CAFE LA BOHEME… “A Night at the Opera!”

It may not truly be an evening at the opera, but in essence, it is all one might expect at the Met in New York or the Music Center here in Los Angeles: intriguing ambiance, dramatic decor, unparalleled presentation, and an elegant performance. You can get that and more when you experience dining at the iconic Cafe La Boheme in West Hollywood. After 20 years of successful business, this grand establishment was completely remodeled in 2007 by famed restaurant designer, Margaret O’ Brien. The result?  Perfection to the eye and the initial overture for the incredible experience you will attain at this illustrious institution sitting elegantly on Santa Monica Boulevard.  General Manager, Thomas Lynam, executes a seamless operation of this fine establishment, while making sure everyone who enters the doors of La Boheme is happy and comfortable. Exquisite savory temptations made available by Executive Chef Christine Banto display her accomplished creativeness, which is revealed in her California-Mediterranean dishes that portray evidence of Asian influences.  The curtains have risen, and the manifestation of a performance not to be missed begins this opera of both visual and culinary excellence. You have arrived at Cafe La Boheme…

Through the main threshold of the restaurant, a stunning display of color and glamor ushers you into its dazzling existence. This eatery will not only have you seeing red (literally), but also deep hues of blacks, muted silvers, reflective mirrors and vibrant ornate crystal chandeliers lowered from a massive cathedral ceiling.  A most unexpected prelude to the dining experience, the decor is just the lead-in to Cafe La Boheme’s numerous unique and note-worthy attributes.

From the moment you enter this domicile, there is instant realization that you’ve entered someplace amazing.  The feel is somewhat theatrical and the sultry allure wraps you in an inviting comfort as a hostess greets you and escorts you to your table immediately. The elegant goth-esque embellishments and one-of-a-kind ornamentation in this dwelling will leave you breathless and anxiously awaiting the next act of this gastronomic experience. Well-dressed hardwood tables and black leather chairs and semi-private booths, both on the main dining floor and above on the balcony surrounding the dining activity, are both inviting and comfortable and ready to make you feel at home in this upscale, yet very welcoming and chic environment.

Two specific rare bronze sculptures stand haughtily between the lounge and the first floor dining area.  The first, a statue of a woman with multiple arms possessing obvious thoughts of life and love, displaying various objects in each hand while one holds the world on her shoulders.  The other, a spinning gyroscope mounted near the bar that you cannot miss.  Servers and attendants who walk past this immense conversation piece will stop briefly to whirl it’s massive orbs, sending the art round and round until it stops eventually for it’s next swift revolution. This act has become tradition since the building was erected more than twenty years ago, as these sculptures were once part of the original Cafe La Boheme before it’s 2007 renovation.

A well-dressed server arrives before you know it and begins his knowledgeable aria of the delectable options on the evening’s menu. The selections change seasonally. However, there have been a few popular items left for longer durations due to popular demand. Such palatable pleasures include starters like the Tuna Tataki the La Boheme Soup of the Day, the Chicken Liver Pate, and the Crispy Blue Crab Cake. There is a refreshing collection of salads to suit any preference, while the Pasts & Risotto options will leave you anxiously inquisitive. We’ve enjoyed the Japanese Pumpkin Ravioli on more than one occasion. With it’s candied pumpkin seeds and brown butter sage sauce, I was dumbfounded. (I literally may never have pumpkin ravioli anywhere else again after having it here)! Another favorite of ours if the Pappardelle Bolognese with shaved Parmigiano cheese. The perfect amount of sumptuous Bolognese sauce mixed into thin, perfectly al dente Pappardelle pasta ribbons is sure to make you smile with delight. Chef Banta’s risotto dishes are equally unparalleled in quality and flavor.  The Wild Mushroom Risotto with lemon confit, fresh herbs and Pecorino cheese is a richly-endowed treat, while the Farro Risotto offers creaminess heightened in essence by kale, fresh corn, oven roasted tomatoes and edamame.  

Before your order is taken from one of several attentive and efficient waiters, (Kevin, Sterling and Hector won’t steer you wrong), fresh house-baked warm focaccia bread is placed before you accompanied by a ramekin of white bean puree dip. Who needs butter or olive oil with this superior spread? Try to get through your bread basket and vessel of this silky smooth topper without ordering more. We certainly never can!

