Valentine's Day is fast approaching, thus it is time to book reservations at your favorite swank restaurant. Assuming you have a date for the evening. If you do not, well, check back later for our Best Dive Bars in L.A. list.
Of course your significant other may not be the white tablecloth sort, so where to take him or her isn't nearly as straightforward as Providence or Michael's or Rivera. All this depends on many variables, not the least being the status of your bank account. Other things to think about: If your date is your spouse of 25 years and co-parent of your five kids, the beloved you're wanting to propose to with the arrival of the mignardise, or just somebody you just met at a bar. So we've compiled a list of the 10 best romantic restaurants in L.A. that accounts for some of these variables.
It should go without saying that, if you can cook at all, staying home is a fine option. (No bouquet-carrying crowds! No valet parking!) You could also get Sichuan to-go, rent a stack of Fellini movies and lock the door, which is certainly cheaper — and exactly as romantic as you make it. And, finally, there is the caveat that your local taco truck is possibly the best choice of all: close to home, with your car handy for making out, and you save the cash for that trip to Prague. But then, some of us are cheap dates.
Canele is the sort of restaurant that is many things to many people: a local hangout, a great weekend brunch spot, a place to sit at the bar and watch chef-owner Corina Weibel assemble her salt-roasted branzino. It is also a lovely date restaurant: no reservations taken, the menu scrawled in chalk on the wall. Canele is small and cozy, lit by candles and the occasional flambé. The governing principle is that of the neighborhood — a small misshapen canele will be given to you on your way out: a token dessert, a parting gift — and, as such, one feels at home dining here, in quiet conversation, the beautiful plates of food as familiar and intimate as the company. 3219 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 666-7133.
Part of the enormous appeal of Octavio Beccera's restaurant is how incommensurate it is. You're in Glendale for starters, which is about as romantic as Peoria. You're in Car Dealership Land (honey, let's test-drive a Hyundai!), just south of the suburban dystopia of Americana at Brand. But enter Palate and you forget all that as soon as you're through the doors. The place is gorgeous but unintimidating, the white tablecloths more pragmatic than Michelin-oriented, the chefs working in the open kitchen nicely tattooed. (Becerra's ink predates the fashionable food chef crowd by decades.) Before the beautiful plates of house-cured this or grilled local that, order the porkfolio and a Mason jar of confit lamb and lots of wine. And then, beneath the giant glass grapes arranged in enormous urns — the locavore food movement as interpreted by Nero — your dinner will arrive and your date will be impressed and you will be happy. 933 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; (818) 662-9463.
There are few dining experiences more pastoral and lovely than sharing a meal of pancetta-wrapped snapper with parsnips, a bowl of perfectly constructed herb-laden soup and a single warm apple tart in the back patio of Suzanne Goin's West Hollywood restaurant. The house-baked rustic bread and the tiny bowls of the olives for which the place is named will appear and disappear, along with the servers and the bottles of wine. If it is cold, the heat lamps will warm you, as will a few minutes in front of the enormous fireplace that functions as both centerpiece and emblem for the comfortable restaurant, located in Harold Lloyd's old carriage house. One thinks, as one sits by the fire with a glass and one's companion, the crowds moving like water, the high wooden beams arching overhead, that Lucques would not only be a terrific place to return, but to live. 8474 Melrose Ave. West Hollywood; (323) 655-6277.
7. Le Comptoir:
There's a sort of Alice In Wonderland feel to a dinner at Le Comptoir, chef Gary Menes' extended pop-up restaurant that re-purposes Tiara Cafe come nightfall. You're downtown at night in the empty streets of the fashion district, in a restaurant that is no longer the same restaurant, amid the kitsch-y art installation wonderland that is Fred Eric's domain. You and your date take a seat at the large counter — Menes' concept is a 12-seat open kitchen experiment — not at the set tables, which remain vacant, as if occupied by invisible patrons. You will be served a procession of gorgeous dishes built around produce from an urban farm in Menes' hometown of Long Beach. The chef and his team will make you feel as if he's cooking solely for you, which he can be on some nights. Both setting and food are kind of miraculous, and you feel as if they might disappear if you close your eyes for too long. Not unlike certain of the best evenings, and certain of the people in whose company you have the privilege of spending them. 127 E. 9th St. Los Angeles; (424) 571-3536.
