Winter Restaurants 2002
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31. SOMETIMES, ONLY STEAK WILL DO.
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.
32. ARE YOU GAME?
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.
33. WHERE DO I GO FOR THE OTHER WHITE MEAT?
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.
34. WHERE SHOULD I GO FOR BARBECUE?
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.
35. MEANWHILE, FOR OUR MUSLIM FRIENDS . . .
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.
HUNEVEN: I go to Shan in Little India for Hyderabadi- and Pakistani-style food as often as I can (it's far, but freeway accessible). There's a certain tang of sear and smoke in virtually all the dishes that hooks me in. Try the lemon daal with blackened chiles floating lazily on its surface, and the dense, long-cooked bhindi masala (stewed okra). The chicken tikka masala is as rich and palatable as ice cream. All of the meat is halal. And, oh, did I say Shan is famous for its biryanis? 18621 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia; (562) 865-3838.
36. I'VE HEARD ABOUT GINZA SUSHIKO -- AND ITS EXTREME PRICES. IS IT WORTH IT?
GOLD: In the strictest sense, the one put forth by philosopher Peter Singer, the answer would have to be no. For the several hundred dollars dinner for two at Ginza Sushiko will cost, you could make a donation to Oxfam or something that would feed an entire African village for a week. But aesthetically, it's a tougher call. If you would enjoy having the creativity and resources of a Michelin three-star-level restaurant focused on the needs of just eight diners, if you take pleasure in exquisite seasonality fixed with a level of detail that Wordsworth or Fragonard could only dream of, Sushiko might be your thing. Nowhere else will you taste such fugu, such kohada, such hamo, such fragrant Japanese herbs. Nowhere else does white miso take on such piquancy, or shabu shabu of foie gras such depth. Beauty sometimes costs. And in this case, it costs a lot. 218 Via Rodeo, N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 247-8939.
MY FRIEND FROM PARIS INSISTS ON EATING SOMEPLACE CLOSE TO HER HOTEL -- ON ZEE STRIP, OF COURSE. IS THERE ANYPLACE GOOD AT SUNSET PLAZA? (BUT, OF COURSE, SHE WANTS TO SHOP AFTERWARD.)
GOLD: Conventional wisdom has it that, of Sunset Plaza's half-dozen sidewalk cafés, Café Med has the best food, Chin Chin is the cheapest, and Le Petit Four is the chicest. Still, the most Euro-glam crowd is at Clafoutis -- cell phones glued to its collective ear, hunkered over endless glasses of Mumm's and barely touched green salads. At Clafoutis, one glass of Orangina easily stretches into an hour or two of hedonistic people-watching. Men tend to have complicated hair; women, elaborately constructed garments that display cleavage in ways not technically feasible without some pretty heavy engineering. Café Med, 8615 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood: (310) 652-0455; Chin Chin, 8618 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 652-1818. Clafoutis & Le Petit Four, 8630 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 659-5233.Le Petit Four, 8654 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 652-3863.
HUNEVEN: Having to walk up to one of the plaza's many outdoor cafés to be ogled and gawked at by all the Eurotourists eating and smoking and wasting their lives over paté seems like some futile, gratuitous form of hazing to me. Still, when I'm inclined to waste a few hours of my own life ogling passersby, I like to eat lunch at Clafoutis, the only restaurant in town named for a pudding; the omelets are quite passable, and the apricot tarts as juicy and delicious as they look. It's Le Petit Four for dinner, where the Cal-French food is surprisingly, reliably good considering that they could probably serve gruel and people would still go there for the streetside scenery. Clafoutis & Le Petit Four, see above.
38. WHERE DO I GO AFTER THE MUSIC CENTER?
GOLD: If you are interested in hanging with the conductor, the soloist and just possibly Alan Rich, you'll probably want to head toward the Pacific Dining Car, which serves profoundly aged steaks at prices that some of the rest of us associate more with used cars than with bloody remnants of steer. The cognoscenti among us try to wait until 11 p.m., when the reasonably priced breakfast menu goes into effect -- I'm a sucker for the gravy-drenched roast-beef hash -- but unless you've just sat through all five hours of Götterdmmerung, that may not be an option.
Otherwise, there's always Chinatown. Hidden away in an alley behind Phoenix Bakery is Happy Valley, which harbors everything from king crabs to frogs in its live tanks, and fries up a mean sautéed flounder with crispy skeleton. Impress your friends by ordering the delicious oyster-roast pork hot pot, which is listed only on an untranslated page of the menu. Pacific Dining Car, 1310 W. Sixth St.; (213) 483-6000. Happy Valley, 407 Bamboo Lane; (213) 617-3662.
