Downtown Los Angeles/Highland Park

Ciudad. The design of Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken’s downtown restaurant is bold — those yellow chairs, those retro drinking glasses, those seed-encrusted, vertical-standing crackers! The menu is a Pan-American pastiche, complete with Old World footnotes. Days see lunching office workers; at night, it’s conventioneers and an arty Silver Lake/Echo Park crowd. 445 S. Figueroa St., downtown, (213) 486-5171. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; Dinner Sun.–Tues. 5–8:45 p.m., Wed.–Thurs. 5–9:45 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $17–$28. Pan-Latino. MH $$ ¨

Nick & Stef’s. Joachim Splichal’s downtown steak house pushes the genre’s envelope. The décor is sedate enough — banquettes wear banker’s gray — but annexed to the dining room is a climate-controlled glass case filled with slabs of darkening, crusting, dry-aging beef — a library of meat. The à la carte menu features 12 kinds of potatoes, 12 sauces and at least as many other side dishes. The outside patio — a sunny clearing in a forest of skyscrapers — may be the best urban dining spot in town. 330 S. Hope St. (Wells Fargo Center), downtown, (213) 680-0330. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5:30–9:30 p.m., Fri. 5:30–10:30 p.m., Sat. 5–10:30 p.m., Sun. 4:30–8:30 p.m. Full bar. Parking in Wells Fargo Center. Entrées $19–$37. American steak house. MH $$ ¤ Ü

Water Grill. Created and owned by the King restaurant group, the Water Grill is a big, big-city, downtown restaurant. The vast dining-hall-bar-lounge, with its fat faux pillars and seaside murals, has a slick, corporate gloss — which clearly appeals to the corporate suits who fill the booths. Desserts are erratic. Impersonal professional servers get the job done. Lunch is far less impressive and almost as expensive as dinner. Still, slurping down a dozen shucked Kumamotos at the bar may be as close to New York’s Grand Central Station Oyster Bar as any Angeleno can hope to get. 544 S. Grand Ave., downtown, (213) 891-0900. Mon.–Tues. 11:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m., Wed.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Sat. 5–9:30 p.m., Sun. 4:30–8:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. $25–$50. American. MH $$$ *

Zucca. Named for the humble pumpkin, and brought to us by Joachim Splichal (of Patina and the proliferating Pinots), Zucca is the Helen of Los Angeles restaurants — it has the face to launch a thousand SUVs. The dining room has the shape and majesty of a basilica, the sophistication of downtown New York, and antiques plundered from all over Europe. The staff is smooth and impeccable. The menu is “Italian country,” with an obvious motif: roasted pumpkin pizza, cream of pumpkin soup, pumpkin-filled tortelloni, pumpkin gelato. The food tends to richness and portions to hugeness. House wine is poured to the top of big, heavy here’s-to-you-buddy goblets (for proper stemware, order a bottle). Try the fritto misto with surprise chunks of preserved lemon gnochetti, and the rotisserie pork. 801 S. Figueroa St., downtown, (213) 614-7800. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 5–9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5–10 p.m. Sun. 5–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. $13.50–$26. Italian. MH $$ ¤ Ü *


Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Echo Park

Edendale Grill. Housed in an old firehouse and named for Los Angeles’ first movie studio, Silver Lake’s Edendale Grill is a bit of set-dressed history. Craftsman-era lighting fixtures with mica shades cast a warm, golden glow in the dining room. The Mixville bar has an original hammered-tin ceiling and firehouse doors. The kitchen serves up its own brand of culinary nostalgia for midcentury Midwestern American cooking: oysters Rockefeller, caesar salads made tableside, Green Goddess salad dressing, sand dabs, steaks and chops, even a beet-red velvet cake from the Waldorf. Despite somewhat harried service and slapdash cooking, the Edendale Grill can be a tough reservation, which indicates just how much Atwater–Echo Park–Los Feliz–Silver Lake citizens have hungered for such a fine-looking, versatile neighborhood dinner house. 2838 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake, (323) 666-2000. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 5:30 p.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30 p.m.–11:30 p.m. Sunday brunch 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Full bar. Complimentary valet. Entrées $13.75–$27. AE, DC, MC, V. American. MH $$ ¤ Ü H *

