Return to previous questions.


HUNEVEN: Anywhere. Okay, okay. Recently, a date took me to Granita — that was a good, slow simmer for a middle-agester like me. When we ran out of things to talk about, there was always the semi-psychedelic underwater décor and Jennifer Naylor's sophisticated seasonal cooking to discuss. I guess I'd be most impressed if a date took me to a place I'd never been — a good warm date might be Nobu in Malibu, a hot date might be Mélisse in Santa Monica, and a downright blistering date would be Ginza Sushiko, which may be America's most expensive restaurant. Granita, 23725 W. Malibu Road, Malibu Colony Plaza, Malibu; (310) 456-0488. Nobu, 3835 Cross Creek Road, Malibu; (310) 317-9140. Mélisse, 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 395-0881. Ginza Sushiko, 218 Via Rodeo, N. Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 247-8939.

GOLD: The patio at Michael's is the California the rest of us secretly wish we lived in, a flower-scented garden squeezed into a tiny bungalow back yard, bathed with watery marine light and littered with Grahams, Diebenkorns and Stellas. The classic California-French cooking is light, seasonal, perfectly composed and huge in flavor. The wine list is practically an encyclopedia of great California vintages. The service is professional and discreet. Feed each other oysters, and bring on the Viognier. Although I've got to say, a plateful of sloppy tongue tacos from the taco truck parked behind El Taurino at 2 in the morning is sometimes as hot as it gets. Michael's, 1147 Third St., Santa Monica; (310) 451-0843. El Taurino, 1104 Hoover St.; (213) 738-9197.


GOLD: Not that I have any, y'know, firsthand information about this or anything, but you could scarcely do better than the Prince, a dark, subterranean Korean pub inhabiting the fanciest restaurant in Los Angeles circa 1953, complete with lawn jockeys at the top of the stairs, oil paintings of earls above oxblood leather banquettes, and Holiday magazine awards on the walls. Six degrees of separation? Unless you're a Seoul-based software consultant, figure more like 12. And if sautéed octopus and fried fish aren't romantic enough, you can always tempt each other with steaming tureens of milky silkworm-cocoon soup. 3198Þ W. Seventh St.; (323) 389-2007.

HUNEVEN: If secrecy is the operative word, the answer would have to be the reliable, historic Chianti on Melrose, where it's so dark the waiters hand out flashlights so you can read the menu. (If your relationship ever sees the light of day, you can switch to the other side of the restaurant, the bright, contemporary Chianti Cucina.) I don't know why, but Bruce Marder's beautiful restaurant Capo, down by the ocean in Santa Monica, also occurs to me. I love the room, the cozy, New York feel of it — Capo seems like such a suave adult place, anyone I ran into there would be perfectly discreet. Chianti and Chianti Cucina, 7383 Melrose Ave.; (323) 653-8333. Capo, 1810 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 394-5550.


GOLD: Miceli's in Hollywood could be the model for the restaurant scene in Lady and the Tramp, an ancient, baroque pizzeria with red candle globes, checked tablecloths, and ceilings encrusted with autographed Chianti flasks. But for magnificent pizza, checkered tablecloths and totally old-fashioned American-Italian pasta, there is no substitute for Casa Bianca. It's the cheap-date restaurant all others wish they could be. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; (323) 256-9617.

HUNEVEN: If I'm worried about my date's pocketbook (or my own!), I'd lure 'em to Raffi's in Glendale, a very popular and inexpensive Persian-Armenian kebab restaurant. Raffi's has a huge patio with caged canaries in the trees, murals of the sea, and is within easy walking distance to Glendale's movie theaters and shopping centers. The dinners include mountains of saffron-flecked rice, charred tomatoes and peppers, and enough protein for a family of four: I like the smoky eggplant dip, the tabbouleh, skewered lamb chops (shishlique) and the marinated lamb (shish) kebabs. If you want to eat steak without paying fancy chophouse prices, there's the eminently affordable Taylor's — I always go to the La Cañada location, though the clientele tends to be lily-white and Republican — and order the filet. The tiny, rapturously inexpensive Le Saigon in West Los Angeles is an ideal place to huddle over big bowls of pho or bun, with delicious charbroiled pork and glasses of sticky sweet café sua da (iced Saigon coffee). But frankly, I would fall in love with anyone who took me to Casa Bianca for a thin-crust pepperoni-and-extra-tomato pizza and a small antipasto salad — which, for two, runs under 25 bucks. Raffi's Place, 211 E. Broadway, Glendale; (818) 240-7411. Taylor's Steakhouse, 3361 W. Eighth St., (213) 382-8449, and 901 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada, (818) 790-7668. Le Saigon, 11611 Santa Monica Blvd.; (310) 312-2929. Casa Bianca Pizza Pie, see above.



