Breaking Free: L.A. Wine Culture
The magic of wine is this: Even at a restaurant you don't particularly care for, say a Venice wine bar populated with trust-fund dudes and winking navel rings, rubbery scallops and cured-meat platters that wouldn't be out of place at the Olive Garden, even after six duff courses, it is possible to chase a simple plate of gnocchi with a glass of South African Syrah, and the combination of food and wine is so stunningly right that the floor drops away and the ceiling turns to clouds, and you are left with an animal sense of well-being that lasts all afternoon.
Wine people know all about these moments — that's why the wines capable of providing them can cost several hundred dollars a bottle. But they, along with many chefs, know wine's dirty little secret: You don't have to spend a fortune. If the wine is good enough, transcendence is only a lamb chop away.
The best wine program in Los Angeles at the moment may be at Bastide, which is a tiny, staggeringly chic restaurant tucked away in the Melrose Place decorator district, on a block where almost every shop bears notices from Elle Decor or Vogue. You know what you've heard about the writers' strike driving all of Hollywood back to takeout Chinese food and microwaved burritos? Somebody here didn't get the memo, because reservations are as hard to snag as Lakers floor seats, and Bastide — run at the whim of Joe Pytka, a television-commercial auteur who has directed talents as diverse as John Lennon and Bugs Bunny — is just lousy with Hollywood guys, who wear the kinds of thrown-together designer outfits that H&M knocks off at about 5 percent of the price. Pytka displays a lot of art here, but the most stunning visual in the restaurant may be the array of bottles in the dining room holding the chef's table, including some vintages that were on the vine when Abigail Adams was living in the White House.
Not long before Pytka lured Walter Manzke to become the third chef of the restaurant, he managed to hire Pieter Verheyde as his sommelier, a young Belgian who had become well-known in the wine world for his work as wine director for Alain Ducasse's restaurants in Paris and New York, a spry cat with the impish, otherworldly presence of a medieval alchemist and a mind for wines that may rival that of Garry Kasparov's for chess. Bastide's 1,400-strong wine list, once famous for its depth and obstinate Frenchness, suddenly ranged all over the wine-growing world.
At Ducasse in New York, Verheyde's list was classic, but idiosyncratic and expensive, with a strong specialty in wines that were otherwise unavailable, and he discovered a gift for persuading customers to drink wines outside their comfort zone. At Bastide, he's like a teenager with a powerful new motorcycle — he knows he should be responsible, but he can't stop popping wheelies. The first weeks the restaurant was open, the cellar wasn't quite ready, and Verheyde's by-the-glass wine pairings were included in the price of dinner — stunned customers found themselves drinking things like Transylvanian Kiralyleanyka, a six-dollar wine whose bright acidity happened to make a piece of seared sea bass pop in a way that no grand cru Chablis ever could. At the moment, more than 90 percent of Bastide's customers sign on for the wine pairings he designed to go along with the tasting menus, at the not-insignificant price of $60, $90 or $190 per person.
I'm not usually much for wine pairings. With tasting menus, I like to order a bottle or two of food-friendly Alsatian pinot blanc or Piemontese dolcetto and let the dishes sort of lean into the wine: There are only so many flavors one's mind can process over the course of a meal. The surprising thing about Verheyde's pairings is not just that they are appropriate and delicious — anybody could do that. It's that the mind-blowing wines are not only the tastes of $500-a-bottle Echezeaux with the roasted duck or the sweet SGN pinot gris from Zind Humbrecht with the perfectly ripened Epoisses. They include the salty, slightly oxidized Coenobium made by the sisters at a Trappist monastery in north Lazio, the rose champagne from Sacy, Syrah from California's Central Coast and twinned vintages of Gruner Veltliner from Donabaum's Danube-adjacent vineyards, all of which you could find for $30 a bottle or so if you knew where to look (most of us assuredly don't), and all of which not only complement Manzke's cooking but combine into a new thing, a third taste, the kind of harmony that you look for every time you pop a cork. Let the snobs and the proper East Coasters have their Lynch Bages, their Opus and their oaky Chardonnays. Verheyde's list tastes like freedom.
Every important restaurant city has a wine culture of its own. After that first meal at Bastide — after sublime experiences at Cut, where the sommelier Dana Farner looks like an indie-rock goddess and insinuates the sublimity of her $152 Blaufrankisch with grilled Japanese beef loin; after surgical-strike wine pairings at the now-defunct Bin 8945; after a flight of biodynamic Loire wines at Lou; after Chablis and oysters at Sgt. Recruiter; after a glass of Scholium Vermentino at 750ml; after the 14th time a Los Angeles sommelier brought out cold sake instead of wine with the marinated hamachi sashimi; after an oldish Loire white at Hatfield's ... after hundreds of L.A. restaurant meals — it is clear that there is a vivid wine scene in Los Angeles at the moment. It is not always clear what it happens to be.
In the United States, at least, the wine culture of a city often has more to do with the efforts of a few obsessed people than it does with factors that you'd think would be more important, such as climate, the ethnicity of its population and the physical proximity of vineyards. My favorite Bay Area restaurants, which should be awash in the big, glossy wines from nearby Napa and Sonoma, tend instead to specialize in handmade wines from the Rhone and the south of France, probably because of the influence of Chez Panisse and local wine importers like Kermit Lynch and North Berkeley Wine. The best Portland lists, while featuring a comprehensive roster of Northwest wines, are often deep in the sorts of boutique Northern Italian wines that rarely make it out of Piedmont. It is easier to find rare Burgundy in Manhattan than it is to find wines from nearby Long Island.
Greater Los Angeles may be the single biggest wine market in the United States, and it is situated just a couple of hours from the important winegrowing areas of Santa Ynez, Ojai, Temecula and the Guadalupe Valley, but it rarely seems connected to those regions, and the shape of its taste is often hard to discern.
(It says something, I think, that some of my best wine experiences last year were at Ludobar and Laurent Quenioux's Bistro K, two excellent, now-defunct restaurants that happened to have a BYOB policy. There is something subversive about bringing your own '91 grand cru Alsatian Riesling and ancient bottles of Clape Cornas to dinner — it lets you think that you are getting away with something, and you are drinking really, really well.)
