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Counter Intelligence 

Tuesday, Oct 9 2007
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Downtown L.A./Chinatown/Westlake

Ebisu How many izakaya are there in Los Angeles? How many grains of sand lie upon Zuma Beach? Ebisu, named after the nightlife-intensive Tokyo neighborhood, is the newest restaurant from the people behind the splendid noodle shop Daikokuya, which introduced Little Tokyo to the pork-rich tonkotsu style of ramen. Like Daikokuya, Ebisu, fitted into the space that used to house the local Mandarin Deli, is nostalgically themed — suburban postwar, is my guess, with big fish on the walls, leatherette booths and a scattering of exotica that would look at home on the jacket of a Martin Denny album. For some reason, I kept thinking of late-’60s Marina del Rey, although I’m sure the designer is riffing on some classic Asagaya joint that the regulars could reference in a second. Unlike the rest of the izakaya in town at the moment, Ebisu is both huge and easy to get into on a weekend night, possibly because its menu of traditional Japanese appetizers, noodle soups and teriyaki dinners hews a little too close to the Japanese food you could actually taste in Little Tokyo in the Summer of Love, and possibly because it is too slick to appeal to the fans of Haru Ulala next door. 356 E. Second St., Little Tokyo, (213) 613-1644. Open daily 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5 p.m.–1 a.m. Beer, wine. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Japanese. JG ILNK

ADCB?Kagaya Shabu shabu joints have proliferated like rabbits in the last couple of years. And to tell the truth, the shabu shabu ritual is pretty basic: a slice of prime meat swished through bubbling broth for a second or two, just until the pink becomes frosted with white. But if you’ve done it right — and if the quality of the ingredients is as high as it is at Little Tokyo’s superb (and expensive) Kagaya — the texture is extraordinary, almost liquid, and the concentrated, sourish flavor of really good beef becomes vivid. 418 E. Second St., dwntwn., (213) 617-1016. Mon.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Wine, beer, sake. Lot parking. DC, MC, V. $38 fixed price. Japanese. JG J

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Liberty Grill The Liberty Grill smells like money, or at least as much like money as you can expect from a restaurant that serves deep-fried mac-’n’-cheese balls. The bronze plaques boasting a roster of investors in the renovated building are a surer sign of the downtown elite than anything published by a magazine, and the patriotic gewgaws on the walls would make a senator proud. This is probably the last place you’d expect from wacky avant-gardist Fred Eric, who put the place together (Twain Schreiber is the chef of record), and Eric’s skill at putting together a menu is more in evidence here than his love for bizarre details. The wine list is thick with expensive California Cabernets; the chili is thick and chunky; the almond-smoked rib-eye steak is thick and rare. During basketball season, you can expect that a table at the Staples-adjacent restaurant will be only slightly easier to obtain than courtside seats at a Lakers game. 1037 S. Flower St., L.A., (213) 746-3400. Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 4–10 p.m., Sun. 4–9 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, MC, V. American. JG ILN

Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park

AB?Blair’s Blair’s is an adult restaurant for people who don’t really consider themselves to be grown-ups even into their late 40s, a civilized refuge of caesar salads and crab cakes and shrimp cocktails that are served with a side of deviled eggs, a sort of roadhouse where the pepper steak comes with oodles of farmers-market vegetables, the salmon comes with lentils, and the roster of artisanal beers is nearly as long as the wine list. I would be surprised if anybody’s parents ate this well at Rotary Club meetings. 2903 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 660-1882. Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5–11 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. $16–$32. New American. JG ILNK

Vermont Anchoring the commercial corridor of Vermont Avenue north of Sunset, Vermont is like a stalwart, reliable friend. The owners often wander through the dining room, with its palmettos and pillars and gentle lighting, and they always like to chat. You may not be bowled over by anything you eat, but you’ll be back. Plus, the stylish bar is one of the neighborhood’s few upscale spots for cocktails. 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 661-6163. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner 5:30–10:30 p.m. (until 11:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat.). Full bar. Parking in rear. AE, MC, V. Entrées $13–$18. California. MH H

Hollywood/Melrose/La Brea/Fairfax

Beard Papa Sweets Café You have undoubtedly had other cream puffs in your day — damp, irregular spheroids of pastry split and filled with shelf-stabilized whipped cream — but the Beard Papa model is a different object altogether: crunchy where the standard cream puff tends to be elastic, round where the others are squat, injected to order with amplified doughnut custard flecked with tiny seeds, and dusted with powdered sugar. There is a distinct aftertaste of browned pie crust in a Papa puff where you usually encounter a vague, sweet smack. But as with a proper bagel, there is a tempered chaw under its thin, friable skin, and a subtly rich jolt of egginess that seems to rush straight to the pleasure center of the brain. Papa puffs are undoubtedly delivery systems for astronomical quantities of saturated fat, but the only thing it is possible to do after inhaling one is to immediately start in on another, until the box is empty, your stomach is full, and your sugar crash can be felt clear to the other side of the Tehachapis. If Papa puffs were any more addictive, they would be illegal in 38 states, the bearded, pipe-smoking mascot would be as suggestive as the Zig-Zag man, and puff-dumping codicils would be the subject of G7 trade negotiation. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., No. 153, Hlywd., (323) 462-6100 (among many other locations). Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Mall parking. MC, V. JG ¢b

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