Vermont. Anchoring the ever-new hip commercial corridor of Vermont Avenue north of Sunset, Vermont (always lowercase) is like a stalwart, reliable friend. The owners often wander through the dining room, with its palmettos and pillars and gentle lighting, and they always like to chat. You may not be bowled over by anything you eat, but you’ll be back. Plus, the stylish new bar is one of the neighborhood’s few upscale spots for cocktails. 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 661-6163. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner 5:30–10:30 p.m. (until 11:30 p.m. Fri.–Sat.). Full bar. Parking in rear. AE, MC, V. Entrées $13–$18. California. MH $


Hollywood/Melrose/La Brea/Fairfax


Alex. Chef-owner Alex Scrimgeour is talented, careful and hard-working; his Cal-French cooking hits most of the right notes, and the service is attentive. Overall, Alex gets a sturdy A-minus, the minus for the simple reason that we want more — more passion, more risks, more flourish and even more mistakes. I mean, hey, this is a place where the live piano player stops playing midsong when his cell phone rings. 6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 933-5233. Dinner Mon.–Sat. starting at 6 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $29. California French. MH $$$

Angeli Caffé. Most L.A. restaurants have the shelf life of rock & roll bands, so it’s an impressive and moving fact that Angeli Caffé on Melrose has survived two decades. It was among the first of the new Italians, and chef Evan Kleiman’s clear-eyed, big-flavored cooking was an enormous influence. In addition, she does family night on Thursdays; tables are pushed into long rows, and food comes out on platters, family-style — Mexican and Indian, tapas and Moroccan, Persian and Provençal, as well as classic Italian regional meals. 7274 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 936-9086. Lunch Tues.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Thurs., 5–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat. 5–11pm. Closed Monday. Beer and wine. Valet parking. Entrées $11–$18. Thursday dinners $25. AE, D, MC, V. Italian. MH ¤

Angelini Osteria. The great Italian chef Gino Angelini has fulfilled a lifetime dream to open his own casual osteria that serves simple, hearty, home-style food — from a home rife with genius cooking genes. The classy, clattery urban café is lively, fun — and very kid-friendly. (The three-course child’s menu is a fine way to introduce the squirts to the pleasures and pace of fine dining.) Angelini may have downshifted his culinary ambitions, but his abilities are entrenched, and there’s unmistakable haute in the homiest braised oxtails or codfish stew. 7313 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 297-0070. Beer and wine. Valet parking. Lunch Tues.–Fri. noon–2 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m. AE, MC, V. Entrées $16–$30. Italian. MH $$ ¤

Brasserie Vert. Wolfgang Puck’s brasserie in the Hollywood & Highland mall may be his most delightful, demographically democratic offering yet. The room isn’t distinctive — it’s not even green — and the stark mall outside the windows offers no interesting vista (except that of tourists taking pictures of the ultimate L.A. vista, the Hollywood sign), but who cares? You’ll want to eat everything on the menu — fat black mussels, cracker-thin pizza with pancetta and paper-thin potatoes, Lee Hefter’s bolognese sauce and perfect veal meatballs, steak frites with a stunning béarnaise. 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 411, Hollywood, (323) 491-1300. Lunch Mon.–Fri. from 11:30 a.m., Sat.-Sun. from noon; dinner from 5:30 p.m., seven days. Full bar. Limited takeout. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $16–$24. French/Italian. MH $$ ¤ Ü

Campanile. The basic premise of Urban Rustic cuisine is the perfection of Mediterranean peasant dishes, often in ways that may be incomprehensible to the Mediterranean peasants in question. Campanile’s Mark Peel reinterprets this sunny cuisine by using really good ingredients, assembling them with chefly skill, and illuminating the spirit of each dish as if from within. A niçoise salad and a grilled prime rib under Peel’s direction is like a Velázquez painting of a horse as opposed to the horse itself. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 938-1447. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30–2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Brunch Sat.–Sun. 9:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $25–$38. California Italian. JG $$$ Ü ¤

Cobras & Matadors. Despite its name, this is, finally, a good tapas restaurant — and who knew how convivial a series of shared small plates with walloping flavors could be? Crimson walls, a hearthlike wood-fired oven and swinging jambons create a hip, Barcelona-style coziness. C&M is strictly BYOB, but the adjacent liquor store has a smart, handpicked selection of South American and Spanish wines, and corkage is $5. 7615 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 932-6178. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 6–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6 p.m.–mid. BYOB. Also at 4655 Hollywood Blvd., (323) 669-3922. Valet parking. MC, V. Tapas $3–$15. Spanish. MH $ ¨

