12 Days, 11 Restaurants and 1 cupcake – LA, Orlando & Charleston

During the past 12 days, I have dined at 11 unique and interesting establishments. From authentic to outrageous, I’ve seen – and tried – it all. My most recent food adventure included stops in LA, Orlando and Charleston, SC and I indulged in every city. Photos at the bottom of post.

Overview: In LA, I had the chance to dine at Wolfgang Puck’s WP24, Church & State, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Beverly Hills, Matsuhisa, Café D’ Etoile and the icing on the cake – Magnolia Bakery (silly joke, I know.) In Orlando, I visited Todd English’s BlueZoo, Disney Behind the Scenes at Indiana Jones, Wolfgang Puck’s Grand Café Orlando Dining Room, and the Contemporary Hotel California Grill. In Charleston, SC I wrapped up my food tour with visits to Chef Sean Brock’s Husk and Halls Chophouse.

Night 1 – WP24, downtown LA.
WP24, Wolfgang Puck’s modern Asian establishment, calls the twenty-fourth floor of the Ritz Carlton home – hence the name. The dining room offers amazing views of the city – the views are really a treat. The dining room offers a three-course menu for $80 per person and five-course menu for $110 per person. While the prices a bit steep, the food is quite outstanding and service is excellent. For special occasions, I would not have a problem spending the $80 per person price – but don’t forget – that doesn’t include drinks.

For an additional $8, my table added the tasting of dim sum as our starter. We had 4 different dumplings and they were all delicious. We shared the Farmer’s Market Fried Rice and it was served with Snow Peas, Peppers, Asparagus, Red Onions. And I really enjoyed the Crispy Szechuan Chicken. The chicken was cooked so well, it was tender and very flavorful.

Many of the dinner options required supplemental costs – like the lobster, the Kobe Beef, Filet and Lamb. Those additions ranged from $8 – $40! Dinner can get very pricy.

For dessert – we had a rosewater crème brulee which was interesting, but not my favorite dessert in the world – and there are plenty of those!

Overall, I would recommend you give WP24 a try. The views alone make the experience amazing and the food lives up to Wolfgang’s reputation.

Very Good Points: The Lounge at WP24 has introduced a new “Tastes of 24” menu. The three-course menu features tastes from the main dining room for just $24 per person. The menu is available from 5-7pm.

Night 2 – Church & State Bistro, downtown, LA

Church & State, located in an industrial section of downtown LA, offers a vibrant and friendly dining experience with unique dishes and the most amazing dessert you will ever find.

I wrote a review after my first visit in June and was very excited to visit again – it was worth the wait! For months, I’ve been dreaming about one item in particular – the Pot de chocolate et Crème a chocolate coffee custard w/crème that is beyond words. In fact, on my next visit I could just order the Pot de chocolate et Crème for my appetizer, my main course and my dessert – seriously, that good.

On this trip, I ordered the escargot – the puff pastry was as delightful as I remembered, but the escargot themselves were a bit tough. We also ordered the tarte flambee with carmalzied onions, appelwood smoked bacon and aged gruyere cheese. It was a hit with the entire table. For my main course, I had rabbit. It was cooked flawlessly and was very savory.

I always worry about a second trip to a restaurant I have enjoyed and the expectations I have set in my own mind. I can definitely say that Church & State lived up to my expectations and I will surely visit again.

Night 3 – Bouchon Beverly Hills

Ah, Bouchon, what can I say. Of the 12 restaurants I visited, Bouchon was my favorite. Chef Thomas Keller’s Beverly Hills classic lived up to every expectation and certainly set the bar for the remainder of my culinary adventure. I was joined by several others, some foodies and some not-so-foodies, and everyone was left wholly satisfied and craving more.

We started with the Terrine de Poulet Fumé smoked chicken & mushroom terrine, Hobbs Shore bacon, cipollini onions & preserved cherries with violet mustard. The dish looked as amazing as it tasted. The cherries were such a great contrast to the smokiness of the chicken and mushrooms. We also shared the escargot, which were cooked to perfection and seasoned exceptionally. The puff pastry was a bit on the hard side, weren’t even necessary, and only detracted from the escargot themselves. I would eat the escargot any day sans puff pastry.

The Fennel bulbs, seasonal stone fruit, ricotta cheese and garden sorrel salad was presented beautifully and prepared skillfully. The Scottish Salmon, English Peas, Manila Clams and sweet garlic emulsion was truly a classic entrée. The salmon was cooked flawlessly and the flavors were impeccable, I really enjoyed the garlic emulsion and clams.

The service was incomparable, exactly what you would expect from Bouchon BH and the atmosphere was extraordinary. No trip to Beverly Hills would be complete without a visit to Bouchon.

Night 4 – Nobu Matsuhisa, Beverly Hills

If you’re looking for exceptional service, you may not want to visit Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s, Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills. But if you’re looking for stellar sushi and authentic Japanese fare, you’re in for a treat. Besides the amazing sushi, you can count on seeing some celebrities and the who’s who of Beverly Hills on a busy night.