GOLD: The king of all po' boys is the fried-seafood po' boy, the New Orleans sandwich that lent the question “Dressed or undressed?” a resonance even sexier than the one it had to begin with. And the king of seafood po' boys, at least around here, is the oyster loaf at 5 Cs, a length of bread split in half, toasted and buttered, laminated with pickles, and stuffed with a dozen or so freshly deep-fried oysters. 2329 W. 54th St.; (323) 298-9313.

HUNEVEN: I like the catfish poor boy at the Gumbo Pot — a soft-crumbed, crusty French roll, halved, painted with tartar sauce, layered with paper-thin slices of fresh lemon and a hot golden-battered, crunchy catfish fillet. In Farmers Market, 6333 W. Third St.; (323) 933-0358.


GOLD: Have you ever had a poached egg at Daniel in New York, drizzled with fonduta and showered with fresh white truffles? Monumental. But until they start slinging those through the drive-thru window at Carl's Jr., I'll settle for the chile-sluiced Thai 100-year-egg salad at Ruen Pair. 5257 Hollywood Blvd.; (323) 466-0153.

HUNEVEN: I would vote for the simple poached egg at Clementine, on its own or served on a hot homemade biscuit with shaved country ham. 1751 Ensley Ave.; (310) 552-1080.


GOLD: Have I mentioned the flat, sizzling, well-browned Thai omelets with shrimp and bits of turnip they serve at Ruen Pair? Freakin' outstanding, dude. 5257 Hollywood Blvd.; (323) 466-0153.

HUNEVEN: Omelets with French fries and a green salad are my idea of a perfect lunch or light dinner, but very few chefs — and no short-order cooks — believe me when I say I want my eggs cooked soft. I can depend on the spinach omelet at the Moustache Café on Melrose, and besides, I like that funky, leafy patio. I've also had intermittent luck with good omelets at the takeout or eat-in French café Le Marmiton on Montana. Moustache Café, 8155 Melrose Ave.; (323) 651-2111; and 1071 Glendon Ave., Westwood; (310) 208-6633. Le Marmiton, 1327 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 393-7716.


GOLD: I'm thinking of a lazy afternoon, a bottle of old Madiran, a frisée salad with poached quail eggs, grainy mustard, tiny cubes of molten foie gras that had been seared crisp . . . Sorry. I must have been daydreaming about Gascony again. Anyway, the bacon-and-egg salad served lunchtimes at Michael's is about as good as it gets. At least around here. 1147 Third St., Santa Monica; (310) 451-0843.

HUNEVEN: Salade Lyonnaise is traditionally made with lardons (cubed bacon), frisée (curly endive) and poached eggs. All this strikes me as a little heavy for an appetizer — I mean, you're essentially starting dinner with bacon and eggs. This is especially true at Vermont, where Michael's Favorite Salad, a first cousin to the Lyonnaise, is served with two, count 'em, two eggs and a warm raspberry vinaigrette (it's really very good). The salade Paysanne at Pastis comes in a lovely deep bowl; as you work your way down, each bite is a little more fraught with bacon saltiness and yolky richness. Michael's in Santa Monica has a variation on this salad made with chewy, full-flavored bacon and a sturdy curly endive that really stands up to the mustard-laced chive vinaigrette. Vermont, 1714 Vermont Ave.; (323) 661-6163. Pastis, 8114 Beverly Blvd.; (323) 655-8822. Michael's, see above. 23. IT'S TACO TIME.