Fifteen-odd years ago, the boundaries of local taste were more clear. Manfred Krankl, now a revered winemaker but then the general manager at the restaurant Campanile, was obsessed with both Italian wines and tiny-production California wines. He, along with Valentino's Piero Selvaggio, educated Angelenos on the necessity of paying serious money for then-unpronounceable super-Tuscans, whites from the Alto Adige and and ink-dark Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. (For years, I don't think there was a cult California or Italian wine that hadn't at one time been poured by the glass at Campanile's bar, which was also early on Austrian wines.) Philip Reich and other sommeliers at Michael's shaped the idea of what a great California-dominated list might look like. Joachim Splichal put serious French wine back into play, although Hollywood has always nurtured a large corps of Francophile collectors. The most important chef in Los Angeles, then as now, was probably Wolfgang Puck, and his head sommelier Michael Bonaccorsi helped to form the idea of the eclectic modern list.
You remember pictures of the old wine guys, old-fashioned sommeliers, the stout, florid, usually foreign men wearing tuxedos two sizes too small, worn Florsheims, and bunch-of-grapes pins stabbed into their grosgrain lapels? They wore heavy pewter tastevins around their necks, possibly awarded at a grand ceremony in France, and they muttered a lot about vintages. You saw them in the movies — Hungarian actor S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall made a career out of playing them. Charles Laughton corrected their pronunciation of "Montrachet."
Then one day we woke up, and the wine dude was the coolest guy in the room — profiled in magazines, rocking Comme des Garcons suits, riding motorcycles to tastings, cramming for certification exams with his cool friends. Sommeliers like Caitlin Stansbury, formerly of the Lodge, wore sexy pantsuits and brought serious wine to restaurants where the Aerosmith on the house iPod rarely dipped below stadium volume. Mark Mendoza at Sona matches wine to David Myers' precise cooking with the painstaking care of a project architect. David Rosoff at Mozza, who in a previous gig at Opaline was one of the few sommeliers to actually persuade the chef to cook to the contours of his wine, juggles the under-$50 Italian wines in the pizzeria and the pricier wines in the adjacent osteria and actually comes up with a coherent wine philosophy, even if that philosophy sometimes seems like Obscure + Italian = Good. Where else are you going to find the Slovenian Edi Simcic Merlot blend from Goriska Brda? Where else would you want to?
We started seeing curated wine shops, not full-service general emporia like Wally's, Red Carpet or the Wine House, but groovy joints like Silverlake Wine, the Champagne-intensive Wine Expo in Santa Monica and Mission Wine in South Pasadena, reflecting not just an inventory but a worldview, often with a subspecialty in esoteric but well-priced and satisfying bottles, in Ribolla Gialla and Teroldego and Cold Heaven Viognier. And after too many run-ins with the wrong Chilean Carmeneres, we've come to rely on the curators too.
(You have undoubtedly experienced the stages of wine disillusionment yourself: You fall in love with a California wine; you realize the French wine that the California wine is modeled on is cheaper than its clone; the French wine rockets to three figures; and then you sneak back to the first wine only to discover that you can no longer afford to drink that one, or even its New Zealand equivalent. It's a complicated process. It is why you are probably drinking more wines from Argentina and South Africa than you used to.)
If chefs can sometimes seem like studio engineers, technique-obsessed artists laboring for hours to create a single, dazzling effect, wine guys are like DJs, digging stuff out of the crates and rocking the party. Chefs have to spend long hours buried in carcasses to the elbow. Wine guys spend their mornings spitting and swallowing. Chefs spend their working vacations grilling quail for charity benefits in North Carolina. Wine guys fly to Paris and Verona. Chefs stagger home at two in the morning with blood on their clothing and bits of flour in their hair. Wine guys may also stagger home at two in the morning with blood on their clothing, but it is not generally part of the job description.
Sommeliers in Los Angeles operate under certain disadvantages. Angelenos don't drink as much as New Yorkers or Londoners — that second bottle of wine is incompatible with speeding home on the 405 — and we're much more likely to drink our Petrus, should we be in the mood for it, at home. When we feel like a Santa Barbara Chardonnay, it's harder to talk us into ordering a bottle of Merseault. But we are people who live in neighborhoods with Tudor castles, Spanish haciendas and modernist slabs all on the same block, and we're pretty much up for anything. Radikon Vitovska? Sure. The world is our vineyard.
RESTAURANTS FOR WINE LOVERS
A.O.C. The cheese-and-charcuterie-intensive inspiration for basically all of the new generation of wine bars, Suzanne Goin's A.O.C. is the kind of place you drop into for a glass of Cassis and maybe a bit of octopus, then a glass of Sancerre and a few grilled sardines, then a glass of Friulian Tocai and a plate of sliced prosciutto, then a glass of Corbieres and the tiniest plate of skewered grilled lamb with mint. Unless you were in the mood for the bacon-wrapped dates with Parmesan on the bar menu, which would go so nicely with one of those big southern Italian reds, or a ripe Crozier blue with a late-bottled port, or whatever creature comes with a bit of Goin's romesco sauce, or quite possibly the 12-hour pork belly. You could drink and eat like this all night if you remembered to make a reservation — and if A.O.C. didn't unreasonably stop serving at 11. 8022 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 653-6359. Mon.-Fri. 6-11 p.m., Sat. 5:30-11 p.m., Sun. 5:30-10 p.m. Wine bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. French-Mediterranean-influenced small plates.