EM Bistro. The room is gull-white and moderne, the service excellent, and the food robust and refined — halibut cooked with a light touch and short ribs done to a near candied intensity, and vegetables presented in their most perfect form. Don’t miss the stunning organic strawberry shortcake gilded with Meyer lemon curd. 8256 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 658-6004. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 6 p.m.–10 p.m. (until 11 p.m. Fri.–Sat.). Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées, $15–$28. American. MH $$ ¤ Ü *

Jar. Chef Suzanne Tracht’s interpretation of the contemporary American steak house means many sides and sauces and the occasional Asian twist (duck fried rice, sautéed pea tendrils, tamarind sauce). But meat, braised or dry-aged and grilled, is the real focus: flavorful and tender New York steak with the bone in, magnificent pot roast. The décor is tasteful, the art wry, the service totally professional and the noise level off the charts. 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-6566. Thurs. and Tues.–Sun. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. to 11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $19–$29. California American. MH $$


Musso & Frank Grill. The warm scent of wood smoke spreads across the room. You push away the remains of a perfect caesar salad. A red-jacketed waiter comes over and pours a clear, cold martini, Hollywood’s best, from a pony into a tiny frosted glass, then carefully spoons Welsh rarebit — rich and warm, if a little grainy — from a metal salver onto crustless toast. Here in these worn wooden booths beneath the ancient hunt-scene wallpaper, this seems very much the perfect gentleman’s lunch. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 467-7788. Open Tues.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Validated parking in rear. AE, DC, MC, V. Entrées $15–$32. American. JG $ ¤ Ü

White Lotus. What you eat here is essentially a fusion-inflected version of familiar club comfort fare . . . plus sushi, an already well-established combo in this town. For appetizers, there’s dim sum. For steak and potatoes, it’s steak and rice. But food and dining are not necessarily the featured attraction; as the evening deepens and the throng thickens, the noise level rises, the martinis flow, sushi flies from the sushi bar — it’s a locus, a scene — and a pleasant one at that. 1743 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 463-0060. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 6 p.m.–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. Entrées $14.50–$32. AE, D, MC, V. Asian fusion. MH $$ ¨ H


Mid-Wilshire/Koreatown/Central Los Angeles

Taylor’s Steak House. The two Taylors are everything a steak house should be: dark, clubby, with red booths and frosted glass. The drinks are strong, and the menu’s long suit is meat, specifically steak, at very delicious prices. Never mind that you might be the only Democrat or Jew or nonwhite in the room. Get a culotte, the rib-eye, or the big fillet. And don’t miss the Molly Salad, a variation on the lettuce wedge, invented by a former waitress. 3361 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles, (213) 382-8449. 901 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada-Flintridge, (818) 790-7668. Lunch seven days, 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m. Dinner seven days, Sun.–Thurs. 4–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 4–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $12.50–$24.95. American. MH $ ¤ Ü


West Hollywood/La Cienega

A.O.C. Lucques’ impressive and astute partners, Suzanne Goin and Carolyn Styne, have their second venture, a wine bar with terrific food in a serviceable space whose spare décor amplifies the fireworks on the plate. Goin cooks only small dishes, all of which showcases her rustic heart and sophisticated abilities. Styne built the wine list by focusing on high-quality wines from small producers for reasonable prices — between $30 and $50 a bottle — and many are available by the taste or the glass or the multiple-tasting “flight.” 8022 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 653-6359. Dinner Mon.–Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, DC, MC, V. À la carte, $4–$16. Mediterranean. MH $$ ¤ ¦

Alto Palato. The main dining room with its sky-high ceilings and roomy tables has the lofty ambiance of a European railway station — and the service can be European, too: maddening. But the cooking is authentic regional Italian; try the wafer-thin pizza and the best gelato outside of Rome. Every Wednesday night features a special, reasonably priced regional dinner. 755 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 657-9271. Dinner Tues.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5–10 p.m. Closed Monday. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $12.95–$22.95. Italian. MH $$

Bliss. Once you find it, Bliss looks like a place the devil might like — a vast, cavernous club with womb-red walls, gas fires, and enormous sculptural paper lanterns that look like licking flames. (There’s no outside signage or address, but it’s just south of Melrose Place.) There are two bars, and curtained “boxes” where you can have both privacy and a great view of the goings-on below, which are mostly dressed-up people drinking and eating. The New American club fare is a mix of comfort food, fusion and meat. 650 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 659-0999. Dinner Wed.–Sat., from 7 p.m. Closed Sun.–Tues. Full bar. Valet parking. Entrées $25–$39. American. MH $$$ ¨ H

