I was in Los Angeles visiting my family and wanted to take my sister Kathy and friend Anna to dinner at a place that would have good food and be fun for a couple of college students. Someone on Craigslist suggested Cha Cha Cha, a Caribbean restaurant in Encino. After a look at its website, I thought it was worth a try. It was, though I'm in no hurry to go back.
I made a reservation for 8pm on a Friday night (July 2004) but we didn't really need it as the restaurant was only two-thirds full when we got there. It features a multi-level, multi-colored dining room and has a small bar on one side. The space is quite fun and attractive, with walls, decorations, chair and even plates painted with bright, primary colors. Attractive multi-colored paintings (all for sale, all very expensive) adorn the walls, so you never run out of things to look at. Still, the place is not as lively as I would have expected; it felt tired and jaded rather than fun and loud. I'm not sure why that would be, though perhaps its emphasis on being family-friendly (there were several parties with small children around) and its high-priced menu keeps the younger crowd away. In all, the place feels more like a tired suburban gimmicky restaurant than a hip hangout.
Its menu concentrates on Caribbean and Caribbean-inspired food. It includes pastas and pizzas, in addition to meat and vegetarian entrees. Entree portions are quite generous, so much so that Kathy and Anna took half of their pasta home, and none of us had room for dessert.
Kathy and Anna split an appetizer of coconut-shrimp ($7.50) served with a mango ketchup. They liked the deep-fried shrimp though they couldn't taste the coconut. The mango ketchup was just that, regular tomato ketchup with a hint of mango taste. Quite good, if you like ketchup and mango.
For dinner, I had the tri-tip steak ($15.50). It came with a very intense sauce which reminded me of a mole sauce. It was quite good, though it got boring after a while. I had asked for the steak medium-rare, and it literally was: the outside was medium and the inside was rare. I don't know if their grill-person was in a hurry or just doesn't know how to grill a steak. The steak came with garlic mashed potatoes, green beans and deep-fried thin onions. They were all very good, though I think I would have preferred regular mashed potatoes to contrast with the intense flavor of the sauce. Still, I enjoyed this dish.
Both Kathy and Anna decided on the Caribbean Chicken Pasta ($12.50). It had a spicy Caribbean flavor to it and it was very good. I would order it myself. The only minus is that it's quite oily (be careful with those leftovers, the oil leaked out of the container).
Anna and I had sodas ($2.50, free refills), which were OK but somewhat flat. Kathy had a cranberry juice which she didn't like. The bread served before dinner was also lacking. The bread was warm but was stale, though the butter was excellent.
Service was adequate but erratic. Our waiter was enthusiastic but he seemed overly busy. Either that or he couldn't manage his time well. It took a long time to get the boxes we had asked for (Kathy was miffed as she saw that other people had their food boxed for them, while we had to do it ourselves) and the bill. He also wasn't around enough when we needed something. Still, bread, drinks and the food came in time.
In all, I think our experience at Cha Cha Cha was good enough and I may go back there some day.
Cha Cha Cha
17499 Ventura Blvd.