“Chef” (the film) at the ArcLight Cinemas in the Sherman Oaks Galleria and Dinner at Versailles Restaurant in Encino!
Memorial Day Monday! It’s a national holiday!
I hung the American flag out front first thing in the morning, then changed my facebook cover and profile photo to reflect the patriotic nature of the holiday. I had bacon and coffee for breakfast, and then fried chicken, watermelon, strawberries, avocado, and an iced espresso for lunch. Later I munched on some popcorn and then went to the movies and saw “Chef” at the ArcLight Cinemas in the Sherman Oaks Galleria (it was very good, but don’t see it on an empty stomach). Then we went for dinner at Versailles Cuban Food Restaurant in Encino and had a great meal.
There are four parts to this Blog:
1. “Chef” (the film) starring and directed by Jon Favreau, with John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, and “the kid”. Great supporting roles performed by Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlet Johansson, and Oliver Platt. There’s also a small but memorable cameo appearance by Robert Downey Jr.
“Chef” – My Review of the Film: I liked it! It was a very good story, it was well written and well acted with interesting characters to care about. There was almost no CGI and no one got assaulted, murdered or blown up. It was well directed with a straightforward and low-budget “indy film” quality. It’s a feel-good, buddy movie/romance/father-son bonding story, with (spoiler alert) a happy ending. The story was fun! It was made up of a series of both comedic and dramatic vignettes, about a middle-class, hard-working chef trying to manage both his career and his fractured family. There were several very clever creative choices both in plot and direction that explore social media (Twitter, facebook, vine, etc.) and it’s influence on our culture and society.
Jon Favreau does a great job as the title character, Chef Carl Caspar, including performing difficult knife tricks and cooking tasks with practiced skill. John Leguizamo is great as his sous chef, buddy and comic relief. I’m sure sales of corn starch are going to spike. Bobby Cannavale is good as the other sous chef, playing the wasted but capable second fiddle with his usual almost over-the-top “New York theatre trained” style. Scarlet Johansson plays the restaurant’s beautiful hostess and the chef’s “friend with benefits”, and in this case the benefit is pasta! Dustin Hoffman is terrific as the intractable restaurant owner. Sofia Vergara is gorgeous and shines as the chef’s ex-wife and romantic interest, remarried and divorced from a sleaze bag investor played by Robert Downey Jr., but sharing custody and co-parenting of their adolescent son. “The kid” did good job, and I gave him a pass on the few times he was “acting” it, because he was cute and his performance was both capable and pivotal to the storyline. And a tip of the hat to Oliver Platt for his performance as the food critic Ramsey Michel. There’s a lot of music, both soundtrack and live performance, in the film. I enjoyed the ethnic Cuban beat (made me miss Tito Puente), Gary Clark Jr.’s Texas blues, working in the kitchen, cooking good food, road-trip playlist and even enjoyed the sing-along to “Sexual Healing”. From the opening cooking sequence accompanied by Aiko-Aiko I found myself tapping my feet along with the music. And of course, as a film titled “Chef” necessitates, there was a lot of cooking and good food involved, so my advice is to go see it, but don’t see it on an empty stomach, because you’ll be hungry for something good (maybe a Cubano sandwich) by the time the credits roll at the end.
The holiday adventure began with a drive down Ventura Boulevard at 4pm. Normally on a weekday, there would be a lot of traffic. Everyone must have left town or stayed home to barbecue, because there was hardly anyone on the road.
A short drive down the nearly deserted street brings us to the world famous SHERMAN OAKS GALLERIA (the second incarnation). Parking is available in the structure under and next to the Galleria Complex. Valet parking is located under the main mall structure and self-parking is located in the structure next to the bank, offices, restaurants and retail shopping. There is a charge for parking, but there are validations available at the theatre, the Starbuck’s, and in the restaurants. Parking in the structure can be crowded and difficult at times, so be sure to allow for traffic and a long wait to exit the parking structure and/or get your car back from the valet when there are a lot of people at the Galleria (or when all the movies let out at the same time).
2. The Sherman Oaks Galleria at the intersection of Ventura and Sepulveda boulevards is a San Fernando Valley Landmark. Used as a filming location since it was first built in 1980, and featured in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, “Commando” and many other films and television programs. The original mall was damaged during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and then repaired, but never fully recovered. It closed in April 1999 for a major renovation and remodel. It reopened in 2002 as a mixed-use open-air center, it’s second and current incarnation, a collection of office space, retail shopping, a few familiar chain restaurants, a Starbuck’s, a Ben & Jerry’s and the ArcLight Cinemas.
The walk from self-parking (once you’ve found a space) takes you past the restaurants, retail shops, patio, courtyard and fountain. Continue through the “wind tunnel” and covered walkway, to the rotunda and the escalator and elevator. And be sure to leave enough time for parking and the walk if you’re going to the ArcLight Cinemas!
Ride the escalator or the elevator (past the DSW Shoe Store) to the third floor and the ArcLight Cinemas lobby. There’s a fitness center and membership gym on the second floor, so just expect to see people in workout clothes anytime of day or evening and there may be a funky smell in the elevator.
