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Places To Graze

January 11, 1987| Compiled by Jane Greenstein

What was once called snacking has been upgraded to grazing--and it is done in all the best places. Some of these restaurants sport a separate grazing or bar menu, full of hors d'oeuvres, appetizers and the like. Other restaurants have entire menus filled with little dishes--the point is to order enough of them to fill you up.

CITY RESTAURANT (180 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 938-2155). Bright, loud and very lively, the City Restaurant doesn't sport a separate bar menu, it does have a late-afternoon menu (from 3--5:30) filled with perfect grazing fare like Thai melon salad or goat cheese and avocado served with little toasts. At night, appetizers fit for grazers include vegetable fritters (spicy fritters in chick pea batter), fried Brie, roasted sweet peppers and feta cheese and a tandoori skirt steak appetizer. Appetizer prices range $4.50-$8.50. Open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat., for dinner only Sun. MC, AE, V. Dinner for two: $40-$60.

CRAVINGS (8653 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 652-6893) Cravings, on Sunset Plaza, has one of the most eclectic menus in town. Inside are floral chintz tablecloths down to the floor, wallpaper to match, a piano player on a baby grand tinkling his way through "Tea for Two." The menu is a medley of all your old and new favorites and word has it that the owner asks patrons what they crave and plans to make adjustments to suit them. As it is, the menu goes on for pages, listing pastas, pizzas, pates, cheese, hamburgers, German franks, roast chicken and comfort foods like meatloaf, veal pot pie, macaroni and cheese, chili, stews and milk toast. Trouble is, the cooking's uneven. Open for breakfast and lunch Mon.-Sat., dinner Tue.-Sun., brunch Sun. Wine and beer only. AE, MC, V. Dinner for two: $20-$45

IRVINE RANCH FARMERS MARKET (The Atrium Court, 24 Fashion Island, Newport Beach, (714) 760-1100) Looking down from the second floor of the Atrium you see a sort of Roman circus of well-dressed foodies eating, talking and angling for tables. It's a terrific market focusing on a central dining area ringed with food stands--and a grazer's paradise. This is what we discovered on a recent visit: Fresh, wrapped sushi to go! Irish Cream-flavored coffee beans! The fare is salads and snacks and small meat entrees. There's designer ice cream created by Valerie Greenbaum and the Il Fornaio bakery houses big fat loaves of six-grain bread on its shelves. There's a big selection of hot items at the Mandarette, the mini spin-off of its namesake in West Hollywood. High marks also go to the tacos and burritos at La Salsa. There's a salad bar, liquor bar and (player) piano bar. Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. MC, V and Fashion Island credit cards. Dinner for two: few items are more than $6 per portion; varies according to what you choose to indulge in.

LALO AND BROTHERS (17237 Ventura Blvd., Encino (818) 784-8281). Picture a cool, spacious, romantic room with wood-beamed ceiling, wrought-iron chandeliers, melon-colored tablecloths and a band of personnel dressed in spanking white. The menu is thoroughly modern, and if you walk through the dining room's 9-foot tall French doors you enter the veranda piano bar, which has its very own menu. Open from 5-11 p.m. nightly, this is the place to munch on escargots , blue-corn taquitos filled with chicken, duck or crab, wild mushroom pizza, Bermuda onion rings, lobster tamales or smoked salmon with avocado wrapped in a buckwheat crepe. Most items on the bar menu are under $10. Open for dinner daily, for lunch Mon.-Fri. Major credit cards. Reservations suggested. Dinner for two: $50.

PRIMI (10543 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (213) 475-9235). One of the restaurants that first defined the idea of grazing, Primi serves only primi piatti --antipasto and pasta dishes--skipping the entrees usually offered by Italian restaurants. The idea is to choose a few dishes from the menu that appeal to you and make a meal out of them. If you don't want to sit at one of the tables in the cool modern room you can make your way to the marble bar in front of the open kitchen and eat to your heart's content. Try dishes like a piatto rustico plate (sweet peppers, olives, caponata , cheese and anchovies), timballo (rolled baby eggplant with stuffed olives, cheese and mozzarella), or spaghetti cacio pepe, with melted sharp cacio cheese. Open for dinner daily, for lunch every day but Sun. Major credit cards. Dinner for two: $40-$80.

TRUMPS (8764 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. (213) 855-1480). The bar is constantly crowded with patrons drinking some pretty spiffy drinks, lounging around on oversized sofas, ogling the modern and constantly changing art on the walls, and trying to figure out which of the upscale snacks is No. 1. The bar menu's always available, and it currently sports such delights as pommes frittes , a Brie-and-grape quesadilla, onion rings or sweet pea guacamole and homemade tortilla chips. Caviar and champagne is available at the seafood bar, as are steamed clams and mussels, Louisiana crab and smoked salmon. Bar menu prices range from $3.50-$18. Open for lunch, dinner and "high tea" Mon.-Sat., for dinner only Sun. MC, AE, V. Dinner for two: $70.

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