Los Angeles | Downtown
For something more than formulaic California-French cooking, Ciudad—that's Spanish for city—pays tribute to the cuisines of Barcelona, Havana, Buenos Aires, and other great Latin meccas. The decor is a hoot: lime-yellow walls and loopy murals that samba right up onto the ceiling—not to mention the waiters in sherbet-colored guayabera shirts. Owners Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken are the partners behind Santa Monica's campy Border Grill and the stars of the forthcoming PBS series Border Girls. Ciudad is a great downtown spot for lunch, or for a mojito (that wicked concoction of rum, lime, sugarcane, and mint) and appetizers before a Music Center performance. Best bets? Hearts of romaine, flanked by plantain chips, with Spanish blue cheese and roasted red peppers; Honduran ceviche laced with coconut, cilantro, and fresh pineapple; papas rellenas, potatoes stuffed with oxtail stew. Lunch, $45; dinner, $70. 445 S. Figueroa St., L.A., CA 90071; 213- 486-5171; www.millikenandfeniger.com.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), somehow hidden in the towering California Plaza at the top of Los Angeles' Bunker Hill, is a large complex of galleries, designed by Arata Isozaki, beneath pyramids of glass. It opened in 1986 to the great glee of L.A.'s intelligentsia—at last L.A. had a gritty contemporary gallery, and indeed, visitors should have a strong stomach for the very modern. MOCA has a permanent collection of over 4,600 pieces, and exhibits change more or less quarterly. You never quite know what you're in for—at one point last year several of the galleries were taken over by thin metallic string stretched taut around nails in the wall. In some cases it was difficult to tell if there was anything there at all. The galleries are large and the exhibits laid out with a rare, extravagant sparsity.
Before MOCA on South Grand was completed, there was the Temporary Contemporary, so called for having stored and shown works waiting to move into the new museum. It proved so popular that it stayed on as an annex and was dubbed MOCA at The Geffen Contemporary. Two 50-foot-high warehouses were combined and redesigned by renowned architect Frank Gehry. They form, quite simply, a vast and glorious rectangle with which you can do almost anything. The ceiling is dark wood, the floors are plain concrete, and the lighting is a system of tracked spots. As with the main MOCA, there is no permanent exhibition, so call ahead. There's a shuttle between the two buildings, which share opening hours. $ MOCA at The Geffen Contemporary, 152 N. Central Ave., L.A., CA 90013; 213-626-6222;
Start with a dozen oysters on the half shell, maybe Kumamotos or Fanny Bays. Or the extravagant seafood platter served on a stand. That's the fare at Water Grill, the handsome downtown seafood house. Now that Michael Cimarusti has taken over the kitchen, it finally delivers on its promise. Cimarusti gets in the freshest fish from all over the world. Whole loup de mer (sea bass) is served over fennel; white clam chowder is laced with apple-smoked bacon. Don't pass on dessert. Pastry chef Wonyee Tom worked at New York's Gotham Bar and Grill and she turns out superb sweets. $100. 544 S. Grand Ave., L.A., CA 90071; 213-891-0900.
Los Angeles | Chinatown | Westlake | Silver Lake
A Treasure Trove Of Cheeses
Say Cheese, a premier purveyor in bohemian Silver Lake for over 30 years, stocks over 200 types of cheeses from around the world. Choosing a variety is serious business here—the staff helps by doling out tastes. The shelves of the tiny, crowded shop are amply stocked with all manner of gourmet goodies: pungent Dijon mustards, Valrhona chocolates, distinctive oils and aged vinegars, dried morels, oil-cured Mediterranean olives—and the pick of the season's crop of cookbooks. The adjoining café puts together a terrific sandwich, too, and is something of a neighborhood hangout. 2800 Hyperion Ave., L.A., CA 90027; 323-665-0545; fax 323-665-6545.
Best Meal In Town Under $5
Philippe the Original is probably the most egalitarian restaurant in L.A. Lawyers and judges, journalists and minimum-wagers, baseball fans and kids converge in Chinatown to line up at the counter for French-dip sandwiches. They are said to have been invented at Philippe's in 1918, when a bun accidentally fell into a roasting pan and soaked up some of the good juices. A French-dip beef, lamb, or pork sandwich will set you back between $3.85 and $4.15. Be sure to slather on Philippe's own punch-packing mustard. Carry your repast back to the communal tables, maybe with a piece of gooey coconut custard cake. Philippe's also has a savvy list of wines by the glass—Silver Oak Cabernet? Ravenswood Zinfandel?—because owner Richard Binder is something of a wine buff. $ 1001 N. Alameda St., L.A., CA 90012; 213-628-3781; www.philippes.com.
Mandarin Deli, in a Chinatown mall, makes fabulous pot stickers (try the hand-chopped filling of pork and greens) and steamed dumplings (the fish version is ethereal). By looking through a window onto the small kitchen, you can watch the cooks roll out the dough. In chilly weather share a bowl of "ground flour soup noodle"—a soothing broth laced with swatches of handmade noodles. You can't find a better meal for the price. $ 727 N. Broadway, Suite 109, L.A., CA 90012; 213-623-6054.
soothing broth laced with swatches of handmade noodles. You can't find a better meal for the price. $ 727 N. Broadway, Suite 109, L.A., CA 90012; 213-623-6054.
Don't even think about ordering anything else. Langer's Deli serves what is undisputedly the best pastrami sandwich on the West Coast—it's good enough to go head-to-head with any of the more celebrated New York versions. The meat (over two million pounds since 1947) is hand-sliced and piled high between pieces of Jewish rye. Best of all, you can ride the subway from Hollywood or downtown to half a block from Langer's door. (Just take the red line to Westlake-MacArthur Park.) $ 704 S. Alvarado St., L.A., CA 90057; 213-483-8050; fax 213-483-7171.
Los Angeles | Boyle Heights | West L.A.
After being closed for remodeling for almost two years, La Serenata de Garibaldi, the beloved Boyle Heights Mexican seafood spot, is back—spruced up, doubled in size, and now with valet parking out front. This is East L.A.—a ten-minute drive at the most from downtown. Courtly José Rodriguez is a master of sauces. At La Serenata, you pick your fish—Mexican sea bass, fresh snapper, halibut, giant prawns—and then a sauce to go with it. And if the specials include the delicacy huitlacoche, or corn fungus, don't hesitate. Mexican sea bass with huitlacoche in a smoldering red chile sauce is one of the finest dishes to come from Rodriguez's kitchen. You might want to order some of the fish tacos or a seafood empanada as an appetizer. All entrées come with a small bowl of soupy and delicious beans—and, of course, freshly made corn tortillas. Lunch, $45; dinner, $60. Wine and beer only.
If it's a Mexican breakfast you want, go to La Serenata de Garibaldi's casual offshoot, La Serenata Gourmet. Eat out on the purple-painted patio. Huevos rancheros come in a particularly graceful sauce with a bowl of fat brown beans and warm, freshly made corn tortillas on the side. Maybe even better: the chilaquiles verdes with a couple of eggs sunnyside up—a Mexican pain perdu. Who would have thought stale tortillas could be this good, simmered in chicken broth until they soften and soak up all its flavor, splashed with a stinging salsa verde, and topped with those golden-yolked eggs. Weekend breakfast 'til 2 p.m., $8. La Serenata de Garibaldi, 1842 E. 1st St., L.A., CA 90033; 323-265-2887. La Serenata Gourmet, 10924 W. Pico Blvd. (in West L.A., near Westside Pavilion), L.A., CA 90064; 310-441-9667.