Lucques. Named for a nutty, brine-cured French green olive, and rarely pronounced correctly, Lucques (leuk) has quietly and surely joined the small pantheon of great Los Angeles restaurants. Lucques has a quasi-historic setting (it was once Harold Lloyd’s brick, wood-beamed carriage house), a patio, adept service and, best of all, Suzanne Goin’s earthy, intelligent, somewhat indefinable cooking. Call it Cal-French-Med with welcome guests from North Africa, Spain and Berkeley, California. Go for Goin’s fish dishes, in particular, and check out the appealing bar menu. Also, Sunday nights feature three-course prix-fixe dinners. 8474 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (323) 655-6277. Lunch Tues.–Sat. noon–2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Limited bar menu available Fri.–Sat. 10 p.m.–mid., Mon.– Thurs. 9:30–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $21–$30. California/Mediterranean. MH $$ ¤


Beverly Hills and vicinity

Il Pastaio. This was Celestino Drago’s first café spinoff, and its original concept — carpaccio, salad, pasta and risotto (no meat-centered entrées) — remains sound. The window-walled room on the corner of Cañon and Brighton fills with sun and Beverly Hills types; don’t expect a lot of elbow room or romance, but the food is reliably delicious. Try the chewy garganelli with broccoli and sausage, and spelt spaghetti dressed simply in butter, ricotta and lemon zest. The remarkable black squid ink risotto looks like asphalt and tastes like heaven. 400 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 205-5444. Mon.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 5–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $16.50–$24.50. Italian. MH ¦

The Ivy. The patio here is a New Yorker’s perfect dream of Los Angeles, splashed with sunlight, decorated with amusing American kitsch, populated with lunching actresses, agents, and New York magazine editors in town to take the pulse of the city. The food is acceptable though expensive, down-home food at uptown prices. But the Ivy’s definitive corn chowder, concocted by a practically teenage Toribio Prado before he decamped to found the Cha Cha Cha empire almost 20 years ago, sizzles with gentle chile heat. 113 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 274-8303. Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–11:30 p.m., Sun. 10:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $25–$39. American. JG $$

Matsuhisa. Nobu Matsuhisa was the first sushi master to introduce Americans to yellowtail sashimi with sliced jalapeños. Playing with tradition has made him an international star. Locally, you can try his food at the modest Ubon noodle house at the Beverly Center and the high-end Nobu in Malibu, but his original, stunningly uncharming location on La Cienega is still, to our mind, the best bet — especially if you sit at the sushi bar and give your chef free rein. To this day, despite many attempts, nobody has improved on his innovations. Reservations are a must and, at times, a pain. 129 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 659-9639. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:45 a.m.–2:15 p.m. Dinner nightly 5:45–10:15 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $15–$50. Japanese. MH $$$

Spago. The flagship restaurant of the Wolfgang Puck empire, Spago in Beverly Hills replaced the original Hollywood Spago — and then some. Barbara Lazaroff’s dining-room design is lavish yet, for her, restrained: large-scale ceramics and bright paintings, warm wood, comfy seating, a general homage to California sunshine. A large courtyard patio is the place to sit, at least until the cigar smokers light up. The kitchen is a small village unto itself with its own butchers, bakers, cooks and candy makers. Chef du cuisine Lee Hefter produces classically rigorous, lyrical Cal-French food with a strong Asian edge. Pastry chef Sherry Yard offers Austrian specialties, seasonal fruit desserts, and the city’s most nuanced and pleasurable chocolate concoctions. Puck himself, ever cheerful and outgoing, is often on the premises. Stars, moguls, tourists, lunching matrons and serious suits fill the tables. The service is a well-tempered hybrid of warmth, humor and strict professionalism. Some complain that regular customers get better treatment than the rest of us, but then, sometimes life is like that. 176 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 385-0880. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:15 p.m., Sat. noon–2:15 p.m. Dinner seven days, from 5:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $19–$36. California. MH. $$$$

