Sampling L.A.'s newest restaurants
BLUEBERRY510 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica(310) 394-7766
If you're not careful, you'll leave this little bakery-cafe with blue lips, a blue tongue and the nagging conviction that you're morphing into a blueberry. The tiny muffins are blueberry, the iced tea is blueberry, the pancake syrup is blueberry, the pie is blueberry. Except for the berry, this is an otherwise unremarkable little lunch spot, with a decent fried-chicken salad, small pricy portions of good soup, dreamy pie, and what would be an excellent "malted" waffle except that it's served with rum butter and the full-strength blast of strong rum is not really what one wants first thing in the morning. And some days staff disorganization here is prodigious. Still, I like Blueberry - I just want it to be more together than it presently is. Open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. (MH)
CAPO1810 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica(310) 394-5550
The former space of the Mucky Duck has been transformed into Capo, one of the most visually beautiful, alluring and grown-up restaurants to open in Santa Monica. Designed by chef-owner Bruce Marder, it's full of warm, rough wood, and furnished with classy, comfortable chairs and lots of good art by mostly local artists, including Chuck Arnoldi, John Okulick, Rebecca Marder, Peter Alexander and Charles Garabedian. Capo seems invented for the pleasure of civilized adults. The service in its opening weeks was horrid, and one wondered why on earth Marder (of the West Beach Cafe, Rebecca's and DC3) would try his hand at Italian cooking. A radicchio salad with anchovy dressing was delicious, but a special fingerling potato salad with frisee was dry and dull, and linguine was overcooked. The only showstopper was the aged New York steak that Marder mastered years ago at the West Beach. But thanks to the excellent products and Marder's persistence, the food keeps improving - many ingredients are straight from Marder's own organic vegetable garden - and soon enough, the meals may well do justice to the setting. Open for dinner Tues.-Sun. (MH)
GALLO'S GRILL4533 Cesar E. Chavez Ave.(323) 980-8669
Years after the TV commercial asked, "Where's the beef?" superbly marbled hunks of juicy red meat made a well-publicized comeback at places like Porter's and the Arroyo Chop House. Meanwhile, Gallo's Grill, a stylish little Mexican steak house, opened recently on the cusp of Monterey Park. In its glassed-in kitchen, slabs of meat grill over smoldering oakwood that impregnates the succulent flesh with flavor. Meat aged on the premises (no precut steaks delivered in Cryovac bags) is cut by resident butcher Osvaldo, who brings his own set of knives, just as sushi chefs do. He slices a whole eye of round so evenly it unrolls like a bath towel. Fillets, carved thickly in the classical Mexican style, open like a book - an impressive hunk of protein for $8.95. Intensely flavored cesina, meat cured Yecapixtla-style, is wrapped in Gallo's handmade tortillas and sprinkled with fresh salsas served from charming iron salseras. Thumb-size chorizos, made in-house, are served for weekend brunch with melty queso fundado - perfect for mopping up with those tortillas. Open weekdays 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; weekends 8 a.m.-9 p.m. (LB)
MAUI BEACH CAFE1019 Westwood Blvd., West L.A.(310) 209-0494
"Here today, gone to Maui," reads the neon script on one Maui Beach Cafe wall. "Eat, drink and be Maui," reads the neon on another. There are lava lamps, and palm trees once alive and now preserved and reassembled so as to remain forever green. Huge fiberglass sharks swim overhead, one flamed like a hot rod. (The same design team did Treasure Island and the Mirage in Vegas.) Chef Mako Segawa-Gonzales was born and trained in Hawaii, and his Hawaiian-fusion cooking is interesting and, at the very least, an education in the pleasures of Hawaiian fish, including opah, lehi, hebi and ono. "Da Maui" bowls are a great quick lunch: white or brown rice topped with variously prepared fish, chicken, beef, stir-fried vegetables, or - a Hawaiian favorite - hamburger and fried egg. The vast menu also offers lettuce a wraps, spring rolls, noodles, pizza, pork chops and short ribs. This is one theme restaurant that may transcend its theme. Open for lunch and dinner seven days. (MH)
MENJIN8393 Beverly Blvd.(323) 782-0039
In a move perfectly suited for L.A., Menjin takes the ramen-noodle-shop concept a giant step beyond its traditional Sino-Japanese origins. Labeling itself an "international noodle house," the menu reads as though its chefs went around town collecting the best recipes from places like Luck Yue - the Chinese noodle chain - or Pho 99, Luck Yue's Vietnamese counterpart, or from good restaurants serving pad Thai or Korean naeng myun. But Menjin's versions are lightened up and stylized. Ramen comes as fresh, chewy noodles heaped into steamy broths and flavor-packed sauces - the sort of cooking that rescues ramen from its tacky image as instant noodle soup in foam cups. Other exotica includes Malaysian curry over flat rice noodles, garnished with a giant puff of crunchy deep-fried rice vermicelli. Sides such as thin buckwheat pancakes filled with shrimp and green onions, and Thai-style salad of shrimp with sweet, grapefruitlike pomelo, suit Menjin's multinational style. Dinner for two, about $25. Open Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m. -10 p.m. (LB)
YONGSUSAN950 S. Vermont Ave.(213) 388-3042
Anyone who eats in Koreatown knows about the barbecue joints, the blast-furnace-hot kimchee, the tofu shops, the funky noodleterias. But the milder, more delicately crafted food of Kaeson, in Korea's Northern Hwang Hae Do province, has remained unfamiliar. Until now. Korean Gardens, one of K-town's oldest restaurants, is now calling itself Yongsusan and has hired Mrs. San-Ock Choi, a Korean chef from Seoul whose Kaeson-style restaurants have an enormous following. Korean Gardens has been transformed in Cinderella-like style into a magical dining place with mysterious corridors leading to discrete and tastefully appointed private rooms and a main dining area with apricot-silk-covered walls. Yongsusan's dishes are less odoriferous than stronger-flavored Southern-style foods (they're more like what you'd eat at Jozu or Chaya Brasserie). A salad of crisp, mild radish and bean sprouts is tossed with persimmon strips in a gentle tart-sweet dressing; one soup is a nutty-sweet puree of Asian pumpkin. For the full effect, it's best to order the 12- to 17-course Chong Shik menus, which run from $21.99 to $33.99. These usually include tiny beef-stuffed vegetables, and a dish of coaster-size crepes filled with nine ingredients cut as fine as sewing thread before your eyes by a costumed waitress. Open daily for lunch and dinner. (LB)
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