This West L.A. hole-in-the-wall with men smoking at the two tables outside on the sidewalk feels like downtown Beirut. Sunnin Lebanese Café, according to the menu, is "owned and operated by Famous Chef Much Loved Em-Toni". When she was the chef at L.A.'s premier Lebanese restaurant, Al Amir, the Lebanese community used to drive miles for her light and skillfully made kibbeh, those enticing lamb-and-bulgur croquettes. Though her own place is just a simple lunch counter, she's serving much the same menu. The best strategy here is to fill up on the wonderful mezze (appetizers); main courses, mostly kebobs, are not nearly as compelling. There's grass-green tabbouleh drenched in lemon, smoky baba ghanouj, creamy hummus decorated with paprika and gold-green olive oil, and tri-cornered pastries filled with spinach and tart ground sumac berries—and, of course, the kibbeh. 1779 Westwood Blvd., L.A., CA 90024; tel/fax 310-477-2358.
The Best Bottles
A longtime favorite of the Hollywood crowd, Wally's, in West L.A., is the wine shop for older vintages of the great Bordeaux, Champagnes, Burgundies, and highly sought-after California boutique wines. Expert wine buyers like Christian Navarro will lead you to the perfect bottle. Be warned: customers from the film and music industries tend to have deep pockets! 2107 Westwood Blvd., L.A., CA 90025; 888-992-5597, 310-475-0606; www.wallywine.com.
Los Angeles | Brentwood
Getting Into The Getty
The new J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center has been lauded higher than the Brentwood hilltop on which it sits. Once you are up there looking down on Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and the ocean, you get the aesthetic point. It is not unfair to say that the Getty's attraction is due as much to the site itself as to its considerable contents. The heart of the complex is a pattern of interconnecting exhibition pavilions following the natural ridge of the hills and enclosing a large courtyard, all clad in Italian travertine. You really could be in a 16-century Tuscan hilltop town looking down on the valleys beneath (were it not for the Getty's modern architecture). There is a striking sense of light and flow. Visitors follow their own route. Movement from inside to out is relaxed. Hours can be spent among rich colors and materials—then suddenly you find yourself on a beige expanse of pavement softly reflecting the sun, as if it were a Florentine piazza.
The collection shows great strength and diversity. It reflects a clear passion for classical statuary; has one of the greatest collections of Greek vases in the world; features priceless illuminated manuscripts; and the furniture is a triumph of big pieces and reconstructed French period rooms.
A price has been paid for this location. Although it is for the public, the public can't get to it without first reserving a parking space a week in advance in the underground garage, which is down by an access road off the 405 Freeway. It's a very L.A. conundrum. Don't even think about public transport—it's a nightmare. Instead, you can arrange to have a hotel car or trustworthy cab drop you off and pick you up. And two nearby hotels, the Luxe Summit Hotel Bel-Air on Sunset Boulevard (310-476-6571) and the Holiday Inn on North Church Lane (310-476-6411), run shuttle buses for guests.
The Restaurant at the Getty Center, as it's called, may be more ambitious than any other museum restaurant in the country. White tablecloths, attentive waiters, an appealing California menu, and a wine list with every wine available by the glass set it apart—not to mention the spectacular view. It's hard to beat the tables on the breezy outside terrace. 1200 Getty Center Dr. (off 405 Freeway, two exits north of Sunset Blvd.), L.A., CA 90049; 310-440-7300; www.getty.edu.
Getting Into The Getty
A True Taste Of Italy
Gino Angelini, the chef at Vincenti, grew up in Rimini, on the Adriatic, so he has a particular affinity for seafood. Taste his pasta with calamaretti, or tiny squid. His food has an unfussy, not oversauced Italian flavor, based on exceptional products (some brought in from Chino Farm, a two-and- a-half-hour drive from San Diego). He cures his own guanciale, the pork jowl that is essential to an authentic amatriciana sauce. Angelini also uses a wood-burning rotisserie for whole fish, poultry, and meats. The design of the Brentwood restaurant is as sophisticated as they come. $90. 11930 San Vicente Blvd., L.A., CA 90049; 310-207-0127.
A Classy Bar And Grill
Bruce Marder, who founded the now defunct and much-lamented West Beach Café in the early '80s, reprises his American cuisine at the cozy Brentwood Restaurant and Lounge. The bar boasts premium tequilas and glorious single-malt scotches (Steve Wallace of Wally's wine shop is one of the owners). The sublime Porfidio margarita was developed by Marder's wife, Rebecca, for her nuevo Latin place, Rebecca's. There's a swell shrimp cocktail with a subtly nuanced sauce; dry-aged New York steak is flown in from the Midwest; the 10-ounce burger is a classic; and the fries are about as good as they come. For dessert, dive into Dr. Bob's dainty banana split, made with a diminutive tropical banana, old-fashioned vanilla ice cream, and an exemplary hot fudge sauce. Dinner only, $90. 148 S. Barrington Ave., L.A., CA 90049; 310-476-3511.
Los Angeles | West Hollywood
See And Be Seen
The Ivy, decked out in white picket fence, frilly umbrellas, and flowery cushions, is no place to go for eating, but it remains one of the perennial West Hollywood hot spots for star- and starlet-gazing. Even more so now that Robertson Boulevard is lined with boutiques. 113 N. Robertson Blvd., L.A., CA 90048; 310-274-8303; fax 310-274-8170.
Owned by Peter Morton, of Hard Rock Cafe fame, and his twin sister, Pam, West Hollywood-based Mortons is a real powerbroker place. Industry muck-a-mucks converge in this beautiful, airy space with its great art (note the Francis Bacon painting on the back wall), sensuous leather booths, and solid California cuisine. The steaks are consistently excellent (the twins' father is of Morton's of Chicago steakhouse fame). Other favorites include the house salad and lime-grilled chicken. $100. 8764 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90069; 310-276-5205; fax 310-854-1067.
Tucked in between the design shops along Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, Jozu Restaurant is a quiet, sophisticated haven for Asian fusion cooking. The new chef, Hisashi Yoshiara, is upholding its strong reputation. Owner Andy Nakano welcomes guests with a complimentary taste of premium sake poured from a lovely decanter—just one of the touches that make Jozu ( Japanese for "excellent") live up to its name. $75.
8360 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90069; 323-655-5600;
Ex-Chez-Panisse-cook-and-Campanile chef Suzanne Goin and her partner, Caroline Styne, hit the ground running when they opened Lucques, in West Hollywood, in 1998. Lucques, named for a pale-green French olive and pronounced "Luke," has everything—a coolly professional front-of-the-house, an understatedly elegant setting by renowned designer Barbara Barry, and earthy, sensual French-Mediterranean cooking. Goin is a passionate devotee of local farmers' markets and organic produce. She changes her menus often to showcase what she finds there, serving, for instance, a medley of roasted baby beets and their greens with walnuts and warm goat cheese. Or she'll pair persimmons with arugula and duck prosciutto. She can cook hearty fare too. One of her best dishes is braised short ribs. After ten there's a delicious short menu at the bar which includes terrific steak frites. $85. 8474 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90069; 323-655-6277; fax 323-655-3925.
Who says Los Angeles doesn't have any respect for its architecture or history? Tail o' the Pup, the beloved landmark and glorified hot-dog stand, was built back in 1946. It has since moved—now it's in West Hollywood, across the street from the Beverly Center. Nab one of the few parking spots and order up a dog with all the fixings. And remember, the Pup closes its doors by five. $ 329 N. San Vicente Blvd., L.A., CA 90048; 310-652-4517.
Los Angeles | West Hollywood
Design For Living
Looking for Piero Lissoni's aluminum-legged "Met" sofa by Cassina, a 12-panel Chinese screen, a Palladian-style corner cupboard, Italian chenille fabric, ceramic sconces? You'll find it all in (or near) West Hollywood, where the cream-of-the-crop antiques and design shops are located. Here's a hit list of the best.
($ 8606-A Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90069;
Custom-made, one-of-a-kind glass sinks, created through a process in which metallic elements are infused into the glass.
