You're playing restaurant critic and you've always said that Los Angeles needs late-night eateries for the nocturnal bingers, the hopelessly sleepless, the show-biz buzzabouts and eternal club-hoppers.
Well, now you have a place. Lights On, a later-night extension of the adjacent Greek restaurant, Sofi, is not exactly the Plaka in Athens, where families sing, dance, laugh, eat and drink the night away while you wonder when these people ever sleep, but the cooking at Lights On is unmistakably homespun.
Given time, Lights On may evolve into a true taverna (if only in spirit) where the social atmosphere is as important as the food.
For the moment what you have is a quiet restaurant with a loud sound track, clean, simple lines and food that is an experience--authentic Greek things you've not seen or heard of before mixed with continental interpretations.
There is the unusual peinirli, a boat-shaped pizza filled to the brim with melted cheese (I think too much and too heavy) and a couple of fried eggs on top. This is, according to Sofi herself (a charming medical doctor turned restaurateur-cook and Lights On partner), a typically Greek dish.
And there are phyllo triangles (filo dough turnovers) filled with sausage and mustard, basically a variation on a Greek theme.
Then, unexpectedly there are grilled Polish and Italian sausages when you crave Greek sausages served with an unusual onion bread pudding which might be interesting to try. Then comes the calzone prepared Greek style with the peinirli pizza dough. This mammoth-size calzone is filled with feta cheese and tomatoes or gobs of mozzarella with eggplant and tomatoes.
My feeling is that the pizza dough needs more work, although the rolls made from it are rather rustic, appealing and always fresh from the oven. I would also like to see the rolls with a touch of salt added, but Sofi, a health-conscious doctor, prefers it typically Greek--unsalted.
Generally speaking, the dishes are heavy with mozzarella by Sofi's generous hand, making them a bit too heavy for late-night eating, I think. I prefer the lighter cheeses, such as feta and fresh goat cheese.
Homemade cannelloni, baked mostaccioli, potato and spinach casserole and baked chicken Florentine are perfectly good and tasty continental dishes with Greek flavors, but they seem to stray from and dilute the menu's focus. Perhaps I am wrong, but the spotlight from my eye lights up the lighter, simpler foods on the menu--fresh salads (the Mediterranean salad made with feta, tomatoes, cucumber and the salmon and goat cheese salad are very nice and very fresh); filo triangles with different fillings; the Greek hamburger which is served with French fries; the roasted potatoes with caviar; the soups; the egg omelet (light on the cheese, of course), and any of the grilled meats.
In fact, I would love to see the menu filled with grilled foods, such as the souvlakia, grilled ground beef kebabs, and Greek sausages served in soft pita bread, steaks, chops, chicken and fish cooked to order on my fantasy open grill, served with Sofi's fine Greek salad, French fries and beer, or with the wonderful meze (appetizers) of Greek cheese and olives, which you can ask for.
Lights On restaurant, 8022 West 3rd St., Los Angeles, (213) 658-7607. Open 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Reservations accepted. Back lot or street parking available. Catering service available. Entrees from $3.50 to $12.50. Selection of French and California wines, plus beer.