Bastide To the small, food-obsessed population of Angelenos who know the difference between a sliver of Jabugo ham and a chunk of mere jamon serrano, Bastide is the Montrachet-slinging equivalent of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, with Space Jam auteur Joe Pytka, its mad proprietor, taking the place of the estimable Mr. Wonka. After months on hiatus, Pytka reopened the doors with Walter Manzke, an ex-Patina chef, taking over the range, and Pieter Verheyde, the former sommelier at Ducasse in New York, and Paris, assuming control of the wine list (see more in main essay). The menu is prix-fixe, $100 for seven courses; another $100 or $190, depending on how far you want to go, lets you experience Verheyde's eccentric wine pairing, which is one of the best shows in town. As in the last incarnation of Bastide, the food wobbles on the edge between familiarity and utter weirdness, things like deconstructed lobster tacos, abalone noodle soup, oyster shooters with wasabi ice and cylinders of roasted Beijing duck. Many, many cheeses. Dessert. A fifth or sixth glass of wine, probably a vintage port. And then out on the street. 8475 Melrose Place, West Hollywood, (323) 651-5950. Tues.-Sat. 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Valet parking. All major CC. American/French.
Blue Velvet Wrapped around a glowing swimming pool that turns every vantage into a David Hockney painting, Blue Velvet is a hyperdesigned lounge fitted into the ground floor of a former Holiday Inn, with the cool blues of Staples Center and the financial-district skyscrapers just beyond. Some of the herbs and vegetables are harvested from an organic rooftop garden overlooking the Harbor Freeway. The well-priced wine list includes hard-to-fine things like Failla Chardonnay and Denis Alaray's delicious Cairanne. From a spot by the window, downtown is as glamorous as the view from a penthouse in a Fred Astaire picture. It is doubtful, though, that Astaire ever dined on deep-fried yogurt balls with pureed greens and raisins, or on a vaguely Malaysian squid salad with kumquats, or on a Thai-flavored roast duck accompanied by its tempura-fried liver, or on smoked tofu with black lentils and cherry tomatoes. Kris Morningstar, who did stints at Patina, A.O.C. and the late Meson G, is the chef at Blue Velvet, and his engaged if inconsistent version of the eclectic world cuisine thing ranges over more of the globe than Angelina Jolie. I especially like the squab crepinette, which involves rare slices of the breast arranged over a sort of pillowlike sausage stuffed with pureed corn bread, pureed mushrooms and bits of the bird's own liver cooked into what tastes a little like Thanksgiving dinner on a small plate. 750 S. Garland Ave., L.A., (213) 239-0061. Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Sun.-Thurs. 5:30-10:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30-11 p.m. Bar open daily 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California contemporary.
Bottle Rock The tables at Bottle Rock are the size of phonograph records, and the wobbly metal stools seem perpetually on the verge of collapse. The location, tucked behind a parking structure, is obscure, even if it is just a step or two from Culver City's new restaurant row. But Bottle Rock, which doubles as a wine shop, is among the most appealing of the wine bars that have opened on the Westside — because of the house-made pates, because of the tomato bread and the pressed sandwiches, because of the cheese board, but mostly because of the wine, which tends to be obscure, well chosen and reasonably priced. The proprietors will open any bottle in the shop, from a simple California white to an aged Barolo, if you commit to two glasses of the stuff, and the chalkboard list of available wines can change 20 times a night. The little grilled chorizos are delicious. And there is always something good to drink for $5 a glass. After a screening at Sony or a show at one of the local theaters, Bottle Rock is the perfect place to kick it. 3847 Main St., Culver City, (310) 836-WINE. Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-mid. Beer, wine. Lot parking. All major CC. American/French.
Campanile Campanile has had one of the country's most influential Italian wine lists since the waning days of the 1980s, although sommelier Jay Perrin moved it solidly into the tannic territory of the French. Still, the restaurant is probably still best-known for the prowess of Mark Peel, the LeBron James of the grill, who showcases more shades of fire and heat than any chef on Earth: rosemary-charred lamb, cedar-plank salmon, grilled prime rib with bitter greens. Grilled-fish soup is a sort of deconstructed bouillabaisse, a dish involving four or five sea creatures, each with a different cooking time and a different capacity for heat — a feat of kitchen virtuosity with the same degree of difficulty as a reverse 360 dunk. You'll be wanting a chilled bottle of Cassis with that. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 938-1447. Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Wed. 6-10 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 5:30-11 p.m.; brunch Sunday 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. California/Mediterranean.
Cobras & Matadors Steven Arroyo is the Bill Graham of tapas in Los Angeles, the impresario who made the concept of Spanish drinks 'n' snacks as popular as sushi platters after dozens of others had tried and failed. And his dark, buzzy tapas parlors are teeming dens of olive oil and garlic, octopus and cured pig, grilled meats and pungent concoctions of seafood and paprika and beans rushed to the table still crackling in unglazed crocks. The Los Feliz restaurant has a nicely curated list of Spanish and South American wines; at the Hollywood restaurant, you buy your wines from the shop conveniently located next door. When you bring your prize back to the table, don't be surprised if the counter guy is standing right there, corkscrew in hand. 7615 W. Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 932-6178. 4655 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz, (323) 669-3922. Dinner Sun.-Thurs. 6-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 6 p.m.-mid. BYOB. Valet parking. MC, V. Spanish.
Comme Ca David Myers' new brasserie has the look of a dining room restored to use after 70 years of disuse: black and white, lined with mirrors, dotted with actual French speakers. The oysters are briny, crisp and alive. The housemade terrines and pates are first-rate. There are snails in garlic butter and frisee salads with bacon and poached eggs, choucroute garni on Wednesdays and braised pork belly on Saturdays as well as great onion soup. At lunch, they have the best cheeseburgers in Los Angeles. The wine list includes French village wines that are uncannily appropriate with the food; the house carafe is a decent Cotes du Rhone. And there's that great, happy roar of music and people with a little too much wine in them, and the sense that somebody, somewhere in the restaurant is having the most memorable evening of her life. 8479 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (323) 782-1178 or www.commecarestaurant.com. Open daily, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. AE, MC, V. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, food only, $74-$96. French.