(800 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., CA 90069;
310-657-9228; fax 310-657-9583):
Rampantly eclectic objects, many in giant size, collected by co-owners David Cruz and Adam Blackman (the ones who lit the fuse on 1940s steel factory and hospital furniture and Eileen Gray Transat chairs).
Diamond Foam And Fabric
($ 611 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA 90036;
323-931-8148; fax 323-931-2086):
L.A.'s fabric warehouse extravaganza—with practical prices and constantly new inventory.
Dragonette Decorative Arts
(750 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., CA 90069;
310-855-9091; fax 310-855-9085):
Furniture, photographs, paintings, and silver objets from the Deco '20s and '30s through the '70s.
Evans & Gerst Antiques
($ 910 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., CA 90069; 310-657-0112; fax 310-657-7060): 18th- and early 19th-century French and Italian antiques bought in California at estate sales and from private parties.
(1 731 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., CA 90069;
Restored 18th- and 19th-century château fireplaces (mostly French)—all the rage in L.A. now.
($ 450 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA 90036;
350 varieties of handmade, off-white bisque ceramic sconces.
($ 8746 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90069;
310-659-3062; fax 310-659-0694):
Scaled-up reproduction antiques, particularly stone and rustic pieces.
Hideaway House Antiques
(143 N. Robertson Blvd., L.A., CA 90048;
310-276-4319; fax 310-276-8140):
Solid, mid-range 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century country furniture, mostly English and French.
($ 8471 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90069;
Fine reproduction furniture—in a broad range of styles—by Jennings, who was trained as a cabinetmaker and antiques dealer.
Liz's Antique Hardware
(453 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA 90036;
The mother of all vintage door, window, and light fixture stores.
(158 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA 90036;
18th- and 19th-century vernacular northern Chinese furniture.
(8775 Beverly Blvd., L.A., CA 90048;
Hottest contemporary Italian furniture, lamps, and accessories, focusing on solid modern pieces.
(7956 Beverly Blvd., L.A., CA 90048;
323-651-5082; fax 323-651-1130):
Elegant, often unusual midcentury modern furniture from noted designers.
(442 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA 90036;
Patio furniture from the '50s.
(8117 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90046;
323-655-8117; fax 323-655-0965):
Original, restored mid-20th-century furniture imported from Italy, as well as antiquities and paintings that catch the eyes of owners Brian Pinto and Eugenio Manzoni.
(144 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA 90036;
323-932-0511; fax 323-932-0485):
Furniture with a West Indian/East Asian interpretation of tropical gentility.
Richard Mulligan-Sunset Cottage
($ 8157 Sunset Blvd., L.A., CA 90046;
323-650-8660; fax 323-650-8662):
New England country-chic from Mollie and Richard Mulligan.
Rose Tarlow-Melrose House
($ 8454 Melrose Pl., L.A., CA 90069;
Adaptations of Georgian and Regency pieces by Rose Tarlow, one of the queens of California Design—hallmarks are whimsicality and the use of Oriental motifs.
The Silk Trading Co.
($ 360 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA 90036;
Silks designed by the owner, Warren Kay, at competitive prices.
(351 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA 90036;
323-954-9595; fax 323-954-0448):
19th-century Biedermeier reproductions in birch, cherry, or walnut, with authentically thick veneers from Janusz Maszkiewicz, who has practiced his craft for over 30 years.
Yujean Kang's offers understated, sophisticated Chinese food and a notable wine list in a glamorous West Hollywood setting. Chef-owner Kang possesses a passion for Alsace whites, German and Austrian Rieslings, and Pinot Noirs—precisely the kinds of wines that drink beautifully with his cuisine. $55. 8826 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90069; 310-288-0806; fax 310-288-0522.
Steak, Italian Style
Celestino Drago (of Drago fame) gives the steakhouse an Italian twist at his new Celestino Italian Steak House in West Hollywood. The format is familiar, although appetizers include grilled Treviso radicchio with fried Scamorza cheese and bagna cauda, Piedmont's hot bath of garlic, anchovy, and olive oil served with an array of crudités. Wines are Barolo and Barbaresco, and dessert is panna cotta (an impossibly delicious cooked cream). Even the beef's uniquely Italian: a special Piedmontese breed prized for its flavor and low cholesterol, now raised in the Midwest. $100. 8908 Beverly Blvd., L.A., CA 90048; 310-858-5777; www.celestinodrago.com.
C'est Absolument FranÇAis!
L'Orangerie remains the one purely French restaurant in Los Angeles, perfect for those somewhat formal special occasions. Outside is West Hollywood, but inside is France: potted orange trees, 18th-century landscape paintings, candlelight, and in the middle of the room, a towering arrangement of white lilies, gladioli, and roses. The premier seats are in the garden room (with retractable roof), where you can enjoy L.A.'s famously balmy nights. The chef, Ludovic Lefebvre, is the best L'Orangerie has had in years: expertly trained, ambitious, enthusiastic. Try his whole roasted rock lobster with cinnamon butter or the splendid lobster tart. And desserts top the entrées. The service is not always all that it should be and prices are very high. $120. 903 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., CA 90069; 310-652-9770; www.orangerie.com.
A New Standard
Nothing's standard about The Standard, the ultra-hip Sunset Strip hotel from the owner of Chateau Marmont. Guests checking in may be disconcerted by the sight of a performance artist sleeping or reading in a glass box behind the reception desk. The barber gives buzz cuts and there's a resident tattoo artist. And on the weekends, a live disc jockey holds court in the lobby. The view from the pool and bar area is spectacular. And the all-night, retro-moderne coffee shop serves up a great classic burger—along with an eclectic array of other dishes you might actually want to eat (service is cheerful if a bit sleepy). $99-$650. 8300 Sunset Blvd., L.A., CA 90069; 323-650-9090; fax 323-654-0793.
If The Shoe Fits
Clog-Master of Sweden will outfit you—as it has chefs for over 23 years—with its custom-crafted wooden clogs for the kitchen. The West Hollywood shop offers a basic black-leather model with a wood base and non-slip sole, but, if you're like The Lobster Club's Anne Rosenzweig in New York, you'll snatch up the wilder hues: red, purple, pink, or canary yellow. 440-1/2 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., CA 90048; 310-657-8083; fax 310-657-8090.
Read It And Eat
The Cook's Library is a charming West Hollywood bookstore, opened in 1988 and devoted entirely to cookbooks, many of them imported or hard to find. It's a favorite haunt of L.A. chefs and an obligatory stop for cookbook authors on tour. There's a comfy sofa for those who want to browse before they buy, and a table stacked with all the latest releases. The ethnic and regional cuisine sections are especially extensive. $ 8373 W. Third St., L.A., CA 90048; 323-655-3141; fax 323-655-9530.
The thin-crusted Roman-style pizzas at Alto Palato are terrific, especially the fragrant Margherita topped with fresh mozzarella, crushed tomatoes, and sweet basil. But the one strewn with thinly sliced potatoes and rosemary or the prosciutto version carpeted with emerald arugula come a close second. What's more, Gino Rindone serves perhaps the best cappuccino in America (he was, after all, a barman at one of the busiest cafés in Torino), and his hazelnut gelato makes hot weather, well, worthwhile. For a summer pick-me-up try the gelato di crema with a cup of espresso tipped over the top. Dinner only, except on Friday. $55. 755 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., CA 90069;
Luxe And Then Some
At the West Hollywood outpost of Petrossian of Paris, get the freshest beluga, osetra, and sevruga; silkiest Scottish, Norwegian, or Irish salmon cold-smoked with oak, hickory, and maple and finished off with a light misting of the appropriate whisky; and most sublime French foie gras—both goose and duck liver; not to mention a smattering of handcrafted French cheeses. 321 N. Robertson Blvd., L.A., CA 90048;
310-271-0576; fax 310-271-8256.
