Splendor in the grass

<I>V Life Weekend</I> test drives picnics-to-go from five Los Angeles restaurants. Some are sublime; some fall short.

Picnics are deceiving. On paper, nothing sounds more lighthearted and easygoing than food you tote in its own carryall, served beneath the stars or some other bucolic location.

The truth is picnics might give the impression of being as laid-back as a set by the Grateful Dead, but assembling a good one is as demanding as a Vivaldi piece for quartet.

If you only wanted something to eat on the move, you could throw together a peanut butter sandwich, an apple and a cookie in a paper bag. However, that’s not a picnic; that’s your kid’s lunch.

A picnic should be prettier than standard takeout and a little sumptuous, enough to make you feel like what you’re eating is as special as the setting.

It should be easy; food that requires knife and fork is getting away from the idea, especially since it’s hard to cut anything that’s sitting on your lap.

And most of all, it should be convenient, which means lightweight, handy and packed in containers that neither leak nor shift too much in transit.

In short, it’s something best left to the pros, and Los Angeles has plenty of eateries more than happy to custom-build a bag or box for the Hollywood Bowl.

However, as V Life Weekend discovered while putting five popular purveyors to the test, not all picnics are created equal.

The best ones came from Clementine, Joan’s on Third and Nicole’s Gourmet Foods — high-end delis that specialize in catering and casual food.

Sit-down restaurants like Campanile and Granita were at a disadvantage. Not only did it seem like a strain for them to come up with menus and packaging meant for mobility, but they need a package license to sell you a bottle of wine to go with your feast.

While Granita won hands-down for most impressive presentation, sometimes less is more; Nicole’s brown-paper shopping bag proved to be a better tote. However, the best kits came from Campanile and Joan’s, which share the same distinctive white corrugated cardboard box — with different logos, of course.

Plan ahead

Every place we tried needs at least 24 hours advance notice for their picnics. Web sites clearly outlined their menus, but some had ordering systems that required multiple phone calls and faxes — more than we wanted to endure for an outdoor repast.

Finally, no matter who packs your picnic, check your order before you go. Summer is a busy season, and on several occasions we found that we had received the wrong entree or salad, or didn’t have the promised bread, cheese, dessert or flatware.

menu

order experience/
presentation

quality/comments
clementine – BEST OF TASTING

1751 Ensley Ave (310) 552-1080

Out of a dozen options, we chose grilled shrimp, succotash,

arugula-avocado salad and chocolate sampler ($36) and grilled steak with olive-onion tapenade and two salads ($22)

Order experience:

No problem. We didn’t have the Web site in front of us, but the rep was happy to run down all the choices.

Presentation:

Excellent. Everything came in sturdy black plastic trays with lids that didn’t slip, bundled inside a white Clementine sack.

Quality:

Not only was everything terrific, but the food was also easy to eat without the benefit of a table.

Comments:

With the option of curbside delivery, it’s the best picnic service in town.

nicole’s gourmet foods – BEST VALUE

921 Meridian Avenue, Unit B, South Pasadena (626) 403-5751

Three menus to choose from, each serves two. We bought No. 3: baby greens with fresh goat cheese, a prosciutto-pecorino and a smoked salmon sandwich, chocolate mousse and crème brulee. ($26.95)

Order experience:

Simple. Look at the menu online and call it in. We ordered ours Saturday morning and picked it up at 5 pm.

Presentation:

Humble but efficient. Sandwiches were wrapped in wax paper, flatware in yellow and blue paper napkins, all inside a paper shopping bag. Salad, packed in a plastic clamshell box, leaked in transit.

 

Quality:

Very good. The Greek salad, with fresh herbs and Persian cucumbers, was one of the best we’ve ever had. Baguette sandwiches were generously stuffed. Chocolate mousse tasted a little of refrigerator burn.

Comments:

The salad was a mistake, but it was so good we didn’t care. Nicole’s also carries wine and when we chose a Sancerre, she offered to pull one from the back that was chilled.

joan’s on third

8350 West Third Street (323) 655-2285

A wide variety. We chose roasted pepper dip, field greens with goat cheese, hanger steak with heirloom tomato salad and Israeli couscous and rustic apple tart. ($54) Order experience:

Web site menu and phone service were easy, but long lines can make pickup chaotic. They’re expanding later this year.