HUNEVEN: Which is exactly why you'll find me at Taqueria Sanchez, hoisting a couple with carne asada and bitter, smoky chipotle salsa. For want of a better word, the tacos here just have the right gestalt. 4541 Centinela Ave.; (310) 822-8880.


GOLD: Lucky you. May I suggest Hua's Garden, stalwart of what has become practically a Szechuan restaurant row in Monterey Park. The pornographically delicious ma po bean curd, the Szechuan dumplings, the fantastic hacked cold chicken sluiced with chile oil, and the dish known only as Spicy With Spicy are presented with a depth of flavor, a brutal frankness that has few equals. The frog fried with fermented hot chiles tastes not unlike a refined version of what might happen if you were to sauté the amphibian with an entire jar of the hot peppers on the table at a Thai restaurant, spooning the chiles right out with their juice. If that doesn't do the trick, you could always try the Sichuan hot pot at Lu Gi, which over the course of a meal reduces into a caustic vermilion fluid with the corrosive powers of pure lye. Sometimes there is no pleasure without pain. Hua's Garden, 301 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park; (626) 571-8387. Lu Gi, 539 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 457-5111.


HUNEVEN: Take her to Babita in San Gabriel and order the camarones Topolobampo, sautéed shrimp with a conflagrationally hot habañero sauce — so hot I have to invent a word to describe it — and you'll have her weeping with pleasure. Or drive down to Little India and have the bhel puri at Ambala Sweets and Snacks; they're not only provocatively spicy, they're inordinately beautiful: dark golden crisp puffs drizzled with bright-green chile chutney and a deep maroon tamarind chutney. Babita Mexicuisine, 1823 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 288-7265. Ambala Sweets and Snacks, 18433 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia; (562) 402-0006.



HUNEVEN: Then you'll probably like shabu-shabu, where you dip your own paper-thin slices of meats, vegetables, noodles and tofu in boiling pots of lightly seasoned broth. I can recommend the cleverly named, architecturally attractive Mizu 212° in West Los Angeles and, in the Valley, Yoshi's Shabu-Shabu Restaurant, which in addition to the standard vegetarian, chicken, beef and prime-beef dinners, offers pork and seafood. Up a side street in Pasadena's Old Town, there's the traditional ShaaB, a full-service Japanese restaurant and sushi bar with a shabu-shabu counter serving Eastern choice beef, prime rib beef and seafood “nabe,” or Japanese-style bouillabaisse. The best and most elegant shabu-shabu restaurant in Los Angeles is probably Ka Ga Ya in the Honda Plaza, a very focused, beautiful, traditional shabu-shabu house with a short menu featuring prime or Kobe beef, seafood, and combinations of beef and seafood. Mizu 212°, 2000 Sawtelle Blvd., W.L.A.; (310) 478-8979. Yoshi's Shabu-Shabu Restaurant, 13573 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 995-1660. ShaaB Japanese Restaurant, 77 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; (626) 683-1150. Ka Ga Ya, 418 E. Second St.; (213) 617-1016.

GOLD: There's always Soot Bull Jeep, the greatest of L.A.'s Korean barbecues, where the tabletop grills are fired with hardwood coals instead of gas, and raw, marinated protein — eels, baby octopus, snips of ribeye steak — magically transforms itself before your eyes into something crisp and savory. If you're really hardcore about this sort of thing, Tombo might be your sort of place, a Japanese greasy spoon where you not only get to fry your own omeletlike okonomiyaki at the table, but to spill soup into a sort of cabbage battlement on a hot griddle and scrape it up with a small metal spatula when it has sufficiently boiled down. You have likely never experienced anything like this broth, a sticky, salty, slimy ooze reduced to the plastic consistency of mucilage. Soot Bull Jeep, 3136 Eighth St.; (213) 387-3865. Tombo, 2106 Artesia Blvd., Torrance; (310) 324-5190.