NOTE: If you Valet Park, you can ride the elevator or the escalator up to the third floor without walking through the “wind tunnel” and covered walkway, but all you’ll see of the Galleria is the rotunda. There is an additional charge for Valet and as previously noted, you may have to wait awhile to get your car back. But on a positive note, you might meet a celebrity while you’re waiting! I said hello to Ice Cube last time I used the Valet.
The ARCLIGHT CINEMAS in the Sherman Oaks Galleria
3. The ArcLight Cinemas in the Sherman Oaks Galleria was originally the Pacific 16, but was rebranded, renovated and upgraded in 2007 (with further improvements made even more recently). In addition to the traditional popcorn, candy & soda concessions, there are better food items available. They have a coffee, tea and espresso bar and a gift shop that sells Hollywood “movie-related” knick-knacks and other souvenir items.
The Box Office is inside the theatre, in the lobby, and you don’t need a ticket to visit the espresso bar, gift shop, concession stand, lobby exhibits or cocktail lounge.
Marvel Merchandising! Get your Spider-Man 2 lunchbox and Wolverine sippy-cup here!
“Double espresso with whipped cream, please.”
And there’s a BAR & COCKTAIL LOUNGE AREA with a full liquor license in one corner of the lobby! Cocktails, beer and wine are available of purchase but can only be consumed in the lounge area!
They had a large promotional display for Disney’s “MALEFICENT” with Costumes & Artwork in the lobby. (see my next blog with more pictures and details)
The film was showing in a theater adjacent to the Bar & Cocktail Lounge Area, and it was a full house for a 4:30pm showing on Memorial Day Monday.
I wandered past the X-Men Days of Future Past lighted wall of marketing, and it was cool.
Usually we like to hit the Cheesecake Factory after a film, when it’s not a total madhouse. The food is good and you get a lot of it, and the cheesecake is THE BOMB. It gets pretty slammed when the Galleria is busy and a there are good films showing, but that’s true of all the restaurants in the complex on high traffic days. I don’t care for the El Torito Grill, and P.F. Chang’s is pretty expensive for Chinese food. Fuddrucker’s is an okay burger, but it’s almost “buffet style”and there’s a FatBurger and In-N-Out not too far away if you want a real good burger. There’s a Sisley Italian Kitchen and an upscale Denny’s across the street within walking distance, or any number of good restaurants on Ventura Blvd just a short drive away. I recommend Cafe Bizou (east of Van Nuys Blvd) but you should make a reservation well in advance for dinner.
Well, after seeing “Chef”, the decision was made to have Cuban food. So, after the walk back to self-parking and a short drive back down Ventura Boulevard, we arrived at our dinner destination, VERSAILLES CUBAN FOOD RESTAURANT in Encino.
4. Dinner at Versailles Cuban Food Restaurant in Encino
If you want Cuban food, Versailles is the place! We’ve been eating here since they opened the Encino restaurant. The original space is in West L.A. at Pico and La Cienega, and there are also Culver City and Manhattan Beach locations.
The Encino location is a large storefront dining room with floor to ceiling glass windows tucked into the corner of a small strip mall on Ventura Boulevard. The parking lot is small, but there is always metered street parking (8am-8pm) available nearby. They have a small bar area and there’s usually a sporting event on the television. It’s pretty much “no frills”, just good food, and when the dining room is full at peak dining times, it can get very loud.
They have an extensive menu of classic Cuban food, with a wide choice of chicken, pork, beef, fish and vegetarian options. The food is consistently excellent! We usually pick up “take out” and our regular order is the house specialty, the garlic roast chicken served with steamed rice, black beans (or moros, a combo of dirty rice and black beans), onions and plantains. The roast chicken (and also pork, beef and fish) is marinated in their special Cuban garlic-citrus-vinegar sauce, which is also sold by the bottle at the bar.
Start with a glass of sangria and the bread with butter and garlic, choose an appetizer, an entree and later, if you are so inclined and not too full, a dessert. The entrees are large and easily shared by two people (or more), so bring friends and order a few different things.
ON THE MENU: I had the Bistec Empanizado (seasoned & breaded steak) and plantains served with steamed rice & black beans! Also had to have the bread with garlic and melted butter, a taste of pork tamale (with garlic sauce which I also drizzled on my rice), a glass of sangria, and a coke.
I also recommend the roast pork in garlic sauce and the oxtail stew in tomato and wine sauce, which were also on the menu at our table.
The prices are very reasonable, and they have lunch and dinner “specials” with discounted prices on both food and drink items. You get a lot of good food for a decent price. The service is usually fast and efficient, but it can get a little chaotic in the dining room when the waiters are slammed or serving a couple of large parties at the same time.
We all enjoyed the food and drink, had a really good time, and when we finished the place was packed. So, if you like Cuban food, definitely try Versailles. It was a great dinner, but no one ordered a Cubano sandwich (see “Chef” the film).
Versailles Cuban Food Encino – 17410 Ventura Blvd., Encino http://www.versaillescuban.com 818-906-0756 (and 3 other locations in L.A.)
Sherman Oaks Galleria – 15301 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks 91403 (on the northwest corner of Ventura Blvd and Sepulveda Blvd) http://www.shermanoaksgalleria.com ArcLight Cinemas (same address) – https://www.arclightcinemas.com 818-501-0753