For those who can't resist getting behind the scenes, many Southland restaurants, following in the footsteps of Spago , are sprouting open kitchens. It is now possible to get a ring-side seat to all the chopping, roasting and frying that goes into the creation of a meal.
BOCCA (8001 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (213) 653-3064). Bocca is trendy, very loud and serves "designer food"--seafood, meat and pasta dishes that sounded better on the page than they tasted on the plate. Despite its shortcomings, Bocca does sport a pink-and-aqua exhibition kitchen, equipped with pizza oven and mesquite grill and room for 20 at the counter. Open for lunch Monday-Saturday, for dinner daily. Full bar. Valet parking. All major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, (food only): $36-$60.
LA COURONNE (142 S. Lake St., Pasadena, (818) 793-3151). From the European-style commons on Lake Street, passers-by can view La Couronne's chefs at work in their white-tiled kitchen. Those dining on the restaurant's classic French cuisine will have to settle for looking out the elegant restaurant's tall windows, because the kitchen is visible only from the street. Open Tueday-Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday, dinner only. Late suppers served after kitchen closes. All major credit cards accepted. Valet parking. Reservations essential. Dinner for two (food only): $55-$96.
CUCINA (7383 Melrose Ave., (213) 653-8333). Instead of planting the chef in the middle of the restaurant as many open-kitchen eateries do, Cucina puts the guests in the middle of the kitchen. A great big Italian kitchen, Cucina has floors of marble, walls of white tile, and beautiful wooden cases filled with jars of pepper and jugs of olive oil that serve as decoration. Skillets dangle overhead, great haunches of meat turn on a rotisserie and fish sizzles on a mesquite grill. The handwritten menu del giorno changes daily. Open daily, 11:30 a.m. to midnight. Reservations advised. Most credit cards accepted. Dinner for two (food only): about $40.
KATSU (1972 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz, (213) 665-1891). In this serene Japanese restaurant, dirt, mess and noise have been replaced by art, flowers, and one-of-a-kind handmade plates. Katsu serves the usual sushi, but it's done more gracefully than anywhere else--on Sundays and Mondays it isn't unusual to catch a chef or two from the Westside sitting mesmerized at the black-and-white sushi bar, picking up pointers from the sushi chefs. Open Monday-Friday for lunch, 12-2 p.m., daily for dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Reservations suggested. All major credit cards. Valet parking for dinner. Dinner for two (food only): $60-$80.
ROCKENWAGNER (1023 W. Washington Blvd., Venice, (213) 399-6504). Off the beaten track in Venice, this charming, small French restaurant has a casual and slightly avant-garde air with its lime green walls and modern art. Peek into the kitchen window and see the two owners, Mary and Hans Rockenwagner, cooking away on the two large gas stoves. Not the copycat cuisine so common these days, this restaurant offers truly original food (including rabbit, pasta, seafood). Open Tuesday-Sunday, dinner only. Mastercard and Visa accepted. Parking in lot behind restaurant. Dinner for two (food only): $40-$55.