Cut If Spago is at heart Wolfgang Puck's restaurant, its menu plumped out with his easygoing air, his enriched stocks and his Austrian favorites, Cut, despite obvious signs of the master's touch, is actually the love child of Puck's capo, Spago chef Lee Hefter, whose obsessions lie as much in technique as they do in produce, and whose menus of warm veal-tongue salads, succulent maple-glazed pork bellies, potato "tarte tatin" and flan-stuffed marrow bones tend to be more modern but less user friendly than the dishes Puck turns out on his own. If you have $120 to spend on a steak, you might want to consider visiting Cut — and splitting the Kobe strip four or five ways, because unless you happen to play in the NFL, there is no way you can digest even a small example of the plutonium-dense meat by yourself. Ask sommelier Dana Farner to pour you something you've never seen before. Look out for the gnarliest Malbec of your life. Cut, designed to the teeth by Getty Center architect Richard Meier, is to the other steak houses in town what Spago was to the pizza parlors back in 1981. 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Beverly Hills, (310) 275-5200. Mon.-Thurs. 5:30-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking a half-block south of Wilshire Blvd. on Rodeo Drive. AE, D, MC, V. California Contemporary.
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I don't need no stinkin' decanter: Wilshire's Matthew Straus likes his Hermitage unfiltered.
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Through a glass darkly, Cut's Dana Farner can see clearly.
Enoteca Drago In New York City, Italian wine bars multiply like mosquitoes. In Beverly Hills, we have Enoteca Drago, an outpost of Celestino Drago's pasta-driven empire, where you can chase a plate of prosciutto, a mess of baby octopods, or occasionally the elusive lardo — cured pig fat in the style of northwestern Tuscany, melted onto a slab of fried bread — with a glass of crisp Verdicchio from the Marches. Some of the wines are served in flights — sets of small pours arranged by grape or by region. Enoteca Drago does function as a full restaurant, although it is occasionally hard to remember this when you're floating in the middle of a Brunello reverie, but you will also find great pasta with pesto and one of the few proper versions of spaghetti carbonara in town. 410 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 786-8236. Open Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrees. $13.50-$18. Italian.
Ford's Filling Station Ford's, whose chef-owner is Benjamin Ford, formerly of the restaurant Chadwick, is a bar that happens to have ambitious, organic food as opposed to a restaurant that happens to have a bar attached, a gastropub where you can enjoy pretty decent cooking while being bounced around like a pachinko ball. If you manage to power your way to a barstool or to an actual table, you will find most of the usual Los Angeles gastropub classics. If you like the fried Ipswich clams at Jar, you will probably like Ford's rudely indelicate version. There is a hamburger tricked out with blue cheese and an onion compote, the requisite butter-lettuce salad with bacon, and a decent selection of cheeses and meats, some of them procured from Armandino Batali in Seattle, to help down the White Dog Grenache. And there's butterscotch pudding for dessert. 9531 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 202-1470. Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 4-11 p.m. Full bar. Parking at city lot around the corner. AE, MC, V. California Contemporary.
Fraiche Again we are in Culver City, where new, vaguely Mediterranean-influenced restaurants multiply like roly-poly bugs after a rain. And again we are in the presence of stripped brick, an open kitchen, an ambitious wine list rich in RhÃ´ne reds and Loire whites, and women who wear interesting eyeglasses and eat blood sausage instead of tofu. But the project from chef Jason Travi and Thierry Perez, a bluff Frenchman of classic maitre d' temperament who could probably sneer at your wine choice in any of nine different languages, is clearly a restaurant of love and obsession, from the meticulous plateaux de mer that rival the majestic displays of shellfish at Parisian brasseries to Travi's house-cured guanciale, from the careful juiciness of the Kurobuta pork chop with violet mustard to the subtle sweetness of the rabbit tortelli with brown butter, to the sweet delicacy of the smoked eel in a salad with arugula and mint. Fraiche is a tough reservation, but there is a separate bar area where you can drink "sangria" concocted from Grey Goose and farmers-market strawberries soaked in Grand Marnier, inhale giant portions of mussels and fries, and gingerly sip a Fernet-Branca when the bacchanalia becomes too much. 9411 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 839-6800 or www.fraicherestaurantla.com. Open daily 5-10:30 p.m., bar open till mid. Full bar. Nearby parking in city lot. AE, MC, V. Mediterranean/wine bar.
Grace If Los Angeles restaurants are like rock bands, Neal Fraser is the glamorous indie-rock hero, a chef with a wobbly, idiosyncratic style that couldn't be further from the finish-fetish crowd pleasers, a detailed, strongly flavored New American cuisine, heavy on French technique and inspired by farmers-market produce and big slabs of animal. From pork belly to boar tenderloin, Fraser is clearly aspiring to greatness here — this is tremendously ambitious food. The wine list is strong on small California producers and big global reds. There's a program that introduces the occasional cellar-aged wine at a reasonable price. And there are freshly fried jelly doughnuts for dessert. What more could you want? 7360 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 934-4400. Tues.-Thurs. & Sun. 6-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 6-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking; difficult street parking. AE, MC, V. New American.
Hungry Cat To aficionados of the ruddy beasts, Crab Day at the newly expanded Hungry Cat is an annual event up there with Christmas and the Fourth of July, a chance to take a mallet to as many spicy boiled crustaceans as their wee stomachs can hold. Somebody call the mayor: It is an occasion worthy of a city holiday. But even on the other 364 days, the Hungry Cat is a civic treasure, a place to drop into for a dozen oysters or a bowl of shrimp, a crab cake or a bowl of chowder; a greyhound or a glass of Picpoul. The wine list is tiny and delicious. The primary object of desire here is the lobster roll, an abstracted rendition of the New England beach-shack standard transformed into a split, crisp, rectangular object about the size of a Twinkie. In Maine, the $20-plus it costs would buy you a lobster the size of a small pony. But we are in Hollywood, where the next acceptable lobster roll may be 2,800 miles away. 1535 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 462-2155 or www.thehungrycat.com. Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5:30-11 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-9:30 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking. AE, MC, V. Seafood.