6. The Bazaar:
Taking your beloved to José Andrés' fun-house of a restaurant — the interior design of which resembles a cross between Salvador Dali and Monty Python — is a kind of statement, as is the restaurant itself. The limos circle the driveway of the SLS hotel like toy trains, bearing this or that celebrity or sports star (the Lakers' Pau Gasol loves the place, as Andrés is a fellow Spaniard). Go in, past the fashionable hotel guests and Philippe Starck's glorious silliness, and enter the smoke and mirrors world of Andres' cuisine. Share a plate of ribbon-thin slices of Jamón Ibérico de bellota (do not look at the price), another of the Butifarra Senator Moynihan (do not talk politics), and order something, anything, that involves dry ice. The evening will feel like a magic show. And if it's that kind of evening, you can even get a room. 465 S. La Cienega Blvd.; Los Angeles; (310) 246-5555.
Because it is fun to meander into the neon-lit strip mall parking lot on the corner of Melrose and Vine (if you have a perverse sense of humor, drive your date past Providence and keep going, then park in front of the laundromat here instead), then fumble for the door to this wonderful wine bar, which seems at first glance to be a drapery store instead of a restaurant. Once inside, your date will stop trying to escape and will instead be slightly astonished by the surfeit of riches: Lou Amdur's insane wine list, the tables surrounded by Lou's cultish following (which sometimes include people who dance on the table after a few too many bottles of organic Faugères), chef D.J. Olsen's market-driven menu, and the cured bits of animal. Order your beloved more wine and a plate of pig candy. The evening should be yours. 724 N. Vine Ave., Hollywood; (323) 962-6369.
You are not here for the food, plates of Asian fusion-y things like spicy tuna crispy rice with black tobiko and micro arugula and hamachi with white truffle-infused ponzu (more micro arugula!). You're not here for the drinks either, even though a few lychee martinis and infused pineapple sake-tinis may help your cause. You are here for the atmosphere of this Japanese-style restaurant — the kanji for Yamashiro translates to "mountain palace" — built in the 1920s in the Hollywood Hills, with impressive views of Hollywood below you, the famous Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory, the 600-year-old pagoda brought over from Japan to the property. You are here to sit by the interior garden as dusk falls, and to appreciate the various landscapes. You are here, particularly if you are of Korean parentage and such a thing appeals to you, to propose. But if marriage isn't your thing, there is always the farmers market, held in the spring on the Yamashiro grounds. 1999 N. Sycamore Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 466-5125.
Go down San Gabriel Boulevard, past the repeating strip malls of this part of the SGV, and you'll find, on a badly lit and oddly desolate corner, a tiny restaurant where one should not be. Open the doors to the place and you'll transition from utter doubt to instant pleasure. Here you will sit at a quiet table in a small room with few of them, in an unexpectedly formal atmosphere — candlelight, tablecloths — and find yourself being poured wine and served chef-owner Roberto Berrelleza's exquisite Sinaloa-influenced food on carefully orchestrated plates. Order the chef's refined version of barbacoa, or better yet, the shrimp Topolobampo, a happily incendiary dish that, if you're lucky, your dining partner will love as much as you do. Quick date compatibility check-list: politics, religion, habanero-laced wine sauce. 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 288-7265.
If you think about it, there are fewer places as utterly romantic as a very good sushi bar. You sit elbow-to-elbow with your beloved, the table an altar, the sushi chef ministering to your tastes and wishes. If you are there for the omakase, which you should be, chef-owner Satoshi Kiyokawa will ask you what you want in a serene call and response. And then the procession will begin — grilled sanma, Spanish mackerel, abalone, whole Santa Barbara prawn — like an ad hoc ceremony, which of course it is. 265 S. Robertson Blvd.; Beverly Hills; (310) 358-1900.
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Because in this town, nothing says I Love You quite as much as getting your date a seat at whichever LudoBites iteration is currently running (right now: LudoBites 8, at Lemon Moon). Whether you do this by winning the reservations lottery, by standing outside for hours on opening night like a misplaced Rolling Stones groupie, by offering free babysitting, or by trading seats on Craigslist, it matters less than your willingness to brave the crowds of bloggers to share with your date a ramekin of uni crème brûlée and a glorious bowlful of foie gras, tamarind, turnips and daikon. The conceit is the pop-up restaurant, which should add to the evening's sense of temporality and occasion, as should the history of the Lefebvres themselves, who met at L'Orangerie after, famously, Krissy mistook the chef's amuse bouche as a come-on. It should work out so well for all of us. 12200 W. Olympic Blvd. Beverly Hills; (310) 442-9191.