GOLD: Assuming that what you're missing has more to do with food than with hostess bars or the ability to buy schoolgirls' used panties from vending machines, Sanuki No Sato might be the ticket. Udon in a zillion different variations; nabes, i.e., stews, served seething in rustic iron vessels; soba noodles stern as a Mishima short story; intricately fitted bento boxes at lunch . . . it's as if you never left the prefecture. Until the check comes. God bless America. 18206 S. Western Ave., Gardena; (310) 324-9184.

HUNEVEN: I'd try The Hump, a little crow's-nest sushi bar atop Typhoon at the Santa Monica Airport. Much of the fish comes directly from the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. I like the kanpachi, a white fish similar to hamachi only milder and firmer; the mild, delicately creamy and translucent Japanese flounder; and the iwashi, a meaty, filleted sardine. Seared Yaki Jimo­style sashimi (maguro, albacore, etc.) is sauced with cilantro, ginger, garlic and ponzu. Tataki-style sashimi is chopped into tartare — try the Spanish mackerel with cilantro, sesame and kelp for a mouthful of well-seasoned sea. And don't miss the shishito, small, bright green, seared Japanese peppers. An added bonus at the Hump is eating off Mineo Mizuno's ceramics — charming thick and wavy-edged sushi plates. 3221 Donald Douglas Loop South, Third Floor, Santa Monica; (310) 313-0977.


HUNEVEN: Brooke Williamson, Zax's 23-year-old executive chef, is a wonderful shopper and a budding great cook. Formerly at Fenix at the Argyle, Michael's and Boxer, she is an advocate of seasonal, regional ingredients and works the farmers markets assiduously, transforming her finds into sturdy New American cuisine. Try her dry-aged New York steak with roquefort-shallot butter, or the comforting oven-roasted chicken with charred escarole, mild-horseradish mashed potatoes and wine-marinated red onions.


Soon after Michael Wilson started working for Octavio Becerra at Pinot Bistro in the early '90s, he convinced his old high school friend Michael Brown to join him there. Wilson went to Europe to cook in Copenhagen for a year, then returned to set up a restaurant with a friend in Venice. It wasn't long after Restaurant 5 Dudley opened its doors that Wilson got his old pal Brown to defect to the cause as well. Together, their robust Cal-French food is seasonal comfort food — lots of braised meats this winter, and fish from Europe. They make their own bread and pasta, and the menu changes weekly. Zax, 11604 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; (310) 571-3800. Restaurant 5 Dudley, 5 Dudley Ave., Venice; (310) 399-6678.


HUNEVEN: What does that mean? It's raining? You're starving? You feel like being ridiculed for your bad Berlitz French? Actually, the bistro craze, such as it was, has given Los Angeles a handful of solidly good, pretty restaurants. Mimosa goes up and down, but when it's on an upswing, it's really the best bistro in town. I was heartbroken when they took the thick fish soup and its cousin, the shellfish-filled bouillabaisse, off the menu — but now it's back on Saturdays only. If only they'd bring back the rillettes, too. Still, the hangar steak with frites is a delicious bargain. Make a meal of the watercress salad, a tomato tart and the cassoulet (which is, unfortunately, a bit bland), and you'll staunch any bistro cravings for at least 48 hours.

Down the street, within cornichon-flinging distance, Pastis, the Café Deux Magots to Mimosa's Café Flor, manages to serve consistently good bistro food, despite an ever-changing chef. (The good ones have been plucked like mirabelles by bigger, higher-paying restaurants.) Look for the comforting, traditional roast leg of lamb with flageolets, and a lavender-scented crème brûlée.

Every time I eat at the Lyonnaise-style Bouchon on Melrose (months elapse between each visit), the food seems better. French onion soup, coq au vin, steamed mussels with fries, tiny tables, French waiters — voilà!

