Mélisse: 99 Essential Restaurants 2013

If the casual-ification of the restaurant scene has got you down, if you'd still like to swish into a hushed, formal room, if you wish every now and then that a besuited maître d' would refer to you as "M'lady," well, there's still Mélisse. Josiah Citrin's Santa Monica holdout of fine dining is now 14 years old, and benefits from being both that young and that old: It came about when respect for haute cuisine was still a guiding principle for weighty restaurants but not so long ago that its room or food seem outdated. There are a number of menus to choose from, ranging from the bargain $125-per-person, four-courser to a 15-course extravaganza for which no price or menu is listed, presumably because if you have to ask, you can't afford it. As you might imagine, everything is presented with a flourish, from the cocktails to bread service to Citrin's modern French food, which relies far more on old-fashioned technique and bold flavors than on science or whiz-bang tricks to keep your attention. For the high rollers, there's a seasonally available truffle menu and numerous supplements, from a cheese course to Russian caviar to wine in the four- to five-figure range (surprisingly, there also is plenty that's reasonable on this list — bottles start at $30 to $40). For the rest of us, Mélisse remains one of the few special-occasion restaurants that feels truly special. In this age of raucous, fun dining, every now and then it's nice to slip into something less comfortable but gloriously grand. 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 395-0881, melisse.com. Tues.-Thurs., 6-9 p.m.; Fri., 6-10 p.m.; Sat., 5:45-10 p.m. Three-course prix fixe dinner $125. Full bar.


Besha Rodell's Introduction

Anne Fishbein's Photography


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