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Evan Kleiman is probably the face of food in Los Angeles, host of KCRW’s Good Food (to which I contribute), founder of the local Slow Food movement, and the co-author of many well-regarded Italian cookbooks. She’s the one with the Webcam crew following her through the farmers market, the judge at the Kugel Kookoff, the woman in front of you in the line at the taco truck. So it can be easy to underestimate the importance of her restaurant Angeli, which, after all, is the place that may have delivered your last pizza, at least if you are lucky enough to live in its delivery area. But Angeli crystallized the affinity of Angelenos for casual Italian cooking — the spaghetti alla checca, garlicky roast chicken and minimally garnished pizza that a Tuscan teenager might eat for dinner at the joint down the block on the nights his mother didn’t feel like turning on the stove, but which was essentially unobtainable to those of us on this side of the sea. In other words, it’s the real thing. 7274 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 936-9086, angelicaffe.com. Lunch Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Thurs. & Sun., 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m. Beer, wine. Takeout. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V.
There are two kinds of serious chefs in Italy: those who advance the limits of the medium by introducing new flavors and techniques to the classic dishes of their regions, and those who find purpose in menus that may not change for decades. Gino Angelini is clearly the second of these, a creative chef who likes to mark dishes as his own. His biggest influence locally has been with the alta cucina at restaurants like Rex, Vincenti and the late La Terza. But his osteria has always been a restaurant where people yearned to be, a cramped, happy dining room with the vibe of a busy city trattoria in Arezzo or Livorno: lunch crowds fueled with pasta al limone or a plate of tripe; oxtails served on Thursday nights; respectable versions of Roman trattoria dishes like spaghetti carbonara and pollo alla diavola coexisting with the Tuscan classics. This may not be the most serious kitchen Angelini has ever run, but sometimes you are in the mood for artistry, and sometimes you just want to have supper. 7313 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 297-0070, angeliniosteria.com. Lunch Tues.-Fri., noon-2:30 p.m., dinner Tues.-Sun., 5:30-10:30 p.m. Beer, wine. Takeout. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted.
Animal is probably the first restaurant to raise Boy Food to the level of a genuine cuisine — a farmers market–intensive version of Boy Food, but animated by the pretty hardcore personal vision of chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook. The operating principle at Animal is neither the aggressive clams-in-ham philosophy of so much avant-garde cooking nor the Rabelaisian head-to-tail approach, but pleasure, whether it be pork belly with kimchi, fried quail with grits, the Hawaiian diner classic loco moco dressed up with seared foie gras, or even the plate of salty fried hominy, seasoned simply with a squirt of lime. The restaurant is famously devoted to pork in all of its various manifestations — pancetta, head cheese, chorizo, ears, bellies, ribs and especially bacon, which appears everywhere on the short, seasonal menu, up to and including a chocolate dessert. There is a nice list of manly wines available by the bottle, the glass and the half-bottle carafe. But Animal is not quite the place to bring your vegan friends: a note on the menu, strictly enforced, states plainly: “Changes and modifications politely declined.’’ 435 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 782-9225, animalrestaurant.com. Sun.-Thurs., 6-11 p.m., Fri-Sat., 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Valet. All major credit cards accepted.
Everybody loves a proper brasserie, whether authentically Alsatian or not: ceilings stained yellow with nicotine, absurd decor or belle époque flourishes, and menus rich in solid, well-prepared versions of beef stew, sole meunière and gooey, cheesy onion soup. There may be grand bottles, but almost everybody drinks sturdy house wines served in carafes. The priciest thing on the menu will always be a communal platter of cold fruits de mer, stocked at a minimum with clams, mussels, iced prawns and a few kinds of oysters. And in Los Angeles, Anisette is as proper as brasseries get, absinthe bottles rising to heaven behind the zinc bar, sprawling through an awkwardly narrow space that spent most of its life as a bank. Chef Alain Giraud’s grounding in French haute cuisine includes decades behind the range in Parisian three-stars, a long stint as the chef de cuisine at Citrus and a term as the founding chef at Bastide. But at Anisette, Giraud’s cooking is less a three-star fantasy than regular French cooking as designed by an amazingly skilled French chef: steak-frites and salad Niçoise and skillfully made terrines, prepared with superb California produce and served by Santa Monica waiters who occasionally seem practiced at French diffidence. Desserts are generally things like floating island, chocolate mousse and profiteroles. One goes to Anisette not to experience the new and revolutionary; one goes to be fed. 225 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-3200, anisettebrasserie.com. Mon.-Thurs., 7:30 a.m.-mid., Fri., 7:30 a.m.-1 a.m., Sat., 8 a.m.-1 a.m., Sun., 8 a.m.-mid. Full bar. Nearby city lot parking on Second Street free for two hours. AE, MC, V.