39. WHERE CAN I TAKE GRANDMA TO SUNDAY BRUNCH BY THE SEA?
HUNEVEN: I personally avoid brunches -- all that food and alcohol so early in the day, who needs it? I especially despise buffet brunches, which are food troughs with the thinnest veneer of civilization to them. But if Granny wants brunch, she should have it. Humor her at One Pico, in the tastefully luxurious Shutters by the Sea, where you gaze out to sea over a plate of lemon ricotta pancakes (served with berries and apple-smoked bacon) or turkey hash with wilted spinach and poached (or fried) eggs. The favorite bruncheon -- yes, that's what they call it -- item is a warm lobster and mango salad in a radicchio cup with tarragon vinaigrette. Café del Rey in Marina del Rey has good views of parked sailboats and the Pacific, and a popular riff on eggs Benedict called eggs Chesapeake -- poached eggs in hollandaise over crab cakes. Or, try the lobster omelet, or steak and eggs with the restaurant's mushroom sauce. For a funkier, less corporate (and less seaside) experience, take her to James Beach for Coast Toast -- unabashedly rich French toast soaked in eggs, Gran Marnier, cream and butter -- the French toast they eat up in heaven, as my sister says. Also, try the huevos rancheros and the chile relleno. You don't have an ocean view, but you can walk off your Absolut pepper bloody marys afterward on the Venice Boardwalk. One Pico in Shutters on the Beach Hotel, 1 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 587-1717. Café del Rey, 4451 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey; (310) 823-6395. James Beach, 60 N. Venice Blvd., Venice; (310) 823-5396.
40. I'M INTO CHOCOLATE, I MEAN REALLY REALLY INTO CHOCOLATE.
HUNEVEN: Then you must become thoroughly personally acquainted with Sherry Yard's desserts and candies at Spago. Nobody understands both the chemistry and taste of chocolate better, as is evidenced in her perfect, shiny, all-purpose "ten year chocolate sauce" -- so-named because it took her 10 years to perfect it. One of her latest inspirations is to glaze a scoop of her profoundly bittersweet chocolate sorbet with a ginger sauce. Who knew chocolate and ginger were so good together? She's always devising lavish new chocolate desserts, from her chocolate cake with four sauces, to mousse-filled domes. (Two years ago, she made a mousse-filled skyscraper out of bittersweet chocolate -- you had to demolish it to eat it. Eerily enough, she'd named it the Manhattan . . .) Since most of us can't live at Spago, it's important to know about the chocolate sorbet at Alto Palato, the unbelievably good chocolate biscotti at EuroPane (a dark biscuit imbedded with shards of melting dark chocolate), and Axe's brownie pudding -- a substance so dark and rich, it's virtually indistinguishable from pure chocolate frosting. Curiously -- and I didn't believe it until I tried it -- if you want a decent chocolate sheet cake for a party, Solley's Deli in Sherman Oaks is the place to go. Spago Beverly Hills, 176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 385-0880. Alto Palato, 755 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 657-9271. EuroPane, 950 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 577-1828. Axe, 1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; (310) 664-9787. Solley's Deli, 4578 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 905-5774.
41. I KNOW THAT HIGH-END CHEFS HAVE THEIR OWN PURVEYORS AND PERSONAL FARMERS, BUT WHERE CAN I ENJOY GOOD SEASONAL COOKING WITHOUT HAVING TO DRESS UP OR SPEND A FORTUNE? WHAT MID-RANGE CHEFS KNOW THEIR SEASONS?
HUNEVEN: At Ammo on Highland, the food often tastes as if it's been made by a terrific home cook with a great home garden. Indeed, chef-owner Amy Goldenberg brings a Northern Californian sensibility to her kitchen -- her Cal-Med cooking makes use of seasonal ingredients and mostly organic farmers-market produce. Try her purée of white-corn soup with a dollop of pesto or the never-a-dull-bite French lentil salad with roasted beets, chives, arugula, crunchy pepitas and just enough goat cheese. Penne with roasted red and yellow tomatoes and fresh mozzarella doesn't sound exciting, but you can taste the hot sun in the sweet tomatoes, the fresh sweet milk in the cheese. At Pace, in Laurel Canyon, chef owner Sandy Gendel also reveals a fondness for all things fresh, organic and flavorful. A veteran of Napa Valley's Table 29 and Berkeley's Chez Panisse, Gendel makes a big-souled bolognese sauce served on al dente, sauce-grabbing pasta and terrific pizzas with mythic names (the Mystic has wild mushrooms and a tangle of bitter greens; the Electra has shrimp, red onion, tomato and fresh mozzarella). His most popular dinner entrée -- deservedly so -- is planked salmon served with crunchy risotto cakes and bitter baby broccoli. Ammo, 1155 N. Highland Ave.; (323) 871-2666. Pace, 2100 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 654-8583.
