I think Sawtelle Kitchen is the Jennifer Grey of restaurants. Let me explain.
Jennifer Grey was the cute little actress in the 80s (best known for playing “Baby” in Dirty Dancing) with an adorable nose. Then she got a rhinoplasty to “upgrade” her look, which completely altered her face. Her acting career went south as a result because she become virtually unrecognizable and lost the charm that made her unique. The procedure that was meant to boost her career ended up killing it. What an irony.
I remember when Sawtelle Kitchen was a little, crooked-nosed restaurant on the emerging Sawtelle restaurant row, so small that customers had to go outside to use the detached restroom. Tables were crammed so tightly in a small space that we couldn’t walk without bumping into a nearby table. There was no alcohol served, no real fancy items on the menu — just a simple collection of Westernized version of Japanese staples like wafu meatloaf and curry rice. The restaurant was far from fancy, but I loved its welcoming charm.
My boyfriend and I were in the neighborhood the other day so we decided to stop by Sawtelle Kitchen for late lunch. It had been years since my last visit and it was time for a good old Japanese comfort food. I was also excited to show him this hidden gem of a restaurant since he had never been here before. But when I walked in to the restaurant and saw the robust collection of wine displayed at the bar and beautifully painted walls topped with dangling chandeliers, I had to double take to make sure that I walked into the right restaurant. Although the name remained the same, I realized quickly what this place was not the place I once knew and loved.
The newer, upgraded, post-facelift version of Sawtelle Kitchen is beautiful, no doubt, and I was thankful that I no longer needed to walk to the rear parking lot to wash my hands, but the charm that made this place so special was no longer there. There was really no resemblance to the dinky but sweet friend I remember from the yesteryear …
The food had changed as well. I ordered the grilled red snapper with citcus-soy sauce and my boyfriend ordered the grilled boneless half chicken, both from the lunch menu, and they were mediocre, at best. The price point had gone up too to match the sophisticated exterior, which didn’t add to our already disappointing visit.
I won’t dismiss Sawtelle Kitchen altogether though. I am confident that other items on the menu are still delicious and I am sure I’ll return someday to enjoy the meal with a glass of red wine it now offers, but it would be a lie if I said that I don’t miss the old “Baby.” 😦
2024 Sawtelle Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90025