Fusion 'N Fashion
The first fusion wave hit L.A. early, and now, 18 years later, West Hollywood's Chaya Brasserie is still going strong. Its secret? Dramatic design that includes a bamboo grove in the room's center, silk Fortuny lamps, and '30s Chinese posters. The bar is thick with the fashion and entertainment industry set who shop the boutiques along Robertson Boulevard. Though you can indulge in foie gras and seared ahi, chef Shigefumi Tachibe scores high with Chaya's signature grilled free-range chicken in a silky whole-grain mustard sauce. It comes with a heap of excellent fries. Funny thing, you see the skinniest young women scarfing them down between cell phone calls. Lunch, $50; dinner, $80. 8741 Alden Dr., L.A., CA 90048;
310-859-8833; fax 310-859-9481.
An oasis in the middle of West Hollywood, Elixir Tonics & Teas is a shop and a tea garden. The store stocks rare and wonderful Chinese and green teas, along with their own herbal tonics, and all sorts of tea paraphernalia, including cherry-bark tea caddies and a large selection of teapots. But the real treasure is the Japanese garden out back—a veranda with wicker tables and chairs overlooking a fountain and bamboo grove—where you can linger over a pot of oolong or jasmine pearl. 8612 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90069; 310-657-9300; www.elixir.net.
Los Angeles | Hollywood
The Hollywood-based flagship of Joachim Splichal's restaurant group, Patina, is the closest thing in L.A. to a New York restaurant. In July a "new" Patina was revealed—the extensive redesign lifted ceilings, added a dining patio, and tripled the size of the kitchen, meaning the food will continue to be the focus. It's complicated, saucy French fare. A lobster bisque is rich as sin. Splichal uses black truffles, lobster, and foie gras with abandon. Don't miss the special game menu offered in fall and winter. And take advantage of Patina's knowledgeable sommelier, Christopher Meeske. 5955 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90038; 323-467-1108; fax 323-467-0215.
Fluorescent-Orange Chili Dogs!
Pink's Famous Chili Dogs are more than an acquired taste: You have to have grown up in L.A. to appreciate them fully. Pink's is tops for star spotting, though. Orson Welles was once seen making off with 13—count 'em—chili dogs. Guess that's one way the genius-director kept his impressively portly figure. $ 709 N. La Brea,L.A., CA 90038; 323-931-7954; www.pinkshollywood.com.
To Market, To Market
Hollywood's Sunday morning social event is the farmers' market at Ivar Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard. You'll see everybody—drag queens, old hippies, TV stars, ladies with walnut-sized diamond earrings. Intoxicating and always crowded, it's full of live music, street food, flower vendors—and first-rate produce. Come and admire the cipolline onions and cavolo nero cabbage from ThogmartinFarms, the Chandler strawberries from Harry's Berries, and the organic russet and fingerling potatoes from Zuckerman's Farms. Not to be missed. On Sunday mornings; Ivar Ave. between Hollywood and Sunset Blvds.; 323-463-3171; www.farmernet.com.
Fresh-squeezed orange juice, fluffy pancakes, and the best huevos rancheros in town. Small wonder the food is so good at the Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop: Owner Susan Fine Moore cooked and catered for haute locales before she took over this retro spot. After the early-morning commuters come scruffy would-be screenwriters. Bring a book or the paper so you'll blend in with the crowd leafing through scripts as short-order cooks make the meal. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but breakfast is the thing. Best Western Hollywood Hills Hotel, 6145 Franklin Ave., L.A., CA 90028; 323-467-7678; fax 323-467-2045.
The Oldest Restaurant In Hollywood
Eighty-one years and counting, and Musso & Frank Grill is still a favorite haunt of Hollywood writers, following in the footsteps of F. Scott Fitzgerald and a host of other literary gold diggers. The waiters have all been there for decades and never forget a face. Go for a late breakfast and sit at the counter, where you can watch the cook ladle ivory-colored batter directly onto the griddle to make Musso's floppy flannel cakes. Created by their first (French) chef, Jean LaRue, they are a cross between pancakes and crêpes. Served in a stack of three. "A little butter?" the cook will ask, then he'll dip into the melted gold. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., CA 90028;
323-467-7788; fax 323-467-3360.
Perfect Picnic Fare
Foodies from all over town come to Zankou Chicken—a hole-in-the-wall in a scruffy Hollywood mini-mall—for the irresistible (and greasy) rotisserie chicken. Its golden skin is impregnated with garlic, salt, and lemon, and the meat is moist. A whole bird is just under $7, served with pita, hummus, olives, and pickled turnips—and Zankou's secret sauce. $ 5065 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A., CA 90027;
Los Angeles | Hollywood | Park La Brea | Miracle Mile
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is what they call an encyclopedic visual arts museum. Its permanent collection of 110,000 works includes an exceptional inventory of American art, 18,000 square feet of European paintings and sculptures, contemporary pieces from Matisse to Hockney, five centuries of prints and drawings, a very wide span of Asian art, a decorative assemblage from Arts and Crafts to Venetian glass, 7,000 photographs, and a costumes and textiles department. Concurrently running in one of the four core buildings are special exhibitions. It's Los Angeles' artistic village green on Miracle Mile, drawing one million visitors a year and 118,000 members. Currently it is behind a scheme called Arts Education Initiative to put art back into L.A. schools. From October 22 through February 25 the special exhibition will be Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000, which addresses the relationship between the arts in California and the state's evolving image with over 800 works from painting to video. 5905 Wilshire Blvd.,L.A., CA 90036;
All this and you expect to eat well too? It's possible at LACMA's Pentimento Cafe, the latest of chef Joachim Splichal's museum ventures. Pentimento offers—hear! hear!—a full bar and restaurant in a stylish setting. You get real waiters and a concise menu of Splichal's French-Californian dishes. The pastries alone are worth a look. You can see an exhibit and then relax over a salad and fish or drop in after a free Friday-afternoon jazz concert. Terribly civilized, wouldn't you say?
The Conga Room, a sizzling Latin music and dance club founded by actors Jimmy Smits and Jennifer Lopez, along with comic Paul Rodriguez, just added a tropical-themed restaurant by the name of La Boca (The Mouth). The food—from Eric Basulto, formerly the executive chef at Asia de Cuba in New York—is exuberantly nuevo Latin. Start the evening with a Congarita, the club's racy margarita concocted of Sauza tequila and fresh lime. The good thing is that no matter how much you eat at this Miracle Mile hot spot, you can dance it off upstairs. La Boca del Conga Room, 5364 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., CA 90036;
L.A.'S Bread Basket
Bread in L.A. has never been so good! That's ever since Nancy Silverton, co-owner, pastry chef, and bread baker extraordinaire of the Park La Brea restaurant Campanile, decided to open up a little bakery next door. It wasn't long before people stood in line at La Brea Bakery to buy her Kalamata olive bread, huge rounds topped with caramelized onions, crusty sourdough baguettes, and Provençal fougasse. Not to mention breakfast treats like ginger or rosemary scones, sticky buns and Viennese pastries—and authentic latte. Now there's also a display case filled with wonderful, unusual olives; Spanish chorizo; Italian salami and ham; plus a truly exceptional selection of cheeses. 624 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA 90036;
323-939-6813; fax 323-938-7464.
On the prowl for Provençal ceramics or fabrics, charming café au lait bowls, earthenware tajines for Moroccan cooking, garden tables and saucy little bistro chairs, damask linens, even ticking by the yard? Maison Midi, a housewares boutique in Hollywood, stocks everything French—including olive oil from Nice and authentic herbes de Provence. 148 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA 90036;
323-935-3157; fax 323-935-7293.