42. I'M LOOKING FOR NUEVO LATINO CUISINE. WHO PREPARES IT IN LOS ANGELES?
HUNEVEN: The only person really working the Nuevo Latino angle -- combining Latin American ingredients with classical French preparations -- here in Los Angeles is Xiomara Ardolina, at her Pasadena restaurant, Xiomara. (In this case, we should probably call it Nueva Latina.) Try fresh sea bass on a spicy corn guizo (stew) or pork hash made from shredded, marinated leg of pork, fried yuca, ripe and green plantains, and the classic Cuban garlic sauce mojo de ajo. It's served with black-bean sauce. For dessert, the chocolate bread pudding soufflé is a must -- remember to order it at the beginning of the meal; it takes 45 minutes. And don't forget the mojitos, the famous Cuban rum cocktail made with fresh cane juice squeezed right at the bar. The food at Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger's Ciudad restaurant downtown is more Pan-American or Latino-American-fusion cooking: arepas, Colombian pancakelike flatbreads, are served with romesco sauce and Merquez sausage -- both of Spanish origin. A salad of arugula and celery root with roasted pumpkin seeds is a New World/Old World hybrid. There's Cuban-style roast chicken and quinoa fritters and pineapple upside-down cake. Pan American indeed. Xiomara, 69 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; (626) 796-2520. Ciudad, 445 S. Figueroa St.; (213) 486-5171.
43. I'M ON A DIET -- HIGH PROTEIN, NO CARBS, BORING, BORING, BORING. WHERE CAN I EAT?
HUNEVEN: I took just such a friend to a churrascarria in Burbank called Picanha, and she was in heaven. You can find a few stray vegetables and lettuce leaves at the salad bar. Otherwise, these chatty guys in big blousy blue shirts and gaucho pants, wielding big knives, slice slabs of pork, beef, lamb and chicken off mighty skewers fresh from the fire right onto your plate. It's slick and corporate and silly -- plus, all the meat is well done or almost well done, which is traditional in Brazil -- but it's a show, and there's nothing like the deprivation of a diet to make a plain piece of meat taste like ambrosia. Meanwhile, Gardel's -- or Carlito's Gardel -- on Melrose is an Argentinean grill that's also all-meat all the time. If your diet allows a little chimmichurri (a sauce of garlic, ground fresh herbs and oil), you're really in luck. Picanha, 269 E. Palm Ave., Burbank; (818) 972-2100. Carlito's Gardel, 7963 Melrose Ave.; (323) 655-0891.
44. I LIVE IN ECHO PARK, BUT MY FRIEND LIVES IN SANTA MONICA. WHERE CAN WE MEET IN BETWEEN?
HUNEVEN: I recommend Cobras & Matadors on Beverly -- it's where Boxer used to be. The formerly stark space has been transformed into a warm, lively Spanish-style tapas restaurant. You can bring your own wine or beer (or buy it next door) and have a long, drawn-out dinner with lots of little dishes or a few larger ones. This kind of noshing is extremely relaxing and social and conducive to good conversation. Share plates of Spanish cheeses, a bowl of black mussels with chorizo, and the small fried cubes of potatoes, which are crusty on the outside, fluffy and moist within, and come with two irresistible dipping sauces, a rich "allioli" and a spicy mojo picon. Ita-Cho, a few blocks east, offers a similar socially interactive dining experience, in that the country-style Japanese food also comes in small à la carte servings. You can order a lot at once, or draw the meal out for hours, dish by shared dish. Don't miss the marinated black cod, the slippery miso-sauced eggplant, or the broiled eel with a cool, crunchy cucumber salad. Cobras & Matadors, 7615 W. Beverly Blvd.; (323) 932-6178. Ita-Cho, 7311 W. Beverly Blvd.; (323) 938-9909.
45. ARE THERE ANY GOOD ONE-MAN SHOWS IN THIS TOWN?
HUNEVEN: At Bistro 21, a tiny 20-seat restaurant tucked into the elbow of a La Cienega mini-mall, chef Koichio Kikuchi single-handedly cooks dinner five nights a week. The task he sets himself is an exercise in organization and concentration, a nightly challenge. The Asian-inflected French cooking runs from appealing to uneven -- try the duck with black olives, or the filet -- and sometimes he gets pretty backed up. Be sure to go with friends with exceptional conversational abilities. 846 N. La Cienega Blvd.; (310) 967-0021.
46. AND FINALLY, WHO LIVES IN A PINEAPPLE UNDER THE SEA?
HUNEVEN AND GOLD: Sponge Bob Square Pants.
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