Photo by Anne FishbeinASIATIQUE BISTRO
12321 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
Given its name, you might assume the food here to be an innovative, East-West fusion. Though the cooking is basically competent, youll be disappointed if you expect anything too exotique. Asian ingredients are used sparingly, or not at all. A very European roasted Moscovy duck breast with rhubarb-raspberry sauce has only a little thatch of baby bok choy as a token Asian ingredient. You can barely taste the wasabi in the wasabi mashed potatoes. And theres nothing Asiafied about a lobster and spinach crepe finished off with a creamy brandy sauce, except, perhaps, for the charming rectangular Japanese bamboo-motif platter on which it is served. Appetizers may be more Asian-inspired than entrées, but they dont break any creative ground either. Familiar Thai vegetable spring rolls come with a sweet-hot-sour sauce the same kind used on Thai barbecue chicken. Shrimp and salmon mousse toast is a close cousin of Chinese shrimp toast. The most inviting dessert, fresh sliced pineapple with caramelized vanilla-bean custard, makes a comforting end. Inspired by the wildly successful Café Bizou and the Out Take Café nearby, Asiatique Bistro offers soup or salad for $1 with any entrée. Customers love this policy, the $3 corkage fee and the restaurants pleasant white-tablecloth setting. Open for lunch Tues.Fri., dinner Tues.Sun. Dinner for two, food only, $17$35. (LB)
1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice
This cunning, pretty café on Abbot Kinney has closed for breakfast (a great loss to those who survived on its nine-grain pancake) and opened for dinner. The menu is cleverly designed and immensely appealing; you can assemble your dinner from a list of small plates, salads and entrées. One perfect dinner: two small lamb chops on a chestnut mint purée and, say, a salad of Belgian endive and watercress with pear, fennel, walnuts and Gorgonzola. Or have an order of flatbread with a choice of six spreads (including a caramelized three-onion, a hummus, and a wild mushroom), followed by a hearty bowl of legume soup. You can eat simply and inexpensively, or have a multicourse extravaganza a meal for every mood and pocketbook. Desserts, from brownies to a dense persimmon pudding (alas, its seasonal), are extraordinary. This neighborhood café is well worth a drive, and the pancakes are still available for brunch. Open for lunch Tues.Fri., for dinner Tues.Sat., weekend brunch. Complete meals, food only, from $30$50 (MH) ã
1099 Westwood Blvd., Westwood
Its a church, its a museum, its a bank building whitewashed from floor to ceiling. Its Eurochow! With a vast domed ceiling, patches of see-through floor, and coveted balcony tables, this new restaurant by the profoundly hip, art-loving Mr. Chow is like a big blank canvas just waiting for long-legged models and other beautiful people to situate themselves within it. Every patch of color (a blue glass torso hung on the wall, a plate of red-sauced pasta) flares up with remarkable vivacity. Too bad the food, an assortment of Asian and Italian favorites, is dull, dull, dull. Then again, youre too busy staring to eat. Open for lunch and dinner seven days, Thurs.Sat. till 1 a.m. Lunch entrees from $9$18 (MH)
1802 N. Vermont Ave.
After weeks of impressive renovation, the gorgeous new bistro Figaro has opened on Vermont. Smokers and other sidewalk aficionados can sit in classy red chairs just like those cluttering Paris sidewalk cafés. Inside, the dining is tight; the tables are few and close together; a seat at the bar is prime real estate. The menu has a great price range (see below), so you can eat simply or suavely depending on your inclination or wallet. The fare mixes classic bistro (onion soup and sole meuniére) with California-cuisine standbys (tuna carpaccio, caesar salad, although the caesar salad bears no resemblance to others of its name). Still, the fois gras terrine and fish soup are excellent. An instant hit, Figaros owners and staff havent had a moment to rest since the doors were unlocked in December. The bakery just opened, and lunch is forthcoming. Open for dinner Tues.Sun., Fri.Sat. till 2 a.m.; weekend brunch. Entrées from $13$30. (MH)
11677 San Vicente Blvd.
(third floor of Brentwood
Gardens), West L.A.
The restaurants design and even the look of its food makes as much of a fashion statement as the newest spring offerings in the neighboring Rebel or Theodore boutiques. Wild, eye-popping impressionistic paintings on the wall, of floating chiles and lettuces and drifting plates, complement the triangular dishware on which the food is served, done in throbbing colors of mango, deep coral, red and shimmery ocean blue. Though not traditional cooking, Thai flavors still prevail, but are wrapped in newer, fancier packaging that makes each dish exciting to taste. A fabulous appetizer of tempura spinach leaves drizzled with sweet-hot barbecue sauce and splashed with peanuts is presented in a tall, airy heap. Thai fusion Rolls incorporate a skewer of chicken saté rolled with rice vermicelli and lettuce in rice paper, accompanied by peanut sauce. Familiar Thai lime and chile dressing sparks a mixed-seafood salad that arrives stuck with skinny bread sticks. And an entrée of mango beef, shot through with plump cashews, has a meaty-sweet glaze similar to French demi glace. Among the desserts are tropical-flavor ice creams made for the restaurant. Open daily 11:30 a.m.10 p.m., Fri. Sat. till 11 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, under $20. (LB)
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119 W. Green St., Pasadena
This understated, slightly rustic trattoria in Old Pasadena has a menu like no other Italian restaurant in town. Its Venetian seafood and pasta dishes, and hearty Alpine-style foods, come from three lesser-traveled regions surrounding Venice (the Tre Venezie) in Italys northeasternmost corner an area that stretches from the mountainous Swiss-Austrian border to the Dalmatian Coast of the former Yugoslavia, and this wide geography produces a fascinating and diverse influence on the cook-ing here. A deeply aromatic pork chop (smoked on the premises), fanned out in a film of mild Gorgonzola sauce and garnished with an apple mostarda, is inspired by the regions Austro-Hungarian roots. From Friuli comes gnocchi di zucca pumpkin dumplings drizzled with butter and splashed with toasted almonds. Desserts include a strudel from Trieste. Chef Gianfranco Minuz makes succulent braised rabbit to serve with tender pappardelle. His broiled duck breast has a sauce crowded with porcini mushrooms and chestnut chunks. Although dishes like these tend to be overly rich, here they come out light, tasting of individual ingredients, and are as meticulously rendered as a Swiss watch. Tre Venezie is, without a doubt, one of L.A.s most sophisticated restaurants. Open for lunch Tues.Fri. 11:30 a.m.2:30 p.m., and dinner Tues.Sun. 5:3010:30 p.m. Entrées from $13 to $24. (LB)