Il Moro In Bologna, one tends to eat very well — on prosciutto, Parmesan cheese and mortadella, on creamy emulsions and butter-basted chickens, on long-cooked ragus that incorporate the entire barnyard into a few tablespoonsful of sauce. It is not for nothing the city is often called Bologna the Fat. Il Moro, which recently transformed itself from a better-than-average office-building restaurant to a center of Bolognese cuisine, may be the only place in Los Angeles where you can taste the cooking of the region: the tiny, meat-stuffed cappelletti floating in a deep-yellow capon broth; the baked lasagna enriched with a wheelbarrowful of bechamel; the house-made pasta, alive under the teeth, buried under an ultradense sauce fashioned from tomatoes and minced pigeon. Prosciutto and salami are served in the traditional Modenese way, with gnocco — oblong, unsweetened beignets that would be equally appreciated by New Orleanians and Homer Simpson. What do you drink? Fizzy Lambrusco, of course. Tucked into the corner of the Westside where you might least expect a restaurant, busier at lunch than at dinner, it backs up onto a rather romantic patio, has an attached bar with occasional live music — and is usually pretty easy to slip into without a reservation even on a Saturday night. A useful restaurant. 11400 W. Olympic Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 575-3530. Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-10:30 p.m., Sat. 5 p.m.-1 a.m., Sun. 4:30-9:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. Italian.
Jar Any place in town can serve you a grilled T-bone, but Suzanne Tracht's snazzy steak house is strictly postmodernsville, chefly riffs on the strip steak and the porterhouse, the hash brown and the French fry that may or may not incorporate every last pea tendril and star-anise infusion in the Asian-fusion playbook, if that happens to be your desire. Some people we know have never even tried the steak here — the braised pork belly, the glorious pot roast and the duck fried rice are just too compelling. And there's a wonderful, mostly Italian wine list to contemplate. But the steak, seared at 1,100 degrees, is about as good as it gets. The decor is straight off the set of a Cary Grant movie. And there's banana cream pie for dessert. 8225 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 655-6566. Mon.-Thurs. 5:30-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30-11 p.m., Sun. 5:30-9:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. California American.
Joe's Everybody loves an underdog, and at Joe's, which has been an institution since it was the size of a rent-controlled studio beach apartment, half of Venice has a crush on Joe Miller's uncomplicated cuisine and small but intelligent wine list. You may not have a transcendent experience at Joe's, and you'll spend more than you think you should for a supper of Little Gem lettuce and salmon, but there is this to be said for the restaurant: The kitchen never, ever screws up the fish. 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-5811. Lunch Tues.-Fri. noon-2:30 p.m., dinner Tues.-Fri. 6-11 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 6-11 p.m., brunch Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrees $10-$25, plus $38-$45 prix-fixe dinner. California.
Literati II Literati is just as happy to serve you a really good pork chop as an exquisite organic salad, a stiff drink as a bottle of Viognier, and it seems as if some of the customers have practically set up their offices here beneath the framed pencils and the old photographs of Santa Monica, borrowing novels from the dining-room bookcase to read over lunch — like Literati Cafe next door, from which it spawned, Literati II is popular with screenwriters and others eager for a second home. Chef Chris Kidder and pastry chef Kimberly Sklar are both veterans of Campanile in the very best way, in love with woodsmoke and seasonal farmers'-market produce, generous portions and plenty of herbs; tapping old Mediterranean traditions and making them their own — don't miss the pasta with arugula pesto or the hot churros with bitter chocolate. 12081 Wilshire Blvd., W.L.A., (310) 479-3400. Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Thurs. 6-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30-10 p.m.; brunch Sat.-Sun. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Full bar. $2 valet parking in rear. AE, MC, V. California Contemporary.
Lou If pigs had their way, pig candy would be made out of chocolate — better yet, out of chocolate that made its way into their troughs. But for better or worse, pig candy is the vernacular name for a snack made out of smoky, thick-cut bacon baked with lots and lots of brown sugar until it transforms itself into demonically fragrant slabs that bear more than a passing resemblance to pork-belly terrine. You want some of this stuff. Lou, a tiny, wonderful wine bar on the south end of Vine, serves a pretty decent range of artisanal cheeses, including the incredible 10-year-old Hook cheddar from Wisconsin, the garlic-laced salamis of Seattle's Armandino Batali, and house-made rillettes. The wine list is pleasantly oddball, thick with rustic bottles of obscure country wines and including as many ultraorganic biodynamic wines as Amdur can find. Lou has a minor specialty in both long-braised meats and tasty vegetarian soups, and the elaborate Monday-night wine dinners revolving around, say, choucroute, Alsatian baekehoeffe or the season's first Alaskan halibut have become legendary. Still, on cool nights there may be nothing better than a plateful of that pig candy made with Lou's house-smoked bacon, a bowlful of olives and a glass of organic Cotes Catalan. 724 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 962-6369 or www.louonvine.com. Mon.-Sat. 6 p.m.-mid. Wine. Lot parking. MC, V. California Contemporary.
Lucques The California-Mediterranean cooking of Suzanne Goin, which is feminine in all the best ways, is profoundly beautiful in its simplicity, rich in beets, goat cheese and squashes, and there is satori to be found in every bite of grilled fish, every herb salad. When she's on, Goin teases out the flavor from a tomato with the precision of a sushi master, making textural contrasts dance and playing with bursts of acidity and the resinous flavors of fresh herbs. Lucques, named for a vivid green variety of French olive, is located in Harold Lloyd's old carriage house; it boasts an ultrasleek Barbara Barry design and one of the nicest patios in West Hollywood, but on loud weekend nights the restaurant can sometimes seem as if it is about 90 percent bar. Sunday family dinners are not to be missed. 8474 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd., (323) 655-6277. Sunday nights feature three-course prix-fixe dinners. Lunch Tues.-Sat. noon-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Tues. 6-10 p.m., Wed.-Sat. 6-11 p.m., Sun. 5-10 p.m. Full bar (limited bar menu available 10 p.m.-mid.). Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California-French.