Santa Monica/Brentwood

Border Grill. The Santa Monica flagship restaurant of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger has become a prime tourist destination, but the regional Mexican cuisine still comes out vivid and strong — fat juicy tacos, refreshing ceviches, spot-on chile verde. The wall graphics are loud, the prime-time dinner din deafening, the bar often impenetrably crowded. The dessert case, with Aztec chocolate cakes, huge pies and brownies, is simply dangerous. 1445 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-1655. Lunch and dinner seven days. Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.– Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $13–$25. Mexican. MH ¨


Juliano’s Raw. At Raw there is no cooking — at least no cooking with heat. There is slicing, chopping, grinding, mashing, juicing, soaking, dehydrating, rehydrating, fermenting, sprouting, extruding, wrapping and saucing aplenty. The dining room features a poster of the chef, Juliano, an impossibly long-waisted, shirtless, surfer-tanned human spectacle. Like their employer, the waitresses also bear witness to the benefits of the raw life. I have sampled raw-food preparations and was anticipating a different realm of textures and food combinations. What I did not expect, and was thrilled by, was Juliano’s level of flavor. By the end of each meal, however, I found myself wearied by the excessive remaking of everything. Juliano, with all his talent, may be trying too hard. A few islands of simplicity might have gone a long way to relieve the unabashed fussiness of his non-cooking. 609 Broadway, Santa Monica; (310) 587-1552. Lunch and dinner daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Entrées $9.95–$12.95. No alcohol served. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. MH $ ¦ *

Mélisse. It’s so French, this fancy, formal restaurant owned and cheffed by Josiah Citrin in Santa Monica. The room is sedate and a tad fussy — très authentique, from the massive chandelier down to the little footstools designed to keep your Gucci bag off the ground. (And if you don’t have a Gucci bag or its equivalent, you’re out of your price range.) Citrin gives his classical French training, high-end purveyors and farmers-market produce a real workout. Dover sole baked with the bone in Hudson Valley foie gras and beautifully roasted chicken are showstoppers. Bring a big appetite and a credit card and let this restaurant have its way with you: The great service, comfortable seats, course after course of carefully prepared fresh ingredients all add up, plate by plate, element by element, to a complete, pleasurable and singularly French experience. 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-0881. Dinner Tues.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 5:45–10 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $27–$38. French. MH $$$ ¤

Michael’s. California nouvelle cuisine may have been born in this art-infested restaurant where the Diebenkorns are real, the patio swarms with Robert Grahams, and media barons sup on pretty little salads of quail with pansy blossoms and sherry vinegar. Beyond the piles of arugula that reach halfway to the moon, the steak is the real thing, a prime New York strip dry-aged halfway to infinity, with an alarming mineral pungency bred out of most steak-house meat around 1952. But make sure somebody else is paying. 1147 Third St., Santa Monica, (310) 451-0843. Lunch Mon.–Fri. noon–2:30 p.m. Dinner Mon.–Sat. 6–10:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $28–$36. California. JG $$$ ¤

Restaurant Josie. Never mind, if you can, that Josie has one of the chilliest doors in town — the hostesses act like bouncers for the DAR. Once you’re seated, life improves; the waiters are real pros, and the dining room manages to be sedate yet hip, and quite cozy in a WASP-y, old-money kind of way. Chef-owner Josie LeBalch, formerly of the Saddle Peak Lodge, Remi and the Beach House, cooks her own mix of Cal-Med dishes with an emphasis on game. 2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 581-9888. Dinner seven nights. Mon.–Sat. 6–10 p.m., Sun. 5:30–9 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $18–$32. California. MH $$$ Ü

Rocca. Don Dickman, formerly of Trumps and Daily Grill, finally opened his dream restaurant in Santa Monica, a rustic Italian bistro with the look of a neighborhood New York eatery. Dickman does the lion’s share of cooking — all the stewing and braising — but he also has brought in an ace pasta maker, Maria Gomez. I’d go back for the flattened half-chicken “al mattone,” an excellent-quality, juicy bird with beautifully seasoned skin. For dessert, try the bittersweet-chocolate polenta pudding cake. One night, a friend looked up and said with a slightly startled air, “Is this, uh, like a major restaurant?” In some ways, Rocca is simply too modest for that — too neighborhood, too underdressed. But for those of us who crave authentic Italian cuisine, Rocca is definitely a major restaurant. 1432-A Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 395-6765. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 5:30–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking across the street at Border Grill. Entrées $11–$17. AE, DC, MC, V. Italian. MH $ ¤


