Dear Mr. Gold:  

I'm hoping you can recommend a place to hold a surprise party. I'm finding this a bit hard to accomplish — I live in Ohio and I don't know L.A. that well. I'm considering Bottega Louie and Church & State. There will be about 20 of us and I want something that will fit the birthday boy's requirements: good food, a low-key crowd and nice atmosphere. Is this possible near downtown?

—Karen, Cincinnati


Dear Karen:

Bottega Louie seems like a particularly bad place to do a surprise party. It's a fine restaurant, but the dining room is huge, stunningly loud, and all of a piece; I suspect it would be difficult to pull off a surprise, and your party will be swallowed up in the tumult. Church & State might work. The bistro cooking is of a pretty high standard, and if your group finds wine tedious, the cocktail program is complex and interesting. If money isn't an object, Drago Centro is a splendid place to dine with a group: Michael Shearin is an exceptionally interesting sommelier, always ready to nudge you toward idiosyncratic wines from tiny Italian producers instead of the usual big names, and the staff is always ready to assemble splendid, well-integrated Italian feasts from the cooking of Celestino Drago and his chef de cuisine, Ian Gresik.

But still, I'm suspecting the restaurant you're looking for may be Wurstküche, which sells only sausages and beer, but really, really good sausages and beer. The long tables are perfect for groups, and the long, narrow passage leading from the entrance to the back dining room can only heighten the sense of surprise. What could be better than Kriekbier and birthday cake?

DRAGO CENTRO, 800 E. 3rd St., dwntwn. (213) 687-4444.

LA Weekly