Los Angeles | Beverly Hills
More Club Than Hotel
The Peninsula Beverly Hills is the power hotel in Los Angeles. Its ardent fans (68 percent of them repeaters, 40 percent in entertainment or the arts) insist it's simply the best in town. The artfully run 196-room hotel feels exclusive; and while small it delivers grand service. The location (in the downtown Beverly Hills business, shopping, and restaurant triangle near Century City) is ideal, and there is a guests-first attitude. Check-in runs on your clock, not the hotel's—arrive at five in the afternoon and your day isn't up until late afternoon the next day. Book a top suite or villa, and a complimentary Audi A8 is yours for your entire stay. The best accommodations are seven supremely private villa kings ($500, $395 on weekends, upon availability) secreted in gardens just behind the main building. No. 139 has second-floor quiet. Of the 35 grand deluxe rooms in the main building, 341 and 343 have full balconies overlooking the gardens. $395-$3,000. 9882 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212;
800-462-7899, 310-551-2888; fax 310-788-2319.
The Belvedere Restaurant is the exception to the rule that hotel restaurants are a moribund bunch. The chef, Bill Bracken, is constantly pushing himself to come up with new menus and concepts, without ever going off the deep end of California cuisine. The dining room is a serene haven where everyone feels pampered, especially at the Sunday Champagne brunch (vintage French Champagne is poured with abandon). At midday, drop in for afternoon tea served in the luxurious living room.
The Art Of Japanese Cuisine
Before Nobu in New York, London, Las Vegas, and Tokyo, Nobu Matsuhisa had Matsuhisa, his first gourmet Japanese seafood restaurant on Restaurant Row in Beverly Hills. Decorated with painted silhouettes of the knife-wielding Japanese chef, it's nowhere near as glamorous as the New York restaurant. But this is where Matsuhisa, who worked in Peru before coming to Los Angeles, developed the distinctive dishes that have won him the adulation of devotees on three continents. To the austere Japanese palette of flavors he's introduced olive oil, more chiles and garlic, even butter.
Traditional sushi is among the best in town because of the quality of the seafood, but what people really come for is his squid pasta—squid cut to mimic pasta, with asparagus and garlic sauce. Other favorites: new-style sashimi splashed with warm olive and sesame oils; snow crab garnished with chive and black truffle; grilled Santa Barbara prawns with their roe. He has a flair for presentation, decorating grilled eel with the bone tied into a knot and deep fried, or adorning items with edible gold leaf or a dab of osetra caviar. The best seats are at the tempura bar, an eight-seat counter in the middle of the restaurant where everyone is served omakase, or chef's choice. And what a choice it is! $100. 129 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211;
310-659-9639; fax 310-659-0492.
Los Angeles | Beverly Hills
A tony European style has long made the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel Y, opened in 1928, a favorite with the financial world and international visitors. Its location at the foot of Rodeo Drive is incomparable for shopping and dining. And now, with 125 spacious, chic rooms designed by Hirsch Bedner Associates in a $35 million 1998 renovation (for a total of 395 rooms), the Four Seasons-managed hotel has a needed contemporary tweak.
These clean-lined new rooms, most with balconies, are now the best in the house. They're in the Beverly Wing, built in the 1970s and once considered Siberia. Now that's all changed, even if old-timers have a hard time believing it. Rooms 965, 989,1065, 1089, 1165, and 1265 are 424 square feet and quieter because they're on high floors—which also means they have superior views. Of these, 989 and 1089 are desirable end rooms with an extra east-facing window. $385-$7,500. 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212; 800-421-4354, 310-275-5200; fax 310-275-5986.
European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen, a minuscule shop, is run by husband-and-wife team Gary and Andrea Troub, sausage makers who trained in Germany and concoct a series of wonderful fresh, smoked, and dried sausages. There's a great bratwurst, a good German-style pâté made from veal and veal liver, a spunky Bierwurst, and, of course, veal wieners. They have their own smokehouse out back—try the smoked tongue—and the modest butcher counter is stocked with veal for scaloppine, schnitzel, breast, and chops. Everything is cut to order, and they'll throw in some bones for the stockpot too. You can also find dried mushrooms, canned soups, sheet gelatin, German mustards, and wonderful rye breads. 9109 Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212; 310-276-1331.
Power-Lunch Top Spot
No would-be actors here—the waiters are the real thing at The Grill on the Alley. Forget flavored martinis: The barman knows how to make them dry, very dry, with Bombay gin and a whiff of vermouth. At this clubby haven in the midst of Beverly Hills glitz, you eat quintessential Cobb salads, dauntingly large crab Louis, and delicate curls of fried onions and golden French fries heaped high on platters. It's hard to find a better burger, and the double-cut lamb chops and steaks are equally impressive. Lunch, $40; dinner, $60. 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, CA 90210; 310-276-0615; www.thegrill.com.
With restaurants in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Las Vegas, and more, Wolfgang Puck is a bona-fide superstar. When the puckish Austrian chef arrived in town in 1975, fresh from a stint at then-three-star Oustau de Baumanière in Provence, he was a virtual unknown. But as chef at Ma Maison, which was, at the time, the restaurant in Los Angeles, on Melrose Avenue with a king's ransom in Rolls-Royces and Jaguars parked out front and everybody who was anybody seated inside, Puck became the celebrities' favorite chef. And when he left to go out on his own, he quickly became a celebrity in his own right.
The idea was to open a little pizza place with a wood-burning oven that would be called Spago (String). He envisioned red-and-white-checked tablecloths and a casual atmosphere. In rushed wife-to-be Barbara Lazaroff, an aspiring designer, who nixed the tablecloths and gave SPAGO its signature look, which included an exhibition kitchen and lavish floral arrangements.
Puck has always had the talent to intuit exactly what people wanted to eat before they even knew. And at Spago it was gourmet pizzas, most notably his supple round topped with satiny smoked salmon, crème fraîche, and caviar; chopped Chino Farm salad made with gorgeous heirloom vegetables; inventive pasta dishes; and duck in sweet sauce. No ties, no formality, just good—often great—food, a star-studded scene, and energy to burn.
His next restaurant was CHINOIS ON MAIN in Santa Monica, where some 17 years later it's still as hard to get a reservation as it was the first week it opened. The food is Puck's inspired take on East-West cuisine, and although many have tried, no one has successfully been able to imitate Chinois' brilliant mix of European and Asian techniques and ingredients. One caveat: The noise level is extremely high.
GRANITA in Malibu is where the locals (Johnny Carson and Malibu's host of celebrities and industry insiders) come for pizza and a relaxed California-influenced Mediterranean meal. No ocean view here—Granita is set in a shopping center. Chef Jennifer Naylor shows off her knowledge of Italy in weekly regional menus.
Three years ago Puck reinvented himself at SPAGO BEVERLY HILLS. It's all fine and good making pizzas, but the man is, after all, a terrific chef. With Lee Hefter as executive chef, the two brought Spago up several notches. To get the very best of this kitchen, order Hefter's tasting menu—that's where he features hard-to-find ingredients and experiments with new dishes. The best tables are in the courtyard garden shaded by 100-year-old olive trees.
Does everything Puck touches turn to gold? No, he's had a couple of failures, most notably the Santa Monica brew pub Eureka, and the pan-Asian Oba Chine.
But the secret to Puck's success?
1) he truly likes to cook, and 2) he enjoys the action and the people, both qualities that are much rarer than they should be.
Puck Address Book
Spago Hollywood; $90; 1114 Horn Ave., L.A., CA 90069; 310-652-4025
Chinois on Main; $100; 2709 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90405; 310-392-3038
Granita; $100; 23725 W. Malibu Rd., Malibu, CA 90265; 310-456-0488
Spago Beverly Hills; $120; 176 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210; 310-385-0880
Wolfgang Puck Café; $80; 8000 Sunset Blvd., L.A., CA 90046; 323-650-7300. Also in Santa Monica, San Fernando Valley, South Bay, and Orange County; www.wolfgangpuck.com.
Despite the glitz, Beverly Hills is still very much a small town. The feeling persists at Nate 'n Al's Delicatessen, a Jewish deli where the waitresses have been dishing up matzo ball soup and substantial corned beef and pastrami sandwiches for what must be three generations of 90210 zip-coders. At breakfast, the Naugahyde booths fill up with the power-breakfast set. 414 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210; 310-274-0101.
