Office Christmas Party

Cinch. Like so many of the restaurants designed by Dodd Mitchell, Cinch looks like the archvillain’s lair from a Sean Connery–era James Bond movie, sleek luxury fitted into a nuclear-hardened concrete bunker: dark woods, flickering candlelight, booming music and burnished chinoiserie seemingly concealing a darker, edgier function. A room for private parties can hold up to 150. The proto-Japanese cooking may be a perfect fit for the vaguely sinister architecture: things like fried oysters wrapped in shiso leaves; raw salmon subsumed into spring rolls; raw Kobe beef flavored with rosemary, shiso and olives — everything fashionable enough to function as a lifestyle signifier as well as an -appetizer or entrée. 1519 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-4139. Dinner Sun.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m. (bar food available one hour before and one hour after dinner). Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards. Entrées $12.50–$28.50. French-Japanese. JG $$

Ciudad. A vibrant downtown after-work hangout, Ciudad has both a patio area and a back room. 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. 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 $$

vermont. Elegant, understated and yet festive atmosphere is well suited for office parties. 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 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 $

Large Birthday
(Eight People and Up)

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. The seating at the newer Hollywood Boulevard venue is ideal for big parties. 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 $

Mandaloun. It is hard not to be a little awestruck by the Lebanese restaurant Mandaloun. Because while the local Middle Eastern restaurant scene is no stranger to grandeur, there has never been anything like this place, a gilded gastrodome of massive -kebabs, pita made to order, and outdoor terraces devoted to the baking of Lebanese flatbreads and the smoking of apple-flavored tobacco. And it’s all tucked away on the second floor of a com-plex that from the outside looks better suited to a parking structure. 141 S. Maryland Blvd., Glendale, (818) 507-1900. Lunch and dinner Sun.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m. Full bar. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Entrées $12.95–$22. Lebanese. JG $

Palm Thai. Fun atmosphere, moderate prices and large tables accommodate a crowd. Palm Thai may be the most famous Thai supper club in Hollywood — with Thai tour buses often parked out front. The food is first-rate. Bar snacks include crisp-skinned Thai sour sausages served with fried peanuts and raw cabbage and beef jerky, fried to a tooth-wrenching chaw. There is a proper papaya salad, the unripe fruit shredded into crunchy slaw, with taut chile heat, sweet-tart citrus dressing and the briny sting of salt-preserved raw crab. And Palm Thai prepares the best version in town of suea rong hai, northeastern-style barbecued beef. 5273 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 462-5073. Lunch and dinner seven days 11 a.m.–mid. (until 1:30 a.m. Fri.–Sat.). Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $18–$40. Thai. JG $

Intimate Birthday
(Two to Four People)

Firefly Bistro. Monique King’s Firefly Bistro — which she runs with husband and co-chef, Paul Rosenbluh — is a comfortable restaurant, the kind of neighborhood place you drop into a couple of times a month because you like the idea of cornmeal-fried anchovies in your caesar salad, or of a paella that tastes more like an uptown version of -jambalaya. Asian touches pop up now and again, and a few Mexican things, and quite a few folky flavors from Spain. 1009 El Centro St., South Pasadena, (626) 441-2443. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. and Sun. 5:30–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5:30–10 p.m. Closed Mon. Beer and wine. Street parking. AE, D, MC, V. Dinner entrées $14.50–$26.50. American fusion. JG $$


Sona. What we know as California cuisine may be dedicated to revealing produce at its best, but Michelle and David Myers go after nature with blowtorches and -dynamite, determined to bend the old woman to their will. At Sona, a -sliver of watermelon may be less a sliver of -watermelon than a wisp in a chilled soup, a salted crunch tracing the shape of a curl of marinated yellowtail, a glistening -cellophane window into the soul of a pistachio, a texture in a sorbet, a jelly exposing its -cucumberlike soul. The morning after nine courses at Sona (this is one restaurant where only the tasting menu will do), it will already seem like a half-forgotten dream. 401 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 659-7708. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–10 p.m., Fri. 6–11 p.m., Sat. 5:30–11 p.m. Closed Sun.–Mon. Full bar. Valet parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Modern French. JG $$$