Melisse When Melisse opened a few years ago, it seemed as if Josiah Citrin was trying to create a Michelin-worthy restaurant by force of will alone, imposing luxury ingredients and luxury prices on a local public that seemed happy enough to eat its seared venison without the benefit of Christofle silver, velvet purse stools or airy sauces inflected with fresh black truffle. The cooking was always good enough, but the effect was faintly ridiculous, like a teenager trying on his father's best sports jacket when he thinks nobody is looking. (What I remember best from my first several visits is not a particular dish, but the sight of Don Rickles and Bob Newhart at the next table insulting the waiters with material that would have killed at a Friars Club roast.) And the prices, $95 for an all-but-mandatory four-course menu, would be high even in Paris. But Citrin has grown into Melisse; he wears it like a custom-fitted suit. And his cuisine, which uses farmers'-market produce and the most modern kitchen techniques without calling attention to itself, has shed most of its baby fat — the cassoulet of white asparagus with morels, the melting Copper River salmon and the butter-soft duck breast at a spring dinner all brought out the soulful essence of the ingredients in the least showy way imaginable. 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-0881. Dinner Tues.-Thurs. 6-9:30 p.m., Fri. 6-10 p.m., Sat. 5:45-10 p.m. Closed Sun.-Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V.
Michael's Back in its Nouvelle Cuisine days, Michael's may have been the first market-oriented restaurant in Southern California, a showcase not just of glorious art — Rauschenberg, Stella, Graham, Hockney — but of tiny vegetables, local meats, California wines and luxury foodstuffs identified by port of origin. And this was the restaurant that taught Angelenos that California wines could be just as serious as French ones. There still may be no better afternoons in Los Angeles than those spent on Michael's garden patio, hefting Christofle silver, inhaling Dungeness crab salad, house-made gravlax, tweaked yellowtail sashimi and an oaky, buttery Napa Chardonnay with just enough bottle age. Michael's still feels a little like an exclusive party that somebody forgot to invite us to. 1147 Third St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-0843. Mon.-Fri. noon-2:30 p.m. & 6-10:30 p.m., Sat. 6-10:30 p.m. Full bar. Nonsmoking, including patio. Valet and street parking. All major CC. California.
Nook Sometimes you get the feeling that the owners of Nook are running less an American bistro than a joke about an American bistro. As faithfully as they reproduce the fundamentals of the kinds of fancily unfancy restaurants that pepper every urban neighborhood from San Diego to Augusta, Maine, they are also poking fun at them with every dried-cranberry garnish and each day-boat scallop, each obscure Belgian beer and each boutique Oregon Pinot Noir, each crusty roast chicken and dish of iconic macaroni and cheese. Almost every aspect of the restaurant, from its double-height communal table to the admonition on the menu that cell-phone use interferes with the controls on the deep fryer, is as ironically pitch-perfect as the Neil Diamond songs on a Silver Lake DJ's iPod. 11628 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 9, W.L.A, (310) 207-5160 or www.nookbistro.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Sat. 5-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. American Bistro.
Ortolan At a time when l'Orangerie is dead, and half the emigre chefs in California are putting their knowledge of Escoffier to work cooking pasta, Ortolan, which reflects Christophe Eme's Loire-trained palate, may be the most serious French restaurant in Los Angeles. If you are a fan of intimate, dungeonlike restaurant spaces, dining rooms so dark that diners are issued little flashlights along with their menus, and presentations that extend to mushroom soup served in test tubes and fish seared on hot river rocks, then Ortolan may be the restaurant for you. Actually, Ortolan's basic premise — high-level French cooking served in a supper-club setting — is an attractive one. And Eme, who co-owns the restaurant with his paramour, Jeri Ryan, who is often to be seen working the room, is remarkably skilled: The squab, served as a roasted breast paired with a leg confit, is exceptional, as are the crisp langoustines done in the style of Robuchon, and the complex tasting menus are among the most accomplished in town. 8338 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 653-3300. Tues.-Sat. 6-10 p.m. (Closed Sun.-Mon. in summer.) Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. French.
Osteria Mozza Almost anybody who has tasted Nancy Silverton's miracles in the media of bread, pastry, cheese or pizza can attest to the power of the way she thinks about food. Silverton's osteria, a sleek, bustling restaurant in the same building as her Pizzeria Mozza, has at its center her mozzarella bar, a loose take on the mozzarella-centric cuisine at the chic wine bar Obika near the Pantheon in central Rome. And it is to her credit that her ideas, along with the skills of Matt Molina, the young San Gabriel native who is her chef, and the contributions of partners Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali as well as wine czar David Rosoff — that Osteria Mozza pulls together: the braised guinea fowl and the spoon-tender pork roast inspired by rural Umbrian trattorias sharing menu space with meat-sauced garganelli and tortellini en brodo from the most sophisticated restaurants in Bologna; the baroque, almost sashimi-like constructions of fresh mozzarella and exotic condiments co-existing with the simplest possible rendition of linguine cacio e pepe. (The standard disclaimer applies: Nancy is a longtime family friend and she co-wrote a book with my wife. You are free to discount any of my opinions, although you would be a fool to do so.) 6602 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 297-0100. Mon.-Fri. 5:30-11 p.m., Sat. 5-11 p.m., Sun. 5-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Valet parking. Major CC. Italian.
Pizzeria Mozza At Pizzeria Mozza, Nancy Silverton has people arguing over the entire paradigm of what a pizza might be. Her pizza is airy and burnt and risen around the rim, thin and crisp in the center, neither bready in the traditional Neapolitan manner nor wispy the way you find pizza in the best places in Tuscany. The crust is sweet and bitter, salty and chewy, circled by crunchy charred bubbles that may or may not be snipped off by the chefs as they inspect the pizzas at the pass. Every pizza at Mozza is a unique marriage of flour, salt and hot-burning almond wood, stretched into irregular disks, as individually lovable as children, topped with sausage and wild fennel, or squash blossoms and burrata, or fried eggs and pureed anchovies. Mario Batali is a part owner, and the buzziness and heat may remind you of Otto, Batali's pizza parlor in Greenwich Village, although Mozza's pizza is better than Otto's. The antipasti, which are mostly vegetables, include crackling, deep-fried squash blossoms stuffed with oozing ricotta cheese. David Rosoff's all-Italian wine list is short and obscure but loaded with delicious things to drink, and nothing is over $50. 641 N. Highland Ave., L.A., (323) 297-0101 or www.mozza-la.com. Open daily noon-mid. Valet parking. AE, M, V. Italian pizzeria.