The restaurant is small and noisy and the sushi bar is bustling. I enjoyed the rock shrimp tempura and the miso black cod. It literally melts in your mouth.

I will always remain a fan of Nobu, but the Chef’s namesake Matsuhisa is outstanding and rightfully impressive – a great treat – especially for special occasions since the prices are much higher than Nobu.

Night 5 – Cafe D’ Etoile, West Hollywood CA

Someone described Café D’ Etoile as the cheers of West Hollywood. I’m not quite sure I agree with that description, but the café was certainly busy serving lots of sweet drinks, wines and good food. The restaurant has a great personality and the servers offer the same. The patio was overflowing on a beautiful Friday night in LA. While the atmosphere was fun and welcoming, the food was just average. I had a chicken dish that was good, but not memorable. Given the number of restaurants in the area, I’m not sure I would rush back to eat…but I would definitely head back for drinks and awesome people watching!

Night 5 dessert – Magnolia’s Bakery LA

Mmmm….what can I say about Magnolias. I love you. A latte and special Cirque De Soleil Iris cupcake – a salted caramel cupcake with gold flakes – a perfect end to any evening. Magnolia cupcakes are always amazing and a must do for any trip to LA (or NY for that matter!)

Night 6 – Todd English’s BlueZoo Orlando

Todd English’s BlueZoo at the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel
The Dolphin, a Starwood Hotel (can’t give up an opportunity for some points) is overwhelming and amazing at the same time. Crowded and loud, BlueZoo offers some amazing dining options. The bluezoo’s New England Style Clam Chowder was so good. I could have stopped there, but I wanted to try a few other things on the menu. Since I’d already had salmon (Bouchon) Black Cod (Matsuhisa) and some amazing fish during the week, I opted for the Parisian Pouissin – a Palmetto Farms young chicken served with leek macaire potatoes, organic vegetables, and chicken jus. It was superb. The chicken was great – not dry and stringy – like many resort restaurants tend to make it. There were about 20 other things on the menu that I would have been extremely happy trying, but alas, there’s only so much time and so many restaurants to try. Next time I’m in Orlando, I will head back to BlueZoo.

Night 7 – Walt Disney World Behind the Scenes @ Indiana Jones

Disney certainly knows how to put on a show, and our trip to the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular at MGM was no exception. Unfortunately, the show was much better than the food – but what can you expect from a theme park buffet dinner for something like 50 people. Now, I know that Disney offers some amazing dining options – and I’ve enjoyed some great meals there – but this wasn’t one of them. The behind the scenes experience was what this trip was about and it really didn’t matter what they served. It was quite a treat. Having said that, dessert was really awful.

Night 8 – Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe Orlando – The Dining Room

Having been to WP24 the previous week, I had high expectations for Wolfgang Puck’s grand café. We made reservations for the dining room, located on the second level of the Orlando restaurant, and were surprised at how empty the dining room was when we arrived.

The first floor café was busy, and appeared to have a wait – I’m assuming they did because it took over 5 minutes to be greeted by a hostess. We were directed upstairs where we were promptly greeted and brought to a table. There were only a few other parties in the dining room, and after we arrived, I only noticed one other table being sat the rest of the evening.

The service started off well, with a very friendly server who seemed to be very attentive and knowledgeable. I told him about my food allergy and he offered to have the chef come speak to me. The chef never made it. However, when the sever came to take my order, he said he had spoken to the chef and told me exactly what I could and could not order. The menu was very limited to begin with, but having an allergy made it even more limiting. Based on his recommendation, I ordered the – surprise – Seared Salmon. The server told me that sauce had tomato in it, but that the chef would substitute it for a white wine, lemon and basil sauce. That’s when the night really took a turn for the worse.

We had ordered two bottles of red wine, and the server was refilling glasses when he realized he had poured the wrong red. When we complained that he had mixed the reds in the in the glasses, he suggested we order a new bottle I wasn’t sure why he was suggesting we buy a new bottle, since he made the mistake.

Our salads arrived and they were very good. I really enjoyed my Caesar salad. When the main courses arrived, I noticed the sauce on my salmon was quite red. I asked the woman who brought it over if it had tomato in it, and she said “of course.” I asked her to call over our server and he came right over. I pointed out the tomato sauce and he brought it back to the kitchen. In addition, one of the other guests at my table had to send back her Lobster Risotto because it was not even warm. She got hers back quickly, I was still waiting for my salmon when the other 5 people had finished their meals. When my salmon arrived, it was okay, but I felt rushed and didn’t really enjoy it.

We ordered dessert, and it was good. I had a chocolate Terrine that was outstanding, but didn’t make up for the bad experience.

Again, having dined at WP24 the week before, I had such high expectations and wasn’t left wanting more after my trip to the Grand Café Dining Room in Orlando.

Night 9 – Disney’s Contemporary Hotel California Grill

As I mentioned earlier, Disney does have great dining options, and this was certainly one of them. The California Grill offers stunning views and exceptional food – for a price, a high price, in fact, an astonishingly high price. We were some of the lucky diners who got a window seat and perfect view of the Magic Kingdom Fireworks. At 9pm, when the fireworks started, the restaurant lowered their lights and piped in the music from the Magic Kingdom. The fireworks show was spectacular.