Table 8. This club-style restaurant is -located in the space that was formerly -Bouchon; its hanging glass lamps remain, as does the dark-wood bar, but otherwise, the space is now sleek, sophisticated, even a touch austere. The atmosphere is not as stiff as Sona’s or as clattery and close as AOC’s or quite as grand as Grace’s. Chef-owner Govind Armstrong’s food has an unmistakable aura of skill and competence, starting with a simple oak leaf salad with beets and feta cheese that glistens with excellent oil and the fine filigree crunch of good sea salt, and continuing with entrées that are just as intelligently put together. 7661 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 782-8258. Dinner Mon.–Thurs., 6–10:30 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 6–11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. Entrées $18–$28. AE, DC, MC, V. California seasonal. MH $$

Kid’s Birthday

Angeli Caffé. When children dine at this venerable Melrose spot — the first of the new Italian restaurants, founded by influential chef Evan Kleiman — they're provided with a chunk of dough to be used as an outlet for culinary creativity. In addition, Kleiman 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. 5–11 p.m. Closed Mon. Beer and wine. Valet parking. Entrées $11–$18. Thursday dinners $25. AE, D, MC, V. Italian. MH $

The Counter. The “Build Your Own Burger” idea behind the Counter, a fashionable new dive in Ocean Park, makes it a universe of possibilities centering around the hamburger and its matrix of 40-odd fixings, a restaurant where a thick, rare, organic-beef hamburger with herbed goat cheese, dried cranberries and roasted chiles seems not just the fancy of a celebrity used to flexing his whim of iron but almost an imperative. Ranch dressing on the side? Done! There is a wine-bar aspect to the place (very decent, if obscure, vintages from California), a selection of microbrews, and waitresses who do not, to put it mildly, look as if they are part of the regular hamburger-eating demographic. 2901 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 399-8383. Open Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. noon–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Food for two: $13–$22. American. JG $

Soda Jerks. The ice cream served at Soda Jerks, an old-fashioned soda fountain in Pasadena, is Fosselman’s — an excellent local brand that’s been made in Alhambra by the Fosselman family for the last 80 years. Soda Jerks is a kid-friendly place, with cheerful college-age attendants behind the counter. You can order lunch (great hot dogs!) before your ice cream, or you can cut to the chase: unwieldy scoops of toasted almond, coconut-pineapple or rocky road in a sugar cone. I love cones — cake or sugar — but coming to one always makes me sad; it means the end is in sight. 219 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 583-8031. Open weekdays 8 a.m.–9:30 p.m., weekends till 10 p.m. No alcohol. Parking lot. $3–$7. AE, MC, V. Ice Cream. MH ¢

Anniversary Dinner

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 $$


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 $$$

Grace. From the name I expected a serene and fluid vibe, but Grace is far more bustling and adult than that, citified and swank. And the ingredients in Neal Fraser’s take on American cooking are indisputably excellent, and usually respectfully handled — -truly grace under pressure. Tuesdays through Thursdays, a seasonal tasting menu is available: five courses for $55 — a deal. On the weekend, dinner is à la carte. 7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 934-4400. Dinner Tues.–Thurs. 6–10:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 6–11 p.m., Sun. 6–10 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking. Entrées $20–$32. AE, MC, V. MH $$$

Clementine. Annie Miler, a food-historian-turned-chef, makes delicious versions of great American regional favorites at her sunny breakfast, lunch and takeout café across from the Century City Shopping Mall. Rediscover the Southern ham biscuit and the all-American grilled cheese sandwich, in this case a crusty, buttery version made with marinated onions in an Italian sandwich press. Miler’s best invention yet may be a peanut-butter cookie with a layer of peanut butter piped inside. 1751 Ensley Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 552-1080. No alcohol. Open Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–7:30 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Parking in rear lot. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Entrées $7–$10. California. MH

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