Winter Restaurants 2002 

Part 3

Wednesday, Feb 6 2002

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GOLD: The Palm Steakhouse is, of course, a spinoff of Manhattan's Second Avenue Palm, a bastion of testosterone and big red meat, where big shots can feel even more like big shots when they saw into charred, oblong blobs of New York strip steak, purpling slabs of protein so filled with juice and smoke and flavor that they almost feel alive. The Palm's cheesecake, a cracked, sunken thing with the pure, tart essence of soured milk, is as perfect a creation as you will find on this Earth. 9001 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 550-8811.

HUNEVEN: The most recent great steak I had was the dry-aged New York with the bone in at Jar. 8225 Beverly Blvd.; (323) 655-6566.


HUNEVEN: Nobody cooks game like Lee Hefter at Spago. I have fond memories of roasted Scottish-shot woodcock peppered with real birdshot and served with chestnut purée and white and red cabbages. Also unforgettable: roasted venison served with sweet potato puree, baby turnips and cranberry-apple-ginger chutney, not to mention his Scottish-shot wild pheasant served with acorn squash risotto and crunchy black trumpet mushrooms. Josie LaBalch, after a long tenure at the game-loving Saddlepeak Lodge, also devotes much of her new menu at Restaurant Josie to game. Her wild boar is especially sweet on a bed of creamy flageolet beans. Though farm-raised, the venison -- a tenderloin and a chop served in tandem -- has a good, clear, lean flavor and comes with wild rice and green beans and an excellently poached pear. Spago Beverly Hills, 176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 385-0880. Restaurant Josie, 2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 581-9888.

GOLD: It's all about the wild boar at Palm Thai Restaurant, where funky, chewy sheets of the stuff are sautéed with coconut milk and galangal, flavored with ginger, lashed with green peppercorns still on the branch, which have less a heat than a strong, perfumed pungency that numbs out your palate like a punch to the chops. One caveat: Boar is not a meat for people who prize tenderness above all other virtues. 5273 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (213) 462-5073.


HUNEVEN: Spark in Studio City is the child of Alto Palato and Louise's -- in other words, a slightly slick Cal-Italian café with flickerings of real soul. From the white oak-fueled rotisserie comes a redoubtable porchetta -- an herb- and pepper-crusted pork leg that's been soaked in garlic, herbs, fennel, whole black peppercorns and olive oil, then roasted. A massive portion comes with mostarda, a sweet and spicy candied garnish of cherries, apples and pears; roasted potatoes and caramelized onions. I usually split it with a friend. For a completely different, but equally transcendent, pork experience, there's the pan con lechon sandwich at the ever-bustling Porto's Bakery in Glendale. The Cuban bread is doused with mojo de ajo and layered with slices of roast lechon -- the veal of pork -- then flattened in a Cuban sandwich press to infuse the pork and garlic flavors into every atom of the sandwich. Spark Woodfire Cooking, 11801 Ventura Blvd. Studio City; (818) 623-8883. Porto's Bakery, 315 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; (818) 956-5996.


HUNEVEN: Mr. Cecil's meaty spice-rubbed spare ribs and beef ribs are delicious if a bit pricey at his sunny little barbecue hut on Pico. Mr. Cecil's California Ribs, 12244 Pico Blvd., W.L.A.; (310) 442-1550.

GOLD: When I once made the mistake of touting a rib stand that wasn't Phillip's, the paper practically had to hire another worker to handle the stacks of angry mail. Phillip's spareribs are crisp and juicy, not too lean, and the flashlight-size beef ribs, beefy as rib roasts, are tasty even without the sweet, extra-hot sauce. When the wind is right, the takeout line bastes in a pungent haze of wood smoke. These might be the only ribs in Los Angeles that can compete on equal terms with the best from Oakland or Tuscaloosa. 4307 Leimert Blvd.; (213) 292-7613.


GOLD: In an Afghan mini-mall tucked behind a Burger King, Afghan House seems to be the last word in Afghanistan's complex cuisine, from lamb kebabs to elaborate pilafs, the leek dumplings called aushak to the translucent, Pringles-crisp green-onion pancakes called bulani kutchalu. Mantu, which is the big dish here, may be thematically identical to the kind of floppy dumplings you find all over Asia, but these huge, supple lamb dumplings have a richness, a simple luxuriousness of their own. 8516 Reseda Blvd., Northridge; (818) 709-6233.

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