I ordered a salad and sushi roll. The salad was $18 dollar and the sushi roll – yes, 1 roll – was $22. Correct, I said $22 for one roll. It was a bit shocking considering I had been to Matsuhisa in Beverly hills the week before and didn’t come close to paying $22 for a sushi roll (not that there weren’t expensive sushi rolls on the menu there, but in comparison, this was outrageous.)

I got the Spicy Kazan Roll – crab, shrip, tuna and fireball sauce. The fireball sauce was just that, so spicy I felt like I had a fireball in my mouth. Luckily it was served on the side and I avoided it for the rest of my meal. The sushi was very good, fresh and what I expect from sushi, but not worth $22.

I think the prices at the California Grill reflect the views and the location. The food is very good and worth going back for, but I’m not sure it’s really worth paying that high-price.

Night 10 – was spent in the Charlotte Airport where I enjoyed peanut butter PPinkberry frozen yogert.

Night 11 – Husk, Charleston

I returned to Charleston in time to enjoy the last two nights of restaurant week. I was extremely excited about visiting Husk. Bon Appetite magazine had just rated it the #1 new restaurant in the country and I’ve been hearing rave reviews of Chef Sean Brock’s year-old endeavor. Perhaps restaurant week isn’t the best time to visit Husk, because I was seriously underwhelmed.

The server was cheerful and friendly and did provide great service. I started with the Kurios Farms Bibb salad with Marinated Cucumbers, JI Radish, and HUSK Sheep’s Milk Ricotta and Buttermilk Dressing. It turns out that the salad was the best part of the meal. I absolutely loved the dressing and could have had three or four of the salads. It was delicious. The three-course meal got off to such a great start, I was so let down when my main course arrived and I found it just average.

I ordered the Keegan Filion Farms Chicken with Glazed Yellow Squash and Zucchini, Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant at the suggestion of the server, and was not thrilled with the dish. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great – or what I had come to expect after reading the Bon Appetite review. Finally, dessert, was just fair.

Perhaps I picked poorly, but the Butterscotch Pudding, with Salted Caramel, Sweet Cream and Toasted SC Pecans just called my name. I could literally hear it! Unfortunately, it left me craving something else – perhaps that Magnolia Cupcake would have been perfect here. My friends all agreed, the meal was…ok. Not stellar. I will definitely give Husk another shot, but perhaps not during restaurant week.

Night 12 – Halls Chophouse Charleston

After a long two weeks of traveling and some amazing meals (see my full review – 12 days, 11 restaurants and 1 cupcake), I wasn’t sure I could handle one more dinner out. However, I am so glad I forced myself – it wasn’t really that hard – to go to Halls.

This was my first trip to Halls and I’d heard nothing but rave reviews. I decided not to order off the restaurant week menu – although many of my friends did and were not disappointed – instead ordering off the regular menu.

I started with the calamari which was lightly battered and fried to perfection. The dipping sauce was amazing. Others at the table ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes (which, due to my allergy, I couldn’t indulge in) and said they were some of the best Fried Green Tomatoes they’ve had in Charleston. All of the appetizers we ordered were perfect for sharing – they were large- and very tasty. What I appreciated the most was that the server told me what I could and could not eat – without having to ask her.

Next, I had a Creaser Salad that was delicious and again, large enough to share. It came with parmesan, croutons and white anchovies. The anchovies were wonderful. Then, for the main course, I had the duck. The server told me it was the Chef’s favorite dish, and so I was very excited. They served the Maple Leaf Farms braised duck with roasted fingerling potatoes. A half a duck sat before me, so tender and succulent that I didn’t even need a knife. The meat fell off the bone and it was mind-blowing. Yes, I said it, mind-blowing. I loved that duck. There was also so much of it that I took half home and ate it over a salad the next day.

Dessert was a tough decision. I ended up taking the server’s recommendation and got the caramel cake. It was so excessively sweet that two or three bites put me into sugar shock. It was topped with bananas and a caramel sauce and had about 21 layers of cake and caramel. It was very good, but not a dessert you could eat a lot of. I tasted the chocolate pate dessert that was on the restaurant week menu, and that was much more to my personal liking. It was sweet and bitter and much more balanced.

With a $400 magnum shared among the table, the night was lively and the food was remarkable. Halls Chophouse has to be one of the top three restaurants in Charleston. The family owned chophouse offers incomparable service and food that you would expect to find in NY or LA. In my book, Halls comes in number 2 for this food journey right behind Bouchon Beverly Hills. And picking # 1 and #2 was quite tough. Bouchon tops Halls only by a pinch.

12 days, 11 restaurants and 1 cupcake later, I am stuffed and have some new favorite dishes and some amzing memories – that came in the form of calories.

Halls Chophouse Calimari, Salad, Duck & Dessert

Church & State Bistro


Contemporary Hotel California Grill Sushi Roll

Wolfgag Puck Grand Cafe Dining Room

Magnolia Bakery IRIS Cirque De Soleil Cupcake

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