Cheese lovers line up at The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, a posh shop in a 1920s brick building, to buy exquisite Roquefort, fabulously rich triple crèmes, and aged mountain cheeses. Owner Norbert Wabnig stocks nearly 400 varieties (more during the holidays), with a special emphasis on goat and sheep cheeses. He even sells the old-fashioned cheese safes you see in small country stores in France. While waiting, his clients take the opportunity to stock up on other luxury edibles, boutique wines, and local breads. An L.A. treasure. 419 N. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210; 310-278-2855; www.cheesestorebh.com.
L.A.'S Greatest Luxury Hotel Secret
Reopened in 1998 in Beverly Hills' residential heart, L'Ermitage Beverly Hills is a sleekly modern 124-room boutique gem. It has loads of artful minimalist style, cutting-edge technological communications and entertainment features (every room has at least one 40-inch Mitsubishi TV set), and a guest-pleasing 24-hour check-in/check-out policy. The ground-floor lobby, busy living room-style bar, and small restaurant have a trendy but sophisticated appeal, and the fitness facility and rooftop pool are topnotch. The guests come from the upper rungs of the business, entertainment, and dot-com worlds, and what they love most are the rooms decorated in the same light woods, marble, and limestone as the rest of the hotel—with big bathrooms and walk-in closets. The average room measures 675 square feet—spaciousness is one reason the hotel does 80 percent of its food and beverage business in room service. The best digs are on the higher floors on the hotel's north side, facing away from the busy street and with a view of the nearby Hollywood Hills (numbers 705, 715, 805, and 815, end rooms with small balconies). The eight 1,400-square-foot Grand Lux Suites are extremely popular. $418-$3,800.9291 Burton Way, Beverly Hills, CA 90210; 800-323-7500, 310-278-3344; www.LermitageHotel.com.
A buzz of success surrounds the immensely popular Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills , a major hit since opening in 1987. Now that a health spa opened this summer, it is bound to become even more popular. Another favorite with the show-business crowd (60 percent of its clientele), this is where much film-promotion shoptalk goes on (quietly, of course), and it is the home-away-from-home for music moguls and recording stars. Still, this is a Four Seasons establishment, which means seemingly effortless efficiency and unflagging good cheer despite being so busy—room-service breakfast arrives on the dot and the valets have your car waiting at checkout. Just don't expect to stroll around Beverly Hills—the hotel is several long blocks from its center. All 285 rooms in the 16-story hotel have balconies, but don't look for the enormous bathrooms found in many Four Seasons. You have to get a room on the seventh floor or above for a real view (the best ones are in even-numbered rooms in the 04, 06, 10, and 12 series). If closet space is important, the 11-series rooms have lots of it. $370-$4,300. 300 S. Doheny Dr., L.A., CA 90048; 800-332-3442, 310-273-2222; fax 310-859-3824.
For sushi aficionados, Ginza Sushi-ko is the place. Below: Chef-owner Masa Takayama's presence and skill are what make it so special. Though eating here costs $250 or more per person (not including drinks), it's like having a three-star chef cook just for you. Watch every wield of the knife from a seat at the pale-maple bar, which is sanded to a silken finish each night. The fish and seafood laid out next to a huge block of ice is flown in every day from Japan. His wasabi is freshly grated over sharkskin on a copper grater from Kyoto. Just let Takayama orchestrate the meal—toro tartare topped with a scoop of caviar; hamo fish cut to blossom like a chrysanthemum when it's dropped into a bowl of delicate bubbling broth; uni (sea urchin roe) piled into a cone of crisped nori (seaweed); and finally, ravishing sushi. 218 N. Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210; 310-247-8939; fax 310-247-9689.
Bungalow Five, The Beverly Hills Hotel
Few hotels have been as successful at turning parts of themselves into status symbols as The Beverly Hills Hotel Y. The 21 instant-access spaces near the porte-cochere; being seated on the loggia of the Polo Lounge at breakfast; and having the same poolside cabana reserved for you each time. These were, and in some cases still are, the badges of rank. Of course The Beverly Hills has for many years been the hotel most associated with Hollywood.
When it comes to room hierarchy the bungalows have always been the top rung on the ladder, and among them, number Five is primus inter pares. It is the largest bungalow, with four bedrooms, and it is the only one with a pool. In addition it is probably the only hotel room in America with a pool that was reputedly paid for by a guest—former ambassador Walter Annenberg, who (we've heard) stays there.
It's often been remarked that some of the luster was lost when the hotel was renovated in the mid-1990s, and perhaps that's true. What's usually not said is that the renovation was sorely needed, and that it has yielded some of the most luxurious and glamorous double rooms in L.A. for the price. Not a bad trade-off. $325-$4,700. Bungalow Five, $2,800. 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210; 800-283-8885, 310-276-2251; www.thebeverlyhillshotel.com
Los Angeles | Santa Monica
The Paper Trail
Hiromi Katayama, a tiny woman with spiky streaked hair, knows everything there is to know about washi, or Japanese paper. As a mixed-media artist, she became fascinated with papermaking and ended up studying with a master papermaker, the late Mr. Kozo Furuta, in Japan. The tradition there goes back some 1,300 years.
Married to a California painter, Katayama opened her shop, Hiromi Paper International, 11 years ago when she realized how limited the selection of Japanese papers in this country was. Now she makes several trips to Japan each year to search out new sources. Through her shop, Web site, and catalogue, and by working closely with museum conservators, she's trying to preserve the art of traditional papermaking by introducing these marvelously versatile papers to American artists.
One of the rarest papers she carries is Honmino Gami. Made since at least the seventh century, it is ideal for mounting artwork and documents because of its strength and resilience. Hers is by Mrs. Sayoko Furuta, one of the three papermakers that Japan has named a National Living Treasure.
Calligraphists, watercolorists, bookbinders, and artists shuffle through sheets of gorgeous handmade papers made of mulberry stalks, onion skins, hemp, sweet potato vine, and melon stalks. The astounding inventory is all very hard to resist. $1-$100 per sheet. 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station G9, Santa Monica, CA 90404; 310-998-0098; www.hiromipaper.com.
Only in L.A. would the facade of a scruffy Mexican cantina conceal a clubby American restaurant frequented by celebrities and industry insiders. At The Buffalo Club, the line of Jaguars and Porsches at the valet station is, of course, a dead giveaway. The surprise here is that the food is good enough to compete with the scene. That's because the chef is French-trained Patrick Healy, and it looks as if he's having fun cooking American. Consider his crisp fried buffalo wings crackling with hot spices and paired with a salad of sliced tomatoes, onions, and Maytag blue cheese; the definitive Cobb salad; a sumptuous chicken potpie studded with morel mushrooms; Maine lobster and mashed potatoes laced with fresh corn. The patio out back, framed in trellises, is lovely at lunch; and on Thursday nights there's live music. Lunch, $60; dinner, $110. 1520 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90404; 310-450-8600; fax 310-450-8677.
THE BEST SEATS at Drago, the sleek contemporary California-Italian restaurant in Santa Monica, are at tables in the small wine room off the bar. What brings fans back again and again to Celestino Drago's flagship (he also has II Pastaio in Beverly Hills, Celestino in Pasadena, and Celestino Italian Steak House in West Hollywood) is the Drago family's extremely warm welcome. $85. 2628 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90403; 310-828-1585; www.celestinodrago.com.