Le Petit Café, in the residential/industrial reaches of easterly Santa Monica, is one of the best-kept secrets around (oops). Family-run, it could be transplanted straight from the side streets of Paris. The food is nothing fancy, just solid, good bistro cooking — lobster bisque, lamb chops, paté with green salad and cornichons. I especially like the sand dabs with lots of lemon and capers, and the cold-poached salmon with steamed vegetables and aioli. Mimosa, 8009 Beverly Blvd.; (323) 655-8895. Pastis, 8114 Beverly Blvd.; (323) 655-8822. Bouchon, 7661 Melrose Ave.; (323) 852-9400. Le Petit Café, 2842 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 829-6792.

GOLD: For some reason or another, I forsake the usual French suspects for Tung Lai Shun, an Islamic Chinese restaurant in the big San Gabriel mall. Crusty, freshly baked sesame bread; an elegantly slippery ox-tendon terrine; braised lamb with garlic — it all seems so terribly Provençal somehow, with not a French person in sight. All that's missing is the frites. 140 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 288-6588.


GOLD: If we can assume a) neither of you has the clout to command the star treatment at Valentino or Matsuhisa, and b) if he were amenable to the giant tabs at Ginza Sushiko he would have suggested the place himself, throw caution to the winds and book an omakase dinner at Asanebo. For a bare 80 bucks apiece, out come the seared albacore sashimi with raw garlic, scraped salmon with caviar, fillets of kanpache, a tiny coldwater tuna imported from Japan, all arranged into little fishy Stonehenges. Which is to say, you'll get cooking at a slightly lower level than Matsuhisa is capable of producing, but better than a non-Japanese speaker can ever dream of meriting there. Remarkable stuff. 11941 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 760-3348.

HUNEVEN: I hope this isn't a setup. If you think it is, see our cheap-date suggestions. Otherwise, this is a no-brainer: the tasting menu at Spago. You might start with a miniature frying pan holding blini, cured salmon and an adorable quail egg (sunnyside up), with maybe a cup of fresh pea soup alongside. Next, an impeccable piece of sashimi — hamachi, say, with ponzu and micro greens; from there, perhaps some explode-in-your-mouth sweet-corn-stuffed agnolotti; then a bit of line-caught loup de mer, some pan-roasted guinea hen, and maybe a couple of Wolfgang Puck's famous lamb chops served with impossibly rich three-cheese mashed potatoes. Then, there's dessert — a tasting, usually, of something chocolate, something fruity, and seasonal and/or a bit of Kaiserschmarren, a fluffy crêpe with crème fraîche and hot sautéed strawberries. This is power eating at its most sublime — and challenging. Not for the faint of heart.


If you can't get reservations at Spago, I'd suggest Vincenti in Brentwood — it's so calm and civilized (not to mention expensive) you'll impress your employer with sheer maturity and good taste. Spago Beverly Hills, 176 N. Canon Drive., Beverly Hills; (310) 385-0880. Vincenti Ristorante, 11930 San Vicente Blvd.; (310) 207-0127.


HUNEVEN: I sympathize. Too many chefs are timid with fish, but Suzanne Goin at Lucques is not afraid to give fish some punch — and she does it without sacrificing the virtues of the flesh — i.e., its delicate texture, subtle flavor and, yes, its health benefits (I mean, what's the health perk of eating fish if it's swimming in butter?). Goin doesn't spurn butter entirely, but she's downright rhapsodic in her use of olive oil, and this practice extends to her fish preparations. There are always two fish entrées on her menu, and sometimes a special, as well. Recently, she grilled snapper with winter vegetables (baby Brussels sprouts, broccoli, Treviso radicchio, endive and radishes) in bagna cauda — a hot bath of olive oil steeped in garlic, anchovy, olive oil, a little butter, chile, rosemary and lemon juice. The fish was perched (as it were) on top of the vegetables, and covered with toasted breadcrumbs. I also love Goin's sautéed black bass served with a fennel gratin, artichoke purée and sorrel vinaigrette.

In the spring, look for one of my favorite Goin dishes: grilled sea bass drizzled with olive oil and lemon on a bed of mixed fresh herbs with Meyer lemon slices. Definitely not boring. 8474 Melrose Ave.; (323) 655-6277.


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