Presentation:

The same handy white cardboard box as Campanile, with plastic clamshell takeout boxes inside and JO3d-logo tissue paper, with two large and small clear plastic plates and glasses. Oddly, one set of flatware.

Quality:

Very good. Hanger steak was tender, but preslicing would have made easier eating. With the side order of greens, it was more than we could eat.

Comments:

Also sells a selection of picnic-friendly wines. Although Joan’s says entrees serve one, portions were generous enough for two.

Bread was forgotten in our order.

granita

23275 W. Malibu Rd, Malibu (310) 456-0488

(Note: Wolfgang Puck will close the restaurant at the end of September.)

Custom designed with chef

Jennifer Naylor. For two:

charcuterie, heirloom tomato and chopped Chino Farm salads, roasted chicken with

asparagus, salmon with Israeli couscous, berries and cookies ($150)

Order experience:

You can’t place an order without talking to Naylor and we had to track her down the day after our initial phone call.

Presentation:

Comes in a larg
e, cloth-lined wicker basket not big enough to hold all the aluminum foil containers; excess went into a brown shopping bag. Includes plastic utensils, wet naps and real wine glasses ($15 credit if you return the basket and glasses).

Quality:

Flawless, with generous portions, but it felt less like a picnic and more like a full-fledged Granita dinner to go.

Comments:

Granita thought of everything, even offering to sell us a bottle of wine. We appreciated the personal touch, but it was more food (and attention) than we needed for a portable dinner.

campanile

624 S. La Brea Ave (323) 938-1447

Four menus to choose from, no substitutions, each serves one. We bought Caesar salad, sauteed trenne with bitter greens, crisp flattened chicken ($37) and Bibb lettuce with asparagus, three cheeses, grilled vegetables, and grilled prime rib with flageolets ($43) Order experience:

Annoying. It’s easy to find the picnic menu on the website, but you have to call to have an order form faxed to you, fill it out, fax it back and then call to confirm its receipt.

Presentation:

We liked the cardboard picnic box, but the food came in foil trays that we slashed through while trying to cut the chicken with plastic flatware.

Quality:

Disappointing. Romaine lettuce edged with brown, overcooked haricot verts and inedible trenne. A second order was more successful, suggesting an off day, but it still wasn’t up to Campanile’s in-house standards.

Comments:

On our first go-round, both the cheese and the fruit tarts were AWOL.

More Scene

  • LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 22:

    SZA Holds Nothing Back in Second Show Since Vocal Injury Scare

    Picnics are deceiving. On paper, nothing sounds more lighthearted and easygoing than food you tote in its own carryall, served beneath the stars or some other bucolic location. The truth is picnics might give the impression of being as laid-back as a set by the Grateful Dead, but assembling a good one is as demanding […]

  • Tesse Restaurant Opens on L.A.'s Sunset

    Tesse Restaurant Takes on the Challenge of Making the Sunset Strip Hip Again

    Picnics are deceiving. On paper, nothing sounds more lighthearted and easygoing than food you tote in its own carryall, served beneath the stars or some other bucolic location. The truth is picnics might give the impression of being as laid-back as a set by the Grateful Dead, but assembling a good one is as demanding […]

  • Tiffany Haddish

    MTV Movie and TV Awards: The 10 Standout Moments

    Picnics are deceiving. On paper, nothing sounds more lighthearted and easygoing than food you tote in its own carryall, served beneath the stars or some other bucolic location. The truth is picnics might give the impression of being as laid-back as a set by the Grateful Dead, but assembling a good one is as demanding […]

  • Brandon Flynn, Timothy Granaderos, Alisha Boe,

    Alisha Boe Says Brock Turner Case Was Her 'Bible' for '13 Reasons Why' Season 2

    Picnics are deceiving. On paper, nothing sounds more lighthearted and easygoing than food you tote in its own carryall, served beneath the stars or some other bucolic location. The truth is picnics might give the impression of being as laid-back as a set by the Grateful Dead, but assembling a good one is as demanding […]

  • Yara ShahidiMTV Movie & TV Awards,

    Yara Shahidi, Noah Schnapp, More Talk the Dangers of Social Media at MTV Awards

    Picnics are deceiving. On paper, nothing sounds more lighthearted and easygoing than food you tote in its own carryall, served beneath the stars or some other bucolic location. The truth is picnics might give the impression of being as laid-back as a set by the Grateful Dead, but assembling a good one is as demanding […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content