On The Beach
At Capo, chef-owner Bruce Marder does Italian, versus the casual American fare he cooks at his new place, Brentwood Restaurant and Lounge. Capo is a great-looking spot on the beach, attracting a well-heeled Santa Monica/Malibu crowd dotted with stars. Ever affable, Marder makes everyone feel at home, showing off the basket of heirloom tomatoes from the farmers' market or the eggplant he grew in his garden. Capo is fun—and expensive. You'll eat reasonably well if you stick to simpler things like the burrata (fresh mozzarella with a heart of cream), organic polenta topped with organic baby Swiss chard, the excellent dry-aged New York prime steak, or the roasted quail. Open only for dinner, five nights a week. $100. 1810 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310-394-5550; fax 310-394-1105.
Wednesday mornings are quite the scene at the Santa Monica farmers' market. Along a path that crosses the Third Street Promenade, chefs in whites, kids on rollerblades, easygoing Santa Monica residents with their bikes or kids in strollers—all stop to gawk at stands filled with the most extraordinary produce. One vendor has several kinds of fingerling potatoes, some no bigger than your thumb. Another specializes in culinary herbs and heirloom roses, and yet another offers half a dozen varieties of garlic, shallots, and spring onions. In season there are pea shoots, chive blossoms, purple-tipped asparagus, sweetEnglish peas, and startling gold squash blossoms. This is the sourceof California cuisine. Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Third St. Promenade and Arizona Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90401;
A Touch Of Tuscany
Tucked into the Santa Monica Canyon, Il Ristorante di Giorgio Baldi (Giorgio's for short) is a little bit of the Tuscan coast in Santa Monica. Chef-owner Giorgio Baldi hails from Forte dei Marmi, and his food reflects his roots: pasta fagioli, tonno e fagioli (a classic salad of tuna and beans), and, of course, a good grilled bistecca. He showers pasta, risotto, and a hefty veal chop with silky porcini mushrooms and serves them with fried polenta. And when it comes to fish, you can't go wrong with the branzino (Mediterranean striped bass), grilled on the bone and served with a drizzle of lemon and olive oil. Dinner only, $100. 114 W. Channel Rd., Santa Monica, CA 90402; 310-573-1660; fax 310-573-9007.
Lobster With A View
Before it closed down, The Lobster was a ramshackle little place at one end of the Santa Monica Pier. Now it's an ambitious contemporary American seafood restaurant cantilevered over that modest shack. With a view of the entire Santa Monica Bay and a bustling bar, it's been packed since reopening. Though the classic steamed lobster can't compare to the East Coast version, chef Allyson Thurber's deconstructed lobster cocktail and her lobster salad on fluffy little corn pancakes are delicious. Try the plump crab cakes served with lemon-drenched sour cream and fresh corn salad. If you're planning on conversation, come a little earlier or later than normal to avoid the deafening noise level. $80. 1602 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310-458-9294;
Michael McCarty was a brash young 25 when he and his team of cohorts opened Michael's osome 21 years ago. It had a stunning outdoor garden with retractable canvas roof, cutting-edge contemporary art, and waiters in designer togs instead of tuxes—and it blasted open the stuffy French restaurant mold, ushering in a whole new era of casual dining. Since then, Michael's has hardly changed. There's a New York branch as well. Master schmoozer McCarty works the front of the house. What's to eat? Delicious composed salads made with ingredients found at the Santa Monica farmers' market, California-style pizzas covered in wild mushrooms, excellent fresh seafood. Steaks and lamb chops are always a good bet. Be sure to ask for a table in the garden—one of the most evocative outdoor rooms in L.A. The wine list is encyclopedic, reflecting the wide-ranging tastes of buyer-manager David Rosoff. $120. 1147 Third St., Santa Monica, CA 90403; 310-451-0843; fax 310-394-1830.
Surfer-Chef Catches The Wave
JiRaffe offers California-French cooking from Santa Monica's resident surfer-chef. Chef-owner Raphael Lunetta has a particularly deft hand with foie gras, such as his pistachio-crusted slice cooked to the exact point when rare crosses over to medium rare. He also makes a mean lobster ravioli cloaked in a gorgeous lobster sauce.
Lunetta's menu changes as produce comes in and goes out of season. Muscovy duck breast frequently appears in one guise or another, most recently with red cabbage, poached pear, foie gras, and a port wine reduction. JiRaffe's menu has a terrific pan-roasted New York steak served with a thatch of julienned celery and a subtle whole-grain mustard sauce. For dessert, warm chocolate truffle cake is topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a dark-chocolate cookie in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. $90. 502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310-917-6671; fax 310-917-6677.
The handful of tables at Remi, set on the edge of Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, offers some of the best people-watching (as opposed to star-watching) in Los Angeles. This 11-year-old Italian eatery designed by Adam Tihany (an interior detail) also happens to have reliably good contemporary Italian cooking with a Venetian slant. Carpaccio is garnished with a touch of mustard vinaigrette, baby arugula, and shaved Parmesan. Salads are fresh and inviting, particularly the raw artichoke version drenched in lemon. Pastas are all northern restraint: fusilli tossed with wilted radicchio, for example. There's just one risotto a night, but a very good one, and an elegant version of calf's liver alla Veneziana. And the tiramisu is the real thing. $80. 1451 Third St. Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310-393-6545;
Cream Of The (New Restaurant) Crop
Just getting its sea legs, Mélisse is the pick of the crop of restaurants that opened in the past year. Chef-owner Josiah Citrin (right) learned the trade under Joachim Splichal at Patina and later opened JiRaffe with childhood friend and chef Raphael Lunetta—and he's pulling out all the stops here. In addition to the regular menu he offers a vegetarian menu, tasting menu, and an extravagant Carte Blanche chef's menu. So far so good. Lunch (three days a week), $60; dinner, $120. 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310-395-0881; www.melisse.com.
A Rockin' Restaurant
Set in the Frank Gehry-designed Edgemar Complex, the restaurant Röckenwagner rises to the challenge with an ingenious, dreamy interior that combines witty references to the Black Forest with cutting-edge style. Chef-owner Hans Röckenwagner grew up in the Black Forest area, after all, but once he started cooking in Los Angeles he became a passionate advocate of California cuisine in all its guises. Asian touches are threaded throughout his menu, but Röckenwagner classics like crab soufflé with lobster butter still have fans excited. His white-asparagus extravaganza is something to look forward to every spring, when you can order an entire pound of imported white asparagus with the traditional fixings. This year he built himself a special chef's table where he will create a menu for just six people. It is a chance to show off not only his cooking, but to use all the eccentric and wonderful tableware he has collected over the years. $90. 2435 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90405; 310-399-6504;
Over a quarter of a century old—which is positively ancient by L.A. terms—Valentino o has settled in gracefully. It's still the destination restaurant of choice for anyone who loves Italian wines. Owner Piero Selvaggio has one of the great Italian wine cellars and is always up-to-date with cutting-edge producers. No matter how much you know, he can always pull out a bottle of something you have never seen before. The trick with eating well at Valentino is to order the chef's menu, and let Angelo Auriana design a series of small courses for the table. Don't even look at the regular menu. Fridays the kitchen gets in fish from Italy—tender cuttlefish, fresh sardines, branzino (striped bass), and more, along with fresh sheep's-milk ricotta and other authentic ingredients. Try an Italian dessert wine, perhaps a vin santoor a Malvasia di Lipari. Open for lunch ($100) only on Fridays, but it is a great way to wile away an afternoon. Dinner, $100. 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405; 310-829-4313; www.welovewine.com.
"It gives the print a slightly aged look," says Kathryn Ireland of the hemp material she uses in all her textile designs, which are hand-printed in Santa Barbara. Fabrics come in three weights, and Ireland maintains the same palette from season to season so it is easy to add to a room. Plus, if Ireland upholsters or covers a piece of furniture, she gives the client the decorator price. Represented by Loom Italia U.S.A.: 1118 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90403; 310-917-1598; fax 310-393-0672.
Los Angeles | Santa Monica | Venice | Calabas
Are You Game?