Culver City/Venice and vicinity

Globe Venice. Globe Venice has replaced 72 Market Street, and it’s perhaps a promising sign of the times that the formerly hard-edged haute-cool celebrity magnet has morphed into a homier place. Chef-owner Joseph Manzare is a veteran of Spago and Granita, and the first restaurant he opened, the Globe in San Francisco, is noted as an off-hours hangout for other chefs. This Globe has outsized art and smart, cheerful waitresses — and one of the best roasted chickens in town. 72 Market St., Venice, (310) 392-8720. Lunch Mon.–Fri. noon–3 p.m. Dinner Sun.–Mon. 5–10 p.m., Tues.–Sat. 5 p.m.–mid. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $16–$24. California. MH $$ H


Joe’s. Enlarged from cramped tables in hallways to actual restaurant proportions, Joseph Miller’s beloved Venice venue is now like, well, a real restaurant, with a real dining room, a larger wait staff and — inevitably — a certain loss. Miller’s clear-flavored California-French cooking can still graze perfection, but the overall focus in both the cooking and temper of the place seems fuzzier and the bill seems significantly higher. And yet I still love his three- and four-course prix-fixe menus. 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-5811. Lunch Tues.–Fri. noon–2:15 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 6–11 p.m. Brunch Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, MC, V. Entrées $10-$25, plus $38–$45 prix-fixe dinner. California. MH $


San Fernando Valley

Tama Sushi. Formerly known as Katsu (until a fire closed it for a year), Studio City’s Tama Sushi is owned and run by veteran sushi master Michite Katsu and his wife, Tama. Katsu’s first restaurant, which opened on Hillhurst in the ’80s, was seminal for its beauty and art, both on and off the plate; subsequent establishments (Katsu on Third, Café Katsu) upheld his aesthetic standards. Now, there’s only Tama Sushi, a spare, understated yet charming piece of architecture, with Katsu himself expertly carving up fish at the bar — it’s both educational and joyous to watch him at work. Start with a plate of assorted sashimi, and you’ll find he cuts fish as a gem cutter works with rubies, accentuating inherent virtues. And don’t miss his live scallop sushi, dressed in lime juice with a sprinkle of Italian sea salt. 11920 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 760-4585. Open for lunch daily 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner nightly 5–9:30 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Sushi and sashimi, $1.50–$15. Japanese. MH $


Pasadena and vicinity

Café Atlantic. This Cuban café from Xiomara Ardolina serves authentic, gently priced Cuban cuisine with a high-quality sheen that may provoke some Versailles die-hards to quibble with the term authentic. But Cuban cooking in general, and this menu in particular, are a rhapsody of garlic and onions, sofrito (sautéed aromatic vegetables), and mojo. Here, the flavors are as bold as the Cuban jazz on the tape deck. Don’t miss the fufu de platanos con chicharrones, the rich mash of semi-ripe plantains and crunchy pork rind. 53 E. Union St., Pasadena, (626) 796-7350. Breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days, Mon.–Fri. 6 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 7:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Wine and beer/ limited bar. Street parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées $11–$14. Cuban. MH $$ ¤ *

Madre’s. Jennifer Lopez’s restaurant is old-fashioned and charming, with lots of ruffled shabby-chic linen, damask and crystal chandeliers. The place will make you sentimental for that rose-loving, big-hearted grandmother you never had — not to mention the heirlooms you never will inherit! The service is terrific, the food similar to what you’d find at a fancy Cuban wedding: fufu, yuca, roasted pork, oxtails, mojo-drenched chicken and shrimp — all in great heaping portions. 897 Granite Drive, Pasadena, (626) 744-0900. Open Tues.–Sun. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner 5–10 p.m. Full bar. Bar open 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Valet parking. Dress code. Major credit cards. Entrées $10–$30. Cuban. MH ¤ ¨ Ü

Xiomara. Funny, extroverted restaurateur Xiomara Ardolina now serves big-flavored Nuevo Latino cuisine with a Cuban accent in her long-lived Old Town digs. Try the sea bass, the long-marinated leg of pork and its lovely byproduct: pork hash. The dining room is calm, elegant, even sedate but all the liveliness and spirit you’d want arrives on the plates — and in the housemade mojitos, the classic Cuban rum drink made with cane juice that’s extracted, fresh, at the bar. 69 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (626) 796-2520. Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5–11 p.m. Also at 6101 W. Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 461-0601. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $20–$25. Cuban/Pan-Latino. MH $$

LA Weekly