If you don't have the money to eat the justly lauded $125 tasting menu across the street at Mélisse, your next best bet these days in Santa Monica is Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb's Rustic Canyon. The restaurant's new chef, Jeremy Fox, who gained national acclaim for his work at Ubuntu in Napa Valley, has taken all that was good about Rustic Canyon and tweaked it in order to fit his approach. Fox has lightened the menu and simplified it. He's also brought his own aesthetic, one that, not surprisingly, focuses on subtle, stunning roles for the fruits and vegetables on the plate: a strawberry soffrito cloaking soft gnocchi with short ribs; a plate of asparagus with bone-marrow gravy, which amounts to a melding of the essence of spring and the essence of meat. 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 393-7050, rusticcanyonwinebar.com. —Besha Rodell

LA Weekly