Providence When Michael Cimarusti left the stoves at Water Grill to start Providence, his fans were expecting nothing less than the Los Angeles equivalent of fish palaces like Le Bernardin and Oceana in New York, with a book-length catalog of Burgundies and Alsatian wines to boot. At this glowing restaurant, he managed to fulfill even those superhigh expectations — this is among the best, most civilized kitchens ever to hit Los Angeles. It just doesn't get better than Cimarusti's tartare of live spot prawns served with buttery leaves of brik pastry, sauteed squid with piquillo peppers and meltingly soft slivers of stewed pig's ear, or a terrine of foie gras with muscat gelee that may be the best foie gras preparation in this foie-gras-happy town. The dessert tasting menu of pastry chef Adrian Vasquez is a five-course degustation demanding and ambitious enough to command the attention of an entire evening, a universe of pureed avocado and hot cider foam. 5955 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park, (323) 460-4170. Mon.-Fri. 6-10 p.m., Sat. 5:30-10 p.m., Sun. 5:30-9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Modern American seafood.
750ml Buenos Aires? 14th arrondissement Paris? It's hard to pinpoint exactly what the view from this bistro's picture window calls to mind, but the panorama of trees, century-old buildings and whooshing Gold Line trains is unlike any other in the Los Angeles area at the moment, a gleaming utopian vision that would bring a smile to any urban planner's face. 750ml, presumably named for the capacity of a wine bottle, is another venture from the owner of Malo and Cobras & Matadors, a tiny, expensive small-plates cafe with an equally tiny menu that works better as a full-on restaurant than it does as a wine bar. It's probably best not to come too hungry: hazelnut-dusted chanterelle ravioli are delicious, but there are only two of them in an order, and a portion of the mustardy hand-chopped steak tartare is small enough to qualify as an hors d'oeuvre. But the wine list, strong on choices from Spain and Southern France, is swell. And the clientele seems to average at least 20 years younger than the usual South Pasadena crowd, whose money tends to flow more toward bungalow restoration than to plates of beef shoulder with taleggio fondue. 966 Mission St., South Pasadena, (626) 799-0711. Daily 5-11 p.m. Beer and wine. Street and lot parking. AE, MC, V. French bistro.
Sona is an exquisitely Los Angeles restaurant, a serene bubble of luxury and refinement whose basic unit of consumption is the rippling, nuanced tasting menu, which changes with the seasons and with the whims of chef David Myers. Dinner here may include cubes of sansho-pepper-scented tuna married to sauteed sweetbreads, passionfruit cannoli stuffed with peekytoe crab, tiny Nantucket scallops flavored with dates and poppy seeds, and rare duck with red wine and pumpkin seeds toasted to resemble the exact crunch of its skin. Sona is the farthest thing imaginable from the Rabelasian assault of a brasserie. The morning after nine courses at Sona, it will already seem like a half-forgotten dream. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 659-7708. Tues.-Fri. 6-10 p.m., Sat. 5:30-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Modern French.
25 Degrees The tiniest restaurant project from the O.C.-based team that brought us Dakota, Whist and Red Pearl is a bordello-style, flocked-wallpaper saloon with a big list of wines by the half-bottle, the chance to have Red Hawk or Crescenza on your cheeseburger instead of ordinary cheddar, and big Chinese takeout containers filled with herb-flecked pommes frites. The soundtrack is probably close to the one you played in your car on the way to the AC/DC concert, if you were into stuff like that, a grinding mix of '80s guitar rock played with enthusiasm and played loud. The single dessert is a slab of chocolate cake big enough to feed 10. 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 785-7244. Mon.-Thurs. 5 p.m.-1 a.m., Fri.-Sat. 5 p.m.-3 a.m. AE, MC, V. Beer and wine. Valet parking.
Upstairs 2 Just above and affiliated with the Wine House and within shrieking distance of the 405, Upstairs 2, a small-plates brasserie pushed to the postgraduate level, may neither serve the most refined food in town nor have the most startling wine list, but it very well may be the best place on the Westside to go for food and wine — small portions of Todd Barrie's Mediterraneanized New American cooking accompanied by Marilyn Snee's roster of wines by the glass, separated into categories that expertly match up with the food as if they were microengineered for each other. Really, after seeing what Snee can do with a half glass of fizzy Dr. Loosen Sekt Late Disgorged 1989, I'd hate to see what she could accomplish with a few scant grams of plutonium. 2311 Cotner Ave., W.L.A., (310) 231-0316. Wed.-Thurs. 5:30-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30-11 p.m. Major CC. Wine. Plentiful parking above Wine House.
Valentino and V-Vin Everybody's favorite Italian restaurants tend to serve perfected country dishes, rustic vegetables and grilled meats that replicate what a gifted grandmother might prepare for dinner in her Umbrian fireplace. But Valentino's food is as far from home cooking as any French chef's, and the wine book, one of the largest collections of Italian vintages outside Italy, contains as many adventures as any J.K. Rowling. Valentino has always been one of the most controversial restaurants in Los Angeles, loved by foodies who claim to have eaten the best meals of their lives in the dimly lit dining room and loathed by people who claim that the restaurant is a con job. It can be difficult to coax the best from Valentino. But although Valentino is quite expensive, the $85 tasting menu (and you're missing the point if you order anything else) seems almost reasonable. And if you plan ahead and discuss your wine desires with owner Piero Selvaggio, you will discover that the kitchen here works best when it is asked to cook to the contours of the wine. If you are in the mood to economize, a snack at V-Vin, the restaurant's wine bar, earns you a crack at the list. If you're going to hang out at a wine bar, you might as well head toward one that takes its wine seriously. 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 829-4313. Dinner Mon.-Thurs. 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-10:30 p.m.; lunch Fri. 11 a.m.-noon. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Italian.