A stone-and-timber hunting lodge high in the mountains, Saddle Peak Lodge is only a 20-minute drive from Santa Monica. Fires glow in the huge stone fireplaces. A more romantic setting is hard to imagine. And while you're there, you can eat game and drink good red Bordeaux and California Cabernets. Chef Alex Scrimgeour has given the once-staid menu a much needed facelift. Pass on the ostrich and go for something more classic. $120. 419 Cold Canyon Rd., Calabasas, CA 91302; 818-222-3888;
The Best Beach Hotel
Santa Monica is about being at the beach. Of all the hotels now strung along the shore, Shutters On The Beach Y, which has been there the longest, still does it best. The lobby has a sand-in-your-slip-ons elegance: leather chairs nicely worn in, deep sofas, a fireplace, and a white wooden ceiling that looks as if it could have come from a '20s beach bungalow. The rooms, on the other hand, are up-to-date plush, with Frette linens, thick duvets, and (a recent innovation) a rack of good splits of California wine (why hasn't anyone thought of that before?). And if you actually want to dip your toe in the ocean or in the whirl of beach fitness culture, it's right outside the door. $355-$3,000. 1 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405;
Ivy at the Shore, the seaside cousin of West Hollywood's Ivy, is noted for its lively bar scene. Decorated in a nautical theme, Ivy at the Shore boasts a garden patio framed with jasmine, banana plants, and palms that looks out onto Ocean Boulevard. The quietest tables are the ones in a back courtyard. Sunday brunch may be the best meal here. Brunch, $60; dinner, $80. 1541 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310-393-3113;
French By Way Of Venice
Joe Miller turns out consistently excellent French-inspired cooking from a tiny Venice kitchen. Joe's Restaurant, in fact, is one of the hardest-to-get reservations in town. It isn't very big, and its fans are dedicated and numerous. The good news is that Joe's has just expanded—it now has a bigger kitchen and more tables. The format is still the same though: two four-course prix fixe menus every night (at $35 or $45), plus an à la carte menu ($100) with some of the same dishes. 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291; 310-399-5811.
Los Angeles | Pasadena
Huge oil paintings, ceramics, eruptions of flowers, burnished mahogany, and studded leather upholstery are the signatures of The Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel & Spa , Huge oil paintings, ceramics, eruptions of flowers, burnished mahogany, and studded leather upholstery are the signatures of The Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel & Spa , a 392-room four-star. Opened in 1914, this palace-sized property in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains became an instant hit with the rich and the powerful. Undoubtedly the grandest hotel between downtown Los Angeles and Mexico, it is an antidote to Beverly Hills and the west-side sort of ritz. The Huntington is for people who want a resort in a garden (23 acres) in a very expensive suburb.
The hotel's real suites—as opposed to the Club variety on the seventh and eighth floors—are its cottages. These are mini homes in anything from Tudor to Spanish that almost merge into the grand villas and thick foliage of Pasadena's Oak Knoll district. Popular with the neighborhood as well as the guests is a 12,000-square-foot full-service spa with a very suave and clubby gents' section, a gleaming wooden bar from old America, the full English tea, and a very popular Sunday brunch at The Terrace Restaurant. $310-$2,500. 1401 Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena, CA 91106; 800-241-3333, 626-568-3900; www.ritzcarlton.com.
The Getty Center has better architecture by far, but the Norton Simon Museum wins hands down when it comes to paintings. The highlight of the collection, amassed by business mogul Simon, are the Impressionist and early Modernist works, but there's also a solid collection of old masters and another of sculpture from India and Southeast Asia. A secondary bonus for visitors: no lines, no reservations, no trams—the hurdles you have to jump to reach the Getty. 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91105; 626-449-6840;
A True Trattoria
Trattoria Tre Venezie specializes in the cuisine of the three regions in northern Italy with ancient links to Venice—the Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Trentino-Alto Adige. The first is famous for its seafood and pasta dishes, the second has a definite Austrian-Hungarian influence in its cooking, and the third favors hearty mountain cuisine. Sound interesting? It is. Here, jota, a soup of beans and sauerkraut from Trieste, sits side by side on the menu with semolina dumplings stuffed with prunes, or ravioli stuffed with ricotta and topped with julienned beets. And for dessert there's homemade apple strudel. $80. 119 W. Green St., Pasadena, CA 91105; 626-795-4455.
Los Angeles | Pasadena | Monterey Park | Burbank | Studio City
A Ramble Through The Gamble
Brothers Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene were Arts and Crafts Movement architects who left their mark on California—nowhere more firmly than in Pasadena. There are at least 15 Greene-and-Greene houses surviving whole or in part in the city. Many of them are in a cluster overlooking the Arroyo Seco and the Rose Bowl. All but one are still in private ownership, but that one is the most intact example of them all: the Gamble House, built in 1908 for David B. Gamble of Procter & Gamble. In 1966 it was donated by the family to the joint care of Pasadena City and the University of Southern California. The house features wide terraces, sleeping porches, and an emphasis on cross ventilation. The place is a celebration of smooth, round-edged wood, rubbed to a satin finish. The joinery is highly articulated: Every peg and wedge, every vent and spout, is fitted into the design statement. The Greenes made most of the furniture. Compulsory for those interested in architecture, engineering, and design. Open to the public from Thursday through Sunday, midday to 3 p.m. There is a $1.50 leaflet that describes a walking tour of the other Greene and Greenes. $ 4 Westmoreland Pl., Pasadena, CA 91103; 626-793-3334; www.gamblehouse.org.
Crazy For Cookbooks
Cooks, scholars, and enthusiastic epicures rejoice! Cook Books by Janet Jarvits, Bookseller, in downtown Burbank, boasts more than 15,000 used, rare, and out-of-print books on cooking, food, and wine. You will find well-thumbed food histories, kitschy cookbooks, and specialized tomes on Viennese pastry, say. Jarvits can turn up a volume to suit the most arcane interests. Not to mention her incredible Junior League collection. 321 N. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank, CA 91502; 818-848-4630;
The Hunan Condition
For an outstanding Chinese meal, head east on the I-10 Freeway (about 15 minutes past downtown) to Shiang Garden in Monterey Park. At this small (by Monterey Park standards, where some Cantonese seafood places are as big as football fields and waiters wear walkie-talkies), cheerful restaurant, hot tea is followed by an array of enticing little dishes: silvery dried fish with slivered red and green chiles, grass-green soybean pods, pickled cucumber, and slender bamboo shoots in a reddish chile sauce. Obligatory, too, is "dual delight," steamed buns slit to open like a book and layered with a sheet of shatteringly crisp fried bean curd and a slice of honey-sweetened, house-cured ham. Shiitake mushroom caps are cloaked in a subtly nuanced brown sauce strewn with a confetti of carrots, chiles, and scallions. But the most popular dish must be the hot noodles, tossed at the table with finely ground peanuts, pork, and musky herbs. Lunch, $15; dinner, $30. $ 111 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, CA 91754; 626-458-4508; fax 626-458-9545.
The state's first drive-in burger joint was In-N-Out, founded in 1948 on the main road between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. The small chain with well over 100 locations is still home to the best fast-food burger around. No tacos, no breakfast, no chicken sandwiches, just straightforward burgers or cheeseburgers and French fries made from hand-peeled potatoes. Insiders know to order the 4 x 4 (four beef patties, four layers of cheese) and other variations not listed on the menu. "Animal style"? You don't want to know. Call the 800 number from the freeway to be expertly directed to the nearest In-N-Out. $ 800-786-1000.
A Saucy French Bistro
Pinot Bistro—the first, and still the best, of Joachim Splichal's Patina spin-offs—is strategically situated in Studio City. At lunch, it gets the studio crowd; at dinner, an upscale Valley crowd. High marks for its authentic look, great bar and wine list, and stick-to-your-ribs dishes: endive salad with Roquefort and walnuts, roast chicken, New York steak with mashed potatoes. $100. 12969 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604; 818-990-0500;
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