Cafe La Boheme’s main dishes emit attention to detail in their presentation as well as a flavorsome disposition.  Chef Banta has no qualms about perfection in flavor or visual appeal when dispatching her cuisine out of the kitchen into the dining room to anxiously-awaiting patrons. A few of our favorite and most-loved dinner entrees consist of the Herb-Marinated Hanger Steak, the popular 6-Ounce Filet Mignon, the Seared Sea Scallops and the Miso Glazed Salmon, the Roasted Free Range Chicken Breast and the Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop with proportionate complimentary sides. Whichever items you select during your participation in dining at Cafe La Boheme, you’re guaranteed to do no wrong.  A symphony of polyphonic flavors will dance in your mouth while mingling with essences of Asian influences cleverly and ingenuitively engineered by Chef Banta herself.

Ahi Tuna Tataki

Above, the Tuna Tataki embraces the traditional essence of standard una Tartare with a burst of sophistication and dramatic display. Below, Cafe La Boheme’s Braised Short Rib Papardelle.

Braised Short Rib Papardelle

Herb Marinated Hanger Steak

The Herb Marinated Hanger Steak with greenbeans, garlic mashed potaties and balsamic steak sauce (above), and the Wild Mushroom Risotto with lemon confit, fresh herbs and Pecorino Romano.

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Miso-Glazed Salmon

The Miso-Glazed Salmon with baby bok choi, Shiitaki basmati rice and a sesame spinach sauce (above), and the Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop with roasted Brussels sprouts, lardoons, a polenta cake and apple cider jus.

Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop

Below, Cafe La Boheme’s Squash Ravioli with fresh sage and pumpkin seeds…

Squash Ravioli With Pumpkin Seeds & Sage Butter 

Due to the change in season and availability of certain fresh ingredients, Chef Banta has recently replaced her very popular Japanese Pumpkin Ravioli in Brown Butter Sage Sauce with a Squash Ravioli in a lighter, less sugary flavored sage butter sauce.  (Oh, how we miss your Japanese Pumpkin Ravioli, Chef Banta!  Hopefully next fall, we’ll see it on the menu again, but we really enjoyed your new version for the warmer months as well)!

Did we mention that on Monday evenings, the corkage charge is only five dollars?  We didn’t? Shame on us!  Diners are welcome to bring in a bottle of their own wine to enjoy over dinner every Monday night.  It’s a courtesy well-accepted and appreciated by both the establishment’s first-time customers as well as their seasoned returning enthusiasts.

In terms of satisfying your sweet tooth, there are numerous sugary rewards to seduce you into sampling.  There’s Darcy’s Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake, Butterscotch Pudding,  Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee, a selection of sorbets and ice Cream, and the Banana Bread Pudding. As you know, we’re not big dessert consumers, but on rare occasion, we have been known to indulge in one specific creation on the Cafe La Boheme dessert menu…the Banana Bread Pudding… 

Banana Bread Pudding

 Or the coconut and strawberry sorbet bursting with sweetness and flavor…

Coconut & Strawberry Sorbet

After dinner, we took the rest of our wine outside on the patio to enjoy the remainder of the evening and the close of the lightened sky above. Also available for dining when specified in your reservation, the intimate outdoor patio is graced with intrigue and charm.  As the legato tempo of our dinner service completed outside, we were somewhat regretful to be at the conclusion of our incredible meal at this beloved institution.  

A fire burned calmly in the outdoor fireplace, while the sweet bouquet of nearby blooming jasmine ocasionally drifted past our table. The combination of that fragrance and the delicious nose of the Pinot Noir we were finalizing was a savory contrast.  Antiqued stained-glass hanging lanterns and wall sconces quietly ornament the space, while roses proudly pronounce them-selves against an ivy-curtained surround.  As the heavens grow darker, the mood is enhanced by the firelight, candles on the tables, and the peaceful quaint out-of-doors environment.  It was just what we needed after having finished our magnificent dinner from Chef Banta…the perfect coda to our evening.  Just sitting and talking and reminiscing about great times in our past and more incredible times coming soon in our future.  What could possibly be better than a fine glass of wine on that patio after indulging in delectable cuisine with the love of your life.  Not much. 

Cafe La Boheme also prides itself on its Happy Hour. Mentioned as the “Hippest Happy Hour Around”, and presented daily from 5PM to 7:30PM, you can enjoy all “Fun Bites” and sandwiches at half off the regular price! You can choose from Fun Bites ranging in price from $7 to $15 such as Crispy Fried Calamari, Vegetable Spring Rolls, Spicy Buffalo Wings, Bacon Wrapped Dates, the Boheme Burger Sliders, Filet Mignon Tacos, the Steamed Mussels, Chicken Potstickers, Barbeque Chicken Quesadilla, Japanese Fried Chicken, Shoestring Fries, Four Cheese Mac & Cheese, and La Boheme’s Cheese Board.  But then there are also three great sandwhiches on board the Happy Hour menu also: the Boheme Burger (aged cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, leaf lettuce, and a horseradish mayo), the Seared Ahi Sandwhich (grilled onion, red pepper Aioli, and a Kalamata olive spread), and the Grilled Veggie Sandwhich (eggplant, zucchini, red onion, roasted pepper, feta cheese and pesto).