Vertical Wine Bistro Probably the swankest wine bar in Old Town Pasadena, this high-design joint juts from a hidden courtyard on Raymond's restaurant row, all subdued lighting and gleaming surfaces and hidden corners. You will never, never feel out of place in an LBD or a pinstriped Thom Browne suit here, or lack for well-heeled admirers. But Vertical is more ambitious than that: It aspires to be nothing less than the Pasadena equivalent of A.O.C., with zillions of wines available by the taste, the glass, the bottle and the flight — three side-by-side Williams Selyem pinot noirs, for example, or New Zealand sauvignon blancs, or Argentine malbecs. Sara Levine, who opened the foodie-beloved Opus, is the chef here, and beyond the wine, Vertical is a showcase of artisanal cheeses and cured meats, Serrano-ham-wrapped fig poppers and meaty, grape-friendly small dishes like pulled pork with prunes and polenta, and duck confit with chestnuts. If you would rather look into the depths of a Barolo-braised brisket than into the eyes of an attractive stranger, at Vertical it can always be arranged. 70 N. Raymond Ave., upstairs, Pasadena, (626) 795-3999 or www.verticalwinebistro.com. Sun. 4-11 p.m., Tues.-Thurs. 5-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Beer, wine. Valet parking. AE, MC, V.
Vincenti Valentino may be grander than Vincenti, La Terza flashier and Giorgio Baldi may draw a more famous clientele, but Vincenti is a showcase of Italian wine and the spiritual center of fine Italian cooking in Los Angeles, its hearth. And befitting a hearth, much of Nicola Mastronardi's food comes from the big, hardwood-burning ovens, flavored with the presence of smoke, of forests, stone chimneys and chilly afternoons — a scallop, say, sprinkled with bread crumbs and baked in its shell until it sizzles; a magnificent veal chop; soft curls of cuttlefish tucked into an herb salad; a whole, truffle-laced squab. The adjacent rotisserie turns out the best restaurant version of porchetta I have ever tasted in California — loin and belly are wrapped into a spiral, seasoned with fennel and spit-roasted to a crackling, licorice-y succulence. It is certainly possible to eat several mediocre Italian meals elsewhere in this neighborhood for the price of a single superb one here. At these times, it is good to remember that on Monday nights, pizza also comes out of these ovens. 11930 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood, (310) 207-0127. Mon.-Sat. 6-10 p.m., Friday for lunch noon-2 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Italian.
Vinum Populi Adjacent to Ugo, Vinum Populi is a wine bar with training wheels, a place where you can try Chateauneuf de Pape or Puligny Montrachet without fear of mispronouncing the long foreign words, have a bit of lardo on bread if you dare, a pizza if you don't. Instead of ordering wine from a waitress or bartender, you recharge the kind of debit card you may remember from the laundry room in your college dorm, you thrust it into a machine, and you wait for a single ounce of the fluid to be dispensed into your glass. It is a good way to try high-end wines like Gaja Brunello that you would never get to taste otherwise, and a bad way to tie your drink on. An ounce of wine isn't a lot, and by the end of the night you will probably resemble the others, jabbing at the buttons like a chicken jabbing at the lever of a lab machine, waiting for that kernel of corn. 3865 Cardiff Ave., Culver City, (310) 204-5645. Sun.-Thurs. 5:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Parking in nearby city structure. Major CC. Wine bar.
Violet A pleasant, mainstream bistro, Violet has all the appropriate buzzwords on its menu: the harissa aioli, the braised veal cheeks, the rare ahi tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes, but it is also possible to drop in after a show at McCabe's up the block for a caesar salad, a decent pepper steak, or a dish of very nice macaroni and cheese made with Gruyere, slivered leeks and chunked-up Serrano ham; or to stop by at lunchtime for a cheeseburger or a sandwich of that same Spanish ham turbocharged with sliced manchego cheese and breathtaking amounts of fresh garlic. Violet is a little restaurant that cares. 3221 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 453-9113 or www.violetrestaurant.com. Lunch Tues.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner Tues.-Fri. 6-10 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 5:30-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $44-$66. California cuisine.
Wilshire Wilshire is an odd place, a handsome patio restaurant that seems unable to decide whether it is a farm-driven restaurant or a roaring bar and grill; a salute to the seasons, a paparazzi's stalking ground, or a celebration of the organic wine and food that can be purchased with an American Express card. Christopher Blobaum, who has run more high-end hotel kitchens than anybody else this side of Escoffier, seems to be running his dream restaurant, and he obviously spends some of his happiest hours at the Santa Monica farmers market. At Wilshire, there will always be jewel-like baby Nantes carrots the week that baby Nantes carrots hit the best farm stands; sweet satsuma tangerines in the duck confit salad at the time satsumas are at their peak; tiny purple artichokes when tiny purple artichokes are the thing — the stuff that defines Southern California as a great agricultural region, with a comprehensive wine list to match. Wine director Matthew Straus has a thing for chunky, rustic reds that go well with Wilshire's deceptively simple cooking. 2454 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 586-1707. Lunch Mon.-Fri. noon-2 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Wed. 6-10 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 6-10:45 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. California Seasonal.
Wilson foodbarcafe The new breed of Culver City restaurant has connections at the Farmers Market, the serious-casual vibe of a Prada sweater and a birth announcement on Daily Candy. Beer lists are as long and as carefully curated as wine cards. The chefs have usually escaped from well-regarded but mainstream restaurants, and their dining rooms are temples of personal expression. This high-design restaurant from Michael Wilson, set into the bottom level of the new Museum of Design Art & Architecture building, is a Culver City place right down to the eel on the BLT, the La Espanola chorizo flavoring the mussels, and the organic Semillon on the wine list. Wilson's appetizers tend to be small-plate modern-tapas things designed to be nibbled at the bar with a glass of sauvignon blanc. A smoky, slow-cooked pork shoulder does double duty as pulled pork at lunch and as an entree-size roast at night; tea-smoked whitefish is a dinner appetizer and the basis of a mayonnaisey whitefish-salad sandwich at noon. 8631 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 287-2093 or www.wilsonfoodandwine.com. Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Thurs. 5:30-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5:30-11 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, MC, V.
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