8715 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood
This former landmark steak house has been revived and redesigned for the martini crowd of the late ’90s. Its WASP-y good looks are part yacht, part supper club. Sitting in the patio is like being at a tented event in someone’s swanky back yard. The bar area, with its appealing shipshape gleam and cozy booths, has more charm and less cigar smoke. Fred Eric, of Vida and Fred 62, has tried to help out with the menu here, and, as always, there’s a unique ebullience and humor to his food. Too bad the kitchen can’t cook it worth beans. But food and dining are not really what this restaurant is about. The draw here is the bar, the scene, the clubby ambiance. I’d meet anyone for a drink and one of those brown paper sacks of good French fries. But unless the kitchen and service improve, any serious diner will surely wander off elsewhere. Open for dinner Monday through Saturday. (MH)
1099 Westwood Blvd., Westwood
Eurochow radiates a white-hot blaze like luminescent lava. Reflective white surfaces rule, from an illuminated triangular-shaped glass bar to a white marble obelisk that soars toward the restaurant’s 55-foot-high domed white ceiling. Every vista is a witty artistic ruse: A table for two sits on a diminutive balcony cantilevered capriciously over the central atrium (which, of course, is white). Interior lighting makes the dinner tables glow, fiber optics light the walls, and the glass dining-room floor allows a view of the wine vault below. Such is the latest vision of Michael Chow, artist, architect, ingenious restaurateur and legendary scene maker. For 30 years his three Mr. Chow restaurants (London, New York and Beverly Hills) have titillated the world’s glitterati with refined Chinese food served in starkly conceived settings (when red lanterns and dragons were the Chinese décor of choice). Now Chow is touting his new Eurochow as a nearly $4 million bridge between East and West. But don’t assume this means fusion food. Chow is once again ignoring current trends — there’s no Cal-Ital or Euro-Asian here. His scheme is more subtle: Think Chinese teahouse meets all-day European bistro serving pure, untampered European and Chinese dishes. There are slivered raw baby artichokes with shavings of fine Parmesan, Chinese dumplings and noodles, lightly cooked shrimp in a translucent veil of sauce with crackly glazed walnuts, good steaks and juicy veal chops, all perfectly cooked. Prices are extremely democratic. While you may spend dearly on the cold seafood platters and good wines, late supper, lunchtime sandwiches or pizzas are under $10 — well worth the price of admission. Open Thursday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Sunday through Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to midnight. (LB)
10877 Wilshire Blvd., No. 150, Westwood
Judging from the energetic hum and the mixed crowd at Palomino, West L.A. has been awaiting an urbane bistro like this one to revive Westwood’s moribund restaurant scene. In its wide-open, two-tiered dining room, patrons from every demographic niche are happily passing plates, opening wines, celebrating life. Lunchtime finds refugees from the former Bullocks Tea Room sampling the wood-oven-baked prosciutto melt or the hardwood-grilled peppered bacon burger. Young parents toting folded strollers dig into big bowls of pastas and carve up roasted garlic chickens to share. Movie dates gladly elevate their usual pre-theater pizzas to the level of Palomino’s pies; these are crisp-crusted, wood-fired and thin as lavash. The restaurant’s clubby polished wood-lined bar draws the Hugo Boss and black-dresses contingent for microbrews on tap and light meals from a bar menu.
Palomino’s focus-group gurus have pretty much nailed Westside tastes for aggressive Mediterranean-influenced flavors. Yet the food never shouts "corporate," although Palomino is one of 12 in a burgeoning national chain run out of Seattle. Chef David Shaw, who worked for Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans, puts his own twist on flawlessly roasted meats and desserts such as pear bread pudding drizzled with a buttery bourbon sauce. Well-rehearsed service and discreet notes at the bottom of the menu that read "no minimum charge" and "substitutions are welcomed" affirm the management’s good intentions. Open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (LB)
978 Gayley Ave., Westwood
Westwood Village regulars keep hoping the latest round of gentrification won’t ravage their favorite dives like Falafel King, Stan’s Doughnuts or the relatively new Saigon Street. The lone Westside Vietnamese street-food depot outside an Asian enclave, Saigon Street is an accurate rendition of the neighborhood spots where the Vietnamese working class slurps breakfasts of noodle soup or grabs a quick snack — a true restaurant of the people.
In Saigon Street’s minuscule, corrugated-aluminum-walled patio, you can munch on banh mi, those wonderful Vietnamese submarine sandwiches in long, crispy baguettes. Choose your sandwich filling from spice-infused grilled chicken, an Asianesque beef stew, shredded pork or assorted Vietnamese-style cold cuts. Each sandwich is typically garnished with lightly pickled vegetables, a few cilantro leaves and slender threads of hot chile. Saigon Street rounds out its menu with rice plates, noodle soups and quirky Vietnamese-style shakes of blended tropical jackfruit, guanabana or squiggly tapioca shapes. Open Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. (LB)
11801 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
Danilo Terribilli of Alto Palato has opened this bright, busy, wood-fired restaurant where Il Mito used to be — before it burned down. How funny then that the new tenant is named Spark. But Spark does sparkle — even if the gleam is a bit corporate. The menu is unassuming and fun, the portions Valley-ish, i.e., you get a little more for your money. Everything is grilled, twirled or baked over, or by, wood fires — you can see it happening in the glassed-in kitchen. The resulting cuisine might be called Italo-Americana: wood-fired pizzas, planked salmon, juicy roast pork and rotisseried chicken, not to mention coleslaw and corn bread. Oh, and there’s great gelato, too. Bustling, noisy, user-friendly, Spark is bound to fly. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, dinner seven nights. (MH)
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8432 W. Third St.
There’s nothing Zen or predominantly Japanese about this new pan-Asian café, especially when filled to capacity and boomeranging with noise. The name, then, is just a finger pointing vaguely toward the Far East. The Zen Grill is like a cross between the Mandarette and Fred 62. The crowd is hip and lively. The menu includes most of America’s favorite Asian dishes: chicken satay, potstickers, pho-ga, ramen, pad Thai, fried rice, sizzling this ’n’ that. While you will probably experience no culinary revelations, raptures or nirvana at the Zen Grill, the food is fresh, the prices are sweet, the staff is that all-too-rare blend of friendly and efficient, and the overall vibe is just right. Open daily for lunch and dinner. (MH)