, Danny Ferry, Bo Kimble, Lamond Murray, Michael Olowakandi, Lamar Odom, Darius Miles and Chris Kaman have in common? They are all first round lottery draft picks of the Los Angeles Clippers – first round picks who did little to reverse the losing ways of what is arguably one of the most inept franchises in professional sports.

About 25 years ago, I was a Clipper season ticket holder. They played at the Sports Arena, an old facility that looks like a downed sci-fi space ship. The only tickets that were harder to give away were Los Angeles Raider tickets. A trip to the Coliseum was always an adventure in personal safety – between the Raider fans themselves and parking experience – where the most viable parking option was to pay $15 to park in someone’s front yard.

For a change, there are two Los Angeles NBA teams in the playoffs. If you haven’t been paying attention, the LA Clippers (Lob City) have actually made the postseason tournament. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have done much to right the Clipper ship. For fans, the whole experience is much improved, as the Clips now share the beautiful Staples Center with the Lakers.

While most Lakers fans will do their pre-game partying at nearby LA Live, visiting the Yard House, ESPN Zone, Rock N Fish, The Farm, Katsuya and Wolfgang Pucks – all fine selections; Clipper fans are simply more adventurous; flying under the radar, following the sports road less travelled. Clipper fans cross the line as sports fanatics and are willing to check out some eclectic downtown spots for their pre-game meal.

If somehow, we Clipper fans get six home playoff games this year – here are six pre-game spots we have checked out and highly recommend:

The Palm – Just a few blocks from Staples Center at 1100 Flower Street, was once the hottest pre-game table in town. Now, with LA Live’s many dining options right next to the arena, it is time for Clipper fans to choose this classic, high quality dining choice. The last time I was at the Palm we ate at a large and comfortable booth in the bar. Our server Brent put on a show – cutting up two succulent lobsters and carving up 23oz of prime beef right at our table. Palm remains one of LA’s best steakhouses – known also for carefully handcrafted martinis. We carried in a nice bottle of Nickel & Nickel Sullenger Cabernet 08 from Bevmo. This big and bold red with a silky finish was the perfect choice. One of many select Cabs from Nickel & Nickel.

Pete’s Cafe & Bar: Definitely a favorite of downtown locals, Pete’s is at 400 S Main. Full menu, full bar, lots of beers to choose from – go with the burger or the flat iron steak and be get some of the sinfully prepared fries. We tried three varieties – the blue cheese fries, bacon cheddar fries and the truffle arugula fries – Serious pre-game eating. We carried in a bottle of 2007 Nebbiolo from Old Creek Ranch Winery in Ventura.

Cucina Rustica – Located at 888 Wilshire, Cucina Rustica is a slick Italian Restaurant with a cool downstairs bar. Bar Rustica offers free live music (jazz mostly) every Thursday from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM with 6 beers on tap plus wine and beer specials every day. The food is from all over Italy. Our favorites: Penne All’Arrabiata – Simple penne served in a marinara sauce with onions and crushed red peppers. While the pasta is totally reliable, thin and crispy pizzas like the Capri with goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes will knock you out. They offer a lot of wines by the glass, but we toted in a bottle of 2008 Buena Vista Carneros Pinot Noir - Ramal Vineyard. A little more fruit and body than many Pinots, it really flies well with anything other than heavy meat dishes – great with Italian food. Quite the “twist off” wine.

The rooftop beer garden at the Standard
The Standard – When you are sitting in the restaurant at the Standard, you may feel like you are in an episode of some hip Gen Y based sitcom. Why is that young man wearing a tuxedo? What happened to her shoes? These are the questions you might ask – but if you can get over the excessive hipness, the food is fantastic at the 24/7 restaurant – 550 S. Flower. They also make the best Bloody Mary ever, using Jalapeno infused Vodka. You can handle it Clipper fan – you have been through a lot.

Best pre-game dishes: Fish and Chips, massive Burgers, Lobster Mashed Potatoes, Prime Flat Iron Steak. American Cuisine well prepared. Nice beer and wine selection by the glass, but we showed up with a bottle of old reliable – Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet – less than $55 at Total Wine.

Worthy of mention: There is a rooftop beer garden upstairs – mirroring a successful Standard concept in New York. The beer garden in open from Noon to 2 AM daily.

The Border Grill – What a perfect pre-game venue! Located at 445 S Fig, they offer a free shuttle to and from Staples. In addition to the creative menu, The Border Grill offers what could be the tastiest happy hour food in LA.

Feast on $3.00 Ceviche Tostaditas like Peruvian Ceviche lime and Baja Ceviche shrimp. Try the green corn tamales or the $3.00 Border Tacos – three for $8.00. Drink specials are numerous including wine by the glass for $4.50.

We pounded Carne Asada Border Tacos with freshly made corn tortillas and carried in a bottle of Lalande Malbec Reserva 08 from Bevmo. Great value – under $30 - holds up nicely with a spicy dish.

Takami Sushi and Robata:  Still one of my downtown LA favorites. Featuring Sushi, Robata and other dishes with a Japanese influence, Takami offers great views and high rise patio dining at 811 Wilshire, an easy walk from Staples.
The special Takami Edamame (so flavorful) and the sauteed Shishito Peppers are nice starters.  Everything is artfully prepared and presented, like the Chilean Sea Bass, the Lobster Roll and the Baked King Crab Roll wrapped in soy paper.
On Sundays - wine and Saki are 50% off by the bottle. We ordered a fine bottle of Duckhorn Paraduxx - a smooth Meritage that is irresistible with sushi.
Will Clipper fans have an opportunity to enjoy all six of these pre-game celebration spots during the 2012 Playoffs?  Unlikely.  Two home games are guaranteed and the Clips may not be able to overcome the fact that they do not have a winning tradition - they do not know how to win playoff games.  Hopefully, I'm wrong.  The good news - there is always the red hot LA Kings and hey Lakers fans, why not venture outside of LA Live? Chances are, there will be plenty of Lakers Playoff nights this spring.

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