Ready for some pleasurable sipping on the La Boheme red velvet sofa or one of numerous cozy bistro tables in the lounge?  Try quenching your thirst with one of these indulgent libations: Select Draft Beers, House Wines and Well Drinks ($5 each), Martinis and Margaritas ($7), or the La Boheme Cocktail of the Day ($8). Ask your server or bartender what the daily brew behind the bar is and you’ll be happy you inquired!  If you have the pleasure of dining on the upstairs balcony, you will notice that servers use the hand-cranked dumbwaiter (left) to send your drink orders up from the main bar.  They pick them up once they return on the second level and deliver them promptly to your table.  An intriguing and fun conversation piece!

On our visit to Cafe La Boheme’s Happy Hour, we tried their Cocktail of the Day, which was a Soju Cosmo.  Made with Soju, a distilled beverage native to Korea, it’s taste is comparable to vodka, though usually sweeter due to its manufacturing process.  Delicious and satisfying, this cocktail was just what the doctor ordered! My husband also had a Rum and Coke while I decide to have a traditional Greyhound with lime.  (I usually don’t drink those unless we’re enjoying oysters on the half shell, but I figured I’d try one anyway)!  It was refreshing, perfectly crisp and just as I would have expected it to be…

Above, we enjoyed an Apple Martini, Rum and Coke, Soju Cosmo and a refreshing Greyhound during Happy Hour.

 We also relished in the Filet Mignon Tacos, the Bacon Wrapped Dates and shared one of the Boheme Burgers.  You’ll see the sumptuous proof is in the pictures below:

Bacon Wrapped Dates

Filet Mignon Tacos

 Boheme Burger

While most people who visit the lounge in Cafe La Boheme don’t notice them, there in fact ARE two televisions!  Mounted on the wall directly above the main bar are two large in-mirror plasma screens.  They’re easy to miss, simply because you just don’t look up in this garnet-colored fantasy with so much else to catch your eye.  But they’re there.  Existing quietly amongst the comings and goings of diners and Happy Hour enthusiasts alike.

Cafe La Boheme is indeed an icon of the community.  Known as such, and certainly proving their place in the fine dining society, it more than stands out from the crowd. It emcompasses the essence of visual enlightenment, culinary excellence and posesses an allure unlike anything else.

  • DECOR / ESTABLISHMENT: Brilliant ruby hues, deep blacks and muted silvers exude charm and elegance in this upscale-casual dining venue.  Something to catch your eye everywhere you look.  Romantic ambiance in an intimate, unique and spacious setting.
  • FOOD / DRINKDelicious cuisine created by Chef Banta will have you returning soon after your first visit.  Numerous fresh selections on the main dinner menu, as well as refreshing cocktails and appetizers in the lounge during Happy Hour.
  • LOCATION: Cafe La Boheme is located at 8400 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, CA 90069.
  • SERVICE / STAFF: We have had exceptional service by both Kevin, Sterling and Hector at Cafe La Boheme.  Professional, friendly, knowledgeable and constant in their desire to please their customers, you can’t go wrong being seated in their areas of the restaurant.  We assure you that you will be well taken care of by one of these finely-skilled gentlemen. Casey, our server during Happy Hour with Brett behind the bar were also very cordial and helpful with recommendations.
  • PRICE / VALUE: No worries at Cafe La Boheme. Whether at Happy Hour or dining in the restaurant, you will receive excellent cuisine for an excellent price.
  • CORKAGE FEE: $5 corkage charge per bottle Monday nights with dinner, then other nights at dinner, $20 per bottle.
  • PARKING: There is a conveniently-located valet parking site beside the restaurant, as well as metered street parking in front of the establishment.
  • TOTAL BILL: Most dinners at Cafe la Boheme, including a $5 corked bottle of wine on a Monday nights, never exceeded $50 (including tax), including a shared salad or appetizer and two main entrees.  Our Happy Hour bill for an Apple Martini, Rum and Coke, Greyhound, Suju Cosmo, Bacon Wrapped Dates, Filet Mignon Tacos and one Boheme Burger (which is big enough to share) totalled $47.36 (including tax)!

La Bohème on Urbanspoon

Laboheme Cafe on Restaurantica

La Boheme  Restaurant Reviews

*Menu and prices subject to change without notice.